Short Stories

New Year- An Outlaw Queen Fanfiction

I write for a fanfiction site sometimes and wanted to share this story that I wrote a few years ago. I hope you enjoy. Happy New Year.

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3.22- the last moment of OQ bliss before they walked into Granny's. And  REALLY nice kiss, too | Beijo, Beijo de língua, Amor da minha vida

DISCLAIMER: CHARACTERS ROBIN AND REGINA ARE USED FROM THE HIT TV SHOW ABC’S, ONCE UPON A TIME. THE SETTING, CHARACTERS, AND REFERENCES ARE OF MY OWN BUT TAKEN LOOSELY FROM THE SHOW. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED FOR CONTENT TO ABC.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

She didn’t plan on being back in Maine for New Year’s, but her father was ill, and she would feel guilty not to visit.

The last time she’d been home was six years. Henry Mills had visited her in New York more times than she could count.

Now, it was her turn to return home and see the people that she once called family and friends.

As she rode in the back of a cab, she looked around at the town she grew up in. Christmas lights were still strung up, snow was falling lightly covering the ground.

The shops were open, and the entrances read holiday greeting messages, Christmas decorations, and sale signs.

They passed Granny’s and she smiled to herself remembering the cocoa, jukebox, and good food over the conversation. The place she had her first kiss at closing.

They passed Gold’s Pawn Shop and she remembered buying her father a few gifts from the creepy store owner. The most memorable was a clock that held a picture of her and her father when she was six.

The sheriff’s station looked closed up and she shuttered at the thought of what was behind those doors.

They turned on Mifflin street and she saw the big white house and her heart warmed. Turning to the warm body next to her, she said, “Look, baby. We’re here. You want to see Pop?”

A bright dimpled grin spread across his face, “Yea!” The cab stopped, and she paid her fare and got out. Taking the bags in, she paused to admire her old house.

The white lights were shining, the Christmas decorations were already put away. Cora was nothing but a one day and done type of person.

Signs for the new year were already tucked into the ground and the lights in the house were brightly seen from the roadway.

She took the dimpled grin boy’s hand and walked toward the front door. Taking a breath, she knocked.

Music could be heard behind the door and she wondered if her mother was throwing a party. The door swung open with Cora at the entrance.

“Regina, dear. Come in out of the cold.” Upon entering she observed the party was indeed in full swing. People were huddled in small groups, food displayed on the center table in the dining room.

The tables were covered in white and black cloths, new year centerpieces and food bowls of white, silver, and gold held snacks.

The food dishes were tin for easy throwaway, the banister was full of white sprinkled lights. It looked just as she’d remembered.

“Hi, mother.” Cora took her jacket and hung it on the coat rack and instructed Leroy to take her bags for her.

Cora looked down and smiled, “Roland, I’m glad to see you.” He looked up and said, “I didn’t know you were having a party. Is there cake?”

Reign and Cora joined in the laughter at his enthusiasm and sheer innocence. “Go on in and see for yourself.”

Regina awkwardly looked at her mother until she did the unexpected, she put an arm around her in a hug. Her mother wasn’t a touchy feeling person nor was she a hugger.

“I’ve missed you. It’s good to see you back in the house. Now, tell me about this new fella you have.”

Pursing her lips, Regina admitted, “That didn’t work out, unfortunately.” Cora turned in surprise, “What happened?”

With a shrug, she said, “He was seeing someone else behind my back.” Sympathetically, Cora frowned, “That seems to happen to you a lot. I’m sorry, dear.”

To avoid getting into painful memories and fights, she asked, “Where’s daddy?” “Upstairs in the bedroom, he wasn’t in the mood for a party.”

She gazed over the room and considered making her rounds of introductions, but she wanted to see the one person who mattered most.

Glancing up the stairs, she turned to scan the room to find Roland sitting in Granny’s lap. Smiling, she asked, “will you keep an eye on him while I go up?”

Cora nodded, “I think Granny has her hands full. I’m sure he’ll be fine.” Another glance towards Roland and she headed for the stairs.

Her father’s door was ajar, and his bedside lamp was on, he had a book in hand. A tray of tea and crackers lay beside him.

Pushing the door open with a light knock, she entered, “Hi, daddy.” His face brightened, and he extended his arms toward her, “my love, come.”

Sitting at the edge of the bed she leaned into a deep warm hug, “I missed you. How are you feeling?”

Henry smiled, “I’m alright, love. I’ve just had a few bad spells. The doctor says it’s nothing to fret about. Your mother has hired a caregiver which I insisted I didn’t need.”

Rolling her eyes, “That’s Cora.” “Exactly, so did you bring my lively grandson?” Regina smiled every time people brought up her son, “I did. Last I saw he was in Granny’s lap with one of her cinnamon and apple cookies.”

Henry’s eyes warmed, “I’m so glad to have you home for the new year. It’s been rather empty in this house with just your mother and I. So, how are you dealing with what happened with Graham?”

Regina shrugged, “I’m okay, it was hard at first but I’m doing fine.” Henry gently held her cheek, “I know that this happened before. I hope you won’t be discouraged to find love again.”

Her eyes avoided his, “I’m not sure that’s possible. I think that the love of my life is Roland. You and he are the only men who haven’t ever let me down.”

Henry understood, “I know, sweetheart. Have you had a chance to look at who was downstairs? Ruby is here with Billy, Belle and her husband, Ashley is with Sean and their daughter.”

Regina smiled as he ran through the list of the guests who’d been invited to attend the party. As he named the people from her memories, on name came up that had her breath catching in her throat.

“I should warn you if you haven’t noticed that Robin is downstairs.”

In shock, she looked at him, “What? No, I didn’t notice. I didn’t say hi to anyone when I came in. I wanted to come up and see you first.”

He smiled, “I know, querida but he’s downstairs. I know that you have a painful past, but I hope you’ll put your differences aside. It was years ago and he’s not the same person he was. Isn’t it about time you tell him about Roland?”

Shaking her head, she said, “No, I’m not ready for that. He doesn’t need to know, and I’ve worked really hard to keep Roland from getting hurt.”

He added, “Now that you’re here, how long do you think it’ll take before he realizes that that boy is his? He’s got his dimples and his chin. You may want to consider that.”

Slumping, she knew he was right. “That may be but I’m going to avoid it as long as I can. I came to see you daddy and to spend new year’s with you. I don’t plan on hashing out an old relationship with someone who has no part in my life.”

He used his stern voice, “Regina, I know that he made a mistake but it’s high tide you forget that mess and do the right thing. Roland deserves to know who his father is.”

Submissively, she frowned, “I know that but I’m not ready.” Henry took her hands, “Go downstairs and enjoy the party your mother threw for you. They all miss you.”

“Yes, daddy. I’ll bring Roland up in a little bit to say hi. He missed his Pop.” Henry patted her hand, “you better. Now, go.”

Regina wasn’t prepared to come face to face with Robin, but it had been six years. What harm would it do?

So, she took a few breaths and descended the stairs to find Roland still planted on Granny’s lap and begging for cake.

“Can I please have some cake?” Regina walked around the corner and Granny patted his head, “You wait a bit and I’ll slice you a piece. Regina, give Granny a hug.”

Walking into her embrace, she inhaled the scent of baking and perfume, “I missed you.” Granny pulled her back, “Let me look at you. You look wonderful, a little tired maybe but beautiful.”

A blush crept up her cheek, “thank you, Granny. You look magnificent as always. I hope Roland hasn’t bugged you too much.”

“Nonsense, I’m glad to finally meet the little one. He’s just adorable with those dimples and dark eyes like his mama.”

Regina looked down at her son who was trying to pry open the cookie bag, “That’s enough. You wait until after dinner.”

A pitiful pout appeared, and he crossed his arms in defiance, “I don’t want to.” Crouching down, she whispered, “If you don’t behave, I’ll tell Pop.”

Instantly, he dropped his hands and perked up, “I’ll behave.” Chuckling, she stood, “He’s scared of my father, believe it or not.”

Granny laughed melodically, “I don’t doubt that for a second. The man is a softy, but his discipline was harsh but fair.”

Granny excused herself as Ruby poked out from the kitchen to alert to the oven timer going off, “We’ll talk later, you go around and say hi. All these people missed you so much.”

Regina smiled as she saw her hurry off and turned to see Belle and her husband sipping on wine and eating snacks from bowls.

“Hi, Belle.” Belle with all her beauty turned and grinned, “Oh, Regina it’s so good to see you. It’s been too long. Who’s this?”

“This is Roland.” Roland held his hand out like a grown-up, “pleasure to meet you.” A delightful laugh boasted from her, “well aren’t you a gentleman?”

Roland nodded enthusiastically, “Momma says that I have to be polite.” “Your mom is right.”

Roland turned to see a few children huddled around a T.V. “Ooh mama, can I go watch?” Regina turned to scan the area, “Yea honey, go ahead.”

“I didn’t know you had a son, Regina. How old is he?” Without a beat, she responded, “He’s five going on thirty.”

“He’s quite handsome, your son.” Mr. Gold’s voice was silky smooth but weirded out Regina even after all these years. “Thank you.”

Ruby snuck up behind her and snagged a hug, “We need to talk, soon.” Nodding, “I’ll come find you.”

Regina made her rounds and tried to hug and say hi to everyone who made it out. By the time she made it back to the start, she looked around for Roland.

He was still sat beside the kids watching a cartoon and she smiled to herself. Emma tapped her on the shoulder, “Hey stranger.”

Turning, Regina grinned, “Hey, oh my god, I thought you and Henry moved to Boston!” With excited laugher and hugs they reunited. They’d been friends for years.

“We did. We still live in Boston but when your mom told me you were coming home, well we just had to be here.”

“I’m so glad you could make it. Where’s Henry?” Emma pointed, “Sitting next to that little one.”

The size difference was dramatic, and her eyes almost poked out of her head, “Wow, he’s so big. I can’t believe you’re here.”

Emma smiled, “I know, I’m glad I could come. How long are you staying?” “A couple days after the new year. I wanted to stay and make sure my dad was alright.”

“I went upstairs when I got here and said hi to him. He got to see how much Henry has grown and loves that his namesake is just as handsome as he is.”

Regina laughed, “I’m sure, he’s always been flattered that you named Henry after him. It makes him feel like his legacy will continue after he’s gone. He’s so mushy and morbid. He’ll be here for a long time.”

Emma nodded, “I know, he’s so great. Henry missed him and of course he gave him Christmas money.” “That doesn’t surprise me, my father is still giving the kids money for candy and treats. It’s endearing if you ask me.”

Emma nodded, “I know. Killian says hi, he couldn’t make it. He’s stuck at work, but he sends his warm wishes.” “Aww, well you tell him I said hi. Did he like my present?” Emma blushed, “Oh you have no idea.”

A devilish laugh escaped them as they reminisced over the sexy lingerie that Regina had bought her. They’d needed some alone time and Regina was helping it along.

As they stood and conversed, Regina kept an eye on Roland with glances for her own reassurance. He didn’t know anyone here and it was the first time the town met him let alone knew that she had a son.

She wasn’t sure that she was going to introduce him unless it was absolutely necessary. It was her little secret. Roland wasn’t a thing to be ashamed of, but she didn’t talk about him to people she knew.

Suddenly, upon glancing towards Roland her face dropped when she saw Robin walking through the crowd with David to his flank.

He wore a smile and David and he seemed to have been joking about something because they earned a few stares from Mary Margaret who covered her mouth to cover the giggles.

Glancing at Roland, she prayed that he hadn’t laid eyes on him yet and deliberately turned her back to him.

Easily enough, she continued her enjoyable conversation with Emma. At first, she was nervous about being back in Maine.

Now, she knew that this was a great idea. She missed out on so much and being homemade her feel the happiest she’d felt in such a long time.


XXX


It was all a blur as he walked into the living room and saw the back of her head, long hair, and fitted black skirt. The last time he’d seen her was six years ago and he regretted every minute of it.

