Author's Note: Hey All! First and foremost, I would like to apologize for the delay of this update. School had just resumed and the first few weeks are always a bit wild and takes a little of getting used to. I'm hoping to update at least once a week from now on, but if that doesn't work out then I think you can always expect the update to be a little lengthier when it's overdue.
Also, I have a game I want to play with you guys. Well, it's not really a game but it should be a fun activity for all of us. I really want you all to be a part of this story too! Only if you want to be. :) I'd like for any of you who leave a review to give me a line that I could use in the story, but make sure it's appropriate and is applicable to the storyline. From Chapters 16-20 I will try my best to incorporate that line you've given me.
Let's say someone gives me a line that says, "I can feel you forgetting me." Then I will try to use that line somewhere in the story for the next upcoming chapters. I'll give you folks a heads up at the beginning as well to let you know which chapter it'll be in. How about it?
Let the fun begin! :)
Thank you for the new follows, favorites, and reviews! You folks are awesome! :) I hope everyone's having a darn good day! Cheers everyone!
Hipnos7777: I love how you're so adept to discerning my writing style and motives as a writer. For some reason, it doesn't appear like a long overdue conversation to me. Do you think I've prolonged "the talk" for too long? I've learned from past experiences that people don't like to confront certain matters immediately and I have applied that concept to this story. I'm glad that you love Sean. He's a fun character to write. I'll always think of him as "that meddling kid" you know? Have you watched Scooby Doo? I think he should team up with the gang and be a crime solver instead. Although…judging by his playful nature, I don't know if he'd take any crime seriously. ;) I think it surprised some people when they didn't see Samara in the previous chapter. I hadn't meant to write her in at all, just threw her in ch14 as a tease…and had you all anticipating for her appearance. Hahaha Thank you for reading and reviewing! Is there a name I can address you by the next time you review? I hope that you enjoy this chapter. Please have a good day! :)
TheShawmeister: Thank you for the holiday wish J! I think I can try to understand your standpoint of Samara. You're not the only person who isn't fond of her character. :) And you're entirely right; she is a charmer. Don't we all love them? Let's just hope she doesn't try to charm Emily's pants off. Haahahaha I love that you enjoy Pam/Paige's interaction. I felt like it was SUCH a touching scene when I wrote it (had my emotions flying all over the place). I feel like Paige is so lucky to have so many mother figures in her life you know? That there's this community of people she isn't totally aware of that has her back even after everything's gone south with her and Em. I don't think there's anything else that can compare to that kind of unconditional love in Rosewood. I love writing Sean, but Dan on the other hand…I kind-of have mixed feelings about him. I really wonder how Dan and Spencer's relationship will develop. Seems like an interesting path for them. I thought the laundry scene was fun to write as well, although I didn't expect it to elicit that much laughter. I'm glad you enjoyed that part. :) Thank you for reading and reviewing! Always can count on you for a positive feedback no matter what. I hope you're doing it because you actually like it and not to get on my good side. :p Hope you enjoy this chapter! Have a good day J! :)
Gigabyte1: Thank you for always reminding me that I don't disappoint after every chapter. :) It seems like you've really taken a liking towards Sean. I suppose his meddlesome ways are adorable at times. I think you're one of the few who've brand him as Cupid. ;) I'm going to infer from what you're saying that you like Dan. :) I'm still trying to figure out how I'd like to steer his relationship with Spencer. I bet for your socks that you thought Spence was going to go with Paige huh? ;) Don't deny it. I know you did. :p I don't get it, why is everybody laughing at the crotch stain part? Hahaha I'm just like…sitting here thinking…gosh that was so embarrassing for Paige…and you guys are all laughing about it! Tsk tsk tsk! Thank you for coming back to read and review after every time! Is there a name I can address you by the next time you review? I'm sorry it wasn't a quick update, but it's finally here. I hope you enjoy this chapter as much as the previous ones. Please have a good day! :)
Del: Hello Delphine! I looked it up and found out that it means 'dolphin' in French! What a beautiful name you have. :) I can't believe I have a reader allllll the way from Singapore! That is WAY too cool. You're SO cool! ;D I actually went back to see a few reviews and saw that I forgot to answer one of your questions, and I'll respond to it now. I'm actually not a medical student. Just a regular student in her second year of college. I took a psychology class back in 11th grade, and my teacher had gone over schizophrenia for a little bit. I was very intrigued by the mental illness at the time and surfed the web for more information about it, but I have no personal experience with it nor have I studied it extensively. Kind-of funny how people aren't fond of Samara, yet they still anticipate her appearance in the previous chapter huh? ;) Love quotes? You mean…all those really touching lines spoken between characters? When I wrote it…I felt it was a bit too much because it made me feel very overwhelmed and emotional, but I decided to not change it in the end. It wasn't "Dan all of a sudden" for me. I've planned for Dan to jump in a looooong time ago ever since the third chapter when I introduced his name amongst Paige's friends at U Penn. but Audra decided to jump in first, so I had to set Dan aside for a bit. Paige invited Sean over because Dan had…well, "indirectly confessed" his feelings for Paige, and Paige didn't want to be all alone with Dan so she invited the first person that came to her mind when she flipped through her cell's contacts. And of course, Sean's appearance is there for a purpose. If it wasn't for Sean, how would Emily come over? ;) Right? I was trying my best not to make it awkward between Em and Paige. Glad that came out right! Writing Pam's scene made me really emotional. But I am so glad to know that I evoke those kinds of emotions. Thank you. Your words are really motivational and keeps me writing, you know? Thank you for always coming back to read and review. I hope that you have a very good day ahead! :)
Paily lover: You're more nervous than they are? How is that even possible? ;) I thought you didn't like Samara? Why were you looking for her in the previous chapter? :P Still upset about Spencer huh? I'll try to fix that soon. I'm sorry I reminded you of such a…sad memory. I'm glad to know that you find this story somewhat relatable. I've read a few stories on here that reminds me of someone too. I get really emotional when the memories come flooding back as well, and sometimes the feelings are so powerful, it overtakes me. I don't know if that ever happens to you. You should feel special. ;) What name can I address you by the next time I respond to your review? I feel like we have a really nice reader/writer friendship here. Thank you for always coming back to read and review. I mean…you take the time out of your day to write a response to this story and I'm really grateful and appreciative for that kind of gesture around here. :) Hope you enjoy this chapter, and have a very good day!
