Effortless. If Paige had to describe Emily in one word, it would be that. Without even thinking, hands down, no regrets: effortless. Followed perhaps by fearless if she could use a second word. Beautiful would be the third. But when it came down to it, what other word besides effortless could truly encompass all that was Emily Fields? Everything just appears to come so easily to her. It wasn't just that she returned to the swim team and almost instantly started breaking records. Oh no, it was definitely more than just the swimming. Smart, talented, sweet and not to mention breathtakingly beautiful; she was one of those people who you wanted to hate but couldn't. How could the world not work out perfectly for her when her hair always cascaded down past her shoulder in just the right way that could leave you speechless as you tried not to stare but failed? She could make old, comfy sweatshirts just as unbelievably sexy as her homecoming dress. Within Paige's admittedly limited experience, she knew Emily could kiss better than anyone. And she had this unique ability that, whenever Emily had kissed Paige, the redhead had felt like she was actually attractive, like she was worth it.
And attractive was the last thing Paige usually felt. Paige was not effortless nor fearless nor granted such perfect cheekbones. Nothing came naturally to her. She couldn't even figure out how to make her boring, pencil-straight hair less severe. Maybe her smile was charming in the right light, but how often did she have reason to smile? She knew she was awkward, perhaps even abrasively so, and had a horrible tendency of trying to compensate for her shortcomings by being overly competitive. And a bully.
But she was so preoccupied with her underlying differentness that made it hard for her to be any other way. She lived under the constant threat of just how under it all really was and if she could truly keep it hidden for much longer. Her differentness, it seemed to float dangerously just beneath the edges of her, a constant threat of surfacing and inevitably ruining her. And so words always seemed to build up in her mouth, piling upon each other as she fixated over each syllable, as she mentally rehearsed every word, phrase and sentence over and over and over again. Only for them to tumble out all wrong.
And then there was her father, her father's expectations and her father blaming and guilt trips.
And then there was Emily. Emily who just floats into her life nonchalantly and ruins everything. No matter how much Paige toiled and worked, it seemed like she could never touch the girl and her achievements. No, it certainly was not just the swimming.
Even her name was easy to say—Emily Fields. It just breezed off one's tongue. Not at all like her own. While Paige was inoffensive enough, one's tongue always seemed to get caught on McCullers, a last name perhaps more properly fitting for a farmer or for a minor villain who was not meant to be taken so seriously. Was it the hard C followed by a sound that briefly sounded like one was perhaps punched in the stomach, the 'er' turning more into a sigh of recovery? Ot maybe it was Paige overly fixating again. But one way or another, it was less than pleasant to say. Paige had fully planned from an early age to take the last name of whoever was daft enough to marry her. Of course as she got older she began to realize that there were a few massive complications to this plan.
The most glaring being the one that Emily had made Paige all too aware of. After all the other swimmer, whether she realized it or not, never made it easy for Paige even before returning to the pool and threatening Paige's relay anchor spot and her aspirations to be captain. Some part of Paige had probably always known the truth about herself, about her underlying and as yet unnameable difference that made her so anxious. But seeing Emily and Maya together—and looking so happy—only confirmed it for her. It was hard not to stare at the happy couple so confounded she was over how two girls in high school could make being gay look so easy, breezy, beautiful cover girl. The last thing she believed was that she could ever be as happy as Emily and Maya. Especially not in high school. Especially not with her father.
She knew how he felt about anyone who was stupid enough (or brave enough) to do something different or contrary to how he thought it should go. He even found offense in girls with short hair or boys with long hair, especially if it was in a ponytail or braids. If he knew the truth about his own daughter, it would just be another way that she inferior, another thing for him to have to find blame for. Paige really had to wonder if her father would be able to look her in the face, let alone love her. Would she even be his little girl? Or her mother's? At first, she was so occupied with worry that she barely noticed her growing feelings for her distant teammate.
