The fourth Wednesday in August is the final meeting of her discussion group, and Emma’s planned a celebration for them to mark the occasion, buying several bags worth of tasteful decorations. She’s particularly proud of the custom-designed banner that reads HOORAY! YOU’RE SLIGHTLY MORE PREPARED FOR THE NEXT SIXTY YEARS! No confetti, though. Confetti is the devil’s frill. It gets everywhere. Streamers are much easier to clean up.
Sue announces that she might as well tag along to campus with Emma, since she’s got some paperwork on her desk she’s been meaning to collect before the baby’s born, and fitting behind a steering wheel isn’t exactly easy for her at this point.
“You’re welcome to join us,” Emma suggests, while they’re in the car. “I think the kids might benefit from your perspective, especially if you tone down the hostility just a teensy bit. You can still be a little hostile. I know that’s important to you.”
Sue grunts in a way that’s faintly appreciative.
“We’ll see,” she says. “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to give Porcelain and Q another hot piping spoonful of reality bisque. Don’t count on it, though. If my daughter’s anything like me, and that isn’t even a question, she’ll be so irritated by Rachel Berry’s speaking voice that she’ll induce labor in an attempt to escape.”
This, of course, means yes.
They arrive at McKinley more than an hour early, and so Emma has time to accompany Sue to her office, enjoying the abandoned hallways, the loud echo of their footsteps on the floor, the absence of screams or jostling. She isn’t sure what it says about her that she likes being at school better when the students aren’t there.
Once in Sue’s office, she clasps her hands in front of her skirt and keeps herself busy by reading the flyers tacked to the bulletin boards while Sue sits heavily in her desk chair, combing through the papers on her desk. One of the pinned items catches her eye, and she untacks it, taking it down. FLEXINESS IS SEXINESS! it reads. She’d had it made up last year after McKinley had ranked eleventh in the nation among high schools with the greatest percentage of stiff-limbed students. It’s meant to encourage exercise.
“This is my pamphlet,” she says, astonished. “You have one of my pamphlets?”
Sue looks up from her desk. “Oh. That. Well, despite your unforgivable mangling of the Queen’s English, that little leaflet actually has some less than terrible advice in it. You did your research.”
“I always do my research.” Emma puts the pamphlet back on the bulletin board, unreasonably pleased. Sue’s never complimented her professional skills before. “And I’m proud of that title. ‘Flexiness’ may not be an actual word, but it gets my point across. Did you know that McKinley’s now only the twenty-third least flexible high school in the country?"
“I know everything, Ermengarde.”
Of course. How could Emma forget?
She glances out Sue’s window facing the hallway, and then back at Sue, sitting behind her desk. There’s a memory tickling at her consciousness, an encounter she’d had with Will more than a year ago in an empty classroom during that ill-advised Rocky Horror show. Emma hadn’t been sure what she’d enjoyed so much, the song she’d sung with him, or the heady feeling that came with casting propriety to the wind. (The niggling fact that she was dating Carl at the time isn’t something she likes to remember.) It had been unimaginably arousing, the only time in her life, before Sue, that she’d forgotten to be terrified about feeling good.
An idea occurs to her. She looks at her watch. A little under an hour until the others arrive.
“Speaking of flexiness – uh, flexibility,” Emma blurts out, before she loses her nerve, “I’ve always thought it would be very exciting to have a little illicit encounter at school. It’s very taboo, isn’t it? The thrill of getting caught.” She doesn’t add that she’d never suggest this if school were actually in session. The hallways are deserted now, completely safe.
“You’ve always thought this,” Sue says, dryly, tapping the stack of papers in her hands on the surface of her desk. “Really.”
“Well, I’ve thought about it before.” She doesn’t feel like elaborating that ‘before’ actually means ‘five minutes prior to bringing it up.’ “Could I interest you in one?”
“An illicit encounter.”
“Yes. Stop poking fun at me, Sue. I’m being serious. You know what I mean. A casual romp. Shocking the monkey. I think that’s the hip expression these days, what the kids are calling it. My seminar isn’t for another hour, and it’s not going to take me very long to set up the classroom.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, Bye Bye Birdie, I’m roughly the size of Kanye West’s ego. From my extensive experience, the kind of dalliance you’re suggesting requires movement, not to mention flexiness, and that isn’t easily happening on my end.”
“You can just sit right there and get comfortable,” Emma informs her. “I’m perfectly capable of doing all the hard work.” She walks over to Sue’s desk, attempting to swing her hips in a gesture she thinks might be seductive, aware that Sue is watching her closely. When she perches on the edge, facing Sue, she lets her legs part, just slightly. Her A-line skirt rides up an inch or two above her knee. “Unless your eyes can’t move either.”
“My eyes,” Sue says, slowly, “are exceptional. Proceed.” She tents her fingers, pressing them to her mouth, and leans back in her chair.
It’s far different contemplating this sitting on a desk than in the safe familiarity of Sue’s bedroom. Emma closes her eyes. She could do anything. Anything at all. She’s running off a cliff into blind territory. The idea is terrifying, but there’s stimulation in it too.
She raises one hand to her left breast, running it lightly over the ruffled fabric of her blouse, cupping the curve of it, and then finds the buttons with her fingers, undoing them one at a time. Emma wonders what bra she’s wearing. Is it the lace lavender one, with the rosettes on the straps? She thinks it might be. Which is nice, since that’s her favorite. Lavender looks good against her skin.
