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a thundering chorus (redefine happiness)

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Emma Perkins struggled in the grasp of the zombies, begging for those in the audience of the musical to see her, to free her. She wondered, minutely, if she’d lose all consciousness and cognizance once the blue shit took over. Or if it would be like Get Out, and she’d a witness but someone- something was controlling her.

Fuck, she wished she stayed in Guatemala.

But she wouldn’t have met Paul, or Professor Hidgens, or Charlotte or Bill or even Ted. It was hard to be truly distraught at the prospect of losing them after all the pain they were causing now.

The general’s hand grasped at her mouth, and a blue light emanated from his palms. She screamed once more, desperate for anyone to hear her, but then the light got brighter, and yellower, and her scream faded to a moan.

The light sharpened and images began to appear. She was no longer in Clivesdale. She was back at Beanie’s, she could tell from the smell of shit coffee and Zoey’s obnoxious vanilla bean perfume. She was flat on the floor, staring at Paul’s bright blue eyes as they leaned over her. They were the only thing in focus.

Emma? Jesus, should we take her to the hospital?” He asked, no longer looking at her. She blinked, but couldn’t lift her head. Her ankle throbbed, the pain breaking through the haze of her head. Everything else slowly came into focus.

“No hospital,” She groaned, trying to push herself up. Touching her shoulder gently, Paul helped her to sit up. She literally couldn’t afford to go, not with the awful healthcare and her travel debt.

“I’m so glad you’re awake,” He said in a rush, relief covering his face. “Are you alright?”

“What happened?” She asked, lifting a hand to the back of her head. Her fingers brushed against a harsh bump and she winced.

Her eyes finally focused and she stared at Paul. He kneeled beside her, in his suit while she was in her Stripper Coffee Outfit, her legs sprawled across the tile she knew wasn’t properly cleaned.

“You fell while performing the tip song,” He explained, stumbling over the words ‘tip song’ like he couldn’t really believe the concept. “You took a real nasty fall, are you alright?”

“It’s like you didn’t even practice,” Zoey dismissed. Emma looked over at her and sneered, but the younger girl didn’t see it as she was staring at her phone.

“Can you get up now, Emma? You’re taking up the customers’ space,” Nora said, gesturing to all the men in business suits who were staring at her.

The dream (it had to have been a dream) faded from her vision, though it had felt so real, but she felt a jolt when she remembered the feeling of pure vindication and relief at quitting Beanie’s, even before it quickly went to shit. After this callousness after an injury and dream about how wretched musicals were, maybe she got a sign.

“I quit,” She said, and forcibly untied the polyester apron from her waist.

Nora raised her eyebrows. “You’re not gonna quit.”

“Watch me,” Emma forced herself to stand. Putting pressure on her twisted ankle nearly caused her to scream, but she steadied herself with the help of Paul. In the back of her mind, she registered the fact he didn’t try to cop a feel at her waist, he simply held a hand to her elbow to make sure she didn’t topple. She threw the apron on the floor. “And in case you don’t believe me, fuck this shop, fuck your tip song, and fuck you both,” She said, holding up both middle fingers as a punctuation point. She heard an elderly customer gasp.

Hustling to the back of the shop to grab her remaining things and making sure not to put pressure on her left leg, she left Beanie’s. Hopefully, for good.

+

Immediately after leaving Beanie’s, Emma Perkins felt like she had made a huge mistake.

Fuck,” She hissed and didn’t even make it half a block before she sat on the concrete. Why quit when she didn’t have anything else lined up? Why come back to the U.S at all? She shoved her palms against her eyes to block any tears from escaping. She wasn’t going to cry.

“Hey- um, are you alright?”

She spun around and saw Paul, the guy who didn’t like musicals. “Why the fuck are you following me?” She demanded, struggling to stand.

He immediately stepped back, holding his hands up in the universal symbol for take it easy. “I’m sorry,” He said. “I just- you were out for nearly five minutes, I just wanted to make sure you didn’t need to go to a doctor’s.”

The thought of the medical bills stabbed her chest, and she shook her head. “I’ll be alright.”

He opened his mouth and made a face. She gave him a look, “Say it. What do you want? Don’t leave me in suspense, I don’t exactly have anywhere to go.”

“That’s the thing,” He replied. “You sure I can’t take you anywhere? I don’t want to leave you injured, you might have a concussion.”

She started to shake her head, but then remembered a moment from her dream: going to her professor’s house from last semester. He was still a weirdo, but he was a kind weirdo. He was always cool if she needed more time with assignments, and his house was loaded. He might even have a doctor there if he didn’t count.

But she didn’t want to walk there, it was far out of Downtown Hatchetfield.

“Actually... I know a doctor,” She said. “If you don’t mind helping me, I kind of need a ride- Wait, don’t you work around here?”

He shrugged, “It’s time for my lunch break. I’d rather get you where you need to go.”  

Emma cocked her head at his wording, but couldn’t doubt his sincerity. “Alright then. I’ll call us a Lyft.”

The Lyft ride was silent, apart from the Classic Vinyl station that played. The two of them sat in the back, with Emma’s left ankle propped on the middle seat rest with permission from the driver.

“Do you not like any music?” Emma asked, hating the awkward silence. Normally, she didn’t mind, but he was so amenable. He just sat there in his too-big suit and big blue eyes, his hands folded primly in his lap. He looked like a little kid who rifled in his dad’s closet. “Or just musicals?”

“Just musicals,” Paul said. “I can’t imagine not liking all music, there are so many kinds.”

“What kinds do you like?”

They killed the time talking about music they did like. He liked 60s pop like The Beatles, The Mamas and the Papas, and the Beach Boys, which kind of surprised her, and he seemed equally surprised to find she still liked those emo bands from middle school, like My Chemical Romance, Evanescence and Panic! At the Disco. She was pleased to find he liked Fleetwood Mac, but they bickered over the best song. She was right in thinking it was The Chain, but he was insistent it was Landslide.

The argument didn’t stop as they pulled up to the gate. She thanked the Lyft driver, and was very relieved when Paul offered to split the fare.

She rang the buzzer on the gates.

Who’s there?” The old man’s voice immediately demanded, and she smirked as Paul jumped in surprise.

“It’s Emma Perkins, from your Astrophysics 101 class!” Emma said into the microphone.

“How many security cameras does this guy have?” Paul asked as they were buzzed in.

“About twelve, that we can see,” She said.

“Ok,” He said, and he seemed fine with it, but then she heard him murmur ok about a dozen more times. She smirked, and limped the rest of the way to the front door.

