“Are you Emma Swan?”
Emma turned slowly from the counter where her old friend, Ruby, was preparing her coffee. At twenty-eight, she had made a name for herself in indie folk music, and was accustomed to occasionally being recognized. The boy behind her, however, could not be more than ten and did not fit with her usual demographic.
“Yeah…” The word stretched out into a question.
“My name is Henry. I’m her son.” He gestured behind him to the doorway with his head. Emma followed the gesture and slowly raised her gaze from a pair of high heels over shapely legs and a tailored grey dress. Her mouth fell open briefly before curling into a grin as she took in the stunned face of Regina Mills – her high school nemesis and longtime crush.
Regina recovered after a moment and walked over – her eyes clamped firmly on her son.
“Henry,” she scolded, “You know better than to run off and speak to a stranger. Let’s leave Miss Swan alone so she can enjoy her morning in peace.”
“He’s alright, Regina. I’m not really a stranger – more like an old friend, wouldn’t you say?” Emma’s tone was teasing and Regina bristled.
“No, I would not. And I must say I’m surprised that you would. I wasn’t aware that betrayal was a part of friendship. Although given your history, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at all.”
Emma shrugged. “Never had many friends. Maybe I’m not sure what friendship is supposed to look like.”
“You don’t have any friends?” asked Henry, looking perplexed, “Neither does my mom. Maybe you could be friends with each other.”
“Henry,” Regina hissed, her cheeks coloring.
“It’s hard to imagine the great Regina Mills, class president, head cheerleader, ‘most likely to succeed’ without friends.” Emma teased, enjoying this immensely.
“Yes, well, I find myself equally incredulous that the famous Emma Swan does not come with an entourage. Storybrooke’s favorite daughter and all.” Regina emphasized the word daughter and Emma’s grin faded immediately as Regina smirked with malicious intent. “I suppose that being the favorite daughter must be a new sensation for you. It seems that many things have changed in the last ten years.”
Emma drew up at the challenge. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I heard your sister Zelena is the mayor, now. Your mother must be so proud. I guess we both know how difficult it can be to retain a position as favorite daughter, don’t we?”
So far this morning, Emma had attended the wrong homeroom section, the locker combination she had been given had not worked, and the added load from not being able to drop off books had overfilled her book bag to the point that it had split, her belongings scattering all over the floor in the middle of the rush to lunch.
All in all, she mused wryly as she scurried on all fours to pick up her things, this had not been the best way to spend her first day at a new school.
This was not the first high school she had attended. In fact, it was her seventh. It was always harder to transfer mid-semester. She stood out even more than usual when everyone else had established routines, reputations, and friends. But transferring in the middle of the first semester of her senior year was even worse. She was forced to find new footing as everyone else prepared to leave.
Her cheeks burned as she struggled to pile everything together and lift it into her arms.
“My, my. What have we here?”
“Looks to me like the new girl’s had a little trouble with her bag.”
“It’s no wonder, really. Tell me, new girl, did you buy that at Goodwill or patch it together from the rags you wear?”
Emma felt rage building within her as she looked up to see two cheerleaders above her laughing. The one who had asked about her bag tutted. “Guess it’s time to go back to the rag bag.”
Emma wanted to reply angrily. She wanted to tell this prissy, stuck-up (absolutely beautiful) cheerleader exactly where she could shove her rag bag. She opened her mouth to reply, but before she could utter a word…
“Leave her alone, Regina. The poor girl clearly needs help, not mocking.”
Emma winced. She was not sure she was any more thrilled to be the ‘poor girl needing help’ than the ‘new girl from the rag bag’. She turned to see a girl with a pixie-cut and a peter pan collar crouching beside her, holding out Emma’s pencil case with a kind smile.
“Let’s go, Regina. If the tattle-tale brat is involved, this no longer interests me.” the red-headed girl with Regina moved to walk away.
Regina gave one final smirk at Emma as she kicked her calculator toward her and addressed Emma's helper. “You’re so right, Mary Margaret. I think this one needs a lot of help. Professional help.”
Emma found herself shaking with anger and shame as she picked up the calculator and reached to take her pencil case without meeting Mary Margaret’s eyes. “Thanks,” she muttered.
Mary Margaret placed a hand on Emma’s arm and waited until she met her gaze. “Are you ok?”
“Don’t mind my step-sister. Regina's always been a bully. Ever since she became head cheerleader and class president things have only gotten worse.”
“She’s your step-sister?”
Mary Margaret grimaced. “Yes. Both of them are, actually. Regina and the other girl with her, Zelena. When their mother married my father I was so excited to have sisters.” She turned a pleading look toward Emma. “I really don’t think she’s all bad. She’s under a lot of pressure, that’s all.”
Behind her, another girl Emma hadn’t noticed snorted. “Too bad that pressure isn’t coming from a boulder on her head.”
The girl, dressed in a skirt shorter than Emma would have imagined was allowed in school, reached down and easily lifted the pile of books and supplies Emma was struggling with into her own arms. Emma smiled at her hesitantly.
Mary Margaret frowned. “That’s not funny, Ruby. I know she can come off as rather a tyrant but she hasn’t always been this way.”
“Lighten up, MM. Just trying to make the new girl smile. By the way, I really don’t want to keep calling you ‘new girl’. You got a name?”
“Emma. Emma Swan.”
“Well, Emma Swan, welcome to Storybrooke High. Personal fiefdom of Regina Mills – queen of all she surveys.”
Emma laughed as she stood and pushed her thick glasses back up her nose. For the first time that day, she felt like maybe things wouldn’t be so bad.
“Yes, well, I’m sure that for a celebrity our sleepy little hometown must seem to be absolutely frozen in time.”
Emma regained her footing a little and rebutted, “It certainly appears that some parts are frosty.”
“Are you really famous?”
Emma was so caught up in their familiar battle that she had forgotten Regina’s son was there.
“I don’t know if I’d say famous, kid. I do alright.”
“But you were on TV. We watched you.”
Emma looked at Regina, who would not meet her eyes.
“Yeah! It came on while I was at school but Mom recorded it so we could watch it together when I got home.”
Regina was definitely turning pink now.
“Is that right?”
“It was so awesome! You have to be famous if you’re on TV.”
Emma smiled at him, delighted. “Well, I’m always happy to meet a fan.”
It had taken a few months but Emma had finally found her place at Storybrooke High. She spent most of her time with the two girls who had come to her rescue on her first day.
Ruby was easy to be friends with. Funny and outgoing, the two of them had clicked immediately. Mary Margaret was a bit more of an acquired taste. She meant well, but she frequently said or did the wrong thing in her attempts to help Emma. Like some of the better social workers who had helped Emma navigate the foster care system as a child, it was clear that her heart was in the right place but that she viewed Emma with an annoying amount of pity.
Still, the two girls had stayed by Emma’s side despite the near constant teasing of Mary Margaret’s step-sister and her cheerleader friends.
Regina Mills provided a great deal of the angst Emma now encountered. She was relentless in antagonizing Emma, but as Emma gained confidence in her new friends and began to participate in the verbal battle between them, Regina seemed invigorated rather than infuriated. Emma began to notice small things – like the way that Regina’s nostrils flared when she felt Emma had gotten the last word. Or the way that her gaze swept Emma from head to toe in a way that might seem like she was sizing up competition but it felt distinctly different. To Emma, it felt like Regina was checking her out.