But there they were, her feelings, her differentness threatening to finally rise to the surface. She resented Emily for being beautiful and smart, for how Emily's flawless perfection escaped being marred by being gay. How could it be so easy for her? This resentment grew from her gut and spread to the far reaches of her like a weed infecting her fingertips. It swelled up into her mouth where piled up next to all the words she wanted to say but couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't and nearly choked her. She hated how Emily had made Paige painfully aware of who she was. She hated how Emily made it all look so easy when Paige knew it would never be like that for her. She hated how Emily looked at Maya, how she smiled at her and held her hand down the hallway. Most of all, she hated how Emily made Paige feel, which was nothing like hate at all. But all those feelings, Paige kept bottled up inside, dwelling just beneath the surface with everything else that scared Paige about herself.
But then Maya left and Emily returned to the pool and threatened to topple everything. During her break from the pool, the other swimmer had been a distant threat. It was one thing if she made Paige aware of the truth, but it was another to be suddenly everywhere all the time, throwing it in the redhead's face. And she was everywhere, not just in the hallways, but at practice, at meets, in the lane next to her swimming faster. Within weeks of returning to the pool, Emily not only continued to threaten Paige's mental well-being, but the sanctuary she had found in the pool where she didn't have to be anything or anyone but fast, her place as captain, and her anchor spot. And then her father's anger at her for her less than perfection, her slipping and slacking off. It was all too much.
Paige wasn't proud of it, of any of it. The breast stroke comment, if she allowed herself a moment of honesty, she was speaking more to herself than to Emily. And holding Emily's head under the water? It truly frightened Paige when she had realized what she was doing, what she had done.
She had no idea why she had shown up on Emily's doorstep that night in the rain. Even less of an inkling as to why Emily not only opened the door but didn't shout at her and instead talked to her like she was a human being, like Paige's words were worth listening to. Somehow Emily didn't seem to hate her and it made Paige hate herself more, made her apology sound even weaker.
And Paige remembered how it down poured when she skidded across the wet pavement pedaling back home. And how easy she thought it would be if she fell, if she fell like she had fallen for Emily. And part of her felt more surprised by her realization than the abrupt contact of her skin against the concrete or how the impact reverberated through her muscles before settling into her bones. She doesn't remember walking her bike home. She only realized she was bleeding after locking herself in the bathroom, curled up in a ball, soggy clothes still clinging to her body as she sobbed as quietly as she could.
And somehow, somehow despite all Paige's abusive, overly-competitive, awkward mistakes, she had kissed Emily. Abruptly and horribly before literally running away like she was still grade school. It was utterly embarrassing and this time she remembered how she ran all the way home, stumbling a few times. All Paige wanted to do was forget, to pretend like it never happened. To save some scrap of dignity she might have left. But Emily kept calling her, texting her. She wouldn't let it alone or let Paige be.
And then the unbelievable: Emily had kissed her. Standing there in the dive bar's parking lot being kissed by the girl who had made everything so difficult for her, it had all felt so right. Maybe even too right. She never wanted to stop kissing Emily Fields in that dark parking lot but she never wanted to deal with the consequences of kissing Emily either. However there were always consequences, especially in high school, and if she honestly dealt with them, her world would change forever. Paige wasn't sure she could handle that quite yet. Or ever.
What was so wrong about wishing to keep their relationship a secret? Why didn't Emily understand? She could love Emily and not love people knowing about it. Coming out wasn't easy and, to be honest, Paige wasn't sure if she wanted to or even if she could. Or should. All those quotes about the truth setting you free were not written by gay teenagers in high school, Paige could almost guarantee that. And Paige had to be realistic. While the students had been more or less respectful of Emily when she had started dating Maya, Paige highly doubted she could expect similar treatment from her peers. Emily was Emily: talented, beautiful, popular and smart. And Paige, she was still Paige. After admittedly being a bully so often to cover up her own insecurities, Paige hardly doubted she would be spared a taste of her own medicine in the hallways and locker rooms if the dirty truth about her was ever revealed. And that was just at school.
