Summer lengthens, heat sinking into Lima, and soon, Emma’s old life of just seven weeks prior seems distant to her. Her new normal is increasingly familiar, even comfortable: Shannon cooking up a storm in the kitchen; Sue following the Olympics with a single-minded intensity Emma can only describe as vaguely alarming; the weekly seminar, surprisingly gratifying after their bumpy start. She’s quiet during their sessions more often than not, but the others make up for it, volunteering their worries and insecurities with commendable ease.
“I have no idea how to be in a relationship,” Quinn announces, midway through the group’s fourth meeting together. She’s picking at a thick piece of banana raisin bread, sliced from a loaf Emma’s brought from home. Shannon’s doing. “A healthy one, I mean. I spent all of high school dating boys because I thought they would give me what I wanted. Popularity. Status.”
“Well,” Emma suggests, “why not try being single for a while? No one’s saying you have to be in a relationship. College is a great time to try new things.”
Kurt raises his hand, a polite request. “Quinn, if I may? The best relationships come into your life when you’re not expecting them. I never expected to meet someone as amazing as Blaine in high school, but then there he was, publically serenading me with a love song five minutes after we first laid eyes on each other. That’s how I choose to remember our first meeting, anyway. It’s a teensy bit revisionist, but the romantic appeal of it is undeniable.”
“We’re not all as lucky as you and Blaine,” Quinn points out, and Kurt replies, his eyebrows lifting, “Lucky?”
“You know what I mean. Lucky to have someone who’s there for you.”
“Finn and I –“ Rachel begins, only to be met with audible groans from Quinn and Mercedes. She glares at them, indignant. “Ms. Pillsbury, I have just as much of a right as everyone else to talk about my own relationship.”
“Yes, of course you do, Rachel. Go right ahead.”
“So sick of this damn rerun,” Mercedes mutters.
“As I was about to say, before I was so rudely interrupted, a healthy relationship involves making sacrifices. I’m willing to sacrifice being with Finn so that he can follow his dreams, and he’s willing to do the same for me.”
“You two are broken up, Rachel,” Kurt reminds her. “Remember? You wouldn’t stop crying for three days. I had to put ‘I Got Life’ from Hair on repeat before you’d even let me spoon feed you some chicken noodle soup.”
“As the memorably coiffed television character my dads named me after once said, Finn and I are on a break, Kurt. He’s still the love of my life. That hasn’t changed, and it never will.”
“Relationships are a waste of time,” Puck mutters, slouching in his chair, and takes a large bite of his banana bread slice. “She’ll pin you to the locker room floor and shove her gym shorts in your mouth, and the next day it’s like you don’t even exist. Who needs that shit?”
“I think the most important thing about a relationship is being able to really talk to the other person,” Mercedes volunteers. “With Sam –“ She’s a little teary, Emma can tell, but she clears her throat, not letting the emotion in her voice get too unwieldy. “We talk, you know? Not just about who won RuPaul’s Drag Race or whether or not they’re going to kill off Gwen Stacy in the next Spider Man movie. He knows secret things about me nobody else does.” She bites her lip. “Not even you guys.”
“Blaine’s always in my corner when I need him,” Kurt says, softly. “Always. And I’m there for him, too. Even when he thinks it’s all right for an orange paisley jacket and a mint green button-up to be within ten feet of each other. Especially then.” He turns to Emma. “Ms. Pillsbury, I’d ask you to share your perspective on this, except that I have a niggling feeling we’d hear a lot more about Mr. Schue’s private life than I, personally, am comfortable with.”
“You don’t have to talk about Mr. Schue,” Quinn promises her. “Unless you want to, of course. And we’d all be just fine with hearing whatever you have to say.” She looks meaningfully across the small circle at Kurt. “Right, guys?”
There’s a chorus of agreement. After a second’s hesitation, Kurt nods.
Belatedly, Emma realizes that the breakup with Will must be just as awkward for his former students as it is for her. After all, they’d helped him propose. They’d been privy to the ups and downs of their relationship over the years. And she knows they love him, the kind of love you have for someone who floats you a life preserver when you’ve been treading water for years.
“What you’ve all said, I think that’s true,” she begins, carefully, wanting to tread lightly. “Making sacrifices, being able to really talk with the other person, having support. But relationships, you know, they’re messy. They aren’t something you can wipe down with a cloth and a bottle of cleanser and make spotless. Believe me, I’ve tried. I think it’s important to find someone who makes you feel like that mess isn’t so bad. Who makes you feel like you can handle it. Like you want to.”
