A/N: Wow! Thank you so much everyone for the overwhelmingly positive response to and support for this story! I am so humbled, and I appreciate all of your wonderful reviews so much. I only hope I can meet your expectations and give you a truly enjoyable story.
With that said, I hope you all enjoy this second chapter. XO-Chrmdpoet
Chapter Two: The Babysitter
"I'm sorry," Regina said again, her cheeks turning a light shade of pink. "I just realized that I don't even know your name."
"Emma," the blonde said with a smile. "Emma Swan."
"Emma," Regina repeated, the name soft on her tongue. "It's lovely to meet you, Emma."
"Wow," Emma laughed out. "No one's ever said it was 'lovely' to meet me. Good, yeah. Nice, definitely. But lovely? That's a new one. Let me guess. You went to some fancy school like Harvard or Yale?"
Emma couldn't stop grinning as she took in the surprised look on Regina's face. She slipped a pair of thick black-rimmed glasses out of her backpack and onto her face as she pulled the menu toward her. This is going to be a trip, she thought as she glanced back up at the woman, who was still just staring at her.
Regina was a little taken aback by Emma Swan. She didn't quite know how to perceive her. In the first minute of their time together, Regina deduced that the blonde was blunt, a little crass, and a definite straight-shooter. Regina wasn't sure if she liked it or not; not because she cared terribly, but because she was unsure of how to interact properly with such a person.
She always felt a little out of her element with people like Emma Swan, because Regina had been raised to speak and act in a particular manner. It had always been incredibly difficult for her to break away from that upbringing and relax, even with Kathryn, who was her closest friend.
She almost always spoke in complete and proper sentences, addressed each and every person she encountered with due respect, and practiced appropriate manners. She hardly ever even slouched her shoulders.
This young woman, though—well, she seemed to be quite the opposite.
"Yes, actually," Regina finally answered. "I earned my MBA from Harvard Business College."
"Knew it," Emma said, still laughing internally. This woman certainly wasn't the first upper-class person she had worked for (or would hopefully work for). She'd had several catering jobs at random high-class events throughout her first couple of years in college, and she'd babysat a lot of friggin' kids, for rich and poor families alike. So, she was used to the five-minute delay that the wealthy folks sometimes required in order to acclimate themselves to what Emma referred to as normal-people-speak. But they all eventually caught on, or they just sneered at her and decided not to hire her.
"So, what's good to eat here, Regina?" Emma asked. "Is that okay?"
"I'm sorry?" Regina asked, shaking her head. "Is what okay?"
"That I call you Regina," Emma answered with a smile. "I can call you Mrs. Mills if you prefer that instead, or whatever."
"Actually, it's Ms. Mills," Regina corrected her. "I'm not married, but the formality is unnecessary. You're welcome to call me Regina."
"Awesome!" Emma exclaimed before turning her eyes back to her menu. "So, what's good to eat here, Regina?"
Regina couldn't help the smile that started to form on her face. She couldn't quite explain it, because she felt entirely out of her element with Emma, but for some reason, she also felt a strange sense of comfort. The blonde seemed to have a natural confidence about her, much as Regina did when in her element, that made her feel more and more at ease with Emma as the minutes passed.
"Well, I suppose I almost always order a cobb salad or a dish with some form of grilled chicken," Regina answered a little timidly.
"Okay," Emma said with a shrug. "Let's go with that then." She put her hand up and waved the nearest waiter over.
When the young man reached their table, he pulled a pad and pen from his apron and politely asked, "What can I get for you ladies?"
"Uh, yeah," Emma said as she chewed on her lip. She pointed at Regina as she told the waiter, "She's ready to order, and I'll have whatever she has, plus another water with like three lemons."
The waiter just kind of laughed as he then turned to Regina who was staring at Emma as if she was some sort of natural phenomenon. Regina was simply so accustomed to taking command of the majority of the social situations she found herself in, and considering she had intended to interview this young woman as a potential employee, she had assumed this situation would be no different.
Boy, had she been wrong. Emma Swan had just slipped right in and taken the reins like she was entitled to them, like she had bred and raised that horse herself. And strangely enough, Regina had simply let her—no arguments, no fuss.
