The last thing he expected to hear when he came home was his parents arguing, but Mom was really going for it in a way she usually reserved for her increasingly less frequent fights with Grams (and he believed they both provoked those for old times’ sake more than anything else). Actually, he’d been worried that they might be all naked and Having Mom Sex. Well, worried and just a tiny bit hopeful, if he were honest with himself. He really wanted them to be together; after that morning, he just wasn’t convinced that he wanted it happening in front of him. Hand-holding and quick kisses would be okay. Hugs. Hugs were fine. Totally Married Touching was fine, too. Basically, he was good with anything which didn’t involve tongues and/or exposed skin.
“You promised me, Emma. You promised!”
“I was hungry. I just wanted something to eat. I wasn’t gone that long.”
Henry eased his backpack from his shoulder and put it on the floor, kicking off his shoes and hanging up his coat.
“Not that long?” Mom’s voice got even louder. “Do you have any idea what went through my mind when David called me to tell me you weren’t answering the door? I thought something terrible had happened to you.”
“You could’ve sent me a text!”
“And you’d have—what? Lied to me about where you were? Pretended to be home when you were at Granny’s?”
“If you’d come home at lunchtime like you’d said, none of this would’ve happened.”
Henry winced. Blame-shifting and being defensive was so not the way to win a fight with Mom. In fact, he wasn’t sure there was a right way to win a fight with Mom. Guilt had worked best for him in the past, but was getting less effective as he got older and she got wise to him.
He entered the living room. Mom had her hands on her hips, face flushed with anger.
“Henry, you’re home.” She lifted her hand to her head and stroked her forehead.
He nodded and shrugged. “Sorry.” He looked at Emma, who had her hands behind her back, head slightly bowed. “Didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“It’s fine, kid,” Emma said. She bit her lower lip and side-glanced Mom, who appeared to be surprised that she was fighting with Emma at all.
“No, no. I’ll go to my room, and you two can,” he waved his hand to indicate both of them, “whatever.”
He backed out of the living room, trying not to look at either of his mothers, who were trying just as hard not to look at each other.
“Now, look what you’ve done,” Mom said as soon as he was gone.
“What I’ve done? How is this my fault? And what’s the problem anyway? It’s hardly the first time he’s heard us fighting.”
Except it was the first time in months, actually. And it had never made him feel wrong inside before, not even when they were just Team Moms rather than Obviously Married for Life. He didn’t really mind if they fought; he only cared if they hurt each other in doing so.
He trudged upstairs as their argument got louder, and he wondered how they had gone from kissing to a screaming match quite so quickly. In Mom’s case, it was probably her fear and adrenaline from the night before finally kicking in; she’d been distraught, and she couldn’t have slept much, so she was always going to snap at some point. Emma had no excuse, though. Even if she didn’t believe him about Mom being in love with her, which would be inconceivable after the events of the last twenty-four hours, she knew Mom cared enough to kiss her that morning and to beg her not to do anything stupid. Then she did exactly what Mom had begged her not to.
The fight continued for a few minutes, and then he heard Emma’s boots on the stairs followed by her bedroom door being slammed shut. That was becoming quite the regular occurrence in the House of Oblivious Idiots.
It wasn’t too long before Mom knocked on his door, asking to come inside.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You shouldn’t have had to hear that.”
“Mom, it’s fine.” He patted the space next to him on the bed and shifted over to give her room. After a brief hesitation, she stepped out of her shoes and sat beside him, her hands resting palms-down on her thighs. He took her right hand in his left. “It’s okay for you to get mad at me and Emma when we do stupid stuff.”
Mom stared at their joint hands. “You think so?”
“Yeah, I know so.”
“It’s just—” Mom sighed and shook her head. “If she wants to ignore her doctor’s orders, it’s not my place to make her do otherwise.”
“Of course it is.” Looking out for each other was definitely something people in love did. Maybe he’d given Mom too much credit for her actions that morning. Maybe she hadn’t figured anything out at all. “Your house, your rules, right?”
“That only applies to disobedient sons, not to—”
As she paused, biting her lip, he willed her to get there. He squeezed her hand and wished with all his might that she’d say something which indicated that she understood What Emma Meant to Her.
“—and not to Emma,” she said, disappointing him. “This is her home, and she should be free to come and go as she pleases.”
He twisted around to rest his head on her shoulder. He wasn’t too old to do that, right? Not if he was comforting Mom and not the other way around. Mom leaned her head on top of his. Her hair was long enough to tickle the side of his face, but he liked it, liked the familiar smell of her shampoo.
“I think maybe Emma’s still not good at remembering that she has people who care about what she gets up to,” he said. It was his best guess for why she would do something quite so stupid.
“Well, that’s nonsense, because we care, don’t we?”
“Yeah.” Care was putting it mildly, especially for Mom. “We do.”
They sat together for a bit, then Mom announced that she was going to prepare dinner (‘seeing as your mother apparently can’t feed herself in a house full of perfectly healthy food’) and that he should join her once he’d done his homework.
As his computer was booting up, Emma knocked his door and let herself in. The timing of her appearance, just as Mom turned the radio on downstairs, couldn’t have been coincidental: she was avoiding Mom. He recognised her expression as the Bashful Smile of Apology, and he was so not the person on whom she should be wasting her weak-ass game.
“Hey,” she said. “Sorry about before.”
“Mom already apologised. And you should be apologising to her, not to me.”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. Your Mom couldn’t get away at lunchtime because something came up, so I went to Granny’s for some food. I didn’t even drive. I walked. No big deal.” She perched on the corner of his desk, arms folded across her chest and legs crossed at the ankles.
“Whatever.” He couldn’t look at her as he typed his password onto the lock screen, because he was flat-out angry with her for being a coward about her feelings and for upsetting Mom.
“What’s with the attitude?”
