Welcome to the 2017 Captain Swan Big Bang! After months of toiling, blood, sweat, and tears, I can finally share with you my second story. A huge huge huge thank you to my beta sotheylived for keeping up with my mess of thoughts and outlines and both artists shipsxahoy and queen-icicle-fandom for creating beautiful pieces that I couldn't have ever fathomed into existence. The lovely cover image you see is a creation of shipsxahoy and it's jUST SO PRETTY. Without further ado...
"No, Anna, you've got to – no, the other way." Emma groans, waving her hand in front of her face, careful to miss the expensive camera equipment below it. The woman in front of her scoots five inches, bewildered face smoothly appearing on camera. "Yes, thank you, now you're in frame."
"Oh, your left, not mine."
Emma sighs and straightens up. She can already feel the ache in her back forming. "Yes, Anna, my left." Glancing over her shoulder, Emma nods solemnly at the director.
"Alright, let's get this scene started," he says. Emma backs away from the camera, slowly weaving her way around the rest of the crew. She's done her job for now. It's too early and there are sprinkled donuts and bearclaws on the catering table that call her name.
For something that seems like such a low budget gig, this YouTube series employs a surprising amount of people. She's constantly impressed by it – the sheer number of familiar and unfamiliar faces she passes by in the hallways. Hell, they're even big enough to have a catering table that asks for requests every once in awhile.
She's worked for productions with much less.
From the moment Anna cheerfully walked up to her yesterday afternoon as she was packing up, asking for any requests, "because my sister's sending some things from the bakery," Emma knew today would be better than most. A bearclaw: the one love/hate relationship she enjoyed in her life.
She spots it 20 feet from the table. It's got her name on it, literally – a note on blue paper has her name scrawled elegantly across it.
(Elsa really is the best thing about this whole series. God, she should just ask the girl out, that's how much she likes her.)
The bearclaw hangs right before her mouth, the sugar nearly on her lips, when the devil chimes in, sounding suspiciously like her cellphone.
Groaning, she removes it from her back pocket, sparing a glance at the caller ID. Her interest piques when she reads the name scrawled across it.
"Jefferson?" she answers. "What's wrong?"
"I call you for the first time in four years and you automatically assume something's wrong?" the man from the other end asks, too dramatic for his own good.
"Yes," she says shortly. "The last time you called me, you asked me – broke, mother-of-a-six-year-old me – to bail you out of jail and lend you enough money to pay back that casino you got caught in." She pauses for effect, then adds, "And then asked me to drive you home."
"Oh," Jefferson says on an exhale. "I'd forgotten about that. How is Henry these days?"
Emma sighs, tucking her phone between her shoulder and ear so she can rest her hand on her hip. "Jeff, what do you want?" she asks. "I'm at work right now, they're going to call me back any minute and I need to e-"
"That's actually what I'm calling you about," he interrupts her excitedly.
"What? Jeff, this series is wrapping up, they're not hiring."
"No, I've got an idea for a show and I've gotten the okay for a trial season."
"What?" This time, her question expresses more disbelief than anything. "That's great, Jefferson! What's it about?"
"It's reality, sort of adventurey," he explains. "Trawling for lobster and seafood up at the Georges Bank in Maine. Imagine Ice Truckers but with boats." Her friend goes quiet for so long that Emma takes her phone back in hand to make sure that the call hasn't dropped. "And I want you to come and shoot it, if that wasn't obvious already."
Shaking her head, she mutters, "I don't like how this sounds."
"No, Emma, trust me," Jeff reassures her. "This is gonna be great."
She sighs, turning away from the food table reluctantly. "Jeff, I can't just up and move in the blink of an eye, I've got Henry."
Even in the slight din of the studio, Emma can hear her friend mimic her sigh. "I know," he says resignedly. "I called up David Nolan. He's in. He and the missus just married and were trying to find a nice place for them." When she doesn't immediately respond, Jeff sighs again. "Look, we wouldn't start filming until after Fourth of July. That gives you a couple months."
It could work. She wouldn't have to worry about taking Henry out of school. This project should wrap up by the end of next week. She'd actually have time to find them somewhere nice to live unlike previous times where producers have expected her behind the camera by week's end. And David – who acted like her big brother when they were in school, always texting her to make sure she got home in once piece – and his girlfriend, now wife apparently, Mary Margaret would be there. For once, they'd be moving to someplace where familiar faces await them.
This could actually work.
"When do you need an answer by?" she asks. Now that the wheels are turning in her head, the plausibility of the whole idea works. She's got to check with Henry first. No big life decision like this can truly be set in stone until her son has his word.