"Okay," Regina said, shaking herself out of her thoughts, "then I will have a sparkling water and the cobb salad, and I suppose Ms. Swan, here, will have the same."
"Alright," the waiter said. "I'll have it right out, ladies."
"Thank you," Regina told him at the same time that Emma said, "Thanks man."
As soon as the guy walked away, Emma scrunched her nose up at Regina and said, "Can we not do the whole 'Ms. Swan' thing? Ever again, preferably."
Regina didn't know if she should laugh or apologize or feel embarrassed, but before she could feel or say anything at all, Emma chimed in again. "It's not a big deal or anything. It's just that a few of my professors call me Ms. Swan and it grates on my nerves. I know it's supposed to be respectful or whatever, but it just makes me feel old. And I'm way too young to feel old, you know?"
And then Emma smiled and winked at Regina.
Regina cleared her throat, crossed and uncrossed her legs as she was prone to do when uncomfortable, though she was quickly relaxing, and rested her hands gently in her lap. She summoned a smile to her supple lips as she nodded to the blonde. "Yes, I can certainly understand that."
"I figured," Emma said with a shrug. "You can't possibly be older than twenty-five, and I bet you get that 'Miss or Ms.' crap all the time, right?"
Regina's cheeks blushed beautifully even as she smirked and corrected the younger woman. "I'm actually twenty-seven, but you've just earned a few points in your favor for making me feel at least two years younger."
Emma chuckled at that. "Go me," she said happily as she took a sip of the extra-lemony water that the waiter had just handed her.
Regina laughed a bit, too, before saying, "But yes, at work I am often only addressed as Ms. Mills."
"Right." Emma nodded as she pulled off her glasses and stuck them back in their case before slipping the case back into her bag, having forgotten she was wearing them for a moment. She only needed them to read and to drive and sometimes to watch television, but she hardly ever wore them otherwise; not because she had an issue with her glasses but because she was clumsy. She had already broken a pair before and had to save up to afford the ones she had now. She was in no hurry to break them.
Regina observed this with interest. She noted that Emma looked quite a bit younger with her glasses on than she did without them, but that she was a striking young woman either way.
"So, you're like some super successful businesswoman, right?" Emma asked, interrupting Regina's thoughts again. "You must be pretty awesome at what you do considering you're so young."
"I would like to say that yes, I am quite successful at what I do," Regina answered with a smile. "However, Emma, I believe we are here so that I may interview you, not the other way around."
"Right," Emma said with a nod. "Totally. Fire away."
The waiter returned then with their cobb salads, and the two women began to eat as Regina started in with a list of questions she had thought up on her way to the café. She had never placed her son in the care of a babysitter before, other than her Mother, so she definitely the entire thing slightly daunting; however, she was more than willing to take the step if she found the right candidate.
She could only hope that Emma Swan would be a proper fit once they were finished. She was truly uninterested in having to rearrange multiple days in order to try and accommodate several different interviews with other candidates.
"Why don't you start by telling me a bit about yourself," Regina said as she nibbled at her salad. "Kathryn mentioned that you were a senior at NYU. I'm guessing that puts you at around twenty-one or twenty-two, unless you are an accelerated student."
"Nope, no acceleration here," Emma told her with a laugh. "I'm twenty-two, and yeah, I am a senior at NYU. I'm a social work major with a lit minor."
"Social work and literature," Regina interjected, intrigued. "That is an interesting combination. Why the interest in either?"
"Well, the first is a little complicated," Emma admitted. She didn't like to go into detail on this particular subject. "Let's just say that a lot of stuff gets overlooked in the system or doesn't get looked into hard enough, and I want to help correct that, or at least I want to make strides in correcting that."
Regina's stomach knotted a bit as she heard the earnest and almost personal way in which Emma spoke about the system. It made her uncomfortable, but more than anything, it made her curious. Still, she plastered on a smile as Emma went on to say, "And the literature is simple. I just really like to read."
"I see," Regina said softly. "I enjoy reading as well. I have quite the collection at home, so perhaps, if I hire you, you may find a book or two to entertain you while Henry naps or once he has gone to bed."
"Henry?" Emma repeated with a grin. "Your son's name is Henry? Is he the only one you've got? How old is he?"
