She isn’t sure if her son is crazy.
Emma imagines what it must be like for parents of children diagnosed with a severe disability; to learn that their child will never be able to do the most adaptive of skills — walking, talking, dressing themselves. Ultimately, the painful realization that their child will never be normal. She had hoped that by giving Henry up for adoption, he would be able to live a normal, healthy life. During her pregnancy, Emma had vague dreams of his happy life with a stable family. Not wanting to vanquish this longing sequence of thoughts, she’d chosen a closed adoption.
After knowing her son for only the briefest period of time, she feels a slow nagging at the back of her head. Maybe she could have provided for him. Maybe he would have been stable living under her roof. Maybe she didn’t give him his best chance.
Keeping these prompts in mind, Emma slowly enters Henry’s forth grade classroom, clearing her throat as her eyes meet the unsettlingly familiar green ones of his teacher.
“Emma,” The woman smiles, rising from her desk. “How can I help you?”
Emma draws her bottom lip into her mouth, keeping her eyes on the ground. “I need to take my kid out of school for the day.”
Ms. Blanchard smirks kindly. “I’m assuming the mayor does not know about this?”
“While I do not believe you should be sneaking around someone’s back…” The short haired woman continues to smile as she continues, “I think Henry really needs time to process and understand everything that has happened. He needs to spend time with you, to ask questions and simply get to know who his birth mother is. How can I help you?”
The women devise a plan which could not be tracked back to the teacher should suspicion arise. When Henry arrives as his miserable self, Mary Margaret makes a gentle suggestion that he check out his castle for a surprise. None of the other students notice him sneak out of the room — they never notice him unless it’s for a short period of torment.
His complexion changes to a perky pink and a smile washes his features as he sees his birth mother waiting for him in the spot they’d shared an emotional discussion several days before. He flings himself into her arms, nuzzling his face into her stomach. Emma swallows hard and returns the hug gently, patting her boy’s back and clearing her throat as he pulls away. “What are you doing here?” He is expectant, waiting for her announcement of why she’s waiting at his hideaway.
“Well,” Emma starts, patting the space next to her, “I was thinking you and I aught to spend the day together. I asked Ms. Blanchard if she’d excuse you. I didn’t think your mom would approve of me taking you for the day.”
He winces at the mention of his adopted mother, but doesn’t let it affect him. “What are we going to do?”
Emma shrugs and presses her lips together. “I think you should decide. Something you’ve never done that you’ve always wanted to. Anything at all, my treat. Whether it’s going to the zoo, or…” Her mind struggles to compute something desirable to a ten year old and she blubbers on, “…Bungee jumping…anything fun like that.”
“Fun?” He smiles again, the gears turning in his mind as he considered the possibility before him.
“Fun.” She smirks and puts one arm around his shoulders.
Eventually Henry sighs. “I guess I don’t really know what I’d want to do. I don’t really get to pick what I want to do.” He is quiet as he thinks. “If you were ten years old, where would you want to go?”
“Hm,” Emma hums, biting her lip. “When I was ten, all I wanted was for someone to take me to an amusement park so I could ride the biggest, scariest roller coaster they had. That’s what I wanted.”
Henry’s eyes widen and be considers his birth mother’s definition of fun. “You think that scary stuff is fun?”
“Sort of,” She starts, standing to stretch her legs. “Facing your fears is…difficult, but…when you’re finally over whatever it is you were afraid of, you start to see that even things you were once scared by can be fun.”
“Like roller coasters?” He questions, picking at worn spots on the knees of his pants.
“Like roller coasters, but that’s just what I would have done. Today is about you, kid. You pick what you want to do.”
“Let’s make a deal,” The boy hops to his feet, crossing his arms over his chest. “You promise not to call me ‘kid’ all day, and I’ll ride the biggest, scariest roller coaster you can find! Or…that I’m tall enough to go on.”
Emma laughs with her honey-hued curls blowing in the wind, giving her a carefree expression for the first time since Henry met her. “You got a deal, k-er…Henry.”
The closest amusement park is over thirty miles away, but Henry enjoys the time to spend babbling about princesses and witches, to which Emma pays a close ear, but doesn’t have words for eloquent responses. She’s still trying to process the idea that perhaps his obsession may contain merit, and that the boy she gave up ten years previous is not schizophrenic.
“I think our best bet would be to figure out who Snow White and Prince Charming are. I’ve got a pretty good idea on Snow, but I’ve never come across the prince—”
“Henry?” Emma cuts him off, changing the subject. “What’s your favorite TV show?”
He shrugs, staring at her with a hard gaze. “I’m not allowed to watch TV. We don’t even have one in the house.”
Emma blinks and shakes her head. “You aren’t allowed to watch TV? Are you living in the dark ages?”
“I’ve been trying to tell you that for three days now. I’m living in an alternate reality which is comparable to the dark ages because there is no happiness.”
“You sound like a text book,” The blonde remarks, shifting in her seat. “What do you usually do when you get home from school?”