Apparently Sue thinks so, too, because when Emma opens her blouse, she hears an intake of breath, followed by a telling silence.
“What do you want me to do?” she whispers, teasing up a nipple through the lace with her left hand. It stiffens without hesitation, and between her legs there’s another answer, a pleasant, dull throb.
“I want –” Sue clears her throat. “Touch yourself. I want to watch you.”
Masturbation has never been something Emma’s made a priority in her life, although she has, on several occasions, spent several minutes rubbing various erogenous zones on her body, more out of a sense of obligation than anything else. It usually leaves her slightly anxious and a little bored, wondering why she seems to be the only one in the world who doesn’t get much pleasure out of it. Goodness knows Will had been an avowed devotee.
Now, though, sitting on Sue’s desk, hearing the need in Sue’s voice, the idea is suddenly appealing.
“All right,” she says, and lets her hands find her thighs, traveling over her hips, moving slowly up her stomach to find her breasts again. She strokes them gently, circling her raised nipples, once, twice, three times. Emma’s skin feels deliciously sensitive, responsive even to the light touch of her fingers. Her legs inch just a little further apart, not enough to allow Sue any real glimpse at what’s between, just enough to tease.
When she begins to undo the clasp of her skirt, Sue says, sharply, “No. Leave it on.”
“I thought you –“
“Keep going. Leave it on.”
Puzzled, she opens her eyes. Sue is staring at her, cheeks and forehead flushed with color. Her knees are pressed together firmly, and she’s sitting up straight in her chair. She looks dazed with undisguised arousal. Just the sight makes Emma ache.
“I’ve never – I don’t know how to do this,” she says, suddenly nervous.
“You’re doing just fine, Emma. Pull up your skirt for me.”
It isn’t a plea, not really, but it’s close, and Emma, balancing on the tips of her toes, slides her skirt up further until it’s bunched around her hips. She’s decidedly exposed now, the thin lavender lace of her underwear the only thing between Sue’s eyes and Emma’s body until Emma’s hand intercedes, pressing firmly on the small, rounded mound between her legs. With a small sound, she tilts her head back, nearly losing her balance on the desk.
“I think I’m already aroused,” she marvels, the novelty of it still wonderful even after three weeks. Sue says her name like she wants nothing more than to find out if it’s true, and so Emma slips two fingers beneath the elastic border, teasing inside her lips. Oh. Yes. Yes, she’s aroused. Very much so. The tip of her index finger slides against the swollen, slippery nub of her clitoris, sending a jolt through her. She gasps.
Sue, sounding strained, tells her to lean back on the desk, and Emma obeys, sliding down her underwear as she does so, kicking them off into some unknown corner. When her fingers find her clitoris again, her back’s pressing into the hard surface of Sue’s desk, her feet lifting off the ground, knees spread wide. She’s never been this open or exposed to anyone in her entire life, and it might just excite her a little more than it scares her.
“Emma, fuck,” she hears Sue groan. “You have no idea what you’re doing to me right now –”
“I’m so wet,” she whimpers, not paying attention. “I think I could –” Something’s building in her, like all her nerves are condensing under her fingers, arriving together, swelling. She presses her hand down harder, raising her hips. Wanting it. “I’m think I’m going to –”
Sue says something, but it’s lost in the rising force of Emma’s body, orgasm bursting through her like a glad flare. Her back arches off the table as she comes for the first time, fingers working her through it, crying out, triumphant.
Her head falls back down on the table with a slightly painful smack as she relaxes, turning to the side. When she opens her eyes, slowly, not wanting to leave the moment, the first thing she sees are the astonished faces of Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry, staring at her through the half-open blinds on Sue’s hallway window.
Emma screams, scrambling up to a seated position, clutching at her open blouse as she attempts to get off the desk as fast as she can. Alarmed, Sue manages a “What –?” before her head turns towards the window. “Shit!”
Without thinking, Emma’s stumbling towards the door, holding her blouse together. She remembers, just in time, to pull her skirt down before she opens it, and when she does, Quinn and Rachel are already halfway down the hall, walking fast.
“Girls,” she says, weakly, stepping out of the doorframe.
They stop, turning around.
“We didn’t see anything,” Rachel says, in a tone that means they saw everything. Emma’s knees wobble, and she forces them together, praying that the dampness on the inside of her thighs isn’t visible. She sees herself through their eyes. What must they think of her? Playing with her body like that, touching herself like a slut, and for the woman who’d done her damnedest over the years to make their lives a living hell. Emma imagines what they’d looked like to Rachel and Quinn – a spectacle. A debauched, hedonist spectacle.
“And what we didn’t see is none of our business,” Quinn adds. “Um, Ms. Pillsbury, you might want to go to the bathroom and clean yourself up. You’ve still got a while before everyone gets here, Rachel and I just came a little early to see if the choir room was unlocked –” She cuts herself off. “We’re really, really sorry, and we’re going to go now before this gets any more embarrassing. Come on, Rachel.”
They’ve rounded the corner before Emma remembers what she’d wanted to say.
“Please don’t tell anyone,” she calls after them. “Please!”
“Emma,” Sue says from the doorway, “that isn’t going to help,” and Emma whirls around, trembling.
“This is all your fault. If you hadn’t pushed me –”
“Hold your horses, lady. None of this was my idea, I didn’t make you do a damn thing you didn’t –”
“I didn’t do this before you!” she cries, conveniently forgetting the Rocky Horror interlude. “I was a decent person, I didn’t want anyone to touch me, and then you came along and made me like it, made me – in front of those girls –” Emma can’t say it. She knows, with a sick certainty, that she will never again be able to touch herself or anyone else again without resurrecting that feeling of nauseating exposure. “They saw you, too. Why aren’t you more upset about this? What’s the matter with you?”
