“We’re lost, aren’t we?” Regina asked sardonically, looking out into the dusk and the rain that was now coming down in sheets around their car.
Emma didn’t feel like the comment needed a reply, but she did shoot Regina a dirty look. The problem was Regina was right, and they both knew it.
“I should have driven,” Regina grumbled. “Why don’t you let me drive the rest of the way?”
“In those heels?” Emma snorted. “Besides, you hate my car, and you can’t drive stick to save your life.”
“My shoes are absolutely fine,” Regina huffed, raising a foot to lovingly stare at her 5-inch impeccable Louboutins.
“Yeah, if you want to get laid,” Emma murmured under breath. “Not for driving,” she added slightly louder.
“If you won’t let me drive, then kindly make sure that we get there some time this century.” Regina stared out the window. “The wedding is to—”
“Tomorrow, I know.” They’d had this talk a few times already, and it wasn’t as if Emma was likely to forget that fact. But she forgave her friend because she could hear a small tremor in her voice. “Who the hell has a wedding in the middle of fucking nowhere anyway?” she groused, trying to shift the attention away from her navigation skills. “Idiots.”
“You’ve done nothing but complain about this wedding for the past five hours.” Regina’s comment was mild. “Why did you even decide to go? You absolutely abhor Robin, and you don’t like my sister much better either.”
Emma slowed down as her bug approached a sharp bend in the road, made it even more dangerous by the rain and the growing darkness. “Because there was no chance in hell I was going to let you go to that wedding alone,” she replied sincerely. “Even though I still don’t know why you’re going. I mean, your ex is getting married to your sister, for crying in the night. How are you so calm about this?”
“Speaking of night,” Regina said, pointing at the weather outside, pointedly ignoring Emma’s question. “Do you think we’re going to make it to that idyllic hotel in the countryside tonight?”
There were audible quotation marks around the words but from the tone of her voice, Emma still couldn’t tell what Regina wanted the answer to be, so she went with, “Depends.”
“On whether or not you want to.”
“And here I thought it depended on you finding the way …” The comment was the teasing kind Emma had come to know and love from Regina, but this time the tone was acerbic. Yep, Regina was stressed all right.
“You do realize that the passenger is usually the navigator, right?” Emma tried to tease back, hoping they could skirt around the nerves and maybe get back to their normal banter.
“If you had a map that was legible, I would have been able to,” Regina retorted testily. “Or better yet, a GPS, but nooo, you told me you got this.”
Apparently, no banter for them tonight. Emma winced, but she had indeed promised to take care of everything. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “Is it really so bad to spend a day in the car with me? We haven’t had much time to see each other lately.”
Regina sighed and reached over to touch Emma’s thigh in soft circles in apology, causing a tingle in the surrounding nerve endings. Emma bit back her moan, knowing that Regina didn’t feel for her the way she wished and hoped in her dreams. Emma was so lost in the feeling against her thigh that she almost missed Regina’s whispered, “You know it’s not that …It’s just that …”
“Yeah, I know.” Emma looked around, squinting to make out a sign by the side of the road. “Look, it’s getting pretty hard to drive and there’s a hotel coming up ahead. Let’s stop there and just get to Bumfuck Nowhere in time for the ceremony tomorrow.” Emma could see from the corner of her eye that the idea was tempting her friend. “Come on, you don’t want to see Robin and Zelena any sooner than you absolutely have to anyway,” she coaxed.
“They’re not the problem so much as my m—“
“Your mother, yeah.” Emma shook herself. She and Cora Mills had never been on the best of terms, and she had a feeling that would never change, especially not if she knew about Emma’s feelings for her daughter … ah well, no need to think about things that were never gonna happen, right? “Here’s the thing, though,” she grinned. “She’ll be much too busy terrorizing the hotel staff tomorrow to give you hell for being late as long as I get you there.” Cora Mills was going to ignore Emma anyway, no matter what.
At her words, Regina’s hand pressed harder into Emma’s thigh for a moment before slowly relaxing and allowing Emma to breathe once more, albeit it unsteadily. “You’re right,” she breathed. “I hope.”
Emma returned her focus to finding the motel, missing the fond look on Regina’s face and the speculation in her eyes as they moved to the place where her hand still rested on Emma’s leg. Regina exhaled slowly, trying to release some of the tension she felt. It wasn’t just this wedding — and she could have very well lived without having to see that happening — or the ever-present stress of having to face her mother, who was an overbearing bitch on a good day.
No, it wasn’t just that. This was, she had realized about an hour into the trip -- when she had caught herself staring at the column of Emma’s throat and imagined running her tongue along it -- the first time since their college days that they were both single at the same time. There was no tangible barrier to stop her from being tempted, from dreaming the impossible dream. This was, in one word, dangerous.