"I'd like one now, if that's possible," Jefferson responds with a chuckle, "but I'll need it by the end of next week at the latest."
Nodding her head, Emma concedes. "I'll get back to you by then, if not sooner." She hesitates only for a moment before asking, "Everything else alright there, Jeff?"
(They were kind of close, back in the day. Met each other in their first film class, kept in touch and always were down to hold the camera or act in front of it for whatever project caused their headaches at the time.)
"Yeah, great, actually," he answers. "Grace is doing well. She's getting really good at math."
Emma smiles. She recognizes the strength and pride in another parent's voice. It's a sentiment that often tinges her own. "She's a great kid, Jeff. You should be proud of her." She could go on for days, swapping stories of Henry's successes and Grace's troubles and vice versa. It's been a long time since she's had a conversation with a good friend of hers. All Emma wants is for this phone conversation to just devolve into a catch up session, but she hears her name from set. Rolling her eyes, she groans. "I've got to get back to work, Jeff, but I'll let you know my answer as soon as I have one," she says.
"Thanks, Em," Jeff tells her softly. "Tell Henry Grace and I say hi."
"Of course." Her name bounces off the artificially lit walls again, louder and more agitated. She sighs, again. "Bye, Jeff. Take care of yourselves."
Ending the call, Emma looks from her darkened phone screen to the uneaten pastry. She looks at it forlornly for a moment before shoving it in her mouth with one hand and her phone in her back pocket with the other.
No such thing as free time in show business.
Broaching the topic of moving – yet again, for what's probably the third time in as many years – proves more difficult than Emma's expecting. Jefferson's offer is somewhat ideal: the opportunity to meet up with old friends, as well as provide her son a more stable environment to grow up in. Or, at least, finish growing up in.
She picks Henry up from school that afternoon and, like any good parent, takes him out to ice cream for dinner.
"Where are we going this time?" he asks, chocolate raspberry swirl dripping off the tip of his nose.
Stopping her tongue mid-lick on mint chocolate chip, Emma reels back. She's stunned, to say the least. "What do you mean?" she asks, lowering the cone in her hand to rest it on the table.
Her son sighs, his shoulders rolling forward just the slightest bit. "We only get ice cream for dinner when you're trying to tell me we have to pack and move in record time." Henry shrugs, nonchalant, and renews his attack on his ice cream. "So," he says between licks, "where are we going now?"
"Nowhere, yet." Recovering from her brief shock, she too returns to her dinner. "Jefferson called me earlier today and said he's got a gig for me up in Maine."
"Maine? Like next-to-Canada Maine?"
"The same one," Emma chuckles. Her son's always had such a way with words. "Also, he told me to tell you that he and Grace say hello."
Henry makes a face, scrunching up his nose, and waves off the hellos like they're a bug buzzing in his face. "Mom, do you realize how far away that is?" he asks.
"I know kid, but I think it's got potential," she reasons. "It's for a TV show about the ocean and boats."
That catches his attention. "Like pirate ships?" he asks excitedly, eyes wide and ice cream temporarily forgotten.
"No, like fishing boats," she explains, leaning forward to wipe at some of the ice cream that's melted down his chin. "Filming doesn't start until after the Fourth of July, so you wouldn't miss any school and you'd have some time to acclimate and find new friends before it starts up again. We can find a place we both like up there." Settling back into her seat across from him, Emma sends him a small smile. "What do you think?"
She watches her son process the information, sees the cogs turning about in his head. He's quiet for a minute, staring off into the space his ice cream occupies. Then Henry shrugs.
"I don't know, Mom," he says. "Doesn't it get really cold up there?"
"Yeah, but think about it. We can find a house with a fireplace and when it snows, we can curl up and drink cocoa and marathon Star Wars until we can't see straight." At the mention of winter weather, she watches Henry's eyes grow wide and glossy. She can tell he's lost in his own active imagination.
And then the thought strikes her: "You've never seen snow before, have you?"
Henry shakes his head. "Maybe once in real life, but mostly on TV," he admits sheepishly. And then, like kids tend to do, his tone does a 180. "We could build a snowman!"
"Exactly!" Emma shouts, nearly throwing her ice cream at her son in the process. There's more of the dessert on the napkin around her cone than in it, but she quickly finishes it up before speaking again. "You don't need to tell me what you think right now. Give it a couple days."
"When do you need to tell Jefferson?" Henry asks, his tongue making a round about the edge of his cone, trying in vain to catch all of it before it falls on his hand.
"By the end of next week," she answers. "So instead of daydreaming in class about the next Uncharted game, think about this instead, alright?"