“And Mr. Schue couldn’t?” This from Rachel, who, despite her soft tone, looks almost excited by the prospect of receiving this behind-the-scenes information about Will’s life. Kurt, on the other hand, is squinting uncomfortably.
“Mr. Schue,” Emma says, and stops. “Will wasn’t the problem. I don’t really – let’s not talk about me anymore, all right? Quinn, tell us more about what you’re looking forward to at Yale.”
The distraction works wonderfully. Most people enjoy talking about themselves.
In her entire life, Emma’s shared a bed with two people: Carl and Will. Carl hadn’t been so bad; they’d had a king-sized bed, and when she’d placed a stalwart line of pillows between the two of them, he’d respected that. He’d been very respectful. Will was too, at first, but then he’d pushed her to let him hold her, at the very least, and she’d swallowed her panic because she knew it was the right thing to do. It was what you were supposed to do with the love of your life. When his hands wandered into dangerous territory – accidentally, he insisted – she’d resisted the impulse to scream or bolt from the bed, or both.
She hesitates to include Sue in this list, because, well, it isn’t the same, is it? She’d been married to Carl, and engaged to Will. They’d been her significant others. And Sue’s her friend, even if characterizing their relationship that way still feels a little odd. It makes sense that sharing a bed with Sue doesn’t terrify her, in the way that it had with Carl and Will. There’s no pressure, no expectations for anything more.
That certainly explains why she hasn’t been panicking over what’s been happening between them. What it doesn’t explain, though, is why it’s been happening in the first place.
After the still-inexplicable incident with the massage, they’d stayed on either side of their mattress for the next few nights, not talking. Emma’d felt strangely flat, realizing that she’d come to enjoy their conversations in the dark. Look forward to them, even. Talking without face-to-face confrontation had been easier for her, and she’d suspected it’d been easier for Sue, too.
On the fourth night, just as she’d been about to fall asleep, Sue had announced, apropos of nothing, “This fetus of mine could sneak a penalty kick past Hope Solo. Got a leg on her like a battering ram.”
“Oh,” she’d said, startled, and then, realizing the opening Sue was giving her, “Is she –?”
“Yes, Anime Ginny Weasley, my daughter is, once again, attempting to convert my ribs to finely grained powder, one determined foot punch at a time. Good thing I had my skeleton upgraded from bone to unobtainium in 1997.”
There’d been an awkward silence after this statement, until Emma had asked, tentatively, “Would it be all right if I felt – ?“
Before she’d even finished, Sue’s hand had found hers, guiding it towards her belly.
Emma shifted closer, pressing her palm lightly down, the skin below her hand still surprisingly yielding. There hadn’t been a kick, though. She’d missed it, or maybe it wasn’t there in the first place.
They’d fallen asleep like that for the second time, touching, and after Sue’s usual trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night, she’d reoccupied the middle of the mattress rather than the side. Emma, half awake, hadn’t moved away.
Two weeks since, and neither of them have talked about it, but each night, Emma finds herself stretching her arms a little earlier, exaggerating her yawns. “I’m exhausted,” she’ll say, or “Wow, that scrapbooking project really tuckered me out, I think I’ll head to bed early,” and instead of unease, something glad sparks in her when Sue, after a respectable hesitation, concedes that she might as well do the same.
Emma tries to convince herself she isn’t looking forward to the way that Sue reaches for her, night after night, the way it takes Emma five minutes, tops, to fall asleep when she’s spooned against Sue’s back, the way Sue pulls Emma’s hand over her side and onto her belly, keeping it there. She doesn’t think about what it might mean, or that on one of the household movie nights, during a particularly brutal scene in Predator, she’d actually hidden her face against Sue’s shoulder before realizing, belatedly, what she’d done. Shannon, luckily, hadn’t seen, although Emma isn’t quite sure why she’d care if Shannon had, in fact, noticed. It isn’t as though Emma hasn’t done the same thing with Shannon a hundred times.
And, then, in late July, Shannon abruptly announces during dinner that she’s found a new apartment near her sister Denise. It’s time, she explains to Sue and Emma, to get on with her life. Not that she isn’t grateful. Sue’s given her a home, been there for her just when she’d felt her lowest. “I won’t forget it,” she says, tearfully, wiping her eyes. “Not as long as I live. You ever need anything, pal – emergency protein powder, babysitting, back-up security, anything – just give me a call.”
“Well, truth is, Shannon, I’m gonna miss you,” Sue tells her, and Emma’s mildly surprised at how sincere she sounds. “It’s not just anyone who can do a bang-on impression of William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry by simply existing.”
