Regina perused the store aisle curiously while dodging shoppers. Some genuinely smiled at her, others were cranky and impatient, and just a few looked at her with that recognizable look of sexual interest. Since both men looked to be shopping with their wives and children, she rolled her eyes at them and shook her head in disapproval.
You’re barking up the wrong tree anyway. Your WIVES stand a better chance with me than you do.
Smirking she turned around the corner into the next aisle where the store clerk had told her to go. She had gotten a desperate call from her older sister Zelena an hour ago.
“Regina! I need you!”
“Zelena, when you start a sentence like that, I usually find myself in trouble.”
“Stop it. I’m serious.”
“Now I KNOW I’m in trouble.” A jesting spread of the lips and Regina closed the green folder on her desk and switched the office phone receiver to the other shoulder. “What’s up?”
“I need a Love-Me-Rex doll.”
Regina held the phone away from her ear, blinked at it quizzically and returned it in exasperation. “Zelena, I have WORK to do. I can’t talk about any of your weird sexual fantasies right now.”
“It’s a stuffed ANIMAL, Regina.”
“Oh, would you shut up and listen to me,” Zelena ordered, though she was smiling at her younger sister’s laughter on the other end. “Love-Me-Rex is a stuffed dinosaur that is all the rage with the kiddies this year. He talks, he walks and he laughs when you tickle his belly.”
“It sounds ridiculous! Tickling a dinosaur.”
“I swear if I wasn’t there to actually witness it myself, I would have never known that you were a child once, Regina. I would have thought you were shot from the womb with perfect hair and a business suit, carrying a calculator and the Wall Street journal.”
With a flick, Regina sent the curled tips of her short hair back and passed her shoulders. She smiled easily, red full lips grinning as she leaned back in her plush leather desk chair.
“Anyway,” Zelena continued, “It’s all Robyn wants for Christmas and tomorrow is Christmas Eve!”
“And you haven’t picked one up for her yet.”
“I know, I know. But this acquisition has me all tied up in knots. I want everything to go smoothly. On top of that, I just had a meeting with my new VP of Finance! I have meetings for the rest of the day and can’t get away. Please, Sissy.”
“Have you looked out your window? They say a storm might be coming, Z!”
“All the more reason for you to leave now to beat it! Buy the animal. Take it home. Wrap it for me and…”
“Wrap it for you too?”
“And we’ll see you when you come over Christmas Eve.”
“I’ll pay you back!”
Regina tipped her eyes upward, gleaming naughtily. “I’m thinking you’ll also pay me back with a bottle of your finest Pinot Noir in your wine cellar and a Spa Day.”
“You suck.” There was no malice in Zelena’s tone. On the contrary she admired her younger sister’s moxy. However, it didn’t stop her from attempting to guilt her. “This is for your adoring niece who thinks the world of you.”
“I know. Which is why I just went for the Pinot Noir and not your treasured bottle of Château Lafite.”
There was a wheezy gasp on the other end of the line followed by complete silence. Regina grinned victoriously as she knew Zelena, who liked to collect wines, considered that bottle to be the best in her collection, priced nothing short of $124,000. Regina would have never taken it anyway. As it was she would have done this for Robyn without negotiations, but her sister needed a little lesson in prioritizing.
“Well played, sister dear. So, you’ll do it?”
“Then you best get to the store right away! One of my account managers said that toy is selling out fast!”
Sighing loudly in exasperation Regina mentally prepared herself for a trip to the toy store… the day before Christmas Eve… out in the abysmal weather.
“Thanks, Lily. I really appreciate this.”
“What are best friends for? Henry and Johan love playing together!”
“Can you believe we have kids?” Emma Swan lovingly watched her 6-year old son Henry play with her old friend’s 4-year old son, Johan. They were on their hands and knees rolling Hot Wheels cars around the bedroom floor.
“Did you ever think when we were in the system that we would ever have kids, Ems?”
Emma tucked a blonde strand of hair behind her ear and her throat muscles worked with a hard swallow. She and Lily were both orphaned as babies and had grown up in the foster care world. They had met when in the same group home at 13 and aged out together at 18. From there they had gotten an apartment together and both worked two, sometimes three, jobs to help survive. They both offered each other support and cheered each other through college, each earning their own success.
“Nope. Never.” Emma smiled at the boys and joked to Lily, “At least you got yours the traditional way.”
“What? Marriage. Planned pregnancy?”
“It sure as hell beats one night stand.”
Lily chuckled and whispered back, moving away from the door with her oldest friend following behind her. “You were never a stickler for tradition anyway.”
“That’s true.” Emma took one last glance at Henry, whom she had said goodbye to a few minutes ago. Her ego was still smarting that he left her so easily to go play, not at all curious as to where she was going.
That’s a good thing.
“Okay, Lils. So, you have my number if you need me. I won’t be gone long.”
“No worries. Henry’ll be fine. Go do what you need to do.”
“Thanks!” They shared a farewell cheek kiss and Emma left.
Half an hour later, Emma rounded a corner and nearly fell on loosely scattered Lego pieces on the floor.
She could see the headline now. Death by Legos! Woman dies while Christmas Shopping.
Kicking the plastic pieces out of the way, Emma looked around and spotted the object of her wishes. The one thing she knew for certain that Henry wanted for Christmas because it was all he could talk about for the past week. Lily told her today that Johan’s was sitting comfortably under the tree but if Emma wanted one she had to go out and buy one right away due to the toy’s overwhelming popularity.
It appeared Lily was right because there was only one left. As she walked toward the wall where a Love-Me-Rex Dinosaur was, she heard loud heel taps in the aisle next to her. Suspicion weighed heavily in that second and while frowning and increasing her speed, she heard the feet of whoever was in the next aisle walking faster as well.
Oh, hell no!
She was on the losing end of a situation like this before and she was damned if she was going to give up the dancing and laughing dinosaur that easily.
She saw a dark blur as she lunged for the doll grabbing one arm. Unfortunately, the woman who had cleared her aisle the same time Emma had also dove and managed to grab the animal too. They tugged for a good five seconds before looking up to discover who their competition for the Rex was.
Under a stern frown, brown eyes, that had looked at the plush animatronic tyrannosaurus with apparent irritation at not fully possessing it, focused on Emma and when the brunette made a through study of her, there was a surprising flash of warmth in them for only a brief moment.
Emma was quite taken with how beautiful the woman was. Dark short hair was parted on the side with curls flipping up at the ends. Lush, red lips pouted and there was a single scar above the right side of the upper lip and a small mole near the corner of her mouth on the left. Emma found herself curious about that scar and right away wanted to touch and ask about it before good manners deemed that action wildly inappropriate.
Then, the angel before her spoke in rich honeyed tones that threatened to make Emma’s knees buckle, as crazy as that sounded.
“Erm… excuse me, but I intend to buy this.”
Emma eyed the slim fingers with cropped painted nails that were wrapped around Rex’s other arm.
“Interesting.” Emma shot the woman the most arresting smile in her arsenal with just a hint of mild flirtation. You catch more flies with honey. “I’m also planning on buying it.”
“Well, I don’t see how that can happen since I got here first.”
“Oh, I beg to differ.”
“You can beg all you like, dear. This dinosaur is mine.” The brunette mildly yanked but Emma held her end firmly.
“Nope, he’s coming home with me.”
A five-year-old child passed by, picked up on their interaction and paused to watch them curiously battle for the toy with short jerks and intense eye-intimidation. Catching both women’s attentions, be tilted his head back and just sort of spat out his question through humorlessly stretched lips.
“What are you doing?” His squeak made them blink at him for a moment and then at each other.
Emma was the first to answer. “I’m trying to save Rex from the Evil Queen over here.” Regina’s eyes widened at Emma’s explanation and she rolled her eyes.
The little boy peered up at Regina, unfazed. “Are you the Evil Queen?”
Wanting to laugh outright Regina just cast down a faux-menacing gaze, complete with flashing, joking eyes, so he would know her true intent was not malicious, and kidded, “Yes. And I eat children for breakfast.”
The boy laughed then sweetly and Emma couldn’t help but be charmed by her opponent as she immediately quipped at her, “Wrong witch.”
“I don’t think you’re evil.” His announcement was accompanied by a bright bashful grin and rosy cheeks. “I think you’re pretty.”
The brunette melted at the comment and Emma ignored how much more appealing the woman was. Oh geez!
“Hey kid, there are Legos on the floor over there. Go play.”
That snagged his attention and he took off like a shot.
“What a sweet child.”
Remarkably, 15 minutes passed by and Emma and Regina still stood there with Rex on the shelf, each having a solid grip on an arm.
“I can stay here all day if I have to, lady.”
“Well I don’t have plans either. I can stand here just as long as you can.”
“Really? Those shoes don’t look very comfortable.”
Challenged, the woman leaned in, allowing Emma to catch a of whiff of her intoxicating scent.
“You’d be surprised what I could do in these shoes.”
Whether she had meant to make it sound sexual or not, Emma took it as such and felt an immediate reaction. A smile played at her mouth and she honed in on the woman’s scar and then her lips, wanting to taste them. Emma had never had such a potent, visceral reaction to a stranger before. She watched the brunette’s brow crinkle suddenly and she moved back, taking a long inward breath. It appeared that perhaps the woman might be having a reaction to Emma as well. Curious.
