Disclaimer: Who has two thumbs and doesn't own the rights to these characters? This gal!
Author's Notes: This chapter contains spoilers up to Season 2, Episode 18, "A Kiss Before Lying".
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Secondary Note: I've created an eBook style PDF, complete with cover, for 'Season 1' of 'Seven For A Secret'. Season one includes chapters one through fourteen, inclusive. If you'd like to have a copy, head on over to www dot teriasmcklay dot com to download it.
It was just past midnight when they were able to leave the lakehouse, the police insisting Paige be checked by paramedics before she could be sent on her way. A quick call to her parents had explained the broken curfew, the sound of a police radio in the background confirming her alibi. When they reached Rosewood, Sean dropped Pru off first before he stopped at Paige's.
"Want me to come in with you? Explain what happened?"
"No, it's okay. Besides, knowing you, by the time you're done, the lake will have been filled with dragons and Democrats. I plan to downplay it." Paige pushed open the car door, wet clothes wrapped in a soaked towel, her jacket draped over her arm. "Thanks for the sweats. I'll wash them and get them back to you."
"No worries, I have tons. You're sure you don't want me to go in there?"
"I'm fine. Promise." Paige sent him on his way, the front door opening as she walked up the porch stairs. Her mother looked fit for hysterics, tugging Paige into a tight hug before she had even stepped across the threshold. "I'm fine, Mom."
"What were you thinking going out there in the middle of the night?"
Paige looked over her mother's shoulder to her father who appeared worried but in control. She wasn't sure what the big deal was.
He came up beside them, rubbing her mom's back to comfort. "Why don't we have some of that coffee you're brewing and sit down?"
"Coffee! You must be freezing!" Her mother dropped her arms and hurried past them to the kitchen.
"I'm actually okay, Mom," Paige called after her, to no avail. "Is she okay?"
"She was worried sick. I'm concerned myself, Paige. It was dangerous to go into that water. The visibility, the temperature... even experienced swimmers can make mistakes."
"Sean came in a boat right behind me, I was just the first in the water. I couldn't let someone drown." Paige sat on the couch, gratefully accepting the throw her dad put over her shoulders before he sat beside. She sunk into his body, soaking up the warmth he offered.
"I understand and I'm proud of you. We just couldn't take losing you. As experienced as you are in the pool, you're not trained for water rescue. If you'd found that boy and he was panicking, you could have both drowned."
Paige didn't feel like dwelling on the 'could haves' considering she hadn't even found Lucas. He could be lying dead in the lake or on shore somewhere, injured. Still, her father had a point. She had let instinct guide her without giving thought to the possible consequences. Paige was certain it had been the right thing to do -and she would do it again- but she had to remember that decisions weren't made in a vacuum.
"I'm sorry. I'll try to be more careful."
"That's all I can ask. You've been raised to help those in need, I just want you to be smart about it."
"Maybe I should take a life guarding course. I don't expect to have anymore midnight swims but I'm in the water all the time. It makes sense to be prepared."
"You're right. How about we look into it this summer?"
Her mother reappeared, somewhat calmer, handing a steaming cup of coffee to Paige and her father and sat down. Sandwiched between her parents, Paige sipped at her coffee, letting the comfort of her family lull her into relaxation.
The weekend passed quietly, Emily texting her on Saturday to be sure Paige was okay and again on Sunday to let her know Lucas had made contact with his family. Paige was at once relieved that Lucas was okay and irritated that he had waited two days to make contact. How could he have done that to his parents?
Practice went as usual on Monday, Paige doing her best to fight through the residual soreness from the week before. Her shoulder nagged at her as she finished her laps with the Sharks, on the receiving end of Coach Morgan's dressing down for the first time. A number of the girls geared up to protest the lecture, Paige cutting her eyes over and making a small hand motion to stop it in its tracks. It wasn't worth getting into a tussle over and she had been lagging, she couldn't hold herself immune to taking criticism.
