“Son of a bitch,” Emma grumbled under her breath as she itched around the gauze covering her forearm. Directing her bright yellow bike with her uninjured right arm as she walked beside it, she followed the wide ramp down from the sidewalk and through the open garage door.
A resounding thunk from the Foosball table sounded across the open room, and familiar laughter greeted her from all directions as she entered the warehouse floor of White Horse Courier.
“Ouch,” Ruby hissed, reaching out to touch the uninjured skin of Emma’s forearm. “Heard it on Granny’s radio. You OK?”
Huffing, Emma walked past her co-worker and headed to her locker against the far wall. She leaned her bike against a nearby pole and tugged her helmet off, dropping it to the bench beside her. “Cabbie doored me,” Emma bit out, anger at the incident still leaving her skin hot. “I was taking a right on Beacon and the bastard in front of me just stops and flings his door open. I caught my arm on the edge of the frame and sliced it,” she fumed, flinging open her locker.
“That’s a bitch, Em,” Ruby winced sympathetically, and opened the locker beside hers. “You get it checked out?” The warped metal panel of the door bowed with the movement, disturbing the photos that lined the inside. Pictures of Ruby and various co-workers and friends (some Emma knew, most she didn’t) fluttered, magnets and tape keeping them from falling.
A small pang of loneliness struck Emma low, as she looked to her own locker, the panel barren but for a photo of her, Ruby, and David. “Yeah,” she murmured, hating days like this, where everything went wrong and problems that were normally so benign seemed like they could eat you up. “Wasn’t deep, not even stitches.” She unbuckled the front of her messenger bag and dropped it to the floor beside her.
Ruby slipped her jacket off and hung it on her hook. “Still sucks,” she offered, and Emma let the conversation settle as she sat down to pull her knee pads off. It was after six in the evening on an early-start Friday, and her body ached from the high amount of runs she’d done. Emma was more than ready for this day - this week - to be over.
As she slipped off her sneakers for her favorite boots, a familiar wolf-whistle sounded out behind her. “You know that’s just cruel,” Neal said playfully, popping open his locker beside a now-shirtless Ruby.
“And you know I’m game if you are,” Ruby teased right back, standing confidently in her too-short shorts and black bra.
Emma resisted the urge to roll her eyes, but barely. She and Neal had broken up a few months ago after a short fling, and she knew that was just how Neal and Ruby were together, obnoxiously flirtatious with absolutely zero follow-through. Still, today it made her skin itch with irritation. “Get a room,” she growled, tugging hard on the laces of her boots.
There was silence, Emma’s eyes still focused on her shoes, and then Ruby explained, “Bad run,” like it wasn’t a bad run on a bad week on a tight paycheck with a million other things making her prickly.
“Ah,” Neal said, in the way that made her remember why they didn’t last more than a few months. “Sounds like you need a drink, Em. Rabbit Hole?”
“Not tonight,” she shook her head and stood, shrugging off her red leather jacket and hanging it on the hook. Her t-shirt was sticking to her like a second skin, and all she wanted was a shower, a beer, and to completely crash on her couch. Preferably in that order, but she was flexible at this point.
Ruby pulled a fresh shirt over her head and turned to Emma, closing her locker and leaning against it. “Well, you know where to find us if you change your mind. David left early, he’s gonna meet us there later.”
Emma took a deep breath and offered her friend a small but genuine smile. Ruby knew when to push her, but most importantly, she knew when notto push her. “Thanks,” she nodded, and at Neal’s hesitant look behind her, she nodded to him, too. “You guys have fun.”
“Take it easy this weekend, Emma,” Neal said, just a touch too authoritatively, and Emma suppressed the urge to roll her eyes, small wounds still lingering from their relationship.
Instead, she headed back toward the bathroom, where she could wash her hands and face, get some of the grime off until she could make it home for a full shower. The door slammed shut, echoing in the empty room, and she put the fresh shirt down on the sink before pulling the damp one off. It was nearly the end of June and the weather was still mild, but she’d made almost thirty runs today and the sun had been out and bright.
She felt disgusting and tired, and she ran her hands under the cold sink water before cupping some to bring up to her face. It helped, marginally, and she let her chilled hands rest on the back of her neck for a moment, bringing her temperature down.
Suddenly weary, the adrenaline and anger having tempered now, Emma tugged on the clean shirt and headed back to her locker to get her bag, her bike, and head home.
The garage was almost empty when she got back, the few riders that had hung back for that last run having given it up. She figured they were all down at the bar by now, relaxing and smiling, and normally that would be her, too. Emma even felt a bit bad, now that she was calmer, about turning the others down; Ruby and David were just about the only people in the world that could get her to smile after a bad day.
Emma tossed her sweaty shirt down on the bench and pulled her jacket back on.“Swan!” A deep bark rang out across the garage, pulling the focus of the few messengers still in the room.
Turning, Emma zipped up her jacket and saw Granny standing behind the counter, gesturing her over. With a small groan, she walked the short distance over to the desk, empty package bins lining the walls of the area behind Granny. “Yeah?” she prompted.
“Just got a call for a double rush, I need you to take it.”
