Authors Note: Thank you everyone for sticking with me and waiting so patiently for this update and also for all of the amazing reviews! I hope you all enjoy this chapter and continue to follow the story as Red Velvet only continues to grow! Love to all of you! Enjoy! Please note that I am placing a warning on italics for sexual violence. It's a sensitive subject and not for everyone.

"I recognized you instantly. All of our lives flashed through my mind in a split second. I felt a pull so strongly towards you that I almost couldn't stop it." ― J. Sterling, In Dreams


"Em, he slobbered all over me." Paige's eyes widened as she flickered them skeptically over to where he stood watching. "I'm sorry but that's a little unsettling considering I'm not wearing anything."

Laughing she laid back down to the grass and draped her arm over eyes. It was probably not the best reaction and she didn't mean to laugh as much as she did but the overwhelming emotion coursing through her body made it hard to control. Every part of her felt happy and she didn't want to contain any of it, tingling across her skin from her head to her toes...her fingertips that touched new places . She should probably be wondering why Ember was all of the sudden giving Paige a hard time. Even that thought was funny. Likely he was jealous of the time she spent with Paige instead of him but she'd only heard stories of animals, dogs or cats, acting out when the new girlfriend is brought home. A horse sounded a bit odd and she hadn't actually expected to experience it. Paige seemed just as surprised.

Paige.

Her laughter faded and she lowered her arm from her eyes to see Paige looking at her softly. Her breath vanished at seeing her, sitting with her legs bent up against her chest and her chin resting lightly on her knees. The cream of her skin under the darkly lit sky and the way that even in the dark her chocolate eyes melted at seeing her too. She reached for her and Paige didn't hesitate to move closer, lowering herself down to the grass beside her with a light smile. She shifted on to her side.

"Are you okay?" Paige's fingers moved to trace over her bare skin, drawing paths up her arms and then over her shoulder and down her spine.

"More than okay." She nodded, making the smile spread on Paige's lips.

"Really?" Paige teased, stopping the movement of her fingers on her hip. "That good?"

She chuckled lightly. "Is that an ego driven question?"

"No, just genuinely wondering out loud." Paige smiled but quickly tried to force a more serious face and failed.

A groan of playful frustration left her throat as she pulled Paige closer, melting into her mouth and smiling against her lips at just being close to her. She was lost to everything all over again. The shiver down her spine from the cooler air and the deep rolling noise in the sky. Her hands moved on their own across the flat of Paige's stomach and circled over the skin on her hip that had tortured her all week, willing her fingertips to memorize the warmth.

"Oh my God." She mumbled. It was a jumble of words because she hadn't pulled away from Paige's lips before speaking them. Paige just looked confused. "What time is it? We were supposed to meet everyone for dinner."

"I don't know." Paige shrugged and looked down at the tiny clock hanging from the gold chain. "We don't have to go, Em. They won't care."

"I care." She argued. "I told Peter we'd be there and I don't want to be one of those people that says something but doesn't follow through. We all work together now so I want to be dependable."

"Em, its dinner." Paige sighed. "It's not a show or anything where we really rely on each other. Its food."

"It's the principal." She looked at her firmly but their eyes shot up to sky together as the low rumble moved through the air. "Wasn't it supposed to storm and didn't Peter say something about tornado season?"

Paige nodded and shifted herself up in the darkness, reaching automatically for random articles of clothing. She looked around in the grass too and grabbed the white corset, fidgeting with the threading in the dark. Was it weird to want Mary here right now? Her very own fairy Godmother? The strings were already thin and hard to manage in a lit room so this was bound to be challenging and she quickly wrapped it around her chest and tugged the strings just snug enough to hold it in place before giving up and reaching for the dress. The coral dress itself was just added support which was definitely needed with her poor job figuring out the threading.

Heat appeared against her skin as Paige lightly ran the zipper up her back and once it was up she turned to face her. Her eyes fell on soft eyes and her throat tightened. Paige was now clad in thin red bra across her chest and her white shirt was still unbuttoned though she had managed to slip into her black pants and boots already. Paige moved and snapped her out of the moment she wanted to stay in. Her auburn waves stirred the air as she bent down and picked up something from the grass.

"I don't really know how to help you with these." Paige's eyebrows crinkled and she breathed a weak laugh, holding out the blue lace still mostly attached to the pantyhose by small white straps.

Her cheeks flushed in the darkness as she took them from Paige's hands and separated the pieces, slipping into just the lace and bunching the rest up awkwardly in her hands. Another rolling of thunder in the sky kept movement in her body though it took a few minutes to pick out the ballet flats in the tall grass. Several times the thought crossed her mind to just leave them behind but Mary had leant them to her so it seemed like a bad way to say thank you. A mental note was made not to wear difficult clothing if she and Paige ever came to this place again but at the same time she didn't care as long as they were together the way they were a few hours ago. She'd walk the miles back naked if it meant being in that beautiful place again.

She moved towards Ember in the darkness, taking careful steps because the moon was being clouded more with each passing second and she could barely see. There was an electric charge in the air and while it was because of the impending weather it felt stronger than it should because Paige was standing beside her. It was almost painful. All she wanted was to touch her again and all over again her nerves wound tightly in the pit of her stomach as Ember knelt to the ground. She threw her leg over his back and instantly Paige was behind her, pressed into her back and holding her close. She could feel the wind kick auburn waves up across her neck as Paige rested her chin on her shoulder

To say the ride back was a blur would be blasphemy of the experience. Every second was detailed and every feeling heightened. The knots in her stomach twisted themselves further but somehow the feeling only brought comfort. Paige ran her hands up her bare thighs, ignoring the boundary of the dress and bringing them rest on her hips against lace, her blood quickening to the point where she had to close her eyes to ignore her vision clouding. The only sound she heard was breath rigidly leaving her lungs as Paige planted a small trail of kisses across her shoulder. She focused on the heat of Paige touching her and saw her all over again. The sun catching fire to the red in her hair falling over her chest and the glisten on her skin as she ran her fingers down Paige's stomach. She heard the soft moans leaving her lips and...

Her heart jumped when Ember's body shifted and slowed, the stables now in view and unlike their ride back in on the bike the other night at least Ember knew to not crash them into a fence when she was lost to the all the ways Paige was touching her. Something needed to be worked out as far as transportation goes. Touching each other while operating any type of horsepower was dangerous.

"What time was everyone meeting up?" She asked, closing the gate behind Ember and turning to Paige who immediately reached to her clock charm.

"They were supposed to be at Riley's for a while after the show but they should be at Charq's by now. It's almost ten and its kind of a late night thing when we go so.."

She nodded and looked down over her dress to check its condition now that they were under the inside lights of the stable. Aside from a few pieces of grass in the gauze netting it was bright and just as beautiful as before "What kind of place is it? Should I change?"

"It's just a restaurant and bar." Paige shrugged and her eyes got serious and pleading as they walked past the metal doors that led to the tiger enclosure. "Please don't change. You look beautiful."

Her eyes glided over the unbuttoned red velvet over Paige's shoulders, her white shirt buttoned still crisp and white. She had to stop her eyes from moving any lower because the black clinging tightly to Paige's legs may very well bring her to her knees and if she fell now, with how weak her body felt just standing beside her, there may be no amount of strength capable of pulling her up. Paige was beautiful. It's a word she thought of every time she looked at her but it brought such a strong rush of emotion at hearing it leave Paige's lips. She felt beautiful, wanted, like her whole body was glowing enough to light the hallway without any help from the fluorescent lights hanging above. Heat spread on her cheeks as she smiled, reaching her free hand for Paige's and it being eagerly accepted.

They stopped at the last metal door beside the one leading outside and Paige quickly punched in a number, instantly getting a green light and soft buzzing sound. The room reminded her of the stables in Rosewood and took her back to the ache she'd felt in her chest that night at the idea of sending away her only hope. The difference was that while she remembered that pain vividly she didn't feel it now. Hope rested in her hand and she promised herself then that she'd never forget the pain that had surfaced when she thought she was losing Ember because the pain of losing Paige would be indescribable. She needed to remember the pain because it made her appreciate the lack of it now.

The room was small and crowded with shelves on the walls and a large corner shaped desk. Paige grabbed the nylon and straps from her hand and tossed them into a her desk drawer then moved over to a cabinet and pulled it open to reveal large pegged board holding various sets of keys, running her fingers lightly over the sets as she looked for something in particular. There were easily fifty and how Paige knew what they all went to was a bit unbelievable. Maybe she didn't but she knew what she was looking for. Her hand stopping short over a single key with a silver "D" key chain on it.

"One of many spare sets. We're taking Peter's car." Paige said "The truck is still in 16 and taking the bike might be a bad idea in a storm." She tossed the key into the air and caught it with a smile before closing the cabinet again and moving towards the door.

"D?"

"Devon." Paige clarified. "His last name."

"Learning new things everyday." she smiled. "I feel like I should ask more questions because it seems like I should have known Peter's last name."

"Questions are good." Paige nodded and moved back out into the corridor and checking the lock on the door as it closed behind them. "To be fair I could also offer more information so you don't have to ask. That could either be seen as chivalrous because I'm sparing you the trouble or cocky and proud because I'm showing off my knowledge."

"I like the chivalrous you." she teased, taking Paige's hand again and letting her eyes linger on her face, the pink of the lips that had kissed her paths across her body. The looked as soft as they'd felt. "So how many shows were canceled tomorrow because of the weather?" She cleared her throat, taking a deep breath of air when they stepped outside.

The smell of rain and earth was heavy and had always been one of her favorite scents in the world. Other than chlorine from pools is was the only time water really had a smell and this happened to be its purest form. It wasn't even the water but the fragrance of everything it touched when it fell. It was relaxing all the same.

"Just one." Paige shrugged, tightening her grip on her hand and making her smile in the process. Her touches were such a far cry from where they had been a few days ago in Charleston when they'd walked through town. The pressure felt good and made her feel less like the girl who spent years broken. "We had a noon show and then we were set to leave again tomorrow night. Now we just have a free day before leaving and a free day traveling"

"Where are we going?"

"Montana." Paige arched her eyebrows. "We have a show in Great Falls and then we'll start heading further south."

"Texas?"

"At some point." Paige nodded. "Dallas...but we have other stops on the way. Texas is closer to the end of the season. Why?"

Excitement and butterflies coursed through her blood. "My parents are at Fort Hood."

"Wow." Paige sighed softly. "Mom and dad..." A weak breath left her lips and she looked nervous.

"Yeah...I mean I'd like to see them." she shrugged. "You don't have to though." she added quickly. "I don't want you to feel pressured or like you have to. It's not a big deal."

"Would you want me to meet them?" Paige asked, her eyes curious and interested.

she nodded. Without having to think about it she nodded. "Yeah. Yeah I would. One day...if you want to..."

"Then I'd love to." Paige smiled when she breathed a sigh of relief, louder than she'd intended. "You've already met my family after all. And just so you don't have to ask, because I'm chivalrous and all... Peter Devon, Riley Brennan, Marley Nolan-O'Connor which I just learned today. Apparently her birthday wasnt the only inaccurate piece of information. I guess I'll include Sadie Kyle and Faye Davis too. They can either be my evil step-sisters or the house pets...not sure which.

"Well I love them all already." She smiled. "I think you guys probably have the best job in the world."

"Why because we travel on a vintage style train through beautiful cities and entertain crowds with our talents?" Paige teased.

"Theres that." she nodded. "But its more than that too. You're doing what you love and you're traveling with the people you love. There's work and shows but then its easy to find time to slow down too and just enjoy it all."

"I can't stress enough how amazing you were." Paige sighed and applied more pressure to her hand as they walked through the dark empty parking lot towards the large concrete warehouse. "I mean I wasn't fond of the fire ring but that wasn't because I didn't trust you or Ember its just...fire so close to someone I love..." Paige paused to look at her and she seemed to lose her breath saying that word the same way she lost hers just hearing it. "When I saw you though...I think my mind stopped working. I saw you in Rosewood...when you were riding down the road. Remind me to thank Mar for that dress by the way." She chuckled gathered her thoughts again. "You're so much stronger than you were in that town though. I mean you were strong when you were riding, even with knowing that Ember was leaving, and I hoped that it was sign that you'd be okay but...you blew me away earlier. I couldn't be that brave in a world so new to me. It took me months to get comfortable with this life and you find your niche in a week."

"You make this all looks so easy." She smiled. "It made me believe that I could do it to."

Paige shook her head in disbelief and her lips parted to speak but it took her a few paces to find her words. "Well...you definitely made it look easy earlier."

"I was a wreck earlier." She disagreed. "If Mary and Riley hadn't helped the way they had it wouldn't have happened. They're really amazing and I was basically having a panic attack because all I wanted was to find you and make that look in your eyes disappear."

"What look?"

"The one that said you expected me to run from you.' she clarified. "You're right to think that. I was a mess in Rosewood and for so long I didn't even want to change it. I wouldn't have lasted much longer there but you made me want something again. Ember wasn't my only reason leaving and he definitely isn't now."

Paige held the heavy metal door open leading into the warehouse but she caught her arm gently in the doorway, turning to face her. "I'm sorry." She breathed. "Again for not telling you about Cassie but mostly for almost leaving Rosewood without you. I mean I know I couldn't have imagined this happening...its like a dream but...I feel like I should have really tried. Already I can't imagine not having you here."

"Neither of us could have really known we'd have this but...you were right to leave. I needed to save myself. I needed to admit to myself that I was strong enough to."

"You are." Paige nodded firmly.

"I know."

"So what's 'this'?" Paige asked. "You said we couldn't have know we'd have 'this'."

"I can't tell you that." She teased, her fingers tugging lightly on the front of Paige's jacket to pull her closer. "I'm seeing someone."

Paige smiled and leaned in, pressing her back gently into the door frame. Her mouth and throat felt dry as she planted a kiss at the corner of her mouth but when Paige moved to her lips a tingle moved through her tongue and her mouth watered at her breath and the scent it carried into her nose. Her tongue slipping forward into Paige's and her hands moving up around her neck to become lost in auburn waves. Just holding Paige close was enough but kissing her now sparked excitement in her blood and brought images into her head of making love under an amber sky. It felt like their own personal Heaven and something the whole world wasn't privy too even though she wanted to scream it for all ears. It was new and invigorating, something they shared together that happened to be the most beautiful thing in her life, maybe in the world. That wouldn't ever change.