MindFullofStories: Dencer? LOL Like a dense relationship? I'll try to remember that you coined that term first if anything ever happens between them, Lil. ;) I love how everybody really likes Sean's character and loving him more after each chapter. Hm, why is it that you were waiting for Samara to show up? You were all prepared for me to suck you into this cruel AU world huh? ;P hahahahaha Why are you giving me all these ideas and not letting me use them? And you blame me for all this "cruelty". Tsk tsk tsk! Shame on you. ;) I like the idea of you getting all giddy over this story. I feel the same way too when I post it up and share it with everyone here. Thank you for the holiday wish! That's so sweet of you! :) Also, thank you for coming back to read and review. I hope that you enjoy this chapter too. Please have a nice day, Lil! :)
Sazar: Just because I don't see Spencer and Samara being in the way of Paily now…doesn't guarantee that I might play with that idea a bit in the future. ;) Don't get too comfortable yet, but letting a little tension within you ease a bit might be a good idea for now. :) I like that you enjoy the pace of this story. I don't want to just dive in right away and have them get together immediately. I mean, trust me, I want that for them too but I feel that they have to work gradually towards that kind of…Paily togetherness again after such a break that lasted for 2+ years. I've read stories where Paily shares the same dorm and although I Really love that idea, I'm not too sure if I'm sold on it just yet. When that time comes around, I guess we'll both find out how the rooming situation goes. :) I am TOTALLY trying to make you cry with the Paige/Pam scene! hahahahaha Oh silly me, I bet you didn't even shed a tear, did you? ;) Sean's a fun character to write. I kind-of wish he was my friend. Spencer is…something, isn't she? I love how she's not as sure of herself as she appears to others and we get a peek into this side of her that's so vulnerable and open to hurt. It's precious. Anyway, thank you so much for coming back to read and review! Is there a name I can address you by the next time you review? It's always a pleasure for me to write this story, and seeing that you think so highly of it…I think my heart just melted a little. Thank you. Please have a very good day ahead! :)
Jamscottroc54: Uh no. You cannot say that. You CAN write a fanfic if you wanted to. Pretty please? Or like you can PM me a short one. Yeah? Pweaaaaase? *inserts pouty face here* Why are you always so Sweet? ;) It's like you manage to make me laugh, smile, and make my heart do a little flip every time I read your review. You should totally write a Paily fanfic! ;D I am not joking! The characters in this story have very irregular schedule since it's summertime so it's kind-of difficult to carry out an assassination, you know? :p Thank you for the holiday wish, love! I take it from what you said of Pam and Paige's sad scene that you liked that part? It was an amazing scene for me to write. I almost felt like Pam was her mother for a few moments while writing that part. Now don't you go creating new theories about Paige and expose her super secret undercover life! That's a no-no! ;P Glad the "crotch stain" part got you laughing. *rolls eyes here* hahahaha You and your pervy thoughts! Uh…why wouldn't Everyone be in love with Paige? Hell, I'M IN LOVE WITH PAIGE. There, I've said it. Am I on your list to kill too? hahahaaha Okay…I think YOU are the only one who thought of that "oven scene" with Dan as a sexual scene. LOL That was Hilarious! Why would you think that? How does your mind discern that scene in a sexual way? hahahahahaha Oh my… You don't want people to be in love with Paige but you want Sean to embarrass her? What is wrong with you? LOL I now see how much you Love Sean. Touché…you're starting to pick up on my writing style so soon! How am I going to surprise you with these future chapters now? Hm… I will find a way. :) Thank you for coming back to read and review again! Is there a name I can address you by the next time that you review? I'd love to know. :) I hope that you enjoy this chapter and have a wonderful day!
Nae10: Just checked Paily Heart Melted off my list. :) I'm really so glad that you enjoy this version of Paily. It means a lot knowing you like it that much. I'm glad that the sadness of this story doesn't keep you away though. I try to balance some…happy moments and the sad scenes. I've seen how much the sad parts take its toll on some people and I hope that isn't happening for you. I hope this story continues to make you happy and makes you want to come back for more. :) You give me the highest praise…and I just don't know what to say to that. All the words that I can muster up right now is Thank You. It means a lot to know that this story holds that much value to you and I'm really glad to contribute to the Paily fanfic community. :) Always loved reading Paily fanfics and now that I'm writing one…it just feels really great. Thank you for coming back to read and review Nae. I hope you enjoy this chapter. Please have a wonderful day!
Cici: I really like the idea of two people who were in love with Paige getting together too. It's like…they bond over their feelings for Paige…and then something really special happens between them. I find it so interesting that so many parts of the previous chapter reminded you of the actual show, because I think I managed to steer away from that (unintentionally) but somehow it still comes back to be in the shadows of this story (seeing that it made you recall some scenes from the PLL show). It's amazing that you can recall these scenes so…vividly and you Know which episode they come from too. Amazing! ;)…I can't tell you about Spencer's reasons for not telling Em yet… You'll have to keep reading to find out. ;) Hearing it from you too, I suppose it's official that Sean is a lovable character. Maybe I should hold a poll or something on here to see if anybody would like Sean to be a regular. hahahaha I shouldn't instill that idea into anyone's brain or else it'll come back to haunt me. I don't see Dan as The Dan from Gossip Girl… Where do you get the "feeling" that Em will talk first and drop a bomb on Paige? What made you feel that way? It'll be sad if Paige doesn't speak the truth and lets Emily go again. A true tragedy indeed. There IS such a thing as pink Himalayan sea salt. It's supposed to be the purest form of salt available because it derives from ancient sea salt deposits. It comes in this little grinder. Like a peppercorn grinder per se. And whenever you want to use it, you actually grind the pink/sandy rose-ish crystals and you get these sprinkles of sea salt. They're kind-of pricey though…so I don't know if you're willing to invest about $8 for about 8oz. of it but look at it this way…they can last you a while because it's not like you'll use up all that salt in a month or two. :) hahahaha I do cook. I'm a vegetarian though, so I don't know how much meat-lovers would love the recipes I include in the story. ;) Thank you for always coming back to read and review Cici! I hope you enjoy this chapter and have a good day! :)
Marmoreck: Hello! Thank you for your kind words. I'm very glad that this story makes you happy. Haven't seen you around before but I hope to see more of you in the future. Is there a name I can address you by for future reference? I hope you enjoy this chapter…and have a very good day, okay? :)
Bleedingsanity: Oh my… I haven't seen you in a while! So glad to see you come back! :) I remember reading your last review…and it really touched my heart because your words really inspired me to write more "magical" scenes but it was too bad you haven't read them until now because I've always wanted to thank you for those chapters. :) Now I get to, so Thank You. "Entrancing" is one of my favorite words and I really can't believe that you would use that word to describe my writing! Wow. Thank you! I'm so shocked that this Paily story had pulled you in That much… Wow, it means so much to hear you say that. I don't mind you rambling… ;) It's so beautiful the way you do. I'M entranced by your kind words. Thank you… You are so kind. I'm so lucky to be on the receiving ends of those sweet words you've spoken, Amanda. Thank you for the holiday wish! And thank you for coming back to read and review. I hope that you enjoy this chapter. Please have a beautiful day!
Pokiepup: I was starting to wonder where you've been. Did you mean to say that your birthday was on Dec30? If so, HAPPY BIRTHDAY! ;D I'm so sorry that you've gotten sick and haven't been feeling well. I hope you feel better soon! ;)… I'm cruel? Are you kidding me? You haven't updated Unseen in A While… hahahahaha I'm still waiting for it to come soon you know? ;) I'm glad that the previous chapters did not disappoint. I'm still in the midst of deciding whether I should continue this onto college. What do you think? Anyway, I'm really glad you're back to read and review. Is there a name I can address you by the next time you review? Always a pleasure to hear from you. :) Hope you enjoy this chapter and continue to love it. Have a good day! And get well soon! :)
Disclaimers: I do not own Pretty Little Liars.
After having lunch with the girls, Samara offered to drive me home and Spencer loosened her reign on me and let me go. The drive to my house was a quiet one. It felt a bit strange even, because Samara was always so chirpy and talkative when we were together. I looked over and saw how her brows were knotted fairly tight together. Hesitantly, I reached over and touched her hand that was on the gear lever.
