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i hope that there’s some childish spark still alive

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When Emma Nolan and Alyssa Greene were fourteen years old, they both came to the same realization, a realization they confessed to each other at a sleepover the week before they started their freshman year of high school. The two had been best friends for years and told each other everything, but these secrets carried a different sort of weight.

It was late, and they had managed to watch three different movies before Alyssa’s mom came into her room. “It’s getting late, girls,” Veronica Greene said. “Time to get ready for bed.”

“But mooom,” Alyssa complained, “We were going to watch Mulan next!”

“Alyssa, honey, you start high school next week. It’s already midnight, we’ve got to start getting your sleep schedule back to normal.”

Emma let out a yawn. “It’s okay, Lys, I’m getting tired anyway. Thanks for letting me stay over again, Mrs. Greene.”

Veronica smiled endearingly at Emma. “You are welcome over anytime, dear.”

“Sometimes I think she likes you more than she likes me,” Alyssa grumbled.

“Sometimes I do,” Veronica countered with a laugh. “Bedtime, girls!”

“Yes, mom.”

“Yes, Mrs. Greene.”

Ten minutes later, teeth were brushed, lights were out, and Emma and Alyssa were wrapped up in the blankets in Alyssa’s bed. Emma rolled onto her side, facing away from her friend, lost in thought.

“Hey, Alyssa,” she spoke up, eventually, hoping Alyssa hadn’t fallen asleep yet.

“What’s up?” Alyssa’s reply was immediate, so Emma rolled over to face her.

“Can I tell you something?” Emma was so anxious. Her heart felt like it was about to explode as she chewed on her lip, and while Alyssa had no idea why she was so nervous, she knew there was nothing Emma could say or do that would make her love the girl any less.

Alyssa nodded. “Of course,” she said. When Emma seemed to hesitate, she added, “You can tell me anything. That’s what we do, right?”

“Right,” Emma muttered. “Well, I’ve been keeping something from you for a while. I— I’m scared, Alyssa. I don’t want to lose you.”

“You’ll never lose me.”

Emma took a deep breath and looked into Alyssa’s eyes. “I’m gay.”

There was a brief moment where Emma was terrified as to how she would react, but then Alyssa’s face seemed to light up at the confession. “You are?” she asked, breathless. Emma nodded. “I just— I thought I was the only one in this town,” Alyssa admitted.

“So you’re—“

“And you—“

As the two girls realized their shared secret they both squealed in excitement, then immediately shushed each other when they remembered Alyssa’s mother was right down the hall.

“When did you— how did you know?” Alyssa whispered.

Emma shrugged. “I dunno. I think I always knew, but then I realized that it wasn’t normal to not like boys so I just… never told anyone. But you’re my best friend. I wanted to tell you so bad, I was just always so scared. You know how people here can be.”

Alyssa smiled. “I’m glad you told me.”

“How did you know?” Emma asked.

Alyssa blushed, hoping that it was hidden by the darkness of the room. “You know when all the other girls started talking about their crushes on boys or like, who they thought they would marry one day? I guess I realized I was never really thinking about boys. It was always girls I imagined myself with.” She deliberately failed to mention that it was one girl in particular that she sometimes liked to imagine herself with, the girl who was looking at her with a breathless wonder right now.

Emma grew nervous again as she admitted something else. “I think my parents might suspect something.” Her voice was quiet and scared. “I don’t know. They make all these dumb comments about my clothes and then my dad yells at me and I— I don’t know. That’s why I like coming over here. They always find something to complain about and I’m just so tired.” Emma couldn’t help the tears that fell from her eyes.

Alyssa snuggled closer to her, wanting to comfort her, and threw her arms around Emma, hugging her close. “They’re stupid,” she muttered.

“I’m scared of what they might do if I ever come out to them.”

“You’ll come here,” Alyssa said firmly. “I’m not really sure about my mom. She’s a little stuck in her ways, but she loves me. I think she’d come around eventually. And she loves you. You’re always welcome here, she said. If your parents are dumb, you’re coming here and you’ll never have to deal with them again.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

“You’re amazing,” Emma muttered.

Alyssa leaned away and smiled at her, fighting off another blush. She cleared her throat. “I’m a little more nervous about anyone at school finding out,” she confessed. “I’m pretty sure we’re like, the only two gay kids in town. And this place isn’t exactly the most welcoming of people like us. Did you hear about Bobby Winters?” Emma shook her head. “He was a sophomore last year and he was bullied so badly that he transferred schools and moved out of town.”

“Wow,” Emma frowned. “That sucks.”

“Yeah.”

“You know what I want to do one day?” Emma said.

“What?”

“Go to the pride parade.”

Alyssa gasped. “That’s all the way in Indianapolis. Do you really think we’ll get out of Edgewater?”

Emma shrugged. “Maybe one day. We could go together!”

“It is nice to imagine…” Alyssa mused. “Sometimes I think I’ll be stuck here forever. It feels like my mom’s already putting down roots for me to stay here and take over her real estate practice or something.” She groaned.

Emma chuckled. “Yeah, as much as I’d love to get out, I doubt my parents would want to pay for college in San Francisco or New York, so I may be stuck here for a while.”

“How am I ever gonna fall in love and get married if I’m stuck in the most homophobic town in the world for the rest of my life?” Alyssa frowned.

“Tell you what,” Emma said. “If we’re both still single when we’re like… thirty, we should just get married.”

“What?” Alyssa gasped, a blush creeping onto her cheeks.

“Yeah! You’re my best friend, Lys. Who else would I want to marry?” The grin on Emma’s face was genuine, and Alyssa’s heart leapt at the thought that maybe, one day, she would marry Emma.

“Okay,” Alyssa found herself saying. “It’s a deal.”

 


 

Fifteen Years Later

 

Emma Nolan stared at the tiny dachshund as he sniffed around the tenth tree on this walk without going to the bathroom.

“Come on, Spoon,” Emma groaned. “Can’t you just take a shit already?”

Spoon whined and suddenly stopped sniffing and trotted away from the tree, moving onto the next one.

“Ugh.”

She walked along next to him slowly, as his little legs could only carry him so far. Emma began to meander behind him and let his leash extend forward a little, but she didn’t realize that Spoon had walked up to a park bench and was sniffing at the feet of the woman who sat there.

“Spoon, no!” Emma called when she realized. She ran over to grab him just before he lifted his leg and urinated on her shoe. She held him out to the side as the woman looked up and Emma realized that this wasn’t a stranger, but someone she hadn’t seen in a very long time.

Alyssa Greene looked up at Emma Nolan with wide eyes. It was probably the last person she had expected to see out on her lunch break. In fact, she hadn’t seen the girl in over a decade.

“Emma Nolan?” she said, baffled.

“Alyssa,” Emma gasped. “Alyssa Greene.”

“God, it’s been what—“

“Thirteen years.” Emma glanced over at Spoon and realized he had finished urinating, so she set him back down on the ground. “Not that I’m counting or anything,” she added with an awkward chuckle. “It’s just hard to forget the day your parents kick you out and you move to another state to live with your grandma.”

“Right,” Alyssa sighed. “I never did go visit you in Ohio.”

Emma shrugged. “We both got pretty busy. I get it. Life happens.”

“Wasn’t it your birthday last week?” Alyssa asked.

Emma let out a soft, surprised gasp. “You remembered?”

Alyssa just shrugged, blushing a little. “We were best friends for so long, I think it’s just one of those things I’ll probably never forget.” Emma had just turned thirty, and somewhere in the back of Alyssa’s mind, there was a memory she longed to recall, but she cleared her throat and pushed it aside.

“What are you doing here?” Emma asked, breathless.

“I’m on my lunch,” Alyssa said. “There’s a taco truck I like that always comes here.” She held up the paper plate in her lap, the remnants of a half eaten taco on it. “I— I had no idea you were in New York,” Alyssa said, shaking her head with a soft laugh. She had been in the city for years and never even realized running into Emma Nolan was a possibility. “Or that you had a dog.”

Emma looked confused for a moment, then glanced down at Spoon who was currently trying to eat a rock that was bigger than his head. “Oh, Spoon?” She frowned at him and kicked away the stone. “He’s not mine. I, uh, I walk dogs sometimes.”

“Oh,” Alyssa said.

“I just— I work for this nonprofit and, well, nonprofit work doesn’t pay too well so there’s a couple dogs I walk on the side for a little extra money sometimes. Like Spoon here.”

“Spoon is an… interesting name for a dog,” Alyssa mused. She reached out to let Spoon sniff her hand, and he hissed at her. She laughed.

“Interesting name for an interesting dog,” Emma concurred.

Alyssa glanced back up at Emma. She looked good. She looked happy. Alyssa found herself smiling at the sight of her old friend, and she felt a warmth in her chest that she hadn’t felt in a long time. “So what nonprofit work do you do?” Alyssa asked, curious.

Emma’s tentative smile grew into a much larger grin. Her entire face lit up as she began to speak about her job with passion and excitement. “It’s called Music First and we give music lessons to underprivileged kids. We have placements at a lot of schools and community centers in lower income areas and offer free lessons to anyone who signs up. I’m a program coordinator so I pitch new placements and projects and help get those set up, and I’m also one of the guitar instructors.” Emma had a proud smile on her face as she rambled with enthusiasm about her job.

