Disclaimer: I still don't own Pretty Little Liars or any of the characters.
A/N: Thanks everyone, for reviewing/favoriting/following! I'm sorry that this took awhile to upload again, but I made it a little bit longer to try to make up for that.
"Are you sure this is a good idea? I can see Spencer glaring at me already," Paige said as she and Emily walked into the cafeteria together. Paige directed Emily's attention over to the girls' usual table, where Spencer was watching the two of them intently, her lips pressed together in a firm line. She quickly noticed Paige and Emily looking at her and turned to join in conversation with Hanna and Aria, who were talking and laughing next to her.
Emily turned back to Paige, touching her arm in reassurance. "I know she looks intimidating but she promised me she'd give you a chance. Spencer is very loyal and she keeps her promises. Are you having second thoughts?"
Paige took a breath and let it out, thinking about how to respond. "No, not really. I want to do this. I'm just nervous. I want them to like me."
"They will. Just be yourself." Emily smiled at Paige, her grin growing even wider when Paige visibly relaxed as she looked into Emily's eyes.
"Okay. You're right. I'm not hiding anything, so there should be nothing to worry about."
"Exactly." Emily took Paige's hand in hers, giving it a squeeze as they began walking toward the table in the center of the cafeteria at which Emily's friends sat. Paige reminded herself to be calm. These were her girlfriend's best friends. Emily trusted them completely, so Paige would have to have faith that they would come to embrace her as part of Emily's life.
"Hey, guys," Emily said as they approached the table.
"Hi, Em. Hi, Paige," Hanna said, smiling at the couple.
Paige waved with the hand that wasn't grasping Emily's. "Hello." She looked at the three girls and smiled as she and Emily sat at the table next to Aria, across from Spencer and Hanna.
Aria turned to Paige. "We're glad you could sit with us today."
"So am I," Paige replied. She looked over at Spencer, trying to keep her expression friendly and relaxed. Spencer nodded and gave her a terse smile.
Paige smiled back, then unzipped her backpack and pulled out a brown paper bag containing her lunch. She was on a pretty strict diet during the season, and she knew that eating the greasy and questionable cafeteria food would throw her body out of whack and mess up her form in the pool. She had to stay in peak physical condition and that meant packing her own healthy lunches. She took an apple out of the bag and took a bite.
"So what were you guys talking about?" Emily asked, pulling out her own sack lunch.
Aria and Hanna giggled, while Spencer rolled her eyes but couldn't stop the corners of her lips turning up as well.
"I was five minutes late to English today," Hanna said, "and you know Mr. Phillips."
"Oh God, what did he make you do?" Emily asked, smiling.
"An interpretive dance to 'Moves Like Jagger' by Maroon 5 , with accentuated arm movements. I went all out and, according to the kid who sits next to me, I ended up looking like a four-legged octopus whose tentacles had fallen asleep."
The other four girls laughed hard at this, imagining Hanna flailing around the front of the classroom. Mr. Phillips, Hanna's English teacher, was notorious for punishing tardy students by making them do something that was humiliating for them and hilarious to everyone else. At least half of the time the punishment was to do some sort of dance, often a very stupid one which had the student in question moving a body part or two in ways they wouldn't move when dancing normally.
As the laughing at the table turned into soft chuckles, Paige felt a sting at the back of her throat. She began coughing, her eyes starting to water as the juice from her apple fought her attempts to get it out of her trachea. The other girls turned to her with wide eyes.
"Oh my God, Paige, are you okay?"
Paige nodded in reply to Hanna, her coughing fit finally starting to lighten up as she expelled the foreign liquid from her lungs. Emily picked up her water bottle and handed it to Paige, who gratefully took a sip to try to recover. When she had, she handed the bottle back to Emily with a grateful smile, then turned to the rest of the table.
"Apple went down the wrong pipe. Sorry."
She cleared her throat one more time as the other girls relaxed and went back to their own lunches. Paige looked down at her apple, her cheeks burning red, chastising the fruit with her eyes for making her look like an idiot.
"So, Paige, have you ever been late to Mr. Phillips' class?"