Even effortless Emily had struggled and still struggled with her mother. So what could she expect from her own even less perfect family? She could barely even think about it it frightened her so much. All the pressure to be the perfect daughter, the best at everything, the top of the class, the captain of the team, the anchor of the relay, and what of that? How she could be the perfect daughter if she was kissing someone else's even more perfect daughter? The plan was more than just a GPA in the top percentile, a remarkable college application, an ivy league education. It was a picture perfect white wedding in June, a house with a picket fence in Rosewood, or a similar suburb that would be close to both her and her husband's high paying, executive jobs. The expected two point five children, both naturally gifted of course, that were neither adopted nor conceived through the help of something akin to a turkey baster. That was the game plan that she had to execute flawlessly, exactingly. Any less than that would be failure and failure was never an option.
And it was this fear of failure that controlled her every action. It drove her to reach the top by any means necessary. It isolated her because her father had made it clear being a perfect daughter did not include close friends. Friends had the nasty tendency to get in the way after all and distract her. And forget about being gay, Paige was barely allowed to date boys.
So, really, how could Paige meet Samara at the Rosewood Grill? First of all, it was hardly a place for a private and personal conversation. What if someone overheard? Besides she had no actual plans of coming out any time soon so it seemed entirely pointless. She had been so wrapped up in Emily, so desperate to keep her that she had said those things, made that promise, hoping to buy time, to keep buying time. Until what? Until Emily understand why she couldn't. She had thought that if she had just showed the intention, a glimmer of a hope of coming out that Emily would understand that she was at least trying. And later, when Emily got to know her more, got to understand her family more, she would realize what Paige was up against and maybe even agree with Paige's hesitation and doubts.
It wasn't her fault that neither Samara nor Emily received the email she had sent earlier that morning canceling their meeting, vaguely citing something had come up and asking for a raincheck. Of course, she had meant to send it sooner but her mother wanted to email their cousins and then her dad kept walking by the family computer so Paige had to keep minimizing windows while pretending to write a paper that didn't exist. If only Paige was allowed internet access on her laptop, but she had lost that privilege when she lost her place as relay anchor.
So she had more or less unintentionally stood Samara up. But Emily hadn't. The whole charade had been a mistake and it all blew up in her face when Samara turned out to be a cute and overly flirtatious blonde. She had once again lost her chance with Emily. And she knew she wasn't going to get another chance unless she actually did come out. In the end, that was not something she was sure she could do, even if it was for Emily.
Spencer couldn't concentrate. Her AP Russian History text book lay open before her but her mind kept returning to the email she had received last night. The inner workings of the long dead czars couldn't compare with the inner meaning of all the emotions that were now stirred to the surface by A's latest barb. It wasn't so much the taunting message as it was the photo attachments of Emily in her window seat kissing Paige McCullers that haunted Spencer so much. More than being shocked or stunned, Spencer had also felt a strange sensation surging through her as if she had been sucker punched in the gut. Judging from A's words, however, Spencer was fairly sure that A was not fully aware of the extent of the pain and confusion they had now caused in the brunette.
First of all, when exactly had Paige transformed from bullying homophobe to tonsil hockey partner? While relieved that Paige had apparently stopped terrorizing Emily, Spencer was nowhere near pleased with Paige's apparent newfound role in Emily's life. Emily could do better. So much better.
"Spencer?" Spencer broke out from her revelry to look at Toby. They were sharing the couch in her living room, his arm casually draped over her shoulder as she pretended to study and he presumably actually read his book.
"Hm?" She blinked, trying to return to the real world and push images of her rather attractive friend out of her head.
"I was just checking to see if you were still with us on planet earth," he smiled innocently. "You haven't turned a page for over ten minutes."