As Paige pulled away from her lips she missed it instantly. But another beautiful thing was found just in watching her breathe, her eyes closed for a moment as she forced control into her body and trying her best to focus. She didn't want to do any of those things. Breathing wasn't necessary because Paige did that for her when they kissed and control and focus were so overrated anyways. All the same...she tried.

"Poor Peter though." She smiled, coaxing Paige's eyes to flutter open and a laugh to leave her lips.

"No, not poor Peter." Paige shook her head and stepped into the warehouse, flipping a switch on the wall and lighting hundreds of lights so high above. "I felt bad for him at first but honestly he kind of deserved that performance from Marley. He wakes everyone up too early."

"He told her he wakes her up hours before everyone else." She stated, letting her eyes move around the large open space. There were at least thirty cars parked and it looked more like a parking garage than a warehouse but essentially there wasn't much difference anyways.

"Then he's brave and he'll get no sympathy from me."

Paige stopped beside a vanilla colored Mercury Milan and clicked the locks, opening the door and holding it for her to climb in. Paige closed the door behind her and walked around the hood and the first thing she noticed was the smell inside the small space.

"How old is this?" She asked as Paige slipped into the driver's seat, looking around the pristine interior. The tan leather seats where perfect and it could have been straight from the dealership.

"Three years I think." Paige sighed. "I know. His control freak mentalities don't stop when the show does. Remind me to spill something before we bring it back. Marley had gum in here one time over Christmas and we sat for an hour in the grocery store parking lot because she refused to spit it out and he wouldn't drive until she did."

"You sat for an hour?"

"Yes and she smacked her gum the entire time, bubbles and all." Paige smiled. "I wanted to scream at her to just get rid of it but I wanted to see Peter give up more so that won out."

"Who gave up?" She asked, watching Paige start the engine and click a button on the visor that brought a large garage door to life.

"Who do you think?" Paige sighed, pulling through the wide door more carefully than was necessary. "She pulled it out of her mouth and threatened to drop it on the floor instead so he gave up pretty fast."

"You called her Marley." She noted. The name was beautiful and personally she couldn't imagine not liking it if it were own but Paige usually stuck to the shortened version so the change peaked her interest.

"A little insight about everyone." Paige started. "No one really likes calling her Mary. Actually we hate it but we gave up trying just to avoid pissing her off. You'll notice that even Riley avoids it whenever he can. Peter calls her Mary because she'll turn on him if he doesn't and he's weak but Riley...is more brave. He'll use 'Mar' or a pet name, anything to keep from having to call her Mary. I guess admitting that my choices hurt her is making me realize that I don't really know her the way I should. I should have taken the time."

Her hand shot out to shove Paige in the shoulder before she crossed her arms over her chest in frustration. "Oh so now you believe me?" She shook her head and smiled though part of her wanted to shove her again but that seemed reckless since she was driving . "I don't even know her as much as you do and I told you that."

"Exactly." Paige chuckled bashfully, trying to down play it all but it was clear that she was really bothered by the oversight and the rift it was causing. "I needed a person that wasn't involved to point it out to me. Thank you." She smiled. There was more there though.

Her eyes softened at seeing conflict in Paige's eyes. It was only there for a second but it was there all the same. "She could have said something too though. It's not just your fault, it's both of you. I don't have to be around you two long to see that there's a communication issue. Riley will back me up on that one."

"Honestly...Stella could back you up on that one too." Paige smiled sarcastically. "And yeah she could have said something but I should have said something. I went to her and didn't even apologize afterwards. She was just starting a relationship with Riley and I'm not even sure she told him but either way...it was selfish of me to use her for what I was missing when she was trying to be happy with him. After that it just became the elephant in the room."

"I don't think she sees it that way exactly." She assured. Her brief talks with Mary seemed more honest than the thoughts Paige was twisting around in her head, the doubts and the worry. She seemed happy that Paige had trusted her enough but learning the truth about Cassie could have shifted things a bit. Mary seemed immensely loyal to Paige and everyone else to the point where she put them all before herself. The same way Paige did. She understood it now. She could relate. Even after a week she could see herself doing anything she could to be there for any one of them. That's what families do. "You guys are a lot alike so I wouldn't be surprised if she's over analyzing this whole thing too. Just talk to her." She reached over the middle console and placed a hand on Paige's thigh as she drove. "Just please make sure she doesn't leave the show?" She pleaded. " There's no way I can figure out corsets and garter straps without her help."

Paige just smiled and allowed one hand to leave the steering wheel to cover hers. "I don't plan on letting her leave because I'm now very appreciative of both of those things."

"To the point where you'll wear them?" she asked hopefully, raising her eyebrows.

Paige choked on a laugh. "Uhh..not in your long beautiful life."

She smiled and stayed quiet beside Paige on the drive. The silence always felt nice. They said more without words but this time it was mostly because of the worry that seemed to keep surfacing on Paige's face, the slight crinkle between her eyes. Every few seconds Paige would squeeze her hand as if to assure her that it had nothing to do with them. She wouldn't have thought that anyway. Maybe a week ago she would have but...not now. If Paige made her feel anything it was confident in herself and free of doubt when it came to their relationship. She couldn't help smiling at hearing that word in her head. After a few minutes of silence and watching the sky scrapers in the city glowing outside her window...she spoke.

"So, you said elephant in the room." She started, shifting in her seat to face Paige whose eyes flickered over to her. "Why don't you have an elephant? It's a circus without an elephant."

Paige groaned and shook her head.

"What?" She pressed

"This is a conversation I have with Sydney every time I see her." Paige sighed. "She has her reasons and I have mine."

"What are yours?"

"You know how big the train cars are and how much traveling we do?"

She nodded "Yeah."

"I guess I just don't feel its humane to have an elephant trapped in a small train car for days at a time. I already hate it for Stella and now Ember but they're so much smaller so that gives them more room. An elephant would barely be able to stand let alone turn and move around. Stella has her space, she can jump up on to her open cage that's inside the enclosure so she can get some of the exercise she needs that way and Ember has some room to move but an elephant really wouldn't."

She smiled at Paige's reasons for standing her ground on the issue. Of course it was her compassion. "I think you just made me love you more." She smile widened as Paige brought their hands up and kissed her knuckle.

The parking lot they pulled into a few minutes later was dark but the headlights bounced off the turquoise car she recognized as Riley's Cougar. Paige was out of the car first and she moved to climb out quickly before Paige could open it for her, part of her curious to test something in particular. The night back in Rosewood when Paige had driven her home she had opened the truck door on her own and Paige face had fallen. Her reasons for opening the door on her own had been different then. She didn't want to prolong the pain she knew was coming as soon as her front door closed behind her. And it had come. Brutal and real and exactly what she needed to face at that point in time. Now was different. She felt strong and as Paige reached her side and took her hand she smiled proudly because she noticed the change too.

The parking lot was small and tall buildings reached towards the sky on all sides. They were downtown somewhere. Paige led the way around parked cars towards a rustic brick building with a glowing purple awning. The name 'Charq's' was scrolled across in a vintage car wash print.

"Are you sure I shouldn't have changed?" She asked, Paige holding the door open for her and her eyes falling on espresso wood floors and raw stone walls."

"I guarantee everyone is probably still wearing their show clothes so don't worry."

The entryway was casual but the dress she was wearing didn't feel so casual. Her eyes glanced down over the coral fabric and she quickly picked a piece of grass from the gauze. Her hand flew up to her hair.

"Um, Paige?"

Paige's eyes widened and she carefully inspected her hair, biting back a laugh when she found another piece of grass. She smiled too when she found two pieces clinging to the velvet on her back and one in her hair too.

"Okay maybe we should have changed." Paige chuckled. "Can I check other places later though? Just to make sure we're not missing any pieces that should be returned to their natural environment."

"Oh to protect the balance of the states ecosystem?" She nodded. "I'm all for preservation."

Paige blushed and let the door fully swing shut behind them, keeping her hand wrapped lightly around her waist.

"Table for two?" The girl behind the counter asked.

Paige squinted her eyes slightly in confusion and opened her mouth to speak. "Ummm..."

"Paige!" A voice shouted from the door behind the counter as it swung open to reveal a tall man with a burly beard. "The gangs here already, where have you been?" He grinned, walking around the counter to scoop her into a hug.

"Hey, long time." Paige smiled, dropping her arms to grab her hand again when he released her. "Em, this is Gavin he was a friend of my dad's and this...is Emily, my girlfriend."

Her heart raced.

"Pleasure to meet you." Gavin's smile widened as he reached to shake her hand. "Ladies, the usual table." He pointed towards the back corner of the restaurant where voices were flowing from. "Taylor, don't forget this face as long as you're working here. These girls are family too."

"Too?" Paige asked him, smiling at the teenage girl behind the counter who looked away sheepishly. "What did she do?"

"She tried to seat everyone on the other side of the restaurant and got chewed out. Mary seems a bit on edge tonight." He gave Paige a look of mock horror and turned away to walk back behind the counter.

"Greeeaaat." Paige sighed knowingly.

She nudged Paige's arm as they walked towards the table. "Just talk to her."

The seating arrangement was interesting to say the least but it was only made so at their arrival. Mary sat with Riley on her right and the only two chairs available were on her left. She wanted to give Paige the opportunity to talk to Mary but the way her whole body tensed at seeing her and the steak knife Mary was toying with made her think that the dinner table wouldn't be the best place. She opted to take the seat beside Mary and that would leave Paige beside her and Peter who sat at the head of the table. Sydney was on his other side followed by Mrs. Brennan then Sadie and Faye sat on the far end chatting it up with a young male waiter.

"Sorry we're late." Paige smiled and slipped into the chair beside her. "Have you guys been here long?" She asked Peter.

"No." He shook his head and looked across the table. "We were at Riley's and got caught up in the basement with the pool table. We've only been here for about ten minutes."

"Oh yes the pool table with ten feet on each side." Paige smiled and slid one of the several glasses of water over to her that a waitress was setting down.

Her eyes flickered over to Mary on her right and relaxed at seeing the same blue satin on her hips and the white corset paired with the tight black blazer. Riley was still clad in jeans, a tight black t-shirt and black classic pinstripe jacket that was left unbuttoned. His clothes looked the most normal between him, Mary, Paige and herself. Even Sadie and Faye had changed into shorts and tank tops. It made her curious what Mary and Riley had been up to that had kept them from changing. She knew the reason for her and Paige to still be wearing the same thing.

"Mary?" She whispered. She could still hear Paige talking to Peter but she kept her voice quiet and rested her elbow on the table and her head in hand. Still Mary's eyes flickered hesitantly over her shoulder at Paige before letting her blue eyes fall softly on her.

"You were so amazing, Ems." She smiled proudly and rested her head in her hands too.

"I wanted to say thank you." She smiled back. "I couldn't have done any of that by myself and you singing was just..." she sighed and shook her head lightly. Her mind felt overwhelmed by everything that had happened that day. Cassie and the fight, Paige being so hurt and Mary hurt too. Riley and Mary going out of their way to help her. The beautiful song Mary sang and Riley playing guitar which was a talent she hadn't even known of. Telling Paige she loved her and hearing her say it back. The gold fields.

"Please don't cry." Mary whispered softly and crinkled her eyebrows in worry. "You're made for all of this. It was breathtaking to watch. Trust me."

She smiled bashfully and fought back the burn in her eyes. It was easier than she expected because Mary's face changed suddenly and confused her. A soft and amused smile tugged at her lips as her blue eyes flickered down to the coral around her hips.

"What?" She asked, following Mary's gaze in a panic, expecting to see more grass. Her eyes saw nothing except the tiny pink feathers perfectly placed in the gauze. "What's wrong?"

She held her breath when Mary dropped her hand beneath the table and moved her fingers up under the pink gauze. She was about to question her but in one swift tug Mary pulled her hand away, now holding a white garter strap she had somehow missed. Of course she had missed one. She shook her head in disbelief and her cheeks flushed. Another mental note was made not to wear garter straps in dark fields. Mary dropped it discreetly into her purse hanging on the side of her chair and picked up her glass to take a quick drink of her water.

"So how was your reaction?" Mary whispered, a smile still tugging at her lips and reaching her blue eyes which only made her smile in return and blush more than she already was.

"Natural and intense."

Mary smiled now. "Good." She whispered still keeping her words soft enough to only be heard by her ears. She smiled too as Mary glanced across the table and frowned at Sadie and Faye still flirting with the waiter.

"Did your test results come back yet, girls?" Mary asked. "From the free clinic?"

Their eyes widened at her and so did the waiter's though his were directed at Sadie and Faye. "What the fuck?" Sadie snapped.

It was too late though. Mary won and the waiter turned to flee quickly. "What?" she shouted after him. "Its flu season!"

"You're such a bitch." Sadie laughed. Part of her was mad but mostly she smiled like she expected nothing less.

Mary cocked her head sweetly. "And you're a slut."

"I'm a good one though." Sadie shot. "I'm having fun. Ever heard of that?"

"The kind of fun that itches and burns when you pee?" Mary smiled. "Respect your bodies."

Sadie sighed. "You're just mad because you're all domesticated with flame boy over there and his messy hair."

"And green eyes." Faye added, swooning over him from across the table.

"Wait...Flame boy?" Riley choked on his water. "Hey she gets sex anytime she wants it and you two pay for it. That must get difficult on a moving train without an ATM."

"Oh I know she gets it." Sadie nodded surely. "The walls are too fucking thin."

"How many guys did I pull out of your bed this morning?" Mary arched her eyebrows and rested her chin in her hand. "Two? Tell me about thin walls again."

Riley frowned and looked at her know. "Were they dressed?"

Mary smiled at him sweetly. "Yes because everyone has gang bangs wearing clothes." She rolled her eyes.

"Mother fucker." He pouted.

"Relax." She sighed. "One was a blonde and regardless I don't want anything these two have touched. Hows the lip gloss, Sadie?"

Sadie's eyes turned to slits burning into her from across the table. "That's gross, Mary."

"Stay out of my fucking room then." She shrugged.

"Riley!"

His eyes snapped warily across the table to his mom and the stern look in her eyes. "Yes ma'am?"

"Just get a house and settle down her."

"Oh fuck here we go again." He mumbled. Mary's hand moved to shove him but he grabbed it before she made contact without breaking away from his moms eyes, holding it gingerly in his and letting them rest on his lap instead. "Can we just have the lake cabin in Oregon that no one ever uses?" He asked sarcastically, rolling his eyes at his mom.