“What they saw,” Sue says, far too calmly for Emma, “was two consenting adults enjoying themselves. Now, I’ll admit that I’m not thrilled Q and Tzeitel were privy to what was meant to be a private moment between you and me, but it’s far from the end of the world. They’ll repress the memory and move on. I recommend you do the same.” She reaches for Emma, but Emma steps back, avoiding her touch. “Come back inside. We need to clean off my desk. I know how much you enjoy doing that.”
“Emma, just calm –“
“Stop calling me Emma!”
She isn’t crying. This feels too awful for tears. Her stomach cramps again and again, until Emma thinks she might be sick, and she can feel the sweat beading on her face and neck. Beneath her closed eyelids, she sees Quinn and Rachel’s faces, bisected by the blinds, gaping in stunned astonishment. Judging her.
“I can’t do this,” she says. One hand lifts to cover her face, just before she remembers it's cracked with the dried remains of her earlier arousal. A wave of self-revulsion swamps her. “I need to leave. I need to get out of here. Oh, my god. Oh, my god.”
“You can’t be serious,” Sue says, astonished, and Emma repeats, the pitch of her voice rising into near hysteria, “I need to leave. I need to get out of here.”
“This is ridiculous. Calm down. Right now.”
She could run. Emma could just take off and run down the hallway, out the front doors of McKinley, into the parking lot, towards the football field, and for a second she imagines pushing past Sue, getting away, getting out. Instead, she manages to control herself long enough to say, “Will you please just let me go into your office by myself so I can get dressed again?”
Sue looks as though she’s going to protest that Emma doesn’t have anything she hasn’t already seen, but by some miracle of acquired sensitivity she nods, instead, and moves out of the doorframe.
Once she’s inside, the first thing Emma does is to pull the blind cord shut.
She takes a few steps back from the window, not looking where she’s going, and stumbles backwards into the desk. Shame hits her again with the impact, a fresh surge of panic, and Emma’s chest constricts until she thinks her lungs can’t expand to let in any more air. Fumbling for support, she finds the edge of the desk, trying to breathe normally, but her gasps are too short, and she can’t get enough oxygen.
They saw me, she thinks, over and over again. The words begin to lose meaning, until all that’s left is their horror. They saw me. They saw me. They saw me.
Eventually, she sits on the floor, against the wall, knees pressing against her chin, arms wrapped around her legs. Emma hugs herself as tightly as she can and waits until the sharpest edges of her panic begin, mercifully, to dull.
When she emerges, Sue doesn’t ask why Emma’s taken fifteen minutes to find her underwear and purse. Instead, she stares at her with an expression of concern Emma can’t bear to take in. The last thing she wants or needs right now is Sue’s pity.
“You have to drive,” she says, through a dry mouth, and blindly pushes the car keys in Sue’s direction. “I need you to drive. Please.”
They head home together in silence, Emma realizing that in just a few minutes, Kurt and Puck and Mercedes will be wondering where in the world she is. Quinn and Rachel, cautious with their news, telling the others in hushed voices curdled with their disgust. Well, whatever disgust they’re feeling, it’s nothing compared to the revulsion Emma has right now for her own behavior.
She stays in the shower until the water runs cold, punishing her skin. Underneath the showerhead, spray flooding her, she can’t hear anything. Not the rush of blood in her ears, or the sound of her teeth chattering, or the faint knocks on the bathroom door. Three months ago, she never would’ve gotten herself into a situation like this. Three months ago, she would’ve gone swimming in a public pool before exposing herself to another person. She’s become impulsive. Careless. Messy.
Spotlighted by her humiliation, the last three months seem impossibly naïve. How had Emma ever thought this would be a good idea? How had she ever thought this undefined thing between the two of them wouldn’t end in disaster? Sue, she understands now, was right. They’ve been heading towards one conclusion all along.
She imagines Rachel ringing Will’s doorbell. Mr. Schuester, this is very embarrassing information, and I don’t quite know how to say it, but it’s something I feel you should know. Her brain conjures up the stares of students and faculty as she walks down the gauntlet of the hallway, followed by knowing whispers and giggles.
Emma waits until Sue’s asleep to get up from where she’s been lying stiff, as far on the edge of the mattress as physically possible, her throat closing with anxiety. Quietly, so as not to disturb Sue, she takes her suitcases out of the narrow bedroom closet.
It’s after midnight when Emma arrives on Shannon’s doorstep, a suitcase in either hand.
Shannon rubs her face, bleary-eyed. “Emma, what –?”
“I left her,” she says, not caring what it sounds like. Rachel Berry knows, and therefore it’s only a matter of time before everyone else finds out. “I didn’t know where else to go.”
If Shannon understands, she doesn’t show it. Instead, she pulls the door back, widening it so that Emma can step inside.
“Thank you,” she tells Shannon, and wonders, wildly, if she’s just come straight from her breakup with Will, if the summer’s been one long fever dream, if she’s back right where she started.
Emma sleeps on the couch that night.
In the morning, she feels much calmer, the fog of panic receded almost completely from her brain and body. At the breakfast table, Shannon waits until Emma’s cut a piece of toast with marmalade into sixteenths, eating about a quarter of it, before she puts down her cup of coffee and says, “All right. I can’t keep myself quiet any longer. What happened?”