+

It pays to know a Doomsday survivalist, Emma thought to herself as Professor Hidgens wrapped her ankle deftly with that weird beige gauze medics have. He stood in front of her in his turtleneck and slacks, and she sat on his formica kitchen countertop, her legs stretched out.

“You’re lucky I know triage, Emma,” Professor Hidgens said, making it almost sound like he was berating her. “This is a nasty sprain.”

“Not a break, right?” She clarified, holding a bag of frozen peas to her head.

“No, you’ll be fine in a couple weeks,” He replied as he reached the end of the gauze. “Does it feel too tight?”

She tested her ankle, and winced at too much wiggle room. “Can you please make it a bit tighter?”

“Absolutely,” He said and unrolled it to fix it up.

“Much better,” She said softly as he tightened it to her ankle.

“Professor?” They both turned to Paul, who had been largely silent as Professor Hidgens played medical doctor. She liked the way he didn’t look confused by all the Crazy Man scribbles on papers that lined the walls, or all the science equipment (Erlenmeyer flasks, test tubes, microscopes, all that cliché shit) that lay scattered across the kitchen. He just sat down at the kitchen table and waited for them as they chatted about pleasantries. His hands in his lap, his eyes roaming everything curiously, not disgusted. If she was keeping track, he’d win major fucking brownie points.

“Yes, Paul?”

“Can you make sure she doesn’t have a concussion? After the fall, she hit her head, and was passed out for a bit.”

Bastard just lost brownie points.

“I’m fuckin’ fine,” She told him, not unkindly.

Professor Hidgens tsked, “It’s always good to check, Emma. Scientists aren’t afraid of hypotheses. Have you been keeping up with your astrophysics?”

“I switched over to marketing and business,” She said as he touched the back of her head. “Too many dicks in astrophysics.”

“Aye, that is lamentably true, Emma,” Hidgens nodded and leaned against his kitchen counter. He lifted his iPhone at her. “I’m getting fed up with it myself. Now, follow the phone.”

“Really? That’s a shame,” She said and did as he asked. He leaned in close to study her.

“You both said haven’t vomited, and your pupils are the same size instead of different, those are my two favorite concussion symptoms,” He said. “And you have neither, Emma. I hazard the belief that you don’t have a concussion.

She looked over at Paul, and remembered another part of her dream. The Hidgens in the dream had a musical planned. Granted, he sang a song from it to directly lead to mutual destruction, but it wouldn’t hurt to ask about it. From her experience, he never found anything too weird.

“Do you have another passion, maybe?” Emma tried to approach it casually. She thought she remembered a time in class he mentioned working on a creative project called Workin’ Boys, but she rarely listened to teachers’ ramblings.

Something in his eyes went from sharp to wistful, and his shoulders slumped. “Yes, one from when I was a boy, but it’s ridiculous.”

“What is it?” Paul asked. She turned to him, curling her legs to sit criss-cross without pressuring her ankle.

“Well, I’d like to write musicals,” Hidgens said sheepishly. She had to bite back her smirk as the intrigue died in Paul’s eyes, but he still looked interested enough.

“What about, Professor?”

He opened his mouth to speak, but then crossed over to the other side of the room. “It’s foolish.”

“I would love to hear it,” Emma insisted.

“Well, if you insist,” He said, then spent the next hour talking about his plots for the musical, and the act structure. He even did a portion of the choreography for a song he sang for them.

“Wow,” She said. “That’s very impressive, Professor.”

“Thank you,” He said and swooped his slightly sweaty hair out of the way. “Preparing for the apocalypse also lends itself to free time to fuel my muses.”

“Sounds accurate,” Paul said neutrally.

“I just would love to do something about it, Paul,” Professor Hidgens admitted. “But, alas, I don’t have the funding.”

“If you want, I can help with that,” Emma said. “We’re learning about crowdfunding in one of my classes, I can help you set up an account and get people invested.”

He turned to her, looking so hopeful he looked forty years younger. “Really, Emma?”

“Absolutely,” She said. “Other than my classes, I got like nothing to do. This would be fun.”

He grabbed her hands, “Oh, this would be magnificent! I have so much more to edit. Please, email me in one fortnight, I will send you all my material. We will make this work, Emma!”

“Definitely,” She smiled, oddly excited at the prospect of a fun project. “The least I could do for the top-notch doctor work.”

“I am always happy to flex my first aid muscles,” Hidgens said. “Now, I must work, so I ask you to leave. But you are both welcome here any time.”

“Thanks, Professor,” She said as Paul said, “Thanks, Mr. Hidgens.”

“One fortnight, Emma,” He said, then guided them out of the house. The door enthusiastically slammed, and they heard Hidgens shout, “Alexa! Play Workin’ Boys score!” from inside.

Once on the front porch, the pair snickered before they walked.

“Hey, um, can I ask you something?” Paul asked, shoving his hands in his pockets as they walked to the gates.

“Yeah, what’s up?”

He cleared his throat, “I was just wondering, if you maybe wanted- no pressure- to go out sometime.”

She blinked in surprise. She couldn’t fathom that some Mr-Business type with beautiful eyes and a sweet smile and a stunning ability to roll with the punches.

He immediately started talking again, much quicker than before. “But I don’t want to pressure you, because you just quit your shitty job and I don’t want you to think I feel entitled to a date with you just because I gave you that tip yesterday or because I helped you out, I just think you’re really cool and pretty and- shit-

“Yes,” She interrupted.

He kept rambling, “And you’re just so badass-”

“Paul!” She laughed, grabbing him by the arm. “Yes, I’d love to go on a date with you.”

He finally paused. And she kept laughing. She wanted to stop, but she couldn’t help it. She hoped he wouldn’t find it malicious, but he was just so damn cute.

“I’m sorry,” She finally got a hold of herself. “That was really cute.”

He seemed to blush. “Great, I mean awesome, I mean-”

“Give me your phone,” She said and held out her palm. No hesitation he unlocked it and handed it over. She pulled up the contacts and typed in her name and number. “There, just text me, and we can do something.”

“Like, what? Coffee?” He joked.

She narrowed her eyes playfully, “Only if we see a musical after.”

And she laughed once more at the look of despair on his face.

+

They ended up not seeing a musical, thank God. Emma wasn’t sure when she’d feel okay with watching one again after that weird-ass dream.

They got pasta and saw an old movie double feature at a local movie theater. She paid for popcorn at her insistence and Paul paid for everything else at his own insistence (well, okay, and her fucking bank account’s insistence). What a sweetheart.