Mary's whole body tensed beside her suddenly. She went completely still and appeared to be biting her tongue as her eyes moved to study him. He was looking at her too and tracing his thumb lightly over her bruised knuckles. "One game?" She asked, standing from the table when he nodded and leading him over to a pool table just across the room.

Her eyes followed them and Mary seemed to turn on him the second they reached it, first grabbing a cue stick and then whispering quietly. She could see their lips moving but couldn't make out the words and instantly it felt like an invasion of privacy but something kept her eyes on them talking. Something seemed wrong about the way Mary was standing. She looked tired even despite the flawless thin pallet of blue and red powder around her eyes. Maybe it was the way she couldn't even look at Riley as he spoke to her. Her presence was usually strong but now it was nothing resembling. The day had been so long though and even Riley looked tired. The sound of Peter yawning brought her eyes back to Paige only to find her watching them over her shoulder too.

"They have really good food here." Paige smiled, turning around in her seat again. "The deserts are the best though."

The waiter came back a few minutes later though he seemed less enthusiastic than before and he seemed to stand a few extra feet back when he took Sadie and Faye's orders. It didn't stop them from flirting but now it just looked a little pitiful. Paige was right though. Fifteen minutes later Mary and Riley returned to the table and the waiter returned with their orders. The food was amazing. She ordered a mushroom ravioli and Paige had a cobb salad that she kept stealing bites from.

"You can have it if you want." She smiled as Paige's fork moved to steal a piece of pasta from her plate. "I'll trade you."

"Yeeees." Paige grinned and slid her plate closer and they continued to swipe bites.

"Are you not eating?" Riley whispered, bringing her eyes over to see Mary picking quietly over a breadstick and breaking it into pieces before dropping it all together and resting her chin in her hand.

She shook her head lightly but didn't answer him, his hand moving to rest on her thigh under the table in a soothing way. "Oh my God yes." Mary smiled, perking up when the waiter brought a variety tray of cupcakes and placed them in the center of the table.

"I think this is the main reason we come here." Paige laughed and even Mary smiled with her. It seemed like their first acknowledgment of each other all night. Cupcakes to soothe the tension she had sitting on both sides of her.

"Because they're amazing. Coconut..." Mary noted, handing a small plate with a white cupcake over to Paige without really looking at her. She went right to work passing out others. Sadie and Faye fought over pink cupcakes glittered in pink sprinkles and Peter snagged a creamy yellow with a sliver of lemon on top.

"Black Forest.." Mary smiled passing rich chocolate over to Riley with a cherry on top. "Ems?"

"I'm not picky." She shook her head. "Whatever's left is fine."

"Theres like ten left." Mary sighed, shrugging when she failed to pick a flavor. There were so many. A light green whipped frosting with a tiny pistachio on top and a classic vanilla. "Fine, you should eat this one." Mary bit back a light smile and placed a plate in front of her.

Her cheeks blushed instantly and Paige choked quietly on a bite of her cupcake but Mary paid no attention and carried on with her task. It was good that way because no one else caught on to the significance of the red velvet cupcake sitting on her plate. Well...aside from Paige who seemed to be fighting a smile. The pink on her cheeks gave her away.

"Is the coconut good?" She cleared her throat, teasing her way around the cream cheese frosting on the red velvet cupcake.

A few seconds without an answer and she glanced at Paige to see her staring at the smooth movements of her finger through icing. Paige's lips part slightly as she watched her bring the frosting to her mouth. Paige and Mary's enthusiasm over these was not exaggerated. It melted on the tongue like warm butter and was creamy without being too sweet. They were perfect.

"You really shouldnt be allowed to eat." Paige smiled. "At all. You and food could win a war as the weapon of choice."

Her eyes widened in confusion. "What?" She flushed embarrassingly and flickered her eyes at everyone lost in their own conversations.

Sadie was licking the frosting off of hers but she was trying to be sexy with the waiter and only ended up with pink icing all over her chin. Mrs. Brennan was eating a lavender colored cupcake properly with a fork and that just seemed all kinds of wrong. She looked to Mary last. If anyone would look good eating a cupcake it would be her with natural way of being flawless. Mary in general was sensual, like sex in human form...the pure essence that was so effortless and natural. She was shifted in her seat towards Riley talking quietly and cupcake on her plate remained untouched. So much for pointers.

"Whats wrong with me and food?" She argued, turning back towards Paige and pushing her small plate away from her in defeat. "I'm just eating it."

"Yes..." Paige smiled, scooting the plate closer again. "Yes please just keep eating it."

She laughed when Paige rested her head dreamily in her hands and watched, waiting. Her hand moved instantly to cup Paige's cheek as she pressed a kiss to lips, smiling into her mouth when she was greeted eagerly with the taste of coconut on her tongue as it grazed just barely across her lower lip. Her pulse began hammering through her veins and part of her swore she could still pick out the flavor of her body on Paige's lips too.

"How long do these dinners usually last?" She whispered against her lips.

"Um...bathroom?" Paige smiled hopefully and sighed just as quickly. "They last too long." She declared.

She groaned lightly and pulled away to pick at the red velvet cupcake on her plate, her eyes moving over to Mary's plate again.

"What kind is that?" She asked pointing to cupcake on Mary's plate. It was cream in color and drizzled with a gooey amber swirl.

"Maple Bacon Spring Break ."

"Bacon?"

Mary nodded. "Yeah you know this morning when I made pancakes and bacon for breakfast and the syrup runs into the bacon? Its good right?"

"No." Riley frowned in disagreement. "Bacon is salty and perfect. It's not supposed to be sweet. That's disgusting."

"It's good." Paige agreed beside her.

"Emily can be the tie-breaker." Riley suggested, leaning closer to watch.

"We don't need a fucking tiebreaker." Paige sighed restlessly.

"Yeah its Paige and I against you." Mary added. "If Emily doesn't like it then we'll need a tiebreaker and if she does then you're just more outnumbered by women than you already are."

Riley shook his head firmly. "No, Peter doesn't like them either."

Mary's eyes snapped to Peter at the end of the table and his shoulders sunk at being tossed under the Mary Bus. "How did you like the show?" She smiled, biting the corner of her lip.

His cheeks flushed but his body frame seemed to strengthen stubbornly though he refused to look at her. "I don't like syrup on my bacon."

The sound of Riley's 'whoop' made her jump. She reached for the cupcake on her own and took a bite. The frosting was already melting on her tongue but the process was so much faster with the amber swirl of syrup mixed in. It dissolved on its own and chewing was hardly necessary but her teeth crunched into a small piece of salty smokey bacon and her mouth watered.

"That's amazing." She smiled

"Suck it." Mary whispered, smiling at Peter and nudging Riley's shoulder as he pressed a kiss of defeat to her cheek.

"As if cupcakes could get more unhealthy and more amazing at the same time..." Paige smiled.

"Like the way we dip pizza in that garlic butter sauce?" Riley chuckled and everyone nodded in approval.

Within twenty minutes everyone started standing from the table but even then it was a gradual process. Peter and Sydney meandered over to the entryway counter to pay for the check but Mrs. Brennan seemed to be fighting with them over who would pay. Sadie and Faye were the first out the door and Mary and Riley moved slowly over to the counter too.

"Where does everyone go when you're here?" She asked, pushing her chair back in and taking Paige's hand. "You told me they stay with family or get hotels?"

"Yeah mostly." Paige nodded. "Mary and Riley usually stay at his parents house or get a hotel for obvious reason of wanting more privacy. The girls go to Sadie's friend's house and Peter...well...Sydney lives here so she has her own place. The train is usually quiet."

"Where do you go?" She asked, looking at Paige as they stopped beside the front door. She kept her voice quiet and it wasn't easy beside the bustling voices of everyone else laughing and carrying on. "Where do you go during off-season? When the show stops."
Paige smiled and pointed out the glass front door. It was dark and hard to see through the tinted glass. "What?" She asked, squinting her eyes as she tried to see.

"Oh hey Peter?" Paige called, distracted briefly and reaching for Peter's arm as he opened the door to walk outside. "We took your car."

"No gum please." He smiled moving his eyes briefly to Mary who just smiled. "And no speeding. It's not your bike."

"Its faster." Mary corrected. "I took it out a few times and I chewed my gum while driving." She patted his back and squeezed out the door in front of him. Riley's arm was wrapped around the blue satin on her waist and she still wore her thin black nylon and knee-high black laced boots. Mary stopped halfway through the doorway and turned back to them, holding something out to her in her hand. "You're welcome." She smiled.

"Sorry, Peter." Riley smiled, hugging Mary closer and nearly stumbling over her through the tight doorway, making her laugh.

Her eyes went down to a small yellow pack of juicy fruit gum now in her hand and she heard Peter scoff at Mary as she and Riley disappeared through the door. Her first thought was to be nice and surrender it to Peter so he that wouldn't worry about his car but Paige grabbed her free hand too quickly and tugged her out the door after Mary and Riley. The look on her face said she was taking her advice on trying to talk to Mary and she needed to. For obvious reasons the air needed to be cleared because time had a way of making unsolved problems fester under the skin until you were left with nothing but negative emotions. Fear and resentment, sadness, guilt and more pain. Things ignored got worse not better. Ask the seven years she spent denying that there was anything wrong with the way she was living. It almost killed her.


The parking lot was less crowded with vehicles when she and Emily broke out of the restaurant. The pavement was now drenched in rain but it had stopped already and now the air was just thick and warm. The kind that made breathing hard but that could have just been the worry coursing through her body. Dinner had felt too long and while it was nice seeing everyone the only two people she didn't see daily were Sydney and Mrs. Brennan. Usually more people were there. Riley's dad when he wasn't working late nights or sleeping when he got the rare night home. That would explain why Molly wasn't here either. She usually fought her for coconut cupcakes and then picked at it on her plate because she didn't really even like them. Molly just liked winning and after a minute or two she'd surrender the coconut and snag a strawberry instead. Dinner felt too long because she wanted to be spending time alone with Emily, that was the main reason, but she also wanted to try to talk to Mary and fix what she could. There was so much but the priority was to keep her from leaving first and foremost. She'd lost family before and she clung tightly to the few people she had left now. It might be selfish or wrong but she needed them. All of them and she didn't want to lose Mary. Riley would be gone too and the idea of them not being around was unbearable.

Riley was sitting on the hood of the turquoise car flicking a cigarette, his free hand resting on the thin nylon covering the back of her thigh with her standing between his legs. Her arms were draped lightly over his shoulders but she dropped them and turned her head towards them when Riley's eyes signalled them approaching her from behind. She had been smiling though weakly. She wasn't now. It faded and was replaced with a soft stirring conflict, something in particular that she was fighting her way through. She knew the feeling. Right now and all day she was feeling it too. The feeling of something so important so close to slipping away and it being completely out of her control. It was the reliance on another person to help keep it from being lost. She couldn't keep her family together on her own. She needed them to want it too and if they didn't...she'd lose a lot all over again.

"Please don't tell me you're really trying to leave all of this." She breathed, swallowing back the dryness in her throat as Mary turned from Riley's grasp to face her completely.

"I wasn't planning on telling you that." Mary shook her head lightly. Her words were soft and so were Riley's green eyes and that only made the idea of losing them that much more painful and possible. They were a few of the only people left that still looked at her that way. He ducked his head away now and refused to meet her eyes, focusing on the lit cigarette in his hand. "Paige I just..."

"Good because you can't leave." She said surely. "We need you guys." pain came again when she imagined the stillness on the train that would come from them both being gone.

"Paige...I almost fucked up a lot for you." Marley argued. "Hitting Cassie ...i just. It could have blown up in my face and you would have been the one to take the heat from it. The show..." Mary squeezed her eyes shut it concentration.

She'd seen Mary in a lot of moods but she'd never seen her stumble over her words before. Not once. The girl was made with a built-in response for everything. She always had something to say without having to plan it or think it through. Something was wrong.

"Fuck...even my stunt with Peter probably broke rules not to mention safety violations from dancing on electrical equipment and then just me being a complete bitch to you and him."

"But its fine Marley it..." she cut her words off because Mary flinched at her using her name. It was a look of disgust but she couldn't tell if Mary intended it for her or for herself. It wasnt the pressing topic right now though. "You didn't mess anything up for me or for the show and either way it would have been my fault. I let Cassie get her foot in the door to hurt you and I let her have that power over me."

"Cassie isn't your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. What she said about me...didnt hurt me Paige. It's just background noise and nothing I havent heard before. The last thing that would hurt me is something coming from her mouth. But what she did to you..." Mary shook her head and she could see her jaw tense. Her failing to find words again formed a knot in the pit of her stomach.

"She did it to me though, Mary. I'm over all of it because I've had four years to get over it." Mary flinched again and this time she took a step back, recoiling at her words. She just got more worried and the knot in her stomach tightened painfully. Mary was doing everything she'd never seen her do before today and she felt desperate now and weak at the same time. "You can't just leave."

"Mary?" Mrs. Brennan appeared oblivious to their conversation and handed Mary a set of keys before turning to rejoin Peter and Sydney under the restaurant awning.

"What are those for?" She asked, eying the keys with a soft purple rabbit's foot and a state key chain hanging from the metal loop.

Marley looked down at them in her hand and sighed "She had a few drinks so I'm driving her and Sydney back home. I think we're crashing there tonight. Riley and Peter are gonna stay here a little longer with his car."

"Oh." She nodded. Her stomach sank when Riley stood up from the hood of his car. Desperation kicked in even more. "Can we talk about everything?"

"Yeah." Mary nodded, moving away from them with Riley to join his mom, Sydney and Peter. "Yeah later though.. k?" She nodded weakly.

"Okay."

"What times the train leaving tomorrow?" Mary asked, making a backwards pace.

"Five." She replied, squeezing Emily's hand who stood quietly at her side and finding relief when she returned the pressure. "You'll be there?"

Mary nodded. "Yeah." Her blue eyes lingered on them for a moment then she turned away, the warm wind kicking up chocolate curls down her back.

It took her a few moments before she could relax enough to move. Riley moved to open the restaurant door, waiting for Peter who wrapped Marley in a hug to say goodnight. Her body tried to relaxed at seeing Peter holding her and giving the comfort she herself wanted to give but something kept her from finding solace in the gesture. She did however find comfort in Mary saying she wasn't leaving. A large weight lifted from her chest and for the first time in the last two hours she felt like she was breathing again. The thought of the hours before those two had her turning to Emily with a smile.

Feel better now?" Emily smiled.

