Emily watched Hanna with a mixture of affection and annoyance as she hung casually over the counter chatting about shoes while Emily cleaned up after shift.
"Caleb has plans tonight do you want to come over?" Hanna asked.
"I can't I have plans with Paige."
"Oh… just the two of you?"
"You are not invited." Emily said quickly as she continued to clean up.
"You guys are pretty exclusive, right?"
"She is my girlfriend." Emily said matter-of-factly.
"Yeah. Hey, remember Samara?"
"Yes…" Emily said as she wiped down the counter.
"It was pretty funny how she didn't think you two were exclusive and you did."
"Yeah, that was hilarious." Emily dead panned.
"I mean sometimes you just don't know about those things."
"Honestly, it is nice to be in a relationship where that isn't really a concern."
"Yeah… but you know Paige is kind of all over the map sometimes. You don't really always know where her head is at."
"Hanna…" Emily said warningly.
"You haven't been together together for that long. I mean you don't really know if you can trust her. "
"Hanna. I trust Paige with my life. Don't start again." Emily's entire demeanor went rigid with rage.
"No, no I don't mean that. It isn't an A thing." Hanna reassured Emily in a hushed whisper. "I trust her with your life too. I think she would take a bullet for you. But there are ways to hurt someone that doesn't involve murdering them or framing them for crimes."
"Just say what you want to say and we can end this."
"The other day I heard Paige on the phone with Caleb and it sounded like they were planning something to get A. Which we both know is dangerous. So, I followed her to a bar. Except Caleb wasn't there. It isn't the kind of place where Calebs would be welcome, if you know what I mean."
"I almost never know what you mean. I don't think you know what you mean half the time."
"It was a lesbian bar, Em. And Paige was there talking to this girl. And she was beautiful. Like really hot… but not hotter than you or anything. The girl was kind of all over her and Paige didn't try to stop her. They went off to dance and the girl was talking about kissing her. And Paige looked good. Like way better than she looks on your dates. No offense."
"So, you saw Paige talking to someone? That's it?" Emily said defensively.
"Em, I don't know much about a lot but I know flirting. That girl was into her and Paige was working it."
"Paige wouldn't know how to 'work it' if her life depended on it." Emily said quickly even though she knew it wasn't true. When Paige wasn't stirred up with anxiety or anger or fear she could charm a girl out of her winter coat in a blizzard. Luckily, Paige was always in a state of anger, anxiety or fear so Emily didn't worry about competition too much.
"I'm sorry, Em. My mom said I shouldn't tell you. But something was definitely up. You deserve to know."
Emily felt nauseous. She knew Hanna wasn't lying to her but it had to be a mistake. The idea that Paige could cheat on her seemed ridiculous but suddenly it was all she could think about. She wasn't just angry and upset. She was afraid. Afraid that all of the drama circling her life had broken one of the few good things she had left. Afraid that maybe she hadn't told Paige that she was the good thing in her life. Afraid she would hit Paige so hard she wouldn't get the chance to explain.
The McCullers's housekeeper let Emily into the house and directed her to the backyard. Paige was doing laps in the pool as her father timed her. Emily shook her head in annoyance. Their pool was heated but it was freezing outside and Paige didn't need the practice. She was breaking records left and right. Then she remembered what Hanna told her and hoped she was freezing her ass off.
"Hello, Mr. McCullers."
"Emily." Mr. McCullers acknowledged her curtly. "I suppose you can let up now. But your time needs a lot of work. First thing tomorrow morning."
"Thanks, Dad." Paige said brightly as she got out of the pool. Emily supposed this was his form of encouragement since Paige seemed pleased. He walked back into the house without another word.
"Hey, beautiful, you are early. I thought I was supposed to come over after eight." Paige leaned in to give her a peck but Emily backed away.
"You are all wet."
"I thought you liked me soaking wet." Paige said with a smile. She was definitely in a flirty mood and it just made Emily angrier.
"It is freezing out. Put this on." Emily handed her the fleece that had been lying on a chair. "Let's go inside."
As they entered her bedroom, Paige wasted no time in changing out of her suit and Emily had to turn away. The last thing she needed was to get distracted. She changed into a pair of sweats and a ribbed white tank-top, which was almost as distracting.
"Not that I am complaining about your presence but what's up?" Paige asked with a smile.
"We don't lie to each other right, Paige?"
"Um, I guess not."
"You guess not?"
"Well, honestly, I don't love the movie Blue Crush but you seemed into it so…"
"I am being serious, Paige." Emily cut her off.
"No, Emily, we don't lie to each other. What is going on?"
"Hanna saw you with another girl."
"What? Becky Conners? She was just letting me borrow her notes for Calculus. She flirts with anything. Boys, girls, horses…"
"No, but you shouldn't be talking to Becky Conners anyway. Hanna followed you to a lesbian bar. She saw you with another girl." Emily clarified.
"She followed me?" Paige said with an edge of anger in her voice. "Emily, that is insane."
"Well, you wouldn't be so worried about people following you if you didn't have anything to hide."