Shannon, unfazed by this, gets up from the table and walks over to Sue’s seat. She bends down and hugs her fiercely. After several seconds, Sue, looking mildly unnerved, pats her arm.
Heart racing, Emma tries not to let what she’s feeling show on her face. With Shannon leaving, she’ll be alone with Sue. Just the two of them, without Shannon to – what? To serve as a buffer? And of course, Emma will have to move into the guest bedroom now. Because that would be the obvious, appropriate thing to do. Sharing Sue’s bed when there’s a free one available, that would be – that would –
And then Shannon’s hugging her too, and when Emma hugs her back, automatically, still muddled by all her conflicting emotions, Shannon murmurs, in her ear, “You gonna be okay here by yourself?”
It’s close enough to what Emma’s been thinking that she flinches. Shannon, apparently, feels it, because she adds, “Any time you need a place to stay, I’m good for it. Day or night, just come on over. No questions asked.”
“Thank you,” Emma whispers back, meaning it, thinking, well, of course she’ll have to move into the guest bedroom. Why wouldn’t she? There’s no good reason in the world to stay where she is.
She doesn’t move into the guest bedroom.
Without Shannon around, the tension between Emma and Sue feels more palpable to Emma, growing stronger as the days pass and Sue still fails to bring up the unoccupied bed just down the hallway. Emma’s increasingly nervous, jumpy at the slightest sound. She prattles on to Sue about everything she can think to mention that feels safe. Kurt’s moodiness during their meetings, his antagonism directed largely towards Rachel. How Emma might have to find a new printer for her pamphlets, now that Steve Greene’s told her the economy’s dragging his business under. That McCall’s dress pattern she’s finally been able to track down, and oh, by the way, if Sue wouldn’t mind, Emma would be more than happy to make some adorable outfits for the baby.
No, Sue doesn’t mind, as long as she gets veto power over ruffles. To Emma’s surprise, Sue doesn’t seem to dislike her nervous chatter. She listens, for the most part, screwing together pieces of her nearly complete alarm system, taking a particular interest in what Emma has to say about Kurt. “He doesn’t know it yet, but I’ll be assigning him the role of fairy godfather once Junior’s born,” she informs Emma one afternoon.
"Godfather?" She's confused. "I thought you hated anything religious."
“My repugnance for organized religion,” Sue declares, “is surpassed only by the pleasure I take in imagining Porcelain wearing a sweeping Carolina Herrera cloak and carrying a luminous, sequined wand.” She winks at Emma, in a way that implies Emma’s supposed to appreciate the mental picture as much as Sue clearly does.
“I, uh, hope that works out for you,” Emma stammers, and then casts around for another topic before this one continues down an increasingly bizarre path.
When they’re in bed, that’s when Emma gives herself permission to stop talking.
Sometimes, now, her hand comes to rest on the curve of Sue’s hip instead of her belly. Once, Sue reaches back behind her, finding Emma’s own hip, and strokes it, lightly, through her nightgown, down the length of her thigh. Not much, just a few times, but Emma stays very still and tries not to let herself admit that she’s, well, she’s beginning to respond to Sue’s touch. Very much so.
What in heaven’s name is going on with her? What is she doing? Emma isn’t like that. She would never – she’s not that kind of person, not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, it’s absolutely fine and great and Emma even has a little rainbow ally flag in her office that she bought after Kurt Hummel came out almost three years ago. But no, she’s never, ever, ever thought that way about any woman before, and especially not Sue Sylvester, of all people.
But the night Sue rubs her thigh, after she’s fallen asleep, Emma reaches with a tentative hand under her own nightgown and lets her fingers trace between her legs. One slips beneath her underwear, teasing open what’s inside. She holds her breath.
What she’s feeling, that’s just momentary insanity brought on by loneliness and their week-long Game of Thrones marathon. It has to be. No other reason for it.
When the doorbell rings on a Saturday morning in early August, Emma’s in the middle of a crossword puzzle, having successfully managed to forget about her exceptionally confusing life for an entire half-hour. She’s so caught up in trying to figure out 58 Across, “Jazzes up elves’ inn,” that it takes her a second to register who’s on the other side of the door after she opens it.
“Freaky-deaky,” her mother says, brightly. Her clothes, as usual, are perfectly tailored, her hair in a tidy bun at the base of her neck. She’s clutching her purse in both hands. “Well, here you are! Your father and I haven’t heard from you in two months. Who knows, you might’ve decided to lock yourself in a room with urine jars like Howard Hughes. I wouldn’t put it past you.”
