Hurrying down the street, Regina could hear the excitable chatter as she rounded the corner. She was late. School had already finished. A meeting had run longer than scheduled at work and as soon as she realised the time, Graham had nodded his consent for her to duck out. But she was still late. She hated not being there to wave at Henry as soon as he emerged from the school building.
By the time she reached the school gates, most parents were walking in the other direction, having collected their child now heading for home, or ballet class, or soccer practice. She spotted Henry through the fence, standing with another child, heads bowed together as though in furtive conversation. It wasn’t Roland. She could see the back of Marian’s head, bobbing away in the other direction with the dark haired boy trotting beside her.
Only when the little boy raised his blonde head did Regina recognise him. Hansel. Her heart seemed to crawl up her throat, filling her mouth. She swallowed thickly. She had failed. She hadn’t talked to Henry enough about the bullying incident which had taken place two weeks earlier. What with the trial and moving into Emma’s, Regina had barely given the incident a second thought. That wasn’t true. She had thought about it. A lot. At night, as her mind relaxed and her subconscious became less guarded, the fears returned. Was Henry going to become like her? Was he destined, whether because of Regina’s own teenage traits or because of his father, to be a bully?
She had buried her head in the sand. Unwilling or perhaps unable to face the prospect. Or maybe it was a lack of self-belief in her capacity as his mother. How could she, Regina Mills, talk to Henry about bullying? She had no right to do so. It would be beyond ironic. And so she had said very little, aside from reminding Henry that the school would not tolerate such behaviour when he complained about not being allowed out to play at lunch time during the days which followed. But that discipline, she supposed, wasn’t enough. As his mother, she was going to have to step up.
“Mom!” Henry called as soon as he spotted her, peering in at the gateway.
To her surprise, Henry and Hansel came over to her together. She frowned but waved at her son as he approached. The teacher on the gate ticked off Henry’s name before turning to survey the other stragglers.
“Hi Henry, how was your day?”
“It was ok. Can Hansel come for dinner?”
“Dinner?” She hadn’t been expecting that.
“Yeah. I wanna show him Eddie and my race car bed. Emma said I can have friends over whenever I want, right? So, can Hansel come to ours?”
Regina glanced at the small blonde boy. The last time she had seen Hansel, he’d been in tears at the hands of her son. Now he stood, smiling shyly and clearly on board with this plan. Stunned and relieved in equal measure, Regina gave her answer. “I’m sorry, Henry, we’ve got to go to the library for an hour before we go home today. So maybe we can arrange for Hansel to come over at the weekend. Is your dad coming to pick you up, Hansel?”
“Yeah but he’s always late. He even forgets completely sometimes! School has to call and tell him to come and get.”
“Hansel doesn’t have a mom,” Henry offered. “I’ve got two moms and no dad any more but Hansel only has a dad. And a big sister but she goes to a different school.”
“She’s older,” Hansel explained. “And my mom died. Dad was really sad but he’s ok now. He just forgets to pick me up from school sometimes.”
Regina felt a wave of sorrow for the small boy before her, yet in the back of her mind, she also registered what Henry said. ‘I’ve got two moms.’ She made a note to tell Emma later that evening when the blonde got home from work.
“Well, I can speak with your dad and organise something. Maybe you can come over on Friday because I won’t be going back to work after I come to pick you up.”
“Will Emma be home? I want Hansel to meet Emma. She’s so cool. And she’s really pretty. Like a princess, right Mom?”
“Exactly like a princess,” Regina nodded in agreement. “Hansel, do you know if your dad has a cell phone?”
“Yeah he does but he’s always losing it. One time, I found it in the fruit bowl.”
Henry and Hansel both broke out into peals of laughter, as if this was the funniest thing either of them had ever heard. Before Regina could press Hansel to see if he had memorised his father’s number, the man himself arrive. Regina could see the resemblance at once. Slightly darker, wavy blonde hair, crinkled blue eyes and the same snub nose.
“What’s so funny, bud?” he asked, clapping a huge hand onto his son’s shoulder.
“You,” Hansel said, grinning up at his dad. “Forgetting things.”
Hansel’s father rolled his eyes and turned to Regina. “I’ve got a lot on my mind. Being a single parent is tough, right?”
“It is,” Regina nodded. “The boys were just asking me if they could have a playdate. I’m Regina, by the way, Henry’s mom.”
“Michael, Hansel’s dad,” he said, extending his hand for Regina to shake. “And sure, a playdate sounds good. Gives me more time to keep working.”