What happened. And she’d thought telling Shannon about Will was humiliating.
“Sue and I,” she begins, and spears a piece of toast she has no intention of eating. “We, uh. We’re involved. Romantically. We were involved. It started after you left.”
She supposes the past tense is appropriate now, even though using it just ramps up her misery. Not even an entire month. It feels so much longer to Emma.
Shannon exhales, long and slow. “Well, shit,” she says. “That’s unexpected. Although it sure explains the way you two were acting when you came over last week. Still never would’ve guessed it in a million years. You have feelings for her?”
“Of course not!” Emma exclaims, and then, “I don’t know. Maybe. Yes. It’s not that simple.”
“No kidding, punkin. Nothing ever is. Why’d you leave? Sue say something to you, act mean, push you away?”
This part is even worse. Slowly, she relates to Shannon the events of the previous evening, glossing rapidly over any details of her liaison with Sue, focusing on the mortification she’d felt in front of Quinn and Rachel, the instinct she’d had to get away, as fast as possible.
“I had to,” she explains, and waits for Shannon to validate her decision, to make Emma feel better with a country analogy and some folksy wisdom. Instead, Shannon squints at her, forehead wrinkling in confusion.
“Let me get this straight,” she says. “You walked out on Sue without so much as a goodbye, right before her due date, just ‘cause a couple of students caught you with your skirt up? Tell me what I’m missing, Emma. From where I’m sitting, I can’t see any ‘had to’ about it at all.”
“I left her a note,” Emma protests, weakly. She’d scribbled a short, vague message on the pad of paper in the kitchen. “I just – I realized she was right about us. I didn’t know what I was doing. She’s going to have a baby, and she’s – well, she’s Sue Sylvester, for heaven’s sake – I don’t know why I ever – ”
“She make you happy?”
“It’s not a hard question. Forget that we’re talking about Sue. Does she make you happy? She good to you?”
“Yes, but –”
“You like how you feel about yourself when you’re with her?”
“Do I like – ?” The question’s never occurred to Emma before. She tries to remember a time before the world felt like it was closing in on her. “I think so. Yes.”
“Well, if that’s the case, it sure sounds to me like you owe her more than a damn note,” Shannon tells her, standing up. “You’re my friend, and that means I give you a roof over your head and love you even when you’re acting dumb, but you need to grow the hell up and start realizing that your actions have results. What do you think Sue’s going through right now, with that baby just a couple of days away? Me, I’d be madder than the snake that married the fire hose. You sure screwed up, pal. You screwed up big time.” She shakes her head, carrying her coffee cup into the kitchen.
The toast can’t be cut into smaller pieces. Emma pushes at the crumbs briefly with her fork before setting it down next to the plate. She hadn’t thought about how Sue would feel, waking up to find her gone. Well, to be more accurate, she had, but she’d rationalized it by reasoning that Sue had expected something like this all along, that Sue had told her, in no uncertain terms, that the honeymoon couldn’t last.
Expecting and facing certainly aren’t the same thing, though.
“I don’t know what to do,” she says to herself, and waits for an answer that doesn’t come.
All of these are appealing, and none are remotely plausible. She tries again, writing quickly:
Slightly more doable, still tempting. Not realistic, though, if Quinn and Rachel had told even one person about what they’d seen.
But she can’t ask Shannon to do that, even if Shannon would agree, and Emma has the sense that at this point, Shannon would tell Emma, with gentle emphasis, to go take a long walk off a short pier. At any rate, this isn’t Shannon’s problem to solve. It’s Emma’s.
When she writes it, she knows by the way her heart’s in her throat that she’s landed on the correct answer. But the thought of facing Sue’s fury is petrifying. Who knows what she might say to Emma? What if she won’t say anything to her at all? Silence would be so much worse than any invective Sue could hurl her way.
Good gravy, she’d actually left Sue in the middle of the night, without even giving her the courtesy of a real explanation, just because she’d let her panic take over entirely. Shannon’s right. Whatever happens, whatever Quinn and Rachel might do, whatever complications little Susie’s arrival promises, Emma knows she owes Sue more than that. What kind of a person just cuts tail and runs?
“I do,” she says, out loud, miserably, and it isn’t self-pity. It’s simple recognition. “I’m the kind of person who does that.”
She make you happy? You like how you feel about yourself when you’re with her?
Emma sits very still, pen still poised over paper, not seeing the words on the page. She remembers the first time she’d snuggled into the crook of Sue’s arm, falling asleep there as easily as she’d ever done on her own. She thinks about long, rambling conversations at the dining room table. Enjoying violent movies even though she’d never admit it, because Sue’s engrossed face and delighted reactions more than offset the slight wooziness she’d felt when Bruce Willis took out five guys at once. The surprising warmth of Sue’s laughter overlapping with Becky Jackson’s. Sue’s unreserved determination to be a good parent. Finding the strength to stand up to her mother on Sue’s behalf, on her own behalf. The feel of Sue’s hand resting on her thigh under the table, thanking Emma silently. How she’d learned, slowly, to forget the mess of their bodies and focus on Sue’s urgent, cracking voice in her ear, asking for more, never doubting for a second that Emma could give her what she wanted.
She’s run away from all of that, too.
Emma clutches the pen in her right hand until her knuckles turn white.
“It’s me,” she blurts out. “It’s Emma. Don’t hang up.”
A pause, and then she hears the click of a receiver, followed by the dial tone.
