Sometimes Emily's hands still shook without her even knowing. She'd be taking notes in class and suddenly she wouldn't be able to read anything she had just written and she'd realize the death grip on her pen and that her hands were shaking. She'd surface at the side of the pool, gasping for air after a workout and realize that her fingers were white-knuckled as they gripped the wall, but even as tightly as she hung on her hands still shook. Sometimes she had to retype a text four or five times because her fingers could not be forced to find the right keys.
Emily wondered if her hands would ever stop shaking, if they would ever stop feeling like the hot and slick feeling of blood was still on them. She wondered if her hands could ever stop feeling exactly what it was like to grip the wooden handle of a knife and feel just how easily something deadly could slip through skin. She wondered if she could ever feel like her hands were really part of her body again. She wondered if she could ever stop hating them.
To forget the shaking of her hands and the vision behind her eyes of the way Nate—he would always be Nate—looked at her as he was dying, she occupied her hands with Paige. Her hands didn't shake when she was running them down the girl's body, when they tangled in her hair to pull her head back for a deeper kiss, or when they traced the line of her jaw. Her hands didn't shake when she pulled Paige's hips roughly into her own. They didn't shake when she was inside her.
Paige understood Emily's sudden sexual ferocity. She understood that instead of talking about what happened, Emily was using the sensation of the body to process her feelings. Paige knew about using the body as a tool—it was how she felt about her own body. She swam and she ran and she raced her bike as hard as she could because the body could get through what the heart couldn't. When Paige had been at her lowest in the years that Ali had tortured her, she had used the body's exhaustion to drown out the stream of self-hatred in her head. You could beat the body into submission, but you could not do the same with the heart. Paige understood bodies, and so she understood what Emily was doing, but she didn't know how long it would be before her own body broke.
Emily had pulled her into the locker room for the school pool. They often came here at night, Paige using her swim captain's key to let them in when there was no one was around. The place always smelled of chlorine and at night there was a wet heat to the air that made it harder to breath. This space felt like something that belonged to them both, a place of return and a strange sensation of safety. They needed that feeling of safety.
Emily's hand traced up her arm and across her neck, holding Paige's cheek in her hand. Everywhere that Emily touched lit up, burned incandescently white like light trails on dark nights. The lines Emily traced across her skin felt alive, as if her body hadn't known what being alive meant before.
She had Paige pressed against the tiled wall, trapping her with her body and her want. The relief she felt in pouring herself into her want was incredible—almost as if she didn't hate a part of herself, almost as if her hands were always as steady as they were when she held Paige.
Emily pressed her thigh between Paige's legs, relishing the feeling of heat there and the gasp from the other girl. She caught the tail end of Paige's moan in her mouth, kissing her deeply and tasting the heat in her girlfriend's mouth. Everything was so much clearer when they kissed. All the buzzing in Emily's head cleared out like so much static, as if she was finally tuning into a clear station, a strong enough signal, and that beacon was Paige. Paige- who she could taste on her tongue and whose skin was already slick with the heat from their wanting.
Kissing Paige felt like a heatwave—her vision shimmered. She tightened her grip on the auburn haired girl's hips, running her thumb along her hip bones and pressing on the skin just beneath them. Paige bucked against her, lowering her head into Emily's shoulder to take shallow, shuddering breathes.
Emily pulled a hand up into the shorter girl's hair, tangling her fingers through it and running her nails along the back of Paige's neck. Page gave a short cry as Emily pulled her head back and locked onto Paige's neck with a hard kiss.
Emily had her pressed her against the wall, her skin burning hot against Paige's and the girl's tongue in her mouth. Emily tasted like heat, like burning, like want, like spices that made your eyes water and your breath catch. Emily caught Paige's lower lip between her teeth and gave it a sharp bite and Paige could taste the copper of her own blood before Emily's tongue was back in her mouth. Her body felt like it was on fire, as if there was so much tension from want in her that her bones might break under the strain. Paige broke the kiss to gasp for breath and Emily ran her thumb along the spot of blood on Paige's lip, leaving a burning kiss on her jaw and then she was back to kissing her neck, her mouth lingering where Paige's pulse beat wildly through the skin.
Nate's left hand held the pocket knife to her throat as his right twisted through her hair, pulling her head back. Nate's mouth was at her neck, his tongue running down the line of it, tasting the salt and fear on her.
Paige closed her eyes and tightened her body. She was here. She was now. She was with Emily. Nate was dead.
Emily ran her hand beneath Paige's shirt, and she shivered as the taller girl traced a line with her nails across her stomach and ending at her breast.
Nate's hand let go of her hair, but he still kept the knife at her throat. Paige watched his predator smile as he yanked her shirt up and squeezed her breast so hard that her vision whited out.
Paige clenched her teeth to choke back something between a sob and a howl.
"Stop. Stop! You have to stop now." She gasped, and pushed Emily backwards, avoiding the look of hurt in her girlfriend's eyes by spinning herself around and pressing her forehead into the cool tile of the wall.
She was here. She was now. He was dead. He was dead, but she could still feel him everywhere.
Emily felt a sick fear growing in her stomach as she watched Paige's shoulders shake with the long shuddering breaths her girlfriend was taking. Her body felt lost away from Paige, awkward and without purpose. Emily ached to hold her, to soothe her, to try to understand, but her hands didn't feel made for softness any more. She was afraid if she touched her, she might cause Paige to break.
She didn't understand what was going on in Paige's head—had never really understood. Paige had always been something of an enigma— wild and unexpected and full of passion and fear and a desperation to be loved. And Emily did care for her, but her feelings for the girl didn't provide any easier access into her lover's mind. Paige's emotions were always just under her skin, ready to blaze up, like the slightest bit of friction would set them alight, but what the auburn haired girl was thinking was not so readily available. It was rare that Paige opened up to whatever emotional hurt was plaguing her, and Emily treasured those few insights into the guarded girl, even as she ached for the pain she had been through alone.
"Paige," Emily said, hearing the pleading in her own voice, "please talk to me."
They hadn't talked about what happened. Neither girl could seem to find the words. Neither wanted to find the words. They had held each other and cried and fucked, but they couldn't talk. It had felt so much easier that way- it had almost made her think that they might never need to talk about it. Emily was struck with the sudden gut-twisting knowledge that this silence had been a very bad idea.
Paige let out a last juddering sigh before she turned to face her. Emily saw how tightly her hands were still clenched and she saw an unreachable distance in her lover's deep brown eyes.
"I can't, Em."
That look and those words and suddenly Emily was terrified she might actually be losing Paige. Emily hadn't realized that it would feel like this to lose her. It felt like stairs collapsing under her feet. Paige loved her with an intensity that had scared Emily at first, but always drawn her in. The idea that it would be Paige drifting away from her terrified her and felt wrong- felt completely opposed to who she knew Paige was. Paige's feelings for her were the constant, the thing that kept her from floating away. What was Emily without Paige loving her?