|Seven For A Secret
Author: Terias Mcklay PM
Paige has a secret. More than one. When she starts to receive mysterious texts from someone called 'A', will the cost of keeping her secrets come at too high a price?Rated: Fiction T - English - Drama/Romance - Emily F. & Paige M. - Chapters: 30 - Words: 157,386 - Reviews: 290 - Favs: 115 - Follows: 210 - Updated: 05-05-13 - Published: 08-02-12 - id: 8385686
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: I own only my vague sense of reality.
Author's Notes: Apologies for the late post, my publishing house closed and the last few weeks have been a scramble to sort out a new home for my novel.
Between my dayjob and writing, I've managed to fall completely behind on fresh Paily posts. I'm looking to you, dear reader, to guide me. If you've written or read a Paily fic that is just the cat's ass, pimp it in the comments section for your fellow Anchors (and me) to check out. This story is pretty heavily trafficked so it's a great chance to promo your work, get to it!
This chapter contains spoilers up to Season 2, Episode 11, "I Must Confess".
Please, don't forget to tip your bards. If you take the time to read, do us authors a solid and take the extra second to review.
Thank you, everyone, for the faves/follows and reviews. Much appreciated! Comments and constructive criticism are always welcome.
Wednesday and Thursday passed quickly. Paige only caught glimpses of Emily in class or in passing, her rigorous schedule leaving little room to socialize, especially with Morgan banning the other girl from practice.
Morgan -in what Paige assumed was her flexing her muscles- had switched the final practice to Thursday after school, rather than the morning of, as had been Fulton's style. On her way to the locker, she saw Emily, her teammate looking a little worse for wear as she shoved her books about in her bag.
Paige's plans hadn't changed, she didn't want any emotional upset before the meet but it looked like she needed to check in with her friend.
"Paige. Hey." Emily glanced at her then turned back to her locker, eyes downcast.
"Yikes, don't get too excited."
"Sorry, I'm just tired. I was up late last night with Samara and her friends playing poker."
"You sure you're just tired?" Paige knew the attitude was more than fatigue, she had seen Emily tired, this was Emily depressed.
"I did something stupid and I'm not sure I can fix it."
Paige wanted to pry, wanted to shake answers loose, but it wasn't her place. Still, she couldn't just let Emily sit and stew, not when the girl looked like a spanked puppy. "Em, you're a catch. Samara has to know that. She's an idiot if she doesn't. Whatever you did, I'm sure it'll just... I'm sure she'll forgive you."
"Thanks. I'm not sure I agree but thanks."
"Are you okay? I mean, is there anything I can do?"
"No, it's fine. Thanks for being a good friend, Paige."
Paige smiled, hoping it didn't come off as strained. Friends. Friendzoned. Wonderful.
She said her goodbyes before she managed to put her foot in it further, leaving Emily to finish packing her locker as she headed for practice. It was particularly gruelling, Coach Morgan making them do far more physical drills than Fulton had ever done on the last practice before a meet. Pre-meet practices had been meant for tweaks, not drilling the team into the ground.
When practice was over, Paige made her way home, getting into the house just as dinner was plated.
"You look like you just ran a marathon," her father greeted, brow furrowed. "You should be saving your energy."
"Tell that to Coach Morgan." Paige sat, quickly slugging back a full glass of water.
"What is this woman playing at? She can't exhaust her team before a meet."
Paige shrugged, he was preaching to the converted.
"I don't want you in the pool in the morning, you need to save some energy."
"I'll just do a light run," Paige agreed. "I want to keep my legs loose but if I go all out, I'm not going to be fit for anything but floating in the water like a buoy."
"Ridiculous." Her father stabbed at his vegetables. "I have half a mind to go down there and ask what the hell she thinks she's doing."
"Dad, don't. She's already got a chip on her shoulder, that'll make it worse. Maybe we just haven't gotten used to her style, I'm sure she has a reason for what she's doing."