“How did you find me?” she asks, when she’s recovered enough from the shock to formulate a coherent thought.
“We called Will, of course. You know, he’s been worried sick about you ever since you left him. I told him that this was just par for the course, that you never could make up your mind about any boy you dated. Remember Teddy? He was head-over-heels for you, and then you just stopped talking to him.”
“That was seventh grade.” She could murder Will. She could actually kill him for doing this to her. He knows how horrible they are.
“So this is where my little crazy-cakes is living.” Her mother peers into the house behind her. “I didn’t think you could do it, sweetheart, but I have to say, it looks like you’re shacking up with someone who’s even more off her rocker than you are.” She squints. “Look at all those trophies. Oh, my, my, my.”
Behind her, Emma hears footsteps.
“Mom,” she says, trying to keep her alarm down. The last thing she wants is for Sue to meet her mother. “I’d like to ask you to leave now. I’ll visit you and Daddy soon, all right? Please don’t worry about me. I’m all right here.”
But Rose is looking behind Emma now, to where Sue’s apparently standing. Emma can’t see Sue, of course, but she can imagine what her mother’s taking in: a tall, intimidating middle-aged woman, absurdly pregnant, wearing a specially tailored maternity tracksuit jacket and pants. Rose stares openly at Sue, her mouth stretching into a disbelieving smirk. Emma, sick with dread, knows that expression. It’s the exact same one she’d fought to keep off her face when she’d found out Sue was going to have a baby.
“Well, who’s this?” her mother asks, all polite incredulity.
“Introductions,” Sue growls, “are for alcoholics and English majors. If you don’t already know who I am, lady, then you sure don’t deserve to find out.” She puts a hand on Emma’s upper arm, and Emma starts, nearly wrenching her arm away in an attempt to get Sue to stop touching her. If her mother notices anything –
“Oh, I know!” Rose breaks in. “I remember you. You’re that cheerleading coach at my little freaky-deaky’s school, the one who ran for Congress last year. Of course, I usually sit out any local election that doesn’t have a ginger candidate, but that time I held my nose and voted for you. Burt Hummel’s just too suspicious, with that bald head of his. It’s impossible to tell what swarthy genes might lie beneath that chrome dome.”
“Please go, Mom. Please.”
“All right, I’m going. You know, Sue, I feel just terrible that you have to put up with my little crazy’s yucky habits. Bet she’s polishing up a storm around here, isn’t she? At least Will was engaged to her, but you aren’t even getting anything out of it. And here you are, in your condition!” She clicks her tongue in disapproval. “Can I just ask how old you are? It’s really incredible what modern science can do nowadays.”
Sue starts to say something, but Emma interrupts. “I want you to leave,” she snaps, and this time the anger gets across to her mother, who looks startled. “It’s one thing for you to – to say mean things to me and make me feel terrible, but you don’t get to come to my friend’s house and bully her too. You’re mean. You make me feel worse about myself every time I talk to you, and that’s incredibly difficult to do, because my self-esteem, to be quite honest, is in the basement. I don’t deserve to feel like this about myself. I’ve been working so hard to get better, I’ve been taking medication and seeing a psychiatrist, and you don’t care about any of that. All you ever do is make fun of me and apologize to other people for my problems.”
“Don’t come back here again,” she tells Rose, and slams the door in her face. For a second, Emma’s too shocked by her own outburst to know what to do next, and then she laughs, a hollow, incredulous laugh that shakes her entire frame. Where in the world had she found the courage to do that?
“Well, Lady Bird Yawn-son, I have to admit, that was impressive, even by my own high standards. Didn’t know you had it in you. I am distended not only with child, but with pride.”
Emma turns around, still shaking, and rushes past Sue, not trusting herself to speak or look in her direction.
Her hand washing ritual that afternoon takes fifteen minutes, instead of the usual four, and she spends two hours aligning Sue’s trophies in their cases, adjusting them so that they’re equally one-and-a-half inches apart in all directions. When she’s done, she can breathe a little more easily.
She washes her hands a second time afterwards, and a third time, and then a fourth and fifth time before bed, because what if the first scrubbing didn’t matter? And the second? And the third and fourth?
It takes her an hour to fall asleep, counting to six again and again in her head, and when she finally does, she wakes up rigid with terror not long after, making small strangled sounds.
“Emma,” Sue’s saying, in her ear. “It’s all right. You’re dreaming.”
“Oh,” she gasps, finally relaxing out of her paralysis, coming back into the room, and she turns into Sue reflexively, needing reassurance. “It didn’t really happen.” Something about her mother, and being a child again, and being locked in her office at McKinley. She can’t remember.
