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Loving Strangers

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Loving Strangers

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Regina detested the frequency of those dreadful out of town meetings. Coupled with the ridiculous expenses to host these mini conferences, it was incredulous that management could still cater for everything.

Profits had been maintained since their launch last year. Until a competitor had stormed into the market with its copycat skills. Therefore cutting into their target market and attracting more views with their shady promotions.

Now she was expected to drive her ass all night to arrive in Corriverton by eight in the morning, so that Leslie wouldn’t have to make dramatic efforts in apologizing for her absence. Four hours. She was already one hour in and for some odd reason, the abundance of radio stations could not uplift her dreary mood.

Swimming in your own dampened mind. Dwelling thoughts on those forty years behind and whatever she had accomplished thus far.

Apart from material things like a comfortable mansion in a secure residential area, a Mercedes Benz and a sizeable bank account, Regina felt the grey cloud of living a single life weigh down on her.

At times, she would often reflect on the days when lovers were like a fashion she delighted in. Flings that lasted for three months or a little more. And then the inevitable would occur.

Just like Robin, they would realize how clingy she could become and then the emotional farewell with strings of obscenities would fly back and forth. Although she would never forget how he had labelled her as a depressed heap of lava read to erupt. Now that description would resonate with her for as long as she lived.

Taylor Swift drifted from the speakers as the A.C unit provided enough coolness. That song, ‘22’ would oftentimes pull her back into Daniel’s arms when university days seemed so frivolous to pass through. Where grades were emphasized on and friends were hard to come by. But he had stayed in her space with his determination for both of them to excel in one course after the other. Together they made quite a team focused on graduating with an attractive GPA.

And because of his death due to a fatal accident, she had flunked her final year and managed to scrape a Pass with Credit.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22,” she sang hoarsely, tapping those red painted nails upon the steering wheel. A small smile settled on those lips. The usual smirk had evaded the drive, due to nothing but depressing thought swirling around a heavy mind.

The passing lamp lights streaked by as she hit 90 and sped along the east coast highway. Not a pedestrian in sight at minutes to midnight.

Regina reached over to collect her water bottle and suddenly realized that not a drop was left inside.

“Oh fuck…” she glared at it and then those brown eyes rested on the road again. “Fucking great.”

Just when she had been parched all day from a terribly hot weather spent under a tent as they distributed kind words on the new branch to be opened, now her water supplies had been depleted. She had moved through three bottles in a span of a little over an hour. And there was no way in hell this drive would continue without having some form of liquid in the depths of the Benz.

Eventually, her gaze rested on a Mini-Mart in Mahaicony, thankfully opened 24/7 with a gas station. Flipping her indicator on, the brunette swung into the driveway and maneuvered her way along the parking lot, in dire need of using the washroom as well.

Not a soul was in sight apart from the lanky owner half asleep behind the counter. The television was on, showcasing the latest news on BBC. Regina cringed at the condition of the small toilet space and struggled to barely touch any part of the sinking hell hole. Then quickly, the store was browsed through as she snatched up five bottles of water, two packets of vanilla biscuits along with a bag of assorted cakes.

Her heels clicked upon the tarmac as she exited, giving the area a sweeping glance to highlight any threats. None were in sight. Just the highway a few feet off and the eerie setting of a town that was sleeping. In fact, the entire coast line was probably asleep whilst Lesley had them all dragging their already overworked asses onto the other side of the blasted country.

Regina was already twisting off the cap of one bottle when she suddenly felt a deep, unsettling feeling cast upon her like a net. It was frightening. Knowing that these moments in time seldom came but when they did, something ought to be done.

Did she forget something back in town?

No.

The brunette made a quick mental checklist and ticked off the essentials. Even a pack of pads were tucked away inside the car although she had just slipped away from her monthly. So what the hell was it?

She spun around, actually prepared to encounter a stranger approaching but there was no one to be seen. Just the traffic rolling by on the highway and the occasional rustle of leaves in the trees all around.

There was no need to be superstitious about any of this, due to her upbringing in a Catholic family. But at times, when her sister Zelena would drag her into a horror movie at the cinema, the brunette sank into the plot and rode out all the hysteria with little gasps.

Until now.

There was no need for hysterics because nothing appearing as a hooded, faceless being drifted in her direction. Nor was there any sign of a man stooping behind any of the gas pumps.

But then came the blaring of a truck’s horn as it pounded down the highway. And as those brown orbs latched onto the passing traffic, Regina pinpointed the unfolding horror.

There, and already stepping into the middle of the road was a young woman who seemed very determined to cross to the other side. Her blonde hair fanned into a million tendrils as the wind kissed every strand.

Regina studied the red leather jacket, and faded blue jeans and she didn’t move, because in cases like these, obviously it was normal to leave someone on their mission.

Why should she intervene?

Getting across the road could be a hassle, but a child needed guidance across the space, and surely not an adult.

But then just as another car approached, its blue shade appearing darker under no light, the brunette realized how terrifying the scene was becoming.

The stranger, whoever she was, boldly stepped into the vehicle’s path, and with clenched fists, she stayed there. Becoming terrified was an understatement in that moment.

“Hey!” Regina found herself hoarsely crying out as the shade of blue barely missed the color of red.

It was like yelling at nothing at all as no evidence of her outburst seemed to cause a reaction from the blonde. Even the swerving of the car never moved whoever it was out there. Because as horrific as the scene’s reality seemed to be, the young woman appeared relaxed. She stood there with the attitude of someone who had determined the end result. And not even those failed attempts would persuade her to come off of that path.

Gripping the plastic bag tighter, Regina’s heart hammered inside her chest as she managed to run in those black stilettoes. The wind grew colder as it bit into her cheeks and she quickly discovered that even as the highway was approached, her belief in anticipating the end result wasn’t fitting together.

“Hey,” she managed again, but this time, from just a few feet away as the person faced away from her. The voice that slipped through those red painted lips was hoarser, almost a whisper. So she tried again. And that time, there was a reaction.

The blonde spun around, and Regina remembered the exact moment when their eyes met and emerald ones widened with so much fright.

For a long time they gazed at each other, as if their worlds depended on it. As if nothing else mattered in that moment because nothing could be much more important than a situation like that. Nothing.

As the brunette stood there and tried to develop a plan in order to proceed, she realized one thing.

The young woman standing in the middle of the road reminded her of a tormented life. After Daniel had died when she practically fell into a dark pit and depression had begun. The same empty, but frightened look. The same paler complexion. The way the body grew rigid from grief and pain and all the things.

“What are you doing?” Regina’s voice cracked as she attempted to step onto the highway. “Don’t…” her heart was beating like a ritual drum. With every ounce of composure, the brunette swallowed all her fright. “Don’t do it. I know that whatever you are passing through might seem so…painful. But this is not the way.”

Fuck that goddamn road trip, she thought to herself. Right there and then, someone’s life was hanging on the line.

Emerald eyes blinked. “You don’t know anything about me,” the girl demanded. Those tear stained cheeks. Pale skin. So pale, she appeared like a ghost standing out there, already dead and just awaiting the gates of Heaven to open up.

“I know enough,” Regina said. She swallowed hard. “I know that this is not the answer.”

The blonde stayed where she was and faced the oncoming traffic.

Two lanes. The possibility of any vehicle hitting that mark was alarmingly high due to the time of night. Most drivers eased into the middle of the road since there wasn’t an abundance of occupants heading their way. But maybe, for goodness sakes, all of them would miss.

“What’s your name?” the older woman tried desperately to connect herself to the distressed stranger. “My name is…” she couldn’t breathe. She swallowed and felt how parched her throat was although water had been consumed. “My name is Regina.”

“Don’t talk to me.”

The blonde was evidently fatigued and frustrated.

She folded her arms and waited.

Regina wondered what in the world would prevent any kind of hysteria from being displayed on that beautiful face. Had this young stranger swum through so many dangerous tides to arrive here? Had she been thrown into that dark pit countless times so that such calm could settle on those features?

“I’m talking to you because I want you to come off of the highway,” the brunette said in a voice that wasn’t level.

“Well, I’m not coming off,” the other woman said in a stiff voice. “So get lost.”

“Please tell me your name?”

The blonde rolled her eyes. “It’s not that important right now.”

“It is. To me,” she wanted to fling the damn plastic bag containing the bottles of water and food away. “I’ve been there. I really have. Not once, but twice. I would like to know your name so I can…”

A car came their way and blared its horn as the driver swerved out of the way. Regina’s heart skipped a beat and she gasped. All the blood drained out of her face as she possibly appeared pasty in the night. Both of them, highly lingering in a danger zone.

Just like that, the blonde choked on a sob. Her face contorted as there was an inner struggle to appear confident in that dreadful decision. And then, the tears began to come forth, drop by drop. Because to crumble at any second in our darkest hour; it wasn’t something to be ashamed of. And as the stranger tried her best to suck up all the strength needed, those walls were weak.

“Sweetheart,” Regina’s hoarse voice had grown smaller. “Please, come to me. If you’re hit, you wouldn’t kill yourself, but you’ll kill me too.” Her pitch was clear though. She was growing so cold. “Because I can’t continue to live my life knowing that I couldn’t remove you from where you are. I can’t…go on like that.” As much as she tried to conceal her sadness, those brown eyes glistened with tears.

“My name’s…” she sobbed, her chest rising and falling fast. “Emma.”

She was just a girl.

She was a girl who had suffered through a lot.

Her name alone was beauty though. She was beautiful, aging into a beautiful woman with a beautiful name.

It was wonderful to be given that privilege.

Regina inhaled deeply. “My dear, Emma,” she said trying to sound as calm as possible. “I would like you to do something for me. But I need you to promise me that you will comply.”

“I don’t promise anyone anything anymore.” Her voice was so small.

The brunette took measured breaths. “Promise me this. Since you’re determined to go down that path.” She wished not to use such words but drastic times called for drastic measures. “I would like you to come to me, and let us talk a bit about what has happened. Can you do that for me?”

For a long time, the other woman said nothing. She stood there with her hands hanging limp and she considered the highway. Then with slumped shoulders, the blonde reached up to scrub her eyes.

In that moment, the adrenaline rush within Regina almost forced her to dart onto the road, snatch the blonde and drag her off the highway. But she didn’t, simply because a struggle would ensue, and possibly, much more fuel would be added to the young woman’s determination to kill herself.

Instead, she stood there, with one boot toeing the edge of the road, and her eyes frequently glanced back and forth between the blonde and the oncoming traffic.

“If I do that,” the stranger said. “You’ll hate me for it.”

“I could never hate you,” Regina said without hesitating. “I could never hate someone I do not know. I’ve done so many wrong things, sweetheart. My crimes will outweigh yours. I’ve lost someone I have loved so much. I have been hurt by someone I loved. To a point where I…”

A truck was coming their way, and both of them stared at it.

“I was standing right where you were, Emma. Not here, but…someplace else. And I felt as if there was nothing else I could do. There was no one to help me. But then, there was this old man. And he stood there and he talked me out of doing what I was going to do. And I ended up…giving him a chance to listen to my story. And do you know what happened?”

“No,” Emma stared at her, those emerald eyes so wide and frightful.

“Come off the road and I’ll tell you,” Regina beckoned for the blonde to draw nearer. “Please. I promise that what I have to say will change your life.”

The truck chose the other lane and the brunette thanked God for all His patience and mercy.

They gazed into each other’s eyes after that intended miss. A time when both of their lives seemed to meet in the most frightening way and neither of them could leave without forgetting the other. She stood there drenched in cold sweat, prepared to push all the hope contained into the situation, instead of fearing the worst. Because this stranger wasn’t a stranger anymore.

She had become a young woman who desperately needed someone to listen to her without judging. Someone who wouldn’t only talk but would listen to whatever was said. And she was beautiful. My goodness, as Regina’s gaze swept over that face, and those fine pair of emerald eyes, everything seemed so much more terrible to have the world lose a soul like that.

A beautiful soul.

Slowly but surely, Emma’s hunched form drew nearer to where the older woman stood. One footstep at a time, and as distressed as she was before, the blonde chose to give in to the promise.

It was incredulous how the drama unfolded. When Regina realized how she had maneuvered the situation into a less deadly one, her heart fluttered a little in there. In fact, she felt somewhat relieved that they were merely inches apart; almost as if her life now depended on seeking out some way to aid this person in whatever way possible. Not only that, but there was this raw connection between them now; something that was throbbing. And she had to know more.

But being so close wasn’t anything like what had been anticipated. Truthfully, there hadn’t been time to predict the effect they would have on each other due to such proximity. Regina found herself drinking in the young woman’s features and finding her even more attractive than before, especially the softness of that blonde hair. Those kind but wild eyes. The way she hugged herself and shivered from obvious fright still.

She was so shaky, it was impossible not to notice it. Therefore, with as much composure the brunette could muster up, all of it was channeled towards the first touch between them.

“Let us find somewhere suitable to sit,” Regina rested her palm lightly on Emma’s shoulder. “So we can exchange as much meaningful words as required.”

“Here?” the blonde’s soft tone didn’t conceal how weak her countenance was.

Those brown eyes blinked. “Yes. Is that –“

“No,” suddenly, it was Emma who gripped her right arm and appeared terrified. “No. I…I can’t stay here. I need to leave.” Those emerald eyes darted here and there. She was afraid of something or someone, and the older woman’s heart sank.

“Take deep breaths,” Regina encouraged in a soothing voice. “Whatever you are afraid of, nothing will come to past right now –“

“No, you don’t understand,” the blonde’s eyes leaked tears, “I can’t stay here, okay? I can’t. I’m not okay here. At all. I just need to get away. As far as possible.”

Wasn’t she about to end her life on this same dreaded highway mere seconds ago? Then why hustle things along to rid herself of this environment when someone who could have been after her would come along?

Nothing fitted into place and Regina found that she couldn’t comply with such a thing.

But to leave them in the open like this; it was highly possible that another attempt would be made to pursue the same pathway. Destruction to one’s life didn’t come in a tidal wave and then settled back down. It was something that stayed within the mind for days on end. Of course she would understand. Having been there countless times.

Regina swallowed hard. “Okay, hand me your bag, please.”

“What?” Emma instantaneously asked.

Those red painted nails beckoned for the gesture to be complied with. “Can you please hand over your bag so that I can sift through the contents, just to be certain you are not in possession of a weapon?”

“Why?”

So many questions.

Regina sighed. “Because as much as I hate my life as well, Emma, I don’t want you to murder me inside my own damn car. Now hand over the bag.”

“Bullshit, you could be the killer here,” the blonde noted with widened eyes. “This is my village. I grew up here. I don’t know you.”

“No, but you will in a few. Just as long as we clear the air between us that you are not harmful except by using your fists. I assure you that we will drive out of this town and somewhere safer where you feel comfortable enough to talk to me.” So many words. She never liked explaining herself like that.

The younger woman hugged her bag and didn’t approve. “I have things in here that are personal.”

“So you were going to jump in front of a truck whilst having your personal things on you?” Regina found this rather strange. “Anyone would find those contents eventually.”

“You don’t understand –“

“Alright get in the car,” she was growing frustrated. It wasn’t unbecoming of her due to lack of patience. When all that was needed seemed to be patience, the brunette hated arguing. “But just so you know, I have a licensed firearm and if you only try to murder me –“

“I wouldn’t murder you,” Emma interrupted in a weak voice, “the only person I want to kill is me, okay?”

Those words stopped her immediately. All the impatience drifted away and Regina stared into pained emerald eyes. So much pain and confusion and distress.

“So you should hide your gun from me,” the blonde continued. “Because if it’s not a truck, or a car, it’s something else. And there’s no way you can stop me. You can tell me what you want, but as soon as you let me go then I’m going to do it.”

No.

Her brown eyes filled with tears as she stood there. Regina’s chest constricted until she couldn’t breathe. And all she could do was bite her lips as the darkened feeling settled in.

The feeling of never wanting to hear those words escape from someone’s lips because they were not only poisonous but terribly painful to her as well. And all she wanted to do was to reach into that saddened heart and wrap a string of lights around it.

How many times had those thought swirled around her mind as a teenager? When no one could delve in deep enough to save her? When not even her mother appreciated a daughter’s existence?

The times when it wasn’t a gun, but a written off vehicle, or alcohol, or drugs, or pills.

“I’m not going to let you do it,” Regina croaked. She was being stared at as all her weaknesses were displayed. “Now…my car is over there,” she barely gestured whilst tears leaked down her cheeks. “Let’s just go.”

When Emma’s eyes barely left the brunette’s face to determine the location of the vehicle, the older woman tentatively stepped away. She wasn’t sure if she would be followed, but upon realizing that it was a successful move, her Benz was approached.

As she unlocked the car though, something passed between them. Briefly. It wasn’t an unfamiliar glance. But one that suggested so much more without words being spoken. And she knew in that moment that Emma had seen behind those curtains and into her soul. A glimpse of the collection of broken shards resulting from pain. Still not healed but somehow she had managed to wrap all of those pieces up enough to bundle herself into a different kind of normal.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” Emma said when she settled into the front seat beside the brunette. “I don’t hurt angels.”

Regina had to chuckle after that. “I am most certainly not an angel,” she didn’t turn on the engine. But the automatic locks clicked into place and she rested her fingers lightly on the control button. “Now,” she fumbled in the plastic bag and pulled out a water bottle, “as inexpensive as this might sound, let’s have a chat with a bottle of water each.”

When a little smile tugged on Emma’s lips, Regina felt her heart sigh as she admired that expression and treasured it.

The blonde twisted the cap off as her hands remained shaky. She was so pale. Beneath her red leather jacket, the older woman gazed at the simplicity of that green tank top and the necklace. A black cord with a small cross as the pendant. A black cross.

“You know, my mother would call you a child of the devil if she saw the pendant attached to your chain,” Regina noted.

“Really?” Emma’s fingers reached up to capture the black cross. She considered it. “Because it’s black?”

“Yes.” The brunette sipped on her water and realized immediately how thirsty she had grown. That dramatic episode had drained her so much.

“Then I’d tell her how this cross has reminded me of what little hope I have in religion for so many years now,” the blonde confessed. “And before you say anything about ending up in hell when I take my own life, I don’t believe that at all. It doesn’t mean that my action will match up to a murderer.”

“But you wish to take something away that God has gifted you with. Dear, have you…” she shifted in her seat, turning sideways with the bottle of water in one hand, “thought about what remarkable things you could do in your life if you only try?”

“I can’t try anymore, okay?” Emma croaked.

“But why?” Those brown eyes widened.

“Look at me. I’ve just run away from my what? Sixth foster family? They’ve been abusive to me. My foster mom watches my foster dad beat the shit out of me and she doesn’t say a word. Because I’m not her kid. Her kids, there are two of them, they go to private schools. They don’t have to take the bus as I do.”

“And which school do you attend?” Regina was curious.

“I finished school like seven years ago.”

The brunette was astonished. “Forgive me for asking, but how old are you?”

“I’ll tell you my age if you tell me yours,” Emma inhaled deeply.

“Well it’s a fair bargain,” Regina sipped on her water. Their eyes never left each other. “I’m forty. And you?”

Those emerald orbs widened. “No fucking way. You look like thirty.”

“Enough with the lies,” although a smirk crossed her lips. “Now…as promised…”

“I’m twenty four.” Emma bit her lips. “And don’t say that I’m a baby compared to you because I’ve been through so much, I’m not a kid anymore. Nor am I just a young woman. I feel as if I’ve lived my life enough.”

“Well you haven’t,” Regina stated, “Emma, you haven’t lived your life halfway as yet.”

“You don’t know anything about me.”

“Have you ever gazed at the moon through a telescope?” her question seemed to confuse the younger woman initially but then a little sparkle appeared in that shade of emerald. “Have you…tasted at least ten flavours of ice cream? Hmm? Have you travelled this country? Gone up the river in a speedboat and felt the wind licking your face? Have you ever floated on your back inside a pool or lake and you just gazed up at the sky above you and wondered how many other persons are looking at the same view?”

When Emma shook her head slowly, the brunette smiled. “I can’t do those things because I’m not rich like you.”

“Wealth comes in many forms,” Regina assured the blonde. “And I can guarantee you that I might seem rich but I most certainly am not. I have just my house, my car, a cat and my bank account. I have no one who checks up on me other than my sister once and a while. I am unwed. And above all, I had a mother who hated my existence.”

“Then she was just plain stupid. No offense to the dead,” Emma said with a scowl. “Because you’ve been the kindest person to me in a couple of minutes. And if I had someone like you in my life I wouldn’t hate that you existed.”

“Technically, you do have me in your life now,” the brunette tilted her head without a smile. “A life that I will prolong for as long as I can.”

She appeared crestfallen all of a sudden; Emma. Her gaze fell onto the water bottle resting between her knees.

“Now as much as your foster parents hate you, I do believe that you are of a suitable age to go your own way. They have no chains to hold you down. Therefore, have you considered looking for a place of your own? Perhaps to…” the brunette shrugged, “begin anew? As I did?”

“I have a job that pays me not enough to pay rent so I can’t go anywhere. I’m not hard in the head. I’ve thought about that,” Emma said firmly.

“My apologies if I offended you,” Regina frowned. “No attempt was made on my part to ascertain that you are anything but smart.” When only silence lingered between them, she sighed. “But I must ask. What has happened recently that pushed you into this state? What triggered this? I want you to talk to me about it. Therefore, I will not give you options. So take a deep breath and talk to me. Because right now, alive as you are, you are where you need to be.”

Emma linked her fingers together and studied them. The time rolled by. And within that space, the brunette hadn’t even considered how her journey was delayed. Truthfully speaking, she had even forgotten about where the road was going to take her. The meeting seemed to lack importance over this young woman seated next to her.

“Okay so…” the blonde’s voice was so low and small, “last week, I went home and I went into my room. But Keegan was there. On my desk.”

“And Keegan is…” Regina frowned.

“My foster brother.”

The brunette nodded. She bit her lips.

“I told him to leave because when I get home from work, I want my own space. You know, to gather my thoughts.”

“Yes,” Regina nodded. “I understand that all too well.”

“So, when he didn’t leave, I yelled at him to get the hell out. Then he left and he went to tell Debby about what happened. Debby is my foster mom. Anyway,” Emma was twisting the bottom of her red leather jacket, “she came in and she started the usual talk about how I’m rude and I am too old to be behaving like that. And when I told her how I just needed my own space, she asked me how important do I think my life is for me to even have a space in anyone’s life.”

“My dear god,” Regina stared in bewilderment. Tears filled her eyes. “What a heartless bitch.”

“And to make things worse,” Emma finally connected their eyes after she had begun to flesh out her story, “she’s been telling everyone around here about something personal that I didn’t want anyone to know about. At all.”

“And that is?” she wasn’t afraid to pry in that moment.

Those emerald eyes widened. The blonde swallowed. “I can’t even tell you. You’re going to hate me for it.”

“Sweetheart, I have slept with two married men, I’ve drunken myself into a stupor and crashed my car into a truck, barely surviving. I have been bullied throughout my entire school life. Having my lunch taken away from me and my gut punched in wasn’t enough apparently. They would also hold me down and kick me.” Regina’s face grew harder. “I’m not saying that my crimes outweigh yours but I’d just like you to know that the two women sitting in this car are flawed. Neither of us are perfect. Therefore, I will not hate you based on whatever you have to say to me.”

Emma was staring. Her lips were slightly parted. The honesty. She hadn’t been prepared for this. Not in a million years. To sit there with someone and listen to them expose themselves as if they were so close already. As if she was trusted in a way that no one had dared attempted before.

“If I tell you…” Emma said slowly, her lips quivering, “how do I know that you wouldn’t tell everyone as she did?”

Regina seemed impressed that her confidence would be questioned. “I’m quite sure that I am far more attractive than this toad you have told me about. Therefore, we cannot be placed in the same boat.” When a smile stretched on the blonde’s lips, the older woman inhaled deeply. “Now tell me what you assume I will hate you for.”

For a long time, Emma did not answer her. At best, her demeanor shifted into a calm that suggested a sense of being comfortable. It was something that was new to the blonde; having someone in her company that seemed to understand even before the woes were spelt out.

“Emma, I am on my way to Corriverton,” Regina finally said with a long sigh as the steering wheel was gripped tighter. “For a meeting that may leave me as cranky as ever due to a room filled with idiots.”

The younger woman’s emerald eyes were huge now. It had become a usual look on such a pretty face, the brunette realized.

“Take me with you to Corriverton,” Emma suggested, with as much confidence in an approval as ever. And trying her best to avoid answering the question hanging in the air.

“I can’t…do that,” the brunette complained. “It would be wrong. Uprooting you from your village and dragging you along with me to the other side of the country…”

“You wouldn’t be dragging me,” the blonde said in a small voice. She hugged her backpack like a pillow. “I’m volunteering. I would keep you company. So you wouldn’t fall asleep or you wouldn’t get bored. I’m really good at forming a conversation.”

She sat there internally debating on such a thing.

To be fair, the situation that had presented itself in the middle of the highway had been terrifying. When you saved someone from committing suicide, careful observation afterwards was indeed a requirement. As Regina had been fully aware of during her instances in the past. But in that moment, the only facility to deposit Emma into would be a hospital.

It was evident that the young woman had no kind of family to support her. Or at least, none that were that important.

“Where are your biological parents, dear?” she just had to ask.

Emma played with one of the little black straps on her bag and she shrugged. “They’re dead. I was brought up in an orphanage.”

Her heart ached to imagine a child without their parents. But then, her own mother could never ascertain the meaningful influence she could have on a child’s life.

“And any other family?”

“I don’t even know my real last name,” the blonde allowed their eyes to meet. “When I was a baby, there was a Swan on my blanket so the guy who picked me up told the hospital that my name was Emma Swan. That’s what I grew up knowing myself as.”