The thing that surprised her most was the fact she liked building onto her conversations with Paul. Everything about him made her want to learn more. She also liked the silent moments, where they just sat on the sofa and didn’t feel pressured to talk, or played card games. And god was he fun to fuck. In her experience of traveling, she had the hypothesis of only passionate men knowing how to bone down, but he, with his lackadaisical attitude and casualness, was easily her best boyfriend in that aspect. In most aspects, actually. She also especially liked the emails he sent from work that were basically sexts, but they had his email signature on the bottom.

Thats it I’m stopping by CVS to pick up whipped cream, u just wait til I get home

--

Paul Matthews

Systems Analyst

CCRP Technical

(734)-555-0198

pmatthews@ccrp.net

It never failed to make her full-body laugh, and she hadn’t felt like that in a while. She also liked knowing she made him smile too, and that he seemed lighter with her, like he wasn’t stressed.

And, apart from her new relationship with Paul, she’d actually been enjoying her work with Professor Hidgens. All she really had to do was answer his anxious phone calls, wondering if “Leighton was acting too ridiculous” or if “Chad should be in it more” as he finished the last act. She even helped with an aspect of choreography, because Professor Hidgens’ husband was a choreographer at the Starlight. His name was Tony Lockwood, and he was just as theatrical as Hidgens.

She listened to the songs, she drew up mock posters on Canva, and copyedited pages. She even found people from high school who did theater work to give suggestions of research for them both to do.

She had always had a somewhat immature dream of being a marijuana farmer in the middle of nowhere, not having to depend on anyone, and just have her weed and herself. The idea of not making roots in Hatchetfield was still awfully tempting.

But the idea of having Paul come by to visit her most nights (with whipped cream) and working with Hidgens all day was too nice to miss. She hoped her sister would be proud of how things were working out.

Because she certainly was.

+

After a full day of classes and brainstorming with Professor Hidgens, Emma Perkins went back to her apartment. She wanted to slip out of her annoying yet sensible heels, and type up her notes from the meetings.

But then she got a text.

Paul: Hey, Emma. A couple of my friends are getting drinks tonight, want to come with me? They’d love to meet you.

She let out a whoosh of breath. She didn’t realize they were at that stage, the one of meeting the friends of the significant other. She debated playing sick, or giving the very real excuse of how tired she was. But she couldn’t help but feel excited. She hadn’t dated someone so seriously since her sister died.

And it had been a solid month of them grabbing drinks and talking and having sex like no tomorrow. It was probably time to Meet the Friends.

God, this was so mature of her.

Emma: Yeah sure! I’m down just text me when and where

He responded immediately, the nerd.

Paul: great! Fantastic.

He then sent over a bar that she remembered was near CCRP and Beanie’s and said they’d be getting off work at 5:30. She looked at the time, she had about an hour to prepare.

After fully utilizing that hour, Emma met Paul and his friends at Iggy’s Bar. He gave her a quick kiss and hug before introducing her to a group of about five people. Just five people. She could easily do that.

“Everyone, meet Emma, my girlfriend,” He said. She smiled at the moniker, since that was still new. “Emma, I’d like you to meet Bill Preston, Bill’s daughter Alice, Charlotte Yates, and Ted Miller.” They all looked vaguely familiar, since they all had stopped in at one point to go to Beanie’s, but she never remembered a customer’s face. Well, until Paul.

“Hi, nice to meet you all,” She greeted, unsure if she should stick out her hand to shake.

“It’s so nice to finally meet you!” Bill engulfed her in a hug. “Paul’s told us all about you!”

“Dad, calm down,” Alice laughed a little. “Your hugs are a bit much for a first meeting.”

“Oh, sorry,” Bill’s bright smile dimmed to a softer one. “I’m just excited.”

He was so earnest and sweet that she couldn’t help but smile. “No, it’s fine, it’s really nice to meet you too. Paul loves talking about you all.”

“I bet, we’re fascinating,” Ted said then pointed at her. “Wait, you’re the barista from Beanie’s, the one that doesn’t like singing for tips.”

“Ted-” Paul began but Emma interrupted.

“That used to be me,” She corrected. “I don’t work at Beanie’s anymore, thank fuck- Oh, sorry, kid.”

“I’m in college,” Alice smiled softly, the same smile as her dad’s. “I’m familiar.”

Emma refocused on Ted. “And I still don’t sing for tips.”

“What do you do now?” Charlotte asked. The woman seemed so tiny and soft, like if you touched her wrong, she’d fall and break. “If you don’t mind me asking.”

“I’m actually doing this sort of freelance marketing-” That was the term she and Paul came up with so it sounded Professional “For one of my professor’s musical. We’re trying to get it funding.”  

“I really like musicals,” Alice said. “Can I talk to you about it? That sounds amazing.”

“Of course,” Emma said, looking to Bill, who grinned in relief.

She spent most of the evening talking with Alice, who was so bright but shy. She was a freshman in college at Clivesdale, and wanted to do a study abroad program in Guatemala, so she asked some questions there, but she was really interested in musicals. She and her ex-girlfriend Deb apparently liked going to them and working sets. Maybe Emma could find some work for her in Workin’ Boys if they ever got funding.

She also got to talk to Bill and Charlotte. Bill, clearly Paul’s closest friend, was so warm, and talking to him was like talking to a dad who was also your best friend.

The boys went off to get drinks, so the three of them were talking. “You really lucked out with Paul,” Charlotte said. “He’s very sweet. Besides Bill, he’s the nicest guy there.”

Emma smiled, “I’m very lucky.” She thought of Ted and how he was blatantly not mentioned just then, but she noticed some weird tension between the two. “Are you, um, seeing anyone?” She couldn’t tell if that was invasive or small-talk.

“I’m married,” Charlotte said, but it was without a smile. Just matter-of-fact. “His name’s Sam Yates, he and he’s a police officer with the HFPD.”

Emma bit her tongue, thinking of the annoying officer who came into Beanie’s and made out with Zoey all the time. His name tag said Yates. And for his coffee, she always wrote on the cup Sammy<3 even though Zoey didn’t make the coffee, Emma did.

“That’s lovely,” She said, sipping her beer.

“It used to be,” Charlotte said, downing her own drink. Emma and Alice shared a look as Charlotte stammered. “I- I’m sorry. Did I say that out loud?”

“You did,” Emma said. “Is everything alright?”

The older woman sighed. “I don’t know. Things haven’t been alright for a while. He’s working later hours, but the pay’s the same. We’re trying therapy- but no.” She cut herself off forcefully. “No, we’re not trying, I’m trying. He’s not doing shit- Oh, sorry, Alice.”

