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.
First off… WOW… you guys are awesome! Thanks for the reviews and the enthusiasm about this story. I just hope this will be as good as if not better than Kismet.
Locum Tenens is going to be made up of five parts with several chapters each. I'm currently swamped at work but I'll try my best to update this story regularly. I just need you guys to be patient because I can't answer your questions without revealing what happens eventually. That's why as much as I would love to go on and on about it, I can't. This story will most likely continue until after 4a starts. I wanted to finish it during the hiatus but unless I post more than one chapter a week, I don't see that happening LOL.
iowahawx, hipnos7777, Jess Angell & Yeuchc22 thanks for the PM!
PART ONE: "Mutantur Omnia Nos Et Mutamur In Illis"
~ All things change, and we change with them. ~
Emily stirred from her sleep, woken up by a pinging sound coming from her bedroom window. What is that? She thought irritably before checking the clock on her bedside table. When she saw that it was five in the morning, Emily mentally groaned in frustration. Who was disturbing her sleep at such an early hour? She thought about ignoring the sound and covered her head with a pillow but the noise wouldn't stop. Sighing, she finally decided to get up and trudged towards the window, this time groaning out loud when she looked down and saw Paige in her running attire, about to throw another pebble. Hurriedly, she opened her window to catch the girl's attention.
"What are you doing?!" Emily whispered incredulously.
Paige lowered her hand and threw the small stone lightly behind some bushes. "Took you long enough." She said, irritated. "Do you wear earplugs or something when you sleep? I've been throwing pebbles at your window for the past fifteen minutes."
"Well I was hoping the noise would eventually go away. And with it the person who's making the noise." Emily said pointedly. "What do you want?" She asked, itching to go back to sleep.
"I want you to change out of your..." Paige squinted to try and see the girl's current outfit. "Whatever it is you're wearing." She said, giving up trying to guess. "We're going for a run." She explained in a hushed tone.
"A run?" Emily asked, confused.
"Yeah. It's good for building stamina, burning calories, regulating breathing, etcetera, etcetera. Come on!" Paige urged.
"I know what it does. I run too. But Paige it's five in the morning and I just slept a few hours ago." Emily revealed reluctantly.
"Let me guess, you were up all night talking to Jai again." Paige said sarcastically.
"Well excuse me for having a girlfriend." Emily retorted.
"That's no excuse. The first meet's in a few weeks. I was serious about you slacking off at swim practice last week. As team captain I've taken it upon myself to make sure that you are in tiptop shape since you're the anchor. You're supposed to be the fastest. The anchor in a leg not the anchor in a boat. Get your ass down here." Paige ordered.
Emily sighed, frustrated. "Fine. Give me five minutes." She said, knowing Paige wouldn't leave her alone unless she joined the girl outside.
"Make it two." Paige told her impatiently before beginning to do some stretches.
"Five or I'm going back to sleep." Emily said firmly, refusing to let Paige order her around.
"Just hurry up Sniffles." Paige said, conceding.
Emily leapt over a protruding tree root and ran a short distance before slowing down and bending over to catch her breath. She looked up and saw that Paige was about to round a bend on the trail and she didn't want the girl to look behind her only to realize she was alone so she called out breathlessly.
"Paige slow down. I think I pulled a hamstring." Emily said, raising her voice to be heard before placing her hands on her knees to catch her breath once again.
Paige turned around and saw the girl bent over, gasping for breath. "I think I should stop calling you Sniffles and start calling you Princess." She said as she slowly walked back towards Emily.
"Hey not all of us can run as fast as you, okay?" Emily said defensively, moving to rest against a tree trunk. "Besides, running on rough terrain wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I let you drag me out of bed. I thought we'd be running around the streets of Rosewood. Not the forbidden forest."
Emily wasn't going to say it out loud but when she agreed to a morning run with Paige, she thought they would be doing something along the lines of jogging. But apparently when Paige said they were going for a run, the girl meant there would be actual running involved. Like they were in a marathon or something. She stole a glance at the girl and was surprised when she realized Paige didn't even break a sweat and wasn't even breathing unevenly, unlike her. This was something she didn't know Paige was actually good at but she wasn't going to admit that to the girl. She wouldn't hear the end of it if Paige found out she was impressed.
Paige tossed her water bottle towards Emily, deciding to ignore the girl's comment. "How's Jai doing?" She asked, remembering why the girl felt tired.
Emily lifted the lid and decided to answer the question first. "She's great. Still a little jet-lagged but she's really excited to be there." She managed to say between intakes of breath before starting to drink, careful not to let the sides of the opening touch her lips.
"That's good to hear." Paige said, nodding.
Emily stared at Paige, surprised. "You still haven't talked to her?" She asked before closing the lid.
