It was the third day of her Political Philosophy lecture, one of the few classes to end with an extensive exam. They were finally getting to the meat of Machiavelli, but Emily Fields hadn't read the text. Students were frantically taking notes, and to an outside observer it would seem that Emily was the most focused. She was scribbling in her class book, however instead of looking up at her professor, she kept glancing down at a smaller book, barely hidden under The Prince. She'd spent her morning and the last two and a half hours of class puzzle crunching.
As with any DIY thing, the book's puzzles widely fluctuated in complexity and tone. On one page, she felt like a giddy kindergartener, putting together jigsaw pieces of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs cd cover, but on the next page, it would take all her focus to get through a dark literary fiction-themed crossword puzzle from hell. Of course, Emily wasn't going to do this in order, she'd already looked at the last page and knew that every answer had clues for the final puzzle.
The professor had opened the text up for class discussion. Emily barely listened while one smartass, in the left-back corner of the classroom, took on another, at the front.
At first, Emily wondered why Paige couldn't write her a letter or at least a story like a normal freaking person. Emily understood that Paige got nervous. The girl could barely manage to change her major without months of doubt. But, now, Emily was immersed in mystery, suspending any disbelief she might be harboring about Paige's followthrough. She was descending levels of Paige's puzzle like Sydney Bristow in a seedy part of Russia. She wanted black boots and an elite team typing code frantically while she charmed and punched her way closer to resolution, truth, justice... ideally, served with sex. Emily's pen was a Beretta with a rosewood grip.
She'd find Paige. She'd find her tied up in all her insecurities, ready for Emily to cut loose and kiss roughly. Emily blushed, wondering if Paige was as competitive in bed as she was in the pool. She imagined how Paige's hair would feel between her fingers. She wanted to tug it back and mark the girl up a little with her teeth. She'd never let her thoughts wander to such dark and lusty places with Maya... Emily's blush darkened. This was totally inappropriate. Such fantasies were reserved for fictional figments, not her actual roommate.
The discussion in the classroom was also heating up, pleasing the professor, even if it was getting repetitive. She started tapping her foot, hoping to God someone with more sense would participate. She was about to start calling names and noticed one of her favorite freshmen, Emily Fields, scribbling like crazy, her knee wildly twitching.
"Oh!" Emily Fields exclaimed, letting her pen drop. She got it. The final puzzle. Oh, Paige...
"Wonderful!" her professor's hands clapped. Emily was jolted out of her bubble, "Miss Fields, what do you have to say?"
Normally, Emily would stumble. She'd feel terrible for being so disrespectful in class. But Spy!Emily was steely cool, having yet to fully process the answer to the puzzle, "I don't think we realize how literal the text actually is," she answered, still looking down at it, "the author is aware of the consequences..." She jolted back into class-mode and looked up at the professor, "Social consequences, I mean." Emily finally knew for certain what Paige had been hiding. But, she didn't want to let herself be happy. Not yet, "We should hold people responsible for their words, even if they might be intended as satire," she spat, matching the intensity of the classroom debate. There was no way the puzzle was satire. The book had its silly and serious moments, just like Paige. And even though Emily was certain Paige was being honest, she knew the girl could turn it around with a joke or some idiotic excuse to disappear for a week. But this was Paige and her Paige had to know how she felt. Paige would never fool with her like this, not after all she'd put them both through. Emily bit her lip, Would she? Does she even understand what her words do?
Her professor pursed her lips, there was a second of excruciating silence in the room. Emily didn't drop her gaze. "Exactly, Ms Fields," she finally said, a little concerned at the girl's intensity, "Machiavelli might have been facetious, but he wrote for favor... The Prince was a resume, if you will, to gain power under Medici. As Emily has reminded us, we are studying Political Philosophy here, NOT literary theory." She nodded to the class before launching into assignments for next class. Emily had provided the perfect cap to the discussion. She was going to compliment the girl, maybe plug the PoliSci department, but she couldn't find Emily in the crowd of kids chatting and packing up their books. Hmph, she must have been the first out the door, the professor thought.