But Emma always quickly shut down those thoughts – dismissed them as wishful thinking. As nasty as Regina could be, their sparring had begun to feel more and more friendly, even flirtatious and Emma had begun to enjoy the contests. She loved making the vein in Regina’s forehead pop. She loved challenging Regina in a way that brought her into Emma’s personal space. All of these things added up to the dreaded conclusion that Emma could no longer avoid.
Emma had developed a terrible crush on Regina Mills. Ruby called it her “death wish crush”.
When Regina really got under her skin, Emma found that the only thing that made her feel better was to escape from the crowd. This afternoon found her cross-legged beneath the bleachers with her guitar across her lap. A Christmas present from her current foster mother, Emma was ecstatic to resume the hobby she had picked up as a preteen. She had learned basic chords from one of her foster brothers.
Emma closed her eyes as she strummed – not really playing any song in particular, just picking out different chord progressions. When she came across a combination that particularly pleased her she repeated it and then allowed the song to develop naturally. She became lost in an uncharted melody as she began to hum along.
After a few minutes she opened her eyes and saw none other than Regina Mills standing silently in front of her. She stopped abruptly, startled. With no idea what she wanted to say she simply observed the way that Regina’s lips were slightly parted and her breath seemed to catch as she realized that she had been caught listening.
Emma smiled shyly. “Hi.”
Regina, however, did not smile. She turned and walked quickly back toward the school.
Emma chuckled as she carefully replaced her guitar in its case. “Always happy to meet a fan.”
Regina cleared her throat and gave a fake smile, holding out Henry’s jacket for him to put his arms into the sleeves. “Yes, well, Henry dear, we must be getting you off to school. And I should get to work. Why don’t we let Miss Swan get on with her morning?”
Henry dutifully nodded at his mother and put his arms into the sleeves. “Are you back here for the reunion?”
“Are you going to the bowling alley tonight? There’s going to be a welcome party for all the people coming back from out of town.”
“That’s what I heard. And will the Mills family be attending?” Emma asked Henry, her eyes on Regina’s face.
“Mom will. She says I can’t go because it’s not for kids.”
Emma smiled. “Well, there goes my night.”
“So you are going?”
Emma took Regina’s jacket from her as she lifted it off the coat hook. Regina scowled at her and opened her mouth to object but Emma simply held out her jacket as she had done for Henry. Regina gave a distrustful look before turning to put her arms into the sleeves.
Emma smiled as Regina turned back around, buttoning her jacket and nodding her thanks to Emma.
“Wouldn’t miss it.”
Regina gave another very forced looking smile and hurried Henry away with a wave and a shouted “goodbye” before he could ask any more questions. Emma smiled watching them go.
“Death wish crush,” Ruby said from behind the bar.
“Yeah, yeah. The kid is cute.”
“The kid is adorable. He’s also a total sweetheart. Not sure where he got that from. We know it’s not from her and it can’t be from the runaway rogue.”
“What do you mean?”
“Robin. Don’t you remember how they were in high school? ‘Cutest couple’? Prom king and queen?”
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
Regina closed her eyes and swallowed hard. She nodded after a moment but then swayed and grabbed for the sink to keep her on her feet.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Maybe I’d better get some help.” She turned and started to walk away.
“No!” Regina grabbed Emma’s hand and looked at her pleading, “No one can know.”
Emma pursed her lips hesitantly. After a moment she nodded.
Emma winced. “I remember. But what do you mean by runaway rogue?”
“He broke it off with her when he found out she was pregnant. He had a football scholarship that he didn’t want to lose and he had no intention of staying in Storybrooke. I heard later that he hooked up with some girl in college and got her pregnant, too. Stayed with that one, though, I think.”
“Never even met his dad as far as I know.”
Emma frowned. “That’s gotta be rough for the kid.”
“I’m sure it is. Not for a lack of love, though. As icy as the frost queen can be to you and me, she absolutely adores that boy.”
Emma smiled softly. “She’s not so bad, Rubes. MM was right that her mom piled on the pressure, I think.”
“No doubt about that. Still, it’s no excuse for how she treated you, Emma. Not to mention the hate she’s had for Mary Margaret all these years.”
“Yeah, what’s that about?”
Emma hadn’t meant to overhear. Not really. When she approached the corner outside the auditorium, she heard raised voices. A lifetime of instinct kicked in causing her to melt into the nearest crevice in the wall to avoid conflict.
“You let that little waif best you again?!”
“I didn’t let Belle best me, Mother. She is very intelligent. My lowest grade this past semester was a B+.”
“Well apparently that’s not good enough. I expected more from you Regina.”
“Now, I expect that you will do whatever it takes to finish next semester at the top. It’s your last chance, Regina.”
“I understand, Mother.”
The sharp clicking of heels signaled that the hallway was now clear and Emma breathed out a heavy sigh and rounded the corner.
Only the hallway was not clear. Regina stood against the box office wall outside the auditorium wringing her hands with her head hanging low. She must have been deep in thought as she did not appear to hear Emma approaching.
“Hey – are you ok?”
Regina’s head snapped up. Her lips curled into a sneer. “Leave me alone, Rag Bag.”
Emma raised her hands in a placating gesture and stopped advancing on the other girl. “Ok. I’m sorry. I just wanted to make sure…”
Regina snapped, “What part of leave me alone was unclear?”
“I…never mind.” Emma mumbled before shuffling quickly away.
A hand roughly grabbing her arm stopped her. “Don’t let me hear that you’ve been talking about this with your little friends. My mother and I were having a private conversation that you chose to eavesdrop on. This is none of your concern, Rag Bag.”
Emma’s temper began to catch up to her embarrassment at getting caught eavesdropping. She tore her arm out of Regina’s grasp and narrowed her eyes. “Maybe don’t have your private conversation in the public school hallway if you want to keep it private. Why do you have to be such a bitch all the time? I was just trying to help.”
“Do I look like I need help from a little nobody like you?”
Emma shrugged. “Yeah, you kind of do. You look like you need help from somebody. Why not me?”
Regina faltered at this, stunned. She stared at Emma for long moments with an inscrutable expression before she backed up slowly and walked away.
Emma stood watching after her for a few minutes before she too left school and headed home.
After leaving Ruby at the diner with a promise to catch up later, Emma spent a restless day wandering around Storybrooke, taking in all that had (or rather had not) changed in the years she’d been gone.
She had debated whether she should return here. Despite having been close with Mary Margaret and Ruby in her senior year, they had lost touch eventually in the intervening years and she had no other friends to speak of. Soon after graduation she had turned eighteen and had immediately left town – the foster care system no longer deciding for her where she should call “home”.
Her first stop had been Boston, where she worked odd jobs and became a sidewalk performer to continue with her passion in songwriting. It was here that she had been discovered a few years later by another female folk musician who was putting together a festival of artists to tour and perform.
The lifestyle of touring had appealed strongly to Emma, who had never really felt at home in any one place. The camaraderie of sharing that journey with the other women on the tour was truly remarkable. And it gave her an opportunity to really focus on absorbing inspiration from her fellow artists and life on the road, which helped her refine her music.
By the time that initial tour had ended, Emma had gained a respectable fan following. She had signed with a small, independent label, released an album, and from there her popularity had grown.
Emma was not winning Grammys by any stretch of the imagination, but she continued to play small venues and social justice concerts throughout the country, which suited her better anyway.
She kept an apartment in Boston throughout these years, but she was away as much as she was at home. Her performance schedule kept her on the road and she loved not feeling tied down.
Her romantic life had been equally short-term as she had fallen into and out of brief flings rather than having any long-term relationships, which suited her fine. She had never really forgotten her first crush and she often wondered how things turned out for Regina Mills, the girl most likely to succeed.
