BACK TO SQUARE ONE
4 years ago, November
(Emma's junior year)
Emma tried and tried but when a month has passed, the girl grew desperate. She couldn't really find any teacher, which would be that willing to go through everything with her. At least, among those she didn't fear to ask. Like her Math teacher, who seemed pretty scary just for a fact Emma sucked at Math. The very teacher's sister seemed to be the only option.
During a free period Emma walked to the English class, finding the door open. She knocked twice. She saw Regina marking some papers. The woman didn't pull her glasses off nor did she even turn to the door as she said,"Come in."
She just tried to… To what? The most she could do was not to get her situation any worse, but it has never been the easiest task, especially when she had to rely on someone else. It wasn't something she could do. She didn't even know how to do that. She had always been by herself. Her past was like a shadow, following her everywhere. Teachers knowing her history… She hated those looks. And she didn't want Regina to look at her like that as well. Not after what had happened and had almost happened this summer…
She didn't need the pity, she didn't need the contempt. Not from Regina. It was getting so much harder. Changing the classes, though, wouldn't really help her situation. And she needed all the help she could get. She had missed out most of the basics in the previous grades, barely graduating into high school. Being adopted by Nolans gave her a second chance to improve.
"Does the offer still stand?" Emma asked then softly.
Regina's head instantly shot up, pulling the glasses on the edge of her nose. Their eyes locked. A short glimpse in those dark eyes told Emma that she wasn't someone the other woman expected to see. It was gone as soon as it appeared.
"Took you long enough," Miss Mills said with a sympathetic smile on her red lips, placing her glasses on the papers.
"I guess yeah," Emma muttered and began to tug onto the sleeve of her sweater.
She shouldn't have been so nervous. Damn, she could hardly even be concerned with the grades in the moments like that. It was all about her - Regina. Why did this woman have this irresistible charm she couldn't get away from? Not even after the three months. And the fact it was her Emma was going to talk to was the very issue she had.
"Close the door and take a seat, please," she pointed to the chairs across her desk and crossed her legs.
Emma did. She put a sheepish smile on her lips before heading to the closest desk. At times she felt like such a kid. Especially looking at the very teacher. She was so young yet so… Yeah, professional. Perhaps it was this attitude that didn't quite… match the woman. At least the woman she had met in the bar. They say the first impression is the strongest. But then Emma tried to remember they knew nothing of each other's lives. Well okay, Miss Mills had to know more.
Emma wasn't sure just how much Regina knew of her past; of all the times the police got her back in the system, but just looking back at everything… she felt ashamed of things Regina could know. She wasn't like any other teacher. They had crossed that line long before she had become one.
"We need other people at times, I guess. I thought I could do it alone. Apparently, I can't, so… Let's get into it," she tried hard to smile more but it was hard to look the teacher straight in the eyes.
"Asking for help doesn't make you any less strong, Miss Swan,"Regina smiled a bit more.
That wasn't something Emma was raised to believe and she wasn't so convinced even now. They could only see how it goes.
The brunette pulled on one of the drawers and took out her black calendar.
"Tell me when you are having a free break." She took a pen on her hand and marked some dates.
"Always the fourth period. But, I guess, all the time I've got. I need to fully focus on catching up on school," Emma bit her lip, tapping onto the wood. She even kicked out her adoptive partents to have some romantic time out. It would help her focus far more. "So whenever you're free, I guess. I'll adjust with my free time."
"And which subjects you are having hard time with? Well, I mean, apart from mine, of course."
Emma leant to get the books on the desk, not knowing what her teacher– and now a tutor– would like to go through with her first.
"Most of it," Emma bit her bottom lip. "Let's not count history." It was all memorising after all. "I think the most pressing issue now it's Math. And Spanish, I guess. I'm not good with languages."
"I see," Regina nodded slowly. "I need to find some materials for maths but we can start with Spanish or Literature." The brunette then took a look at her watch and sighed. "But I'm afraid we cannot start today. I really need to finish these papers in two hours to give my final grades to the principal. What about this weekend? Until then I'll steal some books from Zelena too."
