Regina rolled her eyes as she once again stubbed her toe on the box Emma left by the door to Regina’s home office. The blonde had moved in two months ago and she still had one box left to unpack. “Come on, Swan, you only had three boxes total.” She grumbled as she picked the box up and put it on her desk. She got her phone out and dialed her girlfriend’s number.
“Hey beautiful, miss me already?”
Though she didn’t want to, she smiled. “I did until I stubbed my toe on your damn box again.”
“Shit, sorry. I keep forgetting. I have it in my head to do it when I get home from work, but the minute I’m there, I just want to relax. It’s been so busy at the station lately.”
Regina sighed. “I know, sweetheart, but it really needs to be done. What’s in it?”
“Books and office stuff from my bailsbonds days. That’s why I put it in your office. I thought maybe you could use some of the stuff in there.”
“Would you mind if I unpacked it? I can put the books in the bookshelf and see what else there is that we may use.”
“That’s fine, if you really don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all. Take it easy today and maybe pick up a pizza for dinner?”
“You got it. Love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Regina hung up the phone, all previous anger gone. Emma didn’t purposely leave the box there, and she had been busy at the office with the damn Lost Boys Gang. The younger ones were fine, but the older ones were proving to be hard to find homes for. It seemed they didn’t want them and Regina couldn’t figure out why Emma was trying so hard.
“Hey mom. Grandma wants to know if you want to come over for a ‘girl’s day’ while Gramps takes me and Neal out to the stables?”
“Oh, tell her thank you, but maybe later. I have some cleaning and unpacking of Emma’s to do. She can come here if she wants.”
“I’ll tell her. Love you.”
“Love you too, be careful.”
Regina went and got herself a hot cup of coffee, turned the radio on, and sat at her desk to open the box. It wasn’t a huge box and wouldn’t take her long, but she’d treat whatever Emma had in there with care and respect knowing the woman valued any possessions she had. She tried to talk to Emma about that, and while Emma had told her some things of her past, she was a closed book when it came to her childhood. Her guess was that being sent from home to home made it hard to keep her own things. She’d try not to show it because Emma never wanted to make her feel guilty, but she did. When she’d hear some things – reasons for her nightmares, reasons for different actions like why she ate fast because as a child, if she wasn’t fast enough, she wouldn’t get food. Why she ate until she was full because as a kid she never knew when her next meal would be – she felt such guilt inside. Emma could tell her all she wanted that it wasn’t her fault, but she’d always feel guilty when it came to the woman she loved.
Regina went through the office supplies and put them in various areas of her desk and then went to the books. She was surprised to see so many non-fiction books about history along with some law books, but she put them on the bookshelf and made a mental note to ask Emma about it. She frowned when she found a tatty paperback “Ugly Duckling” book and saw that part of the cover and some pages were torn out. What was left was clearly loved, but she wondered what happened to the missing pages. As she flipped through it, a piece of paper came out and right away, Regina knew it wasn’t part of the book. Childish writing littered the page and Regina read it.
Things I want in my family. Emma Swan 1990. Regina did the math and figured Emma would have been seven years old. “Cute. This should be interesting.” Regina said to no one as she sat at her desk. However, just reading the first line turned her stomach and told her this wasn’t the average child’s lists of wants.
I want food and water.
Don’t hit me.
A house with running water and lights.
I want love.
A mom and dad who don’t fight.
I want no drugs.
Don’t kill my pets.
Help with school.
Nice, clean clothes.
No lice. No bugs in the house.
Clean bed with covers.
Don’t sell or take my toys.
Treat me fair.
Don’t get drunk and hit me. Don’t get drunk at all.
Don’t touch me in my private places and don’t make me touch you.
TV in the house.
Let me keep my games.
Get me school supplies.
Get me nice shoes.
My own comb and soap.
Nice house and safe.
Have air conditioning and heater.
A nice warm coat.
Regina’s heart was shattered as she re-read the list, her tears flowing. No seven year old should have to ask for these things. No seven year old should have to ask not to be hit, touched, hurt, dirty, hungry, or unloved. No seven year old should ever have to make a list like this. Emma wouldn’t have had to if Regina hadn’t done what she did. The former evil queen put her head in her hands and sobbed as she pictured a blonde little seven year old wanting just the basic things most kids took for granted. “Oh Emma…I’m so sorry.” Regina knew there was nothing she could do to change the past, but she’d make damn sure Emma never felt or needed any of these things again.
“Regina? I was knocking but…what’s wrong?” Snow asked, seeing Regina crying. She came over and wrapped her arms around the woman.
“I…you shouldn’t hug me. I don’t deserve it. She wouldn’t have made this list if I didn’t do what I did.”
“What are you talking about?” Snow asked, so confused.
Regina gestured towards the paper and went to get a tissue to wipe her face as Snow read it. Snow’s eyes filled with tears and she looked at Regina. “This is terrible and it breaks my heart, but it wasn’t your fault. Emma would hate it if she knew you were sitting here blaming herself. I didn’t have to send her away, Regina, I didn’t have to send her to this cruel world. Those people should not have taken a child and done these things to her. People who were supposed to keep her safe, loved, and thriving, should have never had the chance to hurt her or any other child.” Snow shook her head. “I just can’t imagine…” She stopped as her throat tightened and more tears came. “My poor baby.”
