Red Light, Green Light
Chapter 24: Epilogue
They broke up three weeks later.
It was the result of fighting over the tab at dinner. Emma was under the impression that it was her turn to foot the bill, but Jack had insisted that he had to feel a little bit like a boyfriend and take care of it himself. Then Emma removed the proverbial can of worms from her purse, pried it open and unleashed all of her views on feminism in modern society as Jack buried his head in his hands miserably and asked the waiter for another bread roll.
"—what, and I suppose next you want me to stay at home and make you briscuit in a cute little blue apron while you put on your fedora and rake in all the money?"
Jack had balked, "I don't even like briscuit!"
The issue was resolved a full two days later, but only because Jonathan had put it upon himself to be the mediator. "Think of the future children," he demanded of his brother over the phone, "the future, fiery-haired children, Jack!"
"What is it with you and gingers?"
"Yeah, I don't know, it's getting weird."
Regardless, the summer that followed Emma's first year at NYU and Jack's London internship was one of absolute bliss. They took it upon themselves to go on his very first road trip. Izzy, Oliver and even Dara contributed little starred stickers on a giant, crumpled map of the United States that designated their favorite landmarks and must-see locations. Taylor supplied mix CDs loaded with John Cougar Mellencamp. Mr. Woodhouse slipped an emergency first-aid kit into the glove compartment of the rented pick-up truck. Just because he could.
They would never bother to tell their friends and family that they hadn't driven much further than Maryland. The truth was that there had been too much laughter, too much stargazing, and too much affection to give any excess thought to national landmarks. Too many makeshift dinners on the hood of the pick-up, too many nights that Emma fell asleep with her head in Jack's lap, too many reused outfits of t-shirts and jean shorts, too many questionable hygienic practices, too many rest stops, too many barefoot excursions, too much blushing, too much kissing. Among other things.
Emma spent the rest of her summer in DC with Izzy, Jon and her little nephew. She even took a couple of weeks off to visit Anne in Chicago, where several nights were spent at the free concerts in Millennium Park. It was there that she finally met the elusive Fred Wentworth, who was all clean cut tight-lipped gentleman until you got one (or three) beers in him.
Anne was tiny compared to Fred, but they were inseparable and cute beyond words. Emma had taken up photography that summer and an entire page of her album had been devoted to her new friends, so natural and loving in each other's company even though they had been separated for months.
It was one rainy Saturday morning, six years later, that Emma rediscovered her photo album from the summer of 2009.
Her auburn hair was piled up in a messy damp bun from her shower, and she was dressed down in a tank top and sweatpants, padding around her dark room barefoot as Moxie sat and watched her from the door. Emma whistled at her and smiled, and accidentally knocked down a film canister.
Moxie's ears perked up.
Ducking low to paw the canister out from under the counter, Emma spotted the rows of albums until a familiar green one caught her eye. She pulled it out.
Jack came home three hours later and found Emma on the living room sofa, the album open in her lap. Moxie slept quietly at her side with her head resting on her paws.
"What's this?" Jack smiled, looking at all the post-its sticking out from the folds of the album.
"Reminders," Emma grinned.
He plucked one off of a picture of Fred and Anne. Anne was mid-laugh, sitting cross-legged in front of Fred Wentworth whose arms were linked loosely around her waist. The wind had whipped her short black pixie cut so that her bangs were in her eyes and Fred's smile was wide and boyish. The post-it on the corner of the page read: Visit the Foster-Wentworths in Chicago soon.
"Wasn't their wedding last year?"
"Two years ago."
Emma laughed and flipped through the album backwards. There was a photo of the two of them just outside of Delaware, during what Jack fondly referred to as "The Road Trip of Fail." Emma had borrowed her dad's old camera and taken a Polaroid of Jack driving, a moment where he had paused to grin at her. The post-it on its edge read: Do this again sometime. This century.
"Wow, this makes me feel old."
"Yeah, well, you look it."
Jack poked her side and Emma giggled and scooted over. She closed the binder and pushed it back onto the coffee table. After a while, she rested her head in Jack's lap. He looked down at her and smiled.
"You look tired," she said frankly.
"Isn't that just code for You look like shit?" Jack smirked.
