Author's Note: THIS IS CHAPTER 16! PLEASE IGNORE THE LABEL FANFICTION HAS GIVEN IT. IF IT IS ANYTHING OTHER THAN "16" IT IS AN INCORRECT NUMBERING. THE STORY WILL CONTINUE AS USUAL BUT THERE MAY JUST BE A SKIP IN THE NUMBERING. THERE IS NO CONTENT MISSING! SORRY FOR THE INCONVIENIENCE AND THANK YOU TO FANFICTION FOR THIS ERROR! FML. AGAIN...THIS IS CHAPTER 16

Sorry again for the gap between updates on this one, I'll just plead innocence and distraction caused by the 2 Broke Girls Superbowl Promo? Yes that's exactly the reason. #MarleyBaby. Honestly it had more to do with the fact that half of this chapter was lost and rewritten but...yes Marley on a pole got my through that heartache.

A very special shout out to Verospice13! I loved talking to you throughout Blue Lace and that hasn't changed a bit! your interest in the story and care for the characters is so genuine so thank you! And don't get me started on Marley ;p

Enjoy this chapter. Big changes ahead for everyone. R.I.P Peter


"Emily has cotton candy." Paige winked. "Keep her company, Molly."

Paige smiled as she turned away and walked across the arena, leaving Molly jumping around excitedly at the thought of pure sugar being nearby. She sighed lightly and walked over to the half wall to retrieve the bag but something told her Molly didn't need that energy. With her dark curls bouncy around her shoulders and the red dress fluffed out around her she seemed to hooked up to an IV of straight caffeine.

Peter smiled as she handled the cotton candy to Molly. "I didn't want to ask with Paige around but do you want to go see Ember and have another look at the through?" He smiled proudly.

"Yeah sure." She nodded, and looked at Molly pulling pink fluff from the bag, her little legs were barely able to stay still the only reason she managed to stay in the space beside her was because she was bouncing up and down instead. "Can you save a seat for me?" Molly giggled and skipped over to the first row, plopping herself down into a fold seat to wait.

"She's energetic."

"A little bit but who does she remind you of? " Peter chuckled.

She laughed too when she looked over at Molly who swung her little legs up over the armrest of the chair, blocking off the seat beside her. "Well, Riley naturally but she's a lot like a certain Ringmaster."

"Poor Molly." He winked and turned towards the back curtain. She smiled and easily fell into step beside him.

The arena was still closed and the only people moving around inside was the occasional worker carrying props or performers that was disappearing through the back curtain to get ready. Anxiety knotted tight in her stomach at just how large the arena was and how she may end up riding in soon for such a large amount of people. She hadn't ever had an audience and it was more than nerve-racking to imagine a crowd watching. It wasn't just nerves in her stomach though. There was something else, something less innocent.

It was hard to navigate how she was supposed to feel about running into Cassie because she really didn't know any more than they did, Paige being the exception. She couldn't feel relieved by at least knowing what she looked like or relaxed for knowing that things were over between them. Cassie was still showing up and Mary was just as upset about it as Paige so the only thing she could feel was anger that Cassie was messing around with the people she cared about. It really wasn't even just her own anger. Not entirely. It was radiating under everyone's skin, but she felt it all the same. Paige and Mary were tense around each other suddenly and that was worrisome. When Mary had taken Ember out back she hadn't even made eye contact with Paige and she seemed to avoid her eyes the same way. Paige was cut off when she was trying to talk to Mary and there was a hurt look in Mary's eyes that Paige seemed to mirror, not at Mary but at herself. All of theses things could have easily been fabricated by her mind due to the stress she was feeling with the idea of her first performance in the near future. Maybe she created the tension in her head to distract herself from her own stress. If she had anything truthful to go on it was the way Cassie had hit on her and then walked off with her girlfriend, or girlfriends. That's the only thing she knew for a fact.

"So apparently I ran into Cassie earlier." She said, looking at Peter.

"Somehow I'm not surprised." Peter sighed, pulling back the curtain and allowing her to walk through first. "She likes to show up as I'm sure you've probably already heard. None of us like it and none if us want to see Paige upset but there's really nothing we can do about it because from the business standpoint she hasn't broken any rules."

"It's just guys that aren't supposed to hit girls, right?"

Peter stopped in his tracks to face her just inside the back curtain. "I like to believe physical violence is never okay but especially not in intimate situations like this. I mean Riley and Mary fight a lot, the physical violence comes from her but it's not the same thing. They get rough but neither of them are set out to actually hurt each other. They care about each other too much."

"I'm glad I'm not the only one that notices that."

"Theres someone who doesn't?"

"I thought you were the wise one?" She arched her eyebrows pointedly.

Peter chuckled and hung his head. "She probably has her reasons but Riley and Mary are more obvious than they mean to be. They're like kids on a playground pulling each others hair."

"Well, hair pulling could happen in the process but I don't really plan on that being my goal with Cassie."

Peter shook his head discouragingly. "I know you don't but I'm gonna tell you why it's not a good idea, aside from the 'violence is wrong' bit. Can we both pretend to know that passion makes people crazy sometimes? I don't know you as well as I hope to one day but I'm guessing that's not you."

She crossed her arms over her chest lightly and gave him her attention though part of her contemplated ignoring his advice regardless. Hitting Cassie seemed like the irrational and perfect thing to do to keep her from coming back here. Peter was right though as usual, he doesn't know her.

"First of all Emily, you're too close to this situation. As much as we all hate it, and promise we hate it.. Paige was intimately involved with Cassie. If Paige hit Cassie it would be like a husband hitting his ex-wife or vice versa, right? More accurately a girlfriend hitting an ex-girlfriend?"

"Obviously." She agreed. "But that's Paige, it's not the same thing for me. I'm not in that relationship. Boyfriends probably beat up their girlfriend's exes all the time. It's not so unheard off."

Peter squinted his eyes in concentration and looked down, biting his tongue and clearly chosing his next words.

"Just say it."

He nodded lightly but his expression was beyond hesitant. "I'm gonna be blunt right now and I apologize in advance because it's not really my preference."

"Sometimes blunt is better so go ahead." She nodded, watching him furrow his eyes even more than before. "I'm not made of glass so spill."

He took a deep breath. "So when girls like other girls..."

She choked on a laugh and instantly felt bad because he now looked like he was on the verge of a panic attack. He couldn't seriously be trying to give her the talk because honestly...well, he just couldn't be. It wasn't an option.

"I'm sorry go ahead." She waved her arm for him to continue but he just looked at her in uncertainty. It wasn't like Peter to say something without having a point so she had to put all her faith in and hope that this time was no different. "Seriously, I'm fine."

"Umm...when there's a girl that's attracted to another girl..."

"Okay..." she threw a hand up to rest under her chin and smiled. "You can just say 'lesbian'. There's also a few other translations to chose from but since we're keeping this civil..."

His cheeks reddened but he seemed to regain his strength a little. "Okay so then you know why it wouldn't be right for you to knock her on her ass. She's a girl."

"Clearly."

"So how is hitting her any different than a man hitting his wife? Or more simply put...a straight man hitting a woman? She's a member of the same sex that you're physically attracted to. It's the same thing. You could argue that if Cassie were straight then it wouldn't matter but that's the thing...she's not. Where do you draw the line?"

She jutted her neck back slightly and looked to her hands entangled together across her stomach, letting his words sink in and the fact that he was right. Morally it wouldn't be any different than Paige hitting her or Riley hitting Mary out of anger or otherwise. The lines were too close together and became muddled to easily. It was hard to see where they ended.

"They were in a relationship. Their business has to be handled by them and you getting involved that way will only complicate it." Peter sighed. "If that isn't enough to change your mind then just know that Paige wouldnt forgive herself if you hurt your hand on Cassie's face."

He was definitely right about that and it was probably the only known fact that pulled her away from the idea of hurting Cassie. Paige would only blame herself and she couldn't handle that. As much as she wanted to she couldn't be the jealous girlfriend that let pride get in the way and make things harder on Paige. That's not the kind of person she was so why is it so difficult? Why isn't the idea of knocking Cassie to the ground any less appealing?

She nodded lightly and then smiled. "You'll say 'ass' but not 'fuck'?"

He grinned and started walking again down a curtained corridor. "No, Ma'am."

She followed easily and spent every second memorizing the things that were different about the layout compared to the traveling tent. Anything to take her mind off of the nagging in her stomach that kept telling her to act irrationally. The colors were all still vibrant and the textures were lush. The same twinkling lights hung above and shimmered down the streams of red and purple. She made a game with finding similarities like that and doing so made the differences more obvious. The biggest difference was the size. It was much larger backstage here and the paths were wider. The best similarity she found and the one that made her smile was the stream of royal blue flowing down. The same shade to the one she knew well and the same silky feel. Her mind shot back to Rosewood and the first time she had touched it. She was so lost in staring at it that she hadn't realized she wasn't following Peter anymore. Her legs were frozen in place just staring. Confusion came when she looked for him and found him staring too though the look on his face was different than the nostalgic look on hers. His eyes were furrowed again but concern was the leading emotion this time as he leaned in slightly and listened. She strained her ears but the commotion of people bustling around was too distracting to easily pick up on anything else other than their busy chatter.