When Coach Morgan was done extracting her pound of flesh, Paige went to the showers, surprised to find Vicky and Chloe at her locker when she came out.
"What's up guys?"
"Dude, why would you take crap from her? You had every reason to take the day off and she's ragging on you like you just came back from vacation." Vicky led with, stepping back so Paige could reach for her things.
"Maybe but excuses aren't going to win meets and I'm not perfect, Vicky. I need a kick in the ass every once in awhile too. It's fine."
"It's not. She's been dragging every freshman through the mud for weeks. The girls aren't even sure they want to come back next year. The only reason they haven't walked yet is because of you."
Paige leaned her head against the locker, unsurprised by the news. She was used to this kind of pace. Her father had held her against an even higher standard, delivered even stronger criticisms, for years. The others hadn't experienced this kind of harsh method, long used to Coach Fulton's nurturing style. It was a rude change over that likely sucked the fun out of the sport so what was the point? Most of the girls wouldn't develop well enough to earn rides to university, it was more recreation than anything.
When it came to cohesion, Paige managed, even leadership she could do. But fun? Making the atmosphere relaxed? That had always been Emily's bag.
"Just… tell them to hold on a little longer. We're all still getting used to one another." What would Emily do in her place? Or Coach Fulton? They couldn't change the situation, maybe they had to change their perspective. "Look, why don't we have another get together? Go to Eddie's for pizza?"
"We have to do something," Chloe agreed. "The seniors are gone next year and most of the juniors have put in too much effort to bail on the team. The freshman and sophomores can still cut out without feeling they've wasted a lot of time. If that happens..."
"I know," Paige cut off the speech. It would tank the team. They would spend too much of next season training rookies to hope to make a decent stand. In her senior year, when scouts started to push, that wasn't something Paige could afford. She needed to keep the girls on track. That meant focusing on team building, making them accountable to each other rather than Coach Morgan. It meant putting her attention to tidying her own house, instead of running after Emily to pick her up after every bumped elbow and skinned knee.
Emily had Maya for that now.
Paige had to take these next few weeks and concentrate on herself and her team. She wasn't in a position to split her efforts and Emily had made her choice. It wouldn't be hard. After the day at the barn their conversations had been limited to when they had been forcibly thrown together, like Hannahs' party. Paige would just make a point to dig in her heels and hope for the best.
"Spread the word. We'll do dinner on Saturday at Eddie's."
"Sounds good, Cap'n. We'll get it out to the others." Vicky and Chloe both gave a loose salute, that Paige rolled her eyes at, before leaving her to finish dressing. She was out of the change room later than normal, surprised to find both Pru and Sean at her locker when she got there. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
"I just wanted to check up on you," Sean assured, holding up his hands innocently.
"I'm here to shanghai you," Pru admitted, handing Paige a coffee and pulling her down the hallway. Paige eyed her friend suspiciously.
"Remember that girl Shana that we met at the party?"
"Vaguely, I guess... why?"
"Her parents are in town house hunting so she's going to be here most of the week."
"Why do you know this?" Paige turned to Sean. "Why does she know this?"
"I got her number before she left on Friday. By the way, I totally rock as your wingman. I have mad skills at picking up chicks."
"Oh, God, Pru. What did you do?"
"Nothing. Nothing. I just told Shana you'd be willing to show her a couple of places around town."
"It's nothing serious, I mean she doesn't even live here. C'mon, it's easy. You just go out for coffee or dinner, maybe try another girl's lips on for size."
"Uh, on that note, I think I'm just gonna..." Sean hitched his thumb back the way they had come. "Bye. See you at lunch."
Paige glared at his back as he fled, unable to believe he had completely abandoned her when she needed someone with a brain to shoot down this ludicrous plan. "I can not believe you did that."
"Oh relax, it's not like I paraded you through the red light district. It's one date, Paige. You'll be fine. If nothing else, you can use it to brush up on your non existent social skills."