“Just calm down –”
But she’s holding onto Sue like the bed’s an ocean and Sue’s her lifejacket, fingers pressing first into her ribcage and then under her, around her back, burying her face into her shoulder. Sue’s arms encircle her slowly. The horror of Emma’s dream is still in her eyes and her ears and her mouth, even though she can’t remember it.
“Oh, no, please,” she whimpers, not listening to herself, but she hears Sue, strong and insistent, telling her to get ahold of herself, everything’s fine, she’s safe.
Sue Sylvester doesn’t lie, not unless it benefits her in some way or she’s bored. Some deep part of Emma recognizes this, and decides this scenario is exempt from either of those exceptions. She relaxes, limp, for the first time since the previous morning. It isn’t until the rank, dark tide of the nightmare’s receded fully and Emma’s awareness takes hold of her again that she realizes she’s snuggled up flush against Sue’s body, clasped tight in her arms like a child.
Well, maybe not exactly like a child.
Every inch of her is slowly waking up to join her brain, flesh prickling with loud, unfamiliar awareness at each place it’s touching Sue, at leg and stomach and breast. She can feel Sue underneath and next to her, warm and soft, the familiar swell of her belly pushing into Emma’s ribcage, and Emma shuts her eyes tightly as Sue’s hand moves up higher, rubbing the back of Emma’s neck in a gesture that might be comfort. Her fingers push into the muscle firmly, in small circles.
Sue’s holding her breath. Emma can feel it, how still she is.
“That’s very nice,” she whispers, meaning the massage. Her face is pressed against Sue’s collarbone, and when she speaks her mouth moves on Sue’s skin.
Sue’s hand freezes.
“Please,” Emma says again, shifting slowly on top of Sue, and Sue lets out a short, sharp exhalation against Emma’s scalp. “Don’t stop.”
Her voice is charged now in a way it hadn’t been before, electric with possibility and meaning. If Emma lifts her head and moves up just slightly, just a few inches – and then Sue’s fingers are threading up through Emma’s hair, cradling the back of her head, pulling her in for a kiss so tentative it could easily be retracted at any second.
Kissing Sue is nothing like kissing Will, or Carl, or her college boyfriend with the droopy eye. It’s softer, for one thing, because Sue doesn’t have a five-o-clock shadow, and it’s slower, Sue pressing her lips gently against one corner of Emma’s mouth, the shock of her tongue teasing at Emma’s sensitive skin, and oh, it’s better, it’s like her whole body’s been called out of sleep, alive now, humming for the first time.
It’s the feeling Cindy Traynor always talked about at junior high slumber parties, the you know, the thing the other girls giggled over while Emma sat up in her sleeping bag with a small, uncomprehending smile. It’s the language she’s never understood, the language she’d given up on learning, but here in this dark room, in her fourth decade, she’s kissing the most improbable person in the world and it feels like a translation.
She isn’t even worrying about all the germs in saliva. Well, not much. Not more than the bare minimum a person should probably be thinking about that sort of thing. Her hands find either side of Sue’s head, and she forces history out of her mind. Instead, she kisses her harder, taking Sue’s lower lip between her own, sucking gently.
Surprising both of them, Sue gasps against her mouth. Just hearing the obvious need in that inhalation puts light pressure between Emma’s legs, like the sound is tied up somehow with whatever’s down there asking to be touched. She fidgets, needing something she can’t identify or ask for, not sure if she would if she knew the words. By the time Sue pulls back again, they’re both breathing hard.
“You,” Sue says, quietly. “You really want this?” She sounds incredulous, so much so that Emma knows instantly whatever she’s been feeling for the past few weeks, Sue’s felt it too. Maybe for longer. She can’t bring herself to acknowledge it out loud. She nods, close enough to Sue’s face that she knows it’s visible in the dark, and kisses her neck. That’s the truest answer she can give.
Moving is clearly difficult for Sue, and honestly Emma likes the idea of being above her far more than she’d ever liked being below Will. This way, she gets to set the pace, control what they’re doing, stop whenever she likes without having to say the word no. Not that she wants to stop. Her hand slowly travels the sloping geography of Sue’s body, the curve of thigh and hip and waist, coming to rest, tentatively, on her full breast. Sue makes another involuntary noise.