If a heart could crumble from pain, Regina felt hers doing the same. A little girl, moving from one foster home to the other, and god knows why she ended up fleeing the prior ones. The brunette prayed that there had been no instances of rape or abuse. But judging from the young woman’s bewildered expression in most cases, she could only believe that some amount of hurt was inflicted.

“I can’t stay here, okay? Because I don’t belong here. Like you said, I’m old enough to do what the hell I want and right now, I’m deciding that I want to go with you.” She uttered those words with such a passion and belief in them that all Regina could do was stare back.

“But why me?”

“Because you saved my life. And if so far you gave me reasons to stay alive. If you leave me, I’ll have no one to do that. Don’t you get it?” Those emerald eyes were tearing up. “I never had hope for a long time. But right now you’re my hope. I want to stay with you.”

“Emma…” Regina croaked.

“I’m afraid of dying.”

They stared at each other for a long time. And then, when she felt as if her world would fall apart if they went their separate ways, the brunette turned the key in the ignition and put her Benz into drive. But as she swung onto the road, one thought crossed her mind; fate is strange. Because never in her wildest dreams had this ever been imagined.

The road that lay ahead, and that Taylor Swift song. Those memories of Daniel and Robin and her tragically screwed up lonely life. After all this time, fate had been plotting to have them meet at the most incredulous time ever. A little after midnight and on her way to a meeting that would begin at 8 am sharp.

Regina handed the blonde a packet of cinnamon rolls, stale nevertheless but adequate.

What had been on her mind in that moment?

The journey ahead, perhaps?

But then, when their fingers brushed she trembled a little inside from such contact. Their gazes rested on each other for two seconds and something passed between them that was frightening, if not new to her. Something…captivating.

Had she never known the meaning of chemistry between two persons then Regina would have been utterly confused by the feeling. One tormented soul, hers obviously, trying to reach out, and wrap itself around another distressed one. Like many years ago when Daniel had taught her how two hearts could entwine even in the darkest moments.

But now, all there seemed to be was a young woman seated a few inches away, the road ahead and her dire need to sleep. It must be her mind playing tricks due to exhaustion because never before had she felt like this with another woman. Never.

A maternal instinct maybe?

Regina settled on that and continued to push the nose of the Benz through the dark road ahead.

“I’m sorry I suck at talking right now,” Emma said as she curled a little more into the seat and studied Regina. “But it’s like, I’m still really shaky.”

“Understood,” the brunette nodded once. She kept her eyes on the road, but felt the urge grow stronger to gaze upon the talker.

The blonde chewed on the cinnamon roll. She remained silent for a while. The abundance of trees swept by on either side of the car and as much was already evident that it would rain later down in the night.

“So how many times did you try to…you know…”

She gripped the steering wheel tighter. Her turtle neck red sweater felt somewhat thicker all of a sudden. Or was it the A.C level turned down too low?

“Three times,” Regina said, reaching for the knob and turning it up a little more. She frowned at the maximum number indicator. Perhaps all the heat was being generated from the blonde.

“How?”

The damn system had been installed by one of Robin’s pals a year ago. Will. As shady as his character often appeared, she had actually placed her trust in a man who obtained wealth from underground investments. And oh how laughable their relationship seemed to be when viewed a year after. The kind that swelled up enough shame to have those photos of them buried deep inside a barrel in the basement.

At times the worst mistakes are made in relation to love. Believing that you’re falling in love, when in fact, there’s a mere sense of lust developing. The need to be wrapped in someone’s arms; to feel wanted. To feel special. She wanted that. She had gone so many years alone and when they crashed into each other at a cocktail party, after a few drinks, he was in her bed.

Regina remembered that night.

And she regretted every single second.

Wasted years.

“…to me,” Emma’s wounded voice filled the space.

“Hmm?” Regina glanced over at the blonde. Those brown eyes appeared dazed.

Emerald ones were glistening with tears. “I said it’s okay if you don’t want to talk to me.”

The older woman shook away all those haunting thoughts of Robin. “No, no.”

“I know I’m not that special…”

“Nonsense,” Regina frowned. The highway was now suitably lined by street lights. Not a vehicle was in sight but the long road ahead along the coast line. “Of course you’re special. For a moment I was pulled into a memory. My apologies.”

She could literally feel the lingering gaze upon her heated cheeks. The warmth slowly travelling down her neck and contributing so much more to the humidity within the car. The damn heat. The red long jersey she had slipped into for the trip was already feeling rather uncomfortable. And the long black jeans were in dire need of having a good rip off so that she could sink into a bathtub.

“Where did you go?” The blonde asked.

“I don’t want to take you there. Quite…” she turned the wheel a little to accommodate a swerve in the road, “…embarrassing.”

“So you fucked up,” Emma said, hugging herself. “We all do.”

Her words. The simplicity of those little strings. The brunette found herself admiring the depth but then in our darkest moments, the soul seems to leak a more meaningful quality suggesting a sharpened look up on life. Like facing death and coming up back for air. Knowing that you would never be the same again. Because when you tried to kill something, as she had tried to do to her very own soul, the mind is never the same again.

You cannot shatter a mirror and expect it to return to a smoother, and glossier quality.

“Where are you going anyway?” Emma’s head was lolled back, blonde hair tumbling down slumped shoulders and she was hugging her backpack.

They had that conversation already. But apparently the younger woman had forgotten about the mention of the meeting.

Regina blinked. “I’m going to somewhere quite secluded where I can bury the body nestled in the trunk of the car.”

The reaction unearthed from such a statement was merely a roll of the younger woman’s head from one side to the next and then she shrugged.

“Is it your ex?” Her tone was somewhat softer. Almost as if she didn’t give a fuck.

“Yes,” Regina kept her eyes on the road as much as possible but she still considered the blonde’s face in awe. “Yes it is.”

“Then I’ll help you dig,” Emma said with a scowl washing over her face.

“As…hilarious as this seems to be unfolding,” the brunette considered, “I am slightly worried after your statements.”

“Don’t be,” the blonde studied the sleeves of her red jacket. “Is it a man or a woman?”

Impressive.

She raised her eyebrow and absorbed the feeling of being quite…exhilarated by the other woman’s mind and it’s potential.

“Do I look like the kind of woman who would have a female ex-lover?” Regina was honestly excellent at mind games and any question asked had a purpose.

“If you’re asking me if I think you’d sleep with a woman, then hells yeah.” She didn’t even display any change in her demeanor. Emma simply sat there and stared out the window at the passing trees.

“I’m not…gay,” the brunette said, frowning a little.

“We’re all a little gay,” Emma finally allowed their eyes to meet. The darkest shade of emerald met brown ones. There were shadows in there too. Like a bayou on a moonless night. Lurking shadows that signaled something eating away at her soul.

Regina kept her eyes on the road after that. For a long time neither of them said anything, and with a steady hand, the radio was flipped on by the older woman. When alternative rock drifted from the speakers, she flipped the channel and settled on Coldplay’s ‘Sky Full of Stars’. And that song along with two others carried them along the road a good enough distance.

It was almost 2am when the brunette noted that the younger woman was asleep. The poor thing. Probably exhausted and tormented enough to slip into a deep, dark and slow dream. Carefully reaching over, she tugged the seatbelt clip closer to the socket and pressed it in firmly, since the blonde had only done the job halfway.

A sleeping soul.

Regina found herself glancing over there as often as she could, just to capture the rise and fall of Emma’s chest. The way she sunk into the seat like a tired warrior, having fought her battle, lost and when the road was on fire, and the temptation was there to step into the flames, a savior had come along.

Well, filling herself with pride so early in the journey wasn’t ideal. Considering that the act had been a successful one but the first step.

Suicidal thoughts lingered for a long time. Observation was necessary. Was she prepared to see this through? For as long as it took, Regina thought to herself. For as long as she was certain that the younger woman could be left by herself. She was going to watch her like a guardian.

By the time she was over the Berbice River and speeding along the highway with insufficient lights, a yawn escaped through red painted lips. Daring it, the brunette turned up the music as Kyla ft. Popcaan’s ‘Should’ve Been Me’ pumped through the speakers.

It was a must, even though the blonde was asleep. She simply had to stay awake. And music was the soonest remedy.

Regina internally thanked Robin for fitting in those bass boosters into her doors.

At least he had been beneficial in certain cases. Like applying the tints to her windows. Freeing her from police harassment. Bringing in her Benz and clearing it quickly through customs without a hassle. He also had been efficient in other things. Not inside the bedroom but in terms of investments that when milked, could fund million dollar projects and more.

Where was he as she drove to Corriverton?

In the arms of Marian, somewhere in Georgetown where she had driven from, with his son sleeping in the other room and four expensive cars parked downstairs in the garage.

By the time she had entered Corriverton one hour later, Emma hadn’t stirred as yet.


 

--

Internally, Regina always yearned to reside by the riverside. As in this case, she swung the car into the hotel’s parking lot and her gaze lingered on the heavy forest lining the Corentyne River. By morning, as the sun rose, the view would be breathtaking from an upstairs window. And if these five hours of sleep ahead could be considered as sufficient, then perhaps a little drive further down the river side might be considered before heading back to Georgetown.

But now, the only task at hand was finding a way to deposit a sleeping Emma into the hotel room.

Her head was lolled sideways, blonde hair tumbling onto that red leather jacket. The backpack could not be pried away from those protective arms, even as Regina tried to do so gently. And it was evident that as everyone had a distinct scent attached to them, Emma had a soft vanilla note drifting off from her.

It was slightly intoxicating for the brunette as she stood there leaning a hip onto the opened car door in the deserted parking lot. Those brown eyes rested on the young woman’s form and she honestly felt something stir within her. Something familiar. Something she used to feel when Daniel would come strolling down the walkway in university and her heart would flutter with love.

But it couldn’t be love, could it?

How could she even love another woman in such a way? Romantically? There hadn’t been such an instance in the past. But Ruby, her sister’s friend was gay. Therefore, on many occasions whilst they shared drinks, Regina would listen to the tall brunette’s love life. But this…this was something familiar but not so familiar in terms of the alteration of a gender.

“Emma,” she said softly, holding onto the door. Her keys jingled from one hand. Regina noted how the blonde stirred.

Those emerald eyes fluttered open and focused on the standing woman. Little by little, a certain kind of awe was displayed as Emma obviously was still adjusting that mind of hers to the new situation.

The sight of someone just there. A woman. A beautiful woman with an attractive face. Those fine pair of eyes captivating enough. She was bewitched.

“Am I in Heaven?”

Regina chuckled and shook her head. “No, you’re in hell.”

Emma tilted her head and smiled, arms still folded. “Well then I’d rather be in hell with you, Regina.”

“Oh really?” There it was. The tingly feeling inside every beat of her heart. The brunette seemed intrigued. “Did you sleep well?”

“I…” the blonde batted soft tendrils away from her face and scowled, “…fell into a deep black hole of nothing. But it was okay. Better than dreaming about shitty stuff.”

“I suppose so,” Regina held the door open and gestured towards the hotel, “let’s head on inside, dear. I’m very exhausted. I need to sleep before morning.”

Unsure of what to do, the younger woman nevertheless awkwardly climbed out from the Benz and stood there. Emerald orbs considered the brunette hoisting her black suitcase out of the trunk and then the handle was pulled up. Within that time, still the blonde remained where she was, because was this expected? To follow?

Regina had activated the car alarm with one click and was on her way towards the lobby when she felt the empty space. Not being accompanied by someone of such importance, it was evident from the way her heart flopped. Spinning around, she considered Emma standing by the car and frowned.

“Is something wrong?” Her grip on the handle of the bag remained firm, fearing that thieves might jump them at that hour of the night.

Emma hugged herself and supplied a blank wide eyed stare.

She didn’t move.

It was confusing for the older woman in that moment. Nevertheless, she tried to develop a connection between then, a look that suggested trust.

“Come along, sweetheart. I know you would hate for a pack of thieves to swarm me. Although I am armed, two against several isn’t quite the situation to entertain when I’m so exhausted.”

The blonde glanced around as if expecting them to be surrounded and she took a few steps forward. Hesitantly, of course. The look in those emerald eyes only provided enough conclusion that a little fear of the unknown was settling inside the younger woman’s mind. And Regina’s heart weighed down when the possibility of such a belief was calculated.

“I want you to feel safe with me,” she explained as they entered the lobby and arrangements were made for a room with two beds. She collected the key with a yellow tag and lightly rested a hand upon Emma’s shoulder. Their eyes met. “Providing that I am well rested with a maximum amount of five hours sleep, tomorrow, rest assured, we will have a very long talk about life and its tribulations.”

“But that’s the problem,” the blonde tagged along, hoisting her backpack higher onto hunched shoulders. She was deeply admiring the curve of the older woman’s hips and the way she walked with such confidence. “I don’t know if you’ll like what I have to say about my life.”

“Stuff and nonsense,” Regina rejected the statement. She climbed the stairs but not before allowing Emma to fall into step beside her. Those brown eyes swept the corridor for lurkers. “I guarantee you that your woes will be well spent on someone like me. After all, as my mother oftentimes would tell me, my existence is a sin and my life resembles the pit of hell.”

“And she knows how the pit of hell looks?” They rounded a corner and located room 44. Emma was smiling a little as the older woman did the same. “Your mom sounds like one of those scary head nuns that taught me.”

“You went to a Catholic school?”

The room spread out before them quite simply, with a red carpeted floor, a double window with red drapes, chest of drawers, two small beds and a small bathroom.

“No, I’m talking about the orphanage. Saint Ann’s. I was there for like ten years. Four to fourteen.” Emma locked the door behind them and felt her heart beating fast, signaling the nervousness associated with being in a room alone with a very attractive woman. “Then I entered the foster system because I caused some trouble at the orphanage.”

“What kind of trouble? Regina wheeled her bag towards the bed nearest to the window.

“Here,” Emma tossed her backpack onto the other bed and rushed over. “Let me help you.” She collected the heavy bag from the brunette’s attempted grasp and heaved it onto the pink soft covers.

Brown eyes rested on her with such a soft look. Their shoulders brushed a little. And what Regina felt was nothing short of further elaboration on that feeling experienced earlier. “Thank you, dear.”

“To answer your question,” the blonde moved to her side of the room and plopped down on the bed, her form bouncing a few times before the bed springs settled, “I kind of have to tell you that big secret I mentioned before.”

“Those who haven’t sinned, cast the first stone,” Regina had already unzipped her bag and was delicately shifting through a few garments. She settled on the red silk shirt that would be worn for the meeting, and pulled out a pair of brown tailored pants. Neatly, those two pieces were draped over the back of the only chair within the room.

All the while, emerald eyes followed every movement. “You’re so biblical. I’m even more scared now.”

“Look,” brown eyes fluttered close, “if it makes you feel any better, I don’t hide my eyes when a steamy sex scene unfolds in a movie.”

Emma snorted. “That’s so virgin.”

“Virgin,” Regina pointed her red hair brush at the younger woman, “I am not. But then it doesn’t matter. I will get that secret out of you, if it is the last thing I do.”

“How sexy,” the blonde’s chest heaved. She was trying to keep her breathing under control but the air between them seemed to heat up with every passing minute. “How do you intend to do that?”

“Well…for starters,” the older woman, wasting no time and having no care in the world, began to unbutton her red long sleeved jersey slowly, “a nice lunch will suffice since there will be no time for me to grab breakfast in the morning. I have a meeting at 8.” Regina informed the blonde. “And you will also be coming along with me.”

“You want me in the meeting too?” Emerald eyes widened when the jersey was peeled away. She held her breath and felt the room tilt a little as honey coloured skin, flawless skin was revealed underneath. Well as much as the black lace vest didn’t conceal.

“No, silly,” Regina shamelessly removed the garment and neatly folded it. Her gaze never rested on the other occupant of the room. “I intend to take you to my sister’s place. Just for roughly three hours. She lives in Lime Path. Do you read?”

Emma had a knot in her throat when the swell of the older woman’s breasts remained visible. “Um,” she lowered her guilty gaze and felt her heart do flip flops, “yeah.”

“Well she has this little bungalow inside her yard that serves as a mini library. You can bat around in there for something. Unless Jessie and Robyn decide to kidnap you into their video game world.”

“She has kids? Cool,” feeling very uncertain of how to proceed, the blonde stiffly chose to lie down, boots and all. She stared up at the ceiling.

“Jessie is twenty and Robyn is twelve. I wouldn’t exactly consider them as being kids…more like two nerds who highly favour analytics, doing math and the Big Bang Theory. I gave them nicknames. Jessie is Velma from Scooby Doo and Robyn is Hermione from the Harry Potter series.”

“You’re just mean,” Emma smiled, avoiding eye contact still.

“Well, considering that they favour their nicknames,” Regina got onto the bed and settled in, turning on her side conveniently to face the blonde, “I wouldn’t exactly colour it as being mean.”

She talked a lot. That was one thing the younger woman admired. She was a stranger, someone that had crashed into her life in the most unusual way, and Regina was simply, opening up like a flower who had so many stories to explore.

It wasn’t something that bothered her. More like…made her feel adequately underexposed in terms of making these kind of acquaintances with people. Forming bonds that blossomed into something. That was why she felt so rigid.

“Are you asleep?” Regina sounded severely tired, the husky quality of her voice curling the other woman’s toes.

“Not yet,” Emma literally felt her heart dancing around and she couldn’t evaporate the tingly feelings being experienced.

“I need you to fall asleep first.”

Strange. She glanced at the older woman and frowned a little. “Why?”

Those brown eyes blinked slowly. Turned on her side, the brunette’s breasts swelled even more for a sufficient display to shake Emma’s world.

“Because you’re unsettled. You’re…in a very dark and lonely place. I’d hate to have you lie there, staring up at the ceiling with that empty feeling before sleep comes.”

Emma gulped down her feelings that were beginning to explode. She was going to crash from the severity of those words. Of having someone who seemed to care.

“And what if I can’t sleep?” she whispered.

Regina sighed. “Then I’ll sing you a lullaby.”

It was unbearable. Was she flying solo in this? Feeling that overwhelming burst of attraction that didn’t simmer down but swelled enough to erupt? It was like holding your breath and as the pressure rise in your chest, you’re about to explode. Captivated by a stranger like this wasn’t something she had ever experienced.

Emma turned on her side, facing away from Regina and she squeezed those emerald eyes shut.

It wasn’t real, was it?

It wasn’t happening.

Maybe she had indeed stepped out into the road, a vehicle had run her over and this was all a delusion arising from a coma. Where her dream came true. Finding a woman who would seriously give a shit about her existence, more than enough for them to have such a long conversation.

“Did I say something wrong?” Regina sounded slightly wounded. The air around them was as silent as the grave except for the low humming of the A.C unit outside the window.

“No,” Emma croaked. Her lips quivered. No. You didn’t say anything wrong. You’re saying all the right things. “I’m just…tired.”

“Then sweet dreams,” the brunette said softly. The maturity in her voice was evident. But for some odd reason, the sound of being a little hopeful that their conversation would continue made her years fade away. “I hope that you dream of nothing but happy things.”

“I’m going to dream about you,” Emma whispered.

“What?”

The blonde squeezed her eyes shut and could already see the face of the most beautiful woman she had ever seen materialize behind those lids. “I said same to you,” she lied.

A few seconds later and she entered a world where butterflies landed on the warmest colour of brown tendrils. Those intense eyes that never seemed to shy away from enacting a gaze between them. She was standing by the window with the moon high up in the sky and Emma was drowning in the way Regina was smiling at her. As if she meant the world. As if the world would be ending beyond the window and yet, she was tasting paradise.

So many questions.

She didn’t fall into a dreamless world.

She fell into a dream that made her soul float on a cloud.


--

“I always become mellow when driving on the coastline,” Regina said the following morning as they drove away from the hotel and closer to Lime Path. The brown shades she had on hid those captivating brown eyes but Emma had memorized them. “Are you awake as yet?”

“Yeah,” the blonde smiled. She was wearing one of the older woman’s blue plaid shirts and there was nothing else in the world right there and then that would feel more comfortable. “What’s your sister’s name again?”

“Zelena. You’ll love her.”

“If she’s like you, then yeah,” Emma’s chest swelled. When she slowly escaped from sleep about an hour earlier, Regina had already showered and slipped into her meeting attire.

“When you see the river between the trees and houses,” the older woman said, sounding breathless, “does it take your breath away as it does to me?”

She considered the other side of the car and tried to find the feeling. For some odd reason, her world still felt black apart from the sharp colours sparking from between them. “I guess.”

Their eyes met. “Tell me more.”

Emma’s chest heaved. She licked her lips and stared ahead, knowing that if they had prolonged that gaze then the car would crash. “I mean, for a long time I’ve felt so…empty inside. Like nothing matters anymore. I feel…”

“Numb,” Regina said softly.

“Yeah,” the blonde hugged herself and shivered a little. “It’s like I’m dead and I’ve been dead for a while now.”

“You’re not dead,” Regina said, her voice growing huskier. “You’re merely floating on a black river right now after the storm. But as always, the storm passes over. And as much wreckage as it has left, you will stand up again. Blackness will fade into light.”

“I just want to feel something again,” Emma felt so cold inside. “Something that means…something.”

“You will.”

“Even if I do feel something, I am so fucking afraid, you know?” the blonde croaked.

Regina took a little time before answering. In that time, the sun’s warm rays poured down upon the Benz. There was a light wind. The windows were down.

“I’m afraid too, Emma,” she finally said. Her grip on the steering wheel tightened. Those brown orbs were focused ahead. “I’ve reduced myself to nothing but an unformed heap of clay. And every time I face a chance to change, to allow my life to be formed into something new, I run. I...am afraid.”

“But you don’t seem like you’re scared,” Emma noted. She studied the older woman’s face. “You’re so confident and open with me.”

“I’ve never been like this with anyone else,” Regina confessed. “It’s been so many years.”

The blonde noticed how the brunette seemed slightly unsettled. The sign signaling that they were entering Lime Path rolled closer and still, she was already dreading the moment when they would become separated. It was like her lifeline would be cut for three hours. Her world had begun to revolve around this other person and it was a new feeling to experience.

“Are you…single?” Emma dared to ask. She suddenly felt as if surviving depended on the answer to that question.

Regina exhaled. She nodded. “Yes. Why?” Should she have asked that?

“I just…” emerald eyes flicked forward. Emma shrugged. “Wanted to know. I can’t believe that you would be.”

“Because of my age?” She didn’t present the question with an offended tone.

“No, it’s just that, you’re…you’ve got all the things. That a guy would want. So it has to be by choice that you’re not with someone.” Her hands were trembling. She was so nervous.

“Believe it or not, Emma, after my last relationship, no one has ever showed interest in being with me. I’ve got the kind of storm behind my eyes that chases everyone away.”

“Not everyone.”

The older woman’s heart fluttered. She was becoming undone and it was right before a chaotic meeting. Right. At least her mind would be terribly sweetened by those words before walking in there.

The car turned left into a narrow street.

It wasn’t a smooth ride as they drove closer to the river. Several pot holes along the way simply reminded Emma that she still had a trembling heart but all the while, one that was sighing deeply from her gaze resting on the other woman. The beauty captured in one person. Her soul was so mysteriously inviting the younger woman to know more.

“Here we are,” Regina parked out front of a lovely sprawling white house across an extensive yard space. On the balcony on the upstairs, there was a beautiful wind chime piece. “I hope my sister doesn’t cook up a storm for me.”

To describe Zelena as a free spirited human being would be such a dull one. The blonde soon realized, after the brunette had driven away, that she possibly had now encountered the happiest woman alive on earth.

She exuded such energy from the bright green shade of her flowing dress alone, down to the red glittery nail polish on all ten toes and fingers. Added to that, her hair was a flaming red that reflected a wild spirit, even as the skies signaled that it would rain, and Emma believed that such an occurrence would dampen the mood.

But that wasn’t something to expect.

Within five minutes after the Benz had driven off, the blonde was ushered into the large balcony behind the house with a beautiful view of the river surrounded by coconut trees. She was long time sipping on a glass of cherry juice as the leaves rustled around her and Zelena disappeared inside to complete the laundry cycle.

Simple reflections whilst surrounded by an abundance of nature could at times, soothe one’s spirit. As tormented as hers was in that moment, Swan sat upon the soft seat, feet folded under and wished that the wind would just sweep away all the darkness swirling around inside. All of the chaos. The little tremors and the balls of pain. Whilst still allowing her to keep those feelings arising from being close to or even thinking about Regina.

She wasn’t just a power card.

The brunette had proven that even with fire inside one’s soul, you could still exert an abundance of kindness. Who would have believed that an obvious wealthy woman who appeared terribly sophisticated from a first glance would have stopped the night prior just to save a young woman’s life? To prevent her from jumping in front of a car?

Emma sat there swimming in the intensity of the older woman’s actions, and her words, and she began to slowly realize something. That in life, just when you felt like giving up, God could send an angel.

Although at times she struggled to believe in him, that cross resting on her chest would serve as a reminder that a greater force existed. Some kind of energy who tried to maintain a balance in life. Because how in the world could anyone explain the crossing of their paths in the most incredulous way?

Regina had been on her way to a meeting.

And she stopped, she went in the mini mart, grabbed a few items, and then when her footsteps led outside, there was Emma.

Those emerald eyes fluttered close as the cool wind rushed in and whipped blonde hair away from her face. The water from the sweating glass clung to her fingers and she felt a little chill resonating from within. A chill that reminded her that she was alive. That she was there. In the moment. And although doubt was settling in, Emma realized that maybe, just maybe, she was falling in love with a stranger who had saved her life.