He leaned back in his chair, mirroring her crossed arms and legs. “Mom let you sleep with her last night. She looked after you all night long. She kissed you on the lips this morning. And you couldn’t stay home for one day to make her happy?”
Emma narrowed her eyes. “How did you know I slept in your Mom’s room?”
“You’re trying to change the—” He paused and furrowed his brow. “Are you wearing two Henleys?”
“Well, yeah.” Emma looked down at herself. She had on a long-sleeved white Henley under a short-sleeved green one. “One wouldn’t have been enough because it’s cold out today. Besides, the double Henley is a classic look. And I’m pretty sure your Mom bought me both of these.”
“You couldn’t be more gay.”
“Hey, hey, no throwing shade at the invalid.”
“I meant both of you.” Although Emma’s gay was a lot more obvious than Mom’s. Emma’s gay could probably be observed from space.
He brought up his history assignment on screen and checked the word count. He wondered whether changing it to spacing-and-a-half would make it look long enough without having to write anything more substantial. Probably not.
Emma was fidgeting, waiting for him to say something else. The whole thing was exhausting him, and he was getting tired of being their sounding board when what they needed to do was talk to each other without shouting. He might very well kill one of them before all of this was over, and no jury in the land would convict him: all he would have to do was show them the Big Book of Gay and explain his mothers’ ongoing behaviour, and he’d be acquitted in minutes.
“Imagine Mom was the one who got hurt, and you were the one who got a call saying that she’d gone missing. How would you have felt?” He stared at her, and Emma just shrugged. “Don’t act like you don’t go completely ballistic whenever she’s in the slightest bit of danger. I know about the app.” He grinned at Emma’s guilty look, although it was hardly a secret that Emma tracked his and Regina’s locations on her phone. “You scared her, so she’s pissed at you. Just go downstairs and apologise. It’s not rocket science.”
“But I only—”
“Went out for some food. I get it. But, here’s the thing: you’re not the only one with issues around here. Every time Mom’s allowed herself to love someone, she’s lost them. And, twice in two days, she’s thought that she might have lost you, so suck it up and make it right.”
“She’s not going to want to hear anything I have to say.”
“You don’t need to make a speech. Sorry’s only one word—two if you go with ‘I’m sorry’. Throw in a hug and you’ll be golden.”
“She’s definitely not going to want to hug me.”
“Yeah, people who kiss you on the mouth are clearly uncomfortable with the very idea of physical contact.”
Emma’s mouth curled in an almost-smile. “I really hate you sometimes.”
“No, you don’t.”
“Sure I do.” She uncrossed her legs and poked his shin with the toe of her boot.
“Now you’re just stalling.” He turned back to the assignment on-screen. “And you’re interrupting important learning here, which is not going to help you get back into Mom’s good books.”
Emma must have apologised to Mom, because dinner was okay that evening—maybe a little stilted, but all three of them were tired and on edge, so he put it down to that. His grandparents came by to check on Emma while they were still eating dessert, which meant that their evening mostly consisted of Grandma fussing over Emma while Mom and Grandpa huddled together on the couch, whispering comments and trying to stay out of Emma’s eyeline whenever she looked to one of them for support. Mom eventually shepherded them out just after nine, claiming that Emma needed her rest.
Sleeping arrangements went back to normal, with Emma heading to her own room, but he heard Mom go into check on Emma after she’d been in to say goodnight to him, and she was in there for a while. He also thought that he might have heard footsteps in the hallway during the night, but he was already falling back to sleep just as it occurred to him to get up and go check on it.
There was nearly a mini-fight on Thursday morning when Emma came downstairs dressed for work, and it was only resolved when Emma agreed to let Mom come with her to her follow-up appointment at the trauma clinic that morning. That, of course, was something that adults did all the time: accompanied people who were Just Friends to routine outpatient visits. It did, however, remind him that he’d picked up from both Will Scarlet and Nurse Mbele that Mom was Emma’s emergency contact. Again, totally normal to name your Not-Spouse rather than your biological parents.
There were no more kisses on the lips, though, which was a frustrating step backwards. Things resettled as they had been before. When he complained to Grace about the lack of progress, she asked him what he’d expected. More, he supposed. Realisation, romance, something. She told him he was being overly optimistic, given how clueless they both were. (‘Much as your moms’ life would make an excellent rom-com, Henry, real life isn’t a movie and people don’t just fall into each other’s arms,’ she’d said, which echoed what Emma kept telling him, but somewhat ignored the fact that everyone in town was a goddamned fairy tale character, more of fiction than of fact.)
One thing he did notice was that Emma became more solicitous about updating Mom with her whereabouts, like Mom had put a metaphorical cowbell around Emma’s neck. He wished he knew what Emma said in her texts, though, because they gave Mom the Faraway Look of Pride, the same one she got when Emma brought her flowers. Occasionally, they even caused a Deep Sigh of Contentment. Once, on a Saturday afternoon when Emma was out getting some kind of dip Mom wanted for movie snacks, she sent a text which caused Mom to give a Downright Dirty Laugh. As soon as she did it, she blushed and jerked her head in his direction; he pretended to be reading his comic book. When he looked back up, she still had a Secret Smile on her face and her fingers were tracing the words on the screen.
One Sunday morning about a month after Emma’s accident, Emma got called to a domestic assault somewhere out in Lakeview Park. Mom tried to act like everything was okay, but Henry could sense that she was agitated. They still met up for their weekly picnic with Grandpa and Uncle Neal, even though winter was setting in and there was snow in the air. He wanted to be close to Mom, to be there for her, but she shooed him off to play catch with his grandfather. That was kinda fun, because Grandpa threw like he really meant it and narrated all his own plays in a hokey 1940s way (‘It’s a beautiful day down at the Storybrooke diamond, sports fans, for this first outing of the talented young pitcher, David Nolan’), but Henry tried to keep an eye on Mom at all times.