When she had returned home from a west coast tour and flipped through her mail to find the invitation for the ten-year reunion, she had debated whether or not she should return to the small coastal town. She was unsure what to expect, really. Five years before she had been contacted by the alumni newsletter asking to do a feature piece on her success as a musician and she had agreed, but they had come to her Boston apartment to interview her. She had not returned to Storybrooke since she was eighteen.
In the end, her curiosity won out. It would be nice to see Ruby and Mary Margaret while she was in town, but the true reason she wanted to return was Regina. Always Regina.
“Where did you learn how to do that?” Regina had tried to stay away but ever since the day that she had come across Emma Swan under the bleachers, she had been haunted by the melody of the guitar and the lovely alto voice that had accompanied it. She found herself unable to resist coming back to hear more.
“Careful. If someone sees you talking to me by choice they might think you don’t quite hate me as much as you’d like everyone to believe.”
“You’re really very good.” Regina ignored Emma’s baiting and sat down nearby. It would not do to say so but she had checked to make sure that her friends were occupied with other activities before she came out here. She knew there was little to no chance that she would be caught talking to Emma. She felt uncomfortable with this girl. There was something about her that fascinated and scared her.
Emma smiled softly at her. “Thanks. I learned from one of my foster brothers when I was eleven. He taught me the basic chords and stuff, and then I just sort of played around with it from there.”
“Where is your foster brother now?” Emma’s smile faded. Regina found herself unwilling to allow their conversation to head back toward their usual bickering. She quickly apologized, “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pry.”
Emma shrugged. “It’s ok. I’m not really sure where he is now. That was quite a few homes ago.”
Regina was unsure how to respond, so she just nodded. Emma resumed strumming her guitar as Regina sat listening. They didn’t speak again that afternoon, but Regina sat for over an hour listening to Emma as she idly strummed and occasionally sang along to the melody. Regina found herself enchanted by the song as she listened, and hours later as the melody still played in her head.
Regina walked into her office and quickly closed and locked the door. She had sent her assistant out to lunch and knew she was alone, but she felt safer locking the door.
For her, the last ten years had been very different from what she had expected when she was in high school. Her mother and her classmates would have called it disappointing but with Henry as the light of her life, Regina had a hard time defining it as such.
She had become pregnant with Henry before graduation. At the time, it seemed that her life was at an end. Her mother had been livid and immediately transferred any hope for success to Regina’s sister, Zelena. From that point forward, Cora had little to do with Regina.
As a terrified eighteen-year-old, this had seemed like the end of the world. Her mother had always been very controlling and Regina was unsure how to make decisions without her iron will. Once she had found a job working at a local cider press and moved out into her own apartment, though, she felt the most amazing sense of freedom.
She was no longer tied to the expectations of others. Her sister had reveled in the transfer of their mother’s attention. Her friends mostly scattered to separate colleges – some local and some out of town, but everyone moved on.
Her only obligation now was to her son.
And she had fallen in love with Henry the moment she laid eyes on him. Not since her father’s death had she felt such a complete and overwhelming love for another person. She named him after her father, and he became her world.
Regina worked hard pressing and bottling cider at the local orchard. She learned everything she could from the proprietor, and when he passed away a few years later, his children having no interest in maintaining the orchard or the business, she took out a loan and bought the business.
Her ambition and her business savvy led her to find success by venturing into the trendy hard cider market. Her brand, Forbidden Fruit, was selling well regionally and provided her with enough income to hire a staff to help her maintain the orchard while she gave her time and attention to the administration of her business as well as her son. She kept her hand in all activities at her orchard though – she had cared for it from a time when it was quite small and she was determined not to lose sight of that humble beginning.
She was well aware of Emma’s success via the machine that was small-town gossip. She had harbored deep feelings of anger and betrayal for the girl over the years which had not abated to this day. But she had also closely monitored her career. Stashed away in her closet where Henry couldn’t reach, there was a box containing every album Emma Swan had ever released.
Despite her persistent resentment, she could not resist pulling out the CDs from time to time and indulging in listening to the voice that had haunted her since high school.
She sighed as she pulled one of the CDs out of her desk drawer now and inserted it into her laptop. She let her eyes close as her head fell back against her desk chair and Emma Swan’s voice washed over her.
“Are you serious? That’s so predictable! I can’t believe that you would choose to be able to fly out of all possible super powers. You wouldn’t pick invisibility? Or mind-reading?” Emma prodded, her guitar across her knees, long forgotten.
“The power of flight would render me nearly invisible anyway, wouldn’t it? It allows me to escape and to observe people unnoticed,” Regina defended. “What would you choose?”
Emma smirked. “Telekinesis.”
Regina wrinkled her nose. “And why would you choose that?”
“I’m glad you asked, Regina.” Regina rolled her eyes. “Telekinesis would allow me to manipulate objects however I liked. So for instance, I could, say, blow phantom spitballs at Mr. Glass during English class. Or play guitar with no hands.”
Regina conceded that point with a nod and said, “I would have thought of all people that you would have chosen the power of flight. That way whenever you wanted, you could escape your house and get away.”
Emma grinned widely and leaned forward. “That’s the best part, though! If I was telekinetic I could manipulate myself as an object. So it’s not exactly flying but I could… sort of… toss myself through the air.”
Regina laughed at an image of Emma flying through the air like Wile E. Coyote flung from a giant slingshot. Her eyes sparkled with amusement as she caught Emma grinning back at her.
She froze at the sound of Robin's voice. She must have lost track of the time. If Robin was looking for her, then he must have finished practice and was ready to take her home.
“I have to go,” she whispered urgently.
Emma nodded with a sad smile. “Sounds like it.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
Regina felt Emma’s eyes on her as she hurried at a crouch to the side of the bleachers closest to the locker rooms so she could make it seem like she had just come out of school.
“Hey babe. You ready to go?”
She wrinkled her nose at the term of endearment as Robin slung an arm around her. He was sweaty and too rough with her but she forced a smile as she nodded. Her mother approved of Robin. He was the quarterback of the football team and loved by the whole town. Before he was the quarterback, they had never won a championship. The accuracy and distance of his passing game had led the Storybrooke Knights to the championship for the last two years. He was attractive, popular, and on paper, the perfect boyfriend.
Still, as they walked away toward his car, Regina couldn’t stop her gaze from traveling back over to the section of bleachers she knew concealed Emma Swan.
“Wow! You look pretty, Mom!”
Regina cupped Henry's cheek as she smiled at her prince, “Thank you, sweetheart.” She looked in her full-length mirror once more. She had debated for an embarrassingly long time about what to wear but figured for a bowling night she shouldn’t dress too formally. In the end she had decided on dark jeans and a black button-down shirt. She had taken time she normally wouldn’t with her hair and makeup.
“Are you excited to see your old friends?”
Regina grimaced, “I suppose so.”
Henry frowned. “I thought you wanted to go to the reunion.”
In truth, Regina wasn’t sure why she had agreed to attend the reunion. She still lived in the town but she had not really remained friends with anyone from high school. She had strong working relationships with her staff but other than that, she mostly kept to herself. The only person she truly spent any meaningful time with was Henry.
“I do. And besides, as a sponsor of the bowling night I should really attend for business reasons.”
Regina had agreed to provide hard cider for the bowling night at no cost as well as picking up the bar tab.
Henry wrinkled his nose, “Business reasons? It’s supposed to be fun, Mom!”
Regina laughed, “Business can be fun.”