"Shana's going to call you tonight to make plans. Answer the phone." Pru's stare indicated that disobedience would breed unwelcome consequences.
"This is ridiculous," Paige reiterated, holding the door open for her friend as they ventured into class.
"I haven't yet begun to set you up. I'm still convinced Spencer is your soulmate."
"Pru, I swear to God..."
Paige rounded the hallway corner Thursday afternoon just as Emily and her mom broke apart, both Fields women smiling widely. She couldn't help the smile that crept onto her own face at the sight of it, glad her chronically stressed friend was finally happy again. She went to her locker to grab her workout gear, meaning to make a clean get away when she caught eyes with Mrs. Fields.
Crap. No escape now. Pasting on her best smile -genuinely happy to see Mrs. Fields- Paige walked over to meet her. She was somewhat caught off guard by a tight hug, freezing for a moment before she returned it, the comfort of a mother's embrace undeniable.
"How've you been?"
"Good, busy trying to keep up with everything." Paige said, looking to Emily for how to proceed. "How was the flight from Texas?"
"Long, but more than worth it," Mrs. Fields answered, throwing an arm around Emily's waist to pull her close.
"I'll bet. Well, it was nice to see you, Mrs. Fields. I should let you guys catch up." Paige hitched her duffel bag on her shoulder and began to walk backwards.
"I've got an idea, why don't you let me take the both of you to lunch?"
"Uh..." Paige fumbled for a graceful exit from what she assumed would be a particularly awkward meal. "No, that's okay, Mrs. Fields. You two should hang out."
"Come on, you can catch Emily and I up on what's happening with the team. What do you say? You're allowed off campus aren't you?"
Paige once again looked to Emily, hoping her question about what her friend wanted was apparent in her eyes.
"Yeah, come on, Paige. It'll be fun."
"Okay then, I'll just… uh, put this away." Paige shrugged out of her duffel bag and walked back to her locker, texting Pru as she went.
Going to miss lunch. Going out with Em. And her mom.-Paige
...This should be good.-Pru
Shoving her bag back into the depths of her locker, Paige grabbed her jacket. "Okay, ready."
Mother and daughter walked out arm in arm, Paige at Emily's side, hands tucked into her coat pockets for want of something to do with them.
"So, Paige, how are the preparations for state finals going?"
"Well, we're definitely going to make it into the round robin, we made up a ton of points when we had Emily back."
"That sounds promising."
"More promising if Em were back in the water," Paige admitted, her teammate sighing her discontent. They walked off campus, crossing over to the edge of downtown proper where many of the student hang outs were. They chose one of the calmer burger joints, seating themselves to wait for a server.
"I'm just going freshen up in the washroom and then you can tell me more about this new coach. Honey, order me the veggie burger and side salad, okay?"
Mrs. Fields slid out of her seat, on course for the washrooms at the rear of the small diner.
"I'm sorry if you broke any plans. Mom asks about you a lot."
"She does?" Paige couldn't help the curiosity that coloured her tone. "Why?"
"When I was on the team, you were a big part of my life. I talked about you a lot, I guess. And then with my stomach, I just... she knows how much you helped out. Then there was that whole thing with Lucas." Emily rolled her eyes, Paige following suit. Lucas could have gotten people hurt with his little stunt.
"It's cool, Em. I like your mom. I'm just not sure what she knows. About us."
"She knows we hung out, I've never told her we dated. I didn't want to chance that coming out."
Emily smirked, an expertly aimed ball of napkin hitting Paige in the forehead. "You know what I mean."
"I do. Thanks." Paige was amazed how easy it was for them to slip back into their camaraderie. With all the drama of the past while, she'd almost forgotten why she loved Emily so much in the first place. It would make it harder still to keep her promise to herself to keep her distance. As much for Emily's sake as her own.