“What do you do?” Regina asked, taking in the checked shirt and grubby jeans as well as the calloused skin of his palm when they shook hands. The man was certainly not a city professional.
“Carpenter,” Michael explained. “I work out of our house. Commissions mostly. And once I get into a project, I can get lost in it. That’s why I’m often late to pick up this tyke,” he added, giving Hansel’s hair a ruffle. “So playdates are great as far as I’m concerned. Do you live locally?”
“Yes, my girlfriend and I have an apartment just a few blocks over. But I’ve got to go back to work tonight. I was going to suggest Friday? I finish earlier and I’d be happy to have Hansel over. He can have dinner with us and you can pick him up whenever suits you.”
“Sounds ideal. Of course, Henry is welcome at ours too, if this goes well. I’m afraid I’m not much of a cook so he may only get pizza for dinner. My wife was the chef of the family.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Regina said quickly.
Michael smiled and nodded. He’d heard those words far too many times over the past few years. “Thanks. Look, I’ve got to go but shall we say Friday? If you give me your number, we can arrange pickup too.”
Numbers exchanged, the two parents said farewell and, hand in hand with their sons, walked in opposite directions. All the way to the library, Henry chatted incessantly about what he and Hansel were going to do that Friday. By the time they got back to her place of work, Regina couldn’t hold it in any longer. “Henry, if you like Hansel, can you explain why you pushed him over in the playground a few weeks ago.”
The boy, who had barely stopped talking for ten minutes, fell silent. Regina stopped, crouching down on the sidewalk outside the library and looked up into her son’s pink face. “I didn’t mean to hurt him,” Henry said, eyes suddenly shining with tears. “I said sorry. Hansel forgave me. He likes me. But he doesn’t like Roland. Lots of children don’t like Roland. They say he’s mean to them. I don’t want to be mean like Roland. I want to have lots of friends. But Roland didn’t like it when I talked to the other children. That’s why he made me push Hansel. We’d been playing together and Roland didn’t like it. So he made Hansel cry to show him he couldn’t be my friend.”
“But you are friends now?”
Henry nodded. “I like Hansel. He’s funny. Roland wouldn’t let me have lots of friends but I wanted lots of friends. So I told Roland that and he got mad and ran off. He’s friends with Peter now and I can be friends with anyone I want to be friends with. But I won’t be mean to my friends, not like Roland was.”
Lost for words and the eloquent yet simple explanation, Regina enveloped her son in her arms. Henry hugged her back, although he wasn’t entirely sure why they were hugging. Still, he latched on, little arms around her neck, warm breath puffing against her skin.
“I love you,” Regina whispered. “You’re such a kind boy.” Unlike me, when I was a child, Regina’s brain supplied. But she pushed the comment away. All that mattered was that Henry wasn’t like her. He was good, kind, generous. Despite everything, he was growing into a child with a warm, open heart who wasn’t going to let his troubled family life stop him from making his way in the world. It was going to be ok. Henry, Emma, Regina. They were going to be ok. Together.
February 11th 2004
The snowy sidewalk, combined with her crutches, made the journey slow. But she kept going. Head down, scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, the tip of her nose red from the cold. Each step was effort; the crutches disappearing into the white floor as she heaved herself along, her ankle hovering in the air. She was so focused on her movements, Emma didn’t notice the girl walking twenty yards behind her, watching carefully as she made the treacherous journey.
By the time Emma got to school, sweat trickled down her back, despite the cold day. Inside the building, she leaned against the wall, tugging off her gloves. Gripping the handles of the crutches was hard; wool slippery against the rigid plastic. Once her fingers, still frozen from the winter air, were free, she set off again.
It was easier inside. She found a rhythm now she didn’t have to worry about slipping over on compacted ice beneath fluffier snow. Soon she was easing herself into her chair in an empty home room, the crutches leaning against her desk. As she pulled out her current novel, the door opened. Glancing up, Emma immediately averted her gaze.
“Morning,” Regina said stiffly as she took her own seat.
This was a routine now. The pair of them always ended up being the first two in their classroom each morning. Emma wasn’t sure why. Regina had never been particularly engaged in her studies. But since the Christmas break, no, since the accident, the brunette had appeared only a few minutes after Emma herself. Strange, she thought, but didn’t linger on the change in her bully’s behaviour.