She took Uncle Neal for a walk to feed the duckies, which seemed to calm her down, although her phone never left her hand, just in case Emma texted or called. Mom was sitting on a bench, supervising Neal sailing his little plastic boat in the water, when Emma snuck up behind her and covered her eyes.
At first, Mom was delighted. She stood as Emma rounded the bench, pulling Emma close. They hugged so tight, Emma whispering something into Mom’s ear while Mom’s hands found their safe place on Emma’s hips. He couldn’t see from where he and Grandpa had given up pretending to play catch and were watching his moms, but he thought Mom might be kissing Emma’s neck and cheek, judging from the way her head ducked and moved. Then Mom’s hands were on Emma’s shoulders, forcing her back. Emma stretched out her arms and he heard ‘Aw, come on, Regina’ on the wind, just before Mom pushed Emma hard on the chest. Emma stumbled back a few steps before losing her footing and ending up in the duck pond, up to her knees in the freezing grey-green water.
He and Grandpa jogged over to the picnic table, where Mom was packing her own things away.
“Mom?” he asked.
“Sweetheart, I’m going to head home, but you stay here with Emma and your grandfather.” She cupped his cheek and smiled, although there were tears forming in her eyes. Behind her, Emma had scrambled out of the pond, and was picking up Uncle Neal, who was laughing at his silly sister. Mom had stormed off before Emma reached them.
“I left my phone at home today, so I couldn’t let her know I was okay,” she said without prompting, handing off her brother to Grandpa. She broke into a sprint immediately.
By the time Emma caught up to Mom, her speed in flat boots much greater than Mom’s angry stomping in heels, they were both on the far side of the pond. Emma reached out and pulled Mom around by the arm, and they traded harsh words back and forth, all big hand gestures and Mom trying to leave but letting Emma pull her back every time.
“I guess it’s just us men together now,” Grandpa said to him, reaching into Mom’s picnic hamper for something to feed Uncle Neal. “Would you like to come back to the loft after this? Your grandma always loves to see you, and we could watch the Pats game together later.”
“I was thinking of going over to hang out with Grace until dinner. Also, Mom’s making roast chicken and potatoes tonight.” He loved his grandparents a lot, but nothing Grandma cooked could compare to Mom’s roast chicken dinners.
“Okay, but maybe give your moms some time to themselves either way?” Grandpa looked over at them, and Henry followed his gaze to where Emma was wiping tears from Mom’s cheek, her head ducking down to catch Mom’s eyes.
Mom tried to turn away again, but Emma stepped around to block Mom’s way, taking her wrists and rubbing them with her thumbs. Whatever she said that time made Mom stop fighting her and nod. She loosened Emma’s grip and instead pressed against her, lifting her hands to guide Emma’s head down to her shoulder. Emma’s arms went around Mom’s waist and pulled her even closer while Mom threaded her fingers into Emma’s hair.
If life were just like the movies, Henry reckoned Mom would have raised her leg, heel pointing upwards, like a modern-day Carole Lombard or Myrna Loy.
Four days later, on what Henry would later christen as Emma and Henry Finally Catch Separate Breaks Because Mom and Grace are Awesome Wednesday (he was considering making it an annual holiday in their house, possibly with a pithier name), Mom was still eating toast with one hand and packing her briefcase with the other while she lectured them about their lack of promptness, even though she was the one running late for work.
“You have to promise me you won’t be late,” she said, pausing to look at Emma, “because your mother is arranging this baby shower for Ashley, and you know I cannot face your mother alone when she’s all a-twitter about something.” Mostly, Mom and Grandma were friends these days, but whenever Mom was nervous about something, Snow immediately became ‘your mother’ and it was Emma’s duty to keep things smooth between them.
“We’ll be there.” Emma got up from the table, picking up Mom’s travel cup and filling it from the coffee pot.
“I still don’t see why I have to be there at all,” Henry said.
“You don’t, not really,” Mom said, checking her make-up in her compact and running her tongue over her teeth. “We’re having dinner together first, and then you only have to stay long enough to hand over the gift, because it’s from all of us.”
“What did we get her?” Emma asked.
“Do you not listen to anything I say?” Mom rolled her eyes, dropping her compact back into her purse. “We,” Mom circled her hand in the air to indicate the entire Swan-Mills family, “got them a large basket full of practical things like baby wipes and lotion and shampoo, because those are the things you run out of at two in the morning when your child has a cold or the croup or has just randomly projectile vomited everywhere.”
“Oh, right.” Emma handed the coffee cup across the kitchen island to Mom. “Good choice.”
“And we,” Mom pointed between herself and Emma, as she flipped the cap open and inhaled the rich coffee scent, “bought Ashley a gift voucher for the spa, so she can have a day pampering herself after the baby’s born.”
“That was nice of us.”
“Well, I knew you wouldn’t remember to get anything, so it seemed easier to get her something from both of us.” Mom took a sip of her coffee and then snapped the lid shut again, putting it back down on the counter next to her briefcase.
“I kind of meant that it was a really thoughtful gift for you to get for Ashley.” Emma did the bashful head duck with full shoulder shrug and swivelling knee, then rushed the second part. “But I also like that it’s from both of us.”
Mom gave Emma a weird look that he couldn’t categorise, then she turned to him and held her arms out. He got up from the table and came over for a hug, which he didn’t even pretend to dislike.
“Wear something nice,” she said, kissing his cheek. “The plaid shirt is good. Maybe with your black jeans.” She looked down at his feet. “And boots or shoes, not sneakers.”
“Dress nice,” he said. “Got it.”
“And you can slip away early, if you want. Call your grandfather and tell him you’ll be coming over around seven.”
“Arrange own babysitter. Check.”