Well, she’d expected that, hadn’t she? Emma presses redial and listens. Sue answers on the eighth ring, not speaking.
“It’s me again,” she says.
Sue promptly hangs up.
On the third try, she starts speaking before identifying herself, all in a rush so that she can it get out. “I know you don’t like it when I apologize to you, but you’ve got to let me –”
“I don’t have to let you do anything,” Sue interrupts. Her voice could cut steel. “I have no obligations to you whatsoever. You made your choice when you snuck out of this house like a coward.”
Emma tries to collect herself. “I was scared. It was wrong of me, I know, but I want to –”
“You think you’re the only one who gets scared? You think I didn’t realize what could happen because those kids saw us together? I was ready to sit down with you and plan out a course of action, and then you put your feathered tail between your legs and hopped out that front door faster than a politician from the truth. Wherever the hell you are, you can just stay there. I don’t consort with quitters.”
“Sue, I never wanted –”
“You mean nothing to me,” Sue snaps, “and you have never meant anything to me. Get that through your oversized head.”
She slams down the receiver, and Emma’s stomach tightens, not with anxiety but with the worst kind of guilt. It’s clear to her that Sue, despite her aggressive words, is hurt. Badly.
She tries calling back a fourth time, but Sue doesn’t answer, not even on the ninth ring, or the tenth.
The night before Sue’s delivery date, Emma’s particularly sleepless. Not just because Shannon’s couch has a metal frame and thin cushions, and not because Emma’s gotten used to curling up next to a familiar, comfortable body, but because her options, at this point, seem limited. If Sue won’t let her explain over the phone, then Emma’s chances of repairing things from a distance are slim to none. It’s in person or nothing at all. And since Susie’s on her way in a matter of hours, Emma’s window of opportunity is closing. The demands of newborn babies, she knows, have a way of making difficult conversations impossible.
She could leave Sue to have the baby on her own, just like Sue’s always said she preferred. Emma could take Sue at her word. But since when has Emma ever taken Sue at her word? Sue’s words have never, as long as Emma’s known her, been the full story. Or the true one.
Emma understands the implications of going back to Sue and asking for forgiveness; what it would mean if Sue took her in again, this time on different terms. It scares her, of course it does. She's still nauseous from the memory of Rachel and Quinn's stunned faces, and that awful feeling of exposure. Somehow, though, none of that feels quite as awful as the realization that she's abandoned Sue, that she’s hurt her, that Emma isn't sharing her day with Sue at the dinner table anymore, that Sue's no longer there to reach for her in the dark.
I do mean something to her, Emma thinks, wondering why it’s taken this long to figure it out. I couldn’t have hurt her in the first place if I didn’t.
She stares up at the ceiling, aware of the couch’s metal frame pressing firmly into her spine, and makes a decision, feeling every aching, solid inch of the backbone Sue’s always insisted Emma was missing.
Usually, Emma finds hospitals comforting. Yes, they’re places that necessarily harbor disease and infection, but they also have countless items that keep those things at bay. She often orders her personal supplies off discount hospital warehouse websites, getting a little dreamy over all the different ways they promise to keep her clean and hygienic. When she was a little girl, she’d wanted to grow up to live in a hospital. Not to be a doctor, or a nurse, but to rent a room of her own, and to wear a hospital gown and sterilize her pencils and have an endless supply of rubber gloves.
Today, though, she isn’t thinking about any of that. Nothing’s comforting about what she’s doing, but that’s all right, because Emma knows now is not the time to be comfortable, or safe. It’s the time to be brave.
“Excuse me,” she says, leaning over the tall desk to catch the attention of the maternity ward nurse on duty. “Where would I find someone who was about to have a c-section?”
The nurse looks up from her computer. “You family?” she asks. “On the birth partner admit list? Because otherwise you’re gonna have to wait right there.” She points behind Emma, towards a row of chairs, magazines fanned out on a table in the corner.
“I’m – uh – I’m not family,” Emma admits. “But it’s important that I’m in there with her.” She glances at the nurse’s name badge. “Nurse Gibbons,” she says, trying for a personal appeal. “Please. She’s all by herself.”
“Doesn’t matter what you think she’d want or what you want,” Nurse Gibbons says. “Either you’re on the admit list, or you’re sitting out here until she’s through. What’s her name?”
Emma gives it, and the nurse types a few words into the computer, clicking buttons, scrolling with her mouse. “Susan Sylvester,” she reads off the screen. “Okay, here’s her admit list. I take it you’re not Madonna Louise Ciccone?”
Why isn’t she surprised by this? “No.”
“Didn’t think so. I can’t read this other damn name – Daenerys Targaryen? The hell kind of name is that? She a foreigner?”
“Well –” Now isn’t the time to explain, not that she’d be able to explain Sue to anyone who hasn’t met her. “Sort of. You could say that. Is there anyone else?”
“Yeah,” Nurse Gibbons tells her. “One more.”
When the nurse reads Emma’s name back to her, Emma almost doesn’t recognize it as her own. She thinks, for a second, I don’t know who that is, is she a celebrity? and then – oh. Oh.
“I’m Emma Pillsbury,” she says, as if it’s something she’s just learned. “That’s me. I’m Emma.”
After all of Sue’s bluster about keeping Emma away from the delivery, about solo missions and separate lives and inevitable endings, she’d still placed Emma on her admit list. And she hadn’t removed her name after Emma had run to Shannon’s, either. Maybe she’d forgotten, maybe it was a detail she’d overlooked, but Emma’s sure, deep down, that Sue Sylvester doesn’t overlook things, not even when she’s preparing to deliver her child. Especially not then.