"Oh. Just lost in thought." Spencer bit her lip and rubbed her eyes before giving a meek smile.
"I can see that." As Spencer got to know Toby, she had learned to appreciate how forward Toby was and how his almost minimalist word choices and simple sentence structures was not an indication of his intelligence but seemingly a product of whittling his words down to the bare, truthful essentials. Of course, as blunt as he could be, he still had a way of mystifying his meaning. "Anything good?"
"Not really, just thinking about how crazy it would have been to live in Russia back then," Spencer forced a grin, trying to look innocent from the thoughts that were still buzzing around her brain.
"Probably not any crazier than here."
"Right, just with more fur coats and vodka."
"I'm not sure about the more vodka part. Have you seen some of our neighbor's recycling?" Toby stated with a smile that Spencer had to admit was beyond cute, in fact she would definitely classify it as charming. Attractive even.
Spencer had never once questioned that she liked boys. It was a clear and simple fact. But the pain that jolted through her stomach when she saw those photos of Emily and Paige? She was pretty sure that was jealousy that was now eating her up inside. It had started to make her wonder if her protectiveness over Emily was perhaps more than just a platonic, healthy concern over the sweet one in their group. It was a question that, if Spencer was entirely honest with herself, was not entirely new to her. She had always had a quiet questioning in the back of her mind wondering if she liked girls as much as or maybe even more than boys. However she had also liked boys, had been relatively happy with boys and so had never given girls a serious thought. It was just easier that way after all. Of course, after Emily came out, Spencer had started to wonder more seriously, but even so they were thoughts that were pretty easy to push out of one's mind with the overachiever amount of AP courses she was taking, a relentless cyber stalker and becoming the prime suspect in her friend's murder. But now, this? Her jealousy she could almost feel it on a physical level and it made her wish that Toby wasn't touching her. And that couldn't be entirely platonic, now could it?
Which led to the question of how long had she had she feelings for Emily? As she tried to trace it back, she couldn't find a starting point or a beginning. Whether actually true or not, it seemed as if her deep affection (and attraction) for the other girl had always just been there. After Alison's murder, Aria moved to Iceland and the rest of group started to drift apart, it was Emily that Spencer had missed the most. Even more than Alison. She found ways to rationalize all this of course. After all Hanna was changing so much as she rose to the new Rosewood "It" girl, but this really wasn't true. If anything, without Alison around constantly putting Hanna down, the blonde was finally coming into her own and finding, or at least faking, confidence. And after losing the weight, it became near impossible for all of Rosewood to miss what a beautiful and charming girl she was. True, Aria was out of sight, out of mind in Iceland but Spencer still passed by her old house almost every day. And maybe it was easier not thinking about Alison, but she was always in the back of Spencer's mind. Her presence had a way of lurking behind corners, creeping in shadows, an underlying hope of unexpectedly turning up coupled with a growing dismay that she never would. But with Emily it was somehow different.
She missed the other girl the same way she felt jealousy now, on an almost physical level. But why? In the locker room, their lockers were close enough that they served as a constant reminder but by all rights, it shouldn't have affected Spencer any differently than Aria's house. And sure being the only serious athletes in the group, Spencer could reason it gave the two of them a special bond she didn't have with the other girls. But if Spencer was honest, it wasn't just the athletics or the desire coupled with the ability to win that drew her to miss Emily so much. No, the reason dwelled in the core of Emily herself—her smile, how she alternated between sometimes hiding behind her hair and tucking it behind her ear, her softness. How she wore just enough perfume for her scent to linger for a few seconds after passing by. Or how sometimes after swim practice she was paranoid that she smelled like chlorine, even though she secretly liked how it smelled.
Even though Spencer missed Emily the most, she consciously allowed the distance to grow between them. Despite always wanting to see Emily, or perhaps because of, the swimmer had started to inspire a strange sort of nervousness and self-consciousness in Spencer. Spending time with her friend forced her to confront, or at least acknowledge these feelings and Spencer had no idea how to deal with that quite yet. So she hid behind her busy and demanding schedule and threw herself into all sorts of projects and deadlines that would keep her safely away from her beautiful friend's butterfly inducing presence.