Mom walked around the island to stand in front of Emma. She reached down to the zipper of Emma’s open leather jacket and pulled it up, then adjusted the collar.
“And you,” she said, resting her palms on Emma’s shoulders, “have you got your phone today?”
“Yes.” This conversation had already become a daily ritual, but Emma hadn’t complained, as she clearly liked it when Mom fussed over her.
“Good.” Mom shifted her hands from Emma’s shoulders to her hips.
“What, no fashion advice for me?”
“I assume you’re coming straight from work, so you’ll be wearing what you have on just now.”
Mom looked Emma up and down. “You’ll do.” She leaned forward and did the cheek-kiss thing. “Be safe.” She pulled back, reaching around for her briefcase and coffee cup. “And definitely don’t be late tonight.”
And that would normally have been that, but Emma must have taken some bravery pills or eaten spinach that morning, because her hand shot out to grab Mom’s arm before she could leave. Mom frowned, waiting for an explanation. With her free hand, Emma took the coffee cup from Mom and put it back on the counter, and then she pulled Mom into a hug. After only a brief hesitation, Mom’s arms reached up and over Emma’s shoulders, cradling Emma’s head to her neck like she had by the duck pond.
Seeing them like that, just a few feet away, wasn’t nearly as squicky as he’d thought it might be. They looked good, like they were meant to fit together like that, which Henry had known for some time now, but which they seemed to be realising only now.
“I will always be there for you,” Emma said, her words almost lost against Mom’s neck. “Always. Whenever you need me, no matter what for.”
It wasn’t quite an admission of love, but whatever points Emma lost on technical merit, she made up for in artistic flair.
When they pulled apart, Mom rubbed her thumb across Emma’s cheek and gave her a second goodbye kiss, which wasn’t quite on the lips, but not really on the cheek either, more like at the corner of Emma’s mouth. As she pulled back a second time, Mom turned her hand and stroked her knuckles from Emma’s cheekbone down to her jawline.
Neither of them said anything, but Mom’s lips turned up in a smile, one he’d never seen before, one which was definitely Emma-only. Emma tried a new variation on the duck-and-shrug by turning her head slightly to the side, her eyes still on Mom, a blush spreading across her cheek where Mom’s hand still rested. She tucked her thumbs into the front pockets of her jeans like she needed to do something with her hands and didn’t know what that was.
Mom collected her things and left, the same smile still on her lips. Emma moved to the open kitchen doorway, leaning against the frame and watching Mom go. Mom must have looked back from the front door, because Emma gave a small wave, the fingers of her left hand waggling.
Not wanting to break the moment, he got up and cleared his plates away as quietly as he could. When he passed Emma, he held his hand out for a fist-bump. She looked down at his hand, grinned at him, and pulled him to her in a one-armed side hug, giving him an obnoxious, sloppy kiss on the cheek for good measure.
He was in the middle of contemplating the correct angle to tilt his head so he could stare at Grace’s chest while appearing to be looking at the text book between them when Emma dashed into the house, slamming the door and charging up the stairs.
“Kid! Hen! Are you ready yet?”
He’d told Grace all about that morning, so he just rolled his eyes when she nodded her head towards the door and said, “Your mom sounds like she’s nervous about her big date, huh?”
He listened as Emma dashed around upstairs, opening and closing doors, then clattered down the stairs again. She popped her head around the dining room door, face flushed and jacket in hand.
“Oh, hi, Grace,” Emma said, as she entered the room. “I forgot it was Wednesday.”
“Hi, Sheriff Swan.”
“When are you going to call me Emma?”
Grace shook her head, and Grace being all bashful might very well have been the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. The flush spread from her cheeks and across her neck, right down under her shirt collar to her—
“Why aren’t you dressed yet?” Emma asked him, making him jerk his head up so fast, it all but gave him whiplash.
“Because it’s, like, barely five and we don’t have to leave for another hour?”
“No.” Emma shook her head. “It’s ten after, and we’re leaving at five-thirty, because we are so not going to be late for this thing. Not today.”
“The thing doesn’t even start till seven. You just want to impress Mom.” Henry looked at Grace again, and they shared a smile of ‘aren’t parents the weirdest thing ever?’
“Whatever, kid. Quit staring longingly at your girlfriend here and get a wriggle on.” Emma smirked at him, and then turned to Grace. “Do you want to come with us, Grace? We’re meeting Henry’s mom at Granny’s for some dinner, and you’re more than welcome to join us.”
“Thanks, but I can’t. I promised my dad I’d be home early.”
Henry was watching them both in mortification. He couldn’t believe that Emma had made the ‘girlfriend’ comment, not when he’d kept her secret about Mom for, like, months. That was low. He would make her pay for that somehow.
“Right, okay, well, think about it.” Emma looked back at him. “And, you, hurry up so we can surprise your Mom with how well dressed and early we are.” She flashed them both a smile, and then darted out of the room again.
Henry couldn’t look at Grace, not after what Emma had just said. He could hear Grace putting her things away, and that wasn’t good, either.
“So,” he said, drawing it out with a deep sigh, not exactly sure what he should say. He mostly just wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole, which was a definite possibility when you lived in a town with magic. “We should probably, um—” Nope, he had nothing. He could probably just sit there blushing for a while longer, staring down at his hands. Grace was the smartest person in their year, so she’d figure out how to get to the front door by herself.
“You should get ready before the Sheriff implodes,” Grace said, and he nearly fainted because her voice was just beside his head, and he hadn’t even noticed her moving all the way around the table to his side.
As he turned to answer her, still no idea of what he was going to say—because girlfriend, girlfriend, girlfriend, Emma had said girlfriend out loud and now he was so, so busted—he realised that she was even closer than he had thought. She was leaning over from behind his chair so that her cheek was really close to his.
