Note: I finally decided to get around to a chapter story. I have this whole thing pretty much plotted out, so I hope you all will be patient and have faith (I am a sucker for happy endings).

That said, this is an AU story (i think that's the right term). It follows mostly canon, but takes place 2 years later. In this universe, Paige and Emily have never met, never went to high school together. And just to emphasize, this is an Emily & Paige story.

Also, I should say, I know nothing about any of the colleges in these stories. All I've figured out was from the internet, so if you are a resident of PA or have more knowledge of these school, please give me a little leeway. Hopefully, nothing will be distracting from the story.

To all the lovely people who left kind words on my previous stories and to all of the Paige lovers, this is for you. xx

Your Hand In Mine

Chapter One

Emily reached out her hand and rolled down the window of her parents' white SUV, her dark eyes squinting as they adjusted to the bright light. The sky was clear blue, graced with a faint wisp of clouds trailing across the horizon. It was the end of August, Emily's favorite time of year, when the warmth of summer was still lingering with a hint of fall just beginning to set in.

They had been driving for over three hours, the car loaded with mountains of suitcases as they made their way across central Pennsylvania. Emily's body was growing anxious, and she fidgeted in the backseat as their destination finally came into view.

Her father, Wayne Fields, glanced back through the rearview mirror from the driver's seat.

"How you doing there, kiddo?" he asked, his voice a mix of concern and encouragement.

"Good. Good," Emily responded, nodding.

Her father's reflection flashed her a broad smile. Next to him, Pam Fields twisted around from the passenger seat up front.

"You nervous?" she wondered as she looked back at her only child with an touch of sadness at having to let her go.

Emily shook her head, offering a smile. "No. Just excited."

Emily hugged her arms tighter around a navy blue pillow with a mountain lion emblazoned across it. It was the one she received at her recruitment visit, the visit which, soon after, she learned she was being offered a full college scholarship for swimming. She had felt a huge sense of relief that day. For Emily, it felt like her future was finally in sight, clear and open and free as she finally let herself accept that one flashing truth she'd been chasing for years.

She was finally getting out of Rosewood.

Emily turned her eyes back to the open window, pushing a strand of dark hair behind her ear, and let out a deep breath. She was ready, she told herself. But her body was still a nervous wreck inside, and she couldn't help but wonder if she really was so prepared for what lay ahead.

The years growing up in Rosewood had been tough enough for Emily, trying to find herself and her place all at the same time. Yet, somehow she had finally settled in to this comfortable safe little existence with her stalwart friends and a girlfriend who adored her.

Now, here she was, plucked from safety and being dropped again in foreign territory. Her eyes darted across the nearby quad as they drove in to find Emily's dorm. The campus was sprawling, filled with coeds, and she wondered how she would ever navigate it. Where as, once, she found it hard to figure out her place amongst hundreds, now she was amongst thousands, and she felt like she might dissolve into the crowd.

Emily pulled out her cell and started to text Hanna but decided against it. She was sure that that morning Hanna had been trying last minute to fit every single pair of shoes she owned into an LV suitcase and didn't want to cause her more hassle if they were already running late.

After much thought, the two had finally made the decision not to room together as freshman. Emily knew she could never handle Hanna's late nights and that Hanna would never survive Emily's daily alarm clock buzzing at 530am for morning swim practice. Instead, Hanna had sprung for a random roommate, and Emily had let the swim team coach pair her up with another freshman recruit.

Emily was, however, grateful that Hanna would be at Penn State with her. Of their friends, they were the only ones that were headed to State College to become Nittany Lions. On the other hand, Spencer had gotten in to Penn on scholarship, her dream, and despite her sadness at parting with her friends, she knew she couldn't turn down the opportunity. Next week, she would be settling in to her dorm in Philly. Meanwhile, she had offered to ride with Hanna and her mom and help the two new PSU girls get settled in before riding back with Mrs. Marin. Meanwhile, Aria had opted to stay in Rosewood to attend Hollis where she and Mr. Fitz, or Ezra as they were all still slowly learning to call him, were still navigating the ins and outs of their relationship and deciding whether or not to move in together for Aria's first year.

The SUV made another turn through campus, and finally, the looming old century structures that made up the East Dorms appeared into view, signaling their arrival. Emily was home, her new one at least. She shifted in her seat, tensing at the reality that her entire world was about to shift.

After parking and getting her new keys from the front desk, Emily and her folks began unloading the suitcases from the back of the SUV. The coach had had all of the swimmers assigned to the East Halls so they would be close to the Natatorium when they had to trek over for morning and evening practices. It was a collection of over a dozen buildings all huddled together. Emily pointed towards one that she was assigned to, Brumbaugh, and led her parents towards the building.

Once inside, the crowd of coeds and parents moving in only became tighter and louder as beaming excited voices filled the first floor lobby. It was a hot day, and Emily could tell a few of the parents were already looking fatigued.

Emily's parents did their best to lug Emily's bags up the stairs to the second floor before meandering down the hallway to her room. The door was ajar, and Emily stepped in cautiously, wondering if her new roommate had arrived yet. They hadn't spoken yet, and the only information she had was that it would be another girl from the swim team. Emily had been hoping upon hope that it would all turn out okay, but she was nervous about living with someone, especially a girl she didn't even know. She had been so used to her privacy as an only child. At 18 years old, this would be the first time she'd ever shared a space with someone.