Regina eyeballed the hand extended to her and peered back into the blonde’s hypnotic eyes. Tentatively, she reached her left hand out to accept the unconventional handshake, her right hand fastened on the doll.
As soon as their palms glided against one another’s, there was an internal chemical reaction unlike anything Regina had ever experienced before. It was like the feeling one gets when stepping up to a cozy fire in the hearth at home. Heat. Comfort. Security. Regina could even feel the warm glow on her face.
Flinching, Regina forced herself to remember the reason she was there, and it was not to pick up women. She collected herself to her full height and negotiated, “Look. I really need this toy. I have $100 in cash on me. You can have it, if you let go.”
Emma had been enjoying that short moment of watching Regina’s eyes soften and the handsome blush painting over her face. Now, the woman was offering her a bribe. Ms.-I-can-wait-as-long-as-you-can was trying to buy her off! Instead of being insulted, Emma felt encouraged to have apparently affected Regina that much.
Regina. Now that’s a sexy name.
After clearing her throat, Emma tried desperately to hide her smile. She had a feeling her amusement would not be appreciated.
“Let me get this straight. You’re offering to pay me a hundred bucks to give up?”
“You could buy a lot with a hundred bucks. More toys. Something nice for yourself.”
“What makes you think I need your money?”
The way Emma said that had apprehension needling at Regina’s nape. She didn’t mean to insult the woman.
“I don’t think you need it. I’m offering it to you as a bonus.”
As if not hearing her, Emma gestured to her own form and quipped, “Do I look like I need your money?”
Regina raked her gaze up and down Emma’s body generating sensations that Emma had not been prepared to feel.
“You have holes in your jeans. At the knees. And it’s freezing outside.”
“I’ve got leggings underneath. And they’re not considered holes. They’re fashion statements.”
Raising a brow, Regina admired the rest of the woman’s outfit. The jeans were snug fitting over what looked like black leggings. A hunter green turtle neck made the blonde’s eyes really shine attractively. Covering the outfit was a light brown and white thick cardigan that hung down to mid thigh and across the chest were tastefully knit reindeer. The woman had her blond hair pulled at the sides and clipped at the back. The more Regina uncovered the more appealing the woman got.
Emma stuck a foot out, presenting her brown leather calf high boot to Regina. “Don’t forget the boots,” Emma jibed insinuating she knew she was being checked out. “They’re new,” and then she tacked on, “…and quite expensive.”
A sheepish grin on her face, Regina made a show of admiring the boots, “Yes, I see that. They are quite lovely.”
“Yep. So, I’m not as hard up for cash as you might think.”
Emma was silent for a moment, one eye narrowing at Regina. “You’re executive level, right?”
“Work. VP? CEO?”
“Chief Financial Officer actually,” Regina stated proudly.
Dawning spread across Emma’s face riding on a dimple-winking smile. She shifted her feet and readjusted her position smugly. “CFO was my next guess.”
Smirking, the teasing light in Regina further engaged the blonde. “Sure it was.”
The moment shifted to one where they felt closely acquainted, which was rather odd. Regina was drawn to Emma. With amusement, she thought if they had met in a bar instead, she would already be thinking of ways to take the blonde home with her, but as it was, they weren’t in a bar. They were in the department store fighting over a toy.
Just then a store employee moved past. Regina reached out with her free hand and grabbed her. “Excuse me.”
“Yes ma’am,” the ponytailed teenager replied.
Regina eyed her name tag. “Mindy, I hope you can help us. You see, we both want this dinosaur and it appears there’s only one left. Do you have any others in the back?”
Mindy’s smile twisted into an apologetic line. “I’m sorry. Unfortunately, all we have is what’s out. I know that particular toy has been selling out all over. We’ve barely been able to keep it on the shelves.”
Emma turned to Regina and offered her another winning smile with a curve of a golden eyebrow.
“Want to arm wrestle for it?”
Regina threw an incredulous expression at Emma while Mindy broke out into a giggle. “I really am sorry. We were supposed to get more in this morning but I heard there was a delay or something.” She shrugged. Her eyes lit up then, “Maybe you two can sort it out while we all wait for the storm to pass.”
That oddly grabbed both women’s attentions.
“Wait?” came from Emma.
“What did you say?” asked Regina.
“The storm. It’s crazy out there! We’ve been told by the authorities to stay indoors until it passes. No one’s allowed to leave.”
Once again, Regina looked at the watch on her wrist.
“How long have we been here now,” Emma inquired slouching against the store shelf. She wasn’t used to just standing around for so long.
“Since Mindy left? A little more than 45 minutes.”
“I hate being idle for so long. I like keeping busy.”
“You can always let go.”
“Not a chance. My son is going to love this little guy.” Muttering under her breath, Emma added, “And come to appreciate the great pains I took in getting him.”
The brunette snorted but then followed with a genuine smile, “How old is your son?”
“Six.” Loving enthusiasm lit Emma’s face and Regina found it entrancing.
“Robyn’s six too.”
“Oh? Boy or girl?”
“Girl. Named after her father though.” Before Regina could think better of it she absently let slip, “What an insufferable ass he was.”
Emma’s brows lifted high on her forehead in wonder. Her eyes darted to the woman’s left hand and found no ring. Divorced? That would explain the unfavorable vehemence.
“Sorry.” Regina’s smile was contrite and she shrugged. “It is the season of being kind after all.”
Emma’s shoulders jerked up while she attempted to smother the flickers of unexplained jealousy beginning to burn in her middle.
This is outrageous. Emma didn’t even know Regina but suddenly thinking about her being with anyone else irked her in a way it really shouldn’t.
“If you say he was an ass then he was probably an ass.”
Amusedly, Regina tilted her head, rather tickled at that. “You don’t even know me.”
“I think you’re a good judge of character.”
“I could be some unreasonable, misandrist serial killer.”
Emma guffawed. “Okay then, I’m a pretty good judge of character.”
“I’m not a misandrist by the way.” Regina snickered after a pause. “Or a murderer.”
“Yeah, I read that about you. Otherwise, I would have feared you’d have beat me to death with that Monopoly box over there by now.”
“Well, the thought had crossed my mind,” Regina offered flippantly, “But it’s terrible trying to get blood off of this jacket.”
“A sense of humor. I like that.”
They stood in silence and wanting to see the blonde’s eyes attractively light up again, Regina said, “So tell me about your son.”
The large grin was infectious and Regina found herself mirroring it.
“His name is Henry. He’s six years old. And his whole world consists of the Disney Channel, Minecraft, which I still don’t understand, and Hot Wheels.”
“The Disney Channel. Robyn makes me watch Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Sofia the First with her all the time.”
“Oh, Henry loves Jake, but hates Captain Hook with a passion.”
“Robyn too. We call him Captain Codfish all the time.”
“Good, one. I’ll have to remember that.”
There were other people in the store too but Regina and Emma were in a quiet corner. They could see people walking down the main aisles looking at possible gifts for friends and family.
Emma felt she needed a rest so she lifted the toy off the shelf, with Regina holding on and started to sit on the floor.
“What are you doing?”
“Aren’t you tired, Regina? I know you’re too proud to admit it, probably, but those heels look mean and we’re not going anywhere. Let’s sit.”
“Easy for you to say, you’re wearing jeans!”
Emma looked at the expensive trousers Regina wore and cocked a brow at her. “Thank goodness for Dry Cleaning?”
“There must be someplace else we can sit.”
Looking around them, Emma beamed brightly at what department was a few aisles down.
“Bedding is the next department over. I’m sure there’s a bed we can sit on.”
The dark-haired woman gulped and her mouth opened and closed, words not finding their way out. Her eyes shifted to Emma again and curiously perused her body, making Emma feel like she had just been caressed everywhere, and Regina bent and started to take a seat on the floor. “The floor is fine.”
“Spoil sport,” Emma murmured, half seriously and won a sexy glance from the brunette.
It was on the tip of Regina’s tongue to flirt but she reined herself in.
“So, what’s Robyn like?” Emma asked stretching her legs out in front of her, crossing them at the ankles.
At the mention of her niece, Regina glowed and her eyes twinkled with obvious pride.
“Robyn is a breath of fresh air. I can always count on her to cheer up my day with a Knock-Knock joke or a song. She loves to sing. She finds the truly remarkable aspect in everything.”
“She sounds pretty amazing.”
“Does she look like you?”
Regina was broken out of her Robyn-praising daze by Emma’s question. “Oh. I don’t think so, but my sister says sometimes she can see me in Robyn.”
“Maybe she’ll inherit your sense of humor.”
Regina laughed then, purely, and Emma melted just a little bit.
“I’m sure her mother would love that.”
Emma blinked in confusion and aimed a frown at Regina. “What?”
It was then that Regina understood and her chuckles turned into full blown laughter.
“Robyn is my niece.”
“Your…” Emma joined in with giggles of her own and an inward slap for herself. “I thought she was your daughter with the insufferable ass.”
“Oh God, no!” Imagining herself with Robyn’s father made Regina ill. She cringed. “Ew.”
“Sorry, sorry. I take it he’s not your type.”
Scoffing, Regina answered, “If you only knew.”
