The four girls had given up on playing drinking games in favour of just drinking and chatting, and by the time they ran out of alcohol Hanna was practically catatonic lying across Emily's bunk. Emily had moved over on to Paige's bed with the other two girls and they were talking quietly over Hanna's snoring. At some point during the night Emily and Paige had subconsciously shifted closer and their knees were brushing against each other. Emily felt quite content just sitting next to the other girl. They'd managed to avoid any more arguments or touchy subjects. "I think I'm going to call it a night girls." Cade sighed as she stretched and climbed off the bunk.
"I'll walk you back." Paige offered as she pulled herself up off the bed too. Emily missed the warmth at her side almost immediately and Cade, noticing her slightly disgruntled expression, gave her a lopsided grin.
"And they say chivalry is dead!"
Emily smiled up at her, her soft brown doe eyes were glazed over from all the vodka, but there was still a spark of something there; something that looked a lot like jealousy. Cadence decided to give her friend a helping hand in more ways than one as she laced her fingers through Paige's, acting as though she was a little more unsteady on her feet than she actually was. "See you in the morning Em."
"Goodnight." Emily smiled politely as she got to her feet and tried to wake Hanna up so she could get her bed back. The other two girls slipped out of the cabin and walked across the field towards cabin five.
"You and Emily…spill." Cadence ordered as she fished her key out of her pocket and Paige leant against the door of her cabin. She really was feeling unsteady on her feet and without Cade to hold on to the world around her was beginning to spin in and out of focus. She'd offered to walk her back to try and clear her head with some fresh air, but it seemed to have had the opposite effect on her. She managed to follow the blonde in to the room and slumped down on her spare bed as Cade crashed out on her own. "I thought she was straight! Why the hell aren't you hitting that?"
"Because I fucked up." Paige grumbled. "She was the first person I told about how I am; which is pretty ironic seeing as she was the one who made me realise I was this way in the first place-"
"Gay. You can say the word you know?" Cadence teased. She rolled on to her side and propped herself up on one arm to face the other girl. "So what happened with you two? You obviously dated."
"I wasn't ready for people to know and she wasn't willing to hide. By the time I was comfortable enough for people to know, well her first girlfriend was back on the scene and I didn't stand a chance."
"Are you kidding? You're hot McCullers, and you have the whole swimming thing in common. You can totally get Emily back from this girl-"
"She died." Paige interrupted, instantly silencing the other girl. "She was murdered a few months ago and nobody knows what happened. Emily's been pretty cut up about it, that's why Hanna brought her here this weekend."
"Murdered? Jesus! But still, she's single right?"
"Not really the most important point." Paige rolled her eyes at the other girl's candour. "She doesn't need me hitting on her Cade. She needs a friend."
"She has Hanna for that. What she needs from you is a good fu-"
"Goodnight Cade." The younger girl pulled herself up from the spare bunk to head back over to her cabin. "Oh, I think I'll skip our run in the morning."
"Me and you both." Cade laughed as she waved the younger girl off.
Paige made her way back over to the cabin she was sharing with Hanna and Emily. She stumbled through the door and frowned as she found Emily lying in her bed. She'd changed in to her pyjamas and she looked quite comfortable with Paige's comforter wrapped around her. She felt something stirring in her at the sight of Emily lying in her bed. "Wrong bed, Fields." She was amazed that she was able to stop her voice from trembling as she walked over to the closet. She pulled her bed shorts on before pulling her skirt down and then exchanged her top for her Sharks vest.
"Hanna wouldn't move out of mine." Emily grumbled. "And I can't manage the steps for the top bunk."
"Too bad, because I can't either." Paige eyed the offending steps warily. She was too drunk to try and take on the challenge of the three steps that led up to the top bunk. The last thing she needed going in to her senior year was to break something falling off of the bunk. "Looks like you're sharing with Marin." She tried prodding Emily, to get her to move, but the other girl just grumbled again and rolled over, turning her back on Paige and making herself more comfortable.
