Author's Note: Thank you for all the recent favorites and follows, folks! Also to the reviewers, you guys are AWESOME. ;) You all continue to inspire me to write and I adore all the lengthy reviews you've written for this story. I will always be grateful for all of you and remember these fanfic writing days someday when I'm older and looking back on my life.
Special thanks to BokononCradle, Rain'sMistress, and Del for their contribution to this chapter. This one is dedicated to you three. ;)
Have an amazing day everybody! Cheers!
BokononCradle: Hahaahahaha! The beginning of your review made me laugh. I apologize but I wasn't intentionally teasing you folks. I enjoy the tension is definitely something… Thank you for reading and reviewing! AND for playing my pretty little game. Look out for your line. It's italicized. ;) Thank you for contributing to BIF and being so kind to support this story. You're a trooper! Is there a name I can address you by the next time you review? Hope you have a wonderful day ahead! :)
Rain'sMistress: I'm kind-of glad that they're friends too. We'll see where things go from there. It took me a while trying to make Ezra…sound like Ezra. Hahahaha I figured since he's an English teacher…might as well play with words when it came to his character. I feel like the chemistry between their characters is very intriguing. I remember when he had tutored Emily at the café and it had seemed so…uncomfortable to watch. I wanted their characters to really bond in the previous chapter. I like playing around with unusual pairings. :) Your favorite line was something. Just a heads up, it's in this chapter and it's italicized. ;) Thanks for playing the game, Teddy! Hope you enjoy this chapter. Best, bunny.
Paily lover: Hello Jamie! :) I don't know what to say… I made you *that* sad? :/ Oh man, you're going to love this chapter. hahahaha Did you really ended up crying? How is that even possible? I didn't think it was going to be that sad to read. Awe, it's so sweet to hear that you've missed me. Thank you. :) To answer your personal question, I am halfway through my second year in college, although my coursework says otherwise (I would be considered a third year student). What about you? I wished you had an account on here so that we can converse. Well, I hope you enjoy this chapter. Please have a nice day! :)
Emsy: Incredibly sad? Yeah…but once you hit rock bottom there's nowhere to go from there but up, right? Thank you for reading and reviewing! You have such kind words to say and I thank you for it. :) I'm kind-of glad that I evoked such a strong reaction from you. That means that you're engaged in the story! :) I hope that you enjoy this chapter just as much as you do with the previous ones. Please have a wonderful day!
MindFullofStories: Lil, I remembered when you first reviewed and mentioned what a cruel AU world BIF was and I had thought I was writing it all wrong. Haahaha But now I can see that you meant that in a good way. I don't understand why everybody wants to sob because of the last chapter. I'm glad you're going to stick through all the storms and ups and downs of this story. It's so wonderful to have your support on this journey. I love all of the pairings, even the platonic ones like Paige/Sean and Emily/Ezra. I'm glad that you enjoy "Dencer". ;) I hope that you enjoy this chapter as well! Please have a good day!
Del: Hey Delphine! :) You should get an account on here! I'm always so thankful for your kind remarks. They inspire me to keep on writing and stick to the writing style that you enjoy. I remember starting out with a very different writing style and when it had gotten to chapter 8, you started rooting for the writing style that you liked. ;) By the way, just giving you a heads up, I used your line in this chapter. It's italicized so watch out for it. I kind-of adjusted it a little, but it should be recognizable. ;) Thank you for participating in my little game and contributing to BIF. I hope this chapter will charm you as well. Please have a wonderful day! :)
Jamscottroc54: So…I will be expecting another "short" from you after you finish reading this chapter. ;) hehehe I can't wait! I adore how you're so forthright and open about having pervy thoughts. It is always cracking me up to read your reviews. You are threatening the lives of all my characters, so I don't feel all that bad that you're dying over *there*. Hhahahahaha I'm just kidding, Jamillah! This chapter is nothing close to perfect and amazing, but I hope that you like it anyway. I feel like there will be some parts I'm sure you'll love. ;) I'll be waiting for your update.