And once they had become friends again? It was more than just Spencer always subtly trying to find ways to sit next to or, in the very least, across from the other girl. There was no questioning that Spencer was far more protective over Emily than anyone else in their group. And Spencer could only cite shallow excuses as to the reason why. Emily was far stronger than she initially appeared for starters. And Hanna? For all her popularity and sarcastic bravado, she was just as sweet as Emily and arguably just as vulnerable and fragile, if not more. Being the "indie" one of the group did not make Aria any less delicate than her friends nor did her feather accessories act as magical fashion talismans protecting her from the ills of the world. But the bias was there and it was becoming increasingly evident.
And that horrid night in the bell tower? Only hours before it happened she had told Toby that he was her safe place. But who had she called? Even before 911, in the moment of truth, she had dialed Emily when she feared for her life. She did so without pause or hesitation or thought. It was Emily. It was always Emily.
Her mind wandered to small moments with Emily that she cherished. The glow Emily got after swimming. Lying in the sun on Emily's bed helping her with homework. Her drunken refusal to let Spencer open the car door for her. Spencer only now realizing how much she wanted, wants to be a gentleman for Emily.
"What are you really thinking about?" Toby inquired, interrupting Spencer's thoughts once again.
"What do you mean?" Spencer turned her head towards Toby, trying to look innocent. More and more time passed, the arm he had casually draped around her shoulder felt increasingly heavy and wrong but she couldn't find a way of subtly sliding it off.
"No one smiles like that about the Bolshevik Revolutions, not even communists." He had a teasing and playful smile. Boyish.
Spencer tucked her hair behind her ear, instantly thinking of Emily with that gesture. "Just letting my mind wander I suppose." But Spencer couldn't lie to Toby. It seemed utterly cruel to lie to someone like him. She had no idea how she and the rest of the town could have been so convinced that he was ever a murderer. "I saw a picture of Emily kissing someone who wasn't Maya." Spencer frowned a little.
"And this bothers you." It wasn't a question, it was an honest statement of fact.
"It's not that this girl isn't Maya, I think we all know that's over what with Maya now seemingly preferring, for whatever reason, to commune with bears and trees. It's who this new girl is." Spencer exhaled. "It's someone I don't think she should be kissing, that's all. Or really even be friends with. She's been horrible to Emily in the past and…" Spencer searched for the words.
"You're worried about her." Toby spoke with a slight smile on his face, there was something about it that drew Spencer's attention. There was something strange about it that Spencer couldn't quite place.
"Of course I am," Spencer nodded resolutely. "She's my friend and I'm afraid she's making a big mistake. This isn't a case me of misjudging someone too quickly on poor evidence, this girl has actually proven that she's bad news more than once. She's not house trained and she's bitten twice already."
"Alright, that's an interesting mental image," Toby continued to smile, though he looked a bit unsettled. "If that's what you're thinking about, then why were you smiling just then?"
"I…" But for the life of her, Spencer could not figure out how to answer Toby's inquiry.
"Emily making a big mistake isn't the only reason why this new girl bothers you, is it?" Again, it wasn't a question, but an honest statement of fact. Her eyes, in part to avoid eye contact, still hadn't left his smile and suddenly Spencer figured out what kind of smile it was: it was the smile of someone who was trying not to look sad or hurt. He withdrew his arm, returning it back to his side. Spencer immediately felt the chill from the lack of contact, but mostly she just felt free. And then, as if in explanation, Toby continued, "You were blushing earlier, back then when you were smiling. I had been hoping it was about me but I think we both know better by now."
"No, I get it. I had feelings for her once too, remember?"
