"Oh Matt, you were so cute!" Emily giggled, flipping to the next page in his photo album, while he pretended not to be embarrassed. The gang was gathered at his apartment, grabbing a beer and social hour before they went out of dinner. Emily had found his photo album five minutes before they started arriving, and now she, Lia, and Cheryl were gathered around it, making very girly noises. They had crammed themselves into the loveseat, while the guys were perpendicular to them enjoying the roomier couch; Matt and Emily were sitting in the corners close to each other.
"Thanks," he mumbled, using everything ounce of willpower he possessed to resist turning red. Naked little baby Matt was grinning up from the pages, three teeth visible in his mouth.
"That is precious," Lia cooed, at the next photo of baby Matt pushing the front of his body off the floor with his little hands, a blanket draped over him, and a fuzzy kitten sniffing around him.
Matt turned to Frank and Duff, who had been laughing at him the last ten minutes. "I think I've had this nightmare before."
"Relax man, we'll make the rounds to everybody's apartments and make sure we see everyone's baby pictures." Frank promised him; he was an adorable baby and no shame in showing off his cute face, even to three squealing women.
"Right." That didn't make this less embarrassing. Why couldn't Emily have found that album any other day?
"Hey, at least you were cute back then. Can't say the same for now." He teased. Matt rolled his eyes.
"Oh, oh that is special, I need a copy of this one, Matt." Cheryl held up a photo of three-year-old Matt, hugging his grandmother's large golden retriever.
"That was before I learned that dogs were vicious, blood-thirsty beasts." He had liked that dog though, she was so old she didn't do much, let alone attack him.
"Oh look, he's on a bike!" Lia squealed, pointing out a dark-haired, six year-old on a blue bike, no training wheels.
"And, Santa's lap, oh look school photos," Cheryl pointed out a row of smaller photos, with a young boy at various ages, dressed in button down shirts, his hair tamed with gel, as much as it was ever going to be.
"Oh god look, was this your posse?" Emily teased, holding up a photo of five boys in worn, torn jeans and denim jackets, trying to look tough.
"Yes, those were my best friends through school. We caused a lot of trouble."
"Even though your mom was a cop?"
"Most of it was after she died." He looked to the floor, and Emily immediately bit her lip, perhaps not her smartest comment.
"Oh my god, high school pictures, and that is a hell of a lot of hair you have, Matt!" Cheryl laughed, hoping to lighten the mood.
"I don't even need to see that to picture it, considering the mass you have now," Frank teased, reaching to muse Matt's hair, but getting blocked by his target before he could.
"You didn't even tame it for your prom? If I had been your girlfriend I would have made you." Lia shook her head at him, looking up from the photos.
"Oh please say he's wearing a powder blue tux," Duff begged.
"No, I was not. Black suit, white shirt, and…a bow tie." He said the last part so quietly, they barely heard him.
"No way, you wore a bow tie?" Frank burst out laughing.
"I didn't have a choice, Carrie's mom made me. Wouldn't let me pick her up without it on."
"You took a girl named Carrie to the prom?" Duff asked in amused disbelief.
"She was my girlfriend, and before you start, there was no fire, pigs blood, or anything else, and the only way her mother was crazy was as a control freak." He and Carrie had gotten a ribbing from all their friends from that whole Carrie at the prom thing.
Emily stared at the photo of Matt as a young adult, his dark hair as wild as ever, brown eyes shining, and sweet smile plastered across his face. She had to smile at the image, he hadn't changed much, a few years aged, chest and shoulders broader, no longer as skinny as the boy in the photo, but filled out like a man. Then she looked at the girl, who had dirty blond hair, greenish hazel eyes, perfect teeth, and looked like the prom queen. This was the girl that almost had Matt's baby, this was the young woman who had been pregnant by the man Emily had fallen in love with. Her eyes flickered up, meeting Matt's for a few seconds, but long enough to confirm her thoughts.
"Are we coming to the end already?" She asked surprised, several minutes later; it didn't seem like they'd been perusing the album that long.
"Yep, one more page…whoops, can you catch that?" Emily caught the loose photo just as Lia pointed it out. It was a 4x6 of two kids about eleven or twelve smiling, with what looked like a theme park behind them. The boy was obviously Matt, his thick black hair and brown eyes the same they been looking at for the last thirty minutes. The girl wasn't in any of the other photos, been Emily's heart started pounding at the sight of the photo.