Hipnos7777: Hi Anna! So nice to hear from you again. :) I'm glad that you're very understanding of the pace of the story. It really wouldn't make for an adequate story to read if I skipped right to make-up sex, right? When I was writing Ezra's line, I had wanted him to use more figurative language and narrate how I wish someone would've explained to me when I was going through a heartbreak. I liked Samara's character with the same reasons that you do. Wow, I feel like you really do understand these characters from how I'm writing them. I feel so good! :) Thank you for coming back to read and review. It means so much! I hope you enjoy this chapter just as much as the previous ones. Please have a good day! :)
Mamoreck: Your English is pretty darn good for a foreigner. ;) I'm so flattered that you consider me to be one of your favorite writers. It's an honor, really. :) I like drama too but usually I never pay attention to the fact that I'M the one creating the drama. Hahahahha Sometimes the things I read off of BIF makes me laugh as I realize how overly dramatic I'm being, but it speaks out for all these characters and really expresses their true thoughts and feelings. We can definitely keep in touch! I'd love to have a French buddy. May I know your name so I can address you by it the next time you review? Just PM me anytime and I'll respond. :) Or if I don't hear from you by the time I finish the next chapter, I will hopefully get around to contacting you myself. ;) Have a wonderful day!
Sazar: I instantly smiled the moment I began to read your review. It's so sweet how you've told that story of you going mad when your phone died. It's utterly adorable. ;) Darn, I wish I had a full first name to address you by. I will call you Sazar if you like though. :) Thank you for always coming back and reassuring me that this story isn't going down the gutter. It's really so nice to hear from you. YOU continue to amaze and inspire me with your kind words. You are one of the reasons why this story is still under way. I do hope that you enjoy this chapter. Please have a wonderful day! :)
Nae10: Hey girl! I don't know whether to be happy or sad either. I totally understand the feeling. Well, here's Paige's POV and I hope you'll like this chapter. I feel like the writing style kind-of changed in this one but I don't know. I can't wait to hear back from you to see what you think of it. I love writing from two different characters' POVs too. I feel like it gives the readers a greater insight of the story. Thank you for coming back to read and review! Hope you have a good day! :)
TheGreenEyedRioN: Awwwwe, why do you have to be so sweet? ;) I hope you're not just saying that to tease me because I feel really humbled that you think I'm your favorite Paily writer. I mean, there are a TON of really great Paily writers on here that I really respect and admire. I'm glad you weren't completely annoyed by the fact that I pushed the characters further and beyond their limits, and have them going back to a platonic relationship. So glad it all worked out! :) I really like playing with the characters but still being able to stick to their canon a bit. Have you finished watching the PLL episodes yet? I'm still waiting for that collab story to happen for us! ;D Thank you for coming back to read and review! Please have an enjoyable day, alright?
Pokiepup: Aw! Michelle! How old did you turn? Haven't heard from you since that last review and I thought that Life has consumed all of your time. When are you going to update your story? I can't wait to read it again. I've been falling behind on my updates too because of how busy everything is with school and other personal business. Hopefully everything's alright with you. Thank you for coming back to read and review! It will always mean so much and you know why. ;) Please have a good day!
Disclaimers: I do not own Pretty Little Liars.
I felt myself completely unraveling beneath her gaze. My mouth had gone dry from coming up with how to say the words I had wanted to say. I slowly gulped and prayed that my salivary glands would start functioning again. Get it together, Paige. I breathed out raggedly and watched as she continued to stare at me without any regards, but the increased pressure to form a coherent speech had me turning away from her in desperation to find the right words to say.
"I didn't mean to hurt you back then." I began. I turned back around and look her right in the eyes to the best of my ability, "I mean…I knew I had hurt you when I told you I no longer wanted to be exclusive, 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 for us." I stopped and wonder how I should begin to tell the story. "A few months before we graduated during senior year…" I heard myself trailed off.
The words had somehow poured out effortlessly. As the confession flowed out on its own, I watched her patiently ingest the news that had once overwhelmed me for a long period of time. It was hard to see how she was coping with this information. It made me sweat a little even though I had recounted the story a few times. It was never easy. But it had gotten a little less harder each time. Her face had wrinkled more times than I can count, and a part of me wished that I never had to burden her with this lowdown. I had been doing just fine keeping that part of my life to myself.
My heart ached for her as I watched the tears stream down her face. I wanted so badly to reach out and comfort her, but I…couldn't. I silently watched as she fell apart before me. It was hurting me to see her like this, and it suddenly reminded me of why I had fell in love with her in the first place. Emily loved so hard. She poured out her heart into everything she touches and was the most compassionate human being I've ever met. Every gesture, every word, and every time she told me she loved me with her eyes… That was the art of love. It was the most beautiful form of love I've ever gotten to know. It was this part of her that had kept my heart completely from the moment I fell in love with her.
Yet here I stand…in disbelief that she had continued to love me the way she did. It wasn't an every day thing when someone just accepted you wholly as they do. I had known that her love had made my world go round. I just hadn't seen that…it could also stop my world from spinning. How her love could take my breath away and stopped an illusion like time, which had haunt me for years on end. I had thought I'd never get the chance to get to know a love like hers again. But here I stand. With her suddenly in my arms.
