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Complex Relations

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Regina gave a firm squeeze to the blonde’s shoulders and pulled away. Emma could practically see “serious business” Regina coming out. How were all sides to this woman distinct and impressive? “Now, you’d better fill me in about this trip from the beginning because what little I remember you telling me was not very specific or promising. I need details.”

Regina reached to pick up her laptop once more, opening up a blank document, grabbed her reading glasses, and then looked at Emma expectantly.

“Really?” Emma asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’re gonna take notes?”

Regina lifted her chin. “I enjoy being organized and prepared, Miss Swan. I find it prevents surprises.”

Emma nodded, partly amused, but partly understanding. While she wasn’t crazy about surprises, she knew Regina really didn’t like them. And she was never going to argue against Regina wearing those glasses, not when they made her look so sexy librarian.

Regina nodded in response, “Good then. First off, what day do we leave?”

“Sunday, in two weeks,” Emma began. “I tend to leave middle-of-the-morning-ish. It’s kinda a long drive to Vermont, about four hours? I normally get there in time for a late lunch. My parents get there, at like, butt crack of dawn early, but everyone else gets there throughout the day—but before dark.”

Regina raised her eyebrow as she typed that out, “’Middle-of-the-morning-ish”? Can you be more specific? And you would drive?”

Emma frowned, trying to remember. She was exactly a precise person and generally left once she finished packing the morning of. “I don’t know, like around ten? And yeah, I’ll drive since I know where we’re going.” Then she gave a shrug, “Unless you really want to, I guess.”

“No, that’s fine. We can figure that out later. Continue.” Regina would have to see about leaving a bit earlier and make sure they took her car, not Emma’s death trap on wheels, but she knew better than to have that argument now—they’d never talk about anything else tonight if she let that derail them.

Emma nodded, “Okay. My whole extended family rents out this entire section of condos. It’s not exactly a family reunion but like everyone, from both sides of my family, comes—it helps that everyone knows each other because almost all of the adults still live in the same town and grew up together.”

Emma sat back and pulled up the pictures on her phone, flipping through them to see if she had any she could show Regina from last year, “The condos are really nice—like nice enough I still don’t want to ask how much they cost, especially since we upgraded after everyone started getting older and more people were bringing partners or had kids. We each contribute, but my parents set everything up and pay most of it.”

Regina nodded to show she was following along and leaned forward obligingly when Emma showed her the white and grey condos covered in snow on her phone, which did look fairly new.

“So, what do you remember about my family?” Emma asked, rearranging herself to sit more comfortably, so she was cross legged and facing Regina on her unfairly large and comfortable couch. She couldn’t remember what frustrated or offhand comments she might have made to her friend in the past.

Regina frowned as she thought—she wanted to show that she paid attention when Emma spoke, but not give away exactly how closely she logged away any facts Emma let slip. Regina started with the obvious, “You were switched at birth and no one figured it out until you were a teenager, by which point the mother you had gone home with had died—when you were quite young—and you’d been placed in the foster system.” Emma nodded.

“And your birth parents were the ones who discovered the mix-up,” Regina recited, remembering when Emma had told her all of this the first time when Regina had asked why she sometimes called her mom “Mom” and other times by her first name. “And you went to live with them once all of this was figured out while you were in high school.”

“Right, regular soap opera stuff.” Emma shook her head—it was her life and she was still surprised by it sometimes. “I was sixteen when I had the weirdest meeting of my life with my social worker.”

“I can’t imagine what that must have been like,” Regina said, shaking her head as well, before frowning in concentration once more. “Your birth family’s name is Blanchard—Mary Margaret and David are your parents. Your adopted sister, who you were switched with, is Elsa. You have a much younger brother named Evan.”

“Yup,” Emma nodded, impressed. Regina had a great memory and always got details right, but Emma still couldn’t help the feeling of warmth that spread through her knowing Regina had thought her family nonsense was worth remembering. “You have a good memory. Evan was born like a month after I moved in, so he’s eight now, which seems pretty crazy. Elsa’s nice—responsible, pretty, smart,” Emma flapped a hand. “All that stuff. She works with MM in the town government. MM’s the mayor. David’s the sheriff.”

“So I’m guessing we’ll be in a condo with them?” Regina asked.

“Yup. In our condo will be my parents in one room, Elsa and her fiancé, Merida, in another, us in the remaining room, and then Evan will get the pull-out couch.” Emma smiled, “Gotta say, looking forward to not being kicked in my sleep by him since normally we get stuck together—Elsa and Merida have been dating for years and she’s been coming on the trip almost as long.”