“I just thought that maybe you could reconnect with some old friends. Or make some new ones.” Henry gave her a hopeful sideways glance as he said this.
Regina crouched down to be eye-level with Henry. “My past with some of these people is…complicated, Henry,” she tickled his sides until he giggled and then held his chin in her hand, “Besides, you’re my friend, right?”
He rolled his eyes, “Duh, Mom.”
She chuckled and kissed his cheek.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course you can, sweetheart.”
He paused for a long moment, his face crunched into a deep frown. “What were you talking about at the diner with Emma? About betrayal?”
Regina closed her eyes with a sigh. “Henry, there are some things that I can’t explain to you right now. Perhaps when you’re older…”
“Mom. I’m nine. And you just said that we’re friends. Why can’t you tell me?”
“Because there are some things from the past that should remain in the past. They are unpleasant or painful to remember and it’s better to move on. Do you understand?”
“Not really. But I trust you.”
“Thank you, sweetheart.” The doorbell rang. “We’d better go greet Alice.”
She gently guided him downstairs to greet his babysitter. She was one of the orchard workers who Regina trusted to watch her son. Henry always enjoyed her imaginative story-telling. She was a theater student at the local community college and had also taught Henry a number of improvisation games.
“Hey Henry! What should we do tonight?” Alice greeted him with a wide grin.
“You are the weirdest kid I know.”
“You mean the awesomest.”
“I do.” she smiled at him with real affection, which was one of the reasons Regina trusted her to care for him.
“Henry – I expect you to cooperate with Alice and to be in bed asleep no later than 9:00.”
“Good night, my prince. I love you!”
“Love you, too!”
Within five minutes of arriving, Regina wished that she had stayed at home. Her sister, Zelena, although she was two years younger, was hosting the event as the mayor. They had, for a time in high school, been close. It had been them against the world.
When Regina “fell from grace” in her mother’s eyes, all the cruelty and malice that Zelena had previously directed at Emma and other unfortunates like her had been directed at Regina.
Once she had realized how toxic her sister truly was, Regina decided not to allow her any real interaction with Henry, which only made Zelena resent her more.
Already this evening, Zelena had reconnected with several of the popular cheerleaders and athletes from Regina’s class. Meaningful glances and whispered conversations had followed her everywhere.
Regina had no regrets about having Henry and on a day to day basis managed to avoid the more gossipy folks in town. In this environment she was forced to face them all again and it felt just as it had when she was eighteen – terrified and alone.
She felt herself becoming anxious before the reception portion had even really gotten underway and excused herself to the restroom. She stared at her reflection for several minutes in the mirror before carefully dabbing at her face with a damp paper towel. It would not do to let them see her sweat.
At least for the next little while, she would have a structured activity to distract her from the mindless small talk and passive aggressive comments. In addition to contributing her cider for the party, she had offered to tend the bar for an hour during the reception. She figured it would allow her a chance to do something with her hands and take her mind off of her anxiety.
Just as she took up her post she saw Emma walking in the door. Immediately the whispered conversations and meaningful glances were redirected but this time they seemed awed rather than superior. Emma gave a small smile and nodded to a few people while heading over for the bar.
Regina inwardly groaned at the timing but put on her brightest (fake) smile as Emma approached.
“Fancy seeing you here.” Emma grinned at her mischievously.
“May I offer you a glass of the best apple cider you’ve ever tasted?”
“Got anything stronger?”
“A woman after my own heart.” She said it thoughtlessly as a joke but Emma’s grin had softened into a strangely wistful look. Regina cleared her throat uncomfortably and held up a bottle of whiskey in one hand and tequila in the other.
“Definitely whiskey! Tequila and I are not friends.”
“Yes, you’ve already shared that you have none.”
Emma’s face looked truly wounded, and for a moment Regina felt regret at ruining the one painless conversation she’d had so far that evening. But as she recalled the reasons she had remained so angry for all of these years, she held back the apology that wanted to spring from her lips. Instead, she simply poured a glass of whiskey on the rocks for Emma and handed it over to her.
“Thank you.” Emma’s words were polite but cold and she quickly walked away.
Regina sighed and resigned herself to a miserable evening. Perhaps she’d simply leave as soon as her hour bartending was done.
Their meetings behind the bleachers had become more frequent and lingered longer as the weeks had passed and spring had arrived in Storybrooke. No longer were they bundled up and shivering when they talked or sat in silence as Emma strummed her guitar.
As March thawed the icy winter winds around them, their relationship had similarly warmed. They talked about everything from their future careers to their favorite songs. They talked about Emma’s various past schools and Regina’s family pressures. For Emma, it was the closest she had felt to someone in a long time.
She found herself falling for Regina hard. She had always known how beautiful Regina was, but she found that without her sister around, she could also be generous and kind. She was intelligent. And she was scarred – not the same scars as Emma herself, but Emma could relate to the wounds.
Regina had a boyfriend she had been dating for over a year. Emma knew that she would never stand a chance and she never spoke of her feelings to anyone but Ruby. And even Ruby did not know about the time they spent together – Emma felt that secret was too precious to share. Still, she felt such closeness to Regina that at times she imagined that the sparks she felt were mutual. That the way Regina smiled at her was special. She treasured the time they spent together.
Now, with April and the end of the year approaching, Emma knew that they would soon be parted. She had every intention of leaving the moment she turned eighteen in June. It became all the more clear that she could hope for no future with Regina. Still, she dreamed of taking Regina away with her. Emma could work while Regina went to school. They could share a terrible apartment and be incredibly poor and ridiculously happy.
“You really don’t want to have a family?”
“I mean, I’ve never had one before. It’s not that I don’t think families are cool or whatever, I guess I just don’t really know what I’m missing, you know? I want to be free to move around without a commitment. I guess it sounds selfish.”
“I don’t think it’s selfish.”
“It would be selfish if you had a family and you pursued your own desires at their expense. It’s not selfish to identify that you want to pursue a different path and therefore you choose not to have a family.”
“Exactly. I mean, if I did have a family, it would be really important to me to do right by them, obviously. But it would never exactly happen accidentally.”
“Because you’re careful.”
Emma snorted. “Because I’m gay.”
Regina stilled. She was quiet for so long that Emma felt anxiety bubbling up inside her. After all this time and how close they had become, she couldn’t believe that she may have just ruined their friendship by disclosing this now.
Emma shifted nervously and picked up her guitar to distract herself from the conversation. She kept her face directed downward as she plucked.
“So you…” Regina cleared her throat nervously, “I mean, have you…”
“Been with girls? Yeah.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Emma shrugged. “I guess I kinda figured you knew. Most people guess.”
Regina was silent as Emma continued playing nervously. When Emma could no longer stand it she whispered, “Do you hate me now?”
“I can understand if you do. My last foster family did. That’s why I got sent to live here.”
Regina’s voice hardened. “What do you mean?”
“They sort-of…well, caught me.” Emma gulped nervously and her fingers moved faster and faster as her anxiety grew.
Regina put her hand over Emma’s own, stilling her plucking fingers, before gently withdrawing the guitar from her hands, setting it to the side.
“They caught you…”
“Um…well, I had this friend. And we would study in my room. But on this day we had finished our work and we were just sort of hanging out. And then she kissed me.”
“They caught you kissing?”
Emma’s face turned deep scarlet and she failed to reply, which was apparently answer enough.
“Yeah. It didn’t fit with their “family values” they said. They were worried I would, like, infect their kid or something. So they sent me away.”
“So, I understand if you don’t want to be my friend anymore.”