"I love you," I heard her whisper into my ear. I froze as the words escaped her, but she continued to hold onto me tightly. How I had imagined for the words to mean in my head could not compare to the way that they had form upon her lips. The way she had said love. It was all I could do not to wreck all of my effort these past years. I didn't know what to think. Lord help me, I didn't even know what to say. Who am I kidding? I could've easily said that I still love her just as much as I did when time had began. I could tell her that I've spent many sleepless nights wishing she were lying right beside me when I had missed her so much. I could pick up all of these broken pieces and mend them back together with all the love that I had to give. But…
"I know." I heard myself say. I blinked back the tears that threatened to escape. I have to stay strong. I have to get through this.
She pulled away from me almost too quickly for my liking, but I got lost in her the moment our eyes had connected. I watched as she sensually wet her lips, and I almost felt my walls nearing breakdown. Almost. She kept staring into my eyes, looking through me with an inconsiderable amount of passion I'd never seen before, and it took my breath away as I wondered why a girl this perfect and beautiful had fallen in love with me. I was entirely undeserving of her love. That, I had known so perfectly well. The feeling had resonated with so many different memories until it had stopped at one when I caught sight of the silver-plated tiny anchor earrings out of the corner of my eyes. I've seen those before. She had been wearing them in my dream. All of a sudden, every little detail of that dream came rushing back remorselessly. Soft engaging lips. Brown eyes filled with utter passion. Dark wavy tresses that smelled of lavender. Uneven heavy breathing. Hips sensually grinding. Soft whimpers. Guttural moans. How I'd bitten down on the barely noticeable birthmark at the nape of her neck to hold back my urge to cry out in pleasure. The sensation of her body shaking atop mine as she fell into me. I had soothed her as she fell asleep, resting one hand on her back and the other brushing back her hair as she laid her head on my shoulder. Silver-plated tiny anchor earrings. I'd seen them when I had moved a wisp of her hair away. Oh my god… We…in my car? That morning I woke up in the passenger seat… Oh my god. It wasn't a dream! Emily and I… I snapped out of the flashbacks as I saw her leaning in closer. I fought every urge to give in and bit back my frustration as I suddenly realized what she had wanted to talk about. It had taken every ounce of strength I had left to put my hands on her shoulders to hold her back. Almost too soon, I watched as she broke right in front of my eyes, and I felt my heart wanting stop beating. I'm so sorry. I wanted to say it aloud, but I couldn't do it. It suddenly dawned on me why her mother and Spencer had told me that Emily's been pushed near her breaking point. I did this. I began to realize. I caused this.
"I can't." I had let out. I can't do this to you anymore. Emily shut her eyes almost immediately and I can only helplessly stand and stare as I watch her teeth sink deeply into her bottom lip. I wanted to lift my hands up to her face and tell her to stop or else lips would bleed, but I didn't. The next words did nothing to remove the helpless feeling I felt, as I stood unmoving in front of her.
"Why?" The word had come out so broken. I wanted to take back the words I said, but I knew that I couldn't. I shouldn't. My breath shook and I tried to regain control over my breathing.
"I…I'm sorry, I can't do that. I do love you, but not in the way that you want me to." I lied. I love you so much that it hurts. She looked like she was about to cry and I felt immensely guilt-ridden from the hurt I was causing her.
"But I…love you." she said again. I didn't know what I should be saying. How could I convince her of something even I didn't even believe in? "I don't care about whether you might develop schizophrenia or not. I just…I want you. Can't you see that?" I felt almost as if she had looked right through me as I heard the desperation in her voice. I wanted to break down and cry too. I had wanted for her fall into my arms again and let me comfort her. But why was she so blindly choosing a path of pain and sorrow? Why can't she see that I didn't want her to feel this way? I couldn't hide from the desperation I saw in her eyes. I wish I could just turn away and leave, but I knew I had to set this straight with every little bit of strength I had left.
"Apparently, everybody else does." I stalled, while trying to muster up the words I needed to say next. "I didn't tell you my story so that you'd forgive me and we can start over, Emily." I looked straight into her eyes and tried not to choke on the words as I utter a truth even I didn't want to hear, "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." She looked completely taken aback and stepped away from me. Seeing her wrap herself in her own arms…I felt entirely inhumane. Oh Em… I wanted to walk towards her and take her into my arms, but I knew that I couldn't. I can't do that if I wanted to do this right. How many times I couldn't do what I wanted to do… How much more pain can you inflict on the both of us, Paige?