"No way…she kicks in her sleep."
"She's your friend and this is my bed! So move out or move over, Fields!" It was an empty threat. She had no intentions of sharing a bed with Emily. She expected her to give up and climb in to bed with Hanna; so she was more than a little shocked when Emily scooted over to the far side of the bed and pulled the covers back, inviting her in to bed. Paige felt her mouth going dry as she stared down at the small space beside Emily on the bunk. They would practically be lying on top of each other, and even in her drunken state Paige recognised that it would probably end badly.
Swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat, she climbed in to bed beside the dark haired beauty that she had craved for so long. She was calling Emily's bluff. The other girl's eyes widened a little as slipped in beside her, but she made no attempt to move from Paige's bed. "Goodnight then." She choked out as she rolled on to her side to face the wall, presenting her back to Paige.
"'Night." Paige mumbled, suddenly feeling a hell of a lot more sober with Emily pressed right against her, the bare skin of her arms and thighs seemingly touching her everywhere. She lay with her back to the other girl, practically hanging over the edge of the tiny bunk. Emily was pressed right up against the wall, and neither of them was particularly comfortable.
"Your feet are cold!" Emily grumbled as she tried to pull her knees up to her chest, but the movement pushed Paige even further towards the edge of the bed. She could see herself waking up on the floor in the morning if she didn't do something about their positions.
She turned over so she was lying on her side and facing Emily, which gave her a little more space. The shift in the way she was lying left her with a new problem though; she was pretty much spooning the other girl and her entire body felt on fire everywhere they were touching. She lay quietly for a second, waiting to see how Emily would react. Surprisingly she didn't start kicking and screaming, she actually shuffled back, pressing herself even further against the other girl. Paige tentatively draped an arm over her stomach as she laid her head down on the single pillow. She felt the muscles in Emily's abdomen pushing against her fingers as she chuckled softly. "Figures you'd be the big spoon."
Paige's lips curled up in to a smile in response. They were lying so close that the movement caused her lips to brush against the soft skin of Emily's neck. Both girls fell still and silent as they lay there in the dark, the sound of Hanna's snoring filling the silent cabin. After a beat Paige moved her lips again, this time deliberately pressing them to Emily's neck. She heard a soft moan escaping from the other girl's lips and it was all the encouragement she needed to keep going. "Stop." Emily pleaded, even as she turned to meet Paige's lips with her own. As their lips met the kissing became more frantic and urgent, both knowing it could stop at any time.
"I can't." Paige was unrepentant as she kissed her, making no attempt to pull away. It had been months since she had felt Emily's lips against her own. She knew that the kiss wouldn't change anything. It wouldn't fix what had happened between them; but a part of her hoped that it would. That if she could just keep kissing Emily for long enough then the world would magically right itself.
The world didn't work that way though, and Paige almost groaned in frustration as Emily finally pulled away. Their positions had shifted a little as Emily had rolled over to face her and she found the other girl had somehow ended up straddling her hips. Paige's hands found their way to Emily's bare thighs, sitting just below her shorts, as she tried to sit up and kiss her again. Emily placed a hand flat on her chest as she pushed her back down against the pillow. "I can't do this." She choked out and her eyes were watering. She looked as lost and broken as the night Paige had found her at the school natatorium. Paige was torn between doing what was best for her friend, and satisfying her overwhelming need for the other girl. She settled for reaching a hand out to cup her cheek, her thumb brushing away a stray tear that had fallen. Emily turned her head, her soft lips pressing against the pad of her hand.
Paige's eyes closed of their own accord as she bit back an exasperated sigh. Emily had no idea what kind of effect she had on her. She was struggling to keep herself from sitting up and crushing her lips against Emily's, taking what she so desperately needed from the exquisite girl straddling her waist. "I'm sorry. I'm not doing this to hurt you." Emily sobbed, her tears falling freely as Paige sat up to wrap her arms around her. She held her close, sitting quietly as Emily cried in to her shoulder.
