DISCLAIMER: Pretty Little Liars and all its characters is the intellectual property of others. Some characters used in the writing of this fic belong to PLL. Events that transpire, will transpire and have transpired in this story are entirely of my own creation.
PART TWO: "Sic Infit"
~ So it begins. ~
Four Years Ago...
Paige sat in her usual seat at the back of the class, growing restless as the seconds ticked away. She began fidgeting on the edge of her seat again, feeling like she's about to either pass out or hurl at the mere thought of having to stand in front of the class and show everyone her work. She's the last student who had to present for the day and she had no idea how to go about explaining the contents of the vision board she made. She didn't know what she wanted years from now and she felt pressured when she saw the works of her classmates who presented before her. Theirs seemed so certain. Their vision boards were filled with things that represented what they want to achieve and have years from now that there was no space left. Paige bit her bottom lip and focused her attention on the illustration board she was trying to hide in plain sight on top of her desk. She studied the vision board she made, feeling more nervous than ever. Hers had more spaces in them than magazine cutouts and she couldn't help but feel embarrassed.
"So this is the vision board I made." Paige looked up when she heard Emily's voice at the front of the room. She had been so lost in her own thoughts that she almost forgot that Jai's girlfriend of three weeks is in the same class as her and that Emily is the student who has to present her vision board before her. Jai's girlfriend being in this class made things worse for Paige. It was bad enough that her board was almost bare. Having Emily see it was humiliating. Of all the classes we could have together... why does it have to be Social Studies?!
Paige studied Emily's vision board, her eyes involuntarily drifting to the girl whose eyes suddenly met hers. Like clockwork, she narrowed her eyes menacingly and smirked before looking away; forcing herself to pretend that she wasn't paying attention to what Emily was saying. Paige was getting so used to hating the girl now that she could barely remember how she felt when she first laid eyes on Emily. She heard the girl's voice falter but Emily recovered quickly and went on with her presentation. As Paige continued to listen to Emily tell the class about her dreams, she couldn't help but be amazed. The girl animatedly explained what she wanted to be years from now, what she envisioned for herself and how she would reach those dreams. There isn't any doubt that Emily is a dreamer just like the rest of their classmates and Paige felt even more embarrassed knowing that when it was finally her turn, Emily would see what she made and cement what the girl already thought of her. That she had no ambition.
"I know that my board isn't as compact as the previous vision boards but I chose to leave spaces for my other dreams that I haven't thought of yet. I'd like to think that this is a vision in my board. That I still have things I could want tomorrow or years from now. I don't ever want to stop dreaming so I'm leaving spaces for it." Emily explained earnestly, making Paige look up and study the girl's vision board again. Unlike their classmates' boards, Emily's had spaces like hers. But hers were bigger. And unlike Emily's, it was because she couldn't think of what she wanted right now. She wasn't leaving spaces for her other dreams... she had no other dreams. Or maybe she did, she just didn't think of it the way Emily did. The girl wasn't ashamed to admit that she still hasn't figured out everything that she wanted. Unlike their other classmates who filled their boards with various cutouts just to impress their teacher, Emily was being real. And because of that Paige felt comforted. That maybe it wasn't so bad that her vision board wasn't as compact as the others'. That she's allowed to not have everything figured out right now.
She reluctantly stood up when she heard the applause of her classmates, signaling that Emily was done and it was finally her turn. Paige tightened her grip on her vision board, took a deep breath, and slowly made her way to the front of the room, aware that the entire class has their eyes trained on her.
Paige timidly faced the black side of the illustration board to her so her classmates could see the side with her magazine cutouts. "So this is my vision board." She began, feeling her cheeks turn a bright shade of red when she saw again the almost bare vision board she made. Paige kept her eyes glued to the board; unable to meet her classmates' gaze for fear that they were judging her. "Um... where to begin. I guess I'll start with this one first..."
A lone figure in a black hoodie stood unmoving, hiding in the shadows as it carefully studied the deserted building just across the street like it was waiting for something. The air was cold... almost freezing. And when a gust of wind suddenly blew past it, swirling dust and carrying fallen leaves that littered the ground, the hood covering its head was pulled back as well, exposing the stunning features of the figure for a split second.
Damn it. Paige thought, hastily bringing her hand to her head to move the hood back in place. So much for anonymity.
Paige knew that the longer she stood outside, the bigger the chances are of someone spotting her eventually. She needed to act now. But first she had to make sure that she won't leave any clues behind and that her presence won't be detected once she was inside. She took out a pair of black leather gloves from the back pocket of her jeans and put it on, flexing her fingers to get used to the material. She looked down to check the black sneakers she was wearing, praying its soles won't make a sound on the polished floor of the building. Not that she was stealing something of monetary value but it doesn't hurt to be cautious. All set.
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, Paige looked around her one last time just to make sure that she was the only one lurking in the shadows before making a dash for the side of the building, heading straight for the fire exit. Once she was standing in front of the heavy metal door, she took out a set of keys from the pocket of her sweatshirt and hastily searched for the right key, the constant need to control her trembling hands making her progress slow.
Calm down. Paige told herself. You can't screw this up. You can't fail. Not when you're finally holding the solution to the biggest problem in your plan. It took some coaxing and groveling but she finally managed to convince Frank, the portly school janitor she befriended over the summer, to lend her his set of keys for a few hours tonight in return for what she did for his son a few weeks ago. But getting her hands on the said keys only brought her a step closer to achieving her objective. What she planned on doing once she was inside the building and whether she could pull it off without a hitch would determine if she could say the words 'Mission Accomplished' tonight.
After a few more seconds of searching, Paige finally found the key she was looking for and slipped it inside the keyhole. She grinned when she heard the lock click, granting her entrance to Rosewood High. So this is what it feels like to be in one of those spy movies. Paige thought smugly. Better watch your back James Bond. She added, feeling good about herself.
Paige stood motionless for a minute once the door closed behind her, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darkness knowing she can't use a flashlight or she might get caught. Instead, she let her eyes get accustomed to the faint moonlight streaming in from the windows and when she could finally distinguish things in the dark, she began making her way down several hallways, careful not to make any sound as she headed straight for a particular display case. She broke into a light jog when it was within sight, aware that the butterflies residing in her stomach for weeks just increased tenfold. There it is. She thought, praying that the key to the display case is in the set of keys as well. She began studying the keys she held in her hand as she continued to jog that it was too late before she realized that the display case was right in front of her.
The sound of Paige's forehead colliding with the glass echoed in the empty hallway but it was quickly drowned out by her litany of curses. So much for being in the spy business. Rubbing her forehead gingerly, Paige made sure that the hood of her sweatshirt still hid her face in case the security cameras installed in the hallways were turned on. She studied the items inside the case, her eyes instantly lighting up when she saw what she was looking for. Paige tried to open the case but it was locked. Of course. She thought wryly. She stared at the keys in her hand and groaned inwardly. There were close to fifty. She just hoped that the night guard is fast asleep or is currently so engrossed with watching sports on TV like the ones she saw on heist films that he wouldn't notice the racket she was making. Quickly getting to work, she tried the keys one at a time and grinned when she got it right on the seventh try. Carefully opening the display case, she reached inside for the object she came back to Rosewood High for.
Paige came up with the idea while she was on her way to the youth center the day after Emily left for Miami. She passed by the girl's house the next morning and saw something that inspired her to have a summer project before she left Rosewood for Philadelphia. She was close to losing hope of ever finishing it when in one of her visits to one of Jai's charity works at the hospital she met Robbie, the school janitor's five-year-old son who needed a blood transfusion. When she found out that they have the same blood type, Paige instantly saw the opportunity and didn't hesitate to donate her blood. Of course she felt horrible that she asked for a favor in return for something she would have done willingly. But she needed to get inside Rosewood High and retrieve something that meant a lot to her before she and her father left for Philadelphia tomorrow morning.
As she studied the rectangular object she held in her hands, Paige couldn't help but think that everything that happened since Emily left happened out of pure good luck. And that's saying a lot since up until a few days ago she was resigned to believing that the universe wanted her to suffer for the rest of her life.
But after tonight, Paige was tempted to start believing that when it's meant to be, the universe would conspire to give you something when it knows that that something truly matters to you.
