Hope you guys enjoyed the return of Pretty Little Liars. WHAT AND THE WHAT! Okay but yeah. Sorry that it took me awhile to get this out. Exams you guys. Exams. Also writers block. So it became this really long monster chapter because I kept adding.
To the guest reviews! YAY. I hope I am hitting close to accurate with the medical and the Philly/Muncy bits. To everyone that faved and followed thank you. To everyone thank you! Just thank you. Feel free to review with any comments and if you need anything to be cleared up.
Disclaimer: I do not own this show.
The house was quiet. Emily, already showered and dressed, sipped her cup of coffee at the kitchen island as she read. Paige was still out on her morning run, and Teddy was still asleep. While Dantes was awake, Spencer was right when she said he was a good dog. He had barked excitedly when he saw her but now he was sitting quietly by the legs of her stool. He didn't want for anything.
Emily didn't know anything about owning a dog, what foods they couldn't eat and what kinds of vaccinations they would need. Paige had grown up with Rottweilers when she was younger, so her wife had some idea.
She wondered why she and the other girls hadn't owned a dog, growing up in Rosewood. With A around they should have taken every self-defense class from escrima to Krav Maga. Paige of course had picked up an interest in escrima after watching a demo when they were in the Philippines. That fear Paige had after her attack led to her looking into different martial arts classes, but escrima appealed to her the most.
Then there were the guns. She hated them in the house but they made Paige feel safe. They made her feel whole. Her wife had something to prove even after all the reassurances Emily gave.
Paige did so much to prove that she could. That nothing was really taken from her.
Emily was surprised that they hadn't bought a dog yet. Based on what she read on dogs, some of them were really protective of their owners. Very loyal to their families. She was reading a blog written by the owner of a pitbull and a Rottweiler raised together as pups to get some idea of what Dantes would be like.
She knew about the stigma attached to pitbulls, just as much as the stigma attached to ex-convicts. They were thought of violent snarling dogs that were bred to fight. Same with Rottweilers. Vicious monsters. She had a few patients that needed laceration repairs after they had been attacked by the dogs. But the monsters had been the owners that raised their dogs that way.
No wonder Spencer identified with Dantes.
The little dog at her feet looked up at her. His panting making his mouth look like a dopey grin. Pitbulls really loved people she had read. They were actually friendly dogs, to the point of being clowns. He did a good job of making them laugh last night with his hyper antics. Emily thought he was good for Spencer.
But Dantes and the typical behavior of pitbulls she had just read reminded Emily of Paige. Her wife was such a goofball and her priority was her family. She was very active and energetic. She was always the life of any social gathering, ready with a joke or anecdote.
Paige wasn't like that in high school. She had finally opened up when she came out.
Spencer on the other hand reminded her of a Rottweiler. Wary around people they didn't know if they weren't socialized well as pups. Growing up in the Hastings household and prison made Spencer more comfortable around people she trusted. But to those people she was completely loyal and an absolute sweetheart.
Emily didn't think she was one of those people for Spencer, unlike her daughter and her wife. The other woman had her guard up around her and was hesitant to be alone with her.
When it came to washing the dishes after dinner, Spencer had stood up to clear the table and do the task. When she found out that Emily was the one that usually washed the dishes while Paige got Teddy ready for bed, Spencer looked nervous. But still she insisted.
"I mean yeah. It's no trouble at all." Spencer rubbed at the crook of her elbow. It was a mannerism that Emily was noticing more and more. She was sick with what it could mean. "It is my job after all."
"Which is why you should just relax in the living room. I'm not paying you overtime." Paige joked, a wide grin on her face.
Emily winced, bracing herself for a negative reaction from Spencer. But Spencer just ducked her head, a shy smile gracing her face.
Paige continued, "What'll you have? We have wine or beer. Coffee or tea."
"Uh. Beer?" Spencer consented. "But only after I help with the dishes."
"Okay." Paige smirked and bowed playfully. "Come on, Tedge. Let's get you cleaned up."
"Then Dantes next!" Teddy squealed.
"Sure." Paige picked their daughter up. The little girl's giggling sounded down the hallway.
When it was just Emily and Spencer left in the dining room, Spence looked at her expectantly.
"You don't have to do this." Emily tried. "If it makes you uncomfortable..."
"It does." Spencer admitted. "But I do have to get used to you. Being around you." She wasn't looking at her. "Fifteen years. I don't know you anymore. You don't know me either. We aren't exactly the same kids from high school. I'm not that girl. Don't expect me to be."
Emily felt crushed. That's exactly what she had done with Spencer, and she knew.
"Just like I can't expect you to be the girl I-" Spencer stalled, her face scrunching up as if she was in pain. "We're strangers now. But we can be friends. Again."
So they had washed the dishes in silence. She had tried to catch glimpses of Spencer's forearms, to study them more.
But Spencer became fidgety and once they were finished, she rolled the sleeves of her blue flannel shirt down. Spencer had closed off again. She had sat quietly on the couch nursing her glass of beer, listening to Paige and Teddy until her daughter had to go to bed. By then Spencer's bus had stopped running. They had offered Spencer their guest room. But Spencer declined, ducking her head and hiding behind strands of hair.
It was too soon to ask her to stay. She had to let Spencer decide. Let Spencer come to her.
In the end, Emily asked Paige to drive Spencer home, to the woman's surprise.