While the rest of the girls were determined to finish their homework, Hanna had long ago diverted to reading the Cosmo magazine she had found in Emily's room. And despite no one joining her, she had proceeded to take one of the quizzes out loud. First with her own answers and then again posing as each one of her friends and trying to guess their answers. Spencer, who was half paying attention to her friend's antics, was surprised that Hanna, who had consistently showed so little insight in English class, could determine Spencer's answers with an alarming accuracy. It wasn't the first time Spencer wondered where Hanna would be in school if the blonde could actually be bothered with schoolwork. But when even this somewhat impressive trick of guessing her friend's answers couldn't gain her friends' attention, which was perhaps less impressive when one realized how long all four of the girls had known each other, Hanna soon grew bored of the game herself.
"You know, wasn't it only a month ago we were all seeing someone?" Hanna mused out loud, her eyes still locked on the magazine as she flipped through the pages trying to find something to attract her attention. "And now the only one in a relationship is Aria. Maybe we should all start dating our teachers, they seem to be the most stable ones out there."
"Hey," Aria piped up, defending herself. "I'm not the only one seeing someone. Spencer, what about you and Toby?"
Emily, who had been determinedly trying to finish her algebra on her bed, suddenly looked up with interest. And Spencer, who had been largely but hopefully subtly preoccupied with Emily since arriving, noticed.
"Nothing there to report, it's not happening," Spencer shook her head, her eyes mostly on Emily, waiting to see if the other girl would pipe up. If anything, now would be a perfect opportunity for Emily to share her new romance with Paige.
But when Emily did speak up it was only to ask questions. "What happened Spence? I thought you two were happy. I mean, you seemed happy."
"I found it weird to date someone with a tattoo of the date of Alison's death to commemorate the end of his relationship with his disturbing step sister." Her words were met with wide-eyed surprise that she had actually gone there and Spencer only shook her head. "I'm joking. But seriously, we're just friends. We got close too fast and then with us both being suspects and sharing the hotel room, we just confused it for something more than it was. We can chalk it up to teenage hormones and loneliness." She spoke plainly with a shrug. "It was no real hard feelings, we just realized it wasn't going anywhere and we'd rather have each other's friendship." And hopefully she still had it. "He's a good guy, just not my guy, you know?" Spencer spoke mostly to her algebra book, trying not to look solely at Emily as she spoke.
"If you say so," Hanna shrugged. "Guess I answered that one question wrong for you in the Cosmo quiz. So, you have your eye on anyone else then?"
"Toby and I just broke it off today," Spencer tried to avert her attention back to her algebra book, hoping her long hair would hide the sudden blush threatening to creep back, but as she spoke she accidentally made eye contact with Emily who didn't look away either. For a moment, their eyes were locked in contact before Emily blinked and looked away.
"Well, one of us needs to back on the pony. Spencer, I vote you."
"It's horse, Hanna." Spencer corrected somewhat fondly. As to the rest of her friend's statement, she decided to let it pass.
"Whatever. I want to live vicariously through someone who isn't dating our English teacher. I mean, he is cute and everything but… actually, no, he is pretty cute. I'm fine with living through you, Aria. It's not like he's old and wrinkly yet."
"Hey!" Aria threw her eraser playfully at Hanna.
"Besides there are plenty of dolphins in the sea." Hanna spoke as she dodged the pink missile.
"Hanna," Aria exhaled patiently. "It's fish. There are plenty of fish in the sea."
"I know that," Hanna grinned playfully. "But I like dolphins better so whatever. Besides who would want to date a fish anyway? Isn't it like cold fish or something?"
"It's cold feet," Emily smiled. "You're just doing that on purpose now."
"Actually, Hanna might be right on that one. Cold fish means frigid woman. How does that line go, 'It was thought she was a woman, and was turn'd into a cold fish.'" When everyone looked at Spencer with a confused look, Spencer exhaled with exasperation. "Has no one done the reading from Mr. Fitz's class? Come on, Aria you're in love with the man. It's from The Winter's Tale. We just read it last week."