“I oftentimes come out here to let go of whatever worries I have building up inside of me,” Zelena approached her with a smile. She handed Emma a plate of coconut biscuits and chose the other bench directly opposite from the blonde. “It’s one of the reasons I live by the waterside. I used to live in Georgetown.”

“Really?” Emma found that hard to believe. Adjusting from town life to one in the country wasn’t something that always transitioned well. “Which part?”

“Kitty,” Zelena lifted her chin a little and gazed up at the sky swelling with rain. “Pike Street. I’ve been up here for two years now. It’s a change that I never bloody regretted.”

“But you’re so far away from your sister,” the blonde noted with a frown. She would have clung onto any relations and dreaded the distance.

“It’s a win, win situation, if you know how it benefits us,” the other woman explained. She sipped on her glass of cherry juice and swallowed slowly. “Regina is so busy in Georgetown, she hardly ever gets a chance to unwind. When she feels the need to, she drives up here and spends a weekend or even more. The drive soothes her. And so does out there.” She jerked her chin in the direction of the fence separating the house from the riverside.

Emma’s eyes rested on a small wooden hut overlooking the water. Naturally she would have jumped to the idea of taking a book out there and simply escaping from the world. But ever so recently, even the passion arising from reading had dulled. Nothing seemed exciting anymore.

“She told me as much about you,” Zelena’s gaze settled on the younger woman with a smile. “I was so overwhelmed when she told me about what happened. I guess that we can all be an angel in someone’s life.”

“She saved me,” Emma’s voice had grown smaller.

The older woman smile faltered a little. “No, darling. You’ve both saved each other. In more ways than you can understand.”

Her throat ached terribly. She sipped her cherry juice and realized that it was losing the frosty texture.

“Regina has had a hard life,” the older woman said. The bottom of her green dress fluttered from the wind whispering into the balcony. “I’ve seen how she’s been hurt terribly by our mother and those she trusted and loved. But if there is one person I can refer you to that knows how to get up back on her two feet, it’s her.”

“I’ve just…” Emma croaked, and then she stopped. A shrug sufficed. Because the words wouldn’t come easily.

Zelena waited, but then she realized that the silence could mean that the blonde, just like her daughter was crumbling inside and sometimes it was good to crumble but other times, it was better to try as best as you could to hold those pieces together.

“Go on, darling,” she pressed.

The blonde’s emerald eyes blinked at the river as those orbs glistened from tears. “I’ve never had anyone that cared about me. I don’t know how to…respond when someone does. I don’t know what I should say or what I should do. I’m just really…” she exhaled in a rush. “I just want to tell her how much it means to me, what she did last night. But then, I can’t say it because I don’t know how to say it.”

The older woman considered Emma’s face. “Take your time.”

“But there are things that I want to tell her. Like I’m gay.” She hesitated a bit, studying the older woman’s face to detect any distaste in her confession. Only the calmest green eyes met hers. “But then how do you tell someone that just like that? Like it can’t come up just like that.”

“But you just told me,” Zelena declared with a smile. She shrugged. “Just like that.”

“It’s different with you.” Emma’s cheeks flushed.

Immediately, the older woman attached meaning to such a reaction.

“Ahh. And it’s the driving force behind why you tried to end it all, isn’t it?” Zelena offered a sympathetic look. “You felt the walls closing in on you and you felt like there was nowhere else to go.”

“I can’t even be myself in this fucked up country,” Emma voiced her frustration. Tears still escaped. She offered a pained look. “The first time I realized that I felt this way, and I tried to confide in a teacher, she basically saw me as a person who needed counselling.”

“That is exactly the reason why I hate the school system,” Zelena said angrily. She rested her glass upon the bench and gestured inside. “Jessie isn’t here at the moment. But she can truly attest to witnessing her best friend being bullied because of someone finding out that he’s gay back when she used to attend high school in Georgetown and when she told a teacher about it, the teacher told her that maybe Dave should stop trying to be a problem and try to fit in.”

“And people wonder why the suicide rate goes up,” Emma said dully.

“It doesn’t ever have to lead to suicide, darling,” the other woman said. “Listen to me.” She sat forward and pleaded with her eyes. “As much as you felt alone, as much as there was no one there for you, the best thing to do is to realize that you’re not the only one fighting this battle. Everyone’s circumstance may be different but you’re not alone. I cannot begin to imagine what it must have been like for you. A little sweetheart growing up in a terrible foster family with no one to show her what love is.”

Emma sighed. She folded her arms and stared out at the darkening sky.

The waves probably lapped onto the shore. And just like the terribly haunting feeling emanating from staring at the massive river, the blonde’s soul was still being sucked into a pit of darkness.

“Just where our life seems to end, there is always a rainbow that shows up. Most people don’t want to see it. But others do.” Zelena reached forward and enveloped Emma’s hand into hers. “You have a family now. You have Regina and you have me. You have us. From now on, you’re not alone.”

Although it had been something difficult to manage, the blonde produced a smile. The tears were held at bay, tears that burned behind her eyelids and knotted her throat. It was like swallowing a hurricane. A mountain of feelings that welled up and would not disappear. Back when she used to run to the confinements of her room, Emma would curl up in a tight ball and bawl her eyes out.

But not now.

Now she had to put up a façade, to prove to Regina’s sister that everything was not crumbling but there was enough to fall back on. A certain amount of sanity that remained. However, deep down inside, she was dying still. She was on the verge of falling inwards and never opening up again and suddenly, she needed one person to just envelope her with the most warming presence.

She needed Regina.

“Can…” Emma realized that her voice came out as a squeak. She cleared her throat. “Can I go for a walk out there? I want to…check out the view.” When in truth, it was a desperate plea to escape and face the space alone.

Zelena considered her face and frowned a little. Knowing all too well that the younger woman desperately needed to separate herself in order to take a few breaths of fresh air, she absolutely allowed it. Not because the company was depressing or burdensome. But because Zelena understood.

She had seen that look in someone’s eyes, on someone’s face many times before. Too many times to mention. When Regina would drag her feet into the yard, brown eyes listless and the tears still flowed like a river. When they would sit out there staring at the water and the brunette would crumble, shaking from sobs as she writhed through the pain of depression and suicidal thoughts. As she truthfully revealed to Zelena how terrible her soul felt.

How broken she was becoming.

As Zelena watched Emma retreat to the riverside, she felt a little tug behind her navel. Suicidal thoughts never took the back seat, but always fought to ride shot gun. Those green eyes rested on the blonde taking small steps towards the small hut and she felt a terrible feeling in her gut. It was the same feeling she had experienced when standing upstairs one night and she observed her sister wandering out there.

In the fastest pace ever taken, she had rushed out there and was just in time to prevent her sister from jumping into the murky waters of the dangerously deep pit.

Now, taking up her glass, she lightly trailed after Emma, her heartbeat increasing a little.

Don’t do it, the older woman thought to herself. Bloody hell, don’t dive in there with a purpose. She lingered by the fence, watching the red wooden gate swing back on its hinges and just when the blonde stopped five feet away from the river, Zelena held her breath.

Where are you, Regina?

She prayed internally that this young soul would latch onto her sister’s growing confidence in life and somehow, they would build each other up. Somehow, this was a chance to change life. To take new directions. To venture off into a definite path where no dark shadows lurked but only hope stretched its beam forwards.

For fifteen minutes, Emma remained there by the riverside, staring out into the scene. And then eventually, she turned around and returned to where the older woman stood.

Their eyes met.

“Regina said that you have a library or something,” her voice was hoarser. Those emerald orbs glistened with tears. It was evident that she had been crying. “Can I…” the blonde sniffed. She reached up with the back of her hand and wiped away those wet cheeks. “Can I see it?”

Zelena’s heart softened so much, she reached out and took a hold of the younger woman’s hand. A smile was offered. “Sure, why not?”

It wasn’t after the blonde had settled into the collection of novels when Regina called. With a clear view of the hut from the kitchen window, Zelena turned on two burners and began to heat up lunch.

“How’s she doing?” her sister asked.

Cradling the phone between an ear and her shoulder, Zelena sighed. “Sis, the poor thing is broken into pieces. She still can’t seem to hold it together.”

Regina inhaled deeply on the other end. “Have you said the right things? Or have you said something wrong?”

“You should know that when you’re in the mood she is and someone tries to reach out, even the thought of being cared for can feel absolutely like a lie.”

“She just needs time,” Regina sounded terribly wounded. “I wish I could be there for her right now. I wish…I could just shelter her every single minute since we met. Since I found her.”

Zelena felt the knot tightening in her throat. Those green eyes stared out into the backyard. Her mind rested on a feeling, something that emanated from her sister’s voice. That tone. The trembling voice signaled something, only one thing. But she was not going to mention anything until the brunette came right out and confessed it.

“She really seems to connect with you,” was all Zelena managed. “And you’ve…bonded with her.”

“Where is she now?” There it was again. That…tone. Suggesting more than just a guardian bond but a heartfelt one that coupled with the soul.

“She’s in my little library. The one you would bury yourself in whilst here on the weekends, if not the hut by the river.”

“Good,” Regina sighed. “Good. Let her stay in there for as long as she wants. Books helped me so much during those times. I can only suppose that perhaps the same will extend to her. Has she eaten?”

Zelena smiled a little. “After you’ve known me for so long. Are you really going to ask me that, sis?”


--

Nancy Drew books. Loads of them. Sometimes her mind would grow dizzy from the many titles. Possibly the entire collection shelved and kept in incredible condition. And Emma could remember instantly when she used to browse the library in Georgetown, always in search of a new Nancy Drew title and forever dreaming of owning all the books.

She brushed her fingers across the yellow hardcovers and scanned the shelves. Reflecting on the adventures lived; the characters that had come to life. Then moving further along, Emma finally came across a section where the light died and immediately those emerald eyes grew huge. Because of the name written on the narrow spines of the books visible from the shelf.

REGINA.

Should she even attempt to take a volume out and flip through? Was it like breaking some kind of code in a place that she obviously didn’t quite belong or had any rights?

Never ever being the kind of girl who allowed shyness to envelope her, Emma glanced around and boldly pulled one of the books from its place. A red covered one. Then keeping her back to the door, she folded her shoulders forward and carefully caressed the smooth glossy cover decorated in inked black vines. All across the surface, those fair fingertips travelled, slowly as she somehow tried to trace Regina’s hand moving across to etch those designs.

And then, almost as if it was a crime to even take a peek, the blonde parted the covers. Holding her breath, she immediately admired the neat handwriting upon the pages, with even spaces and little hearts over the i’s and j’s.

It was raining today. God knows how I hate missing church because somehow God keeps me alive.

Emma blinked twice. Her heart seemed to stop when she actually realized that the woman who had saved her, the one she was falling for had written those words. Some time ago, the blonde wasn’t sure when, Regina had sat down and poured her thoughts onto those pages.

Before continuing to read, she realized that hey, in life, risks had to be taken. Like the few times she had stolen library books and tucked them under her red leather jacket. Or when she slipped out the bus without paying the driver. Shoplifting had become something as easy as ever in certain stores after literally becoming aware of their slack security. Because how observant could an old security guard be? And how fast could he run if she was ever caught?

Emma found a chair just by the front windows facing the river, and she plopped onto the soft red chair. Legs stretched out, those knee high brown boots crossed at the ankles, the blonde parted the book with her thumb and continued to read. Like a rebel, she appeared in that attitude.

My mother hates me. I guess I’ve said this a million times over. But as they say, hate sprouts weeds and by now, at the age of sixteen, I am buried inside a garden of her lies and her threats.

I can’t believe she accused me of being a lesbian last night when Mallie was over. My one and only friend. I’ve known Mallie since I was five and she’s been coming over here and mother suddenly believes that I’m romantically involved with my best friend.

It’s raining and I have to run to church. To cleanse my soul as mother says. She believes I’m never going to marry because I’m gay. I’ve never had a boyfriend. I’ve never been interested in guys. But I don’t think that I’m gay. Am I? All I want is to find someone who understands me and all my broken pieces. Because I’m not like other girls. As Mallie says, I’m a beautiful tragedy. But tragedies never turn out to be something good, do they? So where is my life going to lead?

If I am going to turn out to be gay, then I know already that my mother will disown me for it. But God never will. It’s sad to say that if I had to choose between my mother and God, then I would choose the latter. Except for my sister. I would choose her too. She’s the one person who always has my back.

Emma couldn’t stop her heart from racing. Regina pondering on if she was gay. In fact, that guilty mind of hers somehow latched onto the thought as if it was the truth and she silently wondered about the same feelings having matured after all these years.

She wanted her to be gay, didn’t she?

The blonde flipped a few pages ahead and began to read again.

I want to die. Someone started to spread rumours around school that Mallie and I have slept with each other and my one and only best friend refuses to talk to me.

Today, she avoided me like the plague. She made me cry when she yelled at me to stay away from her. What has my life become? I’m now known as the gay freak around school because what does anyone expect in a Catholic School? It’s a sin, isn’t it? And now I’ll just cry myself to sleep and wish that I die somewhere between a good dream.

Another day at school, being tormented and bullied. I had my lunch taken away from me. Imagine a stupid sixteen year old simply cannot defend herself against the cheerleading squad who feels threatened from my mere existence in their space. They had Jack and his pals take my lunch away and then I was cornered in the washroom and harassed. I was humiliated as they used their hands on me. I stayed in there for two hours and couldn’t stop shaking. I still want to die. It’s easier to die right now instead of coming home to my hateful mother and then going back to a school that tortures me.

Emma felt tears sliding down her cheeks and she allowed it. The inevitable, obviously. To familiarize with every single word as she read and realized that her life had been written also by someone else. Her life, parts of it at least, had been lived by Regina. There had been a best friend in her case. Lily. And not only had she been a best friend, but Emma had slowly begun to fall in love with Lily.

I couldn’t write for a week after what happened to me. The bottle of sleeping pills. I drank half of it. It was such a terrifying experience to just lie there and feel myself lose control of my body without being able to do anything. I couldn’t even scream. Every part of me began to grow numb and I stopped breathing. But then, Zelena burst into my room and she began screaming and then I just blacked out. Now, I’m lying in her bed after being placed on temporary vacation from school and she’s sitting at her desk watching me like the mother hen she has always been.

She saved me.

I can’t believe my sister rushed in at the exact moment when I was about to die and she saved me. She stayed in the hospital with me for five nights. She helped me to take a shower. She even changed me and combed my hair. She fed me. She’s my saviour and I can’t ever repay her for what she has ever done to me although I hate that she saved me.

Now she’s sitting there and she says that she’s not going to sleep tonight until I do. Because she doesn’t want me to fall asleep alone.

The blonde shivered from the memory of lying on the bed in the hotel and experiencing those same words being uttered to her. Regina didn’t want her to fall asleep first. It hadn’t been just a spur of the moment thing. It had been pulled from the brunette’s past.

She had tried to kill herself. Reading those words, Emma felt her chest tighten from knowing that Regina hadn’t been lying when she exposed her broken past. She wasn’t just trying to shelter Emma. She was trying to show her that those bruises under those angel wings resembled the same ones the blonde had.

When the sound of a car door being slammed shut met her ears, she rushed to fit the book into the empty space. Then almost feeling as if her heart would explode, Emma exited the hut and those emerald eyes pinpointed the brunette.

Regina was already heading in that same direction but abruptly stopped when their eyes met. Well, behind those brown shades of course. Words couldn’t explain how relieved she was to see the blonde again. Quite an exhilarating feeling. Her mind sighed from having been worried since they had parted. And reaching up, the brunette slowly removed the shades, revealing that the connection was intense as the blonde had felt from first instance. Like their souls reaching out and holding onto each other.

“I thought you just decided to leave me here and head back to Georgetown,” Emma tried a smile although her voice trembled a little from being nervous.

“Wouldn’t even dream of doing such a thing,” the older woman seemed unsure of whether to close the distance between them so she stood there. A small smile crossed those lips. “Having fun?”

Emma glanced around and noted the other pair of green eyes considering her from behind the kitchen window. Zelena was smiling.

“I tried reading,” the blonde shrugged. “But my mind couldn’t stick to anything.”

“There are some really good novels in there,” Regina gestured at the hut behind Emma and her cheeks had a dull shade of red. “If you would like to feel something, perhaps a thriller book might suffice? Stephen King, maybe?”

A few seconds elapsed with them gazing at each other. Emma’s eyes were pinched from a smile. But then, after notably holding in a display of amusement, she released a chuckle.

“You’re really amazing, you know that?” the blonde bravely admitted.

The older woman seemed impressed by the compliment. “Trying to butter me up?”

“I can’t believe you’d tell me to read Stephen King to feel something. That’s like so…” the younger woman’s chest heaved, “savage.”

“Well…Nora Roberts then,” Regina held out her arms and pleaded with those brown eyes. “If you wish to sway away from horror and find your heart swimming in romance.”

“I’m living my own kind of romance now,” Emma blurted out. Bold as she was, when that mind was placed on the race track, there was no coming off of it.

“Is that so?” the brunette folded her arms and smiled a bit. “I am eager to know which gentleman you have met here within a span of three hours that has captured your heart. Or is it my sister?”

“How about we take our plates out into the hut by the riverside?” Zelena appeared beside them, hands planted on her hips.

She wasn’t a fool in deciphering a budding connection obviously building up between her sister and the young woman. No. It wasn’t that hard to detect, from the coloured cheeks and subtext. Enough was enough in that moment, as she believed that lunch served at the right time was essential to one’s health.

But for some odd reason, Regina could not be pried away from the blonde’s company long enough for Zelena to question her sister. Well not in the most obvious fashion but of course lines could be used that would unearth a hint of the truth. If anyone knew the brunette well enough, it was her. And even as they settled down under the shed out in the back with glasses of lemonade and plates of curry and chicken with rice, she was itching to know more.

“Never been to Suriname actually,” those emerald eyes settled on the shore over the river where the country bordered from south to north. “I actually had a chance of going there for a school trip but I didn’t have enough money. Sucks.”

“Your foster parents didn’t cough up the cash, I suppose?” Zelena noted how her sister remained quiet, her gaze settling on the blonde. The last time she had seen Regina gaze at someone in that manner was with Daniel. Not even Robin could have that kind of attention cut out for him.

“They never gave me anything except food really,” Emma tried to pace herself whilst eating but she was famished. “This is really good, by the way,” she addressed Zelena.

The older woman smiled. “I’m known for my curry around here.”

Regina gazed out into the thick growth of forest on the other side of the river and she seemed to fall into a trance. Three hours of non-stop talking between management about the new branch to be opened. Filled with George and Simon arguing over the competition and the impact on sales when all she had desperately needed was to stay with Emma.

Catching herself falling into that trail of thoughts and feelings again, the brunette blinked and swallowed hard. Reaching for her glass, she sipped a little and glanced at the blonde who was engaging Zelena in conversation still.

“Well when I was at the orphanage we had cooking classes,” Emma was saying. “Sister Georgina always came so close to swearing after we ended up burning something.”

“Nuns,” Zelena shuddered. “Virgins in shrouds. Bloody frightening.”

“You don’t like virgins?” Emma smiled in amusement.

“It’s not that I don’t like them,” Zelena said, considering her plate. “It’s just that five years at Saint Joseph’s with them breathing down my neck was enough. My skirt was always too short. My hair was always too messy. I could never pass Math.”

“I never liked wearing my shirt inside my skirt,” the blonde said. She could feel those brown eyes resting on her and could not still that racing heart. “I hated wearing bras too.”

“Any woman who likes wearing a bra must be absolutely bonkers,” said Zelena.

“I like wearing bras,” Regina contributed finally so that both pairs of eyes shifted to her.

Her sister sighed. “You don’t have a choice. You’re a size thirty eight, and possibly fuller in some brands. Plus you’re always around men. Wouldn’t want them to see your pointers.”

“You make me sound like a shy stripper who simply refuses to peel away her clothes for money,” the brunette never skipped a beat.

Emma snorted. She hid her laugh behind a fist and Zelena followed after with a peal of laughter.

Although those emerald eyes briefly considered Regina’s chest all for guilty pleasure, she immediately diverted them. But something inside her stirred. Something that arose from having an absolutely genuine fancy about the older woman’s body, every curve. And now, wild fascination about her bra size, especially after receiving a sneak preview when the brunette had slipped out of her shirt and displayed that black vest.

“In more ways than one, I am a size 36,” Zelena revealed.

“What do you mean, in more ways than one?” Regina wanted to know with a frown. “Do your breasts go through cycles like the moon?”

Emma couldn’t hold back her laughter. She clung onto the ledge that went around the hut and felt bursts of joy string around her chest.

“I’m talking about pregnancy then after then you know when your girls seem to grow fuller before your period. And stop looking at me as if I’m sprouting a pair of wings,” Zelena stared at her sister.

“I can’t believe we’re having this conversation,” Regina picked up her glass and sipped. “Allow me to comment on the beautiful view. I suppose that neither of you have noticed the darkening sky with the most breathtaking highlight on the swaying trees? Just there,” she pointed as Emma’s heart sighed from the brunette’s string of words, “do you see that part in the trees?”

She couldn’t help it. The blonde gazed at Regina a little longer before following the direction pointed out.

“Isn’t that the place where the undercover boat smuggling people without papers dock?” Zelena’s plate was empty already. She leaned back and seemed satisfied.

“Yes. But just between the trees following that path, there is a little shop that sells the tastiest roti and curry I have ever come across. Onto this day… What?” Regina noted her sister frowning.

“After all this time. After I have been there for you. After you’ve been my favourite person in the word, you’re going to sit there and insult me. Because my curry is the best.” Zelena’s accent grew stronger as she felt somewhat saddened.

“Alright dear,” Regina’s eyes fell onto Emma who was sitting in the corner, studying the brunette intensely, “forgive me for even mentioning that.”

The silence between them grew, with Zelena smiling eventually with her sister, easily forgiven as always and the blonde resorting to pinning those emerald orbs onto a speedboat cutting through the murky waters.

It was peaceful to sit out there and merely face the expanse of water, parts shimmering from the midday sun and other parts appearing so black as the light died. The scene was amazing, with the thick forest lining the other side from north to south and the small parts between the trees.

Eventually, Zelena took their plates and went down the path towards the house, leaving the other two to confide in each other.

At first, Emma and Regina glanced at each other, both offering small smiles and then returning their gaze onto the water. A blue and white ferry tooted by, with a man lounging on a chair on deck and heading inland. Then small flocks of white birds took to the sky above the opposite line of forest. As they were swallowed into the depths of green, the brunette enacted her intense gaze at the younger woman.

Was she healing?

Those little smiles that had been offered and her bursts of laughter; signals that darkness leaked out and happiness seeped in. But as she could recall, for a while after being entirely swallowed by that dreadful, empty feeling, happiness always lost its battle.

“Are you ready to talk to me a little more about last night?” Regina tried, her husky voice low enough but audible.

Emma connected their eyes and felt her heart flutter. “I don’t have a lot to say.”

The brunette blinked. She then offered a sympathetic look. “Okay, your lack of words is granted as entirely acceptable. But since I have been there, more than once, is there anything you wish to ask me?”

The selection of that question and where it arose from piqued the blonde’s attention. Immediately what came to mind and brushed her thoughts was the notebook; the one where the older woman had spilled out her secrets. Guilty, Emma did feel but sitting there in that understanding attitude, instead of feeling that Regina simply would not be able to relate; it was satisfying.

“Do you think that you’re alive for a reason?” Emma leaned forward a little, legs parted and the pink jersey Zelena had given her to slip into earlier gave the blonde a softer look.

“Well that’s a quite a deep question,” Regina commented with a toss back of her dark hair. The wind swept those strands and chased along on its way. “I have tried to end my life more than once and I’ve survived. So am I alive for a reason? I would like to think so.”

“Do you know what it is as yet?” the blonde asked, lacing her fingers together.

“After last night, I wonder if I was kept alive to save you.” The intense look she received from the younger woman was something that took her breath away. Instantly, Regina sat there and could literally feel the power of a look that lasted for several seconds. “When you look at me like that,” there was a knot in her throat, “I feel as if I’m the most special person in the world.”

“You are,” Emma croaked. Tears filled her eyes. Immediately, those pink lips were bitten and she stared hard at the ground. No. Don’t cry, she thought inwardly. Don’t show how weak you are. Try to show some kind of progress that after meeting her, you’ve become a little stronger.

Regina gazed back and felt her chest crack. “You don’t have to hide your tears from me,” she said softly. “I know how you feel, Emma. I know how every single breath you take, it feels like a struggle right now. Your heart feels as if it has sunk so low in your chest, you can’t feel every beat. But rest assured, with one hour at a time, you will regain yourself. But you cannot do it alone. I will help you.”

“Why are you being so nice to me?” Emma lifted her face and displayed how those cheeks were wet. “I don’t understand why you didn’t just give me a lecture and dropped me off so that I could go my own way.”

The brunette frowned. “It saddens me terribly that you have never been showed the closest definition to love and care. You’ve been walking through hell for so many years, my genuine care offered seems so alien, doesn’t it?”

The younger woman nodded. A light wind lifted her blonde hair and played with the tendrils. She reached up and tucked them behind an ear.

“I’ll tell you this much,” Regina’s face showed nothing but softness. “Throughout the entire meeting this morning, I was physically in that room,” she raised her eyebrows, “but mentally, I was thinking about you. What you were doing. How you were feeling. Fearing that Zelena would miss you for just a minute and you would make another attempt. Because when one finds a lifeline, it’s almost parasitic how we tend to cling to that person to exist. And when I left you here this morning, I felt how this…bond between us was slightly severed.” She used her hands to gesture from the younger woman to her chest.