For the first time in three days, Emma feels the small stirrings of hope.
She thrusts her driver’s license into Nurse Gibbons’s face, and signs the paper placed in front of her without reading it. “We gotta get you into surgical scrubs before I take you in,” the nurse tells her. “It’s a sterile environment, you need to wash your hands too.”
Emma thinks, silly with nervousness, that her entire compulsive life might’ve prepared her for this moment.
What she isn’t prepared for is the scene in front of her when Nurse Gibbons shows her into the operating room. Sue’s lying prone on the table, a curtain dividing her body just below her shoulders, blocking her view. Three other people are in the room with her, one scrubbing the bared dome of her belly, the other two, a man and a woman, busying themselves over a tray of sharp instruments. Sue’s eyes are closed. Her face looks haggard, drawn, older than usual, and for a second Emma is positive something is seriously wrong.
“Excuse me, Dr. Reyes,” Nurse Gibbons says, and the woman looks up, pulling on a set of gloves that Emma can identify even ten feet away: hypoallergenic, sterilized, polyisoprene. “The birth partner’s here. Emma Pillsbury.”
Sue opens her eyes and looks in Emma’s direction.
“You look terrible,” she says immediately, and then snaps her mouth shut, as if she’s remembered she isn’t on speaking terms with Emma.
“You’re just in time, Emma. We’re about to get started. You’re a friend of Sue’s?”
Emma ignores Sue. “Yes,” she tells Dr. Reyes. “Something like that. I’m trying to be, anyway.”
“A full-time job, I’m sure,” the doctor comments, straight-faced. “Are you ready, Sue?”
When Sue stays quiet, Emma walks up to the top part of the table and crouches down so that she’s parallel with her. “I’m not asking you to forgive me right now for what I did,” she says, quietly, “and if you really want me to leave, just tell me, and I will. But you shouldn’t have to go through this by yourself. Let me be here for you and the baby.”
Sue blinks several times, and purses her lips together in a thin line. Her head gives a short, quick jerk upwards, and Emma, relieved, understands that this means yes.
“You’re going to be just fine,” she promises her.
“Of course I’ll be just fine,” Sue says, like Emma’s a fool for implying any other outcome could be possible. “I’m Sue Sylvester.” To Dr. Reyes, she announces, “You may begin.”
Emma stays as far on the other side of the drape as she physically can without leaving the table, determined she won’t see the incision. She’s vowed to be brave, but she can only be so strong without faltering. Sue notices her obvious discomfort, and mutters that any observer would assume that, of the two of them, Emma’s the one currently being sliced into like a Thanksgiving turkey.
“I’m all right,” Emma reassures her, knowing she must be entirely white. She’d been sure she’d heard the faint slice of the scalpel as Dr. Reyes had begun the procedure. “I am just, wow, I am completely fine and dandy. I’ve never been better in my life. Fantastic.” Her mouth stretches into a ghoulish grin.
Sue hisses, “Don’t you dare faint on me, Pillsbury,” but the threat lacks her normal vehemence or creativity, and her eyes are glassy with missing focus. “I can feel it,” she says, “it feels like tugging,” and then, suddenly, the room fills with a loud cry, a hiccupping, ragged shriek that just might be the most astonishing thing Emma’s ever heard. She holds her breath as Dr. Reyes’s hands lift over the drape, holding a tiny, squalling, human being.
“It’s a beautiful baby girl,” Dr. Reyes says cheerfully, holding her up over the drape for Sue and Emma to see. “Congratulations, Mom.”
Emma stares, finding it difficult to comprehend just how everything’s changed so quickly, how one minute’s made the difference between nothing and a brand new life. Susie shrieks in protest at the bright lights and the towel vigorously cleaning her off, the brief shock of dark hair on the top of her head standing out against her pinked skin.
There’s a small, choked sound from the table next to her. Emma looks down, dazed, at Sue, who’s staring at the baby with an expression Emma’s never seen from her before.
“That’s my daughter,” Sue says, and her voice breaks. “God. That’s my daughter.”
While the surgical team takes Susie over to a side table to perform the APGAR, the baby's forceful cries already rivaling the volume of her mother’s megaphone, Emma crouches at Sue’s head. “You did such a good job,” she says, softly, trying to find the words she wants, and failing. “She’s incredible. She’s so beautiful.”
Sue’s nodding again and again in agreement, like she can’t bring herself to speak. Finally, she rasps, “Stand up. You need to tell me what’s going on. Tell me everything. I don’t want to miss a moment of her life.”
Emma wipes her eyes with the back of her hand and straightens up. Her hand rests on Sue’s shoulder as she begins to narrate what she's seeing, and while she’s talking, Sue slowly turns her face to rest against Emma’s fingers.
Finally, when the APGAR’s completed and the baby’s been swaddled, Dr. Reyes brings over the small bundle, squalling inside the cocoon of her blanket. “A perfect ten,” she announces to Sue, who beams, and then turns to Emma. “Would you want to hold the baby? Sue can’t take her until the arm numbness from the epidural’s worn off, but you can, if you’d like, while we close the incision.”
At first, she’s going to demure, her instinctual response, but then Susie turns her face towards Emma, her rosebud mouth working, her round cheeks and flat nose twitching as she sniffs new air. A pang of unexpected, uninvited longing assaults Emma, strong enough to bring new tears to her eyes. “Oh, yes,” she whispers. “Yes, I want to do that.”
