A/N: Hi! So, this is my first story. Be somewhat gentle? :)
"Emma? Are you ready to share your story?" Paul, the group leader looked at her with encouraging eyes. She took a breath and nodded.
"Hi. So my name is Emma Swan. I'm 26. As most of you know I've been coming to this support group for a while now because.." her voice trailed off as she looked around the room. Everywhere she looked expectant eyes stared back at her. Well, almost everywhere.
"It's okay Emma, take your time." Paul smiled at her.
"W-what? Oh yeah sorry about that. I suppose we are all here for the same reason right? I guess the only difference in our stories is the who and the how." There was a slight tremor in her voice as she continued, "I'm not sure how to begin or even where to begin, so if this turns into a rambling ordeal please feel free to stop me at any time." That comment earned her a chuckle from the crowd.
She ran a hand through her long locks while her other hand held on to a picture. She didn't dare to look at it. "I suppose I should start at the moment it all went haywire. I think it felt as if there was a darkness inside of me. Often I thought it would consume me. I tried so hard to keep it inside, but it seeped out of me, when I least expected it. I didn't think she had noticed it. It terrified me to think of what would happen if she did, but I doubt she would have welcomed it. I mean, who would right?" Emma didn't dare to look at the crowd this time.
Her thumb traced over the picture before she continued, "It was there though, right beneath the surface, lurking, waiting for the perfect moment. I think it happened when she laughed. It was more than just a laugh though when she laughed the world became a brighter place. I wanted to crawl inside of her and consume it all. I didn't think it was normal. Her laugh was my fuel, it empowered me. When her fingers lingered on my arm I found it difficult to breath. My heart was pounding in my chest and I wanted her to let go off it but I dreaded the moment she would. Her fingers were fire, and I was the moth that couldn't resist the flame. My throat felt dry, but she still hadn't noticed, but she would laugh."
Emma closed her eyes and smiled before she continued, "I was a socially awkward butterfly you know?" Her head shot up and looked at the woman who had laughed loudly at that. "It's true!" The brunette nodded her head at her as Emma started to speak again. "I asked her if she wanted to watch a movie. I felt so lame. I mean, we were in our twenties. I suppose I still am, but there is a world of difference between being 22 and 26." Emma shook her head, even she could hear how incredible stupid that sounded.
"I figured that she would want to go to a bar instead. It wouldn't be our first time of walking into a bar, flirting with boys, smoking cigarettes and trying to find our way home drunk at 4 A.M." She glanced over at the brunette who smirked back at her. "She said yes though with a big grin on her face. I never stood a chance. Especially when she suggested we would watch Harry Potter." Emma laughed. "I'm a Harry Potter snob. I am still utterly disappointed that I never got my letter from Hogwarts. I would have been an amazing witch, damn it!" The brunette rolled her eyes and cleared her throat. "Oh right, sorry, see I told you I get distracted easily." Emma looked properly chastised.
"She told me to go put the DVD in the player and as I watched her walk out of my room to grab some snacks and booze all I could think was, 'America, she's beauty, she's grace.' I was so incredible smitten by her. I could hear her whistle the Harry Potter theme in the kitchen and my heart melted. I fell for her hard. I am not sure if it was in that moment, or if it had always been there. I had known her for years, we used to build sand castles at the playground and run after any boy that would trample it. We looked out for each other. We were best friends. I just happened to have a big crush on my best friend." Emma reached with one hand behind her and grabbed a bottle of water, downing half of it before continuing.
"We would always watch movies in bed. It was comfortable. I would lean against the wall and she would lean against me. It was our thing, but that day I had trouble finding the wall. She told me to scoot over and when I did she dropped a bowl of popcorn in my lap. I despise popcorn, it gets stuck everywhere and if you're lucky you don't choke on it, so obviously I choke on it all the time. I can't stop eating it though." Emma grinned at the crowd and glanced at the picture in her hand, her smile dropped at once.
"She brought booze as well. We were both 22, not to worry! She said she thought we both could use some liquid courage. She had this big shit-eating grin on her face as if she just made the most clever pun in the world. Perhaps she did. I wouldn't know. I'm biased. I thought everything she did was clever and intelligent. I had trouble focusing on the movie because Hermione Granger was sitting right next to me. Granted, her name wasn't Hermione and I am pretty sure she wouldn't know what to do with a wand, but still, just like Hermione she was beautiful, smart, intelligent, kindhearted and didn't take shit from anyone."