“That’s— Emma, that’s incredible!” Alyssa gasped. “I’m a guidance counselor and the school board just slashed our arts budget so they cut most music classes and electives. I have so many kids coming in to see me because things are that much harder to deal with when they don’t have that creative outlet. I’ve been pushing for a club to the principal but he won’t budge. I just know how much it affects the kids and I hate that I can’t do anything.”

Emma pursed her lips, contemplating for a moment, before she said, “Maybe you can do something.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, one of our locations, Jefferson Community Center, just shut down our program due to lack of attendance, so we’re looking for a new placement.”

“What are you saying?”

Emma scuffed her shoe nervously on the ground. “If you want, we could work on a pitch together and present it to my boss. Maybe we could start a program at your school.”

Alyssa let out a surprised, grateful laugh. “Wait, seriously? You’d do that?”

Emma shrugged, a nervous blush on her cheeks as she rubbed at the back of her neck. “Anything for an old friend.”

A cold gust of wind blew some of Alyssa’s hair into her face and she lifted her left hand to brush it out of the way. That was when Emma noticed the ring.

“Wow,” Emma whistled. “That’s a big rock.”

Alyssa paused for a moment, then pulled back her hand and glanced down at the large, flashy diamond ring that adorned her left ring finger, as if she suddenly remembered it was there. She blinked and sighed. “It is indeed.”

“Who’s the lucky girl?” Emma asked.

“Her name is Jess,” Alyssa said plainly. “We’ve been together two and a half years and we’re getting married in the spring.” Emma couldn’t help but notice there was no fond smile at the mention of her fiancée. Alyssa seemed more excited to talk about her job than the woman she loved

“Congrats,” Emma breathed as she shook the thought out of her head. It was none of her business. “You know, I never pegged you for the type to want a flashy sort of engagement ring.”

“Oh, I’m not,” Alyssa laughed. “But Jess insisted on getting the nicest ring she could buy so everyone would know I’m hers.” Alyssa forced a smile and her eyes grew a little distant for a moment.

Emma cleared her throat and Alyssa blinked, turning to look at her again. “Um, well, about the pitch… we could grab a coffee or something and I can go over the details with you, if you want?”

Alyssa’s eyes softened. “I’d love that,” she sighed. “Give us a chance to catch up, too.”

Emma nodded. “Yeah. Um… here.” She handed her phone over to Alyssa with the new contact screen up. Alyssa took it and began to type in her information. “I’ll have to get the idea approved by my boss, but then we can start working on a pitch.”

“Sounds perfect,” Alyssa said. “Just let me know.” She handed the phone back to Emma and their fingers brushed for the briefest of moments. “It’s good to see you, Emma.”

Emma bit her lip. “It’s good to see— UGH, SPOON!”

Alyssa glanced down at the dog to see that he had crouched over Emma’s foot and was taking a dump on her shoe. She let out a sharp laugh as Emma slid her foot away and shook it out.

“Fucking— piece of shit— you’re lucky you’re cute,” she grumbled as she gently pushed the dog out of the way and scooped his feces into a doggie bag. “I should, uhh…” she trailed off, waving the small tied off bag and gestured over her shoulder.

Alyssa giggled again at Emma’s adorable antics, and froze for a moment when she realized she had just called Emma adorable in her head. But she shrugged it off and waved goodbye. “I’ll see you around, Emma.”

“See you, Alyssa!”

 


 

Alyssa was home alone, heating up some leftover takeout for dinner, and on the phone with her mother. Veronica called her daughter at least once a week to check in on how she was doing, but lately she called more often what with wedding plans needing to be discussed. And discussing wedding plans always led to disagreements.

“When is the deposit for the venue due?” Veronica asked.

“The twenty third. I’ll send you the money from Jess’s account so you can just do the full amount.”

“Alyssa, honey, are you sure you want to get married at the Carlton? It just seems a little… upscale for your tastes.” She put it as politely as she could, but all she wanted was for her daughter’s wedding to be perfect.

Alyssa just shrugged. “I know I said I wanted something more simple, but Jess has a friend who got us the date at the Carlton. It’s really hard to get a spot there, I feel like it would be rude not to accept.”

“Did you tell Jess you wanted something more simple?” Veronica tried to keep the layer of mirth in her voice hidden, but Alyssa still picked up on it.

Alyssa frowned. “She’s been stressed with work so I didn’t want to bother her… but mom, what is your problem with Jess?” Veronica gaped and attempted to protest, but Alyssa didn’t let her interject, continuing on. “I just feel like whenever we talk about the wedding or about her you always find something to complain about.”

Veronica paused as she let out a deep breath that she had been holding. “Are you happy, Alyssa?”

There was a moment’s hesitation as the question weighed on her mind, but Alyssa blinked and shook her head. “Of course I’m happy,” she said with a dry laugh. “I’m getting married for God’s sake. You could try to be happy for me for once?”

Veronica frowned. “I’m sorry, honey. As long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.”

And then Alyssa suddenly remembered something that did make her happy. “Oh, mom, you’ll never believe who I ran into today!”

“Well don’t drag it out too long, dear. The suspense is killing me.”

“Emma Nolan!” Alyssa’s smile could be heard in her voice. “Do you remember her?”

Veronica thought for a moment. “You mean your best friend from middle school? The one who moved to Ohio after she— after her parents, I mean…”

Alyssa nodded. “That’s the one. I hadn’t seen her since she moved, and I just ran into her at the park today while I was on my lunch. Can you believe it?”

“You know, I always liked that girl,” Veronica said, thinking back to memories of sleepovers and study dates and probably the happiest she had ever seen her daughter in school.

“I know, mom,” Alyssa laughed. “She actually works at this really cool music nonprofit and offered to try and get the program set up at my school. Isn’t that awesome?”

“Nonprofit work is such a respectable industry,” Veronica mused. “It takes a really good person to give that much of themselves for the good of others. Sort of like what you do.”

“Yeah, she seems to really love the work too,” Alyssa thought, a small smile inching onto her lips as she remembered the way Emma excitedly rambled and gesticulated about her job. “Anyway, she has my number. We’re going to meet up at some point so she can give me a little more information.”

“Well, please give her my love when you see her again,” Veronica said. “And ask how that grandmother of hers is doing. I only met her the one time but she was the nicest lady. They were a good family, save for her parents.”

“I will,” Alyssa said, trailing off. Then, her brain flipped a switch and went back into wedding planning mode. “You’re still coming for Christmas, right?” she asked. “That’s the only time I have to pick out a dress and I want you here for that.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Alyssa.”

“Thanks, mom,” Alyssa said. “Well, I’ve got some leftover Chinese takeout and the new season of Nailed It calling my name, so I should let you go.”

“Where’s Jess tonight?”

“She’s out of town this week.”

“Again?”

“You know she works a lot,” Alyssa sighed. “And hey, she’s paying for most of this wedding so don’t complain too much.”

“I know, I know. I just feel like every time I call you she’s out of town…”

“We’re not getting into this right now,” Alyssa groaned, rubbing her forehead. “Bye, mom.” She hung up before Veronica could protest any further.

Alyssa got comfortable on the couch, stretching her legs across the length of it, and shoveled broccoli beef and chow mein into her mouth. She glanced to a framed photograph on the end table of her and Jess from their engagement photoshoot. Alyssa realized she couldn’t remember the last time that she had just curled up on the couch with her fiancée and had a night in. She was always out of town, or showing Alyssa off at fancy events, and while Alyssa enjoyed getting dressed up and going out, sometimes she just wanted to stay in sweats and snuggle while watching something lighthearted and fun.

It had been a while.

 


 

Emma’s chest thrummed nervously as she marched toward Sheldon’s office, rehearsing what she would say in her head. She knocked on the door with determination and threw it open, not even waiting for a response. She knew he wasn’t busy, as he hated Mondays and tried to keep his schedule as free as possible on Monday mornings.

“What do you want, Nolan?” he grumbled. “I’ve only had two coffees so far and you know you’re not supposed to talk to me until I’ve had at least three.”

Emma placed the cup of coffee from his favorite cafe down the street on his desk and nudged it toward him. He eyed her suspiciously, then gratefully accepted the cup. His face relaxed as he took a sip of the warm beverage.

“Okay, continue.”

“I found a replacement for Jefferson,” Emma said plainly.

“What, already?” Sheldon asked. “Didn’t they just cut our program like, a week ago?” Emma nodded. “I’m surprised. You usually do weeks of research before even considering a new placement.”

Emma averted her eyes, but cleared her throat and continued on. “I know someone who works at a school and all their music programs were just cut. They really need the help.”

Sheldon raised an eyebrow at her. “You know someone? This doesn’t happen to be a girl you’re trying to impress, does it? Because that worked out so well at Baxter Middle.”

Emma blushed a little. “No!” she defended, a little too quickly. She took a quick breath. “No, I— she’s an old friend. I trust her.”

Sheldon glared at her for a moment longer, trying to get her confident gaze to falter, or to find a crack in her facade, but when he was unsuccessful, he let up. “Well, you know the drill. How long will it take you to get a pitch together?”