"Yes." She nodded and pulled her close, breathing deeply into the hair over her ear. "You asked where I go during breaks in the show..." she whispered, pulling back and averting her eyes up. Emily followed her gaze to a brick building behind the restaurant parking lot, only half height to the cities few skyscrapers, if they could even be called that. Compared to Rosewood they were big.

"You stay up there?" Emily asked. "A hotel?"

"No." She shook her head and took Emily's hand. "My loft."

The smile widened on Emily's lips. "You have a loft?"

"I don't live on an empty train all winter." She chuckled. "Though I do sometimes just for a night or two."

"I would too." Emily nodded. "It would definitely be something I'd miss already and I've been with you guys for a week."

She pulled Emily closer and wrapped her arm around shoulder as they walked to the entrance of the building. Sadly she spent more than one or two nights on the train alone when it stopped. Mary and Riley stayed around his parent's or traveled and Peter was always with Sydney and Riley's family too. She'd come here to the loft sometimes but mostly the train in the sheltered confines of its warehouse was where she could usually be found. She was close to Stella that way and close to work projects. She could get lost in managing the stables and the tiger enclosure or be found inside the tent making repairs or upgrades to outdated equipment. The office still had paperwork to file and sign and bills to pay. So basically she had nothing outside of work so that's where she stayed. She loved all of it but the idea of taking Emily to a place more solid and stationary made her finally feel like the show wasn't the most important thing in her life. At least...it wasn't the only thing.

The lobby was small and warm with raw marble floors and rustic brick walls. The ceilings showed exposed metal air vents and piping in warehouse fashion. It wasn' the most elegant in the city by far but it wasn't the worst either. The neighborhood was artsy and full of exhibits and small coffee shops and bookstores. There was a sushi place on the next street up that was basically like Subway. Chose your way custom style ordering. One of her favorites. The only reason she got this place was to keep everyone from wondering where she stayed during off-season. If they thought she was here they wouldn't bother trying to find her at the grounds where she really was.

The elevator opened them up to the S level. It went by letters instead of numbers which was probably just to be clever and original but it wasn't thought out very well because there were only twenty floors. Part of her wanted to stick post-its up for the missing letters because something about it was annoying to her.

"I don't really have a lot here." She reached into her back pocket for her small ring of keys, her heart nearly sinking when the thought of them being lost out in the field unwillingly crossed her mind. They were still safe in her pocket though along with the car keys. "There's no food but I might have bottled water and possibly a Snickers bar in the freezer from five months ago."

"Good thing we ate already."

It felt weird saying that out loud. Time. How much of it was spent moving. She loved it obviously but it was still weird to say that she hadn't been back to a permanent residence in so long. The small spider plant she had in the window ended up at Riley's. The idea of it dying when she'd been the one to buy it made her sad. Poor plant didn't pick its owner so why should it have to suffer. Four years later and it was thriving in Mrs. Brennan's kitchen window.

She slipped the key into the dark wood door and held it open for Emily, flipping a switch beside the door and bringing light into the space. It was just a studio. Rich dark wood floor that were nearly black and exposed brick with the giant windows running the length of the one outside wall. The ceiling still showcased exposed vents and piping but the ceiling itself was white-painted pine. The windows were the best part but everything else was mostly bare. The only door was in the far back corner where the bathroom was. She had a bed centered over by the window and a small kitchen with a bar counter area to the right of the entryway. On the left were two couches and a TV along with a small bookshelf and fireplace. Rugs were necessary though and some of the only decorative items in the room. In the winter the floors got cold so plush rugs helped ease that discomfort.

"This is great." Emily smiled. "Do you just pay rent on it year round? Even when you're gone or..."

"No, its mine." She moved away from Emily's side to dropped both sets of keys to the counter top.

"Its yours?" Emily arched her eyebrows and looked around.

"Yeah."

It really made no sense why she rarely used the studio. The train in off-season was in its warehouse so it was warm but the temperatures couldn't be adjusted. If it was warm it was warm and if it was cold she'd steal blankets from other rooms and bury herself. The temperatures didn't usually fluctuate too much for it to be uncomfortable. Luckily she'd thought to put in bathrooms for the performers in the costume warehouse and they housed stall showers to wash makeup off. Driving back here to shower everyday could get annoying fast. Usually she'd spend the weekdays on the grounds and then take a two or three-day weekend to rest up here. Something relaxed in her body right now. It was one thing seeing Emily on the train which was her home more than any other place but...seeing Emily standing here was something else. She could see them so clearly in a world without the show. She could see Emily here with her long after this night.

"Do you wanna stay here?" She asked. "For tonight? We don't have to go back to the train yet if you don't want to."

Emily's eyes darted down over her dress and she shrugged. "As long as you don't mind me wearing this all night."

She smiled and bit her lip as she moved closer to Emily. "I do mind actually." She whispered, tucking a piece of Emily's hair behind her ear and letting her eyes fall down over the coral covering her chest. "But...I have some clothes here and the girls already pointed out that we're pretty much the same size."

"Okay because I don't think this would be very easy to sleep in." Emily smiled.

"You're not allowed to sleep in that regardless." She shook her head and nipped lightly at Emily's bottom lip until she heard her breathing falter. "I don't want grass in my bed." The hand she expected shot up to shove her but she stepped back and laughed. "Always so pushy." She teased and turned towards a small dresser beside the bed, pulling open the second drawer and looking at Emily. "Take your pick. You can have the first shower. There's towels and soap in there already." She pointed to the door in the corner beside the last window and stepped back to sit on the edge of the bed so Emily could pick something to wear. Mostly it was just t-shirts and shorts and a few pairs of flannel pants.

"Why do I get the first shower?" Emily asked, reaching around into the drawer.

She shrugged. "Why not the first? You're the guest here and I'm just being myself."

"Your chivalrous self?" Emily smiled, her hand freezing its movement through fabrics. She could see Emily's eyebrows furrow slightly and her swallow hard but her eyes stayed away from hers. "I mean...why does there have to be a second?"

Her throat tightened now and her lips fell open to speak but it was hard. Of course the possibility of touching Emily again was in the forethought of her mind but it was still one of those things that didn't seem real. It happened and it was beautiful...amazing...perfect. It's like her mind didn't want to let her fully believe that there was the possibility of it happening again. It was all too good to be true and yet it was true.

"Ther.." she cleared her throat and stood up from the edge of the bed. "There doesn't have to be." She stepped closer and Emily dropped her hand from the drawer, foregoing it all and breathing softly.

She reached for Emily's hand and her heart raced the moment the heat of her fingers made contact. She could still feel Emily's body tremble under her touch and the scent of her skin made her weak. Meeting her eyes questioningly she found only certainty in Emily's. She was nervous all over again and she could see that Emily was too but it faded the longer she touched her, locking their fingers together and taking slow steps across the room. It was almost as if she expected Emily to change her mind. Old habits die hard but Emily didn't pull away.

The bathroom was small, still bigger than what she had on the train but instead of the tub and shower there was a free-standing shower with a glass door and slate stone walls in a blueish gray color. It was probably large enough for four but just noting that detail twisted her stomach into tighter knots because she just wanted Emily with her and the approaching moment made her heart beat faster. She moved to flip the light on the wall and brighten the room but the moon made everything glow already and Emily stopped her hand, turning her around to face her and intertwining their fingers in the air between them.

She could see Emily tense her jaw slightly but quickly her lips parted to allow the escape of shaking breath. Emily's fingers slipped away from her and moved to buttons on her shirt, sliding the white and red velvet jacket from her shoulders and letting them fall to the floor together. She held her breath as Emily brought her hands to flat of stomach, dragging her fingers lightly up her sides and spreading goosebumps across her skin, watching them rise. She moved to stop the traveling of her hand over the red clinging to her left breast, holding Emily's hand firmly there in her own and forcing her to meet her eyes again. The beating in her chest was only for her and she wanted Emily to know that.

"Em?"

"I'm happy." Emily whispered softly. The melting of her eyes told her it was the truth. She could always find what Emily was feeling in her eyes. More beautifully she knew she played a part in making Emily happy. There was a tremble on her lips and the moonlight through the window made the goosebumps on Emily's arms visible in the darkness. She took a step back and opened the glass shower door to turn it on and within seconds steam was filling the room. She wanted the goosebumps on Emily's skin to be gone and more importantly she wanted to the one make them disappear.

She reached around to unclasp her red bra and dropped it to the floor before tugging off her jeans and boots, the long strands of her hair tickling across her chest. Her eyes closed and she forced a deep breath before looking at Emily standing motionless behind her. Her hands were locked together in front of her stomach but her eyes were drinking in her body and not one second of her gaze made her feel anything but loved. She stepped closer and took Emily's hand, turning her away from her and running her fingers slowly over the zipper of the coral dress, tugging it down and letting it fall to the floor. Her hands made easy work of the strings on the corset but she kept her touch feather light and it soon fell too leaving only pale blue lace around her hips. Running her hand up the warm skin of Emily's back she brushed her hair from her shoulder and brought her lips to her neck to kiss softly. As soon as she lifted her lips to kiss again Emily turned, catching her off guard and melting into her mouth instead. She gasped into Emily's parted lips as she was walked back into the shower. One of Emily's hands pressed into her hip and the other cupped her cheek to deepen the kiss. She broke away from Emily's lips and gasped again as hot water poured down her back and prickled against her skin. The heat from the water and Emily's tongue sparked her fever to push back, to touch her the way she had earlier and to maybe never stop. The release of Emily's body under the strokes of her tongue replayed in her mind all night. Since the moment it happened it hadn't left her thoughts. The first time her fingertips ran into the heat of her body.

She moved into Emily now, pinning her gently into the blue slate wall and bringing her hands to clutch at the now drenched lace clinging to her hips. She worked them down slowly, not allowing herself to breathe or break away from their kiss. Emily Fields loved her, half a country away from Rosewood and an entire world away from everyone else. This apartment that she never really used was a place she never expected Emily to be but what surprised her was how good she looked here, how natural it felt to have her here. Every time she was here alone it felt wrong, like she was missing something. She'd always chalked it up to being caused by her being here alone and maybe that was still true but not just any person could fill the missing piece in her life. She'd been down that road and failed. It had always been Emily for her. The gold 'E' hanging around her neck was proof of that and she'd never once doubted it. It was just so impossible...until it was the most possible thing in the world.

"Emily." She whispered against her lips, reaching to pull her thigh up as she pressed her into the warm stone wall. Saying her name somehow made it more real that she was here.

She pulled away from her lips to look at her. The ends of her raven hair were wet now and clinging to her neck and the tender skin there was calling her. It was like the water running down her neck had been the first she'd seen in her life and throat felt too dry. Her lips found the spot behind Emily's ear and she could feel her relax under her tongue as Emily gasped and brought her hands up into her hair to hold her close. She could stay in this spot, the pulse of Emily's neck beneath her lips and the scent that came from the water soaking her hair and other parts of her body. Perfume in the steam.

"Paige..." She felt Emily's lips press into her hair, breathing deeply. "Please touch me."

Her whole body caught on fire at the pure need in Emily's voice, her body begging in the form of words. She nipped lightly at her ear and pulled her thigh up higher around her hip, bracing Emily against the wall and snaking her fingers to meet with the heat between her legs. The water was hot but nothing compared to the flame of Emily's body and fire that was fueled when she let out a soft moan in her ear. She moved in soft circles over Emily's flesh, feeling the tension forming beneath her fingertips with each stroke. She didn't have to press. The softest brush of her finger made Emily tremble, her body already so sensitive from their first time. The smooth arousal of Emily's body made her smile because she was responsible for it. Emily was thinking of her, wanting her.

The taste of Emily's skin made her mouth water as moved her lips across her jaw. The steam in the small space worked into her lungs but it wasn't as hot as Emily's breath against her cheek as she panted, her teeth sunk into her lip and head thrown back against the stone. Emily released her lip when she ended the trail of kisses at her mouth, moaning into their kiss instead.

"Fuck." Emily gasped, her eyes slamming shut as she slipped into her body and curled her fingers in steady strokes.

She moaned too and smiled against her lips, sucking on the tip of her tongue lightly at first then harder. The profanity was in its proper context now and exactly the one she was thinking of the night before.

"I told you I'd work on getting you to say that word more."

Emily smiled and bit her lip again, stifling her urge to cry out and she didn't want Emily to hold anything back. She wanted her completely undone. She pressed her thumb into her and bit her own lip as Emily trembled against the wall, her knees weakening as she moaned and began to shudder against her body. She felt how close she was and it started a pulse between her thighs. She pulled back, stopping her movements for a second to let Emily slip away from the edge and watching her hunger grow in her eyes. When they darkened more a second later she flicked her wrist again and worked her higher just to slow her movements all over again. The sounds leaving Emily's lips threatened to bring her to her knees. Her eyes were in awe over Emily every time her back arched off the stone wall, every time her hips jerked up to meet her hand, craving more.

She continued the curling of her fingers and sunk to her knees before Emily, grabbing her thigh with her free hand and bringing it up over her shoulder to open her more. There was enough light from the window to allow her the sight of water beads running down the caramel of Emily's skin but it was the slicker heat covering her fingers that drew her mouth in. Her tongue slipped forward when Emily moaned louder and the cry that escaped her lips as she rolled over her flesh made the blood through her veins feel like a lit river of gasoline. The sugar of Emily's body was something amazing all on its own. Each extraction of her fingers brought more of the flavor for her tongue to savor and quickened a throbbing between her own thighs. She closed her lips over Emily and pressed the pad of her tongue into firm circles while fingers twisted tightly into her hair. Her thighs twitched slightly and she moved her hands to her underarms and pulled her away, breaking her focus for a moment from being so lost in drinking her in. She was close. Emily wanted her somewhere else and she moved on her own without direction to find out where, licking across her stomach and up to bite tenderly on her nipple before finally finding her lips. The speed of her wrist picked up and she curled her fingers against Emily's body, melting into the curves of her tongue. The cry that escaped Emily's throat in response...the gasp into her mouth was the most sensual and intense sound she'd ever heard.

"Oh God..." Emily exhaled, her voice shaking and her eyes snapping closed while her fingers clutched at the back of her neck. Slowly she rocked her hand with Emily's hip, drawing out her orgasm at its peak until her head fell forward into her shoulder and warmth coated her fingers and trickled down her wrist. A gutteral moan left her own throat as she retracted her fingers slowly, her hand shaking from the intensity coursing through her veins and making her fist clench to hide it. She hadn't been with anyone but Cassie. Their sexual relationship had only gone on for a few weeks but it was different. Detached and distant. She'd never thought of herself as being capable of bringing pleasure so strongly to someone. Someone who loved her and wanted her in all ways she'd never had.