Apparently Paige was serious about the whole not answering Jai's phone calls. It's been five days since her girlfriend left for London and a day hasn't gone by that they haven't talked or chatted before Emily went to sleep. She has been in constant communication with Jai but she still missed her girlfriend terribly. Obviously, the same thing couldn't be said about Jai's best friend. Maybe she was right. Maybe Paige doesn't have a heart.
"Would I ask you about her if I did?" Paige asked sarcastically.
Emily tossed the water bottle back to Paige, annoyed. "Paige tone down your sarcasm. It's early and I really don't want to be in a bickering contest with you just yet." She warned.
"Fine." Paige said, trying to figure out how to do that. "She's been calling but like I said before she left, I'll only talk to her once a week." She explained.
"When do you plan on talking to her then?" Emily asked.
"Probably this weekend." Paige replied, hedging. "Or the next. I don't know."
"Why don't you want to talk to her everyday anyway?" Emily asked, curious.
"Well for one, she has you for that." Paige said, smirking. "And because unlike you, I'm not needy. I don't need her to check up on me everyday." She added, still managing to get on Emily's nerves.
"I'm not needy. I just miss my girlfriend. I'm actually capable of feeling some sort of emotion." Emily shot back.
"Are you calling me heartless again?" Paige asked, amused.
"Serves you right." Emily retorted.
"Well since I'm so heartless we should probably head back the way we came. There was a dead animal earlier down this path. I don't know if it's been removed and I don't want to ruin your appetite or anything Your Highness." Paige said, bowing down in front of the girl.
Emily ignored Paige's mockery and decided to zero in on something the girl said instead. "Earlier? Wait, you ran here earlier? What time did you start running?" She asked. She didn't know if she was supposed to be impressed or concerned and she decided to keep her expression neutral for now.
"I've been running since four. I just took a break to get you." Paige answered flippantly like it was something she did on a regular basis.
Emily frowned. "Four A.M.?! Why so early?" She asked.
Paige shrugged. "I couldn't sleep. Running helps me pass the time." She explained.
"Is there something bothering you?" Emily asked, slightly concerned when she was suddenly reminded that she promised to look after Jai's best friend.
"No." Paige said in a tone that told Emily to drop the subject. "Catch your breath already?" She asked, suddenly desperate to end their morning run considering she was the one who insisted that Emily join her.
"Yeah." Emily answered, taking the hint as she straightened up.
"Then come on. Let's go back." Paige said, walking past the confused girl to head back the way they came.
Paige was aware of the girl keeping her distance. Emily was walking behind her and she knew the girl was studying her closely. She took a deep breath and began to do some stretches while walking, her mind buzzing with activity. She knew why she couldn't sleep. Stress is one of its triggers and Jai's departure and the favor her best friend asked of her before she left stressed the hell out of her. As Paige became aware that Emily was finally walking beside her, she had a sinking feeling that she won't be getting much if any sleep at all until Jai returns.
"Here." Paige said as she took something out of the backpack she left outside Emily's house earlier.
"What's that?" Emily asked, hesitant to accept what the girl was giving her.
Paige rolled her eyes. "It's not gonna bite you. It's an energy bar. Jai gives you one every morning doesn't she?" She asked, waving the bar in front of Emily.
"How did you know?" Emily asked, finally taking the food.
Paige shrugged. "I have superpowers. Of observation. Everyday when you two get to school you're munching on one and I've been to Jai's house numerous times it's like it's my second home. I've noticed their kitchen has a stock of the exact brand you're eating. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out." She explained as she looked around to see if she left anything behind.
"So does this mean from now on you'll have a stock of this brand lying around in your house too?" Emily guessed.
Paige shook her head. "You'll fail at this whole superpowers thing. You have zero powers of observation." She said, seemingly disappointed. "No. It means I took the stock from Jai's house to give to you. I don't want those going to waste. You can buy your own stock after for all I care. I just don't get it though." She said as she searched the inside of her bag for something.
"Get what?" Emily asked.
"Why you like that thing so much. It tastes like mulched paper." Paige answered.
"You know what mulched paper tastes like?" Emily asked, amused.
Paige made a disgusted face. "No. But I imagine it tastes something like that." She said, nodding her head towards the bar.
"Well it's good for the body." Emily reasoned out.
"Please. Lots of food is good for the body. It doesn't have to taste like that to be good. I give you a better version. Here." Paige said, finally finding what she was looking for.
"Chewy granola bar?" Emily asked as she stared dubiously at the bar Paige was handing out to her.
"Hey. Don't diss it 'til you've tasted it. It's way better." Paige insisted. When she saw the reluctance in Emily's face, she continued. "How about a bet? If you don't like this I'll eat those energy bars for a month." She offered, nodding her head once again towards the bar Emily held in her hand.
Emily shook her head. "Not good enough. If I don't like that, you'll eat these energy bars until Jai returns." She challenged.
Paige scoffed. "Deal." She answered, knowing for sure that she would win. "And if you like this, I get to ask of you one thing. I don't know when I'll ask it and what it'll be. But I get to ask it and you can't say no." Paige said as she deposited the granola bar on Emily's hand.