Paige looked to Aria, grateful for the diversion of attention away from her choking episode. "No, I've been careful not to be. A girl was late to class on the second day of school this year, and he made her recite the alphabet backwards as fast as possible. If she messed up, she had to start over. She seemed to have fun with it, but I would have been really embarrassed. I...like to stay more under the radar."
The other girls nodded in understanding.
"Yeah, you don't really strike me as the class clown type," said Hanna.
Paige shook her head. "I'm more of an observer."
There was a comfortable pause in the conversation as all five girls took bites of their meals, and Paige took the opportunity to glance at Spencer, reading her body language. The girl seemed tense, but from what little she knew about her that didn't seem unusual. What was odd, however, was how quiet she had been throughout the entire lunch period thus far. She decided to try to make conversation.
"Spencer, I really like your blazer," Paige said, smiling at the brunette.
Spencer glanced down at her outfit and then back at Paige, donning a smile that looked somewhat forced. "Thank you."
"Where did you get it?"
"At a little boutique I stopped in when I visited Milan a few years ago."
Paige raised her eyebrows. "Wow. So you like to travel?"
Spencer looked at Paige for a second, as if searching for something, then nodded. "Yeah, my family and I travel together almost annually."
"That sounds great. My parents and I have mostly traveled in the U.S. and parts of Canada. I'd love to go other 's only so much you can learn about other countries from history books, and I want to be immersed in foreign cultures. I think I'd like to study abroad in college."
"I definitely recommend it; I suggest you look into Prague. We visited there last year and I fell in love with it."
"Okay, I'll keep that in mind. Thanks." Paige smiled at Spencer, who smiled back with more authenticity than before, though she still looked apprehensive.
The conversation changed to idle chit chat as the girls finished up their lunch. Paige piped up with something to say here and there. She convincingly feigned interest in Hanna's fashion faux pas from the previous day, and made Aria and Hanna laugh on more than one occasion. She even managed to get a couple of chuckles out of Spencer. After awhile, Paige had relaxed a lot and she felt pretty confident that she had made a good impression on Emily's friends.
Finally the bell rang signalling the end of lunch and the girls rose from the table, gathering their things and moving towards the doors of the cafeteria.
"Hey, let's have a sleepover this weekend. Friday? My house? Pizza and movies?" Aria suggested, looking at Spencer, Hanna, and Emily.
They all agreed and Aria paused, turning to Paige. "Would you like to come, Paige?"
Paige's eyes widened slightly and she looked to Emily on her left, who was grinning at Aria. Emily then turned to Paige, her smile never faltering. Paige smiled back and turned back to Aria. "Sure, okay. Thanks."
"Great! Bring along some movies, if you'd like."
As they walked out of the cafeteria, Paige felt a sense of accomplishment. She had always dreamed of being Emily's girlfriend, and she'd spent countless hours picturing the two of them together; but she had never given much thought to how she would fit into the rest of Emily's life. Would she get along with Emily's friends? Would Emily's parents like her? She hadn't really considered these things before because she was always just daydreaming about Emily; about her and Emily. But now, after this lunch period, she was starting to feel a glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, Emily's friends could become her friends too.
On Friday afternoon Paige stood in front of her family's DVD case, deciding which movies from her collection to bring to Aria's house. She didn't know the other girls very well, but she knew they were all very different from each other, and their taste in movies probably spanned a wide range. Hanna seemed like a chick flick kind of girl, favoring cheesy rom-coms with a happy ending; Paige guessed that Spencer was probably the type to enjoy historically accurate dramas; Aria was artsy, so she probably liked films known for their novel camerawork and inspired filmmaking; Paige knew for a fact that Emily loved the Disney classics; and she herself enjoyed action films. She chose one film in each of these genres from her family's extensive DVD collection, reading the backs of each to remind her of the details even though she had seen them all before. Finally satisfied with her choices, she took them back upstairs to her room where there was a half-full duffel bag on the foot of her bed. She placed the DVDs beside it.
She went to her dresser and pulled her favorite pair of red plaid pajama pants out of the second to last drawer, along with a black tank top. She packed these in her bag atop the outfit she had packed for the next day.
She spent the next few minutes going between her bedroom and the bathroom, collecting things she would need such as her toothbrush and face wash and putting them in the side zippered pocket of her duffel. Once she had everything packed, she placed the movies on top of her clothing and zipped up the bag, carrying it downstairs.