"I know you're not." She soothed. It didn't mean she wasn't hurting though. Their endless game of push and pull was getting all too much and Paige was starting to seriously consider whether she could have Emily in her life as just a friend. Would it be easier on both of them if she just cut Emily out of her life all together? Would it be better if Paige just kept her distance? Could she ever get over the girl who had stolen her heart long before she had even realised she wanted her to have it?
She moved so that they were lying down on their sides again, her arms still wrapped protectively around Emily's waist as she pressed her lips to her cheek. "You're drunk and you're tired. You just need some sleep." Paige suddenly felt a lot more sober and she reluctantly let go of the other girl as she made to get off the bed. Emily caught her hand and pulled her arm back around her.
"Stay? Please?" Her big brown eyes were wide and pleading as she stared up at Paige, needing her more than she could ever put in to words. Her friend and teammate had been a rock since Mayas' death and she wasn't quite ready to let her go. She knew it was selfish and maybe a little cruel to ask Paige to stay, but she was craving the comfort that the other girl could offer her.
"I'm not going anywhere." Paige choked out. Unable to deny Emily anything she lay back down beside her. She felt a lump forming in her throat as they lay there in the dark and she closed her eyes as she felt hot stinging tears welling up in them. Emily was already falling apart; Paige had to be strong enough for both of them.
"I'm sorry." Emily repeated, her voice already taking on a faraway quality as she started to succumb to sleep.
"It's ok. Just go to sleep…things will look better in the morning." It was a lie of course. Things would probably be much worse in the morning. Emily would wake with a hangover and a burning sense of regret at having kissed Paige. She would be quiet and distance until she left the camp, and Paige would be left wondering whether they could ever really be friends; and if she would ever taste Emily's lips on her own again. Knowing all of this, Paige held on to the other girl a little more tightly, not quite ready to let go.
It didn't take either of them long to fall asleep and when Paige woke up several hours later she found herself still wrapped around the other girl. She glanced cautiously over at the other bunk, where Hanna was still out cold with the blanket half over her head. Emily was still sleeping soundly, though she had turned over in the night so she was facing in to Paige with her head on her shoulder and one arm draped loosely over her chest. Paige was definitely feeling the effects of drinking so much, with her head feeling like it was going to literally fall off her shoulders as she shifted slightly to press her lips to Emily's forehead. She felt like death warmed up and was definitely in no hurry to get out of bed, so she settled back down and closed her eyes over, hoping to get another few hours before the others returned from their camping.
She wasn't sure how long she had drifted off for before and explosion of noise roused her awake again. She heard the front door of the main cabin slam open, followed by a gaggle of excited teenage voices. She groaned as her eyes opened and she found the morning light flooding her vision. The pounding in her head had somehow managed to get even worse and between her dry mouth and dead shoulder she felt like hell. Emily was still lying on her, hence the dead arm and shoulder, but she began to stir as she heard the noise from next door. Across the room Hanna let out what sounded like a whimper as she pulled the blanket fully over her head in an attempt to drown out the noise of the jovial teenage girls.
Emily's eyes opened a crack as she lifted her head in an attempt to figure out where she was and why one side of her body felt so warm. Discovering she was cuddled in to Paige's side she let out a huff of air before putting her head back down on her shoulder. Her eyes closed over again and it didn't look like she was in any kind of hurry to get up. A small smile tugged at Paige's lips as she watched her falling back to sleep. Despite her raging hangover she was pretty content, happy to just lie there with the girl of her dreams wrapped around her. The tranquillity of the moment was broken as the inner door of the cabin burst open and Sara and the twins appeared at the doorway, shouting loudly about how great camping in the woods had been. They were used to Paige having the room to herself and she'd had a pretty open door policy in regards to them going in her room, but they seemed to realise they'd done the wrong thing by bursting in without knocking. With Hanna buried under her blanket all the younger girls could see was Paige and Emily sharing the far bunk.