She’s so small, smaller even than Emma had expected. Susie wriggles in Emma’s inexpert hands, moving like she isn’t the least bit afraid Emma will drop her, like she’s got somewhere she needs to be. Emma cups the back of the baby’s head with one hand, pulling her in close, and bends down again, bringing Susie as near as she can to Sue. The baby wrinkles her nose and lets out a noisy cry that fades into loud snuffles.
“Here she is,” Emma murmurs, not knowing if she’s talking to the baby or to Sue, and pure joy softens Sue’s face into something unrecognizable.
While mother and daughter are being monitored in the recovery area, Emma excuses herself to run down to the hospital gift shop. The art supplies are unsurprisingly limited, but at least they’ve got some nice quality paper and colored pencils. She can make do, especially under the circumstances, and at any rate, she doesn’t think that Sue will be paying much attention to the lack of professional quality, considering what she’s got planned.
In line to pay for her materials, she fires off a quick text to Shannon, knowing Shannon would appreciate hearing the news: At hospital. Baby born! Mother and daughter doing great. Sure enough, Shannon texts back promptly: Tell her congrats & that I’ll be over to meet the little rugrat as soon as they’re ready for me. Glad u got your head out of ur butt in time.
Feeling like she can afford to be generous right now, Emma sends another text to Will. After all, he and Sue have been through a lot together, over the years, and she knows he wishes her well.
In less than a minute, her phone buzzes with his reply. She can almost hear his voice, just reading it. Great news!!! Tell Sue I’m thrilled for her. Thx for letting me know Emma.
Smiling, she puts her phone back in her purse, and realizes that the prospect of Will learning about her and Sue from Rachel doesn’t terrify her nearly as much as it had just a few days ago. There’s a million unknowns, and the thought of what Figgins and the school board might say or do if they found out still makes Emma uneasy, but her overall apprehension is nothing compared to the misery she’s felt over the last few days.
None of that really matters, though, not yet, because everything’s still unresolved. There’s a lot of work ahead for Emma, if she’s going to convince Sue to let her back into her life, and Susie’s life, now, too.
Back on the fourth floor, she finds a chair in the waiting area next to a corner table and gets out her supplies, working quickly and quietly. Her hands are steady and certain as they shade in shapes, making lines, writing words in large, blocked letters and small, careful print.
After nearly two hours’ work, she’s as ready as she’ll ever be.
When Emma enters the recovery room, knocking softly at the door before walking in, she finds Sue sitting up in bed, cradling Susie in her arms. For a woman who’s just been through surgery, she looks shockingly like her normal self, if a bit less choleric than usual.
“Thought you’d run out on me again,” Sue says, without glancing up.
Emma blushes. She deserves that. “No,” she replies, with enough strength behind the word that Sue, finally, raises her head.
“No?” Sue lifts a skeptical eyebrow. “Am I supposed to reward you for this remarkable feat?”
“Of course not.” She tries to change the subject. “How’s Susie doing?"
“My child happens to be asleep at the moment.” Sue pronounces the words “my child” with deep satisfaction. “And her name is Robin.”
“Robin? I thought –”
“She’s not me. She deserves better. You, my exceptional little girl,” she coos, turning back to the baby, “are named after the greatest performer to ever grace a waxy, perfectly tailored leisure suit.”
It takes Emma a second to parse this. “Robin Gibb?”
“Do not,” Sue warns her, “breathe a single word against that glorious man in my presence, may his soul rest in funky, glittery heaven. Understand?”
Emma doesn’t, but then again, she doesn’t understand a good thirty-five percent of what comes out of Sue’s mouth on any given occasion, so she refrains from further comment. It’s Sue’s decision, of course, and despite the dubious source of the tribute, Robin is actually a lovely name. It makes Emma think of spring and fresh starts. She pictures a robin in the branches of a leafy tree, chirping, small and colorful, a red-orange splash against the green and brown.
“A red bird,” she says, and then her eyes widen in recognition.
“Normally, I respect your commitment to non sequiturs, Evelyn, as someone who puts a high price on the art of verbal confusion, but right now I’m gonna have to ask you to clarify.”
“Robins.” Emma’s face feels hot. “I was just thinking out loud. I, well, I know you’re really naming her after Robin Gibb, but I was under the impression that you weren’t fond of birds.” She’s treading on dangerous ground, but Emma can’t seem to stop herself from pushing. “That they mean nothing to you.”
Sue doesn’t acknowledge this remark at first. She strokes the side of Robin’s face with her thumb. The baby lets out a sharp shriek, and then falls silent, legs kicking earnestly. Emma remembers that feel of that small foot against her hand, three months ago. She’d met Robin for the first time in the silence of Sue’s dark bedroom, the three of them nestled together.
“In 1987,” Sue says finally, “I made the fateful decision to attend a concert in Akron headlined by A Flock of Seagulls. During that concert, my car’s windshield was destroyed, covered in a snowy, clotted spray of excreta that took me five hours worth of illegal child labor to scrub off. I vowed then to hold a lifelong grudge against the entire avian race. With no exceptions.”
“None. But,” she continues, and Emma can’t help but hold her breath, “it just so happens that over the past few months, I seem to have developed an unexpected, entirely inconvenient, and completely unnecessary fondness for birds.”
“Even,” Emma asks, softly, “the red ones?”
Sue inclines her head. “Despite considerable efforts to persuade myself otherwise,” she says, “yes. For the red ones in particular.”