"What's wrong, Samara?" I asked, voicing my concern. I watched as a myriad of emotions play across her face before she quickly glanced down at our touching hands, and she pulled her hand away that was underneath mine.
"I don't know what you're doing with me…but I'd like to clarify some things." she said. I pulled my hand back into my lap and looked down in embarrassment. She was right. I had no idea what I was doing. To be exact, what I was doing with her. I shifted a bit uncomfortably in my seat and slowly looked up to watch her observing me from the corner of her eye while she tried to stay focus on the road.
"How about we talk over tea?" I tentatively asked. I saw her nodded a little and I let out a sigh of relief. Turning and resting my back against the seat, I felt a little better knowing that this wasn't going to be some car quickie again. For some reason, I found myself slightly laughing out loud at the thought. I shook my head a little in disbelief for such an inappropriate thought at this particular time.
"What's so funny?" she asked. I continued to shake my head and tried to get my act together.
"Nothing." I smiled. Nothing at all. We continued the ride home in silence.
"Sit. I'll go grab us some green tea." I told her before I left the room. I got some water and set the boiler onto the stove before switching on the heat. Walking over to the cabinets, I grabbed two teabags and a tin can containing floral green tea that was tucked away in the corner. I opened another cupboard to take out the two mugs with handles and then set them down on the kitchen counter. Opening a cabinet drawer nearby, I grabbed two small teaspoons and subsequently placed one in one of the mugs while opening the tin can to scoop some tealeaves into the tea bags with the other spoon. I hummed and put the tin can containing the tealeaves back where I got them, and put the tea bags filled with tealeaves into the cups. I walked over and switched off the fire, grabbing the boiler off of the stove and headed over to pour the hot water into the cups. I watched as the tea bags floated to the top and then put the boiler back to where I found it after I was done. Walking into the living room with the two cups, I saw that Samara was already settled down on the couch and going through one of the photo albums that was placed beneath the table. She looked up and smiled at me, and I tried to walk over steadily and not spill the contents in the cups.
"I still remember that time when your mom invited me over for dinner. We were looking through this same exact photo album together on your bed." she smirked. I smiled and set both of the cups onto the wooden table. I sat down next to her and bent over to see which photo she was looking at. It was the picture of my first dive. I smiled as memories came rushing back of us sitting on my bed almost three years ago looking at the same photo.
"I'm glad there are things about us that you still remember." I said and looked up to see if I'd catch her eyes. She was looking at me curiously, probably wondering if she was misreading things again.
"So, what was that back there? At the restaurant?" she asked. I bit my lower lip, trying to come up with a way to explain to her how I really feel. "Look…Emily, I'd love for us to go as friends but…anything more than that, I'm sorry…I just can't."
"Is it because of what I told you earlier? Because I don't – "
"It's not just that, Emily. I'd like for us to be friends…first. Then we can see where things will go from there, alright?" she asked.
"Okay…" I replied. She reached over for my hands and held them, and then she released my hands with one of hers and brought it up to my face, caressing and holding me gently. I closed my eyes and leaned into the touch a bit, relishing the warmth of her hand. I felt something inside of me melt all of a sudden. I couldn't be grateful enough to her for taking careful measures before delving into this with me. It was nice…to see that she didn't want to rush anything between us.
"I was thinking maybe we could do something together before the party. It might be a better idea if I didn't go though… I saw the way your friends were looking at me, and…I really don't want to get off on the wrong foot with them." she said. I nodded slowly and then turned away from her. She pulled her hands away and I saw her reach for the cup of tea.
I don't know how long we sat that way, but I vaguely remember her coming up with some excuse to leave. I stayed on the couch for the longest time, thinking about everything and nothing at all. I didn't realized how long I had sat there until I heard the message alert on my phone. I looked at the screen and saw that I had gotten a text message from Sean.
Hey Em! It's Sean (just in case you've forgotten my numero). Paige wanted me to ask you if you're free right now and maybe want to come over for dinner with us and watch some football? Let me know ASAP! She's already starting on the baked kale chips!
I stared at the phone in confusion. Paige is asking me over for dinner? Now why would she do that after all that's happened? After she kissed that girl at the Grille! I felt my blood boiling as I recalled the scene in my head. It was as though she was a different person from the girl I used to know so intimately. It was hurting me to know…that I still don't take that much place in her heart. But then…there were moments where I felt like she hadn't change. Moments I had secretly caught her in. Like the one in the meadow. It was the Paige I used to know. The one who floats on her back and hums relatable songs. The girl that went back to our old sacred spot…maybe to reminisce past times like I did. The person who had kept me…even without chains. My heart rate had gradually gone down and I look back at the phone, contemplating on how I should respond to their invitation. Maybe we should talk. Yeah. Stop being a coward and confront her about it, Emily. Alright. Yeah. Okay. I'll do that.
Sure, I'm free. Where at? I texted him back. It was barely a few seconds before I had another incoming text from Sean.
Her place! I'll see you in a bit, Em! ;)
After reading the message, I dropped my phone onto the couch and slumped back into the cushions behind me. Maybe it isn't such a bad idea after all.
I stood before her doorsteps for a moment before I had finally build up the courage to take a few steps forward to the outer door of her house. Standing in front of her door, I wondered if I should knock or ring the doorbell. Rocking back and forth on my heels, I heard the porch creak a little before I decide to go with the latter. This is it.
After a few moments, the door slowly cracked open. I had sensed a slight hesitancy from the person opening the door, but the door steadily opened and finally I had a full view of who it was behind the door before. She stood there almost in an abandonment of everything I had thought I've ever known. It was weird. Just standing there before her…I no longer felt completely unraveled under her gaze. It felt like meeting someone for the first time. Restarting with a brand new slate. Starting over… But could we ever?
"Hi…" I heard her say almost as if she was out of breath. Had she been working out? My eyes began to wander over her body and I quickly take in the loose flowing grey tank top and spandex shorts she was wearing. I took a deep breath and then tried to breathe out slowly, but I felt my breath quiver as I exhaled. I swallowed hard and tried to bring my eyes back up to hers.
"Hey… Sean said that you asked me over for dinner?" I managed to utter. I let out another breath and watched as confusion loomed over her features. I saw her right hand tighten on the edge of the door with knuckles turning almost a white color, and she stood there in silence. I went over what I said again in my head. Had I said something wrong to upset her? But how? I had only said…
"Of course. Uh…well, um…come in?" I heard her say and saw her step aside to make way for me. I didn't dare to move from the place I stood. I stared into her eyes, looking for any signs of doubts or unwillingness, but I couldn't find any so I slowly walked through the door. Turning around, I watched as she close the door unhurriedly, but once it was shut, she stayed in place and kept her back to me. Is something wrong?