Regina’s fingers wrapped around Emma’s and she tugged until Emma met her eyes. “You listen to me, Emma Swan. That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. There is nothing wrong with you. And if they could not see that, then they are idiots.”
Emma smiled tentatively.
“You are a talented and special person, Emma. And I am lucky to have you as a friend.”
Emma stared into Regina’s eyes, abruptly realizing how close they were now sitting. “Thanks,” she whispered, afraid to break the spell.
Regina smiled softly and pushed a piece of Emma’s hair behind her ear. Emma’s breath caught and when Regina heard it she looked quickly from Emma’s eyes to her lips.
Emma didn’t dare to move or breathe as Regina leaned forward slowly. She watched her coming closer until their lips were a mere breath apart before closing her eyes.
“Regina!” Robin sounded particularly impatient today.
Regina’s head snapped back, her eyes wide. She pressed two fingers to her lips as Emma internally groaned at the interruption.
“I guess I’d better go.”
Emma nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
“May I have your attention, please?” Zelena’s voice from the microphone onstage quieted the crowd. “Thank you. I’d like to welcome you tonight, Storybrooke High Class of 2001!”
Regina joined halfheartedly in the applause.
“Some of us have remained in Storybrooke and to you, friends and neighbors, I say welcome, and thank you for helping me to host our returning classmates. For those of you who have moved on to adventures outside of Storybrooke, welcome home.” Zelena was looking hungrily at Emma now, eager to exploit their hometown celebrity.
“I would also like to thank our sponsors this evening: Granny’s Diner, who have provided the delicious catering and Forbidden Fruit cider for providing the drinks. But the biggest thrill of all is that our own hometown celebrity, Emma Swan, has agreed to debut her new song, Secret Keeper, for us here tonight.”
The applause was much more enthusiastic for this announcement. Regina’s hands began to shake as she filled with bitter rage. Of all people, Emma Swan was to sing about keeping secrets. The absolute nerve.
“We hope you’ll stay for an evening of bowling and reconnecting with old friends. But for right now, please join me in welcoming, Emma Swan!”
The crowd cheered as Regina lamented that Emma’s performance was timed during her shift at the bar. As much as she secretly loved Emma’s voice, she feared what might be coming based on the song’s title and would prefer not to hear it in a room full of people with whom she had difficult relationships.
“Thank you so much for that kind welcome, Madam Mayor. It’s good to see you, Storybrooke High.” Emma’s usual demeanor shifted so abruptly into the consummate performer that Regina felt as though her head might spin.
“This is a song that I actually wrote years ago. I never debuted it because it always felt very personal to me. But tonight seemed like the perfect time to share this with you. I hope you’ll enjoy.”
Emma sat down on a stool placed onstage for her performance and adjusted the microphone until her lips were pressed against it. Her fingers began to skillfully strum and pluck a haunting melody and Regina found herself under its spell immediately.
For every road I’ve traveled
I’ve never found a home
No place that brought me comfort
When I’m too weary to roam
But when you smile I feel it
Like a family’s warm embrace
I long to hear your laughter
I long to see your face
I’ll be your secret keeper
I’ll guard you with my life
I’ll never seek to hurt you
I’ll vanquish all your strife
I’ll wear my shining armor
If you will be my queen
I’ll be your knight your hopes ignite
Until you find your dreams
Regina’s chest constricted as she listened. This was the song Emma had hummed so many times as they sat together. The melody had haunted Regina for years but now, hearing the lyrics, she felt winded as though she had sprinted across town.
Emma opened her eyes and looked right at Regina behind the bar as she continued.
Despite my best intentions
I lost you on that day
I tried to show my heart to you
But you just turned away
You needed me to help you
To take you by the hand
But I was scared and lost my way
I couldn’t make a stand
Tears filled Regina’s eyes as Emma’s face filled with determination as she entered the bridge.
If ever I could take a second chance
I’d never leave your side, no
I’d swallow all my pride, oh
I’d take you by the hand and lead this dance
I’d be your secret keeper
I’d guard you with my life
I’d never seek to hurt you
I’d vanquish all your strife
I’d wear my shining armor
If you would be my queen
I’d be your knight your fears I’d fight
Until you find your dreams
As Emma plucked the last few notes of the song the crowd erupted but it was all a blur to Regina as she ran from the bowling alley, her shift forgotten.
Regina was seated on the floor of the bathroom, her prom dress spread over the floor around her. She had just thrown up. Again. Bitter tears stung her eyes.
All she wanted was this one night. Yesterday she had learned that her exhaustion and nausea were not due to the flu, as she had assumed. She knew that there were hefty consequences coming. She had hoped that she could have just one more rite of passage as a teenager before she embarked on an all-too-adult adventure.
She choked on a sob as it wrenched free of her throat. As though a dam had broken, her fear and heartache came pouring out. She pulled her knees up to her chest and laid her head down as she sobbed.
The sound of the bathroom door opening brought her wails abruptly to a stop. She froze and hoped that the person would just use the bathroom and leave.
No such luck. Of all people, Emma Swan was in the bathroom and speaking to her in a calm and soothing voice.
“Are you ok?”
She clenched her eyes shut for a moment and willed herself to sound normal as she said, “I’m fine. Must have eaten something bad.”
“Regina, come on. Open the door.”
Regina sighed and tried to wipe her face as best she could using toilet tissue. “Just a moment.”
As she exited the stall she knew she’d failed utterly as Emma’s face went from worried to distraught and she rushed over.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Emma was frantic. “Is it Robin? Did he hurt you?” Emma looked ready to storm off and fight her (much larger) boyfriend, so Regina hurriedly shook her head.
“No, no, it’s nothing like that.”
“What is it, then? Tell me,” Emma pleaded.
“It’s nothing, I…”
“Regina,” Emma took her hand, “Whatever it is – it will be ok. I won’t let anything happen to you. I…” Emma drew herself up and took a deep breath, “I love you.”
Regina burst into fresh tears. She flung herself into Emma’s arms. She felt terribly selfish for doing so but in the moment she needed the comfort too badly to deny herself. Emma wrapped her arms around her and rubbed soothing circles on her back.
“Please tell me what’s happened,” she whispered.
Regina sighed, a heavy, wet sound and stepped back enough to look Emma in the face while keeping her arms around her. She couldn’t keep this secret any longer. Not from the only person she knew she could truly trust.
Emma looked thunderstruck. “Oh.”
Regina meant to chuckle but it came out as a sob. Emma pulled her close again and rubbed her back, though her movements were decidedly less fluid now.
“Does he…” Emma cleared her throat, “Does he know?”
Regina laughed mirthlessly. “Nope. You’re the first. I just found out myself yesterday.”
“Well, I…I’m sure that it will be ok.”
Regina pulled back and began to pace manically. “How? How exactly is this supposed to be ok, Emma?” Regina was shouting now. “My whole future, everything I had planned, all of it is gone now.”
“It’s not gone, Regina. It’s just…changed.”
“I don’t know how to do this. I am so terrified and I feel so alone.”
“You’re not alone, Regina. I will help you.”
“How? You’re going to be long gone by the time the baby comes.”
“I won’t go. I’ll stay and help.”
Regina stared at her for a long moment. Sighing, she shook her head and turned away to lean on the sink. “No, Emma. This is something I need to face on my own. I need to tell Robin. I need to…I need to figure out how to tell my mother. I don’t…I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Please, let me help. I need to know that you’ll be ok.”
Regina straightened her spine and donned what would come to be a familiar mask of calm. “I will be fine. I won’t have you derailing your future for my mistake. What kind of friend would I be?”