Giving a mischievous smirk at her, the teacher rolled her eyes. Emma's lips couldn't help but curl ever so slightly. Nothing more had to be added at the mention of the redhead sister. She was a piece of work…
"Maybe 11 AM at the little cafe, Ingrid's place."
"Sure," Emma replied shortly, but already feeling anxious about all the time outside of school they were going to spend together. "Would you mind me staying? I'll keep myself shut and revise some other subject," the girl promised. "I just don't want to waste time on going on the other end of school into the library."
Regina's smile turned into a more genuine one as she nodded.
"Of course, you can. I don't really mind company."
Regina took her glasses back and placed them on the bridge of her nose before taking her pen and scanning the paper she had been working on.
Emma jogged the last few meters to the entrance of the café. Her cheeks were pink and lungs burning from the freezing weather, and a run from the bus stop. Last thing she wanted was to get late but with all that snow it was almost unavoidable. How relieved she was to see she still had eight minutes.
The girl instantly spotted a table by a peaceful corner and took a seat, rubbing her frozen hands together. She truly had no idea what the hell she was doing. But perhaps it would help them act… normal around each other. Or was it just Emma's subjective feeling? It was true, she was a bit of a paranoid at times and when anxiety grew particularly strong, she felt as if everyone in the class knew and that would destroy both of their lives for something that didn't even currently take place.
Emma took off her coat and a beanie. She instantly dropped the books on the table before getting up as something warm to drink was in order. It was pretty troubling considering the cold weather, to meet this far away from the place she lived. But perhaps Regina lived somewhere near herself? She got round the corner, right away bumping into someone going out from a bathroom.
"Oh, fuck, sorry!" she smiled apologetically and turned 180 degrees on her heel to face the counter… To stand eye to eye with her teacher behind the counter. "O–h… um…" Emma began to mumble, taken off guard, with wide eyes. "Hi… there."
Regina instantly smiled. Was it her reaction at seeing her? Something turned inside of Emma at the thought.
"Oh hey, I didn't notice you," the older woman chuckled lightly. "Want anything to drink?" She started untying her apron after waving at Ingrid. She placed the apron on the counter. "Where did you sit?"
"Yeah," Emma said, still surprised to see her teacher there. "I found a place around the corner," Emma pointed the direction with her thumb.
"Okay. I'll get my stuff from behind and be right there. Tell Ingrid you are with me, she won't make you wait."
She disappeared after those words to get her things from the staff room, leaving Emma quite stunned.
"Alright..." Emma nodded.
She leaned against the wooden surface and smiled at the blonde woman to order herself a cup of hot cocoa with cinnamon and whipped cream. Ingrid set her off to the table. Emma took the seat, crossing her legs underneath the table. Her fingers got busy with a pen. She appreciated Regina's interest in helping her but still, she felt as if there was a rock in her gut. Who could know why?
"Hey again. You gave your order?"
"Yeah, Ingrid will bring it," Emma smiled softly. "Thanks again. It amazes me you are willing to spend your weekend helping me still. I'll pay you, of course."
"I am not helping you for money." Regina rolled her eyes playfully. "And I won't be spending my time as a waste if you don't fail again, Miss Swan, so…" raising a suggestive brow her new tutor took the seat by her and crossed her legs, the handbag put by her chair.
"I guess," Emma said softly with a hint of surprise in her voice.
That was definitely something she wasn't used to. Helping from purity of heart wasn't something she saw that often. This town… and Boston. They were different from all the places she had been in. Although, big cities were going to big cities and people in them were going to be very various and some of them not so nice as well.
"What do you prefer to start with?" She took a notepad out of her bag a pen and a pencil as well.
"Maybe let's start with English. One thing at a time…" the blonde breathed in deeply.
They studied non-stop for two straight hours and by the time they decided to have a break, Regina was clearly in so much need of a coffee, as…
"Okay, here's the deal: you buy my coffee when we study instead of paying me anything. How does it sound?" The red lips spread in a wide smile. "Starting like… From now on?" Regina laughed slowly.
Emma blinked a few times, parting her lips. Regina sounded so confident about it and since she didn't want to take the money, all Emma could do was eagerly nod. She felt so much better giving something in return.