"Paige…?" I hesitantly addressed her by her name for the first time since the night we… I bit my lower lip to control the words that begged to escape me. The way her name had escaped my lips and into the thick air between us, I couldn't imagine why it had come out more intimately than I'd intended. I bit my tongue, wondering if I had overstepped any boundary. My eyes began to wander again now that I had a full view of her back. I watched as her shoulders fell a bit and noticed the taut muscles in her arms when she unconsciously flex. I wanted to reach out and let my hands run down her arms…feeling her muscles twitch beneath my fingers, but I held back and pursed my lips in an attempt to control the temptation within me. I held my breath as my eyes traveled down her back, over her tight womanly curves, and openly gaped at her long toned legs. I started to breathe in shallow breaths, thinking about how I would make it through the rest of dinner if I could barely keep my hands to myself right now. My gaze was slowly travelling up the length of her body until I saw that she was beginning to turn around that my eyes immediately shot straight up to eye level. It felt like an eternity looking into her eyes. What if I never knew her? What if we've never met? Could I possibly have fallen for her eyes?
"Um… The boys are in the living room…watching a basketball game right now. You can go ahead and…I'll grab you a plate of lasagna." she said. I nodded but I still felt slightly uncomfortable with how distant she was being. Maybe she was just trying to be nice, offering an invitation but not really wanting me over at all. Possibly expecting me to decline when Sean had sent an invite. Without warning, she began walking my way and I felt her brush right past me, and a sudden pang of hurt appeared beneath my chest. I tried to swallow my fears. I guess this was how it was going to be between us from now on. Consider it forgotten. The voice echoed throughout my head. Flashes of the scene in the locker room after the night she had surprise-kissed me in the car flashed before me. I didn't want to pretend that nothing had happened again. I couldn't. No… No, I adamantly thought in my head. I don't want to pretend. It happened. I wasn't going to pretend that something didn't happen again, because it did. The words repeated themselves a thousand times inside my head. With my surprisingly quick reflex, I turned around and grabbed hold of her lower arm before she could entirely slip away, and she immediately stopped in her tracks, turning back around to look at me.
"Look… I just wanted to talk, and then I'll leave if that's what you want." I said. I didn't want to leave, but if that was what she wanted after we spoke, I'd understand. She was always the one to walk away, but this time around, I was in her house so I guess it would only make sense that I'd leave.
"No, it's not that." she quickly said. I stared at her as she continued, "I…didn't…well, it wasn't me who asked you to come over, but please, stay. I…I'd love it if you'd stay." Oh. So it wasn't her who… Oh. That makes sense now. I watched her carefully, trying to decipher if she really meant what she had said. When I saw that she did, I slowly nodded and agreed to stay. I watched as she walked towards the kitchen and I followed from behind. I went over to one of the chairs at the kitchen countertops and sat down. Looking around, I felt incredulous to see that everything remained the same since the last time I was here. I started to remember the days we'd spent together in this house cooking, swimming in the backyard, lying on the same lawn chair while watching the sunset, and falling asleep in her arms upstairs after a long swim practice at school. I looked over to where she was, suddenly noticing that she was staring at me with an intense gaze.
"You're staring." I pointed out the obvious.
"I am." she admitted. I felt a familiar wave of heat overtaking my body. No. Stop.
"You can't just do that, Paige." I uttered and looked away. I closed my eyes and wished that my body would stop reacting this way to her voice and would cool down soon.
"I'm not following what you're trying to say here," I heard her say and turned back to look at her. I was about to tell her to stop acting ignorant because I knew that she knew what she was doing, but I heard Sean screamed in excitement from behind me.
"Emily! You made it!" he said and wrapped his big muscular arms around my body. He slowly stepped back, and I looked over to see another brawny-looking guy with spiked platinum blond hair standing over to the side. I caught his eyes and I saw him nod and mouthing "hello" my way. I nodded back too and suddenly felt Sean's arm around me once more.
"All mistakes aside, Dan here was telling me all about your wild college days," I heard Sean said from beside me. Ah, so that's his name. He's pretty cute. I looked from Dan to Sean and then back to Paige just in good time to see her eyes widen.
"You didn't!" Paige suddenly cried out. I felt confused and looked over to Dan and saw that he was slowly stepping back from where he once stood.
"Sorry, it slipped! I swear – " he got in before getting cut off by Sean.
"Paige, I thought we were best friends? How could you not let me in on this story?" Sean said and began laughing.
"Okay, what's going on here? I feel a little left out now." I frowned, and they all turned to look at me with their undivided attention.
"It's nothing," she had barely said before Sean jumped in again.
"Nothing? Who are you trying to kid, Paige?" Sean teased her and starts laughing again. I watched their interaction and saw how she had glared at him. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Dan inching towards me slowly as the other two kept on with their bantering.
"We were at this party and I don't know how many drinks she had by the second hour, but by the time I've made my rounds and gotten back to her, she was totally wasted. You know how klutzy she can be when she gets drunk, right? Anyway, she was trying to show me her moonwalk when she suddenly fell down an entire flight of stairs and into the basement. It was hilarious! I swear, you could actually hear the thumps as she rolled down those steps. The entire room was quiet when she had hit the bottom but then unexpectedly it erupted in laughter and everybody was suddenly applauding for her. Oh my god, it was the most epic moment of our freshmen year!"
"Oh my god! Paige! You did that?" I managed to ask in-between my laughs. When I had finally stopped laughing, a feeling of melancholy rushed through me. No, I hadn't ever gotten to know that Paige. It made me sad to know I've missing out on seeing what kind of person Paige had turned out to be in college.
"Dan!" she yelled and placed her hands on her hips. It suddenly snapped me out of my thoughts as I watched Dan cowered beneath her glare. I joined the boys and laughed at the both of them. It was really nice to be able to laugh like this again. I haven't enjoyed myself like this in so long.
"I'm sorry, Paige." Dan apologized in-between laughs.
"Paige! How much did you have to drink that night? I mean, gee, I would've just slide down the arm of the stairs instead!" Sean joked. Paige buried her face and shook her head in her hands.
"Okay, can we just get all the laughs out and move on now? There's a basketball game waiting for us in the living room!" her voice were muffled in her hands, but it was still audible and I saw how her cheeks had reddened.
"How bad did it hurt? Did you bruise an arm or a leg? Oh my god! Did you get any scars? That'd be so sick!" Sean exclaimed excitedly. Paige had dropped her hands to her sides and walked over to the oven, as though she hadn't heard a word he said.
"Dude, it was crazy. She had to get nine stitches to the back of her head after that fall." Dan shared the details with us. I felt my heart twist in knots as I realized how seriously hurt she'd gotten. Nine stitches? That was worse than…the time she'd gotten drugged by Jenna Marshall at her birthday party. Who had been there for her? Had it taken longer to heal? Was she in good hands and well taken care of back then?
"No way! Wait, Paige! Can I see?" Sean asked excitedly. Would she let me see it as well?
"No, you cannot see. Look, it wasn't entirely my fault for getting that intoxicated." she told Sean while looking at Dan. I guess not.
"Okay, okay, fine." Dan said as he raised his arms into the air. "It's entirely my fault for making you tag along to that party…and getting your ass so drunk that you fell down an entire flight of stairs into the basement. There, happy?"
"Oh, and don't forget about the part where everybody turned around and started clapping for her." Sean went on to say. We all ended up laughing all over again. I slowly glanced over to Paige and saw her reaching into the oven for the lasagna. Maybe I was watching her for longer than I'd intended and zoned out, because Paige had suddenly appeared by my side and was sliding the plate of lasagna in front of me. I looked around and saw that the boys were gone. Maybe they had gone back to the living room to watch the basketball game.