"Done." Emily agreed, confident she would win.
"I guess I'll see you at school then Sniffles." Paige said, turning her back to make her way home.
"When will you start calling me by my name?" Emily called after the girl.
"What are you talking about? That's your name." Paige said, looking back at Emily.
"Why do I even bother? You're a lost cause." Emily said, resigned. "Thanks for ruining my morning."
"My pleasure. You better get used to it. Until Jai returns we are going to be running buddies!" Paige exclaimed, clapping her hands together in mock enthusiasm.
"So how was school today honey?"
"The same. Except today I got called to the guidance office. How cool is that?"
Paige heaved a sigh, fidgeting in the chair she occupied as she played in her head her version of the scenario at dinner tonight. Her father's initial reaction when he finds out that she talked to the guidance counselor again would be one of extreme concern. She just hoped she would be able to pacify him. Paige bit her bottom lip, looking around her as she wondered (possibly for the hundredth time)why the school's guidance counselor suddenly wanted to have a word with her. The last time she checked, she wasn't in any kind of trouble. Or exhibiting signs of being in trouble like she did for a few days during her freshman year. Her week has been uneventful so far and she wanted to keep it that way. But luck wasn't on her side. Not that it ever was in the first place. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and looked behind her, trying to see through the windows if the counselor was outside before taking a look at the time on her watch. She had been waiting for almost twenty minutes now. She was about to get up and ask someone where the counselor went when the door opened and a woman in her early 30s entered, holding in her hand what Paige assumed was her file.
"Sorry." The woman said in greeting. "I was called to the Principal's office on my way here." She said before walking to the other side of the table and sitting down.
"Oh yeah? What did you do?" Paige asked, trying to make a joke to ease her nervousness. She really didn't want to be there.
The woman gave Paige a small smile. "Nothing serious." She said before opening Paige's file and going through the papers.
Ways not to establish rapport: avoid small talk, check. Paige thought wryly, watching the counselor go through her file. She forced her leg to stop bouncing and decided to focus on the nameplate in front of her instead; hoping reading the name inscribed on it over and over will make her feel comfortable. Sara Thompson. Guidance Counselor.
"Senior year." Sara began, closing Paige's file and finally turning her attention to the nervous girl. "You've thought about schools? Where you want to go for college?" She asked, smiling kindly.
"Um, it's always been USC for me." Paige answered after a beat, relieved that she wasn't there because she was in trouble. "I figured I'd run track there instead of swimming. My track coach and I have discussed it last year. She said she could probably get a scout to see me at one of my meets this year, get a full ride scholarship, sign an NLI."
"California." Sara said, nodding thoughtfully. "I don't mean to pry but isn't that kind of far to go to college?" She asked cautiously. "There are other colleges and universities in the state of Pennsylvania. Why go somewhere far? Have you explored your options here?"
"I know it's in the west coast. But I love the weather there. And that school means a lot to me. So it's always been USC for me." Paige explained.
"I see. Well have you thought about applying to an Ivy League school?" Sara asked, finally getting to her point. "UPenn perhaps?"
"Ivy League?" Paige asked, confused. "I… don't think my grades are gonna cut it." She said, trying to wrap her mind around what the counselor just said.
"But you're interested." Sara observed.
Paige shook her head. "Not really. Like I said, it's USC for me." She repeated.
"Just think about it." Sara urged. "I know UPenn doesn't offer NLIs and there are no academic or athletic scholarships in Ivy League schools but it's one of the prestigious universities in the country. Once you get in you can still apply for a financial aid if you need one." She added, trying to encourage Paige to consider the school.
"I just have to pass the entrance exams first." Paige said, trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
"And you need to be more involved with extracurricular activities this year." Sara added, ignoring Paige's uncertainty. "I've seen your file. You're almost there. Do well your senior year and you have a good shot at getting into UPenn." She said reassuringly.
Paige gave Sara a thin smile. "Except that school isn't really for me. It's kinda for my best friend and her girlfriend. It's their school of choice. Not mine. I really want to get out of Pennsylvania." She admitted.
"I didn't ask you to come here to talk about your best friend and her girlfriend's plans for their future. I want to talk about yours. Paige a degree from an Ivy League school increases your chances of securing a good job, opening doors for various opportunities others would fight tooth and nail for. Just think about it. It's a rare opportunity. Apply for both. There's no harm in doing that." Sara insisted.
Paige stood up. "Okay. I'll think about it." She said, still unsure about what just happened.
Sara followed suit and gave her several brochures and booklets about UPenn. "Here. You might find some courses that interest you. You can ask your best friend or other students you know who've applied or are planning to apply there; they might be of some help for you to make a decision. If you have any other questions, feel free to come by." She said, smiling as she handed everything to Paige.
