"I'm going out!" Emily called out to her mother as she bounded down the staircase. "I'll be back by 2 to drive you!"
"Emily, wait a minute." Pam came in from the kitchen, a glass of iced tea in her hand.
Emily was already halfway out the front door. She backed up, took the earbud out of her left ear.
"I need to talk to you about something."
"Oh. Um...right now? I was supposed to meet Paige for a run..."
Emily couldn't keep a smile off her face. Running in the woods with Paige was fun. Making out in the woods with sweaty, post-run Paige was even more fun.
After the heartache of the past year, Pam was glad to see her daughter happy. But this was a conversation that couldn't wait.
"I'm sorry. I meant to do this before but I..." Pam trailed off, then shook her head and
gave Emily a falsely bright smile. "Anyway, could you call her and reschedule? We need to talk before I leave."
Wayne was back in the states, but still in Texas for the next few weeks. Pam was flying out to see him for the weekend.
"But, Mom...can't we talk on the way to the airport?" Emily wasn't exactly whining, but there were definite puppy dog eyes trained on Pam.
"Emily, please. This is important." Pam was firm.
"Ok..." Emily sighed and put her headphones down on the hall table. She took a cautious step toward her mother "...is everything ok?"
Pam put a hand out and squeezed Emily's arm. "Everything is fine. just work it out with Paige and come meet me in the kitchen.
Pam left Emily texting in the foyer, went to the kitchen and let out a huge breath. She really wasn't looking forward to this.
Pam leaned against the counter, and took a sip of her drink. From where she stood, she could see into the dining room – Emily's elementary school pictures – ages 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 - stood on the sideboard. Pam missed those days, when the most difficult conversation she had to have with her daughter was "No, sweetie, your second grade teacher isn't a Real Witch who only read you that Roald Dahl book to throw off suspicion. She's just an old lady who happens to wear a wig, and sometimes Spencer Hastings has too much imagination for her own good."
The teenage years had been a little rockier. But Pam had to admit, a lot of that was her own doing. If she had been more attentive to Emily's emotional needs and a little less concerned with her own comfort, the coming out process might have gone a lot more smoothly.
And of course, Ali's death, Maya's death, all the disturbing events that happened with surprising regularity in Rosewood - those hadn't been easy, especially with Wayne away on three tours. Emily had been understandably depressed, then angry. Her grades had fallen, she had acted out a bit. But she was back on track now. Her grades were up, she was getting scouted by some great colleges; she was working at the coffee shop, hanging out with her friends, doing normal teenage girl things instead of crying her eyes out in her room for weeks on end.
Pam had been especially happy to find out Emily was dating again - so much so that her own enthusiasm surprised her. But she was just so relieved to see that her daughter's broken heart wasn't completely beyond repair. Boys, girls, Pam knew by now didn't really matter – Emily was so young, she should get a chance to enjoy a little carefree high school romance.
Pam had been slightly less enthusiastic when she realized how serious Paige and Emily were getting. Paige was unfailingly polite; she literally fell all over herself to be helpful – Pam had the broken crockery to prove it. But Pam had had a hard time shaking the memory of Paige's father, red faced, denouncing Emily in the middle of the cafeteria.
Sensing Pam's reticence, Paige had worked doggedly for Pam's approval. Last weekend, when she had heard Pam and Emily lamenting the task of cleaning out the old shed in the yard, she had eagerly volunteered to help.
Having seen Hanna "help" Emily with chores in the past, Pam hadn't expected much useful assistance. But Paige willingly dove into even the grimiest corners, insisted on carrying the heaviest loads of rubbish out to the trash. She had even unearthed a broken down old racing bike Wayne had stashed out there years ago and offered to fix it up for him.
"If you think it's ok, Mrs. Fields. I just thought maybe, it'd be a nice surprise for when he comes home?"
"Paige, you know you can call me Pam. And, yes, I think Emily's father would like that."
Paige had grinned at the the tops of her sneakers. Despite the cobwebs festooning the both of them, Emily had leaned in and given her a kiss on the cheek.
"That's just the kind of girl Emmy should date," Wayne had said when Pam recapped the day's events for him over Skype that night.