When she shifts again, Emma straddles Sue’s right thigh, half-kneeling on either side as she drags up over her, deliberately slow, breasts brushing over the top of Sue’s belly. There’s actual heat just above her knee where she’s nestled between Sue’s legs. She hadn’t meant to press there, she never would’ve had the courage if it hadn’t been an accident, but just as she’s about to withdraw Sue arches a little, pushing down against Emma. Groaning, Sue holds still, and then with a small, “I can’t, I can’t wait –” she starts to move again, rubbing into Emma, seizing with soft sounds. Warmth pulses against Emma’s leg.
“Did you just –?” Emma asks, suddenly comprehending, and gestures in a way that’s supposed to finish her sentence. She’s never experienced one herself, but she’s watched R-rated movies before, she’s not completely naïve.
After a second, Sue nods, her chest rising and falling with exertion. “It’s not my fault,” she says, defensively. “Pregnancy hormones. They’ve got me more riled up than Richard Gere during an Animal Planet marathon.”
This analogy works like a bucket of cold water on Emma, who pushes herself back up and off of Sue, straightening her nightgown. “Wow. That’s, uh, something.”
“It sure was,” Sue tells her, and when she closes her eyes, smiling in what looks strangely like contentment, Emma figures out they’re not talking about the same thing.
In the morning, she rolls over to find Sue watching her, already awake.
“Hi,” she says, the word thick with sleep.
“Well, hi yourself,” Sue replies, and that smile’s back on her face, crinkling the corners of her mouth and eyes.
Shortly after that, it happens again, despite the fact that Emma hasn’t brushed her teeth or performed her morning self-scouring ritual yet. This time Sue’s hands are bolder, one cupping right where Emma’s slick and aching, the tops of her thighs sticky with the proof of her arousal. She’s a little embarrassed, because this means Sue knows, but no comment comes, nothing but the sensation of Sue’s finger moving into the wet heat that’s the focus of Emma’s entire awareness. Emma bucks forward, rocking on Sue’s hand, trying to get the pressure she needs.
“I want it,” she says, “I want more, give me more,” and then swears, the profanity foreign on her tongue but good, just like what she’s feeling below. Sue whimpers when she hears it, her other hand reaching around between her own legs.
Emma doesn’t come, not then, but it’s not what she was after, and Sue’s fingers inside her are more than enough, stretching her, making her feel full. The light in the room makes it impossible to hide.
After their seminar meeting the following Wednesday, she asks Kurt to stay behind for just a few minutes on his own. He agrees, and even when she reassures him he’s done nothing wrong there’s still apprehension on his face.
“I’ve always thought,” she begins, when everyone else is safely out of the room, “that you were very brave, Kurt. Very, very, very brave. I admire you. We all do.”
“I appreciate the compliment, Ms. Pillsbury, but you didn’t ask me to stick around just to tell me that.”
She rubs her hands together, once, twice, three times, and then presses them together to stop herself. “No. No, I didn’t. I’m just wondering, and, you know, this is a question I’m asking because I think it would be really helpful for me to know about this for other students in the future with your, um, orientation. As a counselor. So. Say you’ve never been attracted to anyone, ever, in your entire life, even though you’ve tried really hard for years, you’ve even looked up a lot of photos of Tom Hardy with his shirt off, and then someone comes along and you’re, uh, very much attracted to that person, like, the wow kind of attracted. Fourth of July fireworks. Except that person is another wo – someone in your gender.”
“I see,” Kurt says, carefully. “And you want me to tell you what to say to this hypothetical student.”
“Yes.” She knows her face must match her hair.
Instead, he takes her hand, and the gesture is so surprising she forgets to be startled by it. “I’d say congratulations, hypothetical student,” he tells her. “I’d say you deserve to be happy. I’d say don’t let how scared you must be take away from the fact that you’ve finally found someone you want to be with. Enjoy it.”
He knows. He must know. How does he know? She’d been so careful to make it sound like a professional situation. Emma nods, not trusting herself to say anything out loud.
“Is it Coach Beiste?” he whispers, looking at the door to make sure they’re still alone. “I know the two of you are friends.”
She shakes her head, glad to be telling the truth, except Kurt doesn’t look as though he believes her. For once, she’s grateful that Sue’s reputation and history are bad enough to prevent even Kurt Hummel, one of her favorites, from landing on her name. “No. Not Shannon. You don’t know this person.” Somehow, this doesn’t feel like a lie. The Sue Kurt’s familiar with isn’t exactly the same Sue Emma’s been discovering. “Kurt, I’d like you to keep this to yourself, please. Don’t tell Blaine, or Rachel, or Finn, or anyone else. It’s not – I don’t know what it is yet. No one can know about it. Especially not Will.”