They had kissed once, in college, both slightly tipsy after a party, and Regina emotional after Daniel had dumped her. Nothing had happened, at least nothing more intimate than a couple of kisses despite what Regina had wanted, since Emma had proven to be as chivalrous as she was charming, gently but firmly putting a stop to what they were doing and leaving, only to return a few days later filled with stories of a new boyfriend. But Regina could still remember every single second of the kisses, could remember the softness of Emma’s lips, the taste of her chapstick, the mingled taste of beer and vodka cranberry, the burning feeling all over her body. It was the night she had realized that she was in love with her best friend, and that her friend didn't return her feelings.
She had searched for that same feeling since then, with lots of different men — as well as a few women Emma didn’t know about — while watching Emma date man after man, trying to chase her own happiness. Neither of them ever mentioned the kisses, not once, and so they had settled into a close friendship that had been going strong for the past fifteen years. And she was happy, Regina mused, happy to have this gorgeous, vivacious woman in her life in whatever capacity, but she hoped she’d finally find someone else to love the way she loved Emma, someone who could love her back. And for that to happen she had to let go of Emma. She just didn’t know if th—
Regina was torn from her thoughts by the bug’s creaking hop over a speed bump that signaled the beginning of the hotel driveway, and Emma’s mumbled, “Sorry.”
“It’s fine,” Regina replied mildly.
Emma looked over at the new tone. “Calmed down a bit?” she asked softly, hoping not to destroy the detente.
“I’m always calm,” Regina insisted but there was a smirk on her face that Emma could hear as well as see, even in the dark. “I would like to know, however, where you’re taking me.”
“You and me both,” Emma stated, just as they turned around a corner of the small service road and the hotel came into view. “Oh,” she breathed, “okay then …”
Regina could only hum in assent. They were in front of a large log building that was nestled into the forest. “Well, well,” she breathed.
Unfortunately, there were also a large number of cars out front. “Let’s hope it’s not too full. I really didn’t see much of anything else along this road.”
Emma parked the bug as close to the door as she could, but that still wasn't that close. She braced herself for the rain outside before chancing a look back at Regina. “You coming?”
Together they walked into the large, cozy reception area, which was emptier than the mass of cars outside had led them to fear. Regina could see a restaurant area through one of the doors, and given how crowded that seemed to be, she hoped that all those people who had parked outside had come here for dining rather than sleeping. She imagined sitting across from Emma at one of the tables, enjoying a lovely dinner -- a wonderfully crisp salad for her and a juicy steak for Emma no doubt -- and a good bottle of red, the table lit by a few candles ...
Emma followed Regina's gaze, drawn by the smile on her face and wondered what went on in her friend's mind. Her stomach growled at the thought of food, and she could hear Regina snorting beside her, and saying something that sounded like, "Typical."
"Nothing," Regina sighed.
An elderly woman cleared her throat behind them, and Emma and Regina whirled around. "Welcome to The Elk Lodge," the woman greeted them. "What can I do for you?"
"Hi," Emma said. "We got a little lost out there and wondered if you had a room for us?"
"Two rooms," Regina blurted, remembering her decision to put more distance between herself and Emma. Sharing a room would not be conducive to that.
Emma raised a surprised eyebrow, but nodded reluctantly. "A couple of rooms for us."
The older woman watched the interaction with keen eyes. "There's no need to pretend here," she muttered. "We're pretty tolerant around here. In any case, you're out of luck, we're completely booked."
"Oh." Emma stared out the window and into the pouring rain.
"Is there another hotel somewhere close?" Regina asked, her voice tinged with disappointment.
"Not really, no," the woman replied. "However ... I might have something for you ..."
"Okay?" Emma asked. "You got a bathtub somewhere we can curl up in?" She grinned at Regina, who stared out the window, looking lost in her thoughts. Emma wondered if she was even listening.
"Not exactly," the woman told Emma with a grin of her own, "but I have a trailer out back that's all set up. It's not the honeymoon suite, but it's quite romantic, and ...." she wiggled her eyebrows behind her frameless glasses. "You'd be all alone out there, far away from all the other guests. If you want, I could have some dinner and a bottle of wine brought down for you, too, for a nice, roman--"
"We'll take it," Emma interrupted, not even checking with Regina.
"Lovely," the older woman said. "I'm Granny, by the way." She handed Emma a set of keys. "The good thing is that you can actually take your car down there and don't have to run though the rain. Just drive around the right side of the main lodge and follow the path. The trail’s a little rough but you can't miss it. The trailer is right by the lake. Very romantic."
