Note: This is a counterpart to "We need lies to make it through the day," but focusing on Paige instead. If you haven't read that, I highly suggest you go there first. This will make a lot more contextual sense. That said, this is another one-shot. And while stylistically, it's somewhat similar. I think that since these two (Emily and Paige) are so different in my eyes, these stories came out very different.
Thank you to all the awesome peeps who wrote nice things about the last one I posted. Seriously, I so appreciate it. This is for you all. I hope you like this follow-up.
Also, this is a Paige story. If you don't like Paige, I'd highly suggest you pass this one on by.
But if you do like Paige, I hope this does the character even a piece of justice.
And maybe after this, I'll get around to doing a chapter story... I hope.
I am covered in skin, no one gets to come in
Paige has never been a very good liar.
Her emotions, her insecurities, her vulnerabilities. They have always shown on her face. Clear as day. Ready for someone to reach in and pull them apart.
She can remember a time when she was five years old, stealing a bowl of her mother's brownie mix that was destined for a church bake sale. She hid in her closet for hours until she was halfway through the bowl, halfway to a stomach ache.
She spent the entire time plotting her excuses, readying her lies, memorizing what to say.
So when her mother had found Paige hiding in her closet, chocolate spattered in her auburn hair, smeared across chubby pale cheeks, the bowl nowhere in sight, Paige knew she was ready.
But all her mother had to do was look at her in just the right way, and Paige broke into tears.
So lying has never done Paige well, but she's learned to deal. She's learned ways around it, learned to compensate for her shortcoming.
She's learned that people stop looking so closely when you start cutting them apart.
And Paige has found that she's good at this. Better than she's ever been at swimming or AP US History or impressing her father.
She learned that it hurts a lot less than cutting yourself apart.
But she's good at that too.
The first time she cuts Emily apart, Emily doesn't even know about.
It is the first time Paige sees them together, huddled near Emily's locker, standing a little bit too close.
The thing is… Emily was the first person Paige really met when she moved to Rosewood. She's sure Emily doesn't remember. It had been the middle of the year. February. Three weeks after her mom had passed. After her dad had moved them back to Pennsylvania from Ohio so they could be closer to family.
She'd been lost in the hallway after the bell trying to navigate her first day in a new school. They'd run into each other rounding a corner. Emily had smiled, apologized, leaned down to help her pick up her books.
Their hands had touched. And all at once, Paige felt electricity seize every nerve inside her body.
She yanked the book away roughly. She told Emily to watch where she was going next time.
So now, when Paige sees them, together, Emily and Maya, she freezes, legs sprouting roots, watching them. There is something about the way their hands graze, the way their eyes flutter shut, the way their lips meet.
Paige feels her body stiffen.
Next to her, Pru sees the look on her face and follows her gaze. Before she can say a word, Paige sneers out a witty, scathing quip, and Pru laughs.
Afterward, in the middle of 6th period, Paige feels like throwing up. She finds herself in the bathroom bent over a toilet. She feels nauseous and hot and like maybe she can't quite get enough air in her lungs.
Paige has spent her whole life trying to figure out what everybody else wanted from her. The ways she could make her father proud, make her friends laugh, get the coach to gloat about her.
She never really stopped to think about what she wanted.
Not until this moment. Not until this very second. Not until right now.
It comes to her in one brief, panicky realization.
What she has wanted this whole time is Emily Fields.
Paige tells herself to hate Emily. She comes up with a million reasons why she should.
She gets everything she wants. She thinks she's better than everyone else. She has it easy.
Paige doesn't want her on the swim team. She doesn't want her taking her spot, kicking her off as the relay anchor, stealing her chance at captain.
She tells herself this is why she taunts her by the pool, harasses her in the locker room, holds her head underneath the water. Just to try to scare her away.
And it's true. Paige doesn't want her on the team. Doesn't want Emily anywhere near her. But it has nothing to do with winning.
The bitter truth is that every time Emily is close to her, it makes her ache inside.
That night, in the quiet of her bedroom, Paige thinks about what she did, about the way Emily fought her grip, how she had grasped for air. Paige doesn't know what she was thinking. She doesn't know what she was doing. She can't believe that she went that far.
But she knows exactly why she did it.
Because every time she looks at Emily, she sees everything she wants and everything she will never be.
The guilt seeps through her like poison, but there is this small piece of her that thinks maybe it was worth it. Just to have a reason. Just to touch her once.
It makes her sick as she realizes how wrong that thought is.
As she realizes what she has become.
As she realizes the person she really hates is herself.
After everything, Paige can't understand why Emily even still looks at her like she's human, but that is also possibly why Paige cannot stop thinking about her. Why she showed up on Em's doorstep in the middle of the night in the pouring rain. Why she wanted for Em, maybe even more than Emily herself, to win that race.
Why she can't seem to stop wanting to apologize for ever hurting her.
It's how she makes her way into Em's car before she even knows what she's doing there.
Up until now, Paige has never seen Emily upset. She's never seen her hurt. She's never seen her breaking. But as the words pour from Emily's mouth, there is this ache, this sorrow, this sadness in her eyes that Paige wants to heal.
So she kisses her. She kisses her with everything she has. With all of herself.