Paige's eyes drifted to the lower right hand corner of the object and she smiled as she traced the neatly scrawled name of Emily Fields. She hasn't seen the girl since the night they graduated and that felt like years ago. She couldn't wait to see her again.
Emily stepped out of the warmth of her mother's car and out into the cold, night air, pulling the denim jacket she was wearing closer to her body when a gust of wind blew past her. She hurriedly walked over to the passenger side of the car in an effort to keep moving and opened the door to retrieve the bouquet of flowers she bought on her way over to the cemetery. Once she was sure that all the car doors were locked, Emily moved to make her way across the street when something caught her eye.
She watched as a figure in a black hoodie carrying a black rectangular object moved in the shadows, stopping just short of the entrance to the cemetery to look behind like it was afraid that someone was following. Probably thinking that the coast is clear, the figure pulled back the hood of its sweatshirt that was covering its head and Emily started when she realized that she was looking at none other than Paige McCullers. She almost didn't recognize Jai's best friend and she was taken aback that in the short amount of time that they haven't seen each other, the girl standing just across the street from her looked different. Emily was tempted to call out to Paige but something about the girl's posture made her decide against it. She waited until Paige ran past the cemetery before crossing the street, making a mental note to ask the girl about what she saw tonight when they see each other in UPenn.
Despite the darkness, Emily didn't have trouble making her way to Jai's grave given that she's been there almost everyday since her girlfriend's birthday. She laid down the flowers beside the marker once she reached Jai's grave before sitting down cross-legged in front of it. Emily traced the letters of Jai's name and smiled. "Hey love. I'm back." She began softly. "I spent the whole summer in Miami with my friends and while I had a great time with them, I couldn't wait to come home to you." She confessed, the smile on her lips faltering.
"I just saw Paige by the way." Emily said wryly. "My first night back here in Rosewood and already I'm reminded of the fact that you left me with that impulsive and stubborn best friend of yours. I don't know what she's up to at this time of night but judging from her getup and the way she was acting, it can't be good. But don't worry." She added hurriedly. "I promise I'm going to keep looking after her. She's going to UPenn as well in case she hasn't told you yet."
Emily inclined her head to the side and took a deep breath. "I miss you." She whispered hoarsely after a moment of silence. "I can't believe I'm leaving for UPenn tomorrow without you. I'm glad Spencer's going to be there with me. Paige too. But having them there isn't the same as having you there physically." She admitted, bringing her right hand to her neck to touch the locket on the necklace Jai gave her. "I should probably go. It's getting late and I need to start packing." Emily said but made no move to get up. She just continued sitting in front of the grave, reluctant to leave. Once she goes to Philadelphia she won't be able to come here everyday. Just a few more hours. She promised herself, choosing to brave the cold weather rather than leave as she drew her knees to her chest to keep herself warm.
"Where are we headed?" Paige asked, turning in her seat to look at the bridge they just passed. "You just drove by the entire campus of UPenn." She pointed out as she faced forward and looked at her father, confused.
Nick gave his daughter a mysterious smile. "I know. But there's plenty of time for you to explore the campus. Right now I'm taking you to where you're going to live." He answered, his eyes never leaving the road.
"Wait. I'm going to live on this side of the Schuylkill River?!" Paige asked incredulously. "What's wrong with living on campus?"
"Too far from Penn State Gen." Nick replied, reminding Paige of the other reason as to why her father wanted her to study in UPenn. "Don't worry. I made sure it's not that far from the campus." He added as he pulled up beside a stylish, modern, high-rise building on Chestnut Street and turned to face his daughter once he cut the engine of his car. He tried to gauge the girl's reaction as Paige took in the sight before her. "We're here." He announced, making his daughter focus her attention to him.
"This is where I'm going to live?" Paige asked, her eyes widening in surprise.
"Yes." Nick answered, nodding his head emphatically. "What do you think?"
Paige turned to face the building on her side of the window again; unable to explain what she was feeling at the moment. "Don't get me wrong, dad. This place is great... it's more than great." She corrected herself. "But I still think it's better if I lived in one of the college houses like most of the students. It's nearer to my classes." She explained, looking at her father.
"Well you're not like most students. They don't need to see a doctor regularly and like I said, this apartment is near Penn State Gen." Nick reminded his daughter gently. "And don't worry about the distance. I'll give you a car in a few weeks but for now you need to commute or use your bike to get to your classes."
Paige's eyes widened in surprise and excitement. "You're serious?" She asked, her breath caught in her throat.
Nick laughed; glad to see his daughter was showing signs of feeling better. "Of course. Call it my post-graduation gift to you." He added before getting serious again. "But it's on the condition that you come home during the weekends to visit me. Or if you can't because you're too busy..."
"You'll come visit me." Paige finished for her father wryly. "I didn't forget, dad. If I can't come home for the weekend I promise I'll call you Friday night so you can visit me on Saturday or Sunday."
Nick nodded, relieved that his daughter wasn't vehemently opposing the idea now. "Kayla's going to live here as well." He revealed, looking past Paige's window to study the building outside. "And she's going to have a key to your apartment."
"What?! Dad!" Paige exclaimed, unable to believe that her privacy was going to be taken away here as well. It was bad enough living in a house where locked doors aren't allowed, now she had to expect Kayla to come and go as she pleased.
"It's just for emergencies. She's not going to barge in there unannounced." Nick explained knowing what his daughter was thinking. "With you going to UPenn Logan thought that there's no reason for Kayla to go home to Rosewood during the weekends for now so he set her up in an apartment on the same floor as yours. This is near Girard as well so Kayla agreed to it."
"But why does she need to have a spare key to my apartment if she already lives in the same floor as me?" Paige protested.
"Honey I know you don't like the setup. But like I said, it's just for emergencies. And Kayla won't have a reason to check in on you when you're feeling better." Nick reminded his daughter gently. "Come on. Let's get you settled in. We're going to meet Logan and Kayla in a few hours for lunch." He added, unbuckling his seatbelt and unlocking the doors.
Paige sighed and reluctantly followed suit. It was no use arguing with her father about anything at this point. He didn't allow her to live in a college house and instead made the arrangements for her living situation on his own. Then he and the Hayes went ahead and decided to invade her privacy. And here she thought things would be different here.
The second Emily's feet entered the room she was going to share with Spencer in Harrison College House for four years, a feeling of excitement rushed through her. Like it was only now that it's finally beginning to sink in that she's in college. She walked forward, seemingly in a daze as she studied the spacious room and the view from outside their window, reminding her that they were on the twelfth floor of the towering building.
"Dibs on the bed away from the window!" Spencer declared as a way to make her presence known. She walked past her friend and deposited the bags she was carrying on the bed near the wall before lying on it.
Emily studied her friend and smiled as she shook her head, walking towards the bed near the window and depositing her things as well. She checked the time on her watch and when she saw that it was just past three in the afternoon, she lied down on her bed, her eyes drifting to the immaculate ceiling.
"Can we just skip the house meeting and dinner and just sleep?" Spencer asked without looking at her friend as she kept her eyes closed. "I knew it was a bad idea for us to return to Rosewood the day before we leave for UPenn." She continued absentmindedly. "And saying goodbye to Aria and Hanna was exhausting."
"I know what you mean." Emily admitted, her eyes never leaving the ceiling.
That was the reason why they left Rosewood late in the first place. Although she and her friends spent the entire summer in Florida, they were still reluctant to say goodbye when it was time to go their separate ways. They knew it wasn't goodbye for good. And that New York isn't really that far. But that didn't stop them from having coffee that morning at the Brew one last time until the Fields and the Hastings drove by the coffee shop and reminded the two girls that they needed to get going or they won't make it in time for their first mandatory activity as freshmen. The College House meeting and dinner.
"Can we be late? Maybe we can be late." Emily suggested, leaning on her elbows to raise herself on the bed so she could see her friend. "I know it's mandatory but maybe we can miss a few things and just catch up with the rest of the group later."
"We can. I just don't want to be the center of attention on our first day here when we enter the venue late." Spencer said wryly. "Maybe we can just start unpacking tomorrow so we can catch up on some sleep once we get back."
"Or maybe you girls should help us bring the rest of your things inside your room." Veronica Hastings chimed in from the open doorway. "We're not your bellhops."
Emily and Spencer quickly got up from their beds when they remembered that their parents were still standing right outside the room and that their luggage were hindering them from getting inside.