She entered the kitchen and plopped her bag on a barstool at the counter before walking over to the refrigerator. She found the fruit salad she had made an hour previously, making sure the saran wrap around the bowl was still in place to keep the fruit fresh.
As if on cue, her phone sounded indicating a text from Emily.
I'm here! Ready?
Paige grabbed her duffel off of the barstool, took her keys down from the hook on the wall by the kitchen cabinet, and walked into the foyer and out the front door, locking it behind her. She headed down the walkway towards Emily's car; she opened the back door and put her duffel on the seat before getting into the passenger seat, resting the fruit bowl in her lap.
"Hey, Em." Paige leaned over to give Emily a kiss on the cheek.
"Hi. You brought fruit?"
"Yeah, just a small thank you to everyone for inviting me along tonight. Plus, we have to offset that greasy pizza with something healthy."
Emily chuckled as she pulled away from the curb and Paige fastened her seatbelt.
"Fruit is good, but the pizza will still be just as heart attack-inducing."
Paige shook her head. "Shhh...actual logic isn't allowed this weekend."
Emily giggled, moving her hand to Paige's lap in front of the bowl. Paige took it in both of her own hands, playing with Emily's fingers and drawing circles on the darker girl's palm.
"That tickles," Emily chuckled.
"No, it feels nice. Just a little distracting while driving." Emily briefly smiled over at Paige, who stopped her movements and simply held Emily's hand in hers.
The drive to Aria's took about five minutes, at the end of which Emily parked at the curb in front of the Montgomery's modest house. Paige sat there for a few moments looking at the building. Her own parents were fairly wealthy; her father's position as a deacon at the church brought in a smaller portion of their income, but her mother was a successful pediatrician so they were well-off. Paige loved her spacious house, but she had always been jealous of people like Aria, whose place seemed so much more homey than the McCullers residence ever had. The lack of said homeyness at Paige's house was largely due in part to her father's less-than-desirable tendency to be stiff and controlling. Her loving mother made up for it in part, but Anna often gave in to Nick's authoritarian demeanor and Paige felt quite small in their five bedroom, three bathroom abode. Even from the outside of the Montgomery house, however, Paige could already tell it was full of love.
She and Emily both opened their doors and exited the car. Paige set her fruit bowl on the roof while she grabbed her duffel bag out of the back. Emily locked the car with a push of the button on her clicker, causing the car to beep as the girls walked up the steps to Aria's house.
Emily rang the doorbell and after about fifteen seconds Aria opened the door to greet them.
"Hey guys! Come in. Hanna and Spencer are already here," she said, smiling.
Aria led them into the living room, where Spencer sat in a large armchair with her legs crossed and Hanna was sprawled out on the floor, propped up on her elbows and reading a magazine. They looked up as Paige and Emily entered the room.
"Hi! I was just quizzing Spence on what type of shoe best fits her personality, " Hanna said. "You wanna go next?" she asked, looking at Paige.
Paige huffed out a laugh. "Um, no thanks. I don't need a quiz to tell me I like my sneakers."
"Smart choice, I'm bored out of my mind," Spencer said, narrowing her eyes playfully at Hanna, which earned a scoff from the blonde.
Emily put her overnight bag down on the floor at the end of the couch; Paige mirrored her actions and set her duffel next to Emily's.
"I brought some fruit, if anyone wants any."
After a short moment, Hanna suddenly burst into laughter. Paige and Emily both looked at her, one eyebrow quirked.
"What's so funny?" Spencer asked.
"She brought fruit," Hanna choked out, doubling over in laughter again.
"Well you are what you eat!"
There was a beat of silence-save for Hanna's giggling-in which the other four girls took a second to register what Hanna said. Paige blushed furiously, though joined in laughing with the rest of them.
"Oh my God, Han," Aria said when she had composed herself, though she was still fighting laughter at the back of her throat. "That's kind of offensive." Hanna's statement wasn't unusual for her, but sometimes the things that came out of her mouth were shocking nonetheless.
"Oh come on, Paige knows I didn't mean it like that," Hanna said, when she had composed herself. She turned to look at the girl in question. "Right, Paige?"