"Spencer if you didn't hang out with us so much, I'd say you'd have to get a life. Who memorizes Shakespeare?" Hanna rolled her eyes.
Anything Spencer might have replied with was cut short as everyone froze when Aria's phone buzzed.
"It's just Ezra," Aria reported checking her phone, the relief in the room almost palpable.
"We really need to set our phones so they ring differently when someone not in our contacts messages us. I really can't handle a heart attack at every text message," Spencer observed. She wasn't sure how much more of A any of them could handle.
"Might be a good idea," Hanna nodded.
"So, what does Mr. Fitz have to say, anything good?"
"Ezra just got out of his staff meeting," Aria explained as she typed a response. "I think I'm going to finish my homework at his place."
"Isn't that cheating?" Hanna arched her eyebrow. "I mean, he is your teacher."
"It's not like I'm going to do his assignments there. Besides, he's not going to be teaching at Rosewood for much longer and I only have science to finish up for tonight." Aria shrugged casually as she started to gather her things together. "Hanna, can I have my eraser back?"
"Whether it's considered cheating or not is a moot point as I think we all know that Aria isn't going over to work on her homework." Spencer smirked, speaking in the mock-sexy voice she used whenever she teased Aria about her love life. "Unless it's extra credit biology."
"When did this become pick on Aria night?" Aria stood up, bag in hand.
"When you became the only one in a relationship." Hanna informed brightly. Spencer stole a glance at Emily who once again said nothing. "Actually, I should probably leave too. My mom is on this big mother-daughter bonding kick ever since Caleb left. I think she wants to watch a movie tonight or something to cheer me up. But if I show up too late, she'll be grumpy at me for the rest of the night. How does that make any sense?" Hanna stood up, relinquinshing her spot on Emily's bed.
After both Aria and Hanna left, Spencer took Hanna's place on Emily's bed so they could share an algebra book. Now next to Emily on the bed, Spencer found herself once again having difficulty concentrating. They worked mostly in silence, Emily every once in a while asking a question, which was probably the one thing keeping Spencer's mind somewhat on track as she stole glances at Emily that were bit more than friendly.
As per a new Pam policy, the door to Emily's room was open and while they never saw her, they heard her continue her one woman mission of packing up for Texas. Luckily Pam had agreed to wait until Emily had finished the current semester before forcing their temporary relocation, which would give Emily more time to find a way to stay behind in Rosewood. In the meantime, Pam was flying down to Texas nearly every other weekend to get everything sorted out for their big arrival just before the winter holidays. It was only after Spencer had more or less finished the last problem that Pam knocked lightly on the doorframe to remind them both that it was a school night. Assuring Pam that she was just on her way out, Spencer slid her laptop into her bag as she sat up.
"I'm sorry to hear about you and Toby," Emily offered as she watched Spencer pack up after Pam had walked back down stairs. The way she said those words it sounded as if she had been wanting to say them for a while.
"Don't be," Spencer smiled as she zipped up her bag. "I'm not."
Emily studied Spencer long and hard before accepting Spencer's answer. "Okay. But if you want to talk about it, I'm here for you all right?"
"It was mutual. If anything, he's probably more heartbroken than I am."
"He brought it up actually, though I think accidentally and… it's nothing really, we just sort of stumbled across the reality that my mind wandered too much when I was with him." Spencer tried to fight the blush coming to her face. Forcing her nervousness aside, Spencer decided to ask about the one thing that had been bothering her all evening. "What about you?"
"What do you mean what about me?" Emily furrowed her brow in confusion.
"I mean, when are planning to tell us?" Spencer looked at Emily, carefully studying her features. "About you."
"Planning on telling you what about me exactly?" Emily sat up, tucking a strand of hair behind her ears, suddenly looking very uncomfortable. "Spencer you already know that I'm gay."