"It had damn well better be a good one. Fulton's methods were producing results, why is this woman reinventing the wheel?"
The question was rhetorical and Paige went back to her dinner, thankful when her mom came up with less charged conversation. When they were done their meal, her father went in to this office, Paige following after him with book bag in tow. She pulled up a chair, folding herself into the comfy leather before she opened her text book. She had just begun to make notes when her father spoke.
"You know I'm not angry with you," he said, staring at her across his large desk.
"I know," Paige said with a nod. "Thanks for saying it."
Paige woke early as usual, the cancelled practices leaving her with three and half hours before school, more than enough time for a leisurely run. Breakfast consisted only of a banana and part of a protein bar, lesson long ago learned about what would and wouldn't stay in her stomach during a run.
She slipped her iPod into the pocket of her lycra pants, tugged a hoodie on to ward off the early morning chill, and headed out. She had no set path in mind, cutting through the park and up the hill she and Emily had biked during their first train wreck of a date. The grade was a good one for her legs, forcing her quads and calves to stretch. When she crested the hill, she took the opposite path down through somewhat unfamiliar forest. The paths here were designated specifically for pedestrians -not bikes- so she didn't know the area as well as some of the other parts of the park.
The sun was up by the time she turned for home, body functioning on auto-pilot as her legs ate up the terrain. Her iPod died just as she began to head back, Paige cursing the poor timing. Half a run left with nothing but her own thoughts to keep her company. She'd be fit for a straight jacket by the time she got home. It was the sudden silence that allowed her to hear it. Crying. She turned, closing her eyes to focus on the where the sound was coming from. There. Just to her left.
Paige walked cautiously toward the source, leery of approaching anyone in the woods. 'A' wasn't the only psychopath in the world and she was alone and unarmed. Where was a Hastings when you needed one?
"Hello?" Paige could see the bent over form -just beyond a thicket of trees- a young woman hugging her arms tight to her body. She stood as Paige spoke, turning to look for the source of the voice. What the... "Emily?"
Paige pushed through the brush, confusion giving way to concern at Emily's terrified face.
"Em, what's going on?"
Emily was obviously distraught but it didn't look as though she had gotten into any kind of physical altercation. The girl shook her head, dark hair bouncing in its ponytail as Emily struggled for words. Paige approached the other girl slowly, concerned she might spook her friend.
"Em, what's wrong?"
"What isn't? I messed up, I messed up everything."
"What are you talking about?" Paige stepped in, wrapping an arm around her friend. "Jesus, you're freezing." It was something Emily seemed to realize as she stepped into Paige, soaking up her body heat. Paige couldn't blame her, now that she wasn't moving she could feel the sweat begin to cool on her skin.
"I can't swim. I'm not going to get into college. Samara broke up with me and..."
"...and?" Paige prompted, Emily's tone letting her know there was more to the story. Whatever it was, Emily wasn't willing to share, dark head shaking as she laid it on Paige's shoulder.
"I just need someone to talk to, I can't do this anymore."
"Em, hey, it's okay. It's going to be okay." Paige held tightly to her friend, recognizing the despondency in Emily's tone. It terrified her. This was about more than Danby and Morgan and Samara. Something was eating at Emily and whatever it was, she couldn't share it with either her friends or Paige. "Listen, Coach Fulton gave me a number, someone to help me get through... stuff. Her name's Dr. Sullivan, I've never had a chance to check her out but Coach seemed to think she's good."
"She is. We had to go to her when all that stuff with Ian was happening."
"Did she help you?" Emily nodded against her. "Then maybe you should consider going back to see her. This isn't healthy, you're going to make yourself sick again. I hate to see you like this."
"I hate being like this, I feel like I've been walking on eggshells since Ali disappeared and now everything is just crumbling."