Regina left it at that. She didn't often talk about her sexuality so casually. Everyone of importance knew. Her family, her friends, a few colleagues, and of course the women she met at the bars. Outing herself to complete strangers in the Toy Department was not a usual occurrence.
Suddenly studying the blonde though, she wondered whether she should make an exception. The woman really was striking and proving to be someone Regina could speak easily with. Even though they both had a hand clenched around the Love-Me-Rex, Regina realized that she wasn’t having an unpleasant time. She was enjoying Emma’s company. More so than a few of the women she had entertained short flings with.
Regina wasn't a womanizer by any means but she did have urges and entered trysts where it was understood a commitment was the last thing she wanted. Besides it wasn’t like she did it often either, but she did enjoy the company of women. This woman beside her was intriguing her in a way she hadn’t felt in a very long time.
She remembered a joke her niece had told her last week and found herself repeating her own version quite suddenly.
The dimple on Emma’s cheek deepened as her eyes sparkled with amusement. “Who’s there?”
The blonde squinted her eyes, seeing whether she could figure out the joke and then replied, “Canoe who?”
“Canoe please let go of this dumb dinosaur?”
Emma erupted into melodic laughter and it shook Regina to her very core, smitten by the sound of it.
The laughter died down and Emma and Regina stared at one another. When Emma’s tongue moistened her lips, Regina followed the move and the delightful expression on her face transformed into a hungry one.
Holy shit. Emma wanted to kiss the woman and it was with that thought that she shook her head to clear her thoughts.
“So… no Mr. Regina anywhere?”
That engaging laughter enchanted Emma again and Regina shook her head. “No. No. No.”. After a short pause, Regina’s next comment piqued Emma’s curiosity. “And there will probably never be one either.”
What did THAT mean? Emma examined the bewitching goddess next to her. Regina was facing downward, picking lint off her dark slacks and attempting to smooth out a few wrinkles.
“What about you? Why isn’t Henry’s father helping you in your quest for Rex here?”
“Oh, because he was more of an accidental sperm donor.”
This time Regina was curious and slanted her head to the side to study Emma. “Oh?”
Emma’s eyes glimmered with mirth at being so forthright with her past. Seriously, Regina just spurred her on to be completely at ease and honest with most things. Emma was amazed with how trusting she was around the brunette so quickly. This sort of thing never happened for her.
“How do I say this without sounding like a slut?”
Charmed, Regina’s lips quirked. “I don’t think I could get that impression of you.”
“It was Girl’s Night…”
“And we had drunk way too much that night.”
“Oh yes.” Emma hung her head in shame and shook her head.
“I see,” Regina acknowledged, looking down at her lap and raising an eyebrow.
“See, I told you. Slut.” Emma chuckled and sighed. “So how badly is your image of me shattered?”
Regina pretended to consider and replied, “Well, that all depends. He wasn’t a cliché traveling salesman, right?”
“More cliché than that. He was military.”
Regina’s reply and upturned lips belied her comment, alerting Emma that she was joking, “Oh, shattered beyond all repair.”
The spell-binding giggle from the blonde immediately ensnared Regina’s gaze to her mouth. “My really bad idea. My one moment of drunken stupidity. My...”
“I think I get it.” Regina held a hand up with a pleading grin. She waited for an elderly couple to pass by. The old lady rubbernecked back and gave them a romantic swoon. Regina blinked at her and when she realized the woman may have thought they were holding hands, Regina held the doll up for her. The senior citizen waddled away just waving, much to Regina’s exasperation and Emma’s bewilderment.
Once she was sure no one was listening, Regina continued with hers and Emma’s conversation. “Did you ever see him again?”
“I did! Believe it or not, I saw him in a Walgreens. I was already 6 months pregnant.”
“How did that go?”
“I panicked. I was with my best friend, Lily, and we were there buying ice cream at like 12:30 at night.”
“Ew, no!” The blonde’s face scrunched in disgust. Waving her hand as if she could forever dismiss the notion that all pregnant women wanted that combination, Emma went on, “Anyway, to make a long story short, against my friend’s urging, I let him actually walk out the door before I changed my mind and ran out after him. Imagine getting chased outside a drugstore by a crazed pregnant woman.”
Regina snickered. “Did he remember you?” How could anyone forget Emma, Regina thought to herself.
“Oh, he remembered me. He apologized for that night and told me he had just broken up with his girlfriend and was drinking and rebounding pretty hard, but that he was back together with her and they were married.”
Regina was attentive and kind. There was no judgement coming from the brunette, just genuine interest which Emma truly appreciated. As memories came back though, the light in Emma faded slightly. “He asked about me, I guess thinking I was with someone too and that’s when I told him... about the baby. He balked at my stomach and asked me if I was sure it was his.”
A hushed silence prevailed as the two women were engaged in deep thought; Regina, clearly affronted on Emma’s behalf and Emma about how the worst mistake she had ever made actually gave her the most precious gift she had ever received in her life.
“It’s not like I wanted anything from him. I just thought he should know, you know? What happened between us was a huge lapse in judgement. I mean, I thought so right after it happened.” Emma pinned Regina with a knowing look. “I mean, the minute after it happened. I found out a month and a half later that I was pregnant.”
“The crazy thing is we did use protection.” Emma’s head nodded with a half-suppressed laugh. “When I found out I was pregnant, I freaked out like you wouldn’t believe. I took every STD test under the sun!”
Regina couldn’t hold back the spread of her curving lips when Emma said, “It could have been a lot worse.”
All at once afraid of what Regina might think, Emma defended, “I’m not really all that promiscuous. It’s not like I troll bars looking for sex.”
Regina cleared her throat then since that practice wasn’t completely foreign to her.
“So, Daddy G.I. Joe is not a part of Henry’s life?”
“No. And I honestly think everyone’s happier for it. It was tough in the beginning but it all worked out.”
“I can imagine it wouldn't be easy.”
Setting her jaw obstinately, Emma leaned her head back against the empty shelf behind her. “People have told me I should’ve sued him for child support. To punish him or to give Henry what he rightly deserves.” Looking at Regina, there was a hopeful expression in her eyes to be understood. “But I think my son deserves to know he’s loved and wanted. The sperm donor wouldn’t have made him feel that way. And I’m not interested in babysitting a grown man and reminding him to call his son to wish him happy birthday. No. I’m not going to make Henry suffer for some dumb mistake I made years ago.”
Regina admired Emma even more than just a few moments ago.
Sitting there in silence, Emma analyzed her feelings. She was not ashamed about what happened. She had Henry now and that was the most important thing. However, she was a little annoyed with herself to realize how much the opinion of the woman beside her mattered to her. Why should she care about what a stranger thought of her? A beautiful and appealing stranger she had just met only a few hours ago.
Slowly their eyes met and held. While a blush crept into Emma’s face, Regina read the woman’s feelings well and comforted her concern. “I don’t think you’re a slut, Emma. Not by a long shot.”
It was either a trick of the eye or they were closer in proximity than before. They were both surprised to discover that they wanted to be even closer. Emma blinked and pulled away not rightly sure what had just happened.
Quickly the blonde stammered, “Knock, knock.”
Regina inhaled sharply attempting to also get her feelings under control. “Who's there?”
They gazed at one another again and nearly lost their thoughts in each other. Emma opened her mouth but no words came out. Regina was so distracting.
Regina gulped and repeated softly, “Iva who?”
Emma jolted with a start. This was not like her. “Iva sore butt. Let’s get up and walk around.”
“Now, I know you didn't learn that one from Henry.” Regina chortled and narrowed her eyes playfully. Did you?”
As they stood and straightened, holding the dinosaur between them, Emma said, “No, I’m improvising.”
As Emma and Regina strolled leisurely down the main aisle, laughing and talking, swinging the plush toy between them like a small child, they were getting strange looks from other shoppers.
“Okay,” Emma tittered and pointed to the tents and sleeping bags. “Camping. Thoughts?”
“Ooh.” Regina narrowed her eyes pensively and and answered. “Lost its excitement when I was 14. My parents sent me to summer camp every summer.”
“Wow, I always wanted to go to summer camp. It always looked like so much fun in the movies.”
“Did you ever ask your parents?”
When Emma grew quiet, Regina tilted her gaze toward the blonde who looked as if she was working through a private thought. After a few more seconds, Emma replied, “My parents abandoned me when I was a baby.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” What else could she say? Regina chewed on her bottom lip and tried to think of something to say.
“It’s a mood killer, huh?”
With a soft smile, Regina answered truthfully but plainly, leaving sympathy or any kind of judgement from her voice, “Well, it’s not exactly cheerful, is it.”
Regina tugged on the toy to get Emma’s attention and when caught, her expression was meaningful and admiring. “It made you who you are though. And you seem to be alright to me.”
Emma’s heart clenched and she couldn’t help the glow crossing her face. For the first time, she had told someone about her past and they hadn’t pitied her. Regina’s response was perfect.
“My mother is an oppressive bitch half the time but at least she stuck around.” Regina’s comment had Emma bursting with laughter. Why? She had no idea, but instead of making Emma feel self conscious, Regina made her feel comfortable with her past and who she was. “I’ll have to remember that next time I see her.”
“Will you see her for the Holidays?”
“Oh yes.” Regina snorted. “She’ll chase me around the house asking when I’m getting married and giving her grandkids.”
“Ah, the when am I getting grandkids guilt trip.”