Emma laughed hollowly. “No way in hell, I’m done for the day.” At Granny’s impatient look, Emma gestured to Leroy, Walter, and Tom, sitting around the TV in the corner. “Put one of them on it. You know Leroy needs the money.”
Granny put one hand on her hip. “This is an important one, Emma. I need speed and I need customer service,” she said the latter warily, both of them recognizing that it wasn’t exactly Emma’s strong suit.
“After a day like today there’s a chance I’ll be just as belligerent as he ever is,” she nodded toward the scowling driver as he listened to his companions across the room. Granny pulled her wire glasses from her nose and let them drop down to rest against her chest.
“I don’t have time to argue with you about this, Emma. That new biochem research center just got up and running, and they’re giving us a shot for a contract if we make this delivery,” Granny leveled Emma with an even stare. “I’ll give you the full cut of this run if you take it, deal?”
Emma shifted, her shoulders and back aching. Still, it meant an extra twenty bucks or so, and she was in no position to pass that up right now. “Yeah, I guess,” she murmured, tilting her head back and forth to stretch out her neck.
“You need to pick up the package before 6:30,” Granny said, and gestured toward the open door, “so you better get going. Lacey’ll give you a call on the radio.”
Emma turned and picked up her bag still sitting on the floor beside her locker, and flung it across her chest, pulling the strap tight. She adjusted the radio that still sat on it’s spot on the front of the strap, and shut her locker quickly.
Snapping her helmet on, Emma swung up onto her bike and rode out of the garage, her back tensing as she slipped one headphone into her ear. Squinting in the still-bright sunlight, she looked down at her watch and saw that it was 6:22; less than eight minutes to make the first part of the run.
As she pulled out of the parking lot, Emma heard, “Em?” come through the radio headphone.
Smiling at the thick accent, Emma pressed her radio and responded. “Yeah, Lace, Granny caught me. Where’s the pick up?”
“Harvard Vanguard on Milk Street.” Emma kicked off and started to cut across the few parking lots near the garage.
“That’s a ten minute ride, Lace,” she held the radio down, wincing as the injured skin of her forearm pulled with the motion.
“Yep, and Congress is a mess right now, backed all the way up. Can you cut under the turnpike?”
Emma navigated her bike with a sharp turn, and leaned forward. “We’ll find out,” she replied, and picked up her speed. “Granny said the drop off is where that pharmaceutical company used to be, right?”
“Yeah, just reopened as some kind of lab. It's on Columbus; need the address?”
Smiling, Emma shook her head. “Nah, I’ve passed it before. Thanks.” They weren’t close, exactly, but Emma got along with Lacey pretty well; she was a rider before she took the job as a dispatcher, and both she and David still picked up runs now and then. It kept things calm at the garage, mitigated some of the rank issues, and according to David, it kept him from forgetting you can’t plan everything.
“Ruby’s texting me from the Rabbit Hole. She says to tell you that band you like is playing. And they have wings. And she’s buying the next round.”
“Subtle,” Emma rolled her eyes, and swerved away from a pothole. “I’ll check in when I’ve made the drop, Lace, and tell Ruby I’m just not feeling it,” she said.
“Roger,” Lacey said, a smile in her voice, and Emma gripped the handlebars with both hands.
Cutting under the turnpike usually shaved a good three or four minutes off of her ride, but it wasn’t ideal, considering the train tracks that ran wide across the area. Emma slipped her headphone off and stuffed it into her jacket pocket, focusing on the traffic around her.
She could hear a train in the distance, but the tracks were clear in the immediate area, and she cut across them, her stomach clenching like it always did. There were biking horror stories about taking such shortcuts, and she hated to say it, but they never failed to spring to mind and leave her on edge in moments like this.
Sailing down an empty street again, Emma glanced down at her watch: 6:26. Picking up the pace, she cut down side streets and through a few parking lots, the sun hitting her every now and then as it started to set.
Time was counting down, but fortunately she knew the area, and she’d picked up from the site several times before. White Horse didn’t hold any medical contracts - not for a lack of trying on Granny’s part - but they still got the occasional legal document, or data files to deliver from the medical centers in the area. After all, this part of the city was littered with them.
At 6:28, Emma rounded the front of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and headed back to the service entrance. She jumped off her bike and leaned it against the wall, pulling at the service door and pushing a few stray hairs away from her face.
“John?” she called out as she headed down the hallway toward the offices down there.
“I was just shutting down,” an older man stepped into the hallway as she neared, a ring of keys in his hand and a manilla envelope in the other. "Haven't seen you in a while," he said gruffly as she took the package, and pulled the office door shut to lock it.
"Maybe that's about to change," she held the envelope up before she spun her bag around to slip it into the main pocket. "Have a good weekend," she tossed over her shoulder as she turned.
She tightened the strap as she readjusted the bag and walked outside, slipping back onto her bike and kicking off down the street.
Emma hadn't even been to the pharmaceutical building when it had been open years ago, but she'd passed it a million times as a messenger over the past few years. Construction crews had popped up around it in the past few months, and Emma had heard Granny talking about it to Ruby back in March. The messenger bars had been abuzz on and off, too, since medical contracts were so big in the business; HIPAA laws made it nearly impossible to send certain data files or medical records digitally, and with such short time frames for medical specimens to be transported riders made an easy and cheap alternative.