In the time it took him to realize how massively he’d messed up it was too late. Regina and he had dated through high school and into his beginning years of college.

He’d decided to stay close to home while she was undecided about where she’d attend. In growing up it took him a while to figure out how lucky he was to have her.

She’d been his best friend, confidant, and eventually her lover. Only, he was itching for things to change between them.

Regina was ready to go off to college in New York, Florida, or California and leave everything she had behind.

Robin wanted to stay in Maine and get married to have children. That was what he’d always wanted and expressed to her on many occasions.

So, when the time came for her to go look at colleges, he started to feel panicked and maybe a little bit pissed.

He felt that she wasn’t taking him into consideration at all, it was all about what she wanted. He didn’t realize until a few years later that it was about her.

He was trying to mold her into something she wasn’t and doing a terrible job. He began to micromanage her and get jealous of her friendships with people.

He harped on her for every decision she made and pretend like it was a personal insult to him. In truth, she was trying to grow up.

Robin hated himself for trying to take that way from her. He wanted her to stay and get married because that was what he’d always saw them doing.

After Regina returned from her college campus tours, he began to distance himself from her knowing that she was leaving.

He turned his attention to his friends and to her sister because Zelena had no intention of leaving Maine.

Regina had confronted him one afternoon about how much time he’d been spending in the house. She’d return from days out and he’d be there lounging around upstairs with her sister.

Robin would shrug it off and chalk it up to a lazy afternoon. So, it didn’t surprise her when she’d found them lip locked a week after graduation.

Robin didn’t even feel bad about it at the time, no he didn’t feel bad about anything until later. He’d been so determined to make her mad and to get even, he went beyond the boundaries.

He’d apologized because he’d seen the hurt on her face and hadn’t wanted to be the one to put it there.

Although, he’d had her attention and bargained with her to stay and to mend what they had. He pleaded with her to choose him, but she wasn’t going to stay in Maine. She had plans for her future and she wasn’t going to let him stop her.

So, they’d fought about it for a week until she finally ended things. They’d argued in the middle of dinner at Granny’s. There wasn’t a scene so much as a finality of her word.

The last thing she’d said to him at the diner was “I can’t wait for you to grow up, Robin.”

A few months later when Regina was set to fly out to New York, he’d done the utmost stupid thing he’d ever done.

Out of retaliation and maybe a little bit of curiosity, he’d went over to her house to hang with Zelena because he had nothing better to do.

A few hours after shots of whiskey, a little too much self-loathing and he’d unintentionally instigated a tongue filled matched that escalated with them between the sheets.

She’ll never forget hearing moaning, panting, and heat of the moment passion when the door opened, and Regina’s mouth gaped open at the sight of them.

He’d never in his life seen the hurt in her eyes, not even the amount of pain her mother had put her through.

Scrambling to his feet, he tried to reach for her, “Regina.” She shook her head and ran from the house. Robin had tried multiple times to apologize and to explain what had happened. She wouldn’t hear any of it.

To her, he was dead to her and any type of friendship or relationship was squandered. It was all tainted and she lost two people who meant the world to her.

Zelena ended up moving to France to live with a flame she’d met briefly after her rendezvous with Robin.

Robin stopped talking to Zelena, Regina and had to endure the never-ending stares and comments from her mother about how he’d ruined her life.

He’d been a punk kid who was stubborn and wanted to do things his way and didn’t realize what he had.

In the six years since he’d been single the entire time and refused to allow himself to give into feeling again. He’d kept his friends who had forgiven him.

It took time for forgive himself, and a lot of hours of counseling to realize that despite his mistakes, he wasn’t a bad guy. Just young and stupid.

Though, he’d never gotten over Regina and tried a few times over the years to reach out unsuccessfully.

Each time he tried to send a letter, Facebook friend request, or card, it all went unanswered. Regina had moved on and he had to do the same.

So, to see her standing in the living room of her house for the first time since she’d moved was a big surprise.

He couldn’t even see her face, but he knew with every fiber of his being that he owed her the biggest apology that anyone could ever give.

He wasn’t that immature stupid kid anymore, he was a grown man who had changed in the last six years.

His appearance was much different than he was as a kid. He’d been skinny and scrawny with a clean face and long hair.

Now, he’d filled in and was muscular with a beard that stubbled along his chin and hair cropped short. His eyes were warmer and full of wisdom rather than playfulness.

He watched her carefully turn and smile as Emma led her through to the kitchen. She looked different too.

Her hair was shorter cut to her chin, her once lean frame was fuller and held womanly curves she didn’t once possess.

Staring after her, he watched her turn in his direction and look behind him for a moment before disappearing.

Turning toward where she looked, he noted a few kids huddled around the television. Was Regina looking at Henry? Most likely, he’s the only kid he recognized.

David snapped him straight, “What are you staring at?”

Robin sighed, “Regina.”

“She’s here? Where?”

Robin gestured forward, “I just saw Emma drag her into the kitchen.”

“Are you alright?” Robin nodded, “Yea, I’m fine. Let’s go get that drink.”

David and Robin made their way toward the kitchen and he took a breath before pushing the door inward and coming face to face with Emma and Regina.

They had their hands full of cookies and giggling as Granny scolded them for making a mess.

David merged around them and poured drinks as Robin stood dumbstruck. Seeing her face, he could see the differences in her.

Emma spoke first to ease the tension, “Robin, how’s Sherwood Nursery doing over the holiday season?”

Regina looked confused, but he responded, “It’s steady, thanks. I have new pansies you’d like, just stop in anytime.”

Emma explained, “Robin here opened up his own business a year and a half ago. He had the most beautiful trees, shrubs, flowers, you name it.”

Regina was surprised, “Congratulations.” It came easy but there was a hint of tension in her tone. He couldn’t blame her for it. “I appreciate it.”

There was something in the way his jaw tightened and jumped after saying it. Thankfully, David shoved a glass toward him, “Here.”

He handed one to Emma and Regina and held it up to toast, “To a new year.” Clinking glasses they drank and the silence began to fill the space.

Robin avoided her eyes and she stared right at him seeing a different person than she’d pictured.

He glanced around them to see Granny hands deep in dough kneading it out and ready to make more cookies.

He set his glass down and excused himself, “Granny, can you use some help?” Her bright eyes appreciated it, “how sweet. You know I never turn down your help. Grab those cookie cutters and the rum.”

“Yes ma’am.” He did as instruct as his audience watched him, David called, “I’ll see ya, Robin. Come find me when you’re done.”

With a nod, he turned his attention to Granny. Emma waited for Regina to ease out of the kitchen before turning toward her. “Was that as awkward for you as it was for me?”

“More, I’d say. He looks really different.”

Emma laughed, “He is different. After Zelena moved away he turned his attention to himself. As far as I know he hasn’t dated or been as social.”

Regina acknowledged her but pursed her lips in annoyance. She could care less if he’d moved on from her and her sister.

“It seems like he’s doing just fine on his own.” Emma frowned, “I know that he was a jackass, but you should know that he’s really different. It took him a year to sulk and to turn into the bottle that he cradled at night.”

Appalled, she glanced toward the kitchen, “Is he…?” “No, it was a long year, but Archie did his best with him. It took a couple of years after that the set him straight and on the right path. He may have done the breaking, but he broke himself too.”

Was it pity she felt? She didn’t want to feel sorry for him, but she did. “I can’t imagine him drinking like that.”

Emma led them to a table and sat, “It was bad. He stayed home, didn’t shower, and stopped showing up at work. Granny fired him after two weeks of no shows. Ruby kept writing him on the schedule and he never showed.”

After a few sips of eggnog and bites of cookies, she continued, “He moved back in with his dad. You know Sam was always a softie when it came to Robin.”

Regina found she was more interested in what had come of him than she wanted to be. Though, she tried to hide her need to listen.

“Sam took him in and he stayed with him until recently. I heard from Mary Margaret that he just bought a house.” “Good for him.”

The disdain could be felt and heard in her voice, but she was impressed that he was able to buy a home and open a business.

With Roland, she still rented and struggled with her work. Raising a child was hard work and it would’ve been easier if she’d had help.

Pushing that out of her mind, she glanced at Roland who was still enamored in the movie and hadn’t noticed the cookies and cakes that were brought out to the main serving table.

Emma asked, “When was the last time you two talked?”

“Since I lift. I know that he sent a letter to my apartment, but it was too angry to read it. It ended up in the trash. Same with a Christmas card three years ago. Though I wasn’t angry then, just didn’t feel like opening old wounds.”

There was a lot there and Emma knew all about how devastated Regina had been when she went to New York after finding Robin with her sister. A few weeks later, she’d peed on a stick and it turned pink.

It took a lot of crying, convincing, and comfort for her to accept that she was going to be a mother. She’d gone to school throughout her pregnancy and then took the semester off when she had Roland.

The struggles she faced were harder than anticipated. Regina had been living in a dorm but had to move once Roland was born.

Fighting with her parents over and over she had tried to afford it on her own and couldn’t seem to catch up financially. So, she’d relented and allowed them to pay for where she lived now.

An apartment in Central Park West and felt like she didn’t earn it, but Roland loved it and it made her parents happy to know that she was safe, and they were taken care of.

Emma interrupted her thoughts, “for what its worth, I’m glad that you went after your dreams.”

Regina smiled, “I am too. I’m happy that the gallery hired me, and Roland is happy in his new school. Things are great.”

Emma interrupted, “Except for Graham who broke your heart.”

With sadness in her eyes, she nodded, “It seems that everyone I let in wants everyone but me.”

Placing a hand over hers, Emma said, “That’s not true. It is in Graham’s case, but you know that Robin wanted only you. despite his stupidity, he always cared about you.”

Regina knew it was true, but it was easier to hate him than to accept that he’d made a mistake. It had been years and she was happy for the most part.

“I can’t say that I was surprised that Graham would do that, but I think I prepared for it. So, when I found out the blow wasn’t as powerful.”

Emma confessed, “I never liked him much. He was too stuck up and lived way too freely for a grown-ass man.”

Regina chuckled, “At least it happened before Roland could get too attached.” Emma glanced at Roland who was now starting to walk around and find him, mother.

“He’s really cute and you’d be blind not to know that he’s Robin’s kid. Those dimples give it away.”

Regina hushed her as Roland approached her, “Mama, I’m hungry. Can I have cake now?” The sheer innocence had her smiling. “Yes, baby. Sit with Emma and I’ll grab you a piece.”

As she rose from the table, he called out, “Cookies too.” Regina laughed as she picked up a plate and cute a slice of cake and cookies. As she was about to turn and walk back to the table Robin emerged from the kitchen.

A hint of fear hit her as she realized her son was only six feet away and Robin had no idea he’d fathered a son.

Robin gave a small smile and turned to get in line for the meal. Regina’s heart heaved in her chest, but she sat and handed Roland the plate.

Her face turned white and she felt the blood draining as his eyes met their table and the small figure beside her dug into his plate.

“Robin is looking over here.” Regina took a sip of her glass to cover her words. Emma turned and gave a nod before turning back. “He’s going to find out sooner or later.”

Roland looked up and asked, “Find out what?”

Regina looked down at him and sighed, “Nothing, sweetheart. Eat your cake.”

Emma opened her mouth to speak but the look in Regina’s eyes silenced her immediately. Robin stared across the room at Regina doting on the little person.

Giving him a napkin, handing him a drink, wiping his mouth from the frosting that smeared. A feeling in his gut started to form, had she had a child and he hadn’t heard?

Then looking at the boy he started to guess his age, he looked like he could be four or five. He was small and skinny. Sloppy brown hair that fell into his face and framed eyes that mirrored hers.

Looking up at her, he could see the childlike appearance, and then Robin stopped when he saw the child smile. Deep dimples carved into his face, a smile that mirrored his own.

As if by sheer will, she looked up and caught his eye. The look on his face showed surprise and acknowledgment. He knew.

Regina flushed feeling her cheeks warm and her heart pound in her ears. She turned to Emma feeling helpless.