"Ughhh…My head!" Emily grumbled as Paige shot up, dislodging her from where she had been nestled comfortably in to her shoulder.
"Whoa! Sorry." Tory, the oldest twin held her hand up in front of her face as she let out a giggle and disappeared back in to the other room, dragging her twin along with her and no doubt gleefully announcing that she'd just caught the two older girls in bed together; not that they had actually been doing anything, but Paige still felt her cheeks colouring. What had Emily said to her about falling out of the closet and on to her face? She suddenly had a good idea of what that felt like as Sara just stood there staring at her with wide eyes and an open mouth. Emily, having finally noticed the teens, sat up and scooted back so she was sitting against the wall. Paige pushed the bed covers away as she tried to think of something to say that would fix what had just happened. She had visions of the girls running to Julie and outing her, demanding a new peer councillor and refusing to bunk with a lesbian; she'd have to leave the camp, her dad would be furious at the embarrassment, he'd start kicking off about her sexuality again and maybe even blaming Emily…
"Sara, I…" she opened her mouth, struggling to find the words she needed that would fix things. She faltered as she felt Emily squeezing her hand, trying to give her some sort of reassurance. Paige had come out to her parents and to a few friends, but she hadn't had to face a group of fourteen year old girls and announce her sexuality before. She turned to smile at Emily, silently thanking her for being there for her, but when she turned back to talk to Sara she had vanished, closing the door behind her.
Paige sighed as she slumped back on to the bed and covered her face with her hands. "God this isn't happening."
"We weren't doing anything, Paige." Emily shifted a little uncomfortably as she put her hand on Paige's shoulder. They had after all only been sleeping. Emily had shared a bed with a friend countless times before; though admittedly few if any of them had been an ex-girlfriend. She felt partially responsible since she'd refused to share a bed with Hanna. She'd been greedy though, needing Paige's company the night before far too much to turn her away. Her unintentional selfishness had once again gone and hurt the other girl. She really didn't mean to play with her feelings, but it just seemed too hard to stop the lines between friendship and something more blurring together whenever they spent any time around each other.
"Try telling them that." She groaned, wondering how long it would take before Julie kicked her out of the camp.
"You tell them." Emily's tone held an air of confidence that had been missing for quite some time. Her expression was resolute as she climbed out of bed and tugged Paige to her feet. "So what you're gay? It's not a crime. Just go in there and tell Tory that nothing happened and it's none of her damn business if anything did anyway. What?" Emily frowned as she found Paige grinning at her.
"Nothing." She shrugged, barely supressing her smirk as she shook her head. "It's just…I thought I was supposed to be the ballsy one." Emily rolled her eyes as she shoved her towards the door.
She knew Emily was right though. She had to get a handle on the situation and the first thing to do was to put a stop to the gossiping. Taking a deep breath she walked through in to the other room. The teenage girls, who had all previously been talking in loud excited voices, fell silent. Five of them were huddled around one of the bunks, with Tory at the centre of attention. No doubt she was putting her own little spin on finding the two older girls in bed together. Sara was sat in her own bunk, her headphones shoved over her ears and the volume cranked up to a deafening level. Paige gestured for her to remove the headphones and the sulking teen grumpily complied.
She cleared her throat, getting the attention of the other girls in the room. Her hands were balled in to fists at her sides and she felt sick to her stomach at the thought of publically announcing her sexuality to so many people at once. Some of the kids, like Sara, she had known for years, and it felt strange to finally be admitting she wasn't what she pretended to be. "Uh, Tory's obviously been filling you in on finding me and Ems in bed together." There were a couple of hushed whispers and some silly giggling, but Paige silenced the room again with a stern glare. She carried on unfazed. "And yes, I'm…I'm gay, but Emily and I are just friends." The truth tasted bitter on her tongue. The other girls looked sceptically amongst themselves and Paige was glad to feel Emily standing behind her. If there was going to be some kind of fallout she was glad to have the other girl supporting her. Emily had been her entire motivation for coming out, and even if she'd missed her chance with her she was still thankful that admitting who she was to the rest of the world had helped her grow in to herself. She felt more like herself with Emily around then she did without her.