Despite Emma’s words, it was clear she was fond of her siblings, “Besides, Evan likes sleeping in the middle of the action. Since MM unofficially runs everything with my family and we have one of the bigger condos, everyone tends to hang out and stop by our place so there’s always stuff going on.”

“Sleeping arrangements?” Regina asked, looking for more clarity than Emma’s brief overview.

“Right,” Emma said, as if thinking about the reality of staying together for the first time. “We’ll get our own room to share. One bed. Me and Elsa take turns with the different rooms so we’ll have the one with a queen bed, but also our own bathroom. That cool with you?”

“That’s fine,” Regina answered, writing that down. “Our own bathroom was more than I’d expected—I also wasn’t sure how prudish your parents were about non-married couples sharing rooms. Some of your stories…”

Emma laughed, “Dad’s mostly cool, more ‘I don’t want to see or hear about it’. Mom pretends we’re all innocent babies while also being super pushy about grandchildren and if she catches anything in action, she goes this hilarious shade of red, gives you a lecture about appropriate behavior, mutters something about porn, and then forcibly pretends it never happened.”

Regina snickered, “Wow. Alright then, you’ll have to share some stories later. That sounds like something specific happened. How about packing? Anything in particular I need to bring that isn’t obvious?”

Emma considered it, “Not really.” Emma thought she remembered Regina saying her family used to go skiing, “You have your own ski gear?” Regina nodded. “Great, then bring that obviously. I’ll try not to snowboard circles around you.”

Regina rolled her eyes, but Emma interrupted her by snapping her fingers before she could give a clever retort. “Oh! We have a hot tub, so bring a bathing suit, if you want.” She nibbled her lip in a distracting way, “I think that’s it though.”

“Alright,” Regina said, nodding. She rearranged herself as she glanced over her brief notes. She’d want Emma to give her addresses and such later.

“What I really think I need to know is how you want us to, well, act.” Emma furrowed her brow slightly, she knew Regina was referring to the fake dating, but she wasn’t sure in what way.

Regina could read Emma’s confusion on her face and tried to clarify, “I mean, do you want us to act sickly sweet to each other? With ridiculous pet names and that sort of thing? Because I really don’t think I can do that. Do you want me to act like some sort of ideal girlfriend or like some particular character…?” Regina wrung her hands, clearly frustrated and uncomfortable.

“No, no,” Emma reassured her. “I want you to be you, just, you know, a you that’s dating me.” She realized that probably wasn’t very helpful and gave a huff.

“Do you want me to be particularly friendly and try to win them over?” Regina asked, sensing Emma’s inability to express what she wanted as it happened relatively often. “Play nice with your parents? If I was dating you, I expect I would want your parents to like me.”

“Not really?” Emma offered instinctively. She hadn’t really thought this far ahead since she’d never really expected Regina to agree. She did know what she wanted, but she wasn’t sure how to describe the impression she wanted Regina to give.

“I don’t want you to be mean,” she said slowly. “But like, I want them to have to work for it a little. Almost like they have to get your approval, if that makes sense. Maybe channel your like, work self?” Emma said, remembering the few times they had gotten dinner right after Regina came home from work. Regina always took some time to switch herself out of her professional mindset, especially if she was annoyed about something from work that day, which was often. If Regina was to be believed, every client she worked with was a moron.

Regina frowned, trying to follow along. “How do you mean?”

“Like, like. I don’t know. I just…” Emma made a frustrated noise, “My parents are always so nice and charming and everyone always loves them instantly. I’d like it if just once someone didn’t immediately fall for them and they actually had to work a bit harder to win someone over,” Emma frowned, she had always wished she had some of that natural charm.

Regina nodded slowly; she began to understand what Emma wasn’t saying. In the beginning, Emma had said something about having someone who was on her side first. Maybe Emma was used to friends or even people she had dated, getting along well with her parents—to the extent that they would gang up on her. She knew the few people she had brought home, school friends and the like, had always said how nice her mother seemed and how she must exaggerate how strict or angry she could get. Nothing made Regina shut down faster or stop sharing her feelings than people saying those sorts of things.

Truthfully, from what Emma had told her—in bits and pieces and reading between the lines—Regina wasn’t sure she wanted to warm up to her parents. The way they so often seemed to disregard Emma’s…everything… made Regina want to shake them. Emma seemed to keep so much of herself from her parents’, for good reason given how they acted, and it made Regina so sad and frustrated for her friend.