“My mother excels at it. And when I tell her that you can’t force things like that, she says, ‘Nonsense, Regina. I had you AND your sister before I was 25! And with two different men, no less. Really what is your excuse?’.”
Emma couldn’t help but laugh. “She sounds like a force to be reckoned with.”
“She’s more like a tornado you have no choice but to let rip through your life and deal with the aftermath later.”
“Wow! And your dad? What’s he like?”
“He’s a puppy dog. A cute puppy dog.” Regina brightened and her affection for her father was evident. “His name is Henry also.”
“Yeah. It’s a family name.” With a relaxation to her stride Regina prodded, “How did you come up with the name for your son? It is a bit old fashioned, isn’t it?”
Emma giggled. “It is, but I’m unusual that way.” Emma’s happy-go-lucky demeanor was contagious and even just being around her, Regina realized that she felt breezy and carefree. “Actually, while Lily and I were thinking about names one night, we were watching Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!”
“Ah… Dr. Henry Walton Jones Jr.”
“Very good, Regina! I’m impressed!”
The brunette’s chest puffed out proudly at pleasing the pretty woman with the dimpled grin. Under the sparkle of those eyes, Regina felt such incredible contentment.
“I enjoy a good action/adventure film from time to time.” They reached the DVD section and Regina turned to Emma. “What’s your favorite movie?”
“Yes. What about you?”
Regina tilted her eyes upward. “Steel Magnolias.”
“That's a sad movie!”
“It’s the perfect combination of comedy and drama,” Regina stated and both women stopped in front of a natural sounds machine.
Emma glanced at the machine, then at the doll and Regina could see the mischief dancing in her eyes. She watched as the blonde pressed a few buttons, setting into motion the sounds of a tranquil waterfall. “Hey, Regina…”
The dark-haired woman snorted. “I know what you’re doing, Emma.”
“Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
Regina rolled her eyes at the blonde’s feeble attempt to have her relinquish her claim on Rex, but was smiling from ear to ear.
“Oh my God! Where were these a few hours ago!” Emma’s excitement snagged Regina’s attention. “Now this is cool.” Emma let her body sink into her seat as Regina watched her, bending over a little to compensate for how low Emma was situated now. Poor Rex was akin to a pair of handcuffs tethering the two women together.
“A bean bag chair?” Ridiculousness and disbelief radiated off the brunette. “How old are you?”
“Bean bags are never out of style.”
“Yeah? Let’s see how you feel when your butt is 85.”
“Oh come on, Regina. You sound like you’re 85 already. Sit in that one.” There was another one adjacent to the orange one Emma was sitting in except it was a putrid green.
“No thank you.”
“What’s the worst that can happen?”
Emma rolled her eyes and made a move to get up and then paused. Removing herself while only one-handed proved a little difficult. She looked up at Regina, who gazed at her curiously before realizing Emma was stuck.
Emma scoffed and reached out her hand.
“Here, help me up.”
Naughtiness spread across Regina’s features, if her smirk said anything. Seeing an opportunity, knowing Emma would have to let go of Rex to get up, the brunette replied, “I don’t think I will.”
The blonde shimmied and looked around to see if there was anything to help her up while Regina looked on clearly entertained. “See? Bean bags… baaaaad idea.”
After more wriggling and with Regina now leaning against a shelf on her elbow, Emma gave up and tried again, “Come on. Help me up.”
Shaking her head, Emma retorted with a raised eyebrow, “I will pull you down here with me.”
After a moment, sensing Emma’s threat as serious, Regina’s smile disappeared. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“How’d you like a rather uncomfortable seat on my lap?”
Regina blinked down at her and when Emma made a quick grab at Regina’s wrist, the one with the hand holding the toy, and yanked, Regina yelped and nearly fell on top of her.
“Okay, okay! Fine!” Regina righted herself and held her free hand out to a deeply pleased Emma, who was grinning victoriously. As she pulled, the blonde up, she grumbled. “You’re stronger than you look.”
Outside the Kitchen Appliances Department, Regina asked, “Do you cook?”
“Does Macaroni and Cheese count?”
When Regina aimed at Emma an aghast look, the blonde guffawed. “Of course, I cook! Do you think I’d let my son starve? He loves my spaghetti and meatballs and my banana pancakes. What about you?”
They walked further away and were surprised to be nearing the bedding department again, which meant that they had made one big circle around the bottom floor of the store.
“I love cooking, especially intricate dishes. I cook an excellent Brandied Pepper Steak and Crème Brûlée French Toast.”
Emma’s stomach growled. “Speaking of food,” the blonde mentioned, placing a hand over her stomach. “You… got any on you?”
“I didn’t get to eat lunch.”
Regina tilted her head sympathetically and twisted to reach into her purse. Her hand surfaced with a small plastic container. “I have exactly five TicTacs.”
Emma groaned and looked around. Perhaps there were some special Holiday snacks for sale nearby, or a Ginger Bread House.
“Being a mom has taught me to always carry a granola bar in my bag.” When the woman beside her curved a dark, sexy eyebrow quizzically at her, Emma smiled sheepishly. “I switched bags this morning and now remember that the bar is sitting on my bed.”
“Here,” Regina offered, flipping the lid on the candy container and pouring a few in Emma’s palm, “Bon appétit.”
Gratefully, Emma popped them into her mouth and said, “There’s a Chinese restaurant not too far from here, that Henry and I are in love with. Ever been there?”
“Mr. Wong’s? Yes, but not recently.”
“They have this Hong Kong style chow mein, with the thin crispy noodles, under a blanket of beef and broccoli that’s our favorite. I’m thinking about it lustfully right now.”
Regina rang out in laughter and awarded Emma with such a delightful expression that the blonde fell even deeper for the woman, before realizing that she was even falling for her. How was it possible that she was having these feelings for a stranger? Emma didn’t believe in such silliness as love at first sight. Those cheesy romantic movies were Lily’s favorites. Shouldn’t alarm bells be going off? Shouldn’t the words serial killer be running through her mind or something? However, Emma found Regina to be a trustworthy sort of person. Bright, witty, sexy definitely, kind and a lot of fun.
This poses a problem.
Emma watched as Regina wiped a gleeful tear from her eye. “I’ve never heard anyone express hunger the way you do, Emma.”
Shrugging, Emma quipped, “Hey, I could make love to a plate of that stuff right now. I’m famished and love food.”
Was it a trick of the light or did Regina’s eyes darken? They did something, Emma mused, and the mood shifted and the air crackled with sudden sexual awareness.
It was fire. It was electric. There was a sizzle that Emma wanted to explore. It was like looking at a candle flame, entranced by its heat and beauty and wanting to touch it.
Emma considered herself to be out of practice. She spent her days focused on Henry and her career, providing for her son, that she hadn’t dated. She hadn’t taken any time to satisfy her own personal desires, besides the occasional hand relief sessions, and even those were few and far between.
She liked sex, loved it actually, but everything had taken a backseat in her need to make sure her son was taken care of. Having grown up without a lot and being a single mom, having to fill in for two parents, Emma made Henry her priority. It was in that exact moment that it dawned on her that she hadn’t been intimate with anyone in over two years! It was hard finding someone who was interested in a single mom and she was a careful with who she introduced to Henry. Her last relationship had been a purely sexual one with a woman that had worked in the same office building. However, she hadn’t wanted children, so Emma had known that they were on borrowed time and had guarded her heart appropriately. When they had decided to call it quits the “break up” was clean, painless and easy. Emma had a hunch it wouldn’t be the same with Regina. She was clearly already so keenly affected by the brunette. With Regina, it wouldn’t be just about sex and Emma became aware that she wouldn’t want it to be either. She would want everything with this woman.
Regina watched the enchanting blonde frown and move the candy in her mouth while deep in thought. She had wondered where the woman had gone to. Wanting to inexplicably offer support, Regina asked, “Anything I can help you with?” The reaction she got in return was wide green-eyed astonishment.
Had it been possible for the woman to grow paler?
“Well, it’s just that you looked slightly troubled. I can’t help but feel like we’ve bonded a little over Rex here, and I wanted to offer my assistance.”
The blonde’s mouth flexed wordlessly for a bit before her eyes slowly made a trip down Regina’s form and then back up to her face. When their gazes met again, Emma blushed and quickly looked away.
Regina slowly blinked at the woman as a hesitant smile bloomed across her own features. She knew that look. She knew when someone was interested in pursuing her, and that blush Emma wore was more potent in flaring arousal in Regina than any other woman’s blatant wanton stare.
Oh? Why couldn't they have been in a bar, Regina thought. In her mind, she imagined walking Emma into her penthouse apartment with the excitement of things to come hanging in the air between them. As soon as the front door was closed she would slip her arms around Emma from behind and bury her face in the woman’s neck where she was sure she would feel a hard pulse beating against her lips, through the warm, fragrant skin. She hoped that Emma’s hands would rove up the outsides of her thighs, reaching their intended destination and cupping Regina. It would ignite more urgent lip movement, because after all Regina loved having her backside fondled.
Having to clear her throat for how dry it had suddenly gotten, Regina’s reply was a little hoarse. “Well?”
Emma’s eyes settled on Regina’s lips so Regina’s did the same.