"Never!" Emma laughed. "Nah, you rock the dark circles and scruff pretty well. People will just thing you're edgy. If I do it, people will think I'm strung out on crack."
"If you do it, people will wonder why you have scruff in the first place."
"And I'll just say I wear the pants in this relationship and testosterone has just caught up with me."
"Oh, okay," Jack laughed. "Remind me why you're so weird?"
"I don't know," Emma sighed and closed her eyes. She smiled when she felt him play with her hair. "I had a really weird childhood friend. He warped me from the very beginning."
"That's typical," Jack chuckled, "blaming your childhood influences."
"Dad would agree with me."
"Your dad's too worried about Izzy's second pregnancy to bother."
"Ten bucks it's a girl."
"You're on," Jack laughed, shaking her hand. He didn't let her hand go, simply traced nonsense shapes onto her palm. Emma tilted her head up to look at him.
Jack was exhausted from work; he was a couple weeks away from wrapping up a big case at his firm. She had been there for him the entire time, highlighting dates on legal briefs, bringing him coffee, making him scrambled eggs at 2 o'clock in the morning.
"You don't have to do this," he had told her one night, his green eyes wide and apologetic.
Emma had smiled over a mug of tea. "But I want to. Let somebody else take care of you for a change."
Jack got up from the couch a couple of minutes later and Emma readjusted, bringing her knees up to her chest to curl up into a ball. He looked at her for a moment, then leaned down and kissed her. Then he knelt down on one knee.
Emma's heart sped up. She propped herself up on elbow and asked breathlessly, "What are you doing?"
Jack raised an eyebrow and Emma peered over the edge of the sofa, where he was scratching Moxie behind the ears. Something in her chest sank.
"You okay?" Jack laughed.
"Yeah, I just…I'm being silly."
"Nothing unusual there," he teased. Emma smiled weakly and plopped back down on the pillow. She felt Jack ruffle her hair a bit and disappear into the kitchen.
Stop it, she scolded herself.
Ten minutes later, she heard Jack call out, "You know today is Oliver's birthday dinner, right? We're meeting at 7PM."
Emma got up and sighed, "That's tonight?"
"Try not to sound too thrilled about it," Jack smirked, leaning back so that she could see him. He was making stif-fry vegetables for lunch, a recipe Emma had stolen from Robbie months ago.
"That's not what you're wearing, right?"
Emma looked down and pulled down the hem of her tank top over her exposed abdomen. "No," she said defensively.
"Good," Jack laughed.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing, you've just been a bit of a homebody lately. A cute homebody," Jack said quickly, "but I guess this is the trade-off for a six year relationship with your best friend."
"Well hey, you're not exactly pulling a Clark Gable over there."
"You asked for it," Emma crossed her arms over her chest.
"I'm just saying that I've forgotten what your hair looks like when you put it down," Jack pointed out, turning off the stove.
Emma narrowed her eyes. "Fine, then. I'll wear it down tonight."
"I'm doing it for me, though, not you," warned Emma. "Got that?"
"Yeah," Jack smirked, "I got it."
"Good," she said, turning on her heels.
"Crazy," he muttered.
"I heard that!"
That evening, they all met for Oliver Weston's 33rd birthday bash (as Taylor gigglingly dubbed it) and crowded around a circular table, ordering drinks and extra orders of egg rolls.
Of course Luke Churchill had to be there—he was his godson, after all. Jane greeted Emma with a warm hug. To everybody's surprise, they had become friends over the last couple of years. There was the added mutual interest of photography, but also a certain level of maturity that had forced the two young women to shelf their old misunderstandings and start anew.
Emma remembered Jack's words in the cab all those years ago: "If you gave her a chance, you two would probably end up being good friends." She flashed him a smile across the table, which Jack misread as the "There's-something-on-your-face" smile and rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand.
"I see you got Jack to shave," Taylor whispered in her ear.
Emma laughed, "You're so mean. I happen to like him with five o'clock shadow."
"Yeah. Only you. That's why you're with him, sweetie."
Emma elbowed her and Taylor grinned. They talked about work for a little while. She was working as an Art Director at a top publishing firm in downtown Manhattan. Jack had called her "Maneater" when she first finished graduate studies and started internships a couple of years back. Emma was a very ambitious girl—which came as no surprise to everybody who truly knew her.