"What?" She asked, looking at him curiously as he grew more conflicted with whatever was passing through his head.

"If I asked you to stay here you wouldn't would you?"

She clenched her jaw automatically. There was only one reason Peter would ask something like that. She had only been with them for a week so there shouldn't be anything that he would feel the need to keep her from...except one thing. Her protective instincts kicked in again without fail and that scared her because she didn't know what to expect but she knew who was involved and that's all that mattered. Betrayal must have shown clearly on her face because he sighed softly.

Her throat tightened as she looked at him. "I thought you of all people wouldn't ask me to do that."

"Just try to remember what I said."

He sighed again and slipped into the blue curtain, letting it fall closed behind him and leaving her alone to make her own decision. Not that he would have stopped her regardless but it counted for something. A laugh filtered through the curtain that made her whole body tense even though it was exactly what she expected. She moved in quietly behind him.

"I thought you were more experienced, Babe."

"Riley!" Paige snapped.

Her eyes fell on Paige first but she had her back to her, looking at the girl with blonde hair and hazel eyes. Those eyes moved to Peter as he swatted Riley in the back of the head, knocking a smile from his face.

"Oh, its Peter." Cassie smiled. "I'm pretty sure you were fucking Marley at one point."

"Actually you're the only one that slept around Cassie. That undesirable knowledge comes with knocking on doors every morning." Peter stood tall next to Riley and allowed her to slip in behind him without being noticed. His height shadowed her from eyes but that's not where she intended on staying. "A word of advice...you're not actually required to answer the door."

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Paige stepped closer to Cassie and broke her hazel eyes from burning into Mary. "God, I guess I'm not surprised."

"Oh grow up, Paige. Life sucks."

"Because of people like you!" Paige shook her head in disgust. "Fuck! Who was it?"

"Wait..." Mary snapped, holding a hand up as she stepped closer to Paige. "If Cassie cheating is news to you then what the hell is this all about?"

"None of your fucking business!" Cassie groaned.

"I'm going to knock you on your ass the next time you open your mouth." Mary pointed at her directly but Riley grabbed her arm and held her firmly. She didn't notice.

"I'm not scared of you Marley so save it."

"Okay..." Mary chuckled, twisting her right arm out of Riley's grasp and pushing up the sleeve of her black satin blazer. She stepped closer to Cassie but Paige brought a hand up against her stomach to stop her and Riley quickly latched on to her arm again.

"Don't." Paige whispered, her eyes pleading. "I'm not about to fill out paperwork for you hitting a customer because that's exactly what I'd have to do. I'd be forced to let you go and I can't do that..."

Mary's shoulder sunk slightly and you could see the fight leaving her as she looked at Paige. She wanted answers for why Cassie was here and she more than anyone probably deserved them.

"Paige, please just tell me because I'm fucked up over something I don't even know the details to so...just give me that." Mary's voice cracked but she recovered quickly, just not before Paige noticed and not before Cassie's eyes zeroed in on her with a smirk. "I think I've been more than understanding..."

"Whores are always so understanding aren't they, Marley?" Cassie laughed. The vicious tone of her voice made her step forward automatically but Peter stepped in front of her and stopped her in her tracks, forcing her to stay back the same way he was. She couldn't get involved. It would only hurt Paige and she hated that that overshadowed her urge to stand up for Mary. She bit her tongue.

Cassie stepped closer to Mary and her body tensed. Paige pressed her hand into her stomach and made her take a step back and Riley's other hand moved up around her waist, the two of them forming a cage around her.

"She doesn't have it in her to blame anybody but herself." Cassie spat. "That's all she's ever done. She blames herself for everything because she knows she's not ever going to be good enough. She can't even be good enough for whatever perfect person she created in her head that nobody could ever live up to." Cassie's eyes locked onto Paige now with pure venom. "You can't even be honest with your so-called family so who do you have, Paige?"

"For fucks sake, Cassie with the nonstop shit flying out of your mouth!" Mary shouted. Riley pulled her back more but Paige dropped her hand from Mary's stomach and turned to Cassie on her own.

She bit her tongue and tasted blood, forcing herself to take breaths when all she really wanted to be doing was throwing herself forward into this girl that was causing pain for the people she cared for. Her pulse hammered in her ears and the ground shifted from standing with her knees locked with her fists clenched at her sides. She struggled but she when her eyes rested on Paige and the strength in her posture...she released her tongue, swallowing back the dryness in her throat. She felt bad for everyone being subjected to the venom in Cassie's eyes and the way Mary was the one being held back like she was the threat, a caged animal being offered up to Cassie attacks. It was sickening. She and Mary both wanted the same thing, to hurt Cassie for the pain she was causing Paige and they were both being denied the satisfaction.

"You're right!" Paige snapped, taking a step closer to Cassie. A flicker of hesitation shot through her hazel eyes as Paige burned into her. "I can't blame anyone and you all know that...but its because of you, Cassie. It's because I wanted to be happy with you and you made me feel worthless. You made me feel like I needed you and that I'd be nothing without you. I still can't blame you for anything you did but I have it in me now to tell everybody everything that I have to to keep you from coming back here. That's what you want right? For everyone to know so you can feel proud of your handy work and your ability to screw with my life?"

Cassie scoffed uncomfortably "Paige..."

"No, shut up." Paige ordered, cutting off her words. "I'm giving you what you want arent I? I'm talking now? I looked up to you and I trusted you which is exactly what you wanted. I wasn't moving fast enough for you because I wasnt ready and you knew that but you were so set on getting your way. You wanted me so you could steal money from parents and so you could keep buying that shit that you slipped me the first time..."

Paige choked on her words and hearing them sent a stabbing through her chest, pain at what Paige was accusing her of. The worst kind of betrayal and the falter in Cassie's eyes said that it was the truth and she didn't make a move to deny it. Her fist clenched harder and she stepped forward.. immediately Peter's hand shot out and pressed into her stomach, forcing another reality check and it was all she had to not tear his arm off. This may have been none of his business but it was hers, right? Shouldn't it be? Shouldn't this be justification enough? It was Paige's voice that made her stop again.

"I woke up confused and alone I found you sitting around with your friends like nothing had happened. I realized how fucked up you were but I fought it. I stayed with you because I doubted myself. I blamed myself for everything you did and I protected you from my parents finding out. Then when I'd finally had enough and told you to leave you threw me into a wall to say thank you. You won.."

Cassie's eyes widened. She held her breath and followed her gaze to Mary just as Riley released her and took a voluntary step back. Her fist snapped forward and crashed into Cassie mouth, throwing her back. Mary had only just made contact and she was already rearing her arm back again. Paige stepped in front of her, grabbing Cassie's arm to keep her from falling. She'd never want to change anything about Paige and certain not the beautiful habit she had of caring for people, even the ones that didn't deserve it. That's Paige. Everyone before herself. Her choice to keep Cassie from falling completely proved that she was the better person and was also the only thing that made Mary stop her plans for a second hit. Riley snapped his arm around her waist again and pulled her back, her long brown hair whipping against her face as tried to pull out of his grasp. It had been safer for him to let Mary make that move because the alternative would have been worse for him later. He seemed content with the choice he'd made to release her but he was intent on holding her now. Mary is strong but nothing against the muscle of his arms around her.

Paige released Cassie's arm the second she had her footing and turned her attention to Mary with worry in her brown eyes.

"Fuck!" Cassie snapped, her hand moved to cover the blood that streaked her chin.

Nobody paid attention to her except Mary. Her eyes burned into her but and her jaw was clenched as she moved to take a step closer, her fist tight and ready. Helplessness was heavy as Paige reached for her swollen hand only to have it ripped away. Mary shook her head lightly and forced a breath as she took a step back from Paige.

"I fired myself this morning." She breathed. "Let me have the last improv for Molly and I'm gone. Saves you the paperwork."

"Mar.." Paige reached for Mary's arm again but she pulled it away as she turned for the curtain.

Mary's back had been to her the whole time but seeing her now as she walked closer...was indescribable. Her blue eyes glistened and she faltered when they landed on her standing behind Peter, her breath catching in her throat as she took in the tension of her body and the fists at her sides. Mary knew exactly what she wanted to do to Cassie because she had just done it herself. She understood the urge to knock Cassie to the ground and she understood her reason because they had that in common.

"Please don't." Mary whispered, locking onto her eyes and pleading with her to breathe and step back.

It had been a struggle with Peter telling her no but the pain in Mary's voice meant so much more and she didn't hesitate to relax the muscles in her body like her words worked morphine through her veins. She wrapped her arms around her chest instead to fight the urge and felt her own eyes burn as a tear streaked Mary's cheek. She only barely caught sight of it before Mary forced movement back into her body and disappeared through the curtain. Riley was on her heels, his green eyes soft and knowing, of what she wasn't sure.

