Hi everyone! Thanks for your reviews and your guesses! All I'll say for now is that Kelly Parker will definitely be showing up in this story, but maybe not in the way you're thinking. Hope you enjoy and please keep the reviews coming - it's so cool to get feedback writing about a show I love but never got to talk about because I didn't discover it until recently. And your comments help me (hopefully) make my A plot more sensible than actual PLL...
Chapter 2: Sharing is Caring
Payson's astonished to see all three other Elite girls already at the Rock when she turns up. Admittedly, it's close to seven, since she'd waited to come with her mom instead of making her usual 5am start, but she'd been convinced that they and Sasha would be the only ones there. It's not that her friends are lazy, it's really not - they're some of the top athletes in the world and they work incredibly hard, making sacrifices and pushing through pain every other day - but when Sasha stood before them on his first day and told them to care as much as he did and work as hard as he did, Payson was the one who really took him to her heart. And ever since she broke her back, he's worked the hardest for her, after all. She's had the most to do.
She approaches Lauren, stood stretching over the beam, as her mom disappears off towards the office. Payson's not the greatest at normal social relationships, but even she can tell that Emily's been off lately and Kaylie's head is all over the place. At least she knows what she's getting with Lauren, even if that turns out to be a snarky "Nice of you to show up, Pay" as the smaller girl bends towards her.
"Why are you all here?" Payson asks her, not even stretching, just standing.
"Uh, we're gymnasts. This is a gym."
This is why Kaylie and Lauren have always been closer, because Kaylie responds to this kind of sass and Lauren enjoys it. Payson doesn't.
Lauren makes a big deal out of finishing up her stretch, but eventually, she continues. "Nationals soon, then Worlds. Big, big deals all the way up to the Olympics. And I need to make totally sure you're settling for silver on beam, so…I came a little early. It's not like this isn't my whole life anyway."
There's something off about Lauren, some weirdness in the amount of words she uses, her casual acceptance that she's a gymnast first and a person second, but Payson takes too long to process it and the other girl moves on. "Anyway, Summer's here. I don't even know why she needs to be here this early." Lauren glowers towards the office. "And now that I've realised how good she and my dad are for each other" - now that you're faced with Chloe Kmetko as a potential stepmother, Payson fills in silently - "obviously, I need to work on getting them back together"
There's the Lauren she knows, at least. Thank God one of her friends is acting normal, even if normal is, well, Lauren.
The thought of Sasha hits her in a rush. Like one second she'd been thinking of Lauren and her dad and Chloe and Emily, and the next, she'd made the connection that Lauren's dad being with Summer instead would mean she wasn't interested in Sasha and that thought had pushed all the others out of her head, replaced with an endless loop of the moments he and Payson had shared, the ballet, the Rockies, stuffed peppers and an Olympic medal, last night on the floor.
"Hey" a voice comes over her shoulder and she starts, as if her thoughts were visible, but it's just Kaylie, and like always recently, she looks a little deadened and a lot oblivious to what's around her. For one, she's holding her phone in the gym, a crime second only to breaking the no-dating rule in Sasha's commandments of the Rock. She wonders whether he'd ever break his own rule, whether he even thinks it applies to him, and it's enough to send her spiralling again.
Lauren just nods at Kaylie before a loud thunk draws their attention, Emily's feet hitting the floor as she sticks her bars dismount.
"Hey" Kaylie begins again. Lauren keeps glaring at Emily, but Payson looks back at Kaylie. Of all the ways her friends are acting strange, Kaylie repeating herself for attention instead of expecting it to come naturally might go straight to the top of the list. Kaylie still looks like she's not sure exactly where she is, but more alert, anxious, even. "Can I show you guys something?"
Lauren's attention turns back to her at that, too. "What kind of-" she stops abruptly as Emily makes her way over, but Kaylie steps back to allow her into the circle. "You too, Em. Here" she opens her phone and starts scrolling through texts, and Payson suddenly realises what's about to happen much too quickly, knows with absolute certainty before Kaylie opens that one text in particular.
"You got one, too" Lauren gabbles. Payson's eyes widen, and when her attention snaps to Lauren, the other girl's are just as huge.
"We all got one" Emily confirms. "Those weird texts. The ones that-"
"Knew our secrets?" Kaylie confirms. "Yep. Or thought they did, anyway. I mean-" she indicates her phone again and Lauren snatches it out of her hand, clearly worried she won't tell them the secret now that they've all given themselves away.
Kaylie looks briefly at Payson, and she nods. She can't deny getting one, not when it's something that involves all of them, but there's no way she'll be showing hers around.
"Be careful, Kay" Lauren reads. "That's just like mine. Better watch out, Lo. That's how they start."
Payson thinks back to her own text. Nice work, Pay. It sounds less threatening than the other two, but it's probably not.
The gym door swings open, and all four of them jump, as if a masked figure is going to come sweeping through them. But it's just Austin, in a state of artful disarray, sunglasses perched on his head and a single earbud in while the other trails down his shirt. A broad grin appears on his face at the sight of the four of them all clustered by the beam, obviously not training.
"Morning, Emily, Payson, Lauren, everyone." he smirks, throwing an obvious glance towards Kaylie, who doesn't react at all, not even a roll of the eyes. They're all reeling from the discovery that someone's targeting all four of them with the creepy texts, but Payson does feel less alone than she did last night, and that's thanks to Kaylie sharing her own text before she knew anyone else had got one. She's grateful. Maybe Lauren feels the same, because she jumps instantly to her friend's defence.
"Morning Austin, every- oh, it's just you, no friends."
"Better to have no friends than the wrong friends, Lauren." Austin smiles back.
"Well, you would know."
"And when I come home from London with seven gold medals to your none, you'll know it too."
He leaves that as his parting shot and heads for the locker rooms. Payson's a little surprised that neither Lauren nor Kaylie tries to get the last word until the moment he's definitely out of earshot and they both turn back towards her with a conspiratorial look. She knows that look. That look means sleepover.
"Lauren's place" says Kaylie quickly. Lauren raises a brow - they always go to Kaylie's - but nods quickly. "After practice. I'm food. Payson, you're the movie."
"Should we tell someone?" Emily murmurs, and Payson knows right then that whatever Emily's secret is, it's not dangerous enough that she can be trusted.
"No" Lauren snaps, and then, implausibly, her voice softens. "Look, let's just wait until we can talk this out, okay. It's so weird, and it's happening to all of us, just come to the sleepover and then we can decide together."
And even though she must know that 'decide together' means Kaylie agreeing with Lauren and Emily arguing and then Payson deciding for all of them, Emily bites her lip and nods. "Okay."
The gym doors sweep open again and they must be a little calmer, even though they don't look it and Payson doesn't feel it, because none of them jump this time. It's two girls she recognises, one of Becca's friends and another Level 10. The office door opens too and Summer clatters down the stairs to pull one girl aside while the other heads for the locker room, and then a harried looking woman, presumably someone's mother, rushes in behind them holding a baby, and Austin emerges, holding the locker room door open for Becca's friend and then heading for the high bar. Their moment's gone, the Rock suddenly full of life and ready for the day, even if they're not.
"Tonight." Kaylie says before they all split. "We'll sort out everything. Until then, practice, focus, keep calm and don't. Say. Anything."