“It’s okay,” Alice said. “I’m just sorry that’s happening, Charlotte.”

“I’m okay,” Charlotte said, a bit like a mantra. “It’s just a lot.”

“It is, and I’m so sorry to hear it,” Emma offered. “You’ll be okay, you seem really strong. I hope everything works out.”

“Me too,” Alice said. “Just to be safe, I’ll give you the advice I tell literally all my friends: dump him.”

Charlotte smiled, but then the other boys came back to the booth. Charlotte changed the subject, so Emma and Alice took the cue.

They went to talking about CCRP Technical, but then Alice rested her elbow on the table, then her chin in her palm.

“Do we have to talk about CCRP?” She asked. “I’d rather hear more about Emma’s musical.”

“It’s not much yet,” Emma started. “We’re still trying to get funding, but most of the people the director and I know are poor community college students. We’re posting a Kickstarter campaign soon, but-”

“Oh, dude, send me the link when you do,” Ted said. “I know, like, so many rich people.”

“Really?” They all said.

“Yeah, I’m Ted Miller,” He said.

Emma looked to Paul to see if that meant something, but he seemed just as confused as she did.

Ted huffed, “My dad is Thomas Miller.”

It didn’t click for the others, but Emma’s jaw dropped. “Thomas Miller, the guy that owns like all of Hatchetfield?”

In one of her business classes, they toured his company. Thomas Miller was worth nearly a billion dollars, which said something considering how bumfuck Hatchetfield was.

Now the others caught on.

“Yep, dear old Dad,” Ted said with a hint of bitterness, but also a small smirk. “I grew up at the Hatchetfield Academy in Uptown, and I know a lot of other trustfund assholes. Sorry, Alice.”

“There’s really no need to apologize-”

“That would be great,” Emma couldn’t help but interrupt. “Seriously, thank you.”

“I could send it to even more people if you were to sing for it,” Ted waggled his eyebrows.

She was about to tell him where to stuff his connections, and jeopardize Workin’ Boys in the process, but then Paul said, “Jesus, Ted, shut the fuck up.”

Ted rolled his eyes but said “Whatever” under his breath, but he didn’t look too mad. Or, thankfully, rescind his offer.

“Paul, you’re not going to apologize for swearing in front of my daughter?” Bill demanded.

“Who do you think taught her them in the first place?” Paul smirked a little, causing Emma to chuckle and Alice to give him a high-five.

To her complete and utter surprise, she enjoyed herself the whole night. When Paul took her back home, he gave her an amazing kiss that warmed her to her toes and said, “Thanks for meeting them, they really liked you.”

“I had a great time,” She said. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“Anytime,” He said, then kissed her again. And as his hand gripped her waist and as hers tangled in his hair, she couldn’t help but think it was actually fun being in a mature relationship.

+

One day, curled up in bed, Emma asked Paul what he wanted. If he could control everything to his liking, what would he want?

He took a while to answer, his finger running a trail up and down her arm, drawing patterns, as they soaked in the post-coital glow. Their legs entwined, his arms around her, her body pulled across his torso, and blankets tossed around them. Solemn and intimate.

“I’m not sure,” He said. “I don’t mind my job. I like my friends, I like you.” She smiled against his chest. “Things are fine the way they are.”

“If you could design a world, just for you, what would be there?” She asked. That was a game she and Jane would play. Jane got everything in her world. Emma liked to think her necessities for her world changed.

“Bill and Alice,” He said first. “You. Charlotte. Hell, even Ted.”

“Even Ted? In a world you create?”

“Yeah,” He shrugged one shoulder. “He means well.”

Emma could see that. And she liked how loyal Paul was. Plus, she had a soft spot for Ted, even when she wanted to smack him.

“I’d like coffee to always be good and fresh. The softest blankets readily available. I want movie theater popcorn to be free-”

“You’re so boring,” She murmured. He chuckled, but she felt it more than heard it.

“And no one breaks into songs. No musicals.”

“No musicals?” She echoed, playfully aghast. “Not even Workin’ Boys ?”

He made a face. “Maybe just the one, for you.”

“Maybe I’ll convert you,” She teased. “Make it so you have to like this musical. Maybe even more.” Her voice went high-pitched and horrified, like shrill girls in horror movies.

“If anyone could,” He said, poking her arm. “It’d be you.”

She smiled and nestled deeper into his warmth.

+

“You look sexy with your glasses on,” Emma said to break the silence.

Paul didn’t look up from the spreadsheets on his computer, but he did smirk. “Don’t distract me, I’m almost done.”

“I’m serious, it makes me notice your eyes more,” She said. “I like your eyes a lot.”

Now, he looked at her. “My eyes? Really?”

“Yeah,” She said obviously. “When I woke up from the fall at Beanie’s, the first thing I saw was your eyes.”

He cocked his head. “Really?”

Yes, do I need to scream it with a fucking bullhorn?”
He laughed. “No one’s ever really complimented my eyes before.”

“Well, that’s their loss, your eyes are amazing, I love- your eyes,” She almost spilled out the words I love you. But she was able to save it.

She hadn’t said those words in a long time, and she needed to make sure she was right.

“Thanks,” He said with his soft smile, and tried to go back to work.

But she couldn’t stop talking, even as she texted the Workin’ Boys group chat about the updates with the budget issues. Several of their props ended up being harder to procure and make, so they’re trying to update their Kickstarter to get more funding, but they also had to worry about their other tiers and making sure the workers get paid even the barest of minimums.

Her phone buzzed incessantly, even as the problem was mostly addressed and couldn’t be fixed Paul finished the reports.

“Hey,” She said once more, poking him with her foot.

“Shh, I’m doing math,” He tried to ignore her.

“I know,” She said. “That’s obvious as hell with your glasses and TI-84.”

“Excuse you, this is a TI-84 Plus C and it deserves that recognition.”

She huffed, “I’m trying to say thank you, asshole.”

He turned to her once more with a chuckle. “A thank you? What for, I’m literally a CPA.”

“I know, I just wanted to say I appreciate you looking through the budget of Workin’ Boys for me.” She shifted uncomfortably at the sudden weight of the conversation. “Thank you, Paul. I know you don’t like musicals, and I just-”

“Well, yeah, but I love you, so I’m happy to help,” He moved some hair out of her face, but then they both froze.

“You love me?” She repeated.

“I- What?” He said. “I didn’t say anything.”

“Yes you did,” She grinned, enjoying the way his cheeks burned red and he looked so awkward, God, he was so charming.