"Sorry, mom." Spencer said as she approached the doorway and relieved her mother of the rest of her things.
Emily followed her friend when she saw her mother right behind Spencer's and moved so that their parents could enter the room and take a good look around.
"I bet the view outside of this window is beautiful especially at night." Pam commented as she moved closer to Emily's side of the room and parted the curtains wider to let more afternoon sunlight into the room.
"Yeah. We're lucky we got assigned to this room." Emily said as she wrapped her arms around her dad's waist. She was really glad that her father was able to see her off today and she was making the most out of their short time together before her parents had to leave later.
"Now don't get tempted to go out when you see the view at night." Peter Hastings told the girls as he stood beside his daughter. "The two of you are here to study. Not get wasted."
Spencer rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Dad, we know. But we didn't enter a nunnery. We plan on having the whole college experience but... we promise not at the expense of our studies." She added when she saw her father tense.
Emily felt her father squeeze her shoulder reassuringly. "I just want you to have the best college experience." Wayne Fields said when Spencer's parents began helping their daughter arrange some of her things in the room. "Meet new people, maybe start dating girls?"
"Dad..." Emily protested, slightly pulling away. This was one conversation she wasn't in the mood to have. Not right now.
"Why don't we let the girls have a chance to rest before the activity at three thirty?" Pam suggested, walking over to her husband and smiling at her daughter understandingly. "We'll meet the two of you downstairs."
Spencer and Emily nodded before kissing their parents goodbye, the latter following the four adults as they left so she could close the door behind them. She turned to face her friend when it was just the two of them and let out a short laugh when she saw Spencer lying on her bed again.
"Come on Spence, we don't have much time. We need to start freshening up or we're going to be late." Emily reminded the girl, marching over to Spencer's side of the room and grabbing her friend's hand to help her get up. "Come on, you first."
"Ugh fine." Spencer grumbled, finally standing up and heading for the bathroom. "Damn these mandatory activities!" She exclaimed before closing the bathroom door behind her.
As soon as she was alone, the smile on Emily's lips faded, replaced with a look of sadness as she took in her surroundings again. She was living in a college house with her friend. This wasn't supposed to be the arrangement. She was supposed to be living in an apartment outside of campus with Jai. Her hand instinctively moved to the locket on her necklace. Right about now, she and Jai were supposed to be carrying boxes filled with their things inside a one-bedroom apartment somewhere that isn't here. She was in college. And while she felt excited, a bigger part of her felt sad that Jai isn't here with her physically.
"It's a new environment. You might find love here again." Spencer said gently from the bathroom door, making Emily look at her.
Emily was so preoccupied with thoughts of Jai once again that she didn't hear Spencer enter their room. She smiled at her friend faintly and walked towards one of the small boxes she placed on top of her bed, carefully taking out the snow globe Jai gave her. She sat down on the edge of her bed and shook the globe, watching forlornly as the fake snow swirled around the two girls holding hands.
"I'm not ready. I don't know if I'll ever be." Emily said more to herself but Spencer heard it. She placed the snow globe on her bedside table and watched until the fake snow settled on the bottom of the globe. "Three great years... how am I just supposed to forget about it?"
Spencer walked over to the girl and sat beside her friend. "Em no one's saying you should. But you shouldn't be stuck in the past either. And I'm not saying you should move on now. But you have four years in college ahead of you. A lot can happen." She told her friend consolingly.
"I doubt I'll meet anyone here." Emily said absentmindedly, thinking back to Madame Clarissa's words.
Spencer studied her friend closely. "What made you say that?" She asked, confused.
Emily shrugged. "No reason." She answered before getting up. "I don't know if I told you this but I'm glad you waited to know if I got in before you applied for the roommate request." She added, changing the subject.
"Of course." Spencer said, getting up as well. "I'd take the chance of rooming with a random girl at the last minute than room with someone else early then regret it once I learn that you got in."
Emily smiled. "Thanks. I'm sure we're..." She stopped mid-sentence when she felt her phone vibrate and took it out of the back pocket of her jeans to see who was calling. "Hey." She said into the phone, mouthing to Spencer Paige's name. "What's up?"
"Oh. Nothing much. I, uh... I was just going to ask if you and Spencer are already in UPenn." Paige answered.
"Yeah. We just got here actually." Emily answered, taking a seat on the edge of her bed again. "Why?"
"I see. Well I was wondering if maybe you'd like to grab some dinner with me tonight. Unless you're too tired. I totally understand." Paige said hurriedly.
"Tonight?" Emily repeated, mentally checking her schedule for the day. Dinner is included in the activity this afternoon but other than that her and Spencer's night was free. They can just unpack tomorrow morning. She didn't want to say no to Paige. The problem was they can't have dinner twice...
"Or some other time." Paige added. "If you're too tired we can just have dinner some other time."
"No it's not that we're too tired." Emily said hurriedly, ignoring Spencer's look of disbelief. "It's just that we have this college house meeting and dinner tonight and it's mandatory, remember?" She asked, reminding the girl of the activity at three thirty. "Every college house has one. That's why I was surprised when you asked that we meet for dinner tonight when we're going to have dinner at the activity."
"Oh. Sorry. I didn't know about that." Paige admitted. "I'm not living in a college house." She added, piquing Emily's interest.
"You're not? So where are you living?" Emily asked curiously. "Are you staying with a relative?"
"No. Um... I have no relatives here in Philly. I'm actually in an apartment outside of campus." Paige answered timidly. "On the other side of the Schuylkill River."
Emily felt her eyes widen in surprise. "Wow." She uttered. "That's kinda far from campus."
"I know. But my dad made the arrangements to this place. You can come over and check it out if you want." Paige offered. "Maybe when you're free to grab dinner this week."
"But I haven't said no to dinner tonight." Emily pointed out. "Can we meet around eight? I'm tempted to check out your apartment."
"Really? I mean, yeah. Yeah eight sounds good." Paige answered casually.
"And you don't mind if Spencer comes with me, right?" Emily inquired, ignoring her friend's look of horror.
"Not at all. I invited Kayla too so the more the merrier I guess." Paige replied.
"So where will we meet you guys?" Emily asked as she got up from her bed. "Where's this apartment of yours?"
"Just take the bus and get off on Chestnut Street once you cross the Schuylkill River." Paige instructed. "I think there's a bus stop near this building. You can't miss it. It's a high-rise and I'm in unit 2101."
"Okay. We'll see you at eight then." Emily repeated before hanging up and looking at her friend. "So that was Paige." She said although Spencer already knew who was on the other end of the line.
"And what did Paige want?" Spencer asked, crossing her arms in front of her chest.
"To have dinner with us later." Emily explained as she tossed the phone on her bed.
"No she wanted to have dinner with you. Why do I have to go?" Spencer protested. "Actually, why do you have to go? We have far better things to do than tolerate her. Like sleep."
"Spence come on. I don't want to go by myself. She lives on the other side of the Schuylkill River and I don't know that area very well." Emily pointed out.
"So why did you say yes?" Spencer asked, raising an eyebrow.
Emily shrugged. "I want to see her place." She answered.
"Which you can still do tomorrow." Spencer emphasized. "Why are you so eager to see where she's going to live? That apartment isn't going anywhere." She insisted. "Why do you keep trying to be friends with her anyway?"
"Like you said… it's a new environment." Emily reminded her friend. "Come on. I want to keep looking after her like I promised Jai and I really want all of us to be friends. Maybe tonight that could start."
"Well don't expect me to be friends with her anytime soon. I don't trust her. And you shouldn't either." Spencer added. "Have you forgotten all the horrible things she said and did to you? You should just stay away from her."
"She said she's trying to make up for all those things so I'm giving her a chance." Emily said, trying to pacify her friend. "And she hasn't been horrible to me for some time now. So please? Come with me?"
Spencer sighed. "Fine. But in exchange you're coming with me to the PennFest after." She added, referring to the annual indoor/outdoor festival at the Wynn Commons and Houston Hall.
"What happened to wanting to catch up on some sleep once we get back?" Emily asked, starting to smile.
"Hey. You should be glad that we're going to a pleasant activity afterwards." Spencer argued. "You're dragging me to have dinner with the spawn of evil. I need to do something enjoyable afterwards to unwind. Do we have a deal?"