"You can drive?" Spencer asked in shock.
"Well yeah. I did take Driver's Ed the same time as you." Paige teased good-naturedly and pointed to her left eye behind her glasses. "This one still works. According to my ophthalmologist at least."
"Oh." Spencer looked ruefully.
"Don't sweat it. I get that a lot when people figure out about the eye." Paige was being polite, but Emily knew those assumptions got to her. Humor was a defense mechanism for her wife. "Let me grab my jacket and we'll go."
The two of them were left alone again, and Spencer looked demolished at offending Paige. "I didn't mean to upset her." Her hand went back to crook of her elbow.
"She hides it well, but she thinks that because of her eye and her hand that she can't protect us. But she makes me feel so safe." And loved. Emily felt guilty. Paige gave so much of herself, while all she did was take. It showed on her body and it showed in her actions with Spencer.
"Yes." Spencer's tone was in agreement, before she put her sneakers and jacket on.
Emily sighed. Even Spencer felt safe with Paige, more than she did with her at the moment apparently. She couldn't hold it against her. It was something felt by anyone that met Paige and got to know her. She would have been a great police officer, social worker, or a kindergarten teacher. Her wife was great with kids.
Which caused another reason for Paige to be apprehensive about her hand, her eye and the scars on her face. A bad experience for her was right after her attack, when a little kid cried at the sight of the still healing scars behind the eye patch and on her hand. So Emily had brought her to the pediatric ward to visit the kids there, especially the ones that were being treated for burns and trauma. She was very gentle with them and played with them. And the children flocked to her as well. Ever since she was a favorite with the nurses and doctors she worked with. This was why Paige would volunteer at the hospital at least once a month.
"You can apologize to Paige by... reassuring her that you trust her. She's a great driver actually. More cautious." Emily stepped closer to Spencer who was still looking at the floor. "And better still, talk to her about her bikes. Her bicycle and her motorcycle. Running and rowing. Things that make her feel whole. You know Teddy. And..." She trailed off. Emily didn't know what would come up if Spencer and Paige talked about her. She continued with her advice that would make Spencer feel like she was able to repair the slight. She could tell that the other woman would agonize over this until Paige was smiling and laughing with her again.
Because she knew that she herself wouldn't stop until Spencer was smiling and laughing with her. Until Spencer trusted her. Little steps.
"And really, don't sweat it." Emily put her hand Spencer's shoulder. "Seriously, Spence. She considers you a friend."
"Okay." Spencer looked up at her, staring straight into her eyes and passing on recognition. "Thank you. I know that you're trying. But I can't..."
It was true. Emily wanted to drive Spencer home. But if the other woman had been uncomfortable washing dishes with her for twenty minutes, then a longer car ride was going to be torture for her. She had to put Spencer's needs and comfort before her own.
She had to be patient with Spencer and not ask her about the scars on her arms. Just like she had waited with the scars on the inside of Paige's thighs and knees.
"You need time." Emily stated simply, even though it was more complicated than that.
Paige came back wearing a brown leather aviator jacket that Emily had bought her since her wife insisted on riding a motorcycle. She also brought her wife a vintage Perfecto jacket. It was well insulated and fit her well, cutting a very dashing figure. "Found this in Teddy's room again. I thought that's why we got her a jacket like this one."
Emily shook her head. While they did buy a mini version of Paige's jacket for their daughter that she had used as part of her Halloween costume, Teddy was constantly borrowing her mother's. She said it smelled like her mama and helped her sleep. But it was probably part of a habit that formed from when she was younger and Paige would have her nap on the daybed in the home office. Her wife would drape the jacket on the sleeping toddler and had to keep doing so when Teddy refused to nap when they used a regular blanket. But like mother, like daughter because Emily would also borrow some of Paige's looser clothes, like her jackets and button ups when Paige wasn't home yet.
"You know how much she loves it." Emily kissed Paige on right cheek. "Stay safe."
"Always do." Paige gave her a salute, then capturing her in a one armed hug.
"Spencer, thank you for coming. I'll see you tomorrow for Dantes, right?" Emily asked hopefully.
"Yes. I'll see you tomorrow."
She sighed. "I screwed up." Dantes barked at her, as if in agreement. "These things do take time. And some backbone."
Paige had come back with a bag full of things for Dantes that she and Spencer had stopped to get. A leash and collar harness, a rope chew toy, a dog bed and some dog food. She had said that Spencer had insisted she pay for all of it since they were letting Dantes stay with them. But Paige had told Emily that they were covering the cost of the veterinarian visit and everything else needed.
The click of the front door opening sounded, followed by Paige's rich laughter. Even though it was muffled and she couldn't make out what was being said, Emily could hear Spencer's husky voice.
"I left him in the kitchen after I fed him." Paige said from the other side of the kitchen door, before entering with Spencer. Her face lit up when she saw Emily sitting on the kitchen island. "Hey, babe. You're up." She walked over and gave her a quick kiss on the lips.
Spencer was still standing by the door. "And look who I found downstairs."
"Good morning, Spencer." Emily greeted.
"Morning. I was going to walk Dantes if that's okay." Spencer said as she glanced around the kitchen, everywhere but Emily next to Paige.
Hearing Spencer's voice got Dantes excited. He ran to her quickly. He licked her shin, and then got up on his hind legs and put his paws on her thighs. He started barking up at her. Spencer crouched down and started scratching him behind the ear. "Were you good for Emily and Paige?"