"I don't think I had a drop to drink that evening. She did though. Halfway through the movie I choked on the popcorn and I thought she called me an idiot. She wouldn't have been wrong. But she was talking about Harry. She glanced at me though and told me that on certain days I'd qualify as an idiot as well. I asked her if she could tell my professors that because that obviously meant that every other day I was bright and smart." Several people chuckled and Emma smiled fondly at them.
"She rolled her eyes at me though and I remember her exact words, they are edged into my soul. I don't think I can ever forget them. Maybe they aren't even that special, but at that moment in time, it was the greatest sentence I had ever heard in my life. She said, "Shut up Emma, you are fine, your professors love you as do I." A tear made its way down Emma's cheek and she wiped it away with her sleeve, hoping no one had noticed. "I remember thinking we would make such a great couple. There was just one problem with that though, Sophie was incredible straight and I was and still am utterly gay."
"I must have fallen asleep at some point because I woke up the next morning with her tickling me. I told her it was a rude awakening, but she laughed and it was the most beautiful sound. She informed me that a bucket filled with ice water qualified as a rude awakening and couldn't help but grin at her. I had no idea that my rude awakening was yet to happen. I wasn't prepared for it. How could I have been? She had lured me into a false sense of security and she went in for the kill. It was a simple question she asked me, but I wasn't prepared for it. And when she asked me I thought I was having a heart attack."
Emma thought back of those four simple words and how easy they were to answer now. One word. Yes. Back then it had been pure agony though. "She asked me if I was gay. She told me it was okay, that it wouldn't change a thing. But in my head, that one question had changed everything, and all I wanted was for it all to go back to normal. I didn't answer her question. She hugged me and said I was still her best friend. I think I cried. She nudged my shoulder and with a cheeky grin she informed me that I spoke in my sleep. I felt like I had betrayed myself. How could I have been so stupid? Did I confess my undying love for her? I was on the verge of a meltdown. But being the incredible person that she was, she told me what I had been mumbling about." Emma looked at the brunette and a blush crept over her face. "This is quite embarrassing, but whatever. Apparently I had been mumbling about silky soft fingertips and angelic voices." The brunette's lips curled up slightly and Emma felt exposed. "Sophie told me that my mumbling didn't exactly describe a regular John Doe. I'm sure she didn't tell me everything, perhaps she knew this was already embarrassing enough. She nudged my shoulder and asked me who it was. I looked at her and feigned confusion. I would not play this game with her. It was dangerous. I wanted to flee the premises. I felt like a criminal who had just ransacked a kitchen, dropped the flour, stepped in it and was leaving footsteps and thus evidence everywhere. I didn't feel safe nor comfortable."
Emma looked at Paul, "Am I rambling too much?" He shook his head at her and encouraged her to go on. "Sophie told me if I would not tell her who my Jane Doe with silky soft fingertips was, that she would just have to guess. I begged her not to, but she started to mention names that made zero sense to me and I wondered if she had lost her mind. I told her none of those people were my type and she seemed pleased with that answer, maybe I played right into her little scheme. "So there's a type" she had said. I refused to answer her. She nudged me in the ribs and what she said next was the exact thing I had dreaded. "It's not me is it, am I your goddess with silky smooth fingertips? Have you been lusting after me all these years?" She laughed loudly, but that laughter died quickly when she noticed my deer in headlights look. My voice trembled when I told her no. I got out of bed, maybe I shouldn't have done that. I snapped at her when she grabbed my arm and tried to turn me around to face her. I instantly regretted it. She looked hurt. I knew the feeling well."
Paul walked up to Emma and handed her a tissue. She hadn't noticed the tears streaming down her face and cursed herself for it. "It's okay Emma. You're doing a great job. Do you think you can continue?" She nodded at him and muttered a thank you for the tissue.