Glancing down at her watch, Emma bit her lip and picked up the pace. Despite the fatigue that was leaving her legs feeling like lead, she knew she had to do this, and do this well. Not only was it a point of pride - she was the best courier they had - but Granny had done a lot for her when she'd first moved to Boston, gave her a job and a place to crash, and Emma didn’t forget that kind of thing.
She rode down the street, her eyes narrowing as she caught sight of the jam up ahead. Traffic was tight, the sidewalks too crowded to even cut down a block there. Thinning her lips, she peddled backward a bit, slowing herself down as she eyed a driver to her right.
Instead of continuing on, the driver slowed, too, and Emma groaned before she pushed forward, cutting in front of the car to turn right. She shook her head at the sound of the horn, and took off down the fortunately clear alley, all too aware of how close she was cutting the delivery.
Catching sight of Stuart Street, Emma grinned triumphantly, knowing a shortcut that cut almost clear over to Columbus. She rose from the seat, peddling hard, the movement making the bike move from side to side slightly.
Nearly clear of the block, a garbage truck drove down the alleyway ahead of her and stopped. The side of the truck blocked her exit, and she pulled back quickly, dropping her feet to the gravel to brace herself.
The adrenaline coursing through her felt warm and urgent, and she sucked in a breath before she stood up from the seat and with barely a moment of hesitation, threw her track bike into the bed of the truck, just barely visible from her angle.
She was quick to follow, hoisting herself up and into the cushion of bags, and landing not-so-gracefully between two especially full - and possibly torn - bags.
“Hey!” she heard the collector yell at her as she pulled herself from the garbage, and tugged her bike out right behind her.
“Sorry,” she threw over her shoulder, wincing as she caught a whiff of what must have been an old banana peel. Jumping back on the bike she tore down the rest of the alley, brushing at her shoulders quickly to dispel any remnants of the trash that may have clung to her.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she turned onto Columbus, and caught sight of the recently renovated offices. The entire building gleamed, wide windows taking up the majority of the walls, and large silver letters spelled out Mills across the top of the skyscraper.
Emma scanned for signs of a service entrance, but couldn't see one. A double rush delivery meant drop off in less than twenty minutes, and glancing at her watch, Emma barely had one to spare. She pulled up to the bike rack that sat in the front of a large gold plated sign reading Boston Center for Biochemical Research and Development.
Locking her bike quickly from her years of practice, Emma pulled her bag tight and ran up the few stairs leading to a large set of glass doors. With a strong pull the door slid open, and she slipped inside, immediately catching sight of the front desk that sat in the middle of the open floor. As she neared the counter, she could see the woman that sat behind it; a mousy-looking thing with a headset across her pixie-cut hair.
“No, Mr. Gold, I can promise you that is not the case.” She was worrying her lip, and the fingers of one hand were tangled in the phone cord that lay across the desk. Emma popped one leg out, waiting for the woman to finish. “She’s not available right now, actually. I can transfer you to her voicemail, but—" her thin lips snapped together as she listened with a furrowed brow.
As she waited, Emma pulled her helmet off, the added pressure and heat of it giving her a headache. Her clean shirt was already feeling too sticky, her hair limp from the effort she'd exerted, and she grimaced as it slid across her back when she reached into her bag for the envelope. At movement, the receptionist looked up, and Emma held up the package, letting her pack fall back into place and tucking her helmet under her arm.
The receptionist gestured up, and Emma looked around, expecting a sign, or more instructions. There were none, and when Emma looked at the receptionist expectantly she looked frazzled and began to twist the cord harder.
“No, I'm not sure when she'll have a chance to look them over,” her face grew more panicked, and Emma looked at her watch impatiently. It was pushing 6:45, and Emma was so far past ready to be done for the day. Riding in her boots had been a mistake, and her calves ached from the pressure the laces had put on her flexed muscles.
Not willing to wait any longer, Emma leaned forward, resting her palms flat on the counter of the desk. “Hey, I have a delivery here,” she glanced down at the name, “for Dr. Mills?” she whispered, interrupting the wide-eyed receptionist’s call. "Can you sign?"
She shook her head, but this time covered the mouthpiece of her headset and whispered, “Nineteenth floor,” before she resumed her call.
Effectively dismissed - and beyond frustrated that the receptionist hadn't just taken the package, Emma walked around the desk and headed to the elevators against the far wall. She rang the call button and tried to blow air at her face, warm from her quick ride and feeling disgusting all over. As she waited for the car, she hooked her helmet on the strap of her bag and let it dangle beside her hip. The doors opened and Emma slipped inside, her free hand unzipping the leather coat she'd stupidly worn, and brushed her hair away from her face.
Again she could smell some kind of leftover something from her stint in the back of the garbage truck, and she prayed she could stay standing long enough to take a shower before she passed out. The elevator car rose three feet before it stopped, and Emma braced her hand on the railing around the middle of the car, stretching one leg out as voices drifted toward her.