Robin took the few steps toward the table and the tension-filled the space. “Regina?” Her eyes were darting in each direction unable to rest on his.

Roland sat with a bite of cake in his mouth, “Who are you?”

Robin stared down at him, “Robin.”

Roland held out a hand in the gentlemanly way that she’d taught him, “Pleasure to meet you.”

Something inside him snapped, “The pleasure is mine.”

He took his small hand and shook it feeling the stickiness of the frosting that coated his skin. He met Regina’s now and he asked, “Can I have a word with you?”

Regina wanted to scream to avoid, to run away but there was no hiding in such a public space. People would talk, and she would be the talk of the party. She turned to Roland, “Stay with Emma, I’ll be right back.”

Roland nodded, “Okay, mommy.” Robin flinched as he heard the motherly term. Mommy. It was sinking in and he was shocked.

Robin led her toward the steps and up until they reached the library, he followed her in and began pacing. The silence was killing her, and she wanted him to blurt it out already.

Though, her own impatience, she appreciated him giving her the amount of time he seemed to need.

After five minutes of complete silence, he finally spoke, “Okay, I am trying to put this together in my head and I got nothing. Care to explain?”

“I…” the words weren’t that easy to say, and she tried to swallow the pain that came with the explanation.

“Explain what?” Frustration washed over him, and he wanted to bite back at her, but he’d learned to control himself.

“Please, don’t be coy.”

Regina sighed, “I’m a mom.”

Robin watched the flicker of emotion reside and fall between them. “How old is he?”

When her eyes met his, he saw it. The pain the hurt. There was something else he didn’t quite recognize. “He’s 5.”

“He’s mine.” It wasn’t a question but a statement.

Her jaw clenched, and her arms crossed over her. “He’s mine.”

The anger he could see shown that she wasn’t quite over what he did to her years ago. “How did this happen? When did you find out?”

Regina pursed her lips and tried not to let the tears fall as she felt them gather, “About a month after I flew to New York. I took a test. The doctor confirmed it a few weeks later.”

The breath he was holding came out in a rush and he paced once more. When he stopped, he crouched down and took her hand, “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The tears she’d held seeped out to her dismay, “I couldn’t. You’d ruined us, and I couldn’t be reminded of that. So, I did it on my own.”

His hand gripped her lightly, a touch that she didn’t know he was capable of. He’d once been possessive and strong but never tender.

The feeling of his fingers brushing her knuckles proved he wasn’t the same. It also proved that they were two different people, now.

“Regina, I know that I fucked up, and what I did was unforgivable. But this is worse, I have a son. You didn’t even tell me.”

Shaking her head and her hands-free of him, she stood, “No, I didn’t. I battled with myself, but you were too much of a child. There was no way you would’ve been able to handle it. I barely could.”

He knew she was right, he was a kid when she’d left all those years ago. “I wish you’d told me, but I understand why you didn’t.”

It surprised her how reasonable he was being, a complete difference to what she was used to. Wariness filled her as he paced for a few more moments and then faced her.

“I want to see him.”


XXX

Instinctually, her back shot up rigidly, “I don’t think that’s the best idea.” The tightness of her jaw and stance told him she was serious.

Robin scoffed, “He’s my son. Don’t you think I have a right to see him? Does he even know about me?”

Regina knew he was right, but she was feeling selfish, “I never told him about you because he never asked.”

They stood a foot apart and Robin’s breath came out in hot slow puffs. He watched her eyes carefully seeing the control she possessed. He envied that once upon a time.

Regina had always been a person of strength and determination, qualities that he’d wished he’d had. Now, he stood watching her resolve not bending.

“If you didn’t want me to meet him, why did you come back?”

The question clearly caught her off guard, “my father’s sick. I needed to be here. I didn’t plan it. I didn’t even know you were going to be at this party.”

Shifting his weight to his right foot, he asked, “Why wouldn’t I be here?”

Regina returned to her seated position and crossed her legs. His eyes watched the gesture with calm and ease. “You always hated my mother and you knew it was for me. So, why did you show up?” Watching him, she was genuinely curious.

“David dragged me here, but I won’t lie and say there wasn’t a part of me who wanted to see who you’d become.”

The avoidance of her gaze and the fidgeting of her hands told him he’d struck a nerve. “Why?”

It was his turn to be taken aback, “Because I’ve always cared about you. You know that despite the stupid shit I did as a kid.”

He was different and the look in his eye and the way he was acting wasn’t what she remembered about him.

She’d remembered a kid who was too wrapped in himself that he didn’t give her a thought. Six years did a lot for him physically and mentally.

She’d be lying if she wasn’t more attracted to him now than she’d been years ago, but the pain and underneath wasn’t ready to die out.

His shoulders relaxed, and he took a seat across from her, “I’d like to get to know our son. What’s his name?”

Regina’s eyes softened, “Roland.” There was a storm brewing inside of her and her thoughts were jumbled. It was the right thing for him to get to know his son.

Only, she didn’t want to have to compromise and rearrange her life to accommodate him. Regina had raised Roland on her own. Never had to ask permission or to change her plans to fulfill some obligation to his father.

Robin sighed, “I owe you the hugest apology, but I know it won’t be enough. All I can do now is make it right anyway I can.”

Her eyes dropped to the floor, “You can’t just expect me to let you come into his life and flip it upside down. He’s smart and he’s going to ask a lot of questions. Questions that I am not ready to answer.”

“So, I’ll help you. Let me try, Regina.”

She shook her head in disbelief, “Why should I?”

“He’s my son, I have the right.”

His voice raised, and her anger bubbled up, “You gave up that right the moment I caught you with her. You won’t just be disrupting his life but mine. You expect me to let you back in?”

His fingers were turning white from digging them into his thighs, “I’m sorry, believe me, if I could change what happened, I would. It’s too late. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to get over it.”

“You think I haven’t?” Robin stood to pace yet again, his anger was pent up and he didn’t want to say or do something stupid.

“Yes, of course, you have. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like to go through that alone. I’m so sorry, Regina.”

He knelt at her feet again but only rested his hands on the chair rather than her. “I wasn’t there when you need me. I’m overwhelmed and a little scared. But I’m here now.”

Her eyes met his and she wanted to be angry, but years had passed, and she’d gotten over the hurt. The anger may still be there, but she’d gotten over his indiscretion. It wasn’t easy, and she vowed never to talk to her sister again.

There wasn’t anything she could do, “I don’t know…”

He interrupted her by taking her hands in his, “Give me a chance, please.”

Emma’s words spilled into her thoughts as she remembered how he’d been going to counseling and making himself better.

Buying a house and opening a business. How could she deny him? Sighing, she said, “We do this my way. Not tonight. He’s already overwhelmed, to begin with.”

“I’ll do it however you see fit.”

There he goes again being reasonable, “I wish you’d told me about him before now. He looks like me.”

Regina rolled her eyes, “I don’t doubt that every time he smiles I see your face.”

He brushed her knuckles with his thumb, “Can you forgive me?”

She pulled her hands back and straightened the skirt of her dress, “It was a long time ago.”

He nodded, “And I was a stupid kid who didn’t see how lucky he had it.”

A blush crept up her cheek at the look in his eyes, her core felt warm. Her eyes traveled over him to see the physical differences in his body.

He was a man now. A grown man who didn’t seem to harbor the same naïve notions that he’d held to when she left.

“I made a stupid mistake and I’m sorry that I hurt you. Regina,” he reached up and put stray hairs behind her ear.

Panic crept in her chest and she felt ready to run, “Accept my apology.”

Her eyes bore into his and the sincerity rang clear. “Okay.”

A small smile crept up to the right of his cheek, “We should get back to the party. Maybe I can take you and Roland to the town square dance?”

Feeling closed in and vulnerable, she cleared her throat and he eased back. Regina stood and adjusted her dress and hair, “I…um…Emma and I were going to go together. I assume you had previous plans?”

He shrugged, “I was going to tag along with David and Mary Margaret, be their third wheel.” A hint of sarcasm hid behind that smile.

“I’ll be with my mother and Emma, so I think it’d be best if we meet there. Roland will need to be prepped before we drop a bomb on him. I’m not thrilled for this to come out like this.”

He could see the inner turmoil and the panic behind her eyes, “Why don’t we wait to tell him who I am. If it’ll be easier on you, I’ll just be Robin to him.”

He saw her visibly relax, “I appreciate that.” Walking toward the stairs, he led her out of the library with a hand on her lower back.

A gesture that he’d never done before, he really had grown up. Maybe she would learn to tolerate him.

“Before you go downstairs, I have a Christmas present for you. I’d hoped to leave it behind. Since we’re here.”

Turning, she saw him pull out a red box with a white bow tied around it. “What is it?” She was surprised and unsure.

“Something I made for you six years ago. I never did get the chance to give it to you. I kept it.” Her eyes met his for a moment and she took the box he extended to her.

Untying the bow, she opened the box to reveal a small lion carved into stone. The lion perched over a coat of arms from their favorite book growing up.

“Robin, this is gorgeous. I don’t know what to say.”

He shrugged, “Say thank you.”

Feeling awkward, she did just that, “Thank you.”

He did the unexpected and kissed her hand, “I’m sorry it took this long to give it to you.” He led her down the stairs and he disappeared into the crowd to find where David had gone.

Regina met Emma’s eyes as she walked back towards the table and her son. Roland was done eating and his mouth was clear of frosting.

“How did it go?” Emma asked wearily. Regina settled and said, “weird. He’s going to the dance and asked if I’d go with him.”

Emma pouted, “I thought we were going together.”

A brow lifted, and Regina smirked, “We are. I told him he could spend time with Roland there. I’m not putting myself able to feel uncomfortable all evening.”

“He’s actually pretty fun to hang out with. I’m sure you’d come up with something to talk about.”

With a sigh, she wasn’t so sure, “I can’t imagine what. All I can think about is our history and I don’t want that to come up and start a fight. I forgave him. I’ll never forget.”

Roland asked, “Forgave who? What happened mama?” Regina cringed and shut her eyes, she really needed to learn to keep her mouth shut with ears listening.

“Just an old friend who hurt mama’s feelings. It was a long time ago.” Roland seemed satisfied by her answer though he was five and had no ability to know she was deflecting.

Emma snickered under her breath, “It’ll be fine.” Regina glanced at the clock, “We’ll see. Roland, you want to go upstairs and see Pop now?”

He sprung from his seat and bounced up and down, “Yea, yea, yea.” Regina couldn’t help but grin at her happy little boy.

“Let’s go. Emma I’ll see ya in a bit.” Standing, Emma waved and turned to talk to Belle and Ruby who were huddled around the dessert table.

Leading Roland to the stairs, she had to weave in and out of people and bumped into David, Mary Margaret, and of course Robin.

“Regina. It’s so good to see you.”

Mary Margaret took her in a long hug and looked down into deep brown eyes. “Who’s this?”

Roland extended his hand, “I’m Roland. Pleased to meet you.”

They all smiled at how endearing he was. “It’s nice to meet you, Roland, I’m Mary Margaret. This is David and Robin.”

Roland shook David’s hand and stopped at Robin, “I met you already.” Regina stood watching her smart boy converse easily with her old friends.

“We’re going up to see my father. It’s good to see you.” They stared after her as she led Roland up the steps by the hand.

She heard Robin behind her say, “He’s mine.” A few gasps and hushed conversation and she was cringing. It would be all over town now that Mary Margaret got wind of it. She couldn’t ever keep things to herself.

Henry was sitting up and reading the newspaper when they walked in. Roland ran and jumped up hugging him tightly, “Pop, I missed you.”

He joyfully laughed, “I missed my boy. Did you eat your fill of cake and sweets?” “Uh-huh. Mama said I could only have one piece, but I can have more tomorrow.”

The smile they shared was sweet and he wanted to cradle his grandson close, “Well, let’s see what your Pop has for you. Shall we?”