"Oh, yeah, I know," Paige said, still chuckling slightly. "I didn't take it that way. Besides, it's true," she said, shrugging. She could feel her cheeks still burning with embarrassment, though it was lessening in intensity.
"I'll go get some utensils," Aria said, and she walked out of the living room toward the kitchen, still smiling.
Emily sat down on the couch and looked up at Paige, inviting her to join by patting the seat next to her with an open hand. Paige complied, settling down next to Emily and placing the bowl of fruit on the coffee table.
Aria came back into the room carrying five small bowls and forks. She passed them out and the girls started filling their bowls with fruit.
"You know, you didn't have to bring anything, Paige," Aria said with a small smile.
Paige swallowed a strawberry slice before responding. "I know, but I wanted to."
"Well, thank you. It's delicious," Aria said, putting a piece of honeydew into her mouth.
There were a few moments of quiet, broken only by forks clanking on bowls and the flipping of the pages of Hanna's magazine. Then Spencer spoke.
"So, Paige, what are your intentions with Emily?"
Emily whipped her head to her right and glared at her friend. "Spencer! Rude."
"No, Em, it's okay," Paige said, placing her hand on Emily's knee, hoping the contact would calm her girlfriend down. "I'll answer any questions Spencer has."
Emily turned back around and searched her girlfriend's eyes. Paige looked calm, sure of herself, and ready for Spencer's interrogation. Emily laid back on the couch and sighed, bracing herself for what was to come.
Paige looked Spencer right in the eye, fighting her natural instinct to avoid her gaze. "My intention is to make Emily happy."
"And you think you're capable of that?"
"YES, she is!" Emily all but shouted at Spencer.
Paige reached out for Emily's hand and grasped it, repeating her actions from earlier in the car and tracing circles on Emily's palm with her fingertip. Emily relaxed and let out a mumbled apology as she let Paige speak again.
"I think I've been doing a good job so far, yeah."
"Emily told us that the reason you guys broke up before was because you were too afraid to come out. I know you're out now at school, but what about your parents? Are you keeping Emily a secret from them?"
Paige could sense Emily's anger without even looking at her. She gave Emily's hand a quick squeeze before continuing her circles, hoping to reassure Emily that she could handle Spencer, and that this was a conversation she needed-even wanted-to have with the intimidating girl.
"No, actually I told them I was gay about six months ago, when Emily and I were apart. Emily's strength and openness inspired me, and I figured that it was only fair to me, my parents, and any girl I might date in the future to finally be honest with them. It was terrifying but I've never felt so liberated."
Spencer's eyes widened. She obviously hadn't been expecting that answer, not that Paige could blame her. One of her biggest regrets was telling Emily she couldn't be seen with her, and she understood that it was difficult for Spencer to not only forgive that, but also to comprehend how Paige had made so much progress in relatively little time.
"How did they take it?"
"They were upset at first," Paige replied, nodding. "They didn't understand it. My dad's a deacon, and both he and my mom were raised in traditional religious homes. But they came around fairly quickly, after a few long conversations."
"And they know that you're with Emily?"
"Are they okay seeing you with her? You know, holding hands, kissing, things like that? Or do you have to censor yourselves so they don't feel uncomfortable?"
"Well Emily hasn't actually interacted with them yet since we got together. They're still a little bit awkward when I talk about her, mostly with my dad, but they want me to be happy, and they're trying to embrace who I am. Plus, being open about our relationship is a higher priority to me than my parents' comfort level. I won't be sneaking around with Emily. Not this time."
Spencer studied Paige's face, nodding slightly. Paige hoped that meant she saw sincerity in her expression.
"Good. And what about your violent past? How can we trust you won't lose your temper again and hurt her?"
"Spencer, you're being really intense right now," Aria chimed in, glancing at Emily. She could tell Emily was furious and if it hadn't been for Paige keeping her calm, she would have blown up by now.
"Yeah, it's like the Spanish Imposition in here," Hanna said.
"It's Inquisition, Hanna," Spencer corrected.
"Whatever," Hanna said, rolling her eyes. "Just chill out."
"Guys, it's really okay. I can handle the questions," Paige reassured the girls.