"Why are you doing this to me?" she asked bitterly. I hadn't seen that coming. Her voice laced with menace was something I had never wanted to hear. It had hurt more than I thought it would. I started to remember the last two years and how I'd spent it thinking about how different I wished things could've been. How I was wishing that someday she'd stop hating me for what I did. That could change. That could change now.
"Emily, look…it doesn't have to be this way. We can still be friends. Please don't – " I begged.
"I can feel you forgetting me, Paige." Forget you? What? How can you even think of something like that? "I just… It hurts. I don't want to be forgotten already." she went on. How could she even think that? How could I ever forget? I needed to clarify that to her. I'll never forget.
"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." Don't be like this. Don't…close your arms to love. Please. Keep your arms open to love. Or else you'll just be left holding yourself. I had learned that lesson the hard way.
"I can't promise you anything." she began to speak rather more calmly.
"Then promise me you'll try." I asked of her. "Promise me you'll try to be happy." I felt selfish for asking so much of her when I had inflicted so much pain upon her. I needed to her to tell me she'd try. The Emily Fields I knew lived her life bind by her words and she kept to them. I needed to hear her say it to be sure.
"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." she fumed. I felt my fists clenched tight and I tried not to show too much of my frustration. How can she even think that?
"Don't say that. I care because I love you. You know that." Does she? Have I placed so much distance between us that she can't see it no more? "You don't smile much any more Emily…but when you do, I just want to make you happy. That's why I care." I just want to make you happy. The words repeated in my head. I suddenly remembered not to get too emotional and pulled back a bit, "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." I looked at her patiently and tried my best to look put together and in control of the situation. I felt like a mess. My heart was all over the place. My brain can't seem to form the right words. But my spirit was here with her. What if she didn't want anything to do with me? I can't lose her again. I was at a crossroad. Do I tell her how I really feel? But that would jeopardize everything. I struggled and fight against myself in this game of my mind and heart playing tug-of-war. Why play the game if it's easy. But this wasn't a game...and the saddest truth was…Emily and I weren't going to be the endgame. That hurts. To even think about it.
"Is that what you need right now? A friend?" she suddenly asked. She's considering it. I tried not to look too hopeful and nodded. Slowly, I began to take one step towards her.
"What I need right now is a friend." I tried to sound as convincing as I can. It was a few moments before Emily had spoken again.
"Then it's official. We're friends." she said. I finally let out a sigh of relief.
"That makes me happy." I forced a smile. Emily and I were caught in a silent moment. I looked at her, she looked at me, and our surroundings came back into view. The lights caused her skin to glow so enchantingly, and all at once, I took in the romantic ambiance that the candlelight created around us. She was so beautiful…but my heart broke as I remembered that I couldn't take her back. This was a different kind of way to love someone. A love I've known so well before. A love that does not claim possession, for the heart knows that by merely loving a person, that was enough. I do want her heart…but she needs it more than I do. She needs to keep her heart to love another human being. She needs it to find her happily ever after. I felt like I was doing the right thing. I felt…selfishly selfless.
Without warning, music began to blare through the Hastings' backyard. I immediately turned my head to where I thought the booming sound was coming from and saw a dance floor lit up by stage lights right outside the back entrance of the house. People started walking over to the dance floor and began moving and swaying their bodies to the beat of the music. I laughed as I recognized the many familiar faces of Rosewood High School alumni in the small crowd that was forming on the dance floor. It suddenly felt like prom all over again.
"Wow, the Hastings really knows how to throw a party." I joked.
"I don't know about that… I have a feeling it wasn't the handiwork of a Hastings." I heard her say. I looked back at her and saw how relaxed she was now. It was almost as if our conversation had never taken place. Taking a chance, I decided to make a bold move.
"Well, um, would you like to go…dance?" I carefully asked. Her face lit up and she smiled, before stretching out her hand towards mine.