"Black, double shot Americano. Tell her it's for me, she knows how I like my coffee."
The blonde girl got on her feet and grasped a wallet from the backpack. She returned a smile, taking a few steps back before turning on her hill and going to the counter.
"Hey. I'll have Americano for Regina - double shot, yes? And my usual."
Emma returned with two mugs, which were soon placed at the table before she would slip back on her seat by the teacher.
"I'm gonna have a piece of chocolate. It helps me focus," the blonde muttered, poking around in her backpack. "Would you like some?"
Should she act so casual, Emma didn't know, but she couldn't just put that facade and she could call herself immature. If that was anyone else… Sure as hell she wouldn't do most of the things she did.
She didn't have a weak spot for anyone else.
And she didn't know absolutely anything about her teacher's private life. But it wasn't even about that… It was about the feelings that very woman helped her discover, things she made Emma feel and that made the girl feel so very ashamed.
Not to mention she was in a bar, drunk as fuck– although even not as much as her beloved friends– at sixteen. Wrong– it was even before her sixteenth birthday. And now failing all her classes.
Immature, irresponsible, childish, silly, unwise, idiotic, broken orphan, a troublemaker. And easy; that's how this woman had to see her right now.
Nothing like anything Emma wanted her to see. Her; a woman who got her so captivated that got Emma enough reckless to be ready to lose her virginity to. If they have done it… Gosh, Emma would for sure run away the moment she saw the woman in the class. Emma could feel it in her bones…
Regina took a sip from her coffee, the sound of the cup hitting the surface snapped Emma back into the reality.
"You are offering me your candy, Swan?" Regina stared at her with this mischievous smirk stuck on her lips.
"Uh, yeah?" Emma raised brows softly.
Perhaps it was a bad idea after all… Was she flirting? Maybe, she wasn't sure. Could it be?
"It's a polite thing to do, right?" the girl smiled sheepishly.
"No, thank you, I prefer one specific brand."
With that the brunette wrapped both her hands around the mug.
Emma herself dipped the chocolate in the whipped cream and licked it off, taking her time to just savor the moment of break and the sweet tastes. She won't be getting much of that for a few weeks.
"You know, you are not as bad as you think. You just need to focus on the right points and not get lost in the whole."
Emma chewed on her lip, glancing at the woman beside her.
"I guess," Emma said, not at all so sure of it. "I hope this all won't appear to be a waste of time. I really want to do things better. But you're right- I get lost in all of this. I try to get all the subjects across and I'm losing my head."
She had a feeling, though, Regina wouldn't let her go until she did good at one thing before going to another.
It was when the other woman smiled a bit more, moving her hand over the table to take Emma's. She looked down at that small hand, the smooth olive skin. The blonde noted it was quite cool despite the warmth surrounding the cafe. Nevertheless, it made warmth spread through her and the young girl wasn't entirely sure why.
"You'll do fine. You are an intelligent young woman."
Regina pulled her hand back as fast as she placed on top of hers, then took a sip from her cup.
The right corner of Emma's lips curled softly. Apparently, the woman truly didn't see her as a complete disaster… It was… nice. Very nice. It made her feel less alone. This whole town made her feel less alone than she has ever been, but she needed more time to connect with all those people. She hoped that she would do that, for once. That it all wasn't going to end like everything before.
"I've had a tutor myself, it was for painting and music but…" the brunette's voice voice trailed off, a glimpse of hurt in her dark eyes.
Emma's green ones shot up then to look at the woman with an interest. "You're into art?"
Did something just turn in her stomach? Wouldn't it be nice? To form some connection, even if just based on a common hobby?
Regina placed both hands back around the still warm mug, smiling. "Yes, I actually am. I had major in arts, mostly music, though."
Regina leant back in her seat a bit, crossing her legs differently. Emma watched the other woman now, not even realising she was… Well, kind of staring. But she was quite in awe of how freely the other woman was talking to her about herself. It was really nice. Almost sweet. Yet so alien as well. Emma was too eager to get used to it, though.
"I see you are into arts too. I had a tutor for painting though… She was…" Regina didn't finish, staying silent for a moment. "I wasn't really the best but I was good with instruments, thanks to my father's foresight."