"Okay." Henry finishes up his ice cream, shoving the last bite into his mouth and sighing contently as he chews. Once he swallows, he matches her gaze. "Does this mean we're going to have something else for dinner too?"
Emma laughs despite herself. "Are you still hungry, kid?"
"I am a growing boy, I need my nutrients," he quips back.
As her laughter dying down, she shakes her head. "We can stop at McDonald's or something on the way home."
Stretching and closing his eyes, Henry says, "I was thinking more along the lines of pizza."
"Oh yeah?" she chuckles.
"Yeah. A large half cheese, half pepperoni." Opening his eyes again, he grins slyly when he says, "And then you can get whatever you want on your pizza."
Emma laughs so hard that her stomach begins to hurt. Henry's already on his way to the car, but she manages to catch up, grabbing him by the shoulders and ruffling his hair. He's still small enough that when she pulls him into her side for a hug, he can't resist her strength. But she can't lift him anymore, can't hold him when he's tired and falls asleep in the backseat of the Bug.
It always strikes her how quickly her little boy is growing up. She just never seems to realize it. It feels like only yesterday she was taking her first steps as a free woman, a newborn cradled in her arms and no idea of where to go from there.
Ten years later, Henry's growing taller, looking more and more like his father every day. It hurts her heart, being reminded of her first love every time she looks at her son and the long line of mistakes that gave her him, but then he sasses her back or crinkles his nose like she does and the aches are soothed.
Though he may look like his father, Henry is most definitely her son.
When the TV's off for the night and Henry's sitting at the kitchen table scribbling out his book report, Emma scrolls through her phone on the hunt for a number. She's sure she still has it somewhere in her contacts, it hasn't been that long since they've talked.
Or has it?
With how close the three of them were back in her short college years, she assumes that she would have been invited to David and Mary Margaret's wedding. They were as thick as thieves until she took the fall for an actual one and spent her second year of college in a jail cell instead of the library. But they came and visited her when time afforded it. Emma tried to call David at least once every couple of months just to make sure everything was okay for them.
But thinking about it now, with her and Henry moving much more often and the crazy shooting schedules she's always forced to adhere to, Emma can't remember the last time she actually spoke with David.
"Aha!" She finds his number under the name Darlingest Charmsicle, the name she and another friend came up with when Mary Margaret first called David her "Prince Charming." Before she can second guess herself, Emma presses the green call button and brings the phone up to her ear.
It rings and rings, and with each passing tone, she contemplates hanging up altogether. How long has it been since she talked to David? The longer she considers it, the more she wishes that the ringing would just end in an automated voicemail.
Alas, she's never been that lucky in her life, for just as she senses the voicemail robot about to pick up, the man himself finally answers.
"Hi David. It's me," she says meekly. Emma then starts to clarify. It's not like she calls him every day. "It's-"
"Emma," he interrupts her happily. "God, how are you? How's Henry? Is everything okay?"
The relief that floods her body is welcome, even if she didn't realize how tense she was. "Yeah, everything's fine with us. We're down in Phoenix while I finish up a YouTube series."
"How about you guys?" she asks suggestively, settling her hip against the kitchen counter. "Heard through the grapevine that congratulations are in order?"
David chuckles. "Thank you. It was small, just us at the courthouse and family. Mary Margaret wanted to save some money and have a huge party instead without the trouble of an actual ceremony." He sighs contently. "We got back from our honeymoon last week."
"And how is marital bliss treating you two?"
"Perfectly." And with that earnest sense of genuity he always manages to embody, David says, "She's the love of my life and now I get to call her my wife."
She can't help the scoff that falls from her lips. He was always like this, even before he and Mary Margaret officially started dating. He just spewed chivalry helplessly and, just as uncontrollably, she always teased him back.
(Emma may not know how much time has passed since they've spoken, but falling back into old conversation habits makes her heart warm.)
"Aww, David, that's so sweet, it makes me want to puke."
"Ha, c'mon, you can't expect me to say anything different." They both laugh, and once they calm themselves, David asks, "So what has you calling me this late at night after so long?"
"Right, time zone, I forgot you two were on East Coast time." She mentally scolds herself. Now she understands why he sounded a bit worried at the onset. It's got to be close to 11 p.m. for him, and no good call comes that late at night.
"It's fine, really," he reassures her, "it's not that late and we're probably going to be up late anyways."
Grimacing, and even physically recoiling, Emma mutters, "Gross."
David sighs on the other end of the line. She can imagine him rubbing his forehead out of frustration. "Mary Margaret's grading and I've got some pictures to edit."