"We'll put it back together. C'mon, where'd you park? We need to get you somewhere warm." Paige kept her arm around Emily's waist, holding the unsteady girl to her as they walked back to the car. It took nearly an hour to get to the lot, Paige a block of ice by the time they slid into the seats. Emily was nearly blue, teeth chattering as she snapped on the heat to warm up the car. Once they were on the road, it was a short drive back to Paige's house and Emily parked at the bottom of the driveway.
"Do you want me to drive you to school? I probably threw off your whole morning when I screwed up your run."
"No, I still have time and you didn't screw up my run. I know that whatever you're going through, you can't talk to me about it. But if you ever want to just sit and not talk, I can do that too. Okay?" Paige had never thought they would get here, she -of all people- coaching Emily through emotional turbulence. It was a role reversal that Paige wasn't comfortable with. If even the level headed Emily could be thrown so far off kilter, what hope was there for her?
Paige slid out of the car, "Hey, if Samara broke up with you, it's because she didn't deserve you in the first place. It'll get better, you'll see."
"Thanks, Paige. Kick some ass tonight."
"Always." Paige closed the door, watching Emily drive away. She was worried, beyond worried really, Emily hadn't been in that kind of shape since Ian's death. Resolving to step firmly into her 'friend' shoes, Paige shelved the idea of trying to woo Emily back. Her friend was too vulnerable to be making those kinds of decisions. Maybe when Emily had worked through whatever was eating at her, Paige could sit her down and tell her how things had changed. Maybe.
The day was an odd one. The shrink Coach Fulton had mentioned came into the school to talk about bullying. Paige couldn't help but feel the woman was somehow talking to her as she spoke about bullies reaching beyond their former boundaries. Their torture was no longer limited to school and playgrounds. With the internet and cellphones, bullies were able to touch every part of their victims' lives, leaving them nowhere to turn for peace.
Paige knew the feeling.
It felt as if Dr. Sullivan had plucked Paige's thoughts directly from her mind and taken them to the high school pulpit. Where the hell had this woman been three years ago? Emily was fidgeting in her seat, the foursome looking between one another as Dr. Sullivan spoke. She momentarily caught eyes with her friend, the terror in them making Paige wonder if Emily's coming out hadn't been all sunshine and roses. Emily said she had fallen out of the closet but Paige had assumed that to be an exaggeration. The only person she knew who had bullied Emily for being gay, was herself. If Paige found out someone else had been involved, there would be hell to pay.
When the lecture was over, Pru and Paige left together, the foursome bailing as one for parts unknown.
"What do you think that was about?" Pru asked as they went to their lockers to collect their things for class.
"I have no idea."
"Weird. Anyway, you and Sean still checking out boxing tomorrow?"
"That's the plan. Did you have something better for him to do at eight o'clock in the morning?"
"Hell to the no, Batman. What all are you taking?"
"Bootcamp, boxing and then some kind of mixed martial arts class."
"And all of this is for your future occupation as a ninja?"
"It's good cardio and strength training and it's great for stress relief. Unless you'd like me to start throwing punches at you."
"Whatever, I'd just turn you in Spencer's direction and set you loose."
Paige rolled her eyes. "I'm going to hit the washroom. I'll see you at lunch." Pru waved and headed for her math class, Paige ducking into the restroom. Emily was inside, staring at the mirror, dark eyes troubled as the water ran in the sink. "Hey, you okay?"
A slight nod was her only answer, Emily standing in uneasy silence as the water continued to run. Paige stepped behind her, reaching to turn off the tap as she looked at their reflection in the mirror.
"Em, talk to me."
"I'm tired. I'm just...tired."
"You just have to make it another week and then..."
"And then what? Finals? That sounds relaxing."
"Hey, what is this?" Paige put her hands on Emily's arms, turning the girl to face her. "Emily, you're the strongest person I know."
Emily let out a huff. "Yeah, fearless, right?"