"You're just happy you're getting a new bike out of this." Pam teased. "And you got out of dealing with that disgusting shed. You should have seen it – a family of mice had taken up residence in that old Monopoly board. Park Place, of course."
"Pam, I'm serious. We've seen Paige on the team for years. She's a hard worker, a strong competitor."
Pam sighed. If her husband were home, he would have been next to her in bed, she would have leaned her head against his shoulder. As it was, she settled herself back on a pile of pillows and drew her laptop closer.
"Yes, but…" Pam was thawing, but not exactly convinced. "…we're talking about her dating Emily, not anchoring her in the 400 free relay."
"You know what I mean. A girl like that – she's real goal oriented, accomplishes what she sets her mind to. So if her goal is to make Emmy happy, then I'm all for it."
Pam was about to speak again when she heard the front door open. After Paige had gone home to clean up, she had come back to take Emily out to dinner. Pam was surprised they were back so soon, but she heard them come in, laughing and talking softly.
Pam nodded slowly. "Emily is happy."
"Well, there you go."
Pam sipped her glass of white wine. In Texas, Wayne slurped his mug of coffee, and they settled into a moment of comfortable silence.
As Pam and Wayne picked up their conversation, talking about plans for Wayne's return to Rosewood in a few weeks, Emily and Paige's voices floated up to Pam from the first floor. After a few minutes, the talking died down, replaced by murmurs, whimpers, sighs, giggles and the soft smacking sound of kisses. Pam tried to ignore it, but when the legitimate moans and grunts started up her eyes widened and she put down her glass.
"Maybe Emily's a little too happy."
"Hold on a sec."
Pam crossed to her bedroom door and stuck her head out, called down the stairs.
She heard fumbling, some one whispered "Shit."
"Um. Uh... Mom! I thought you were going out with Ashley."
"I was tired, I cancelled."
Pam glanced at the clock. It was only 10. She couldn't very well order Emily up to bed. But she also had no interest in listening to her daughter and Paige for the next two hours.
"Anyway, just making sure that's you. Never can be too careful in this town." Pam rolled her eyes at her own lame excuse for interrupting.
"Me and Paige are gonna…watch a movie."
"Just keep it down ok? I'm talking to your dad." Pam imagined Emily cringing at the idea of her father overhearing her and Paige.
"Sure…Tell dad I'll call him tomorrow!"
"I will. Come say goodnight when you go to bed."
Certain the mood downstairs had been cooled down to a more appropriate level, Pam closed her door and returned to her call.
"What was that about?" Wayne asked.
Wayne raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, well. You said it yourself. Paige McCullers is goal-oriented."
Wayne shifted uncomfortably in his chair. Pam could see a flush creeping down from his hairline.
"Hey, if she's pressuring…"
Pam snorted into her wine. "Pressuring Emily? Emily's the one climbing all over her half the time. I never saw someone so eager to go for a three hour "run" in the woods."
Wayne's face was grave. "And you're letting this go on?"
"I'm letting…? Two minutes ago you were all for this relationship. Now it's my fault…?"
Wayne pressed his fingertips to his closed eyes, tired. "No. I don't mean…"
"I don't want to fight." Pam said calmly.
"But I'm not letting anything go on. I can't exactly stop it. Emily's not a little girl anymore. We have to acknowledge that her relationships are…more adult now."
Wayne took a deep breath, blew it out in an audible sigh.
"She and Maya probably…" Pam went on.
"Ahh!" Wayne put a hand up to the screen, gesturing at Pam to stop. "Enough. I get it."
Silence fell between them again, not quite as companionable as before.
"Well, have you talked to her about any of this?" Wayne asked a moment later.
"Sex? She knows about sex. Clearly."
"Not just sex. I mean…this kind of adult relationship. And I don't know…Maybe there are some things about being with girls…I know we didn't cover that last go round."
A realization dawned on Wayne. "You're about to come out here and leave her alone in an empty house for days on end, they could be doing god knows…"
"So I should talk to her." Pam drained her glass and poured another from the bottle on the bedside table.
"Well. You're a woman."
"Maybe you should talk to her. You're the one who likes girls. And she likes you better."