“Homework,” He answers shortly. “Followed by more homework. And usually after that, I do more homework. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, it’s a tutor day. Or a piano day. Or a clarinet day. Or a writing workshop day. Or a math day. There’s always something scheduled for me to do.”
Emma nods and sympathizes. “You’re one of those overbooked kids, huh? Always another activity to run off to?”
“Well, sort of.” Henry slouches in his seat. “They come to me. The queen doesn’t like me leaving the house. She thinks I’ll get in trouble. Which I probably would, but she figures loading me up with activities I don’t want to do will keep me from running away and becoming a juvenile delinquent.”
“Do you like any of your activities?”
He presses his lips together. “I don’t mind the writing workshop. And my English tutor just lets me read the whole time, so those aren’t so bad. But what I really want to do is…never mind, it’s kind of weird.”
Emma smirks and throws her son a look. “Come on, what is it? I won’t think it’s weird.”
Henry picks at his uniform sweater for a moment before mumbling, “I want to do martial arts. Like…karate or taekwondo. Sometimes…people pick on me, and I want to be able to fight back.”
Emma’s heart drops as she hears that her son is being bullied. She remembers the cruel days of grade school as if they had just occurred. That was twenty years ago, and kids have only grown meaner in their attempts to humiliate one another. “How…how do they pick on you, Henry?”
“Usually they just call me names,” He says quietly, clearly not wanting to discuss the issue. “But sometimes, they shove me into small places…like lockers and cabinets, and I start to freak out. My…therapist says that’s called claustrophobia. And, sometimes they take turns just beating me up. It sucks.”
“Henry!” Emma feels irrationally defensive for the boy she’s just starting to know. “Have you told any of the adults at your school? Have you told your mom?”
“Yeah, but they never do anything. The only person who’s ever helped me is Ms. Blanchard, and she can only do so much. She lets me stay inside with her at recess, and she does her best to walk me to and from the classroom, but she can’t babysit me all the time. Sometimes, you just have to take the punches. It’ll get better, though. It’s all going to stop. You’re here, now. Things are going to move forward and be better.”
Emma is silent at his confession and takes deep breaths to keep herself calm. He may be a little crazy, but Henry is right — things are going to get better. She’s going to ensure that.
“I can see the roller coaster from here,” Henry says, his face suddenly draining of color. “That’s really high.”
“We don’t have to do them all,” Emma winks. “This is about you, Henry. We’re only going to do whatever it is you want to.”
He perks up and unbuckles his seat belt, eagerly climbing out of Emma’s yellow beetle. He slips his small hand into hers and swings their locked arms lightly as they make their entrance. They scope out the park maps, Henry pointing to a few low-level thrill rides which wouldn’t cause him to get sick or have a panic attack. Emma agrees and the two find the park refreshingly empty during the school week.
After a less than five minute wait, the two buckle into a giant swing, which takes off spinning into the air. Henry screams as it whips around, laughing and smiling as the wind ripples through his short brown hair. Emma’s stomach does summersaults — it’s been a long time since she had any sort of extreme fun. But she smiles and laughs along with her son. They unload and he tugs her eagerly to board another ride. For the next few hours, they spin, flip, and charge down and across tracks, screaming and full of a giddy rush.
They break for lunch, with Henry’s hand locked firmly in Emma’s once again as she tells him to order whatever he wants form a grease-filled menu. “Can I get french fries?”
“Whatever you want, k-Henry.” She pats his shoulder and the two are soon sitting on a bench, discussing the one and only time Ruby babysat.
“And then, she brought this boy over, and they were laying on the couch and kissing each other all over. It was so gross! I went to my room, and when the queen came home…I’ve never seen her more mad! That was the last time Ruby ever babysat for me! Now she just works at the diner. She wants to leave this town so bad…but like everyone else, she can’t.”
“But wasn’t it happily ever after for Little Red Riding Hood when her grandma was saved? Wasn’t living with her grandma forever what she wanted? Why does she want to leave so bad?” Emma ponders, giving her son a wondering glance.
He takes a large bite of burger before giving his explanation. “I’ve got a theory.”
“And what is that, mad scientist?”
Henry smirks. “I think that your happily ever after changes over time. For example, with Red Riding Hood, when she was a little girl visiting her grandma, her happily ever after was that her grandma would be alive and that they’d spend a long time together. But then she got older. And she still loves her grandma, and still wants her to be alive, but she doesn’t want to spend all her time with her. She wants to start a life and family of her own. Or…just meet a lot of boys, I don’t really know. But the point is, as we grow, our happiness changes, and continues to do so. Like, right now, my happily ever after would be to be in the enchanted forest, with Snow White and Prince Charming, and you and me, in the castle. But in about five or ten years, I’d probably like to add a lady of my own to the equation.”
Emma giggles and wipes her hands on a napkin. “So you’re saying that happily ever after depends on the circumstances?”
“I wouldn’t say circumstances so much as desires. If there’s anything I’ve learned from my in-depth research, it’s that you can’t just expect to be happy. If you want something which brings you happiness, you have to work for it, and respect it. If you’re not happy in your current situation, you’ve got to change it so you are.”