Too much easy friendship and Paige was bound to start blurring the lines. She didn't want to do something stupid to screw up their relationship, or Emily's with Maya. Better to stick to safe subjects. "Why's your mom so interested in Coach Morgan? Is she plotting murder? Are we her alibis?"
"No." Emily laughed, turning to give her orders to the server and waiting for Paige to do the same before she resumed. "She wasn't impressed that Morgan hasn't let me come back but she seems to have faith that it'll work itself out."
"It better work itself out quickly, the state tournament is in two weeks. Have you even been back in the water?"
"I started as soon as I was cleared. I've been swimming early at Rosewood Public."
"Oh, I didn't know."
"We haven't exactly been super close these last few weeks." Emily's look said she thought the distance between them wasn't solely her fault.
"I'm sorry about that. I've just been slammed this last little while trying to keep the whole team from walking off deck."
"Oh. I thought maybe your dad had said something."
"Em, no." Paige put her hand on Emily's, hoping to relieve the girl's hangdog expression. "This isn't about him, at all. It's not even just about the team. It's about you. I can't imagine Maya would want me hanging around all the time. I didn't want to cause any extra stress in your life or make you get sick again."
"You're always taking care of me."
"You handle yourself pretty well, Fields." Paige released a tanned hand with a final squeeze, sitting back as Emily's mom made her way over.
"So, who's hungry?" Mrs. Fields asked as she sat down, smiling at them both.
The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. Paige said her goodbyes to Mrs. Fields, promising she would make time for another meal when she came back from Texas for state finals. After practice she went home, sharing a quiet dinner with her mom. Her dad was nowhere to be found, likely still at the office neck deep in paperwork for his company's year end accounting.
"Any plans tonight?"
"Unfortunately, yes." Paige admitted, accepting the dried dishes to put away. "I have to go to coffee."
"Don't sound so enthused. Are you fighting with Pru again?"
"No, although I almost hit her when she set this up."
Her mother looked at her, confused.
"A date. Pru set me up on a stupid date with some girl who's visiting from North Carolina." Paige blew out of a breath, easily hauling her body onto the kitchen counter, sullenly kicking her heels against the cabinet.
"Honey, if you don't want to go, why are you going?"
"Because Pru won't leave me alone until I do. She thinks I need to 'get over Emily' and this is the way to do it." Paige still felt odd about it, talking about her failed relationship with Emily as though it were something normal to do in her household.
"She might be right, Sweetheart. It's good to date, test out the waters, see if there's a type you like."
Paige knew exactly what her type was but didn't bother to voice the obvious. Logically, dating was a perfectly reasonable thing to do but her heart balked at the idea whenever it crossed her mind.
"Just go have fun. Get to know one another. You never know what might catch your interest. I didn't think I'd like your father when I first went out with him."
"You didn't? I thought it was 'written in the stars', that's the way Dad talks about it."
Her mother's light laugh carried across the kitchen. "I'm sure he would. He must have asked me ten times before I said 'yes'. That was more to shut him up than anything. He was stubborn and willful, but he was also kind and moral. When looked at me, he loved me for everything, my faults and my achievements. You two are very much cut from the same cloth." Her mother wrapped an arm around Paige, pulling her into her body. "This girl may not be right for you, at this age, probably not. But you have to kiss some frogs to meet your prince. Or princess."
"Thanks, Mom." Paige accepted the final squeeze before she pushed herself off the counter.
It was short work to get ready, she had little enough that was 'date appropriate' as Pru had put it. Her friend had texted her the required outfit and Paige had acquiesced though she pointedly crossed off 'slutty skirt' in favour of jeans.
With her mother's blessing, she borrowed the car and drove over to the Apple Rose Grill, feeling somewhat better about the date. Pru was right, it was a good opportunity. And Shana had seemed nice enough when they had talked on the phone Monday evening. They hadn't spoken long, Paige had been just about to hit the pool, but the girl had been pleasant and considerate of her intense schedule.