Emily Fields threw open the door. There was Paige, leaning against her bed in a cut up black t-shirt and jeans. Emily could see her black bra peeking out the sides. The sun was shining into the room reflecting the auburn strands in her otherwise brown hair. Emily decided to never forget how gorgeous Paige looked at that moment. Her lips were slightly open in surprise at the rate at which Emily was moving towards her. Emily grabbed Paige's hand, and saw a slight smile at the edge of her mouth as Emily stepped close into her space. Then there were Paige's lips...
"Ahem!" Shana coughed. She sat surrounded by the Paige's wardrobe. She had just lectured Paige about her recent purchases. Apparently the girl's friends had taken her on a shopping spree intended to bring an 'edgy' style to the sweats-and-t-shirts closet. "Well, roommate intimacy is an interesting development... I thought you said you weren't into her, Paige." Shana leaned back and smirked at the girls, trying to shame the situation away.
Emily's head snapped up to the girl. A woman, rather... sitting on Paige's bed no less. Emily began to move and Paige's hands instinctively tried to pull at Emily's waist to lead her back, desperate not to let go of the moment and the way Emily had looked at her, as if seeing something in Paige that no one else could possibly see. But Emily was already across the room. "Who the hell are you?" Emily asked, brazenly. Paige noticed that there was fire in Emily today.
Shana simply looked over at Paige with her eyebrows raised, causing Emily to do the same, incredulously. Paige gritted her teeth and scowled at Shana. She hated being played. "This is the 'style expert' my father sent over," Paige explained, intentionally depriving Shana of any value in any other category than dressing Paige.
"I'm Paige's temporary PR team," Shana clarified, shifting herself off the bed and putting a hand out for Emily to begrudgingly shake, "And you must be Emily Fields, the tempting roommate..." Emily immediately let go of Shana's hand, as if burned.
"I have things to do. In the room. So if you guys can take your meeting elsewhere, that would be really great," Emily spat plastering on a smile. Shana smirked back, she liked this, this girl was cute in an angry internet cat kind of way.
"Oh no, I've had my fill of Paige for today, I'll go," Shana explained. "Paige, we're meeting Monday, right after swim practice. And I want to meet this girl who dresses you... what's her name?"
"Pru. Sure." Paige answered through her teeth.
"Remember Paige, college isn't about getting revenge on your dad with some..." Shana looked up and down Emily, causing the girl to clench her fists, "entertaining experimentation. Stay focused." She gave Paige a nice pat on the upper arm and leaned in, "And have a great birthday," Shana added before breezing sexily out the door. Paige opened her mouth to yell her rage, but nothing came out. Entrances and exits were two of Shana's specialties. Paige kicked herself for forgetting her own birthday tomorrow, for letting Shana catch her off-guard.
Emily looked over at Paige. She was chock full of emotion and adrenaline, she really didn't know what to do. As badly as Maya had treated her, she had never been this angry with the girl. She hadn't felt this way since Allison. Part of her knew that she was excessively upset, but the rest of her was just so enraged at Paige. How could she be so complacent? She just opened her mouth and said nothing! How could she have let that jerk talk to us that way? Especially if Paige loved her... Emily realized that Paige probably had no idea whether or not she loved her. She was just a sad, angry, confused girl who was toying with Emily.
Emily grabbed the puzzle book and shoved it against Paige's chest before taking her backpack and storming out.
Emily stormed straight to Hannah's room, hoping her friend would be home she pounded on the door.
"Whoa! Who the fuck is it?!" Hannah yelled, only opening the door a crack and brandishing a tennis racquet. Apparently she was expecting to be murdered. "Emily," Hannah lowed the weapon, looking concerned, "What's going on?" She opened the door letting Emily walk in.
Emily wouldn't stop moving, she just paced back and forth, ranting. "Just fucking. Fucking Paige. I can't even with her. First she just drops this thing on me. In puzzles. God I hate puzzles so damn much. And Shana. Can you even believe Shana?!" Emily threw her arms up.
"Like, uh, crosswords or sudoku? Because I agree, they're both hateful," Hannah tried to help.
"What?" Emily looked over at her.
"Emily, SIT DOWN. You look crazy!" Hannah pulled Emily into her desk chair. "Start from the beginning. Paige is being an asshole again. And she is like a puzzle?"
Emily took a breath, "Paige gave me a puzzle that said that she was in love with me. Basically. But I HATE her," Emily explained, starting to tear up. The day's high finally starting to wear off.
