Regina emerges from her study, rolling her neck. She would have preferred to simply take the afternoon off when Henry's play date had cancelled, but the approaching end of the month made bringing some work home with her unavoidable. "Henry?" she calls, crossing the foyer, trying to detect exactly where in the spacious house her son has decided to play.
She stops short when she comes to the living room, feeling the now-familiar brief tightening in her chest. He is growing so quickly, and she still isn't quite sure how to gauge at a glance whether the ransacked living room is the result of a four-year-old walking hurricane or a home invasion.
"Henry?" she asks again, softer this time. The sandy head pops up over the back of the sofa and Regina's smile feels like an exhalation.
Henry grins back at her, but his face falters when his gaze drops to her feet. "Mommy, you're in the lava!"
She wrinkles her nose at him and steps from the hardwood onto the rug. "Better?"
"No, Mommy, you're burning!" he tells her, his frantically waving arms and melodramatic grimace prompting Regina to swallow a laugh. "Get on an island!"
She moves deliberately slowly, enjoying the way Henry writhes in a highly physical pantomime of anguish as she kicks off her heels before stepping onto a couch cushion lying on the floor. When both feet are firmly planted on the "island," Henry collapses against an armrest, twisting so that he can keep her in his eye-line. "Phew," she says, making a show of wiping her brow. "I'm safe!"
Henry looks at her as though she's just announced that she is, in fact, a baby rhinoceros. "You're trapped," he corrects. "You have to get on the boat." Before she can respond, he's standing on the armrest and then leaping off, landing in a crouch on another of the cushions he's liberated from the couch. Her instinct is to move toward him, but he stands, holding up a hand to stop her. "Wait, Mommy," he commands. Regina allows herself to think, just for half a moment, that he would have made a wonderful prince.
And suddenly he's hopping nimbly across his home decor archipelago, tongue running across his bottom lip as he concentrates. She cringes when he lands squarely on a four-hundred-dollar white linen throw pillow, but says nothing. He's just having fun, Regina reminds herself. Over the last four years, it has become her mantra in indulgence.
Henry is close now, reaching for her with wiggling fingers. She lets him take her hand and lead her back toward the couch, crashing into him on islands much too small for two and occasionally teetering precariously on the toes of one foot. He gasps and giggles, playing along until they land, both a little breathless, back on the couch where he started.
"Oh," Regina groans, pulling him onto her lap and attacking him with kisses and just a bit of a tickle under his ribs. "You did it! My hero!"
When she finally stops, he reaches up for her, framing her face with his small hands. "Mommy," he tells her, actually serious now and not just playing at it, "I saved you."
It catches her off guard, and she has to swallow hard before she can concede, "Yes, dear. You did." She presses one last kiss to the crown of his head, breathing in the spicy-sweet smell of him, and thinks that if anyone could, it would be him.