Chapter 11: Keep Your Head
A/N: Apologies for the delay; I've been writing a lot of Rumbelle lately but clearly not enough Mad Swan!
Later that same Saturday…
Under the tentative premise of their newfound friendship, Emma and Jefferson both found their regular Saturday dinners far more enjoyable.
Unfortunately they – or at least Emma – also found them far more confusing. When she and Jefferson had just been doing this for Grace and Henry's sakes, they had known exactly where they stood with each other and what conduct was expected in their interactions. But now, with no real, concrete definition of the parameters of their relationship, the most they could do was play it by ear.
This wouldn't have been so difficult if Emma and Jefferson were better versed in the art of navigating the many nuances of social situations. As luck would have it, though, both of them were awkward and tactless enough – in their own different ways, but for similar reasons – to have no idea what they were doing.
The awkwardness began on the very first dinner, the moment Emma stepped onto the threshold of Jefferson's house in the woods. He reached for her shoulders to take her jacket, but Emma, not knowing what Jefferson was doing, lurched away when she felt his fingers brush her shoulder. She spun around, heart pounding harder and faster than usual.
"I'm just taking your jacket to hang it up," Jefferson said, holding his hands up as if to show that he wasn't concealing any hidden weapons. Emma's heartbeat slowed to normal, but her guard stayed up. She removed the jacket herself.
"I can take care of it," Emma stated in a strained polite voice. Jefferson gave a nod and a shrug and let her hang her own jacket.
"Suit yourself," he said with a sly smirk, "But your surprise at my gentlemanliness makes me wonder what kind of men you've been spending time with up till now."
Emma rolled her eyes. "I don't know if you're forgetting, but I happen to live with the most chivalrous man in the world: David." She followed Jefferson into the living room, trailed by Henry and Grace, who were being oddly quiet and wouldn't stop staring. It was creeping Emma out. "I'm just not used to you acting that way."
Jefferson smiled. "When are you going to learn to trust me, Emma?" he asked, and his tone said he was joking but his eyes said he was serious. Emma didn't know what to believe, and was disconcerted. She stammered a moment before finding her words, something that almost never happened to her.
"I… don't know," she said, unable to come up with a sarcastic or snide remark.
In the living room, Henry and Grace were already sprawled across two large beanbags on the far side of the couch, by the wall. "Are we watching a movie?" Emma asked.
"Yeah, if that's okay," Jefferson said. "Grace is disappointed that all we've done together is have dinner. Apparently 'eating is boring.'" He rolled his eyes and gave Grace an exasperated look. Grace merely grinned, then turned to whisper something to Henry.
Seriously, those kids were really starting to unnerve Emma. Their behavior lately was so unlike them. They were acting suspicious; Emma couldn't help but wonder if there was something going on between them, and filed the question away to ask Henry later.
"A movie is fine with me," Emma said with a shrug.
Jefferson sat down on the couch, by the armrest closest to the kids. Emma, still standing, felt his eyes on her. Feeling suddenly extremely self-conscious, Emma perched carefully on the edge of the seat, close enough to Jefferson that she wouldn't give the impression that she was deliberately avoiding him, but leaving enough space between them that they wouldn't touch unless they went out of their way to. Which they most certainly would not.
The rest of the night was a continuation of this awkward back-and-forth exchange, like a clumsy, uncomfortable tango to a song that just wouldn't end. Emma reached for a slice of the large delivery pizza on the coffee table; her hand bumped into Jefferson's as he reached for his drink. This happened three times before Emma finally just decided not to reach for anything else for the remainder of the evening unless Jefferson was in another room.
Halfway through the movie, Emma finished her soda and went to the fridge for another; she was exhausted from staying up so late the night before, what with the whole car crash fiasco, and she desperately needed caffeine. When struggling to open a particularly stubborn bottle, Emma twisted the cap so fiercely it flew off. To add insult to injury, all her twisting had shaken up the bottle, and she ended up with Diet Coke all down the front of her shirt.
Emma cursed under her breath, quiet enough that Henry wouldn't hear (she tried not to curse in front of him). Reacting quickly, she set the bottle in the sink to continue its relentless frothing, tore off several paper towels from the roll next too the sink, and wiped off the bubbly brown puddle from the kitchen tile. She then looked at her shirt – of course this would happen to her on a day she chose to wear white – to assess the damage.
Just then, Jefferson, sitting on the couch in the adjacent living room, turned to see what was taking Emma so long in the kitchen. "You okay in there?" he asked, standing when he saw Emma bent over the sink, running the water over the enormous stain in her shirt (she had never been all that good at this whole "cleaning" business).
"What happened?" Jefferson asked when he reached her. Emma shook her head and turned off the water, holding out her still-stained and now-drenched shirt so the water wouldn't seep through to her bra. Jefferson winced at the sight. "Ooh, I'm afraid that's not going to come out," he said. He gestured toward the stairs. "D'you want to borrow a shirt? That one's done for."
Emma groaned and nodded. "Yeah, thanks," she said, following Jefferson up the stairs. "This is embarrassing; I'm not usually such a klutz."
"I know," Jefferson said. "You're probably tired. Which isn't your fault; if anything, it's mine." He looked back at her and gave an apologetic half-smile; Emma dismissed this. She didn't want to think about the events of the previous night. She just wanted her life to calm down again.