Regina went to Snow and hugged her, glad they had come so far in their relationship. That was thanks to Emma, of course, and it was then that it hit Regina just why Emma was so hell-bent on helping all the Lost Boys, no matter what bad things they did. “She knows how they feel. I mean, I knew that before when we were in Neverland, but I didn’t know the extreme of it. No wonder she wants to help them all get families. She doesn’t want them making lists like this.”
“The lost boys?”
“Yeah.” Regina sighed. “I’d been telling her it’s a waste of time and she’d get quiet and almost closed off. I’m such a jerk.”
“You’re not Regina. Emma is…she’s a closed book with things, you know that. I get it, but if she would open up, we wouldn’t make remarks that can come off differently. I’m not blaming her, but please don’t blame yourself.”
Regina just nodded and looked at the list again. “I feel like I invaded her privacy, but she told me I could unpack the box.”
“Then you’re fine. Will you try to talk to her?”
“I have to. I can’t not tell her I saw this.” Regina said, taking the book and using her magic to fix it. “I won’t tell her you saw it if you don’t want me to.”
“I think you should be honest.” Snow said.
The two spent the next few hours in the kitchen chatting and while they tried to stay off the topic, it kept going back to Emma. As Snow got ready to leave, she put her hands on Regina’s shoulders. “You didn’t hurt Emma. You didn’t abuse a child. You didn’t even send her away. This was not your fault.”
Regina looked at Snow. “Thank you. Snow? It wasn’t your fault either.”
“Maybe one day I’ll believe that.”
Regina spent the afternoon deep in thought and when Henry asked if he could stay at his grandparents, she sent Snow a thank you for knowing she and Emma would be having an emotional talk.
“I’m home.” Emma said as she came in and kicked her boots off. “I got pizza.”
“In the living room. Just me and you tonight, love.”
Emma came in and put the pizza on the coffee table and looked at Regina. “Something’s wrong. Did I do something? Did I forget to cap the toothpaste again? I’m sorry, I thought I did it.”
Regina hated the fear in Emma’s face at the simple thing of a toothpaste cap. She couldn’t stop the tears as she pulled Emma into her lap and held tightly to her. “You did nothing wrong, Emma. You are perfect just the way you are. Please never think you’re not good enough. I love you more than I could ever tell you.”
Emma hugged Regina back, not at all sure what was going on. “Are you okay?”
“I found something in your box, Emma.” Regina admitted, taking the list that she now had memorized out.
Emma looked at it and her whole body seemed to deflate. “I forgot all about this. It was an assignment my social worker gave me, but she never came back to get it. She had promised me that the next family would be a good one, but I got a new social worker who didn’t give a shit about where I went.”
“Emma, talk to me. Please don’t keep this stuff inside. Judging by that list, some terrible things happened to you.”
Emma sighed and stretched her neck, cracking it. “Regina, I don’t like talking about it because I’ve moved on. Does it hurt to remember those times? Yes, it always will, but when I don’t remember, it doesn’t hurt. After I had Henry and got out of jail and was completely out of the system and on my own, I stayed in a shelter for a while. The woman that helped run it, set me up with a therapist and for over three years I saw her twice a week. Regina, she helped me put this all behind me. She helped me deal with it all and move on. I know I have nightmares sometimes, and I probably always will and I get that I have some not so great habits when it comes to food, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t dealt with this.” She shifted and looked into Regina’s eyes. “I don’t want to talk about it simply because I’m happy now. I have amazing parents, an awesome son, and a wonderful and drop dead sexy girlfriend. My life is good. Regina, I have everything on that list and more. If you do want me to go into the nitty gritty details, I will, but please know that I’m okay.” She wiped Regina’s tears. “And please, PLEASE know that I don’t blame you. I don’t even blame my parents, Regina…and I’m guessing I’m going to have to call my mom and tell her that because I heard she was here earlier.”
“Sorry. She came in just as I was reading it.”
“It’s okay.” Emma assured her. “Look, I could hold onto my past and use it as an excuse for everything. I mean, not to sound whatever, but I went through so much that I think it would be understood if I did that. However, what good is that? What good is it to live in the past and not let my present and future be better? It’s what you’ve done, my love. You’ve put the past behind you and worked to be a better person. I’ve worked to be a survivor and I’m damn proud of how far I’ve come.”
“I’m proud of you too, my love.” Regina said, caressing Emma’s cheek. “Just know that I am here if you do ever want to talk about it.”
“I know that, Regina. You’ve not only gotten through my walls, but obliterated them all together. You’re the first person I’d go to if I needed to talk.”
“I feel the same about you, Em. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too.”
“I was thinking. Remember when you asked about getting a kitten?”
Emma laughed a bit. “Yes. I thought you were gonna kick me out right then.”
“I may have changed my mind. Let’s go to the shelter tomorrow and pick one out. They’re open on Sunday’s right?”
“They are, but we’re going now before you change your mind.” Emma said, standing and pulling Regina up.
Regina chuckled. “What about the pizza?”
“It’ll be there when we get back.”
Three hours later, Regina came into the living room and shook her head. “How the hell did you talk me into this?”
Emma looked up with a smile, three kittens sleeping on her lap. “Because you love me.”
Regina kissed her head. “I do, my Swan, and I always will.”