“Hey, Regina,” Emma said, as she walked right past the other woman and into Regina’s apartment without waiting for her to greet her.
“Please, come right in,” Regina’s voice was heavy with sarcasm, but lacked any real protest.
“Thanks,” Emma replied, seemingly not noticing Regina’s tone.
Regina frowned, as she shut her front door and followed Emma back into her apartment. Normally, Emma relaxed on Sunday nights, catching up on laundry and the like, and she always texted if she was going to swing by after eight at night. Not that Regina wasn’t always happy to see Emma, but this was not usually how Emma’s visits went. Everything had seemed fine when they were texting yesterday or had dinner a few days ago.
Emma threw herself face down on her friend’s large leather couch with a loud groan, pulling the blanket Regina kept thrown over the back of it on top of herself.
Regina rolled her eyes at Emma’s dramatics. “Come on, I’m sure it’s not that bad. What happened? Work? Or something else?” Regina moved her laptop off the couch, where she’d left it on while she answered the door to the coffee table before sitting down next to Emma’s feet.
“Something else,” Emma mumbled into the couch before sighing and rearranging herself into a more normal seating position against the arm and facing Regina. Regina grabbed part of the large blanket and pulled it over her lap as well as she mirrored Emma, sitting against the other arm of the couch.
Regina propped her head on her hand and waited, knowing Emma would tell her whatever it was soon enough. Emma stared at the ceiling, opening her mouth a few times, but shut it without saying anything. Regina’s curiosity was beyond piqued, but she vowed to give the blonde another few minutes before she started insisting on Emma explaining what was going on.
“Sooo…” Emma began, just before Regina was about to start demanding answers as to what was making her act so off tonight. “Here’s the thing, I did something stupid.”
Regina merely raised an eyebrow in response as a smirk spread across her lips.
Emma rolled her eyes and tossed a throw pillow at the other woman, which missed completely, “Oh, shut up. Look, my family always has this big family thing every year, right?”
Regina nodded, she remembered the exaggerated stories of family drama Emma liked to regale her with at times—normally whenever her mother called.
Emma shifted anxiously on the couch before she threw off the blanket. She began to pace on the other side of the coffee table in front of the seated brunette. Regina’s head turned to follow Emma’s movements.
“Right. Well, this year’s is coming up in a couple of weeks and MM called.” Emma continued speaking without pausing and used hand gestures to convey her frustration, “And she reminded me that a few weeks ago I said I was going to bring someone with me—something I’d said because she had been so sure I wasn’t and was being so sweet about how I was all alone but that it was “okay, sweetie” and I, I just couldn’t take it.” Regina’s heart ached for her in empathy of mothers and expectations that were so different and yet had such similar results.
Emma ran her fingers through her hair, “So I told her, back then, that I was seeing someone and while I wasn’t sure, I was hoping they would come. And she was so stupidly skeptical, but she’d said alright and I, more or less, forgot about it.” Actually, the blonde had screamed into her pillow in frustration and forcibly blocked the conversation from her mind so she didn’t have to deal with it.
Regina was starting to guess where this was going.
“Then she calls an hour ago and reminds me that the trip is in a couple weeks and I’m coming by myself like usual, right? Unless that person I’d been seeing was still in the picture, of course. And I just can’t take it when she’s like that so I said they were and we were probably both coming. And she agreed so obviously skeptical that I doubled down and promised we’d be there and then I made an excuse and hung up the phone,” Emma finished hurriedly, wringing her hands together
“Wow,” Regina replied, almost impressed by the mess Emma had managed to make for herself. “You really did do something stupid. Hm. You could call back and say that your significant other is out of town and blame bad timing? Hold them off with some staged pictures?”
“I thought about that,” Emma admitted. “But I’d rather actually bring someone. If there wasn’t that stupid rule about only bringing people you’re dating, I would have started bring along a friend years ago. This trip always ends up being way too much quality family time for my liking and I always wish I had someone else with me, just to complain to. But only SOs has been the rule since my parents starting coming—and no one’s been able to get grandparents or parents to budge. They just complain about not wanting strangers in our family photos.”