“A couple weeks?” Emma shrugged. “I’ll be working with her so it depends on when she’s free, but it shouldn’t take too long.”

Sheldon nodded. “Okay, I’ll call the board. How’s November 30th sound?”

“Sounds perfect.”

Emma rushed out of the office, silently cheering in her head, and immediately whipped out her phone to send a text to Alyssa.

It’s Emma Nolan. I just got approval to move forward with our pitch! When are you free?

She hit send and as she looked up, she ran smack into Shelby, who sat leaning against Emma’s desk with a knowing look in her eyes. Shelby was the PR coordinator, piano instructor, and one of Emma’s best friends. “What are you so excited about?”

Emma rolled her eyes and quelled the excited grin on her face into more of a satisfied smile. “I found a new placement, so I’m starting a new pitch.”

Shelby scrunched her eyebrows together, only half believing what Emma said. Emma mentally cursed how intuitive Shelby could be sometimes. Her eyes glanced over to Emma’s phone and she smirked. “So it has nothing to do with this Alyssa who just texted you back?”

“What?!” Emma’s eyes grew wide as she looked at her phone. And, just as Shelby promised, there was a new message from Alyssa waiting for her.

Excellent! I’m a little swamped for the next few days, but how’s Thursday? We could do lunch?

“Ha,” Shelby said. “You can’t hide things from me, I know you too well. So, who’s Alyssa?” There was a teasing lilt to her voice that grated on Emma’s nerves. She pushed past Shelby to sit down at her desk.

“She’s an old friend,” Emma muttered.

“Old friend like, old lover?” Shelby asked with a wink.

“No, just a friend!” Emma groaned, burying her face in her hands.

“Oh,” Shelby frowned, then realization crossed her face. “Oh! But you wanted her to be more! I see. What else aren’t you telling me, Nolan?”

“Nothing!” Emma defended.

“The lady doth protest too much,” Shelby frowned. “What more could I be missing besides childhood crush?” Emma blushed but kept her mouth shut. “Okay, now I know you’re keeping something from me. Spill.”

“It’s stupid,” Emma muttered, spinning in her chair and looking down at her feet.

“Hey,” Shelby’s voice was suddenly genuine. She may like to tease Emma, but she was a good friend. “You can tell me, I’m not gonna judge you. I just might give you a little shit about it, but you already expect that from me.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Emma snorted. “Well, we were the only two gay kids in our town and… well, we sort of made a pact when we were fourteen.”

Shelby raised an eyebrow. “What sort of pact?” Emma muttered something unintelligible under her breath. “Sorry, I’m gonna need you to speak up a little.”

“We promised that if we were both single when we turned thirty that we’d get married.”

“Holy shit, that’s fucking adorable!” Shelby squealed. “Oh my god, so you’re going out next week?”

“We are simply getting lunch to discuss the pitch because she is engaged.”

“Oh shit,” Shelby gasped. “I didn’t see that one coming. Guy or girl?”

“Girl.”

“Okay, so there’s still a chance!”

“Shelb, I’m not a homewrecker. She probably doesn’t even remember some stupid promise we made as kids. I’m just excited to see her again is all,” she said with a shrug. “It’s been years. It’ll be nice to catch up.”

“Whatever you say, dude.” Shelby definitely didn’t believe her.

Emma wasn’t totally sure if she believed herself either.

 


 

Alyssa arrived at the restaurant early; her strict punctuality would never allow her to arrive anywhere later than ten minutes early. And if she remembered Emma Nolan correctly, the woman had a penchant for tardiness. At least, she had when they were fifteen years old. As the clock ticked past noon, she realized that probably hadn’t changed with a fond smile.

It was twelve ten when Emma burst into the restaurant, out of breath, and spotted Alyssa already seated at a table. “I am so sorry,” she panted. “The dog I was walking slipped out of her collar and took off running. I had to chase her through Central Park. Corgis are surprisingly fucking fast.”

Alyssa chuckled. “Were you able to catch her?”

“Eventually a hot dog vendor took pity on me and gave me a free hot dog to bribe her back onto her leash,” Emma groaned. “But I’m here. And I’m ready to talk.” Emma started ruffling through her backpack and pulling out various folders and papers. “So I have just a couple things to go over with you and some paperwork to fill out, and then I’ll need a few details from you and we can figure out how to present the data to the board and—”

“Emma,” Alyssa interrupted her ramblings. “Breathe. Why don’t we just grab some food first. I’m sure you’re hungry.”

As if on cue, Emma’s stomach growled. “Uh, right. You’re right. That’s a great idea. Sorry, I’m just a little frazzled right now.”

“It’s okay,” Alyssa said, looking at Emma with a smile on her lips. She passed a menu across the table. “Pick out something and I’ll go order. Lunch is on me today.”

“You don’t have to—“

“I insist. You’re doing me a favor here.”

Emma gave her a small smile. “Thanks,” she muttered, and scanned the menu.

While they waited for their food to be prepared, Emma and Alyssa spent a little time catching up since they saw each other last. It was almost unbelievable how easily they slipped into comfortable conversation and witty banter, just like when they first ran into each other the other day. Even after their food arrived, they picked at it slowly, choosing conversation over their meal.

“How long have you been in New York?” Emma asked.

Alyssa blew out a puff of air as she thought about it for a moment. “A while,” she said. “I went to grad school at Columbia and I loved the city so much that I just never left. What about you?”

Emma shrugged. “A few years? I went to college in Berkeley and I actually helped start up Music First out there, and so I had been jumping around every couple years or so whenever they wanted to start a new program to help it get up and running. Spent some time in Chicago, Detroit, Houston, and then they asked me to stay in New York as the programming coordinator and I figured it’d be nice to settle down somewhere, at least for a little while.”

“Wow,” Alyssa mused. “You’ve been all over the place. I went straight from Indiana State to New York so there’s still so much of the world I haven’t seen. Jess, though— my fiancée— she travels all over the place for work.”

Emma’s face darkened for a moment as she suddenly remembered that Jess existed. “Oh, yeah?” she said. “What does she do?”

Alyssa frowned. “I’m not totally sure. Some sort of business type stuff. She doesn’t really like talking about work because it stresses her out. And so I tell her we should go on a vacation to relax, and she just says that she travels so much for work that she doesn’t really see the appeal in a vacation anymore. I guess if I want to travel, I'll have to do it by myself.”

“Is she out of town a lot?” Emma asked.

Alyssa nodded. “A couple times a month, usually. At least.”

“Must get lonely.”

Alyssa shrugged. “You get used to it.”

“I’m sorry.” Emma felt awkward for prying, and Alyssa was suddenly distant.

“Anyway,” Alyssa shook her head and suddenly a smile was on her face again. “I’m sorry to… ramble about my relationship. What about you? Are you seeing anyone?”

“Uh, no,” Emma said with a shrug. “No, girls tend to not really like it when I up and move across the country every once in a while, so…”

“Not even with that charm?” Alyssa chuckled, her voice a little flirtatious.

Emma blushed. “Um, we— we should,” Emma stuttered. “I should tell you about the program.”

Alyssa sat up a little straighter and leaned forward on the table, excited to hear every word that Emma had to say. “Yes, please!”

“So,” Emma started, opening a folder and handing Alyssa a pamphlet, “we have after school programs and weekend programs. One session at a different placement each weekday, and two sessions on Saturdays. Our opening is for after school on Wednesdays. Before we start, we would gage student interest. We would assign a number of instructors based on interest. We need a few classrooms or an auditorium space to work out of when we’re on campus, and at least one faculty or staff advisor, which, I’d hope, could be you.”

“Yes, absolutely,” Alyssa said. “I don’t have a classroom, but my friend Kaylee is the English teacher and I’m sure she would be more than happy to offer hers. And I don’t think we’d have any problem finding other rooms to meet in. Do you want to check out the school? You could come visit for a tour sometime.”

“That would actually be super helpful,” Emma said. She quickly jotted something down in a notebook before continuing. “I could get some photos for the pitch document and get a real idea of the space we’re working with….”

They chatted for a while, about working on the pitch, about life, their favorite shows and music, and whatever random topics that came to mind. It wasn’t until one thirty that Alyssa finally glanced at her watch and realized how late it was. “Shit,” she muttered. “My lunch is technically over. I should get back, there’s a kid I have to meet with at two.”

“Okay,” Emma nodded. “Yeah.”

“I’ll see you next week, okay?” Alyssa hastily grabbed her purse and put on her coat. She had already paid the bill, but she left a little money for the tip as well.

“Can’t wait,” Emma said. “And hey, if you’re ever feeling a little lonely or just want a good meal and some company, you can always come over to my place. Pasta is my specialty.”

Alyssa grinned and Emma felt weak in the knees at the sight of the dimple on her cheek. “I love pasta, so I may have to take you up on that. Bye, Emma.”

“See you,” Emma said, shooting some finger guns. Alyssa giggled again, then turned around. Emma facepalmed the moment she was no longer within eyeshot of Alyssa. Really? Finger guns? Shelby would never let her hear the end of that one.

 


 

Over the next two weeks, Emma and Alyssa spent a lot of time together, both working on the pitch and just hanging out, almost like old times. Alyssa was so surprised at how quickly and easy she felt comfortable with Emma once again, falling back into their old friendship. She tried to ignore the voice in the back of her head, screaming, reminding her of the crush she used to have on the girl.