“Stop worrying so much, Henry,” Grace said. “Things have a way of working themselves out, just like with your moms.”
And then—seriously, this was the single best day of his life to date—Grace kissed him really quickly on the cheek, and he felt her breath on his face, and the way her lips were soft and warm and moist, and he knew he was blushing so hard that he was probably turning purple, but Grace kissed him anyway.
She had the softest skin, not weird and sometimes oily like his own, but perfect and unblemished and so smooth. Was that a girl thing, or just her? He didn’t really notice other girls, just Grace, so he didn’t have much to go on apart from his moms, and he didn’t pay any attention to their skin at all. He knew Mom had a shit-ton of really expensive creams that even Emma teased her about, but Grace didn’t smell like Mom’s creams, so maybe it was just a Grace thing.
But that wasn’t important, because Grace had kissed him. Grace, his best friend and the Most Special Girl in the World, had pressed her lips to his skin willingly. She’d heard Emma say girlfriend, and she hadn’t freaked out at all. She’d leaned over and kissed him like it wasn’t the weirdest idea to her, and she’d told him not to worry about it. At least, he assumed that was what she meant when she said he shouldn’t worry so much. And maybe he did think too hard about things sometimes, but Grace was worth thinking about.
“Henry! I still don’t hear you getting dressed!” Emma shouted from upstairs.
“I’m sorry about that,” he said, meaning both his spacing out and Emma’s shouting, but he realised he was talking to an empty room and Grace was gone.
He scrambled out of his chair and out into the hall, his sneakers squeaking across the hardwood floor as he flung himself at the front door and yanked it open.
She was at the end of the path, almost at the gates, but she turned and lifted her hand in a wave. He waggled his fingers in reply because he was so completely Emma when it came to girls, although that might not be as horrible a fate as he’d feared.
“Text me later,” she said. “Or, you could call me, if you wanted to.”
“I do. I really do. Want to call you, I mean. So, I’ll, um, do that. I’ll definitely call you, because I really want to. Call you.” He clamped his mouth shut before he said something even more embarrassing.
“Okay.” Grace shook her head, but he’d been watching his moms for long enough now that it didn’t panic him. He was Emma and Grace was Mom, and when Mom shook her head at Emma like Grace was shaking her head at him, it meant All the Good Things.
“Henry!” Emma shouted again, loud and shrill enough that even Grace heard it.
“I’d better go,” he said.
“But you’ll call me, right?” Grace was teasing him now, but he didn’t care because the way she said it made him believe that it might be her Special Henry-Only Voice.
He nodded vigorously, not trusting his mouth or his brain to form coherent words.
“Good,” she said, and backed out of the gates, smiling at him until he couldn’t see her anymore.
They got to Granny’s early enough that he had time to drink a whole milkshake before Mom arrived. Thankfully, Emma was so caught up in stressing over Mom that she didn’t ask him anything about what had happened with Grace, which was just as well because he wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. He’d been turning his phone over in his hands, thinking about what he was going to say to Grace later. Maybe something would happen between Mom and Emma that he could tell her about. That would be good, because it was both a safe topic of conversation (something which wasn’t ‘hey, you kissed me’ or ‘I’d really like to kiss you sometime, if that idea doesn’t gross you out’) and also something that was just between them. The Big Book of Gay had been Grace’s idea, after all.
When Mom got there, gift basket in hand, her whole face lit up at seeing them. Emma got up and helped Mom out of her coat, and then ushered her into the booth. She took the gift basket over to a table which had been set up for presents, and then rejoined them, sliding in next to Mom.
“You’re actually early,” Mom said.
“You did mention once or twice how important it was that we weren’t late,” Emma said. “I ordered for us, by the way.”
Mom nodded her approval. “And you got changed.”
“Yeah.” Emma was wearing a dark blue button-down shirt and pants, not jeans. She’d spent most of her time since they arrived at the diner carefully rolling her sleeves up to just below the elbow and then unrolling them a few inches before readjusting them.
Mom frowned. “Now I feel as if I should have made more of an effort.”
“God, no.” Emma looked at Mom’s pant suit and white blouse, and swallowed. “You look perfect.” Her gaze flicked up to meet Mom’s. “Incredible.”
Mom reached out and placed her hand on Emma’s forearm, squeezing it in thanks. But she didn’t move it when she turned to tell him how handsome he looked and to ask what they’d ordered for dinner. No, she left her hand on Emma’s arm, her fingers stroking back and forth. And Emma’s obsessive sleeve-wrangling suddenly made complete sense. He hadn’t noticed that particular thing before, so either it was a new addition to the 101 Casual (Not Casual) Ways Mom Touched Emma or it was something that happened when he wasn’t there, maybe on Date Nights.
Over their meal of burgers and fries (chicken burger and salad for Mom), they talked about regular family things like school, work, plans for the weekend, and why Grandma had decided to arrange a baby shower in a diner and not at Ashley and Sean’s home, like a normal person (okay, that one was all Mom, but Emma didn’t disagree with her). And they shifted—slowly, imperceptibly, deliberately—until Emma’s right arm was on the back of the booth, all but circling Mom’s shoulders, and Mom had angled her back towards Emma and was leaning against her side. With the loss of Emma’s arm for her to stroke, Mom dropped her hand to Emma’s thigh, just above the knee.
That, of course, was when Grandma showed up and immediately rushed over to their table. Mom stiffened and tried to shift away, but Emma let her arm fall from the back of the booth, her hand pulling back on Mom’s shoulder to keep her in place. Emma ignored the confused and concerned looks that Grandma kept giving them as she explained how she’d got her class to help with the decorations—and Mom’s face totally betrayed what she thought of that particular decision—until the diner got really full and they all had to move so that tables and chairs could be reorganised.