If they really were dating, Regina would have tried hard to get them to like her, but she wasn’t sure she would have been able to put aside her own anger at them if they actually acted the way Emma described. It would be interesting to have Emma’s approval to have them earn a good opinion from her. “Alright,” Regina said, trying to communicate she thought she understood what Emma was aiming for, “I’ll treat them more as a prospective client, who needs to impress me to get my business, than a girlfriend’s parents whom I want to like me, yeah?”

Emma beamed, “Perfect. This is even better than I thought. Someone like Lacey would be giving them what they expected—a fling relationship, no commitment, blah blah blah, but this will be even better.”

“That’s what they expect?” Regina said, interrupting, but unable to contain her surprise that that was Emma’s parents’ impression of her.

Emma shrugged, blushing slightly as she rubbed the back of her neck. “Yeah, I used to be more like that in high school and college, all the moving around in the foster system didn’t help when it came to longer term anything. Not so much anymore, but you know how people hold onto the version of you they know.”

Regina nodded, she had a neighbor from when she was younger that she still saw for dinner sometimes and while she was perfectly nice, she never seemed to recognize that Regina was an adult, not a high school student.

Emma continued, “And I’ve never brought a girlfriend home, only boyfriends. They don’t really hear me when I say I’m bi, they mainly think I’m confused or trying to be shocking or whatever. Plus, they’re kinda the type of people who hear bisexual and think ‘indecisive’ and ‘lots of sex’.”

Regina’s face hardened; she did remember hearing Emma talk about how her parents treated her sexuality—like it was a phase. Oh yes, she was definitely looking forward to making them work for her approval.

“Lacey would have been perfect to sort of, take that stereotype and dial it up. It would have been funny to give them exactly what they expected, you know?” Regina did understand, but felt a moment of doubt creep in that maybe she wasn’t the right choice for this before Emma continued.

“But you,” Emma said, smiling in a way that made Regina’s heart turn over in her chest. “You’re like giving them the opposite of what they would expect. What they would never think I could have. A real relationship. Steady girlfriend. One who’s put together and professional. A serious, adult relationship they can’t just brush off.”

Regina reached out and placed her hand over Emma’s on the couch, “I can do that.”

Emma’s smile broadened, “I know you can.”

“So,” Regina said, knowing she needed to move on from this moment of them staring into each other’s eyes before she did something foolish. “I take that to mean that we’ve been “dating” for more than a few weeks?”

“Yeah, I think so.” A thoughtful expression crossed Emma’s face, “A couple months, at least.” Then she waved it off, “We can figure out those details on the drive up or something. I just feel like I’m forgetting something else.”

“Well, while you think, can you give me some official names of where we’re going and staying and the like?” Regina asked.

“Sure.”

A few minutes later as Regina was looking over some websites for where they were going, Emma suddenly snapped her fingers, “I almost forgot, you’ll need at least one fancy outfit. We always go out to the Bay House and rent out the whole top floor. It’s the only really fancy dinner we have. We do go out to eat a couple different times, just not everyone all together.”

Regina hummed at that, “I think I remember you telling me about this, or rather the dresses your mother made you wear?”

“Urgh, yes,” Emma groaned dramatically. “You know I don’t have a ton of dresses—except for like two summer ones and then some club ones that are “not appropriate” according to my mom when I was 21 and I tried to wear one of those.” Emma rolled her eyes, “So every year MM makes me wear some dress she picks out and it’s always horrible. And then she puts the pictures up on Facebook with stupid comments about how cute I look.”

Regina raised an eyebrow, “Pictures?”

“Come on,” Emma whined. “Do you really need to witness past humiliations? You’ll have a front row seat this year!”

“Show me,” Regina said flatly, and passed Emma her laptop. Emma sighed with resignation; she should have known Regina would take the fashion issue the most seriously of all the others so far. She grumbled as she logged onto her account and brought up her mother’s albums. Sure enough, everything from the past few years was on there, dutifully labeled and sorted.

She reluctantly turned toward Regina so she could see the screen too. “This was last year’s.”

On the screen was an awkward Emma with her hair pulled high wearing a pale pink dress. Regina supposed that objectively, Emma herself looked nice, on her own, and the dress wasn’t horrible on its own either, but the combination just looked so alien and not Emma that Regina could barely keep from cringing the way Emma seemed to be in the picture. “Oh goodness. Is she trying to make you look like you’re getting ready for prom? In the fifties?”