"Oh my god," she blurted, startling her companions.
"Em?" Matt looked at her concerned, he knew what the loose photo was of, but didn't see any reason it would upset her.
"This is you? Oh my god. This is you." She looked up from the photo at him, eyes wide as pie pans, one hand covering her open mouth.
"Yeah that's me, so?" Now he was completely confused, what about that photo had her looking at him like he was from another planet.
"I, I…uh the girl, she…oh my god." Her mind was racing like an Olympic sprinter, and she couldn't see to make a sentence, just barely intelligible phrases.
Matt leaned forward, toward her, "Emily, you're going to have to stop saying 'oh my god' like your in the Valley, and tell me what has you so upset."
"I'm not upset," she answered quickly, finally saying a complete thought.
"Then tell me what's wrong." He was actually starting to get worried, Emily was one of the most articulate people he knew (barring when he had her flabbergasted in one of their arguments), this wasn't like her.
"Matt, what do you remember about this girl?" She held up the photo, finger beside the girl whose hand his younger self held grasped tightly in his own.
"Not much honestly, we met at Disney on family excursions, ditched our families, and spent the day together. Why? Do you know her?"
"Yeah, you could say that. Do you remember writing your address and phone number on the only piece of paper that you could dig up, and never hearing from her again?" She was smiling now, her lips upturned in disbelief.
"Yeah, first girl to break my heart." He offered her a bittersweet, but confused grin. So, Emily knew t he girl in the photo.
"Ally tore it up on the drive back to the hotel, I was so upset I cried for over an hour." Her words hit him like she just swung a bag of bricks at his head; it couldn't be…could it?
Their eyes hadn't moved from each other since they began their conversation so they didn't see the wide-eyed, unbelieving looks on their friend's faces, and startled glances being exchanged.
"That, that, wow. You're telling me that the cute, little red head that had me lovesick and running to my mailbox constantly for four months, that was you?" He shook his head, after so many years, he'd forgotten the girl's name, but now that he thought about it, Emily sounded right. And, if he thought about what that little girl looked like; wild red curls, eyes a dark hazel, and dimples in her cheeks; she was either Emily or her identical twin.
"Yeah, that was six months after, you know, what happened to Abby, so my parents took us on a trip to California to pretend we weren't falling apart. I still have the photo my mom took, looks just like this one." She ran her fingers over the two smiling kids in the photo; that had been her first smile in six months.
"Jesus…what are the odds?" He asked softly, to know one in particular.
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Cheryl interjected into the silence. "That means you two met for the first time when you were eleven?"
"Twelve." They corrected simultaneously.
"Okay then twelve, that isn't the point, it's just…are you sure?" She didn't seem ready to believe her two friends, the most talented negotiators she'd ever worked with, met as kids, and ended up pursuing the same careers.
Emily nodded, god only knows how much time she'd spent looking at that picture. Matt concurred with his own nod, but held up a hand, ready to prove it to them.
"We played that game shooting the targets with the BB gun, what did I win for you?"
Emily smiled, "you didn't, you almost shot your thumb off, but I won you a baseball photo at the water guns."
"I still have that photo somewhere." They both turned to Cheryl, who held her hands up in surrender. Frank, Duff and Lia looked completed bewildered and amused at the situation.
"Do you remember that massive roller coaster we rode?" Emily suddenly asked, eyes alight with the memory..
"Like I could forget that death grip? I was more afraid of being chocked to death than the actual ride." He joked.
"Yes, I was terrified, but then I insisted we ride it again later."
"I remember, I was confused because you were so scared the first time, but you said you didn't want to be afraid."
"And I wasn't, the second time." She smiled proudly.
"Yeah, well that sounds like Emily: stubborn as a mule." Frank teased.
Emily shot him a look, while Matt elbowed him.
"Do you believe in fate?" Lia suddenly asked.
"It's coincidence, Lia. Really lucky coincidence, but that's all."
"Coincidence is meeting him at a bar before you find out he's your partner; fate is meeting him when your 12 on a coast you didn't even live on, and them meeting him at work, being partnered, and hooking up. It's like something out of a movie."
"Yeah, a chick flick maybe," Duff challenged her.
"That's still a movie, macho man," she shot back.
"Okay, okay," Cheryl put up her hands, stopping the debating before it got louder: Emily would never give in to it being anything more than coincidence, Lia would never accept that it wasn't fate, and Duff would insist to his grave that chick flicks don't count as real movies, or at least shouldn't. "Whatever it is, let's leave it for Matt and Emily to figure out, and go get some dinner; I'm starving."