"I'd love to." she said. I reached for her hand and led the way over to the dance floor. By the time we had reached the crowd, the music had changed once again and it was to an up-tempo track. I didn't know the song, but apparently the four best girlfriends did because I stared as Emily belted out to the song with the girls as they all danced in a small group. Emily looked happy. Even though I couldn't hear her voice over the loud music, I knew she'd sound beautiful nonetheless. Suddenly, I found myself being circled by the boys and they danced around me as I stood in the middle. Realizing I hadn't even moved an inch since we've gotten on the dance floor, I threw my hands up into the air and swayed to the rhythm and got lost in the music as the girls' dates and mine danced around me. Time passed rather quickly with all the fast songs that were played. When a slow song finally came on, I decided to slip away and go back into the house. As I turned in the direction of the house, I felt a body crash into mine and I quickly held my stance to not fall over and had a firm hold on the individual's waist. Looking up, I found myself staring into her dark brown eyes. The reflection of the lights flickered in her brown orbs almost made it seemed like her eyes were sparkling against the background of the dark night. Like stars.
She smiled abashedly and I watch as her gaze dropped down to the hands that were now holding her middle. I was about to retract my hands when she stepped further into my hold and wrapped her arms around my neck. I caught her gaze once more, and she began to lean forward. I froze and held my breath, not knowing what to do next. "Emily…" I manage to utter. I felt her soft lips against my right ear and it took every bit of strength I had not to act irrationally. My heart was beating too fast. My breathing became uneven.
"Just…one…last…dance." she whispered. I swallowed hard and nodded, too afraid my voice would crack if I spoke. We began swaying to Lady Antebellum's "Dancing Away With My Heart" and I got lost in a world with just the two of us. She rested her temple against mine and almost every part of our body was touching as we danced. I felt my heart throbbing and beating faster and feared my hands would dampen her dress from all the perspiration my body was producing. My hands clenched into fists as they rested gently against her waistline. I'm guessing she must've felt how tensed I was, because she suddenly pull back but still kept her arms still remain encircled around my neck, and she stared at me more openly than I had dared to even look at her. "Don't look away." she said. Mustering up all the willpower I had, I turned back to look at her. She was gazing at me as if she was consumed by me entirely. I looked back at her with incredulity, and let out a timid laugh.
"You're really something tonight, Fields." I teased, trying to lessen the tension between us but it wasn't working at all. She looked at me in surprise, her eyes widening a bit and her lips curving into a small smile.
"I'm sorry…for the way I acted earlier. I…I've been angry for a long time. Then you go off saying everything I didn't wanted to hear and…well, I just let it all out." she confessed.
"It's my fault. I'm the one who's supposed to apologize. I didn't think at the time and – "
"It's okay, Paige, really. I…" she trailed off. She looked away and I saw her bite her bottom lip, wearing that thoughtful expression whenever she felt torn between trying to tell me something and consciously holding herself back from letting the words slip.
"You can tell me anything, you know? We're friends." I said. She looked back at me immediately, and I saw a flash of hurt appear in her eyes before it quickly went away.
"I know." she said and held me closer to her, arms wrapping a little more tightly around my neck. I unclenched my fists and let my hands travel to her lower back and rested them there. She leaned into me and laid her head on my shoulder as we continued to softly sway to the music.
I haven't seen you in ages…
Sometimes I find myself,
Wondering where you are.
For me you'll always be eighteen…
And dancing away with my heart…
A sudden knock at the door jolted me awake from my daydream. I had my legs kicked up on the study desk and I was still biting onto the end of the pencil in my armchair. I started to remember that I had been studying for my business law quiz. Looking around my bedroom, I sigh as I realized I've gotten lost in the memories of that night once again. I looked over at the old radio sitting on the corner of my night table, as I finally understood why I had been drawn to that specific memory.
For me you'll always be eighteen…
And dancing away with my heart…
Na na na na…
Na na na na…
Na na na na…
Away with my heart…
I walked over and turned off the radio to stop the music, trying to think more clearly and shake off the mixed feelings I had of that night. I headed over to my bedroom door and open it. Opening the door, I was completely unprepared for the sight that appeared before me. My jaw dropped slightly and my eyes took in her wet hair and her towel-wrapped body. The towel had barely came down to mid-thigh, and her bare legs, arms, and shoulders were uncovered to show her light tanned skin. I gulped and realized that I had been staring for too long. I looked up to see a satisfied grin upon her lips. Caught red-handed by your roommate. Way to go, McCullers.
"Can I help you?" I tentatively asked. My mind began to wander again as I spoke and I tried my best to censor my thoughts while she was still here. It wasn't helping that she was trying to dry her wet hair with another towel in her hand. Every time she moved to dry her hair, water would trickle down her skin and down the crevice of her… Oh my Lord…
"Yeah…I was wondering if you had any pain relieving cream? My muscles are aching a bit from this morning's practice." she revealed. I felt my brows begin to knot in concern and all other thoughts flew out the window as I turned around and went to open my dresser and reach for the Capsaicin cream at the top. Once I had found it, I quickly grabbed it and walked back over to the door.