"Fix the paperwork, Peter." Paige demanded, leaving Cassie behind her as she moved to follow Mary. "She's not going anywhere."

"I already fixed it I just need you to sign it." Peter looked at her sadly but Paige kept her eyes to the ground as she edged around him. "You're gonna need Mary to sign it too." He added.

Her heart stopped when Paige's eyes landed on her, the pain that shot through her eyes at seeing her there. Her body froze and she wanted to reach for her but she couldn't move because as quickly as the pain had appeared in her eyes...it vanished completely, replaced with something worse. Paige was making a decision in her mind like she knew exactly how she would react. Paige was expecting her to change her mind and run, she was accepting it even. The ache that it caused in her bones was like the onslaught before a fever surfaces. You can feel the sickness creeping in and sending goosebumps across your skin, attempting to cool her body as your temperature rises. The bruised feeling of your bones that makes you weak and threatens to pull you to your knees. So what do you do? You don't move any more than you have to because it hurts too much and you pray the fall doesn't tear you apart.

"I'm sorry, Em." She whispered, leaning in to press a kiss to her cheek. The heat of her lips made her eyes slam shut and it spread across her skin, making the ache worse. She dropped her arms back to her sides to touch her but Paige was already pushing through the curtain.

Peter stood strong in front of her with his arms crossed over his puffed chest protectively but she didn't need him. The only thing keeping her from throwing Cassie to the ground was Mary's whispered plea. She was pressing her sleeve to her lip to clean the crimson and she wanted so badly to add to the small amount. She edged around Peter's side and walked closer to her.

"I didn't expect to see you so soon, Pennsylvania." Cassie rolled her eyes sarcastically and continued tending to her split lip that was swelling more with each passing second.

"Yeah well you should hope for things a little more carefully next time but..." she took another step, only leaving a foot between them and Cassie flinched out of reflex at the sudden closeness. "...I want you to listen to me now." She burned into Cassie's eyes because while Cassie knew she was with the show there was one thing she didn't know...one thing Paige seemed to be doubting and that wasn't acceptable. "I'm the girl Paige has now. She didn't create me in her head, I'm here and I'm real. My name is Emily but if you want you can call me Nebraska because I'm not going anywhere. I'll be here everyday that Paige is because unlike you...I have everything I need in her. If you come back here Mary will be the least of your problems." She turned from Cassie and didn't bother waiting for a reply because she knew she wouldn't get one anyways. Peter stood his ground and she faltered as she walked by him, turning back to Cassie. "That warning starts in five minutes." She added, taking a deep breath before slipping through the curtain.

Peter caught up to her quickly as she back-tracked through the maze of curtains but he hung quietly at her side. It took five minutes to find her way toward the arena and she gave Peter credit for putting up with her wrong turns and groans of frustration. He kept silent which is exactly what she needed, to find her way on her own. She wanted to find Paige but judging from the crowd cheering...that wasn't an option and if she wanted to prove anything to Paige then there was someone she needed to find first. Someone more important at the moment.

"Where would Mary be right now?" She asked, picking up her pace and looking between curtains as she walked.

"She should be coming off her first set in a minute. She was first in line-up."

She didn't hesitate to push through the main curtain into the arena but Peter caught her arm lightly and pulled her back. Just in time too because a string if extra dancers plowed through and scattered off into different directions. She recognized Sadie and Faye but as they faded away she moved to walk through the curtain again.

"Just wait." Peter urged.

She took a deep breath but it didn't work. It felt like a panic attack rolling through body and pushing from the inside out. Like she could be torn apart at any given second and her patience was wearing thin. Seeing Paige hurting over things that nobody should have to go through yet she was willing to lay it all bare to keep Cassie from having leverage over her life, to put a stop to Cassie's vicious attacks on Mary. She had opened up everything that hurt her to end it all and lay her trust with the people that love her.

She was about to rip her arm from Peter when the curtain moved again and Mary walked through. Her blue eyes shot to Peter and she seemed to scold him for them waiting on her like this but this ambush wasn't his fault and Mary figured that out quickly.

"The plan is still on, Ems." She smiled weakly but it didn't come close to reaching her eyes. Those were sad and far away and she looked back to Peter again. "Is she.."

"She's gone." Peter assured.

Mary nodded lightly and stepped aside as Riley came crashing through the curtain, like she expected him though he seemed a little startled by the informal gathering. She leaned in and whispered in his ear and he turned and darted out again.

"Riley's relieving the sound guy." She clarified.

"Wait why?" Peter panicked. "Whys he relieving the sound guy? We need him for sound that comes from the speakers like...music and voices and..." he pulled his headset off and checked to see that it was still on. "Riley can't run the equipment."

"Au contraire." Mary smiled. "He's very good with the equipment."

"I don't need that private information." Peter chuckled.

Mary sighed impatiently and shook her head. "Yeah I'm not really in the mood for our banter, Peter. I actually meant the sound equipment but he's very good with that too."

Peter sealed his lips and refused to dig himself into a deeper hole, judging by the smoldering in her blue eyes he was smart to do that. They softened the second they moved to her.

"I have your dress ready."

"Really?" She smiled.

Mary nodded proudly. "Yeah it didn't take long. Just a few small touches but if you liked it before you'll love it now."

Guilt slammed into her stomach and smothered the happiness she was trying to feel. Mary and everyone else had enough things to worry about without throwing herself into the equation. "Is there anything I can do?" Her voice felt dry but she pushed through it and stepped closer to Mary. "Are you okay?" Her eyes went to her reddened knuckles and luckily her hand wasn't near as bad as Cassie's lip.

"Psssh please, I'm fine." She assured nonchalantly, ignoring the pain her hand was probably causing her.

There was a deeper pain Mary was struggling with and watching it move across her face made her feel even more useless to these people's lives. There were things she wanted to help with and questions she wanted to ask but how could she? She felt more out of place than she had before and it wasnt a good feeling.

"My headset just shut off!" Peter shot. "Why is my headset off, Mary? Is Paige's off?"

"No, just yours." Mary's eyes snapped to the curtain and she grabbed her hand quickly and pulled her behind through the stream of red velvet and out into the arena. She didn't have to look back to know that Peter was following. There was no way he'd trust Riley and Mary to do his job.

It was completely dark and she was forced to trust in Mary's hand leading her forward, her mind quickly noting that it was her swollen hand as she adjusted her pressure to a feather light touch to keep from hurting her more. After a few seconds of black a spotlight shot up to the top of the tent and followed Claire and Seth twirling through the air. She stepped up into the sound booth behind Mary and her hand was released, left to watch as Mary picked up a spare headset and went to work typing on a keyboard beside Riley. The entire booth resembled a horseshoe-shaped desk that rested on a platform one foot off the ground an had several small screens and keyboards built-in along with tons of tiny buttons and flashing lights.

Mary turned and looked across the arena through the dark and she followed her gaze, her breath hitching when she saw Paige standing at the far end. The thing that hit her the hardest was her posture, or lack of. She wasnt leaning casually against anything. Her boot wasn't kicked up and her hands weren't tucked lightly into her front pockets while a confident smile tugged at her lips. None of those things were present. Her head was down, her eyes cast to the ground and her hands were too deep in her front pockets to be casual. She was motionless and solemn and it stabbed her in the chest to see her that way. She looked lost and completely alone.

Movement from Mary pulled her from Paige as she turned back around to work on the sound equipment, flipping several switches and bringing another computer screen to life. "Riley?" She called, furrowing her eyebrows as she punched in a few buttons.

Riley wrapped an arm around her waist and his chin on her shoulder as she typed. "Hmmm?"

"Can you work the barriers on a timer in the dark?"

"Yeah, they're still in place from earlier." He nodded against her neck. "What about the ring? It's still out back."

"You've got thirty minutes before I'll need her back here so see if Ember can make another run with it. Just make sure you spray him down." Mary glanced over at her now. "Do you want to try the ring with him again?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "He did it earlier so he should be fine. He's never unlearned anything before."

Mary smiled and looked back to the screen. "Peter can you handle the sound board?"

"What song?" He asked, stepping closer to look over her shoulder.

"Well, I'm running low on love songs at the moment. Riley never gave me my mix CD back but..." her fingers paused over the keyboard. "We're gonna need something faster anyways because it needs to work into my time slot. Give me a minute..." Mary squinted her eyes and typed quickly into the keys. "...this one."

"Ooooh." Riley smiled at Peter and released Mary's waist as she turned around to face Peter.

"No!" Peter snapped.

"Why?"

"Because we stick to the same music selection and that song isn't on it."

"It is now because I just added it and its for Emily so you'll do it."

"Paige is gonna..."

"We want her distracted until we want her attention right?" Mary said, arching her eyebrows as she crossed her arms over her chest.