"...I've read the articles and understand the basis, but she has to realize this project is a long shot, and putting such a big team on it is a waste," a round-faced redhead stepped into the elevator, walking to other side of the elevator and turning around to face her companion.
"Her research background is adequate, but she doesn't know how to run a company," said a short frog-faced man that had followed her in. Both wore white lab coats - a bit rumpled from hours of wear - and tired expressions as they stood side by side.
The redhead had her hair pulled back into a ponytail, a few shorter tendrils frizzing out, and the man had silver hair and wore a bowtie and sweatervest. "I understand staying late when we're nearing the end of a project, but I haven't made it home on time once all week, and we're nowhere near a milestone," the redhead whined. Emma tried not to eavesdrop, to ignore them, but her eyes fell to the reflective doors and from them she could read the woman's labcoat: Dr. Triton. Her brow furrowed and she looked to the man beside her.
The man scoffed and put his hands in his pockets as the doors slid open again on the sixteenth floor. "She doesn't know what she's doing," he reiterated, and stuck a hand out to let the other doctor pass by. "You don't just get a company and become a CEO. At least you shouldn't," his voice lowered as he walked out behind her down the hall and out of Emma's sight line.
Emma breathed out as she was left alone in the car once more, and she looked down at the package in her hands as she waited for the door to close. ATTN: CEO, Dr. MIlls.
Shaking her head slightly, she shifted feet and watched the numbers rise to the nineteenth floor. Almost there, Emma told herself, thinking of the few steps that stood between her and her shower, her bed: delivery and signature, call in to Lacey, and a five minute bike ride back to the apartment.
She was so close. The elevator dinged and Emma slipped past the opening doors. The hallway was quiet, but she could hear gentle ringing and a low voice to her left, and she pulled her pack forward as she headed in that direction.
A front desk sat just around a corner at the end of the short hallway, and Emma could see a few desks behind it, all empty for the night. About twenty feet back there was a long frosted glass office on the wall to the right, and Emma could see the outline of a figure moving around in the lit room. Squinting, she was pretty sure the placard beside the open door read Regina Mills, Ph.D.
“That is not what we’d discussed,” a clipped tone sounded from the desk, and Emma looked over at the woman tucked behind the black marble counter. Her back was turned toward Emma, and she stood with one palm flat on the counter, fingers spread and knuckles white. Her other hand clenched the handset of the phone she was using, and her shoulders were tense in her slightly leaned-forward state.
Eyes widening briefly at the dangerous tone of her voice, Emma reached into her bag to pull out her XDA, and pulled up the information to take a signature for the delivery.
“That has nothing to do with this. Your contract was with her company, and when I took over all prior arrangements-” her voice cut off, and Emma watched as she stood up straight, tucking one arm against the high waistband of her black pencil skirt and leaning back against the counter, almost sitting on it.
Her short black hair was in perfect place, but the discarded suit coat on the back of the chair and the rumpled red silk blouse she wore spoke of a too-long day.
Shifting uncomfortably, Emma cleared her throat a bit, hoping to catch her attention, as it seemed this conversation would be a rather long one.
At the lack of response, she sighed, just a bit louder, but yielded similar results.
Her back aching, Emma pursed her lips a moment, and eyed the frosted glass office. Speed was obviously a priority for the CEO, and Emma was all-too ready to jump at any alternative that could get her on her way.
Just as she began to round the corner of the desk, the secretary growled, and slammed the phone down onto the cradle. Emma stood, watching the display, and smirking just a bit at the moment of surprise that registered on the other woman’s face as she noticed Emma.
It was gone in a second, replaced by a calm facade that would have worked, had Emma not just witnessed pure frustration in the woman’s every movement. Still, she straightened up and smoothed her hands over her hips, the silk of her sleeveless blouse reflecting under the overhead lights. Clearing her throat, the woman dropped her hands to her sides and stood confidently. “May I help you?”
Emma bumped her pack back with her shoulder, and held up the envelope. “Delivery for Dr. Mills,” she gestured toward the office in the back.
The woman followed her gaze, one brow raising before she looked back at Emma, appraising her carefully. “I was told a double rush order would be here in twenty minutes or less,” she said coolly, and gestured to the clock on the wall beside them.
Looking over, Emma saw the face reading 6:45, just a few minutes past the twenty minute deadline. Eyes narrowing slightly, Emma licked her lips. “Yeah, it’s just a couple minutes past,” she said, and shifted her weight to one hip.
Tilting her chin up slightly she repeated, “Twenty minutes or less,” and Emma felt her head start to pound. What a way to end the day.
“Well, it’s a twenty three minute route, you know,” Emma shrugged, desperate for the woman to just accept the package and let her go. “The girl in the lobby told me to come up here. So, uh, can you sign, or should I take it to your boss?” she gestured again to the office in the back.
The woman pursed her lips, and held out her hand for the signature pad. “Your company shouldn’t promise what you can’t deliver,” she said condescendingly, and Emma felt her skin prickle in irritation.
“Well, maybe if you’d turned around two minutes ago you would have seen me standing here on time, waiting for your call to end,” she bit back, and inwardly winced. I tried to warn her, Emma thought, knowing Granny would give her an earful for this, if she didn’t outright fire her. Granny had put up with a lot of her shit over the years, but there had to be a line somewhere.