Jefferson opened a set of double-doors to his bedroom; he turned on the lights and Emma got her first look inside. It looked much like the rest of the house, nothing much to distinguish it. There was a television across from the bed, resting atop a rather large set of drawers, and a sizable bathroom off to the side. Jefferson went to the set of drawers, digging through to find a plain white button-up shirt and tossing it to Emma.
"Here, that okay?" he asked. Emma caught the shirt and held it up in front of her; it wasn't too oversized, all things considered. She nodded.
"Yeah, this'll work fine," she said. Jefferson gave a satisfied nod and made for the door to give Emma privacy to change. "Hey, thanks," Emma said, glancing over her shoulder at him as he left.
"No problem," he said. Emma's eyes took him in, standing in the doorway with the door half-closed behind him, his eyes wide and unassuming and his face expressionless. Her brain seemed to register every last detail about him, from the casual messiness of his hair down to the color of his eyes, which was something she'd never thought about before and wasn't the sort of thing she usually noticed.
Then Emma shook her head, and blinked, and looked away. And Jefferson closed the door. And the moment that had stretched out to last longer than it had any right to came to an end, and it was as if it had never happened.
When Emma returned downstairs, she didn't even look at Jefferson, and he didn't look at her. She turned her attention back to the movie and ignored the unsettling feeling in her stomach, because she'd probably just eaten too much pizza. Her eyelids began to feel heavy, and she vaguely registered the fact that she'd never gotten around to drinking that second Diet Coke. She would get up to get another in a minute, she told herself…
But she never did.
Two full hours later, Emma blinked her eyes open. The room was dark and quiet, the television turned off, and Henry and Grace nowhere in sight. Emma frowned and realized she must have fallen asleep shortly after changing her shirt, because that was the last thing she could remember. Offhandedly, she observed that the pillow she was leaning on wasn't very comfortable.
Emma jolted up and with a sudden burst of energy leapt to her feet like she'd been burned. It wasn't a pillow she'd fallen asleep on, it turned out. Jefferson, still sitting in exactly the same manner he'd been sitting for the duration of the film, looked at Emma in the dark, his gaze calm and focused.
"Why is it I keep waking up in your house?" Emma asked, rubbing her back, which was sore from the position she'd fallen asleep in: leaning sideways on Jefferson's shoulder. Jefferson rolled his shoulder to loosen it up and stood.
"I wasn't going to carry you home, if that's what you wanted," Jefferson said drily. Emma leveled him with a look.
"Of course that's not what I wanted," she said.
"I did, however, notice that you and I spend the majority of our time together with one of us unconscious." Jefferson smirked.
"It's crazy," Emma agreed. She stretched, winced, and massaged her neck. "I am so sore," she complained, then realized something quite important that she probably should have noticed before: "Where's Henry?"
"He's asleep," Jefferson answered calmly. Emma looked at the clock; the hour was swift approaching midnight. She groaned.
"How could you have let me sleep this long?" she asked. Jefferson shrugged.
"I didn't want to wake you," he said. "You looked like you needed the sleep."
"I'm sure you needed it even more than I do, but you still let me keep you up all night sleeping on your shoulder," Emma reasoned, but Jefferson ignored her concern.
"I don't sleep much," he said simply. Emma didn't question it. Whatever the reason, she was fairly certain she didn't want to know.
"Anyways," Jefferson segued, taking on a more casual tone, "You're free to take the guest room, or just go home and pick Henry up in the morning, if you feel like you're awake enough to drive."
"I think that's what I'll do," Emma said. Jefferson nodded and together they made their way to the front hallway, where Jefferson gave Emma her jacket. Emma chuckled, remembering their awkward exchange from earlier that evening.
"I'll see you tomorrow morning, then?" Jefferson affirmed, holding the door open for Emma.
"Yeah, I'll text you when I'm on my way," Emma said. "And hey. Sorry for falling asleep on you. If I were you, I'd have died of boredom having to sit still that long."
"Like I said, it wasn't a problem," Jefferson told her in an easy, dismissive tone. "I like having the time to think. After Henry and Grace fell asleep it was just me and my thoughts. Gave me some time to sort through them. I'm a little disorganized up here," he said, gesturing to his head.
"I believe that," Emma said with a smirk. She was still standing in the open doorway with the black night at her back, but neither she nor Jefferson seemed to notice, so caught up were they in their conversation. "Well, as long as you don't hate me for keeping you up."
"You know me," Jefferson said. "I can't be bothered to hate anyone. It takes a supremely organized mind to truly hate someone, and even then you'll end up wasting half your life obsessing over that hatred. Just look at Regina."
"You wasted half your life obsessed with getting a magic hat to work," Emma countered.
"That was hardly a waste," Jefferson said, grinning unrepentantly. "Have you seen all the fabulous hats I have?"
Emma laughed. "You never wear them," she said.
"But I could," Jefferson pointed out, "If I wanted to."
Their conversation ended there; Emma was too tired to continue their banter. So they said their goodbyes and Emma got into her car and drove away.
She was halfway home when she realized how easily she and Jefferson had just conversed with one another. Like they actually were becoming friends, as opposed to just saying they were.
It was an interesting feeling.