Before she could focus on anything other than the scent of Emily's body in the heavy steam the water was shut off and Emily was holding her hand, stilling the tremble there effortlessly and pulling her from the bathroom past windows showcasing the city lights. She shivered at the sudden change in temperature, water beading down her skin and slightly disoriented from the quick reversal of their roles. All she could see was her girlfriend trembling under a stream of hot water, under her touch.

Emily stopped beside the bed and fell only to her mouth as she pressed her back on to the white down comforter. Securing a hold on Emily's waist she pulled her down on top of her and her stomach knotted again. A fluttering of the blood in her veins as her body anticipated Emily's moves. The way her wet hair dripped down on to her ribcage as Emily straddled her hips and lowered her mouth to her breast. Air was taken from her lungs by Emily's lips wrapping around her nipple, an exhale that made her body ache to have her closer. Her head was spinning already but when Emily brought fingers to roll over her other breast as she bit softly her vision shifted bringing her back arching off the bed wanting more. One hand moved to bury softly in Emily's hair while the other went to clutch at her hip. That was soon taken from her has Emily shifted herself lower, forsaking her breast to kiss a path down stomach. She stopped at the spot on her hip that she seemed to love and it made her smile. Something as small as her thermal shirts exposing it without her meaning to. Emily kept finding her way to that spot and the way she kissed the skin softly made her melt so much more than she thought possible.

The tenderness of her lips distracted her from everything else and pulled her eyes closed, enjoying the heat of Emily's lips lingering in a place she loved. Her lips were so hot that she could still feel them there even after Emily had moved lower, her body aching more. She chanced a look down at her and instantly her eyes closed again as the heat of her tongue pressed into her, heat spreading from her lips. She shivered, the warmth of her breath such a contrast to the air of the room cooling the water on her skin. She felt too hot and too cold and those werent the only things fighting for dominance. Nobody had ever made her feel such a whirlwind of emotion more than Emily did. Nobody came close or ever could. She felt sad at missing out on a love like this for so long, wondering if she'd stayed in Rosewood would she have lost so much time with her, would she have found her sooner. She envied everyone that knew Emily before she did, everyone who knew her light. Those dark silhouettes of the mountains in Rosewood were never Emily. Her skin glowed against the darkness in the room, brighter than the city lights outside the window.

Her hips jerked up as Emily pressed the pad of her tongue in slow circles and thrust her fingers inside of her and she couldn't stifle the moan that left her lips. She moved her hand down to become lost in her damp hair, holding her close and not ever caring to let go. Her body was wound tightly just at the thought of what Emily was doing to her and it seemed to have other plans about her letting go. The primal need surfaced more with each stroke of Emily's tongue until she couldn't feel the rest of her body. She couldn't think. Her skin prickled and burned and a soft buzzing sounded in her ears along with a dryness in her mouth. She swallowed hard trying to wet her tongue but tingling spread through her hips and localized under Emily's lips and while her mouth lacked moisture she felt her body water as Emily's fingers moved with the rocking of her hips. She released Emily's hair, worried of hurting her, her hands moving to clutch at the white fabric beneath her body.

"Em..." she moaned. Tension released under Emily's lips and saying her name made her feel grounded when her whole body was suspended in pleasure. Saying her name pushed her over the edge and had her biting her tongue.

Her lips quivered and movements slowed but her throat tightened without warning. She didn't know why or how but every physical feeling in her body grabbed hold of every emotion she felt and ripped them to the surface at once. She couldn't see through the blurring of her eyes and her heart clenched painfully because Emily was somehow too far away. She wasn't close enough and she missed her. She missed every part of her, how soft she was and her smile. And then Emily was there pressing into her lips and bringing her fingers up to wipe away the tears betraying her. A drop fell from Emily on to her cheek and made her pull back to look at her, fighting away her tears to focus on her only. There was something she wanted Emily to know.

"Hey.." she soothed, cupping Emily's face gently in her hands and pulling her closer. The last thing she wanted was to see Emily cry even if it was for good reasons. "Can I tell you something?"

Emily smiled and pushed back the moisture in her eyes. "Yes." She nodded, her eyes following her hand as it moved to pick up the cluster of charms hanging around her neck.

She singled out the little "E" and held it up to the light coming through the window, pulling Emily down to her shoulder to listen.
"I saw this at a little shop across the street a few weeks after Cassie left. It was the first time I'd really smiled in a long time and buying it felt like I was putting everything left of myself into false hope so I couldn't get hurt again. I just had no way of knowing that it wasn't false." She felt Emily tighten her arm around her side, hugging her closely and nestling her face under her chin. "It's just metal. It couldn't hurt me the way someone else could but it was somehow still you. I just thought that if I had it it might keep me from wanting the real thing so much. That I'd be happy enough alone just pretending that I had a piece of you." She tilted her head down to press her lips into Emily's hair. "I still wanted you.' Her eyes stung again and her airway was threatening to close in on her. "I always wanted you and this reminded me everyday of what love was supposed to feel like, of what I felt for you without knowing you and what I never felt for Cassie." She whispered. Emily's hand moved to take the tiny letter in her fingers, holding it gently and twisting it to reflect the light. "That day I saw the sale sign on this place and I bought it. It wasnt related or anything, just coincidence but now that you're here it feels like it happened for a reason."

She moved her hand to pull the white comforter over their bodies and she shifted carefully on to her side, bringing Emily closer to her chest. She smiled when Emily tucked her head under her chin and closed her hand tightly over the cluster of charms in her hand, holding them protectively. Her tiny reminders of all the people she loved more than her own life.

"I love you so much." Emily whispered.

She pressed her lips into Emily's hair and squeezed her tighter. "Don't you know that I always will?" she felt Emily plant a soft kiss to her collar-bone and the heat of her lips pulled her eyes closed for a moment.

Her eyes opened slowly to gray light filling the room but they closed again, her body warm under a white feather blanket. The heat wasn't coming from it though, the fabric was simply trapping it around them. Emily's body snuggled up against her chest was the source and arms tightened around shoulders, holding her close. The shallow breaths leaving her lips were rocking her body to sleep again, lulling her under in the most peaceful way. Every night spent holding Emily as she slept seemed to only be better than the one before. It was perfect, every second of it. Her mind kept drifting away from the comfort though, moving in another direction. Something was confusing her, something missing that was trying to tug her away from the sleep she wanted to close in on her again. It was too quiet.

He eyes snapped open. There was no Peter. No knock waking her up and no profanities leaving her lips. "Shit." Well, there were now but she had the forethought to keep it a whisper and Emily's soft breathing continued. The sky was gray outside of the window but too bright to be early morning. She shifted carefully to look at the clock on her nightstand and while her stomach jumped at seeing the time it wasnt worth worrying about just yet. Well...they should probably be leaving within the next hour to make it to the grounds for the train to leave on schedule. The last time she had looked at the clock was as they left Charq's and it had been after midnight then. She smiled at everything that followed them arriving here. Even afterwards she must have spent an hour just watching Emily sleep. It was three in the afternoon now and they were supposed to leave at five.

Slowly she shifted against Emily's body and brought her fingers up to brush her hair from her face. Her lips were in the cutest pout and she couldn't keep herself from trying to soothe it away with her own. It wasn't hard. Emily stretched against her and smiled into her mouth as she stirred awake in her arms, pulling back to look at her. Her brown eyes were bright when they opened after a few seconds but darkened almost instantly as her hand ran up the bare skin of heer back to be lost in auburn hair. So quickly her eyes changed again and she shot up in the bed.

"What time is it?"

"Time to leave...soon." smiled sitting up beside her to brush the hair from her shoulder, planting another kiss, lingering and hearing Emily draw in a sharp breath.

Emily eyed her skeptically. "Soon?"

"Yeah we should probably go now." She sighed pulling herself from the bed and moving towards the dresser to open the top drawer. "I don't know what you usually wear." She frowned, sifting her hands through the different fabrics. "Sadly I don't think there's a lot of lace."

"What do you usually wear?" Emily asked, pulling herself from the bed to join her.

She shrugged casually and pulled open the bottom drawer for a pair of jeans, slipping her legs in and working them up over her bare hips. "Just these." She smiled, fastening the button.

"Nothing?" Emily arched her eyebrows playfully.

"Not nothing. Denim." She corrected and bent down to grab another pair of jeans and held them out to her. "Accept the challenge." Her smile widened when Emily took the jeans from her without hesitating and she couldn't keep from watching as Emily pulled them up the length of her legs, biting her lips sadly when the zipper covered the area she wanted kiss again. "Fuck." She mumbled, making herself pull her eyes away from Emily's body to focus on finding a bra and shirt instead.

"What?" Emily smirked.

"Yeah ummm...you're gorgeous." She smiled, shrugging nonchalantly and clipping a black bra over her chest before pulling out a red tank top.

"You've looked at yourself, right?"

Her cheeks blushed as she smiled and tugged her shirt down her sides before she turned to Emily, still topless in just her tight jeans, running her fingers up her sides and brushing lightly over her breasts. Her lips nipped over Emily's collarbone. "I...love.
..you."

Emily's breathing faltered as she moved her mouth lower, her fingers moving to get lost in her hair as her lips reached her nipple to bite softly. There was nothing sweeter than the smell and taste of her skin...nothing warmer. A whimper left Emily's lips when she rolled her tongue over her and she felt her fingers combing softly through her hair. It did nothing but send a shiver across her skin and jolt between her thighs.

She felt Emily's lips press against the top of her head as she whispered. "Don't start what you can't finish."

She pulled back to look at her now. "Time me?" She challenged.

"No." Emily shook her head surely. "I want you to take your time."

Her mouth felt dry at the thought of spending hours or days just..."We can miss the train. They don't really need us."

"I just started with the show." Emily shook her head firmly. "Theres no way I'm giving it up."

She sighed and gave up, ducking her head and stepping away. She had to back track to the bathroom to find her boots. After she slipped them on she picked up Emily's ballet flats from the floor along with the coral dress and corset and her own clothing because she'd need the velvet. Her eyes landed on the small delicate piece of lace laying on the stone floor of the shower. She swallowed hard remembering Emily panting against the wall. She couldn't leave them there. Bunching them up in the dress she exited the bathroom and grabbed and old stripped shoulder bag from a hook beside the front door, stuffing everything inside and turning to hand Emily her shoes. Her eyes landed on her leaning against the kitchen counter smiling. An emerald-green thermal clung to her chest and she made a note to apologize to Emily daily for torturing her with those damn shirts. It hadn't been intentional but it didn't matter. The bottom hem was pushed up slightly off her hip and it was torture. There wasnt a better word for it. Beautiful...but still torture. A place so teasingly close to the moisture of her body and it was almost unbearable.

"Ready?" She cleared he throat and grabbed both sets of keys from the counter.

Emily nodded slipping into her shoes. "I like it here though."

"Then just promise to come back with me." She smiled and it only widened when Emily nodded in agreement.

The air outside was warm but still heavy from a night of rain and the sky was completely gray. Fog hung heavily across the ground and she held on to Emily's had to keep her from tripping over the curb into the parking lot. It was thick. So much so that she relied on the remote start on Peter's car just to find it. This was the first time she'd ever felt sad leaving the loft. Solace was always found on the moving train and maybe it had been a long time coming that she found it in a stationary place. Emily gave her that. Emily gave her Lincoln again and she could smile now thinking about the next time they'd get to be here together. Imagining what it'll be like, how much stronger they'll be. It was a good feeling in a place that hadn't felt good in a long time.

"About time." Peter smiled, holding out his hands for his keys as they stepped out of the car in the warehouse. "Almost missed the train."

"We have an hour." she rolled her eyes, slapping the keys in his hand and taking Emily's hand to start a quick pace out of the building. "What's left to do? Are we waiting on anyone?"

"No." Peter shook his head lightly and looked at the keys in his hands. "We're all set. Ready when you are."

"Ember and Stella?" She asked.

"They're already on the train." He smiled, shoving the keys in his pocket. "Ember seems a little put out to be taken from the fields though."

"Him and I both." Emily frowned, glancing over longingly at the gold fields.

They looked so bright against gray sky and she felt Emily's pain at leaving them behind. She squeezed her hand reassuringly but her eyes stung because she wanted to pack them up and bring them too of only to keep Emily from looking so sadly at them.

"We'll be back." She whispered, bringing Emily's hand to her lips to kiss her knuckles as they walked.

"I know." Emily smiled and squeezed her hand back. "I'm excited to be back on the train with you and everyone else. Are we playing strip maiden again?" She teased. "I was hustled last time."

"Just me and you?" She asked. "Or with everyone? Because I prefer just us."

Peter groaned uncomfortably beside them and quickened his pace, trying his best to excuse himself from their conversation and leaving them to laugh after him.

"All aboard?" She smiled, jumping up into the platform of the commons car and tossing her shoulder bag into the room before turning to offer Emily her hand.

"I feel like we're leaving something." Emily sighed, looking over her shoulder at the tent and gold fields surrounding the outskirts.

"We are." She nodded. "We left our mark on those fields and on my bed and in my shower." Emily smiled now as she nodded in agreement and took her hand, allowing her to pull her up beside her. "You told me you loved me here." She smiled locking Emily's fingers in her own.

Emily smiled proudly. "And you love me too."

"I do." she nodded. "So we'll be back. I promise."

Emily's smile widened as she looked out at the grounds again. The engine rumbled beneath their feet and her hand shot out to shield Emily from the drop to the ground. The train needed a few minutes to get the engine hot enough and Emily seemed to want to keep her eyes on the fields as long as she could. Every passing minute the urge to jump back to the ground and pull Emily out into the grew stronger. The desire to be with Emily and her family was only thing that pushed it from her mind. One day they could have forever here.


I pull the turquoise car into the gravel lot and let the engine die, letting my head fall back into the headrest for a moment as I take a deep breath. The thoughts going through my mind since dinner last night have only solidified more and I'm not sure where to begin but I promised myself I'm going to try. If there's anything I'm learning, albeit slowly, is that I need to be more honest with myself. I can't be good for Riley or Paige or anyone if I can't even be honest with myself first.

Sighing I choke back the tightening in my throat and climb from the car to sit on the hood of the car, pulling my boots up to rest on the bumper and wrapping my arms around my knees to keep them there. Riley is back at his parents house packing his stuff for us to leave and I told him I'd be back soon. I needed to think and evaluate my choices and I'm trying. I force myself to ignore the worry I saw on Paige's face last night because that's not why I'm here right now..this parking lot. This is about me. But even now I'm fighting it because I don't want it to be about me. I want this to be someone else and thats wrong of me. I don't want the memories in my head and I wish I could burn them all out sometimes and watch the glowing embers fade into the air the way my breath is now.