Roland’s face lit up in excitement, “Is it a present?” Henry shook his head, “No, not a present. It’s something you can save and use later.”

Confusion entered his eyes and then he smiled, “It’s money, right?”

“Yes, you are a smart boy. You can add this to your piggy bank. When you’ve raised enough money, you can go to the store and buy what your heart desires.”

He looked at Regina and she mouthed, thank you. “Thanks, Pop, are you still sick?” Regina saw her father’s eyes flicker with sadness and even out.

“I am my boy. We all get sick at some point. Nothing to fret about. Now, why don’t you tell me how Christmas was.”

Roland began a story about what he’d eaten and what presents he’d gotten. It got a bit awkward when he described the fight between Graham and Regina, but he told it like a pro. At five, he was a parrot and he could use their tone of voice. It almost scared her how perceptive he was.

The way he described the fun times of going out and looking at lights, drinking cocoa, and riding the horse sleigh lit up Henry’s face.

“It brings me such joy that you two had a good time. I wish I would’ve been there with you.”

Roland perked up, “Well you could come to the town hall dance on Tuesday. Mama picked out a suit for me and I get to wear a fancy tie.”

Henry smiled, “If I’m well enough, I’d be happy to attend. You’re still going with your mother?”

Regina nodded, “Mother is going and Emma.” Roland interrupted, “And we get to see mama’s new friends.”

Correcting him, she said, “Old friends, sweetheart. We’ll see a lot of people at the dance. Granny will be bringing cocoa and cookies.”

Henry smiled, “It sounds like a spectacle. Your mother never ceases to deliver an extravagant event.”

Roland was excited and took the rest of the visit talking about the dance and what he wanted to do and see.

When Henry began to yawn, Regina instructed, “Let’s let your Pop rest. We’ll see him in the morning.”

Complaints and whining were fought and dealt with and they left his bedroom closing the door behind them.

Roland crossed his arms angrily, “I wanted to stay with Pop.” Regina crouched down, “I know, baby, but he needs to get rest, so he can get well. Why don’t we go back downstairs?”

He looked over the banister at the people who had thinned out and noticed the dinner and dessert tables were cleared off and the clothes were put away.

“Everyone is leaving.” “I know, but we can drink some cocoa and sit in front of the fire. How about that?”

He compromised, “If I get to wear my Iron Giant pajamas.” She grinned, “You got it.”


XXX


Robin walked into the nursery in the brisk morning air, the snow had stuck to the entrance. He dug his boots until the snow was moved enough to jar the door open.

The shovel that hung in the entrance was adorned in his hands and he shoveled the snow to clear a path. The welcome mat was picked up and rung out before being placed down again.

It was cold but with his t-shirt, sweater, and coat it was bearable and nothing he couldn’t handle. Maine snow wasn’t a shock to him and he quite enjoyed winter weather.

He hung the shovel and thanked himself for salting the ground to prevent ice formation. He closed the door and shrugged off his coat.

He turned on the lights and watched them flicker on and brighten the dark woodsy smelling room. The flowers were preserved in the back corner of the nursery behind glass to avoid freezing weather.

The front of the shop held displays of what was offered, and he walked to the fireplace and placed logs and started a fire.

As the fire began to fizzle and warm the place, he went to work behind the counter. The cash register was opened, and he counted the profits from the last week.

Placing the majority in the safe, he put in the hundred and fifty dollars in the register and snapped it shut.

The bell on the door opened and he was happy to see Marco and his son August walk in, “Robin. I came back to see if you had those Winter Frost Bouquets ready.”

Robin smiled, “I do. I was just about to bring some to the front.” Marco asked, “What are they comprised of?”

Robin pulled out a display picture and pointed at the flyer, “We have white spider mums, white mini carnations, gypsophila, and a few other options. You can choose the white with gold or silver vases. Decorations can be chosen too from these three options.”

Marco scanned the paper as Robin disappeared in the back with the two flower arrangements and three vases. He brought the examples in a small cart and began placing them in a circular display around a pine tree with its branches dusted white.

Marco asked, “Do you have white snapdragons? They could make a nice addition.” Robin checked the inventory list, “I might let me check.”

The back room was organized in some sort, but he’d been trying to get it better organized in the last month. Running a store was hard when it was on your shoulders. He was getting ready to put out an ad for employees after the new year.

Until then, he ran the store, did the inventory, took care of sales, and did all the pickup and delivery. It was a full-time job, but he didn’t mind. Having a business open and successful in his town was the best feeling he could ever have.

He felt like he made a difference to the town and that he was respected for his business sense. Working hard on himself and what he had to offer was extremely important to him.

He wasn’t the punk kid who drove Granny crazy or the kid who would vandalize Marco’s wooden shop on the weekends after a few beers.

No, he was a respectable man who had a good work ethic and worked hard day in and day out to run a business.

When he came out from the back, he held a few snapdragons, “I can add these to whichever arrangement you’d like. It looks like these four are my last. I have orders in but with the new year things are backed up.”

Marco looked at little August, “what do you think boy. Which one do you think your mother would like?” August smiled and pointed at the arrangement with the white and gold vase, “this one with those.”

He pointed at the flowers in Robin’s hands, “We’ll take it.” Robin smiled, “I’ll wrap it up for you unless you’d like it delivered?”

Marco shook his head, “I can take it now, we’ll look around while you take care of that.” They walked off toward the small knickknack section where he’d made a few trinkets to sell.

It wasn’t much but they were worth a little bit of money. Robin placed the snapdragons in the vase and picked a packet for the water and wrapped the flowers with the clear and white spotted paper. The bow was white with a gold trip.

He placed a card on the end of the prod and stuck it into the vase. It took him a few minutes to add a few extra pieces of himself on it. The bottom of the vase held the store logo, the card held the store name.

It was complete, and Marco and August were waved over, “There you have it. She’ll love it. Will I see you tomorrow?”

Marco looked confused, “What’s tomorrow?” “The dance.” He relaxed a bit, “Oh, yes. We’ll stop by but it’s not a thing we spend much time at. See you, Robin.”

Marco paid and left the store with August trailing behind. Robin smiled to himself as they walked off.

He’d known these people his whole life and was glad that he finally had a purpose. To make people happy and to work hard doing what he loved.

He worked all morning organizing the back and stopped a few times when people came in to buy something or to look around.

Leroy and Tom walked in and bought a few shrubs for their yards, they ordered them to be delivered a few weeks after the new year.

Jefferson and Grace bought a flower arrangement for their friend Astrid. Peter and Ruby walked in and bought trinkets for the dance.

It was a full morning and he worked in the back most of the time. His mind often wandered to Roland and his dimpled grin.

The moment he’d seen his face, he knew it was his son. He had a picture on Granny’s wall at the diner when he was that age with the exact same smile.

Memories of the good times he’d had with Regina played on his mind and drifted when he went to the more painful ones.

Memories of the best times together when they were truly happy and in a blissful place. Days spent sneaking out and spending their nights in the woods.

His father had a cabin they’d use during summers and when he wanted to getaway. It became their haven. A place to be alone when the need arose.

The memories made him smile and he realized that he’d missed her more than he wanted to admit to himself.

He was proud of what she’d done and sad that he wasn’t able to help her. He didn’t get the chance to see her pregnant belly or help her with morning sickness.

Maybe she was right, he was too much of a kid to handle it. Though, he’d wanted her to stay because he wanted to get married and have kids.

Instead, he’d her away and she left, and he ruined one of the best things he’d had. She wasn’t just his girlfriend but his best friend.

Now, she was accomplished working in an art gallery in New York, where she lived with Roland. He’d be old enough to start school.

His mind wandered to what school he was attending and what friends he was making. Was he interested in anything in particular? What were his favorite things?

It was hard to fathom that he’d missed all the things that he yearned for his entire life. His mother passed when he was young, and his father raised him.

So, he wanted to raise a child and to have a family or he thought he was. Regina had made well for herself and she obviously did a wonderful job with his son.

Polite little bugger, he was. A smile spread across his face as she remembered how sweet he was, sticking his hand out and introducing himself like a grown man.

Pride was at the forefront of his mind. Regina had her reasons for keeping it from him. Although he was angry, he understood her motivation. He took time to get himself together and if he wasn’t in the place he was now, he knew that he wouldn’t have taken it as well.

How does anyone take being a father from one day to the next? Maturity was something he’d worked hard on. So, he’d taken it rather well.

Shock was still in his system and he felt a little overwhelmed by the idea. He didn’t even think about Regina and how she must feel.

How she must’ve felt to be alone the whole time raising him. Was she alone, he wasn’t naïve to think that she’d not moved on. Maybe she was dating someone now.

For all he knew, she was happily married. He hadn’t noticed a ring, but he wasn’t looking. He was more concerned with her letting him be a part of Roland’s life.

He’d be lying if a pang of jealousy hit him in thinking that she’d found someone to keep her warm at night and fight off the loneliness.

Furthermore, he didn’t want to think about her being touched by another man. It made his gut plummet to think about it.

He was jarred from his overtaxed mind when the clock on the mantel clanged. It was noon. Lunch break.

He finished the few things he was in the middle of and saved the rest for another time. He locked up the store and flipped the closed sign over.

He walked down the block to Granny’s and walked into cheerful music, the smell of great food, and laughter.

He glanced around and heard snippets of conversation he made out and smiled at people he recognized.

As he made his way through the diner, he spotted Regina sitting with Emma and Roland. He saw the sexy tumble of hair in her face the color of dark oak. She was laughing and was flushed along the curve of her cheekbones.

He missed seeing her relaxed in that natural state of happiness. He focused on her lips and the little mole that settled near them.

He kept his eyes locked on her seeing her legs crossed in that sophisticated way, the low dip of her dress covered her breasts.

When he allowed his brain to remember what she looked like under her clothes, David blocked his vision by stepping in front of him.

“Hey, I’ve been calling you. I got us a couple of stools. Ordered your food already.” Clearing his throat of embarrassment, he thanked him and followed him to the stool where he rested and picked up the hot coffee waiting.

David began to explain their plans for the dance which he interrupted and told him he’d wanted to spend some time with Roland.

He told him it was no big deal, it would give him and Mary Margaret some time alone. A change for once.

Granny placed two turkey and swiss sandwiches with green chili and French fries on the table. Placed a bottle of ketchup and two sodas to complete the meal.

They ate comfortably ate and chatted, but Robin kept an eye toward Regina and watched Roland.

His mind was full of questions he wanted to ask her. Questions about Roland, but he didn’t want to make her feel like he was being intrusive.

After a time, he’d been able to lose himself in eating and conversing with David. They joked and laughed and had their usual lunch.

When they got up to exit, Emma walked towards them and they all headed toward the exit. Regina and Roland were trailing behind and were talking about a superhero that he kept asking about.

“You know, Regina you should take him to the new comic book store. I’m sure he’d like to get some reading material. Can he read yet?”

Roland spoke before she could, “I can read easy words. Mama has to help with big ones.” David smiled at him, “You’d love comic books. They have pictures and you can read along with the story.”

His face lit up, “I want one, can I mama?” Regina glanced at her watch and looked to be in a hurry. “I’ll take him, if you don’t mind?”

Robin had his hands tucked in his jeans and had an easy smile. Emma whispered something in her ear that had her caving.

“Sure. I just…I have to meet my mother and a contact of hers. Can you bring him to the house in a couple of hours? Roland do you want to go with Robin to see the comic books?”

He looked up at him and looked a little wary, “is he your friend like Graham?” Regina blushed out of embarrassment, “No, sweetheart. Not like him.”

Robin felt his heart drop a little, so he was seeing someone. Then, Roland said, “Good, cause I didn’t like him. He yelled at you too much.”

The flush in her cheeks turned a deeper red and she hushed him, “Roland, stop. Go look at the comic books and I’ll see you in a little bit.”

He seemed totally comfortable to walk down the street with Robin. It bothered her a tad.

“I’ll bring him back soon, promise.” He winked at her out of historical habit and walked toward the comic book store.