"Oh." To be fair, she hadn't explicitly been thinking about her friends crawling into bed together to dance the horizontal tango. Then again, what else do newlyweds do late at night?
Shaking her head to rid her mind of the image, she changes the subject to the real reason she dug so far into her contacts. "Well, Jefferson called me the other day."
"Did he recruit you for the Maine trawling project?" he asks.
"Tried to. I still haven't given him an answer yet."
"I think it's going to be fun," David says. "I did a little bit of research on the town he wants to focus on and it's…" He goes quiet before finding the word he wants: "Quaint."
When he doesn't explain further, she prompts him. "Meaning?"
"Small," he says. "Real small. Everybody-knows-the-dirt-on-everybody small."
"Oh," she says softly. That could be both a blessing and a curse, given what's happened to her in her life. She's got secrets, just like everyone else, which could either stay excellently hidden or come out in a flash if the town's anything like she's imagining. The former would be her choice, but with all these strangers digging for information on the new folks in town…that latter one could be detrimental not only for her, but for Henry.
"It's got its own harbor and a nice forest just outside of town," David continues, oblivious to her inner turmoil. "We think it'd be a great place to raise a family. We've been in the city so long that we both kind of forget what it's like to live like that."
"Huh." It's all she can really say while processing her friend's reasoning.
Seems solid enough.
"What's keeping you from deciding, Emma?" David inquires. "Henry?"
She's shaking her head before she realizes that his voice comes from the phone at her ear and not a physical being in front of her. "I told him about it and he didn't say no off the bat, but…" Tongue poking out between her lips, she clucks at herself. "I feel bad. I've uprooted him too much in his life. I don't want him to have to wait until college to make real friends." And when she gets to the root of her problem, it hits her ton of bricks.
"I don't want him to feel alone like I did," she whispers.
"I'm sure he doesn't, Emma." Like it always was, David's voice is calming. It keeps her from trying to strangle herself, her arm wrapping tightly around her waist. "He's got you. And if you come out here, he'll have us and Jefferson and Grace and the rest of the kids in town." He pauses and she can't tell if he's trying to think of other benefits of this town or he's run out of things completely. "If Henry says yes, then would you come?"
"Probably." Emma shrugs and sighs. "I just want him to be happy, David."
"I know, but don't forget about your happiness as well," he advises. That's what he does: David always put things into perspective for her. "Look, I've gotta go, Emma. My wife is calling for me."
Shuddering, Emma pushes off the counter and slowly makes her way back to Henry and his homework. "Ew, ew, I don't want to know," she mumbles. Then, more genuinely, she adds, "I'm glad you guys finally tied the knot. Tell Mary Margaret I say hi."
"No problem. Good luck with the decision. Call me when you've made up your mind."
"Okay. And David?" Emma hesitates to put her emotions into words, but if she doesn't acknowledge the elephant on the line, she won't be able to sleep soundly until she settles it. "Sorry I haven't called in a while."
She really is. It's her fault, much like a lot of other things in her life, that they've gone so long without talking. Those first couple of weeks, maybe even months, after his graduation, David had tried to call her. Had called her maybe once a week, if not more. But the more time she spent with Henry, traveling around and looking for jobs to make ends meet, the less he tried to call until finally, one day, the calls stopped all together.
"Nothing to apologize for. I'm just glad you finally did."
"Me too," she says with a small smile.
"Goodnight," David bids her.
Her conversation leaves her in a weird state of content and confused. David has a point in everything he said. But then again, she's been on the move – or may be more accurately, on the run – for so long that even attempting to settle down would harm more than help her.
She ponders her friend's words for another silent moment before clapping her hands and approaching Henry. The apartment has only grown darker while she spoke with David, so now the kitchen light dangling above her son is a spotlight on his apparent struggle.
"So how goes the homework?" she asks.
Henry leans forward and taps his head against the table before lolling it back to look at her upside down. "My brain is fried, I'm dying, all the blood is going to my stomach," he groans. Throwing an arm haphazardly in the air, he has the gall to scold her. "See, this is what you get when you feed your son ice cream for dinner."
"Uh, no," she laughs aloud. "This is what you get when you claim an entire large pizza for yourself." Gently, Emma pushes his head back up and sits down next to him. She peers over at the journal before him, half written thoughts on the lines and little doodles in the margins. "C'mon, this looks like a good start. Talk to me. Talk me through it."
As Henry begins explaining the prompt, she tries – really tries – to focus on it. She wants to help her son with his report, but David's words and Jeff's offer still simmer in the back of her mind.
Seems like Henry isn't the only one who can't mold his thoughts into coherent ideas tonight.