"Ok." Tory shrugged, breaking the deafening silence that had settled over the cabin. "Oh, and I wasn't talking about you. We were camping with the guys from cabin two and Josh Henson asked me out." The fourteen year old beamed, oblivious to the heart palpations Paige was suffering as she realised she had just outed herself for no reason.
"So…you guys don't have a problem with me?" She quizzed, her brain still not processing their lack of reaction. Behind her Emily was biting back a smile, happy to see that the girls weren't bothered by their peer councillor's sexuality.
"Of course not, you're awesome Paige." Little Hannah piped up and the rest of the girls chirped in with their agreement.
"Yeah, besides we all kind of thought you were doing it with that blonde girl from the cabin next door. You might want to come up with a better cover story than jogging. I mean, who goes jogging at 5am unless they're getting some, right?" Tory began reassuring Paige before she broke off on a tangent and the other girls joined in, discussing who else at the camp was gay and who was hooking up with whom. Paige shook her head as she left them to it and followed Emily back in to their room.
"Wow." She exclaimed as she shut the door behind her and slumped against it. "That didn't go how I expected it to." She had been ready for the worst, expecting protest and pitchforks, but the girls had brushed aside her admission in favour of camp gossip. It really didn't bother them that Paige was gay; except for Sara. She had skulked off while Paige had been staring slack jawed at Tory as she announced that they all thought she was with Cade anyway. She knew the younger girl looked up to her as some sort of role model and she was worried she had upset her by admitting she wasn't straight. When she conveyed her fears to Emily the other girl struggled not to roll her eyes.
"I think you should go talk to her." Emily insisted as she climbed back in to bed and wrapped the comforter around her. Part of Paige just wanted to ignore whatever was going on with Sara and to climb back in to bed with Emily; but she knew that opportunity had come and gone. However Emily had needed her the night before, in the sober light of day she needed her as a friend.
Sighing Paige pulled on her Penn State hoodie, noticing how Emily's scent still clung to the fabric, and went outside in search of Sara. She found her sitting outside on the steps outside of the door. Paige, who was still feeling a little worse for wear from the night before, sat down beside her and pulled her knees up to her chest, pulling her hoodie down over her legs to keep warm. Sara didn't acknowledge her. She just sat staring out across the lake at the bottom of the field and the older teen wasn't sure what she was meant to say to her. She was supposed to be a peer councillor, there to help the girls settle in to life at camp and to be a friend when they needed one, but she wasn't quite sure what the younger girl's problem was so she had no advice to offer.
"How can you stand there in a room full of people and tell them…" Sara pulled a face and Paige felt the pit of her stomach sinking as she mistook her reaction for disgust. She had thought Sara of all the girls would have taken the news well, but she seemed to be struggling over it. "How can you be so brave?" Her expression changed to one of utter adoration again and Paige felt herself relax. She finally felt like she was on levelling footing again as the pieces of the puzzle slotted in to place.
"I wasn't always this brave." She admitted, offering the other girl an easy smile. "It took me a long time to be able to stand there and tell everybody about me…and even then it took one last push."
"I think…I think I might be gay." Sara kept her gaze low on the water as she said the words out loud for the first time. "There's this girl I really like, from school, and she's totally amazing, but she's older and she just sees me as this little kid…I want to tell her how I feel, but I'm afraid…" Tears started sliding down her cheeks as she finally opened about her confusing feelings for the older girl.