“No, I said I love musicals-”

“You wouldn’t,” She mocked. “You. Love. Me.”

“Maybe,” He swallowed. “If you love me too.”
Part of her wanted to tease him for such a cop-out, because it was so easy, but she couldn’t, not with those big blue eyes staring at her so genuinely.

“I love you too,” She said. “Now put away those damn spreadsheets and kiss me.”

“If you insist,” And then he did.

+

It had been a month since Emma published the Kickstarter page, and three weeks since Ted shared it with all his trust fund friends. In those precious weeks, they already hit their first major goal.

Enthusiastic, Professor Hidgens invited them all to a bar to celebrate, and insisted that Paul bring his friends as well. Emma figured it was because Tony couldn’t come and the Professor required an audience at practically all moments.

A few drinks in, the six of them sat at a booth, laughing. Paul always got flushed when he drank, and his cheeks were pleasantly pink. She leaned her head sleepily against his shoulder, exhausted with the hard work she’d been putting in but she mostly felt happy. Blissed out, even. Things were paying off.

He moved some hair out of her face, but stayed still to be comfortable for her.

She stared at Charlotte, who looked so much more cheerful that night than she had seemed in weeks.

“Hey, Charlotte, what’s up?”

“I- What?” The other woman clarified.

Emma, with her tiny frame, had a very low tolerance. She considered it a blessing in college, because she could spend a lot less money to get just as fucked up as everyone else.

“You’re all glowy,” She said. The four men all turned to her in confusion, but she didn’t back down because she was right. “It’s awesome, I’m just wondering if there’s a reason.”

Charlotte pushed hair out her face and smiled, “Yes, actually. My divorce from Sam went through. I’m officially single.”

The little booth went up in cheers, and Charlotte smiled the largest smile Emma had ever seen on her.

“That’s amazing, Char!” Ted said. “Which reminds me, I have this to do.”

And then he pushed out of the booth to fall down to one knee. “Charlotte, will you marry me?”

Emma lifted her head from Paul’s shoulder, jaw nearly to the floor.

“I- Ted, what?” Charlotte looked around, almost like she was looking for cameras.

“Marry me because I like you, and you like me, and our sex is fucking electric. And you’re single now, so now we can! Marry me.”

No one said anything.

“Jesus, Ted,” Paul muttered under his breath as Emma couldn’t stop staring. It was like watching a train wreck.

“Ted-” Charlotte stammered, eyes wide. “I can’t marry you.”

Ted blinked. “I- what?”

Emma faintly heard Bill stifling surprised laughter behind his palm. She looked at Professor Hidgens. Thankfully, this wasn’t the first meeting of all of them, so he looked like he was enjoying the drama.

“What?” Ted demanded more surely. “Why?”

Charlotte kneeled down in front of him and closed the ring box. “I’m flattered, really,” She began. “I just- I just broke up with Sam. You don’t want to marry me right now-”

“Yeah, it takes a least a month to plan a wedding-”

“No, listen,” Charlotte stammered once more, but her words were forceful. “Not only do I need to figure out who I am apart from Sam, I need to figure out time who I am at all. And I can’t do that if I’m dating or married to you.”

Ted dropped his hand. Even though he was a sleazeball with no ability to read a room, Emma couldn’t help but feel a pang of sadness for him.

“I-” He cleared his throat. “I understand, Charlotte.”

“Thank you,” She said.

“Dude, get up,” Emma interrupted.

“Oh, right, duh, Perkins,” Ted said and scrambled to stand, but then he helped up Charlotte. “I’m, uh, sorry if I made you uncomfortable.”

Charlotte shook her head, “No, you’re sweet, I just can’t right now.”

Emma almost said something about Ted, their Ted, being sweet, but she didn’t want to kick him while he was down. The two involved in a proposal moved back to the booth without fanfare.

Things were awkwardly silent, as everyone sipped their drinks like they were dehydrated camels.

“Maybe Workin’ Boys needs an out-of-left-field proposal,” Hidgens mused. And thankfully it steered conversation back to the musical, and they were able to move on.

Later, as Paul was helping Bill, Charlotte and Hidgens into Ubers, Emma lingered back with Ted, who still sat at the booth. “You already had a ring?” She leaned against the table.

“I’m Ted Miller,” Ted repeated. “I’m rich and prepared.”

Emma rolled her eyes, “Girls don’t want fucking surprise proposals, dumbass. Especially when they’re not even really dating. An affair when married is like a quasi-relationship. Maybe, after a month or too, ask her for a date. See where it goes. If you really like her, it’ll work out.”

Ted studied her, and she prepared for a creep remark. Instead, he said, “You know, you and Paul oddly work.”

“Really?” She waited for the insult.

“You’re a crabby bitch.” There it is. “And he’s blander than mayonnaise. But you two make it work. It’s actually cute.”

“There’s a compliment in their somewhere,” She acknowledged. “So thanks, even if you are a creep who doesn’t know how to read the fucking room.”

“That’s my Tinder bio,” He joked, and she couldn’t help but laugh. As they both fell into chuckles, Paul returned and put his hand on her waist, which was a sudden and welcome source of warmth and balance.  

“You all set, Ted?”

“Yeah, get out of here and bone your crabby ex-barista,” Ted dismissed.

“Anytime,” Paul said, since he was slightly tipsy. “Good luck, Ted.”

Ted saluted them both with his beer mug, and the next thing Emma knew, she and her boyfriend were in the Uber.

And they were both cackling their asses off.

“God, if you ever propose to me like that, I’d have to kick you all the way to Clivesdale,” She said, wiping tears from her eyes.

“I don’t have a proposal,” He said, turning to her in the back of the Uber. “But I did have a question I’ve been meaning to ask.”

“Sure, what is it?”

“Do you want to move in with me?” He asked. “I know your lease is up-”

“Yes,” She interrupted him. “I want to move in with you because my lease is up next month.”

His face fell, and she immediately felt bad. Cupping his face, she kissed him, while giggling, and said, “I want to move in with you because you’re you, dummy. Now let’s go christen your place.”

“As long as it’s not my car,” The Uber driver said, sending them both into another fit of giggles.

+

They have their worst fight two months later, after all of Emma’s stuff is already in Paul’s place. They’d both had long days. Workin’ Boys’ lead actor threw a major diva fit, and all the playbills had the wrong font on them, and they looked atrocious. Professor Hidgens spent the whole day screaming, and she had to play Fix It with the printing company and try to get new playbills for free.