She strained her ears to even hear their conversation because the music still playing in the arena was loud and the rainbow lights swirled through the dark. Paige was still standing in the same place only now she was talking busily to someone wearing another headset but at least it wasnt the sound guy Riley had kicked out.

Peter sighed. "Considering I have no idea what's going on ...I can't answer that." Mary glared into him and he sighed and played along. "Yes...sure.. we want her distracted until we need her attention."

"Then if we want her attention switch the damn song." She snapped, pointing a finger into his chest. "Run the regular burlesque and then after the first chorus scratch over to this. It's just like a remix and I know for a fact you know how to do it. Why do you guys think its okay to whine so much? If we complained half as much as you guys do we'd be the biggest pmsing bitches in the world but you boys do it and its supposed to be what?...cute?"

"I hate that song." Peter sighed.

You can't hate it, its our song, Peter." Mary smiled. "I'll sing it to you."

"I dislike you greatly and you should know I knock on your door an hour before I knock on anyone else's. Sometimes two hours."

It was cute the way Peter was trying to speak negatively of Mary and sound tough. His heart wasn't behind it at all and he only came of as sounding relatively put out. The smile pulling at the corners of his mouth held his true feelings and Mary was too quickly able to tear through his fight.

"Then you're a dick and I'm definitely singing this one for you." She shot.

"Don't make me do it, Mary."

"Oh you're doing it and you'll smile and nod the entire time because if you don't I'll focus a little harder on distracting you from your work next time. This morning in the office? That was nothing and you know it. There's not enough white out in the world." Her blue eyes glided over him as a smiled tugged at her lips and Riley appeared to be biting back a laugh as he looked at him apologetically. " Just think of this as payback for the early wake-up calls. Try to enjoy it and I'll try to make it worth your while."

"You always do which is why I'm disliking you a little more at the moment."

"You love my breasts, Peter." Mary smiled, shaking her head and turning back to face her again. "Okay, go with Riley and I'll get the tracks and lights programmed over. Come back in twenty to get dressed." She moved back to the screen and began typing and clicking again. "Paige is gonna be pissed at me but you know what? She can suck it. Her face is gonna the next best thing to those cat bath videos."

She went to follow Riley out of the booth but hesitated, rocking on her heels as she turned to Mary again. "Twelve and fifteen." She said. Mary looked up from the screen questioningly. "The lights." She clarified. "Twelve and fifteen."

Mary nodded and smiled back to the screen. "You got it, Ems."

She followed Riley quickly through an audience exit, stepping out into the bright warm day. Bright was an understatement. The sky was white with thin cloud cover which made the sky brighter than the blue sky earlier that day. She squinted as they walked out onto the wood walkway that made up the pier around the back of the tent, venders were selling jewelry and she smiled when she saw stuffed white tigers with purple rhinestone collars. Her eyes fell on the small pond she had noticed the night before.

"If you want I can try the ring with him a few more times." Riley said.

"No, its okay." She couldn't bring herself to pull her eyes away from the clear blue water and she nearly fell as the wooden path ended and dropped a stair down into the soft grass. Luckily the absence of Riley's footsteps on the wood planks ahead of her had been enough to draw her attention back at the last second.

He led the way around the side of the tent to what seemed to be used as more of a back entrance for workers and performers to come and go. Ember's soft braying caught her ears, pulling her eyes to where he stood beside the ring and a bale of hay. He perked up instantly and turned to her as she reached for him. It never stopped amazing her at how good it felt to be running her fingers down his neck even after only an hour of being away from him, still so surreal that he was hers now and she had him at her fingertips whenever she wanted him there. She couldn't keep herself from wanting Paige there at the moment though. Her head felt jam-packed with questions, not for Paige exactly but all the same...there were too many. Mostly she wanted to hold her and prove to her that she wasnt leaving. It made sense that Paige would expect that of her given she had spent years for her life just hiding in a town she hated. Old habits don't die as hard as she had originally thought because this choice was effortless. The second Paige reached for her hand and pulled her onboard the train there was no doubt and no looking back. That hadn't changed and Paige needed to know that.

Riley reached for a spray can sitting on the ground beside a bucket of water and began shaking the contents.

"What is that?"

He looked down at the can in his hands. "Flame retardant and protectant." He stated. "It should keep him from feeling the heat too much."

She nodded and watched him shake the can absent-mindedly as he stared blankly at the ground. She spoke before taking the time to think and maybe it was because she felt more comfortable and confident with Ember beside her but regardless she was quickly worried by something in Riley's green eyes and the way he crinkled his eyebrows over a task that wasn't difficult.

"Are they gonna be okay?" She asked. "I mean do they..."

"You mean is this an everyday occurence with them." He corrected. "This hasn't happened before so I can't really answer the 'what to expect' question. Whether or not they're okay depends on them."

She nodded lightly and stroked Ember's neck as he began applying an even coat to his legs. It was sad how useless she felt and she didn't know how to help or make things any better for anyone because lets face it, she hadn't been with any of them long enough to have the right to interfere. All of these emotions must have shown on her face because it took minutes to notice the silence around her and a few seconds more to notice that Riley was watching her warily.

"This is frustrating." She mumbled.

"What is?"

"The fact that I want to help but I don't know how." She sighed. "You all have your own dynamic and I'm curious but I don't want to ask questions because I haven't been here. You all have years together so it's not really my place and I feel useless because its none of my business."

"First of all...please tell me how you really feel." Riley looked at her pointedly and smiled. "Secondly, its pretty much black and white with all of us. I'm not gonna sugarcoat things or prance around like a school girl keeping secrets. This particular topic is definitely our business considering it involves the two women we're involved with."

"I guess I didn't think about it that way."

"Don't girlfriends sit around with their teacups and gossip about their boyfriends?"

"I don't know whats more adorable...that you see yourself as the girlfriend or holding a teacup."

Riley chuckled and continued spraying an even coat over Ember's legs. "Pinkies up, Girls." He lisped.

"The Riley and Emily Bromance."

"I just have to buy a man purse and I'll be completely prepared." He grinned.

She laughed and shook her head but it faded too quickly as she ran her fingers down Ember's nose. "Is she okay? I asked but I think she's guilty of sugar-coating."

Riley cleared his throat and crouched down to spray Ember's stomach. "Yeah Marley does that sometimes. She tries to protect everyone before herself just like Paige does. It's probably why they pick at each other so much. They've both met their match but they need to communicate a little better." He grunted as he ducked under Ember's stomach to reach the other side. "They have more in common than they think.

It was clear they had strong similarities and that was obviously a reason for their tension. "You didn't answer my question though."

He sighed and straightened himself up beside her. "Marley's been through a lot. Deep down none of it really has anything to do with Paige but she's as 'okay' as she'll let herself be." Riley's eyes softened every time he was thinking about her but when he said her name they melted completely.

She swallowed back tightening that was forming in her throat at the oncoming question she wanted to ask the most. If she crossed a line she at least hoped Riley would say so. Somehow at some point that morning Mary wasn't even a working member of the show and she had no idea of how that could have happened...or what led to it.

"Is she really leaving the show?"

Riley crinkled his eyebrows and flipped the spray can casually in his hand. "She never does anything she's not ready for." He sighed.

"Something tells me you aren't just referring to the show."

He ducked his head and chuckled under his breath. "If she's ready to leave she will and nothing anyone can say will change her mind. Maybe what she needs now is to leave and stand on her own and maybe fixing things with Paige would have the same effect but its her choice to make. She needs to do what's right for her."

"You'd go with her." It wasn't a question because it would have been a stupid one. The answer would have been obvious.

"Without a second thought."

"Wouldn't it be hard? I mean you've been with the show for how long?"

"Ten years." He clarified. "I'd leave without hesitating because while it may be hard it would be nothing compared to not being where she is. I know what everyone must think but I have my reasons." He smiled and his green eyes lit up unexpectedly.

"I think I know what you're referring to and I don't doubt your reasons. I mean its obvious isn't it?"

"It should be by now." Riley chuckled. "I not a push-over just so you know. Maybe I just know her better than anyone else, even herself. Marley's everything I need with plenty left over."

"I pretty much said the same thing to Cassie about Paige." She smiled. "I have everything I need in her."

"Then you wont have to ask me why I'd stay with her."

"I didn't plan on asking why."

"And I wont have to ask you what your intentions are with my best friend." He quipped.

"No, but I'll tell you that they're good any way."

"That's good enough for me." He tossed the can beside Ember's water bucket and whistled to a few workers standing nearby smoking cigarettes.

He bent down and unlocked wheels on the base of the ring so that they could move it into the tent. It had been unfathomable as to how anyone could fail to see Mary the way Riley did. If anyone knew her and everything she was...it would be him and he refused to be away from her. After everything that happened with Cassie Paige's blind spot for Mary was making more sense. She could see everyone around her so clearly but failed to pay attention to anything that might be bothering Mary and now it was clear why. Even with knowing why it only made her want Paige more. From the moment she met her Paige had been the epitome of strength and proof that she could pick herself up again and survive under all odds. It was an unrealistic expectation to see Paige as perfect because nobody was. She was broken sometimes too and flawed. Paige was capable of making mistakes and regretting them just like everyone else. The thought of Riley and Mary not being around pained her and she hardly knew them. The effect on Paige would be drastic.