"Here you go," I said as I handed over the small bottle of pain relieving cream to her.
"Thanks." she smiled before turning around and leave.
"Hey Em," I called out. She stopped in the middle of the hallway and turned her head around.
"Yeah?" she asked. I bit my lip at the sight but tried to push all sexual thoughts aside.
"Take it easy, okay? Don't push yourself too hard and hurt yourself." I added my concern.
"Don't worry. It's just a small case of muscle aches. Nothing this can't fix," she said as she waved up the bottle of pain relieving cream I just gave her. She turned around and continued walking to her room as I folded my arms across my chest and leaned against my bedroom's doorframe. I shook my head in disbelief that the girl had felt so comfortable walking around naked…well, covered in only a towel. I knew I was ogling at her figure from the back view, but I finally retreated back into my room after she had closed her bedroom door.
I let out a sigh of frustration. This wasn't easy. Nope. It wasn't at all. You can erase someone from your mind. Getting them out of your heart was another thing. I looked over at the clock on the nightstand and saw that it was already half past seven in the evening. I really needed to go for a run. Walking over to my closet, I reached for my U Penn. sweater and running shorts. After changing into my running attire and putting on a pair of matching socks, I went over to my study desk and switched off the lamp. I grabbed my keys and cellphone, and headed out of my bedroom. Turning to my right down the hallway, I walked to the shoe shelf and grabbed my running shoes. As I was tying my shoelaces, I heard the jingle of keys at the door. The front door to the apartment flung wide open and I looked up to see Dan, Sammie, and Spencer each holding two paper bags of what appeared to be our groceries as they walked in.
"Wow, you do realize that there are only four of us, right?" I asked in disbelief.
"Uh, hello! Have you not realized that none of us likes to go grocery shopping? We got to buy things in bulks to save us more trips, dear." Sammie simply replied.
"Makes sense," I mumbled as I had a hair tie trapped between my lips as I tried to bunch my hair together to tie it up.
"Where are you going?" Spencer asked when she notice that I had on my running shoes and looked all ready to go out.
"Running." I said before standing up and helping them take out the items in the bags and setting them onto the kitchen counter.
"It's dark outside, Paige." Dan voiced his concern.
"I know, and I brought my cell with me just in case." I said as I showed him my phone. Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw Emily coming into the kitchen now wearing a grey flowing tank top and pajama pants. Right. Got to go. I was about to turn and leave when I felt a hand on my arm. I looked up to see that it was Emily. Suddenly, I felt my skin catch fire by her touch and the heat burned through me like a wildfire.
"Where are you going?" Emily asked me.
"A short run." I smiled and then walked towards the table for my keys. I turned around and said, "Can I count on somebody being here when I come back?"
"Yeah, we'll be here." Sammie answered for the four of them. I left my keys untouched on the table and walked towards the front door.
"Can someone come lock the door?" I asked on my way out. Spencer and Emily both walked over at the same time, and I smiled at them before I left, not caring who closed the door.
Twenty minutes later, I found my feet pounding the pavement with a little bit of difficulty as I began to run up the slope's incline. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide. Breathe in, and out. I focused on my breathing to get up the hill as quickly as I can. I push away the thoughts of everything else. I did my best to not succumbed to the feverish temptation of defeat that was trying to reach out to every part of my body. I closed my eyes for a few seconds to take everything in. The energy I had to exert to move my body. The way I was running swift through air. The reason why I was here. The frustrating thoughts that had spurred me into action. I felt my legs burn and I pushed harder and ran with all the energy that I was worth. I opened my eyes and did what I've been trained to do in the last two months. Be at one with my mind. Be at one with my body. Be at one with my spirit.
I wasn't at one with the water. Getting back into the pool with Emily around wasn't easy. Coach had noticed that my swim strokes were a bit off and told me that even though I had the right form, I wasn't completely focused enough. I could barely concentrate with Emily around. How was I supposed to keep my mind balanced with my body and spirit in the pool when she was swimming in the lane right next to mine? Why was it that I was having a harder time adjusting to having her around? She glided through the water so graciously and swiftly, whereas I probably swam uncoordinatedly like a baby seal. It was unbelievable that she was beating all of her personal best time almost every week. I've been swimming here for the past two years, and there she comes in and just effortlessly knock out almost all of my best times. It wasn't that I was losing my confidence in the pool, but I was more thrown off by everything about her. I just didn't understand how…she was dealing with this whole new living arrangement and the situation with swimming on the same team so well. After that night at the Hastings' anniversary party, she had taken initiatives to make plans with me and was adamant to hang out more as friends. It had really helped that Hanna, Aria, and Spencer would come along too. Suddenly, time was passing by so fast and I don't know how it had all happened but when Sammie came back to Rosewood a month after she'd left, she and Spencer somehow came up with this brilliant plan for the four of us to become roommates for this school year. Of course, I politely obliged, but I was counting on Emily to beat a hasty retreat. She surprised us all and happily agreed to the idea, and Spencer had found our little cozy apartment with the help of her sister. It had shaken me completely and my life has been spiraling in so many different directions in the short amount of time that she's been here at U Penn. It was like her presence upset the balance of my life at U Penn.