"No, that's not what being strong is. Strong is being afraid and doing what needs to be done anyway. Strong is holding hands with your girlfriend in the halls or coming out or dealing with losing someone you love. You're so strong, Em. Whatever it is, whatever this is that's eating at you, it's time to stop. You have to let it go, get back to normal."
"What is normal? 'Cause I feel like this is it."
"It's not, I promise it's not. You just hit a rough patch, that's all. It happens to the best of us." Paige suddenly found her arms full of a sobbing Emily, leaning against the sink to support their weight. "Emily, ssshh, it's going to be okay. I... I saw you listening to Doctor Sullivan..."
"I went there after I left your place to talk about... things."
"That's why she was here this morning, there's someone in school bullying you." Paige tipped Emily's chin up to stare into her eyes, knowing she could tell if the girl was lying. Emily didn't speak, instead turning away from Paige's gaze. "Tell me who it is. Is it Ben?"
Emily shook her head. "No, aside from a few smart ass comments, I haven't even talked to Ben since we broke up."
"Tell me who you're worried about, I'll fix it." Paige might not be able to fix 'A' but anyone else was fair game.
"Paige, I can't. I just... I can't right now." Emily seemed near hysterics and Paige nodded her reluctant acceptance. She couldn't push right now but that wouldn't stop her from figuring out who it was on her own.
"You know you're not alone, right? If it meant you feeling safe here, I'd even team up with Hastings to set this person straight."
The comment at least earned a small smile from Emily. Standing toe to toe of each other, it wouldn't take more than Paige leaning over to reach Emily's lips. She wanted to. Desperately. Wanted to show Emily how much she cared. But it wasn't the right time.
With her teammate in such a precarious emotional state, it wasn't fair to put that kind of pressure on her. Instead she leaned forward, bypassing full lips to pull paper towel from the dispenser.
"Look up." Emily complied and Paige wiped gently at her eyes to fix the running mascara, brushing her thumb over Emily's temple in an unconscious effort to ground herself. Just being in Emily's presence made her feel calm, strong, like there was nothing she couldn't face. Emily was her strength when Paige had none and she would go to the end of the line to protect her. "Okay?"
Emily nodded, wrapping Paige in another hug while leaning their heads together. They remained that way until the bell rang, slowly breaking apart, Paige allowing Emily to precede her to class.
The rest of the day passed with relatively little issue -though Emily dominated her thoughts- and then it was time for the meet. As she stood on deck behind Chloe and the other relay girls, Paige turned to the stands, hoping to see a familiar face. She found two, Pru and Sean waving enthusiastically at her from their front row seats. She was grateful her friends had come to see her but the person she had truly hoped to see was nowhere to be found.
Paige refocused her disappointment on the pool, taking her place on the block. Vicky touched the edge and Paige was off, slicing through the water and quickly overtaking two of the others. The leader was just ahead of her as they reached the first edge, her stroke remarkably similar to Emily's. It made it easy enough to counter and Paige put the hammer down, her tight turn giving her the slightest of leads.
It was all she needed, the cheers of the crowd urging her on as she powered through, one stroke, two strokes, three strokes, breathe. She took the lead to an arm's length, digging deep to open the gap wider, slapping the edge triumphantly to the roar of the Rosewood crowd. Hauling her body out of the pool, Paige was greeted with the back slaps of her teammates, even Coach Morgan looking moderately pleased.
They were changed and debriefed faster than normal, their minimalist practise schedule kicking in the next week as they settled in to finals. The moment they were done, Paige pulled out her phone to text Emily about their win. She was surprised to already find a text asking about the results. She sent off a reply that immediately prompted a phone call. She hauled her bag onto her shoulder as she answered.
"Hey there, I just texted you."
"Yeah, I got it. Congratulations."
"It was easy. You would have smoked their starter, total amateur," Paige said as she walked the hallway, waving goodbye to her teammates.
"I wish I could have been there."
"Don't worry, we'll head to head them for state qualifiers, you'll get your chance at them."