“And if your company gave a whit about its reputation, maybe they should have sent someone with an iota of professionalism,” she quirked a brow, taking the XDA with a plastic smile.
Emma smacked the envelope down on the counter; she was in no mood for this. “Look, just sign the damn box so you can take this to your boss, OK? I’m assuming it was rush for a reason.” The woman signed the XDA forcefully and looked up at Emma, eyes narrowed. “And I get the feeling you don’t have all that many strikes left with a self-centered attitude like yours.”
The receptionist's eyes flickered dangerously as she thrust the XDA back to Emma, her lip twisted into an almost imperceptible snarl. The action bared her teeth slightly, and a slow smile crossed her mouth.
“And I have a feeling something similar could be said for you, dear.” Emma reached for the device and pulled it to her, fingers tightening instantly. “Perhaps I should give your office a call and let them know that the package arrived with an unsolicited delivery of attitude.”
Emma gritted her teeth, her jaw grinding. “Why don’t you?” She was making it worse, she knew she was making it worse and that Granny really needed this account. But she couldn’t stop.
This infuriating woman was stoking a fire of irritation that had been burning all day long, and Emma couldn’t get out of her own way if she wanted to.
“Do you have a name?" she asked, lifting the phone from its cradle. "Or do you suppose they’ll know who I mean when I refer to the messenger with all of the charm of a rat and none of the manners?”
“It’s Emma Swan,” she leaned her hands on the cool marble, not backing down from the insult. “And be sure to let them know that I escaped your venom unscathed,” she threw back.
Full lips curled into an amused sort-of-cruel smile, and the woman leaned back, her eyes scanning every inch of Emma in a way that felt far too personal. “Swan?” She asked, brows raised.“How...inappropriate for such a graceless thing.”
Narrowing her eyes again, Emma opened her mouth, but movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. The light flicked off in the CEO’s office, and a custodian wheeled a large trash barrel out of the room, before shutting the door.
Scanning the rest of the office briefly, Emma turned her focus back to the woman in front of her, and felt a cold sense of dread. Looking down, her fears were confirmed by the XDA in her hand that read Regina Mills in elegant script.
Fuck. Me. Emma closed her eyes, and shut the device down, before licking her lips and looking back up at the other woman. “You’re Dr. Mills?” Emma asked evenly, her tone belying her anger at the way the CEO let her go on like an idiot, at the shit day that was ending on an even shittier note, and at herself for her complete lack of self-control.
“I am,” the woman answered, and Emma couldn’t be sure, but she thought she detected a brief hint of disappointment in the answer.
Emma glared back at her. “Well, that’s fucking great. Thank you for the opportunity for White Horse Courier,” she said in a stilted voice, and she gave a mock salute. “Have a great weekend,” she turned without waiting another moment, and slipped her helmet off her backpack as she headed to the elevator doors.
Stabbing at the down arrow forcefully she turned, breathing out at the blocked view of the desk. Idiot, she wanted to smack herself almost as much as she did the other woman. Regina. Doctor Regina Mills.
It would have been bad enough mouthing off to her receptionist, let alone directly insulting the CEO of a company that could mean big bucks for the garage.
The doors opened achingly slow, and Emma booked it into the cab, pressing the button to close the door and slumping back against the cool wall.
Nineteen floors slid by in a shameful blur, and by the time she reached the lobby and slipped back outside to get her bike, she had decided she needed to forget it; there was nothing she could do until Granny tore her a new one on Monday.
Emma unlocked her bike and got on, pressing the button of her radio without a second thought. “Lacey,” she answered immediately.
“Package delivered. I’m heading home.” Hesitating a moment, she shifted on the seat of her bike and looked up at the top of the sleek building. “And uh, I think I’m gonna head to the Rabbit Hole after all.”
There were a lot of shitty aspects of being a courier. Like, a lot . Low pay, potentially long hours, no sick time, no benefits, no vacations (well, paid ones, anyway), constant pain, medical bills, and zero social life outside of the garage.
The thing is, when you spend eight to ten hours on a bike each day, your body has no interest in doing anything more intensive than sitting on a bar stool and lifting a bottle of beer.
Thank god it would still do that.
“So, don’t take this the wrong way,” Ruby slid onto the stool next to her and propped her head on her fist. “But you smell awful.”
Emma gave a small laugh, and picked at the label of her beer. “Gee, Rubes, how could I possibly take that the wrong way?” Ruby laughed, and Emma tilted the bottle back, emptying it.
Ruby didn’t say anything else, and Emma looked over at her, pushing the empty bottle toward the far end of the counter. “I jumped into the back of a garbage truck to get around it,” she explained, and Ruby’s mouth dropped open into a huge smile.
“That…” she shook her head, “is a new one.” Emma smiled, and gestured for another bottle - not that she had the money of course, especially after she had essentially forfeited the entire run to the biochem lab. She grimaced at the thought and pulled the fresh bottle to her, tipping it in thanks to the bartender. “I guess that answers one question, though.”
“Yeah? And what’s that?”