“I didn’t want you to leave me,” Emma avoided eye contact. It was hard enough to sit in the same space as the brunette. Because she was clinging so tight to her without touching her, it was driving the blonde crazy. “Do you watch Supernatural? The series?” briefly, she lifted her gaze and brown eyes latched onto emerald ones.

“Yes,” Regina nodded.

“Well,” the blonde looked down again, using her hands to somewhat ease the tension by gesticulating, “last night I literally was in hell, like Dean and then you dragged me out of there like Castiel did. And it’s like, there’s this bond between us now for real. I’ve never felt this bond with anyone else for a long time now. It happened once before but not so much. But now it’s there and it’s new to me again.”

“I raised you from perdition,” Regina offered a small smile.

The quote from Supernatural made Emma return the same expression. “Pretty much.”

“I’m going to stay the night and then return to Georgetown tomorrow afternoon,” the brunette confessed. Her gaze was cool. The gold watch she had on glinted a little as her wrist moved.

Emma bowed her head. “And then we go our separate ways…”

“Certainly not,” Regina returned in a tone that suggested disbelief. “My humble abode is large enough to accommodate someone else. You will be staying with me in one of the guest rooms for as long as you want.”

“I don’t want to invade your personal space like that –“

“I want you to invade my personal space,” the brunette said without realizing how direct her words were. The blonde stared at her, unable to breathe from that suggestive statement that wasn’t really uttered deliberately with that meaning. “I’ve been living by myself for so long, I’m lonely. It would be pleasant to have someone else there for a change.”

“Then I’ll have to pay you rent, okay?” Emma’s eyes were huge.

“Stuff and nonsense,” Regina waved that off, “until I say so. For now, all you need is to heal. Where do you work?”

The blonde elaborated on her job at a supermarket as a cashier. The pay sucked but it was some kind of income, at least to get somewhere. At times, she wished that university had been an option but there were girls who didn’t go that far and girls who were fortunate to. She had always been the unfortunate one. Emma couldn’t even recall if she had ever owned something that wasn’t second hand.

The clothes she wore to work were hand me downs from her foster mother. Plain shirts with no design. A girl at work had passed down three tailored black pants to her a year ago. None of this she mentioned to Regina, afraid of being seen as a pity case. But one could tell from the quality of her clothes that they had been owned for more than two years. The knee high boots she had on was earned when she had covered for her foster sister after the girl snuck out several nights to meet a guy.

The red leather jacket…

Emma considered it as she sat there and could still remember when she had stolen it from a yard sale at the age of eighteen.

“Suits you well,” Regina seemed to read her mind as those brown eyes studied the garment. “Care to tell me why you chose red?”

The blonde shrugged. “Red makes me feel strong…I guess.”

“Is that why you take it everywhere you go?” the older woman tilted her head. “Because you could have left it in the hotel room. But it’s here. With you.”

“I can’t put it on because it’s hot out here. And I haven’t been feeling strong for a long time now.”

“But you were wearing it last night,” Regina reminded her.

“I was feeling…cold,” Emma said.

“Pity it didn’t make you feel strong in that moment,” the older woman blinked. “But then in those moments, all material things become obsolete. If people can no longer matter in your darkest time, then why should a jacket?”

Emma sighed.

But there was something else; that much Regina could decipher from the weight of the act the night before. Something that was pulling the blonde down still, and killing her. And she would not explain what it was. Regina decided to take the most direct approach.

“I don’t believe that your foster parents’ actions was sufficient to drag you down,” she levelled her eyes with emerald ones. “There is something…else. Something quite substantial that is acting as a disease because you simply cannot speak about it. And I would like you to understand that when we choose to expel that burden onto someone else, it no longer feels toxic. Whatever it is,” she observed how the blonde’s gaze slipped away, “I would like you to confide in me.”

If only it was that easy.

If only every single time someone said that, they meant it and would stick around. Instead, the times she had confided in someone, and had opened up, even her favourite teacher treated the confession like a sickness. She was referred to another teacher who excelled in counselling. And from thereon, Emma felt the need to keep everything inside.

“I’ve told you all there is,” Emma lied.

“No you haven’t.” Regina’s brown eyes were soft although the refusal to believe in the blonde’s words was evident.

“I have,” the younger woman said in a small voice. She avoided eye contact again.

“I don’t want to bring this into light in fear that I might sound quite severe,” the brunette began, “but after I saved your life, don’t you think that you owe me that much? The whole truth? What drove you to stand in the middle of the road? Because I want to know what it is? I want to know where that knife is embedded so I can remove it.”

“I…um,” Emma reached up to tuck blonde hair behind both ears as she stared at her boots, “…want to use the washroom. I’ll be back.”

“It’s fine,” Regina hugged herself as those brown eyes glistened from tears suddenly. “I’m quite used to the feeling of caring so much for someone with every beat of your heart and yet…” she shrugged, “you’re not privileged enough to be fully trusted.”

Her words stoned the blonde as she stood there and literally felt like crumbling.

“Go on and use the washroom as your escape,” Regina didn’t mean to sound bitter but emotions got in the way, which had nothing entirely to do with Emma but stemmed from her past. “I’ll be here alone. As always.”

For a long time, the blonde stood where she was as tears filled her eyes. She couldn’t understand how one woman’s words had such a massive impact on her. It was like life had so much meaning now.

Should she tell her? Could she? What if this was the last time they could really sit down so close to each other and talk with such openness and sincerity? Suppose Regina casted her out and gave up?

But looking at how crestfallen the older woman appeared, she couldn’t just walk away. The blonde had to gather up all her strength to push out the truth.

“I’m gay, Regina,” she said, as her voice trembled and her hands trembled and her heart stopped beating.

Those brown eyes lifted up immediately to connect with emerald ones. What was displayed was a look of complete interest. Not in a negative way. But more like intrigue.

“I’ve said it,” Emma flung out her arms. “The reason why I wanted to jump in front of a vehicle and I still feel as if I want to just die because I’m gay. And I can’t live with myself because…” her tears flowed like a river, “…I can’t be myself at all.”

“Why can’t you be yourself?” Regina croaked, as those dark eyes grew fiery. “Who the hell had the audacity to tell you that?”

The blonde stared back at how she hadn’t been judged.  It wasn’t the reaction that had been anticipated. Possibly a scornful look, followed by the diversion of eyes and then a change of topic. Or something along the lines of ‘well, it’s not something I accept but it’s your choice and I respect you for that’.

“I just feel that way.”

“Well you might have felt that way around your foster family or anywhere else, but when you’re with me, you should never ever feel as if you can’t be yourself.” Regina’s brown eyes offered quite a strained look, almost as if she was trying to swallow a large volcanic eruption of emotions.

Emma was rooted to the spot as the wind swept around them and the heat would not leave the riverside. Or maybe the heat was emanating from within. From inside her heart. She stared at the brunette.

“Being gay should not be so severe that a beautiful soul like yours would want to leave this world. Ever.” The brunette blinked back tears. “You’re perfectly flawed. So am I. Anyone who dares to tell you love has boundaries does not know the definition of love.”

She was so impressed by those words, the blonde felt weak. Uncertain of what to do or say, a shrug was offered. Then feeling as if she would break down and cry, embarrassing herself further, Emma turned around. She then went down the path towards the house.

Somewhere in there would be a place to conceal the breakdown, most likely the washroom. And her destination led straight to that same room, where the door was pressed close as Zelena rested on the couch watching television.

And Emma, hunched over the sink, began to shake from crying.

Never before had anyone ever responded like that. For as long as her mind could stretch back to when the feeling was first experienced and she had been so terrified, the blonde used to turn to God to heal her. Bent down on her knees like a fallen warrior, she used to pray and pray that that overwhelming ‘sinful thought’ would disintegrate. Especially when Lily would brush past her. No one ever understood.

She remembered during a weekend trip before Confirmation, a youth event the Catholic Church held that was organized at a retreat house on the coast when the truth had somehow slipped out.

The heavy presence of respect for religion. Spending the night in a room with twelve girls as they dished out stories about boys whilst her world revolved around Lily. And then…

It had been during a late afternoon ‘confessional’ with a priest. Emma had told Father Alex that being different to her always felt like a sin and when he asked why, at the age of sixteen, she confessed that Lily was seen as more than a friend. As someone she would want to marry above any other guy.

Father Alex had taken one disappointed look at the blonde and asked that she return to the other room to recite twelve Hail Mary’s, so that Mary would lead her thoughts in the right path.

Putting religion aside though since that much was indeed expected, there had been the one time that shattered her at the age of eighteen. Confiding in a teacher had been the worst idea ever, as depression had kicked in and she felt so alone. Because when someone you looked up to promised that they would never pass judgment, and the opposite occurred, where could a young girl turn to next?

The humiliation of remembering how she walked into the assembly hall and faced Miss Davis, another person whom she had deeply liked, only to sit down and discover that her Law teacher related the ‘distressed case’ to this other woman. Explaining that she, Emma, appeared suicidal and needed guidance immediately and that the Law teacher felt threatened, that the blonde may have an unhealthy crush on her.

Emma leaned over the sink and couldn’t breathe as the memories came flooding into her mind. She grabbed the faucet and turned the handle. Cold water gushed out. The spray spurted up into her face and she welcomed it whilst also cupping some more to splash onto that paler face.

Almost being expelled from University because another lecturer felt threatened that Emma admired her a little too much when she unearthed that the younger woman was gay. Literally feeling her heart freeze over when she was confronted and those tears…rushing forth easily because of being simply terrified. Being placed before the Dean in a chair, and asked questions. Being accused of things she hadn’t done or said. Being sent to two months counselling all because she had denied those lies and also denied her sexuality to save her position at the institution.

Now, someone had slipped into her life who happened to know all the right things to say and Emma couldn’t understand why.

It was an illusion, wasn’t it? Maybe a vehicle had flattened her and this was some kind of resting place between Heaven and Hell where the bad experiences in life could twist into good ones. Where things left unsettled were smoothened. Because there had been so many other times that women especially treated her like being gay was an STD.

But Regina comforted her. Sheltered her. Soothed her pain. And was saving her in so many ways.

Someone lightly knocked on the bathroom door.

“Emma, are you in there?” That husky voice.

The blonde froze up. Her entire body felt like an ice cube but from within, that heart still beat and generated so much warmth from just being fully aware that Regina was out there and she really cared.

“Yeah,” the blonde said weakly. She scrubbed at her eyes. Face contorting from crying again, Emma hugged herself and stared at a pale faced woman that could have been dead.

Maybe she was in hell?

“Will you come outside?” Regina sounded so far away, although she was merely four feet away and behind the door. “I need to talk to you.”

Emma couldn’t answer.

There was a frog in her throat. And staring at how her hands trembled, the blonde turned off the faucet then allowed the silence to fill the air.

“Emma, please open the door,” the brunette said, this time with worry intermingled in her tone.

She needed time. Space to breathe. Seconds to turn into minutes where there was no human interaction. Just the silence that rang with words and memories and bitter looks from scorned people who had crossed paths with her. Who had scratched and tore at those walls, just like Lily had. Just as Lily had destroyed her and as Mallie had done to Regina.

“Emma,” Regina rattled the doorknob. “Please…if you don’t open the door in the next four seconds, I swear to God that I will kick it down.”

The urgency in the older woman’s voice. The blonde soon realized that Regina’s sole purpose wasn’t to invade her space, but she was genuinely worried after another terrible thought. That Emma would try to end her life again. That she was behind that door with a razor from the shelf and the next move could severe their connection forever.

Rushing to turn the knob, she unlocked the door and stood back whilst trembling. Because when one realizes that there is at least a single soul who ultimately cares for them, flaws and all, the thought of dying evaporates. Hugging herself, the blonde couldn’t breathe when the gap widened over the threshold and their eyes met.

Immediately, Regina rushed forward, with tears in her eyes and she engulfed Emma into an embrace that would have possibly dragged the younger woman’s soul back to earth had she tried to escape.

Her warm. Feeling how soft she was and shaking from worry most certainly cracked those walls the blonde had been holding up. To have another woman so close, as she could feel every part of her as they remained in a hug; it was like stepping out into the open air after being contained in a poorly ventilated room and knowing somehow that freedom didn’t only define releasing one’s self from shackles. But freedom also meant when the soul escapes from a cage that had been created by everyone’s prejudiced minds.

“Don’t you ever lock yourself away from me again,” Regina said as she held Emma’s face between her palms and their eyes locked. Tears still wet those pale cheeks. The urgency in her gaze signaled that above all, the blonde’s assured existence was all that mattered. “Are you okay?” she used cupped fingers afterwards to lightly caress a flushed face.

Emma’s emerald eyes were huge, just the same as the night when she had been rescued. “I am…now,” she croaked.

“Then why did you leave me?” Regina wanted to know, her throaty voice giving away how emotions took over.

The blonde shook a little within the older woman’s grasp. “Because of what you said.” She was at a loss for words.

Regina frowned though. “But didn’t I say the right things?”

“That’s why.”

The brunette gazed into those emerald eyes and she immediately understood what had occurred. In fact, the depth of such an understanding shook her heart because of falling into memories that revolved around the same instance. Of having the right things finally uttered by one person; her sister after trying to commit suicide. And Zelena hadn’t ever judged her for it.

In this case, it was about Emma’s sexuality. Something as severe as anything else where emotions rested heavily on opinions even when one would try to disregard such a thing. Then all of a sudden, a soul swept by who was quite willing to see past the shrouds of imperfections and into that raw, beating heart. The one part of anyone that provided enough clarity on their truest form that nothing else could hide.

A man could be fake as he hides behind words. But cut him down by placing his soul into a situation and see where the heart sighs or races or falls still.

“You need not run from me,” Regina sheltered Emma with an invisible umbrella that shielded the blonde from the harsh world and its judgments. “Now let’s hit the road. I want us to both take a few hours of rest before I take you out to dinner.”

The idea was so suggestive. Again. The younger woman, as they pulled apart from the embrace, couldn’t take her gaze away from the brunette. Because when a woman speaks such beautiful things to you and holds you and then she throws out her willingness to take you to dinner; only love cried out in the silence that had been left by many others who failed.


 

                                                                                                                               --

During the car ride back to the hotel, as the afternoon sun warmed her fair arms, Emma drowned in a daydream that centered on the two of them. Where the pleasant feeling of just being in Regina’s company for a prolonged period made her toes curl and evidently, the mere fact that someone wanted to spend time with her was a definite sign of being absolutely special. She was treasured.

By three o’clock, Regina was passed out on the bed, curled up like a comma and peacefully swept into her own dreams. Dreams that, just like the blonde, revolved around the two of them where after saving that one lost soul, a deep connection was initiated. A link which grew stronger and stronger as their time together increased and no matter how hard the doubts kept tugging at her mind, Regina found that she easily gave into the awakening feelings developing inside.

Like little flutters, love had been playing at her heartstrings. Until that morning when she sat in a room filled with managers from the board and the brunette became captivated by a particular face.

That little smile.

Those emerald eyes how huge they could grow when she was scared or unsure of what to do or when she was trying to pick the brunette’s brains to discover what was hidden inside. No matter how those facts presented were important for further analysis to forecast trends, the older woman zoned everyone’s voices out and she focused on that fluttery feeling.

Those little tremors when they gazed at each other. Knowing, as she slept, that wondering what it would feel like to kiss another woman was evidently going to unfold inside her dreams. The way another woman would taste as compared to a man. The way Emma would feel. So soft and warm. So reassuring because of the presence of understanding. Knowing the substance of moods and emotions and hormones and the importance of displaying affections and talking about feelings.

Things the men she dated never understood.

And all the while as Regina slept, Emma had the older woman’s iPad connected to Netflix and even as she tried to focus on an episode of Supernatural, those emerald eyes rested on the sleeping form of an angel. The way her chest rose and fell. Her fingers curled up against her chest. The swell of her breasts. The curl of her toes that bore red nail polish. And the curve of her hips.

Just like Maya Angelou’s poem, Regina was a “Phenomenal Woman”.

Dinner was by far the one moment in her entire life thus far that she would always remember due to the intensity of emotions attached to words that flowed between them.

It wasn’t just a bond. But it was an experience that opened so many more doors to explore their relationship; at times, Emma wondered if it was even possible to feel the way she did. To sit across from someone at a table with the view of the river as the sky faded from orange to pink then velvet and finally black. And to never even notice the beautiful scenery beyond their window apart from the one seated opposite from her.

She chose the preferred dish containing a hamburger and fries whilst Regina settled on a plate of vegetable fried rice with baked chicken and a side order of potato salad. And as they sipped on their opposing drink choices: Pepsi and passion fruit juice, the conversation flowed from one topic to the next without any strained effort to formulate sentences or to chase after thoughts that one feared might never be shared.

“Three times in a row I got the most nominations,” Emma was saying as she chewed on a fry. The black shirt with red flowers the blonde had slipped into belonged to the older woman. “And my photo went up on the board in the lunch room. If I get the most votes for a fourth time, I’ll be the Service Ambassador.”

“You will get the most votes for the fourth time,” Regina neatly pried apart her chicken with the knife and fork. “I’m so proud of you. You are the kind of young woman that will go so far in life.”

Those emerald eyes blinked slowly. Emma swallowed and could literally feel her chest swell with the warmest kind of feeling. “Yeah, well,” she shrugged, “it’s all up to the customers to nominate me. So I don’t know as yet.”

“Just be yourself.”

“But…you only know me so far as dreary and like…” the blonde shrugged, “depressed.”

Regina narrowed her eyes although smiling. “On the contrary, I have seen your smile. It is so contagious. And your warmth. It is…influencing. In customer service, such things must flow naturally instead of being forced.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll tell you what,” the brunette rested her knife down noiselessly and offered a little smile, “I bet that you will secure that title after gaining the most votes for the fourth time. And when that happens, I want you to do one thing for me.”

“What’s that?” Emma’s eyes grew huge again.

As always, Regina admired the cutest look she had ever seen on a woman. “I want you to allow me to take you out afterwards to a Caribbean island of your choice where you will be pampered and treated like a Princess.”

“I’ll only go if my Queen goes with me,” those emerald eyes offered a mischievous look.

For a moment, possibly a brush of seconds to pass, nothing was said by the brunette as her smile faded bit by bit. Although a soft expression still remained, the display of somehow being caught in those words was evident and not too fast to conceal. Therefore, it was enough to signal to the blonde that she had said something out of line. And biting back her words, Emma immediately felt as if she had ruined the evening by being suggestive.

They remained silent for a long time. The stretch of minutes felt like hours to both of them. And in that time, the brunette couldn’t take her eyes away from the younger woman, simply because having someone be that suggestive wasn’t something normal. It wasn’t expected, hadn’t been, for a long time. And when you’re used to having someone treat you a certain way, when that line is crossed and they begin to explore more satisfying options, something feels off.

But nothing was off, was it?

She was entirely aware of Emma’s sexuality. Up to that point, Regina realized that she had possibly met one gay woman in her life and that was Maggie, who worked in the branch from Saint Vincent and seldom came over to Guyana to visit. Their paths crossed twice a year if they were lucky. But engaging someone who was gay wasn’t an often occurrence to the brunette.

Emma was simply falling into a comfort zone where she felt that exposing her true self shouldn’t be a problem.

It wasn’t as if the blonde was in love with her, Regina thought. Because from her side of the table, she was pretty old already and too sophisticated to even draw the younger woman’s eyes. A girl like Emma would want thrills. She would crave for a love that entailed adventures and being well versed in those young people drama shows and books that were in fashion.

Something Regina never delved into. Because she never had the time. Her life had become so routine. From work, she took herself home and settled down with a book and the evening news. Then bed. Then the next day, it was the same thing repeatedly unless someone invited her out for drinks. The weekends were filled with packing things around the house, doing the laundry, ironing her work clothes, and possibly a movie by herself.

“I’m sorry if I said something wrong,” Emma suddenly said as those emerald orbs glistened with tears. “I’m always saying something wrong. That’s why I don’t have friends and I can’t keep them. I always say something crappy that chases people away.”

“No,” Regina blinked as she grew shocked from such a speech. “My dear, you haven’t said anything wrong.”

“Then why did you just stop talking to me?” the blonde’s voice was hoarse. She blinked and her lips quivered a little.

“I…” the older woman’s chest heaved, “found myself honestly thinking about what it must be like for a Queen to have a Princess instead of a King. And well…you know…” she waved her hand a bit, “vice versa. In terms of a happily ever after.”

“Don’t lie to me,” Emma said without showing any kind of amusement, “I know that I freaked you out. And right now you just want to run away from me.”

Terribly wounded as her chest ached, the brunette’s forehead creased as she leaned forward. “Why would I want to run away from you when all I’ve been doing is trying to bring us closer together?”

“You…” The blonde believed that she had been equipped with a substantial feedback but realized that after processing those words, she drew a blank.

“Emma, you didn’t freak me out,” Regina explained in a soft tone. All around them everyone engaged in their own conversation with light laughter. “Your words resembled something with such depth that I felt the need to sit back and absorb how you made me feel. Quite...a day it has been for both of us, hasn’t it?” She tried a smile.

Although the younger woman’s lips twitched, she didn’t return one. “You’re still trying to get used to me being gay. And then when you realize what it means, you’ll just leave like everyone else did.”

“When someone leaves, it means that they never cared, sweetheart,” Regina offered. “I didn’t leave you on that road to die. I didn’t leave you at a road corner on our way up here to find your journey by yourself. I didn’t leave you in the hotel room this morning and disappeared. I stayed with you and I returned. I’m not everyone. And you being gay does not upset me.”

“Then how do you feel about it?” Emma wanted to know as her eyes burned from tears. “I just want to know.”

For a long time the brunette did not reply. But their eyes remained connected.

“It’s nothing really,” the blonde said after some time had passed. Lowering her gaze to the half-eaten burger, she sighed. “I know how most people feel about it already. Especially women. You might claim that you don’t judge me for it but I know that deep down inside you’re hoping that I don’t flirt with you or kiss you because then you’ll have to hurt me by telling me the truth.”

“And…the truth is?” Regina croaked, already feeling her heart strain from within its cage as those thoughts seeped in and destroyed her.

“That you don’t feel the same way for me as I feel about you,” Emma said without holding back. She was shaking. Her fingers were shaky. Her hands were clammy. And she just wanted to disappear after those words were uttered.

Regina was at a loss for words. Never before since they met had she fallen short like that. Words always flowed between them easily. But now, after that heartfelt confession, the brunette sank in her chair and was showered with the warmth of words that generated such overwhelming feelings. Feelings of uncertainty. Of not knowing how to respond. Of being aware that she felt something between them but hadn’t believed that it was even possible to have those feelings become something mutual.

After all, they had met each other in the most incredulous of circumstances.

But then, isn’t that how the best love stories began? Wasn’t love supposed to begin with a tragedy that was eventually smoothened out to reflect the depth of love and how it could heal?

“I think I have to go my own way now,” Emma suddenly said with tears in her eyes from across the table. She was staring at Regina and couldn’t stop herself from shaking. “Before I ruin your life as I always do to people.”

Running, was her only option.

“If you get up,” Regina began in a very hoarse voice, “and if you leave me, I swear to God that I will follow you until you realize that we don’t walk separate paths anymore. We walk the same path. I will not…let you walk away from me.” Those brown eyes filled with tears. “I’m not going to let someone as special as you leave me. I’ve never had someone like you in my life apart from my sister. And now that I have you, I will not lose you.”

She crumbled. All those words. Emma’s face contorted and her lips trembled and she felt the tears flowing down her cheeks and couldn’t stop them. Her entire body cracked as those walls crashed down. As the world unfolded around them and in that moment, nothing else mattered but being with each other. Being with her. Absorbing those words and feeling how her heart sang.

“I’m not someone you want in your life,” Emma tried to push her away. “I ruin things.”

“Then by all means, be as chaotic as you wish with me,” Regina was fully equipped this time to respond. “Because we’ve both had a good twirl around in our hurricanes and all those cracks inside of you, I have the same ones in me too. You can’t ruin me.” The brunette offered a weak smile. “Only someone who doesn’t see me for who I am can do that. And you already know some.”

When in truth, Emma realized that she had become familiar with even more of the older woman’s life than expected through those pages of her diary.

Regina reached for her glass of passion fruit juice and sucked on the straw. The tinkle of cutlery around them occasionally brushed the silence. A strong wind was gushing around outside, and swaying the trees as the skies became overcast.

“I want to know more about you,” Emma braved the odds, realizing that since they were in so deep already, swimming in the deep end, then pushing a little further wouldn’t be considered as bruising their relationship.

“What do you have in mind?” the brunette leaned forward and rested her chin on those curled up fingers with her right elbow on the table.

She was so beautiful. So perfectly flawed but absolutely astonishing to look at. Even from across the distance, her brown eyes were the warmest shade that reminded the blonde of melting chocolates. When those eyelashes fluttered, Emma gazed and latched herself onto everything.

“What’s a normal day like for you?” she decided to initiate their conversation with the simplest.

Regina thought about it and smiled a little. The waiter came to carry away their plates and in that time, brown eyes merely considered emerald ones coolly. Although Emma was trying hard not to smile, afraid of appearing too playful, she found herself leaning forward with arms folded upon the table.

“I wake up at 6. Then I blend my smoothie which mostly consists of vegetables and fruits. Then I…” those slim fingers trailed a path along the rim of her glass, “…do some stretches whilst listening to something favourably upbeat. After which I drink my smoothie, I take a shower. Dress for work. And then I feed my cat.”

“You have a cat?” Emma’s eyes widened. Her cheeks coloured a little.

“Yes,” the brunette nodded. “Marie. She’s a ginger. Well…light yellow ears and the rest of her is completely white. Except for her nose and those gorgeous green eyes.”

“Aww,” the blonde squeezed her fists together as she became ecstatic over the little darling. “I love cats. At the orphanage, we had a litter with like ten and I used to take care of them.”