“Maybe. I’ll… let you know.” The huskiness in Emma’s voice forced Regina’s thoughts back to her fantasy and she imagined her own hands wandering up Emma’s front, caressing everything in their wake until her fingers could stroke Emma’s cheek, turn her head and kiss the woman, beckoning with her tongue to be accepted into Emma’s mouth. Regina was sure if that was to happen that she would get a lusty whimper from the blonde as permission.
The way Regina was looking at her right now sent a quake grumbling through Emma. How could she feel so physically connected with someone she just met? Sure, in college, she had entertained a few flings, but something about Regina was different and prompted Emma to have unusual thoughts, such as how a cosmic force could be playing a hand in all of this. Fate and the universe. Destiny. And her reaction to the brunette wasn’t just physical. It was emotional. And it could really fuck things up!
Suddenly anxious, Emma backed away, letting go of the toy much to Regina’s shock.
The blonde staggered, surprised at herself. Emma only knew fear in that moment and the need to flee seemed more important than anything.
“Y-You can have Rex.”
Blinking, Regina said, “What about…” The sentence died out because where Regina was going to ask about Henry, the word she wanted to use was us.
Emma sensed Regina’s confusion and she blinked the moisture gathering in her eyes away, not knowing what was the matter with herself. She looked directly at Regina and just answered, “I… I’m sorry.”
A heavy silence fell between them and Regina quietly put Rex in Emma’s hands. “You take him.”
Regina wore a stubborn face. “Emma, you’re Henry’s mother.”
“But you’re Robyn’s aunt.”
“Exactly! Which really makes this my sister’s problem. She should have gotten her ass out here weeks ago to buy this thing.”
“Mothers trump aunts?” Emma couldn’t help but give a grin.
Regina returned the smile, “Today, they do.”
They shared one last long look before they were interrupted. “Excuse me,” Mindy politely said. “We just received word that the storm has passed and it’s safe for everyone to go.”
Two pairs of eyes darted from Mindy to each other hesitantly and Emma hugged Love-Me-Rex closer.
“There's even more good news,” chirped Mindy happily, “That shipment of dinosaurs we were waiting on just came in! They’re unloading in the back right now!” She looked from Emma who had a toy and Regina who didn't and said to the well dressed, dark-haired woman, “If you come with me, I’ll get you a dinosaur right away before anyone else finds out.”
On a long drawn in breath, Regina felt like her insides were being torn apart. So, this is goodbye.
“It looks like Robyn’s going to get a Rex after all.”
“Yes. And I guess there is a plate of chow mein with your name on it.”
Emma laughed. “Oh yeah.”
Mindy’s eyes darted between them. “Well, ma’am. If you follow me…”
“Yes, of course.” Regina turned back to Emma. “It was… a pleasure meeting you.” Regina extended her hand.
Emma shuffled the doll under her arm and took Regina’s hand in hers. Both woman ignored the sparks that shot through them at the touch. “Same here. Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas to you.”
Mindy watched them with an absent smile on her face, looked at their hands and observed that the handshake was a little longer than necessary and coughed a little to speed things along. She had gotten off 15 minutes ago and needed to get home to help her mother finish cleaning the house for Christmas guests.
Emma forced herself to turn and as she walked away she could hear the other two walk away as well. For a second she swiveled, her eyes connecting with Regina’s back. Sighing, she turned back around and headed toward the cashier’s counter, not witnessing Regina longingly turn to briefly look at Emma as she walked away with Mindy.
“I’m a dumbass!”
Lily held her coffee cup in front of her face and watched her oldest friend crash her forehead in frustration against her folded arms on the table.
“As much as I’m inclined to agree with you most times,” joked Lily. “What are we talking about here?”
“Ahhh,” Lily brought her mug to her lips and sipped through a knowing smile. “Miss Brandied Pepper Steak.”
“I finally meet the perfect person for me and I run!”
“Yep. I can hardly believe it myself, Ems.” Emma looked up with a sad face and Lily quipped, “A woman with your appetite letting someone go whose specialty is Crème Brûlée French Toast! It’s absolutely outrageous.”
Lily’s laughter filled the kitchen.
“I don’t always think with my stomach, you know.”
“Please, your love for food is practically carnal.” When Emma started to push the salt shaker from one hand to the other while looking entirely lovesick, Lily prompted, “So how beautiful was she?”
“Screw you.” Lily shook with silent laughter. “You know you’re lucky I love you and know you love me back, Lils. Otherwise I’d take you seriously.”
After Lily quieted down she grabbed Emma’s hands between her own, in their usual sisterly way, and she goaded Emma to meet her eyes. “You’ve got to stop running, Em. You’ve made it. You always wanted to make something of yourself and you have! You’ve got a great kid. A good job. Slow down and focus on you a little bit. And know also, that you don’t have to do it all alone.”
“Yeah. But will I ever meet another Regina again?” Leaning on her elbow, Emma thought of the intriguing, caring, alluring beauty with the dark soulful eyes. “Why did I freeze up?”
“Because you’re you. You don’t let people get close easily. But this Regina seems to have touched you. I’m amazed quite honestly.”
“I’ll never see her again.”
“You don’t know that. Things have a funny way of working out sometimes. You could be at the supermarket and bam you both bump shopping carts. You look up and SURPRISE!”
“You and your cheesy rom-coms.”
Lily laughed but when Emma took a shaky breath in and raised her eyes, exposing the wetness in them, the long-haired brunette became serious and was on her feet immediately, rounding the table and taking Emma into her arms before the first tear fell.
Zelena practically yanked Regina in through the front door when it had opened and her younger sister had stuck her head in. The Christmas Eve party was already in full swing. Drinks clinked, guests laughed, and Bing Crosby’s White Christmas blared from the hifi.
Yet Regina looked anything but festive.
“Robyn has been under the tree three times today looking for this.” Zelena snatched the candy-cane striped package with it’s wide green shiny ribbon quickly out of Regina’s grasp so she could hide it for later. Zelena took a few seconds to admire the wrapping. “Nice. It looks very Polar Express. Like Santa wrapped it himself! Which is perfect since it’s supposed to be from him.”
“Well, I didn’t write that on there. I wrote that it was from her pain-in-the-ass MOTHER.”
“What? What the devil has gotten into you?” Zelena observed her sister for the first time and realized how there was a dullness in her eyes and she didn’t look at all like she was in the Christmas spirit.
Grabbing her hand, while Ella Fitzgerald launched into Sleigh Ride, Zelena tucked the present under her arm and tugged. “Come with me.”
Once they were safe within the walls of Zelena’s boudoir, she dropped the wrapped gift on her bed and turned to Regina. “Okay, sister dear, spill it.”
When Regina only shifter her weight to one side, hand on her hip in distress, Zelena shook her head. “You’re clamming up. Am I going to have to resort to Sister-Sister?”
The young brunette sister only looked up with her lip caught between her teeth not sure how to say what was in her mind and heart.
Zelena flipped her red curls over her shoulder and recited the words she and Regina had often used in their childhood to get the other to reveal what was on their minds.
“Sister-Sister, tell no lies. Don’t hold back what you're trying to hide. You’ll feel better once the words are free. Sister-Sister on the count of three!”
“We are grown adults!”
“1 – 2 – 3!”
“It’s all your fault, Zelena.”
“What? What did I do?”
“You made me go to that dumb store to get that dumb dinosaur!”
Zelena picked up the gift, held it with her palms pressing the sides as if covering the toy’s ears and joked in a scandalized tone, “Shhhh, Rex will hear you.”
“I met her.”
“The woman I could see myself settling down with. Growing old with.”
“In a department store? Was she on sale? Why didn’t you purchase her?”
“Sometimes I wish you could be serious.”
Regina spun on her heel to go and Zelena dropped the box, seeing the depth of her sister’s despair, and clutched Regina from behind in a fierce hug. “Holy shit! Regina, you’re about to cry!”
“I KNOW! Which makes this more un-fucking-believable!”
“Hey, hey! Calm down.”
“I can’t stop thinking about her, Z. I barely slept last night. I have no desire to cook or eat. I had to pee this morning and spent 30 minutes sitting on the toilet just thinking about where she was and what she might be doing.”
“Oh, sweet Jesus.” Zelena rocked Regina in their tandem hug. “Tell me everything.”
Fifteen minutes later found the sisters sitting at the foot of Zelena’s king-size bed.
“So, let me get this straight. You bonded with the love of your life in a little more than four hours in a Department Store?”
“Yes. No. Maybe? I have never felt a connection like this with another human being before. I’m not sure what it is, but I, at least, want the chance to know, you know?”
“Wow!” Zelena blinked and donned an upset countenance. “Why didn’t you tell me this yesterday, Regina?”
“For what purpose? To put a little woe in your Holidays?”
“You are my sister, you nut! There isn’t anything you can’t tell me.”
A meaningful look passed between the two and Regina’s lips broke into a small smile and she nodded and put her hand on her sister’s knee reassuringly.
“I know. Yesterday… I don’t think I quite believed it myself. Not that it would affect me this much. I… I’ve never felt this strongly about anything before.”
“I know.” Zelena walked across the room and hid a wrapped Rex in her walk-in closet. She would put it under the tree after Robyn went to bed. “So, my would have been sister-in-law… what was her name?”
“Emma?” Zelena poked her head out of the closet, a blinking frown on her face.