An hour later, the men had dispersed and Emma peeked outside to find Oliver bumming a smoke. "Come on, it's my birthday," he grinned at Emma. "Spare me from my wife."
"Fine," Emma smiled.
Luke smiled at her. After a couple of minutes, Oliver rubbed out the cigarette butt with the toe of his shoe and disappeared inside. Emma hugged the blazer Jack had lent her closer to her chest, peering out to the skyline.
"Nice night, huh?" Luke asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Mm-hmm. Is it getting this cold in Boston?"
"Damn," Emma said softly. "It's nice of you guys to come up all this way."
"It's a must. I love Oliver, he's practically my uncle," Luke justified. "Plus, Jane jumps at every opportunity to visit Dara. She's our next stop after tonight."
She felt Luke looking at her for a while. He was just about to say something else when his eyes darted away and towards the door, where Jack was.
"Em, there's a business card in the front pocket of that jacket. Can I have it?" he asked.
Emma looked up after pulling it out, and noticed the strained tension between Jack and Luke. The funny thing was that Jack was all quiet, intimidating smiles—Luke actually looked nervous.
"I uh, I'm going to go inside. Emma," he nodded quickly. "Jack."
"See you inside, Luke."
Jack held the door open and said coolly, "After you."
When Luke had left, Emma impatiently asked, "Do you have to do that to him every time we meet up? I feel sorry for the guy."
"I don't," Jack chuckled lowly. "I enjoy milking the fact that I scare him a little bit. He's probably wearing a cup, guarantee you."
Emma pursed her lips to stop from laughing. Jack never did get the hang of veiling how much he disliked Lucas Churchill. Three years ago, they had bumped into each other at a neighborhood Chickie's and Pete's. Luke was with the Westons for the weekend, visiting with Jane.
Now, the report said that the scuffle had been about a spilled drink at the bar.
"Luke accidentally spilled beer on my shirt. It was just a misunderstanding," Jack had justified that evening as Emma pressed an icepack gingerly to his forehead. "Ouch. Ow."
"Sorry," Emma had said. "You're sure that's what it was about?"
"Yes," Jack had unconvincingly looked away.
He never did tell her what the argument had been about. Then again, he didn't exactly have to. Emma knew.
"You guys are ridiculous," she scolded him laughingly now. "Boy-men."
Jack shrugged this off breezily. He looked down and bent low on one knee. Emma's breath caught. He looked up at her. "Shoelace."
"Oh," she looked away. "Yeah, you wouldn't want to trip."
"Nope," Jack grinned, popping the 'p' of the word.
You're neurotic, Emma told herself again.
The party ended around midnight, and Emma was all too eager to slip back into sleepy homebody routine. Moxie simply glanced at them in the doorway when they got home, her chocolate brown eyes heavy-lidded.
"Where's the excitement, girl?" Jack laughed. He unbuttoned his shirt and threw his blazer over the couch.
"She's not excited about you anymore," Emma explained with a sleepy yawn. She slipped out of her heels and tossed them by the door. "It's just what happens, Jack. We get very bored with you very quickly."
"Females, in general."
"Oh, right," Jack smirked. "I'm going to ignore that and make us tea. Interested?"
"Very," Emma yawned. She curled up on the couch, still in her black dress. The TV was turned on to a muted Law and Order episode, and Moxie jumped up on the sofa to warm up Emma's bare feet.
There was a loud clatter of dishes in the kitchen, and Jack shouted, "I'm okay! Nothing is broken."
"Nothing meaning arms or dishes?" she called back.
A careful pause. "Both!"
Emma smirked, leaning over and rubbed a smudge off of the antique coffee table. Jack's apartment had taken on a distinctly professional interior decorating touch since she had moved in three and a half years ago. Everything was more colorful and cozy. Issues of The New York Times no longer served as makeshift shelves.
"See, these are called fresh flowers," Emma remembered enunciating, one week into living at Jack's for the first time. She was arranging pink and violet tulips on that very same coffee table. "They go in a vase, which goes on a table."