"Okay." Paige repeated, staring at the brochures. "Does my dad... I mean, have you talked to him? Has he been here to see you? I really don't want a repeat of what happened freshman year." She said, looking at Sara uncertainly.
Sara shook her head. "No. This is an entirely different matter. This is your future. I wanted to talk to you so you can make the decision for yourself. I'm not trying to ruin your plans. Just giving you options. I'd rather you make the decision than someone else make it for you." She said understandingly.
"Okay." Paige said again. It seemed like that was the only word she knew how to say right now. "Can I go now?" She asked quietly.
Once the guidance counselor nodded, Paige hastily made her way towards the door. As she joined the students milling the hallways, in a hurry to get to their respective classes, she slowly made her way towards her locker. Depositing everything Sara gave her, she took out the books she would need for the rest of the day but couldn't bring herself to stop staring at the paraphernalia. Ivy League. UPenn. When my dad finds out about this I could certainly kiss my USC plans goodbye. She took a deep breath and closed the door of her locker, dreading going home tonight.
"Paige, wait." Emily called out when she saw the girl about to leave the locker room after swim practice that afternoon. Gathering her things, she hurriedly caught up to Paige who stood waiting impatiently for her by the door.
"What is it?" Paige asked when Emily was finally standing in front of her.
"I just thought we could walk together for a change. Jai isn't around so there's really no reason to race to get to the lounge is there?" Emily asked. She wanted to keep the promise she made to Jai and for her to be able to do that, she had to be around Jai's best friend.
Paige stared at Emily, trying to gauge if the girl was kidding. "There's no reason to get to the lounge. Period." She finally said when she realized that Emily was serious about walking together.
"Paige I'm trying here." Emily said, willing herself not to roll her eyes at the girl in frustration.
"Whatever." Paige answered coolly before opening the door to start walking towards the lounge.
They walked in silence for a while, the air thick with tension and discomfort. They were walking together but they were so uncomfortable around each other students would think that they just happened to be walking towards the same direction. Paige studied Emily from the corner of her eye, debating whether or not to ask the girl about UPenn. She took a deep breath. Here goes nothing… She thought as she cleared her throat.
"So… what's the verdict with the granola bar?" Paige asked, chickening out at the last second.
Emily looked at Paige and smiled. "I hated it." She declared smugly. "I guess you're eating those energy bars with me until Jai returns."
Paige frowned. "Really?" She asked, studying Emily closely. "Huh. I was so sure you'd like it."
"Well I didn't." Emily insisted.
Paige shrugged. "Fair enough. I guess I'm eating those energy bars with you then." She concluded, rolling her eyes in annoyance when Emily nodded her head haughtily. She bit her bottom lip to stop herself from making fun of Emily. She needed to play nice if she wanted to ask the girl about UPenn.
They resumed walking in silence for a few seconds before Paige decided to broach the subject again. "So… UPenn." She finally managed to say, not meeting Emily's eyes.
Emily glanced at Paige, surprised. "What about it?" She asked.
"Why do you like to go there for college?" Paige asked, still not meeting the girl's curious stare.
"Lots of reasons." Emily began. "Jai's going there is at the top of the list. Obviously I don't need to tell you that." She added irritably when she noticed Paige roll her eyes. "It's an Ivy League school. Why wouldn't I want to go there? The courses in their Wharton school are one of the best in the country and if I want to be in advertising, that's where I'm headed. And I know it's a little far from Rosewood but I don't mind the commute since I still get to go home during the weekends so I can still visit my mom and my dad when he comes home."
"You've been to the campus?" Paige asked, glancing at Emily briefly.
Emily nodded. "Yeah. Last year. Jai and I went there when she took that campus tour." She revealed.
"Right." Paige said thoughtfully. Jai didn't tell her she took that tour with Emily. Probably because her best friend knew she would make fun of them. Which was pretty much accurate. "And you liked it." She added when she noticed the sudden change in Emily's mood. "I'm guessing the tour gave you and Jai a glimpse of what college life would be like for the both of you." She said, unable to resist the urge to comment on Emily's mood knowing it wasn't the campus she was thinking of just now.
"What's with all the questions?" Emily asked, starting to get defensive.
"No reason." Paige said offhandedly. It's not like she was going to start talking to the girl about her current predicament.
"Well to answer your question, yeah. I liked what I saw of it. I didn't really get a chance to look around since we spent most of the time touring Perelman instead of Wharton." Emily said. "But I'm planning on going there with Spencer for another campus tour next month." She added.
"What is she doing here?" Spencer's annoyed tone stopped the two in mid-conversation when they realized they've arrived at the student lounge.
"Sentinel duty." Paige supplied, purposely annoying the three girls sitting on the lounge warily.
Emily rolled her eyes. "She's kidding." She said to her friends.
"Not really. Jai's gonna kill me if something happens to you." Paige said to the girl standing next to her. "Like if you get a paper cut or something. Wouldn't want to ruin that flawless skin of yours." She added sarcastically. "I think Jai left a label on you. FRAGILE or HANDLE WITH CARE. I can't seem to remember."