She slid into a table, nearly an hour early, pulling out a book she needed to read for class. She was halfway through 'Lord of the Flies', disturbed by how quickly the characters had descended into lawlessness, when the doorbell jingled. She looked up, frowning as Noel Kahn walked in, ridiculous smile in place as he headed for the take out counter.
The high school grapevine said he and Mona had broken up which meant he was no doubt on the prowl for his next target. Wonderful. He picked up his food and made his way back across the floor, nearly bowling over a familiar figure as she entered. They greeted each other warmly, Noel hugging Maya in a way Paige thought might be a touch too familiar.
What the hell?
She knew Noel was into music but she couldn't remember seeing the two of them together when Maya lived in Rosewood. When had they gotten so friendly? Paige sank lower in her seat, holding up her book as a shield. She had no interest in Noel somehow dragging she and Maya into conflict and that seemed to be his specialty.
The opening door let Emily and her mother in and Paige glanced around the edge of her book to watch Noel leave. She didn't hear the beginning of the trio's conversation, ears picking up just as Maya declared Noel as 'sweet'.
"He's not." Emily countered. "But his smile takes up half his face so I can see where you would be confused."
Paige snorted into her coffee at the comment, glad that Emily had Kahn's game down. There were more pleasantries, more on Pam's side than Maya's as they waited for their table. Maya seemed determined to set out little digs wherever she found room in the conversation. Paige didn't think it was particularly appropriate. If she had pulled that stunt in front of her own parents, her father would have shamed her into silence in front of the whole restaurant. Still, Paige supposed she could understand. Pam had the events in motion that had sent Maya to True North. Evidently someone was still holding a grudge.
Paige turned her head as the trio passed, hoping they missed her as they sat down in the corner near the back. With half an hour left before her date, Paige seriously considered bailing on the Grill and returning later. She had even begun to tuck her book away when Shana, obviously surprised to find Paige already seated.
"Wow, hi." Shana walked up. "I got the time right, didn't I? Or am I wicked late?"
"No, not at all, you're early," Paige assured. "I'm earlier. I thought I'd get some reading done." Paige held up her book, as if she didn't look like a total nerd already.
"Cool, I read that last semester. Mind if I sit?"
"No, please." Paige motioned her down, taking a quick look over her shoulder to check for Emily and Maya. Yep. Still there.
"So, your friend Pru..."
"Don't even get me started on that little nutball."
"She is pretty persistent. Are you sure she's not gay? She's awfully good at getting a girl's number."
"With the speed she works through relationships she may have to date women just so she doesn't double up. As of now, she just thinks of herself as quite the wingman."
The comment earned her a light laugh, Shana turning away momentarily to ask the waitress for a coffee. "Before we get too far into this, I just want to clear something up."
"Uh, sure, clear away." Paige was going in with no expectations, there was nothing to lose.
"I'm not up for a long distance relationship. I'm cool with talking and hanging out but we might not end up here in Rosewood for months, if at all. And I don't really want to rock the 'online relationship' thing."
"That makes two of us," Paige said, finally feeling the band of tension around her chest release completely. "I'm definitely good with being friends. To be honest, I'm still kind of hung up on..."
"Some chick named Emily."
Paige raised an eyebrow before the obvious source of Shana's information came to mind. "Pru."
"Yeah. I'm guessing she doesn't really know the word 'boundaries'."
"Apparently not. Anyway, yes, I mean, the thing with Emily isn't going anywhere but I'm still kind of stuck in a loop."
"Totally get it. My ex had me running in circles for months." Shana said, waving off the revelation. "How about we see how this goes and when I get back into town, we see where we stand?"
"Awesome. Now, what's good here?" Shana held up the desert menu. "My mom is on a health kick and I'm in desperate need of something fattening."