"Yeah, I'm kin into creative ways of spending time. It's smoothing and… True, I guess," Emma smiled even more and brought cup to her lips to have a careful sip. "I always wished to play, but, well, didn't really have a big opportunity or access to instruments. It had to be amazing… To grow up with someone loving and with talent that could guide you…"
"I'm sure you have your own talent which you should work on, with the nudge in the right direction." Regina took the pencil then and started tapping on the notepad. "Mmm, soo… Maybe we call this a day? But that doesn't mean you won't have homework. I want you to read the first book of the last semester. I mean, really read it, not just focus on the plot. So maybe later we can move on to some art philosophy books that we can discuss on."
"Dear God, Regina, this coffee…" she whispered and took another sip, eyes closed and hum came out; how the coconut mixed with caffeine and nutella…
"I'm glad..." Regina whispered so slowly then leant her chin against an open palm, her elbow resting on the table.
When the green eyes opened, the girl saw Regina looking at her. But being the sheepish self, she blushed and looked back down, sipping on the coffee slowly, exploring the taste. She could feel Regina's eyes on her still and tried not to get red. How she wished to hold her close… much like last night. She missed her so so much. In every way possible, most probably.
"I'll be right back," Regina said after a while.
Emma looked up to watch her take the sticks and an empty box before walking behind the counter. She put the coffee away to finish up her food as she waited. Most of it was already gone. Emma saw then Regina got the cherry pie into a microwave after getting the empty boxes in the trash. A minute and half later the pie was as warm as freshly baked. Regina took two forks and went back to the table she left Emma at. Emma watched her still as she took a forkful of cake in her mouth, closing her eyes, a hand went to rest on a belly.
"I brought a fork for you too."
Having two bites left of her food, Emma shook her head. "No, thank you. This coffee is so sweet already. I don't want to get sick. But thank you." Emma put the box away then and took the glass into her hands. "This cafe looks really amazing…" she whispered, something stinging right in her heart - guilt .
Emma didn't want to go too deep just now, though. The cafe wasn't the right place for such talks.
"Thank you," Regina whispered, eating her pie slowly.
The hours were passing so fast and Emma didn't even realize it.
Regina closed the cash machine after her last customer paid and wished them goodnight. It was around 12 AM now. Emma had a very nice time helping Regina out. It was something completely different from her routine. To it all, it was nice to be peaceful with Regina after all this time. Hard things were to come. There were a few tables outside and Emma helped Regina with them. She looked so tiny… A woman she wanted to protect from everything bad and in the end, she was the one to hurt her…
"Do you still want to walk?" Emma just nodded in answer. "Let me grab my keys and phone so we can go." Regina rushed to a small staff room where she had to keep her keys.
Regina came back, putting her mobile in the back pocket. They walked outside and Emma then put on her red leather jacket. She moved hands in the pockets as they began to walk down the street. Emma turned left as she didn't really want to be in the busy centre. Parks were calmer.
"I wanted to talk and now I don't even know where to start…" Emma admitted taking a deep breath, feeling more and more nervous with each second. "I had to think though everything… and what you've told me. I want to try… I know it won't be easy because I realize… how badly I had to hurt you," Emma swallowed hard. "But if we would ever come back to the point we left, it would mean everything… no matter how long it would take."
"I don't know, Emma," Regina crossed her arms across her chest, sighing heavily. "I don't know if things can be as they were. And you didn't just hurt me, you betrayed everything I worked for so I could be with you. I was going to take you to the cafe... I just… I didn't want it to look like a shithole when you came…" her eyes filled with tears and she sniffed. "And you just walked away… even when I asked you if it was over, you just walked away."
"I didn't mean it like that…" Emma whispered, trying to stop eyes from getting glassy again.
It felt like those explanations meant nothing more than a simple trash. But it was clear that what was a nail to a coffin, a stupid misunderstanding… And that was something Regina didn't know.
The said woman stopped in front of a bench and sat on it, pulling her knees to her chest. Emma sat by her, wrapping arms over the chest. Her eyes rested on Regina again and tears began to fall in big streams down those olive cheeks and she listened to everything Regina was telling her.