"I'm sorry that you're going to be stuck with me and these two ruckuses tonight, Em." she said and then smiled apologetically. Em. I suddenly melted over how she still said my name so endearingly. I used to be so fond of the way she had said it. I think I still am. I smiled back at her and stood up, taking the lasagna with me as I walked towards the living room since she had said that was where they were earlier.
"There's no other place I'd rather be." It was true. Somehow…I had suddenly felt right at home again.
I watched with amusement as the boys arm-wrestled each other on the creamy carpet floor. The commercials were on and they were advertising a variety of household products, from laundry detergent to floor wipes. It was pretty boring. Well, I wish I wasn't that bored, so then I wouldn't let my mind wander to inappropriate things.
Paige and I had ended up sharing the couch while the boys lay claim to the floor. They had moved the coffee table to the side in order to make room for them to lie down and snack on baked kale chips. Sean was just munching off on them like crazy. Paige and I both had each taken a side of the couch. I was on the left and she took the right side. We lay stretched out on our sides, elbows resting on each of the armrests, and our legs lied side by side in the middle. Even with our knees bent, our legs were still long enough to go past the middle a bit. Every now and then when she moved, our bare legs would touch every time, and the skin-on-skin contact would make me want to die a little inside. As much as I had wanted to make up an excuse to leave, I felt myself enjoying the feeling way too much to find the will to run away.
I sighed as I refocused and saw Sean having the upper hand and possibly winning in the arm-wrestling match, but Dan was making him work hard for it. It appeared Dan was putting up a good fight too. He seemed like a nice guy. He was an easygoing, good-natured guy. If I could say so myself, I thought he was pretty funny at times too when he'd let loose. It was odd how he could remain so serious while being incredibly relaxed. It was possibly the opposite of Spence. She was always a ball of nerves and became extremely tensed when she was serious. I had no idea that there was a relaxed type of seriousness until I met Dan.
I felt her move once more across from me on the couch. One of her legs was touching mine again. I didn't know which one since I didn't dare to look. I counted the seconds and relished in the feeling, waiting for her to move her leg away from mine any second to come. I must've ended up counting sheep and lulling myself into sleep as I got lost in the feeling, because I suddenly jolted awake as I heard her laugh from the other side of the couch. My eyes quickly snapped open and I look over to see that Paige was laughing at the boys as they were both using both their hands in the little arm-wrestling match. Their hands were clasped over each other and Sean looked like he was constipated, whereas Dan's face was only slightly rosy. Paige cheered Dan on and I watched as her face lit up as she rooted for him. I smiled fondly over her cheery excitement and found myself missing her more than I ever had even with her sitting so closeby. How was it that we were sitting on this same couch, legs almost threatening to tangle together, but I felt like she was ten thousand miles apart from me? I wanted to tell her how much I still love her. How much I still thought of her almost every night before I went to bed. How much I find myself getting lost in thoughts of her when I'm alone. How much I imagined she was the water that surrounds me in the pool. How close she still is to my heart. I watched as the light of the sunset shined through the window blinds and cast a ray of light onto her from behind. Her auburn hair glowed beneath the sunray and her skin miraculously glistened in the evening light. It was a beautiful sight for me to have and to hold. It reminded me of times when she had sit on my window seat reading as I laid in-between her legs with my head resting against her chest. She always kept the window open when she read, and the wind would breathe light breezes into the room, softly blowing her hair into the air and I'd watch as they danced only a dance they knew with the wind and sunlight.
I didn't know how long I was staring, but I slightly jumped as Sean leaped onto his feet and proclaimed that he had to go help his parents assemble some things at the church. I watched as Paige carefully moved her legs over mine and set them onto the ground as she stood up to hug him and I heard her thanking him for coming over for dinner. He adorably patted her back and winked my way. I smiled and shook my head, suddenly remembering that it was him who was to blame for my unannounced arrival to Paige's place. I got onto my feet as well and went in to hug him after he had let go of Paige.
"Thank you." I whispered. I heard him chuckle as he pulled away. I looked to Paige and attempted to excuse myself as well, "I think that's my cue to leave too. Mom's probably wondering when I'll come home, since I've forgotten to leave her a note to tell her about my whereabouts." I hope that was a plausible excuse to leave. I watched as she nodded in understanding. "Let me just go put this plate in the sink before I go." I said and already started towards the kitchen before she could refuse. I walked over to the sink and turned on the faucet as I let the water run over the surface of the plate. Grabbing the sponge, I squirted some dishwashing soap onto the plate and then scrubbed it clean. I quickly rinsed the plate, turned off the faucet, and grabbed the towel to dry it before putting it back in the cabinet I knew by memory. Paige walked in almost with perfect timing as I closed the cabinet, and sat down at the chair near the kitchen countertops.
"You didn't have to do that." she said, looking almost as embarrassed as the shy Paige I once knew.
"It's alright. It's already done. I'm going to head out now. Let me just say goodbye to Dan." I said as I walked slowly over to the kitchen countertops to grab my keys and purse.
"He's gone up to shower. I'll pass on your words. Let me walk you out." she said but I shook my head to reject her offer.
"Just walk me to the door and that'll be fine." I said, trying to sound as cool and put together as I can. I walked towards the door and opened it as I slipped on my shoes. After I was done, I turned to face her, "I had a great time tonight… Thanks for…well, thank you for this."
"It's no big. Um…I know that you wanted to talk, but…can we do it some other time?" she asked. Oh right. The talk. I had forgotten all about it.
"I understand. Well…good night." I said. I didn't move. I wasn't sure why I hadn't move. Maybe I was just waiting for her to say something. Maybe I had sort-of wish she'd ask me to stay. I felt as though I was playing mind games with myself. She'd never ask that of me. It was only my wishful thinking.
"You too… Good night, and drive safe." she said. I don't know why, but I still stood frozen in place even though she had bid me goodnight. She hadn't moved either. I felt like I was getting lost as I stared into her eyes. The way they danced across my face before finally settling down onto mine. Her eyes softened, and her mouth agape, and with skin still glistening, only this time it was the moonlight that had caused her to glow in such an entrancing way. I hadn't noticed that I had raised my hand until I saw it in midair but I graciously caught myself before I had reached out to touch her face. Instead, I had waved her goodbye and immediately turned around to leave. Walking down the porch steps, I felt troubled and guilt-ridden, as if I was the one who had abandoned her and left her high and dry. But it wasn't me who'd done that. Her heart just wasn't in the right place I wanted and needed it to be. I wish I had the will to turn back around and tell her how I really feel…but I couldn't bring myself to do it right now. I continued on walking into the night, wondering if it was just as painful for her when she had walked away from me that day. She'd made it look so easy to walk away ever since.
I ran my hand slowly over the ultra-suede upholstering of the sofa, trying to appreciate the velvety padded textile covering of the furniture. It was a beautiful piece that was set seamlessly among the intricate design of the dressing room. I looked around in awe as all the different colors and detailed patterns were woven together to create such a relaxed feel but with a hint of Luxe.
"This is a pretty pricey piece, you know?" Ezra's voice snapped me out of my little trance. I looked at him and smile, raising my brow a bit to question him about how he knew its value. It had felt expensive beneath my touch.