“I’m honored,” he tells her, and squeezes her hand before letting go. “Your secret is safe with me. I have to say, though, Coach Beiste is a very lucky woman. If you two ever need any advice on making your relationship public, let me know. I have some very tasteful notecards I think you’d appreciate.”
Emma doesn’t relay any of this conversation to Sue, partly because she isn’t sure if she wants Sue to know about it, and partly because, when she gets home, Sue’s waiting for her with news that absolutely, positively, cannot be put on hold.
“C-section,” Sue barks, backing her way down into the couch with a hand braced on the lip for balance. Emma watches, patiently waiting for more information. “They told me at the hospital today I had to schedule a caesarean. Something about my age possibly ‘endangering’ the baby if I gave birth the way I want to do it, the natural way. You know who has c-sections, Polly Pocket? Cowards. Quitters. Susan B. Anthony had a c-section, right after she failed to overthrow the government of the United States with several homemade pipe bombs. It isn’t real childbirth unless you’re expelling the equivalent of a small ham through your girded loins and hollering socially permissible death threats.”
“If it’s what’s best for the baby, then I think it might not be the worst thing in the world,” Emma ventures, trying not to say anything that would upset her further. She knows Sue’s particularly sensitive to any suggestions that she might not be at the optimal age for giving birth. “It’d be less messy. I think I’d actually prefer it.”
“Of course you’d prefer a c-section. I, on the other hand, am in possession of a pelvic floor rendered impressively toned and beach-ready through months of imperceptible yet vigorous exercises, and I would like to use it.”
Normally, this would be another one of Sue’s ridiculous, attention-grabbing statements, but Emma, as of just last night, has become personally and intimately acquainted with the specific body part in question. She blushes, looking down. Sue, ever vigilant, notices.
“Have I offended your delicate sensibilities, Arlene? Not all of us, unfortunately, are evolutionally suited to hatching our young.” She waits several beats for a reaction. “And by that, I mean you’re –”
“A bird, yes, Sue. Thank you. I was following along. My point was, I think the c-section is a good idea. And at least that way, there won’t be any surprises as to when the baby’s coming. Did you set a delivery date?”
“September first. The date a slender, hirsute Australian with an astonishing talent for falsetto first made his way into a world that failed to properly appreciate the raw pulp of his genius. My daughter will share her birthday with one Barry Alan Crompton Gibb, otherwise known as the only surviving member of the Bee Gees.”
“That’s less than a month away.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“But there’s so much to do before then!” Emma gasps. “We’ve got to paint the baby’s room, and I haven’t finished those red-and-white onesies, either, and your alarm system isn’t installed. We don’t even have a crib!” She stops, because Sue is eyeing her in a way that seems to suggest Emma’s been unintentionally revealing again, and then she hears what she’s said. We. Oh, dear.
“I’m gonna stop you and your inclusive language right there,” Sue says, just as Emma’s opening her mouth, mortified. “We are not welcoming the exceptional new life I’ve created into this world. I am. And I plan on being accompanied during that special moment only by the wailing guitar riffs of the Top Gun soundtrack in stereo surround sound. So you can get any thoughts of holding my hand or rending your garments or whatever it is you think you’d do in my hospital room out of your head toot sweet.”
“Oh,” is all Emma can reply. She’d decided, already, that while Sue was having the baby, Emma would be setting up a little makeshift camp in the waiting room, complete with hand sanitizer, facemask, pillow, blanket, and magazines. She isn’t sure she could physically stand watching a live birth, but staying in the next room, that’s something she’s more than happy to do. Especially now that – well. That they’re –
“Nothing personal, Pippi Longstocking,” Sue continues, softening a little. “I work better on solo missions.”
Carefully, Emma sits next to Sue on the couch. “Sometimes it’s nice to have another person around,” she offers, and steals a glance in the other woman’s direction. Sue’s hands are folded protectively over her belly. She’s staring straight ahead. “After all, you didn’t think about baby-proofing the house until I brought it up, and now all of your trophies have little rubber caps on the sharp parts.” She leans against Sue, not putting all her weight into the gesture, just enough so that Sue feels her there. “And I think there are some other agreeable things about not being alone.”
It’s the first time outside the bedroom either of them have acknowledged what’s changed between them. Emma waits, knowing she needs to give Sue time, and finally, Sue quietly says, “I like men. I’ve always liked men. I like them large, muscular, silent, and pliable. I have never before, in my entire life, been attracted to someone who looks as if a good sneeze would catapult her backwards so fast she’d break Usain Bolt’s record in reverse.”