My muscles tense at seeing the wisps of white fog swirling as my breath stirs the air. My stomach clenches at the fog swirling across the ground and I hate that it has that effect on me. I can see the shadows of trees poking through it at the corner of the lot and they make my eyes sting because I remember a time when I had loved them. I want them back. I'm not sure I'm ready for the changes I need to make but that's the point...I need them. My eyes go to the bruising around my knuckles and a tear falls without my consent but I ignore it along with the pain shooting through my hand. Its my biggest reminder now and every time I look at it I'm forced back into a nightmare. I think Riley voicing his anger about my hand yesterday was the biggest slap in the face. One that I needed desperately. Its time for my story, one I never wanted but one that I got regardless. The day is crystal clear even ten years later.

Sunday morning, December 5th and don't be shocked that I remember that detail. It's not a holiday, aside from the biblical sense, businesses aren't closed but I remember it all the same. Things like that day don't just go away no matter how much you beg them to and I promise I've begged to forget it every day since. My hand moves to wipe another tear streaking my cheek.

Please don't leave me through this.

I've been laying in bed for over an hour just staring at the ceiling, not even sure why I'm awake so early when usually I'm excessively late pulling myself from the warm sheets to the point where I'm getting dressed as I run down the hallway. I need my own personal alarm clock and enjoy sleeping but don't most teenagers? This morning is different. My eyes opened suddenly and they just failed to close again. My room is quiet, dark and as minutes pass I watch the walls turn from black to gray, only listening to the sound of breaths softly leaving my lungs. I could be floating now, drifting with each rise and fall of my chest, my body so relaxed and at peace that I don't dare move so as not to lose the feeling by forcing blood to pump faster through my veins. The stillness feels good.

As the room lightens the shadows of trees appear and I'm lost to how beautiful they look cast upon the blue walls, like my own personal forest at night in the warmth of the my bed. Natural shadows have always looked beautiful to me. Silhouettes of people or birds or picket fences back-lit by the bright sky. The trees are my favorite. You can't see the details only the simple lovely form. It's the details that have the ability to hurt you, the things that make up the shape, not the form itself. At least when it comes to people that's true. Branches and sharp rocks would obviously have a hard time hurting you on their own without help from another force.

A knock sounds on my bedroom door and I realize the trees have faded away completely, the walls too light to pick up their projection anymore.

"Yeah?" I call, smiling softly as I climb out of bed and walk over to my dresser.

The smile is there due to weekend that's still in progress. Likely by tomorrow morning I'll be groaning instead, protesting the sun and cursing AP English at six am because I'll be out of bed by four. The downside to getting grades beyond my years and striving to make something of myself. My passion isn't there though. I could read literature and write all day but my passion follows first period...straight into concert choir and theatre. It's just a matter of staying awake and getting to the parts of the day that I love. I'll get to that place someday. Coffee helps.

"You're working today, right?" Lexi smiles, slipping through the door and closing it safely behind her.

I nod and slip out my shorts and into a pair of jeans, jumping slightly to work them up over my hips. The denim is stretchy and for some reason they're even harder to get off but I love them.

"Yeah, at nine."

Glancing over at the clock on my nightstand it's just after seven but I have a few stops planned before work and one of them Lexi wouldn't approve of so I keep my answers short.

"It looks cold out. " Lexi notes, walking over to my window to peek out. She's still dressed in her flannel pants and fitted t-shirt with her brown hair pulled into a messy bun. "Do you want me to drive you? I don't have anywhere else to go today so you could always take the car yourself if you want."

Lexi and Ben Harper are my foster family right now and have been for the last year. It's the longest I've ever stayed with a family. To give you an idea my second longest duration with a family was 9 months when I was ten.. the third longest...just 6 months when I was four. They're the first couple that's taken me in with a child of their own and for some reason that gives me hope. I've been in the system officially since I was a few months old and the time spent between families consisted of me being shuttled around between homes. There were too many to count or try to remember so if I was somewhere less than a month I don't even bother counting it. Do the math. Taking into account my longest times with potential families and the fact that I've been moved around for fifteen years...that's a lot of homes. So much so that sometimes the idea of walking across the room is nauseating. The stillness is always welcome and since I've been with the Harpers I have no desire to move while at the same time I feel like I have to. Stillness is me getting comfortable and settling in and if I keep moving, staying busy with school and work, then maybe it won't be as noticeable when the home changes again.

"No, I'll walk." I smile lightly and walk to my closet, pulling out my favorite midnight blue button up covered in tiny white stars. They look like dots unless you look closely and then its easy to make out the points.

"Marley, it looks like its freezing out there." She argues, crossing her arms over her chest and giving me the stern parental look. Most teenagers probably hate that look but I love it. Most teenagers don't realize how blessed they are to have people in the world that care about them and want them safe and warm. I appreciate every second of it because tomorrow it could be gone. "Maybe Cole could drive you at least?"

"He could but then I might as well drive myself or have you drive me." I point out. "I like walking."

I walk over to my mirror and smile at her soft sigh of defeat. My hands go instantly to the array of makeup and pick out a brown eyeliner, applying a thin line around my eyes and switching it out for a bronze shadow. I'm not lying to her. I enjoy the fresh air. It just happens to work to my advantage that I like walking because I also don't like relying on them to go out of their way to drive me. I know they have no problem with it but its become my habit to try and not bother anyone because part of me is always going to be afraid that there will come a time when I'll ask too much and be given up on again. I walk, I get good grades and I work to save money. One day I'll be more on my own then I ever have been and I'm trying to prepare for that.

"Okay well, when you see Cole at work tell him we need to have him over for dinner again soon." She smiles and stops by my door, turning back to me with her hand frozen on the door knob. "Are you hungry? I'm gonna make breakfast so if you have time..."

"I was just gonna pickup coffee on my way to work" I look at her apologetically. "I don't have to though, I can eat here."

"No don't." Lexi insists, shaking her head firmly. "Breakfast anywhere is better than the captain crunch I was gonna offer you, even just coffee." She winks. "I need to go grocery shopping."

"Do you want me to pick up anything after work?" I ask, rolling a pink gloss over my lips.

Lexi chuckles and opens the door. "No, you're walking remember? You wouldn't be able to carry food for the whole army. I'll go later."

Her footsteps disappear down the hall and I'm not far behind her but I stop by the window first to look out and smile. Everything is steaming from the cold. The ground is covered in a thin layer of fog twisting into the air and sky looks orange from the sunrise. Its unearthly and beautiful, peach in color but hidden by the veil of white. My smile widens because I can see the bare tree branches poking through in their gray silhouette form, back-lit by the amber light.

Its quiet when I reach the kitchen and my eyes fall on Lexi smiling by a pot of coffee. Its mischievous and instantly my body tenses as she gives me a slight nod. Knowingly I look around and duck my head to look under the dining room table. Nothing. Moving quietly I walk into the kitchen, an attempt at being oblivious to the little girl I know is hiding somewhere. She loves hiding and especially loves trying to surprise me.

"Okay, I'm running late." I sigh and smile at Lexi. "I'll see you after work?"

"What time are you off?"

I turn to see Ben coming down the hall, struggling with his tie. It looks fine to me but I hear Lexi place her coffee mug on the counter and reach for it, a slight crinkle between her eyebrows as she straightens it more. He works down at the social services office but he doesn't handle my case. Conflict of interests. He handles more severe cases. Runaways that take to the streets and children facing abuse in their homes, not children who were simply given away. He works weird hours too. Sometimes he's called in and gone in the middle of the night to remove a child from their home. It leaves me with mixed feelings when I hear the pager beeping. I'm happy that a child is being pulled out of a bad situation, relieved that they're being saved but it's saddening because it's another family that's falling apart.

"Two." I reply. "It's a short shift and then I'll be back here to study."

"You can call this home, Marley." Ben gives me a pointed look but his eyes are soft. "Not 'here'."

"Yes but if I say 'home' in this context it kinda sounds like I'm referring to a place other than where I'm standing right now." I raise my eyebrows. "It sounds like I'm suggesting that 'home' is somewhere else. Right now...I'm here." I point to the floor where I'm standing and Lexi chuckles under her breath, and nods. "Which just so happens to be home also."

"AP English." Ben sighs, shaking his head with his brown eyes twinkling proudly.

"Common everyday English." I correct, shaking my head with a smile and turning towards the front door. "And I'm not even sure that was even special enough to acknowledge let alone categorize."

"How old is she?" Ben asked, looking at Lexie proudly.

"Seize." I smile over my shoulder.

Ben's eyebrows furrow. "Seize the day?"

"French." I roll my eyes and turn away again. "Sixteen."

The cartoons on the TV make me pause by the living room and my eyes fall on the body curled up on the plaid couch with a bowl of cereal. I crinkle my eyes at the colored characters moving across the screen. Half of them look like naked little animals wearing only underwear.

"What the hell are you watching, Bays?"

"Heck." Lexi corrects from the kitchen

Bailey turns to look at me and shrugs, his messy blonde hair and blue eyes and his punky gray tank top that flatters his lack of muscle. He's twelve and also a foster child since he was taken from his home at the age of five. He's been here with the Harpers almost as long as I have, ten months and a bundle of male ego and attitude.

"They won't let me watch MTV so I'm stuck with this shit."

"Crap?" I correct questionably, making my voice loud enough to carry into the kitchen for Lexi's ears. I'm trying to be a role model but I fail sometimes. This is me trying. Lexi's chuckle tells me 'crap' is still an acceptable word and my hand flies out to smack him in the back of the head for his choice of words. He just smiles and swats my hand away which earns him another slap for trying to hit a girl. "Watch your damn mouth."

Just to be nice I grab the remote from his hands and flip the channel, pressing mute to silence the voices while leaving him to the image of scantily dressed women shaking every part of their bodies. I have to do a double take because I wasnt even aware hips could move like that and the lack of breast support from not wearing bras has me shaking my head in disbelief. Tasteless, not just because of what they're wearing, or not wearing, but because it's so over the top that it looks cheap and trashy. I mess his hair up to call him out on the sly smile on his face as he watches and then turn towards the coat rack beside the door and pull down my suede jacket. Its plum in color and lined with warm white fleece and after I zip it up I pull on my knit hat, spreading my brown curls over my shoulders.

"Smile!"

There's a flash of light from a digital camera and my vision blurs. I almost trip over a pile of shoes on floor as a little body crashes into my legs from behind the other coats.

"Good hiding spot." I smile, scooping her up into my arms. Or at least trying to. She's six and getting too heavy for me to pick up so easily. Her legs just end up dangling awkwardly instead of wrapping around my waist. "Best little photographer...but I gotta go. I'm running late." I kiss her cheek.

"Gracie, breakfast." Lexi calls.

She wiggles from my arms and runs towards the kitchen, her short brown hair tucked behind her ears and camera in hand. Her socks don't match, one blue and one red with polka dots and she skids on the hardwood floors intentionally. Sometimes we all spend hours sliding across them in our socks and striking different poses while Ben and Lexi laugh take pictures on the couch. But right now, the waiting image of a guy with warm brown eyes makes me move my body faster.

I slip into a pair of red converse and grab my shoulder bag from the floor then I pull open the door and step outside on to the porch. Its cold but one of those days that look colder than it feels. Looking out the window you'd bundle up expecting the freezing image you see outside only to be surprised that its warmer than it looks and that you've over dressed, more layers than necessary. Its cold enough to see my breath though and I love the little wisps of steam that leave my lips and disappear into air. It's also damp, the kind of cold moisture that soaks through to your bones instantly and brings a chill you won't be able to fight away even hours after you're warm inside again. Your skin feels hot quickly but the cold is much deeper than the surface. Its lingering...fighting to stay there against your attempt to keep it out.

I make my way down the sidewalk past houses that are few and far between. In upstate New York this is a small town, close-knit just outside of Queensbury, and north of the bigger city of Albany. There should be snow right now but I'm happy there isn't because it just makes walking more dangerous and I already don't feel like a very coordinated girl.

The town is between snow falls, the ground still frozen but mostly dry and covered with dead leaves and branches. I turn right at the end of the street and cut through a small unhoused area that's heavily wooded. The debris on the ground is thicker here and its completely shadowed by the tree silhouettes that I love so much. That's why I walk this way and also why I love walking in general. Its beautiful outside no matter the time of year. Red and gold leaves blanket everything and today especially the fog twists up like arms reaching for the orange tinted sky, forming branches of its own to mirror the black ones overhead. I pass a small abandoned shed and after a few feet more I'm back out on to the public street. Another block and I step out on to the main street of the town, edged in tiny shops. There's a small coffee shop on the corner that I make a habit of always visiting and Cole and I end up here a lot after work. Work for us is the small diner on the next street up but I still have over an hour before I need to be there so I plan on picking up coffee and a few muffins before heading to Cole's house. We've spent nearly every waking hour together since we started dating six months ago, outside of me going to classes and studying, but I've known of him for three years. He was in the foster system too and never really found the right place but as of two months ago he turned eighteen and now lives on his own with a friend.

Twenty minutes later with coffee in hand and a small brown paper bag I step up on to his porch and as usual the front door is unlocked. Small towns have a way of making people feel safe enough to leave them unlocked but for some reason it's never made me comfortable. I lock the door behind me and drop my shoulder bag to the floor. The Harpers love Cole and he's amazing, sweet and polite, but knowing that I come over to his house unsupervised would likely make them uncomfortable for obvious reasons so I keep it between us. I set the coffee and small bag on the counter and pull my suede coat off along with my knit hat, combing my fingers through the long chocolate waves that fall over my chest as I take in the silence of the small house. Its old and slightly rundown, the ultimate bachelor pad but it still warm. Quietly I make my way down the narrow hall and pass his roommates door on the way. It's slightly ajar but too dark to see anything. I can smell the alcohol in the air and the old cigarettes that make me gag. Cole lives with a guy, Nick, that outgrew the system a few years ago. There's a lot of support from the kids that have gone through the same thing.

I smile as I reach Cole's open door and can't help but stop and watch him sleeping. His blonde hair a mess and the sheets are tangled around his body. He's beautiful and I make myself ignore the smell of alcohol in here too. It's not surprising but I don't like it. The guys basically have their own frat house with other grown orphans. I walk quietly across the wood floors and climb into the bed beside him stirring him awake though I didn't mean to.