"You know, I really wish it was you who went away Paige." Spencer said, her voice dripping with dislike. Just because Jai asked Emily to look after Paige doesn't mean they would tolerate the girl making fun of Emily every chance she gets.
"You and me both." Paige shot back. "But sadly I'm not as smart as her so I guess you'd just have to learn to live with it." She looked at the three girls sitting on the couches and felt they were sizing her up. "You know what? I can tell when I'm not wanted. I'm going to go away now." She said, turning around to leave.
"Paige wait, what are you talking about? You can stay." Emily offered, making Paige turn around to face her.
"A pity invite? Thanks but no thanks. I'm going for a run." Paige explained, turning her back once again.
"Again? We already ran this morning." Emily reminded the girl.
Paige sighed, turning around one last time to face Emily. "So? I love running. It keeps my heart rate up. It's not like I'm asking you to join me. I'll see you around Sniffles and the gang." She said, turning her back to leave for real this time.
Emily and her friends watched as Paige headed for the door leading to the exit, stopping for a moment when a girl who looked like she was a freshman suddenly came up to her and handed her a piece of paper. Paige nodded as if listening to what the girl was saying and then took the paper, meeting Emily's eyes once the girl was gone. Emily felt her face flush in embarrassment when Paige caught her staring but she met the other girl's gaze head on. Paige broke into a smirk before pocketing the paper and walking outside.
"You think she calls those girls?" Aria asked them thoughtfully.
Hanna shrugged. "I don't know. I wouldn't put it past her. I just don't understand how someone as awesome as Jai could have someone as messed up as Paige for a best friend." She said to them.
Emily finally turned her attention to her friends. "I don't know how either. Jai insists I'd like her once I got to know her but Paige isn't making any effort so I'll just take my girlfriend's word for it."
"So how was school today honey?" Nick McCullers asked once he and Paige were seated in front of dinner that night. He transferred some garden salad onto his plate before passing the bowl to his daughter and stared at Paige expectantly.
"Good." Paige answered vaguely as she took the bowl of salad her father handed to her. She was already dreading where the conversation was headed.
"Anything interesting happen?" Nick inquired, studying his daughter closely.
Paige took a forkful of salad greens and chewed it slowly, buying herself some time before answering the question. She never lied to her dad and she couldn't bring herself to start now. Honesty was a big deal for both of them. She swallowed hard before speaking.
"I wouldn't call it interesting." Paige began, not quite meeting her father's eyes when he stopped eating his baked salmon to focus his complete attention to her. "I got called to the guidance office today." She continued. "I wasn't in trouble!" She said hurriedly when she saw her father's concerned look. "She just wanted to talk about college this time."
"You told her you're set on going to USC?" Nick asked as he resumed eating his dinner.
"Yeah." Paige nodded. "The thing is, she said I could apply to UPenn if I wanted to. I mean, I have to be more involved with extracurricular activities and get good grades this year but I have a good chance of getting in if I was interested." She admitted reluctantly.
"UPenn huh?" Nick said, the wheels in his mind working in overdrive that Paige could practically hear the gears shifting.
"Yeah." Paige said hoarsely, knowing what's about to come.
"It's an Ivy League school. Great opportunities waiting for you after you graduate." Nick began, making Paige lose her appetite.
"I know. But they don't offer NLIs and there are no academic or athletic scholarships either. Just financial aid." Paige reasoned out.
"The tuition was never a factor in your college plans Paige." Nick reminded his daughter.
"I know." Paige repeated. "But I still want to try and get a full ride scholarship. And if USC can give me an NLI that money you saved for college could go somewhere else instead. Like me getting a car." She said lightly, trying to change the subject.
"Still. It wouldn't hurt to try. California is so far from here honey." Nick said, smiling tightly.
"But we talked about this already. You know how much I wanted to go there for college." Paige insisted. "And I'm doing better. I'm seventeen. I have a better handle on things unlike when I was ten."
"I know. And I have nothing against you going to USC. I just think you shouldn't waste an opportunity to get into an Ivy League school if it meant you can stay here." Nick explained gently.
"I don't want to stay here. Dad, you know how much I'm looking forward to graduating and getting out of this place." Paige reminded her father.
Nick nodded. "I do. And you know that I understand why you want to leave. But you also have to think long-term. What your guidance counselor said changes things. Your reason for leaving isn't enough anymore. Unless you get to sign an NLI and convince me that USC is a better school I can't just let you ignore UPenn." He said with quiet authority.
"Maybe in terms of academics UPenn is better. But USC is still a better match for me. I love that campus." Paige reiterated.
"You love what it can give you for four years. Not what it can do for you after. Please. Just take the entrance exam in UPenn. Try hard to get in. It would make me feel better if you weren't so far away." Nick finally admitted.