“No, Emma. This is how it has to be. I’m going to go tell Robin that I want to go home and I will speak to him. This is our baby, Emma. Mine and his. We will need to work out a solution together. This is our family.” She met Emma’s eye. “A family with no place for you.”
Emma reared back like she’d been slapped. “But I…”
“Emma. I appreciate your kindness. You’ve been a good friend. In a few weeks, we will graduate. You will move on to your new adventure, and I will move on to mine.”
Emma stood in stunned silence realizing she had been dismissed. She hung her head in defeat.
“Are you sure you’re ok?”
Regina closed her eyes and swallowed hard. She nodded after a moment but then swayed and grabbed for the sink to keep her on her feet.
“I’ll be fine.”
“Maybe I’d better get some help.” She turned and started to walk away.
“No!” Regina grabbed Emma’s hand and looked at her, pleading, “No one can know.”
Emma pursed her lips hesitantly. After a moment she nodded.
“Regina! Regina, wait!”
Regina only hurried her steps more as Emma caught up with her. She was unprepared for this conversation and unwilling to show Emma the tear tracks down her face.
“Will you please just wait a second?”
Emma accelerated into a jog and caught up with Regina after a few minutes, catching her by the wrist.
“I’m sorry if I upset you. That wasn’t my intention. There were just things that I’ve been waiting to say for so long, but whenever we talked it got so heated and I could never get it out.”
“What, Emma? What is so important that you felt you needed to express it publicly in a song like that? The same song you played dozens of times during high school?”
“That I’m sorry. That I wish that I had handled what you told me better. That I wish that I had pushed back when you told me that you didn’t want my friendship. I was young and stupid and heartbroken but the truth is that before that night you were the best friend I ever had and I will never stop regretting how I acted.”
Regina huffed, “That night?! What about everything that followed?”
“What? What followed? I don’t know what you mean – nothing followed. That’s the point.”
“If you feel like that’s all you need to apologize about, then you truly understand nothing.” Regina turned and resumed her walk toward home but Emma stopped her again by gently clasping her wrist.
“Regina, please. Can we just please talk about this?”
Regina tore her wrist away from Emma’s touch. “I’m afraid there’s nothing more to say.”
This time when she walked away, Emma let her go.
Emma waited by Regina's locker for the bell to ring. She was determined to speak to Regina, to offer her help, to make things right for the way she had walked away at the prom. It didn’t matter that Regina had sent her away – Emma had used the same tactic enough times to know that Regina needed her help whether she wanted it or not.
The bell rang and Emma straightened. She watched as Regina switched her books in her locker for her next period’s materials. She walked over with determined strides.
“Hey, Regina, I…”
“Do you hear something, Zelena? It’s almost as though some little orphan is speaking to me, although I cannot think why that should be.”
Emma’s face colored but she pushed on, “Look, Regina…”
Regina was truly angry now. “No, you look. I have nothing to say to you. And you certainly have nothing to say to me. Now scurry on about your business.”
Emma felt her eyes prickle as she nodded and turned to walk away.
Emma Swan was drunk.
After watching Regina until she was around the corner and out of sight, Emma walked slowly around town and found herself at the Rabbit Hole – the dingiest dive bar in a thirty mile radius.
With so many people busy preparing for the holidays or attending the reunion the bar was practically empty. She sat alone nursing whiskey after whiskey and listening to sad love songs on rotation via the bar’s jukebox.
When she was well past the legal limit the bells over the door chimed heralding the arrival of Ruby and Mary Margaret.
“Hey, you guys! I’m just having a little post-reunion reunion with my old friend, here,” she gestured to the bartender and then squinted at his face, “What’s yer name?”
Ruby gestured for him to bring Mary Margaret a drink as she swiped Emma’s and took a drink. “Death wish crush?”
Emma rested her head on her hands on the bar. “I don’t know what I did. I don’t know how I fucked this up so bad that she won’t even talk to me?”
“Emma…when did she ever talk to you? She never talked – she just insulted.”
Emma shook her head and laughed mirthlessly. “No, no, no. When we would talk after school. You remember? You remember?”
“Um…no, Emma. I don’t. Because that never happened.”
“Yes, it did,” Mary Margaret quietly corrected. Both Emma and Ruby whipped their heads around to look at her.
Mary Margaret nodded slowly. “I noticed when she stopped being so mean to you. And then one day after school when Robin was looking for Regina, I offered to help. I saw you talking behind the bleachers. I told him that she must have left for home already.”
Mary Margaret shrugged. “I knew how you felt about her. And you seemed happier. And she seemed happier – which I wasn’t sure could ever happen.”
“You are both delusional,” Ruby argued, shaking her head. “She treated both of you like shit. She drove Emma to leave town and continued her reign of terror toward you until the present day.”
Mary Margaret sighed, “She thought that I ruined her life.”
Emma scrutinized her, “Did you?”
Regina had been sick every morning for two weeks. Mary Margaret knew what that was likely to mean. The first few days she accepted Regina’s explanation of illness or indigestion. After two weeks, she knew what she’d seen.
Every night for a week after the prom, she heard Regina crying herself to sleep at night. Determined to help, Mary Margaret decided that she needed to speak to Cora.
“Yes, dear child, please come in.” Mary Margaret stepped into Cora’s office at her invitation and closed the door.
“I’m worried about Regina.”
“Regina?” Cora looked genuinely surprised and Mary Margaret realized that she did not know.
She pressed on, “I’ve noticed that she’s been sick a lot. And she’s seemed to be upset.”
“Well, she is under a tremendous amount of pressure with graduation approaching. She’s had several very promising offers from colleges and has yet to make her final decision. I’ve tried my best to urge her to make a selection but,” Cora chuckled, “As her mother, I’m afraid I’m the last person whose advice she’ll heed.”
“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true,” chimed Mary Margaret, as naïve as ever, “In fact, I would daresay that right now she needs a mother’s counsel more than ever.”
“Is that so, dear? Why do you say that?”
“Well…perhaps Regina should be the one to discuss this with you.”
“My dear, if we wait for Regina to share her burdens with me I fear she will continue to bear them alone indefinitely.”
Mary Margaret sighed and nodded. “The thing is…I think that she may be…about to become a mother herself.”
Cora stared at her, stunned. “You think my daughter is…pregnant?”
Cora stiffened in her seat, “I see.”
“I hope you understand that I would never try to meddle. It’s simply that I don’t want her to be alone.”
“Of course, dear,” drawled Cora with a smile that only to one as innocent as Mary Margaret could look sincere. “I’ll take care of everything.”
“The way I understand it, Robin was shipped off within a week. Cora told Regina that he was offered a football scholarship and left to go practice with the team. For all I know, it might even be true.”
“You told her mother she was pregnant?! Mary Margaret, didn’t you know what kind of woman she was?”
“Not at the time, no. I realized my mistake when she kicked Regina out of the house during the time she needed her family most. I felt awful about it. I even contacted Robin to see if he would do right by her.”
“He said that he was not about to forego his future for some girl who, and I quote, ‘probably did every linebacker in the school’.”
Emma jumped up from her seat, knocking her stool over in the process, “That worthless sack of shit! Is he here for the reunion? I’ll kick his ass! Regina wouldn’t do that.”
Mary Margaret put a calming hand on her arm. “He’s not here, no. I understand that when he got another girl pregnant his first year of college her father forced a shotgun wedding and they have been married with three kids living in Cleveland or someplace since then.”