"There were flowers and rose petals everywhere, candles waiting to be lit… All of that prepared for you." Regina sobbed quietly. "How am I supposed to forget, Emma? Would you ever trust me if I walked away from you the way you did from me?"
Emma knew she deserved all the pain she was feeling right now. Regina prepared it all for her and and she just let herself be carried away by hurt. Now it didn't seem like pain at all, compared to losing Regina… Back then she was so emotional and it seemed justified to react like this. Now looking back she was so stupid…
"Gina…" Emma started when Regina had her eyes closed, silent for a longer moment.
"Believe me, I really want to trust you. My heart hurts so much as the seconds pass I'm away from you but I can't live with the constant fear of you running away when things become a little hard. Especially when there are more important things I have to protect, other than myself."
"You mean the cafe?" Emma asked softly, confused a little bit. "God, Regina…. I really never wanted any of this to happen. I just was hurt and… and wanted to have some time to cool off. I never meant to end things between us. I just couldn't get any word out of my—"
"I'm pregnant," Regina cut her off and bit on her lip, looking at the blank space, as if drifting off in her heavy thoughts.
Emma's lips parted. What..? The blonde felt so completely frozen and was speechless for a moment. Pregnant … Emma tried to take it in. It was a large shock but…
"Do you think that would change anything..? No, it doesn't." Emma was by now crying herself. "It-"
"Emma, stop..." she whispered. "Just stop..." Regina turned to face her. "You could have just told me. Told me that you needed to be alone. I asked you so very clearly and you walked away. No, I said stop. It was not a misunderstanding. It was you walking away from me, instead of trying to talk. I can't do that again. I want this child. I want to give them a good life and I can't do that with this fear and distrust between us."
"I– I could only shake my head. I meant 'no'… I texted you once and no answer ever came..." Emma tried to explain, showing Regina how it looked from her perspective.
Regina leant her forehead against her bent knees as she listened. "I don't know what to do with this information, Emma. I just don't," the brunette whispered, taking a deep breathe in.
"I love you..." Emma whispered, so barely audible. "I have never regretted anything more in my life. I am so sorry… I'm sorry I didn't do everything I could to reach you. I…was scared. And–" Emma tried to dry her cheeks but tears kept coming. "Please.. give me just this one chance… I don't expect us to be together. I just… I want– I need you in my life…" Regina, after all, was her whole world, her everything. "Just one chance. I won't ever let you down. As a friend perhaps. If you just let me, I'll be there for you with everything I have…" Emma sobbed.
There was a longer moment of silence. Regina's lips parted a few times, but no sound ever came. It was as if Regina wanted to say so much but couldn't control her voice, find it. Finally she said,
"I changed my number and my mobile. I wanted a fresh start. But I wasn't some big monster to eat you alive, Emma. There is really so much you could have done and I don't know which one to voice. You are not better than Mal. No, she actually had a reason; she had a daughter to protect, now I understand," the slender hands rested on her lower belly and Emma swallowed hard.
"I felt as if you didn't want to see me ever again..." Emma whispered quietly.
And that would be quite correct. That night something once solid broke in half. Emma didn't understand that when locking herself in the room that night, just crying, feeling as if she was losing Regina. She knew she lost her… And the next morning-
"I don't know where to start. I don't know how to let you in again. If you really want this chance, you have to find your own way and earn it." With that Regina shivered. "I'm cold… I should go back. I have to open early tomorrow."
Emma got up and tried to be gentle when taking her hand before she would walk away.
"How? How can I do that if you won't give me a chance? Regina… I can either devote myself to you - but only if you allow me, or I can let you go - if you don't want me in your life anymore" Emma swallowed hard and blinked to see Regina's eyes clearly. "Do you still have feelings for me?" Emma whispered, leaving the choice in that single question.
She could feel it when they kissed… She truly wouldn't miss a single second of the blessed life if Regina gave her chance now. She wanted to fight for her as hell. Her eyes itself said so much, displayed everything as they firmly looked into each other's orbs; among them regret, guilt, hope and most of all love and determination...