“If your day got any better after I left. I wondered what changed when Lacey told me you were on your way, but by the sounds of it nothing improved.” Emma rolled her shoulders forward in answer, and leaned her arms on the bar. “So, you’re drinking your sorrows away?”
“Ding dingding,” Emma said dryly, but smiled and looked over at her friend. “Is there any other way to end a day like this?” she gestured to her forearm, but that was minor, now. Ruby laughed, and picked at her own bottle, before turning away from the bar to watch Neal and Lacey play pool.
Emma stared at her profile for a long moment, and guilt started to claw at her. She felt bad for costing Granny the account, but she felt bad for Ruby, too; Ruby worked just as hard as her grandmother did to keep the business afloat, and she’d always been there for Emma in the past, no questions asked.
She figured this was what it felt like to let your family down.
Taking a pull from the bottle, Emma started to zone, until Ruby leaned forward on the bar, wide smile on her lips as she held up her phone. “Text from Granny,” she started, and shame colored Emma’s cheeks.
“Yeah?” she croaked, and tried to seem disinterested.
“I guess you don’t smell like that for nothing.” Emma eyed her, confused. “Granny says nice job, stud. We got a contract with that lab.” Emma looked over at her, face blank, and set her beer down. Ruby bounced a bit in her seat and squeezed Emma’s shoulder.
“Wait, Granny said what?”
Ruby rolled her eyes. “Well, the stud part was me. But she just texted and said that the CEO gave her a call.” Emma watched, dumbfounded, as Ruby read from her screen. “‘Very impressed with us, wants contract.’ Em, this is so great for the garage!”
Emma nodded dumbly, her brows furrowed in confusion. As she drank, she heard Ruby get up to tell the others, and she bit her lip. It should be good news, but there was something about the spark of challenge that seemed to ignite Regina Mills that left Emma more nervous than ever.
“Hey, kiddo,” David dropped down into the seat beside her, and Emma gave him a thin smile. “Heard about the arm. How is it?” he asked, gently tilting her arm for closer inspection, her jacket draped over the bar beside her.
“S’fine,” she shook her head, and pulled her arm back to the bar. Looking up at the man beside her, Emma felt some of her apprehension ebb, just like it always seemed to do in David’s presence. They’d been friends for years, almost the instant she started at White Horse, and Emma thought of him like her big brother; protective, loyal, and a massive dork.
Emma tried to let the Regina thing go, tried to shake it off, now that she was in the clear. Forcing a bigger smile, she gestured for the bartender again and signaled for a beer for David. “So, you took off early today?” she prompted, and David blushed. “Oh, man, you’ve gotta tell me now.”
David leaned in close, and eyed her carefully. “Promise not to tell?” Emma laughed at the question, just a little bitterly, and nodded. “I uh,” David leaned closer, “pulled a muscle at the race last weekend and had to go to the doctor.”
Emma tilted her head back and let out the first real laugh she’d had all day. “I told you-”
“Don’t say it, Em,” he warned playfully.
“I told you not to enter that, old man,” she smirked, and David nudged her away with his shoulder. “Senior citizens are not meant to race us kids,” she spun around on the stool, and looked over at Ruby, taking a pool cue from Lacey.
“I came in second and I’m barely older than you are,” he spun around, too, and leaned back against the bar. “Whippersnapper,” he murmured, before he took a drink of his beer.
They sat in silence for a moment before David leaned over just a bit and took a dramatic sniff. “Why do you smell like old banana bread?”
By Monday morning, Emma had completely forgotten all about her blow up with Regina Mills.
Well, maybe not completely. But she was definitely over it. A weekend to recuperate and catch up on laundry and housework and other boring adult things had worn off the fresh sting of shame she felt at the thought of her actions, and as she wheeled her bike into the garage, she barely winced at the memory.
“Morning, kiddo,” David sat behind the desk in the center of the warehouse, leaned back in his chair and a mug of coffee in his hand.
Emma smirked over at him, and the stilted way his shoulders pulled. “Morning, gramps,” she winked playfully as he scowled, and leaned her healing arm on the center of her bike. “Feeling better?”
“Hey,” David pointed a finger and looked around dramatically. “I told you to keep that to yourself. But yeah, I’ll live.”
“Good,” she smiled genuinely. “Got anything yet?”
David nudged his headset from his ear a bit and gestured to the bins across the room. “There was an oversized dropped off a few minutes ago to go to Fulton if you’re up for it?”
Looking over at the flat, rectangular package, Emma nodded. “Sure thing. Rush?”
“Yeah, it’s gotta get there by about 7:30,” he gestured to the clock on the wall showing the time to be just a little past 6:30. The rest of the warehouse was virtually bare, most of the riders being night owls that tended to roll in at about 9 on a Monday. Emma was one of the few early risers, and it paid off big time in developing a relationship with David. The two were a lot alike, and they’d clicked pretty well at the start, Emma’s work ethic and David’s loyalty going a long way to bond them.
“Sounds good. I’m gonna change and then I’ll ride out,” she tossed over her shoulder, and started to wheel over toward her locker. She popped it open and pulled her boots off, dropping them down to the ground and tugging on her sneakers.