“How in the hell did you never tell me this, MM?” Ruby looked mystified.
Mary Margaret sat up straighter as she declared, “Once I realized my mistake in sharing Regina’s secret with Cora and trying to see the best in Robin, I vowed never to interfere in her business again. That’s why I’ve never participated in the gossip about her.”
“But you also never set it straight.” Emma said, much more sober, “Suddenly this makes so much sense. I was the only person who knew she was pregnant. She must think that I told you.”
Mary Margaret paled. “She thinks that you betrayed her by telling me? Oh Emma, I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
“Well, now that you do, we need to fix this. Like right fucking now.” Emma turned and prepared to march out of the bar and over to Regina’s house.
Ruby stopped her with a hand across her chest. “Slow your roll, there, lady. It’s like two-thirty in the morning. You will not make this better by taking your drunk ass over there right now.”
Emma grunted in frustration and kicked her downed stool. “Well, what the fuck are we going to do? I’m kind of spent in the grand gesture department after that song.”
Mary Margaret shook her head. “Emma, this was my mistake. I need to be the one to make it up to you. And to her. I will go see her first thing tomorrow.”
Ruby put one arm around each of her friends’ shoulders. “For tonight, though, I think we should call it. Why don’t you both come back to my place to sleep it off?”
Emma shrugged her off, “Thanks Rubes, but I think I want to be alone. I’ll just go back to my room.”
She sighed and walked away from the bar without paying her tab or righting her stool. Ruby took care of both while Mary Margaret watched her go, tearfully.
“All these years, I never figured it out.”
“You’re telling me. Who knew the death wish crush was actually crazy stupid love?”
Regina woke early the next morning. She figured she had half an hour or so before Henry woke up, so she donned her workout clothes and running shoes and prepared herself to run around the orchard during the sunrise.
When she got to the front door, however, she opened it to find Mary Margaret on the other side, her hand poised to knock.
“Oh my gosh. I’m so sorry. It’s probably too early to be here, right? I mean I can see that you’re awake, but I…”
Regina huffed impatiently, “Is there a reason why you’re on my doorstep before the sun has fully risen, Miss Blanchard?”
“Yes. There is. You see, I…could I maybe come in?”
Regina debated slamming the door in her face but reconsidered. Knowing this twit and her relentless determination she would not be able to escape this conversation. She might as well get it over with.
“By all means.” She stepped back to allow Henry’s schoolteacher and her step-sister into the house.
“No, thank you.” Regina nodded curtly, hoping to prod the nitwit along. “A glass of water would be nice.”
Regina sighed but led the way to the kitchen and prepared an ice water.
“Now what is this all about?”
“It’s about Emma.”
Regina glared at her. “I have nothing to say on that particular topic.”
“Ok, then it’s about Henry.”
Regina looked confused now. “Henry?”
“Look, Regina, I…I know that we have never exactly been close. When your mother married my father I truly looked up to you and I hoped…that is, I wanted…”
Regina gnashed her teeth together.
“Would you please get to the point, Miss Blanchard?”
Mary Margaret took a large gulp of her water and nodded, taking a deep breath as she began, “I understand why you have been angry with me for all these years. It was not my place to speak to your mother.”
Regina paled. This was not where she expected this conversation to go.
“I hope you can understand that when I did so, I did it out of concern for you rather than any malicious intent. I didn’t understand the kind of person she was or how dire the consequences would be for you. I thought that being pregnant at eighteen was too much of a burden to bear alone and I hoped that your mother would offer you the kind of love and support that you needed.”
Regina was silent as she turned away and began to prepare a pot of coffee. It was too early for her to comprehend this without exercise or caffeine.
“I had hoped that she would push Robin to be a father to Henry. Or, in the absence of his support, to offer her own. I had no idea that she would cast you out or that she would push him away.”
“Robin chose to leave. He had a scholarship. He had ambitions.”
“That’s what Cora said. It may even be true, in part. But Regina, think about it. Who leaves for college two weeks before high school graduation?”
Regina was shaking. “He said he had football practice.”
Mary Margaret shook her head, “He wasn’t even first string, Regina. He barely played even before he left school.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you do. Your mother felt that you had damaged her reputation, and she sought to ruin you. If you dig deep, I think you already know that. That’s why she’s never been around Henry, isn’t it?”
Regina conceded the point with a nod.
“All of that is to say that I am truly sorry for betraying you in that way. It was not my place to speak to her regardless of the consequences and if I could take it back I would.”
Regina cleared her throat roughly as the pot finished brewing. She reached up to take down a mug.
“But that’s not why I came to see you today.”
Regina frowned. “Ok?” she drew the word out into a question.
“It really was about Emma.”
Regina swallowed harshly and nodded for her to continue.
“You see, for several weeks around the time of your senior prom, I had noticed you were behaving oddly. You were sick in the mornings. Every night for a week after prom you cried yourself to sleep. You seemed exhausted and overwhelmed. At first I tried to accept your explanation that you were sick or your mother’s that you were under a lot of pressure. But after a few weeks I came to realize the truth.”
“Yes. You see, Emma never told me that you were pregnant.”
Regina dropped the mug, which shattered on the ground.
Little feet came thumping down the stairs.
“Mom, are you ok?”
Regina clutched the countertop with white knuckles and her eyes clenched shut. “I’m fine, Henry.”
“Henry, Miss Blanchard and I are just having a conversation. Why don’t you go get dressed and we’ll have some breakfast in a little bit?”
“But I heard…”
“That was my fault, Henry,” Mary Margaret intervened, “I dropped my mug. I am a bit clumsy first thing in the morning.”
He eyed them suspiciously before he left to comply with his mother’s wishes.
“She didn’t tell you? But I thought…”
“Before last night I never realized the reason you were angry with her all these years.”
“I said some terrible things to her.”
“I know. But I hope you know that in all the years I’ve known both of you, those months that you were spending time together were the happiest I’ve ever seen either one of you.”
Regina’s eyes widened. “You knew?”
Mary Margaret nodded.
“But you never said anything.”
Mary Margaret chuckled. “Hard to believe I can keep a secret, huh? For the record, she never told me about that, either. I saw you together after school one day.”
“We were just…”
“Frankly, Regina, it doesn’t matter to me if you were or are friends or more. Once I figured out that you had mistakenly thought that Emma betrayed you all those years ago I needed to tell you the truth.”
“Yes. But for you, too. I don’t expect you to forgive me for what I did. But I hope you will realize that with Emma, there is really nothing to forgive. Even if you decide never to speak to her again, I wanted you to be able to leave your anger with her in the past.”
Regina was stunned – overwhelmed with so many revelations this early in the morning.
“I don’t want that.” She looked up at Mary Margaret’s face, “I don’t want to never speak to her again.”
Mary Margaret smiled, “Good. Then talk to her. If you play your cards right, maybe you can salvage the reunion dance tonight.”
Regina looked at her, horrified. “I have no idea what to say.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” she stood, “Now I should probably get going so you can have breakfast with Henry. I wish you the very best of luck, Regina.” She turned to walk toward the door.
She turned around. “Excuse me?”
“I do forgive you. I hope you will forgive me for being hateful to you all these years. I…felt very alone then. But I wouldn’t trade Henry for any other future I could have had.”
“That’s exactly as it should be. But consider now what kind of future you want.”
Regina nodded and smiled. “Thank you.”
Mary Margaret smiled and nodded before letting herself out and closing the door behind her.
Henry came thumping down the stairs a moment later.
“What was Miss Blanchard doing here so early?”