Emily nodded. "Deal." She answered before heading to the bathroom and closing the door behind her.
Paige moved the phone away from her ear and leaned back on the couch in the living room of her new apartment with a smile on her face. Emily just agreed to have dinner with her tonight. She was finally going to see the girl in a few hours and just thinking about it made her smile bigger. Of course she didn't expect that Spencer was going to join them tonight but she didn't mind because...
"What the heck was that?!" Kayla asked incredulously from beside Paige, distracting the girl from her thoughts. "Did I miss something? Because last time I checked my plans for tonight didn't include having dinner with you and Em. But apparently you invited me and I said yes when I blinked five seconds ago so thanks for planning my evening for me." She said sarcastically.
Paige grinned at the girl sheepishly. "I'm sorry." She said, playing with her phone. "I panicked. Emily wanted to bring Spencer along and we're not exactly friends. But they are… so I couldn't say no... that's why I told her you're joining us." She explained. "Please say you're free tonight?"
Kayla sighed. This isn't how she wanted to be invited to have dinner with Paige but she'll take it. It's not like she has actual plans tonight and she wanted to spend more time with the girl even if it meant watching Paige drool all over Emily. "Fine. I'm free tonight. But you're paying for my dinner." She reminded the girl before leaning back on the couch as well.
After their late lunch, Logan and Nick finally left the two girls by themselves when they were sure that the two have everything they needed. Paige invited Kayla to her apartment to hang out for a few hours before they returned to unpacking their things in their respective apartments and they've been sitting in her living room for almost an hour, staring at the view of the city just past the balcony.
Paige nodded. "Done. But promise me that you won't order everything on the menu. I'm living on a budget here." She reminded the girl, nudging Kayla on the waist with her elbow teasingly.
Kayla scowled. "Hey I don't eat a lot!" She exclaimed indignantly. "And you better be super duper extra nice to me tonight since you're the one asking for a favor."
"I know. I know." Paige said hurriedly. "Thanks for that."
"You're welcome." Kayla replied, grinning at Paige before returning her attention to the view in front of them. "It's not fair. My apartment doesn't have a balcony." She complained, crossing her arms in front of her chest and pouting.
"But you have floor to ceiling windows." Paige reminded the girl consolingly.
Kayla laughed. "Is that supposed to make me feel better?" She asked before nodding her head towards Paige's right side. "So do you." She pointed out, referring to the floor to ceiling windows that made up one side of the entire wall of Paige's apartment, from the kitchen behind them to the balcony in front of them. "This building boasts floor to ceiling windows in every apartment. There's nothing special about that."
"Then you should've told your dad that you wanted to have a balcony." Paige pointed out.
"I did. I said I wanted to stay in 2111 but he said it's on the other side of this floor so obviously that's a no. Hence I'm in 2104. Just a few steps away from you across the hall." Kayla explained.
"But you don't mind living here instead of staying in your dorm in Girard?" Paige asked hesitantly.
Kayla shook her head. "Of course not. Like I told my dad I'm cool with commuting to and from Girard everyday. And even if I don't have a balcony of my own I still think this whole place is awesome. I don't mind not having a roommate." She told Paige reassuringly.
"Well if you love the balcony so much you know you can just come over. After all you have a key to my place." Paige reminded the girl lightly.
Kayla studied Paige closely before speaking. "Just because I have a spare key to your apartment doesn't mean I'm going to pop in anytime I feel like it." She said, getting serious. "I know how much you value what little privacy you're allowed so I know this setup sucks."
Paige sighed. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just trying to wrap my mind around the fact that someone other than me has a key to my place." She admitted.
"Well I will only use it for emergencies. And before I even insert the key in the lock I promise I will knock on your door five times." Kayla said, showing Paige five fingers to prove her point. "So are you going to start courting her?" She suddenly asked, catching the girl off guard.
"I... I don't know what you're talking about." Paige stammered, looking down at her hands.
"Oh come on, Paige. You know exactly what I'm talking about." Kayla said, rolling her eyes exasperatedly.
"It's too soon." Paige finally said, fidgeting with her hands. "And I don't know if Emily is even willing to consider it. Just thinking about telling her how I feel is making me so nervous." She admitted, her legs starting to bounce. "You know that I really, really like her. But I barely made her like me as a friend after all those stupid things I did. I don't know if Emily will ever see me as something more."
Kayla slowly stood up. Of course she knows how much Paige likes the girl. Paige spent her time watching Emily and she in turn spent her time watching Paige. She knows. And it hurt. But all she ever wanted was to see Paige be genuinely happy. "Well in case you plan on doing something about your feelings for her... the way to go about it is to get along with her friends. And you can start with Spencer tonight." She pointed out, smiling when she saw that Paige got even more nervous because of what she said. "Don't worry. You invited me to come with you remember? I can break the ice. I'm good that way." She said confidently.
Paige gave the girl a grateful smile. "You are good at breaking tension in a room." She admitted. "Thanks."
Kayla nodded. "Well I'm gonna go do some unpacking and then freshen up before Emily and Spencer arrive. You should do the same." She suggested, looking at the unpacked boxes around them. "Wouldn't want Em to step in here and see that you're such a slob." She added teasingly. "I'll see you at eight." She said before heading for the front door.
When Paige was finally alone, she got up and went inside her bedroom to retrieve the object she took from Rosewood High. This was the reason she wanted to have dinner with Emily alone tonight. But things didn't work out the way she hoped. Spencer and Kayla were going to join them. I guess I'm just going to have to find another time to give this to her.
Hours later, Paige heard a sharp knock and rushed outside from her bedroom, passing by the bathroom and several closets on her way to the front door. She took a quick look in the eyehole just to make sure that it was indeed Emily standing on the other side of the door and was immediately hit with a sudden wave of nervousness. Relax. Try to act normal. She stopped short of opening the door and looked behind her to make sure that her apartment looked presentable before turning the knob.
"Hey." Paige said in greeting, waving her right hand awkwardly before stepping aside to let the girl in.
"Hey." Emily repeated, smiling at Paige as she stepped inside the apartment with a paper bag in her left hand.
Paige checked to make sure that Spencer wasn't standing outside before closing the door. She turned to face Emily and smiled again. "Uh... so this is where I live." She began. "I have three closets and this is the first one." She continued, pointing to the closet behind Emily. She walked a few steps and pointed to her right. "Washer and dryer, storage, pantry. That leads to the bedroom." Paige said as she pointed to a short hallway to Emily's left. "You have to pass by two more closets and the bathroom across it to get to the room." She moved forward and pointed in front of her. "This is the kitchen." She said as she walked past it to enter the main room. "And right in front of it you have the living and or dining room and then the balcony." Paige finished, pointing to the area in front of the couch she and Kayla were sitting on earlier. "And that concludes the tour." She said as she turned to face Emily while holding her breath, waiting for the girl's reaction.
Emily took in the size of the place, letting her eyes study every inch of the apartment. She stared at the floor to ceiling windows that served as one of the walls of the room and then at the balcony, completely in awe of the stunning views of the Schuylkill River and the city lights at this time of night with the curtains pulled back to the corners and shook her head. "Oh my god this place is amazing." She said breathlessly, facing Paige.
Paige grinned, glad that the girl liked her place. "I know!" She exclaimed. "I didn't like the idea of living on this side of the river at first. I mean, my dad made all the arrangements so I didn't know what to expect. Today was the first time I actually laid eyes on this place and I love it." Paige admitted enthusiastically.
"Still... it's a little far from campus. Why didn't you just live in a college house in the first place?" Emily asked quizzically.
"It's not that far. Just a kilometer or so. I can just make a run for it if I can't commute or ride my bike and I'm running late." Paige replied.
"Yeah but if your dad made the living arrangements for you why did he choose an apartment building that's all the way across the Schuylkill River? Isn't it more logical for you to live on campus? There are a lot of college houses there and you can even join a program in each of them. Spencer and I joined the Freshman Experience in the Harrison College House and so far it's been great." Emily admitted. "Or if he didn't want you to live in a college house, I'm sure there are several apartments on campus that are just within walking distances to your classes."
Ugh why do you have to be so smart?! "I don't know. I guess it's my dad's way of making it up to me for not letting me attend USC." Paige lied. She can't exactly tell the girl that this apartment is near the hospital where Logan works. That would mean having to tell Emily what's wrong with her and she can't risk the girl finding out about it and staying away from her now.