“The most innocent kind of love to ever exist, when you have a pet,” Regina noted in a mellow tone. “Marie runs to me when I get home. Every morning I regret leaving her all by herself.”

“No one likes to be left alone, although they lie about it,” Emma said.

The brunette blinked slowly. Her fingers curled a little upon the table. “We’ve both been on our own since we were born, hmm?”

The blonde nodded. “But you have your sister.”

“I have my sister. You can have someone there for you and still feel lonely,” Regina explained in a soft tone. “When I was growing up, Zelena lived with my mother in Georgetown whilst I lived with my father in Essequibo. It took me a little over two hours travelling to see my sister. And when I got to see her, I couldn’t even tell her certain things with my mother breathing down our backs. The best times were when she would travel to Essequibo to visit me. My father, you would have loved him. He died ten years ago. And when Zelena visited in the summer, he would put up this tent outdoors in the open space because in Port Kaituma the houses are so far apart. So we would have our own little adventures out there with a fireplace and we’d do BBQ and mashed potatoes. Back then, there was no kind of mobile devices or laptops. Just nature, us and bonding.” She was smiling. The radiant look exhibited from those brown eyes suggested that those memories were the best memories.

“I wish I could just get away and sleep under the stars,” Emma contributed.

“But even out there in the open, with my sister, I felt alone,” Regina confessed. “I felt as if she would never understand me and what I was going through. How I was feeling. Ever since I was young, Emma, I’ve always been different.”

“Different, how?” the blonde wanted to know, holding her breath.

The older woman sighed. “I’ll tell you what I always would tell Zelena. Since I was five.” She tilted her head and considered the sky outside. “You’re aware of how a shattered shard of glass looks without any definite shape, hmm?”

Emma nodded. “All those jagged edges.”

“Exactly,” Regina nodded. “I have always felt like that. All those jagged edges. All those edges protruding and feeling quite…awkward. Never fitting in with girls my age. Never…relating to them.”

It was the blonde’s turn to sigh. She studied the folded up white tissue before her. “And I thought that we couldn’t be anymore similar to each other. It’s definitely a myth that opposites always attract each other.”

Regina shrugged. “But homogeneity can become boring after some time…”

“Not if you understand the person to an extent where you build them up and by doing so, you’re also motivated to become a better person…”

The brunette nodded slowly.

“I think that when you have the same goals as someone, you’re able to understand what they want more. Especially if they’re further along than you in life and they can help you get there too.”

“Would you prefer the term ‘role model’? Regina suggested.

“Nah,” Emma shook her head. “Not really. Oprah and Mother Teresa are my role models. But I don’t want to sleep with them…”

The brunette was about to say something but those words were somehow swallowed. Her red painted lips remained parted.

After realizing how forward she was in her statement, the blonde froze up. “I mean, I’m speaking in general. For me. If I…” she was growing nervous, “…I’ve been in the situation before where I became attracted to someone because they were good looking and they were inspirational. But I’ve never been attracted to Oprah. As in, I’d want to say that I have a crush on her. But she’s a role model.”

“I’ve never been attracted to…a…woman,” Regina said with a straight face, her voice growing huskier as those brown eyes directed an intense look at the younger woman. “So I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be attracted to your role model.”

Emma’s chest pained a little to realize that it was now evident that the brunette wasn’t hiding the fact that she was gay. But obviously, she had been straight all her life and it was something that not only dampened her spirits but also created a disappointing feeling. Knowing that the facts were presented now and even if she had hoped for something different, then a brick wall was revealed.

Instead of contributing to what had been said, the blonde took her glass of water and sipped on it. All the while, those emerald eyes rested on anything else but the woman sitting across the table.

“It’s good to know that Oprah is your role model though,” Regina continued after two minutes had passed. “And Mother Teresa. Teresa was exceptionally selfless.”

The blonde merely nodded. Her chest was on fire.

“Have you…ever seen qualities in a man that you would consider as…perhaps…favourable?”

“If you’re asking me if a man has ever been some kind of crush to me then no,” Emma said a little too stiffly.

“I’m not talking about crush-wise,” Regina said hoarsely, “I’m talking about…qualities that you would want to see in yourself.”

“A woman can do anything a man can except when it comes to down there biologically speaking,” the blonde’s eyes were glassy as she rested them on the view outside.

“The same way you become attracted to a woman because of her qualities, isn’t it possible that a man can –“

“I’m gay,” Emma interrupted a little too harshly. “I’m not into men. I’ve never been. There is one man who motivates me to be a better person and that’s my boss and he’s gay. But he’s like a mentor….”

“Emma…” Regina said softly.

“And I have guy friends and I’ve had guys who have liked me that are my friends in that way but I can’t be with a guy. Intimately, I just can’t. It doesn’t work for me. I’m literally grossed out when I think of it. I’ve been there once and I don’t ever want to do it again.”

“Emma, I was…” Regina’s eyes fluttered close and her chest heaved. The silence that followed was one that had a major impact on the other woman as she sat across the table and held her breath. “I was trying to bring forth the point that my father…has been the only man who has ever motivated me in my life. And when I did seek out a partner, I tried to find the same qualities in them.”

She had to absorb the words bit by bit whilst beginning to feel completely ashamed of herself. Believing that the brunette had been doubting her sexuality. All of it had been so painful.

“I was not trying to suggest that you should become familiar with a man and be intimate with him. That was not…” she shook her head, “my intention. I am aware that you are…gay.”

“I just thought that…” Emma felt her throat ache. She lowered her gaze to those fair fingers twisting in her lap. “Maybe you were trying to tell me that I might be confused about what I want.”

“Certainly not,” Regina frowned deeply. “I was subtly asking you if you have ever had a male person in your life, like my father, who has shown you what a good man is supposed to be like. Forgive me if my words came across as otherwise…disrespectful.”

“No, I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions,” Emma said, feeling a bit shaky. “I’ve had a few actually. But they come and go.”

They remained silent for a while. The drinks were replaced with new ones as the evening turned into the still of the night because in the rural area of Corriverton, the majority of the population slipped into bed before 8pm. Unless you were one of the frequent crowds who ended up in bars to have a few beers or whatever else.

By then, as the time neared the hour, Regina internally realized that something had changed between them. Something that had become so fragile, even a mere glance between their eyes suggested a terrifying link trembling from exposure. Something that was slowly beginning to poison the blonde across the table as she tried to sip on that glass of coke without displaying how deeply affected she was by whatever had occurred.

“Are you ready to leave?” Regina asked, the husky quality of her voice deepening. Those brown eyes glistened a little with tears as the shards in Emma’s soul separated from each other.

The blonde shrugged. She was playing with the folded up tissue. “If you want to.”

Regina felt the pain within her chest and she tried to breathe evenly. “I’m asking you what…you would like to do.”

“I don’t know,” Emma said. She folded her arms and sat back, posture reflecting nothing but fatigue in the moment.

Deciding to perhaps, take another approach in uplifting their conversation, Regina sat up and smiled a little although her heart was aching. “I was thinking that we could grab some ice cream tomorrow. What might your favourite flavour be? Chocolate? Vanilla?”

The blonde’s chest heaved as those emerald eyes still rested on the sky outside. “Vanilla.”

“And…” The older woman sat forward, trying to wear her smile longer, “…as I often do, I buy my toppings separate. For example…a,” she shrugged, “packet of Oreos might suffice. Or if you’re more inclined to sprinkles. We can get a bottle –“

“I’m not feeling well,” Emma suddenly interrupted in a downcast voice, “I’d like to leave.”

So it was evident now; the possibility existing that she had indeed fucked up. With her little speech about men and male figures and all the things. Every single time these kind of situations unfolded like this. Where a potential friend grew terribly disgusted by the topics or about what she favoured and eventually, their presence was no longer something that graced her life.

After taking care of payment, she rose whilst gathering her coat, and so did the blonde. All eye contact was avoided as they made their way to the Benz parked outside in the parking lot. Not even a thank you was offered when Regina purposely opened Emma’s door and awaited whilst the younger woman slipped in. Not even a small smile.

Back when she had been a teenager, there was a young man who received the same treatment when he took her to prom as his date. She was sixteen and unaware of how small gestures could impact someone’s life, even when he had made her aware of how cold she could become when love was concerned. When anyone tried to get in. And now, as Regina made her way around the car, she felt her heart literally scream in agony from how the connection between the two of them was being severed.


 

--

“I’m going to take a bus and head down tomorrow,” Emma suddenly said when they were within the confinements of the hotel room.

Regina, in the act of slipping on a pale pink nightgown was suddenly frozen on the spot. Not only had those words felt like little daggers. But also, the heart ache had grown to a terrible chest pain that was slowly beginning to kill her with ever beat.

“I can’t let you do that,” she found herself saying in a voice that didn’t sound familiar.

Their eyes met. But briefly. And then, Emma’s stare fell onto her lap as she sat on the bed, legs folded and shoulders slumped.

“You can’t make me stay. I’m not a kid. I can do what I want at this point. I don’t…think it’s best if I stay with you.”

“Because you have developed feelings for me?” Regina stopped breathing.

Their eyes met again and this time, the gaze was held as intense as it was. The kind that could win them an Oscar if the scene had been part of a movie. For all the deepest feelings were revealed. And even as those emerald orbs filled with tears, the brunette allowed her weakness to show too.

“Forgive me for saying this,” the older woman began hoarsely, “but you are not allowed to come into my life and sway me like this and then decide that you will leave me. I am not like the…damn gas station out there,” she gestured to the window, “where we first met, where you can stop in, take a refill and leave. I am a person,” she tossed her phone on the bed, “with feelings. I have become invested in making sure that you are by all means, on a path towards being happy again.”

“You can’t make me happy,” Emma croaked. She hugged herself and fell back onto the bed. Her stare rested on the ceiling. “No one can.”

“I want to try,” Regina continued, moving around the bed and entering the space between the two, “I want to keep you around so that you will not make the same mistakes I did.”

“Okay so now you’re talking to me as if you’re my mother,” the blonde squeezed her eyes shut and although she tried to swallow, there was a tennis ball in her throat. “Fuck my life.”

“It’s simple really,” the brunette explained, without catching the drift of Emma’s statement. “I have discovered that in these situations, one has to find something to hold onto. And to channel their passion into, just to feel that flame of life again. I want to help you find that.”

Emma remained silent. She could have pretended to be asleep but that wouldn’t work with Regina. The older woman had a funny way of knowing things. Of being aware of things. Emotions. Her thoughts. And it was scary that someone who hadn’t been in her life for long could have that connection with her.

“A good night’s sleep will calm us both,” Regina said, absolutely hopeful. “And in the morning, we will have breakfast, then I will drive us to one of my friends who owns a farm. Then on our way back, as promised, we will pick up two tubs of ice cream: vanilla and chocolate. Along with our preferred toppings.”

“What if you’re the flame in my life now?” Emma said softly. They were standing face to face. One of them folded up a t shirt whilst the other merely stared back, hands falling to her sides. “What if…every time I’m around you, it’s like my heart just wants more?”

The brunette stopped what she was doing and merely gazed back. “Then…we will find a way.”

But the younger woman sighed. Turning around, she began to shake her head from frustration. “You really don’t get it.”

“I…do,” Regina said.

“No, you don’t.”

“I do get it. I might not be well versed about exactly how a woman falls in love with another woman, but I have been in love before. I have been there. And I know what it is like and how your heart feels and what you yearn for.”

There would be no tomorrow spent between the two of them.

Emma pulled herself up towards the pillow and turned on her side.

Distance, would be best. Especially when she was now beginning to notice how the other woman simply did not feel the same way about her. In these cases, when one thought about how hopeless even trying would be, it was a little easier to move on. It would be hard. But she could do it.

Sometime after two in the morning, the blonde quietly slipped out of her bed and moved around the room. First, she collected her backpack. Then her red leather jacket and nothing else since she didn’t want to even steal from the older woman but to depart without leaving any holes.

Once separated, and the miles were created between them, she would feel the pain but it would pass.

Even as the doorknob was tried and she opened it, Emma remembered how information about her workplace had passed between them. Regina was fully aware of that. Nevertheless, if the older woman did show up at the store, then she would deal with that as it unfolded.

But in that moment, the distance was essential between them. And Emma headed down the corridor quickly but quietly, glancing back every so often to detect if she was being followed.

There wasn’t anyone about, just a burly man behind a desk chewing on an apple and the television was on BBC.

She’d have to make a run for it and do so fast.

Emma realized that when exposed to a live wire, you simply had to run from the scene. Quickly, those footsteps led out into the cool night. The parking lot was deserted. A low wind rustled the leaves in the trees. The night was alive in its own way.

Even as she was standing by the roadside, awaiting a vehicle to pass in order to flag it down to hitch a ride, the blonde immediately felt Regina’s presence behind her.

It was so intense, the connection between them, that she stopped breathing and her entire world tilted a little. From just knowing that she had been caught and there was no escape now. It was terrible to stand there and experience that.

Nothing was said. Nothing at all. But enough was communicated in the silence as Emma slowly turned around and confronted the brunette.

Tears in her eyes was something that evidently wounded the younger woman. Tears and wet cheeks. The way she was hugging herself, wrapping in a black sweater and nightgown. Regina’s parted lips revealed how honestly saddened she was by the getaway plan. And the look alone on her face was enough to damage the blonde’s heart too.

“I had to....I feel like I have to go,” Emma tried to explain. “You wouldn’t understand. Because you don’t feel the same way as I do. But it’s shitty and before it gets worst, I have to –“

“Bailing on me even before the second date,” Regina croaked. “How romantic.”

She wasn’t sure if the intention was for a joke to be made but the blonde stared back. “What…does that mean?”

“If you want the answer to that,” the brunette said in a hoarser voice, “then you have to stay.”

It was impossible. “I can’t…stay.”

“Yes you can,” Regina said, taking a step forward. “You can stay. With me. Where else will you go? I am capable of looking after you.”

“That’s the problem. I don’t want you to look after me.”

“Am I such a bad person that you will honestly leave me?” Regina croaked. “Like everyone else I have loved has left me? I have two friends. Two, Emma. I have my sister. Now I have you. But you’re making me feel as if I have been so horrible to you that your only option is to leave me.”

“No,” Emma said, tears forming in her eyes. Nothing moved around them. Maybe just a few people drinking across the road. “You weren’t horrible to me. It’s not that.”

“Then what am I?” the brunette was so hoarse. She threw her arms up. “I’m a fuck up. Terrible at making connections that last. Just…great.” She scrubbed her wet eyes.

The blonde panicked because to witness a woman such as Regina crumble wasn’t a very settling experience.

“You’re not a fuck up. Or maybe you are. But we both are. And that’s why I am falling deeper in love with you.”

“Don’t stand there and tell me that you wish to put distance between us because of how you feel about me. You have...no...idea how I feel about you. None. At this point,” Regina’s tone suggested that she was severely wounded. “I have saved you and actions like that can change someone’s life. As it has changed mine and yours. The time we’ve spent together has shown me that I can actually meet someone who wouldn’t judge me…”

“Regina –“

“I have…feelings for you too, Emma, conflicting feelings but they’re…evident” the brunette said hoarsely, reaching up to bat away tears. “I can’t stop thinking about you. I want you to stay alive. I want you to…be comfortable. I want to see you smile more often. I might not have been quick to admit that what I feel for you is something deeper because I don’t know what it feels like to be in love with another woman as you do.”

They gazed at each other as both of them allowed the tears to slip out and down their cheeks. The wind was cold and numbed fingers and toes and cheeks. But just looking at each other generated enough warmth to keep them comfortable. At least as much as nervousness did not provide.

“Come back upstairs with me,” Regina pleaded, holding her hands out. “If you take a ride away from here then where will you go? When you can stay with me for as long as you want and I will look after you. I promise that I will.”

“Why do you want to even do this?” Emma stayed where she was although her heart was aching to just reach out and take a hold of those tempting hands.

“Because I feel as if I have to. And once I feel something, I do it.”

“Regina, I…” the blonde hugged herself and glanced around the space, noting how a bus was coming their way. Possibly empty at that time of the night. But the possibility of hopping onto it was tempting. “I can’t stay.”

“Why?” Those brown eyes glistened. The bottom of her nightgown lightly fluttered from the wind.

“Because I…” Emma shrugged, avoiding eye contact, “…am afraid of how much I can ruin this. I ruin everything I do. Especially with people.”

“I saved you. You’re slowly saving me,” the brunette said in a soft tone. “I can’t identify the ruin in that.”

“I push people away because I fuck up relationships and I expect too much…” she was trying so hard to untangle the knot inside her chest but evidently, the words channeled into the conversation were too bruising. “If I stay, then you’ll see how screwed I am.” Emma tried to explain in a shaky voice.

“I don’t care how screwed up you are.”

“You might say that now. But one week down the road,” the blonde admitted, “you’ll get frustrated with me and want to throw me out. I can’t people very well.”

“And you know what?” Regina gestured at herself with both hands, “neither can I. But I have mastered the art of appearing quite approachable even when I am terribly awkward in a social event. I cannot do relationships either but I have come to realize that I am quite lonely. I’m not getting any younger. And connections with people can become so substantial.”

“You don’t need me…”

“Yes,” the brunette nodded, “I need you. I really do. Even my sister admits it. That we are in tune with each other. She sees the potential for us to be really great friends. I need one.”

“Friends,” Emma said sarcastically, turning away with an incredulous smile on her pale face. She faced the road and quietly observed the scene that entailed a small party of four; two men and two women, who were now consuming alcohol and laughing gaily.

How many times had that word been used in her fucking life? When every crush had been some attractive female that basically flung the friend card into her face after becoming aware of the blonde’s sexual orientation. Lily. Amanda. Her teacher. Her lecturer. Countless others who didn’t have to hear a confession that she even fancied them, but immediately, that one word would be stressed on. As if becoming attracted to someone was like a curse. A disease.

Possibly it was like trying to spread the plague.

Therefore, as soon as Regina pulled that one on her, the younger woman was quite aware of the situation at hand.

“No offense,” she said in a low voice whilst still facing the road, “but how you feel about me is obvious. And I don’t want to stick around with an older woman who wants to shelter me so she can heal me. By making me believe that anything I want or I believe in is acceptable. Just because she needs me to get better.”

“I’m not doing this for the mere convenience or pleasure of lifting you out of that dark hole,” Regina said without allowing two seconds to slip by. “I’m doing this because I have walked many times in your footsteps before arriving where I am now. And no offense, but you have no idea how I feel.”

“I know enough,” Emma remained stubborn, folding her arms.

“Sadly, you don’t. I’m not going to stand out here and elaborate on how I feel about you any further, Emma,” Regina sounded frustrated and tired. “I would like you to accompany me back into the room where we can both get a good night’s rest. Then we can talk all about how we feel tomorrow.”

Sleep was more important than how the hell she was feeling in that moment. In other words, the brunette merely wanted to head back to bed so that her head could hit the damn pillow. Emma absorbed the brutal suggestions. That whatever she had to say wasn’t important but could be put off for later.

She literally could feel the waterfall beginning and as much as the urge was fought with, the blonde began to cry but silently. Her lips quivered. It was like being broken further after allowing your emotions to ruin you to a point where not even the sincerest words from another person who cared could soothe the wounds.

“I’m just going to leave since how I feel right now is keeping you away from your sleep,” she whispered.

“What?” Regina was confused. “Stop doing this to me. Stop…playing mind games with me. Stop being so damn stubborn. And listen to me. I am not going to stand out here and debate on whether you –“

She stared when Emma began to walk away, down the road slowly and painfully as the distance between them hurt like hell.

Her heart was the worst feeling to describe of all. Knowing how a small organ like that could possibly react in those kind of situations. Breaking and squeezing with every beat. Every footstep she took, her chest was on fire. Until for some good measure, the blonde stopped about twenty feet away from where she had stood. And it wasn’t until those emerald eyes barely glanced back when realization dawned upon her that she had been followed.

Regina was standing merely four feet away from her, with a terribly sad expression on that beautiful face as those brown eyes filled with tears. In that moment, Emma noticed how the brunette appeared slightly older, almost worn out from the moment and she was trying so hard to make things work between them.

“I’m so cold,” Regina said, hugging herself. “Please let’s go back inside. I’ll stay up all night with you. Whatever…it takes to make you believe in me again. Because I know that you believed in me. That is why you hopped into my car and came all the way out here with me. But somewhere between the moments we shared tonight, something broke between us and I am knowledgeable of what caused it. However, I don’t want you to walk away from me. I didn’t walk away from you, Emma. When you were on that road. I stayed until you changed your mind. So don’t walk away from me.”

Those words, all of it sincerely reeled the blonde in with the intensity intermingled in that gaze and the hoarse quality of her voice. Even before she was fully aware of what was happening, Emma noted how they were somehow on their way back to the hotel, with Regina’s arm wrapped around her shoulder tenderly. Protectively. Like a guardian angel who would not allow abandonment between the two.

And all through the night she couldn’t sleep.

The bottomless pit that she sank into. She was falling, and she couldn’t stop. Literally. Knowing that that one touch; the brunette’s arm wrapped around her felt so protective. So…warm. So normal. It was the kind of feeling that resonated and stayed. The touch lingering on her skin, even after one in the morning when the night fell to a silence perhaps signalling that the world was sleeping. Everyone except her.

All through the hours that passed, Emma lay on her side and watched the older woman sleep. They were facing each other and never did that connection break. Never did Regina turn away. But she stayed there. As if maintaining that promise of forever being available to listen and to soothe. Something that no one else had ever guaranteed. And because of that, Emma slowly began to realize that this must be what home felt like.

It wasn’t an actual place.

It could be with someone.


 

--

When she stirred, the sun was warm in the sky, just beyond the pale pink curtains that flapped in front of the opened windows. Those emerald orbs immediately considered the empty bed across the room and she felt a deep, painful sinking feeling within her heart. Fearing the worst. Knowing that something that felt so intense was obviously going to crash and burn in the most unexpected way. But it was going to happen. At least that was what life had taught her.

Love without pain wasn’t love at all.

And when you love, you must always expect disappointments.

Regina had left her.

Emma felt so dizzy as she pushed herself up enough to consider the space where the brunette’s bags had been resting. One can only imagine her relief when even before she could search for the source of red, the shower could be heard as someone turned it on and then…

Then maybe...

Maybe it wasn’t time as yet for a disappointment to occur. Maybe it wasn’t the moment of pain but the actuality of knowing that there could be someone who cared enough to stay. Someone who kept their promise. And sheltered her. And wanted her.

“Good morning.”

She was already standing by the window overlooking the partially empty parking lot, the stretch of road already busy and the river view when Regina finally stepped into the room.

Slowly the blonde turned to confront the sweet poison that had been travelling through her veins. And as their eyes met, miraculously, both of them smiled.

“Hey,” she shrugged, and bit her lips.

Regina gingerly rubbed the wet strands of her hair between the red towel, already half dressed, except for a shirt of some kind. She hadn’t been feeling quite bold enough to present herself in a manner that would stimulate more appeal. In fact, a little smile eventually set her heart on fire when Emma’s sleepy face appeared even cuter than imagined. And for that, she busied herself in digging into the depths of her bag, eager to provide some kind of distraction so that a beating heart would possibly slow down gradually.

“Slept well?”

Emma found it hard to breathe when her gaze rested on the older woman’s exposed arms and the swell of her breasts. A figure that was delicately perfect in every way.

“Probably an hour,” she confessed, leaning a hip onto the window ledge.

That was enough to catch Regina’s attention. She stared back in worry. “An hour? How tragic.”

“It’s nothing,” the blonde said lightheartedly. “Just had my reasons and I can manage.”

“I beg to differ,” the older woman was concerned and such reflected in her tone. “An hour of sleep is hardly sufficient. But then…we’re going to leave here at four so you can sleep comfortably during the car ride home.”

Home.

She didn’t refer to her place as my house, or my home. But…just…home.

Sometimes people would brush a conversation with one word that might seem so insignificant to them, but left a resounding effect on the other person. All her life, Emma searched for those words in every sentence. She clung onto them, as they held double meanings but knowingly, the blonde kept the parts that meant a lot to her. And little by little, every word was like food to her heart.

Regina was gazing at her and she wasn’t even aware until a truck roared by on the public road.

“Where did you go?” the brunette wanted to know. Her tone was soft, almost like a caress.

Emma blinked a few times. Her heart leapt several times. “Um, somewhere deep, I guess.”

“I’d like you to take me there,” the older woman suggested, with the tilt of her head. Carefully, she wrapped those graceful fingers around her keys. “As much as you can, that is.”

“Inside my soul?” the blonde frowned.

“Yes.” Regina gestured to the small bathroom. “Now hop in and shower. I’d like us to take a long drive past Lime Path where one of my friends I’ve met since childhood lives.”

Emma merely nodded, collected her towel and slipped out of view.

She watched her go. And when Regina distinctly heard the shower curtain being drawn and the rain of water initiated, she sighed long and hard. Those brown eyes fluttered close. With one hand, she lightly felt for the edge of the bed and upon it she sank. Because not only had the day before been quite pressing on her emotional state, but she was quickly beginning to find it harder to contain the truth.

In the beginning when they had met, Regina’s only concern was to keep Emma safe. To protect her. To take the blonde with her until those demons associated with suicide drifted away. But now, she had discovered a new struggle. One that entertained the battle of more emotions, raging against each other. The sudden feeling of casting her eyes on that pretty face as much as she could. As frequently as allowed.

Every shadow that passed across Emma’s face, Regina was becoming familiar with. Every time the younger woman frowned, she wanted to stimulate some kind of happiness. That empty, lost look in those emerald eyes; the brunette wanted to find something to fill it. To fill the void. To at least fit their parts together so that they would become something close to complete.