"He was good. He's really well behaved surprisingly." Paige spoke. "I guess his previous owners did something right."
There was an edge to Paige's voice, expressing her disbelief and disgust at how someone could abandon a dog to the city, with no one and not a thing but a threadbare blanket. Emily had put it in the wash and laid it out on his dog bed for him to sleep on. So he'd have something familiar in new surroundings. They let him stay in the kitchen because it remained one of the warmer places in the house.
Spencer stayed quiet as she pet Dantes. Emily wondered what she was thinking. If she was thinking about her father and her family. If she fought so hard for Dantes because her family hadn't fought hard for her for most of her life and when she needed them the most, only her mother stayed. Did Peter Hastings, Melissa and Jason think about Spencer? Did they even know she was out of prison? Would they care?
"So I'll get you his leash and collar." Paige walked over to the kitchen door. "Let you get his walk on." She pushed through the door.
"Did you eat yet?" Emily asked Spencer. "Or do you want something to drink? Juice or coffee?"
"Didn't eat yet." Spencer said gruffly, as she stood up. "Coffee's okay. I'll take-"
"Black, right?" Emily said as she got up. She pointed at the bowl of fruit on the kitchen island. "Help yourself to those, if you'd like."
Spencer simply nodded, not saying much else. Emily took down a mug and when over to the coffee maker. She poured some coffee and set the mug down on the kitchen island. She looked at the mug for moments before settling on one of the stools.
She wrapped her hands around the mug, and inhaled slowly. "You can sit."
At the invitation, Emily joined her. Spencer took a sip of her coffee, and she took the opportunity to study the woman again. That's what was bothering her. She was really seeing Spencer now, and not just what she had wanted to.
There was still the enjoyment of a cup of coffee on Spencer's face, as if the warmth was filling up her bones. Some things stayed the same. But she was noticing what she had ignored before. How tired and how much older Spencer looked. There were dark circles under her eyes and some crinkling at their corners. There were strands of grey hair mixed in with brown. Emily tried to remember to their first run in, if Spencer had been this worn down. Though she got the sinking feeling that these were much recent changes during the months she had been out of prison.
Something was stressing Spencer out and Emily knew she had only added to it with the kiss. Had she lost sleep over it?
"You remembered." Spencer said flatly, not looking up from the depths of her coffee mug.
"There's a lot about you I could never forget." Emily didn't take her eyes off Spencer. "But you also said that there were things I had to learn about you."
"You want to ask me something, ask." Spencer's tone was still flat, but she took a long sip of her coffee and Emily took that as an invitation. Could it be that easy to ask? She said she would wait until Spencer was ready. The woman was hinting that she was. She searched her for how she should proceed. She could see that Her silence was making Spencer agitated.
"Your arms..." Emily trailed off. She couldn't find the words. This wasn't easy to ask at all.
Spencer rolled her sleeves up a little bit, revealing the tattoos she had on the inner aspects of her wrists. There was a base of another tattoo peeking from under sleeve on her left forearm. There was still so much to discover. What could be seen and what was unseen.
"Lock and key. Go together like left and right." Emily looked at the padlock and skeleton key. They were beautiful, certainly nothing to hide away. "I don't have to explain the symbolism to you, do I? You know where I've been the past 15 years. But that's not what you were curious about, right?"
Where Emily once would have backed down, she pressed on. She would fight for Spencer, if ever there was a danger to her, even if that meant going up against the woman herself. She spoke firmly, trying not to match Spencer's aggression. "If you had scars there? No. I just wanted to know why you keep touching your arms here." Emily softened and placed a gentle hand on the crook of Spencer's elbow.
Spencer didn't pull away, but her eyes closed tightly. "I can't talk about that yet. But I don't touch that stuff. Never again. I'm clean. I don't even drink that often." There was a desperation sneaking into her voice, a pleading.
"I believe you." Emily said, and she let her hand trail down Spencer's forearm and then over exposed skin. She let her hand cover Spencer's healing one. She ran her thumb along her wrist, tracing the inked key that was there.
Paige came back with the leash and harness, but also brought Teddy in her arms. The little girl had her head lolled on her mother's shoulder and an arm around her neck. "Sorry about that, Spencer. Tedgy had a bad dream."
Emily let go of Spencer's hand, to go to her daughter. If Paige had seen anything, she didn't show it. She took Teddy out of her wife's arms and into her own. She had tearstains on her face. "Oh, Baby Girl."
"It was so scary. And you weren't there. Couldn't find you." Teddy buried her head into her neck.
"I'm sorry. I was here in the kitchen." Emily held her closer, and kissed the top of her head.
"Nu uh. You was gone. There were lots of trees. I kept running and running. Then there was too much trees and I couldn't run no more. So I was trapped. Then there was a scary bear. She grr'ed in my face and had big, sharp teeth." Teddy was crying again, and pouting so hard that it was shredding up Emily's heart. She could feel the tears on her shirt.
"It's okay. I have you." Emily looked over at Paige. Her wife was frowning. She came over to rub Teddy's back too. Spencer was watching as well. The woman sat on the stool, hugging herself.
"Are you still mad at me, Mommy?" Teddy whimpered. "I'm sorry."
Emily winced. One of her pediatrics lecturers had taught them that in a child's nightmare, a monster or a scary animal represented a harsh or mean person in their life. She didn't have to guess who the bear was.