Two men walked over, one of which she recognized as Jack and that had her stomach turning uneasily. He had no problem fighting Paige when she asked him to do something but when Riley ordered his help he trudged over immediately. Even with the extra foot he had on Riley and the fact that he easily out weighed him he didn't hesitate. None of those factors would have mattered against the muscle under Riley's black t-shirt but it was the principal of it and it made her feel sick. Paige was pretty intimidating when upset but Jack didn't see her as a threat...for obvious reasons. The discomfort in her stomach increased when he seemed to recognize her as well...and Ember. A grimy smirk that had her averting her eyes and focusing only on twisting her fingers into Ember's mane, leading him behind them as they pushed the ring into the side curtain of the tent.

Her arm was caught lightly the second she stepped inside and she turned to see Mary smiling with a white dress bag dangling from her finger.

"Ready?"

She looked at Ember in uncertainty and then at the guys pushing the ring. "Yeah, should I just leave him here?"

"No, he's too cute to leave unattended." Mary smiled, scratching under his chin.

She led the way through the maze of colors and held open a purple curtain for her and Ember. It felt odd leading a horse around in tight spaces but she was pretty sure they passed someone carrying a monkey on their shoulder and definitely ducked by a man shoving a knife down his throat. Unusual was normal here.

The purple curtain housed a larger space with racks of costumes and vanities with bare bulb encircled mirrors. There were smaller curtained off spaces in the corner like dressing rooms in department stores. The room on the train could have fit inside this space ten times at least and the towering racks where tripled in width.

She swallowed hard and dropped her hand from Embers mane, leaving him to stand passively by. Panic set in and everything was happening so fast now. She'd think she was ready but then maybe not and then she'd see Paige and her courage came right back. This was exactly what she wanted and she wasn't going to let fear or uncertainty dictate her life anymore. She wanted to find her place with these amazing people and she wanted Paige. She needed to do this for herself. She found peace when she was riding, it came naturally and the only thing she could hope for was that this time would be no different.

"We've got roughly thirty minutes before I need to get ready to go on for the closing." She stated, pulling a curtain closed around them in the small dressing space. She held out a pair of thin soft bottomed ballet flats in a nude color. "I found these.. they might fit but if not we have several other pairs we can try."

She slipped her jeans down automatically and Mary immediately went work running the nylon up her legs and fastening the straps around her thighs. She shivered but at least she managed to hide the trembling this time by simply keeping her muscles tensed. Even knowing what she wanted wasnt enough to fully keep the anxiety at bay over the moment of change that was coming. There was no going back for her after this regardless of the outcome.

"Breathe, Emily." Mary smiled. "Why do I feel like a mother sending you off to be bedded for the first time?"

She smiled lightly and swallowed the dryness in her throat. "Probably because I have no idea what I'm doing."

"In bed?" Mary raised her eyebrows teasingly. "Somehow I doubt that but since I have a feeling you're talking about the show...don't worry. It's no big deal I promise. The track is a loop, right?"

"Yeah, right."

"Okay so the only time you'll be in the dark is before you actually start. Riley has a remote to trigger the fire at the right time and you'll be amazed at how well-lit everything is."

"Yeah but do I just go around once or..."

"That's up to you. The floor will be clear but I'm going to seriously suggest you end in the center ring..." Mary smiled. "...for performance reasons because it's the finale." She added.

"Okay."

"The fire on the center ring is lower so Ember should have no problem jumping it but Riley can also drop it off. Do you remember the course you ran earlier before Paige showed up to have lunch with you?"

"Yeah."

"Okay...remember that show off thing you did with Ember to help burn some of his pent-up energy?"

She furrowed her eyebrows and thought, watching as Mary clipped the garter straps in place. Focus was hard considering but at least she was shaking like earlier. After Ember had taken the ring a few times she had taken to laps with him around the quarter-mile track and towards the end she was just screwing around and letting him choose his own route. He quickly veered from the dirt and took to figure-eights across the whole arena, jumping the barriers of the rings and just being excessively too wild.

"I'm not gonna let him do that." She shook her head firmly. "Its reckless with people around and probably not a habit I should let him fall into."

"That's not what I was getting at."

Mary adjusted the last strap and reached for the white corset. She helped in the process this time by taking her tank top off and unclipping her bra. Mary had already seen everything and she likely would again so there was no point it hiding now. In any case Mary kept her eyes to loosening the strings before wrapping it automatically around her chest and tightening the threading.

"I meant that judging by the time you spent running the entire floor you should know the layout pretty well, right?"

"Yeah I guess so."

"Then think like I do, like a performer. Don't be afraid to work the crowd or take advantage of the space you have. Riley will make sure the floor stays clear and Stella's platforms were moved out at intermission."

"I missed intermission?" Her thoughts jumped to Paige and how she might be looking for her. She was supposed to be watching the show with Molly and even failing to do that made her feel guilty. At least she had her mom and Sydney there with her and she had been pretty occupied with the cotton candy. But Paige...

"Yes but don't worry." Mary insisted. "Paige was busy breaking up a fight with Peter near the concessions. Peter was actually supposed to try to keep her busy so she wasnt trying to find you but apparently three drunk guys made him unnecessary."

She nodded weakly and gasped when Mary tugged the final strings tight against her chest before moving back to unzip the dress bag. Her breath was ripped from her all over again when her eyes fell on the color and the alterations Mary had made to it. The lace covered satin top that blended into feather light gauze around the waist had just a few simple additions. Simple and beautiful.

"Please don't cry..." Mary whispered, unzipping the back and holding it open for her to step into. "...because then I will and I've had to reapply my eyeliner twice already."

She squeezed her eyes shut to fight moisture back, trying to focus on not crying and it was easier with Mary asking the way she did. She didn't have to ask why she had needed to touch-up her makeup. She slipped her arms into the hair-thin straps and Mary zipped the back.

"This is the next best color on you aside from that blue." She pointed to the lace bra laying on the chair. "Which...I'll find a way to get you something in that color."

She slipped the beige flats over her feet and Mary pulled the curtain back and guided her to a mirror and vanity. She kept her eyes carefully away from her reflection, so easily reverting back to her hangover habit to keep the sting in her eyes under control. More for Mary's sake than her own.

"I'm gonna go light on your make-up." Mary stated. "Bare minimum."

"Okay."

Mary gestured for her to sit down in a director style chair and she quickly followed that command.

"I should probably admit now that I lied to you." Mary sighed. "I didn't say anything before because Peter was around but the song he was fighting me over is just for him...not your performance. I have a song for you that I've set up and it'll switch over after my set." She picked through a bag of sealed makeup products and pulled out a light pink gloss, brushing it across her lips. "I needed Peter to think it was for you so that he wouldn't back out and run to Paige because that would kinda ruin all of this."

"Won't he notice the change when the song starts and I'm not out there with Ember?"

"Well actually I just lied again." She admitted proudly. "I programmed the lights and songs and then locked him out of the computer system so he won't actually be able to change anything and neither will Paige." Mary's blue eyes sparkled as she brushed a thin line of gold across her eyelids. "Half the people out there are probably family to either Riley or Sydney so I can get away with more. Everyone else loves us enough to not care though...some of this might actually get me sued by her but its worth it."

"Why do need Peter in the sound booth if he can't do anything?" She asked.

"Because I'm singing for him remember?" Mary smiled. "If he knew this song wasn't for your performance he wouldn't even dream of going near the sound booth."

"Do Sadie and Faye know?"

Mary scrunched her hair in her hands and left it alone to flow over her shoulders, stepping back and smiling approvingly. "They know my song but they aren't needed for yours. Spotlight will be on you."

She grabbed her hand and pulled her from the chair so quickly that she was forced to click her tongue to tell Ember to follow and Mary talked quickly the whole walk through the maze of curtains. Almost too fast for her to keep up but she tried.

"I'll be by the sound booth for my performance and that's probably where Paige's attention will be because she hates it when I dance up there. She basically bitch slapped me with her eyes the last time I even mentioned doing it. Riley can come wait with you until my set is over if you want and then I'll need him for your song."

"No, I'll be fine." She clenched her hand tight around Mary's without really meaning to, glad that it wasn't her swollen hand this time. Her heart was in her throat and if this was happening she needed to focus on what she was feeling without Riley's eyes watching her or anyone else's for that matter.

Mary stopped at a table beside the curtain leading out into the arena. "Wear this for me?" She asked, slipping an earpiece into her hand. "You don't have to press anything for me or Riley to hear you. We're on the same channel so it's just us. Just talk if you need anything and either Riley or I will be there. Likely Riley because I'll be going on in fifteen minutes."