It was already warm despite the early hour, and Emma slid her thicker sweatshirt off in exchange for the lighter zip up that hung in her locker. As she zipped it shut, she heard the all-too-familiar: “Swan!”
Groaning at her already-derailed morning, Emma kicked her boots into the bottom of her locker and shut it, pulling her bag back across her chest and turning toward the noise. “Morning Granny,” she said with a tight smile. “Problem?”
“Problem?” She asked, lips spreading into a wide smile. “Yeah, I only got one of you,” she said gruffly, and Emma felt a warmth spread through her at the - by Granny’s standards - gushing praise. She had no idea how the delivery Friday had worked out so well - and she wasn’t naive enough to just accept it - but Emma had to admit that it was a nice change of pace.
Clipping her helmet on, Emma nodded to the package bins behind Granny. “What’s up? David just gave me a rush.”
“Not anymore,” she leaned against the side of the lockers. “You have another double rush for Dr. Mills. Pick up there, this time.”
Emma felt her head begin to pound at the thought. “Uh, can’t someone else take it?”
Granny pushed away from the lockers and started to turn around. “Nope, seems you made a hell of an impression on that company,” she barked. “They want you on all their runs, as part of the deal,” she looked down her nose at Emma a moment before leaving, effectively dismissing her.
“Fucking great,” Emma mumbled, pulling her bike to her roughly and wheeling back toward the dispatcher’s desk.
David was watching her as she rolled up, eyebrows furrowed a bit. “You don’t look too happy, kiddo,” he observed.
“Not crazy about the route,” she scratched at the back of her neck and lowered her voice. “Any chance you can trade me off this one?”
David leaned forward in his chair, resting his forearms on the desk. “Why would you want to do that? You know how many guaranteed runs you’ll get out of this deal?” he asked. “Besides, Granny already told me in no uncertain terms hell no.”
Emma thinned her lips and straddled the bike before starting to push off. “Anything to avoid yet?” she asked, back to business.
David shook his head. “Nope, normal Monday traffic.” As Emma started to pedal away, he held up a hand, “Hey Em? Something you wanna talk about?”
His question was stilted, but heartfelt, and Emma felt herself warm at the care he always showed her. “Nah,” she breathed out. “Talk later,” and she was off.
Monday morning traffic wasn’t great, but the routine of it all settled Emma’s nerves at the thought of returning to Columbus Street. It was early in the morning, and Regina was the boss; two things that Emma reminded herself of repeatedly on the ride. It wasn’t like the CEO was going to be waiting downstairs to personally hand her a package.
Really, it would more likely be the opposite, Regina not deigning to touch her with a ten-foot pole.
Besides, any business run by a person with half a brain would have the package waiting down by the service door or at the front desk. It was just a better use of time.
Emma wove in and out of traffic, cutting down a few side streets on the heavier roads. The cup of coffee she’d grabbed on the way into the garage hadn’t had much time to wake her, so the only things keeping her alert were the morning air on her skin and the heavy sense of shame that warmed her cheeks as she thought about her behavior days ago.
She couldn’t afford to drag her feet on a double rush in Boston morning traffic, but little more than pride in her work - and damn near perfect run record - was keeping her legs in motion.
Hanging a right, Emma found herself on Columbus far earlier than she was prepared. With a quick glance at the front of the building, Emma cut to the side, her bike barely fitting between the glass side of the offices and the tall shrubbery that separated the property from the neighboring pharmacy.
She wheeled around to the back of the building, looking for stairs leading down toward the service entry, but found only glass walls the entire way around. There must have been a lower level entry, one she couldn’t access from street level. Emma felt her eyes slam shut in irritation.
Of course it couldn’t be easy.
Emma slipped off of the bike seat with a groan as she neared the bike rack in the front, and locked it with practiced ease. She held on to the front of her bag, pulling it flush against her back as though it could protect her from whatever waited for her inside.
Part of her braced for a massively oversized pick up item, the kind that wouldn’t let her find any sort of balance and would almost certainly make her late for drop off. Another part of her feared recourse from a woman running a biochemical corporation; who knew what kinds of stuff she had access to?
The entrance of the building was still, with no employees slipping in for the day, and she felt her lungs ease with a breath of relief. At least she wouldn’t run into Regina down here.
Inside, she could see the same receptionist, sitting at the desk in the center of the lobby, focused downward and sipping slowly at a bright yellow mug with bumblebees on it. As Emma neared, she could see the headset she’d worn the week before was resting on a hook beside the phone, and a newspaper was laid out on the counter in front of the woman.
“Um, I’m here to pick up a package?” Emma prompted, and the woman looked up quickly. She wore a wary smile, and set the mug down.
“Good morning. It’s waiting for you upstairs,” she murmured, eyes slipping down to the mug as her fingers trailed nervously against the handle.
Emma’s brows raised as her heart began to pump faster. “Most places have pick-ups ready to go at the front desk. Or the service entrance,” she added, and her knuckles tightened on the strap of her bag.
The woman pulled her hands back from her mug and straightened at the orderly items of her desk. Emma’s eye caught the nameplate she nudged,Mary Margaret Blanchard etched in silver on the black bar. “Dr. Mills was rather insistent,” she said, evenly. “She’s waiting for you in her office.”