“I like men, too,” Emma tells her, and immediately feels as though she’s told a lie, even though it’s more complicated than that. Like she told Kurt, she hasn’t felt like this about anyone before, male or female. Sure, she’d been fluttery around Will, felt her stomach fill with butterflies when he stood close to her, even enjoyed the way he’d kissed her, a little. Whatever she has with Sue, though, it’s different and overwhelming. “Really, Sue, it’s not like I ever expected this would happen. It wasn’t exactly my childhood dream to – to have a fling with a middle-aged pregnant cheerleading coach who, you know, if we’re being frank here, has a tenuous grasp on reality, is incredibly unpredictable, and can’t seem to go more than three hours without making a threat against someone else’s well-being.”
“I happen to be twenty-eight.”
“Okay, again, that isn’t my point. I’m just as surprised by all this as you are. So – I won’t go with you to Susie’s birth, if you don’t want me there. But I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world if I helped you get ready for her. You can’t do everything on your own. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
“And what happens once Junior’s born?” Sue asks. For once, the dry note of reserve and sarcasm is gone. There’s only genuine curiosity and a little trepidation. “Still planning on sticking around here? Changing diapers? Failing miserably at peekaboo because those avian appendages can’t adequately cover your enormous eyes? Sharing my bed while helping me care for a disabled infant? I bet that isn’t part of your childhood dream either.”
“I don’t know,” she says, taken aback. “I haven’t thought that far ahead.”
“Well, you better start thinking fast,” Sue informs her. “And when you realize that this –“ She gestures between them. “ – is nothing more to you than a rebound from your ill-advised connection with Musical Muppet Paul Ryan, I’ll calmly head off your embarrassing, high-pitched apologies by restating, once again, my ruthless commitment to singledom. Don’t look so surprised, Little Mermaid. You and I both know this only has one ending, and it isn’t the kind William’s kids like to sing about.”
Nevertheless, that night in bed Sue’s hand cups her shoulder, a silent request. Emma, more than willing, finds her in the dark. Together they’re all touch and no sound, only the rustle of the covers and Sue’s barely audible breaths, wordless.
Soon after she’s unpacked and settled, Shannon has Emma and Sue over to her new apartment for one of her multiple-course meals, an impressive, hearty spread that’s apparently benefited from an extra ten days or so of Food Network marathons. The apartment’s what real estate agents euphemistically call “cozy,” only one bedroom and a small one at that, but Shannon, clearly proud, makes a big deal out of giving them a tour anyway.
Emma is careful not to look too much at Sue during dinner, or talk to her, either, just in case Shannon detects that something’s changed. It doesn’t work the way she’d planned, though, because in between the main course and dessert Shannon signals to Emma, with remarkably little subtlety, that she’d like to speak with her in private. Somehow, Emma manages not to immediately shoot a worried glance in Sue’s direction.
Once they’re safely in the tiny breakfast nook adjacent to the dining room, Shannon leans in, clearly concerned. “You’ve been jumpier than a sneeze on a griddle. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. I do that, sometimes. I jump. I’ve got a jumping disorder. It’s genetic.”
“I might believe that, except Sue’s just about as jittery as you are.”
“It’s contagious.” What will it take for Shannon to leave her alone?
“You two all right by yourselves? Look, I gotta tell you, Ems, I felt bad, leaving you to handle her by your lonesome. I know Sue makes you uncomfortable sometimes, but deep down –”
“I wish you’d stop trying to protect me,” Emma exclaims, louder than she’d meant. Surprise flickers on Shannon’s face. “Sue doesn’t need to be explained or ‘handled,’ all right? I am perfectly able to – to stand up to her, and be her friend, Shannon, and I can do all that without breaking. I can be there for her. I want to be. You know, Will always treated me like I was some fragile figurine, but I’m stronger than that.” She takes a breath, and reminds herself that Shannon is not her mother. “Sorry. I shouldn’t – I didn’t mean to get angry.”
Shannon squeezes Emma’s upper arm, and gives her a smile that means forgiveness. “For the record,” she says, “I’ve always known you were plenty strong. That doesn’t mean I figured you knew it too.”
At the table, while Shannon’s busy fumbling around in the kitchen with the coffee maker, Sue, sitting next to Emma, reaches over and places her palm on Emma’s thigh. It isn’t much, just a light touch, but Emma can’t remember Sue ever reaching out to her quite like that during the daytime.
“What is it?” Emma whispers, and Sue says, under her breath, “You might not be all that fragile, Edda, but I still can’t shake the feeling there’s a Blythe doll lurking somewhere in your recent genetic history.”
She squeezes Emma’s thigh, two quick compressions of her hand. It feels a little to Emma like thank you.