Emily crinkled her eyebrows in puzzlement. "Wait. Now I'm even more confused. I thought you changed your mind and wanted to go to UPenn?" She clarified.
Damn it! Of course she remembered that! Paige nodded. "I do. But my dad thought I still wanted to go to USC and I didn't bother to correct him so he set me up with an apartment of my own." She explained, lying again.
Emily smiled. "Then you should definitely pursue a career in Theatre Arts. Acting in front of your dad for months that you dread going here for college is impressive." She said teasingly. "But I guess all that acting paid off in the end. This place is really amazing." She added, looking around the room again with a wistful smile.
Paige studied Emily out of the corner of her eye and thought she saw a hint of sadness cross the girl's features. It was fleeting, but she noticed it. Emily was trying to hide it but Paige knew she was struggling with being here in UPenn and now, for some reason, the girl was reminded of Jai and their plan to move in together in an apartment just like this outside of campus.
"So." Paige uttered, clearing her throat awkwardly. "Uh... where's Spencer? I thought you said she's going to join us for dinner?"
"She is. But she decided to wait in the lobby downstairs." Emily answered. "Don't worry. Kayla's keeping her company. I ran into her in the hallway earlier. I think she was on her way to meet you but then she saw me and when I said Spencer's downstairs she told me she's going ahead."
"Right." Paige muttered, praying she wasn't blushing. Kayla was obviously playing matchmaker already.
"Speaking of. I almost forgot to ask. Why is Kayla living in this building as well? When you said you invited her I thought she was going to come over from Girard. I didn't know that the two of you were neighbors now." Emily said, giving Paige a confused smile.
"Oh. Um... for her senior year Logan decided to pull Kayla out of dorming. I don't know why." Paige answered, lying again. "I guess my dad must've mentioned his plan to Logan about setting me up in an apartment on this side of the river and since Girard is on this side as well, he decided Kayla could live in the same building as me." She added offhandedly. "You know what, it's... it's getting late. Maybe we should head downstairs and meet them." Paige suggested, trying to put an end to the conversation. She grabbed her black hoodie that was hanging on the back of the couch and led the way to the front door but Emily held her arm.
"Wait. I want to give you something first." Emily said, handing to Paige the paper bag she brought with her. "I saw it in one of the souvenir shops in Miami and I remembered you." She explained timidly.
Paige's eyes widened in pleasant surprise as she took the paper bag from the girl. She never thought Emily would give her something and it was all she could do not to jump up and down from elation. Emily thought of her more than once while she was in Miami. Paige looked inside the paper bag and took out the water bottle, studying it closely.
Emily suddenly felt silly. She was actually really nervous about giving the water bottle to Paige but she figured it was a way for them to sort of continue where they left off in high school. Like it was her way of reminding Paige that they're supposed to be getting along now. "I know you probably have a water bottle you use when you go biking or something..."
"No. No." Paige said hurriedly, gripping the water bottle tight and moving it out of the girl's reach for fear that Emily will take it back. "I mean yeah, I do have a water bottle. But I was actually planning to dispose it and buy a new one this weekend. So thanks for this. You just saved me the trouble of having to go to the sports goods store to buy another one." She said, grinning while she waved the bottle at the girl. There's no way she's going to use her old water bottle now. "I'll just take this to my room first."
Emily nodded and followed Paige to the front of the apartment. She stopped just in front of the short hallway, deciding to wait there instead of following the girl in her bedroom. When Paige emerged a few seconds later, the girl was already wearing the black hoodie she took from the living room earlier and Emily's thoughts immediately drifted to that moment last night when she saw Paige by the cemetery and the girl pulled back the hood of her sweatshirt when she thought no one was looking. As Paige approached her, Emily now realized that she was taken by surprise not because she saw that it was Paige but because of how good Paige looked last night.
"What's wrong?" Paige asked when she noticed that Emily was staring at her thoughtfully.
Emily shook her head. "Nothing. I just remembered something." She answered vaguely, mentally reminding herself to find a way to ask Paige later about what the girl was up to last night. You're just curious. That's the only reason you keep thinking about last night. Plus they haven't seen each other in three months. It was only natural that she noticed how the girl looked and to want to see Paige tonight instead of tomorrow.
"Oh. Okay. Well let's get going. Those two might be wondering what's keeping us." Paige said, gesturing for Emily to exit the apartment first. She studied the girl walking in front of her, thankful that Emily's back was turned to her because she couldn't wipe the grin off her face. She was so happy when she saw Emily standing outside her door. They haven't seen each other in months but Emily was never far from her thoughts. Actually, because of her summer project, Emily was constantly on her mind. But once she opened the door and the girl was finally standing in front of her, Paige had to remind herself to breathe; feeling like the wind just got knocked out of her. She didn't think it was possible. But Emily looked even more beautiful than she remembered.
"And a raspberry cheesecake for dessert." Kayla finished, handing the menu back to the waiter taking their orders. "Don't worry. I don't mind sharing." She said, grinning at the girl seated next to her.
"I sure hope so. We should've let you order first if I had known that your order was enough to feed a family of four." Paige shot back wryly as she watched the waiter head back inside the restaurant.
The four girls were currently seated on one of the tables outside Mix, a pizzeria just about a minute away across Paige and Kayla's apartment building in Chestnut Street. Paige suggested the place when Emily and Spencer can't seem to make up their minds after she asked them what they were in the mood for, pointing out that Kayla pretty much eats anything.
"Well I'm starving. And you're paying for my dinner." Kayla reminded Paige smugly.
From across Paige, Emily crinkled her brows in amusement. "Did you lose a bet or something? Again?" She asked the girl, trying to keep the laughter out of her voice.
Paige stared at Emily with her mouth slightly open, pretending to be offended. "I did not!" She exclaimed indignantly. "It's just payment for a favor I asked."
"Must be a pretty big favor if Kayla just ordered everything off the menu." Spencer chimed in from beside Emily. "Which I don't mind since we skipped dinner in our own college house for this. So what's the favor?" She asked, staring at Paige.
"She just needed help with unpacking." Kayla hurriedly answered to make up for her comment earlier. "I helped her arrange some of the things in her apartment that's why I'm starving. It's really not that big of a favor." She said offhandedly. "So. What do you think of Paige's apartment?" She asked Emily.
"It's amazing." Emily admitted. "Maybe next time you could show me your apartment."
Kayla nodded. "Sure. Come by anytime this week. School doesn't start until next week for me so I could use the company. Although I have to warn you... I don't have a balcony." She revealed dramatically. "You should come by too, Spence." Kayla added, smiling eagerly at the girl seated in front of her. "You have to finish that story you were telling me earlier. You were just getting to the good part."
"Well I would've finished it if we weren't interrupted." Spencer commented, looking at the girl seated next to Kayla pointedly. "But yeah, I'd love to see your place too."
Paige chose to ignore Spencer's deliberate cold attitude towards her knowing the girl was doing it because Spencer doesn't trust her. But she remembered Kayla's advice of trying to get on Emily's friends' good side and she cleared her throat to speak. "So Spencer, how was your trip to Miami?" She asked, making eye contact with the girl. "Did you have fun?"
"Yeah. It's a vacation, Einstein. You're supposed to have fun." Spencer answered sarcastically.
"We had an amazing time." Emily added, giving Paige an apologetic smile. "We spent most of the day down at the beach sunbathing. But sometimes it's just me and a good book since the three of them are off with their summer flings making sandcastles."
"That was Hanna!" Spencer protested, making Kayla laugh and Paige smile. "I was doing something totally productive and mature. I was off with Jeremy exploring."
"I bet." Kayla said teasingly. "Did he broaden your horizon after all that exploration?" She asked, winking at the girl suggestively.
"Oh my god Kayla you are too young to know such things!" Spencer exclaimed, laughing.
"I'm seventeen! I'm old enough." Kayla told Spencer reassuringly.
"And what was Aria doing?" Paige asked, trying to join the conversation.
"She conveniently forgot everything she learned about CPR and was taking all these lessons from the hot lifeguard, Beau." Spencer answered before Emily could, making her friend smile. "It was an amazing summer." She admitted just as the waiter came back with a plate of honey barbeque buffalo wings and their drinks.