Emma gave a tight-lipped, entirely fake smile. “Great.” Turning, she passed by the desk and made her way to the elevators. The entire lobby was empty, not even seven in the morning yet, and Emma stepped into the empty car, leaning heavily against the wall as the door shut.
The brief memory of shame had graced her on the ride over, but now, knowing that Regina was waiting for her upstairs, that she hadn’t simply left the package in an easily accessible part of the building - like a reasonable person would have - Emma felt her cheeks begin to color with another sort of heat.
She was angry.
Emma's teeth started to grind down against each other, and she curled her fingers into fists at her side. This was some kind of game. A sick sort of payback, and Emma had no idea what awaited her upstairs.
Grinding her jaw, she readjusted her helmet, the thick plastic limiting her peripheral vision, and making her suddenly edgier.
The elevator dinged as the doors slid open, and Emma stepped out. Taking a deep breath she steeled herself, before thinning her lips and taking long strides down the short hall and around the corner, noticing that the desk Regina had occupied the previous Friday was now empty.
There were a few employees at desks in the center of the open area but everything was too quiet, too still, and she reluctantly looked over to the open office door to the right.
She could see the dark shadow of a figure at a desk, but little else, and as she walked closer to the entryway, the glass obscured even that much.
Emma raised her hand to knock on the doorframe instinctively, but stopped herself. Regina was expecting her, after all. Lifting her chin, she walked into the office, head held high, and clenched her jaw. “You ordered a pick up?”
Regina sat at a large marble desk, the rising sun filtering in through the large window and making it gleam. The entire office was decorated in stainless steel and monotone, sleek and professional and as cold as the woman that owned it.
A laptop sat in front of her on the desk, and she looked up from it slowly, as if Emma’s mere presence wasn’t worth the motion. When she met Emma’s eyes, Regina stood from her chair, placing her fingers on the desk and raising one brow.
“I must say, I was not expecting to see you again,” she said, and pursed her lips. Regina wore a crisp black coat that fell to mid-thigh, a black pencil skirt peeking out beneath it and ending just below her knee. Just as it had been on Friday, her hair was perfectly styled, falling just above her shoulders, and a simple necklace fell against her white silk blouse.
The worn leather of Emma’s riding gloves creaked softly as she flexed her fingers. “You shouldn’t be, I was told you asked for me by name,” Emma shot back, her posture protective even as she felt herself lean into the fight she knew was close to the surface.
“I meant that I would have expected you to be cowering in shame at your complete lack of professionalism, and avoiding this building at all costs.” Regina clarified, tipping her chin up. “It seems you lack a sense of self-preservation in addition to tact and personal hygiene.”
Emma’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah? Well, you’re assuming I gave you a second thought after I left your office,” she bit out, and clenched her jaw at the blatant lie.
Regina’s smirk was knowing, and Emma felt like she was cutting through her with a single look. “Of course you didn’t, dear,” she placated with a too-sweet tone, and Emma ground her teeth together harder.
“Sounds like you sure thought about me all weekend.” Emma regretted the words instantly, sucking in a silent breath as she realized how her words sounded, how oddly intimate her tone was.
But Regina’s smirk faded, her eyes narrowing and in a moment they were past it. “Hardly,” she scoffed, and looked down as she pulled out the drawer of her desk. “This needs to go next door, to the pharmacy,” she said crisply, all professionalism despite her behavior seconds before.
Regina held up a small business envelope, and Emma looked at her, unamused. “You had me come all the way down here to walk this next door?”
She dropped the envelope with a small thwack to the desk, and crossed her arms. Regina’s features crossed in sarcastic confusion, and she swayed her back slightly. “I’m sorry, I don’t recall there being a limit on delivery within the city radius.” She tilted her head, waiting for a response, and Emma rolled her eyes.
“Whatever, it’s your money,” she sighed, and picked up the envelope. Regina’s smirk was returning, and Emma felt herself grow tense with anger once more. There had been a small, tiny part of Emma that had maybe considered apologizing on the way over, a small part that wondered if Regina had been having the same bad day on Friday that she had and wanted to give her a second chance.
“So, this is what I have to look forward to, here? Being your go-fer for piddly errands like this?”
“Of course not, Miss Swan,” Regina rounded the desk to lean back against it, in front of Emma. “A go-fer would be given more responsibilities, to be certain.” She smiled that fake smile once more, and nodded to the door. “That package needs to arrive at the clinic in,” she made a show of looking at her watch. “Eight minutes. You better be on your way.”
Emma shot her a smile just as phony as Regina’s had been. “As you wish, your Majesty,” she gave a stilted bow, and turned, heading out of the office and back toward the elevator.
Regina hadn’t wanted to apologize, and Emma would bet her entire month’s earnings that had Emma tried to say she was sorry, Regina would have turned her away instantly. Probably even changed her mind on working with their courier service.
Emma had no doubt that Regina had wanted to see her ashamed and embarrassed, but there was something else, too; an undeniable fire in her eyes when Emma had bit right back.
Regina hadn’t wanted apologies; she had wanted a war.
And Emma was more than willing to give her one.