"Paige, you shouldn't have to. I'm sorry about this, it's not fair to you," Emily said to Paige, an apology in her eyes.
"It's fine, Em. I promise," Paige responded. She lifted Emily's hand up with hers and brushed a soft kiss, then two, against Emily's knuckles.
When Emily's eyes showed her surrender, Paige turned back to Spencer, the determination back on her face. "I regret those actions every day. I was terrified at the time, of who I was and what it meant. How my parents would react. I was afraid that I'd be kicked out if I let myself even think about girls in that way, because I was paranoid my dad would somehow be able to tell. He's always pressured me to be the best, both in school and in swimming, so that on top of fearing his reaction to my sexuality was too much to handle and I snapped. I won't make any excuses, but that was the reason for what I did. I regretted it right away and Emily and I moved past it pretty easily. Right Em?" Paige asked, looking at Emily.
Emily nodded. "I've told you over and over, Spencer. That's not who she is anymore."
"How can you be sure, though, Em? That kind of temper doesn't usually just go away."
"I admit, I do sometimes let my emotions get the best of me," Paige replied, "but coming out has reduced my anger significantly, because I'm not walking around in a cloud of fear anymore. And I've learned ways to control it when I do start to feel overwhelmed by one feeling or another."
"Yeah, Spence, take this conversation as a perfect example. Paige is keeping her cool really well. If I were her I would have flipped out at you by now. Emily looks like she's about to," Hanna said, throwing her arm out to gesture in Emily's direction. "Paige doesn't seem like someone with an uncontrollable temper to me."
Spencer looked at Hanna and then shifted her gaze back to Paige, considering what Hanna had said. "That's a good point," she conceded.
Paige glanced over at Hanna, grateful for the support. Hanna smiled.
Paige turned back to Spencer. "I've had feelings for Emily since I met her in ninth grade," she said, ignoring the chorus of "wows" she heard from Aria and Hanna. "I fought against them for years, but they only grew stronger the harder I fought. Now that I'm out and happy and I have her on my arm, I would never consider doing anything to jeopardize that. Not to mention her happiness and safety. That's obviously the most important thing."
There was a pause as Spencer digested Paige's words, which Emily used as an opportunity to speak up.
"Spencer," she said, "Paige is the sweetest, most attentive girlfriend ever. Just a couple days ago we were cuddling on my bed after watching a movie, and she glanced over at my dresser and saw that I still had a picture of me and Maya up there. She asked me about it, and I started crying a little and admitted that there's still a big part of me that loves and misses Maya. And you know what Paige did? Instead of getting jealous or awkward or distant, she just held me and kissed my tears away. I kept apologizing because it wasn't fair for her to have to do that, but she said I should never be sorry for loving someone."
A weighted silence filled the room. Paige looked at Spencer, Aria, and Hanna each in turn, observing their solemn expressions. After a few moments, Aria spoke up.
"Paige, that must have been hard for you."
Paige chewed on her bottom lip for a moment before replying. "I felt a tiny bit jealous, only because it's normal to be when you think of your girlfriend or boyfriend with someone else. But I didn't feel threatened by her feelings for Maya. I've never once thought she was using me to replace or forget her. Grief takes time, and there's nothing wrong with that. Honestly, the hardest part about the whole thing for me was seeing Emily in pain."
Spencer was looking at her in a very different way now. Most of the defensiveness was gone from the brunette's eyes. Her features were softer and Paige could swear she saw her actually deflate a little bit.
"That's mature of you."
"Like I said, making Emily happy is my first priority. Helping her work through her grief is one way I'm trying to do that."
"Right, and she's good at it," Emily said to Spencer. "She cheered me up really quickly that night." She turned to Paige. "And you make me happy all on your own, too. Aside from helping me through the grief, you make me happy. "
Paige nodded, smiling. "I know."
Emily kissed Paige on the cheek and leaned into her as Paige put her arm around her girlfriend's shoulders.
Emily turned her head to look at Spencer again. "Do you trust her now, Spence? Can we just have fun and watch a movie or something?"
Spencer watched the way Emily melted into Paige, and how it seemed like all of her tension fell away with Paige's arm around her.