"What about you? What did you do over the summer?" Emily asked Paige, finding the topic as the perfect opportunity to find out what the girl was doing last night.
Paige shrugged, moving her plate to make room for the 12" Garden Pizza the waiter placed on the middle of their table. "Nothing much. Trained, continued Jai's charity works, trained some more. I was the perfect Rosewood citizen." She said proudly as the waiter placed in front of her the plate of Chopped Salad she ordered.
"You didn't do anything out of the ordinary? No last hurrahs before you left?" Emily persisted as she placed a slice of the pizza on her plate.
Paige shook her head. "Nope." She answered, lifting her fork and knife so she could start eating her dinner.
"No late night escapades?" Emily continued, looking at Paige dubiously.
"Nope." Paige repeated, wondering why Emily was giving her a third degree about how she spent her summer.
"No running around town in the middle of the night in... say... a black hoodie?" Emily finally asked.
Paige swallowed hard and slowly put down her utensils, laughing nervously when she saw that Spencer and Kayla were looking at her. "No." She uttered, looking at Emily guiltily. "How... I mean, why..." She cleared her throat weakly. "Why would you ask me something like that?"
Emily studied Paige closely and decided not to say anything in front of Kayla and Spencer when she saw the panic in the girl's eyes. "No reason. I just have this idea in my head that you spent your summer nights trying to dodge girls you promised you'd call but didn't." She answered offhandedly.
Paige let out a relieved sigh. "No. I didn't do anything crazy like that. Like I said, I was the perfect Rosewood citizen. I didn't see anyone over the summer." She revealed, picking up her utensils to resume eating her dinner.
"If you say so." Emily said, watching Paige as the girl brought a forkful of salad greens to her mouth and began chewing it. She refused to look away until the girl met her eyes again and when Paige did, Emily made sure that the girl understood that she knew Paige was lying.
"Ugh I'm so full." Kayla complained as they slowly made their way back from Mix to the apartment building two hours later.
"Oh. Good. So you're actually capable of feeling full." Paige said teasingly as she walked beside Kayla. "For a second there I thought I'd end up spending my first night in Philly washing dishes just to pay for your dinner."
"You're just jealous because I don't get fat." Kayla retorted, sticking her tongue out to the girl. "I can eat all the pizza I want and still turn heads when I walk down the street but you have to get all breathless and sweaty just to burn that salad you ate." She shot back.
"Hey that is not true!" Paige protested indignantly. "I just choose to eat healthy all the time." She added before stopping to wait for Emily and Spencer to catch up to them.
Despite Kayla's attempts to have a lively discussion over dinner, the rest of their meal was spent mostly eating in silence. Paige tried to strike up a conversation with Emily's friend but Spencer barely talked to her, answering her questions with just a nod or a shake of her head and when the girl did answer her, Spencer's tone was dripping with sarcasm. Trying to make the girl like her was going to be close to impossible. And she knew that there was a big chance that it could be all for nothing because Emily might never like her that way.
"So where are you guys headed now?" Paige asked when the two girls were finally standing in front of her and Kayla.
"PennFest." Emily answered, glancing at Spencer to check if her friend still wanted to go to the festival. When the girl nodded, she looked at Paige. "Do you want to come with us?"
Paige stole a quick look at Spencer and shook her head. "No. I think I'll sit this one out." She replied when she saw the look of annoyance that crossed the girl's features. "I'm beat and I have to wake up early tomorrow so I could get some training done before the mandatory activities start."
"Crap I need to go back. I think I left my phone at Mix." Spencer blurted out as she patted the pockets of her jeans. "I'll be quick. I'll just meet you at the bus stop." She told Emily before turning around and making a run for it.
Emily watched her friend for a few seconds before looking at Paige again. "Are you sure you don't want to join us at PennFest? It could be fun." When Paige shook her head, she continued. "Suit yourself. I guess we'll just see you tomorrow for the Safe Living sessions." The three of them resumed walking in silence towards the bus stop near the apartment building when Emily looked past Paige's other side to talk to Kayla. "So are you excited to be a senior this year?"
Kayla nodded. "I am. But I'm more excited with the fact that I get to have my own apartment this year." She answered, grinning.
"Yeah about that. Paige said Logan pulled you out of living in the dorm for your senior year and that you didn't protest. How come? I thought you love the dorm life?" Emily asked just as they reached the bus stop. "Why do you want to live outside of Girard?"
Kayla caught the look Paige was giving her and shrugged. "I loved living in the dorm." She began, knowing that Paige didn't want Emily to know the truth right now so she decided to tell the half-truth version of the story. "But my dad said I don't have any reason to go home to Rosewood during the weekends now so he decided to set me up in an apartment of my own here. At first it was just so I could spend the weekend outside of school. But then he decided to pull me out of living in the dorm altogether. He said I could just commute going to Girard everyday. Of course I was reluctant to leave my old roommate behind but when I saw the place and found out that Paige was going to live in the same floor as me..." She trailed off, grinning at Paige eagerly. "Why do you ask?"
"No reason." Emily replied. She studied the two girls standing in front of her and continued. "It's just that I think it's a huge coincidence that you and Paige will be living on the same floor. Isn't it a little weird or something?" She asked, looking at Paige. "Just living a few steps away from each other? Seeing each other everyday?" She added.
Paige glanced at Kayla and placed her arm around the girl's shoulders. "Not really, no. I'm used to spending time with this girl. Living a few steps away from each other just means we get to hang out more often so it's totally cool." She answered, squeezing Kayla's left shoulder affectionately.
"Right." Emily uttered absentmindedly, her eyes drifting to Paige's arm around Kayla's shoulder. She's seen them stand this close before. But now the sight made her uncomfortable. She checked the time on her watch and looked towards the direction they came from to see if her friend was on her way back. Mix was supposed to be just a minute away when you walked. She remembered seeing Spencer run. What's taking her so long?!
"We can wait until Spencer comes back." Paige offered as she removed her arm around Kayla's shoulder. "We don't mind waiting with you."
Emily shook her head. "It's fine. I'm sure she'll be back any second now." She told Paige reassuringly. She'd rather wait for Spencer by herself than spend one more minute with the two girls acting all chummy in front of her.
"Okay. Goodnight then." Paige said, waving her hand in farewell. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"Yeah. Goodnight." Emily repeated. She watched the two girls make their way towards their apartment building, the sight of them kidding around and pushing each other lightly as they walked down the street bothering her.
Emily kept telling Paige before that the girl and Kayla look good together. And that still holds true now. She told Paige before that Kayla likes her. But Paige kept saying that Kayla wasn't her type. And maybe that still held true for now. But finding out that the two girls were going to live just across the hall from each other starting today changed things for her. Now she knew why she asked Paige if it's weird. Because it is weird. It's weird for her. Because Kayla likes Paige… and Paige could like Kayla now. And the idea of that happening made her feel uncomfortable for some reason. Then she remembered.
Jai was against leaving the two of them alone.
And now that Jai isn't here, it's up to her to make sure that that doesn't happen.
That's right. Emily said to herself. She didn't want Paige to like Kayla because of Jai.
And that's the only reason.
The shrill ringing and constant vibrating of her phone from the bedside table stirred Emily from her sleep on Saturday morning and she brought one pillow over her head to drown out the sound. Ugh. Go away. She thought groggily, immediately drifting back to sleep when the phone stopped ringing on her command...
Emily's eyes snapped open when she heard her phone vibrating against the surface of her bedside table again and she reluctantly removed the pillow covering her head, regretting her action the instant she heard the ringing of her phone loud and clear.
Lifting her head just a few inches above her pillow, Emily grabbed her phone sleepily and pressed the answer button. "Hello?" She managed to say while stifling a yawn.
"Emily?" The voice on the other end of the line asked uncertainly. "Is that you?"
"Paige?" Emily uttered as she got up into a sitting position and ran a hand once through her hair to comb it.
"Were you sleeping?!" Paige exclaimed incredulously, shattering any remaining thoughts Emily had about going back to sleep.
"Yeah. And you just woke me up. Thanks a lot." Emily answered, annoyed that Paige had the nerve to act like it was a crime to sleep when the girl was the one who was disturbing her.