Sat at their respective desks, both teenagers began to read. Emma buried her nose, as always, in a thick novel whereas Regina was flicking through the pages of some brightly coloured magazine. They ignored one another. Or, at least, Emma ignored Regina. Which meant she also missed the furtive glances which were shot her way. Some lingered for a few moments. Most were less than a second. The blonde hair. The sharp, straight line of her nose. Those high cheekbones, still pink from the cold. The heavy, thick cast. The awkward angle the blonde chose to sit at, presumably to make her ankle more comfortable.
The magazine shut. Painted lips opened. And then so did the classroom door.
“Regina, tell Vicky that she should go on this date with Ben. He’s hot, right?”
Sitting bolt upright, Regina reached for her magazine and wrenched it open, tearing the pages slightly as she did so. “What?” she asked, flustered.
“Ben asked me out,” Vicky said as she sat herself down on the edge of Regina’s desk. “Valentine’s Day, you know? Where’s Robin taking you?”
“Um, I think we’re going to the mall. That new Italian place.”
“The mall? That’s cheap. Tell him to take you somewhere fancier,” Zelena said, now sitting on the desk opposite Vicky. “Where’s Ben offering to take you?”
“I didn’t ask,” Vicky replied. “But I don’t want to go with him. He’s shorter than me.” This final fact was said with vague disgust.
Zelena rolled her eyes. “Yeah but if you don’t go with him, you won’t have a date. You can’t not have a date on Valentine’s Day. That’s just sad. You’ll be the only person in this place not getting laid. Well, expect for Psycho Swan. I bet you don’t have a date for V day, right Swan?”
Unable to stop herself, Regina turned around. Emma was ignoring the trio, focusing on her book instead. Zelena jumped off the desk and strode over, ripping the book from Emma’s hands.
“Hey, that’s mine. Give it back, please.”
Zelena looked at the cover then dropped the book back to the desk where it shut. Emma picked it up at once, starting to flick through to try and find her now lost page.
Vicky headed towards the blonde too and Regina found herself following. She had to force herself not to look at the cast. Did her broken ankle hurt all the time? She wondered as she came to stand beside Zelena.
“Come on then, Swan, who’s your date for Valentine’s Day?”
“I don’t have a date,” Emma replied. “Valentine’s Day is a commercial invention and I don’t intend to celebrate it.”
“Yeah, or you couldn’t find someone desperate enough to go out with you. No lezzos in this school?”
“I’m sure there are many gay students here,” Emma replied, scanning the three faces before her.
Regina bristled under the level, emerald gaze. “Not one who’s so lonely that she’ll fuck you though,” she spat quickly. Zelena and Vicky both laughed. Regina felt a swell of emboldened power. “I wouldn’t even touch you if everyone else on the planet died.” More laughter. Regina’s gut clenched uncomfortably. “What do lesbians even do anyway? I bet it’s just lots of talking and crying together.”
“Well, as I’ve not had sex yet, I don’t know the exact ins and outs of lesbian -”
“Oh my god, stop before I throw up,” Vicky cried out, miming being sick as Zelena guffawed. Regina joined in, averting her eyes from Emma who had stopped talking and just looked confused.
“But you asked me what lesbians do,” she frowned.
“Gross. I don’t want to know,” Zelena squealed, grabbing both Vicky and Regina and pulling them backwards as if Emma’s words were going to infect them all with homosexual urges. “Stay away from us, lezzo freak.”
Regina went willingly, relieved to be away from the girl who had been hobbling around the school with a broken ankle for a month now. A broken ankle she had caused. The three of them sat down and returned to discussing who Vicky could go on a date with if she said no to Ben. It took a conscious effort on Regina’s behalf to not turn around to look at Emma. As the bell rang for their first class, however, she couldn’t stop herself. Emma’s face was cast downwards, the teenager focusing on getting to her feet and arranging her crutches so she could make her way to her lesson. Just before she grasped the handles, however, she reached up to wipe her face, tears glistening on the back of her hand.
February 11th 2020
Sitting bolt upright in bed, Regina gasped, sucking in a great lungful of air. Beside her, a shape under the covers stirred.
Swinging her legs out of bed, Regina turned her back to the tousled blonde head which peeked out of the top of the duvet. “Go back to sleep. Sorry I woke you.”
“Are you ok?” Emma asked, now sitting up and peering through the darkness at the hunched form of her girlfriend. “Are you sick?”
Regina shook her head and stood up. She felt hot, restless. More for something to do than anything else, she muttered something about getting a drink of water. Emma watched her leave the room before turning to check the glass Regina had put on her bedside table the night before. It was full. Settling herself more comfortably against the headboard, Emma waited for the brunette to return. A conversation needed to be had, even if it was, she checked her phone, half past two in the morning.