Running fingers through her dark hair, Regina couldn’t understand why she suddenly cared so much for the blonde. Why her heart was beginning to sing the way it did. Why her hands trembled slightly as she held them up. Or why the lingering scent of Emma in the room seriously began to intoxicate her. Every second was like agony when the younger woman wasn’t in her sight. And there was only one meaning to this.

But she wasn’t prepared to admit it as yet.

Not when this was something new. Like tasting the bitter sweet thrills of part of life that was yet to be tapped into. It was like dipping her fingers into a fresh, cool spring and feeling how refreshing it was. Or like stepping into the morning sun, and feeling the warmth upon her face. The sound of the ocean at nights, rushing against the shore. The pleasantest sounds that curled her toes. Because this was curling her soul. And she was slipping into a zone where the truth was becoming too obvious.

Emma slowly moved past her and she startled a little.

The sight of the blonde wrapped in a red towel with her blonde hair twirled up was something quite exhilarating. Especially after sitting in one attitude and entertaining those thoughts as elaborated on before.

She began to reach for the shirt that was worn the night before and all the while, Regina held her breath because of being seated with a clear view of all actions.

Should she move?

She decided to stay. Because why? They were both women and they had nothing to hide. Had the blonde suggested that she avert her eyes, then it would be obeyed.

A young lady most absolutely deserved to conceal her body out of modesty. Or so her mother used to hammer into her head. But slowly and most definitely as Emma began to peel away the towel with her exposed back to Regina, the older woman understood why the inner question had arose. Why the doubts had been there. Why she was feeling such an intense part of life that had never existed.

Cora had been evidently correct about one thing. A lady choosing not to quickly and willingly display her body to anyone since it was a treasure and a weapon. The former kind would be ardently admired by one’s husband. The latter would be in terms of temptation, to disgrace one’s self. Or maybe…

In this case, brown eyes latched onto the blonde’s body for admiration and guiltily…temptation. Tempted to gaze and roam those curves as her mind quickly began to act as fingers, almost longing to feel the softness of such fair and flawless skin. The beads of water clinging to Emma’s back and the wet tips of her blonde hair that hung down like a curtain.

To describe the blonde’s body as merely beautiful would seem like an understatement. Because every curve was beautifully sculpted. Was deeply mesmerizing. Like having one’s soul reaching for another perfectly flawless one.

Purposely though, the younger woman slowly began to slip into the shirt without wearing her black bra. Those generous hips fitted snugly into one of Regina’s blue jeans she had given up. And even when the blonde was fully dressed, whipping her hair to the front to gingerly rub out the wetness from the tips, the silence stretched out between them.

But it wasn’t the kind of silence that contained no words. But thousands of thoughts. Her mind riding on waves and curves. And her heart singing from its cage.

Regina sighed.

She was tempting her, wasn’t she? Emma had to be doing just that. Knowing fully well that the older woman was aware of the blonde’s feelings towards her. Aiming and hoping to draw her in. And somehow, the brunette bit onto the line and allowed herself to be dragged in. Slowly but surely. She sat there like a little girl inside a lecture hall, fully captivated by the teacher.

“Ready when you are,” Emma finally said, turning to face her. Those emerald eyes were bright, which was a change from the dull and empty look. The blonde actually cracked a smile.

Regina returned one. She cleared her throat. “I am…” the brunette arose from the bed weakly, “when you are…”

They were out the door and already driving along the highway within fifteen minutes. Speeding along as the midday sun grew warmer and hotter and the A.C temperature dropped from cold to a cool one.

It was like déjà vu all over again, reminiscing on the prior morning when they had been travelling along the same road to Zelena’s house.

“Evidently, politics is the kind of topic that cannot be ignored,” Regina was saying, the music turned down low, “even if you detest it. With such a domineering nation as the USA, the entire world is affected by whatever happens.”

“Doesn’t mean that it will fuck my life up,” Emma said coolly.

The brunette bit her lips. She understood. “I cannot decide if you have become optimistic as yet. Speaking in the future tense somehow suggests that your life isn’t that bad at the moment.”

“It isn’t,” the blonde admitted, avoiding eye contact.

“So you have found something to live for?” Regina chose to deliver herself as ignorant to the truth.

“Someone,” the younger woman corrected. She tapped her fingers lightly on the door.

The brunette swallowed hard as her heart gave a little leap. “And that someone might…be?”

She had to throw the question between them. Even if the answer was quite obvious based on their prior conversation and moments shared that suggested a far deeper bond than friendship. When one was faced with the kind of situation she was in, a woman especially who had been tugged and thrown into the pits of hell needed somehow to be reassured of the truth.

“That someone knows who she is,” Emma said, frowning a little.

“Oh so that someone is a she,” Regina played along with a smile. “How adorable.”

“Are you serious?” the blonde turned to consider the older woman’s face.

“I’m so jealous right now,” Regina said smiling still. “Explain to me how this...female is deserving of such strong affections whilst occupying the fullest capacity of your mind and heart? What kind of sorcery is that? Hmm?”

The blonde snorted. She caught on and shook her head.

“Ask her. She leaks sex appeal.”

“I don’t really mean to,” Regina shrugged. “It just happens…naturally.”

“What makes you think it’s you?”

“If it’s my sister, then I’ll have to wound you to an extent by admitting that she is entirely straight.” Regina changed lanes smoothly whilst checking the rearview mirror.

“But so are you,” Emma said softly, feeling her heart prickle a little. “At least that’s what you believe. That you’re straight.”

I believe that I am falling in love with you by the minute, the brunette whispered internally. “I might be…”

“You can’t do that,” the blonde fretted.

“What.”

“You’re either straight or you’re not…”

Regina tried to breathe in and out in measured breaths. “There is no in between?”

“Nah.”

“No grey areas…”

“Nah.”

“But what about the bisexual community?” she felt like opening a challenge between them. “Are you ignorant to their existence?”

“I don’t want you to be bisexual,” Emma admitted without a grin.

“Well there you go, wanting to unzip me from this straight jacket I’m in, to reveal that there’s a sparkly unicorn inside. Dancing around.” Regina wiggled her fingers over the steering wheel.

Emma curled into the chair and hugged herself, laughing at the older woman’s statement. About unicorns. Who would have thought that such a conversation would lead into that territory?

“So…” the blonde refused to put the topic to rest, quite aware that if scratched enough, the truth would eventually rise to the surface. “Are you gay or straight?”

The older woman inhaled deeply. No eye contact was made as the highway was taken, the Mercedes pushing over 70. The wind was whipping her dark hair, since the windows were rolled down. The sky was severely growing darker and for some odd reason, her feet were sweating from either nervousness or the heat, she couldn’t tell.

“Yes,” Regina said, the husky quality of her voice filling the car.

Emma frowned. “Yes…as in?”

“Exactly,” the brunette nodded. She tapped the steering wheel and her chest heaved.

“As in…the first one or the second one?”

“The third,” Regina refused to provide a definite answer.

“Come on,” Emma pleaded, her tone suggesting just that right amount of frustration. When nothing was said from the other woman, the blonde merely sighed. She licked her lips and considered the path before them, both physically and delving deep inside that mischievous mind. “Okay, fine. I have a scenario to give you. And I want you to tell me what you’d do.”

The brunette smiled a little. She inclined her head without providing an answer, nevertheless informing the younger woman to continue.

“On the road that night, when I was about to jump in front of a car,” Emma began, turning a little in her seat to face Regina. “You were practically begging me to go to you. As in you would have done anything to get me off of the road, right?”

Regina nodded halfway and paused. She then nodded again. “Yes.”

She would have done anything. Would have darted onto the road, hoping to snatch the young woman away from danger. Simply because the torment presented to her that night was like looking into a mirror. Seeing the same wide eyed look. The same lost gaze. The broken pieces flying apart and never settling.

“If…I had asked you to…” Emma’s heart was hammering inside her chest, “…promise to be there for me for as long as you could, no matter what it takes….would you have agreed?”

“I believe that we established the answer to that since that night,” Regina provided in a soft tone. “That I complied with whatever you desired –“

“But to you…that night,” the blonde pushed on, “I was a stranger. I was literally no one.”

“I…” Regina stopped, she stared ahead and blinked hard, just enough to stay focused on the road. “Yes.”

“And you’re telling me that you just…trusted me. That you wanted to do whatever it would take to look after me. And make sure that I wouldn’t die.”

Those emerald eyes latched onto the older woman’s face, and she couldn’t look away. Not when this moment was so crucial to both of them. Not when her words had done like a shovel and dug into a part of their heart where they hadn’t delved into before.

“Emma, I…” Regina could feel herself growing flustered. Not only were her feet sweating now, but her hands. “As I have said over and over again, there was an evident need to shelter you, in order to prevent your demise. Anyone with a heart would do that.”

“So you want to be anyone to me, instead of someone special…” those emerald eyes burned suddenly. The words had cut her like a knife. She bit in the tears though.

“Emma…” Regina frowned. She glanced sideways at the blonde.

“You’re telling me that you would have done it for anyone.”

“Would I save someone’s life if they ended up in that same situation? Yes.” The brunette nodded. “But would I have taken them into my car and brought them with me out here? Into my hotel room? Shared the secrets I did? With you? I don’t believe that I would have.” Her heart was beating fast too. Because every word she would utter could either make or break their relationship. “Whatever happened did not happen with anyone else. It happened with you. You’re here. Not someone else.”

Emma hugged herself. “And don’t you feel…deep down inside that our paths crossed for a reason? That maybe I…” her voice was so hoarse. She had to stop and gather composure. “That maybe my life was missing that one important part and that part is you?”

A muscle in Regina’s jaw moved. She swallowed. Those brown eyes glistened with tears.

“I know I can’t force you to feel the same way I do. To love me as much as I love you. To want me as much as I want you…” Emma croaked. “But you can’t deny the fact that something happened out of the ordinary and everything that keeps happening between us isn’t…normal. None of it is. Every conversation we have, we’ve never had this with anyone else. We’ve never said these things to anyone else. No one has ever had this kind of impact on me before. Has anyone ever had this much impact on you?”

Regina was shaking her head even before she replied. “No.” Those first phrases. To feel. To love. To…want. She was shivering inside, as little slivers of warmth, like low hums of electricity travelled through her body.

Emma felt somewhat relieved to realize that her impact had of course been the first. “I just want you to understand why I’m in so deep. Why I’m falling so hard I thought that running away last night would at least stop me from crashing and breaking my heart into pieces again. Because I’m already in pieces, Regina. You know that, right?”

“I know that,” the brunette nodded, the expression on her face strained as she was fighting to hold it together.

“I don’t want you to think that I’m fucked up because I ended up falling for the woman who saved my life.”

“I don’t think you’re fucked up,” Regina’s voice was huskier.

Emma was literally melting. “I think that’s what love is. It’s when you’re at your lowest or you’re just about to give up and someone comes in and they pull you away from the fire. And they just…like…wrap their soul around yours and it makes you feel so warm. The kind of warmth that you never knew existed. I think that’s what love really is.”

Regina remained silent for the rest of the drive, something that the blonde took to heart. A heart that ached and longed to hear at least one word. But nothing filled the silence. Not even a sigh.

It was almost as if she had managed to freeze the moment and kill it. Although some amount of warmth was still felt between them, the younger woman became fully aware that she had done enough damage again. And this time, it would take so much more to lighten the mood between them again.


 

--

If not for the presentation of the longtime friend, her mind would have literally starved itself into depression for a prolonged period.

The car went along a dirt road lined with trees, evidently signaling that they were driving deeper into the countryside at that point. A part of Corriverton that lacked the finest luxuries of life like internet access, television and perhaps electricity. Not that it was threatening to find one’s self in an area such as that. Because the scenery was peaceful, and free from the hustle and bustle of town life.

The abundance of cows of course turned Emma’s nose up because she detested the smell of fresh manure. But upon noticing a litter of kittens rushing across a wooden bridge and scattering into a yard, those emerald eyes softened as well as her heart. Even when the car parked right in front of the same residence, she felt a little flutter, upon realizing at least something would serve as a distraction from the terrible damper on things.

But no one could prepare her for the introduction to the mystery character in Regina’s diary.

It was Mallie who parted the beaded blind on the veranda upstairs to peer down upon them. The tumble of blonde hair and those large gray eyes served as nothing more than a reminder of how beauty took many forms.

They were ushered in after introductions were made, and hugs exchanged. And even though Emma tried her best to conceal the inner knowledge on who this woman was and her importance to Regina, she still could not lay away observations made on whether there was still any hints of feelings between them.

Onto when they ventured upstairs and took seats on the veranda, upon worn out chairs that had red cushions frayed at the edges, Regina gave away nothing. However, Mallie was breathless from the sight of her friend. Someone who she actually couldn’t stop marveling over, considering that they hadn’t seen each other in over ten years.

“I’ve been away in Suriname,” Mallie explained to Emma when the blonde frowned. “For the most part of it, we’ve been keeping contact all the time over the phone. She tells me about her flashy life and I tell her about milking cows, tending to the sheep and how many times I use coconut oil in my hair to what book I’m reading.” Her smile was warm.

“I hate when you differentiate our lives like that,” Regina was seated directly opposite from her. “Makes me feel so inwardly highly privileged when I don’t consider myself as that.”

“But you’re a Queen,” Mallie said with a wider smile. She had a very upbeat personality that fitted well with her thin figure.

“You’re the Queen being out here…finding pleasures in the simple things in life that most take for granted. Money doesn’t make you royalty. Being contented with what little you have makes you royal. And you most certainly are.”

“So who is she?” Mallie wanted to know immediately when Emma had left them to wander downstairs in the hopes of playing with the cats. There was an entire box downstairs, more than enough to distract her for the time.

The brunette considered her friend and sighed. She reached for the glass of lemonade resting on the table.

God knows how that question had become complicated to answer. And beginning from the night on the road to where they were now couldn’t all tumble out in a few minutes. She of course found no problem in opening up to her dearest friend about what had transpired between herself and Emma. Even down to the fact that she had begun to question how deep her feelings ran.

“Don’t sit there and tell me that you haven’t been in love with another woman,” Mallie said, leaning forward and lowering her voice so that Emma sneaking in on them wouldn’t catch a word. “Remember us in high school?”

“Mal…” Regina avoided eye contact.

The two of them with their heads buried inside books after school. The laughter that chased her along the corridors as they chased each other to the cafeteria. Spending summers together. Sleeping in the same bed and staying up late just to watch those awful soppy black and white movies.

“You had these feelings for me.” Mallie said smiling. “I know you didn’t want to go so far. But it was there. You always got jealous when I got too close to another girl. You always got emotional when I talked about Steve or whichever boy I had a thing for back then. Regina you know how it feels.”

“All the things a best friend should display,” the other woman remained ignorant. “I was jealous of your attention diverted elsewhere because I desired just one close friend. And in terms of Steve, he wasn’t a good influence on you.”

Mallie understood the choice of words and sighed.

“Emma is different,” Regina explained. “She openly admitted she is gay. And that she is in love with me. And I’m…” her voice broke a little, as she shook her head slowly, gazing at the floor. “I’m beginning to worry.”

“That you might feel the same way about her?” Mallie wasn’t surprised.

In truth, it wasn’t the first time her friend seemed to be in denial about those conflicting feelings. There were words someone uttered that would mean so much more than they expected to reveal.

Back in those days during high school, Regina never really understood how her actions were construed, but Mallie could have oftentimes detected the underlying tones of someone just being very afraid to even be herself.

“No, I…” the other woman lifted her eyes and then she looked away. “I feel as if she might be confused about how she feels. Not in terms of her sexuality. But more along the lines of feeling this deep connection with me because I saved her from committing suicide. Therefore she feels somewhat…inclined to be thankful to me but admiration and gratitude might not necessarily mean that there is a need for intimacy.

“In simpler words,” Mallie seemed amused all of a sudden, “I mean having my bird brain break things down for me to understand, you’re telling me that she might just be really starry eyed over you coming in and acting like a superhero, instead of like getting all into the serious thoughts of seeing you naked and kissing you and –“

“Well you get the idea,” Regina interrupted, her cheeks slightly colouring although her tone suggested a little bit of severity.

Mallie was smiling from ear to ear. She laced her fingers together. The red dress she had on barely reached her knees so that when those long legs were crossed, enough thighs were revealed. “You really can’t guess what’s going on inside her head, Regina. Who’s to know if she doesn’t want to sleep with you?”

“That’s it,” Regina’s voice was reduced to a whisper. A frantic one. She glanced around and shrugged. “I don’t…know. I don’t…know what this means. I’m older than her, and at this point in my life, I would like to become involved with someone who considers a long term commitment instead of an experiment.”

“So you’re thinking about becoming involved with her?” Mallie was smiling warmly.

Her friend inhaled deeply whilst seeming severely jittery. “I’m just…saying –“

“You’re saying so much right now and yet you’re in denial –“

“Jess, if you could just stop jumping to conclusions,” Regina tried, her voice shaky.

“I’m not jumping to conclusions,” Mallie said in a calmer tone, still smiling. “I’m telling you back exactly what you’ve told me. Regina, I swear…” the blonde incredulously observed her friend’s lips quivering. Something she seldom ever witnessed. But in this situation, it was evident that an abundance of feelings could overwhelm even the most composed person she had ever known. “Okay,” Mallie sighed. Running her fingers through blonde hair, she sat up and inhaled deeply, “right now, maybe the best thing to do is to think about this slowly. She’s twenty four. When you were twenty four, you were already considering being married to Daniel and having babies. You were in your final year of university, with your head on your shoulders and a career path. Emma isn’t a child, Regina. She’s humble. And that only comes with experience and hardship. Things you know about.”

“I’m forty, Mallie,” Regina sat back, with her legs crossed. She seemed saddened. “I want a life partner.”

“And you think that Emma doesn’t?” Mallie shrugged. “Hey, I don’t know her as well as you do. But look what God did. Just when she wanted to end her life, He gave you to her. What do you expect her to think? That you’re just going to be someone who comes into her life and leaves? No way. That girl downstairs,” she gestured with her thumb, eyes wide, “she’s going to hang onto you. Because she knows now that when everyone else gave up on her, you were the one who stayed and helped her.”

“She tried to run away from me,” Regina said to her friend. “Last night. She tried and I stopped her.”

“All the better reason to convince me that you’re way deeper in this than I thought. You know what you want.”

“But what if she doesn’t know what she wants? Hmm?” Regina’s eyes filled with tears. “She doesn’t seem to have been in a relationship before. With a woman.”

“Did you need to be in a relationship before Daniel to know what you wanted?” Mallie asked boldly. “Look, I’m supposed to be worrying here about you. I’m supposed to be telling you how she’s a stranger and she could be the worst kind ever. But I’m pretty good with first impressions and reading people as I read Daniel and I sure as hell read Robin for the jackass he was. And I can tell you, Emma isn’t a bad person. She’s just really lost and all she needs is someone to love her.”

Regina didn’t answer for a long time. She merely gazed out onto the open pastures and the trees swaying from the heavy wind. And the cows lazily resting in the shade. And she wondered about life and about what her friend had said. All of it.

“Okay well if you’re uncertain,” Mallie wanted to explore some more, “then let her make all the first moves. Let yourself be flirted with. But don’t put your guards down all at once. Leave some up. And just when the right moment comes along when your heart feels that it’s being treated right, those guards will fall down on their own.”

Regina crouched forward, hugging herself and deeply becoming entangled in a world where feelings could literally unwound every single tightly woven thread in those sturdy walls.

“She got dressed in front of me this morning,” her voice was barely audible, even as the wind rushed through the leaves in the trees around them and the wind howled as the sky grew darker. “With her back towards me of course. And I…I saw….her,” she was losing it, her voice shaking and growing smaller. And her fingertips were turning ice cold.

“All of her?” Mallie pressed on, her eyes widening.

“No,” Regina swallowed hard. “From her waist up…wards.” She began to shake her head. “I can’t believe I’m saying all of this. I can’t believe…I’m thinking like this.”

“Thinking like this isn’t something as horrible as you’ve always made it out to be,” Mallie said softly. She dared to reach out and brush her fingers across her dearest friend’s shoulder. “Sometimes you just have to realize that you’re judging yourself too much. You’re just thinking about this too much. Regina, nothing is wrong with feeling this way.”

“So says the woman who frantically disowned me when those rumours started flying around school about us,” Regina muttered.

“Because back then I was young and naïve and stupidly judgmental and I was so concerned about my self-image without even considering the bigger picture. I was going to lose you just because I wanted to think about how I’d look to those idiotic boys in school.” There were tears in her eyes now, reminiscing on those years that they had lost. “Until high school came around and we ended up being there together again. I found you again and I never wanted to let go.”

They remained silent for a while and within that time, the rain began to drizzle. The open pastures grew hazy and the heavy patter of the drops upon the zinc roof only provided her with more memories of coming to the countryside during those long summers. Watching Mallie’s mother cook up a tasty curry and roti. Using a long stick to hit down mangoes so that they could slice them up and mix the cuts into salt and pepper.

Eventually, Emma returned upstairs with a kitten tucked under each arm and a smile so wide, some amount of teeth showed.

“I think…” she was breathless, falling to her knees and depositing one of them into the space around Regina’s feet, “I might have to take one.”

“I hardly think that we can tend to a kitten on the road,” the brunette said softly, the conversation between herself and Mallie still lingering like a mist upon her mind and heart. By just allowing her gaze to fall on the younger blonde was enough to mesmerize Regina.

And Mallie was drinking in Emma with a smile as well.

“I know, I’m just kidding.”

“Marie would become terribly jealous,” Regina added. Emerald eyes met brown ones and just for a few seconds, a little confusion was displayed until the blonde realized that the older woman already had a cat at home.

“Oh, right,” Mallie said with a smile. “She’s how old now?”

“Five.”

“Dear God, has it been that long since you gave birth?”

Regina smirked whilst her friend smiled and Emma laughed.

They enjoyed a hearty meal consisting of stewed beef and rice with glasses of cherry juice before hitting the road again. Even as Emma watched the two close friends hug and bid their farewells, she still envied that kind of relationship that existed for so many years. Knowing to herself that there hadn’t been anyone in her life like that. No one that stuck around that long. And she hated herself for never being able to maintain a friend.


 

--

On their way back to the hotel with a brown canvas bag of mangoes, pineapple, pears and bananas in the back seat, the tension still stiffened the air. It was so tormenting for Emma to sit there and literally ache to begin a conversation but she could feel that the brunette was deeply affected by what had been said between them.

Even when she remained in the parking lot, perched on the back of the Mercedes whilst Regina packed upstairs, the blonde studied the day in detail. Bit by bit, from the night they met to the most recent conversation between them. She had confessed, didn’t she? Something that shouldn’t have been done, especially since an internal analysis was conducted to alert Emma on the fact that she had never before been so direct in expressing her feelings for someone.

Too many times words between them had turned to weapons. Daggers that pierced their hearts and terribly wounded them, all because Regina obviously didn’t feel the same way as she did. Didn’t understand any of this…what it meant to be gay. And before anything bad happened again, there was only one choice. One move to make.

Emma hopped down from the car, backpack on. She glanced up at the window and noted that the shades were drawn. Take deep breaths. Measured breaths, she assured herself. Then after taking one long look at the lobby and realizing Regina was nowhere in sight, she quickly walked along the tarmac, and to the bus stop.

From there, a few minutes elapsed after trying to wave down a vehicle. Hoping that someone would be heading down to Georgetown at that time of the day. And quickly.

Then just like that, a blue Premio pulled up, an old man behind the wheel with a lady who most likely was his wife in the front seat. After persuading them with an innocent look upon her face that she merely needed a ride to the city, they complied and willingly opened the back door.

Did she feel guilty? Hell yes. After the first attempt to run away and the words exchanged between them. After seeing that awful look of sadness in Regina’s brown eyes. Emma had actually hopped into a car and was really leaving the one woman who should have mattered the most to her more than herself.

“So you’re running away from a problem, missy or going home to your mama?” asked Donna who had introduced both herself and the husband as Frank. “Because it’s always one or the other. Considering your age of course.”

“Donna, who tells you the girl wants to talk about her private life?” Frank asked. “For all we know, she could think we’re killers.”

“Oh never mind with that kind of talk,” Donna waved her husband’s words off. The car crawled forward at a comfortable enough pace that would never serve as a red flag for any officer.

“I’m always running,” Emma admitted, hugging her backpack in the seat and feeling the tears stream down her face as the very thought of miles being placed between two hearts was proving to be much more difficult to tolerate.

“See, now you have to take roots somewhere,” Donna said in a softer tone. “If you don’t plant yourself enough anywhere, you’re going to always be unsettled, both mentally and physically. And mentally, that isn’t good.”

“Yeah.”

“Is it a young man?” the older woman asked, trying to make eye contact with the blonde but only discovering that it wasn’t possible at the moment. “That you’re running from?”

“No,” Emma sniffed. She ran the back of her hand across wet cheeks. “It’s a she.”

Frank chuckled from the front seat whilst his wife sighed. The younger woman didn’t hold her breath. In fact, at that point, nothing else mattered to her. Not the opinion of others. Nothing about the rest of her life. Just everything about one person who could never love her back the way she wanted to.

“We have a daughter,” Donna piped up from the front seat, reminding Emma of Sophia from The Golden Girls. “Well she’s away in New York now, safely tucked away in an apartment with the love of her life. But you remind me of her. Sitting right there in the backseat when she told us about Peggy.”

Frank’s eyes finally met Emma’s and he smiled, although noting the tear stained cheeks. “Donna gave her a good tongue lashing about it. Was so long ago but I still remember. Peggy is nice though. They’ve been together for twenty years now.”