"Are you kidding me?! That's why you haven't been answering my calls?! I've been calling you for almost an hour! Are you and Spencer still asleep?" Paige asked again.
Emily glanced at Spencer's side of the room and saw that her friend was still fast asleep under the covers. Lucky her. "Well I'm wide awake thanks to you. But Spencer's still sleeping. What's the big deal?" She asked impatiently.
"The big deal is you two missed the Safe Living session this morning!" Paige revealed. "I was waiting for the two of you outside the Irvine Auditorium since we're scheduled for the session at eleven thirty. But the two of you didn't show up so I figured you got there early and decided to head inside without me. I tried looking for the both of you... obviously I didn't find either one. Now I know why." She added dryly. "I texted you but I never got a reply. It's already three thirty. We're about to start the walking tour of the campus."
Emily bolted from her bed and checked the time on the clock on her bedside table. "Oh my god. We overslept!" She exclaimed, making a beeline for Spencer's side of the room.
"You think?!" Paige exclaimed incredulously. "Why are you still in bed?!"
"Stop shouting over the phone!" Emily snapped, starting to panic as she shook Spencer awake.
"Sorry." Paige muttered. "Why are you still in bed?" She repeated, this time a little calmer.
Emily sighed. "Late night." She answered, pointing to the clock on Spencer's bedside table when her friend finally opened her eyes.
"What are you talking about? We went home before midnight." Paige reminded her.
"You and Kayla went home. Spence and I went to the PennFest after, remember? We got back here late." Emily explained.
"Well can the two of you make it to the campus tour?" Paige asked, concerned.
"Yeah. We can still make it." Emily answered confidently. "I'll text you when we're about to leave here so you can tell us where the group's headed next and we'll just meet you there."
"Okay. But hurry up." Paige added before ending the call.
"I can't believe we slept through the day." Spencer said, yawning. "And that we slept through both alarms." She continued, looking at the clocks on their bedside tables quizzically.
"I know." Emily said, smiling at her friend wryly. "But we knew that there was a chance for this to happen. We got back here past one in the morning and we stayed up late unpacking. I get why we slept through the alarms. We were so exhausted."
"Ugh. We really should've left those boxes unopened and just unpacked them today." Spencer muttered, trying to wake herself up. "Now there's no doubt in my mind that we were functioning on pure adrenaline that's why we couldn't sleep when we got back."
Emily shook her head, trying to hide her smile. "I guess I'm going to take a shower first since you're still trying to wake yourself up." She stated, grabbing her towel from the back of the chair of her study table on her way to their bathroom.
"Never in my life have I seen so many arts in one place." Paige admitted as she, Emily and Spencer walked down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art later that night.
The walking tour of the campus ended with a casual attire gala event at the art museum and the three of them spent hours mingling with other new students over dinner and then dessert, admiring the various arts displayed until it was time to head home.
"Although speaking for myself, growing up in a town that has no museum? I think any place that has one would make me say those words." Paige continued, earning a smile from Emily and a smirk from Spencer. She ignored the girl's reaction and instead gave Emily's friend a small smile. "Are you sure you don't want to come with us to Late Night at Pottruck at the Fitness Center? They're offering free intro classes." She added, trying to get on the girl's good side. "Or you can climb the rock wall if you want to do something more challenging."
Since the mandatory activity for new students was done for the day, they had the rest of the night free and there were several late night events sponsored by various student groups they could attend all over campus. Paige chose to check out the Late Night at Pottruck event hosted by several student groups including the Taekwondo Club and Emily asked to come along but Spencer wanted to attend the event sponsored by the Philomathean Society, A Revolutionary Evening.
Spencer shook her head. "No thanks but I've made up my mind. I want to watch the reenactment of the French Revolution and stump debates are more of my thing." She replied.
Paige nodded. Now that she's certain that she and Emily are going to be alone for the rest of the night, it was the perfect time to give Emily her 'present'. She stopped walking, deciding to head back to her apartment now. "Is it okay if we just meet at the Pottruck Fitness Center? I need to change." She explained, gesturing to the pair of jeans and shirt she was wearing.
Emily smiled. "Yeah. I'm headed back to Harrison first anyway. This isn't exactly the clothes I wear when I swim." She said, pointing to her clothes as well. "Let's meet in thirty?"
"Sure. I'll see you there." Paige answered. She was about to turn her back to them to head towards the direction of her apartment when she remembered something. "Um... since we probably won't see each other the rest of the night... goodnight." She said to Spencer, turning her back to leave once the girl acknowledged her with a nod of her head. I guess that's a major improvement to the grunt.
"Ugh my muscles are already starting to feel sore." Emily groaned as she and Paige exited the Pottruck Fitness Center two hours later. She gathered her still damp hair and moved it to one side of her shoulder before placing her hands inside the pockets of her jacket to keep them warm. "But I gotta say... I missed being in the water."
Paige glanced at the girl walking next to her and creased her eyebrows in confusion. "What are you talking about? You spent the entire summer in a beach in Miami." She reminded the girl. "That's being in the water twenty-four seven so if anything, you shouldn't feel sore. You should be in better shape."
Emily rolled her eyes in exasperation. "I meant I missed being in the pool." She emphasized. "And just because I spent the summer near a beach doesn't mean I swam every second I was there." She added wryly. "I live on land. I'm not a mermaid. What?!" She exclaimed when she heard Paige laugh.
Paige shook her head. "Nothing. I just imagined what you'd look like once you turn into a prune." She admitted, laughing again.
Emily scowled. "Exactly the reason why I didn't spend my entire summer swimming in the first place." She pointed out. She turned to face Paige when they were near the street, ready to say goodnight when the girl spoke up first.
"Um... it's getting late. Can I give you a ride back to your college house?" Paige asked, playing with the strap of her duffel bag and bouncing on the heels of her feet anxiously.
Emily gave the girl an amused smile. "I didn't know two can ride your bike." She said teasingly.
"Not in my bike. In something a little more comfortable." Paige explained, stepping a little closer to the girl before Emily could say no. "Come on. It's this way." She said as she took Emily's hand in hers and made her way to the side of the building.
Emily moved her feet to follow Paige, all the while conscious that the girl just grabbed her hand out of nowhere. She glanced down at their hands and studied it, suddenly feeling weird again. The last time Paige held her hand was when they were handcuffed during the fair. And back then it didn't feel weird. Unlike this time.
"It doesn't go from zero to sixty in three seconds but it'll get you home." Paige said confidently, distracting Emily from her thoughts. She let go of the girl's hand and walked ahead of Emily to show the girl what she was referring to.
Emily stepped closer to the vehicle and smiled. "A golf cart?" She asked, her eyes twinkling in amusement. "Where did you get this?"
"I may have taken a chance that there's a golf cart lying around the Pottruck and that someone would let me borrow it for a few hours out of the goodness of their heart." Paige admitted sheepishly. "I checked before meeting up with you. I guess it's my lucky day. Come on. I'm going to give you a ride back to Harrison but we're taking the long way." She added as she walked over to the driver's side of the cart. She deposited her duffel bag on the space behind the seats and extended her hand to Emily so she could take the girl's bag but Emily shook her head. Paige nodded, remembering what the girl said about holding on to her things when riding in a vehicle for short periods of time and instead made sure that the object she was going to give to Emily at the end of the night will remain hidden.
"The long way?" Emily asked, confused.
Paige nodded. "Yeah. I'm giving you my own version of a campus tour since you missed half of it." She explained, getting in the driver's seat of the cart and starting the engine. "This way it'll be faster than having to walk around campus."
"You don't have to do that." Emily said hurriedly, refusing to get in.
"I think I kinda do." Paige argued, squinting her eyes teasingly. "I don't want to have to worry about you losing your way around here. So come on. Get in. Let's get this show on the road." She said, patting the seat next to her.
Emily shook her head wryly. "I think I'm going to regret this." She said before getting in beside Paige.
"Don't say that." Paige reprimanded lightly. "Just wait. By the end of the night I'd have you convinced that I can lead my own walking tour of the campus next semester." She said confidently. "Now, feel free to interrupt my monologue if you have any questions." She instructed, sounding too professional that Emily laughed. "Or if you want to correct me or contribute any other information."