"And how exactly do you know that?" I asked.
"My mother has a royal blue one at her little humble abode. I think we could call this one the silver swirl Rico suave sofa." he said in a mocking tone and awkwardly laughed afterwards. Oh, Fitz. I giggled at how those words came out in my head.
We were both sitting on the suave sofa as we waited for the girls to try on their millionth dresses. The girls and I had decided to go into the city to shop for dresses to wear to the Hastings' party. Spencer wasn't able to make it, and so Aria brought Ezra along. We arrived in Philly around 1 o'clock this after noon and had started browsing through stores after stores since then. It was already half past six in the evening and had gotten pretty dark outside. I had chosen a creamy-looking floral appliqué strapless dress earlier at this little boutique store we visited during the day. Hanna and Aria still hadn't found any that they were fully convinced to buy yet. Ezra and I had secretly agreed on the side that we'd start heading back to Rosewood by seven and would threaten to the leave the girls behind in the city if they chose not to comply. We were supposed to be back at six for dinner at my mom's but the girls kept on protesting, saying that it wasn't fair that I had found a dress and they didn't. I simply rolled my eyes at that ostensible reason, but Ezra had gone soft for Aria and since he was our ride into the city, I had conform to the majority votes to stay. Damn democracy. I let out a sigh and sent my mother a text to tell her that we'd be home for dinner at eight instead.
"Are you okay?" Ezra asked me. I looked over to him and saw that he had relaxed back into the sofa and rested his temple in his hand supported by his elbow on the armrest.
"Yeah, just a little tired. How's school? The kids giving you a hard time?" I asked to make conversation.
"It's the same. Not as many papers to grade since I'm only teaching one class this summer. They're actually a quiet bunch. I'm trying to count my blessings while I still can." he chuckled. I smiled at this and wondered if he had found the girls and I to be as disruptive when he had him as our English teacher back in high school. I had hoped not.
"That's great." I simply said and looked over to the ruffling draperies the girls were behind.
"I could see that sitting here is absolutely taking the edge off your frustration," he laughed. I turned back to give him a deserving glare. It only seemed to fuel his amusement and he continued laughing at me. Somehow, I had broken into a smile again and wondered how I wouldn't have gotten through the rest of the day without him. The girls were driving me insane by prolonging this shopping trip.
"No kidding," I joked back. I sighed for another time. It had been a long day. All I wanted to do was to go home, have dinner, and tuck myself into bed. We should've just stuck to small fashionable stores in Rosewood. Well, on second thought…I kind-of really like the dress I'd gotten. I smiled sheepishly at the thought. Okay, fine, I suppose it was worth the trip here.
"How about you? How have you been?" I heard him ask. I thought about it for a moment. How have I been? Great. Fantastic. Absolutely wonderful. I laughed at the pretense of the words. If only my feelings would hold true to them.
"I'm okay," I decided to say. That would suffice for now.
"Is that all I get? An okay?" he asked.
"I'm sure Aria's shared some things with you." I said in return, smirking at his expression that showed he was taken off guard. He was stammering for a bit before he managed to speak coherently again.
"Would it be all right with you if I…volunteer my opinions about it?" he asked for permission to speak. I watched him closely and tried to discern any sign of pity or sorrow. When I saw none, I gave him a nod to go ahead and talk. He sat up straight and turned his body to face mine. Ezra fumbled with his thumbs for a bit before he seem collected enough to speak again. Judging by his expression, I knew he was going to jump right into the water.
"Trying to love someone when things have ended between you two…is like…going sailing, because you love the ocean." He stopped and looked straight into my eyes to make sure I'd follow what he had said before continuing, "But now you're without a sail and in constant chaos. You don't know what to do because you still love the ocean…" I thought about the words and had easily processed it in my mind. I understood what he was trying to say, yet that was until he uttered the next few words, "But staying out there could kill you." I unconsciously took an intake of air into my lungs and almost choked on it. I tried to swallow, but my throat felt dry and I heavily exhaled with the little strength I felt I had left. I closed my eyes and bit my bottom lip, breathing laboriously through my nasal passage. "I know that you don't want to hear this right now, because maybe the girls have already tried uttering these words once before, but maybe it's time to retreat. Time to let go of the idea that the sail will ever come back so that you can set sailing once again. Maybe I don't see it and you somehow can, but how likely is it that the sail you've lost will come floating back to you? The sail had left you behind. It's time to swim back to shore in one piece, and come home to your friends and family. Everybody is awaiting for your return." I opened my eyes and found myself getting lost in his blue eyes.
"What if I'm too far gone? What if I'm thousands of miles away from the shoreline? I can't find it in myself to swim back on my own." I uttered.
"Yes, you can. Look into your heart and find hope." He paused before continuing, "Hope anchors the soul. It helps us find our way back when we've lost our way."
I nodded and then looked away. As though on cue, both of the girls had simultaneously pulled the curtains aside and stepped out in their handpicked dresses. I don't know how much time have gone by, but we had all shuffled into the car and were heading back home. Aria took the passenger seat while Hanna and I sat in the back. The girls have both dozed off and Ezra and I were the only ones awake. I saw that he was glancing back at me every now and then in the rearview mirror, probably checking to see if he had upset me in any kind of way.
"Stop fretting, Fitz. I'm okay." I assured him. I saw him sheepishly smile in the mirror before I turned to my left to look out the window. It was dark outside and all the city lights had dimly lit the highway. I looked up into the sky and saw that the stars were twinkling at me again tonight. It reminded me of how I was feeling. How dark it had been inside of me. But there were tiny specks of light. Without darkness, light wouldn't exist. For that reason, a certain darkness was needed to see the stars. So there it was: the reason why I had refused to replace the busted bulbs in the unlit room inside my heart. One day, if God will, to let me see the light of hope to guide me home.
A ringing jolted me out of my sleep and I reached out and fumbled around the edge of the night table before the vibrating phone was caught in my hand. I accepted the call without even opening my eyes to see who the caller was because I was too tired.
"Hello…" I said groggily. I felt and saw the sunlight through my eyelids, but I really couldn't find the will to open them.
"Hey Em, are you alright? You don't sound too well," Samara said on the other side of the line.
"Yeah, no, I'm fine. Actually, I just woke up." I admitted and rested the back of my free hand across my forehead. I let out a small sigh and tried to sit up in bed. "What's up?" I said since she hadn't spoken after me.
"Oh, I was just calling to see if you were still free to hang out before the party today." I sensed the hesitancy in her tone. What was that about?
"Uh…well…" I bit my lower lip, trying to figure out a way to tell her about my plans with the girls before the party. "The girls wanted to hang out before the party. You're welcome to join if you want to." I finally said. Not a good idea, Em. Not a good idea.
"Oh. I was hoping you were free… Well, I also want to apologize too. Something suddenly came up and I'm sorry to tell you this kind-of last minute-ish, but I can't go with you to the party this evening." she said.
"Oh." I simply mirrored her word to express my surprise. I opened my eyes and saw beams of light radiating through my room from outside the window.
"Yeah… I'm really sorry, but maybe we can hang out and spend some quality time together another day?" she asked with hope.
"Uh, sure. Another day's fine." I managed to squeak out. I bit my lip again and blinked my eyes a few times to readjust them to the powerful rays of light.