"Toes too. Speaking of, how are you feeling? Do you need anything?"
"No, I'm okay. I'm actually at the Grill, I'm about to meet... a friend."
Paige didn't miss the way Emily tripped over the word friend, her heart dropping at what that might imply. She knew she shouldn't be surprised, Emily was a good looking girl whose inner package matched the wrapper. She had also proved that she didn't leave much time between relationships. She had skipped from Ben to Maya to her to Samara. As much as she wanted to know what was going on, she tamped down on the urge to ask. Chances were she would hear about it on Monday anyway. She would just pace herself into circles until then.
"Huh? Sorry, trying to get my lock undone," she lied. "Have fun, remember to relax. I'll talk to you on Monday."
"Have a good weekend. I'll... I'll call you if I need anything?"
She clicked off the phone, the desire to ride by the Grill almost overwhelming. She resisted, forcing herself to take the long way around town centre so she wouldn't be tempted to breach Emily's privacy. Truth was, it wasn't any of her damn business. That didn't stop her from cursing a blue streak at herself as she biked home. Her parents were lying on the couch together watching a movie, both looking up as she entered.
"We won," Paige lead with as her father turned his attention to her.
"How were your times?"
"Just shy of my PB," Paige said, expecting a light chide for missing her mark.
Paige looked at him, wondering if she should check under the couch for the pod that her father had come from. "Uh...thanks, Dad. What're you guys watching?"
"Morocco." Her mother's voice was wistful as she focused back on the black and white movie.
"Huh, cool tux." Paige didn't understand a word of what the woman was singing but her mom seemed to enjoy it.
"Pull up a seat, talk to me about how the new coach handled the meet." Paige sat in the recliner beside her father, tugging out the sheet of their times to hand to him. He skimmed the page, nodding as he went along. "None of the girls are in your league."
"No, not from anyone we saw today. The biggest competition will be Jessup and Philly, maybe Scranton if they pull up their socks. We should be sitting in a decent position for now but once we get into the second and third round for state finals, we're going to need Emily back."
"Even if she comes back, she won't be in the shape she was in when she left," her father warned.
"I know. I'm going to have her come to the public pool for practice to get her back in the water."
"That sounds reasonable." The mention of Emily still made him somewhat uncomfortable, Paige could see it in the tense way he held his body. Despite that, he kept his cool front, obviously trying to make an effort.
"Anyway, I'm going to get ready for tomorrow, Sean and I want to check out the new boxing gym."
"Be careful, you don't need any concussions. No serious contact until after the season is over."
"Don't worry, I'm not interested in getting my butt kicked either." He smiled at her, accepting the one armed hug Paige gave him as she passed. "Night, Dad."
She leaned over to get her usual kiss from her Mom who sent Paige on her way with a pat on the butt. A long soak in the hot tub to loosen her muscles, a quick shower to rinse her body and she was sliding into bed, textbook propped on her legs as the TV played softly in the background. She fell asleep that way, waking only when the trill of her phone pulled her from sleep the next morning.
"Huh, wh...? Sean?" She rested the phone on her pillow, eyes closed as she struggled to get her brain moving.
"Hey, I'm outside. You up yet?"
"Yeah, come inside, I'll be up in ten."
"I don't want to wake up your parents."
"Mom'll already be cooking..." His answer went unheard as the phone slid to the floor, her body demanding five more minutes of sleep. Not to be. A sharp rap on the upstairs door signalled her father was up and she was meant to be as well. She grudgingly rolled out of bed, pulling her hair back into a ponytail before changing into workout gear. By the time she was presentable and up the stairs, Sean was already at the kitchen table, shanghaied into breakfast by her mother. Paige had figured as much, hoping it would buy her the time she needed to get some oatmeal into her stomach.
"Morning." Sean couldn't have looked more cheerful if he tried as Paige's mom served bowls of thhick, hot oatmeal, leaving out fresh fruit and honey to mix in. Her father was at the table as well, reading his newspaper.