And it wasn’t good at CCRP, she later found out. They had lost Wi-Fi in the entire building, and all business should have been halted, but Mr. Davidson needed reports from everyone, so they all had to do every correspondence by hand by the end of the day.

In the morning at their apartment, one of them had left a dirty dish on the table, and it became the catalyst to their fight. To who was working harder, and then who was being an asshole, and they were just screaming at each other about nothing . Even midway through the fight, she’d forgotten about the plate because it wasn’t about the plate.

“Why can’t you respect what I do?” She demanded. “It’s all about you and fucking CCRP, what about-”

“Oh, your musical, Em?” He shouted right back. “Your stupid musical, who fucking cares? Why are you putting so much into it? It’s pointless!”

And then, after all that screaming, they both went silent.

“Em, I’m sorry-”

She left, slamming the door, and went straight to Professor Hidgens’s house.

He gave her a pair of pajamas to get comfy and made her hot cocoa. Tony Lockwood was there, and they curled up with her on the sofa as they watched awful rom-coms.

“I should tell you, Emma,” Professor Hidgens began as the credits for 27 Dresses played. “That Paul has been blowing up my phone asking if I knew where you are.”

“Let the bastard ask,” She said, face smushed into a pillow. But then the buzzer buzzed. Tony got up and answered it.

“Hello?”

Tony, is Emma there?” An out of breath, staticky Paul broke through the credit song. Emma stilled from her spot sprawled across the sofa.

Hidgens turned to her, “Would you like me to set it to intruder alert?”

Emma seriously debated it for a moment but couldn’t bring herself to do it. “No, but thanks. Can you let him in?”

Tony buzzed him in wordlessly. Within a minute, Paul burst through the door. “Emma, thank God you’re here-”

“We’ll leave you two some privacy,” Tony said, grabbing for his boyfriend.

“No, Anthony, their drama is excellent fodder-” Hidgens tried to say, but Tony dragged him out, reassuring her with a soft smile. Emma offered a small smile in return before leaning up. Staring at Paul’s worried face normally filled her with warmth, but today she felt tired, and cold.

Paul sat down and she noticed his entire outfit was bedraggled. His tie was so askew it was practically off, and his hair looked like he’d been endlessly running his fingers through it.

“I was so worried-”

“How could you say that?” Emma interrupted, causing him to stop talking. “You know how much I’ve put into Workin’ Boys. I- Just, why?”

He exhaled slowly, and said, “I don’t know. I was being an asshole, Em, and I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said it and I’m so sorry I hurt you.”

She shoved her palms against her eyes to try to dam the tears. “It just fucking hurt, Paul. I still don’t know what I’m doing, and I think I keep fucking it up, and to hear you say that-”

He wrapped her in a hug. She debated pulling away but she sunk into it, practically melting against them.

They stayed there for a moment silently as she tried not to cry.

“I love that you’re putting so much into Workin’ Boys,” He said softly. She scrunched her eyes shut. “I love that you’re passionate about this. And I feel awful I tried to belittle it. Please forgive me.”

“I forgive you,” She said quickly and easily, because she wasn’t blameless. She finally looked up at him. “I’m sorry for being a bitch about the plate.”

“You weren’t being a bitch,” He assuaged, running his fingers along her arm. She raised an eyebrow and he chuckled, “Okay, you were, but so was I.”

“Good answer,” She said. “We might need to be better about not taking things out on each other.”

“We’ll work on it,” Paul said. “Bill found some great advice he wished he'd use, and we can look at it. I believe in both of us.”

“I believe in us too,” She agreed and nestled in once more.

“Are you two alright now, Emma?” Professor Hidgens called over from another room. Knowing him, probably a safe room of some sort.

“We’re good!” Emma called back. She turned to Paul. “We were gonna watch a movie, wanna join us?”

“I’d love to,” He said, and the four of them watched a musical.

And Paul barely cringed.

She was so proud.

+

Three months out from opening night and five months after moving in together, Emma paced the living room of their apartment. Theirs. It was a nice feeling, one that still gave her a bit of a jolt.

He said he had big news for her, but she felt like hers was bigger.

The pregnancy test practically burned a hole in the back of her jeans. She couldn’t find the best way to tell Paul. She wanted to ask Bill for his advice, because he always gave such good advice, or Hidgens, because he’d know how to be theatric, but she didn’t want to tell them before she told Paul.

Before she could decide, the door opened, and she nervously grabbed pregnancy test. It wasn’t the first one, she had three more in the bathroom, but this was the cleanest.

“Babe,” He greeted, grinning, as he tossed his keys in the key bowl. “I have big news-”

“I’m pregnant!” She interrupted.

He froze, then turned to her slowly.

“Look,” She continued, and shoved the pregnancy test in his face.

She almost expected him to scream or leave, which would have been awful but that’s where her anxious mind went. But he took the pregnancy test from her and stared at it.

“The two lines mean yes?” He clarified.

“Yep,” She tried to take a deep breath. “I haven’t been to the doctor yet, but my period is like always early, and it hasn’t come for two months and-” She cut herself off, because she was just being redundant. “I’m pregnant, Paul.”

He said nothing for an agonizing moment, before the biggest smile she’d ever seen graced his face.

“We’re gonna be parents, we’re gonna have a baby,” He shouted and picked her up and spun her around for a huge hug. Tears pricking her eyes, she laughed and hugged him tight.

“We are,” She said, still laughing in surprise at the insanity of it all. His hand gently went to her stomach, protruding slightly against her leggings, and he smiled down at her.

“Thank you so much, Em,” He said, and he kissed her. She smiled against his mouth, and held him tight. She was nervous about herself, but damn if he wasn’t going to be a great father.

“Anytime,” She said, then paused. “Wait, no, fuck that, I’m already so uncomfortable.”

He rolled his eyes with good humor, then kissed her to shut her up.

Which is what got them into that situation in the first place.

Later, after a fun round of enthusiastic we’re pregnant! sex, they sat curled up in their bed. Paul’s fingers splayed across her tummy, and he stared at her with awe.

“The best news ever,” He said, kissing her cheek.

“Oh, that reminds me,” She turned to face him a bit more. “What was your news?”

He made a dismissive face, “I just got a promotion and a raise, but like-”

“Paul!” She nearly slapped her palms against his cheeks in an effort to give him an enthusiastic kiss. “That’s amazing!”

He smiled at her, “Really?”

“Of course,” She flicked his shoulder. “Let’s go out and celebrate tomorrow.”

After we get you to a doctor’s appointment,” He said. “I want to make sure the little one is okay.”

“Deal,” She said, and yawned. He ordered her to sleep, and she tried. But all she could think about were her lists with Jane.