Paige sighed, pushing around the food on her plate. "Okay." She said reluctantly, knowing her father wasn't going to take no for an answer.
"Em, could you pass the syrup please?" Kayla asked, extending a hand towards the girl. Emily picked up the bottle of maple syrup beside her and handed it to Jai's sister. "Thanks." She said, opening the bottle and pouring a generous amount of syrup all over her waffles.
It was the first Saturday that Logan and the three girls were sharing a meal at the Hayes household without Jai. Although technically the tradition started because of her, Logan told Emily and Paige not to stop coming over on Saturdays for breakfast and the two girls couldn't say no.
Paige watched Kayla from the corner of her eye as the girl drowned her breakfast in maple syrup, cringing involuntarily at the sight. "You're supposed to be eating waffles Kayla. Not drinking the syrup." She reminded the girl seated beside her.
"What?" Kayla asked, staring at Paige. "I like mine sweet."
"Try sickly sweet." Paige corrected.
"Whatever. At least I got you to talk. For a while there I thought the girl seated beside me was someone else. What's up with you?" Kayla asked, studying Paige closely.
Paige shook her head. "Nothing." She said when she saw Emily and Logan focus their attention on her. "I'm just really hungry." She added, forcing herself to take another bite of her own waffle.
"So Emily, got any big plans for your birthday? It's next week, right?" Logan asked, shifting his gaze to his daughter's girlfriend this time. "If your friends want to throw a party for you, you're welcome to hold it here. Just make sure it's on a weekend so it doesn't interfere with your studies." He reminded lightly. "Senior year is a crucial year for all of you."
Emily swallowed the piece of waffle she had been chewing before speaking. "Yeah my birthday's next week." She began. "And thank you. For the offer. But I'm not really in the mood to have a party. Without Jai it won't be complete." She admitted. "Maybe I'll just have a quiet dinner with my mom and go out with my friends but that's it."
Logan nodded. "Well if you change your mind, just tell me." He said sincerely before drinking the rest of his coffee. He took a look at the time on his watch and grimaced. "Sorry to cut this breakfast short but I have an appointment at 11. I have to leave now if I'm to make it on time." He said, standing up and looking at the three girls apologetically.
"Don't worry about it. We got this dad." Kayla reassured him, smiling up at her father.
Logan smiled and kissed his daughter on the head goodbye before turning his attention to Paige and Emily. "By the way, I'm glad the two of you managed to make it through breakfast without bickering. Although Paige barely said anything." He added, his eyes crinkling in laughter. "I wish Jai could see you two right now."
Paige forced a smile on her lips before taking a sip of her juice, watching Logan leave the room behind the rim of the glass. The truth was, she had a lot on her mind ever since her talk with the guidance counselor. That's why she barely participated in the morning chatter. She was busy racking her brain for ways to get out of applying to UPenn but so far she's coming up empty.
"Ow!" Paige suddenly exclaimed, rubbing her left side when she felt Kayla elbow her. "What the hell did you do that for?" She asked.
"Are you gonna help us clean this up or what?" Kayla asked, pointing to the dirty dishes on the table.
Emily stood up and began to help Kayla. "Don't count on Paige's help on this one." She said. "I'm surprised she's still here. I was expecting her to bolt the second Logan left the room."
"Not today." Paige said offhandedly before getting up as well. She didn't have it in her to bicker with Emily today. "Kayla and I made plans to hang out all day." She explained when she saw Emily's questioning look.
"Just the two of you." Emily stated, staring at the two girls back and forth uncertainly.
"Well I would invite you to join us but I've been around you two long enough to know that that is a terrible idea. I want to enjoy the day. Not go to bed stressed out." Kayla admitted. "Sorry."
"It's fine." Emily said, smiling understandingly. "I wouldn't want to spend the day getting called Sniffles anyway. I was just surprised. I didn't know you two have gotten close."
"Yeah well contrary to what your girlfriend told you, Jai isn't the only friend I have." Paige said, slightly annoyed. "I'm capable of making friends."
"I didn't mean it like that…" Emily began.
"I gotta take this." Paige interjected when she felt her phone vibrate, choosing to ignore Emily's half-baked apology. When she saw who was calling, she immediately left the room. "Yeah?" She said as she put the phone to her ear.
"Finally you decided to answer my call." Jai said in greeting, reprimanding her best friend lightly. "Jeez, Paige. You really meant it when you said you'll only talk to me once a week."
"Yep." Paige said as she walked farther from the dining room to have some privacy.
"Everything okay?" Jai asked, suddenly sounding worried.
"Why wouldn't it be?" Paige answered, stopping at the foot of the stairs.
"You sound tired." Jai observed.
Paige ran a hand through her hair, exasperated. Sometimes it's frustrating that Jai could tell something was wrong just by hearing the tone of her voice. "Just had a busy week." She said after a beat.