Regina smiled brightly, unable to help herself. Henry was the light of her life, and even the simplest thought or mention of him brought a smile to her face. "Yes, his name is Henry, after my father. He is three, and yes, he is the only child I have."
"Three," Emma said, her smile only growing. "That's a great age. I bet he's adorable."
"Beyond," Regina told her, nodding. "He is also quite the handful."
"Most toddlers are. I'm sure I can handle him."
Regina narrowed her eyes at bit as she surveyed the younger woman. "So, you like children?" she asked. "What I mean is, do you actually enjoy caring for children or are you simply in it for the money? Or is this your first potential babysitting job?"
"This isn't my first, but it would be my only right now," Emma told her. "My last family that I was babysitting for moved across the country—new job. So, Henry would be my one and only if you hired me. And to answer your question, yes, I like kids. I love kids, actually."
"Oh?" Regina asked. "Do you have any siblings?"
Emma laughed at that one. It was a cold laugh, sad almost, and Regina simply stared at her, perplexed. "Sorry," Emma finally said. "It's not really funny at all, but yeah. I had siblings. If you counted them all up, then I had twenty-nine siblings by the time I was sixteen."
Regina's eyes nearly bugged out of her skull at first, but then the implication of the statement sank in, and that uncomfortable lurching sensation in her stomach returned. "You're a foster child," she whispered so softly that the words were almost inaudible, but Emma caught them.
She just scratched the back of her neck, shrugged her shoulders uncomfortably, and said, "Yup. I'm an orphan. A lot of different homes. I got out of the system when I was sixteen, though. Anyway, I don't really like to talk about it, so if we could move on to the next subject, that would be great."
"Yes, of course," Regina said quickly. "I apologize. I didn't meant to pry."
"You didn't," Emma told her. "You asked a perfectly acceptable question, and I answered it. That's that."
Regina's throat felt tight as she swallowed. "Very well," she managed to say despite how thick her tongue felt in her mouth. She avoided the blonde's eyes for a moment while she tried to shake the blush that she knew had risen in her cheeks. She felt terrible about leading them into such a conversation, not because she pitied Emma, but because it was obvious that the blonde was rather uncomfortable conversing about her upbringing.
Regina glanced at her watch only to see that she was already late in returning to the office; then again, she was the boss, so it wasn't as if she would be reprimanded. Still, she liked to maintain a strict schedule as often as possible.
"I'm terribly sorry," Regina said, hoping that Emma wouldn't think she was running from an awkward conversation, "but I should probably be on my way. I am already late in returning to work."
"Oh, right." Emma nodded and tried to smile at the brunette. "Yeah, I get it. I have my next class in an hour anyway. Well, uh, it was nice to meet you."
"You as well, Emma," Regina told her honestly before collecting her things and laying several bills on the table. "I will take care of lunch."
Emma smiled at her. "You don't have to do that, but thanks. I appreciate it."
Regina nodded at her before turning to leave, but she whirled around again when Emma called out her name. The blonde walked over until they were a little closer than was typically considered appropriate. She locked gazes with Regina and in almost a whisper, she said, "Look, I know you don't know me, and I know that you probably want the best you can get for your son. I get that, and I'm not asking you to throw me a bone just because I need the money. I'm asking you to give me a chance, because unlike a lot of people who get these babysitting jobs, I do actually care. I'm not some bum that ran from the system and then like turned into a junkie or a thief or something, okay? I got a job. I got into college. I'm an honor student. I'm trying to make something of myself, and I may not know a lot about family, but I will take care of your kid. I'll make sure he's safe and happy anytime you need me to. I'm punctual and I clean up after myself, and I'm a good choice for this job."
Emma reached into her pocket then and pulled out a small slip of paper with a string of numbers scrawled across it. "This is my number," she said. "I hope you'll give me a chance, Regina."
And then she was gone. She gave Regina one last smile before slipping by her, out the door, and into the rush of the city.
Regina stood there another moment longer, clutching the small slip of paper in her hand and trying to understand why her eyes were suddenly stinging with tears.