“Yes.” While Regina sighed in anguish, Zelena ducked back in to finish tucking the toy away. “And she has a 6-year old too. A son named Henry.”
Zelena walked out slowly studying her sister. “Henry? The same as your father.”
Zelena paused in thought and then mentioned the step-father she adored. If there was ever one thing her mother did do right, Zelena thought, it was marrying a kind and wonderful man such as Henry Mills. “Speaking of your adorable father, he is already half-crocked on eggnog and brandy and is quite the jolly Christmas elf.”
“Oh please. You know Mother is always on time. She’s already asked twice where you are.”
Regina groaned and wanted to flop back flatly on the bed, but Zelena’s bedroom opened slowly and when the familiar auburn coif of hair was revealed, Regina wanted to scream inwardly that her mother had found her before Regina could observe the older woman’s whereabouts first. It’s how Regina liked to stay one step ahead of Cora Mills, or at least try to anyway.
“Here are my girls!” Cora came into the room, closed the door and raised herself to full height, regally addressing her youngest daughter. “Regina, when did you get here? Why have you not come and said hello to your mother? Where have you been? Have you brought a date with you?”
Being sure to keep her eyes from rolling, Regina pasted a smile on her face, approached her mother while placing her emotions for Emma under wraps and kissed her mother on the cheek. “Happy Holidays, Mother. Sorry, I am late. How are you?”
Shifting the focus back to the older woman sometimes worked brilliantly as Cora liked talking about herself. “I am well and, as always, wishing for more grandchildren for Christmas.”
Zelena and Regina shared a look and a thin, almost exasperated smile as Cora tucked a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. “However, with one daughter being a divorcee and the other a lesbian, they are apparently finding it difficult to get pregnant. Really? How terribly hard is it?”
Regina couldn’t help herself. Her eyes rolled and Zelena bit her cheek to keep from snorting. This was an age-old argument.
“Mother, you talk about having grandkids like collecting art.”
“Grandkids are like cherished pieces of art, Regina. If I have to hear that insipid Connie Edwards at the country club rave about her 9th grandchild one more time…”
“And how many would do it for you, Mother,” Zelena giggled much to Regina’s horror. Her sister was always wickedly instigating things.
“Don’t encourage her, Z.”
“At least six grandkids.” Cora placed supportive hands on each daughter as if drawing them both in closer. “And neither one of you is getting any younger.”
“So tonight, would you like us to pick out random men and just shag their brains out?”
“Zelena! Don’t be crass. I didn’t mention anything about men. As proven by your idiot ex-husband, men have two flaws. What they say and what they do. I leave how you give me grandchildren up to each of you.” Cora gave a stern look to Regina. “I don’t care who you choose to spend your life with…”
“As long as we continue to have children wrapped under the Christmas tree for you. Yes, we know, Mother.”
She had nearly cleared the exit when Cora called out to her. “Regina, where are you going?”
“I’m going to say hi to Dad.” And with any luck get myself drunk off whatever he is imbibing.
Regina loved her father. After she saw him and melted in his arms, Regina’s mood was much improved. He just had this way of making her feel better. And he was happily intoxicated. She had taken a sip of his eggnog, which was more brandy than eggnog, and felt perhaps she should get something to eat before drinking. She was heartbroken at losing Emma, but she wasn’t dumb enough to go looking for a terrible hangover or alcohol poisoning.
Stepping up to the table she perused the dishes her sister had laid out. There was turkey with a bowl of gravy sitting next to it, prime rib, mashed potatoes, meatballs in BBQ sauce, several different kinds of salads, gourmet cheese plates and other small bowls filled with goodies. She picked up a plate with one hand and popped a green olive from its bowl into her mouth with the other.
“I don’t like those.”
Regina followed the peep and discovered a young boy with shaggy brown hair standing beside her looking at the bowl of olives with disgust. Humorously, Regina picked up the bowl of black olives and offered him one. “Maybe you’ll like the black ones. They aren’t as strong.”
He shook his head with a cute scrunch on his face and Regina couldn’t help but smile down on him, this little charmer in the grey slacks, black shirt, green striped tie and red sweater vest.
“They taste like monkey eyeballs.”
Regina swallowed her laughter and curved her eyebrow inquiringly. “Tasted a monkey’s eyeball, have you?”
“No. But I bet it’d taste like that.”
Regina looked around the table, speared a meatball with a toothpick and held it out to him. “How about a meatball?”
He nodded emphatically and took it with gusto. “I love meatballs. I’ve eaten five already!”
“Well, you are what you eat. Eat anymore and you may turn into a meatball.”
The child just laughed back at her as if she was the funniest person he had ever met and Regina was tickled with him.
“That lady over there made the meatballs.” The little boy pointed to her mother. “I like her. She’s really funny and nice.”
Regina’s eyes followed Cora and witnessed her mother performing magic tricks for Robyn and a small group of children. Her eyes blinking in bafflement, Regina’s attention was snagged by the little boy again.
“She says you’re her daughter and that she’s your mom.”
“I…” Regina watched her mother pull coins out of children’s ears and then give them hearty hugs while laughing joyously. I don’t know WHO that is. Comically, Regina felt certain that was not the same woman she and her sister had grown up with. “What’s your name?” The little boy studied her for a moment.
“I don’t know.” He replied.
“You don’t know your name?”
“No. I don’t know if I should tell you?”
“Because you’re a stranger.”
Regina’s charmed smile brightened her whole face and she picked another meatball up and before offering it to him said, “Fine by me. I’ll just have to call you something else. Here, you go, Meatball.”
His childish giggles were music to her ears.
“Can you make meatballs?”
“Are you kidding?” Regina popped a whole rounded meaty treat into her mouth and while chewing it, spoke with her mouth full which seemed to please the boy that some adults did it too. He liked her for it. “If you think these are good, mine are better!”
His eyes widened and sparkled at that and Regina felt a sense of pride at impressing a kindergartener.
“There she is,” Regina heard her sister say behind her while she was still sharing smiles in confidence with her small company.
The next few events happened very quickly and by the end of it, Regina still wore an agape expression.
“Mom!” The little boy shouted excitedly.
“Henry,” a familiar voice answered. Regina whipped around so quickly the olives she had collected on her plate nearly rolled off by the centrifugal motion. Warm green eyes filled with surprise and then twinkled happily. “Regina?”
“Regina…” Henry said the name trying it out on his lips for the first time.
Regina looked down at him and smiled happily to finally meet the boy she’d heard so much about. “Henry.” She turned suspicious eyes on her sister. “Zelena!”
Emma looked at the red-head beside her questioningly, “Zelena?”
“Ah, Henry,” Cora walked up to the small group.
“Mother.” Regina off-handedly said.
Emma looked on Cora with new eyes. “Mother?”
Zelena spread her arms out wide and sang, “And a partridge in a pear tree!”
A hush fell over all of them as eyes darted around but it was Regina and Emma who, after looking at each other again, could not contain their overjoyed grins. Zelena finally spoke up.
“Emma. This is my mother, Cora, and my sister, Regina.” Zelena looked at her sister who just stared at Emma lovingly. Oh boy, did her little sister have it bad. Apparently, Regina didn’t care who saw and Cora was picking up on the zip of attraction happening between her youngest daughter and the beautiful blonde. “Regina, this is Emma. My new Vice President of Finance. But apparently, it seems you two have already met.”
“Really?” This came from Cora. Interest apparent in her eyes. She sized Emma up and down and apparently liked what she saw, if her nod of approval was any indication. “Is your husband with you tonight, dear?”
“Oh no. I’m not married.”
Emma looked at Regina and hinted, just in case she hadn’t made it clear enough before. “Or girlfriend. But the night is still young.”
Zelena’s jaw dropped with a delighted expression, mirroring Cora’s while Regina’s eyes burned with an intensity that could have set the roof on fire.
Little Henry looked from his mother to Regina and without any explanation for why, blushed, snickered and slapped a palm against his forehead in joy.
“Mom!” He looked around like he was totally embarrassed but at the same time approved of his mother’s choice.
“Henry,” Regina addressed him, squatting down so that she was eye level with him. “Would it be alright with you, if I took your mother out to dinner sometime?”
“Do you like my mom?” He squinted his eyes at her but still with six-year-old innocence.
“Yes. I like her a lot.”
He evaluated her then and replied, “Okay.” He leaned in to coax Regina in more privately and whispered, “I think she likes you a lot too.”
“Well then,” Cora started and smiled at everyone, putting her hands on Henry’s shoulders and looking at Emma. “I am already charmed with your Henry. He seems to know all the secrets to my magic tricks.”
Emma beamed proudly. “Yeah, he’s a really smart kid and he charms everyone.”
“I think, I got it all figured out. Except for the disappearing handkerchief one.” Henry tapped an index finger against the cute point of his chin.
“Well, then by all means, my boy, come with me and I will show it to you again.”
Regina tipped her head up at her sister and when Zelena just shrugged down at her, Regina cast a look of suspicion at Cora. “Okay, who are you and what did you do with Cora Mills?”
Cora laughed like it was the funniest joke she had ever heard even though Regina had been half serious. “Oh…” she waved Regina off and smiled at Emma. “You’ll find the more you date my daughter that she isn’t quite as funny as she thinks she is.”