It was hard to ignore when Emma talked with such eloquent passion about her job, and when she could still make Alyssa laugh like no one else, and when the sunlight reflecting in her eyes made Alyssa’s heart skip a beat.

Alyssa brushed off the thoughts of Emma’s smile as nothing more than entertaining fantasies that she once had in high school. It couldn’t be anything more than that because she was engaged to a wonderful woman. In a few short months, Alyssa would be married, but why did she feel less like herself around Jess on the rare occasion she was home, than she ever did with Emma?

Eventually, their pitch was ready and Alyssa met Emma at work to be present for the presentation and to answer any questions the board might have. Alyssa walked inside the lively, cluttered office late on a Friday afternoon, looking around for Emma’s desk. The receptionist seemed to notice her confusion and cleared her throat.

“Welcome to Music First, can I help you?”

“Hi,” Alyssa said, straightening out her blouse. “I’m looking for Emma Nolan.”

The woman pointed around a corner. “Past the bathrooms, third cubicle on the left.”

“Thank you.”

Alyssa followed her instructions and found the desk that appeared to belong to Emma, but it was empty. She looked at the unkempt piles of folders, Emma’s familiar, messy scrawl on paperwork. There was a bobblehead on her desk, and a few toys to fidget with. The one decoration that stood out was a framed photograph of Emma with an older woman that Alyssa recognized as her grandmother.

Alyssa took the picture in her hands and studied it. It seemed to be a recent photo, as Emma looked older. There was a joyous light in her eyes, and her arms were wrapped around her grandmother in a tight hug.

“Huh,” came a voice from behind her. “You must be the old best friend.”

Alyssa almost dropped the frame, startled, and spun around. “Excuse me?”

“Sorry, I’m Shelby, the new best friend.” Shelby held out her hand for a shake. “She’s mentioned you.”

“She has?”

“All good things, I promise,” Shelby said. “Em’s in the bathroom right now, but I would be just tickled if you had any funny stories or embarrassing photos from childhood to share.”

“Shelby, leave her alone.” Emma walked back up to her desk holding two coffees. She glared at Shelby, then turned her gaze back to Alyssa with a soft smile. “Hey,” she said. “I got you a coffee. Yes, it has the ungodly amount of cream and sugar that you like.”

“You’re the best.” Alyssa accepted the cup she offered gratefully and went to take a sip, then hesitated. “Wait, you got coffee from the bathroom?”

“I was at Starbucks across the street, not the bathroom.” She flared at Shelby who just shrugged.

“Okay, good.” Alyssa took a warm sip and sighed.

“Are you ready for this?” Emma asked.

“Hey, you’re doing most of the work, I’m just here to answer questions. Are you ready?”

Emma shrugged. “Only one way to find out. It’s okay, the board loves me. There’s no way they’ll turn it down.”

“I hope you’re right,” Alyssa said. “I’ve gotten used to hanging out with you again, Nolan. I’d hate if we didn’t have an excuse anymore.”

“Who says we need an excuse to hang out?” Emma tilted her head, a teasing smile on her lips as Alyssa leaned in a little closer. Their eyes were stuck on each others’, and both seemed to be lost in thought.

Shelby cleared her throat. Emma and Alyssa blinked and turned to her, as if they had forgotten she was there. “I guess I’ll leave you two to it. Good luck with the pitch!”

“Nolan!” Sheldon called from down the hall. “They’re ready for you.”

Emma turned back to Alyssa and gave her a confident grin. “Let’s go kick some ass.”

Emma had practiced her presentation countless times before, and the moment she stepped into the conference room, it was like her body was on autopilot. Emma stood in front of the board of directors: Dee Dee Allen, Barry Glickman, Trent Oliver, and Angie Dickinson. All were experienced music professionals who had taken some time from their flourishing careers to work with Music First, and Emma admired every single one of them.

She gesticulated and spoke and flipped through slides with ease and confidence, and Alyssa watched her work with an intrigued wonder. Emma went through details on Alyssa’s school, various statistics, real examples of students who would benefit from a music program, and finally turned it to Alyssa for questions.

“You said you were a guidance counsellor, Miss Greene?” Dee Dee Allen, the head of the board, asked.

Alyssa nodded. “Yes ma’am.”

“What brought you into that line of work? It’s a difficult job.”

“It’s difficult, but it’s so rewarding,” Alyssa explained. “My school growing up wasn’t the most accepting of people who were different from the norm, and as a gay kid in Indiana I felt so alone, especially after my best friend moved away.” She glanced at Emma out of the corner of her eye and hesitated. “I wanted to be able to provide support for kids that I never really got in high school.”

“And what gives you such a passion for this project in particular?” Barry asked.

“I’ve seen firsthand how much the cuts to the music program have affected the kids this year,” Alyssa said. “Music is such an important creative outlet and I know how much it would benefit them to have this after school program available. Not to mention, the woman running it is pretty brilliant.”

Emma fought the blush on her cheeks, attempting to remain professional, but she noticed Angie send a sly glance and a subtle wink in her direction. Great.

“How many students do you expect to be interested in the program?” Trent asked.

“Well, I’ve only been able to softly gage interest since nothing is confirmed yet, but about a dozen students that I meet with have expressed interest, and that’s only a small fraction of the student population. I’m sure if we put out an actual interest survey, that number would triple, at least.”

“Well,” Angie said, clapping her hands together. “I know I can’t speak for all of us, but I honestly love this placement. It’s not too far from the office, diverse student population, and they have a genuine need for our program. I say yes.”

“I agree,” Barry said.

“Me too,” Trent chimed in.

All heads turned to Dee Dee Allen, waiting for her stamp. Finally, she nodded. “It’s approved.”

Alyssa squealed in excitement and launched herself into Emma’s arms, catching her off guard as she wrapped her in a tight hug, letting herself indulge in Emma’s warm embrace for a fleeting moment before quickly pulling back.

“Since the calendar year and the school semester are both wrapping up, we can aim to launch sometime in January,” Dee Dee stated. “When does winter break end?”

“January fourteenth,’ Alyssa informed her.

“Perfect,” Dee Dee said, scrolling through the calendar on her phone. “We can start that Wednesday, on the sixteenth?”

“And Alyssa, we expect you’ll be at the fundraiser gala next month?” Barry requested. “Emma here can give you more information on that.”

“Yeah, of course,” Emma said.

“If that’s all, I think our work here is finished,” Dee Dee said, looking around at the other board members. When everyone nodded in agreement, they all stood and gathered their belongings, slowly filing out of the room.

Once the door closed behind them leaving Emma and Alyssa alone, Alyssa squealed again and did a little excited dance, flailing her arms in the air. Emma laughed, trying not to think about how cute she was.

“We did it!” Alyssa exclaimed.

“That we did,” Emma chuckled.

“We should celebrate!”

“What did you have in mind?”

Alyssa glanced at her watch. “Well, it’s six. Are you off work yet? We could grab a drink?”

Emma swallowed, knowing full well that grabbing a drink with Alyssa was probably not the best idea, but she could never say no to Alyssa’s excited smile. She found herself nodding. “Where did you have in mind?”

They ended up at a rooftop bar across town. The food was mediocre and the drinks were expensive, but hey, it was worth it for that view. Emma sipped at her old fashioned as she gazed out across the city skyline at night. New York sure was beautiful. “What a view,” she muttered.

“Yeah,” Alyssa agreed, breathless; her eyes were fixed on Emma, watching as the cold breeze ruffled her short curls.

“How’d you find out about this place?” Emma asked, inching a little closer to the heat lamp as she waited for the alcohol to warm her up inside.

Alyssa shrugged. “I think Jess had a coworker who had a birthday party here? Or, no, maybe it was a friend whose rehearsal dinner was here. I don’t remember.” She giggled and took another sip of her martini. “I don’t really care, I don’t want to talk about Jess right now.”

They were both on their second drinks, and Alyssa may have flirted with the bartender to get her to pour a little more generously than they usually did here.

“Okay,” Emma said, leaning against the railing at the edge of the roof. “What did you want to talk about?”

“How long have you known Shelby?” Alyssa asked.

“She started working here about a year ago,” Emma said. “We became friends pretty quickly, but mostly because she gave me no other choice.”

“She seems nice. I’m glad you have nice friends.” Alyssa hid her face behind her glass as she sipped at her martini a little more.

“Thanks,” Emma said, giving her a questioning look. “So how’s your mom?”

“Oh, she’s great!” Alyssa said, happy for the change of subject. “She sends her love, as usual. She still can’t believe we’re hanging out again.”

“I still can’t quite believe it myself.”

“And hey, her asking about you is a nice change from her pestering me about wedding plans,” Alyssa muttered offhandedly with a roll of her eyes.

“I’m sure wedding planning is stressful.”

Alyssa nodded enthusiastically. “And my mother finds something to complain about every time we talk about it! The venue’s too nice, the flowers are too dark, the open bar package is too expensive, Jess is too—” She cut herself off and her eyes grew wide. Emma didn’t need to know that her mom didn’t exactly like her fiancée, and she had no idea why she almost blurted it out like that. “Um, we just— we keep butting heads about things. It’s annoying.”