It was standing room only when Ashley and Sean arrived, and Emma and Mom were pressed against the back wall, as far away as possible from Grandma. Without needing to be asked, he’d joined Grandma down the front to help her with the gift presentation. When he looked over at his parents, they were standing so close together that most people wouldn’t have noticed Mom reaching down to take Emma’s hand, her thumb tracing over Emma’s knuckles. As Grandma brought out a hand-carved crib, and everyone was ooh-ing and ahh-ing over Marco’s handiwork, Mom used their joined hands to pull Emma down so she could whisper something which made Emma giggle. And because everyone else’s attention was on the happy couple and their gifts, he was probably the only one who saw Mom turn her head and place a slow, soft kiss just below Emma’s ear, which made Emma’s eyes flutter shut. Mom’s satisfied grin as she pulled back proved that she was entirely aware of the effect she had on Emma.
It took him forever to get ten minutes away from Grandpa to call Grace, which meant that they didn’t have long to talk because Grace’s dad was really strict about bedtimes. He told her all about the Deliberate Arm Stroking and the Secret Hand Holding and the Totally Public Kissing, and she laughed at how bold Mom had been.
“Maybe all this time she just needed the Sheriff to give her a sign that she’s interested,” she said.
“How could she not know before now, though? Emma’s, like, really obvious about how she feels about Mom.”
“Yes, but they’re best friends.”
“I’m not following you.”
“You said yourself that the Sheriff thought your mom only loved her in a best friends way. Your mom’s probably been thinking the same thing. It’s a really scary thing to put yourself out there like that, and your mom was the one who kissed Sheriff Swan first and then it was like nothing changed, so maybe she figured that the Sheriff didn’t see her like that. I mean, lots of people think their best friend is attractive or cute or funny, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they want to be with them.”
“So, you’re saying Mom needed Emma to show her that she wanted to be more than friends?”
“Well, yes. It’s always good to know for sure that the person you like really likes you, too.”
He didn’t think they were just talking about his moms anymore, but he was still terrified of saying the wrong thing. He chose his words carefully.
“I think that, after today, Emma totally wants Mom to know that she wants to be more than just best friends, if that’s what Mom wants. Like, you know, they could start dating and kissing and stuff like that. I think Emma thinks about that sort of thing with Mom all the time.”
Grace didn’t laugh at that. She took a long pause, long enough that it was a Very Significant Pause, and said, “I think your Mom knows that, and that’s what she wants, too.”
He grinned so hard, he thought his cheeks might burst. “Cool.”
Mom arrived at the loft not long after to pick him up, but she was quiet, like her mind was somewhere else, until she got a text from Emma. She didn’t say it was from Emma, but she smiled and smiled and smiled, so it couldn’t have been anyone else, and it snapped her out of her thoughts.
“Did you have fun with your grandfather?” She slipped her phone into her coat pocket.
“We watched one of the old Supermans, the one with the ice palace and General Zod.”
“Kneel before Zod!” Mom said in a deep growl which was probably the Evil Queen’s, but which made him laugh anyway, because he loved that she still did dorky things like that for him.
“What about you? Did you have fun with Emma?” he asked as they reached the Mercedes.
“It was a good night.” Just like Grace, Mom was really, really pretty when she blushed. She stared over the roof of the car at him, throwing him some serious Mom Face. “Is there something else you want to ask me, Henry?”
“No.” He feigned ignorance, even though he didn’t expect her to buy it. “Is there anything you want to tell me?”
She shook her head. “Not that I can think of right now.”
“But maybe some day soon?”
Her eyes lit up with love and laughter, her nose crinkling as she chuckled and nodded. “That’s quite possible.”
He let it go, let Mom talk about the party and how insufferable Grams had been. He thought about him and Grace and how that was something he wanted to keep to himself for a while, so he figured Mom would want to keep the thing with Emma to herself, too.
As they pulled into the driveway, the front door opened and Emma stepped out, still dressed in her party clothes. The Dopey Adoring Face was even dopier and more adoring than usual. She walked around the house and waited at the edge of the path for them. He reached her first as Mom was locking the car.
“Did you make that phone call?” she asked him, throwing her arm over his shoulder. He should have known that Emma had overheard his earlier conversation with Grace, but Emma hadn’t exactly been uppermost in his mind at that point.
“Yeah, I did.”
“Good,” she said. “That’s good.”
It was good. It was good that he’d called Grace, and it was good that Emma was looking at Mom like she was the answer to every important question in the universe.
As Mom reached them, Emma turned him around by the shoulder and held out her free hand to Mom. Mom took it.
“You should have your coat on,” Mom said. “It’s cold out.”
Emma didn’t reply. She shrugged and walked them back into the house. It was a wonder that they made it there at all, because her attention was entirely on Mom, and Mom was staring back with a smile of wonderment.
Once they were inside, he shrugged out of Emma’s loose hold.
“It’s been a long day,” he said. “I think I’m going to go straight to bed.” He hugged them both at once, and felt their hands meet on his back, Mom pressing her hand onto Emma’s. It was exactly like the family he’d always wanted, his moms and him and love and warmth and happiness.
He ran up the stairs, not looking back because he didn’t want them to feel like he was spying on them. He went into his room and closed the door loudly, then carefully opened it again, just a crack, his ear pressed against the gap.
“You didn’t answer my text.” Despite her bravado in taking Mom’s hand outside, Emma’s tone was tentative.
“I thought you might prefer that I answer in person.” Mom’s voice, in comparison, was rich and much more confident.
“So, does that mean that, you know, you think that it’s a good thing?”
He heard one step, high heels on hardwood, and then a second and a third.
“Oh, Emma Swan, what am I going to do with you?”
When the next thing he heard was a muffled sigh, which could possibly have been a moan, he closed the door again to give his mothers some privacy.