"Okay." She nodded sliding the piece around her ear, surprised at how difficult it was with the shaking of her fingers.

"The lights will change after my song and yours will start so be ready then and when they change the second time, twelve and fifteen, the barriers will light up and you go." Mary looked at her apologetically. "I'm sorry this is a lot but if you remember anything...count to five after the fire starts and end in the center ring. I can adjust to everything else. This is improv it's not perfect its raw so don't stress."

She forced a deep breath to relax and it was easier than she expected with Mary helping her. She was going out of her way to help her the least she could do is try to absorb the information. She pulled her focus from old swim meets and listening to her coach bark drills. Mary was much softer with her advice.

"I'm okay." She nodded. "Count to five, end in the center ring." She repeated.

"And breathe." Mary added.

"Are you okay?" She asked suddenly, turning the conversation on Mary because while she really wanted to know it also helped take her mind off of what she was about to do.

"Aside from wanting to go on a bloody massacre... yes. Though that still sounds like a really good idea at the moment." Mary smiled "I gotta go out with a bang."

"I don't want you to..." She crinkled her eyebrows and cut herself off, wanting to chose different words. "You're not leaving.." That attempt wasn't any better.

"Pssh I know that..." Mary smiled lightly "but Paige doesn't so it seems like a nice reversal of our roles for a change." Her eyes flickered away towards the curtain and it was hard to tell if she was even sure of what she'd just said or if she was doing exactly what Riley said she would. Everyone before herself.

"This may be bad timing and you've already helped me so much but can you do something for me?" When Mary nodded she continued. "My mom wants someone close to me to swap phone numbers with her...you know in case of an emergency. I thought Paige maybe but I don't want her feeling pressured by asking so I thought someone else. Peter would probably talk too much and my mom doesn't need to know everything he might say." She took a deep breath. "I trust you. You don't have to but I promise she's not really annoying so she won't be texting you all the time or anything."

"First of all you're not gonna die doing this. We wont let you." Mary smiled and arched her eyebrows curiously. "Secondly, your mom knows how to text?"

"Just smiley faces I think."

"Good I can teach her." Mary smiled proudly. "I'm good at making little pictures with the symbols. How uptight is she?"

She laughed and shook her head. "Feel free to teach her. It might keep her from checking in too much."

"I'm sending her boobs first..." Mary sighed and shrugged her shoulders. "...just saying."

"Thank you."

"I've already told you...anytime." Mary winked. "Okay, I'm going on in a few and Riley will be over in a minute but he won't be able to stay long...I need him for your song."

"My song?" She asked. "Why?"

Mary started a backward pace. "You'll see. Five seconds, center ring and breathe. Good luck." She smiled and turned on her heels, disappearing through the curtain and leaving her standing alone beside Ember with her heart racing. Panic ripped through her all over again.

"What the hell am I doing?" She breathed, clicking her tongue for Ember to kneel.

"You're doing what you want, Ems." Mary's voice whispered in her ear. "Now take a deep breath and get your girl."

She smiled and slipped onto Ember's back, fanning out the light material around her waist. Her fingers grazed over the color and one of the many small feathers that Mary had placed throughout the gauze around her thighs. She matched Ember and now had a dress in the color of the one she had left in Rosewood. The one that inspired Paige to create the braid in Ember's hair.


A breath was nice. Several would be better but for the last hour breathing had been an issue, like a boulder in her chest that even made standing difficult. Unfortunately she could only dream about that one nice breath and how good it would probably feel. Anxiety was coursing through her so fast and suddenly she couldn't find comfort or peace in the streams of colored velvet or the feeling of Stella's fur under her fingertips. She couldn't feel it at all actually. Not when she ran her hand across her the stripes on her back or even the feeling of the metal as she closed the locks on her cage after her act. She couldn't feel the heat from the barriers as she stalked Stella up her platforms and she couldn't hear the sound of her roaring any more than she could feel her body flipping numbly through the air or her boots slamming into the ground. It was all feather soft and so distant, a mindless routine she couldn't enjoy. Thats what she was reduced to. The improv must have been going well because the crowd was cheering but even the noise didn't phase her ears the way it should. It felt far away.

Every time the music changed or the lights moved she felt her blood pressure shoot through the roof and her heart pounding out of her chest. She would catch sight of Peter somewhere and the dryness in her throat would surface and then she'd see Mary from across the arena and her airway would close completely. The worst feeling came when her eyes fell on the empty seat beside Molly and she couldn't even begin to process what Emily's absence meant.

Her eyes furrowed down at the clipboard in her hands as she struggled to focus on her survival steps and the rest of the lineup for the show. Every part of her wanted to throw it to the ground along with her headset and just walk out. What was really the point of staying anyways? The only comfort she found was that there were no other shows for the rest of the day or the next. It meant climbing into a dark hole somewhere to hide would be easier without being missed by anyone. She could resurface in a few days or weeks...maybe never and everyone could forget that she had hurt them. Everyone could forget that she had kept them from knowing her. It wasn't herself that she had really kept from them. Not the person she was now. She kept the past of broken parts away from them but they knew her now and girl they knew was real, stronger than Cassie's bullshit and so happy with the life she had. Proud of everything they created together and better for everything that had brought her to this place.

Peter had helped her break up a fight during intermission and he seemed okay, sad but okay. It was hard to tell if he was sad for her, which was exactly what she didn't want, or sad that she had denied him the trust of telling him the truth for four years. She had denied all of them that. They had the right to feel their emotions in whatever way they needed to and she was wrong to keep them from doing that by not even giving them the chance to be there for her. So what if they felt sad or felt pity for her. She didn't want it but it was their right to feel. They should have been given that option.

Riley she spotted at one point rushing around the arena during the short pauses between performances and then of course for his own act. He seemed his usual carefree self and was keeping himself busy. Maybe it was to keep himself from thinking too much about everything. They were exactly the same that way. Ever since they were kids they would compete to out-work each other. If they were angry or upset with each other or anyone else for that matter they would throw themselves into the manual labor of the show just to drown out the war in our heads. It also usually involved a bottle of something strong but Riley seemed to at least be storming around in straight lines.

Mary she hadn't even been able to watch perform. She couldn't bring herself to look for the hurt in Mary's eyes that she had seen earlier because she knew it would still be there. Somehow Mary had quit the show this morning without her knowledge and that was concerning by itself because how could she be so out of sync and unobservant to not know that? She had snapped at Mary earlier but it was hardly a reason to quit, right? Then again how much could a person be pushed away before they just gave up and left and accepted that they weren't wanted? That thought brought a stabbing in her stomach as she looked around the arena for her. It hurt because it wasn't the truth. She wanted Mary to be there the same way she wanted to be there for her and the thought of her not being there was like losing everything all over again. Her parents were the only loss that came close to describing it and if she was being honest with herself and only herself...it hurt just as much. She should feel guilty and wrong for thinking that but her feelings were luckily her own to feel. She hated calling her Mary because it wasn't who she was to her. She was Marley. Marley was real, not a façade or stage name…but the truth. The girl she found in the alley back in Albany that needed her, the one that put Riley in his place when he needed it and yet watched him work with the loving eyes she had failed to notice. The girl that opened her bedroom door that night and held her while she cried herself to sleep because she had no one else to turn to. She was there. Marley was her family, a best friend she didn't deserve. That was the truth for all of them and hiding in a hole wouldn't do anything to keep her family together.

Her eyes flickered over to the empty seat beside Molly and her heart dropped all over again. Everything felt like it was slipping away while she was forced to stand there and wait helplessly by. She wanted to see Emily sitting there. She wanted to apologize for not telling her everything and she wanted to hold her. Emily deserved someone that would be honest with her and she deserved someone stronger than she felt at the moment. She felt like the biggest fake in the world. Having had years of practice it had becomes so easy to lie to herself that even she believed them. It was hard to discern where the truth ended and the lies began. She wasn't this strong girl that Emily needed and she was so far from being right with the people she loved. After everything Emily had been through she needed someone constant and steady in her life and she didn't know how to be that person for Emily. She couldn't even leave to find Emily now. She couldn't be with her every second and sometimes this life got crazy and busy and sometimes she had a hard time stopping long enough to breathe. Emily deserved undivided attention. This morning had been the perfect example. She had to leave Emily for three hours to file paperwork into the office.

What the hell was her problem? She had to stop herself because unnecessary over-analyzing was beginning to kick in and she stopped making sense. People had to leave for their jobs everyday. It was a fact of life and came with being an adult and running a business. She had the luck of being able to work said business four days a week from the comforts of a furnished train moving across the country, constantly passing through beautiful cities and landscapes and she got to do that with Emily now. Plus there was a bar which would come in handy now.