She stared after them and saw Roland slip his hand into Robins. It all but broke her heart to see them like that. It warmed her heart.

Roland and Robin walked the boy asked, “How do you know mama?” That was a complicated question, but he opted for the easy answer.

“We grew up together. She was my best friend when we were kids.” Roland nodded, “How come I never saw you before?”

That was even harder to explain, “Well, when you get older it’s hard. You get jobs and you start families. So, I stayed here, and your mom moved to New York.”

He was silent for a minute, “I wish mama had more friends. We see Pop sometimes and she has Lou. Lou works in the same place as mama.”

Was it wrong that he felt guilty that his son was telling him about her life? He didn’t mind much.

“She had Graham, but he was mean. He liked to yell on the phone a lot and use bad words.” Robin squeezed his hand, “I’m sorry to hear that.”

Roland sighed, “Mama said he was a bad man and he did a bad thing. So, he went away. I wasn’t even mad. I didn’t like him, he made my tummy hurt when he yelled.”

A little bit of anger filled him, “Did he ever hit your mama?” He braced himself for the answer, “No, he didn’t. He hit the wall one time and he broke mama’s present from Pop. We don’t tell him because it’ll hurt his feelings.”

“What was the present?” Roland looked up with sad eyes, “It was a glass that you put flowers in. It had hearts on it and purple flowers inside. They fell on the floor. I had to be careful cause I had no shoes.”

A vase, he guessed. “I bet that was scary.” “Yea, Mama was crying but he told her to shut up, and then he left.”

He gritted his teeth and locked his jaw. “I heard mama on the phone, I’m not supposed to listen to her calls.”

Roland looked down at the floor ashamed. Robin crouched down to his height, “we all do things we aren’t supposed to do sometimes. It’s alright.”

He nodded feeling less anxious, “Mama was talking to Aunt Emma. She said that he was a cheating bastard and that he was gone for good.”

It amazed him the way he sounded like an adult and the tone of his voice mimicked what she must’ve sounded like.

“I don’t know what that word is, but I know it’s bad.” Robin sighed, “It’s a bad word. Don’t worry, I think your mama is just fine, now.”

Roland smiled then, “She is. That’s why we came so that she could see Pop and get a vacation.”

It sounded as if she’d had a rough go of it. He wanted to change the topic and get him excited, so he said, “I’m glad you’re here. Sometimes bad things happen but it’ll get better.”

He held his hand and walked him toward the store that was in sight, “Now, how about those comic books?”

XXX

Roland walked into the house when Regina opened the door with a bright smile and a green bag full of comics in tow. Robin’s hands were in his pockets and stood awkwardly at the entrance.

Regina took Roland’s jacket and put it on the coat rack, “You might wanna shed your coat if you’re coming in. My father isn’t feeling well so the heater is on full blast.”

That would explain the top buttons of her blouse undone and her bare feet on the hardwood floor. “I see. He feeling any better?” “Yea.”

Roland handed Regina the bag, “Look, mama. Robin got me a present. He said my first comic book was important.”

Looking in the bag she wanted to see what his haul comprised of. Batman, Superman, and The Green Lantern. “Good choices. Did you say thank you?”

“Uh-huh. He even took me for cocoa and Granny gave me an apple cimonnem cookie.” “Cinnamon,” she corrected.

It was cute to hear him try to say it properly. Roland asked, “Can I go show Pop?” She nodded, “Sure, no running on the steps.”

Roland walked up the steps and she was left alone with Robin who’d been standing out of the way.

“Do you want some tea? Lemonade? I think my mother stocked the fridge.” He accepted, “Sure. Whatever you have. Maybe I could talk to you about something Roland said.”

Turning to lead him to the kitchen, she inwardly cringed, “Oh?” He scratched the back of his neck, “he was quite liberal with the details of your life in New York. I won’t lie it felt a bit intrusive to listen to a five-year-old.”

“You couldn’t help yourself, could you?” Robin’s eyes were apprehensive, “Guilty.” Pouring herself a glass of cold water, she asked, “what’s your poison?”

“Tea, please.” She put the kettle on and leaned her elbows against the counter to face him sitting on the stool at the island.

“So, what did he tell you?” Robin linked his fingers and went through the school, his friends, Regina’s fancy office. Talked about her friends or lack thereof.

Then when she turned to pour his tea, he carefully explained Roland’s colorful explanation of Graham and their history.

“He knows too much. I hadn’t realized he’d heard that.” Setting the coaster down, she put the teacup in its place and slid it to him. To keep her hands busy, she poured herself a cup and pulled out a few cookies and put them on a plate.

“Cookie?” Surprisingly, he declined. “I had enough at Granny’s.” The cookies were put back into the package and she tried to stall any explanation.

They didn’t talk, and it was awkward that he was now looking to her for answers. Expecting them.

“Did he hurt you? The truth.” She turned and sipped the tea and shrugged, “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“Regina, god. How long did you put up with that? The girl I remember wouldn’t stand for that.”

In a bout of temper, she responded, “The girl you remember is gone.” He stared at her across the island and saw a flicker of fear under that strength.

“I’m sorry you had to deal with that. How bad?” Aversion, she turned, put her tea in the sink losing her desire to drink it.

“I ended it before it could take seed. I’m fine, Robin.” He took a gulp of his tea to hold in his rage. “Why does Roland think you need a vacation? What happened exactly?”

Frustrated, she sighed, “Why do you care? We’re not exactly friends. We’re not the same people.”

He slid the tea aside and the dishes clattered violently together, the sound made her jump. It angered him that he’d been the cause of it.

He saw her watching his hands, the movement of his shoulders, the fear in her eyes told him his suspicions were right. “He hit you.”

Her back was rigid, her mouth screwed tightly closed, her hands gripped the granite turning her knuckles white. “Is that what Roland told you?”

He softened at the sound of his son’s name, it was something new to him. The sensitivity of the vulnerable feeling in him when he thought about the sweet boy. Two days with him and he turned to mush. How was that possible?

“No, he mentioned yelling, throwing things, and scaring him.” Regina looked down and tried not to let the tears fall that gathered. “He never told me that, but he tries to make me feel better. Graham wasn’t a subject we talked about.”

“It made a hell of an impression on him. So, much that he looked like he wanted to cry when he talked about how he yelled at you and walked out. I don’t mean to pry, I know it’s not my business. It’s your personal life but it jolted me when he felt the need to tell me.”

She sighed, and pushed from the island and walked around to gaze out the back door facing the large yard with trees, flowers, the snow was coated over the green. A comforting visual.

She rubbed her temple trying to relieve the ache forming, she felt embarrassed to come face to face with him after six years. The topic was out of the left field and she felt extremely uncomfortable discussing her history.

“I’ll talk to him.” The room was silent for several minutes before he appeared behind her. His hands rested on her shoulders and he massaged her like he used to years ago.

“Regina, I know that we have a complicated history, but you can talk to me. I’ve always been a good listener.” Absently, she leaned into his hands, the tension leaving her body.

His hands were strong but gentle on her shoulders, neck, and back rubbing out the knots and creating a loose feeling in her back. It was comforting and brought back memories of his hands on her. He was always good at this.

For a moment, she was lost but pulled his hands down and turned toward him. “I’m fine.” He as unconvinced, “I can see that.” The sarcasm was dripping from his tone.

Their eyes locked and he pressed, “Tell me.” Her eyes flickered, “I don’t want to discuss it.” His eyes closed and let out a long breath out his nose.

He wasn’t upset with her, but he could tell that he’d messed with her head. The way she flinched when his hands had rested on her shoulders, the hesitant gaze, her tension-filled body language.

It all pointed to the answer she couldn’t utter. “What…” He wanted to know the extent, what he’d done, how far he’d gone. The look in her eyes had him stopping and closing his mouth.

“Come here.” Instead of words, he took her into a warm hug. Her body was tense, but his hands pressed her back softly, rested them around her.

Regina softened and found the comfort he was offering was needed. It had been a long time since she was extended such a courtesy. A nice gesture.

Her eyes closed and the lump in her throat tightened but she wasn’t going to cry in his arms. She refused.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered in her ear. The guilt he harbored caused her to turn to someone else. “Why are you sorry?”

He pulled back to face her, “If I hadn’t of messed this up, you wouldn’t have fallen into his arms.”

“That’s ridiculous.” He caught her chin, “It’s true. How long were you with him?”

“Two years.”

“Too long.”

His hand dropped, “Yea, well. It took me long enough to figure out he had another fling on the side. It’s my curse.”

He bit his tongue knowing it started with him, “Yet another thing to feel guilty about.” The arm rested around her felt foreign.

Graham wasn’t one to hold her or to linger when he didn’t have to. “Robin…” He shrugged, “I’ve worked through it, but it doesn’t help to hear what a tough time you’ve had.”

It was true, but she didn’t have the heart to throw it in his face. The anger she harbored over the years was at a low simmer. Especially after seeing how much he’d grown. Turned his life around.

Her hand brushed his hand away, the intimacy was too much for her. He tucked his thumbs in his pockets. “It wasn’t all bad.”

He disagreed, “Regina, you had to endure a pregnancy on your own, take time off school, and raise Roland all on your own. Do you know how much I admire you for that? How much I’m angry at myself for missing out on it all?”

He paused, “You’re a distinguished art gallery VP. You did all that on your own. I can see how hard that must’ve been. I missed it.”

There was no doubt that he’d missed the pregnancy, Roland being born, his developmental milestones. He did.

“Whose fault is that?” She regretted the words when they were out. His eyes pained at them and she cursed herself, “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.”

“It’s fine. It was my fault. I’m not denying that. In fact, part of me doesn’t blame you for keeping it to yourself. Part of me wishes at some point in the last five years, you’d have let me know before now.”

She contemplated that. Fought with herself over the years. When she was going to tell him, Graham had been there to plant doubt in her ear. He reminded her of what he’d done and of the hassle it would be.

It was easier to avoid the topic and Roland was too old to understand what it all meant. It would kill her to hurt him. To confuse him.

“I know. I just…” He saw the inner fight and understood. “It’s not like I didn’t think about it a million times. The older he got the harder it would be to explain. To confuse him. I didn’t want him to suffer. So, I kept to myself.”

He nodded, “I understand. I’m not sure if I would do differently in your situation. I mean, when you left I was a punk kid. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life and I drank too much. I took you for granted and was selfish when you wanted to go away to college.”

She sighed, “You were floating. I had a direction and you were dragging your feet.” Agreeing, he said, “I was. I wasn’t ready to grow up and do anything. I just wanted to spend the year with you. I didn’t think that I was asking you to give up what you wanted.”

Her gaze shifted out the back door again, “I’m glad you see that, now.” “It took me a long time to figure it out. After your sister move to France, it was easy for me to ignore what I’d done. You left and my heart broke.”

She remained silent, he knew he’d shattered her heart more than his broke. “I turned to the bottle and was caught more than once passed out in Granny’s. It was months later when my dad made me go to Archie.”

“Emma told me you’d seen him.” “Yea, I did. It took me a few months to come to terms with why I’d slept with her. Why I turned to her instead of you.”

“What did you come up with?” Her curiosity was eating at her for years. “After you’d broken things off and left I was angry. I was mad at you because I blamed you. I blamed you for all my mistakes and failures.”

She turned to look at him, he avoided her eyes, “It wasn’t your fault, but I did a good job of pretending like it was. It made it easier to justify a stupid encounter that frankly, I have no memory of.”

“What does that mean?” He confessed, “I drank my weight in why dad’s liquor cabinet. Emptied it out.”

Her mouth gaped open, “You drank it all?”

His head bobbed, “Yup. You broke up with me and I drowned. I don’t remember any of it. When you ran out, I passed out. Zelena had to call an ambulance. Alcohol poisoning.”

Her eyes met his, “I never heard.” “My father made sure no one got wind of it. I was there for a few days. When you flew out, I was still stuck in bed. Then, alcohol became my best friend. It was easier to drown than to think about you leaving. The guilt came later.”

