The chapter title is a Jack White song. There is also a Mountain Goats reference planted in this chapter. If you know the song, I'll be very impressed : P
Thanks for reading!
Its a fundamentally human flaw to find sadness in moments of extreme happiness. Paige considered herself to be a more flawed specimen of humanity.
Emily stared at her, and Paige closed her down turned eyes and sighed. Emily was done waiting for Paige to look up, she scooted herself closer to Paige. She kissed her cheek again. She could feel the heat rising to her every kiss and touch. She kissed the corner of Paige's mouth, and Paige's breath came short and cracked. Blood rushed to ears like drums beating in offensively lusty tribal rhythms (found in politically incorrect old movies). Both girls were so caught in the moment, they couldn't possibly have heard the knock at the door.
Paige wanted nothing more than to touch Emily. To run fingers up her arms, to feel her shoulders under the sleeves of her t-shirt. She couldn't move a muscle, all she could do was experience her own deep sadness mixed with a joy she could so easily regret. If she let herself have this, be this happy, what if it never happened again?
Paige wanted to say, 'I'm yours' to Emily, but it somehow came out as "Wait." She wanted to say 'I love you,' but she said, "Em, stop." Emily pulled away and Paige felt like the warm blankets had been pulled away from her sleeping body. Suddenly she was stark naked in a tent, in December.
Emily was shocked. At the dinner table, she'd thought through all their time together. She plucked her memories of Paige in a gloriously complex version of pulling petals from a flower. Of course, she had prepared herself for potential rejection. But honestly, the 'she loves me' category was brimming with evidence; she'd forgotten her doubt. She'd forgotten that the suspension of hope was the only way to preserve it. She foolishly let herself believe fully. Now she was looking at Paige, who was obviously shaken. Emily realized that 'I'm gay' doesn't mean, never meant, 'I love you.'
Emily took a deep breath. She was already hanging off the side of a cliff, there was nothing she could lose now. She was just going to fucking ask. As long as she kept looking at Paige, she knew she could build the courage to do it. That's when the door opened.
"You girls all right?" Emily's mom asked, looking concerned, and then suspicious. Emily took a sharp scoot away from Paige, as if she'd been caught doing something wrong. She regretted it immediately, but refused to look at Paige's reaction. "Emily, honey, you have a guest at the door..."
Emily looked at the clock, 11:30. She stood up quickly. It could be Spencer, Aria or Hannah; had someone been hurt? She hurried out of her room.
Paige remained in place for a bit, unwilling to comprehend what had just happened. "You okay, honey?" Mrs Fields was still at the door, looking motherly. Paige sucked up her energy. I can fix this, I can fix this she thought to herself, propelling her body to stand on shaky legs. She made her way downstairs to see Emily standing with Maya. Maya was carrying a large purse, she looked worn out and sad.
They both looked up at Paige as she walked down the stairs. Emily looked upset; Maya gave her a little smile. As Paige moved closer she could hear that Maya was talking about how she just couldn't sleep, she'd had the worst day, she'd been trying to call Emily all night.
"I'm sorry," Emily responded, concerned for the girl she'd once loved, "I guess I haven't had it with me since getting home..." Emily wracked her mind. Between punches and kisses, her phone had been the least of her concerns. Paige was now standing next to Emily, looking at Maya in disbelief. Today is the day from hell, she thought, and it will never end.
"No, I'm sorry. That's what I came to say. To both of you," Maya looked pointedly at Paige, who didn't have the energy to respond. "I feel horrible for how I met you. And if I had something to say about Samara, I should have come straight to you, Emily." Maya looked like she was at the brink of tears. Emily had made such a point to hate her after all their break up. Now she remembered how compassionate and in-tune Maya could be. "I was hurt, concerned and jealous," And good at expressing your feelings, Paige thought, brows furrowed in envious disbelief. "and.. just. Here..." Maya started rifling through her bag.
She pulled out two objects. The first was a Nemo stuffed animal that she handed to Emily, hoping it would remind her of their good times together. How she'd once decorated Emily's room as an underwater paradise.
The other was a bar of cutesy, shrink wrapped soap. Shaped like a fish. That she handed to Paige.
Paige stared at the fish in her hand, her jaw dropping open. Maya had gotten her soap. Soap. Maya couldn't help but smile a little inwardly; Paige looked comically mortified. This was going to be too fucking easy. "Because you're both swimmers," she explained, timidly, "I'm sorry," she shrugged, "it was as good as I could do in a late night Target run," she explained turning to Paige. Emily smiled at her Nemo, giving it a little hug.
"It was sweet, Maya. Thanks," she responded. Paige stood in place. Emily didn't look over at her, but both girls were clearly waiting.