Wayne shook his head at that. "But, fair enough on the first point. I'll talk to her too, when I'm home. But you're there now. Promise me you'll sit down with her before you come out next weekend? I just…I know she's a responsible kid. But…"
"I know," Pam nodded. "It's not just her body. It's her heart. And after what she's been through…"
Wayne agreed. "Just let her know we're here. If she has questions. Or ever needs any sort of help."
"I just don't know what to say." Pam had vented to Ashley Marin over red wine and brownies later that week. "I mean, I never…with a girl. I don't even know what I'm supposed to be warning her about…"
"Have what?" Pam asked, idly picking walnuts out of a brownie.
"…with a girl." Ashley smirked. "In college."
"Oh, don't be so shocked." Ashley topped off their glasses of wine. "I was young, I was experimenting." She thought for a second. "It was…nice. Soft. Sort of…relaxing."
Pam was doubtful. "Emily and Paige don't seem very relaxed."
"No…I guess it's different when you're really into women…And that Paige girl seems like she could be a real tiger in the…"
Ashley caught Pam's stricken look and tried to comfort her. "Hey. At least you know Emily won't end up pregnant."
Ashley raised a glass and Pam toasted to that.
"Anyway," Ashley shrugged. "Just…give Emily the same speech I gave Hanna. Have fun, be safe, don't post any of it on the internet. So far that seems to be covering it."
Pam still looked uncomfortable.
"Pam, relax. Emily is a great kid. She's honestly the most level-headed teenager I've ever met. I thank my lucky stars that she and Hanna are friends."
"But we all get a little…less than level headed when we're in the throes of romance," Ashley continued. "…you know? Just remind her to look out for herself and she'll be fine. I'm sure of it."
"I guess you're right." Pam said.
"Umph!" Ashley said, swallowing a mouthful of wine. "And google dental dams. That's definitely a thing. "
Pam had googled, she had read pamphlets, she had looked at some diagrams that frankly she wished she could unsee. But she still didn't feel ready for this conversation when Emily walked into the kitchen.
"Mom?" Emily's brow was furrowed. "Is everything really ok? You look like…you're kind of scaring me."
"Emily, sweetie, no. really. Everything's fine. Have a seat."
Pam poured Emily a glass of iced tea and pulled out a kitchen chair for her. She laughed a little at herself. "Actually, I'm the one who's scared."
"Scared? I don't…"
"Your father and I thought it was time for a talk with you about…"
"About…?" Emily prompted when her mother didn't go on.
Pam figured it was time to just come out with it.
Emily coughed up a mouthful of iced tea.
Pam didn't notice. She was busy plowing ahead with her prepared speech.
"Your father and I talked to you about...the birds and the bees a long time ago. But we've never talked about you getting involved in more…intimate relationships. You and Paige clearly…"
"Oh my god." Emily squeezed her eyes shut for a second, wished hard. But when opened them her mother was still there, still talking about sex.
"…So we just want you to know that we're here for you. That you can always talk to us if you have questions. I actually ahh…did some research. And here's some information you might want to take a look at."
Pam slid a folder full of pamphlets and printouts across the table to Emily. She had left out the more unnerving diagrams, but there was plenty in there about STDs and STIs, and other medical and emotional concerns.
"Uh. Thanks." Emily gingerly pulled the folder toward herself, using only one finger. "Is that it?" Emily asked hopefully.
"No. No, that's not it."
Pam scooted her chair closer to Emily's and took one of Emily's hands in hers.
"Emily," she said. "You're…you're my amazing girl. Your father and I are so proud of who are you are. How strong you are. How kind you are..."
Pam caught the pained look on Emily's face, stopped talking and sat back.
"Look, Emily, I don't mean to embarrass you. I just…we love you. We trust you. But I'm leaving you alone in a big empty house for five days and I have this sneaking suspicion that Paige might be stopping by for more than just some bike repairs."
"Ohmygod." Emily whispered under her breath, mortified.
"It's normal, at your age to…cross some bridges into adulthood."
Emily raised an eyebrow at her mother "Cross bridges into adulthood? Mom…"
Pam thew up her hands. "I'm not great at this, in case you haven't noticed."