Paige stood staring at the door Emily had slammed in disbelief. Looking at it, reaching out to almost touch it. She was wondering if maybe it would bend or blur or fall off its hinges. But it remained solid, not wobbly, this door of perception was muddied and everything remained finite, she thought woefully.
Paige was pulled out of her thought by the buzz of her phone and her heart did a little flip in hopes that it might be Emily.
Paige, I need you to come over. Jacob was here. I think we just broke up... -Pru
"Fuck," Paige said to herself, "Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck," she continued as she stepped up and kicked the door once, then twice.
"Wait, you have to start over. This Shana sounds like a huge bitch. You know Paige can't really do anything about her, right? Like, she's hired by Paige's dad..." Hannah explained. Emily was pacing again, unwilling to stay in that chair.
"I guess," Emily looked down, she wasn't content with this explanation and shook her head, " No, Paige shouldn't have let her... After all we've been through. All the times Paige has been... ugh! She should have..."
"Defended your honor? Em, she's not a knight," Hannah tried to smile it off, but Emily remained furious.
"You've got that right. She's NOT my hero," Emily exclaimed, at which point Hannah just outright laughed.
"But that doesn't mean she wasn't brave?"
"Hannah, this is neither a joke nor a freaking Tegan and Sara song," Emily mumbled through her teeth. She shouldn't have come here, Hannah couldn't understand. She should have called Spencer instead. That would have been cathartic, Emily thought.
"Oh god, Em," Hannah was silent, her giggles were gone, "You really like this girl, don't you?"
"No," Emily answered, too quickly. "I mean. I did. Before today."
Hannah was focused now, recalling past events, "And you two have, like, stupid sexy chemistry," Hannah continued, ignoring Emily, who finally stopped pacing to sit at the edge of Hannah's bed.
"She makes me kind of giddy," Emily admitted, "Like, more than anyone else has."
"Well that explains the inordinate anger," Hannah pointed out shrugging sweetly.
"And she can be cute, I guess. Like, how she moves around the room, or pulls on her hair when she's concentrating. I love swimming together. I think she even lets me win if she thinks I'm having a rough morning or if I get a muscle cramp." Emily let out a frustrated sigh, "And it's her birthday tomorrow," Emily slumped, suddenly feeling guilty, stopping to finally wonder if she had hurt Paige and letting that hurt linger.
"Do you think you're in love with her back?" Hannah asked.
"Yeah," Emily admitted letting herself smile at the thought.
"Well, get over it. She's a jerk and she's not worth it," Hannah said, stern. Emily's posture straightened again.
"Of course she's worth it!" Emily exclaimed, "She has a lot on her plate! And she still manages to be amazing and gorgeous and funny and..."
Hannah smiled again, "Okay! Whoa, tiger, I'm sorry! I was just making sure." Emily chucked a pillow at Hannah, angry that the girl had brought her heart rate up again.
"That was cruel."
"You know me, I'm nefarious," Hannah said casually dropped her word of the day. Emily laughed.
"Yeah, that's you. Diabolical," Emily smiled.
"Pure malevolence," Hannah smiled, triumphant. She had gotten really good at this game since she decided to improve her vocabulary in high school. But they also had business to attend to. "So what you're gonna do is go into town and get her a present..." Hannah began.
Emily bit her lip, "Yeah, something thoughtful. Like a book or..."
"Hannah!" Emily tossed another pillow, this time with less force.
"Okay, like a book or whatever. And you're going to dress incredibly sexy..."
"Ha, well. I guess I could try to look cute," Emily blushed.
"Em, you're going to look HOT. Oh! You could light candles! At midnight you kiss her to bring in her birthday and I swear she'll die of happiness. Its going to be sooo romantic!" Hannah put a hand on over her heart and fake fainted back onto her bed causing Emily to giggle along and fall beside her.
"You think it'll work?"
"Em, she freaking loves you. Of course it will."
By the time Paige got to Pru's, the sun was setting behind the dorm building. She knocked twice and let herself into her best friend's room. Paige hadn't been in this room much lately. Pru was much too social to ever stay home. The place looked pristine, especially on Pru's roommates side, which looked exactly how it had their first week of school. Pru had a few more outfit designs on the wall, including a section of clippings devoted to her new styling of Paige. It took Paige a second to see Pru crouched on a few throw pillows on the floor, leaning against her bed frame. "Hey, you. I come bearing frozen treats!" Pru's face was puffy, she looked like she'd cried herself dry. Now she was just been sitting there, contemplating, chewing her bottom lip. It was worse than Paige originally thought.