As he was getting dressed the next morning, he heard Mom come out of her bedroom and walk to Emma’s door. She didn’t knock or anything. She hesitated there for a few moments and then went downstairs. When he came out of his room, he could hear Emma singing, probably in the shower. Either they were being really discreet or Emma hadn’t spent the night with Mom.
Mom was definitely in a good mood, though, because she was making the largest non-birthday breakfast he could remember, with pancakes and waffles and French toast to go with bacon and scrambled eggs. And she beamed at him as he entered the kitchen and offered him a latte from her fancy Italian coffee maker.
Emma came down and made a beeline straight for Mom, squeezing her hip and leaning across her to get a cup of coffee, as Mom’s hand reached out to scratch her nails lightly across Emma’s neck. All three of them ate together and Mom talked like Mom always talked, running through their days and checking off mental lists of things which needed done, while Emma seemed capable of communicating only through the Silent Language of Smiles.
As Mom was leaving, she kissed him on the top of his head (because he was still eating, not passing up on pancakes and waffles and French toast when they were put in front of him) and smoothed his hair down. Emma was leaning against the counter, holding out Mom’s travel mug, and Mom went right up into Emma’s space.
“I’ll see you tonight,” Mom said, and Emma nodded, her eyes on Mom’s mouth.
Both of Mom’s hands were on Emma’s cheeks as she leaned forward and kissed her in a mostly-PG way. It was closed-mouth, and it was soft and sweet, and it lasted a bit too long to be anything other than romantic, but it was nowhere near as bad as he thought it might be.
Mom rubbed her thumb over Emma’s lip before she left. Emma didn’t move until she heard the lock being thrown on the front door, and then she launched herself out of the kitchen, and he heard the front door closing, followed by a loud thud.
When he finally finished his breakfast, he took a deep breath and tried to prepare himself for going out into the hallway. It was exactly as bad as he’d feared. Emma had Mom pressed against the wall by the door, and her knees were slightly bent and her hands were on Mom’s hips, all the better to push Mom upwards so that Emma could attack her neck. Mom had one hand buried in Emma’s hair and the other pushing between Emma’s shoulder blades, and her head was tilted back with her eyes shut.
He slapped his hand over his eyes and only separated his fingers enough to let him get to the stairs without tripping over something. He tiptoed across the hall, but Mom heard him, pushed Emma away and smoothed her palms over her clothes.
“Henry,” Mom said, her breathing rapid and her eyes a little bit glazed, a little bit frantic. She took a step towards him, and Emma was behind her, her arm wrapping protectively around Mom’s waist. “That thing we were going to talk about—”
“We so don’t have to talk about it,” he said. Because he knew, and he wanted this for them, and they looked so happy and so in love, but it was seven-fifteen on a weekday morning and he had school, where Grace was waiting for him, maybe even waiting-waiting for him, and he didn’t need to have an After-School Special Talk with his moms about something he’d known for longer than both of them. “I know. It’s all good. I’m more than fine with it.”
“But, Henry—” Mom tried to step forward, but Emma tightened her hold.
“Leave him be,” Emma said. “It’ll keep.”
Mom craned her head around to look at Emma and—eww, she was staring at Emma’s mouth and her eyes were narrowing, which was totally his cue to get the hell out of Dodge, so he charged for the stairs while the going was good, and he was halfway up them when he heard Mom say Emma’s name with a note of caution.
“Theatre rehearsal’s been switched to Saturday this week, so we can talk to him tonight,” Emma said. “Now come here and kiss me goodbye.”
“What was that before, then?” Mom’s tone had changed completely from a warning to something he totally didn’t need to hear.
“That was me kissing you goodbye.”
He closed his bedroom door and put some music on, and he didn’t open his eyes again until he heard the front door closing and both of his mothers leaving for work.
The one thing he learned at school that day was that the Silent Language of Smiles was a perfectly good means of communication. He and Grace didn’t talk directly about their kiss or the phone call, but they talked about his moms before class, and their conversation was a not-very-secret code for being about them. At lunchtime, they snuck out to the football field and shared their lunches sitting on the bleachers, and afterwards, even though it was really, really cold, he took his gloves off and put his right hand on the bench between him and Grace, and Grace did the same with her left. He wanted to be bold and take her hand, like Mom had with Emma the previous evening, to give Grace the sort of sign that she’d been hinting about and deserved, but it took him nearly ten minutes to get up the courage to slide his little finger over to link with hers. She not only allowed it: she curled her own around his, which was when he learned about the smile thing, because that was pretty much all they did for the rest of the day. They only had one class together on Thursday afternoons, but he couldn’t remember a single word his teacher said, only that Grace’s smiles were the most precious gift he’d ever received.
He walked her home, and they still didn’t really talk, just smiled and let the backs of their hands brush against each other occasionally, and she promised to text him later when they parted, and he was even more convinced than before that she did have a Special Henry-Only Voice.
He avoided going home for as long as humanly possible because he needed to think about Grace and because he knew that he was going to have to face a Special Parenting Moment. Emma had texted him to say that she’d promised Mom that she would come home early so they could all talk, and that he should let her know when he was on his way, so she could try to talk Mom out of making too big a deal.
He slipped in the front door as quietly as possible, but couldn’t hear any sounds at all, not even Totally Gross Mom Sex noises. He headed towards the kitchen, where he found Emma, barefoot and humming to herself, drinking milk straight from the carton, head tipped back and milk trickling down the side of her mouth.
“You’re home already,” Emma said, spinning around to face him and nearly losing her grip on the milk carton. She wiped the back of her hand across her mouth.
He tried not to notice that Emma’s jeans were undone, or that her shirt was held together by only a couple of buttons and that he could see too much skin, or that she had serious bed head.
“Yeah.” He rolled his eyes. “Couldn’t put it off any longer.”