Emily laughed, some of the tension eased out of her body.
"No. Mom. You're fine. And I really will read all this information, I promise. But I'm not…crossing any bridges I'm not ready for. Trust me."
"Just… be sure that whatever you and Paige choose to do that you're making those choices together, as a team."
Emily nodded. "Of course."
"And when your father gets back, a little less moaning in the family room and a little more subtlety please? A few less hickies when you come in from "running"? He likes Paige now, but that won't last if he has to look at visual evidence of her mauling your neck while he eats his breakfast."
"Yes, Mom." Emily said sheepishly. She looked up. "He likes Paige? He said that?"
Pam nodded. "Well, you know your father. He said he thinks she's 'a strong competitor.'"
Emily smiled. "Cool."
Pam stirred another package of Splenda into her iced tea.
"Do you like Paige?"
"Oh, Emily. One more thing."
"Under no circumstances should you and Paige post any sex tapes on the internet."
Pam shrugged. "Ashley Marin said it was part of the speech."
"Oh, ew, our moms were TALKING about us having sex? That's disturbing." Hanna tried to chase the thought away with a huge swig of diet coke.
"Not as disturbing as actually having to sit there and listen to it, believe me." Emily tore a piece of crust from her slice of pizza and popped it in her mouth. As soon as she had dropped her mom off at the airport, she had ordered a pizza and texted Aria, Hanna and Spencer to meet at her house for a debrief.
Aria sympathized. "It can't have been any worse than the original sex talk my mom gave me back in second grade."
"Why, what'd she say?" Spencer asked.
"It's not so much what she said as the anatomically correct hand puppets that she used."
Hanna, Spencer and Emily burst out laughing,
"Sure, it sounds hilarious. But that woman ruined the Muppets for me."
Aria shook her head and went back to peeling the pepperoni off of her slice of pizza. She organized the slices into a pile, put them on a napkin and handed them to Hanna. Hanna got busy layering the pepperoni over her own slice.
"What about you Spence, did you get a big talk about Toby?" Aria asked.
"I think my mother's exact words were 'Don't you dare let that boy get you pregnant. He's a manual laborer."
Spencer flopped back on Emily's living room floor, then rolled over on her side, turning toward Emily. "At least your parents don't think Paige is beneath your station in life."
"And it's not a statutory rape situation." Hanna offered helpfully, gesturing at Aria.
Aria stuck her tongue out at Hanna. "And Paige wasn't living in the school air ducts when you met."
Hanna flipped Aria the middle finger.
"Fine, no more extra pepperoni for you."
"No, Aria, c'mon…"
Emily heard her phone buzz and stood up to answer it, leaving her friends squabbling in the living room.
"Hi!" It had only been a few hours since they'd spoken, but Emily was always glad to hear from Paige.
"Is that Hanna I hear shrieking in the background?"
Emily grinned. "Yeah, Aria's withholding pepperoni."
"Ooh. Sounds dangerous." Paige's tone softened. "So, everything go ok with your mom?"
"Yeah. Yeah. It was…kinda sweet actually. Awkward as hell, but sweet. I'll tell you all about it when you get here."
"Ok. I'll see you at 9."
"You gonna bring your footie pajamas?" Emily teased. Paige had showed her old photo albums last week, and the footie pjs with pink elephants on them had been kind of hard to get over.
"You're gonna pay for that, Fields."
"Mmhmm, I hope so, McCullers."
Emily felt a pleasant tension in her stomach, a tug and flutter in her belly.
Paige must have been feeling it too.
"Wow. Um. Wow…"
Emily smiled into the phone. "I'll see you at 9, Paige."
Emily walked back into the living room, a dreamy look plastered on her face.
The girls were quiet for a minute, gazing up at Emily. Spencer sat up and looked to her left at Hanna, her right at Aria, a mischievous smile spreading over her face. She started singing. "Paige and Emily sittin' in a tree..
Aria and Hanna joined in, "K-i-s-s-i-n-g!"
Emily rolled her eyes. "Guys..." She settled down on the floor with her friends again.
Aria nudged Emily with her shoulder. "Thats right, Emily's beyond childhood taunts. She and Paige have crossed that bridge."