Emma took the keys but felt it necessary to say something. "We're not ... I mean, the romance is probably lost on us ... we aren't ..." Her eyes went to Regina who was now busy studying the tourist information flyers on a shelf nearby. "We're just friends."
Granny looked from Emma to Regina and back, giving Emma a shrewd look. "You sure about that, girl?" she asked quietly. When Emma nodded, Granny patted her hand. "But it's not what you want, is it? And just looking at the way she looks at you when you're not paying attention, I'd say it's not what she wants either." She leaned in even closer. "Maybe you should make use of the romantic setting after all."
Emma's eyes went back to Regina with a soft sigh. "I don't think I stand a chance."
"You'll never know unless you try," Granny replied easily. "I'll have dinner brought over for you in twenty minutes or so. You a meat kind of girl?" Emma nodded. "Salad for her, I bet." Another nod. "I'll put something together. Don't worry, she'll enjoy it."
Emma nodded with a hopeless shrug, not entirely certain Granny was talking just about dinner. "Thank you."
Regina followed Emma outside with a few quick steps. “Where are we going?”
Emma stopped just inside the doorway where they could keep dry. “Didn’t you hear what Granny said?”
"Where exactly were you just now?" Emma shook her head. “The place is packed but she offered us a trailer by the lake.”
“A trailer?” Regina gaped at Emma. “When did I miss that? Do I look like I’m going to sleep in a trailer?”
“It’s better than sleeping in my bug,” Emma pointed out. “Remember that one time we tried that?” She ran for the car. “Come on!”
Regina ran after her and got into the car as fast as she could. “Of course I remember that disaster,” she grumbled. “You and your stupid ideas. Living in your car because your roommate threw you out and pretending it was perfectly all right,” she continued as Emma started the car and followed Granny’s directions around the lodge. “Only you could think having a sleepover in a car was a good idea.”
“Is that why you forced me to move in with you?” Emma asked. “Because you didn’t want to come visit me in my car?”
Regina was quiet for a moment. She’d asked Emma to move in with her against her mother’s command to the contrary but with her father’s blessing — and he’d been the one whose name was on the title. She’d done it to save her from being homeless, of course, but also because she wanted Emma close. But she was not about to admit that. “Well, living in a car was unsustainable.”
“Probably,” Emma conceded. “Here we are.”
Here proved to be a vintage Airstream travel trailer, gleaming even in the miserable weather. There were lights strung along the roof, lighting the way, and it even had flower pots on the small windows. “Well,” Regina murmured. “It certainly looks … quaint.”
Emma stopped the car as close to the trailer as she could, then got out and ran for the door to open it for Regina who grabbed their bags from the back seat and quickly followed her. The inside was sparkly clean, the bed freshly made up, and everything smelled of the forest rain outside. Emma walked around curiously, opening doors and checking out the space. “Look, there’s even a small bathroom in here,” she said happily. “No outhouse for us.”
Regina made a non-committal noise as she surveyed the small but cozy trailer. “There’s only one bed,” she murmured. A small one at that, she noticed. That was going to be a problem.
“Yeah, I figured,” Emma replied from directly behind her. “You know, it being a trailer and all that. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?” she added. “I mean, it’s not like we haven’t shared a bed before.”
Regina swallowed at her friend's closeness as well as the image of the two of them sleeping together in this bed. Or not sleeping. “You can have the bed,” she rasped. “I’ll sleep on that bench over there.” She pointed to the small sitting area on the opposite side of the trailer, and pressed by Emma to get away from her.
“What the hell, Regina?” Emma stopped her with a hand on her arm. She'd finally had enough of this strange behavior. “Would you mind telling me what’s going on with you today?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Regina snarled, forcefully wrenching herself from Emma’s light grasp.
“Bullshit.” Emma let out a frustrated breath. “I know you, Regina. I know when you’re lying.” She ran a hand through her wet hair. “Did I do something? I’m sorry we didn’t make it all the way there tonight but I thought you wouldn’t mind … And I thought it would be nice to talk like we used to, you know ... We haven’t actually spent any time together since I dumped Killian.”
“I was busy,” came Regina’s quiet reply, but she didn’t move further away.
“We’re always busy,” Emma pointed out. “That never stopped us from seeing each other, so I’m thinking something’s up.”
A knock on the door saved Regina from having to say anything else. Emma opened the door to find a young man in a waitstaff uniform, umbrella in one hand, a large basket in the other. “Granny says to enjoy your evening,” he grinned as he handed Emma the food. “I’m also supposed to tell you carpe diem, whatever that means.” With that, he dashed away from the trailer, leaving the two women to their evening.
Emma set out their food and pulled the bottle of wine from the basket, a merlot that she knew Regina would like.
“What is this?” Regina asked.