"Yeah, I'm feeling better about you two. I still want to get to know you better, Paige, but for what it's worth, I apologize for being so cold with you up until now."
Paige dipped her head in a nod as she spoke. "It's okay. It means you care about her. I can't blame you," she said. Her smile offered forgiveness, which Spencer's eyes reciprocated.
The girls lounged in various positions in the living room, an open box of pizza on the table and near-empty paper plates in their hands and on the table. Hanna was lying on her stomach only a few feet from the TV, her knees bent and feet in the air, her chin resting in her hands. Aria sat cross-legged next to her, a velvet throw pillow in her lap for comfort. Spencer was still situated in the chair she had deemed hers for the night; she now sat sideways with her legs hanging over the armrest, her back resting on the other, a pillow behind her to cushion her spine. Paige and Emily were on the Montgomery's' couch, Emily curled up into Paige's side with her head resting on the auburn-haired girl's shoulder as Paige's arm was draped around her, her hand resting on her hip. Emily's arm, in turn, was around Paige's waist, hugging her close.
The movie they had chosen-the romantic comedy that Paige brought along-was a big hit. It was a pretty obscure one that none of the girls besides Paige had seen or even heard of, but a lot of laughter and a fair amount of sighing over the romance filled the room as the girls became sucked into the story. Paige, however, spent the time enjoying Emily. The way Emily's hair smelled-as always-of peaches and chlorine. The way Emily's laugh felt when it vibrated into her through the points of contact between their bodies. The warmth Emily exuded, not only in body heat but also in her Emily-ness. Periodically Paige would run her hand slowly up and down Emily's side, letting it rest once again on the darker girl's hip. She felt Emily shiver every time, and in most cases Emily shifted her head to look at Paige and place a soft, chaste kiss on her lips, smiling into it before returning her attention back to the film. During the most romantic parts, she felt Emily tighten her hold around Paige's waist, sighing softly in contentment. Paige fell just a little bit harder for her every time.
When the movie was over, the girls decided they were sufficiently tired and it was time for bed. While Aria went to the linen cabinet to get pillows and blankets for everyone, Emily and Paige went into the bathroom together to change and brush their teeth.
They both made attempts to avert their gaze as they changed, though they had seen one another's bodies numerous times in the locker room before and after swim practice. Neither girl stripped down to more than a bra and underwear, but Paige caught herself sneaking a peek at her girlfriend's toned abs as Emily pulled her grey nightshirt over her head. She was pretty sure she saw Emily looking at her too.
After they had both brushed their teeth and washed their faces, Emily moved to grab her things and open the door, but Paige stopped her with a hand on her wrist. Emily looked at her, curious.
"I just wanted to say I've had a great time tonight. After Spencer's interrogation, I felt really...at ease. Which doesn't happen often around anyone except you. And sometimes my mom, depending on the situation."
Emily smiled. She set her things down on the counter and ran her hands up and down Paige's arms. "I've had a great time too. Well, I did once my anger at Spencer wore off."
Paige chuckled softly. "Yeah, I could feel how upset you were next to me."
Emily nodded. "And a little worried. You're both so stubborn sometimes, I wasn't sure if you'd be able to get along."
Paige suddenly felt insecure. "Were you mad at me?"
Emily's eyes widened as she shook her head. "No, no. I was mad at Spencer, and I was frustrated that my best friend and my girlfriend were clashing so much. I was just upset at the situation, not at you. In fact I'm proud of you for keeping your cool as she attacked you with her questions."
"Yeah, old Paige would have lashed out, but new Paige knew better."
"I really like new Paige," Emily said, tilting her head down a little so that she was looking up at Paige through her upper eyelashes.
Paige felt a familiar, welcome tension in her stomach.
"I do, too. I like who you've helped me become."
"I don't think I had anything to do with it."
Paige nodded. "You did. I'm strong because I watched you be strong."
Emily smiled again and rested her hand on the back of Paige's neck, pulling her in for a kiss. Their lips moved together languidly, both of them smiling into each other. Neither girl felt the need to deepen the kiss, for it wasn't one fueled by lust; they were both content just being close to one another.
When they broke apart, they gathered their clothes and toiletries and headed back out into the living room to get some sleep.
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