Was that just to forgive him for sleeping with his sister? Alcohol made me do it? It was a stupid excuse. Though, she’d done the same the first time she’d met her boyfriend at the time. She had dated a guy after Roland was born but it didn’t last more than a week.

A few nights of mediocre sex and he’d thrown in the towel. He couldn’t handle the baby waking in the middle of the night. He was a year old at the time.

“You seem like you’ve come a long way.” He smiled easy, “Gee, thanks.” Crossing her arms, she leaned against the door frame, “Life is complicated.”

“I can’t argue there. I’m sorry that he did that to you. I’d beat the shit out of him if I saw him put his hands on you.”

She appreciated the overprotective role, it reminded her of when they were friends. “I handled my own.”

Before he could stop the words from flowing he confessed, “I’ve missed you, Regina.” There it was, those guarded eyes. That lip that sucked into her mouth and bit down. The nervous girl he remembered.

He stepped to her and took her face in his hands. She felt his fingers brush her skin, she’d forgotten what I felt like to be touched so gently.

His eyes lingered on her and focused on her lips. Her resolve was bending, she missed him at intervals of her life. Though, she’d never admit that to him.

“There you are, oh I didn’t realize we had company. Hello, Robin.” They pulled apart and Regina walked toward the island. Took his teacup and placed it in the sink.

“Hi, Mrs. Mills. I hear the dance tomorrow is going to be spectacular. I’m delivering the flowers tomorrow morning.”

She smiled, “I’m looking forward to your arrangements. I’m quite fond of your artistry. Regina, have you seen his shop?”

“Nursery,” he corrected. Composed, she shook her head, “No, I haven’t. I’ll make sure to stop in. Maybe tomorrow after breakfast?”

“Sure, I better be going. I just wanted to drop Roland off.” “Thanks for the comics. He’s probably talking my father’s ear off.”

Cora said, “He was. I sent him to play in the room. Your father is resting.” Regina glanced at the clock, “I’ll go up and see what he’s up to. I’ll see you tomorrow, Robin.”

He gave her a side hug and a kiss on the cheek and watched her ascend the stairs. Cora glared at him, “I see those eyes of yours. You should be careful.”

Robin sighed, “I don’t intend to repeat any mistakes.” She put a hand on his and squeezed firmly, “She’s been through enough pain and hurt. If you feel the need to pursue her like I think, you tread lightly.”

Was that permission she was giving? He replied, “Noted.” Shocked, she said, “I like you Robin. I may not have years ago, but you’re an upstanding member of the community. You pay your taxes and you are sweet.”

“I appreciate that I think.” Cora let him go, “She’s a good girl in a bad place. I don’t plan on letting you add to her misery. Do you take my meaning?”

He understood alright, “I’d never hurt her. Not again.”

“I believe you.” He took his jacket and shoved his arms into it. He kissed her cheek and walked out into the snow.

This day had been wildly different than he anticipated.


XXX


Robin’s mind was full after leaving Regina’s. The possibilities of what that bastard had done to her. It plagued him. Even if he hadn’t seen her in six years, he still cared about her.

Shit, they’d grown up together and were best friends. Even if he’d never dated her, he’d be livid. The fact that she was so traumatized that she couldn’t admit it made his blood boil.

He was sad for her and sympathetic to how she was feeling. He knew she’d be distant and that their reunion would be tense. In truth, it was less awkward than he anticipated.

Though, if she wasn’t going through all this the fire behind her anger would be burning bright. There was no doubt about that.

He went to the one person that he yearned to see. The person who would hear him out and keep it to himself.

The cabin was empty, but he aired it out and beat out the rugs. He cleaned up a bit and was putting a kettle on when David called, “Rob?”

“In here.” Crouched down pulling out cups and whiskey, he heard him shuffle into the cabin. The floor echoed his steps.

“It’s been a long time since we met here. Must be serious.” Robin stood, and David saw the whiskey.

“Tell me. What number on a scale?” Robin poured the whiskey in his tea, “12.” David hadn’t heard him say that in years.

“Spill.” Robin handed him a cup of tea and sat on the wooden chair near the window.

“I took Roland to the comic book store and on the way, he talked about Regina’s ex. Turns out he’s an ass who scared him. I confronted her, but she denied that he most likely hit her.”

David sat straight, “Wait, he hit her as in plural?” “Yea. I asked her point-blank. Regina never skates around the truth. She couldn’t look me in the eye, let alone admit it.”

The silence in the room didn’t last long, “It makes so much sense now.” Robin asked, “What?” He looked at his friend squirm, “something Emma said. I ignored it thinking it was her being dramatic.”

Taking sips of tea, he explained, “A few months ago we met in Boston for lunch. I asked her how Regina was doing. She’s the only one other than her parents to keep in contact. She made a comment about the bastard she was with.”

“You didn’t take is serious?” David shrugged, “Nah, I mean, Emma is known to exaggerate a bit. I figured she was in a mood. I didn’t know much about the guy. Just that he was wealthy and was introduced to Regina at the gallery.”

They sat, and the information sunk into him. Robin was trying to figure out what she saw in him. “Was it about money? Security? That doesn’t sound like her.”

David wasn’t much help, “Sorry, dude. I didn’t know much about the guy. Emma made him sound like the perfect man. She did say he was a bit creepy. I changed the subject. You know me and gossip.”

“I know. The look in her eyes made my heartbreak. I don’t know how far it went or how long it went on, but she’s pretty messed up about it. Roland said a few things that pissed me off. Sounded like he was yelled at.”

David sighed, “He didn’t put his hands on him too, did he?” Suddenly, he tensed, and Robin hadn’t even thought to ask that. He’d kill him. “I fucking hope not. I didn’t even think to ask.”

“Who knows. If he hit her it’s not a far stretch to think that Roland could’ve been extended the same fate.”

Robin’s face dropped to his hands and he allowed himself to break down, “It’s my fault.” “That’s not true. Despite you making a mistake a long time ago, you don’t know what would’ve happened. Don’t put this on yourself.”

“I almost kissed her.” David whirled around, “What? Almost?” Robin sat back, “Cora walked in and interrupted. I let myself get caught up.”

David asked, “if it happened, what then?” He admitted, “I’d have her back. I miss her. Is that wrong?”

“No, but if she’s messed up about this guy, you might have to be careful.” He sighed, “that’s what Cora said. I’d never hurt her.”

“I know, but she’s strong-willed and she can take care of herself. Don’t push her too hard.”

Why was he getting this from him and Cora? He wasn’t the same person he used to be. He wasn’t the immature person he had been. Now, he was an adult and he was still very much in love with Regina.

The intimate moment they’d shared had been like old times. Freely talking and no pressure from anyone else.

That moment of having her in his arms was what he’d wanted. Maybe he was ready, but that didn’t mean she was.

So, he nodded, “Yea. I just don’t know how this is all going to play out. She had my son and kept it from me. She’s here now but I know she’ll move back to New York. What am I gonna do?”

“Talk to her. I mean, I’m sure she’ll figure it all out now that you know. Regina isn’t a broad to lord it over you. You know she won’t.”

Robin rubbed the tension from his face, “I know. She’s classy and not vindictive. I had loads of secrets she could’ve outed after I broke her heart. Instead, she left and that was that.”

David laughed, “I know all your secrets and your life would have been hell if they came out. You got what you deserved. She’s a saint.”

“Why is this so hard?” David stood, “cause we’re not kids anymore. Be an adult.” Rolling his eyes, Robin led him out and they walked through the trees.

“Yea, yea. I’m trying. I’m a dad.” David patted him on the back, “I know. Doing a pretty great job at it, so far.”

Nervous laughter echoed, “I don’t know about that, but I’m trying.” “That’s all you can do.”


XXX


Regina and Emma walked into Granny’s where they set up a kid’s night of events. The cocoa, cotton candy, popcorn, chips, juice, and soda were set up on a table near the jukebox in the back.

The counter housed gingerbread stations for teams to build. Roland joined a little boy who he learned was named August.

Emma helped gather the game pieces to pin the sprinkler on the stick. Regina joined Granny in the kitchen to help with dinner.

The kids were eating cheeseburgers, fries, and chicken fingers. Granny added fish sticks, salad, and green beans for sides.

Regina placed food in portions on plates for twenty kids. A few extra were placed in case they wanted seconds or more showed up than RSVP’d.

She carried the plates out on trays and Emma helped get the kids seated in the booths. There were five booths. It was perfectly placed for four kids to sit and eat.

The kids were given their plates and juice or soda depending on preference. Parent’s who decided to stay sat at the counter.

It ended up only being Regina, Emma, Jefferson, and Ashley. All the others were busy with shopping and getting ready for the dance tomorrow.

The music played was a mixture of oldies and kids songs from their favorite shows. The atmosphere was light and airy. A nice change to the intense conversation she had with Robin.

Emma was giving her space and let her keep silent. The look in her eyes told her that she had some stuff to work out.

Ashley chatted their ears about their daughter, Alexandra. Development, how good she was a drawing. Her ability to name all the letters, count to fifty, and write the ABC’s without help.

Jefferson, in turn, bragged about his daughter and her math skills. They all asked about Roland and school progress.

The music filled the air and they moved tables aside and set up musical chairs after dinner. They played Yankee doodle while the kids slowly walked in a circle around the chairs. They giggled and hurried around the corner.

Nudging them forward and occasionally tripping over their shoes. When the music cut off they scrambled to get a seat. Roland, unfortunately was the first to strike out.

He pouted his lip and marched to Regina, “Mama, I lost.” She kissed his pouty lip, “I know, baby. Why don’t you go into the kitchen and see if Granny needs help with cookies?”

His face brightened and losing the game was no longer in his mind. He disappeared through the swing door and Emma laughed, “he’s so adorable.”

They played musical chairs a few times before the kids started to get bored and restless. They moved from games like Trouble, pick up sticks, Fishing Pole, Pin the sparkler on the stick, and Don’t break the ice.

The kids all played simultaneously with the adults supervising and fun was had all around. When the games were done, Granny emerged with Roland trailing behind and had a surprise for them.

Robin came from the kitchen with carefully wrapped boxes enough for the kids and adults.

His smile was easy, and he handed out boxes to each of them. The kids unwrapped the box and inside help a 2018 shaped chocolate.

“Chocolate. Yum,” said Roland. Robin handed the other boxes that were red to Jefferson, Emma, and Ashley.

He handed Regina a gold-colored box, knowing she’d be here and it was special. They opened the boxes. The red contained truffles and cherry-filled chocolate.

Regina’s held the same but under the chocolate held a note, she pulled the treats aside and the note read, meet me at the cabin, tonight?

Her eyes met his and he smiled, “can you get away?” She glanced at Roland, “I…” He held up a hand, “stay and enjoy your night. Put him to bed and I’ll be at the cabin. If you can make it, we’ll drink cocoa and catch up. If you can’t, it’ll be just me. No pressure.”

Right. No pressure. He kissed her cheek and did the same with Emma before he whispered to Roland as he crouched down to his height.

Roland laughed and put his arms around Robin and a sweet hug. Regina would be lying if her heart didn’t warm to that.

Robin pulled out a paper from his jacket and gave it to Roland. Then, he stood and disappeared into the kitchen after Granny.

Roland ran up to his mom and called, “Mama, look.” The paper in hand was a sketch of Roland with a dimpled grin. A rather skilled sketch of her son.

“Wow. What a present.” Roland nodded, “He said it was from my papa.” She tensed, “It’s beautiful.”

Suddenly, he looked confused, “Who is my papa?” Regina opened her mouth and then shut it. “We’ll talk about that later, okay?”

He didn’t seem satisfied with that answer, but he ran off in the direction of the games leaving Regina behind. How was she going to explain that?

XXX

Regina had put Roland to bed and he was fast asleep, so she walked down the hall and entered her room.

Glancing in the mirror, she adjusted her hair then her lipstick. The way he’d smiled at her when he asked if she could getaway. It made her nervous.