"Morning, lazy bones. Late start today, or was that your mother's plan to make sure Sean stayed for breakfast?"
"It's delicious." Sean spoke, cheeks like a chipmunk as he raised a fruit and oat filled spoon to his mouth.
"Would you please swallow before you choke to death on a strawberry?"
Sean grinned at her, shovelling in another spoonful. The four of them ate companionably, Sean putting away more oatmeal than Paige thought was physically possible. Or advisable.
"You're not going to throw that up on me later, are you?"
"Don't aim for my gut and you should be safe."
Paige smirked, finishing off the last of her shake as she stood. "We should get going, I promised Pru you'd be ready to play by noon."
"She wants me to take her shopping." Sean's tone indicated it wasn't his favourite idea of spending time together but was willing to take hits where needed.
"Better you than me. Bye, Mom." Paige kissed her mom on the cheek. "Bye, Dad." She kissed him on the cheek as well, determined to keep their recovering relationship on the right track.
"We will. Cheap shots'll hurt him a lot more than they'll hurt me," Paige said, earning a smile from her father that warmed her more than she expected. She had grown so used to the distance between them that she had forgotten what it was like when they weren't in a perpetual standoff. It felt good.
The drive to the gym was a short one, Sean looking dubiously at the outdoor iron stairway that led to the second storey, a generic 'Grand Opening' sign hanging over the door.
"Never judge a book by its cover, right?" Paige asked. "C'mon, we drove over here, the least we can do is check it out."
The gym was surprisingly nice inside, given the outer facade. The front desk was sparse but functional, the hardwood floors recently redone if the smell of varnish was anything to go by. The facility seemed to take up most of the second floor, divided into three sections. The first section showcased wood floors in front of six foot mirrors, dance bars and yoga mats promising it was a multipurpose area. Next was a small weight and cardio area, heavy duty mats protecting the floor. The last section furthest from the door was laid out with punching bags and the boxing ring. A set of twelve bags hung from sturdy cross beams, a small section of floor left open for whatever else they taught.
They took a quick tour, the trainer at the desk showcasing the features, including showers and lockers before ending with a breakdown of the price. It was reasonable enough since they were students and they both decided they would join, Sean having outgrown the small backyard gym he had been practicing at. The paperwork was relatively painless and Paige went to toss her stuff in a locker while they waited for their first class of the day to start.
"Hey, want to warm up on the heavy bag?"
Nodding, Paige took first turn holding the bag, bracing herself against it. She grunted at the onslaught of powerful punches, driving all her weight into the bag to hold it steady as Sean pummelled it. When he had warmed his arms, he turned to his legs, roundhouse kicking at the heavy bag.
"So, I ran into Hannah this morning at the coffee shop. Have you heard about Emily?"
"What? No. What about her? Is she okay?"
"Better than okay, I'd bet. Maya's back."
Paige's surprised disbelief forced her from her stable crouch just as Sean launched a well placed sidekick into the heavy bag, a hundred pounds of weight hitting her unexpectedly in the gut. Her ass met the mat with an indelicate thud, the unpleasant sensation paling in comparison to the pain she felt at the news.
Maya was back.
"Geeze! Paige, you okay?" Sean knelt beside her, concern evident as he checked for injury.
"I'm fine." She waved him off, embarrassed by her own idiocy. "Didn't you tell me the heavy bag didn't hit back?"
"First time for everything?" he asked with a sheepish smile. "What'd I say? Do you know Maya?"
"No. Yes. Kinda, in passing."
"That makes things clearer."
Paige pursed her lips, before finally just letting it out. "I saw Emily."
"Well, yeah, she's on your team, I imagine you see her a lot."
Paige sighed, wondering how far to take it. She was tired of hiding, tired of wondering whether the people she was with were safe. She wasn't interested in filling her life with friends who wouldn't support her. She liked Sean, he was a good guy, he was religious but he didn't seem to hold anything against Emily. She needed to tell him.