Paige cleared her throat to begin, gesturing to their right. "So we are sitting outside the David Pottruck Health and Fitness Center." She started. "Inside this facility, you will find amongst other things, four fitness centers with state-of-the-art equipment, a second floor weight room, Olympic-sized pool, basketball courts, climbing wall, a juice bar, and of course locker and shower facilities." She concluded before gesturing to their left. "And beside it we have the Inn at Penn..."
One hour later, Paige stepped on the brake, bringing the golf cart to a smooth stop just across the street from Emily's college house. "Last stop, Harrison College House." She announced, looking at the girl seated next to her.
Emily smiled. "Thanks for the tour." She said, looking at the girl as well. "I really enjoyed it. Even if we missed several turns..."
"Five isn't several. It's a few!" Paige insisted. "It's just a few turns!"
"Okay." Emily said, laughing. "Even if we missed a few turns, I have to admit, you do have the makings of a campus tour guide..."
Paige pumped her right fist in jubilation. "Told ya." She said smugly, sporting a huge grin on her face.
"Just... not next semester. Give it a few years. Maybe in our Junior year you can try again." Emily said teasingly.
"Or maybe I can just hold a campus tour on how to get lost around here." Paige suggested thoughtfully. "Make them experience it firsthand."
Emily gave the girl a confused look. "How's that supposed to work?" She asked curiously.
"I don't know. I guess I'll give them a tour of the campus then make up names of places and stuff if I can't remember them. Then when night falls I'll take them somewhere far and tell them that the first person who gets to Franklin Field on foot gets a prize." Paige answered, shrugging.
"You can't do that! That's like pulling a prank on hundreds of unsuspecting new students!" Emily reprimanded the girl, sitting up straight in her seat. "You'll scar them for life!"
"I'm kidding." Paige said, starting to laugh. "You should see your face right now. It's priceless."
Emily shook her head wryly before giving the girl a smile. "Well just to be on the safe side, tell me when you decide to hold this campus tour of yours. I'll come with you." She offered.
"No way! You'll suck the fun out of it." Paige pointed out.
"Who said I'm going to stop you? I want in on the action." Emily clarified, grinning at Paige.
Paige nodded her head approvingly. "That's more like it. See? I knew you'd come around eventually. You're actually capable of having fun when you're not busy aiming for straight As. You just need a little more push." She added. "We should start hanging out more often. I'll show you what you're missing out on." Paige said candidly.
"I just might do that." Emily answered, the smile on her lips disappearing. They sat there just looking at each other before she cleared her throat to fill the awkward silence that followed. "Well since I'm here I guess there's nothing left to do but to head inside." She said, looking at the entrance then back at Paige, for some reason reluctant to leave the girl's company.
Paige fidgeted in her seat, trying to muster the courage to give the girl the thing she stole back in Rosewood. She waited for Emily to move but the girl didn't budge. Instead they just sat there, looking at each other until Emily spoke up again.
"Yeah I better head inside." Emily repeated, laughing nervously. She moved to get out of the golf cart when she felt Paige's hand touch hers again.
"Wait. Um I... uh..." Paige stammered, biting her bottom lip nervously. "There's... um... I've been trying to find a way to give you something." She finally blurted out. "I wanted to give it to you last night that's why I invited you to have dinner with me but you brought Spencer along and I brought Kayla along. Not that I mind!" She added hurriedly. "But I didn't want to give it to you in front of them so I decided to give it to you tonight instead." Paige explained, pausing to catch her breath. "I... um... I got something for you." She said timidly as she took out the illustration board from behind the golf cart. "It's sort of a gift even if I didn't buy it. And it's probably of no value to other people."
"What is it?" Emily asked, staring at the black surface of the board curiously. It looked strangely familiar.
Paige let out a nervous laugh as she kept the other side of the board hidden from Emily. "I thought it was a good idea at the time but now I just feel like an idiot for coming up with it." She admitted, thankful that it was dark because she could feel her cheeks getting warm. She cleared her throat to try again. "It's a reminder of who you are or who you wanted to be. It's your vision board." Paige blurted out, turning around the board so it was finally facing Emily.
"Back when we were freshmen we had this homework for our Social Studies class. We were told to make our own vision boards and that's what got you and Jai started." Paige reminded the girl. "What gave you two the idea to make a vision board for your future together. But in our class the vision board that you made stood out. It was one of the best and Mr. Pratt loved it so much that he..."
"Decided to put it on display in the hallway." Emily finished, staring at the board she made four years ago. It seemed like forever since she last saw it.
"Right." Paige said, nodding nervously. "He said your vision board was a reflection of your character. It showed someone who has a bright future ahead of her. One who isn't afraid to dream big because she knows who she is and what she's capable of. But at the same time a part of her would always remain dreaming. He said that anyone who has that attitude was bound to go places. That's why he said that your vision board should serve as an inspiration to our class, as well as to the future students who would walk the halls of our school someday." She explained, remembering what their teacher told their class the next day.
"You remembered that?" Emily asked, surprised.
"Eidetic memory or something." Paige replied, not wanting the girl to know the truth about her feelings just yet. "Anyway, I figured since I won't be going back to Rosewood High anytime soon I might as well commit theft. It was worth it by the way. I think you should have it back." She stated, handing the board to Emily.
"What?!" Emily exclaimed, surprised by Paige's actions. "You stole that from the school?!" She said disbelievingly. Now she knew what Paige was up to the night she saw her outside the cemetery and why the girl panicked last night when she revealed that she saw her. "That's why you were running around in the middle of the night in a black hoodie. You stole that from Rosewood High!" Emily said accusingly. "Not to mention you were breaking and entering!"
"Is it still considered breaking and entering if I happened to have a set of keys to the entire place?" Paige asked sheepishly. She sighed when she saw Emily's disapproving stare. "Look. I didn't steal it because technically that board belongs to you. You just lent it to them for four years and I decided to take it back." She argued stubbornly.
"But why? I thought you said it should serve as an inspiration to others?" Emily asked, her eyes never leaving her vision board which the other girl still held in her hands.
Paige nodded. "It should. And it did. I know one person it inspired. But right now I think you need it more than anyone else." She explained gently. "I saw what you did to the vision board you and Jai made. Accidentally." She added hurriedly. "I passed by your house on my way to the youth center the day after you left for Miami and the garbage was being collected. I almost didn't recognize it because the edges were charred but the middle section of the board was still intact. And then I remembered the one we made individually."
Paige bit her bottom lip and studied Emily. "I guess I decided to take this back because I wanted you to know that just because Jai's dead it doesn't mean that your dreams should die with her as well." She said softly. "I wanted to remind you that you had your own dreams before your life with Jai. When you take a look at this closely, you'll see that the dreams on this board and on the one you made with her aren't that different. Except for the whole growing old thing and all the other things beyond your career." She added.
"You're in college. You have this bright future ahead of you. I hope someday you'd look at this and find it in you to start checking things off here. And this board of yours still has some space in it because you said you never want to stop dreaming. Well here's your chance. You can add a whole new chapter of your life. What you want now. I just think you shouldn't give up on your dreams." Paige said sincerely.
Emily felt herself starting to tear up. "Paige..." She whispered hoarsely.
"I like the girl who made this. She's a dreamer. I just want you to know that everyday I walked the halls of that school I stopped by your vision board because it inspires me. You inspired me. I hope someday I'll see the girl who made this again." Paige said softly, handing the board closer to Emily.
Emily looked at Paige for a second, touched by the girl's words. She remembered how Paige wanted to be thanked by her so she slowly leaned forward and kissed the girl on the cheek softly before taking her vision board from Paige's hands.
"Thank you." Emily whispered as she stared at the board, feeling like her dreams were just handed back to her. By Paige.
"No problem." Paige managed to say, her pulse racing when she caught Emily's scent when the girl leaned in close to her. Her cheek was still tingling on the spot where Emily just kissed her and she could still feel how soft the girl's lips were against her skin.
"I better head inside." Emily said, looking at Paige one last time before stepping out of the cart. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight." Paige repeated. She waited until Emily was safely inside the building before starting the engine of the golf cart with the intention of leaving since she had to return it to the Pottruck Center. But instead she just sat there, feeling like an idiot because she's sure that the grin she was sporting on her lips right now surpassed that of a Cheshire cat's. Paige lifted her fingers to touch the spot Emily kissed earlier and sighed. I guess that's sort of our thing now.