“I’m sure she just wants it to be perfect,” Emma said with a shrug. “I remember you always wanted to get married one day when we were kids. You were so excited about it. I’m sure it’s going to be everything you’ve ever dreamed.”

Alyssa’s eyes flitted down to Emma’s lips as she remembered those times that she mentioned, when she had secretly dreamed of marrying Emma one day. “Maybe not everything,” she muttered without thinking.

Alyssa’s cheeks were hot and she felt drawn closer to Emma, as if there was an invisible thread connecting them, pulled taut whenever they drifted too far apart. Her eyes left Emma’s lips just long enough to see her hazel eyes dark and fixated on her own lips.

Emma stayed still, unmoving, unblinking, unable to believe that this was more than a super realistic fantasy, as Alyssa inched closer to her, eyes drifting closed…

The loud buzzing of Alyssa’s ringtone broke them apart just as Emma started to feel the ghost of Alyssa’s warm breath against her cold lips.

Alyssa froze as her eyes fluttered open. Her eyes met Emma’s for a moment, wide and confused. She blinked. Then, her phone rang again and she took a step back, digging into her purse. She set her drink aside to grab her phone, then she checked the caller ID and then answered the phone with a forced smile.

“Hey honey.” She paused as Jess spoke on the other line. At least, that’s who Emma assumed was on the phone. “Your flight just came in? That’s so great, I’ll see you at home. No, not yet but I can get back soon.” Alyssa stopped to listen once again, her lips pulling into a small frown. “I know, but I’ve been busy. I told you about the— Yes.” Alyssa let out a frustrated sigh. “Yes. No, of course not! Look, Jess, I don’t want to do this right now. Can we please talk about this when we both get home?” Another pause. “Okay. Love you too.”

Emma pursed her lips and watched awkwardly as Alyssa conversed with her fiancée. It appeared to be a tense conversation, and that just made Emma feel even more uncomfortable overhearing even just half of it.

When Alyssa finally hung up the phone, she turned toward the edge of the building, rested her elbows on the barrier, buried her face in her hands, and let out a soft, frustrated groan.

Emma finished her drink and set it on an empty table nearby. She joined Alyssa, leaning against the barrier, looking out over the city. “Is everything okay?” she asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” Alyssa said, her voice quiet. “Everything’s fine.”

Emma bit her lip, unsure of what to say or do, until finally she spoke up. “You know, if you ever need to talk, or anything… I’m here.”

Alyssa turned to look at Emma, and the concern in her eyes was palpable. She wanted to reach out and hold her. She wanted to tell Emma every thought that was jumbled inside her brain. She wanted to pull her in by the tie and kiss her. She opened her mouth for a moment and hesitated, hoping she would find the words along the way, but they never came.

Instead, Alyssa let out a sigh, finally looking away from Emma’s eyes. “I should get going,” she muttered.

“Okay,” Emma nodded. “Yeah, I can walk you out—“

“No, no it’s fine, I’ll be okay.” Alyssa began to walk away, then hesitated. After a moment, she turned back to Emma, pulling her into a hug, burying her face in her hair. She could feel the way Emma’s chest rose and fell against her, and hear Emma’s breath in her ear, and smell Emma’s vanilla shampoo. She held on for maybe a moment longer than she should have before pulling away. “Thank you.”

And Emma watched her leave, trying to quell the erratic beating of her heart, trying not to think about how right it felt to have Alyssa Greene in her arms.

 


 

The holiday fundraiser gala was the biggest event of the year for Music First. While Emma put a lot of effort into helping plan and execute the whole shindig, she also loved being able to put on her best suit and attend it herself. Getting to schmooze with rich donors and the occasional celebrity who supported their organization was fun, but the best part was the fancy meal, hors d'oeuvres, and open bar that came with it.

And she hadn’t seen Alyssa since the night they went out for drinks, so Emma was looking forward to spending some time with her again.

Emma nursed a glass of expensive champagne that she knew she wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise, while she and Shelby leaned against a wall in the corner, people watching.

“See any celebrities?” Shelby asked nonchalantly.

Emma shrugged. “Not yet, but the night is young.”

“I heard a rumor Oscar Isaac would be here. Do you think I could hook up with him?”

“Maybe.”

Shelby paused. “What about Demi Lovato?”

Emma blinked. “Is she going to be here?”

“I don’t know, she could be.”

Emma chuckled. “Well, if you hook up with Demi Lovato tonight, color me impressed—“

She stopped mid-sentence when she noticed someone who had just walked inside. Alyssa stepped into the hall, looking around at all the beautiful decorations. She wore a lilac dress, and her hair cascaded in delicate curls down her shoulders. Emma was about to cross the room and talk to her, when she realized that Alyssa had walked in, hand in hand with none other than her infamous fiancée, Jess.

Emma didn’t miss the way Alyssa’s face lit up like a star in the sky when their eyes met across the room.

“Shit, is that the fiancée?” Shelby sent a polite wave in Alyssa’s direction as they marched toward her and Emma.

“I’d assume so. I’ve never met her.”

“She’s kinda hot.”

“Not helpful, Shelby.”

“I’m just saying, I wouldn’t be opposed to seducing her. I’ll take one for the team.”

“I just didn’t think she was coming… Last time I spoke to Alyssa she said Jess would be out of town.”

“Well she’s here now, so we need a plan of action.”

“There is no plan of action! The plan of action is to politely say hello and then spend the rest of the night as far away from them as pos— Hey, Alyssa!”

Emma plastered on her best smile as Alyssa and Jess finally walked up to them. Alyssa wrapped Emma in a brief hug, pulling away all too quickly. Then, she hugged Shelby as well.

“It’s so good to see you both,” Alyssa said, a bright smile on her face. “This is Jess, my fiancée.” She patted Jess on the chest, smoothing out her shirt.

Emma held out her hand for a handshake. “It’s great to meet you,” she said, forcing as much politeness as she could muster into her voice. “I’ve heard so much about you.”

Instead of taking Emma’s hand, Jess reached for a glass of champagne as a server walked past. “I’ve heard a lot about you, too, Emma.” She looked at Emma with a bout of thinly veiled mirth.

Alyssa frowned, uncomfortable at the sudden tension. She cleared her throat. “This event is lovely,” she said, quickly changing the subject. “I wasn’t totally sure what to expect.”

“When Alyssa here mentioned a fundraiser for a charity she’s been spending so much time working with, I just had to make a generous contribution so I could accompany her tonight and see what all the fuss is about.” The way Jess said the word charity made Emma’s skin crawl, like she thought of herself as better than them for her generous contribution. Jess wrapped an arm around Alyssa’s waist, pulling her close into her side. Alyssa shifted uncomfortably but seemed to lean into it nonetheless.

“Well, food and dancing is over there, and the silent auction is down that way across from the bar,” Emma said dismissively, pointing out where things were. “Enjoy your night.”

Alyssa frowned. “Wait, it’s been a while. I wanted to hang out.”

“I’m sure Emma’s busy,” Jess interjected. “Besides, we haven’t eaten yet.” She tugged Alyssa by the waist and started to drag her away.

“I’ll see you later,” Alyssa said as she fell into step with her fiancée, but longing to spend more time with the woman she left behind. She glanced over her shoulder, but Emma had already walked off in the other direction. She met Shelby’s eyes and gave her a small smile. She watched as Shelby followed Emma off in the direction of the bar.

“I thought you came because you wanted to meet my friends,” Alyssa sighed. She was frustrated, but the night was still young. She didn’t want to ruin everything with an overreaction.

“And we did meet your friends,” Jess said. “Now we can have a good night, just the two of us.” She spun Alyssa around in her arms and kissed her. “And I know I’m a little jet lagged, but after we have a couple drinks we can go home and spend some more quality time together.”

She placed a quick kiss on the side of Alyssa’s neck, just under her ear, the spot she knew tickled her. Alyssa giggled and pushed her away playfully. “I missed you. How long do I have you for this time?”

“I’m heading to Vancouver on Monday.”

“Two days? That’s it?”

“I’ll get you a souvenir.”

“Can I come with you?” Alyssa suggested with a small pout on her lips. “My school’s on winter break now. It might be fun.”

Jess shook her head. “Nah, I’ll just be in meetings all day. Super boring.”

“I know, but I could—”

Jess interrupted when a waiter carrying a tray of delicious-looking appetizers walked past. “God, I’m starving. Are you hungry?”

“Sure,” Alyssa muttered, dropping the subject. “I could eat.”

In the other room, Emma weaved through the crowd and marched up to the bar with a purpose.

“Whiskey, neat,” she said once she got the bartender’s attention.

“You might want to make it a double,” Shelby added, sliding in next to Emma. Emma nodded in agreement, put a few dollars in the tip jar, then turned to Shelby as she waited for her drink.

“She was—“

“A bitch?”

“I was going to say interesting.”

“That’s why you’re the nice one,” Shelby laughed. “That woman did not like you for some reason.”

“So I’m not crazy paranoid? She didn’t like me?” Emma felt relieved to hear Shelby confirm her suspicions. Jess had seemed at best tolerant of Emma’s presence, but more likely annoyed by it. “What did I do?”

