"So what're we having for breakfast?"
"Well, since you came all this way, I think I'd be doing you a disservice if I didn't introduce you to authentic New York bagels." Barry pulled open his fridge and crouched down, shifting some bottles and jars around until he found the tub of cream cheese. "I'm guessing you're not a big fan of lox."
"Oh, no, I love lox. I eat it all the time. Honestly, it's my favorite breakfast food," Emma said, with a feigned confidence the likes of which only a teenager could possess.
"You have no idea what lox is, do you?"
"Nope, not at all."
"We'll just stick with cream cheese for now."
It wasn't long before Barry set two plates with perfectly toasted bagels on the breakfast bar, along with two mugs filled with freshly roasted coffee to wash them down. Emma thanked him, but still looked a bit dubious that something as simple as a bagel and cream cheese could warrant his enthusiasm.
At least until she took a bite of the bagel and her eyes widened in surprise. "Wow. This really is good."
"I probably should've warned you ahead of time—you'll never be satisfied with anything else ever again."
"As far as I'm concerned, it's worth it."
They ate in companionable silence for a while, until Barry got up to offer Emma a second cup of coffee.
"Sure, thanks," she said, and held out her mug so he could fill it. "You know, I hope me showing up like this didn't mess up any plans you had for today. I know you're not on speaking terms with your mother and you never talk about your dad, but I assumed he probably wasn't around either for one reason or another."
"That's true," he said. "He passed away a few years ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize—"
"Don't worry about it." Barry took a sip from his mug, taking advantage of the delay to gather his thoughts. "My dad and I had a… complicated relationship."
"As complicated as you and your mom's?"
"No. To be honest, I don't think that's possible." He took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh. "Dad… came around. Or rather, he didn't have as far to come around in the first place. He and mom were kind of like oil and water. He never really stood up for me when I was a teenager and I resented him for it for a long time. When they finally separated, it got better.
"I like to think I got my comedic chops from him. My flare for the dramatic… is unfortunately from mom."
"Well, at least you decided to use your powers for good."
Barry chuckled. "Eventually."
"Hey, I could've ended up the same as you did. Jaded, cynical… Who knows how I would've coped with everything if you guys hadn't blown through town like a rainbow swirl tornado of proof that there's a world outside Edgewater?"
"Don't sell yourself short. You've got a good head on your shoulders; I'm sure you would've coped a thousand times better than I ever did."
"You shouldn't sell yourself short, either. Good Guy Barry really wasn't buried very deep at all, when you come down to it. All you needed was an excuse to dust yourself off a little. Once you set your mind on helping me, you weren't gonna quit, even when it got hard and you weren't gonna get good press for it anymore."
Emma reached out across the bar and patted Barry's forearm. "You had my back about a thousand times better than my actual father even though we were basically strangers. I mean, god—most of the people who were supposed to care about me didn't, but you did and you had no reason to other than empathy. That's gotta say something about you, right?"
"I hope so."
"Well, I know so."
Barry cleared his throat. For a man who had always basked in the idea of being the center of attention, he certainly choked up easily in response to a few sincere words of kindness.
"So how is Alyssa?" he asked, desperate for a change in subject. "Are things with her mom… going ok?"
"Yeah, you know, I don't have a clue what you talk about in that weird pen pal thing you've got going on with her mom, but she's kinda lightened up on Alyssa a lot since school ended."
"She needed a sounding board," he said with a shrug. "Alyssa shouldn't have to be the one to give her Homosexuality 101 lectures whenever she has a question and I've heard everything she could come up with a million times already. I'm glad that it might be making a difference."
"Maybe we can FaceTime with Alyssa tonight. She could use a surrogate father figure on a day like today as much as I can."
"I'd love to."
The corners of Emma's mouth turned down in a ghost of a frown. "I really wish she could've come."
"So do I. It would've been great to show you both a little of the city before you had to go back. And it certainly would've made that eighteen hour bus ride more tolerable, that's for sure."
"We'll have to do this again sometime, then. On purpose. You can show us all your favorite places."
"That's a great idea. How about after I get back from the Berkshires?"
"Sounds like a plan. We can ask Alyssa about it later."
They made small talk while they finished their bagels and coffee, just enjoying each other's company and catching up on everything happening in each other's lives.
Barry had his show at the theatre festival the first couple weeks in July, of course. Alyssa was working at her mother's office to save money for school. Trent had shadowed a few teachers during the last weeks of school and was now gleefully drawing up lesson plans for the next school year and calling Principal Hawkins about a dozen times a day. (Dee Dee was trying to convince him to "lose" his phone for a few days just to get some peace.) Emma had been putting in a lot of work on her music now that she had more than a couple hundred subscribers on Youtube.
None of her other songs had gone viral like Unruly Heart, but she'd built up a modest following on something called —which meant people paid actual money to support her, as she marveled to Barry with some regularity. It wasn't much, but it was enough that she didn't need a summer job to get by and it gave her some freedom.
Freedom she chose to use to come visit him on a whim, apparently. She could've done anything—within reason—and she'd chosen go out of her way to spend time with him in person.
Barry couldn't remember the last time someone had chosen him quite like that. It meant the world to him.
"You're really gonna get a kick out of this. I had to go through about half a dozen boxes of junk I should be Marie Kondo-ing, but I finally found it…" Barry trailed off when he walked into his living room. "Oh, honey."
Emma had fallen asleep on the sofa, the early afternoon sun shining on her face through the blinds and causing her eyebrows to furrow even in sleep. Curled up like that, she looked so small, so… so very young. Too young to have gone through everything she'd gone through. Barry hoped life would be kinder to her from now on. (And he would do whatever he could to make sure it would be.)
Barry had seen himself in Emma from the moment that they met. Knowing that she saw someone worth caring for in him in return made his heart ache.
She didn't care about him for his fame or his notoriety, she cared about him for him—not Barry Glickman, Broadway Star. Just Barry. The kid who had not only been too chicken to ask his crush to prom, he'd been too chicken to go at all, even alone.
But he wasn't alone anymore. Somehow here he was, rapidly closing in on fifty, with a couple almost-grown kids depending on him to help them make sense of the world, and in a way that he was uniquely and specifically suited to do so. It wasn't what he'd expected at this point in his life and it certainly wasn't what he'd planned, but he wouldn't trade it for anything.
Somehow he had stumbled ass-backwards into being a role model, an honest to goodness role model, just because he'd managed to survive. But Emma needed that. She needed to know that she could, too.
Barry crept over to shut the blinds without disturbing her and took his favorite throw blanket from the armchair in the corner, and quietly and carefully tucked it around her sleeping form.
His prized possession of a bootleg of his and Dee Dee's first show together would just have to wait until later.