She was twelve years old the first time she laid eyes on Emily Fields.
She was sitting at a table in the corner of Rosewood's newest cafe. She took in her surroundings and casually sipped her smoothie. Her father sat across from her, reading the local newspaper and tutting every few minutes. They had moved to the little town a few weeks ago, and Paige was going to be starting school on Monday. Mr McCullers had surprised her this Saturday morning, telling her he would take her out for a drink. Paige loved her father, and grasped at any opportunity to spend time with him, but he had spent the last twenty minutes sat across from her, only occasionally addressing her directly. Paige would never say anything, but sometimes she felt like her father didn't pay her very much attention.
The bells above the door rang, signalling a new customer. In walked two girls, chatting away happily and giggling. Paige smiled sadly to herself. She was really worried about making new friends. Her mom assured her that she'd be fine, and that the other kids would be falling over each other to become her friend, but Paige wasn't too sure. She knew she was competitive, and sometimes that warned other people off. She'd had a few friends back home, but she had mostly spent time on her own in her room.
She turned back to her drink and sighed. A few minutes passed, and once she had finished the last of her smoothie, her father spoke up.
"Come on, Paige. Time to go." He folded up his paper, drained the last few dregs of his coffee and made to get up. Paige grabbed her jacket from the back of her chair and followed her out.
"Hanna, stop, that's awful!" A laugh rang out from behind her; the two girls were obviously still having fun. Paige paused at the door. She turned around in order to get one last glimpse at the girls. The blonde girl was chuckling to herself and handing her money over the counter. The other girl stood by her side, clutching the drinks. She was very pretty. She wore a bright summer dress; her dark, braided hair fell gently down her back. She caught Paige's eye and smiled softly. Paige swiftly turned around and ran out of the cafe after her father.
There was no way she was going to be able to make friends here.
A fourteen year old Paige hopped off her bike and locked it up against the side of the cafe. She took a moment to compose herself, straightening the creases out on her new jacket; her new Sharks jacket. She grinned to herself. Paige had made the team a few weeks into the new school year. She had always loved swimming, and her father's suggestion to join the school team turned out to be the best decision she ever made. She even got well with the other girls on the team, and for the first time in a long time, Paige felt accepted.
She headed over to the counter to order a post-practice drink. She was digging into the pocket of her jacket when she heard her name called out.
She stood there, as beautiful as ever, and sporting an identical jacket to Paige. That had been the one downside to getting a place on the team. Emily was also a swimmer, a brilliant one. Paige had never spoken to Emily properly after the cafe incident a couple of years ago, she just watched her from afar. Not in a creepy way, she just liked looking at Emily for some reason. She liked it the most when she smiled. She knew it was a cliché, but it was like her smile just changed the mood of everything around her. Everything was better when Emily smiled.
"Oh, hey Emily." Paige stood there awkwardly, lifting her hand mid-way up in a pathetic attempt at a wave. Emily gave a little half smile, and motioned to the cup in her own hand.
"Grabbing a drink after practise too?"
"Uh, yeah! Yeah, that's exactly what I'm doing." Paige just stayed motionless, unable to think of anything else to say.
"Well, I better be going, Alison's waiting for me outside." Paige, who had been midway through turning towards the counter, froze at the mention of the other girl's name. Herself and Alison didn't get on well at all.
"Okay, yeah, I should probably go too..." Emily made to go, but turned back and placed a warm hand on Paige's shoulder.
"You swam really well today, Paige."
Paige's body hummed at the touch. The warmth of Emily's delicate finger spread through her, leaving her breathless and lightheaded.
"Thanks, Emily. You too." She managed to get the words out without stuttering, and Emily smiled and walked out.
Paige watched her go, the ghost of Emily's hand still lingering on her shoulder.
At sixteen Paige finally accepted that she was different. She realised that her thoughts and feeling weren't what would be considered normal. The night she realised this, she cried. She sobbed and sobbed, praying that this sinful part of her could change.
When a few months later, nothing had changed, she accepted it. She was so tired: Tired of hiding, tired of being ashamed, tired of being Emily's friend. But there was nothing she could do. Her father would never speak to her again if he knew. So he couldn't know.
Paige thought about this as she trailed into the Brew, clutching the money her father gave her to buy them each a drink. He was waiting in the car outside. Paige was both emotionally and mentally exhausted. The more tired her mind grew, the more she pushed herself in training. It was easier that way.
Kick, stroke, kick, stroke.
Over and over again, until everything else disappeared.
It was becoming really hard to smile these days.
Her thoughts were interrupted by the shock of a sudden coldness across her chest.
"Oh shoot, I'm sorry!"
Paige's head shot up to tear the person who had spilled their drink all over her a new one. Her feelings of anger disappeared straight away, however, when she was met with the eyes of one Emily Fields.
"Paige? I'm so sorry! I'll pay for your shirt. Here let me-" She frantically grabbed at some napkins and attempted to dab the mess away from Paige's chest. The brush of her hand caused Paige to shiver, and she hastily pushed her away.
"It's fine, really, Emily. Don't worry about it. Honestly."
"I'm such a clutz. Coach has just been riding us so hard in practise, don't you think?"
Paige tried her best, she really did. But she was a teenager. The blush at Emily's words crept up her neck and she coughed to disguise the involuntary noise that escaped her throat.
"Y-yeah. Definitely. Look, I've gotta go, don't worry about the shirt, it's fine." Paige hastily stumbled out of the shop before Emily could even respond, and practically threw herself into her dad's car. She quickly gave him an excuse before he could ask her about her breathless state.
"The coffee machine wasn't working." Mr McCullers just scoffed and commented on how he wasn't even surprised, before driving off.
Paige sunk back into her seat, and let out a shaky breath.
Seventeen years. Paige was sure it seemed a lot longer than that. She guessed that was what happened when you spent so long trying to change. But she hadn't. And she had never been more grateful.
She walked through the door of the Brew and caught sight of the young barista.
She walked over to her, and the two locked eyes.
She lifted her hand to the girl's neck and captured her lips in a soft kiss. After a few seconds, she broke away, resting her forehead against the other girl's.
"Good morning, baby."