Paige smiled, settling into the conversation with greater ease than she thought possible. After they ordered two desserts to go with their coffee, Shana excused herself to the washroom, Paige's eyes unconsciously following her as she walked by. Shana turned just before she ducked into the washroom, winking at Paige's stare.
Paige's embarrassed flush raced up her face at break neck speed, somewhat surprised she didn't make herself pass out from the sudden rush of blood. She shook it off, catching sight of Emily's table, her teammate looking alternately unimpressed, disbelieving then flat out pissed as Maya spoke. Paige couldn't hear what they were saying but it wasn't good. Turning back to her own table, Paige couldn't help but roll her eyes at Maya's behaviour. It wasn't hard to stay in Emily's good graces, the main rule was not to be a total dick. Paige had failed, more than once, but it wasn't hard to keep her teammate happy.
Shana returned and sat down, drawing Paige's attention from Emily's troubles with her easy charm. They finished their desserts, sharing some of each others companionably as they talked about their respective schools and sports. When they were ready to leave, Paige stood, reaching for the bill.
"I got it." Shana slid the slip from beneath Paige's fingers. "Isn't that why they call it a date?"
"Uh..." Paige foundered, the familiar words hitting her like a brick as Shana headed for the hostess to pay. She followed, somewhat uneasy with the idea of someone else paying her way. When Emily had done it, it hadn't been odd, more like Em showing she cared for her. This felt more like a power play, as though Shana were showing she was comfortable being the alpha.
Leaving the feeling for later consideration, Paige took a last look at an oblivious Emily who was deep in conversation with Maya as Pam walked toward the hostess. She ducked out before Mrs. Fields caught sight of her, not wanting to get dragged anywhere near the drama that was unfolding.
Shana waited for her and they walked across the town square, Paige pointing out the variety of shops that made up downtown Rosewood. They stopped in front of a clothing store window to check out the newest line up, Paige twitching her surprise as Shana slid an arm through the crook of her elbow.
"Cool?" Shana asked, lifting Paige's arm to show what she meant.
"Uh, yeah, cool," Paige said, the situation almost surreal. She was on a date, with a girl, in the open. A girl who wasn't Emily. Paige's self from six months ago would have shit the bed. They continued to walk the square for nearly an hour, Paige pointing out the best shops and restaurants. When they circled back to the rental Shana had borrowed from her parents, they stopped.
"I'd better get back to the hotel, Dad has house showings scheduled all day in Philly."
"No worries. I have to be at the pool for five thirty so I should get home anyway."
Shana unhooked their arms, holding one of Paige's hands as she leaned against her car. "I had a really good time."
"Can call you when I get back here in the summer, see where everything is at?"
"Sure." It had been an enjoyable evening. There hadn't been crazy sparks the way there had been with Emily but maybe that was normal. No family drama. No team rivalry. No 'A'. Normal could be good.
"Cool." Shana gave a light tug on her hand, Paige obligingly stepping forward at the silent instruction. She wasn't sure what she expected, a hug, maybe a kiss on the cheek. Shana went for broke, brushing a soft kiss on Paige's lips. Paige stepped back as it ended, smiling nervously as she cleared her throat. Shana seemed to enjoy that she had flustered her, roguish smile in place as she spoke. "I'll text you?"
"Sure." Paige nodded, watching as Shana slid into her car and turned the engine over, driving away. She had been on her heels the entire night, Shana leading the conversation and the pace of the date. It wasn't something she was accustomed to. With Emily, they were usually on similar wavelengths, the give and take natural. She didn't realize it was going to be totally different. Weird.
Paige shook it off, it was something she could deal with later, assuming Shana was even interested when she returned. Tucking her hands into her pockets, Paige looked over to the parkette next to where she had parked her car. She was surprised to find Emily and her mom on a bench chatting, Maya nowhere in sight. Mrs. Fields caught eyes with her, offering a friendly wave that Paige returned, nodding at Emily as well before she headed for her car.
What a night.