“Maybe she’s just the jealous type. You’re an old friend of Alyssa’s and she sees you as a threat. But she doesn’t know that you’re still kind of into her and nothing has happened between you and Alyssa so she has nothing to be jealous of.”

“Well…” Emma started.

Shelby turned to her with a determined look in her eyes. “Fucking spill, Nolan.”

“I’m not totally sure what exactly happened, but I think we kind of… maybe… almost… kissed?”

Shelby’s jaw dropped. “And you waited until now to tell me this? When the fuck did this happen?”

“We went out for drinks to celebrate after our proposal was approved and, I don’t know, we were just talking and she was really close and for a second it seemed like she was about to…” Emma let out a wistful sigh at the memory of Alyssa’s face so close to hers. “Do you think she told Jess about that? It’s not like I tried to kiss her or anything!”

“I don’t know, she might have,” Shelby said. “Or maybe now there’s this palpable tension between you two and Jess was able to sniff it out like a dog.”

“Shut. Up.” The bartender brought Emma her drink and she took a sip. “Let’s just not talk about Alyssa anymore.”

“Sounds good,” Shelby said, then turned to the bartender. “I’ll take a vodka cran, please!”

It was a few hours, and a few drinks later that Emma and Alyssa finally ran into each other again. Emma was adding new sheets to a silent auction item that ended up being way more popular than they had anticipated, a pair of concert tickets to Justin Bieber’s sold out show. Personally, she wasn’t fond of the kid and she didn’t even realize he was still popular, but hey, whatever rich people wanted to spend their money on.

Emma glanced around at the auction items, a wide spread of gift certificates, unique experiences, autographed items, and more. She spotted Alyssa, by herself, lingering between the baseball autographed by some athletes and the acoustic guitar signed by Taylor Swift.

It was either the alcohol or the fact that Jess was nowhere in sight that convinced Emma to walk up to her.

“Hey stranger,” Emma said in her ear, causing her to jump.

“God, you startled me!” Alyssa laughed as she spun around.

“Any of these items pique your interest?” Emma asked, spreading out her arms as if she were showing off their auction spread.

“I was eyeing that guitar a little,” Alyssa confessed.

“You don’t even play guitar,” Emma frowned. “You do like Taylor Swift though.”

“Yeah but you play guitar,” Alyssa said. “And I only liked her because you used to play her songs for me.”

“But I only played her songs for you because I thought you liked her.”

“Huh, did we bamboozle our teenage selves into liking Taylor Swift?”

“We might have.” They shared an amused look and started laughing, sharing this spark of a memory from a long time ago.

“Please don’t tell me you bid on this, though,” Emma gestured to the guitar over her shoulder. “It’s going for like, thousands of dollars. It’s not worth it. I can just forge Taylor Swift’s signature if you really want it.”

Alyssa shook her head, “No, no. I don’t think Jess wants us to bid on anything tonight.”

Right. The fiancée. Emma glanced around the room, still no sight of her. “Where is she anyway?”

“She had to take a call,” Alyssa said, looking down at the ground. “I think we might leave soon.”

“She didn’t seem to like me very much.” Emma self consciously scuffed her shoe against the floor.

“No, she’s just… hard to read sometimes. She came here because she wanted to meet you because I talk about you all the time. I promise she likes you.”

Emma nodded, not convinced. “So are you having a good time?”

“Yeah,” Alyssa sighed. “I just wish we could have spent more time together.”

“Why didn’t we? I’ve been around.”

“Jess didn’t really want us to—” Alyssa frowned and cut herself off. “I just mean she— we wanted to spend some time together tonight. Just the two of us.”

“The two of you and a couple hundred other people,” Emma chuckled.

“What are you saying?” Alyssa asked, defensive.

“Nothing!” Emma reassured. “Nothing, I just, I mean… do you always just go along with whatever she wants?” Emma should really stop talking sometime soon, but whenever Alyssa answered, more words just bubbled up in her throat that she couldn’t hold back.

“Not always.” Alyssa’s voice was quiet, and she refused to meet Emma’s eyes.

“I’m sorry, it’s nothing. It just didn’t seem like she was listening to you is all.”

“Oh, so now you’re saying that my fiancée doesn’t listen to me?” Alyssa was starting to get frustrated.

Emma really needed to stop digging herself deeper into this hole. She took a deep breath. “I just want you to be happy, Alyssa,” she said. Alyssa hesitated and she softened, remembering her mother’s words from a few weeks ago. Was she happy? And then Emma continued. “Does she make you happy or do you just want to get married that badly?”

Alyssa steeled at her words. “Excuse me?”

Emma went pale. “No, I was just— What I mean is—“

If Alyssa’s steely glare wasn’t enough to make Emma fear for her life, the firm finger she jabbed at her chest definitely helped. “I don’t know what you’re insinuating, but I love my fiancée and I want to marry her. You— you can’t just waltz back into my life after thirteen years and pretend like you understand me or my relationship.”

“Alyssa, I wasn’t trying to—”

“Just because we were friends as children and told each other secrets and made stupid promises, doesn’t mean you know anything about me today.”

Alyssa wasn’t raising her voice so no wandering eyes and ears were drawn toward them, but there was an anger behind it that terrified Emma. When she stopped ranting and fell silent, Emma was stunned for a moment. She hadn’t meant to press too much, and she hadn’t expected Alyssa’s outburst.

Alyssa’s hands were shaking as she dropped them to her sides and looked up to meet Emma’s eyes again

“I’m sorry.” Two quiet, broken words, and while Alyssa didn’t feel guilty, she never wanted to hurt Emma. Alyssa was angry and scared, and most of all, she needed to get far away from Emma for a little while.

“There you are!” Jess’s voice from behind her sent an anxious chill down Alyssa’s spine, but she blinked away the tears that clouded her eyes, forced on her best smile, and turned around.

“Hi babe,” she said. “Do you want to head out?”

“What, you don’t want to hang out with your friends a little more?”

Alyssa rolled her eyes. Instead of answering, she grabbed Jess by the hand and stormed out of the room, weaving through the crowd, dragging her fiancée along behind her.

Emma turned around, clenching her fists. “So fucking stupid,” she muttered.

Alyssa was quiet the entire ride back to their apartment. She mulled over her mother’s words again in her head. Are you happy?

She glanced over at Jess, sitting next to her, checking emails on her phone. Alyssa loved her, she really did. They had been together for over two years, but sometimes Alyssa felt she hardly knew Jess. She was always away for so long, they rarely did things together, and when they did, like tonight, she acted like a complete stranger.

When they got home, Alyssa closed the door softly behind her. “What was your problem tonight?”

“My problem?”

“You wanted to meet my friends and you were rude to them.”

“I didn’t want to meet your friends, I wanted to meet Emma.”

“She’s my friend.”

“It didn’t seem like it when we left,” Jess mused. “Maybe that’s a good thing.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!”

Jess rolled her eyes. “You just talk about her so much and you’re always spending time with her. I guess I was curious as to why you like her so much. Still am, actually. I don’t see the appeal.”

“Why are you doing this?” Alyssa asked, tears in her eyes. “Are you— are you jealous, or something?”

“Do I need to be?”

Alyssa’s immediate silence was enough to tell Jess all she needed.

“I don’t know what your history with her is, or… or what you have going on now, but I don’t like her. I’m not gonna say you can’t see her, but I don’t want to lose you, Lys. Maybe it would be best if you stayed away from her for a bit.”

Alyssa sighed, rubbing her forehead in frustration. She was just so tired. “I don’t want to fight about this,” she muttered.

Jess came up and wrapped her arms around Alyssa from behind. Alyssa tensed at the touch that was probably meant to be comforting, but she shrugged it off. “We can talk later,” she said. Jess began to trail kisses down Alyssa’s neck. After a moment, Alyssa’s eyes closed and she tilted her head to the side.

Maybe that was what she needed right now— a distraction.

Alyssa’s mind kept wandering to hazel eyes and blonde hair, wondering how much happier she might be with those instead.

 


 

“Oh, honey, you look so beautiful!”

“Damn, Alyssa!”

“Who are you and what have you done with my best friend?”

Alyssa blushed at the comments from her mother and her friends, Carrie and Kaylee, but when she looked at herself in the mirror, she just didn’t feel that joy, that satisfaction, whatever perfect feeling a girl was supposed to feel when she found the dress she would get married in.

After a few tries, the woman at the shop reassured her that for most brides it usually took around three to five dresses to find the right one.

This was the ninth dress that Alyssa had tried on and still nothing.

“Well?” Kaylee prodded.

Alyssa turned around to face her friends and tried to put on her best smile, but she wasn’t fooling anyone.

“Okay, maybe we should take a little break,” Veronica suggested. “Come on, let’s get you out of that corset.”

Veronica took her daughter by the hand and pulled her away from the viewing area back to the changing room. Alyssa fell into step behind her mother, wishing that someone could just make a decision for her. They stepped inside the changing room and closed the door. Veronica turned Alyssa around and began unlacing the back of the dress.

“How do you feel?”

Alyssa thought for a moment. “Like I can’t breathe.”

“Okay, that’s a no on the corset then.”