"About you and Paige." Spencer stated simply, her eyes never leaving Emily.
There was a long silence before Emily said anything. And when she finally did, her voice was nearly a whisper. "There's nothing to say. It's over. It never really began."
"So you two aren't…?"
"No. To be honest, I don't even want to speak to her at the moment. She wouldn't come out of the closet and I wouldn't go back in. I won't be ashamed of who I am," Emily's face was lined with pained determination.
"Good." Spencer nodded, her tone as resolute and Emily's face was determined. She locked her eyes with Emily's. "You deserve so much better than Paige McCullers." She tried her best not to make a face when she said the redhead's name, though Spencer was sure she had limited success. "She would never be able to treat you well," Spencer insisted, only belatedly trying to explain. "I mean, she tried to drown you, Em."
"Spencer! It's not all just black and white. She was confused about being gay and all the pressure from the swim team and her dad just sort of got to her."
"Please don't make excuses for her. You're better than that. Most people figuring out their sexuality don't go around drowning people, Em. I mean you don't see me developing a violent or abusive streak." The words were out of Spencer's mouth before she even realized what she was saying.
"Why would you? You're not…" Emily started and then stopped. Spencer didn't have to be watching Emily to feel the girl's eye intently studying her, maybe suddenly taking in her military style jacket in a new light—which Spencer was probably the first to admit looked pretty gay when you actually thought about it—before their eyes met. "You're not gay. Are you?"
"I like boys," Spencer started and, only after the slightest pause as her eyes dipping slightly before finding Emily's again, added, "but I like girls too. Well, right now, I like one girl in particular. Quite a lot actually."
"Oh?" Emily spoke, her voice suddenly sounding hoarse, her voice barely audible over the sounds of Pam banging around downstairs.
The rest of the world seemed to go quiet before Spencer leaned in closer towards Emily. When the other girl didn't move away, Spencer kissed her softly on the cheek. Her lips lingering on the other girl's soft skin just long enough to not be entirely platonic, to begin to make Spencer's intentions clear without hopefully crossing a line. In those brief few seconds, Emily sat there frozen, neither moving in nor moving away. While this was perhaps not the best encouragement, Spencer was working on nerves alone and found herself kissing Emily's other cheek, lingering just a bit longer than before.
This time, however, to Spencer's surprise and delight, Emily moved in slightly, almost beckoning, inviting Spencer further. And so, Spencer lowered her attention, almost chastely, to find Emily's lips. Despite how soft they felt against her own, so different in all the right ways from any boy she had ever been with, Spencer pulled away before the kiss could become anything more. She was more than aware of her friendship with Emily and how she was very well putting it all in jeopardy.
"What…?" Emily asked, finding words suddenly difficult to formulate, her face flushed after a few moments of stunned silence. For a second, it appeared as if she would close the distance between their lips again. "Why did you…?"
"Isn't it obvious? This is my full confession: you're the girl that I like. And I hope you know me well enough to realize that I'm not teasing you with this or trying to be cruel. This is how I truly feel about you. And I'm not some confused girl wanting to experiment and try on the bi-curious label for a season because I think it might be fashionable. I really like you, Em. A lot and in a decidedly quite romantic manner," Spencer leaned in again, her heart in her throat, to find Emily's lips one more before her friend could reply. Not only did Emily not pull away, she responded to Spencer's gentle contact by opening her mouth ever so slightly, shyly trying to deep the contact. Spencer marveled at how effortless it felt to kiss Emily, how right it was, how even in that fairly innocent kiss their lips seemed to melt together. But before Spencer would let her teenage hormones run away with her, she pulled away, lingering only slightly on Emily's bottom lip.
"That was my good night kiss." And with more bravado than Spencer actually felt, she slipped off the bed, grabbed her bag and walked out. She paused slightly at the door and turned around, "And just so you know, you would never be my secret. You are far too good for that."