"Hey sexy." He smiles, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me closer to his bare chest.

I've touched his skin like this before but it makes butterflies appear in my stomach every time, stirring feelings in my body that are foreign to me but so exciting. He's mine. The smell on his skin is mine and the warmth. I love all of it. The strength in his arms as he holds me close and the safety I always feel when he's running his fingers through my hair.

"I missed you." I whisper against his neck and bring his brown eyes to look down at me and so quickly he's pressing into my mouth.

He rolls me over slightly, his weight pressing me down and while I love that feeling I struggle briefly with the taste of alcohol on his tongue. Its forgotten instantly when he breaks away to look at me only to smile and move his mouth to my neck. It's the one place that makes me feel beautiful and loved every time. Vulnerable and wanted from the path he traces with his lips, swirling his tongue gingerly on the tender flesh behind my ear. A hand moves to crease of my hip, gripping tightly. A whimper of surprise is forced from my mouth and it seems to encourage him to push further, his fingers running up my blue button up instead, across my stomach and teasing briefly with my bra before slipping under. I can feel my skin trembling under his touch. I'm nervous every time he touches me like this but we've never gone much further. It's probably more my fault than his but I'm scared. He's been in other relationships before me and I haven't so there's the sense of wanting to wait and the urge to give in because I don't want to lose him. He's never pushed me though and I love him for that.

He's smiling softly watching my reaction now. My whole body pants as his fingers work gently over my breast, pinching lightly as I run my nails up the muscle on his arms and drag them to wrap around his neck. I tense when his hand shifts down again and his mouth finds mine. He's trying to drown in me, and I want him to, but the only thing I'm aware of is the dragging of his fingers down my stomach and the tugging at the button of my jeans.

"What are you doing?" I ask between his lips as my hand shoots down to his, stopping the movement over my zipper.

"Come on, Marley." He smiles, nipping lightly at my bottom lip and making me moan. "You know what I'm doing."

I pull away from his lips to look up at him. "But I don't know what I'm doing." I breath. He smiles and takes control of my hand and guides it down between his legs. My eyes slam shut, stopping the air in my lungs. I'm nervous but the feelings in my body make me curious too.

"I'll show you." He whispers.

I feel safe with him. I always have but my stomach is in a knot and I can't breathe when my hand runs into the smooth warmth of his body. My muscles freeze as I touch him for the first time, biting my lip to keep it from shaking so much. I panic and pull my arm away.

"I can't." My eyes are pleading with him to understand.

He nods and presses a kiss to my lips again, once again drinking me in and rolling the heat of his tongue over mine. I'm familiar with this. I'm comfortable with kissing him and touching him in small ways, even more relaxed now that he seems to understand that I'm not ready to go any further than this. I don't think I'm that far off from feeling ready but I know I'm not ready now. Not an hour before I need to be at work. Not when it feels rushed.

"I love you, Marley."

His voice snaps my focus back to the present and I look up at him with stunned eyes. It's the first time those words have been spoken and it takes me a moment to really hear them and smile.

"I love you too."

He smiles and kisses me more feverishly than before and I'm in love with everything about him, everything about our time hidden away together where no one can see. I could kiss him like this forever and I want to. I'm lost to everything else. Too soon the moment of bliss is gone and my body tenses again at his hand moving under the denim between my legs, pressing into me. I gasp and my hips jerk without my consent because it feels good but at the same time I'm mad that he hasn't heard me, that he's not listening.

"Cole..." I plead, just a breath between his lips and he instantly tries to stifle my words.

"Why not, Marley?" He smiles, sucking across my chin and jaw. "You want to."

"I said no." My hand moves to press against his chest and at the same time shift his hand away from my body. "Not now. We have to go to work."

"It doesn't take long." He argues. "We have enough time."

"Seriously?" I snap, breaking away from his lips completely to stare at him. His brown eyes don't seem to register the problem and he just looks annoyed at being interrupted from the track his mind is on.

"Whats wrong?" He smiles playfully.

Whats wrong. I repeat that in my head and shift my body out from under him, standing from the bed to fasten the button on my jeans.

"Nice job, dude." My eyes turn to see his roommate Nick standing tipsy in the door way and I quickly remember the taste of alcohol on Cole's tongue. "Took you long enough to nail the social worker's daughter."

My temper boils over in an instant but mostly I'm heartbroken as I turn to look at Cole. His eyes are soft like he's sorry I heard it but then I realize he's not looking at me. He's looking at his roommate.

"You're just sorry you failed?" I ask.

"Woah, married couple fighting." The voice in the doorway is mocking.

"Unbelievable." I shake my head and turn and turn towards the door, pushing past his roommate and heading towards the front door.

"I want to be with you." He calls after me, slipping into jeans and a shirt as he walks. "Marley, I said I love you didn't I?"

"Why though?" I ask, my voice bitter because that's how I'm feeling. "To increase the chances of me sleeping with you? To better your odds?" Its only now that he's standing that I notice the swaying of his body and I realize how drunk he still is.

"It couldn't hurt to try." He shrugs with an innocent smile. "But no that's not why..."

"Yeah." I nod, pulling my jacket on. "Couldn't hurt you to try."

His hand shoots out to grab my arm tightly and pull me back, nearly ripping me from my feet as I stumble over shoes on the floor. As soon as I have my footing I yank my arm away and clutch at where he had made contact.

"Dont." My eyes are angry and betrayed. He's never touched me roughly before in fact he's always feather light so this catches me off guard. It hurts deeper than the possible bruise forming on my skin and as I take a step back...his arm reaches for me again. "Don't ever touch me again." I back step to avoid his hand this time.

"Way to go. She's gonna tell her dad and get my ass in trouble." Nick shakes his head and turns back to his room. "Fucking idiot."

The door clicks behind him and Cole's eyes are demanding and on me now. "Dont tell him, Marley. The last thing I need is the social office checking in on me anymore than they already do. They'll make me move out if they find out we're drinking and Nick will get in trouble too."

My mouth gapes at him, dropping open at his priorities. "What? No apology for grabbing me?" I snap and zip up my jacket."You know...maybe you should move out and find a new place because clearly you partying here all night is a bad idea. But this..." I point at him as his body sways again and I know my eyes are showing the confusion and sadness I'm feeling. "This is a whole new level for you, Cole." I'm moving out the door before he can say anything else but it doesn't stop him from appearing behind me as I march across the lawn.

"Don't be a fucking bitch, Marley." He shouts. "Your so-called family is making you weak."

I can feel the tears forming in my eyes because on the same morning 'I love you' leaves his lips the most hateful words I've ever heard from him do too. As I blink against the cold air they spill down my cheek and possibly freeze against my skin. It's a helpless feeling when someone you love changes so drastically and without warning. I can't find a way to pinpoint which feeling is stronger, the feeling of loss or the feeling that it's just first of many today. I want the hurt to go away but I know it's never that simple. I quickly notice the route I've taken without even realizing. I should be going to work at the diner but instead I'm going home. I don't want to spend the whole day waiting tables and especially don't want to see Cole because he's working the same shift. I want to be curled up in bed under my blankets crying in a quiet way that no one else can hear but me. If I can slip into my room without being noticed it should buy me a few hours before anyone realizes I missed my shift and maybe by then I'll have cried enough.

The sound of a car engine roaring to life startles me and I turn, continuing my fast pace, to see Cole backing his red Ford Ranger out of the driveway and starting in my direction. He could barely walk straight so driving is clearly a bad choice. I falter in my steps slightly. Part of me wants to stop walking and rip him from the truck then proceed to smack sense into him for the bad choices he keeps making today. I can't. I don't want to talk to him or touch him, I don't even want to see him right now. I want time to forgive if I can. I need time to process the mix of emotions passing through me. The heartache at his lack of respect for me and my choices and lack of utter regard for my feelings. I just want time.

I reach the end of the street before he does and cut into the small wooded area, taking a deep breath once I'm safely hidden under the cover of trees. It's so peaceful here. The silhouettes of branches still beautiful and I relax at just seeing them. The fog is still thick around the small abandoned shed and across the ground and I hear the dried leaves and branches cracking beneath my feet. It should calm me more at hearing the sound but somethings off about it. Its echoing. Each step of mine repeating somewhere behind me and my heart jumps when I figure it out, turning to see Cole coming up behind me. It feels colder outside now, but it may just be the eyes that used to be warm.

"We have to go to work." His voice is demanding and pushy and it makes me angry that he thinks he can order me around.

"I don't feel like going." I snap. "Its none of your business. I'll call in when I get home."

His hand reaches out to grab my arm again and this time my foot rolls over a stick and I stumble to the ground, the only thing keeping me from falling completely is his grip on me so I bitterly let him hold on to me until I have my footing.

"What are you doing?" I rip my arm away and try to walk around him but he grabs my jacket again and pulls me back against the side of the shed, pinning me against cold metal.

His teeth are clenched and so are mine but the difference is the smile in his eyes and the smirk tugging at his lips. I flinch at his breath on my face laced in alcohol, the cold making it visible to me. The thing I notice is the lack of my breath in the air and the way I don't seem to need it. I don't miss it. I'm too angry to breathe right now and I know if I try I'll lose my anger and become terrified instead. This isnt him. My anger is the only thing making me feel brave and strong so I hold on to it like I can feel it tight in my clenched fist and behind my pursed lips. I hold it in desperately.

"You can't go running to tell that asshole social worker."

"You're hurting me." I manage to say this without a wisp of breath leaving my lips because I inhale the words through my clenched teeth as I push my hands against his body, trying to lighten the weight of him holding me tightly against the cold wall.

"Who cares if I'm hurting you?" He smiles, pressing harder and stilling my struggle. "Do you think that family cares? They don't."

It's the words that I fear more than anything because it's the truth that's so possible and real to me. I believe him. How can I not? I've thought this way my entire life. Things always find a way of going wrong for me. Families end up wanting different things than they did when they first took me in. They decide to focus on having children of their own and planning their futures. Their careers, their travels, their lives...not mine. It's just a matter of time and I can never seem to be surprised or hurt when I'm left behind. Its their right.

"They don't understand us Marley. They've had their cozy little life and what have you had? It's just a matter of time before they either send you away or make you their perfect little daughter...and then what? You'll leave me? Is that what you want?"

I can't bring myself to deny his accusations. I don't have it me to lie about the only family I've had just to make him happy. To save myself from him? No. Denying them is denying the love they've shown me and when I've lived so long without it the thought of tarnishing it for any reason is biggest lie I could ever tell. I don't deserve them and I know it and not one part of me is ever going to tell that lie just to make him feel better. He must take my silence as the answer he doesn't want to hear but I don't care. They've done nothing wrong here and he doesn't get to win me this way. I'd choose them before him now and he doesn't need to hear me say it to know that it's the truth. My eyes tell him everything and right now...I hate him.

"Fuck Marley, you're already spending more time with that bullshit private school that you're never gonna need in your life. Are you gonna follow in daddy's footsteps and rip kids from the only homes they have? Who are you gonna be?" His voice softens suddenly and my jaw tenses at how he changes so quickly, his grip loosening slightly on my jacket. "I love you, Marley. Those people are nothing and you know it."

He tries to kiss me but I jerk my head to the side and glare into him out of the corner of my eye, scolding him for even thinking it would be okay now. Kissing is for lovers and I feel nothing for him now. He notices the difference and the change between us that he's caused and he doesn't like it. His hand moves to grip tightly around my jaw, locking it in place and making me look at him.

"Do you think anyone else is going to want you?" He growls. "I want you more than those people ever will. They have their own kids and you're just their little charity project." His grip tightens on my jaw making me flinch and he smiles as his eyes work down to look at my lips.

I've gotten used to not having a place and no tie to the people I come from. I'm fine with the latter because how can I want people that didn't want me? Maybe they thought I deserved a better life than they could give me but somehow I find that mentality funny right now. Now, as I stare into the eyes of a man smiling at the idea of hurting me. I wonder if they imagined this or if they would have cared either way. I place images in my head to tune out the smirk on his face, seeing a woman who looks just like me standing up suddenly from her morning coffee like she can sense that somewhere in the world, no matter how far away, the girl she gave away is in trouble. It fades as he shifts his body pressing me into the wall even more and making me flinch again. I can feel the cold seeping through my jacket and soaking deep into my bones, burrowing so far beneath my skin that my body aches. My jaw hurts under his grip and from me clenching my teeth but I refuse to answer him, focusing only on fighting back the stinging behind my eyes.

"Nobody wanted you before me and the reason I'm with you..." a smile tugs at his lips as he moves his free hand down to pull at the button on my jeans before pushing his hand inside.

My stomach turns in disgust as acid rises in my throat and I push my hands as hard as I can into his chest, shoving him back and stopping him just before he can touch me. He doesn't falter much. I'm small compared to him and he barely stumbles. Before I can move away he grabs my jaw again, slamming my head hard into metal siding of the shed. The image I see of him, the anger in his eyes, goes black at the blinding pain and I feel sharp damp earth beneath my hands and knees before I even realize that I had fallen. Pain spreads and I feel his hand twist into my hair to pull me back, making me fall to the ground completely and then suddenly I can't breathe. I want to breathe now, to let my anger out in my breath on my terms and feel fresh air move back in but he's denying me. Something as simple as breath. It's not the last thing he'll deny me in this hour. Oxygen is forced from my lungs, stolen as he falls on top of me, pressing me into the sharp sticks and rocks on the ground as though he's using my body to shield himself from the debris. He's protecting himself. I see my anger fade into the air as my breath does. Its gone. I'm terrified now.

"Cole, stop." I cry out but quickly stop myself, pursing my lips again as he pulled harder on my hair and yanked my head back, attempting to use my plea to gain access to my mouth and I can feel his breath on my face again.

The scent that used to be sweet now seems putrid and I choke on the tightening in my throat at the smell, bringing my hands up to push him away again. With his weight on me I can't move. As hard as I push it doesn't phase him, it angers him. I used to see movies where fights or struggles would take place and in my head I'd cheer on the victim. Just push him off. Hit him. You're strong enough. Try harder. You'll be okay. I didn't want to learn the truth this way. The sick reality that I never wanted. I'm not strong enough. He's reducing me to a powerless and breaking body beneath his. He's reducing me to nothing while the air escaping his lungs is even and relaxed. I'm scared, I'm hurting, he's calm.