The shadowy outline of the shorter woman soon reappeared, dimly silhouetted against the gloom of the hallway. Emma waited until Regina climbed back into bed before speaking.
“Did you have a bad dream?”
To delay answering, Regina gulped down some cold water, the liquid stinging her throat as it slid down. “You make me sound like a child,” she remarked, the glass clinking against the bedside table as it was placed down.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Emma asked.
Regina shook her head, wriggling herself back down beneath the warm covers and turning away. Emma, however, was not to be put off so easily. This wasn’t the first time during the eight months they had lived together that she had been aware of Regina waking in the night, distressed and anxious.
“I have them too.”
There was a moment of silence, then Regina rolled over, face now peering up at Emma’s through the darkness. “You do?”
Emma nodded, lying down herself so that the two of them were able to look directly into the other’s eyes. “I think about that morning. But my mind makes up alternate endings. I think about what would happen if you hadn’t gone inside the shelter. I think about what would happen if the police hadn’t arrived when they did. Or what would have happened if he had pulled the trigger first.”
“You dream about Leo?”
“They’re nightmares, not dreams,” Emma corrected. “And it’s not every night. Once a month, maybe.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Regina asked, her own trauma forgotten. It was a reminder that Emma had been the one on the street that day, held hostage, a gun to her temple. Of course the blonde was going to be suffering, processing, recovering.
Emma reached out and cupped Regina’s cheek. “You didn’t need to know. But I’ll tell you now, if you want to tell me about your nightmare.”
There was a pause, then a whisper broke the silence. “Mine wasn’t about Leo.”
“Oh.” Emma hadn’t been expecting that.
“It was about you.”
Nor that. “Me? You had a nightmare about me?” That can’t be good.
The pale streetlight bleeding in around the edges of the curtains was enough for Regina to see the hurt on Emma’s features. She moved herself closer, a hand resting on the feminine dip of the woman’s waist. “No, not about you. I mean, you were there, but the nightmare was about me. About the person I used to be.”
Emma’s forehead now creased. “I don’t understand.”
“High school,” Regina murmured at last. “I was dreaming about high school. Except it wasn’t a dream. It was a memory. It happens sometimes, less common now than when I first met you again. But it’s like my subconscious wants to remind me of how I treated you, how I don’t deserve you.”
“No, let me say this,” Regina interrupted. “I know what you’re going to say and I believe you. I know you love me and I love you. We make each other happy and that’s all that matters. But at night, I can’t deny my past. Our shared history isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, Emma. And sometimes I need to be reminded of that. I don’t mind. I accept that I have to live with what I did. And I’m comforted now when I wake up and you’re beside me. I just hope they’ll fade. I’m tired of hating my teenage self. I’m tired of being dragged back to a time when I didn’t accept who I was and how I felt. I’m so happy with you now, Emma, and I just wish I could travel back in time and tell that younger version of me how the future was going to unfold.”
“You’d never have believed it, even if you did know your future back then,” Emma pointed out. “Life is a journey, Regina. And sure, some of the twists and turns in both our lives were painful but it was all worth it if it got us to where we are today.”
“I know,” Regina replied, pressing herself even closer to Emma, needing the reminder that the woman was really there. Warm and firm and willing. “And I wouldn’t exchange what we have for anything. I just wish we had shared a happier, kinder start.”
“What’s done is done,” Emma soothed. “We can’t change the past so let’s look forward instead.”
“I’ll always be kind to you, Emma. I’ll always try to make you as happy as you make me.”
“And I make those same promises to you,” Emma said, placing a gentle kiss to Regina’s lips.
The brunette allowed her eyelids to flutter closed, relishing in the loving, tender gesture. But the feel of Emma’s body, pressed against her own, made her suddenly want more. Ten months into their physical relationship and Regina couldn’t imagine ever not wanting the blonde. She parted her lips, tongue darting out to encourage Emma to do the same. Her girlfriend obliged, welcoming Regina into her mouth.
At this silent nod of approval, Regina began to undress the woman in her arms, awkwardly shoving her pyjama shorts down her long legs and wrestling the tank top over her head. As soon as the garments were flung aside, the kiss resumed, this time accompanied by Emma’s disrobing of Regina. The moment their naked bodies were pressed, lips to lips, toes to toes, together, Regina whimpered in relief and delight.