Jack, tight-lipped, had raised his green eyes to hers hopelessly. He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, "I hate you so much."
"You love me."
"I'm going to repeat that to myself for the next hour and a half," he had said sourly, walking back into the bedroom. "Because I may forget!"
Emma stared at the coffee table now and rubbed her eyes sleepily. When she opened them, Jack was standing in front of her.
His dark hair was a little messy and his dress shirt was a little wrinkled and his sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. But Emma wouldn't really have him any other way. Jack was somehow always handsome to her. She smiled and hugged her knees to her chest, cocking her head to one side.
"I'm putting these here," Jack warned, placing two mugs on the coffee table. "Don't yell at me, I can't find coasters."
"I don't care," Emma said.
"Wow, somebody must be tired."
He disappeared back into the kitchen and she heard him shout out, "Emma, I can't find the sugar!"
"It's in the side cabinets."
"Oh." A beat. "Found it. It's empty!"
"That's impossible, I went grocery shopping yesterday," Emma called back.
"Was it an imaginary trip to Whole Foods? Because this sugar bowl is empty."
"No, it isn't."
"Well, come see for yourself!"
"But I'm lazy!" Emma whined. "And settled. And lazy."
"Fine. God." Emma swung her legs to the side of the couch and got to her feet, brushing her bangs back impatiently. She practically marched into the kitchen, grumbling, "It takes you like twenty minutes to make a cup of tea and five to make dinner, where is the logic in that? Why do we even need tea? I'm tired. What are we, stuffy English aristocrats? What is that about, Jack?"
Jack was leaning against the sink with his eyebrows raised. He was smirking. "You just about done?"
"Yeah," Emma mumbled.
"You're beautiful when you're pissed off at me."
Jack grinned. He handed over the sugar bowl. Emma immediately sighed, feeling that it was significantly lighter. "How in the world can this be—" she took off the lid and her breath caught, "—empty." Her eyes widened, confused. Inside the sugar bowl was a ring—a simple and elegant diamond in a gold band—a ring, she would learn minutes later, that had been passed down from Jack's grandparents.
"I'm—Jack—" she looked up, her voice soft. "What is—?"
Jack had moved closer now. "What is this?" he finished her question, smiling. "It's a ring, in a sugar bowl."
"Are you—?" she laughed, then stopped, then laughed again. "Jack."
"Here's the deal," Jack murmured, "I've already spent most of my life with you in it. And I think it would unbelievably suck if I didn't spend the rest of it with you, too. I would be broken-hearted. It would just be tragic—I don't know to live without you at this point. And I would never want to."
Emma pressed a hand against her mouth.
There was a pause, and Jack looked up, "Okay, I veered a little off topic, I realize that. But I love you," he laughed, his green eyes warm and sincere. "Marry me?"
In her excitement, Emma almost dropped the sugar bowl. "Fuck!"
"I mean yes," she said quickly. She giggled, "Yes!"
Jack grinned and Emma threw her arms around his neck. At their feet, Moxie was barking, excited because of the commotion.
Emma suddenly shoved him back, "You've been faking me out all day!"
"I know," he admitted. "It was great watching you get worked up." Emma's eyes smoldered and Jack laughed and kissed her cheek, "I'm sorry. I'm a bit of a shit sometimes."
"No, you're not," she murmured, correcting his collar. "You could never be." Emma was flushed with happiness—she couldn't keep a smile off of her face. "I love you."
"I love you back," Jack murmured, tucking a strand of her hair back. He leaned in and kissed her. He felt her smile against his mouth and pulled back, laughing.
Somehow, the tea was left forgotten. As was the sugar bowl. The ring, however, was a little more fortunate.
Author's Note: Thank you guys for sticking by this story! It's a little bittersweet. I would be lying if I were to say that I'm not a little bummed out that it's over. I love the characters in Emma, and I really enjoyed spinning my own modern interpretations of it. I will be taking a break (or hiatus or sabbatical, or whatchamacall-it) from writing for awhile. College, part-time job, family, friends, that sort of thing. Real life. Ew. :) But I just want to say that your feedback has been truly inspiring and uplifting and it's what makes this silly little thing I do on the side worth it, you know? I love you kids. All the best!