“That’s pretty profound for a ten-year-old,” Emma nods. “But…you’re right. I waited my whole life for something to change and make me happy.” She sighs, she hadn’t been happy until she took her life into her own hands; staying in Storybrooke and getting to know her son. “So, how does today end happily?” She asks, standing and depositing her trash into the nearest receptacle.
“Today ends with you and me getting onto that big, scary roller coaster!” He points in the distance and sprints a step in front of Emma. “Come on, we’ve got to do it! Consider it a side operation for Cobra!”
She shakes her blonde curls but runs after him, surprising him by wrapping her arms around his middle and lifting him clear off his feat so his legs dangle above the ground. He is laughing so hard he’s nearly in tears, and it takes every bit of restraint to keep from retaliating. “Lemmie go!”
“Never,” Emma whispers before allowing his sneakers to make contact with the concrete. The moment twists into something serious and their eyes meet as Emma’s palm rests against his cheek. “I’m not letting you go, not again.”
Henry’s face contorts from immense happiness as he bites his lip. “I want you to promise me that. But I don’t want to make you break promises, either.”
“Henry,” Emma says in a low, comforting voice as she kneels before him, not caring about the spectacle they are likely causing. “Henry, I can’t promise you that I’m not going to have to leave. I can’t control the actions of those around me. But if it’s up to me, I’m not leaving. We’re going to…figure out this fairy tale thing,” She says, nodding, because they will — either there’s a parallel universe for them to get back to, or Henry will get better. “We’re going to figure this out, and hopefully have happily ever after. But, if something does happen. And…Operation Cobra fails, and I’m forced to leave you,” She whispers, stroking his upper arm. “You’ll have eight more years, stuck in Storybrooke. But after that, Regina has no legal hold over you. You’ll be free, and you and I can spend the rest of our lives figuring things out together.”
“Eight years?” His face crumples. “That’s…a really long time.”
Emma smiles. “What’s eight years when you have eternal love?” Recognizing the line from the story, Henry wipes a happy tear from his cheek and flings his arms around his mother’s shoulders. He shakes as she continues. “I loved you the day you were born, and I wanted to give you the best chance you had. Even though you were gone, I didn’t stop loving you. A parent’s love for their child is never ending.”
“I love you, too.” He cries lightly into her neck. “I love you and I hope that we can get this figured out. But you’re right,” He pulls back, nodding. “If you do have to leave, we will have each other again someday.”
Emma stands, rubbing his back. “Can I promise you that I won’t let you go?”
“You can,” Henry sniffs. “I believe you.”
The mother and son are strapped into the tallest, fastest roller coaster in the park. Henry is visibly nervous while Emma feigns courage.
“Are you scared?” He asks, eyes wide as his fingers form a death grip around the handle over his shoulders.
“Maybe just a little,” She confesses, “But sometimes we’ve got to deal with our fear to find the best parts of li-” Her speech is interrupted by the coaster taking off at a top speed, leading them both screaming at the top of their lungs as the buggy climbs up the first hill before taking a dramatic, ninety degree drop which has them both squeezing their eyes closed as they feel they are falling to their deaths. Thankfully, the coaster whips around a corner and continues it’s usual track of corkscrews. It slows as it ascends as second large hill, forcing Henry and Emma to look at one another. She releases the bar she was holding on to, putting her arms up.
“What are you doing?” Henry asks, expression laced with fear.
Emma smiles widely as they approach the top, shouting, “No hands!”
Henry takes a leap of bravery and also removes his knuckles from the silver handles, taking a deep breath before letting out a loud scream as the coaster plummets down the track once more, swooping into flips and sharp turns. A few moments later, duo are out of breath as the brakes kick to a screeching halt, and they dare open their eyes to look at one another. Both burst into laughter at the sight of their expressions and the sheer fact that they lived.
“That…” Henry said loudly as the ride runners lifted their restraints up. “Was…awesome!”
Emma takes his hand, guiding him out of the coaster as he regains his balance. “Glad you liked it. Told you it wasn’t so cary.”
“Uh-huh. You weren’t scared at all,” He says sarcastically, slugging her teasingly as they make their way out of the park before Regina grows suspicious of Henry’s absence at school when she goes to pick him up.
“Maybe just a little,” She winks and before either of them know it, they pull into the park where they’d met in the morning. “I don’t want your mom to know that I had you out of school,” She says with a note of fear. “I think it’ll be best if you…walk back by yourself.”
“I understand,” Henry smiles in agreement. “Thank you for taking me today. It was the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Emma nods, believing him. “I’m glad I got to spend time with you.” She squeezes his hand. “You know where to find me if you need me.”
He exists the car, strapping his backpack on and taking a deep breath before walking away. He looks over his shoulder, smirking as he shouts, “Love you!” back to the vehicle.
Emma shakes her head with a sneaky grin of her own, muttering as he runs towards the school. “Love you too, kid.”