"Yeah. Really. Glad you came by," Paige put on a pained smile. If it was her own home, this would be where she'd start walking Maya back to the door. It was damn late. Paige swore she could see Maya laughing at her behind those brown eyes. Pure fucking evil, Paige tightened the grip on her bar of soap.
"You want to sit? I could make some tea?" Emily offered kindly.
No no no, please say 'no,' Paige wished.
"Of course, thank you Em," Maya said, "as long as it's okay with your mom for me to be here this late," she added.
"Yeah, it's okay," Emily explained, pleased that Maya, who had butt heads so often with her mother, was being so thoughtful. Emily and her mother had grown closer since high school. She knew her mom trusted her judgment and was proud of the person she'd become.
Emily made her way to the kitchen as Paige and Maya sat across from each other on the couch.
"I'm sorry for how I treated you," Maya said to Paige.
"Yep," responded Paige, despondent. She was a politician's daughter. She knew the game well, she was just infuriatingly bad at playing.
"I hope that we can be friends, Paige," Maya explained, slowly, as if talking to a child. Paige was fuming, she was just barely controlling her rage. Maya fell instantly in glee with that expression on the girl's face. It was adorable. Maya was going to crush her.
Emily got back with three cups of tea. She looked concerned as she sat down. "So, Maya, that thing you said about Samara? Was it true?" she asked, worried.
Maya took a deep breath and looked at Emily in the eyes, consumed with sadness, trying to speak carefully. "I... I feel horrible about this, Em." Paige desperately wanted to chug her tea and get out, but it was still steaming hot. She tried slurping a careful sip. "But, after you and I, you know," deep breath, "were done. I spiraled," Maya began. Paige leaned the cup too quickly, burning the inside of her mouth. Fucking fuck fuck fuck. She tried to remain composed, it's not like either girl was looking at her anyway. She put down the mug in defeat. Get cold, she commanded with her eyes, now, goddamnit.
"I mean, of course I did," Maya let out a small sardonic laugh and shook her head, "you were the best thing that had ever happened to me; and I sabotaged our relationship," Maya explained, placing a couple fingers, gently on Emily's hand. Just for a moment. "Anyway," as if that wasn't the point, "when I got home, I partied. A lot," Maya looked down. Her silence said that she had so much to regret; it lied that she no longer partied like that. "That's when I met Samara."
"Oh," said Emily. She was clearly trying to piece together the chronology.
"I knew her before I ever saw you together," Maya explained. "When she was here, at your house, I was so surprised. I couldn't say anything without coming off as jealous or crazy. And then she said you were her girlfriend. And I was... crushed," she continued.
This was so much for Emily. She hated that day. She tried to be happy about that look on Maya's face, but she never could. Besides, Paige was as much a part of that story as Maya or Samara. Paige was the reason she regretted being Samara's girlfriend. She'd been thinking about Paige before, during and after Maya met Samara. She looked over at Paige, who was concentrating so hard on her tea, she could have sworn the girl was trying to levitate it with her mind. What the hell? Emily thought, before returning her attention to Maya, "I'm sorry about how that happened. Samara is not... she's not my girlfriend anymore," Emily stated. At that, both girls looked up at her.
"I'm so sorry, Em," said Maya, who was so not, "I had no idea," though she'd kinda figured.
"Yeah, jeez, me too," mumbled Paige, who was just glad she'd forgotten to feel guilty about Samara. This was it, this was happening, this was her chance. They were roommates. That was wrong. But they could make it work. What if they were meant to make it work?
Paige's tea was cool now. Emily told the story about cold dessert and a colder farewell; Paige gulped it down in three sips, she gripped the mug nervously in her two big hands, her heart pumping blood. She remembered that she was flawed, inarticulate and messy. She thought of her soul as a twisted piece of rusty metal. She thought that if Emily kissed her again, her head would probably explode from the joy and pain she'd feel. She thought of Emily cleaning brain matter off the ceiling her pristine bedroom.
The tea audibly sloshed around her stomach. "Em, I'm not feeling great. I'm going to head up to bed," Paige mumble-explained. "It was nice meeting you properly, Maya." She stood up. She started to leave. Then she remembered, stepped back, grabbed the soap, before retreating to her room.
From the bedroom, Paige could hear the murmur of Emily's continued conversation, the occasional laugh. Maybe she shouldn't have left? Maya clearly wanted to win Emily over with all that 'best I've ever had' nonsense. Not that Emily wasn't the best thing to happen to Maya, but Paige was sure the girl hadn't figured that out until very recently. Now, Paige felt bad for seeing a glimmer of hope in Emily's break up. She was being shark-like, Maya-like... it wasn't her style. Paige paced, every murmur or laugh felt like a knife digging into her side. Eventually, she heard the door open and Maya depart. Paige closed her eyes and steadied her breath. Whatever happened, she didn't want to know. Not tonight.