“I know, I know. Trust me, I know,” Emma said as she switched tabs and there was another picture, the background faintly recognizable from the previous picture. This dress was too long, too straight, didn’t fit Emma, and had a giant flower across it.

“What was she thinking when she put you in that?” Regina asked, completely serious.

“No idea,” was all Emma would say as she switched the page again. The next dress was white, had lace in strange places, and a ruffled collar.

“Does she have some sort of visual problem?” Regina was actually rather serious about this question because Emma was a pretty girl and to make her look bad took effort. “Is she doing this on purpose as some sort of passive aggressive punishment? Making you go out in public like that?”

“No clue.” Emma shook her head, she wasn’t very into fashion herself, but her mom clearly had issues. “I do think she genuinely thinks they look nice. I can probably find the others, but that was before she got Facebook so…”

“Don’t bother,” Regina dismissed with a wave of her hand. “I’ve seen enough. Why do you let her keep doing this? Why not just buy your own dress?”

Emma shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t really care that much. It’s only the one night and dresses are expensive and you know I’m not a huge shopper. It’s just easier to let her play dress up for the night.” She was a masochist was probably closer to the truth, her heart lifting at having  a mother to help her dress and sinking as she sees how little she understands Emma.

“Well, not this year,” Regina replied decisively. “I refuse to let such a travesty continue on my watch.”

“Regina—” Emma tried to protest.

“Oh no, I would never let a woman I was with be subjected to this, even if it is pretend. Give me your measurements and I’ll find you something suitable.”

“You don’t need to do that.”

“Of course I don’t, but someone needs to teach that woman.” Regina continued muttering, what Emma assumed were insults against her mother, under her breath.

Emma tried not to find it endearing and flattering. She failed. “Alright. If you really want to.”

“Oh, I do. Now, type your size information here. I’m assuming you don’t want to come shopping with me? Do you want it to be a dress? Or would you prefer a suit? Or a separate top and skirt?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” Emma blinked, “I don’t really care.” Then she actually gave it some thought. She really did hate those dresses and how MM refused to listen to her opinions. And Regina did know her style, “A dress, I guess. Show her up at her own game.”

Regina smirked wickedly, “Perfect.”

Emma stared at the smirk on Regina’s face and laughed, “Wow, you are so competitive.”

“Please,” Regina scoffed. “Like you’re any better. How is that plan to beat all of Will Scarlett’s times at the gym going?” she teased.

“Shut up,” Emma replied, mainly on principle before a sly grin crossed her face, “And I’m totally crushing him.”

“Um-hm.” Regina smiled smugly. “That’s what I thought. What’s next?

Emma spent the rest of the evening regaling Regina with stories of reunions past, and not just the crazy or funny stories. Regina took actual notes as she attempted to keep the truly impressive number of Emma’s relatives straight in her head until far later than either should be staying up on a Sunday night seeing as they each had work the next day.

“I think that’s everything I can think of to ask,” Regina said with a sigh of relief, her eyes flicking over the document with her notes.

Emma placed a hand on Regina’s upper arm to get her attention, “You don’t really have to do this, you know that right? It’s a huge favor and I know it’s not exactly fun…” Emma even felt better, just having talked all this through with someone.

“You say that now, after we’ve already stayed up this late and I’ve gotten all the information?” Regina asked mildly. Emma smiled sheepishly and opened her mouth to apologize but Regina held up her hand. “Emma, I know I don’t have to do anything. I don’t mind, really. If the situation was reversed, wouldn’t you help me out?”

Emma nodded without needing to think. “But it’s not the same because you don’t really…” Regina had some extended family members that she wasn’t close with, but her parents had died sometime in the last few years. A half-sister she hadn’t meet until she was an adult was not the same as the amount of family Emma was having her help out with.

Regina gave her a look, “It’s exactly the same, so there you go. It certainly won’t be boring, now will it? I’m happy to help, really.”

“Alright. Alright. Thanks,” Emma gave her a small, but very sincere smile.

Regina smiled back reflexively before a wicked glint appeared in her eye, “Don’t be so grateful. This favor now makes you fair game to drag to my many, many corporate functions.”

Emma groaned, falling back on the couch dramatically, “Come on, that’s not fair. You always go on about how boring those things are.” Regina just smirked triumphantly until Emma threw the remaining throw pillow on her side of the couch at Regina’s face. “You’re evil.”