"Thanks, bro," Pru replied, flatly with a sniff. She scooted over, closer to the corner, so Paige would have room to sit.
"No prob, brah, I like your little nook here," Paige responded, settling in against a cushion next to Pru. "You wanna talk it out?"
"Not particularly," Pru responded.
"We should anyway," Paige knew that Pru was no good at repressing feelings.
"Some other girl was sexier, smarter and more interesting than me, what's new?" Pru sneered with a sarcastic shrug.
"Buddy, NO way that's even remotely possible," Paige started, outraged, she was going to beat fucking Jacob to a pulp.
"You're legally obligated to tell me that," Pru pointed out, cutting Paige off. Paige raised her eyebrows, "Verbal contract. Second grade," Pru stated.
Paige remembered and let out a chuckle, "Well its still true," Paige started opening up the pint of Ben and Jerry's that she was sure Pru would appreciate. She stabbed a couple spoons in, "he is a total idiot, Pru, you're pretty much the sexiest thing on campus," she nudged the girl with her shoulder.
"Thing is, we didn't even have sex," Pru mumbled, "I mean, we did stuff and I really liked him. I just never... ugh, you're not going to get it," Pru tried, exasperated.
"Try me, Pru."
"It didn't click right, I guess?" Pru started to cry again, "I liked him so much, I think I psyched myself out and now he's gone."
"He just wasn't the right guy, Pru," Paige leaned against her friend
"You don't know that. I mean, he was sweet and nice and my family liked him, Paige," Pru 's eyes welled with tears.
"Pru. He was nice and your family liked him," Paige emphasized each word crinkling her nose in disgust, "He was boring and not your type," Paige stated, although Pru remained unconvinced. "I mean, him? Pru, really? Him?"
"Paige, you're supposed to meet the guy you marry in college."
"That's totally stupid. Everyone knows that you'll meet the man you marry in graduate school," Paige had furrowed her brows and did a spot-on impression of her father.
"He did not say that to you," Pru wasn't surprised by anything Nick McCullers did anymore, but still, "That's batshit crazy," she gave her best friend a small smile.
"He most certainly did. So, like, six years from now, you'll have forgotten Bland and..."
"Six years from now, I'll be way too filthy rich to think about grad school," Pru cut her off with another weak smile.
"Oh well in that case. I mean, who cares? We all know that money buys happiness..."
"Or at least really nice vibrators!" Paige blushed, causing Pru to break out her first authentic smile of the night. She took one of the spoons and took a triumphant bite of ice cream.
"Atta girl," Paige said softly with a nudge. Pru was her second favorite person to make smile, Paige thought, with a twinge of sadness for how upset she'd made Emily earlier.
"Wow, this is good, what is this?" Pru looked down and then smiled at the packaging, "Liz Leeeeemooooooon!" Pru did a less enthusiastic version of her Oprah impression.
"Not bad for someone so full of snot," Paige teased.
Pru smiled and settled back against the pillows as Paige pulled her computer onto the floor. "What're we gonna do?" Pru asked. Paige noticed that the girl was trying her best to be pepped, but she was just... drained. She moved less gracefully, just seemed unsure of everything she did. Paige was surprised, she'd never seen Pru less comfortable in her own skin. She was determined to build her best friend back up to the riptide she knew and loved.
"We're going to listen to The Smiths, finish that ice cream, get really angry. And then probably get sad again and then we might cry and you'll feel better tomorrow."
Pru paused for a second, chewing her cheek, "Paige that's exactly what we did after Richard in eighth grade."
"You can't just do the same thing! I'm a different person now and Jacob was totally different from Richard," Pru pouted.
"Eh, Richard was a punk, Jacob was boring," Paige waved her hand, "And neither are worth the upgrade to an Ani DeFranco," Paige explained. "Since you're so different, though, I brought these stupid pink cans of sparkling wine that you like..."
"The ones with the straws?" Pru asked, perking up a bit and grabbing Paige's bag.