"Want to know a secret?" Paige asked, not quite able to deal with a crying fourteen year old girl. She came from a very emotionally stoic family and with few female friends outside of the swim team she wasn't used to dealing with the touchy feely emotional stuff. The younger girl nodded as she wiped at her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "I had a crush on a girl in my class when I was your age." She had fallen for Emily the first day of Junior High; though at the time she hadn't quite understood her attraction. She'd thought she'd wanted to be her friend and she would have given anything to be friends with Emily Fields back then, but Allison had put a stop to that happening. She kept her tight niche group of friends all to herself, especially Emily. She'd seen right through Paige and had warned her off of the other girl a few times.
"What did you do?" Sara sniffled, finally managing to get her crying under control.
"Well… I was a jerk to her. I was fourteen and I had all these feelings that I didn't understand, feelings that pretty much terrified me. She terrified me." Paige admitted with something of a cross between a laugh and sigh. Emily shifted by the door, feeling uneasy about eavesdropping on them, but unable to walk away as Paige confided in the younger girl. "She was cute and funny and popular and everybody loved her. She just had this way of making people feel at ease around her…except for me. Every time she smiled at me, or said hello, I felt like I was going to spontaneously combust or something. I wasn't ready to feel how I did about her. I was too young, too scared…but things changed. I got older and I got comfortable with who I was."
"Did you tell the girl? The one you liked?" Sara asked, enthralled by Paige's story.
At the same time the older girl looked up and caught Emily watching them. She swallowed hard as a sad smile crossed her lips. "I did…and for a second she liked me back; but I screwed it up. I wasn't ready and I lost her. Take it from me, it's easier for other people to accept who you are if you accept it. Just be comfortable with yourself and this girl will realise how totally awesome you are."
"Thanks Paige." The other girl blushed as she leant forward and quickly pressed her lips to Paige's cheek. She pulled away just as quickly and scampered back inside the cabin, narrowly avoiding crashing in to Emily.
"You do know she was talking about you, right?" Emily smirked as she took a seat beside Paige on the steps of the cabin. She drew her knees up to her chest and brought her chin down to rest on them as the other girl looked bewildered at her.
"No, she was talking about this girl at school…" Paige started, but then something seemed to click in to place and she stopped. "Oh… crap." Emily laughed at her frown and shook her head.
"You really are oblivious to the effect you have on girls, McCullers." She teased, earning a playful shove from the other girl. "And for the record, it wasn't just you who screwed up…I should have fought for us too. I shouldn't have given up on you when you weren't ready to come out. I was in the same place once too and Maya was the one who helped me out of it. I should have been there to do the same for you."
"You did help me Em. I saw how confident you were in yourself, and it pushed me to keep going; to get to that place that I wanted to be. I just got there a little too late for you... You know, when I saw Maya was back in town I knew I didn't stand a chance, and I still don't. I can't live up to a ghost Emily."
"I'm not asking you to." Emily took hold of her hand, lacing their fingers together. "I'm just asking you to give me some time. I'm not looking for anything right now; but you know that when I am…you'll be the first to know." Paige surprised them both by leaning in close to her, their lips just barely grazing in the softest of kissed before she nodded and pulled away.
"I'll be waiting."
"Guys? Can somebody get me some water? Like a lake full?" Hanna croaked from inside the cabin and the moment between them was over, just like the weekend. Once Hanna and Emily were packed up they would be leaving and Emily would be out of the country for a month. As Paige followed Emily back in to the cabin she decided it was probably for the best. Spending the rest of the summer apart from Emily would give her enough time to come up with a game plan of how she was supposed to act around the other girl. She needed to figure out how she could give Emily what she needed from her.
The girls slowly pulled themselves around and packed up their bags ready to put in the car. After that they made it to the mess hall just in time to catch the end of breakfast and they filled their stomachs in an attempt to soak up all of the alcohol. Hanna still looked a little green around the gills so Emily offered to drive them back. It was midmorning by the time the car was packed and after saying goodbye to Cade and the girls in the cabin there was only Paige left to say goodbye to. Hanna pulled her in for a brief hug, insisting they would meet up for coffee when Paige got back from camp. The blonde climbed in to the passenger seat of the car and put the radio on loud, trying to give the other two girls some privacy.