Watching Regina stand, Emma gave her another gleeful glance, “I look forward to finding that out for myself.”
After Cora left, Emma looked at Zelena and the redhead sobered a bit. “Zelena, I swear that my dating Regina won’t interfere with work in any way.”
Zelena held up her hands. “You are not breaking any company rules dating my brat of a sister.” She leaned in and said in hushed tones but making sure Regina could hear, “Just don’t let her push you around. The bitch is bossy.”
Regina snorted and crossed her arms while Zelena left Emma’s side and walked around them. Suddenly Regina yelped as her older sister gave her left buttock a good pinch. “Merry Christmas, Regina darling. Looks like your Santa has wild red hair and a wicked streak. HO-HO-HO!”
As soon as it was just the two of them there, wearing large big smiles of their own, all Regina had wanted was just a few moments alone. “Do you mind if we go somewhere else… to talk?”
“Not at all.”
Emma offered her hand and Regina grabbed it pulling her away from the crowd and searching through the house to find a spot for them. The kitchen was empty but Regina didn’t trust that it could be for long so she towed Emma closer to the laundry room and upon reaching it she let go of the blonde as they each stood against a side of the doorway.
Regina could not believe that she had Emma in front of her again and was sure her joy was written all over her face; from the soft, melted eyes to that broad toothy smile. Placing a hand on her chest, she finally and formally introduced herself much to Emma’s delight.
“Chief Financial Officer.”
“Yes. At McClaren & Dunn.”
“Wow! That’s a swanky job.”
“I do alright.”
“In a Fortune 500 company. I assume alright is an understatement.”
“Uh-huh. Newly of Mills Enterprises. And judging by your name I am guessing you are a part owner of some kind?”
“I own stock in the company, yes, being family. And I am on the board.”
“Conflict of interest with McLaren?”
“Not if we can help it.”
Emma considered that and asked, “Why don’t you work for your family?”
“In two words? Cora Mills.”
Understanding spread across Emma’s pretty face and she tilted her head in sympathy. “Baby bird leaving mama bird and the nest for a vie of independence?”
Regina pondered that and swiftly responded, “More like baby chick escaping the inflexible clutches of a hawk for her own sanity.”
“She doesn’t seem so bad. She seems like a rather nice lady.”
Regina snorted and nodded, “Until the vampire fangs come out.”
Emma just chuckled and shook her head, not feeling fearful at all, which Regina was glad of.
“So, Swan, huh? That’s a beautiful name.”
“I can’t take credit for it. I know it wasn’t the name with which I was born and I know of no other Swans to associate myself with. As far as I know, I'm the only one that exists. I had thought about changing it when I was 18 but Lily, my best friend, persuaded me to keep it. She said with a name like that I could do all kinds of cool things. I could be a best-selling author or a stripper.”
Regina laughed absolutely enchanted with the blonde again. “And you became neither?”
“No,” laughed Emma and she leaned back against the door jamb completely entranced by the happy expression on Regina’s face. The Regina she was crying over last night. A woman she had barely known but had amazingly missed desperately. Oh my God! Lily is going to freak when I tell her. “I have no hand at writing novels and while not prudish at all, I am selective with who I take my clothes off in front of.”
Regina raised an eyebrow and answered in a low silky tone that rolled pleasurably through Emma’s system. “Very good to know.”
From anyone else that might have been creepy but as Emma hung her head, a healthy rosy glow spread across her cheeks and she lifted her gaze to meet Regina’s. What she saw there, in the depths of those chocolate brown eyes, was a longing hunger to truly get to know her. There was desire there, sure, and Emma knew when someone was interested in her sexually, but this was more than just the physical. She knew Regina felt it too. This connection between them. Elation soared through Emma’s chest at the knowledge that they were feeling the same attraction, chemistry and something so undeniably kindred. This was a very good sign.
“Mom!” Emma heard Henry from a distance and straightened, but didn’t leave Regina. He was close and she could hear him drawing nearer.
“Henry, I’m over here!”
“He’s a cute kid.”
“Think so? I guess I’ll keep him then.” They both laughed at the joke and Regina moved closer.
“I think I’d like to take him to the zoo. Or to the Aquarium. Or wherever you take a six-year old and his mother.”
Regina’s touching sentiment floored Emma and the genuine bid to get to know Henry too made the blonde mother so overjoyed at what this could mean for them.
“Hey Mom,” Henry said as he presented his empty glass, “Can I have some more…” His request for more drink halted as his eyes narrowed at something above their heads. “What’s that?”
From his pointing finger, Regina and Emma drew their attention upwards and discovered the sprig of mistletoe hanging above their heads, they both immediately gawked at each other but then slow grins spread across their mouths.
“Henry, here you are, dear. What can I help you with?” Zelena entered the room with Robyn fast on her heels.
“Henry wants more to drink, Mummy.” Robyn followed Henry’s finger before he put it down and tittered into her hand her curly red ponytail swinging as she shook her head from side to side. “Oh Mummy! Look where Auntie Reg is.”
“Reg?” Emma held back a giggle and Regina smiled affectionately at her niece and said out of the corner of her mouth. “She’s the only one who calls me that.”
“The only one?”
“The only one.” Regina forcefully made the sentiment clear with a smirk. No one else was allowed to call her that. Not even her sister did.
“No special nick name privileges for the woman who’s dating you?”
“There are other more worthwhile privileges for said woman in store.”
“Ooh, okay then,” Emma quipped, “I guess I’ll just have to call you Sweet Cheeks and Hey You.”
Both women laughed quietly at that like they were sharing a joke and Zelena piped in. “Sissy dear, in case you haven’t noticed, you and the Seagull woman are standing under mistletoe. What’s with all the talking?”
In bafflement, Regina’s eyes slowly left her sister to peer curiously at Emma. “Seagull woman?”
The blonde groaned and smiled sending her boss a secret smile. “Your sister forgot my name was Swan this morning, but knew it was some kind of bird. She apologized profusely.”
Regina snorted and then threw out at her sister, “Dumbbell!”
The redhead threw her arms out wide in an incredulous manner. “I can’t be made to remember everything, now can I? I’m brilliant enough as it is!”
“Are you two going to kiss, Auntie Reg?”
“Yeah.” Since his hands were free after Zelena had taken his glass, Henry slipped them into his pants pockets. “Yeah, they’re going to kiss. My mom wants to anyway, I can tell.”
“Thanks, Henry.” Emma stared down at her heels suddenly feeling like a fish in a glass bowl.
“I bet my Aunt Regina kisses her first.”
“No way. My mom will kiss Regina first.”
“You don’t know my Aunt Reg. She’s fierce and fearless.”
“Well you don’t know my mom. My Aunt Lily says she’s a force to be reckoned with.”
“Thanks, Henry,” Emma said again turning a darker shade under Regina’s admiring eyes.
“And she’s stubborn. Aunt Lily says her head’s as hard as an ox’s!”
“And my mom is really, really tough! She works out at the gym and lifts weights! Aunt Lily says Mom could probably crack a walnut on the inside of her elbow and that she has buns of steel!”
“Thank you, Henry,” Emma said again, placing a weary hand on her forehead. She’d kill Lily later.
“Wow, Emma. I’m certainly learning a lot more about you than I intended to today,” Zelena joked. Not wanting to leave but sensing her sister’s need for privacy, Zelena nudged the two children to the door. “Come on, you two. There are pitchers of water at the bar.” As the three walked out the far kitchen door, Zelena threw over her shoulder. “You know what to do, Regina darling!”
Regina snickered and blushed. When she tilted her head up and she and Emma shared a coquettish smile. The brunette was the first to say, “I swear, I didn’t know that was up there.”
“If I want to kiss you, I don’t need a plant to do it, Emma.”
“No? And do you want to kiss me, Regina?”
Emma’s hand slipped to Regina’s nape and quickly drew her nearer covering the brunette’s lips with her own. On a moan, Regina’s arms wrapped around Emma’s back as Emma’s went around her neck, their mouths moving over one another’s sensually. When Regina’s nimble fingers bit into her waist, the blonde sighed her permission, and Regina angled her head and dipped her tongue passed thin eager lips.
It was as if time and space stood still and sound all around them muted, except for their light moans and breathing. Neither one of them had ever been so affected by a kiss before. After they finally came up for air, they slowly parted and stared at one another in complete shock and reverence.
“Have dinner with me tomorrow night?”
“Um… it’s Christmas,” Regina said.
Emma blinked and snorted at herself. Of course, duh! She and Henry were going to be at Lily’s nearly all day. “Yeah, I… sorry.”
“No. That kiss nearly scrambled my brain too.” Regina gulped and cast a bewildered look first at the ceiling and then all around them. “This is crazy. We barely know each other and yet, I want to spend every waking minute with you.”
Regina was resolute in her staring at the woman now. “I do want to see you tomorrow.”
Emma’s smile was bright and her dimples enchanting.
“Regina, I don’t know. Um… we’re going to Lily’s at one in the afternoon. She’s cooked up a storm and we’ll be watching Christmas movies. You could come with us?” Emma’s imploring look touched Regina’s very center. There would be nothing she would like more than to spend Christmas with Emma, but her mother…
“Christmas dinner is always at my mother’s house. She has a big dinner at about 4pm and there will be turkey but also prime rib, roast duck and a Christmas ham. Lots of champagne. It’s very festive.”