"Okay, cool." she said. I felt confused. Why was it so awkward between us now? What had I done? Or possibly…what was going on with her? I didn't want to pry so I just kept the inquiries to myself.
"Good." I said and kept it at that. I wanted to let out a heavy breath of my frustration, but we were still on the phone and I didn't want her to hear it.
"Um, I guess I'll talk to you later then?" she asked. I nodded, forgetting that she couldn't see me.
"Yeah, sounds great." I said and a few seconds later, I heard the click on the other side of the line. I finally let out a sigh of relief and slumped back in my bed. That went over well…but now I'm dateless. For some reason, I hadn't mind too much. I'm pretty used to being on my own for a while now. It didn't hurt that I was by myself once again.
Well, my day is starting out quite wonderfully. I chuckled a bit to myself and swung my legs to the side of the bed to stand up, stretching for a bit before I headed for the bathroom.
The girls, their dates, and I were all standing around a tall round table with our drinks as we all chatted and relaxed. I was quite surprised that Dan was here first of all, and secondly, how on earth had he managed to snatch up a Hastings that quick? It blew my mind that they were standing here in front of me, their arms laced together so evidently in front of all of us. Hanna and Aria had no idea who he was at first, but I did since I sort-of spent the day with him, Paige and Sean the other day. Was that why Spence and Paige were so close? Because Paige was the middleperson for these two?
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted when I heard the doorbell ring. Spencer was about to go get it when Melissa walked by placing a hand on her shoulder to express that she'd get the door and continued walking towards it. We all watched to see who had arrived, and when the door swung open, I felt my breath catch in my throat.
Paige and Sean appeared to be exchanging words with Melissa before they stepped in through the front door. I watched as she walked with elegance and graced the party with her appearance. I didn't even realized my mouth was agape until I saw Paige placed her fingers under Sean's chin to lift it up. I self-consciously closed my mouth and wet my lips, before glancing around to see if anyone had noticed. It seemed that I wasn't the only one who had stared forthrightly at Paige. I watched as their eyes danced over the pair that had just arrived and looked over to see what had captivated their undivided attention. I almost dropped my glass of wine as I turned around to see Sean helping Paige take off her coat and put it on the coat stand. Oh my god…
The black asymmetric silk dress fitted her so perfectly, showing off such a modest amount of her skin. Her hair was in soft wavy curls, half-tied up and half down, and her eyes sparkled and shine through the light makeup she had on. My eyes traveled down her body appreciatively, and as they swept past her legs, I noticed that she was wearing black pumps to match with the dress wore tonight. She looked like a completely different person. So different from the Paige I used to know, the one who had worn loose t-shirts with vests and a nice pair of fitting jeans or wore suits to these kinds of occasion. She carried herself with so much elegance, which I had no idea had come from, that I felt like I couldn't even recognize her even though I had every part of her ingrained in my memories. Who was this girl? And why is she making me feel more fluster and self-conscious than the girl I used to know? I leaned my weight onto the tall round table to try and steady myself. I couldn't think. I couldn't stand for all I know. I felt my pulse throbbing and echoing inside my head, louder and louder as she walked further into the room. Suddenly she was heading in the other direction with Sean. I watched them interact, and slowly lifted up my glass of wine to my lips to take a sip. The alcohol swirled in my mouth and I swallowed it with ease as I felt a tinge of heat sweep through my body.
"Whoa Em, that's not water you're drinking, and the party's just getting started," Hanna teased me. I looked over to her and saw her smiling triumphantly.
"Really now? Says the girl came over to my birthday party drunk during our senior year?" I threw back at her. "I think I'm fairing much better than you did." I added.
"Ouch Em, why did you have to bring up my past? You're going to scare away Spencer's date!" she joked.
"Hey ladies, leave me out of this. As much as I'd like to be sandwiched between girls right now, I kind-of have a special date tonight that I want to impress." Dan said while gesturing to Spencer with his eyes and raising his hands up into the air. We all laughed, including Spencer, who I noticed had lean further into him. I smiled at the gesture and looked around the table, watching all the couples enjoying each other's companies. Although I hadn't felt left out the entire time, I guess I sort-of wish I had someone to exchange eye contacts with and lean into as well.
I glanced over to where Paige once was but I didn't see her there. My eyes roamed the room until I spotted the view of her back. I watched as she gracefully escaped the mass of people in the room and disappeared. I didn't understand why, but I felt an urge to go after her.
"I'll be back in a few," I said shortly before taking off without waiting for a response. I swerve past a few people who were in the way and walked as swiftly as my heels would allow me to before I followed the steps that she had taken earlier. I excused myself on several occasions and found myself at the back of the house. Looking around, I searched for her in vain. I turned over to the open glass doors to the backyard and wondered if she had taken a step outside for a breather. Well, if she did, that would be the Paige I know. She used to like slipping away from her parents' parties unnoticed. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try looking for her there.
I walked past the framed glass doors and into the night. Unexpectedly, I found myself walking into a garden that appeared to be inspired by a fairy tale. There were lights everywhere. I'd been here for the past hour and haven't even noticed it. I continued to walk further into the garden, but still tried to gaze at the lights in awe. They were almost like stars in the sky, but in a whole different light. Suddenly, a white gazebo that was wrapped with lights, flowers, and candles came into view. I stopped in my path to stand back and stare at how unreal it had looked set up before me. Is this real? I hadn't even notice that there was someone standing in it until the figure had moved into the light. That was when I had to catch my breath.
There she stood in all her glory, wondrously looking around herself and taking in the lights that set her skin aglow. I stood frozen in place as though mesmerized by all the beauty that was standing before me. How was this real? I don't know where I got the bit of courage to walk towards her, but I begin to stride down the path to the gazebo. She had her back to me once I had reached the gazebo, but I kept my distance and stood a few feet away in the darker area of the space between us.
"You look beautiful tonight," I mindlessly confessed. She quickly turned around in surprised and I felt her eyes on me.
"It's funny that you say that. You've never strike me as a person who'd hide and ambush someone in the dark until now," she said. And you've never strike me as person with so much poise and charm. It almost felt like I was under some sort of spell.
I decided to take a few steps forward and watched carefully as her eyes swept over my body. I suddenly stopped feeling so small beneath her gaze when I saw that she was just as transfixed by my appearance as I was with hers. I immediately felt relieved that I hadn't half-assed the act of dressing up and had done my hair into a loose side French braid bun. I didn't bother putting on a lot of makeup but I did use mascara. I watched as her eyes finally settle onto mine. What was she thinking?
"I wasn't hiding. I saw you earlier in the house but before I could get to you, you were already slipping away so I followed you back here." I explained.
"Oh…" she voiced her understanding with a hint of surprise. This is it. It's now or never. I decided to take a few more steps forward and then slowly walked into the gazebo, stopping right before her. We stood there, eyes still locked. I remembered those eyes. I had reminisced about them all the time when we were apart. I needed to keep in mind that she was intoxicated that night and might be upset that I didn't stop the both of us. I tried…but I didn't want to stop. It was like a dream. I wished there was a way that I could make her understand that too. But what if she wanted to leave things at that? What if she wanted for everything to remain unchanged? I felt like I couldn't breathe thinking that she might cut me off for good. But I tried to fight it. I fought to stay calm. How had I stoop so low and not know my own strength to stop what we were doing? Guilt surged through me like water after the dam had burst.