"No, I mean, I saw Emily." Staring at him, she waited for recognition to dawn. She saw the light go on, blue eyes widening at the admission.
"Uh, oh. You mean..."
"I mean." She confirmed with a nod.
"Huh, so you, uh, you really do play for the same team," he said, laughing at his own joke.
Paige punched him the stomach, glove rebounding off of solid abs. "You're a jerk."
"Sorry, sorry. Seriously though, you and Em?"
"Yeah, for a bit anyway."
"Was it... was that..."
"Yeah, when you and I met. I'm sorry I didn't tell you then, I wanted to. I just..."
"It's okay. I understand. Does Pru know?"
"She does, but she and my parents are pretty much it. I'd appreciate it if it stayed that way." She didn't need to create trouble for anyone, herself included. She wasn't going to lie but she wasn't going to go around offering the truth up to every person who walked past her, either.
"Of course. Can I ask what happened? I mean, you and Emily seem like you'd be a great match."
"I messed up."
"I didn't think so, not until Maya walked back onto the playing field."
"Maybe you should talk to her anyway, Emily deserves to have all the information before she makes her choice."
"Yeah, maybe." Their conversation was brought to an end by the instructor calling them to order, Sean giving her a light punch in the arm.
"It'll work out, you'll see. If not with Em, then someone else. You're a catch, when you're not beating people up."
"Oh, ha, ha, Ackard. You're so funny."
"I'm flat out hilarious, I'm thinking of taking my act on the road."
"Good, take it far, far away."
Three hours later, Sean dropped her off at her house, sore but invigorated. Paige walked into the kitchen to say hello to her mom who was already elbow deep in mashed potatoes.
"Do you need any help?"
"That'd be nice, Honey. Anna usually does Sundays but she's ill so I have to double up on today's recipes. I'll make the hot food fresh tomorrow but if you want to help, I could use those muscles of yours to knead some dough."
"Sure thing." Making quick work of tying her hair back, Paige threw on her apron. Hands washed and she was ready to go, taking the aim at the mound of dough on the counter.
"Talk to me. You've barely been home in the last three weeks, what's going on? Anything new?"
"Nothing more than the new coach, I guess." Paige shrugged. There hadn't really been any developments on that front. She and Morgan were destined to lock horns, most likely over her treatment of the freshmen or Emily's return. She just wasn't sure which would be first.
"How about Emily? Your father mentioned he saw her this week and she was looking tired."
"She's under a lot of stress. Coach Morgan won't let her come to practice and I think she's missing her parents too."
"It's a shame, all that trouble so she could stay to swim and then..."
"Yeah, I know." Paige felt horrible for her part in that, certain the stress of the fake Danby scholarship had been a factor in putting Emily out of commission.
"And what?" Paige asked.
"How are..." her mother paused, "how are you and Emily doing?"
Paige stopped mid knead, surprised her mother had worked up the gumption to ask such a direct question.
"We... aren't a 'we'." Paige admitted. "Not anymore. I messed it up."
"Emily wanted me to be open, to be... myself. She didn't want to have to hide. I didn't see any other way." In the end, that's what it had come down to. Paige hadn't hadn't been ready to abandon safety for truth.
"That's changed now."
"Yeah, it has. Doesn't matter though, Maya's back."
"Emily's old girlfriend, I don't really stand a chance."
"Paige, if you... if you love her, you should fight for her."
"I can't, not now. Emily is going through enough and I'm finally getting back on stable ground with Dad. And then there's looking after the team and everything with Coach Morgan. Finals." Paige turned back to her task, taking out her frustrations on the dough. Her mother hugged her from behind and Paige leaned into her, soaking in the comfort.
"If you always wait for the perfect moment, your whole life will pass you by." A final squeeze and her mother let the topic drop. "That's ready, toss it in the pans and let's get cooking!"