"Tell me." Jai coaxed. "Come on. It's been a week. Tell me what you've been up to."
"Aren't you supposed to be talking to your girlfriend?" Paige asked in an effort to change the subject.
"I've been talking to her ever since I left. I know what's going on with her. Right now I want to talk to my best friend who's been dodging my calls." Jai said lightly. "What's going on with you?"
Paige sighed. "Nothing. Everything's fine." She insisted. "Look. I'm sorry I didn't answer your calls until now. I was just being stubborn."
"I know." Jai said, laughing. "I'm just glad you decided to take this one. Emily's birthday is coming up." She reminded her friend.
"Right." Paige said slowly. "Your surprise. Sorry."
"It's fine. I was gonna ask Kayla to tell you to answer your phone if you still refused to pick up today." Jai explained. "Anyway, when you get a chance, swing by my house."
"I'm here already." Paige informed her best friend.
"You are?" Jai asked, surprised.
"Yeah. Your dad didn't want to stop having Saturday breakfast with us even if you're in London. I figured since I really don't have anything planned the rest of the day, I'd hang out with your sister. Try to find out more about the girl she has a crush on." Paige explained.
"Just the two of you? Paige..." Jai warned.
Paige rolled her eyes before starting to make her way upstairs, knowing Jai's surprise for Emily was in the girl's bedroom. "Will you relax? I don't have an ulterior motive. I'm not gonna make a move on her." She reassured her best friend. "I'm heading to your room right now." She said as she took the steps two at a time. "What do you need me to get?" Paige asked, locking the door behind her once she was inside her best friend's bedroom.
"Go to my bureau and open the first drawer." Jai instructed.
Paige did as she was told. "Okay." She said when she finally pulled open the first drawer. "All I see are shirts."
"Under those shirts you're gonna find a box." Jai explained.
"Huh." Paige said, searching blindly for the box under the clothes. "Got it." She said when she felt the box and took it out.
"I want you to give that to her." Jai said eagerly.
"Are you sure?" Paige asked once she opened the box and saw the object inside. "I mean, I think you should be the one to give this to her."
"Believe me. I wish I was there to give that to her myself. But yeah, of course I'm sure I want her to have it. It's the reason I bought it in the first place. I busted my ass doing summer jobs and working at the hospital for that. I'm just glad I was able to buy that necklace for her before I left." Jai admitted.
"Lucky her." Paige commented absentmindedly as she touched the stones on the object.
"What do you think?" Jai asked, suddenly nervous.
"I think it cost you an arm and a leg." Paige said, closing the lid and returning the box inside the bureau. "Not to mention a kidney." She added lightly.
"She's worth it. I'd even give up both arms and legs for her." Jai said with so much conviction that Paige stifled a groan.
"Overkill Jazz." Paige said, shaking her head.
"You're saying that now. Wait 'til you fall in love." Jai said seriously.
"Whatever. So how do you plan on giving your gift to her?" Paige asked as she settled on the edge of her best friend's bed.
"Okay listen up. Here's what I need you to do…" Jai began.
By Tuesday afternoon, although things seemed bleak on the whole college situation, Paige still refused to give up her plan of attending USC next year. She spent the rest of the weekend trying to come up with ways to get out of the situation but she still had no idea what to do. She needed to be recruited by that school because without the NLI from USC, her dad will never allow her to go to college so far from home now that he knew about UPenn. That meant she had to try hard to get into the Ivy League school like she told her dad but she can't bring herself to be enthusiastic about it. That's why when she was asked to come early to track practice by her coach, she was nervous as to why but a part of her felt like the week was off to a good start.
Paige entered the deserted locker room, walking past the row of metal lockers to head straight to her coach's office. As she passed by the window, she noticed that her coach was on the phone talking to someone. Once she reached the door, she knocked on it twice and looked through the window, waiting for the woman to ask her to come in. When her coach gestured for her to get inside, Paige opened the door and settled on the chair opposite the woman.
"Yes. Yes. You won't regret it. Next month. Yes. We'll see you there." The woman said before finally ending the call. She replaced the handset on its cradle and stared at Paige. "That was the recruiter from USC." She began. At that, Paige's eyes widened and her coach smiled. "I remember what we talked about last year." Her coach added. "I convinced him to come to the first track meet next month. It wasn't easy but I told him he would want to see you."
"I don't know what to say." Paige admitted, smiling genuinely for the first time since she left the guidance office. "Thank you. Coach Reilly. This really means a lot." She said earnestly, unable to put into words just how much the news really meant to her.
"Don't thank me yet. Between now and the meet, I want you on that field before and after your classes. You gotta get your times down." Coach Reilly reminded her.
Paige nodded enthusiastically. "I will. I'll work hard. You won't regret making that call." She promised.
The coach smiled. "You're one of my best runners Paige. I want you to get this scholarship. You deserve it." She said sincerely.
Paige stood up. "I guess I better start running some laps then." She stated eagerly.