She looked over at the empty chair again and felt her eyes water. The image of Emily with her arms wrapped around her chest was burned into her mind. Along with the pain in Mary's eyes..that image was the one haunting her the most. Emily had thankfully only been subjected to a week of half-truths...Mary had years. In just a matter of minutes Emily was back in Rosewood at risk of falling apart without knowing how to stop it, or if she even wanted to. Emily was sitting beside her on the bale of hay toying with the gold buttons on the velvet around her shoulders. Emily was walking down the ramp of car 12 away from Ember all over again...she was walking away from her.

She forced a deep breath. Her mind was getting ahead of itself and being responsible for the show at the moment wasnt helping. This amount of panic and insanity wasn't doing her any good. She was forced to keep the performers and workers in line and she could barely control herself. She couldn't know what Emily was thinking because she hadn't even seen her since the incident with Cassie so she needed to calm down. Cassie couldn't have shown up at a worse time and whoever's idea it was to have improvs at all deserved to be strung up and smacked with a stick until dead. She should probably find someone to string her up. It had been her idea. Perhaps justice for Marley.

The music changed and snapped her from her thoughts and her eyes went to the clipboard, back to her work. She glanced up briefly at the act leaving the ring and caught sight of movement at the sound booth. She squinted her eyes to focus through the dim light. If it was just the dim lighting seeing wouldn't have been an issue but the swirling strobe lights created the problem. Her eyes studied the silhouette standing in the sound booth and confusion became her prominent emotion. Peter was in the sound booth which was odd because during the shows he usually kept to patrolling the arena for problems but he seemed content where he was. It wasn't completely unheard of but just rare that he settled himself in one place. They were similar in that sense. They both found comfort in moving and even with Sydney staying behind he preferred traveling. When it came to the actual shows though Peter was the biggest control freak and was always worried something would go wrong under his watch so he'd pace.

She looked at the clip board again and frowned. Closing was next and...Mary was scheduled to close. She's popular with every crowd in every town but on their home turf Mary could make up every act and they'd still want more. Mary outshines even herself but that's her job, to perform and entertain and she's mastered her profession. She could also get away with a lot more being back home and with this already being an improv and with her thinking this was her last show...

"Peter why are you in the sound booth?" For the first time over the loud music she realized her earpiece wasn't omitting the soft hum in her ear. "Peter?"

She pulled her headset off and panic set in when it failed to show her the green light that said it was on, or even the red light that said it off. It was dead completely and cut off. That could account for Peter being in the sound booth. Maybe he was having issues too and working on fixing it. It really only served for her to communicate with him and it wasn't like the performers needed to be told when to go on or what to do. After years of this the show could run itself but she relied on the comfort that came with being in the loop on everything, so to speak. Silence from her headset was unnerving and with Mary closing...the uneasiness grew.

Her discomfort shot through the roof when lights came down on Mary standing on the roof of Riley's turquoise muscle car. Her black boots nearly reached her knees and dark blue satin clung tight to her hips. Exactly what she had been wearing earlier which was a pretty serious red flag. The same white corset and skin tight black blazer. Even her chocolate waves flowed around her shoulders. Mary loved the clothing and she rarely if ever wore the same thing twice so the fact that she was now, during an improv, could only mean a few things. Either she really liked the outfit, possible, or she had been too occupied with something else to change. As her voice melted through the speakers she knew exactly the kind of scheming that Mary was up to. Her jaw tensed and her eyes squeezed shut. Someone should pray for Peter. The look on Peter's face told her that he was praying for death to take him quickly. Rest in peace, if Mary will let you.

"Fuck." She nearly dropped her headset from her hands as her mouth fell open in shock. She was gonna get sued for this. The urge to hug Mary so quickly shifted into the urge to choke her and then slap her and then continue with the choking process.

Sadie and Faye worked their way around the center barriers with the extra dancers but the spotlight was on Mary, unfortunately, and the others simply became faded background movement. She sauntered her way down the hood of the car and jumped gracefully to the ground, Kicking dirt around her boots and working a confident strut over to Peter at the sound booth. Pulling her body up onto the counter she catwalked the unofficial runway before she fell to her knees in front of him, throwing her head back and flipping her hair through the air as she ran her hands down her body. A lawsuit was inevitable even with the crowd roaring in double time. She almost had to cover her ears it was so loud. Mary's voice was louder though and it didn't falter even with the arch of her body as she flipped up from her back to her feet again. This was the epitome of table dancing and Peter was her target.

She could see the red of his cheeks from where she stood but she couldn't bring herself to move closer. Her feet were frozen as she watch Mary reach for Peter's hand and pull him up beside her, reluctant on his part but with the spotlight on them and Mary basically having sex with the counter top he was wise not to fight her. She worked her way around his body and her fingertips over the buttons if his shirt, slowly sliding it down his shoulders and tossing it to the ground. Even with how unscripted this was, and how uncensored, she had to admit that Mary was very good with knowing boundaries and how far she could push it. Her hips were swaying as she walked that fine line and Peter was on the verge of a heart attack when she ran her nails across his chest and down his stomach. Dangerously close to pushing it too far. One key phrase Mary sang had her smiling though and Peter's misery sadly became amusing, just for a second. She twisted her fingers into his hair and hugged his face briefly to her breasts before releasing him by throwing his head back and dropping to her knees before him, raking her nails down his jeans. She flattened herself on to her back between his legs and ripped open the buttons on the front of her blazer while arching her back off the counter.

"Shit." She snapped, placing her earpiece in again and forcing her body into movement. Too risky.

She had only taken a few steps before Mary flipped herself over onto her hands and knees, Peter's legs like a bridge over her back as she slipped to the ground again. She smiled at him as she sang, tossing his shirt up and allowing him to slink back down off the counter along with the blush on his cheeks, then she worked a determined pace and jumped onto the hood of Riley's car in one easy stride. The only thing that could save her from flack about this performance was the fact that they were in their hometown. Half of the audience knew them personally and everyone risked coming to improvs. Her heart had slowed considerably by the time she reached the sound booth, coming to a stop at the edge of the counter just outside the center ring barrier, and her eyes went straight to Peter fussing uncomfortably over the buttons of his shirt.

"What the fuck?" She glared and arched her eyebrows hoping for an explanation.

Peter shrugged. "I don't know, Paige." He shook his head vehemently. "Mary told me to run the booth but she locked me out of the computers and I can't change anything."

"Why would she need you to run the booth?"

"Obviously for the routine you just watched."

"You walked into that willingly?" She growled under her breath, keeping her voice as quiet as possible as the song drew to a close.

"No!" Peter shook his head again. Actually he hadn't even stopped shaking it. "I knew what the song was but she told me it was for..."

"Shut it, Peter." Mary smiled as she sauntered over, reaching quickly for a bottle of water and a handheld microphone.

Riley appeared at her side with his acoustic guitar slung over his shoulder and clipped a small mic on the front before sliding up to sit on the sound booth counter. "We're ready." He smiled at Mary.

Her eyes darted between the three of them, trying to pinpoint what they were keeping from her. Peter seemed like their collateral damage and looked overly flustered by his involuntary performance but Mary and Riley were plotting.

"Ready for what?" She pressed, swallowing hard. After Mary's performance she found herself worried about other plans she may have and she didn't trust any of the possibilities passing through her head.

"Your closing statements." Mary sighed like it was obvious and there seemed to be only truth in her eyes, aside from every other emotion she was feeling for not being trusted for years. The tone in her voice that said Mary was upset for even having to speak to her directly or acknowledge her at all. That could have been her overactive imagination in the moment though because Mary was actually looking at music sheet in her hands, softly scrolling her eyes over the page.

She nodded and tried to focus, turning away from them and stepping back into the center ring. It was her job to thank the crowds for coming out. It should have felt like the best part of a hometown show because it meant she was closer to spending time with everyone at their favorite restaurant and bar. She'd challenge Riley to a game of pool around a table that wasnt crowded into a corner like theirs on the train and then she'd try to top Mary with shots of vodka and then likely end up on the tables with her, head banging as they took turns requesting songs from the jukebox. She was closer to seeing Emily.

Her eyes flickered over to Mary and she was met with a soft smile, such a far cry from the pain she saw earlier and it stopped her breathing short. It hurt just as much...maybe more. Her fingers moved to her earpiece to talk as she slipped on to the counter to sit beside Riley. "Breathe, Ems."

She crinkled her eyes brows in confusion and looked between her and Riley and then turned to look around the arena. The lights shut down and her heart hammered in her ears. She probably should have caught on by now to what was going on but her mind was working too quickly to find sense in any of this. She wasnt processing anything. She moved to open her mouth and speak to the audience but a million stars were suddenly projected over the arena which stopped all words in her throat. Riley's guitar sounded softly through the speakers sending chills up her arms in the hot air. He's never played in the show before, even though Mary has begged him on many occasions and she herself had even suggested it at one point. The thought of him playing because he thought it was Mary's last show made her stomach clench hard and her eyes burn. It couldn't be her last. She couldn't move as she looked over at them sitting on the edge of the counter. Riley sat facing her, strumming out soft notes as she watched him. Then she closed her eyes and brought the microphone to her lips, her voice feather light and beautiful.