Later that evening, Regina was driving home from her parents' house with a sleeping Henry in the car-seat behind her. He always fell asleep in the car, whether the drive was five minutes or fifty minutes. Something about the hum of the road always knocked him out.
Regina watched the road beneath the orange sky as the sun was setting, and she let her thoughts wander. She thought of the hectic day she had had at work, but mostly she thought of the woman she had met on her lunch break. Emma Swan.
Something about the blonde had stuck with her even after she had returned to work and even now. She couldn't shake it, but as she contemplated the young woman, Regina made a split-second decision.
She drummed her fingers on the steering wheel impatiently for the remaining ten minutes it took to reach her house, and as soon as she pulled the car into the garage and put it in park, Regina reached for her purse. She dug through it until she found the small slip of paper she had been given earlier that day and dialed the number on it into her cell.
It rang only once before the voice of Emma Swan came through the line.
"Who's this?" she asked without any form of greeting, and Regina couldn't help the small smile that formed on her lips. So blunt, she thought.
"Hello Emma. This is Regina Mills," she answered, and before she could say anything else, Emma jumped right in. Regina was surprised that she had been expecting anything else, even after only one meeting with the blonde.
"Regina, oh my god, are you hiring me?" Emma fired off instantly.
Regina chuckled as she said, "Well, I was hoping that we could do a trial run, with me around of course. I want to make sure that Henry is comfortable with you before I make a final decision. If you are interested, when might you be available to come meet Henry and perhaps spend a bit of time with him?"
"Yeah, I'm definitely interested," Emma told her, unable to stop grinning. She really needed the money so she was hoping for this job. Plus, she really did love kids, so babysitting beat catering any day. "And well, it is now officially the weekend. I just got out of my last class, so I'm available right now. I mean…if that's okay with you and everything."
Emma bit her lip as the line went totally silent, and she knew that that one had thrown Regina for a loop. She was sure that the brunette was one of those everything-by-the-schedule types of people.
Regina just sat there, mouth agape as she tried to think of an excuse to pick a different time and day. She hated impromptu anything. It always made her feel flustered and nervous.
But then, impromptu seemed to sort of be the definition of Emma Swan, so if Regina was going to hire her, she had better get used to it. She glanced at the small digital clock above her stereo. 5:45 blinked back at her. She swallowed before stuttering out a quick, "Oh, well, okay. Um, yes, I suppose that right now would be fine."
She rattled off her address, and listened to a pen scratch quickly across a paper before Emma's voice came back over the line. "Sweet. I just need like fifteen or twenty minutes and then I'll be there."
"Very well," Regina answered, her palms sweaty as she thought of everything she had to do prior to Emma's arrival. She wanted to tidy up despite the fact that her house was almost always immaculate considering she cleaned up after Henry on an hourly or even half-hourly basis. Clutter drove her mad. She supposed she should also provide dinner considering Emma said she had only just left class so she likely had yet to eat. She wondered what she could cook in fifteen minutes.
Regina snapped back to attention, her cheeks flushing for no one to see. "Yes, I'm here. I will see you soon, Emma."
She then clicked to hang up before practically jumping out of her car and collecting Henry from the backseat. He rubbed at his eyes sleepily as she carried him into the house, but by the time they reached the living room, he was wide awake again. Regina chuckled as he smiled slyly at her and said, "Momma, you wanna make dinosaur nuggets."
"Oh, I do, do I?" she asked, still laughing as she carried him into the kitchen, held him at the sink to help him wash his hands, and then put him in his seat.
"Uh huh," he hummed with an overly dramatic nod.
Regina opened the freezer and looked inside. "I suppose I'm in luck then, because we happen to have an entire box of dinosaur nuggets." She pulled out the box of grilled-chicken nuggets cut into the shapes of dinosaurs and waggled it at her son.
He threw up his arms as he giggled. "How long?"
"Not long, baby," she told him as she stopped to drop a kiss to his forehead. "Now," she mumbled to herself. "What to make for me…and for Emma?"
When the doorbell rang, Henry had already devoured his dinosaur nuggets and his sweet peas and had run off to play. Regina still found it strange how much her son actually enjoyed peas. He was one of few kids she knew of to actually love them, but she was far from complaining.