“Jesus.” Emma’s eyes widened in wonder. “Okay. You win. You should definitely go to that.”
“I’d much rather be wherever you are.”
“Well, if you would like to, you can have Christmas breakfast with Henry and me. I don’t make Crème Brûlée French Toast but I can whip up something special.”
“Banana pancakes?” Regina remembered that Emma had mentioned how special they were to Henry and wanted to try them for herself.
Regina became excited until she remembered that tomorrow was Christmas morning. She and her parents were spending the night at her sister’s, and they would open presents first thing in the morning.
“Presents, right? Robyn needs to have her Auntie Reg here.”
Before either one of them let disappointment set in, Emma beamed and said, “My car will probably need gas tomorrow.” She snapped her fingers and said, “Let’s meet at the gas station on the corner of 23rd and Garrett Street. Two o’clock? I can leave Henry at Lily’s for 30 minutes or so.”
“A half an hour rendezvous at a gas station. I like it.”
“Stop it.” Emma swatted her shoulder playfully. “Nothing questionable will be going on,” and Emma added, “…yet. We’re still getting to know each other after all.”
Regina chuckled, noting the promise in the word “yet” but also very happy that even though things seemed to be happening very quickly, they weren’t rushing into anything. She pulled Emma into her arms. “I like that even better.”
Their lips touched sweetly and they hugged afterward sensing that this was indeed the beginning of something special between them.
“Well, I do suppose we had better get back outside. But I would love it if you stayed close throughout the evening, Emma.”
“I’d like nothing better.”
One year later…
“Darling,” Regina chided with a smile while slipping her earring in, “My mother is not going to chase you around the house with a turkey baster, I swear.”
Emma walked into their bedroom wearing her festive green Christmas dress, holding two pairs of pumps with her.
“I wouldn't put anything past Cora! It was only last week that she took me out for lunch and introduced me to an herbalist who tried to push some homemade tea bags on me that would help with fertility.”
Regina chuckled good-naturedly and left her vanity mirror to find her girlfriend peering at herself wearing two different shoes in the full-length mirror. She sneaked up behind her, took Emma in her arms and gazed at their embracing reflection, marveling that even after one year together they were still so much in love and they were soon taking their relationship to new heights. She took Emma’s left hand in hers and moved the emerald-cut diamond solitaire cast in a diamond-embedded platinum gold band so that the light shimmered in an eye-catching way.
“Your mom is going to freak.”
“Knowing my sister’s big mouth, she probably knows already I asked you to marry me.”
“She’ll be incorrigible now, Regina.” Emma directed her gaze at her fiancée, but there was a genuine loving smile on her lips. She was merely half joking. Yes, Emma had learned just how exasperating Regina’s mother could be and what a difficult personality she was sometimes, but Regina was worth dealing with a hundred Cora Millses. “Babe, we’re not even married yet and she’ll try even harder now to get me knocked up.”
Regina buried her face between Emma’s cheek and her shoulder and murmured lovingly. “Say it again, Emma.”
“What? That Cora’s incorrigible? You knew that. You tried to warn me a year ago.” Emma’s laughter vibrated against Regina’s lips and her perfume delighted her senses.
“No. That you are marrying me.”
“Oh…” Emma twisted in Regina’s arms and fingered the back of the brunette’s neck in a tantalizing fashion. She had never thought she could be this happy. Regina had woken her early to give Emma her Christmas present: a heartfelt and emotional proposal of marriage, accompanied by the most opulently stunning ring that Emma had ever seen.
“Well, if I’m not, we’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time celebrating that fact in the wee hours of the morning.” Emma leaned in for a sweet caress. Their kisses were amazing and when she drew her head back she saw her happiness mirrored in Regina’s gaze. “We are going to make each other so incredibly happy.”
“We already do, darling.”
Henry chose that moment to burst through the door in too bad of a mood for it to be Christmas. After all, he had gotten a skateboard, a video game console and a whole new passel of toys that Emma was unsure of where they were going to keep them all.
At near the beginning of the summer, Regina had asked Emma and Henry to move in with her. After all, Regina had been spending nights at Emma’s apartment. The blonde had waited for apprehension or any reservations to arise at the suggestion but she didn’t feel any. That’s how their relationship had been! Now, she and her son had comfortably moved and blended, their things with Regina’s at her penthouse.
Regina had expected to feel a little bit of disquiet at two additional people moving into her space but she loved having them there. Of course, living full time with a six-year old had been an adjustment at first, but she adored Henry and already considered him hers. She had told Emma that Henry had helped her pick Emma’s ring out at the jewelers, but she didn’t tell Emma that the little boy had been so excited! He had kept talking about them being a family and having two moms instead of just one. With a smile, she remembered Henry’s furrowed brow outside the store and when she asked him what was the matter, his reply had amazed her.
“Regina, do I call you MOM now?”
Astonished, Regina knelt in front of him with Emma’s gift securely in her inside coat pocket.
“Henry, you can call me whatever you like.” She had come to love Henry as her own son, but she did not want him to feel pressured.
He nervously eyed the pavement by his feet and looked up at her so uncompromisingly that she feared he might tell her that the whole thing was off and he was no longer happy with her asking his mother to marry her.
“I WANT to call you MOM. Can I?”
Regina’s heart melted, and she thought she would burst with the love and happiness she felt for this child and the woman who had brought him into this world.
“I would like that very much, Henry.”
He didn’t wait. He launched himself into her arms and she was laughing joyfully and hugging him right in the middle of the sidewalk with pedestrians circling around them.
Of course, though the little boy was ecstatic, he understood when she told him that he could not call her mom for just another few weeks. This morning, when she and Emma had made it out of bed at 8am, sensing that Henry was already up and fiddling with his slippers and robe to attack the gifts under the Christmas tree, he looked at them and when he saw the gleaming diamond on Emma’s hand he dropped the present he was holding and barreled into their arms. With a wide grin, he had loudly announced, “Merry Christmas, Moms!” She rarely ever saw Emma cry. Rarely. But her love cried happy tears twice in one morning.
Now however, in a white dress shirt, grey pants and a green sweater, nearly matching the color of Emma’s dress, Henry was now not a very happy looking boy.
“What ails you on this fine Christmas morning, dear?”
“Mom? Do I have to wear this tie?” He held up his Christmas tie decorated with candy canes, reindeer and holly.
Emma laughed and said, “Yep. Afraid so. Cora gave that to you and it would be polite to wear it to dinner tonight.”
He threw Emma an apologetic look and said, “I was asking my other mom.” Emma bit her cheek and turned her head to the side, trying not to laugh while Regina snorted into her shoulder. “I mean, she’s your mom, mom. Would Grandma Cora be offended if I didn’t wear it?”
“I think as long as you keep calling her Grandma Cora, you could probably show up in a mechanics jumpsuit with a neck tattoo and she’d be okay.
Emma scolded quickly, “Don’t give him any ideas. And I hope you aren’t referring to Mike.”
Emma had asked Zelena to drop her off at the auto-body shop so she could pick up her vintage Volkswagen Beetle and while there had introduced Regina’s sister to the owner and an old friend, Michael Zimmer. She was just as surprised with everyone else when Zelena and Mike started dating a few months ago.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. Z’s extremely happy and I like the guy.”
“I wasn’t sure he’d fit in. Don’t get me wrong. Mike is good people. I’ve known him since college, but he’s a beer and peanuts kind of guy where your mom is more champagne and caviar.”
“Sweetheart, the only thing my mother sees is he’s a successful business owner, makes her daughter happy and he already has two kids that she has added to her list of grandchildren.”
“Are Nick and Ava going to be there tonight?” Henry asked.
“According to Z, yes.”
“Cool!” Henry looked at the clip-on tie in his hand. “So? Can I ditch the tie, Moms? I’ve already got the hat.” He pointed to the red Santa hat on his head. “And the green sweater. If I wear this, I’ll look like an elf!”
Emma shared a look with Regina. “But he’d look so cute in it. How about he wears it there and doesn’t take it off until after your mom sees him in it.”
“That can work.”
They both directed a hopeful gaze at him. “Fine!” The little boy grumbled as he walked out of the room. “It’s tough being this charming.”
Both women giggled and Regina glanced at the bedside clock. “Oh, hey! We got to get a move on if we’re going to pick up Lily and family on the way over.”
“It was so nice for your mom to invite them!”
“Are you kidding? Lily is family. Besides, I think my mom fell in love with little Johan. It’s a little scary how she’s just going around collecting children.”
As they moved around the room, Emma called for Henry to hurry and upon seeing him, asked if he could help carry some gifts out to the car while Regina walked up, already in her coat, holding a dish.
“Meatballs,” Henry inquired with a hopeful expression.
Emma grabbed the keys and walked to the driver’s side door, after locking up. “I don’t know what you put in them, but our son’s in love with your meatballs.” Regina eyed her in delightful surprise over the top of the car.
Our son. Regina repeated it over in her mind and Emma sensed her thoughts and smiled lovingly at her.
“I love you, you know,” Regina professed.
“I love you too.” Emma smiled and gestured to the top of the car. “Now come on. Get in. My future mother-in-law is waiting eagerly to try and persuade me to pop out the next heir to the Mills fortune.”