“Peggy is a career woman,” Donna said scowling. “No match for my darling Karen who needs all the love she can get.”

“But Karen always thought she was a match for her,” Frank said in defense for his daughter. “Karen was always running,” he explained to Emma. “When she couldn’t face Peggy, she ran. In the beginning, Peggy didn’t feel the same way about her but she came around. You see, love is like a disease. It catches on and it infects the heart.”

“Frank, what nonsense are you filling the girl’s head with? About love being a disease?” Donna had her arms folded like a petulant child. “Why if we waited on love to infect us then we would have died without being married. Stiff in separate coffins.”

“We started as an arranged marriage,” Frank explained to Emma who suddenly had lost the need to allow those tears to fall and was drowning in the conversation. But still she felt terribly numb and raw inside. “Donna and I. We got married at age eighteen. When my father wanted to tie our families together because of wealth. I loved Donna.”

“But I hated him down to his briefs,” his wife commented.

“And the same went for Peggy and Karen. Both fine gals. Eager to know what their future would hold. Until love knocked them down and their entire lives changed. It happens all the time in life where you are confronted with a life changing situation and most people run away from it.”

“But she doesn’t love me the same way,” Emma dared to reveal.

Donna sighed. “Frank this feels like déjà vu all over again with Peggy coming to our house on Christmas Eve and breaking down into tears. And I’ll tell you exactly what I told her. I told her that you can never force a person to love you unless they already do and just don’t know it yet. But you should never run away from them because giving up on someone only should happen when they’ve hurt you so bad twice that they begin to change you for the worst. If it’s not like that, then you stay. You stay and you keep them close and you do whatever it takes to work something out.”

“You can’t get a refund when it comes to love, sweet cheeks,” Frank continued after his wife. “It’s either that you’re all in or you get out and leave piece of your heart there with the person. And from the looks of it, you’ve left a good chunk behind you.”

It took her more than half an hour until they reached the Berbice Bridge to allow Donna and Frank’s coaxing to soak in. Until then, the distance between Corriverton and where the car was stationed could be considered as a terribly lengthy one.

Emma watched the old lady collecting her change from a roadside vender selling fresh crab and she pondered on the situation. All this time, the one thing that had forced her to run was the possibility of having a broken heart in the end. But either way, the result remained the same, even if she had stayed and lingered about. Or had that all been assumptions based on observation and not enough evidence?

Regina had said a few things to suggest a deeper bond between them.

As Emma thought back upon it, she realized that the very first time her footsteps had taken to the road, the brunette pleaded with so much emotion for the blonde to stay. Instead of realizing that maybe the time had come for them to go their separate ways, Regina had pleaded for them to stay together. And that should have meant something. Something enough to force the younger woman to stay longer.

“Here,” Frank suddenly said from the front seat with one hand outstretched towards Emma. Clutched in his hand was a small black Nokia phone. The look he sent her was one that suggested as much pity as love and care. “Call her. Let her know where you are. At least that way, she can stop worrying.”

Emma had childishly memorized Regina’s cell at Zelena’s house that day, just in case of an emergency. But never had she even imagined an instance like this where the number could come into handy. Providing that her mind was set on even calling the brunette. The blonde stared at the phone in her hand and literally felt the tears coming back. The little tremors within. The way her breathing could not be levelled.

“Go on,” Frank urged her, jerking his chin outside the car. “We’ll wait.”

After allowing their eyes to meet for a few more seconds, Emma pushed the door open and got out.

Donna was still buying her selection of crab from the roadside. The wind was pleasantly colder due to the upcoming rain and both sides of the road was lined with an abundance of green forest. The heavy rustle of the leaves didn’t calm her as those sounds oftentimes did. Instead, she felt tenser as the number was dialed and the ringing stretched out.

On the third ring, Regina answered with a voice that was unrecognizable at first because of the husky quality that suggested she had been crying or still was. Immediately, Emma felt her insides clench up and those emerald eyes filled with tears.

“Hello?” the brunette croaked, and there was a sniff. “Who is this?”

She was crumbling. At least that was the first impression.

“It’s me,” the blonde said in a small voice that sounded like a child.

She had been so selfish. Was being so selfish by not caring about the other woman’s feelings at all. Regina didn’t deserve her. She really didn’t.

There was a few seconds that elapsed between them.

“Emma,” Regina whispered, and the sound of her composure literally breaking down on the other end wasn’t concealed. “Where are…you?”

“I’m safe,” the younger woman managed to say. She felt her heart breaking into pieces.

“Where are you?” the brunette pleaded, her voice shaking. “I need to find you. Right now.”

“I can’t tell you where I am as yet,” Emma croaked. She had one arm wrapped around herself. Donna was returning to the car, glee on her face as the bag of crabs was fetched by Frank to the trunk.

“I’ve been driving all around for the past hour trying to find you!” Regina cried. The blaring of a horn could be heard on her end and then the brunette sucked in air through her teeth. “Are you okay? If you don’t want to tell me where you are, then can you…please tell me that you’re not going to do something…terrible?”

“I’m not.”

Donna and Frank were considering her from inside the car. They had hopeful expressions on their faces.

“I’m with this really sweet old couple who wants to give me a ride to Georgetown. So I’m okay.”

“Okay,” Regina’s voice was so shaky, it was evident that she couldn’t stop crying. “Okay, great. You’re…okay. But I’m not.”

“Why?” Emma tried so hard to compose herself. To sound like she was fine.

“Why?” the brunette’s voice was smaller now.

“I’m not going to kill myself. I’m not a threat to myself anymore. I’m moving away from that, so it’s okay for me to leave, right?” her vision became blurred as tears filled those emerald eyes. “I mean, there’s nothing between us as I…want. So the only option is for me to leave…now before I expect more from you and I just fall into that shitty place again.”

“I want to come get you,” Regina said, without contributing to the younger woman’s words. “Tell me where you are.”

“I can’t keep doing this.”

“Tell me where you are.”

“I can’t stay with you anymore.”

“Are you past the bridge as yet?” Regina croaked. “Wait there. I will come get you. I’m already packed. I’m on my way. Can you –“

“I can’t do this,” Emma interrupted. “Okay? I can’t do this. I can’t be friends anymore. Just friends. I need so much more and you’re not willing to go there with me so –“

“Just tell me where you are!” Regina cried out. “Stop saying that you cannot do…this with me. Stop telling me what you can’t expect from me. Stop being so goddamn selfish towards me. I am not a child. You need to desist from playing the victim here because you are not. You’ve terribly hurt me, Emma. By leaving like this. I should hate you for doing this to me. But I can’t…”

“I’m sorry,” the blonde’s voice cracked

The brunette took in a lot of air through her teeth. “Emma…if you can just…give me a chance to get through this. To…settle myself a little.”

“I’ve never settled before,” the younger woman said. “I’m always the one who runs.”

“Yes. But you don’t have to run away from me,” Regina pleaded. “I’m not someone to run away from. I will protect you. Take care of you,” the older woman croaked. “Love…you.”

“You don’t mean that the way you want me to believe it,” Emma choked.

“Could you please…” the brunette began in a seriously hoarse voice with a definite sternness, “…cease with the denial about not knowing how I feel. About trying to ascertain how the hell I feel. And can you just…wake up. Wake up!” Regina sounded so hysterical as the sound of the steering wheel being slammed with her fist could be heard. “I am…falling in love with you. I’ve fallen in love with you, Emma. You’re not the only one here who has developed these feelings because I…am breaking right now with the thought of never seeing you again. And I cannot live with myself if I can’t see you again. So this means only one thing and that is…that you’ve turned me so…gay for you.”

The blonde actually had to stifle a laugh after the last bit. “Really?”

Emma stood where she was, shielding her smile behind a hand and the blonde literally felt a weight lift of off her chest. Something like letting go. Like letting out all the worry and allowing the truth, the reality to seep in.

“Fuck my life,” Regina said. She laughed nervously. “Mallie was right. I’ve been in denial all this time. My whole life has been a lie if not for my career. Robin. Josh. Whoever the hell that other one was from Diamond. Ronie. Adesh. Men. Nothing compares to these past days that I’ve spent with you. Now please, will you stay where you are? So that I can come get you?”

The younger woman breathed in as her eyes rested on Donna and Frank. A very nice couple who had spent so many years today, were today only returning home from a road trip. At that age, they could still find the pleasures in life that consisted of nothing but spending time together. Something many couples couldn’t really grasp the meaning of. And now, she was being offered a chance to continue on a path that would lead somewhere definitely into more than friendship.

A place where neither of them had ventured before, but were certain of the fact that they had long gone past the line of being just friends.

Had they ever been friends though?

Emma stood where she was as Frank and Donna drove off, leaving her with a bag of cherry juice to suck on from a straw. And she contemplated on where her life had led. To strange places. Even as those emerald eyes rested on the thick forest across the road, she considered the darkened sky and the leaves and thought of the darkness that always existed in the world, yet nature always found a way out.

It would storm like a bitch but trees always sprouted from the rubble. Streams kept on flowing. Lightening could strike land but nothing stopped someone from building something in that same space again.

Over and over, in her life, Emma realized that she had been put down. By her foster parents. By the persons she thought were her friends. All because of the harsh truth that she was different. And that one last crack in the blonde’s sanity had come when her foster mother yelled over and over again that she was nothing. That she wasn’t worth anything. That the world would be better off without her because no one thought she was special. No one wanted her and she would always be alone.

Verbal abuse.

Being found out at work by several colleagues that she was gay. Having them throw remarks and stare at her as if an alien was present. Being called names in high school. Being bullied and having no one to stick up for her.

But there was always a way out, wasn’t there?

There had to be.

If it wasn’t Regina, then what was it?

Hope? Having faith that she could find someone who cared for her? Having hope that her life meant something to someone? People oftentimes frown upon someone casting such importance on a person to live their lives, but wasn’t that what soul mates found in each other in order to keep on going? Donna and Frank had been thrown into marriage but they still kept doing things together. Learning to love each other. Being there for each other.


 

--

It took Regina half the time Donna and Frank ate up whilst driving to reach where Emma was standing. And by then, the younger woman was literally sleeping on her feet. So that when the Mercedes pulled up alongside the road, the blonde tumbled in with drooping eyelids.

Even before the brunette could at least engage her in conversation, or even risk a hug that could possibly lead somewhere deeper into their souls as always, Emma drifted into a deep sleep and the bag of cherry juice slid to the floor.

When she came to, the car had stopped and through blurred vision, she vaguely detected that they had rolled into a yard with small round white lights lining the top of the fence.

Weakly trying to straighten up, the blonde reached for her bag and heard the jingle of keys as Regina’s dark form came around to her side of the car. Then slowly, the door was opened and she was assisted out of the vehicle with an arm draped around her waist.

The softness. The warmth. Emma remembered it all even through the haze of sleepiness as she was led somewhere that immediately felt safe. Somewhere that already felt like home from the soft smells and comfortable air. From the way she was gently eased onto a bed that felt as soft as a cloud but warm and her boots were unzipped then lightly tugged off.

She felt the warmth of a blanket being pulled over her and the blonde grew all mushy inside, just barely registering that Regina was so close to her. That she was safe and she was home. And then just when Emma was about to slip into a deep sleep again, the feel of soft lips upon her forehead presented a desirous effect that would resonate until she woke up.

“We’re home,” Regina said to her sister as she stifled a yawn. Checking the time, it was a little past six and she couldn’t be more exhausted from such a tumultuous day. So many emotions raging through her, both conflicting and reassuring.

“Is she with you?” Zelena wanted to know. “Emma?”

“Yes.” The brunette decided to prepare the wide sofa for a temporary bed just in the living room and not too far from the room the blonde was sleeping in. “She’s snoozing.”

“The lass must be so tired.” Zelena sighed. “After all that has happened to her. And you must be too. Poor thing. Go to bed right away. Remember to activate the alarm system before you do.”

“Okay mom,” Regina smiled as she stretched out on her sofa and tugged the blanket over those tired feet. “Night.”

“Night, my darling. And don’t forget, if you can’t accommodate her, then I will without hesitation.”

The brunette considered the offer but smiled after realizing how things had changed and those words seemed quite funny.


 

--

Waking up in an entirely new environment serves as quite a shock to one’s nervous system during the stirring moments.

Those emerald eyes fluttered open and immediately rested on the dark red blinds with the sun’s rays slicing down the middle and the low humming of the air conditioning unit. She was captured at first, believing that it had all been some kind of confusing dream and the hotel room was still occupied. But then when the finer details were considered, the blonde soon began to realize that she was somewhere quite new. Somewhere softer and comfortable.

Somewhere that felt safer.

Even the cover was plush and soothing. The mattress seemed like a cloud made in heaven and when her bare feet hit the mellow red carpet, she sighed inwardly from the contact.

The house was awfully enormous, upon further scrutiny as Emma sneaked out of the bedroom. With a living room literally two times bigger than the one back at her foster home, those emerald eyes had to sweep around the interior just to identify with a few of the items that stood out. Like the expansive flat screen television on the caramel coloured wall and the surround sound system with little speakers poking out from all corners of the room. The plush five piece wine red coloured chair set and the glass table with a white fluffy ball of fur with yellow ears nesting on top.

There was a tinkle of possibly glass from her right and Emma’s ears pricked up like the cat on the table, trying to identify if there was danger lurking beyond or someone familiarly pleasing to encounter.

“Ah, she is awake from her slumber at last,” Regina’s figure emerged from a doorway shielded by a curtain made out of red and black beads. The warm smile only served as an immediate recollection of their last conversation, something which curled the blonde’s toes. “Hungry? I made French toast.”

“I’m starving,” Emma provided with a shy smile, hoping that she hadn’t dreamed the confession the day before, one that answered all her questions.

Extending the plate that contained four slices of toast, the brunette chewed on a triangle. “Finish this off. I’ve already had two.”

“Are you sure?” the blonde collected the plate, wishing more than ever that their fingers would brush. That some part of her would touch the older woman. Just to spark up the feeling of passion between them.

“Quite sure,” Regina neatly seated herself upon the two cushioned chair. She patted the space next to her.

Without sparing any amount of seconds, Emma claimed the spot, already chewing on the middle of the toast with a pleased look. They remained silent for a few minutes afterwards, whilst she devoured what served as a delicious breakfast and the brunette merely couldn’t stop gazing intently at the younger woman’s features.

The tension between them was barely bristling. Perhaps skimming the surface but evident.

“The amount of things I want to say to you right now, I’m afraid that I’ll end up talking all day,” Regina finally said in a voice that sounded terribly affected by emotions although she produced a small smile. “But I should let you eat first. Before I offload those cannons as my mother would say.”

“No it’s okay,” Emma chewed slowly and nodded as their eyes met briefly because she was a nervous wreck. “You can go ahead and talk to me.”

“An upset stomach will not suffice.”

“I’m sure…” the blonde said, “that whatever you have to tell me wouldn’t turn my stomach.”

“One more slice and we’re good to go,” Regina said nevertheless.

“But it’s not like my stomach will be empty. I’ll already have stuff inside to turn over.”

“You…do have a…point,” the brunette noted with narrowed eyes. “Alright,” she slapped her hands upon her thighs. “I suppose that it’s only fair to…express myself. Which is something I have never been good in. But I’ll try.”

“You kind of did a great job starting off yesterday,” Emma reminded her. “With the ‘I’ve fallen in love with you’ part…”

Their eyes met and the intensity of the gaze held was something that not only fluttered the blonde’s heart, but also awakened the need inside to lean closer and initiate a kiss. Beginning with a soft peck, perhaps and then awaiting the response that might literally kill her belief that no one would ever love her. All the broken parts. All the bad parts.

“I want to continue to heal you, Emma,” Regina began in a softer tone, her fingers curling upon the soft fabric of a pair of black tights. “As you have been terribly low only recently. You’re still not…there as yet to…accommodate a…” she bowed her head, eyes downcast, “…love interest that spins into something…more.”

“If you mean that I’m not there as yet to do a relationship with you, then I get the idea,” the blonde said, feeling her heart prickle a little although she understood.

But the brunette caught on, reading a little too much between the lines. She considered Emma’s face. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“I’m not offended,” the younger woman said with slight amusement. “Just…” she shrugged, “I don’t know…really sensitive right now to everything you say. Like every word that comes out of your mouth is a tiny bomb.”

“The feeling is mutual,” Regina bowed her head again, reaching up to tuck a chunk of dark hair behind an ear as she smiled a little. “But one of us has to be brave enough to say what has to be said. And I can tell that you’re the braver one here.”

“I don’t call it being brave,” Emma shrugged again. She collected the last bit of French toast from the plate and studied it. “I just think that it’s best to say exactly how I feel instead of leaving room for doubts. I’m the kind of person who always wants answers. So I feel that I have to give enough answers if I want them in return.”

“I’m the…opposite,” the brunette admitted as her eyes slid from the blonde’s plate to the blank television screen before them. “I tend to collect all the answers I can get before formulating a response of my own.”

“That’s smart.”

“Not in this situation though,” Regina suggested with a frown.

“Because you almost lost me and you needed to say all you could say,” Emma said.

Their eyes met. The atmosphere was so quiet because the older woman resided in a residential area. Somewhere a dog barked but eventually, there were no sounds apart from their own heartbeats.

“I just want you to know that all my life I have searched for someone who could absorb my pain whilst still being entirely strong and…every single time, they’ve used it as a weapon against me. But with you, I find that…” her voice was breaking. Regina stopped, and with a small intake of breath, she tried to gather composure. “I find that we absorb each other’s pain quite well because we’re both broken. Because, in every situation where I’m weak, you’re strong or when you’re weak, I’m ready to shelter you.”

Instantaneously, Emma took a hold of the older woman’s right hand, enveloping warm fingers into hers. They had to touch. Some way or the other. And she immediately felt the sparks between them. The whisper of passion that eventually bubbled up and sent little bolts of electricity running down her spine.

“I’m ready to shelter you too.” Her eyes were watering.

Brown eyes glistened too as Regina collected the plate and slowly rested it next to Marie’s sleeping form. The cat lazily stretched like an acrobat, forming a perfect C. And both of them smiled at her.

“So if you don’t want a relationship with me,” Emma said softly, tilting her head to one side as blonde hair tumbled forth, “what do you want me to do? Do you want us to talk alone? Do you want me to…touch you?” Those last words came out softer with the gentlest kind of suggestion. “Because I want to touch you.”

The brunette blinked slowly, her lips parting and barely, those fingers twitched upon her lap. Evidently it was highlighted that such words had a desirous feeling upon her. The kind of feeling that seeped in and invaded her heart contained in a cage.

“Isn’t it too soon?” Regina’s composure was delicate. “It’s been less than a week.”

“I can’t survive a week without kissing you.”

Emma’s words hung in the air like little glass stars. Fragile and meaningful. Important words as they gaze they held strengthened and deepened and lasted.

“I…don’t mind a kiss,” the brunette confessed. “I was referring to stage two. When we…” her fingers were slowly playing with the silver heart pendant resting on the smooth honey coloured skin just below neck.

“Come on,” Emma said with look of disbelief, “people have done it sooner. One time I was with a girl who I knew for like three hours and we made out. Another time it was what…” she thought about it, “one day.”

“I thought you told me prior that you haven’t been with anyone else….” Regina was staring, feeling a little pang of jealousy within her chest and detesting the weakened state she was in.

“I never said that,” the blonde frowned. “I don’t think you even asked me. And even if I said something like that, maybe it was because the way I feel with you, I’ve never felt with anyone else. So this is kind of the first time I’ve actually…fallen in love with someone. That’s how it feels right now.”

“I’m a bit thirsty,” the older woman suddenly said, forcing out a smile. Slowly, she rose up from the couch and made her way to the kitchen.

It was like being ripped away from a moment, knowing that at some point, in between the seconds, something had gone terribly wrong. Because she literally felt it. The tearing away at the seams when Regina got up to leave. In such a manner as abruptly setting off; one was only left to debate on the possibility that something negative had been introduced into the scene.

Therefore, Emma didn’t waste any time to rise up and follow the brunette a full minute after she had left.

Down the hall she went and towards the beaded curtain that had settled to a standstill by then. Whatever it was, the cloud had to be batted away immediately. The parting of ways had been so severe to her heart that she of course felt compelled to remedy it. And as the blonde stepped into the kitchen space, she pinpointed Regina gazing out the window facing south, arms folded and a far off look in those brown eyes.

There was no glass to suppress the need of being thirsty. Which meant that she had been right. Something had frayed away at the edges and needed to be fixed.

“I don’t know much about your life,” Emma began as she slowly approached the older woman who startled a little. Briefly, the brunette glanced into those warm emerald eyes. “Who you’ve been with or…how long it lasted. Who the last guy was. If you’ve ever really been in love like this before. But I know that nothing else matters when I’m with you and no one else matters.”

Regina’s hands fell to her sides. She let out a small sigh. Those brown eyes grew glassy.

“Me talking about the girls in my past shouldn’t even make you feel any way. At least, I know for a fact that they mean nothing to me now.” Emma studied her hands and tried to steady her breathing.

“It’s not about them,” Regina said, her dark hair lightly flapping as the wind came in. Her chest heaved.

“Then what’s pushed you into a corner?”

“The way you speak of intimacy as if it is as simple as making a telephone call. Or…taking a bath.” The brunette sighed. “I don’t mean to offend you but this is how I feel. And intimacy for me is a big deal. So big a deal that it frightens me and makes me grow so nervous when I think about going there with you.”

“It’s not simple to me,” Emma said, feeling the weight of those words. “I’m sorry about how I put it across by saying that I’ve slept with girls in a shorter time. But it’s not simple to me. With them it was but with you it just can’t happen that way.”

“Just so you know that I am really…not trying to be a pain in the ass.”

“Ahh, not at all,” Emma said with a smile. “I’m more in love with you than you can possibly guess.”

The brunette’s shoulders slumped downwards. She seemed defeated. Lost for words. “I’m not even sure whether I will live up to your expectations since I am not well versed in…being with a woman. Intimately and relationship-wise.”

“I don’t care really,” Emma said. She took one step closer leaving about two feet between them. “I can teach you. There are two of us. We can do this together. We’re not alone anymore, remember?”

“Yes but what if I…” Regina seemed unsure of herself and even more delicate, “…am not the person you hope me to be? What if I am dull in bed or you grow bored of my conversations? Or you find that I am terribly lacking?”

“You’re everything I want,” the blonde said in a voice that suggested so much confidence.

Regina sighed. Her gaze was cast outwards, and upwards onto the blue sky with little white puffy clouds crawling by. When she was younger, Zelena would oftentimes elaborate on the actuality of those same clouds being the angel’s way of making art in their spare time

“Life can be so…complicated,” she said, her voice barely audible as the wind rustled the leaves in the maple trees in her backyard. “No one is ever certain of anything. I’ve just been terribly hurt by love, maybe it isn’t easy for me to even accept the possibility of a happy ending.”

She could have merely appreciated that statement, hopefully believing that there was a great chance at persuasion by just contributing. However, Emma could literally feel the burden of those words. The hints of pain and the moment that would serve as the best opportunity to initiate a kiss had suddenly become sharper. The air she breathe was literally becoming so thicker. The walls were pressing in on her and she couldn’t relax.

Emma, as lightheaded as she was growing, closed the distance between them and took a hold of the older woman’s shoulder.

It had to happen right there and then. Right when she took a hold of the moment and a hold of Regina and stepped in, the blonde found that she more than wanted to taste so much more. To know so much more. Therefore, even as those brown eyes widened, she crushed their lips together and immediately felt all the pain fade away.

The purest of pain that had been terrorizing her internally, even though the process of overwhelming it had diminished after meeting the older woman.

Regina mewled from the sudden contact, her fists balled between them as she folded into the blonde and tasted that moment of bliss. A moment that no longer felt tense but entirely satisfying, like a breath of fresh air. Just under her jawline, right where the skin grew softer, the younger woman felt the quickened heartbeat under her thumb. Like a tiny butterfly fluttering as much as their hearts, she savoured the mutual feeling and drank it all in.

Regina was drowning.

Melting.

Emma kissed her, parting those red painted lips and giving everything. Deeply allowing herself to show exactly what was yearned for.

What was dreamed of from the first time they met; it wasn’t a sign of gratitude but an honest act of devotion that intertwined with desire. Because they had now crossed the line, even as their lips captured a kiss that deepened, and her fingers began to rake through dark hair. Even as Regina’s eyes leaked a tear and she contained Emma’s neck within her grasp.

They stayed in that kiss for more than a minute, whilst the world around them continued. Whilst everyone else wandered for that feeling of completeness. Of having someone who never gave up on them. Who sheltered them every second of every day?

Regina eventually opened up like a flower and contained the blonde in a kiss that tilted their heads and produced so much more. Delicately, she bit Emma’s lower lip and pulled, those brown eyes fluttering open and considering the sharp intake of breath from the other woman. And then, in again she moved for the kiss, to unfold their souls and entwine them. Mirroring that need. That deep purring desire that had been existing from the first time she woke up in the hotel room and realized that had they parted ways, her heart would have possibly begun to die.

Now they were together and blossoming already. She could feel it as her neck was tilted back and those soft lips pressed kisses along her jawline.

Emma walked the brunette backwards until the kitchen counter was met. Then as their mouths devoured each other, those red painted lips sucking on her earlobe, she proceeded to allow her hand to wander lower down south. Between those blue jeans, parting the older woman’s leg a little and using two fingers to caress.

To feel.

Realizing how warm the older woman was down there already and burning up for so much more.

“Wait,” Regina was so hoarse as she captured the blonde’s wrist and tried to stop her from continuing her tormenting roaming. But she barely had control left to fight the desire welling up inside. Even as Emma leaned in and sucked on the soft hollow of her neck, the older woman terribly gave in.