"You sound like you are A right now, Emily. " Paige pointed out but then quickly changed tracks seeing that getting into a fight on that point wouldn't help. "You know I would never cheat on you. I lo… I only want to be with you."
"Then who was this girl? I know things have been difficult. I kissed Nate, he kidnapped you, the A drama. I know other girls are less complicated. But if you don't want this then you could have the decency to tell me. " Emily was pacing in rage now.
"I don't want less complicated. Well, that isn't true. I would love it if things were less complicated. But I want you more than I want less complicated. So much more." Paige was pleading now.
"She said she was all over you and you were working it."
"Work it?! Emily if I knew how to work it my first real kiss with a girl would have involved two willing people."
Paige's denials were just making Emily more angry and upset. She knew the things she was saying were true. She knew Paige loved her even if they weren't at the point where they were willing to say that, yet. But she also knew that Paige hadn't denied anything that Hanna had said.
"Don't pull that, Paige. Hanna saw what she saw and you aren't denying it. You are just talking."
"Em, I just need you to trust me. Nothing happened." Paige said wearily. It couldn't be more obvious she was keeping something.
"I trust you. But I know you are hiding something. So what am I supposed to think?"
"Em, please." Paige pleaded and reached out to grab Emily's hand.
"I am going to go." Emily shook off Paige's touch.
"Her name is Shana. She used to swim for a high school in South Carolina. We met at a meet."
"Do I know her?"
"No, it was when you had the ulcer. We hit it off and sort of kept in touch. And when she moved nearby over the summer we met up."
"Ok, define 'hit it off' and 'met up'" Emily said coldly. They idea of Paige with another girl drove her crazy even if it wasn't when they were together. Emily thought of Paige's confident swagger when she had confessed that she had come out. The idea that this girl had given her that confidence just infuriated her more.
"Em… OK, when we hit it off we made out a little bit once. And when we used to meet up we would make out a little more regularly after dinner or a movie."
"Dating. That's called dating. You dated her. So, Hanna only saw your ex-girlfriend hanging all over you. I am really glad we had this talk."
"It wasn't even dating. It was occasionally hooking up. And I broke it off after I had a moment with someone else."
"Who?! How many girls am I competing with here?"
"You, Emily. You came over that night you were drugged and kissed me. And even if it wasn't going to happen again, even if you didn't remember, I knew I didn't want anyone else. I still don't want anyone else."
"Oh. So, why were you with her at a lesbian bar? And how is it you were so scared to go out with me but you are fine hanging out with randoms?"
"Emily, this A stuff has really shaken me up. And I realized that I am not afraid for myself. I am afraid for you. Emily, this is insane. Your life is insane. And it is like it doesn't even register for you. Aria was almost thrown from a train. I watched someone try to strangle Spencer. And, literally, the next day you were grabbing coffee and chatting about accessories. This isn't normal. This isn't OK."
"I know that, Paige, but we can't live our lives in fear."
"You can't live your life pretending there is nothing to be afraid of, either! You can't just be OK with someone trying to hurt you. And Caleb agrees with me."
"What does this have to do with that skank?"
"Shana works for the Halloween store where we all bought our costumes. I remembered seeing that Queen of Hearts costume there. I just wanted to see if I could find out who bought it but she didn't know. And, yeah, she is flirty. That is just how she is. And I didn't completely shut her down. But I just wanted information."
Emily sat down. This had been exhausting. She was relieved and more enamored with Paige than ever. But terrified for Paige's safety. This was a dangerous game.
"You believe me, right?" Paige said kneeling down in front of her.
Emily took her face in her hands and kissed her softly.
"I believe you. But I want you to stop this. You can't go after A. A always wins. I can't lose you."
Paige didn't respond but instead kissed her pouring everything into the kiss. Emily knew they would have to talk about this sooner rather than later but she was pretty happy to let herself be distracted at that moment. Paige pushed Emily back on the bed and climbed on top of her. She began leaving soft kisses on her neck and running her hands up and down her sides but then she abruptly broke away.
"Sorry, Em, I am still all wet." She teased and made a slight effort to get off of Emily before Emily pulled her back forcefully.
"I like you wet." Emily tried to bring them together for another kiss but they were stopped by footsteps on the stairs and quickly broke apart before Nick McCullers barged in without knocking.
"Paige. Your mother and I are going to the Nicholsons now. Olga is in the house. You should entertain downstairs." He leaned in to give Paige a kiss on her forehead.
"OK, Dad, have fun." Paige said and turned to Emily. "So, if you let me get changed and we can go on the date we actually had planned?"
"I like you in what you are wearing." Emily said enjoying the way the tank-top stuck to her curves in a way she had refused herself before. "And I don't really feel like going out. What if we just go downstairs to your ridiculous media room, watch a movie, order Thai, and cuddle."
"I really like that idea." Paige said leaning in to kiss her softly. "I really like you."
"I really like you, too, Paige." Emily said with a smile letting Paige lead her out of the room by the hand. There was still a lot to deal with. But she just wanted a normal night with her girlfriend.