Regina nodded, “So, how long do you have to find someone to bring to your family reunion as your pretend date?” Regina began trying to think through all of Emma’s friends that she knew that Emma might want to pretend she was dating, while shoving anything that might seem like jealousy or wistfulness very far from her mind.
“Two weeks,” Emma admitted reluctantly. She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, “I’d been hoping I could get Lacey to come, but she’s really too straight to pull it off and she’s not coming back from Australia until like two days after I leave.”
Emma sank back down onto the couch in dejected silence. After berating herself for putting it off, Emma glanced at Regina from the corner of her eye. Regina’s brow was furrowed as she tried to think of a way to help her friend. Emma swallowed and began, trying for casual and probably missing the mark by a mile, “So….” Emma purposefully looked away as she tested the waters, “You have some vacation days saved up, yeah?”
“Hm? Oh, yes. Almost three we—,” Regina replied before cutting herself off. She turned and gave Emma a narrow-eyed stare. “Why do you ask?”
Emma coughed, “I, uh, I was thinking, maybe, you’d come with me?” A hopeful and pleading expression grew on her face. “Please?”
Regina held up her hands in protest, surprised that Emma would ask her of all people, “I don’t think—.”
Emma pouted, “Come on, please?”
“I don’t really think I’m the one you want to bring home to your family.” Regina looked profoundly uncomfortable. “I’m not sure I would fit in or make a good impr—.”
“No, no, no,” Emma was quick to reassure her. “You’d be perfect. They always look at me like I’m lesser or something than them.” Emma frowned and then shook herself from the downward spiral that took her on, “And you’re better than, like, anyone—perfect to show them up. And I don’t really want you to like, make friends—I want to show them I have my own life, that I don’t need them and their opinions and their judgments and you’re so great at that ‘mightier-than-thou’ crap.”
“Thank you ever so much,” Regina replied sarcastically, but there was a smile curling the edges of her lips because Emma just called her ‘perfect’ and nothing else really mattered, especially not with Emma’s earnest green eyes pleading with her to understand.
“Sorry,” Emma smiled sheepishly. “That was supposed to be a compliment.”
She shifted on the couch cushions, studying Regina’s unsure expression and decided to admit the other truth she hadn’t been saying, “Look, forget what I told my mom, I just… I could really use someone there who I know is on my side, before anyone else. I always end up feeling like an outsider, at least a bit, and it be really great to have someone there for me. Please?” Emma automatically tried to cover up for her previous words with some bargaining, “I’ll make it up to you however you like.”
“I—” Regina started before trailing off, not sure how she wanted to end that sentence. She would do anything to make Emma happy, but could she handle something like this? It was so far outside of her comfort zone.
Emma took a deep breath and reigned herself in, “I don’t want to guilt you into doing this, but it’d make me feel so much better about the whole trip if I knew you’d be there with me.”
Regina knew she wanted to do this for Emma, she even wanted to meet the younger woman’s family, to a degree, but did she think she could handle a fake relationship when she desperately wanted a real one? One more look at Emma’s face gave her her answer. “Alright.”
“Really?” Emma blinked in surprise, not having expected Reina to actually agree. “You’ll do it?”
Regina felt her resolve strengthen in the face of Emma’s disbelief. Emma who, never asked for favors since she never expected to receive help—too used to being on her own, even after all these years. “I will.” She quickly pointed at Emma, not wanting the mood to get too heavy, “But you owe me, Swan. Got it?”
“Totally. Totally.” Emma agreed as a smile threatened to split her face in two. “Thank you so much. Seriously.”
“Yes, yes.” Regina tried to wave off Emma’s thanks, hoping she wasn’t blushing.
“And you’re really cool with pretending we’re dating?” Emma couldn’t help but double check, since she knew Regina would never actually want to date her.
“Yes, dear,” Regina added her typical endearment with a particularly sardonic twist.
Emma leaned forward and hugged her around the shoulders, “Thank you. Really, Regina. You’re the best.”
Regina put her own arms around her friend as well, “I know."