*"Take my hand. I'll teach you to dance. I'll spin you around, won't let you fall down."*

Slowly the stars began to ripple and blue light spread, twilight reflecting on moving water. She tried to follow individual stars to seek out the brightest one but her eyes found their way back to Mary and Riley.

*The rooms hush hush and now's our moment. Take it in, feel it all and hold it. Eyes on you and eyes on me. We're doing this right."*

The barriers burst into fire around the track and it made her jump but just as the flames appeared so did a golden light over the entrance to the arena. Gold like the fields had been captured and were now shining over raven hair and a coral dress. The midnight and flame of Ember's body as Emily kicked him into movement. Her hair blew around her shoulders and the pink of the fabric around her waist reached out behind her to touch the gold spotlight. She looked like a sunrise spreading her glow as Ember sprinted and cleared walls of fire. Her heart stopped. The audience was silenced and still. Everything stopped except for Emily's movements and the voice through the speakers.

*"...lovers dance when they're feeling in love, spotlight shining its all about us."*

Her chin trembled lightly as she looked to Mary and Riley again. Her blue eyes were soft and looking up to the lights above them all and it made her heart ache. Despite everything that had happened that day Mary was giving her a gift. She was giving Emily something so special and was completely selfless in the process. She was the best performer in the show and she now sat in the shadows singing as the spotlight followed Emily. A rift had formed between them, and she knew she was responsible for it, yet Mary was here doing something beautiful when she didn't have to. None of this was expected of her and she sure as hell didnt do anything to deserve it. That fact Mary and Riley had done this for Emily between their own performances left her mind speechless and she felt her eyes glazing over, just thinking about them being there when she couldn't.

The empty chair beside Molly was forgotten and replaced by the image of a beautiful girl riding strong down a dark gravel road. The headlights from the car didn't light her way... Emily was the light, the one guiding her towards the future she wanted. Her heart held no doubt when her eyes landed on the burning ring that Emily was aiming for, kicking harder into Ember's side as her hips rocked with him. His hooves left the ground and instantly Emily bent her body back and flattened herself against him, the fire encircling them and licking close to her skin. It was that moment that she made her mind speak the words she had been feeling. That moment when she really believed that she was allowed to. Not that she deserved those feeling anymore than she deserved the gift Mary was giving her but perhaps it was a plea of her heart, a prayer to be worthy of loving Emily.

*Can I hold you real close?"*

She straightened herself up from Ember's back as his hooves slammed into the ground and twisted her fingers in his mane, tugging him hard towards the center ring...towards her. The fire shot up around her, locking her in while Ember jumped easily through. Her eyes fell only to Emily and the breath leaving her lips as she swung her leg from his back before he had even stopped, gliding gracefully to the ground in step with Ember's hooves.

She felt wet heat drop to her cheek, gold lighting Emily from behind and as she moved closer the coral of her dress was glowing warm and tiny soft feathers fluttered in the light gauze. Emily stopped in front of her and her hands went instantly to the red velvet on her sleeves as she smiled softly. The scent of sugar on her skin stirred in the air around her and made the tightening in her chest relax though she still couldn't breath. There wasn't pain in her brown eyes or sadness, just hope. She wanted to apologize to Emily for everything she hadn't told her, for her having to learn the truth the way she did. She wanted to tell her everything that had happened in detail, piece by piece. Something more coherent than the rambling mess of words she had unleashed on Cassie. It had been like a weight lifted from her chest and allowed her to finally breathe after years of being under water. Her outburst had probably made no sense to the people she loved that were subjected to it but that hadn't been the point of it. It made sense to Cassie. Cassie knew everything she had done wrong and she needed to tell her that she hadn't forgotten any of it.

There was so much she wanted to tell Emily. She wanted to tell Emily how proud she was of her and how beautiful she was, how amazed she was with her strength to change her life in such a big way and her compassion for everyone around her. How Emily saw Mary in a way that she hadn't and so many things that she couldn't wrap her mind around long enough to remember.

*"Do you hear that, Love? They're playing our song."*

She hesitated but slowly brought her hands to Emily's waist, her breath catching from touching her when moments ago she wondered if she would ever get to touch her again. Emily was here. Her heart stopped when Emily ran her hands up to be lost her hair around her shoulders, taking a step closer. Mary's voice was fading along with Riley's guitar and every other sound in the arena. She could feel the vibrations through the air but she couldn't hear them over her heartbeat drumming in her ears. All she could hear was Emily breathing.

"Emily, I..." Her voice sounded through the speakers like an echoed voice-over to the song, surprising her and making her words freeze in her throat. It didn't surprise Emily.

Emily smiled. "I Love you."


Only Girl- Rihanna (Marley & Peter. R.I.P DEAR MAN)

La la la la
La la la la
La la la la
La la la la

I want you to love me, like I'm a hot ride
Be thinkin' of me, doin' what you like

So boy forget about the world 'cause it's gon' be me and you tonight
I wanna make you beg for it, then im gon' make you swallow your pride

Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world
Like I'm the only one that you'll ever love
Like I'm the only one who knows your heart
Only girl in the world

Like I'm the only one that's in command
'Cause I'm the only one who understands
How to make you feel like a man, yeah

Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world
Like I'm the only one that you'll ever love
Like I'm the only one who knows your heart
Only one...

Want you to take it, like a thief in the night
Hold me like a pillow, make me feel right
Baby I'll tell you all my secrets that I'm keepin', you can come inside
And when you enter, you ain't leavin', be my prisoner for the night, oh

Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world
Like I'm the only one that you'll ever love
Like I'm the only one who knows your heart
Only girl in the world

Like I'm the only one that's in command
'Cause I'm the only one who understands
Like I'm the only one who knows your heart
Only one

Take me for a ride, ride
Oh baby, take me high, high
Let me make you rise, rise
Oh make it last all night, night

Take me for a ride, ride
Oh baby, take me high, high
Let me make you rise, rise
Make it last all night...

Want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world
Like I'm the only one that you'll ever love
Like I'm the only one who knows your heart
Only girl in the world

Like I'm the only one that's in command
'Cause I'm the only one who understands
How to make you feel like a man
Only girl in the world...
Girl in the world...
Only girl in the world...
Girl in the world...


All About Us- He Is We (For Emily & Paige. Marley accompanied by Riley.)

Take my hand, I'll teach you to dance.
I'll spin you around, won't let you fall down.
Would you let me lead, you can step on my feet.
Give it a try, it'll be alright.

The room's hush, hush,
And now's our moment.
Take it in feel it all and hold it.
Eyes on you, eyes on me.
We're doing this right.

Cause lovers dance when they're feeling in love.
Spotlight shinning, it's all about us.
It's oh, oh, oh, oh, all about uh, uh, uh, uh, us.
And every heart in the room will melt,
This is a feeling I've never felt but,
It's oh, oh, all about us.
Suddenly, I'm feeling brave.
Don't know what's got into me,
Why I feel this way.
Can we dance, real slow?
Can I hold you, real close?

The room's hush, hush,
And now's our moment.
Take it in feel it all and hold it.
Eyes on you, eyes on me.
We're doing this right.

Cause lovers dance when they're feeling in love.
Spotlight shinning, it's all about us.
It's oh, oh, oh, oh, all about uh, uh, uh, uh, us.
And every heart in the room will melt,
This is a feeling I've never felt but,
[- From: .net -]

It's oh, oh, all about us.

Do you hear that love?
They're playing our song.
Do you think we're ready?
Oh I'm really feeling it.
Do you hear that love?
Do you hear that love?

Do you hear that love?
They're playing our song.
Do you think we're ready yet?
Love I'm really feeling it.
Do you hear that love?
Do you hear that love?

Do you hear that love?
They're playing our song.
Do you think we're ready yet?
Love I'm really feeling it.
Do you hear that love?
Do you hear that love?

Lovers dance when they're feeling in love.
Spotlight shinning, it's all about us.
It's all, all, all, all.
Every heart in the room will melt,
This is a feeling I've never felt, but
It's all, all about us.

Cause lovers dance when they're feeling in love.
Spotlight shinning, it's all about us.
It's oh, oh, oh, oh, all about uh, uh, uh, uh, us.
(hey-ey hey)
And every heart in the room will melt,
This is a feeling I've never felt but,
It's oh, oh, all,
It's all about us.


It's You- Michelle Branch (Paige's POV)

If tomorrow never comes

I would want just one thing

I would tell it to the stars and the sun

I would write it for the world to see

And it's you

The light changes when you're in the room

Oh, it's you

Oh, it's you

If tomorrow never comes

I would want just one wish

To kiss your quiet mouth

And trace the steps with my finger tips

And it's you

The light changes when you're in the room

Oh, it's you

Oh, it's you

Oh, it's you

Oh, it's you

Oh, it's you

Oh, oh it's you

Oh, it's you