Jane checked off every single one, her plan from the beginning. Emma’s list from when she was 10 was so wildly different than the 33-year-old Emma was now.

Ten-year-old Emma didn’t want kids. She didn’t want to go to college. She wanted to travel, and she wanted to never get married.

She didn’t think it was a bad thing to be different from one’s younger self. Ten-year-old Emma would have hated the fact she worked for a musical, and that she was going to school, and that she had fallen in love and was about to start a family. Thirty-three-year-old Emma liked how things had changed, and how she had changed.

She moved her hand softly to her belly, placed right over where Paul’s still laid. And she liked the changes yet to come.

+

Emma and Paul made the decision to wait until she was three months along to start telling their friends, but it was hard, because she was showing very obviously, going up two sizes in clothing.

The first people they told were the Prestons at a fun dinner at Bill’s house. Bill sobbed ecstatically and congratulated them both. Alice beamed and begged to be godmother, which is when they offered them both those positions. Bill and Paul hugged tight, and Alice grinned and promised to be the coolest, gayest aunt ever to the little bean.

They told Hidgens and Tony next. They were both thrilled, and Hidgens called it “the best intersection of miracle and biology” which oddly made her tear up. When they offered them both the positions of honorary grandfathers, Hidgens hugged her and said, “Maybe you could finally stop calling me Professor.” “You have a first name?” She joked, even though she kind of didn’t know what it was.

On a weird kinda-sorta-not really double date with Ted and Charlotte, they told them. Well, actually, when Emma ordered a sparkling water, Ted said, “What, are you pregnant or a wimp tonight?” And when she replied, “Just pregnant actually,” the two of them cheered. Ted called Paul “a horndog” and slapped him on the back, and Charlotte shrieked in pure joy, offering to help get things for the nursery. It was silly and sweet and perfectly the four of them.

Paul and Emma stopped telling people because by her fourth month, it was fairly obvious. But when they went in for a check-up, they discovered the first time around they had missed a second heartbeat.

“The baby has two hearts?” Paul clarified as Emma sat with goop on her belly on a very cold patient’s chair.

The ultrasound tech stifled a smirk, “No, Mr. Matthews, you have two babies with a heart each. You’re having fraternal twins!”

Emma’s jaw dropped, and she turned to Paul. His blue eyes were wide as hell. “Paul, twins!” She gasped, but saying it aloud didn’t feel right.

And Paul fainted.

After making sure he was alright, she found it hilarious. “Why are we always fainting around each other?” She asked after a nurse got him smelling salts.

“We’re just swoon-worthy I guess,” Paul rubbed his head, then turned up to her to smile. “Twins, Em.”

“Twins,” She repeated, and hugged him tight.

God, they were going to be great parents, and she was actually excited to find out.

+

Opening night, Emma stood backstage in her nicest maternity clothes, a black dress and a gray cardigan. She’s even in heels, even though her pregnant feet started to swell. Being six months pregnant with twins made her feel like a whale. The worst part was that she knew it was only downhill, until they were born that is. It was hard, schmaltzing and being cheerful with a fifteen pound basketball practically glued to your stomach.

“Emma!” Professor Hidgens ran to her, nearly toppling her over in his enthusiasm. “Emma, this is going precisely as planned, the theater is packed! A full house, Emma!”

She grabbed his hand and squeezed. “You deserve it,” She reassured him.

“I know that, Emma,” He responded with charm and confidence. “It’s just nice that others see it.”

“Go check on the cast,” She shoved him away. “You’re the director, the captain, they need you to guide them tonight.”

“I’m on it,” The man said, then ran off. For someone over 55, he was very spry. Alone once more, she sighed and stared at the backstage chaos, thinking of how much had changed in just over a year.  

“Your security sucks,” Someone whispered in her ear.

She spun around to see her boyfriend, and their friends, waiting for her. She hugged Paul, kissing him quick, and turned to them all. “Thanks for making it, guys, that’s so fucking awesome of you.”

Ted reached over and gave her an enthusiastic high-five as Charlotte beamed in her post-divorce glow, “We wouldn’t miss it for the world!” The two shared a quick hug, and Charlotte squeezed her arm in excitement. “It looks so amazing. Everyone’s excited.”

“We’ve been dying to see it,” Bill said, pulling Alice in close, also glowing from her Guatemalan tan. “Thank you so much for the opening night tickets.”
“‘Least I could do,” She said.

“Yeah, literally, since I practically funded this damn thing on my own-”

“Shut up, Ted,” Emma interrupted, but it had no heat in it. She even smiled. “But thanks.”

He winked at her, and wrapped his arm around Charlotte, who blushed.

“Now, please, before security sees you or you trip on a cord,” She insisted.

“Break a leg,” Paul leaned forward and kissed her swiftly. He pulled away, “Did I say that right?”

“Fuckin’ nerd,” She shoved him away with a smile, and waited for the show to begin.

At curtain call, she stood in the wings, cheering and clapping her hands off with everyone else in the crowd. She couldn’t believe it. Other than barely-there hitches, and one irritatingly awful mic pack, the show was a complete success. All she wanted to do was cry in relief and joy and excitement, but her mascara cost nearly fifty dollars. Even if it was waterproof, she wasn’t going to risk it.

But then Professor Hidgens walked over and grabbed her hand, pulling her onto the stage with everyone else. He frantically waved his hands until the audience quieted. She stood there slightly awkwardly, unsure what was about to happen.

With wide eyes, she stared at all the faces, just a blurry sea of dark blue in the stage lights.

“I just want to take the time to thank Emma Perkins, without whom this musical would not be here for you all. Not only did she get funding for and market Workin' Boys, she inspired me every step of the creative process. She’s truly special. Let’s give her a hand.”

Her jaw dropped as the applause thundered once more. She frantically bowed but then turned to Hidgens and threw her arms around him in thanks.

And if anyone saw her cry, she could at least blame the pregnancy hormones.

+

That same night, Emma took off her earrings, and wiped her makeup off after a very long but amazing cast party at Professor Hidgens and Tony’s house. She got out of her fancy dress and into her comfiest pajamas. But she couldn’t take off her damn heels.

“Paul!” She called out from the bathroom, nearly a whine. Paul stepped in, shirtless but in his boxers. A sight she liked to see often, especially in the throes of her pregnancy hormones.

“Yeah?” He said, then took in the sight of his girlfriend in his shirt and basketball shorts but high heels. “Is this the new fashion?”

“Shut up,” She huffed. “Can you take my heels off for me? Please?”