"No, Baby. I was just upset. And scared. So scared that I had lost you." Emily kissed the top of her head. "But we will always find you. Your mama and I. But please don't run off again."
Teddy had stopped crying but she was taking shuddering breaths. Dantes was wiggling around and wanted attention as well. He barked twice, the sound filling the kitchen. "And Dantes, too?"
"Yes. Dantes, too." Paige reassured the little girl.
"And Spencer?" Teddy asked, noticing the woman finally. "She got lost too."
Emily looked over at the woman. "Yes. We'll always find Spencer too."
Spencer gave them a small smile. And it was like she was finally waking up. Emily could see it in her eyes. That spark was back. Emily just had to keep it lit.
Because there were explosions you'd meet in life. That would hit you with such force that you felt everything at once. All your nerves firing at the same instance. But they lasted seconds not lifetimes. But that's how long you'd remember them for. And they'd leave you in the rubble with burns that you'd feel years later after you rebuilt yourself. Like Alison. Like Maya.
Then there were fireworks. They would bring color to the night sky, but they were nothing memorable. There were a few that stood out like on the 4th of July or New Year's Eve, but those happened every year, and they'd blur together. The rest were bottle rockets and Roman candles. A little fun, but over quickly. Like the one night stands the first one and a half of college.
There were stars. And Emily had been raised to always reach for them. That worked for goals and achievements when she was younger but that didn't apply to relationships. Ideals that would always be out of reach. If you kept trying to stretch out for them or wait for one to fall, then you'd never notice the light you had already.
Like candles. Very simple and always there for you. But overlooked until you needed them the most. They would burn steady and slowly, flickering like a heartbeat. Give you light in the darkness. Shadows would cast, but the candle flame was there, reassuring you. And the flame could go out, but a spark would bring them back. Like Paige.
She thought Spencer was an explosion that left an inferno, burning her from the inside out. She wanted fireworks and tried to set off too many with that kiss. But her Spencer, if not a candle, was beyond her fingertips. The moon. A heavenly body high in the night sky, out of reach for her since the sun set on them a long time ago. Leaving her with madness. Lunacy.
"Yeah. And your mama and your Mama Bear will always love and protect you." Paige reached out and tickled Teddy on her tummy. The little girl giggled and then she kissed Emily on the cheek. Then she stretched forward towards Paige to give her a kiss as well, her nightmare having been erased.
Emily looked over at Spencer. This must have made her feel awkward, watching their family moment. She had to remind Spencer she wasn't alone now. "And I'm sure Spencer will too. Since she kept you safe when your mama and I couldn't be there. Twice now. She should get a hug and a kiss too, don't you think?"
"Yes!" Teddy's eyes got incredibly round. She started wiggling out of Emily's arms, and went over to Spencer and Dantes. She petted Dantes quickly. Spencer had gotten off the stool. She looked at Paige and Emily hesitantly as she crouched down, silently asking permission. But Teddy launched herself into Spencer's arms.
"Thanks for saving me, Spencer." Teddy gave the woman a kiss on the cheek. Spencer returned the hug like it was her lifeline, keeping her grounded and stopping from being flung from a world spinning too madly onwards for her.
"No problem, kid." Spencer's mouth gave off a crooked smile, but it was in her eyes that spoke how happy she was. They were full of mirth and life. Also love.
Emily could bring Spencer back. Slowly. There was hope. She had opened up the tiniest bit with the promise to tell her more.
Paige clapped her hands together. "Well. I need to get ready for work. I'm going to hop into the shower. And since Tedge is up early we can grab breakfast somewhere. Sound good?"
"Yay!" Teddy cheered. "I'm going to get waffles. With Strawberries and strawberry syrups."
"Sure thing. Just get ready for school okay?" Paige ruffled her hair. She then went to Emily and kissed her on the cheek. "Make sure her uniform is proper? I got a call about her wearing mismatched socks. And change your shirt."
"I like my rainbow sockies!" Teddy pouted at her mother.
"I do too, but you can't wear them to school. Them's the rule. Which is good because they're too cool for school." Paige chuckled. "You can wear them on the weekends."
Paige left the three of them and Dantes in the kitchen with the leash and harness. "Well, Baby Girl. You heard your mama get dressed for school. If you need help, just call me."
Teddy looked at Emily and then Spencer. "Can you braid my hair again? It's really pretty. And my mama is busy so..."
"Spencer is going to take Dantes for a walk." Emily stated firmly.
"Aw. I want to go!" Teddy whined.
"Do you want to take Dantes for a walk or do you want to get waffles? You only have time for one. I still need to get you to school and drive your mother to work. So choose." Emily crossed her arms as she waited for her daughter to make a decision. "To make it easier for you, there will be other chances to walk Dantes this week. But I don't know when you can get waffles for breakfast."
"Uh... Waffles!" Teddy said quickly with a little grin.
"Well okay then. Off you go to get dressed."
Emily and Spencer watched the little girl go, Dantes chasing after her up to the swinging kitchen door. He didn't make it through and hit his head. He barked at the door, but ran away when it swung back again. Emily chuckled at him, but something else seemed to be on Spencer's mind.
"Look at you being a mom." Spencer grinned. "Strict but fair."
"Ugh. I know. I've become my mother. Never would have guessed. Paige is the fun parent and I get to be the mean one." Emily shook her head in amusement.