Therefore, it wasn’t long before the air was literally sizzling with heat. Even as those two fingers began to press upwards and she managed to work up a rhythm, through the denim fabric of the older woman’s jeans, the blonde couldn’t be overpowered. She couldn’t be stopped and neither could Regina when her hands strangely gathered energy enough to mirror the younger woman’s actions.

Beads of sweat drained down her back, and the blonde’s forehead was already growing damp when the rhythm was matched and they breathed into each other’s hair.

She wasn’t a pro but was fully aware of where to touch, of where to go and where to pay more attention to. Even through those awful jeans, the crescendo was worked up and neared. Until with slow gasps, Regina quivered and cried out a small plea that followed the quaking of her body.

Slowly she opened up until her raw soul was bared for those emerald eyes to see and even then, Emma still stayed and wanted to stay forever. Even as she kept her fingers where they were, feeling how wet the brunette’s jeans grew, she wanted to stay forever. To feel those hard and quick orgasms but without their clothes on. To kiss every part of the brunette, until she cried out over and over again.

“Emma,” Regina breathed into the younger woman’s ear whilst she tried to wrap her arms around those slumped shoulders. Her breath was warm and with quick intakes.

And just when she thought that everything had been reached to a climax astoundingly pleasing, the brunette felt how Emma trembled within her grasp. She considered the lost look in those emerald eyes. The way she shook and clung onto her, pressing those soft lips upon the shell of the brunette’s ear. Coming undone over and over again.

“I…love you,” Regina whispered, still completely captivated by how her actions had been so significant, although barely managed. She rested their foreheads together. “Dear me, I love you so –“

The blonde silenced her with a kiss, one so deep that both of them moaned from the contact and almost sank to the floor.

“Tell me,” Emma whispered, as their lips barely parted, “if you still think…” she was breathless still, and dizzy, “…that life is complicated. With me…here.”

“No,” Regina’s brown eyes glistened with tears. And her lips quivered. She captured the blonde’s face between both hands and gazed into those wide emerald orbs.

How could she even put together a string of words to explain what was felt internally?

A kiss again wouldn’t suffice. Needless to say, they had crossed a line where so much had already been said without speaking, that to even reminisce on that moment was so overwhelming.

The brunette merely decided to engulf the younger woman in an embrace, and inhaling the cheap hotel shampoo that she had rinsed her blonde hair with the prior evening. A little hint of vanilla and sweat. Her fair skin so flawless and smooth. So soft. Those determined hands and tormenting fingers. The way she held her as if she was protecting her from the world.

Emma was the balm to a shattered life and she was a ray of hope to someone who had been lost.


 

--

Within a span of a week, their bond blossomed into something quite endearing and promising. Whilst building up each other, they also worked towards achieving a mutual understanding that connecting as two persons without jumping to satisfy that physical desire was most important. Because at the end of the day, something long term needed to have roots first. And within seven days, they both began to feel so much more how their pieces connected like a puzzle falling into place.

She returned to work on the Tuesday.

Emma realized how uplifted her mood was, from just knowing that one person cared. One person could see all her flaws and accept them. Never judging her. Finding the passion in her work as a cashier and literally tasting how sweet life could be. How the smile on her face could really change a customer’s day and hers. She lived for those moments and went home feeling revived instead of darkened by a life filled with dread.

Her foster parents never even reported her missing. None of them cared. Instead, they returned to their lives as if she never even existed and it was all for the best as Regina made her feel comfortable and appreciated. She made her feel loved for the first time in her life, so much which at first, all of it felt alien. Like she wasn’t sure about how to respond.

When to stop saying thanks. When to hug the older woman. When to cry after being presented with something that was worth more than anything she had ever owned.

The Saturday following their meeting, Regina drove her to two boutiques in the hustle and bustle of Georgetown. Then browsing through racks of clothes that were far too expensive in the blonde’s eyes, the older woman encouraged her to choose as many as needed. Just so that she could start over again and feel like an entirely different person. And she did feel overwhelmed.

She honestly felt as if being carefree for just a few hours was something so strange. Something close to letting go from a rope and feeling herself literally slipping into a soft cloud. Letting all her worries slide away and away and poof. Just like that, everything began to fall into place.

They sat in a café and had lunch whilst chatting about things without any walls up. The kind of things best friends did, or couples or family members. Neither of those the blonde ever had, except for a few light flings that ended on a sour note. But never that. Never the kind of bond that resonated for days on end.

“Beaches always makes me cry when I see it,” the brunette admitted, forking up some pasta and sauce. “It’s one movie that ruins my makeup.”

“I cry like a baby after it ends,” Emma agreed. “And Titanic. And A Walk to Remember. And Me Before You –“

“Me Before You!” Regina gasped, brown eyes widening. “How tragic. And cruel. To have us hope for the option of having him choose to live and then…”

“He chooses to die,” Emma sighed. “So much for love.”

“I don’t care what state I end up in,” the brunette was gazing at the other woman, “I would never give up on my life. I’d rather be with you until I draw my last breath.”

They gazed at each other. Words had so much weight between them.

Emerald eyes grew misty. “Is that a proposal?” the blonde was smiling. “Asking me to marry you?”

Regina forked up some more pasta avoiding eye contact. Head tilted to the right, her chest heaved and she allowed some silence between them.

“Hey,” Emma reached out and captured the older woman’s fingers between hers. “I was just joking. Don’t worry too much about it.”

“No it’s…” the brunette shrugged it off although her voice had gone hoarser, “…not that I worry about it. It’s just that no one has ever…made that kind of pass at me. This is novel.”

“You’ve never had a guy ask you to marry him?” the blonde found that hard to believe.

“No,” Regina croaked. And suddenly, she lifted her eyes but her gaze slid away from the younger woman as she forced out a smile. “It doesn’t matter, really. Atrocious men I have dated.”

“Yeah but there must have been one that stood out from the bunch…”

“There wasn’t,” the brunette lied, avoiding eye contact. However, such a move did not go unnoticed.

“Remember the rule we made,” Emma said softly. Gently, she held the older woman’s fingers and squeezed. “We have to tell the truth. No matter what. Remember?”

Regina sighed. “I really do not wish to speak about it, Emma,” she said hoarsely. “I’ll label it as a great disappointment. Something that pushed me so low, I grew suicidal. The weak points, I tried to bury so deep inside,” she seemed breathless all of a sudden as her hands fluttered above the table. “I have tried to forget.”

“But forgetting isn’t healthy,” Emma said to her, “I’ve been told that by a counsellor once. You have to learn to feel the pain and cry and allow yourself to heal. You haven’t healed, have you? From those weak points.”

“No,” Regina chose to be honest, and realized that she had never been this trusting with anyone else, even her sister.

“My mistake was that I took those weak points and I allowed them to eat me up until they caged me inside. I walked around in that cage for a long time, Regina. I let my labels become me. Weak. Stupid. Damaged goods. Gay and mentally insane,” the blonde’s voice shook a little. “Until that night when you found me, I collapsed inside because I finally allowed myself to feel the pain and cry and all of those points and labels buried me so deep. I couldn’t get out. But I was alone. You’re not alone now. I can help you get through those weak points. One by one.”

“What if I don’t want to remember them?” Regina asked, reaching out and allowing their fingers to entwine.

“Then they’ll eventually come out and start eating you.”

“What if I…am ashamed of them?” Her lips quivered a little and as strong as she could become and as much as she was skilled in showing a composed face, the brunette sucked it in.

Emma noted the struggle and providing that they were in a booth by themselves without public scrutiny, she decided to allow the feelings to ride out.

“You shouldn’t be ashamed of being who you are with me. Of all people, I’m not someone who’s going to judge you. You know that.”

For a long time she didn’t speak in return, but merely considered her plate and took sips of water at intervals. It reached a point where Emma was beginning to worry that she had wounded their relationship although having come so far and working to build something so strong. But then, just when she was afraid and was ready to apologize, Regina allowed their eyes to meet.

The sadness within those brown orbs was something with such depth, Emma didn’t sympathize. She levelled herself with the other woman and was prepared to comfort and love her with everything there was internally. Everything that composed the tragic life she had lived.

“There was once a man who…” Regina bit her lips and then took a deep breath, “…captured my heart. He was my best friend. His name was…Daniel. We were best friends to a…point where I honestly believed that he would find the same attraction in me as I did in him. We did so many things together. Studied together. His family treasured me. At times, I felt attached to him in a way that…I don’t know,” the brunette shrugged, “scared me. But then he…broke my heart by choosing another girl. Someone who was…less sophisticated. A simple girl. I could safely remark on her character as quite dull although he was fascinated by everything she was. They held hands. They…had lunch together and at times he would ask me to tag along but I…” her voice trailed off a little, and grew softer.

“Didn’t want to be a third wheel,” Emma contributed in a soft tone as well. “Being a third wheel sucks.”

Regina nodded. Her eyes were so soft from tears. “It made me feel so tender and sensitive to sit at a table and glare upon their bond that I ended up growing harsh towards him. And we struggled to be friends after that. Our relationship grew rocky. I ignored him. I hated him. Then just when we were slowly beginning to be friends again…” she bit her lips and sucked in some air again. Emma held her hand tighter. “He died in an accident.”

“Oh my god,” the blonde’s eyes filled with tears as brown ones did as well. She was shaking inside, but realized that one of them had to be strong for the other. And this was her queue. “I am so sorry to hear that, Regina.”

“He…died.”

“You should always remember that he cared for you though,” Emma said softly. “Maybe he did find you attractive but he thought he was out of your league.”

“Yes.” Regina sniffed and her shoulders curled forward. “That’s what he said.”

“And he was going to ask you to be with him?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think so.” The brunette shrugged. “We had time. But he never seized the chance.”

“It was something you…missed,” Emma said. She wanted to tread lightly.

However, the brunette did not and would not find anything offensive in the blonde. “It was something that wasn’t meant to become my future.”

“I see it as something that just wasn’t the best for you. Life has a terrible way of teaching us lessons. But in the long run, something always happens to help us see that something better comes along.”

“At the time, he was that something…better,” Regina croaked. “You know?”

“Yeah,” Emma nodded. She squeezed her hands a little more. “It feels terrible. I know. And you need to feel it. You need to cry as much as you can in order to heal.”

“I never allowed myself to back then,” the brunette admitted. “When he died I felt so cold, I kept moving on and trying to forget. Until I buried it inside and I can still feel that shard of glass poking into my chest.”

“I’m sorry…”

“That’s why when you left me, in Berbice, I was so cold. I felt like it was happening in the reverse where someone was now attracted to me and wanted to be with me and I was prepared to find another path to take, just because I believed that you were never going to stick around long enough. I sat in the car that day and I felt myself grow so numb, if I didn’t find you, I would have…died.”

“Regina…” Emma croaked, feeling her heart cry. “Don’t do this to yourself.” Her heart ached.

“Forgive me for bringing this up now, but…” tears leaked down the brunette’s cheeks, “most of all, I wasn’t prepared to accept how I feel about you because just as I lost him, I thought that I would lose you. So when I did, I was prepared to call it fate…”

“But then you didn’t,” Emma said. “You searched for me. You kept searching.”

“And I would have searched for you longer until I found you somehow. Just to tell you how I felt at that point.”

“Exactly.”

Their eyes met, both pairs glistened from tears and even as people passed by outside of the glass window, neither of them bothered to care. All that mattered was the part where they would meet heart to heart and contain each other in nothing but the gentlest way surrounded by warmth. Where every worry, every woe and bad thought could be erased by a delicate consideration expressed through the meeting of their eyes and nothing more.

It was that simple yet effective.

“What have I done to deserve you?” Regina said softly, as they still held hands across the table. “They claim that after a troubled life, one settles eventually. But with you, I am not only settling but I’m also forced to dig deep and…uproot all the chips of wood that are stabbing me in my heart…”

“Okay, you’re really going all poetic on me right now and I’m…kind of exhausted already so…” Emma smiled but indeed appeared entirely fatigued from a couple of hours spent in a hustle and bustle. “I usually love poetry but I can’t start pushing my heart anymore at this point.”

“Let’s go home,” the brunette smiled sympathetically.


 

--

That evening, as much as they were tired from shopping all day, the two of them fell onto the bed and decided to have a movie night.

Regina had no friends apart from Mallie apparently, so she lived the kind of life that involved nothing social except for business drinks.

Her sister had called via Skype, eventually presenting Emma with the opportunity of meeting Jessie and Robyn. The former indeed had the appearance of Velma from Scooby Doo with her black rimmed glasses and bowl cut black hair. Whilst Robyn had a very adorable round face surrounded by an abundance of frizzy red hair, the same colour as her mother’s.

“Is that her?” Robyn immediately said with wide green eyes. “Aunty Regina’s new girlfriend?”

She received a small lash from her scowling mother. “Put a lid on your teapot.”

Jessie rolled her eyes. “I swear, she really can’t keep a secret. Says everything she thinks. How are you, Aunty Regina? We’re so vexed that we didn’t get to see you when you came up here.”

“I’m quite happy, darling,” Regina curled into Emma a little more unconsciously whilst smiling. “I’m wounded too. That we didn’t get to meet.”

“They make a cute couple,” Robyn beamed up at her mother who sat behind them. “Look how adorable they are.”

“Robyn, a cat is adorable,” Jessie stated in a dull voice. “Aunty Regina doesn’t do adorable. She is sophisticated.”

“I think Emma is adorable,” Zelena piped in with a smile, winking so that her sister and Emma could see alone.

“Well…yes,” Jessie agree, narrowing her eyes at Emma and smiling nevertheless. “She is. You simply have to add me on Facebook, Emma. I get the feeling we have a lot in common since mother mentioned that you adore Jane Austen and all the classics.”

“Boring,” Robyn protested, with a long sigh.

After the conversation had ended, Emma indeed added Jessie. Immediately the conversation began with a whirl of thoughts stemming from their reading journey. However, eventually the phone was pried out of her hand and buried under the pillow by no other than Regina.

Even as they browsed through Netflix, there was a debate between settling on a horror movie or Pretty Woman.

Emma was leaning towards the former suggestion, aching to avoid the latter because she had seen it several times in her foster home. But Regina was not the type of woman who favoured thrillers such as The Ring or The Exorcist and so both of them ended up delving into the first season of The White Queen.

“My goodness she’s pretty,” the brunette remarked on Elizabeth Woodville. Digging her slim fingers into the bowl of potato chips as the sound of both of them munching on the snack could be heard.

“But not as pretty as me, right?” Emma was only teasing.

“Don’t be jealous, dear,” Regina nudged their shoulders. “It is she who should be. You’re in my bed. She isn’t.”

The warm blush that crept across fair cheeks only served as a sign of honest sincerity and pride.

Two episodes into the show and one of them was terribly engrossed whilst the other had many thoughts of things escalating into a much more intimate manner. By guessing who those roles could be accounted for, only the wandering gazes would give the person away.

From the moment those brown orbs rested on Emma’s exposed thighs since her pink pajama pants were extremely short, those fingers ached to touch. Therefore, even before she could contain herself, Regina allowed them to wander, at first gently brushing over the fairest skin. And then when the blonde startled a little from the intimate contact, she proceeded to move upwards.

“I’m watching the show,” Emma cleared her throat after finding that desire inside her welled up.

“I want…you,” Regina croaked. Her brown eyes were filled with lust suddenly, the blonde couldn’t believe the change. “Not the show.”

“Me?” she tried to pass it off as a joke and smiling but the terribly deep look of want couldn’t be shaken away. The blonde observed such a quick change, with the prior conversation about taking things slow burning at the back of her mind.

“Yes,” the older woman kept her fingers where they were, wondering if a mere kiss could awaken her so fully with the aid of tormenting fingers working a rhythm through clothes, then what would it be like without anything in the way.

“Babe, I’m really tired,” Emma said.

Without even thinking through the whole ordeal, Regina confidently began to unbutton her red shirt.

It was one simple but fastidious move that swept the blonde into a wave of surprise and passion and everything else that sparked up. She watched the unfolding sexual moment, whilst the show on the screen continued and no attention was paid to it. Whilst those buttons came undone from fingers quickly slipping them out of the tiny holes and the brunette’s black lace bra was revealed.

Labelling her feeling as being overly ecstatic was an understatement.

Regina, however was trembling from nervousness. Knowing fully well that she had never undressed in front of a woman like that. With those wide eyes prodding and already making love to her. The brunette felt the heat rising between them as she tossed her shirt aside and made a suggestive move of flicking her hair with splayed fingers.

“Are you…sure?” Emma had to ask. She dared to ask. “You said that we needed time…”

“I need this,” Regina braved the odds and rose up from where she was. It was definite. She was never spontaneous like that but highly favoured a planned approach. However, in this case, there was no need to plan. There was a thirst. That is why, to of course make the situation somewhat overpowering, the brunette climbed on top of the blonde and planted her thighs on either side.

Emma was astounded, staying where she was because she had no choice and immediately giving up all the willpower to fight the crescendo building up.

It wasn’t something to fight, was it? Even when the blonde found herself being dominated like that, something that was never expected, she gave in. Even when the older woman contained Emma’s face between both palms and brought their faces closer, she allowed it. Because she didn’t want anything else.

The kiss was magical.

It was deep and expressive of a longing that had been residing since the very first one. Their tongues sought out the other and their souls connected. Emma kissed her back with as much desire as was received. And even when her hands began to boldly unclip the black lace bra, Regina helped her out of the grey jersey with a smiley face on the front.

In a matter of seconds, both of them had their hands gingerly seeking out to touch each other’s breasts. Thumbs encircled erect nipples and their eyes were filled with so much lust, so much longing. Emma gasped when she finally was able to turn a dream into reality. To spin their own tale that had begun with an almost tragedy and was now blossoming into a beautiful love story.

By the time they were both stripped down to their undergarments, The White Queen had ended and another episode begun automatically. But neither of them cared. Regina’s heel probably flipped the TV into DVD mode so that the screen went black eventually but the room grew silent and filled with so much heat, both of them began to sizzle from it all.

Both of their mouths sucked on each other’s necks whilst hands dove further south. Between legs that were softer in that delicate region which was growing so desirously wet and welcoming. It wasn’t just magical now but sexy and tormenting as the blonde slipped two fingers into the older woman, wrapped the other hand around Regina’s waist and forced her to ride them.

The rhythm. The look on the brunette’s face as she slipped deeper into a daze from the feeling of having her body opening up to another woman. Of losing herself as those kinked fingers roughly twisted and she cried out hoarsely, tilting her chin up to the ceiling. Palms gingerly massaging and squeezing Emma’s milk white breasts, Regina came harder than before and this time, her cries filled the room. Her body convulsed as beads of sweat dripped from soaked temples and down an arched back.

Then and only then did Emma slip her fingers away whilst gripping the brunette around the waist and pulling her down. Immediately, the feeling of the most sensitive parts of them meeting was mind-blowing as those emerald eyes widened and she felt herself letting out a raspy moan. The kind of moan that signaled letting go and having no control. Of allowing one’s body to react to a profound bond which defied the boundaries of normalcy.

The room swam. Regina grinded their bodies together, their hips moving in a rhythm and lifting herself from the pillow, Emma gasped when she was pulled over the edge. It was tremendous. Both of them felt it. Both of them grabbed onto each other in an embrace that was sweetly seductive with their sweat soaked bodies and cries of pleasure that filled the space.

To make love to a woman was extraordinary. It was like nothing else. To describe it, one would have to feel every single orgasm, know every single reaction to being touched as fingers traced every curve. And yet, she wanted more.

She wanted to taste, to take control.

Emma eventually turned Regina over and found her way down south, this time, using her parted lips as a force for more pleasure. Because she wanted to know more. To have the brunette open up more and feel what it was like to go into all the best places with another woman. So using her mouth, she sucked and used her tongue even when Regina squirmed and tried to move herself away from being savoured. The blonde gripped the older woman’s thighs and fastened herself between there until the ripples or orgasms began and this time, harder and longer.

She felt every one with her tongue. She tasted every second of it. And she did it all over again until Regina was hoarse from choking on her screams. From twisting and balling the sweat soaked sheet into her fists.


 

--

When the night grew stiller and the moonlight cascaded upon the world, Regina gently pulled back the covers and slipped away from the blonde’s embrace. As naked as she was, sweat still lingering on her skin, the brunette found a silky red robe and provided enough concealment. Pushing her feet into red bedroom slippers, she quietly stole through the hallway and headed towards a room next to the kitchen that housed a bed and a simple chest of drawers for a third visitor. Then without the slightest sound, she turned the knob on a door and climbed a short flight of stairs that led upwards.

Her heart fluttered inside her chest. Honey coloured skin still smelled like light sweat, vanilla and her passion fruit perfume. And as Regina pushed open the door above her, the cool night wind swept in and washed over the brunette in a refreshing manner. Something that was automatically treasured.

After climbing onto the roof and placing her knees onto the flattest expanse of it, where black tar coated the surface, she settled into a sitting position. Legs folded, Regina rested her back onto one of the columns that pushed through the house and was strategically constructed to plant the structure firmly into the ground.

Inhaling deeply, those brown eyes fluttered close and a sense of calm rested around her. Mentally, the brunette was escaping to somewhere far away that contained nothing but a stillness which seeped into her being erased all the doubts and fears. All the childhood tragedies and the ghost of her mother that would torment her occasionally.

She exhaled all of the poison. She inhaled new air that signified a new beginning because at that point, it was a new beginning for her. Their love making had marked that, something so significant to a sophisticated woman as she was. Something so special and so overwhelming. The brunette sank into the memories again of having herself peel away the last layer, opening up so much to someone and having them love her unconditionally. And that was a remarkable beginning for her.

“I don’t care what you think about me, mother,” she said to the wind as it howled around the houses and rustled leaves in the trees. Those brown eyes blinked. She considered the black sky and could feel a billion eyes of angels resting on her. Somewhere between them, her mother could be because as much as Cora had damned her daughter’s life, the brunette still wished her well.

“I don’t care that for all my life, you wanted me to fail. You never wanted me to be happy. I didn’t believe...in myself because of you," her voice cracked. No. She wasn’t going to cry. “But now I have found someone who believes in me. Who wants me to be happy? I’ve found her, mother. And guess what? She’s everything you never were. She’s understanding. She loves me so much. Appreciates me. She handles my moods. Understands them. I found her. I didn’t give up on her as you gave up on me. I have a sister who effortlessly stands by my side but now…I have someone who I really believe I can spend the rest of my life with. And…” Regina batted a tear away. She sniffed. “Mother I actually miss you because if you were here, you would have been able to see how happy I am now. How I have found someone when you believed I couldn’t. I am older now, mother. But I am not alone.”

The moonlight stole into the small space where the steps led upwards and fell onto blonde hair. Just below the door. Less than a foot from where Regina sat, Emma pressed her back to the wall and allowed the words to sink into her soul.

“The urge of dying…every single day is gone, mother,” Regina’s voice was so husky. Her eyes leaked tears. But she smiled. “I used to think that life held nothing for me. It was so empty and I wanted to slip away into the darkness where I could forever reside. I wanted to die. And now I’ve found the meaning of hope. But it isn’t all about her. It’s the small parts of me I feel coming back alive like little flames being lit again and for once in my life now, I feel as if I can breathe again and believe in myself.”

The wind howled in response. The trees swayed. The moon hid behind a cloud. Somewhere in a yard down the line, a dog barked. There were no crickets out that night. It seemed as if the rain would never come that way but would remain in the east.

“I’m going to marry her someday,” Regina said, hugging her knees as dark hair fluttered about. “Just as long as she doesn’t give up on me because I wouldn’t give up on her.”

Emma sank to the floor and felt the tears overwhelm her. Lips bitten, she inhaled deeply.

She realized that her life felt complete. She had it all now. And little by little, Regina was proving that the definition of completeness could be altered every single day because of her generosity in opening new doors. Leading their souls together down a path that never appeared dark. Leading her away from the darkness and into the light feel of hope. The giddy feeling of traversing through a leafy journey with so many promises and actions.

When she used to be alone, and unappreciated, no one bothered to care about the state of her heart. No one realized that she was just someone who wanted to be loved. Until that one night when her life almost ended and Regina swept in and saved her. She saved her with words. Just words. Something many people took for granted because they never quite understand the power of the spoken word. The fact that words can change someone’s life. And when words had been a weapon to her for most of her life, now Regina had shown her that words could also be so many other things better felt.

Slowly, she climbed the stairs.

Emma pulled herself onto the roof and their eyes met. Brown ones widened. Emerald ones met brown ones shyly as the blonde planted herself next to the woman who owned her heart. Then gently, she wrapped an arm around Regina and pulled her close, nestling the brunette’s face into the crook of her left shoulder.

“Don’t worry,” she said softly, pressing a kiss onto dark hair that smelled fruity. “I’ll never give up on you because when everyone else did, you didn’t.”

Regina’s eyes leaked tears. She entwined their fingers.

“And…” Emma wrapped her arms tighter around her lover, “there’s nothing else in the world that would make me happy than to look forward to the day when we’re married to each other.”

The brunette held her breath. In fact, she choked on a sob. “You heard.”

“I know it was wrong but –“

“No. I’m glad you did,” Regina said hoarsely. She splayed their fingers before them. Studied them. Even their fingers fitted perfectly together. “We were strangers once. On that road. Then we quickly grew to love each other. If someone had to write our love story, it would have to be called…” she inhaled deeply, thinking about it.

“Loving Strangers,” Emma said simply with a smile.

Both of them studied the title. They thought about it.

Then slowly, a smile crept over Regina’s face. “Loving Strangers,” she tasted the words. The brunette breathed in deeply. “I approve.”

x The End x