It won’t make the inside of a Hallmark card any time soon, but Emma, overwhelmed, thinks the sentiment might just be the most wonderful thing she’s heard in a very long time.
“I have a few informational pamphlets I’d like you to read,” she announces, after she's recovered her voice, and produces her small stack of papers, placing them on Sue’s lap before taking a few steps in nervous retreat. “They aren’t professional quality. I was – I had limited time. I hope you understand. You know, if you want, I’d be happy to go outside while you read them. I think that might be more comfortable for both of us. Or I can drive across town and wait there, that’s fine too.”
“You’ll stay right here,” Sue orders, beckoning Emma back towards the bed. She shifts Robin's weight to one arm and picks up the top pamphlet. “‘Ow, My Retirement Account! Mothering On A Budget In Mid-Life.’ Well, this really is a fantastic confidence booster, Emilia, thank you for taking the time and effort to share it with me.”
“There’s some advice inside on how to save with a new baby.” She’s never been this nervous in her life, not even with Will, not even on her first day as a counselor. “I’ve been doing a lot of research online. It turns out that you’re eligible for some extra tax deductions, and I even found a message board entirely reserved for first time mothers over the age of thirty-five. They had a lot of great tips. You’d be running that place in no time, if you started posting.”
Sue purses her lips, and puts the first pamphlet aside. “‘Regret: Not Just For Unfaithful Senators Anymore.’”
“I should never have done what I did,” Emma says, without hesitating. “I was scared about what might happen, and angry at myself, and I took it out on you. I know apologizing doesn’t make it right, but if you forgive me, I promise that I’ll never do anything like that again.”
No reply. Sue uncovers the third pamphlet, which reads, in big red letters, 2-4-6-8, Who Do I Appreciate? You! Emma’s tried to recreate the same font Sue uses for her Cheerios merchandise, with not inconsiderable success. It’s a silly message, but it’s true, too. Sue’s always refused to treat Emma with kid gloves. She'd given her a home without a second’s hesitation. She’d helped Emma feel safe enough, for the first time in her life, to feel good about her body.
“What the hell is this?” Sue asks, looking up at Emma, clearly confused, and Emma says, “Keep going. There’s one more.”
It takes Sue several long seconds to pick up the next pamphlet. She stares at the cover. Emma tries to remember how to stay upright.
So You’ve Realized You Want To Put A Label On It.
“That’s one’s really for me,” Emma bursts out, unable to stay silent, “that’s, um, that’s something that applies mostly to me, but I’m hoping it might apply to you, too. If you want. You were wrong, you know, when you said I was rebounding from Will. This isn’t a rebound for me. I have –” She stumbles over her words. “Feelings. Real feelings. For you. And I think you have the same feelings for me.”
Sue’s opening the pamphlet to the blank pages inside, her face inscrutable. “There’s nothing written here.”
“That’s because,” Emma says, simply, “it isn’t up to me to write the next part.”
Sue passes a hand over her eyes. “Emma,” she says, bouncing Robin gently in her arm as the baby begins to fuss. “I have spent my entire existence on this planet relentlessly percolating with fury, and it has managed to keep me from forming any remotely healthy relationships with people who weren’t my sister, or Becky Jackson. I now have a newborn child who has a lifetime of very real challenges ahead of her. My job security is tenuous, at best. And despite my admittedly masculine hairstyle and broad shoulders, I am still very much a member of the female sex, with all the problems and difficulties that reality entails. You’re telling me that’s what you want for yourself?”
Reaching down, Emma touches the baby’s tiny, moving fist with her finger. It’s unbelievably soft. Robin shifts in Sue’s arm, making small, irritated noises.
“When I decided to start seeing my psychiatrist,” she begins, “it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. Harder than leaving Carl, or leaving Will, or telling my parents I was moving out of the house for college. Because I had to admit to myself that I was sick, that I was really sick, that I couldn’t get better on my own. I thought, wow, that’s it, I’m thirty-two and I can’t leave the house without making sure all the sinks are properly disinfected. I’ve ruined any chance I had at having a good life. But I was wrong. Sue, I’m not perfect. I am so incredibly far from perfect in every conceivable way. For the first time in my life, I’m learning how to be okay with that. And if you’ll have me, I want to try being imperfect with you. Both of us. Two very imperfect, improbable people.” She presses her fingers softly against the side of Robin’s head. “Three people.”
Sue cradles Robin closer. The last pamphlet’s still clenched tightly in her free hand.
“You have no idea what you’re doing,” she says, and the pamphlet trembles just a little. When she looks at Emma, her eyes are soft, a little wet. “No idea. You’ve never even changed a diaper.”
“No,” Emma admits, and sits down on the edge of the bed, her hand coming to rest just above Sue’s shaking one, over her wrist and forearm. “That’s true. But I’m willing to learn.” She doesn’t mention the industrial sized box of hypoallergenic gloves she’d found in the hospital gift shop, purchased for exactly that purpose in a moment of uncharacteristic optimism. Or the book on caring for newborns. “And I’m not going to run away again. I may not know what I’m doing, or how to do it, and you better bet I’m scared. The thing is, though, for the first time in my life, the idea of not doing something is what frightens me the most.”
Her words stay in the room, loud to Emma even after she’s spoken them. Just when Emma’s starting to wonder if there’s something else she could say, some other part of her she could reveal, Sue’s hand begins to turn slowly in hers, releasing the pamphlet, opening up to let her in.