“Of course,” He guided her back to the bed and helped her sit down. She squirmed, trying to get comfortable. But then he finagled the first shoe off and she practically moaned at the freedom.

“A long night standing around in these,” He commented.

She nodded, “Every other performance, it’s gonna be fucking sneakers. Or, hell, Crocs. At least those breathe.”

He snickered at her but didn’t comment on her lack of fashion. He was a wise man, making sure not to upset the pregnant wife- girlfriend. They still hadn’t upped their label. She didn’t need one, honestly, she practically considered them married in all but the name. And the tax forms.

“Here, babe, I’ll give you a foot rub,” Paul said after he got the second shoe off.

“You don’t have to- oh my fuck, don’t you stop,” She ordered, kicking her head back with a loud moan. She groaned her way through the foot massage, almost in tears from the feeling of relief in her sore, swollen feet.

After a bit, he spoke once more, “There was something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

She leaned back on her palms. “Hit me with it.”

“Will you marry me?”

She almost didn’t register the question, with the way he didn’t stumble through it. And the fact she was still mostly distracted by his fingers.

“What?”

He smiled at her stunned expression. “Emma, I’m so deeply in love with you, and we’re about to start a family. You are so amazing, and beautiful, and badass, and you got me to like musicals-”

“Just the one,” She interrupted, trying to shake the stars from her eyes. “I don’t think that makes either of us fucking miracle workers.”

“Shh, stop interrupting, I’m getting to the good part,” He tickled her foot, causing her to giggle. “Emma Marie Perkins, will you marry me?”

“Paul Steven Matthews,” She said, staring up at him with all the love she had. “Yes, I will.”

+

(Epilogue, a year later)

Emma Perkins-Matthews and her husband stared at the twins in their nice outfits as they got them out of the car in their little seats.

“I feel bad,” Paul Perkins-Matthews said, staring at their daughter in her adorable purple dress. “These clothes are so nice, but they’re gonna puke on them in, like, one minute.”

Emma shrugged as she adjusted their son’s tie, “Oliver knew what he was getting into.” She finally got used to calling him that. It helped the constant interaction of working with him rather than as a student. And, also, they named their son after him for all he’d done for her. He’d cried when they’d told him, and declared himself honorary grandfather.

They were all getting together for their monthly coffee meeting at Oliver and Tony’s house.

In the past two years of coffee meetings and musical meetings, their compound had opened up a lot. It still had a gate but Tony had convinced his husband to make it brighter and more welcoming. It was a nice change.

Once inside, the four of them got accosted by everyone, since they were a bit late and also because babies were like a beacon.

“We’re taking the boy, Emma,” Oliver said, immediately scooping Oliver William, known as Ollie, into his arms. Ollie gurgled, so Paul handed Oliver a spit-up rag. He was a seasoned pro at the great father thing.

“Who’s my favorite goddaughter?” Alice Preston cooed, picking up Alice Jane from the double stroller. “Look at her, Deb, she’s still got my dimples.”

“Genetically impossible,” Deb replied, but smiled at her girlfriend. They had gotten back together a couple of months ago, and they seemed a lot stronger. Emma was happy for them, especially since they were both great with the twins. And if Oliver Hidgens and Tony Lockwood couldn’t babysit, they almost always were down.

Before they could even really move inside, their other friends appeared.

“It’s so good to see you,” Charlotte wrapped her in a hug. Emma hugged her back.

“I love your new haircut,” Emma said, referencing the shorter, curlier bob that showed off her face. Slowly and surely, Charlotte was becoming more confident, and Emma truly enjoyed being a part of it.

“Emma, glad to see you finally lost the baby weight,” Ted said with his douchey grin as he approached to wrap an arm around Charlotte, who had been dating for four months straight at this point.

Emma grinned perkily, honestly a fan of their routine at this point, “Ted, glad to see you haven’t fixed your deviated septum yet, I love the way it whistles when you breathe.”

He touched his nose self-consciously, then gave her a smirk, as if to acknowledge her win. She curtsied and then forcibly wrapped him in a hug.

“Let go,” He demanding, locking his whole body like he had rigamortis.

“No,” She said before doing so. “Good to see you, you bastard.”

After grabbing food from the spread Tony set out, their entire group moved to the living room.

“I want to hear all about the Starlight,” Bill said, wrapping her up in another hug. “How’s the media directing gig?” They all sat down in the living room, except for Paul, Tony and Deb, who grabbed more food and drinks.

“Amazing,” She sighed with glee. Paul wrapped an arm around her and gave her a quick squeeze in support. “It’s a bit hectic with Ollie and AJ, but I’m really glad when Oliver can nanny for them.”

“They make an amazing test audience,” The professor slash musical composer said, lightly bouncing Ollie on his knees. “If they don’t like something, they cry.”

“They cry always,” Ted said, with a croissant half out of his mouth. “They’re babies, they cry at everything.”

“That’s a fair assessment of an infant’s reaction response, Theodore,” He said. “But it’s very facilitative in writing my new musical.”

“You’re officially writing a new musical?” Paul asked. “That’s great, I’d love to see it.”

Everyone froze and turned to him slowly.

“Really?” Charlotte clarified.

“You don’t like musicals,” Bill said. Alice blinked in surprise.

“For the first five years we worked together, that was all I could say about your personality,” Ted added, eyebrows raised.

“Well, Emma converted me,” Paul said, smiling at her. Emma honest-to-God blushed. “And it helped that Workin’ Boys was well done, Oliver.”

“When massively talented people work together, Paul, greatness is destined,” Oliver said, and Tony reached over to kiss him in support of that.

“Damn straight,” Deb agreed, then winced. “Sorry, babies.”

“Please,” Ted scoffed. “Emma Perkins-Matthews is their mother, I bet you ten bucks their first word will be a swear.”

“I’ll take that bet,” Deb said, and the two shook on it.

“Well, AJ already said her first word this week,” Emma said after sticking her tongue out at Ted. “It was ‘da-da.’”

“Aww!” All the women, and Bill, cooed as Paul grinned.

“But I agree, I think Ollie will definitely be my son if he said ‘fuck,’” Emma said. “Speaking of, one of you gays hand me a baby.”

Alice pouted but handed over AJ, who shrieked in excitement on seeing her mother, and conversation turned back to musicals and their lives as they all connected once more.

Later, as they got the babies in their car seats and went to drive to their new house, Emma asked, “Were you serious about liking musicals?”

Paul smiled and leaned over to kiss her, “When the love of your life’s passion is musical marketing, it was inevitable.”