"Motherhood suits you though. I always thought you'd make a great mom." Spencer took a step forward. "How you handled Teddy's nightmare."
"Yeah. Which she wouldn't have had if I hadn't yelled at her last night. Like a scary bear apparently." Emily said wryly.
"You are scary when you yell." Spencer joked. "I don't think she'll run off again. And, and neither will I."
"You're done running?" Emily asked cautiously, even though she was excited on the inside.
Spencer nodded. Dantes pawed at her leg. "I guess I should take him."
They got the harness on him with some trouble. Spencer took the leash in her hand and Dantes ran around excitedly, as Emily grabbed some plastic bags to hand to her. They got to the door and Dantes looked at it as if it were going to hit him again. Emily held it open for both of them. Dantes trotted through, like he had defeated the door himself. Emily got the front door open for both of them.
"I'll see you when you get back." Emily told them goodbye, and watched them get to the elevator. Spencer waved at her before she got on.
This felt good. It felt right. She was getting her friend back. And Paige wasn't bothered by it. And Teddy loved Spencer. Her step was light as she walked to the bedroom to change her shirt. She had started humming when she reached the door. She was singing when she finally decided on a golden yellow shirt, like the sweater she had made Spencer.
"Still everybody says that if they had the chance they'd fly like we do." Emily sang, as she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. A song she was surprised she still remembered from when it was sang to her one day in front of a Chagall painting.
"You're in a good mood." Paige was standing at her sink, her hair still a bit damp.
"Yes. Spencer is happy so I am happy." Emily beamed, as she put toothpaste on her toothbrush. "She forgave me last night for... what I did during Teddy's birthday. And she's starting to trust me again. Slowly of course. I still have to earn it."
"What did you do though?" Paige cocked her head curiously.
"Something I'm not proud of." Emily was vague. "I pushed her too hard." She shoved her toothbrush in her mouth quickly. So she could buy time if Paige asked more questions.
Paige was quiet still. Emily watched her wife's reflection in the mirror. She was looking at Emily so intensely that she thought she could read her thoughts, could see the ghost of the kiss on her lips. "I had told you not to do that."
Emily spat. Then she followed it up with, "You were right." She rinsed her mouth with water.
"Yes. I did the same for you. I waited patiently for you. I didn't push. And then you opened up about Maya's death and Spencer's trial and incarceration. Just like you did for me with my scars." Paige kissed Emily on the cheek and she went to get dressed.
Emily knew which scars Paige was talking about. The scars Paige had on her thighs and on her abdomen. She glanced at them as her wife rubbed lotion into her skin. They were faint and white. She hated what had caused Paige to hurt herself like that. That she had been alone with no one to help her. But they were healed and they meant that Paige didn't feel that pain anymore.
She had wondered if Spencer had similar scars on her body, put there by her own hand where she couldn't see. And she had wondered if she'd find old track marks. Spencer said she was clean. But she didn't know if that meant there was a time where she wasn't. She shuddered.
"Does... Spencer share things with you?" Emily asked Paige.
"Yes. But in confidence." Paige said without hesitation as she got her prosthetic on. "Nothing, nothing alarming. If that's what you mean. We haven't really touched on her past. She is opening up though. Not much about her years in prison. Last night at dinner was mostly working at Nina's shop. A funny story about a regular or two." She pulled on her suit slacks and already had a dark bra on. She took out a pale blue button up. "The car ride home we just sang along to the radio for a bit. She can rap."
"What? Seriously?" Emily asked in surprise.
"Surprised me too. It was a song her friends liked to sing." Paige got the shirt on. She paused before buttoning it up. "There was one thing though. When we were picking things up for Dantes."
"What happened?" Emily looked worried.
"I sent her ahead. I wanted to grab a rawhide bone for Dantes and when I got to the register, the guy was giving her a snarky comment about the dog food."
Emily felt rage bubbling up inside her. Spencer getting judged based on her appearance. Paige placed a calming hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry. I ripped that guy a new one and spoke to the manager about it."
"Good. I hope that ass got fired." Emily took a breath.
"Wasn't the first complaint against him." Paige finished buttoning up her shirt.
"Mommy!" Teddy knocked on the door before she came in. "Okay. You're here. I'm done with my clothes."
"Let me get your shirt tucked into your skirt." Emily went over to tuck the button up into the plaid skirt. Then looked her daughter over. The girl had pulled on white tights, which they could wear when it was colder. She had on black Mary Janes. "And let's fix your collar."
When Emily got the collar straightened out, Teddy bounced on her feet. "Mama! Can you braids my hair? Like Spencer did."
"Okay." Paige consented. She brushed her daughter's hair that everyone said was just like Emily's. Teddy liked Paige brushing her hair. It was something they did together, another holdover from with Teddy was younger. Emily smiled glad that Paige hadn't let anything take that away from her, learning to adapt. The prosthetic digits just as skillful as muscle and bone.
"I'm going to wait for Spencer and Dantes." Emily had a sudden thought. "You don't think she'll get lost again? She doesn't know the neighborhood."
"She knows the neighborhood, Em." Paige didn't look up from her task. "She got here this morning no problems. And she does deliveries in the area. Which reminds me that I invited her to go running with me sometime. She's very... fit. We talked about it in the car last night. Running and rowing. Biking too almost like someone told her to bring them up."