It had been two months. My times in the pool had recently become consistent but I was having a hard time beating my personal best. Just the thought of it fueled my frustration. I began to sprint up the last of the two-mile incline with steady pace. My lungs were burning and my legs desperately wanted to give way to the pain. I kept at it until I finally reached the top of the hill. Slowing down, I lightly jogged towards the bench that was perched near the edge of the hillside. When I finally got there, I slowed down to a walk and sat down, trying to keep my breathing steady and even. I looked down at the bottom of the foothills, watching as the city lights illuminated the lower ground before me. The stillness of the night was incredibly comforting. I have been coming up here a lot. More so than I'd liked. I only ever came here to seek solace in the past. Now, it became more of a habit than anything, but it had helped a lot. I've been feeling a lot better and burning off the steam from all the pent up frustration I accumulated with Emily around. It was the little things, like her walking around the apartment in just a towel earlier that was incredibly frustrating and had my mind racing at a speed that must've been faster than light. Sometimes, I couldn't help but stare, especially in the locker room, but I tried my best to look away. If I hadn't known any better, I would've dismissed the idea that she was doing it on purpose. She was a tease, and she knew it. I shook my head and grin at the thought of this new side of Emily I've never gotten seen before. It was as though she knew what she was doing to me, even if I hadn't shared my true thoughts and feelings with her. Hopefully, she hadn't caught onto my lie and continued to believe that I had only wanted to stay friends. It was definitely proving to be more difficult lately. As Emily began to grow more comfortable around me, I grew tenser with every touch and every affectionate gesture I noticed that she only reserved for me.
Emily had been anything but shy in the last few months about her affection towards me. She didn't try to hide it, but she seemed to be aware of her limits and be conscious of when not to cross the line that I've drawn between us. Although I was finding it harder to resist her, I had also gotten better at controlling myself. I mean, I got through this evening without ravishing her as she stood before my bedroom door in nothing but a towel. That must've proven that I much more self-control than I give myself credit for, right? I sighed and felt my willpower relenting. It was going to be a long year.
"Alright, for Monday's homework, I'd like for you to read up on two cases and write FIRAC analyses for both of them. Remember, FIRAC stands for facts, issue, rules, analysis, and conclusion. Also, don't forget to do your textbook readings, folks. We'll be talking about the world's international finance next week. That's all for now, have a good weekend everyone!" my business law professor said to end the lecture.
Everybody around me started to stand up and take off to his or her next destination. Some students stayed behind and surrounded the professor, probably having some inquiries about the homework assignment. I huffed out from the slight irritation of having a heavy workload to get done this weekend. Couldn't I just sleep in this entire weekend? I slightly pouted at the idea of a free weekend suddenly thrown out of the window with this new homework assignment on my to-do list.
"What's the matter, champ?" Sammie chirped beside me.
"Homework's the matter." I groaned and sunk down in my seat. Throwing hands over my face, I grumbled incomprehensible complaints into them.
"It's just two case analyses and some readings, Paige. Cheer up!" she attempted to make me feel better in vain.
"I know, but I have a 8-page short essay for Western World History class that's due the same day as the swim meet on Wednesday, and there's an exam for Business Psychology class on Friday, and then I have to drive back to Rosewood to see Dr. Sullivan next – " I was saying before Sammie clamped a hand over my mouth.
"Okay, you really need to relax, honey. One thing at a time. Stop stressing yourself out and let's head over to Lovers & Madmen. We can get started on the case analyses there, okay?" she asked. I gave in and nodded slowly before she took her hand away. We both got up and grabbed our belongings before leaving.
It didn't take us long before we arrived at the café and we walked over to the counter where Melanie was. The barista looked up from the coffee pot she was pouring into a cup and smiled at us.