My fist slams into his temple. I use every ounce of strength have and then panic sets in. They say fear can bring forth hidden strength but it's not the case for me. My body is exhausted already and my head is spinning from the blow to cold steel. Its like nightmares where you're fighting an enemy and trying your best to knock them down, throwing all of your strength to a hit only to land a light touch every time. Without fail there's no result aside from angering your attacker further and its no different now. He grabs my right hand and pins it under his knee at my side, holding it down and digging my knuckles into the cold jagged ground. So effortlessly he's taken way my chance at fighting back and causing more pain in the process from the sticks and debris cutting into my skin. He's denied me my only means of protection. My only weapon.

"Cole." I plead with him, hoping he'll react to my voice the way he used to, that he'll realize what he's doing and stop. "Please...just look at me." I beg. This isnt him. He's drunk and angry but this isn't him. I want him to look at me with warm eyes again.

"Shut up." He snaps, squeezing his eyes shut to concentrate. I realize then that my pleas make him feel like he's doing something wrong and he doesn't like that. I don't give up.

"Cole...please don't." I whimper as I feel hot moisture on my hand from the jagged ground. I know the moisture is red. This time he's not angry.

"If you're really a virgin then I'm doing you a favor." He smiles. "But I don't think you are. You've just been jerking me around and making me look like an idiot while you go home to your fucking family."

He rips at the front of my jacket and pulls a loud cry from my throat because now all of the weight of his body is focused in his knee, pressing my hand harder into the ground. I can feel an unnatural pop of my wrist making my vision blur and for a moment all I see is white. I lose sight of everything, hoping it'll stay that way. That I can fall back into my mind and hide from this, pretend it isn't happening and that I don't know what's coming. The slight shift of his body pulls me out against my will and forces me to stay in the reality that's become mine. The nightmare he's creating just for me. My eyes flicker weakly up to the silhouettes of the trees against the orange sky and I don't love them now. I hate that he's taken them from me.

His knee moves from my hand, leaving it behind on jagged earth as he moves lower to straddle my thighs. I make myself focus on it, my mind telling my fingers to move but they only fail. My skin is crimson and I can feel the same wet heat at my hair-line above my ear. I focus on the hammering in my head, trying my best to let it over power me and pull me down under a blanket of unconscious thought, to keep me away from the hell he's pushing me into. My fear is too strong to keep me there. Theres no peace to something like this.

My head is spinning, blurring the world around me but the ripping of fabric brings my eyes to him as he pulls the buttons of my shirt open down the front. The tiny white stars on the blue aren't as beautiful now and I cringe as he tugs my bra down. I can hear the threads of the straps ripping and the pain of them cutting into my shoulders. It feels like wings being stripped from my body and I can see myself losing something important, shifting into the air around me and fading away while I have no way of doing anything but watch it go. His hands twisted into my breasts and they're his now. I cut them off from my body, trying to keep the places he touched separate from the few things I had left that were still mine. I didn't want them anymore. I didn't want anything that he was claiming as his own. He gripped my flesh so hard that I could feel his fingertips digging into my ribs and to say that hurt would be an understatement. I shouldnt have to describe that pain. Its the moment I really felt the tears slide from eyes, mixing with the trickle of red that had already formed a jagged stream down my cheek. He's angry now. His brown eyes are nearly black at the fact that I was crying when I should be enjoying this. As his hand moved to my stomach...I said goodbye to it too. It wasn't mine anymore, he wasn't mine. I belonged to him.

My lips stayed pursed tightly when he tried to kiss me again, my mouth locked until my teeth screamed sending pain through my jaw. Theres the taste of blood in my mouth but I'm not sure how it got there. I can feel it running down my throat. The desire to save my mouth is the only thing that keeps me from screaming. I know what he wants and I know he won't stop until he gets it and maybe its wrong but I'm hoping that at least this part of my body will be spared from him. Please leave me something.

I won't be getting up. So clearly I can see myself laying lifeless here on frozen ground, broken, forgotten. I know I'm scared but for some reason I can't react to it anymore. The fear keeps surfacing and then fading away, pulsating like a heartbeat. My mind is working as hard as it can to shield me from whats happening and bring me relief. I can't feel anything and I'm thankful for that. Someone is touching my body and it feels soft though I know it's not, so far away like it's not really me. I feel nothing, and then I do. A knife maybe, stabbing into my body between my legs. My eyes slam shut, forcing more tears, and even behind closed eyes I can tell my vision is fading. The blackness thats drowning me is blurry somehow, shifting in and out and completely unstable. I can hear the cry of pain somewhere nearby, the sound of someone voicing what I feel now. Someones coming to save me from this. There's someone else here. Confusion sets in and pulls my eyes to look for the origin of the sound and as his hand covers my mouth, cutting off the scream, I learn that it was coming from me. It's not a knife in my body...its him. He's denied me my innocence.

He gasps as he pushes against me and I can't keep my eyes open because of the pain. The ground digging into my back and my legs. I feel cold air hitting my skin like needles but its nothing to stabbing cutting into my body as he gets what he wants. It seems to fade quickly and the heavy black blanket pulls me under more, numbing my body everywhere that it hurts. I focus my thoughts on my hand and the pain is gone on command, replaced by a firm pressure. Tears fall slowly from my closed eyes at the warmth spreading across my hand and I pretend someones with me now. Someones holding my hand through this and I'm not really alone. Time is lost. It could have been days before I hear his voice, maybe it takes me weeks to open my eyes.

"Oh shit" He looks down between my thighs in disbelief but he's also amused, his breath now ragged and I hate him for what he's done to me. "You were really a virgin?"

I'm confused. I know that I am but I don't know what happened to finally convince him of that. I was anyways.

The tears flow heavier as I squeeze my eyes shut, pain returning to me and forcing movement back into arms and legs. My hand moved to be cradled carefully against my chest as I try to curl my body in on itself, shifting onto my side to keep protected from him in any way that I can. I try to focus on simple facts to keep myself grounded and fight the hurt away. My name, my age, my hair color, eye color. Where I live and where I work, the blood and bruises on my hand. I realize I'm filling out my death certificate and I stop. I should have taken the car. I wouldn't have been walking through here. I could be home. I don't love the trees anymore and the fog twisting from the leaves covering the ground. I don't love anything. I'm numb to him shifting his body off of me and bringing his lips to my ear.

"Marley, I'm sorry..." He sounds sorry, panicked and remorseful. "Fuck I'm so sorry. Come on I'll take you back to my place. I'll take care of you." He tugs lightly on my jacket but I can't move. "I love you, Marley. I didn't mean to do this...please." His voice is close to tears but that only makes me hurt more. He doesn't know pain or panic. He doesn't know the loss I feel and the extent of all that he's taken from me.

I can't bring myself to move, shock setting in and weighing me down but my body flinches as he reaches for my hand that I'm shielding against chest, tucked safely under the open zipper of my jacket. He must have taken my silence as me not forgiving him and he was right to but in a blinding light I feel something slam into my temple and everything is gone. He's denied me everything.

I didn't dream. I didn't see a bright light, just a flash like Gracie's camera. I worry because I know I'm not smiling and don't want to ruin her happy photo with the sadness I'm feeling. I try to smile for her so she doesn't worry. I don't want her to worry. I saw the images of the trees against a darkening sky as blue as my bedroom walls and couldn't keep my eyes from them. They look haunting now, twisting hands reaching for me and I jump as they appear to close in the same way his hands did. My eyes shoot open and pain returns but the breath leaving my lips in tiny white puffs tell me I'm alive. I'm breathing. I wish I wasn't.

The sky is still bright but its been hours judging by the direction the shadows are now falling on the ground. It takes so long for me to focus through the haze caused by the spinning in my head and half of everything around me looks red, blood running into my eye and it scares me enough to force my body to move. My hand hurts and my head too but the pain is aching somewhere else and as I sit myself up slowly from the ground I remember his shock at looking down between my legs and now I see why. The tears form again until I can't see through them, everything a blurry watercolor as I reach to grab a handful of damp leaves, trying my best to wipe the crimson from my thighs. My hands are shaking. It's not coming off. I tremble as I reach to pull my jeans back up over my hips, cursing the tight fabric now more than ever. It takes everything I have to cover myself and my hand is screaming with every movement I put it through. Somehow I manage to feel sadness when I see the tear in the denim on my thigh, if only to try and forget about the pain through my entire body. It distracts me for three seconds. I counted.

Clutching at the buttons of my shirt to hold it closed I try to stand to my feet only to fall instantly. I can't feel my legs. They aren't working. I need to move and they're failing me. I need to walk and I can't. My stomach heaves violently as I crash back to my knees, bile rising in my throat and assaulting the leaves on the ground with the contents of my stomach. My hand shoots out to brace myself and keep from falling back to my grave completely. Sharp pain cuts through my uninjured hand now and my eyes manage to pick up the colored pieces of glass nestled among the leaves and jagged rocks.

My body tenses because I've been so wrapped up in trying to move that I forget who did this to me. I expect another blow from his fist and the attack to resume and I flinch, waiting. Its silent though. He's gone and I'm alone on the cold ground.

"Marley?" A voice shouts and I panic instantly, terror now something so fresh in my mind.

He's coming back. I try to pull myself from the ground again, to stand so I can run but I keep falling and every time I fall harder than the time before. Keeping my hand tucked under my coat I can't brace myself as I hit the ground but I can't stop trying. It hurts to much. A male silhouette appears through the fog, still far enough away that I might have a chance so I risk more injury to my hand, using it to shift myself up to my feet and stumble behind the metal shed. I'm crying too much. He's going to hear me. My eyes slam shut and I squeeze them until they hurt, curling my knees up against my chest and tucking my head down to muffle the ragged cry leaving my lips.

"Marley?"

Arms close around me and I scream, my hand flying out to hit him with every ounce of strength I have left and this time I feel the power behind it as my fist crashes into his jaw, sending searing pain shooting from my hand up the length of my arm. I'm somehow met with warm brown eyes and I freeze. My heart racing and there might as well have been a flood gate holding back my tears before. There's so many now.

It's Ben.

A loud whistle pulls me to the stinging in my hand and I realize I'm clenching it too tightly and release the tension.

Where do I start now? Ben found me that day when I needed someone but by that point Cole had already taken them from me. The Harpers were called when I didn't show up for work, my boss following protocol to prevent foster kids from running away. Cole never showed up at work either. I later found out that he made it home only to pass out for hours on his couch while I lay on cold ground in the worst pain I've ever felt. Ben went there first to look for me and by that time the alcohol had worn off enough. He denied knowing where I was at first but I had forgotten something there and Ben noticed. My knit hat laying on floor by the front door. Cole could have denied knowing how it got there and even if he had there was a key somewhere else. My smiling face caught by Gracie's camera before I left the house. He told Ben where to find me. I also learned later that Cole was forced into unconsciousness by Ben's fist. I was lost from the family I wanted. Coles words made that happen. The social worker's daughter was his reason for snapping and while I knew it was wrong I knew part of me would always hear his words when I looked at them. They'd be the reminder everyday and that wasn't fair to them. They deserved more and I was so broken and beyond caring about anything that it was the only thing I could hold on to. The thought that I was sparing them from my nightmare. I moved back into a system where I didn't have a place and I stayed there.

Another whistle brings my attention to movement a short distance down the hill I'm parked on top of, a small lookout point over the McCullers' property. I feel my eyes sting as I watch the train pulling away and while I know it has to happen...it hurts all the same. The only pain that's tops the loss of my family ten years ago. Paige found me five years ago and I took the opportunity she offered as an escape that I needed at the time. And now? Well, now I need to know that I capable of standing on my own. Paige is the happiest I've ever seen her with Emily now by her side and they'll be okay. The train fading away in the distance is proof that I'm only getting stronger and with Riley by my side, patient and understanding...I have hope that I'll be okay one day too. Its his kiss and my mouth that I've given him. I'm closer than ever at finding myself through Riley. I wipe more tears from my cheeks and slide down from the hood of the car, uneasy at the twisting fog and the silhouettes of the trees. Riley is waiting for me so I have to go.

Love, Marley


Water -Melanie C (Paige & Emily) {I do not own these lyrics}

I've been waiting all my life to fly so high
Unbelievable, now the sun is shining in my life
Every day I want you more, we will endure
Anything they say, anything they throw away
Stronger now than yesterday

Feel like I could walk across the water
Heavenly, there's not a cloud up in the sky
And I know for you there'll never be another
So the rain can fall but I would still be dry

I am basking in the light, so wonderful
I wanna celebrate everything that brought me here today
As the ocean hits the shore, forever more
I am by your side, never cross the borderline
Love you till the end of the time

Feel like I could walk across the water
Heavenly, there's not a cloud up in the sky
And I know for you there'll never be another
So the rain can fall but I would still be dry

And baby when I think of you my heart is open
And I do believe that things will never change
Even though our words of love remain unspoken
I look in your eyes and know you feel the same

I wanna stay here forever
Your love is making me better
I wanna stay here forever
And love you today

I wanna stay here forever
Your love is making me better
I wanna stay here forever
(Yeah-yeah)

I wanna stay here forever
(I wanna stay here with you)
Your love is making me better
(Wanna love you everyday)
I wanna stay here forever
(Whoa-yea-yeah)

I wanna stay here forever
(I wanna stay here with you)
Your love is making me better
(I wanna love you everyday)
I wanna stay here forever
(Whoa-yea-yeah)


Broken Girl -Mathew West (Marley) {I do not own these lyrics}

Look what he's done to you
It isn't fair
Your light was bright and new
But he didn't care
He took the heart of a little girl
And made it grow up too fast

Now words like "innocence"
Don't mean a thing
You hear the music play
But you can't sing
Those pictures in your mind
Keep you locked up inside your past

This is a song for the broken girl
The one pushed aside by the cold, cold world
You are
Hear me when I say
You're not the worthless they made you feel
There is a Love they can never steal away
And you don't have to stay the broken girl

Those damaged goods you see
In your reflection
Love sees them differently
Love sees perfection
A beautiful display
Of healing on the way tonight
Tonight

This is a song for the broken girl
The one pushed aside by the cold, cold world
You are
Hear me when I say
You're not the worthless they made you feel
There is a Love they can never steal away
And you don't have to stay the broken girl

Let your tears touch to the ground
Lay your shattered pieces down
And be amazed by how Grace can take a broken girl
And put her back together again

This is a song for the broken girl
The one pushed aside by the cold, cold world
You are
Hear me when I say
You're not the worthless they made you feel
There is a Love they can never steal away
And you don't have to stay the broken girl
You don't have to stay the broken girl