"I want for us to talk about it." I finally said.
"I know." she responded. Paige had a look of anguish and concern written all over her face. Maybe my gut feeling had been right. She appeared really upset, but she was fidgeting with her fingers and looking away. That only ever happens when she was sad and nervous. I braced myself for what was about to come next.
"I didn't mean to hurt you back then." she started. "I mean, I knew I had hurt you when I told you I no longer wanted to be exclusive with you, but I had never meant for the hurt to carry out this long. If I knew…you were hurting this much, I would've just told you why I did what I did back then. I know we can't just go back and start over again to have a new ending, but I'm hoping I can start now and change the ending of this us." she paused again and watched me with caution in her eyes. What was she talking about? "A few months before we graduate during senior year…" she began.
I listened without question. As each word poured out and the truth surfaced, my heart began to ache more than it ever had before. I don't know how long it had taken her to tell the story of her birthmother and her condition from the medical reports and psychological evaluations, but by the time she had finished, I honest-to-God wanted to come forward and hold her. But I couldn't. Internally, I was beating myself up for even thinking that Paige would ever leave me for such an absurd reason. I should've known something was up. I should've… Tears fell down my face and I realized that I had been silently crying. I turned my body away from her and looked away. I couldn't even face her for all I know. I suddenly felt a hand on my left shoulder that was akin to a feather-like touch. I should be the one comforting her. I began to lightly sob as we stood there with her hand never leaving me.
"Don't cry," she pleaded. I put my right hand on top of hers to pull it away from my left shoulder and I turned around. She didn't let go of my hand and I watched as she mirrored my painful expression. I wasn't sure who had made the move but I suddenly found myself in her arms and I held onto her tightly.
"I love you," I whispered into her ear. I noticed that the hand that was lightly rubbing my back to comfort me froze. I held my breath, wondering if I had said the wrong thing. But how could it be wrong? I do love her. Was it wrong timing then? I don't know how many minutes had gone by before she had resumed to stroking my back again.
"I know." she acknowledged. I pulled away and looked into her eyes to see what she was thinking. I thought I had searched in vain, but then I found love. The love and adoration in her eyes that I've seen before and knew by heart. I slowly leaned in to kiss her when I suddenly felt her hands pushing against my shoulder. "I can't." she said. I closed my eyes and bit my lip at the pain that her words had strike me.
"Why?" my voice cracked.
"I…I'm sorry, I can't do that. I do love you, but not in the way that you want me to." she revealed. My lips quivered as a sob threatened to pour out.
"But I…love you." I countered. I stood there hopelessly and wished that some miracle would intervene and change her mind. "I don't care about whether you might develop schizophrenia or not. I just…I want you. Can't you see that?" I opened my eyes and desperately tried to convey my emotions to her.
"Apparently, everybody else does." Everybody else? What was she talking about? "I didn't tell you my story so that you'd forgive me and we can start over, Emily. I did it because I wanted you to have closure and move on. You're an amazing girl, and you'll meet someone that'll be perfect for you someday. I'm not…I'm not that person." I wrapped my arms around myself and took a few steps back. It was hard to stand here and be rejected by her for the third time in my life. I couldn't believe her. It was only a week ago that we shared an intimate moment together in her car. Why was she doing this to me?
"Why are you doing this to me?" I asked angrily. Why does she keep on stringing me along and then surprise me with these rude awakenings? I didn't want it to be like a dream that just comes and goes, and then is forgotten of.
"Emily, look…it doesn't have to be this way. We can still be friends. Please don't – "
"I can feel you forgetting me, Paige." I felt the stung in my chest as I said it. "I just… It hurts. I don't want to be forgotten already." I said, vaguely referencing to the night in her car.
"Emily…I never stopped loving you. I just…stopped showing it. It doesn't mean that I'm forgetting you. I want you to stop hurting. It pains me to see you like this." her voice had dropped to a whisper.
"I can't promise you anything." I uttered.
"Then promise me you'll try." she said and kept me locked in her gaze. "Promise me you'll try to be happy."
"Why do you care? You don't even want me any more. I don't think I'm much better off than an old used furniture right now." I spat out.
"Don't say that. I care because I love you. You know that. You don't smile much any more Emily…but when you do, I just want to make you happy. That's why I care." My heart began to flutter at the words she said. "I'm sorry Emily…I just want to be friends and if that's not what you want, I'll respect you and your decision." she looked at me with everything that was pure and true about her. I fought against the urge to convince her that we couldn't be friends, because it had always been all or nothing for me. How could we go back to being friends? I just couldn't imagine it at all. But then I reconsidered what she had shared with me earlier, and I felt weaken by the fact that she would have to be on her own again if I chose not to be. I didn't want her to feel that she couldn't see a person who she can rely on in me. I suddenly felt so selfish for putting my wants over her needs. She had been alone when she needed me the most, and now that I had a chance to redeem myself, I couldn't understand why it was so hard for me to focus on what she needed first. She had asked for a friend in me.
"Is that what you need right now? A friend?" I tentatively asked. She nodded and cautiously took one step towards me.
"What I need right now is a friend." she said it out loud. I tried to reason with myself. Finding any bit of strength I had left to tell her what she needed to hear.
"Then it's official. We're friends." I finally said.
"That makes me happy." she smiled.
I was about to tell her that I was glad it had made her happy, but suddenly music started booming through the backyard near the entryway back into the house. Paige and I quickly glanced over towards the house and saw that there had been a dance floor set right outside the back doors. I hadn't noticed until now because of the stage lights that had lit up the dance floor. I didn't see those either because they were practically invisible in the dark. The younger crowd started piling out onto the dance floor as the unfamiliar music mix transitioned to a familiar song I knew. "Hollywood" by Daniel Powter. I watched as the boys tried to rock their entire body to the beat and the girls sensually swayed to the rhythm of the song. Ezra and Aria swayed and rocked together quite clumsily but still look like they were having a really good time, while Hanna danced all around Caleb and tried to get him to do the shimmy with her. On the other hand, Spencer and Dan looked a little lost in each other, softly swaying to the music. And Sean… Well…since I had his date over here, he was happily dancing all by himself. I watched as he rocked his head to the beats of the drum and pretended to play an imaginary air guitar. I laughed at Sean and suddenly felt like my spirits had suddenly been lifted up again. It was definitely an interesting sight to see.
"Wow, the Hastings really knows how to throw a party." Paige laughed.
"I don't know about that… I have a feeling it wasn't the handiwork of a Hastings." I remarked.
"Well, um, would you like to go…dance?" she tentatively asked. I smiled and reached out for her hand.
"I'd love to." Paige stretched out her arm and took my hand. We walked over to our friends and joined them on the dance floor. We all laughed and danced silly until the night had end. Just for tonight, I decided I didn't feel the need to fret over my new-formed friendship with Paige. It was just me and a bunch of friends partying tonight. Nothing else mattered. I was having a good time. I was happy. This was what true happiness felt like. To be surrounded by the people you love and they loved you back. I didn't have a care in the world for what tomorrow brings. I just wanted to enjoy tonight. To enjoy this perfect moment while it lasted.