“It’s almost three in the morning,” Emma whispered into the darkness as Regina rolled her onto her back and swung her leg over the blonde’s thighs. “We both have to work tomorrow.”
“I don’t care,” Regina replied, lips now ghosting over the blonde’s sharp jawline. “I need you.”
And Emma needed Regina, as it turned out. The moment the brunette began to slither down her naked body, Emma gave over to the sensations caused by the questing tongue. She allowed her legs to fall wide apart as Regina settled herself at their apex. Gathering her hair away from her face, the woman glanced up the body, ghostly pale in the dark room, before she lowered her mouth to Emma’s waiting heat.
The blonde bucked into the contact, fingers threading themselves through Regina’s loose locks. Regina settled herself more comfortably, lying on her stomach with her legs dangling off the edge of the bed, and wrapped her arms around each of Emma’s thighs. The position allowed her to anchor herself, focusing now on bringing Emma pleasure using only her lips.
Emma moaned quietly as Regina’s tongue laved the length of her core, gathering wetness from her entrance and dragging it across sensitive folds until it reached and ghosted over her most tender nerves. Repeating the action, Regina set up a slow, methodical, loving rhythm. With each passing swipe, she could feel Emma getting more turned on. As fingernails trailed across her scalp, she pressed the tip of her tongue inside the hot, pulsing channel.
The sound of her name, guttural and desperate, sent a tingle of excitement to Regina’s own core as she entered Emma’s. The taste was stronger here. Sweet, tangy and intoxicating. I did this to her, Regina thought to herself, as she pushed her tongue in deeper, feeling the soft, velvety walls gripping the welcome intrusion. Emma’s fingers tugged harder on her hair, hips rocking now, desperate for some additional stimulation. Regina was only too happy to oblige. Without removing her tongue which was now, slowly and shallowly, thrusting into Emma, she unravelled her right arm from around the woman’s trembling thigh.
Two fingers, slick with juices, began to caress her clit. Emma cried out, bucking in excitement. Regina’s other arm tightened around the blonde’s leg, trying to keep her in place. Her tongue already ached slightly but she didn’t care. Re-establishing her rhythm, Regina continued to thrust into the woman beneath her, fingers now seeking out and finding that tight bundle of nerves.
Emma knew she had to be quiet. She knew Henry was just down the hallway. But with Regina’s hot little tongue, shallowly teasing her entrance, and those fingertips applying perfect, relentless pressure, it was hard to hold back her cried of ecstasy. But she did. Instead, her body took the strain, shivering and trembling uncontrollably as burning pleasure flooded into her veins.
It was all Regina could to but hold on as Emma started to crest. Her channel clenched around Regina’s tongue, now haphazardly sliding in and out, drinking in everything Emma had to offer. Her fingers struggled to gain purchase on the slippery flesh but she kept going, rubbing relentlessly as Emma quaked beneath her. Rolls of pleasure broke over Emma, back arched, body taught, lips parted. And they just kept coming, the orgasm drawn out for over a minute as Regina refused to let up, determined to draw every last molecule of delight from Emma’s sweat slicked body.
At last, with a final gasp, her body went slack. Ignoring the ache in her body at her rather awkward position, Regina stayed where she was, pressing a gentle kiss to the glistening skin on the inside of each thigh.
“Come here,” Emma croaked, fingers reaching for Regina.
She came at once, crawling up the spent figure and lying carefully beside her. Emma turned to capture her lips, tongue tasting her essence on Regina’s mouth.
“You’re incredible,” Emma whispered. “That was incredible.”
“So are you,” Regina replied, hooking her thigh over Emma’s hips. “I love making you come like that.”
“I love coming like that for you.”
Regina smiled and leaned in for another kiss. Languid and slow, it was only when Emma noted the wet heat pressed against her hipbone that she was reminded that she owed Regina a pretty spectacular orgasm.
“Your turn,” Emma murmured, rolling onto her side and then on top of Regina who moved to lie on her back.
Watching Emma make her way down her body, Regina marvelled for a moment at how far she had come. From that teenage bully, covering up her confusion about her own sexuality, taking out her fears on others in such a callous and unkind way. To a wife of someone she did not love, yet to whom she was and would always be indebted. He gave her Henry; she could never forget that. Trapped for years, she had summoned the strength to run, to find shelter. And she’d found so much more than that. She’d found a new life, a new future, a new love.
Green eyes caught her own chocolate gaze in the darkness. “I love you,” Emma murmured, as if she knew what Regina was thinking.
“I love you too.”