"I don't think either of us knew what to do. Sophie obviously knew my dirty little secret and I could only wonder if this was the end of our friendship. It scared me to death. She grabbed her backpack and said she had to go. My heart ached, but I nodded. Before she left she asked me to call her later. I felt like a lost puppy, didn't know what to say or what to do. She turned around and left. I wanted to run after her, tell her not to leave, I wanted to talk it over, but I stood there frozen on the spot. I don't know long I had been standing there before my rang. It was my sister. My safe heaven. I answered and instantly started to cry. I heard a 'shit' being uttered on the other side of the line before it went dead. Five minutes later my sister stood before me in the flesh. Mary Margaret knew. I have always told her everything. We only had each other you know. She asked me what happened and when I said 'she knows' she opened her arms to me and beckoned me closer. In her arms I felt safe, content even."
Emma looked up, surprised people were still listening to her. Her eyes lowered towards the picture again and Emma felt as if she was being struck by a heart attack all over again. She looked up at Paul and whispered, "I'm sorry I need a moment." He nodded at her and told everyone to take a little break.
Emma ran outside and hunched over, taking quick and shallow breaths, her heart pounding in her chest. She never noticed the brunette that followed her outside the building. "Miss Swan, are you okay?" Emma looked up at her and shook her head. "Stand up straight and focus on your breathing, Miss Swan. In through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Don't breath too deeply. Just try to relax your upper body." When Emma seemed to be breathing more easily the brunette asked her, "Better?"
Emma nodded at her. "Thank you. I'm sorry I don't know your name." Emma held out her hand. The brunette took it and shook it, "My name is Regina Mills, I should probably get back inside. Focus some more on that breathing technique, Miss Swan." Emma watched her walk back inside while breathing in deeply, in through her noise and out through her mouth. She stood there for a couple more minutes before making her way back inside. When Paul noticed her he gathered the group back together. "Whenever you're ready Emma." She looked over at Regina who nodded at her. She couldn't help but wonder what her story was, but then again not one story in here was a story of joy. Her heart momentarily ached for the woman before she found the courage to continue her own story.
"Sophie and I didn't speak for two weeks. She would call and text, but I just couldn't face her. I was embarrassed. She kept trying to tell me that it was okay, that I had nothing to be embarrassed about, but I couldn't help but feel exposed. A secret was now out and in the open and there was no possible way for me to put it back in a box, to never open it again. I wanted nothing more than to be able to face her, you know? I needed to show her that I could be her friend, that I wasn't lusting after her, that I was .. I don't know .. normal. I never got that chance though. I fucked up so badly."
Her hands were shaking as passed the picture on the person sitting right next to her. She took a deep breath. "I'm sure you'll all recognize me on that picture. The beautiful girl next to me in that picture is Sophie. She was 22. We were the best of friends. She loved me and I loved her." Emma's breathing became more shallow as continued on, "I had sent her a text and asked if we could talk. I missed my friend. We decided to meet at a cafe. I couldn't handle meeting her at either of our homes, it would have been too intimate. I sat at the cafe for an hour but she never showed up. I didn't understand why until I got a text from Mary Margaret asking me where I was. When she came and get me I knew something was wrong. How cliche right? Sophie had been in a car accident at her way over to the cafe. She was pronounced dead at the scene. They said it had been a quick death, that she wouldn't have been in pain."
The picture was handed back to Emma. She looked at it longingly as her thumb stroke over Sophie's face. "I refused to speak to her for over two weeks and when I finally did want to talk to her, she got killed. It wasn't the other driver's fault. It was an accident, nothing anyone could do. Except for me. I should have gotten my act together and I should have spoken to her. It is my fault that Sophie is dead." Emma was spent. She didn't dare look at anyone, she was overcome with guilt and embarrassment.
"Emma. It was an accident. There's nothing that you could have done. I know those are just empty words right now, but that is why we are here. We are all grieving over a loved one whether they be friends or family. Thank you for sharing your story, Emma. I hope you'll find support with us. We are here for you unconditionally." Emma nodded her head at Paul, still unable to speak, a million thoughts running through her head.
As everyone scattered around to grab coffee a certain brunette made her way over to Emma. "You were brave to share that with us, Miss Swan. I am deeply sorry for your loss." Before Emma could say anything Regina had turned around and walked out through the front door and Emma once again wondered what Regina's story was.