"I wanna ride bikes, Mama!" Teddy interrupted.
As her wife said they could go biking on the weekend, Emily pondered. Calling Spencer fit was an understatement. The other woman was cut and athletic, more than she had been in high school. Spencer's skinny frame had become lean and had added mass, muscle and a little fat where necessary. Her abs could give Paige a run for her money.
Paige continued. "She likes running to clear her head. But her neighborhood isn't the best place for it. I'd know she'd feel safer out here. It'll be good for her. Good for me too. Friendly competition."
It was obvious that Emily wasn't as active as she had been in high school and college. She probably couldn't keep up with Paige if she tried. Not that she could when she was at her peak fitness level. Her wife was the faster runner. She just shot for thirty minutes of cardio three times a week if she could fit it in on top of walking to and from the hospital. But she knew Paige missed having a running partner that could keep pace with her instead of running ahead of a panting Emily and coming back to her. And it would be good for Spencer. Less time for her to be alone in her apartment and her competitive drive still had to exist somewhere. More fuel to keep that spark a lit.
The doorbell rang. Paige had a knowing smirk. "See. Didn't get lost."
Teddy squirmed around in Paige's grasp, excitement at getting to the door taking hold of her. "Okay. I'm done. I'm done." She didn't get a chance to admire the braid work she gave Teddy before the little girl ran to the door. "You're welcome! Manners, Young Lady!" She shouted after the girl, cracking an amused smile.
Emily followed Teddy to the foyer. She found her daughter chatting with Spencer and Dantes. "Mommy worried you were going to get lost again. I think she wanted to go find you like she promised. But you know where home is!"
"Oh?" Spencer said.
"Yeah. Mommy worries a lot. But only 'cause she loves us." Teddy petted Dantes's head.
"Hey." Emily cut in. "How was the walk?"
"It was a success." Spencer murmured. "Dog friendly neighborhood. I'll get him cleaned up? For the car ride?"
Emily hated that Spencer asked permission to do things, a trained response from fifteen years of being told what to do. She just nodded at the woman, at a lost for words, and lead her to the kitchen. Spencer cleaned up the small dog, a thoughtful thing to do since Teddy was probably going to insist on Dantes sitting on her lap or next to her. Emily hadn't even thought of that.
Dantes made a keening noise, the same he had made when she had given him a bath last night. She had thought of it as a baptism, washing away the hardship and loneliness of being on the street. It was to show him he was wanted. Afterwards they had snuggled on the couch until Paige returned.
Teddy giggled at Dantes once he got free and Spencer was smiling at them both making Emily wonder briefly what that life would have been like. Where Spencer had been Teddy's other mother. If they had raised her and had mornings just like this one before they had to be anywhere. She hung her head and clenched her eyes shut. That game was dangerous. The rules were fair to no one and it was rigged so she would always lose. A gambler that was close to relapse. She licked her lips.
Paige came into the kitchen her hair up and wearing her suit jacket. She also had on her glasses, wearing them for protection more than vision. She was holding Teddy's coat and backpack. "Ready to roll out?"
Soon they were all in the car on the way to get breakfast at cafe they knew that allowed dogs and had huge outdoor heaters. Emily was at the wheel and Paige in the passenger seat. Like she had predicted, Teddy asked if Dantes could sit next to her. There was no problem with that. Spencer sat up straight in the backseat alongside with the two of them, hands in her lap. Teddy was giving her a commentary of all her favorite places in the neighborhood as they drove past.
Once they arrived, Spencer was apprehensive. She said she could wait with Dantes while they got a table inside. She finally let up when she saw another dog with their owner at a table, drinking coffee and with an empty plate in front of him in the glass-enclosed spot. It was early enough that there weren't too many patrons in the outside area.
The man stood up after putting some bills on the table. He and made his dog made his way over to where they were standing. He smiled, especially at Spencer and Dantes. "Hello again."
"Hi." Spencer blushed and ducked her head.
Emily was confused at how this man knew Spencer. How this attractive man with tan skin and blue eyes knew Spencer. He, by simply being male, wasn't her type but he was gorgeous. She had eyes after all and she was glaring at him.
"I was hoping to run into you again. But I didn't think it would happen so soon." The man had white teeth, straight and even. Emily thought he had way too many teeth in his head, not unlike a shark.
Spencer smiled shyly. "Yeah. Small world, I guess."
Teddy let go of Emily's hand and excitedly cooed at the man's dog. It was three different colors. White and brown, but lighter than Dantes. Like a reddish copper. "Sir, you have a very pretty dog. What kind is she?"
It was suddenly as if the man noticed that Spencer wasn't alone. He nodded at Emily and Paige before answering the little girl. "Well thank you. Her name is Addie. And she's an Australian Shepherd."
"Aww. Hi, Addie. Well my name is Teddy. This is my Mama. And this is my Mommy. And that's my Spencer. And he's Dantes." Teddy introduced each of them, always excited to meet new people.
"I met Spencer and Dantes earlier. When Addie and I went for our run." The man tapped his palm to his forehead. "And where are my manners? My name is Gavin. Just recently moved here."
"Paige. And this is my wife, Emily." Paige shook his hand, friendly just like their daughter. But Emily kept her guard up.
What kind of name was Gavin?
"Nice to meet you both. I've seen you running in the neighborhood, Paige. Never had the chance to introduce myself then." Gavin turned to Emily. His smile faltered a bit, but stayed plastered on his face. He nodded at Spencer. "Well alright. Hopefully we'll see each other again some time. Maybe one morning, we can grab coffee."