The conversation may have been intense, but it was nice to have someone listen and to casually be around.

So, against her better judgment, she freshened up and walked the half dozen blocks toward the trees tucked away.

The snow was thinning, so her heels against the ground were in no danger of sliding out from under her.

The smell of the town, made her feel like she was at home. The quiet was much different than the busy streets of New York.

She forgot how much she loved the quiet streets with the lights, the sound of laughter, and serenity.

When she reached the trees, it was like reaching into her memory and pulling out her childhood favorite moments.

The memory of sneaking out here and playing hooky at school, Emma and her hiding from the boys, and of course, the most intimate moments with Robin.

The cabin was lit up and she could see the mats hanging outside. He was courteous enough to hang a lantern at the entrance. Smoke from the chimney floated up to the stars and the sound of insects chirping made her smile.

The door was open a smidge and she heard the fire crackling. Knocking lightly, she pushed the door open to see him setting a blanket in front of the fire.

“Hi.” Her smile was tentative, he stood and kissed her cheek, “Glad you could getaway. I figured you’d had enough to eat, so I took the liberty of popping open a bottle of Champaign. I hope you don’t mind.”

She sat on the blanket and took it, “Thanks. I wouldn’t say not to those grapes.” He put the tray of cheese and grapes down and leaned back against the couch next to her.

Her eyes closed, and she breathed deeply in and out, “Long day?” Her eyes opened to him, “You could say that.”

He said softly, “I didn’t to badger you this afternoon. I just kinda lost it when Roland confessed all this stuff. I didn’t realize how candid he would be.”

Regina chuckled, “He’s too smart for his own good.” He nodded, “He is. You did a really good job with him.” “Thanks.”

The fire was warming them, and the mood turned when he said, “Something has been bugging me after I left.”

Her eyes met his, “What?” He rested his elbow on the couch and turned to face her properly. She mirrored him, but her arms were hung around her legs loosely.

“I wondered if Roland was affected by this as you were.” The faintest pink raised in her cheek, the embarrassment he guessed.

“No, I mean he didn’t like him much. Graham wouldn’t hurt him.” Robin reached out and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, “But he hurt you.”

The gesture was familiar yet foreign. The mixture of the two confused her. “Once. I mean he was a little forceful and gripped too hard. One time he knocked me in the face, left me black and blue. I missed work for a week to hide it.”

His jaw tightened, “Son a bitch.” She leaned her face on her knees and sighed, “it was the end after that. I found out he was screwing Judy the receptionist. I kicked him out and that’s that. It wasn’t as bad as I’m sure you’ve pictured.”

“It shouldn’t be pictured at all. I’d kill him.” She smiled, “You’re sweet, but there’s no need. It’s over.”

Picking up a few grapes, she popped one in her mouth, “So, tell me about your business. How did it all happen?”

He sat back comfortably, “It was kinda fast, really. I talked to Marco and my dad about an idea I had. My dad made it happen with the help of my business plan. I still have a lot of work to do. Right now, I do it all alone. I’m finally able to afford to hire some help after the new year.”

She smiled, “I’m happy for you. Emma told me you bought a house. Mrs. Raster’s house, if I’m right.”

He was proud of that, “I did. I moved in about six months ago. Still fixing it up and adding my touches to it. I painted the outside, added a parlor. I built shelves for the closets, and the laundry room.”

She knew he’d always loved that house, “You got your dream. It seems like you got everything you wanted.”

His eyes lowered, “Not everything.” Regina frowned. He set his glass down and slid the tray on the table beside him.

He asked, “Would you like some tea, I could put a kettle on?” Shaking her head, she declined. He waited a minute before he spoke again.

The fire and the soft jazz music were the only additions to the silence. “You know, I never thought you’d come back here.”

Her voice was soft, steady, “Me neither, but my dad is sick. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and he needed me. I needed to see him, to be here.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Henry has always been like another dad to me.” She finished her drink, and set it aside.

“He’s that to a lot of people. Robin, why did you tell Roland that your sketch was from his papa?”

He closed his eyes, “I may have overdone myself, I was just in the moment. I didn’t mean to confuse him.”

“I’ll explain it to him, but I need a little time. I don’t know how to.” He took her hand, “I’ll help you, if you need it.”

Her hand lay limp under his light grip, “I don’t know. I just…this isn’t something I planned on.”

He turned toward her, “What happens when you go back to New York?” She shifted, withdrawing her hand from his, “what do you mean?”

Guarded eyes and teeth sunken to her lip, he saw the nerves, “I mean, now that I know he’s my son, do I get to see him? I want to be a part of his life.”

She hadn’t thought about it. It was hard, and she knew that her life wasn’t here. “I hadn’t thought about it. Your business and home are here. I live in New York. I guess if you visited or…”

The blue sparkle of his eyes softened her, “When do you leave?” She answered, “The third.”

He nodded, “I guess we’ll figure it out.” “Robin…”

Their eyes locked, “Hmm?” “I forgive you for what happened.” His throat felt thick, “That means a lot. I miss this.”

He gestured between them, “Being here with you with the fire, the conversation. Feels like old times.”

“Maybe not all old times. Some new.” He agreed, “That’s for sure. You looked beautiful tonight among those kids. A natural.”

With a blush, she laughed, “It took plenty of practice to get used to being a mom, trust me.”

“Was it hard?” Solemnly, she shrugged, “At first. I kinda pretended that it wasn’t happening. I threw myself into studying. It wasn’t until my belly grew that it was hard to ignore.”

He felt sorry for her, “It was an easy birth?” A little awkward to talk about but he wanted to know. “It was easier than I thought it would be. I didn’t let them give me drugs. I didn’t want him coming out full of junk.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” A smile filled her face, “It was easy, and my parents flew up to meet him. I took the semester off and stayed home. Then, I returned to classes that next spring.”

“Who watched Roland?” Regina looked guilty, “My mother hired a nanny. Scarlett was a dream and she was so good with him. I was lucky, I only had to spend a few hours a day from him.”

“You had it under control.” His tone was clipped, and she felt the jealousy underneath, “I tried. It wasn’t always easy, but we managed.”

“You are a strong woman, Regina Mills.” It was genuine, she knew. Robin was sweet to her. “I had no choice, I grew up with Cora as a mother.”

That had them giggling and changing the mood from tense to serious. They chatted about work, demands, and of course Roland. Robin had questions galore about him.

It was an hour later when they were sprawled out on the blanket, pillows tucked under them, and almost cuddling close.

It felt like old times, comfortable conversation, tasty Champaign and the warmth of the fire to heat them.

He stared at her, “I’ve missed you.”

Her lips curved, “I missed you too. You’re different.”

“Grown-up, I did.”

Reaching up, he slid stray hairs behind her ear, and caressed her cheek, “I want to kiss you.” They were so close she could feel his breath on her cheek.

Regina was unsure, but he was being charming, and she could so easily fall into this with him. So, she wrapped an arm around his waist, “So, kiss me.”

Did she just say that? It was too late, he took her mouth soft, long, slow. The heat ignited, and he captured a gasp with his lips.

Her nails dug into his hip and he went weak. Focus, he ordered himself. It could all be over before it began. He might be getting ahead of himself.

He turned his head to see her face, “Beautiful.” She touched his hair and gazed into his blue eyes. Their arms fused around each other, “this could be a bad idea.” Even with those words handing in the air, her legs twined with his.

“You might be right,” he agreed.

When he started to pull from her, she pulled him back, “You aren’t even going to argue? That’s not like you.”

The smirk on his face made her knees go weak, the sparkle of sexy amusement in her eyes dared him to leap.

“I’m not the same person.”

Her eyes calmed, “Maybe not.” His weight shifted as she slipped her hands under his shirt and up his back.

Her nails scraped lightly on the journey feeling his muscles flex. “Regina, are you sure?”

His eyes closed, and he let out a breath when her teeth clenched into the skin of his neck. Her voice was but a whisper, “I want you.”

He was already hard when his body fit to hers and he took her mouth in a warm deep kiss. Her arms draped around him as he lowered her onto the pillows keeping his mouth fused with her.

His heart drummed in his ears and ached as he tasted her throat, her tender skin under her jaw. He wanted to covet, to take, to touch.

The fantasy of having her like this had rung in his head for six years. He’d missed her smell, taste, touch. He missed her.

He was lost in her as he felt skin, flooding in pleasure, he felt her mold to him. It wasn’t a fantasy that moved below him now. She was there and taking just as much as he gave.

She met his mouth with eager vigor and he craved her. His pulse was spiked, and his mind was full of her. The texture of her hair, skin, clothes.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d blended teeth, tongue, breath, and gasps with anyone like this. His body ignited with heat and he suddenly felt the fire in his belly.

The patience he had moving with her was astounding, her taste was intoxicating. He was content to stay like this and lose himself in scorching, long, luxurious kissing.

When he thought it was enough for him, her body arched, and she offered more. He took his hands and grazed her hips, thighs, moved up to her torso, breasts, down again. Moving slow, feeling the changes in her.

Her fingers brushed the side of his head and reached down and pulled his shirt up, he helped her and pulled it off his body. Their eyes locked as he melted back into another long-heated kiss.

Her teeth clenched around his tongue and his groin jerked into her. He chuckled as he peeled her blouse from her. His mouth was on her, covering her raised breasts covered with lace and feeling her body react to his lips.

His tongue slid beneath the fabric and teased, tested. A gasp escaped her, and she fought with the button on his trousers. A sudden need for him to cover her, be one with her.

She rolled and straddled him, ran her hands up his chest, feeling him beneath her fingers, “You’re built, Locksley.”

His breathing was unsteady and came out in husky puffs. She trailed her fingers over him and felt him shiver beneath her. Unable to help herself, she leaned down and kissed, lingered, grazed her tongue and teeth over the skin.

She was torturing him in a way she was unaware of, he shoved his elbows up and pulled her to him by the waist. His hands were rough and calloused from his work, eased up and under until his fingers undid the clasp of her bra.

The first real moan escaped her when his mouth hovered over her. The sound flooding straight to his cock. He couldn’t believe she was here with him. It felt like a dream.

Every taste, movement, sound it all filled him with a burning desire. He could spend hours making her sound like this, but his patience was wearing thin.

He just wanted to take, he waited a long time for this. He pushed her back and slid her jeans down her legs, following with his hands, his lips.

He covered lace again and this time, she bucked and clasped his head as she came, shuddered, and cried out. A jolt of pleasure soared through her faster than she’d realized. He removed the lace and took her up again.

Slow, building, drove her until she fell into a mixture of pleasure and bedazzlement. Her body shook as his body shifted her under him.

Her hands helped to separate his trousers from his hips, the cotton that was rested there. Their hands rushed, he craved.

Regina’s hands were quick, and she was hungry, her body ready. Robin shuddered, when her hands clasped around him.

His fever building, he tore open a condom and wasted no time in covering himself, but she intervened and took it upon herself to finish the task.

He pulled the back of her neck and sunk into her mouth. Her fingers weaved through his hair and tongues tangled.

Mouths against each other, he said, “God, Regina. I love you.” Her heart ripped open and she saw stars when his fingers sunk into velvet flesh.

The sensations were bursting with texture and she needed to feel something. So, she rolled them over and took him into her wet warmth. Her body bowed back in pleasure, his hands gripped her hips.

She sunk and rode as she took him deep, the memories of them in this position flooded back to her and it was like riding a bike.

The way he lifted to meet her and the exploding sensations of being aroused hit her. Had it been this good before? Had he always been this gentle?

His hips bucked and met her thrusts and she slid into the orgasm that hit, her headlight and body weak. She eased down to press her torso to his. Her lips met his and swam in the overflow of shock.

Caught off guard and still in a haze, she felt him roll them over and dive deeper. He was hard and dove deep, his breath faltered with hers.

Her arms grasped around him to feel him moving in rhythmic waves. Her head was light as she braced her arms on his hips. He looked into her eyes as he rocked with her.