“That’s great.” She gave the least convincing fake smile he thought he’d ever seen, but it wasn’t like she was even listening to him anyway. “I thought you were going to text me first, though?” She scanned the kitchen until she saw Mom’s purse. He almost saw the lightbulb going on above her head, as she broke into a real smile and walked over to the counter. She put down the milk and opened Mom’s purse, retrieving a crisp, clean twenty, holding it between her fingers. “What would you say if I offered you this to go back out and come back in an hour?” She looked over her shoulder at the clock. “Or ninety minutes?”
“I’d say that bribing me with Mom’s money isn’t your smartest plan because it leaves you open to future blackmailing.” He reached out to take the cash, but Emma tightened her grip on it, so they were left in a weird game of tug-of-war over the money.
“How about I make it forty, and you get dinner at your grandparents’ and don’t come back here before, oh, nine-ish?”
“You’re so gross,” he said, but he grinned anyway.
“How’s it going with your little girlfriend anyway, Casanova?”
Mom breezed in then, smiling at both of them as if this wasn’t a Completely Awkward Moment, and she was a lot more put together than Emma, even though she was Wearing Emma’s Clothes (yoga pants and a tank top and a zip-up hoody, and Mom wouldn’t have been seen dead in a hoody Before Emma).
She moved next to Emma, and she pried the twenty from between them and put it down on the counter, then began buttoning Emma’s shirt properly, like that was also Totally Normal.
“What’s this about a girlfriend?” she asked, as she motioned for Emma to fix her jeans, which Emma did with an eye-roll.
“Henry likes Grace,” Emma sing-songed, sticking her tongue out in his direction.
“No-one likes a tattletale, Emma,” Mom said, wiping the milk from Emma’s chin with her thumb, then lifting the carton of milk and putting it back in the refrigerator. “And why were you fighting over money?”
Emma hunched her shoulders, stuffed her hands in her pockets, and shook her head. Mom looked at him, and he just shrugged. Unlike some people, he didn’t rat out his family.
“Well, how about I fix us all a sandwich and we have that talk now?” Mom said.
“How about we really don’t because just no?” he said, and Emma subtly nodded her agreement behind Mom’s back.
Mom wasn’t going to be deterred, though. “Your mother and I—”
“—are totally in love and completely married, and you have been forever, and we really, really don’t need to talk about it, because I knew long before either of you did.” He tucked his chin into his chest and avoided eye contact with Mom.
“You knew?” Mom said, her voice shaky, and it wasn’t clear whether she was accusing him or Emma or both of them, or what she was accusing them of. And then it was a Really Awkward Moment, because they’d completely sabotaged Mom’s battle plan to have a Nice Sensible Talk, and they obviously knew something that she didn’t, and that was tantamount to Keeping Things From Her. She was teetering on the edge of something, and she could go either way—all-out attack or curl in within herself—and he looked to Emma for guidance, for a sign, and he relaxed, because he could tell that Emma Totally Had It Covered.
“Of course he knew.” She nodded towards him. “How could he not know how I feel about you, when I am so bad at hiding it, because it’s not something I would ever want to hide? And he’s such a smart kid, because we did good with him. You did good with him. And we should be proud of how smart he is, because he saw this thing that was right there all the time, and we weren’t smart enough to see it.” Emma came forward to stand in front of Mom, shaking her head. “Because, how could I not fall in love with you? When you’re you,” Emma’s hand reached up to tuck Mom’s hair behind her ear, “and you are everything.” She slipped her hands around Mom’s waist and linked them behind her back.
Maybe he could forgive Emma for ratting him out to Grace about how he felt, and for telling Mom about Grace, because there were silent tears running down Mom’s face, and she was reaching up to cup Emma’s cheek.
“Oh, Emma,” she said, and she shook her head, because there weren’t any other words, not when Emma was looking at her like she was the world entire.
“Look at you,” Emma said, smiling at Mom and pressing her cheek against Mom’s hand. “I wish you could see how perfect you are for this family, how you love us, how much you love us and give us everything we could ever need before we even know we need it. I wish you could see how beautiful your love is, and know what it feels like to have that love focused on you. The surprise isn’t that he knew before we did: it’s that we didn’t know, or I didn’t know. And I am so sorry for that, because I feel like we’ve wasted so much time when I could have been showing you how grateful I am for having you in my life, and how much I love you. So, don’t get angry at him. Get angry at me, because I was stupid and I was a coward, and I thought I could just have your love without risking anything in return, and that was so not fair to you. So, be angry at me, because I’m the one who’s done this all wrong.”
Mom rubbed her thumb across Emma’s cheek, where a single tear had fallen, and then took a deep breath, wiping her own eyes with her fingers, and smiling and laughing and crying again and smiling.
She looked over her shoulder at him, and he didn’t think he’d ever seen a crying woman look quite as happy as his Mom did right then, so in love with love and her family.
“I think,” she said, and then paused to step away from Emma just enough to catch her breath and turn to face him, but not so far that Emma had to let her go. “I think you should take the twenty and go to your grandparents’ for dinner, because I think I need to talk to your mother a lot more than we need to talk to you right now.”
And he nodded, because he was in danger of crying himself if he spoke. He stepped forward, and then Mom was hugging him and kissing the top of his head, and Emma’s arms were wrapped around them both, and he and Emma held Mom between them, because he and Emma would always have Mom covered. He didn’t doubt that for a second. He kissed Mom on the forehead, and he looked up at Emma, who nodded back at him, because Emma Totally Had This.
He turned on his heel, and he snatched the twenty from the counter, and he headed out of the kitchen, and through the hall and towards the front door.
And the last thing he heard was Mom’s voice, hitched and raw and husky and low. “Let me show you how I love you, Emma. Let me show you.”
And, no, no, no. So, so gross. He was going to have to work out a system with Emma, because seeing Mom Sex with his own eyes was something which could totally never happen.