Veronica worked in silence, unlacing the back of the dress, the corset, pulling it down her shoulders and helping her step out of it. This dress was too elegant, the last one was too flashy, the one before that was too plain. Alyssa was never going to find a dress at this rate. Nothing was calling out to her.

She stepped out of the dress and, clad only in her underwear, she sat down on the bench and buried her face in her hands.

“What’s wrong, honey?” Veronica sat down next to her and draped an arm over her shoulders.

“Nothing feels right,” Alyssa answered, unthinkingly.

“The dresses? Or something else?” Alyssa didn’t answer.

Veronica hated to see her daughter like this. Dress shopping, wedding planning, it was supposed to be exciting. Stressful, but something to look forward to. She remembered Alyssa planning out her wedding as a child, cutting out pictures of flowers and brides from magazines. She didn’t think twice about the lack of grooms in her collages until Alyssa came out later. But now, Alyssa was lethargic and unenthusiastic. It wasn’t like her.

“Have you spoken to Emma yet?”

Alyssa scoffed. “She won’t want to hear from me. I kind of yelled at her the last time I saw her. Besides, Jess doesn’t think I should—”

“I don’t care what Jess thinks. Emma is your friend and you liked spending time with her. What do you want?”

Alyssa was silent for a moment, then she shrugged. “I miss her, I guess.”

“Then just talk to her.”

“I can’t, mom,” Alyssa sighed. “You should have seen the look on her face. And I really don’t want to make things worse with Jess, things are tense enough as it is.”

“Sweetie, I just want—”

“Can we just drop it?” Alyssa growled. “Please?”

Veronica frowned, but she didn’t say anything else. She just pulled Alyssa into a hug and held her daughter for as long as she would let her.

New Year’s Eve was Veronica Greene’s last day in New York City visiting her daughter. Each morning she was there, she would get a coffee from a coffee shop that was three blocks away, and each morning she would walk no matter how cold it was outside, and each morning she would take the roundabout route through the park by Alyssa’s apartment.

Veronica walked through the snowy park, clutching onto her warm coffee as she scanned her surroundings. There weren’t a lot of people out this morning, as would be expected on a day such as this, but this morning she finally caught sight of the person she had been looking for the entire week and a half she had been in town.

Emma Nolan was bundled up in a thick winter coat, a blue scarf, mittens, and a beanie. She shivered in the cold air as she watched a corgi taking a dump on the frosted grass.

“Emma?” Veronica gasped when she saw her. She may have been looking for the woman, but she never expected to actually run into her. “Emma Nolan?”

Emma spun around, eyebrows scrunched together in confusion at the vaguely familiar voice. She stared at Veronica for a moment before realization crossed her face. “Mrs. Greene?”

“Don’t be a stranger, come here! Give me a hug!” When Veronica was close enough she pulled Emma into her arms and squeezed her tight. Emma laughed.

“Are you visiting Alyssa for the holidays?”

“Yeah, I’ve only got a day left and then it’s back to Indiana,” Veronica says. “How’s that grandmother of yours?”

“She’s great!” Emma said, smiling. “I actually just got back from Ohio. I spent Christmas with her this year. She’s getting old so she can’t always make the trip out to see me anymore.”

“And who’s this?” Veronica asked as the corgi came up to her feet and began sniffing at her.

“Oh, this is Froot Loop. She’s not mine, I just walk her sometimes.”

“Yes, Alyssa mentioned that you walk dogs.”

“Alyssa mentioned me?” Emma seemed surprised, but a small, hopeful smile crossed onto her face.

“All the time,” Veronica said. “I was so happy to hear you two reconnected.  You know I’ve always loved you, Emma.”

Emma chuckled. “Thanks for always welcoming me into your home.”

They fell into silence for a moment before Veronica spoke up again. “She misses you, you know.” Emma looked surprised but before she could ask, Veronica continued, “I don’t know exactly what happened, but I know she misses you.”

Emma opened her mouth, then closed it again, unsure of what to say. “She told you that?” she finally asked.

Veronica nodded. “I liked seeing her happy again. I hope you two can work things out.”

Emma pursed her lips and looked down at her feet. “Me too,” she muttered.

“Well, it’s good to see you, Emma,” Veronica said with a soft smile before she walked off. “I hope I get to see more of you in the future.”

As Veronica walked off, Emma wondered why Alyssa told her mom that she missed her.

 


 

After weeks of work and planning, the Music First kickoff at Southview High School was a success. There were a total of forty nine students that showed up to the first gathering and introductory meeting before splitting off into different interest groups.

Although they had worked on the pitch together, Emma and Alyssa still hadn’t spoken since the gala save for a few emails that Emma sent to a handful of staff at the school with information regarding the start date. Alyssa was the advisor of the program, so Emma wasn’t sure why she was so surprised to see her at kickoff.

Emma was lined up at the front of the auditorium with Shelby and a handful of other instructors, watching kids file into the room, when she noticed Alyssa slip in the back. Their eyes met, and Emma wasn’t sure what to do. Then Alyssa gave a tentative smile. Emma waved to her.

Honestly, the whole event was a chaotic blur and two hours later, Emma was just relieved that it was over and that it was a success. All the other instructors had left, but Emma lingered in the space, making sure they didn’t forget anything and the room was left exactly as they found it. This was her project, after all, and she felt a sense of responsibility to make sure that they left a good impression on the administration.

Finally, Emma grabbed her guitar and headed down the halls toward the parking lot, but on her way she spotted an office with an open door and the name Alyssa Greene labeled on it. Unable to resist the desire to speak with her again, Emma’s feet carried her toward the office where she leaned against the doorframe and watched Alyssa work for a moment, huddled over her desk. A soft smile graced her lips.

Alyssa didn’t even look up when she said, “Don’t you have better things to do than watch me work?”

Emma shook her head. “Not at the moment, no. What are you doing?”

“Just finishing up some paperwork. I’ll get out of here soon.”

“I just wanted to say happy birthday, before I left. That’s all.”

At this, Alyssa stopped scribbling down whatever she had been writing and looked up at Emma. “It’s not until tomorrow,” she shrugged.

“I know, but I probably won’t see you tomorrow.” Emma unzipped the front pocket of her guitar case, retrieved a card, and set it on Alyssa’s desk.

“You didn’t have to…” Alyssa sighed as she trailed off.

“Don’t get your hopes up, it’s not much,” Emma joked. “But I wanted to.”

Alyssa stared at the envelope for a moment, tracing her fingers over Emma’s writing on the front of the card. She let out a breath. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to—”

“No, I do. I’ve been avoiding you.”

“I figured as much,” Emma said. She nervously rubbed the back of her neck. “I kinda overstepped at the gala and I’m sorry. I had had a few drinks and I wasn’t thinking.”

“I overreacted. And then Jess told me, well, she implied that she didn’t want me spending time with you anymore and I was embarrassed so I just… went along with it. You were right, I do just go along with whatever she wants a lot. I just avoid conflict and never express what I want and she knows that.” Alyssa buried her face in her hands. She couldn’t look at Emma right now, and she didn’t know what else to do with herself so she just stayed like that as silence fell between them.

Finally, Emma spoke up. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “You… you deserve better than that.”

Alyssa’s gaze wandered up to Emma’s eyes that studied her. She sighed. No one had looked at her like that in a long time, not even her fiancée. “I do, don’t I?”

Emma’s eyes widened in surprise for a moment, as if she hadn’t expected Alyssa to openly agree, then she nodded.

“I promise I won’t avoid you anymore.”

Emma’s lips turned up in a small smile. “Good. I’ll see you, Alyssa.”

Alyssa couldn’t find the words to say goodbye as she watched Emma walk out of her office. She stared after her for a moment before turning her attention to the card on her desk. She opened it to a picture of a dog wearing a party hat and a generic birthday greeting. Alyssa chuckled at the image and opened the card, only for a strip of photos to fall out.

The photo strip had some cheesy, flowery decorative border that must have been the only option. She scanned down the strip of photos of her and Emma from a photobooth, and a distant memory of Alyssa’s last birthday that she celebrated with Emma at the theme park crossed her mind. They were grinning, making serious faces, making silly faces, and in the last photo, Emma kissed her on the cheek.

Alyssa felt a warmth in her chest at the photo.

She set the strip of pictures aside and turned her attention to the card where Emma’s messy scrawl had written a quick message.

I found these when I was visiting gran for Christmas. I don’t know if you remember, but it was your last birthday before I moved, when we went to the theme park and you ate so much cotton candy you almost threw up. It was one of my favorite memories with you. Not the almost throwing up part, but just getting to spend the whole day goofing off with you. We had so much fun and I would’ve done anything to see that smile of yours. Still would.

Happy Birthday Alyssa

Emma didn’t sign her name on the card, but she didn’t have to. Alyssa took one last look at the photo strip, then tucked it away in the card, slipped it into her purse, and resumed her work.

 


 

When Alyssa arrived home that night, she was surprised to find Jess already there, waiting for her. It was a rare occurrence that Jess would be home before her. It had been a good day and Alyssa was happy to be home and relax for a little bit, but the moment she closed the door and set her purse down, Jess had questions.

“Where were you?”

Alyssa frowned. “Today was the launch of Music First at school. I stayed late because I’m the faculty advisor. I’ve been working on this for a while, it’s been on the calendar.”