Spencer looked over at her and Paige for a moment. There was uncertainty on her face. She bit her lip. A decision made. "Uh, sure."
"Great. There's a shop. Cupcake-of-Coffee. You know the place?" Gavin was pleased with himself.
"I... I actually work there." Spencer admitted, a touch of shame slipping in. Emily wanted to take the woman in her arms and give her all the reassurances.
"Well, I guess you'll have no trouble finding it." Gavin joked lightly, which earned up a small smile from Spencer, and even more glaring from Emily. "And you can expect me to be a regular there too. Right I'll let you guys get to your breakfast."
"Welcome to the neighborhood, Gavin." Paige put her hand on Emily's back.
"Thanks, Paige. Enjoy the rest of your day, ladies."
"Bye, Mr. Gavin. Bye, Addie!" Teddy waved at him.
"Bye, Miss Teddy." Gavin and his dog left the cafe, but Emily still felt annoyed with him. He threw her whole day off.
"Wow, Spence." Paige playfully bumped her shoulder against Spencer's as they went to a free table. "He was gorgeous. And very into you."
Emily rolled her eyes. Paige caught her and raised her eyebrow. But Spencer didn't notice their exchange as she sat down distractedly. Teddy claimed the seat on the woman's right.
"I don't know." Spencer said hesitantly. "I'm not ready to date yet. And how about when he finds out about..." Her voice fell to a whisper, as she looked down at her hands in her lap. Her shoulder slumped in defeat. "My past."
Paige took the seat across from them, leaving Emily to sit on Spencer's left. "It's okay, Spencer. You don't have to do anything you don't want to." Emily said. Speaking to the top of the woman's head was something she was growing used to, but the way Spencer spoke, loading each of her sentences with self-loathing, broke her heart.
"I- I want to." Spencer glanced up. Her eyes lingered on Emily. "It's nice. Just to feel... wanted. But..."
"Its just coffee." Emily had to swallow her jealousy. "And when you are ready to date, that person will be lucky to have you."
"Em's right. I hope you know that, Spencer." Paige was so sincere. "There's someone out there for you. Full of patience and understanding. That will love all of you. Like we already do."
"I know." Spencer's eyes lingered on Emily. If looks could ignite, she would have been consumed by flames. She was slowly being burned from the inside out, ever since she had met Spencer. She was glad a waitress came over to take their orders.
Once they got their food ordered, Teddy started talking about Addie the Australian Shepherd.
"I hope Addie and Dantes can be friends! She's really pretty." Teddy gushed. "Addie was so fluffy. Mama, did you see!"
"I did see, Tedgy. And please don't shout. We're all sitting right here, okay?" Paige said gently. Teddy clapped her hands over her mouth. "But yes. She had a very beautiful coat. A red tricolor. You know, Australian Shepherds remind me of you, Em."
Emily looked up at her wife, expecting her to continue. "Hear me out. Gorgeous coats. They're very maternal dogs. They like to keep everyone together. Very intelligent and loyal. Devoted to their family. Sometimes cautious and reserved, but very friendly and outgoing. Great with children and protective of them. Good natured."
"Aren't shepherd dogs really active dogs though?" Emily laughed.
"Hey. You're pretty active. A mother and a pediatric surgeon? Don't tell me that doesn't take up a lot of energy." Spencer added, surprisingly talkative. "You keep up with Teddy. She's pure energy in the form of a little girl."
Paige and Spencer agreeing on something. And that something being her. Emily smiled, and Teddy giggled. "Like a really big pizza party?"
"Possibly." The corners of Spencer's lips quirked up.
"I was doing this exact thing this morning. With the two of you." Emily confessed. She thought about the comparisons she had made for them, how the two women lit up her world. But she didn't say that out loud."A pitbull and a Rottweiler." Paige and Spencer shared a confused look, which made her smirk. "Now you guys hear me out." She listed her reasons, editing them a bit for Spencer's sake.
"That makes sense." Spencer said slowly. She had a thoughtful look on her face.
Paige was laughing though. "I am pretty hilarious. Right, Dantes?" The small dog barked.
The waitress came back with their food. Teddy had followed through and ordered strawberry waffles. Spencer ordered the same. "Great choice, Kid."
"Yeah. I might have to steal a bite." Paige winked.
"Mama! No! We can share." Teddy stated, bouncing in her seat. "Wanna have some too, Mommy?"
"No, Baby Girl. I'm fine with my omelet." Emily took a sip of her coffee. She had decided on an egg white garden omelet, topped with slices of avocados. But she was probably going to steal a piece of bacon from Paige's plate. They started eating and continued talking.
"I think you're all wrong though." Teddy ate a strawberry. "Even though those doggies are nice."
"Okay then, Tedgy. What do you think animals do we remind you of?" Paige smirked as she sat back. Their daughter was pretty entertaining when she let her imagination get wild.
Teddy looked at the three adults in turn. "A lion, a tiger, and a bear."
"Oh my." Spencer and Paige both said at the same time. They were both quiet and then burst out into laughter.
"You two are dorks." Emily shook her head at the pair. Teddy looked confused. She didn't get the reference. So she explained that she had unknowingly said something like in The Wizard of Oz the Judy Garland version.