They stood a couple of feet apart, neither sure of exactly what to say to the other. "Drive safe." Paige manage a smile as she shoved her hands in to the pockets of her shorts, standing awkwardly in front of Emily like she'd just walked the girl home from prom and was waiting on her doorstep, unsure of whether to go in for a kiss or not. Emily felt just the same.
"Thanks. Enjoy the rest of your summer, and good luck with Camp Olympics."
They carried on standing in an awkward silence for a few moments before Paige finally made the first move, deciding to be bold. She closed the distance between them and wrapped her arms around her for a hug. Emily's held her back tightly and Paige never wanted to let go, not even once the embrace started to feel a little drawn out. "Take care of yourself." She muttered and they were so close that her lips brushed against Emily's ear. She felt the other girl shudder and caught the way her eyes dipped towards her lips, but Emily seemed to decide against whatever she had been thinking as she kissed her cheek instead.
"You too." She finally pulled herself away from her fellow Shark and got in to the car with Hanna. She slipped her seatbelt on before starting the car and the pair of them waved goodbye to Paige as they started up the gravel road that would lead them back on to the main road. The drive home didn't seem as long as it had on the way there, but the silence that filled the car made it a little tense. Hanna watched her friend out of the corner of her eye, picking up on her preoccupied look. Where ever Emily's mind was it was a million miles from Scranton. She had hoped the weekend away with Paige would have helped Emily to connect a little more with the world around her again, but it seemed to have only served in pushing her back inside of her head.
"You ok?" she quizzed, already knowing the answer before Emily shook her head. "Want to talk about it?" Emily responded by pulling the car over on to the side of the road. Killing the engine she gripped the steering wheel with both hands and stared out at the road as she finally admitted to what had been eating her up inside for months.
"I gave up on Maya."
"No sweetie, you haven't!" Hanna insisted as she scooted closer to put an arm around the other girl. Emily's eyes were glistening with unshed tears as she pulled away, shaking her head and pushing her hair out of her face.
"I did. That night…the night they found her. I gave up on her." Emily croaked, her voice too choked up with emotion. In the weeks leading up to Maya disappearing Emily had been putting most of her time and energy in to swimming. They had nationals to worry about and they needed all the extra swimming sessions they could get; that also meant spending time with Paige though.
When she'd found out that Paige had come out to her parents a part of her had been overjoyed that the other girl didn't have to hide who she was anymore; until she'd remembered that she was with Maya and Paige coming out shouldn't have meant quite that much to her. Paige had been there for after nationals though too, when Maya had ran off and Emily was beside herself with worry. When she'd tried to kiss her that night outside the Brew, after telling her that Maya wasn't good enough for her, Emily had been tempted to kiss her back. To give the other girl another chance; but she'd stopped herself. She's still been holding out hope for Maya.
But then that night at the ball, when Paige had confessed to how she felt about her it had left Emily's head reeling. Paige had been slipping in to her thoughts more and more frequently. That night, after all the craziness with Mona and the dance, after finally feeling free for the first time in almost a year, Emily had finally made up her mind to let Maya go. She'd still cared about deeply about the girl, there was no denying that, but she had grown tired of her games. She was tired of having her heart broken by girls like Maya, and Allison. Paige was different. When things got rough the other girl dug her heels in for the duration. Unlike Maya she didn't run from Emily. Even when she'd poured her heart out to her and Emily had told her she'd just needed a friend, she had been willing to try, for Emily's sake.
That night, the night of the masquerade ball and the night they had finally unmasked 'A', Emily had been thinking of Paige on her way home, not Maya. She had been thinking about Paige as Maya had lay dying in the dirt and that guilt had haunted her for months. "I was going to call things off with Maya. The night they found her, I was going to call her and tell her I couldn't do it anymore…"
"And Paige was part of that decision?" Hanna guessed correctly and Emily sobbed in to her hand.