Emily trailed off.
"Actually...?" Spencer asked, both eyebrows rising.
"Um, Paige and I haven't crossed every bridge. Yet."
"Seriously?" Aria asked.
"Yeah, Em," Hanna piped up, "you guys have been humping like bunnies on every flat surface for like a month now. What do you mean you haven't done it yet?"
"Wait, what counts as doing it for girls?"
"Hanna!" Aria swatted Hanna on the arm.
"What? I really don't know. How is Emily supposed know if she and Paige had sex or not?"
"You can't just ask..."
"Wait. How do you know...?"
"Feel free to ignore them." Spencer said.
"No it's, ok. I mean that's kind of the cool thing about being with girls. It's not just one thing that you do or don't do. It's... a process of building intimacy."
"Did you get that from a pamphlet?" Aria asked
Emily threw a stay straw wrapper at her. "No... I'm just saying, Paige and I have done a lot of stuff, we've definitely been...intimate." Emily blushed at the memory of getting particularly intimate with Paige on the very couch Aria was leaning against right now. "But there's one thing that we kinda...saved. "
"Ohh..." Aria and Spencer nodded, realization dawning on their faces.
Hanna's eyes darted from Emily's face to Spencer's to Aria's and back again.
"You mean oral. Right?"
Spencer craned around to look at Hanna.
"Do you even know the meaning of the word discretion? "
"No, I don't." Hanna said proudly.
Aria was wrapped up in the romance of the situation. "That's sweet, Em. You want it to be special."
Emily looked down at her knee, traced an old scar through a rip in her jeans. "After all this time, it's just...its not something we want to rush. You know?"
More than once in the past few weeks, Paige had looked at Emily with such hunger in her dark eyes that Emily had wondered if the waiting if was entirely necessary. But every time, Paige had kissed her softly, pulled her close and whispered her plans into Emily's ear.
"Just a few weeks and we'll have your whole house to ourselves, Em. We can have candle lit dinners...go out on your roof at midnight with a bottle of wine and watch the stars...I'll make you make you breakfast in bed in the morning...it'll be...cozy."
And that was what got Emily to wait patiently, every time – the way Paige bit gently down on her earlobe on the word "cozy."
Emily also knew it was Paige's first time. Paige had gotten much more calm and comfortable being with Emily over the last few weeks; her hands hardly even went numb anymore. But Emily suspected Paige would have a lot more fun and be a lot more fun if she was relaxed, and knew they had plenty of time all to themselves.
Hanna interrupted Emily's thoughts.
"So wait…Your mom left hours ago. Shouldn't you be like, naked and covered in whipped cream by now? Why are we here having a pizza party? Not that I don't appreciate the pepperoni…"
Hanna snatched a few rounds of pepperoni from the half slice Aria had just served herself. Aria glared.
Emily tucked a strand of hair behind her right ear. "Paige had a family thing. She's coming over at 9."
"Her parents said she could stay over the whole weekend?" Aria asked "I thought her dad was still being…"
"She…may not have been exactly truthful about which team member's house she's staying at…"
The girls nodded sagely. They were no strangers to a white lie.
"Well it's what? 7:30? You need us to clear out so you can get ready?" Aria asked.
Emily shook her head. "No, no, stay. It's fine."
"You don't need to shower? Shave?"
"Make your bed?" Spencer added.
Hanna and Aria looked at Spencer, incredulous.
Spencer shrugged. "I can't relax without my bed made."
Emily laughed. "The bed is made. It's fine. You guys can stay until she comes."
Aria grabbed for the folder Emily's mom had given her and rifled through the pamphlets, her eyes growing wider as she read.
"What, what? Lemme see."
Spencer snatched the folder from Aria, scanned through the contents, and doubled over in laughter.
Recovering herself, Spencer slid one pamphlet out of it's pocket and declared in a supremely dignified tone, "…And now, for a dramatic reading of 'What's Up with Going Down'"
Emily curled in on herself, evading the pillow blows Hanna was trying to rain on her shoulders and head. Her cheeks burned. But she was giggling, giddy.
She couldn't wait for Paige to come.