His eyes were really blue and intense but misted over in the act of passion. It hadn’t been like this before. So real, so intense.

He surged into her and she gasped, she gripped him hard with her nails unable to help the strangled sounds escape her throat.

She bucked and jolted as he picked up the pace, she came hard. Again. Breathing was difficult, and her system was shot but she took him in a blistering race. His body tightened like stone and as if it was possible, she came as he let go. He was with her.

Dazed, tired, limp, he lay on top of her unmoving. Sweat dripped from their skin and heat radiated. They lay like this for several minutes before he leaned up on his elbows.

Looking down, he watched her eyes, “Not like old times.” A blush crept up her cheekbones, “I suppose not.”

Her nails softly grazed his back in a soft gesture, he leaned down and kissed her softly. “I missed you.” She smiled.

His fingers trailed in her hair, straightening the matted mess he’d created. He softened and pulled from her, pulled the blanket up and over her.

Silence fell upon them, she wasn’t going to return the sentiment. A part of him felt sad but realistically, he couldn’t expect it.

Rolling onto his back he took time to catch his breath. She lay still staring at the fire crackling, it had lowered down to a simmer.

It was silent for several long minutes. Robin sat up and rubbed his face with his hands. Feeling like he’d blown it, he looked around and spotted his boxers and jeans.

He shrugged on his boxers and stood to hook his jeans up to his hips. He walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of water. He extended it to her, “Water?”

Regina sat up and took it, “Thanks.” The blanket covered her, and her eyes avoided his. He looked around and gathered her shirt, bra, panties, and jeans, and placed them next to her.

She watched him move around the cabin and pick up the cheese tray and put it in the trash, empty the tea kettle, and lingered in the kitchen with his back to her while she dressed.

Appreciating him giving her privacy, she felt out of sorts. Had he regretted it? Had she? There wasn’t a clear thing to say at a time like this.

He slowly washed the dishes and she folded the blanket and draped it over the chair. She walked to him and watched him shut the water off, smile at her.

A sheepish, shy smile. Those dimples had always done something to her insides. He dried his hands, “You want me to walk you home? It’s late.”

She nodded, “Sure, but first…” Her lips met him on a slow roll of a kiss. No tongue, no heat. Just a sweet kiss that had potential.

Eyes fluttered closed, she wrapped him to her and pressed him against her. He felt warm, safe. They shared a hug that lasted a good few minutes.

He walked her home in the snow with her hand hooked under his arm. It was cold, but his body warmth kept the chill off.

When they reached the door of Cora Mills, he leaned in and stole a few slow lingering kisses. Was this the start of something? Was it tempting fate?

She was leaving, and he was staying. It seemed selfish, but he didn’t care. “Goodnight, milady.”

She laughed heartily at his attempt to be cute. A joke they shared when they’d read Robin Hood and he wanted to be like his fairytale hero.

“Night. Roland and I will meet you at your shop after breakfast.” He smiled and watched her disappear behind the door before he walked the five blocks home.

All the while, he had a grin the size of Texas plastered on his face.


XXX


New Year’s Eve was upon them and Roland and Regina ate breakfast at Granny’s with Emma, Jefferson, and Ashley. The kids joined them, and they ate until they couldn’t eat anymore.

Roland was excited about the dance and Cora had talked his ear off about it. Emma had teased Regina about the smile on her face. Regina wasn’t about to spill the beans.

Although, the night was impromptu, it was amazing. She felt like for the first time, she connected with someone and it didn’t come with expectations.

They walked out of Granny’s and headed a block to the east and a street over to Lockley’s Nursery.

Roland pushed through the door and she followed behind. The bell rang throughout the space. Looking around, she admired the space. It was aesthetically pleasing to look at.

Robin hurried from the back and smiled, “Robin!” Roland rushed over and hugged him. She watched them interact. Robin showed him around a small section that housed a few toys.

While he was distracted, Robin walked to Regina and pulled her behind a large pine tree blocking Roland’s view.

“Hi,” he smiled as he leaned in and covered her mouth with his. Unthinking, she wrapped around him and indulged. Forgetting her five-year-old was only across the store.

As if possessed by the lust, he let his hand travel from her knee up her dress and into her warmth. He muffled her gasp and let them linger.

Melting into him, she moaned as he worked her up. His teeth grazed the skin of her neck and she whispered in a hushed tone, “Robin, oh god.”

A few more swirls and he covered her mouth to hide the groan and held her tightly before she could sink to the floor.

Her eyes shot open when she heard Roland, “mama?” He laughed and pulled his hands from her, “Over here buddy.”

Her face was flushed, and her dress was straightened when he held up a toy, “Can I get this one?”

Robin gestured to the bathroom, while he took Roland and wrapped up his toy. She emerged minutes later, and he showed her around his shop. She was impressed.


XXX

Later that night, Robin walked into the large hall where the music swelled, and Roland ran up to him and modeled his new suit. His tie was on right and he was proud of himself.

The decorations were strung up and in an elegant form. The tables were covered in white with gold and silver sprinkles.

His flower arrangements were centered around the podium and on each table. The lights were down to a glow and a big ball was dead center ready to be dropped at midnight.

The dance floor was center with a few people drifting to slow music. Cora was making her rounds, introducing people. He watched Roland gather with a group of kids on the dance floor.

His dancing skills were better than his own, so he was glad he didn’t have to embarrass himself.

He looked around and spotted a few people he recognized. He said hi but kept his eyes for Regina. He scanned the area and kept looking.

David and he grabbed a drink and snacked on pretzels. He told David about their night but kept it rated G. He wasn’t one to go into detail.

David was happy for him and hoped it worked out this time.

When they met with Mary Margaret and Emma, he spotted her across the room. She wore a long elegant deep blue dress.

Her hair was fashioned the same way it always had been and her make up was subtle. He stared at her across the room and saw her smile at him.

Before she could be dragged away by her mother, he slipped a hand around her waist and led her out the back.

The sky was clear, and the stars were bright as he turned to her. She surprised him but kissing him.

He dipped his head and let her deepen it for a moment. “You look stunning.” “Thank you.”

“Regina, we need to talk.” Hoping this would come later, she sighed, “I know. I was putting it off. If we talk it’ll be over.”

He shook his head, “what makes you say that? I disagree.” She stitched her brows together, “Robin, we live in two worlds. How would it work? You travel to New York every few months and I come here? I don’t want that.”

He frowned, “I guess I was hoping we’d be able to come up with something better than that. God, don’t we owe it to ourselves to give this another chance? I’ve always loved you.”

She stared at him, “I know, I just don’t see how this could work. I just don’t know.” He took her in his arms, “I’ll move to New York if that would make you happy. I’d do anything for you.”

“Robin, you can’t give up your house, business. You worked so hard.” He pulled her to him and wrapped his arms around her, rested his chin on her shoulder. “I don’t want to lose you again.”

A tear slipped down her cheek, “I love you, but we’re not kids anymore. We can’t just move away and change our lives. It’s not that easy.”

He looked at her, “What are you saying, that this is it? That I have to figure out a way to see Roland. To visit him and give you up? Do you know how long I’ve pined for you?”

“This isn’t easy for me.” He kissed her forehead, “You’re right. I’m sorry.” He kissed her soft, slow.

When he pulled from her lips, he said, “I’ll go find Roland. I want to spend as much time with him before you leave.”

His face was strained, and she tried to stop him, “Wait.”

“It’s alright, Regina. I inserted myself back into your life and never once asked if you want me to be there. I have to respect your decision.”

“Why are you being so reasonable?” She choked on sobs and found this to be harder than she thought it would be.

“I’m not a kid anymore. I don’t want to hurt you, I see that’s what I’m doing. I want to spend the evening with our son. I’ll treasure the time we have. Then, when you go back you can set up whatever schedule for visitation you think is best.”

He turned, tears in his eyes, and walked back into the glistening lights and the loud music.

Robin stayed by his son’s side the entire evening. He ate, drank, danced, and showed him the flowers he’d arranged.

The knowing feeling in his gut never went away as he tried to avoid watching Regina navigate the room.

She fit into this crowd like a glove. Smooshing her mother’s clients, smiling, and laughing at jokes. It was so easy for her.

His heart ached as her eyes would glance towards them to keep an eye on Roland, no doubt.

The time passed in increments, two hours for eating, an hour for drinks, thirty-minute sprints of children’s dance music, and the final hour for the ball drop.

He embarrassed himself on the dance floor for Roland’s benefit and smiled and laughed as he enjoyed his goofy son.

They ate and snacked and he had a few too many glasses of wine. His muscles were loose, and he felt free. Though, he held it under control while he was with him.

No need to make a fool out of himself and embarrass Regina. That would be worse than embarrassing himself outside hours earlier.

When the last half-hour of the new year drifted in, Cora took her stance at the podium. She gave an eloquent speech that lasted fifteen minutes. Then, she started the countdown and picked Roland up.

“You see that ball? It’s going to drop at midnight and the new year begins.” He smiled, “Wow. That’s a big ball.”

Regina walked up to them and said, “it’s full of glitter. You might not want to stand under it. You might swallow some.”

Her tone was light, but his jaw was clenched, he nodded and moved toward the back of the room. Roland smiled, “you look pretty, mama.”

“Thank you, baby.” Robin moved Roland from one arm to the other, so he was next to his mother.

“Did you have a good time?” Roland exploded with excitement, “I did. Robin danced with us and he helped me eat lobster. It was tasty but hard to get out of the shell.”

She smiled, “Well, that’s what daddies are for.” Robin turned and gaped at her, “Regina.”

Roland turned and looked at her and then Robin, “You’re my papa?” Helpless, he looked at her. “He is.”

Roland wiggled free and was put down, he looked up, “How come you never came for us?” Regina frowned, “He didn’t know about you.”

Robin was stunned and stood there unable to comprehend the web she’d created. He smiled, “I like that you’re my papa. Better than Graham. He was mean.”

Robin watched her, “What are you doing?” Regina took his hand, there were ten minutes until the ball dropped.

“I’m doing what I should’ve done long ago. He deserves to know.” Roland hugged him, “Are you gonna be with us, now?”

He closed his eyes and the strain returned to his face, “For a little while.” It was all he could say without confusing him. Hurting him.

Regina leaned down and whispered something to him, and he went running off toward Cora and Henry, sitting at the far end of the room.

“You blindsided me.” She gazed at the clock. Seven minutes. “I told him the truth. Now, are you going to listen or continue to be mad at me?”

He blinked, “Okay.” Silence.

Six minutes.

“I don’t want you to give up what you have here. You worked hard for it and I’m proud of you.”

His heart quickened, “Regina…” She held her fingers to his lips, “I’m not finished.” She kissed his lips lightly.

Five minutes.

“I’ve been talking to my mother. She’s offering me a job in the mayor’s office. It’s not an art gallery, but it’s work I’d enjoy. Roland loves them and he loves it here.”

He blinked, stunned again. “You were right, we do deserve another chance. I know that all those years ago we were kids. We weren’t ready for what love has to offer.”

Four minutes.

His hands rested on her cheeks, “Are you saying that you’re staying?” His fingers gently caressed her skin, the tears prickled in her eyes. “Yes. I mean, I have to go back and deal with things. Then, I’ll be here.”

He grinned, kissed her fingers, “I don’t know what to say.”

Three minutes.

They embraced a minute and she said, “I love you, Robin.” He turned his head to look at her, “I love you, too.”

Two minutes.

They locked eyes and gazed, arms wrapped around each other. It hadn’t been their time and they had to go through a lot before it was the right time.

One minute.

He leaned in and whispered, “Marry me.” Her heart leaped for joy and she hugged him tight, “Yes.”

He pulled her close and heard the final count down. From thirty seconds and his eyes weren’t parted from hers.

5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

He covered his mouth with hers in a soft, long, sweet kiss. When he released her, he said, “Happy New Year.”

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Ruth Anne Garcia

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