Regina stared through the closed door Mary Margaret had just passed through.
She turned to look at Henry. “Oh, sweetheart. I’m afraid I’ve been mistaken about a great many things.”
“I think maybe I do have some friends after all.”
Emma walked into her old high school gym wearing her typical skinny jeans and leather jacket. She had little hope of actually seeing Regina tonight, and she didn’t give a shit about the dance. The only reason she showed up at all was that she had promised to sing a few of her bigger hits and dance with Ruby.
She saw her friend approaching as she entered and sighed dramatically. “Crepe paper and balloons? Seriously? Are we still in high school?”
Ruby grinned wolfishly at her. “That is the idea, my friend.”
“Why are you even here? You didn’t even graduate the same year as me.”
“Neither did I. We locals are invited every year to the reunion dance. It’s not usually such a big crowd that there’s no space.” Mary Margaret had joined their conversation without Emma noticing.
“Got it. So…how was your day?”
Mary Margaret contemplated for a few moments. “I’d say fair to middling.”
“That doesn’t sound like good news. Did you talk to her? What did she say?”
Mary Margaret opened her mouth to speak but before she could they heard tapping on the microphone followed by Zelena saying, “Testing…is this thing on? Oh, hello!”
Emma hissed, “Mary Margaret…” but her friend was paying rapt attention to the mayor.
“Welcome once again, Class of 2001. We are thrilled to host you right here in Storybrooke High. Make sure to get a hall pass or Mrs. Shoe is sure to put you in detention.” A few people joined in Zelena’s fake laughter. “After her rousing performance last night, I’m sure we’re all positively captivated to see what our local star, Emma Swan has in store for us tonight. Let’s give her a warm welcome. Emma…”
Emma plastered on a fake smile and went into her “performance mode”. She walked onstage and strapped her guitar on, sitting down on the stool onstage. “Hello again, folks. Tonight I was asked to share a few of my bigger hits. I hope you’ll enjoy.”
Throughout the three songs she performed, Emma scanned the crowd, hoping to see Regina. When she finished her mini “set” and gave her former classmates a bow, Emma quickly walked down the steps offstage and found her friends.
“Listen, I think I’m going to call it a night, ok? After last night I’m just not up for this.”
Without a word, Mary Margaret held out an envelope.
Mary Margaret rolled her eyes and forced it into Emma’s hand. “Just take it. Open it. Read it.”
Emma narrowed her eyes as she looked down and saw her name written in beautiful cursive. She opened the envelope and found a single notecard with five words.
“Meet me in our spot.”
Emma’s awestruck face looked like she had opened a Christmas present she had waited for all year as she lifted her gaze to her friends – who she now noticed sported matching shit-eating grins.
She looked back down at the note and ran out the door. Ruby and Mary Margaret watched, bemused, as she returned a moment later yelling, “I forgot my guitar” before grabbing the case and running out again.
“God, I hope it goes well. After looking at that face a disappointment may be too much for Emma to take.”
“Well, either she will end up being totally in love or forgiven and free to leave again without looking back. Either way, I think we have to say goodbye to ‘death wish crush’.”
Mary Margaret pursed her lips. “A tragedy, no doubt.”
Ruby gave an exaggerated pout. “Hey! I never got my dance. She promised.”
Mary Margaret extended her hand to her oldest friend. “Miss Lucas, would you do me the honor?”
Ruby grinned and took her hand as the band struck up The Twist. She spun Mary Margaret around, laughing.
“The honor is mine, Miss Blanchard.”
Emma forced herself to slow down as she rushed to the spot behind the bleachers she had visited so many times in high school and so many times since in her dreams. She had no idea what to expect when she got there. She hoped from the way that her friends had behaved, and the fact that they were meeting here, that this was not to be a fight, but at this point she was very unsure where she stood with Regina.
“Regina?” she called out in a stage whisper as she approached – she didn’t want to scare her coming upon her in the dark.
As she rounded the corner she realized she need not have worried. Regina had lit candles in a circle around the very spot where they had spent so many afternoons pouring their hearts out.
“Good evening, Miss Swan.”
Emma blundered forward, unable to control herself at the prospect of seeing Regina and finally getting everything out in the open. “Regina, I’m so sorry. I swear to you I never told anyone anything you ever shared with me. But I am so very sorry.”
Regina chuckled. “What on earth are you apologizing for?”
“I should have fought for you – cleared the air. I shouldn’t have left during a time when you were so alone and in need of help. I should have…”
Regina stepped closer and put her finger on Emma’s lips. Emma’s eyes widened but she was silent.
“You are babbling. If I recall correctly, I was the one who told you to go. That I would manage things with my family. And for that, Emma, and for so many other hateful things that I have said to you, I would like to apologize.”
“It’s ok, I understand. I...”
With the finger no longer working, Regina clamped her hand over Emma’s mouth, her eyes twinkling with mischief.
“Please let me finish, Miss Swan.”
“Smowwy” came a garbled apology from behind Regina’s hand.
Regina’s responding chuckle was low and throaty but she lowered her hand to grasp Emma’s hand in her own.
“That night when I pushed you away, I was…terrified. I felt like I was on the brink of losing everything I had planned for my future. I didn’t want you to lose your future, too. Not for me. Not when I knew very clearly that you didn’t want a family and that you had planned to finally be free to do what you wanted.
“All of that makes me sound like I was trying to be noble. Maybe that’s how I’ve justified it to myself for all these years. The other side of it was that as scared as I was of the uncertainty in my future, I was just as scared by the certainty of the words you said to me that night. You seemed so sure of them when I felt so confused.
“You were my best friend. You were my only confidante. And I had never even considered the possibility of being with a woman before I met you. You were so sure of who you were and I had no idea. Everything I’d ever dreamed about was something that my mother taught me to want. When I was with you, it was the first time in my life that I simply wanted something for me.”
Emma’s heart was beating a thousand times a minute. She felt like the night air around them was singing. And then she realized that it actually was. She shook her head as if coming out of a spell.
“Is that my song?”
Regina laughed, “It is.”
“You have my album?”
“I always followed your career after you left. It was my secret. I missed so many things about you but the sound of you strumming your guitar and humming was the thing I missed the most. The song you played last night was the song that I fell asleep to every night.”
“But I never recorded it.”
Regina shook her head, “I didn’t need a recording. I could never forget a note.”
Emma smiled. “Neither could I. It’s not really called Secret Keeper, you know. In my mind it was always called Regina’s Theme. That’s part of why I never recorded it. I figured then my secret would be out.”
Regina stepped closer so that she was just inches away from Emma. “I have a secret of my own.”
Emma was mesmerized. “You do?”
Regina nodded and licked her lips. Emma struggled to lift her gaze back to Regina’s eyes. “The only thing I’ve thought of more than that song is of the kiss we almost shared. Do you remember?”
Regina reached to push a stray strand of hair behind Emma’s ear and leaned forward slowly, her eyes dropping from Emma’s eyes to her lips. She paused when they were just a breath apart and smiled when there was no interruption this time, before pressing her lips firmly against Emma’s.
Emma moaned at the feeling of Regina’s mouth against her own and wrapped her arms around her waist. Regina wrapped her arms around Emma’s neck and grinned as she kissed her again and again. When air became a necessity, she pulled back and raised heavy lids to see Emma’s eyes still closed over kiss-swollen lips.
“So, Miss Swan. Are you glad that you came home for the reunion?”
Emma gave a dopey grin as she opened her eyes and joked, “Reunited and it feels so good.”
Regina groaned but grinned and kissed her again anyway.