"I just have to say one thing," Frank explained, big grin on his face, betraying the mocking nature of his 'one thing'. "Lehman was the first girl to break your heart?"
Later that night the two negotiators were curled, spooning in bed, full bellies and post-coitus. Both were still thinking about the photograph, and the two kids who met 23 years earlier, with no idea they'd end up here. If someone had told him that day, they'd meet again years down the road and fall hopelessly in love, they'd have…well the opposite sex still had cooties at that point (at least to all their friends), and kissing while interesting was still a mystery of morbid curiosity, but after grossed out faces, they would have dismissed it completely.
Their families had run into each other at the giant Ferris wheel, and while Ally was standing arms crossed, insisting she didn't want to do anything, Emily lined up for the ride. They put her in with a dark-haired boy her age, and his older brother, who was looking very unimpressed by the ride. The two twelve year-olds talked the whole ride, and after they hopped out, Matt being the perfect gentleman-in-training and helping her out, they told their parents they'd meet them at that same ride at seven.
They spent the day moving from ride to ride, and repeating a few of the best ones, playing, and often losing, at the games, and eating hot dogs and cotton candy. Neither could really say what made them hit if out so well, so fast, but neither really paid it much attention. They never stopped talking, or laughing for that matter, and by two o'clock were walking around the park holding hands. They found they had a mutual distaste for the mascots, who were like creepy, twisted renditions of once friendly characters.
When they realized it was six forty-five, they both searched their pockets for a piece of paper, and Matt used the last of the money they had to buy a pen. They decided he would write his address and phone number for her, since she was a girl, and better at keeping track of things, or at least that was their logic. Then they headed back to the Ferris wheel, and not finding their parents there, climbed on for one last ride. Matt finally got up his nerve on their last rotation, and pecked her cheek, one of the most nerve-wracking moments of his young life. Emily blushed, but smiled at him, and he knew he'd done the right thing.
Then the ride pulled to a stop, and as the operator let them out, they saw their families waiting, looking tired. Ally was still wearing a puss face, and Matt's brother was still looking unimpressed with the park. Regardless, each child coaxed their mothers into lifting the camera one last time, and posed for a picture, still holding hands. Emily's family started to walk away, before Matt's, so she turned and ran back, wrapping him in a hug, before dashing to catch up with her family. Emily pulled out that piece of paper on the ride to the hotel, and Ally saw, wasting no time grabbing it, and teasing her sister. She ripped it up, and threw the pieces out the window, leaving her little sister to sob for hours, believing she would never see him again.
"Hey Matt?" Emily didn't turn to look at him.
"Did you really wait to hear from me for four months?" She bit her lip, lost in whatever thought led her to that question. Matt turned her toward him, rolling her over easily, so that their faces were inches apart.
"Between you and me it was probably longer. My mom died a week after that trip, and you and that day at the park were kind of the happy thoughts I drifted to. Everything was such a mess after she died, and I missed her so much, I guess a letter from you was something to look forward to."
"But, you never got it." She stated guiltily.
"Yeah, but I at least had hope, that was kind of hard to come by then." He brushed her hair back over her shoulder, and ran his hand over her bare skin.
"Matt, do you remember Tobin Jensen mentioning Scott Barrett, my fake friend in junior high?" Even though it came from her lips, she still flinched at his name, remembering the hell he'd put her through.
"Yeah, you wrote letters to him, Manhattan skyscraper right?" He picked up her hand, seeing her flinch at the mention of Jensen.
"That's him. I was sent to a different school for junior high, after what happened with Ally my parents wanted a fresh start. It was awful for me, because I didn't know any of them, but I still had the memories of that nice, really cute boy I met over the summer. Scott was you. I changed his name, and put him in Manhattan, but I always pictured you when I wrote those letters." She raised their joined hands to her mouth, and turned them, placing a kiss to Matt's hand.
"I guess that day meant a lot to both of us." He whispered, pulling her closer, allowing her to rest her head on his chest. She snuggled into him, wrapping her arm across his waist, and yawning. They had almost quit on each other once before, but now they knew how lucky they were, finding each other after 23 years; they had another reason to fight to be together.
So, just a cute, fluffy little idea I had rolling around in my head, alternate take on the 'knew each other beforehand' thing. Thanks for reading and please review!