“Granny sent food,” Emma explained the obvious as she pulled two glasses from a cabinet and sat down at the table. “Come on, enjoy your salad.”
Regina sat down across from Emma and lifted the little dome that covered her salad, which looked perfect, even to her discerning eye. She took a sip of the wine, also perfect, then watched as Emma pulled a couple of candles from the basket and lit them, creating a soft, romantic ambience, which Regina registered with a raised eyebrow.
“Were you serious about not sharing the bed?” Emma asked before moaning indecently around her first bite of what was possibly the best burger she had ever tasted.
Regina’s mouth went dry at the sound. “What did that boy mean … about seizing the day?” she decided to answer the question with one of her own.
“It was nothing,” Emma mumbled around another bite of her burger. “Just a misunderstanding.”
Emma blushed. “Granny thought … well, she assumed …”
“Thatwe’reacouple,” Emma muttered, expecting Regina to laugh or scoff at the thought and not really wanting to hear either reaction.
“Huh,” came the unexpectedly calm reaction. “And what did you tell her?” Regina leaned forward, extremely interested in Emma’s answer. Maybe … maybe there was a chance that she wasn’t the only one who dreamed of more. That would explain the carpe diem comment …
Carpe diem, Emma repeated in her head, carpediemcarpediemcarpediem. “I told her we’re not …,” she finally said softly, looking straight into Regina’s eyes, which allowed her to see the fleeting look of disappointment on her friend’s face. Maybe Granny had been onto something. Maybe she could see what Emma hadn’t been able to after all those years of pining for her friend.
“Oh,” Regina breathed. “Well … that’s true, of course.” And yet it sounded so wrong.
Emma reached out and put her hand over Regina’s. “Did you know that this is the first time that we’re both single at the same time?”
Regina blinked at the non-sequitur. “The thought did cross my mind.” She wondered where Emma was going with this.
Emma got up and rounded the table, pulling Regina from her seat as she went. “Which means I can finally do this,” she whispered before cupping Regina’s face in her hands and pulling her closer until their lips almost touched.
When Emma stopped with only a fraction of an inch between them, Regina growled low in her throat. “Carpe diem, Emma, or I will—“
The rest of her threat was swallowed by Emma’s lips, pressing against Regina’s with all the sweetness and none of the tipsy sloppiness of their first kiss so many years ago. Regina moaned into the kiss and Emma echoed the sound — or maybe it was the other way around — as they both moved simultaneously to deepen the kiss, tilting their heads just right, moving in perfect sync as if they’d done it a million times before.
“Jesus,” Emma moaned, pulling away to look into Regina’s eyes. “I should never have stopped doing that.”
“I should never have allowed you to stop doing that,” Regina retorted, going back for another kiss.
“Why did you?” Emma asked, biting her lower lip.
Regina groaned at the sight. “You ran.”
“You were drunk.”
“I wasn’t,” Regina replied. “Not really.” Her eyes roamed Emma’s face before firmly setting on the sea-green eyes. “I was in love with you. When you ran, I realized you didn’t share my feelings.”
“I was so in love with you and it scared the shit out of me,” Emma whispered hoarsely. “Still am … and it kinda still does.”
“But all those men you’ve dated …”
“Trying to forget you,” Emma shrugged. “You never mentioned the kiss again, and I thought you regretted it, so I tried to find my happiness elsewhere.” Emma pushed a lock of hair behind one of Regina’s ears. “But I could never let go of you.”
Regina pressed a kiss against the palm cradling her face. “I was doing the same thing, tying to get over you. I promised myself in the car today that I had to really let go of the thought of you … of us, if I ever wanted a chance to find some semblance of happiness with somebody else.”
“We’re idiots,” Emma concluded. “We could have been happy all those years …”
“There are more years to come,” Regina whispered, unusually optimistic. “Are we going to spend them talking or are we—“
Again, her words were cut off by a pair of very insistent lips, and Regina didn’t resist. At all. Not the kisses, and not the things that followed, which turned her into a needy, quivering mess, gasping for breath, holding onto Emma for dear life, screaming her name into the night.
And then she returned the favor. Several times.
It was a good thing that the trailer was far enough away from the main lodge that the only things they disturbed with their screams were a pair of squirrels in a nearby tree.
Granny pointed them to their destination the next day — just a few miles down the road actually — before sending them on their way with a knowing smile and a reminder that the Elk Lodge did weddings as well, and that they could have that trailer whenever they wanted it.
Regina squeezed Emma’s hand at that and smiled at Granny before they headed off to her sister’s wedding.
Which was an unmitigated disaster, just like expected, but Regina didn’t care because she spent most of the day hiding out in the bathroom with Emma.
Six months later, Granny got a call about a wedding and a honeymoon in a trailer by a lake.