“So you saw Emma?” Jess said with a frown.

“Can we not make this about Emma, please?” Alyssa sighed. “We did a really good thing. Can’t you just be happy for me?”

“I am happy for you—”

“It doesn’t feel like it.”

“Okay, let me try again,” Jess said. “How was your day today, honey?” Her tone was only slightly condescending, but it was just enough to drive Alyssa to anger.

“No, you can’t do that and pretend like I’m the bad guy here,” Alyssa scoffed. “I’m tired of you just ignoring me to smooth things over and pretend like we don’t have any problems. News flash, honey, that doesn’t make things go away.”

A guilty look crossed Jess’s face. The sight eased Alyssa’s nerves a little, at least she was getting through. “Okay,” Jess said. “Let’s talk.”

Alyssa took a deep breath as she felt a surge of confidence that she needed to say what was on her mind. “I’m not happy, Jess. I don’t think I have been for a while.”

“What can I do?”

Alyssa sighed and shook her head. “No, I don’t think it’s something we can fix. For so long, whenever I see you it drains me and I’m just… so tired.”

“So… what are you saying?”

Alyssa fidgeted with her hands for a moment, then pulled off the ring on her left hand. She said nothing as she set it down on the counter next to her.

“No, Lys, we can work this out. We have a venue and a date and you have a dress and—”

“I never picked out a dress!” Alyssa exclaimed. “You would’ve known that if you ever listened to me for two seconds! I couldn’t see myself happy in any of them, and it took me until now to realize that it wasn’t the dresses that were the problem.”

Jess frowned and hesitated for a moment. “Is this because of—” she started.

“No,” Alyssa cut her off, knowing exactly where she was going. “This isn’t about anyone else so don’t try to blame this on someone else. This is about you and me.”

Jess was getting angry, not in a way that scared Alyssa, but in a way that she worried she wouldn’t see reason. “Alyssa, you can’t just—“

“I’ve made up my mind. I’m not going to marry you, Jess. I—I can pack a bag tonight and come for the rest of my stuff later but I’m just… I’m done. I would say I’m sorry, but…” Alyssa shrugged, “I can’t say I am.”

At this, Jess was rendered speechless. She didn’t look sad, she wasn’t going to cry, but she was definitely upset, shaking her head as Alyssa walked past her and into their bedroom where she began to haphazardly shove clothes into a bag.

When she returned to the living room a few minutes later, Jess had poured herself a glass of whiskey and sat on the couch, staring at the wall. She barely acknowledged Alyssa as she walked inside. The ring still sat in the same place Alyssa had left it on the counter.

Alyssa went to the front door and hesitated before she opened it. “Goodbye, Jess.”

There was no response, and Alyssa walked out the front door with confidence, finally leaving behind the life that had been holding her back.

 


 

Alyssa didn’t think about where her feet were carrying her until she was a few blocks away from Emma’s apartment. She had only been there once before, very briefly, as she stopped by to drop something off on her way to work. She hoped Emma wouldn’t mind this unannounced visit.

Alyssa held her breath as she climbed up the stairs and knocked at Emma’s door.

She heard a brief moment of shuffling, the patter of footsteps, and the click of the lock before the door opened a few inches before stopping, the chain lock keeping it from opening all the way.

Emma’s eyes grew wide with surprise. “Alyssa?” She quickly shut the door again, then heard the small clink of the chain being unlocked, then she threw the door open all the way. “What are you doing here?”

“Um,” Alyssa cleared her throat. “Mind if I crash on your couch for the night?”

Emma looked confused for a moment, then took in the bag that was slung over Alyssa’s shoulder. “Come in, come in.” She opened the door wider so Alyssa could step inside. “What, um—what happened?”

Alyssa stepped into the small, quaint apartment and took a deep breath. “I called off the wedding,” she confessed. “And I ended things with Jess.”

“Oh my god, are you okay?” Emma gasped, concerned for her friend.

Alyssa turned around with a small smile on her face and not an ounce of hurt in her eyes. “Yeah, I am,” she said. “For the first time in a while, I’m pretty good.”

Emma bit her lip. “Have you had dinner? I made chicken parm earlier and there is more than enough leftover if you want some.”

“I would love that.”

Emma didn’t ask any questions or press her for information, and Alyssa appreciated that. She was able to show up at her apartment and just be. It was late, and while Alyssa’s evening had been emotionally exhausting, she felt more free than she had in a while.

After Alyssa ate, she and Emma settled into her couch to watch a movie and just relax. It was so easy to fall into a familiar sort of comfort with Emma, as they both stretched out on the couch, wrapped themselves in a blanket together, and put on a movie. It was the kind of easy intimacy that she hadn’t had in a long time, and it made her wish she realized a lot sooner what she was missing out on.

Alyssa had started to doze off on the couch, leaning into Emma’s shoulder half asleep, but she woke up when Emma whispered into her ear, “Hey Alyssa?”

Alyssa blinked, humming as she looked around. The movie was still playing and Emma looked at her with a breathless wonder. “What?”

“It’s midnight,” she said. “Happy birthday.”

Alyssa chuckled. “Oh god, I’m old.”

“Still younger than me,” Emma laughed.

They fell into silence again, and as they watched the movie, Alyssa suddenly realized she was thirty years old and smiled fondly as she remembered a distant memory.

“Hey,” Alyssa muttered. “Do you remember that sleepover we had when we were fourteen? Right before we started high school?”

Emma’s cheeks flushed. “Yeah.”

Alyssa pursed her lips as she studied the side of Emma’s face. Emma kept her head forward, facing the television, but she glanced at Alyssa out of the corner of her eye as she bit down on her lip. “Do you remember what we said?” Alyssa’s voice was quiet as she waited to gage Emma’s reaction and hear what she had to say.

“Well, that was the night we both came out to each other,” Emma said with a small smile, turning to face Alyssa. The blush on her cheeks was evident when their faces were this close. “And I, uh, offered to marry you if we were both still single when we turned thirty.”

“It wasn’t just an offer,” Alyssa teased. “We made a deal.”

“That we did,” Emma chuckled, smiling fondly at the memory. “Do you wanna know why I suggested it?”

“Why?” Alyssa asked, her curiosity taking over as she held her breath, waiting to know the answer.

Emma’s heart thrummed anxiously in her chest as she looked into Alyssa’s eyes and confessed, “Because I only ever dreamed about marrying you.”

Alyssa gave her a reassuring smile. “Do you wanna know why I said yes?” Emma nodded. “I only ever dreamed about marrying you too.”

Alyssa knew that Emma wasn’t going to push her for anything. Emma was respectful and patient and the nicest person that Alyssa knew. While Alyssa had only just ended things with her fiancée, she didn’t feel like she was fresh out of a relationship. It hadn’t felt like a relationship for a long time. She hadn’t been in love for a long time. And with Emma looking at her like that, Alyssa had never been more sure of what she wanted in her life.

When Alyssa’s hands came up to Emma’s cheeks and pulled her in for a kiss, Emma let out a surprised squeak before she melted into it. The kiss was brief, and as Alyssa pulled away, Emma was stunned, a dazed look in her eyes. “Wow,” she breathed. “Is this— I mean, are you sure you want to?

Alyssa nodded. “I’m sure,” she said. “I want you.”

At those words, a determined fire lit in Emma’s eyes as she closed the distance between them once again. Her lips fitted against Alyssa’s, kissing her thoroughly, her arms wrapped around her waist, tugging her closer on the couch, her tongue pushed past her lips. Emma kissed her like she never thought she would get the chance to. She kissed her until Alyssa was left breathless, cheeks flushed, lips kissed pink and swollen.

“Sorry,” Emma muttered a few minutes later, after they had broken apart. Her voice was rough and deep. She cleared her throat before continuing. “I got a little carried away.”

“Don’t apologize,” Alyssa whispered against her lips before kissing her once more. “I liked it.”

Emma leaned back to look at Alyssa, grabbing her hands. “Alyssa, I—I’m not going to ask you to marry me tomorrow. I—“

“Wait, you’re not?” Alyssa joked. “Sorry, I must have misunderstood. I’m just gonna see myself out—“

She tried to stand and walk away, but Emma quickly stopped her, wrapping her arms around Alyssa’s waist and tugging her back down onto the couch. “Hey!” Emma laughed. “You’re lucky you’re cute. What I was trying to say is… I’m not going to ask you to marry me tomorrow. Even if we made a promise as kids, I— I want to start something new with you. Something good. And then, maybe one day, I’d like to try and get there with you. If you want.”

Alyssa’s lips curled into a grin. She left her fiancée because she never listened to Alyssa, and here Emma was, asking what she wanted every step of the way. If Alyssa had any doubts in the choice she made, this cleared them all up.

“I would like that a lot,” she said, and threw her arms around Emma’s neck, kissing her again.

 


 

Two Years Later

It was a small, intimate ceremony with only their family and closest friends. Alyssa wore a dress that brought tears to her eyes when she first tried it on, and brought tears to Emma’s eyes when she walked down the aisle in it.

Emma Nolan kissed her wife, after promising to love her for the rest of their lives, and couldn’t believe how lucky she was.

Alyssa Greene kissed her wife in front of all their friends and family and knew that she had never been happier.