"Like in Wicked?" Teddy asked. "Elphie was my favorite."
Spencer looked confused now. "You guys took her to see Wicked?"
"No. After the successful adaptation of Les Miserables, there were a lot of musicals adapted for the big screen. Miss Saigon, Next To Normal, Spring Awakening, Here Lies Love." Paige looked excited. "I kinda love musicals. Especially that last one. Imelda Marcos was a trip."
Spencer was processing the information. "So they made a movie based on a musical based on a book based on a movie based on a play based on a book by L. F. Baum?"
"Pretty much." Emily rubbed her temple. "There was also a television show just based on the books by Maguire."
"I read those and the originals." Spencer nodded. "And we watched Les Miz one movie night. Anne Hathaway singing I Dreamed A Dream." She paused, her eyes getting misty.
Paige frowned. They both knew that movie could hit a little close to home for Spencer.
Emily took up the conversation again. "Teddy, you were saying about us as animals? I guess I'm the bear."
"Oh yeah! Because you're my mama bear like Mama said but also 'cause you're so cuddly and give the best hugs. I loves snuggling with you because you're really soft." Teddy beamed.
"Spot on I think." Paige teased Emily, pinching her side. "Which one of us is the lion and the tiger?" She had an amused twinkle in her eye.
"Mama, you're a tiger. Don't you know? You gots the colors. Black and orange. They're the biggest cats. They are very strong. And playful. My teacher said they like swimming." Teddy was leaning forward as far as she could across the table. Paige was matching her as well, leaning towards their daughter. "And they gots pretty stripeys. Like you." Teddy's little hand reached out and touched her mother's face, the right side that was scarred.
Emily reached for Paige's hand. Her wife was smiling but tearing up. Teddy looked alarmed. "I'm sorry. I don't want you to be sad."
"I'm not sad, Tedge. You just make me so happy and proud of you."
Spencer was smiling softly as well. But Emily could see this sense of longing in her eyes, directed at Teddy, not unlike regret. "That's very beautiful, Cub."
Teddy beamed at the compliment. "And Spencer is a lion because they're strong too and they hunt and care for their babies, even when she's not their mommy lion. And so brave. They're very... dignifried. Like a queen. Even when they are sad on the inside."
"You mean dignified, Baby Girl. And I think it fits Spencer well." Emily was so proud of her daughter. Children could say things that were so meaningful and innocent, but they would end up being wise words. It was one of the reasons why she enjoyed being a pediatric surgeon. Why she enjoyed being a mother.
She looked over at Spencer. While Paige had teared up, Spencer had tears freely falling from her eyes. She stood up from her chair. "I'm sorry."
Spencer walked to where the bathroom was. Emily was shocked at first until Teddy got distraught at having made the woman cry. Dantes barked twice but his leash kept him from following after his owner. Paige started to console their daughter.
"You should go after her." Paige said, only full of concern.
Emily followed Spencer to the restroom. She found the woman leaning against the sink, staring intensely at her reflection in the mirror. She never saw Spencer give anyone such a harsh look full of contempt and loathing as the one she was giving herself.
The woman didn't react. Emily stepped closer. She thought about putting her hand on Spencer's shoulder, but she was worried about startling her. She called her name again. "Spencer. Come back to me."
Spencer finally moved. She turned towards Emily. She was still again, muscles tensed and poised to attack. It scared her. Not that she was afraid that Spencer could harm her. But the fear came from the fact that the woman had so much anger directed inwardly. That was the danger.
Then Spencer was on her. Her arms wrapped around her neck. Her face pressed into her chest. "I'm not those things. Not anymore." She whimpered.
Emily embraced Spencer, one hand at the small of her back and the other in her hair, something remembered as having a calming effect when they were both younger and their positions had been reversed. When it had beenSpencer holding her, and keeping her grounded when everything had been too much. Emily ran her fingers through Spencer's hair then, and she did so now.
"I have you." She rubbed circles on Spencer's back and she could feel the woman start to relax into her. They stayed quiet, in each other's arms. She hoped Spencer could draw comfort from her and gain some of what it was she needed. She kissed the top of Spencer's head. A sigh of contentment escaped the other woman's lips as she nuzzled against Emily.
"I'm sorry." She murmured.
"Don't be." Emily replied.
Spencer lifted her head from Emily's chest. "We should probably get back."
"Probably." Neither of them moved to let go.
"Teddy was right. You do give the best hugs."
Spencer made the move that would break them apart. The mention of her daughter got her to release her hold on the lithe brunette. Her daughter and wife were still at the table.
"Yeah." Emily replied, missing the contact. "Anytime you need one."
After letting Spencer have time to put herself back together as much as possible, the two of them returned to the table. Teddy latched herself onto Spencer's waist, shuddering breaths still ranking her body. "I hope you feel better. I didn't mean to make you cry."
"It's okay, Cub. Someone told me I was their lioness once and I just miss them a lot." Spencer picked the little girl up and sat down in her chair. "But you're here now to make me feel better."
When everything was back to what passed for normal for them, they settled the bill and got Teddy to school on time. They drove to Paige's firm, music turned down low. Spencer was quiet in the back seat, watching the buildings go by or deep in thought.
A sound cut through. A phone going off. Neither hers or Paige's. An unfamiliar and outdated ringtone. She flicked her eyes to the rearview mirror just in time to catch the complete look of fear on Spencer's face.