"Now every time I'm with Paige I feel so incredibly guilty and it's eating me up inside!"
"Oh, Em!" Hanna sighed and wrapped her arm around her before settling her head on her shoulder. "What happened to Maya wasn't your fault. You can't beat yourself up because of how you feel about someone! Even when you're not supposed to…" She trailed off and Emily got the impression she was thinking about Mona. The weekend away from Rosewood had been as much for Hanna herself as for Emily. Mona had done a lot to Hanna and her friends, but Emily knew it was hard for the blonde to associate the girl, who had become her best friend after Allison's disappearance, with the psychopath who had been terrorising them since last summer. Hanna had latched on to Mona, just as Emily had clung to Maya, as the closest substitutes to Alison they could find; but like Allison, Mona and Maya were gone, and it was time for them to start living their lives again. They couldn't carry on clinging to ghosts.
"Emily! Hey!" Paige beamed as she caught sight of the other girl walking along the path. She had been getting in her afternoon jog, getting her body in to shape for the start of the new swimming season, when she'd spotted Emily was back. "How's it going?"
"Hey, Paige. I'm good thanks, how are you?" Emily shifted her backpack on her shoulder and nervously put her hands in her jacket pockets, her fingers wrapping around the cold smooth metal of her hip flask. Being in Haiti had helped her settle some of her demons, but being back in Rosewood was already starting to make her feel unsettled all over again. She'd just gotten back in to town earlier in the day and Spencer was expecting her over for a sleepover. She was already running late, but she lingered on her driveway, wanting to see the other girl.
"Great!" Paige nodded with enthusiasm. She had spent the rest of the summer psyching herself up for seeing Emily again and she was determined to keep things normal between them. She could be her friend. "We won the Camp Olympics! Cade didn't take it too well." She laughed, trying to keep things light between them.
"Congratulations! You guys totally deserved it! I'm just heading over to Spencer's if you're going that way?"
"Another dreaded Hastings slumber party?" Paige teased, noticing Emily's backpack.
The pair of them fell in to step together as Emily started walking towards Spencer's house. It was only a couple of blocks away and she didn't want to take her car when she knew they'd be drinking. She intended to have one last night of partying before settling back down in to her normal routine of school and swim practise. Figuring one last night couldn't hurt she'd filled her flask and tucked it in her pocket to take with her to Spencer's. She was apprehensive about seeing her three closest friends again. She hadn't really been able to keep in touch much while she'd been away and she knew they were going to bombard her with questions. After being the centre of attention for so long after Maya she didn't quite feel up to another interrogation; even if it would just be about her working holiday.
There was also the inevitability that they would talk about Mona and 'A'. Emily wasn't quite up to being pulled right back in to that world either. 'A' was gone, out of their lives for good, and Emily no longer wanted to dwell on the past. She was considering bailing on the sleepover as they stopped outside Spencer's gate, but Paige caught the expression on her face and took Emily's hand in her own. She gave it a gentle squeeze for reassurance as she smiled sincerely at her.
"If it all gets too much, you know where to find me, right?
"Yeah." Emily nodded with a small smile of her own as she geared herself up for a night with her best friends. "I know where to find you. Thanks Paige. I'll see you soon. We should get a practise in together soon?"
"Yeah, we should. I'd like that." Paige beamed, happy that she was finally able to be the friend that Emily needed her to be; though she wasn't quite sure how long she could go without giving in to the urge to kiss the soft full lips of Emily Fields.
A/N: So that's the last chapter, sorry this fic isn't very long I just wanted to write something that could sort of fit in to cannon between Maya dying and Emily figuring out Paige was what she was looking for all along. Many thanks to everyone for reading and for the encouraging feedback. I'm currently working on another PLL fic called 'Cold Front' which is already posted, and I have three of four ideas in development for much longer Paily fics.