"Be with you girls in just one moment," she said as she sauntered over to the other side of the coffee bar to place it on the counter where a customer was waiting. She walked back quickly and took our orders and shooing us off to find a seat in the cozy café. We've gotten to know Melanie in the past two years since we've been at U Penn., and she was incredibly friendly and kind. Lovers & Madmen had become our niche ever since we walked in one day during our first semester at U Penn. All of the Penn. students came here to study and it could get crowded at times, especially when exams came around. Sammie and I walked up to the table that sat in the middle of the room that was further back into the café and we set down our stuff. I began to pull out my books and notebooks out of my bag, but my phone rang and I stopped what I was doing to pick up the phone call.
"Hello?" I spoke into the phone without looking at who the caller was. I bent my head to the left, trapping the phone between my head and my shoulder while going back to unpacking my study materials.
"Hey P, Em and I both just got out of our classes. Want to meet up somewhere and study together?" asked Spencer. I smiled and set the rest of the course materials onto the table before straightening up and taking the phone into my hand.
"Actually, Sam and I are already at Lovers & Madmen. Do you want to come over?" I asked.
"Oh, okay. Yeah, we'll be there in ten." she promptly said before hanging up. I chuckled and put the phone away.
"Who was that?" Sammie asked.
"Spencer. She's on her way over with Emily right now." I said. I stood there nodding for a bit in contemplation of what I was about to do before sitting down.
"Sometimes, I wish you would just peel away all of your skin and find a different you underneath." Samantha looked straight at me in the eyes. My eyes widened in surprise and I don't know why but her words had caused me to laugh.
"What on earth are you saying?" I asked curiously.
"You saw her everywhere when she wasn't here. Literally, she was all you thought about for the past two years. And now that she's here, you act as though she isn't even here at all. What is wrong with you, Paige McCullers?" she gave me the third degree. Great. Here we go again.
"I…" I didn't know what to say. Usually I'd make a smart comment and we'd leave it at that. How do explain that I felt Emily belonged to someone more deserving of her? That she could go sail around the world chasing her own dreams or go fulfilling someone else's dreams as long as that makes her happy? Because I wouldn't mind. Her happiness was my happiness. That I was always for her to keep, but I couldn't allow myself to keep her. I didn't want to hold her back. She's sacrificed so much of her time grieving. I didn't want to be the cause of her crying any more. I wish I could do better…because that's what she deserves, but my future is unforetold. I couldn't promise her anything, not even my life. But she had my heart. She kept my heart and I didn't mind. I had already spent so much time convincing myself that I was content with the way things were right now. I don't think I could go back and undo everything I've done. I might totally get lost if I do.
"Even a blind man can see what's going on. You know what? Tell me to stop and I will. I've run out of breath and exhausted all of my spare energy reciting these lines, and it never gets through to you." I looked into her eyes and saw how seriously upset she was. I wonder why she was so full of angst out of the blue.
"Sammie…are you okay?" I cautiously asked. I looked at her with concern. Was she alright? It wasn't like her to say those words.
"I was on the phone with Jem last week, and he got all serious about our future." She let out a sigh while dropping her gaze and continued, "He told me that he felt inadequate and unworthy of me." I pursed my lips and then breathed out in understanding. I nodded and reached over and placed my hand over hers. She looked up at me and smiled a bit. "We're okay. It's just…I want you to know that if I were Emily, I would feel terribly sad if I knew you felt that way. No one should ever feel that way about themselves."
I stared at her while carefully processing her words. Suddenly, Melanie appeared before us with our coffee and we thanked her as she sat the cups down on our table. We both looked down at the heart-shape pattern that was created in the foam. I smiled at Melanie's kind gesture and glanced over at her to thank her again. Just as I was about to turn back in my seat, I saw Spencer and Emily through the window walking up to the entrance of the coffee shop. I contemplatively watched Emily as she followed Spencer's lead into the café and caught both of their eyes as they spotted Sammie and me. They both smiled and walked over to the counter where Melanie was at and ordered their drinks. After they were done, they sauntered across the room and sat down on the empty chairs at our table. With Sammie sitting across from me, Emily took a seat to my left and Spencer to my right.
I looked over to Emily and caught her staring at me. I held her gaze and realized how fearful I was to let myself fall. But I was already falling for her eyes. Don't look away. I felt her eyes tried to tell me.
Two people who love each other this much should be together, right? Isn't that what everyone's been trying to tell me? But if my past was any sign of our future, I knew that I couldn't trust myself to love her. In my heart, I knew that it was a cruel world, and I couldn't…take my chances.
And so I looked away.