Regina had just finished straining the pasta she had cooked, and so she set it aside to go and answer the door. She heard the pitter-patter of Henry's feet running from the other room and she knew he was too curious not to accompany her to the door. He hid behind her leg as she pulled the door open with a smile.
Emma looked exactly as she had earlier that day—long blonde ponytail, red leather jacket, and everything.
"Ms—Sorry," Regina said, quickly correcting herself. "Emma, hello. I'm glad you could make it."
"Hi," Emma said with a little wave. Her eyes involuntarily raked down Regina's body as they apparently were going to do every time she saw the woman, and then she noticed the little hand clinging to Regina's pants. Caramel-colored eyes peeked out from around Regina's leg, and Emma couldn't help but crack up.
Regina's brows furrowed at the laughter, but then she realized what Emma was laughing about. She smiled as she shook her leg and softly said, "Stop hiding, dear. Come out and say hello."
Henry poked his head out just a little farther but not much. "Hello," he said shyly.
"Hi Henry." Emma smiled and waved at him, and he narrowed his eyes at her. Emma cracked up again, because she had seen his mother do the exact same thing earlier that day at lunch, and it was almost uncanny how much he looked like her when he did that.
"Come in," Regina said quickly, suddenly realizing that they were still standing in the doorway, and she wasn't finished with dinner yet.
Emma followed her into the house, but they hardly managed more than a few steps before Henry tugged on Regina's pant leg and crooked his finger at her, motioning for her to bend down. When she did, he cupped a hand around his mouth and whispered in her ear, much to Emma's delight. She found him impossibly adorable and she hadn't even fully seen him yet. He seemed intent on hiding.
"Momma, who is that?" he whispered once Regina bent to his level.
Regina didn't whisper in return. She spoke aloud as she told him, "That is Emma." Emma waved at him again, but he just continued to look at her with his eyes narrowed. "She is the babysitter."
"What's a babysinner?" he asked, out loud that time, though he shrunk behind Regina a little more when he realized he had.
Both Regina and Emma laughed at his version of the title. "Babysit-ter," Regina corrected, enunciating the 't' sound this time.
"Yeah, kid," Emma chimed in. "I sit on babies."
Henry's eyes widened comically and so did Regina's, but before anyone could reassure the kid that Emma was only joking, he quickly and nervously muttered, "I'm not a baby. I'm a big boy."
Emma just winked at him and said, "Well then, I guess you and I can just be friends then."
Regina watched closely as Henry seemed to consider Emma's words, and when he took a step out from behind her leg, she couldn't help but smile.
Emma only found the kid even more adorable once she could see all of him. He was a shorty, even for his age, but he was beyond cute. His hair was a dark brown, just like Regina's, and his eyes were brown, too, though they were a little lighter than his mother's. Regina's eyes were a smooth milk chocolate while Henry's were more of a caramel color. His cheeks were just a little chubby, and his lips were thick just like Regina's lips. They didn't have the same chin, though, and that made Emma wonder about the father, or the grandparents even.
She didn't ask any questions though. She simply smiled at the kid and hoped he would grow to like her.
Henry looked up at Emma again and quietly asked, as if testing the water, "Do you like dinosaurs?"
"Are you kidding me?" Emma asked him dramatically. "I love dinosaurs!"
That was all it took. Henry's little face broke into a wide smile and in seconds, he ran right past them and into the next room, shouting over his shoulder, "Come on!"
Emma laughed as she looked up at Regina and raised a brow. "Can I go and play with him?"
Regina's heart fluttered at the pure childish excitement that filled the younger woman's emerald eyes in that moment. It was adorable, and Regina could see why babysitting was a good fit for Emma Swan. She smiled at the blonde and nodded. "Go ahead," she told her. "Oh, and I am making pasta. I thought you might be hungry."
"Awesome," Emma exclaimed. "Yeah, I'm starved. Thank you. That's really nice of you."
"My pleasure," Regina said simply, and then she watched as Emma darted off after her son and out of sight. Only minutes later, giggles from both of them echoed into the kitchen from the living room, and Regina grinned as she brought her pasta sauce to a simmer.
"Perhaps this will work out after all," she said to herself, now only hoping that Kathryn could keep her word and set her up with at least a few good dates.