She kisses her just to let her know she feels it too.
And for a brief moment, their lips together, Paige doesn't feel so alone.
It's a delicate balancing act of emotions Paige is trying to hold together. The more she grabs on, the more they fall through her hands like drops of water. She can feel herself losing on both sides.
She doesn't totally know how she got here. But she's here now. Standing in the middle of Emily Field's room (a room she's imagined hundreds of times), wearing some stupid shiny dress, confessing.
Emily is looking up at her from the bed with this anxious expression because Paige can't get out what she is trying to say, explain why she is here, which is that the only thing she could think of when he leaned in to kiss her tonight was Emily.
Paige is terrified. She's terrified because she knows once it's out there, there's never any going back. She's terrified because she knows she can't have it both ways. She knows she has a decision to make. And the choices feel a whole lot like Emily versus everything else in her life.
She feels herself coming undone at the seams. She feels her walls shaking. She feels unsteady.
She makes her way to the window seat. It only takes a breath, and then there is Emily, next to her, shyly telling Paige that she is the one who is brave. That she is what Em has always wanted, always needed.
Emily is so beautiful it hurts, Paige thinks. And she wonders how she ever lived a day without her.
Maybe she never did.
Because Paige is pretty sure that this is what it feels like to be alive.
During daylight, Paige packages herself up neatly, plays the part, constructs her walls so firmly that sometimes it feels like they are closing in on her.
It's only at night that Paige can truly be herself.
The moon is full. It's quiet except for the distant whirr of freeway traffic.
The fabric of the backseat feels itchy on her bare skin, but Paige barely notices.
Because Emily. Beautiful, perfect, sweet Emily is tugging at her shirt, touching her, wanting her with a kind of desperation that makes her heart heave.
Emily is the only one that gets it. The only one that understands. The only one Paige has stopped putting up barriers for.
She wonders if Emily knows how hard it is for her to take these walls down. How hard it is to let her insides show.
She's spent her entire life hiding in this skin. Hiding the shame. The hate. The self-loathing.
But Emily is pressing into her, delicately, flesh on flesh… Her touch peeling back layers of Paige's steely exterior. Emily whispers her name like it is something precious. Their eyes catch in the dark, and Emily gazes at her with a look of adoration before their lips meet.
Paige closes her eyes and tries not to cry.
Emily Fields is the only thing that has ever made her feel beautiful.
When Emily ends it, Paige simply shrugs.
They are sitting in Emily's car in the parking lot at school. It was a rough swim practice. Paige's limbs feel numb. Dusk has long since fallen, and it's painfully still. Their car is the only one left in the lot.
Emily ends it, and Paige can't hear a single word she says after, I'm sorry…
A part of Paige has been expecting this. A part of her knew it wouldn't last. Knew she never would be allowed to keep her.
She knew that she never deserved something like her. Like Emily.
Paige feels her chest tighten, but she can't let it show. Emily's eyes are on her, dark and sad, and Paige can hardly take her pity. The tears are a heavy weight behind her lids waiting to fall down.
Paige clenches her teeth and throws in a cutting remark, something she can't even remember now, about Alison, about Samara. About Emily and blondes. Just to make sure Emily doesn't know she cares. Just to make sure she's not the only one in pain.
She can practically feel the air move as Emily winces beside her.
And Paige knows that it worked.
Paige makes it all the way across the lot to her bicycle before she begins to sob.
The thing about cutting someone else apart is sometimes you hurt yourself in the process.
It's 12:01am. A New Year.
Everyone is drunk. Pru's basement is a haphazard mess of empty red cups and scattered bottles of beer. A couple is sprawled on the sofa. In a corner, Pru's arm hangs over Troy Sattler's shoulder as they kiss. There is a loud buzzing hum permeating the room, punctuated by drunken shouts.
They are all having a really good time.
Paige moves outside where she can breathe again, where the air isn't suffocating her.
She knows Emily is three doors down. At Hanna's house. She can see the lights on from Pru's front porch. She even knows she is there with someone. She's seen them together. At the Grill. At the movies. The blonde's arm draped possessively around Emily's waist when Paige catches Emily's gaze.
Paige sadly wonders if it will always hurt this much. If it will always feel like this. If they will always know each other's pain with a single graceful glance.
She's afraid to put a label on it. She's afraid to try to define what it means. She's afraid to put it into words.
Because this wrenching in her chest… Paige is pretty sure this is what love is.
But if it hurts this much inside, she wonders if maybe she is better off without it.
But she knows it's too late. They've opened themselves up. Stripped off their covers. Let each other in. Paige knows she doesn't have a choice in the matter now. Emily is already inside her, in her blood, coursing through her veins.
There is no going back.
Which is how she came to this decision.
Inside, everyone is smiling. Outside, Paige is crying silently on the stoop.
Because she knows it is time.
Time to let go. Time to take her walls down. Time to let them see what's really within.
She knows that it will hurt.
It's a painful thing, shedding your skin. It's blood and it's tears.
And she's afraid. Afraid to open herself up. Afraid to turn herself inside out.
But someone once told her, whispered to her in the quiet, in the dark, while peeling back her layers, one by one, that she was beautiful underneath.