Without any verbal answer, Regina pressed her lips onto Emma's firmly. The girl was taken off the ground. She truly felt like she lost connection to the ground. She held onto Regina's waist, responding to that kiss, melting into it. Those small hands held onto her cheeks as if not wanting to let go as they kissed. Lips parted and Emma slowly came back on Earth. Completely breathless and quite frozen.
"Don't…" Regina whispered before turning away and Emma let go.
The blonde watched her until she disappeared by the corner. Only then she got her legs to move. Emma licked her lips and touched them gently, still feeling the pressure of Regina's lips, so fresh.
Her mind was filled with the very brunette until the second she fell asleep. And even after… like every single night.
It might take so long but how she could care about time? This year felt like a horrible lifetime. Having Regina in her life could only fill her heart with positive things. It just couldn't go wrong… She would make sure of that. Had she ever been this determined to fight? She couldn't recall. She wanted to be Regina's friend again. And perhaps, one day, she would earn Regina's love again.
The blonde closed the door and turned the lock slowly. Only then it seemed like she could let go of the breath she didn't even realise she has been holding. For half of the day. It was an impulse and only standing in front of the so familiar door did Emma wonder if that was a good idea.
Visiting her parents.
They were so surprised… It made Emma's stomach so tight. She knew she had been neglecting them so much; dismissing their calls, never visiting, not giving a sign of life. All they could possibly know was from what Ruby might have shared while working with her grandmother, widow Lucas.
They had dinner, asking her thousands of questions per second - at least it was how Emma was projecting it. Their care and concern was overwhelming. Lately everything was overwhelming. She kept racking her brain what about the previous day made her come here for the weekend.
But soon the exhaustion made her excuse herself and lock herself in here; her old room. It was too bright so she walked to the windows and pulled the shades, blocking most of the sun. Her fingers brushed against the rough fabric, taking a moment to reconsider an idea that invaded her mind. Her green eyes closed and tongue wetted the chapped lips, oxygen made its way into her system through the nostrils.
With an album in hand, the blonde crawled on the bed and rested heavily against the cushions. The photobook rested on her lap and she hesitated a moment longer before opening it, eyes resting on the first page. The whole album was about one person - Regina. Who else could it be? And Emma wondered why she was putting herself through this kind of torture. But then again… she was all too well aware of how self-destructive she could be.
The slender, pale fingers moved over the photo, over the olive skin that was covered in rosy shades due to the chilly winter air. It was the very photo they had taken when they had gone skating. All those smiles, all those sparks in the eyes, all those lips locked with the corners lifted… it made Emma's heart ache. They had been so happy. Even then, even after all the horrible things V- this- person had put them through.
Emma was slow turning the pages, feeling the growing heartache. A drop of water appeared on the paper and Emma looked up, just to realise it wasn't water at all. It was a tear, even though she kept wondering how possibly there could be any left to shed. After that whole year there were times Emma found herself unable to cry anymore, but other times the pain was returning with full force. She hasn't been taking that album throughout the time, but now… now she needed a reminder. She needed to assure herself it was all worth it.
Part of her kept considering just letting Regina go. Let her move on. Start a good life. With a baby at that. What if all she could give Regina was pain? Even more than she had already had. That was the last thing Emma wanted. What if it didn't really matter if Regina still loved her just as much as she did? What if it would be better to leave? Wasn't it selfish of her to brust back into her life like that?
The red, tight dress. Hair perfectly done. Board smile on the bright red lips. Her slender waist hidden behind Emma's arms. The dark eyes shone even in the distance. The softest of pecks looked so innocent and pure. Two pair of eyes glued into each other as if nothing else mattered.
Emma choked on a sob. Her hands fell over her lips to muffle any sounds coming from her throat. Tears wetted her cheeks and palms.
How this wonderful afternoon could have turned into a nightmare? How something that seemed so solid could crush in one moment. Emma blamed herself entirely for that. She hasn't seen this ending like that… If only.
Her stingy eyes closed tight and fingertips brushed against the chipped lips, resembling the feeling of the last time Regina had pressed her lips on them and she then knew. Emma knew this woman was worth fighting for. Till the end of days. A woman that had suffered way too much in her life already and Emma had meant what she had told her. She was going to cherish every moment- having her love or not.