As she headed into the room, she passed two identical wooden closets on opposite walls before the space opened up to a pair of desks and twin beds placed on either side, one side with an already made bed and a pair of suitcases.

In front of Emily, unloading a stack of books onto one of the desks was her new roommate. From the back, even though she was leaning over, Emily could tell she was tall, maybe a touch taller than her, with auburn hair that fell just around her shoulders. The noise of Emily and her parents stirred her, and as she turned around, Emily was met with wide brown eyes. Emily took a moment to take the other girl in. She had pale skin with a button nose and soft pouty red lips. Her hair was cut with a fray of long bangs pushed to the side of her forehead. She was wearing shorts and a tank with a long thin draping cardigan over it that failed to disguise her athletic frame. She was, without a doubt, pretty, in this intriguing sort of way, Emily noticed easily before forcing herself to disregard the thought.

"Hi. I'm Emily," she said sweetly, flashing a smile and shyly running a hand through her dark locks.

The other girl's eyes shifted uncomfortably. Emily thought that she looked confused or maybe taken aback, like she had expected something different of her freshman roommate. Emily felt a rush of insecurity come over her. Was it something about her? Her clothes? Her hair?

The other girl recovered quickly, forcing a smile. "Paige."

Emily nodded. "These are my parents," Emily said, turning around and motioning to Pam and Wayne standing behind her with the rest of her luggage.

"Mr. and Mrs. Fields," Wayne announced, reaching out a hand that Paige shook shyly. "Nice to meet you, Paige."

"It's nice to meet you too," Paige replied politely.

As they all four stood there, an awkward silence hovered over the room. Emily could almost feel it as something palpable in the air. She had known it would be uncomfortable to have to live with someone you barely knew, but actually meeting them? She realized she didn't have a clue what to say.

Moving to her side of the room, Emily emptied a bag of bedding onto the twin mattress. She looked over at her new roommate again who was busily arranging items on her desk.

"I'm glad you got here first," Emily said, drawing the girl's gaze. "I don't think I'd know which bed to choose."

Paige raised an eyebrow at her, and Emily instantly felt embarrassed. It was a stupid thing to say, she thought. But she was nervous, and awkward, stupid words always seemed to come out of her mouth at times like these.

"We hear you are also on the swim team with Emily?" Pam inquired, as she helped pull a fitted sheet over Emily's mattress.

"Yeah. I am," Paige responded, nodding and flashing Emily's mother an appeasing smile.

"Another swim star," Wayne chipped in with excitement. "That'll be great."

"I'm sure it'll be nice having that in common," Pam added, looking from her daughter to Paige.

Emily caught eyes with Paige across the room and rolled her eyes. Paige stifled a small laugh. Emily immediately felt a little better. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad.

"Are you from around here?" Emily asked cautiously, trying to sound casual, but not too aloof, interested, but not desperate. She knew she was over-thinking the entire thing, but she couldn't help herself.

"No, Ohio," Paige responded simply.

Wayne turned from the window view. "Oh yeah, what part?" he wondered with a smile.

"Dublin," Paige offered. "Just outside Columbus," she added more warmly, and Emily found herself hoping the girl would end up speaking more than just a few words once Emily could get parents out of the way.

"That's a nice area," Pam said as she pulled the comforter over Emily's bed.

Wayne leaned back against the wall. "I have a buddy from those parts. You didn't want to go to OSU?" he asked eagerly.

Paige shrugged shyly. "I guess I just liked Penn State."

"Dad," Emily pleaded, flashing him a look that told him to please stop asking so many questions, It was embarrassing her.

"Okay, okay," he responded laughing. He took another glance out the window at the load of families still arriving. He finally turned back. "Your folks around, Paige?"

Without even looking up from putting a pillowcase on, Emily shook her head. There was no stopping her father.

"No, I…" Paige started, shifting her weight. "I drove up with a friend."

"Well, you must have very trusting parents," Wayne commented with a touch of amazement in his voice as he caught eyes with his wife, no doubt thinking about the long argument they had had with Emily, who had wanted to bring her car to PSU. They had insisted she wouldn't need it. However, Emily knew the whole idea of her being so far away made them uneasy and giving her a means to go anywhere else she wanted was just too much for them.

Emily stood up from the newly made bed and turned to her parents. "You guys need to get back out on the road, right?" she suggested hopefully.

Pam moved closer to her daughter, fixing a stray piece of Emily's hair. "You sure you don't want us to stick around? Unpack your stuff?"

"I'm fine," Emily insisted. "Spencer will be here soon. She promised to help."

Pam nodded sadly and looked up to her husband. He crossed the room to them in order for them all to say their final goodbyes. Wayne pulled both his wife and daughter into his arms and hugged them tightly. At the same time, Emily caught eyes with her roommate before Paige looked away, seemingly uncomfortable at witnessing the intimate family moment. Embarrassed, Emily shrugged her parents off before her mother completely dissolved to tears and finished encouraging them out the door.

It clicked shut, and finally, it was just her and Paige in the quiet room filled with luggage, two simple twin beds, empty walls, and new beginnings.