"Yes, the way-too-damn-expensive and hard-to-find one's with the straws," Paige smiled, pleased that she'd gotten an upperclassman to buy a four pack last term for when Pru came over.
The first thing Emily did when she got to the room was find the puzzle book and move it from Paige's desk to her own. She was relieved Paige hadn't done something rash, like thrown it away.
Step two was finding the right outfit. Emily tried a dress, but that wasn't right. She tried out some skinny jeans and a shirt that showed her shoulders, but realized that it would be dumb to wear that when they were just going to be in the dorm room. Every few minutes she'd hear something in the hallway and get panicked that Paige was coming back and would catch her totally unshowered with an unwrapped gift lying out. After standing and contemplating her closet for a few more minutes, she finally figured it out. Understated, but meaningful. Hopefully sexy without looking like she tried... perfect.
Emily threw it onto her bed. She quickly stooped down to wrap Paige's gift in some newspaper and gathered her shower supplies. Looking over at the clock, she saw that it was just past 10PM.
She took a nice, short shower. The bathroom was empty, so she let herself sing. Emily got back to the room, put Paige's mix and changed into short shorts and Paige's Dublin swim team t-shirt. Paige had never asked for it back and Emily had never offered. It was soft and warm and just tight enough on Emily to show off. Emily paced the room, picking up, not really knowing what to do with herself.
By the end of the night, Paige and Pru had, in fact, upgraded to Ani. Pru explained that she felt ugly and uninteresting compared to college girls and that she was going to hate being single. Paige had vaguely outlined her fight with Emily, excluding the puzzle. Both were sniffling back tears.
"You should have stood up to Shana, you know? Ya gotta fight for your girl," Pru asserted leaning into Paige's arms.
"Yeah, I know," Paige mumbled against her friends head, "I feel like I've finally used up all my fuck-ups with Emily," she sighed and sniffed.
"I doubt that." Pru mumbled back, even though she didn't know for sure. She wasn't feeling like an expert in any sort of person right now, "I mean, I don't think I fucked up even once with Jacob. Like, I was just so... good at being a girlfriend. Good at playing my best self." She shook her head, "It was so much damn work," Pru shook a little, angry, and let a few more tears fall.
Paige pulled her friend in closer, unable to express how mad it made her that Pru had to work so hard for this guy, "Pru, you're perfect and brilliant, even when you're not trying. Especially when you're not trying. The fact that a guy who is, like, 99% EGG made you feel this way is... ugh."
Paige tried to physically shake off the anger and Pru leaned into her. "It's whatever. Like I said. You're ridiculously cute," Paige tilted her head forward and kissed the top of Pru's head reassuringly. "And you smell better than any other girl on campus," Paige asserted with a tired smile that Pru could feel against her dark hair. A little, harmless lie couldn't hurt right now, Paige thought remembering Emily's scent. For a second, Pru stopped crying and was very still.
She sniffed, tilted her head up to look at Paige, whose brows furrowed trying to read the other girl's expression. Pru simply leaned in and kissed Paige on the lips. It was wet with tears, and soft against Paige's mouth. And once Paige registered all the warmth and salt, she leaned into the kiss, pulling Pru closer. When they finally broke, Pru looked at Paige, a little disappointed and Paige slumped back letting her head fall against the wall with a little thud. "Sorry," Pru whispered into her best friend's neck, barely audible, shaking her head before continuing to cry, just a little bit harder now.
Paige shrugged and pulled Pru into a short, tight, hug. "No prob, brah," Paige whispered a joke. It was Paige accepting her apology, recognizing the kiss as a last-ditch effort for Pru to feel something, anything that wasn't sadness. Paige told herself that it was okay, that everything was fine, and her insides tightened their already twisted state.
Paige got Pru to laugh one more time before putting her in bed and leaving the room. She looked down at her phone on her way down the steps. It was 3AM. She took a moment to take it in, the cloudy dark night, the street lamp that only reflected light down, making everything seedy glitter silver. The wet concrete and the way it scuffed her shoes with gray. Paige didn't want to go home, she also didn't want to be here. She didn't to be anywhere right now. "Happy birthday," she mumbled to herself.
Emily got into bed around midnight. She fell into a restless slumber around 3AM, every time she tossed, Paige's gift would wobble precariously from the corner of her bed.