The coach nodded, signaling their conversation was over and Paige hurriedly went out of the office and straight to her locker to change into her running gear. Just when she thought Coach Reilly forgot about their talk last year, the woman came through for her and she couldn't be happier. I'll impress that recruiter and get an NLI. She thought determinedly, sitting down on one of the wooden benches to tie the shoelaces of her running shoes. She wasn't going down without a fight. She'll try hard to get into UPenn. But she'll try harder to get into USC.
Emily checked the time on the wall clock in front of her and sighed in relief. Her shift at the Brew was finally over and she couldn't wait to get home. She needed to start on her homework early if she wanted to spend the rest of the night talking with Jai. Tomorrow is her birthday and she was hoping that she and Jai could talk until the clock struck midnight (at least on her side of the globe). She wanted Jai to be the first person to greet her a happy birthday.
"I'm done for the day Kevin." Emily called out to her boss as she removed her apron. She looked at the back of the store to check if the guy heard her. "I'm going home." She said, waiting for Kevin to acknowledge her. Once her boss nodded without looking up, Emily began to make her way towards the front entrance, smiling at her co-workers and bidding them goodbye on the way out. She put on her jacket once she was outside and turned to her left to start making her way home, already looking forward to Jai's call later.
"Hi." The voice of a girl behind her made Emily stop in her tracks. Turning around, she found herself staring at a girl not much older than her. The girl had shoulder-length layered black hair, brown eyes and an open smile.
"Hi?" Emily said, smiling back hesitantly. She had no idea who the girl was but she looked familiar.
"You're Emily, right? My name's Carla." The girl said, extending a hand for Emily to shake.
"Hi. Carla." Emily repeated, shaking the girl's outstretched hand. She's still confused as to why the girl was talking to her.
"You're probably wondering why I'm talking to you." Carla said as if she read Emily's mind just now.
Emily nodded. "A little bit. Yeah." She admitted, smiling at the girl apologetically.
"I've been coming to this coffee shop a lot." Carla began.
Recognition finally dawned on Emily. "Yeah. I remember you now. You're one of our regulars." She said, making Carla's smile widen. "My shift just ended." Emily informed the girl thinking she wanted service that's why Carla stopped her.
"Then I guess that's one reason you can't say no." Carla concluded. "I know this seems forward. But the truth is I don't drink coffee. Not regularly anyway. I just like coming here because of one particular barista." She admitted, staring at Emily meaningfully.
"Oh." Emily said, feeling her cheeks flush from the attention. "Um… by any chance… you're not from around here are you?" She asked timidly. Everyone around town knew she and Jai were together and the day they became a couple was the day girls stopped coming up to her to ask her out.
"Me? Unfortunately no. I'm a freshman in college. I go to Hollis. I actually live in the next town but my roommate lives here and I come to visit her sometimes." Carla explained. "Although now she's wondering why I'm around all the time." She added, laughing.
"Right." Emily said, nodding her head. "Well…" She began but Carla didn't seem to hear her.
"Anyway, there's this party on campus tonight and I was wondering if maybe you'd like to join us? Me and my roommate." Carla clarified. "You can bring some friends if you like."
"Uh. I don't know about that. You see…" Emily said, trying to explain again but Carla wasn't taking 'no' for an answer.
"Just think about it. Here, let me give you my number." Carla said, slowly reaching out to take Emily's hand so she could write it down. "In case you change your mind."
"What's going on here?" Paige's inquiring tone from behind them made Emily look past Carla in surprise. Quickly, she extricated her hand from Carla's grasp and placed it to her side, trying to erase the number the girl wrote just now by rubbing her palm against the surface of her jeans. Emily didn't know if she felt relieved that Paige was there or if she should be worried that Jai's best friend saw what happened just now.
"Paige." Emily uttered, her voice hoarse. Yep. She's most definitely worried.
Paige studied Emily closely, trying to make sense of what she just witnessed. She was about to head straight home from track practice when she decided to start working on Jai's plan for Emily's birthday tonight instead of tomorrow afternoon. She had a lot of stopovers to make and Lucky Leons was the first. She normally didn't pass by this street on her way home but the store was just a few shops away from the Brew. When she saw the two girls talking just outside the coffee shop, Paige decided to approach them, momentarily forgetting why she passed by that street in the first place.
Paige finally averted her eyes from Emily to look at the other girl. "That's me. I'm Paige." She said, pointing to herself when she saw Carla's confused look. She fixed the strap of her duffel bag on her shoulder before placing her hands inside her jacket pockets, waiting for an explanation.
"This is Carla." Emily said, finally making the introductions. "She's not from around here. She's a college freshman at Hollis and she just invited me to a party there tonight." She continued, silently asking for Paige's help out of the situation.
"And your friends." Carla added. "I see you have very attractive friends." She said, giving Paige a lengthy onceover.
"We're not really…" Paige began but stopped when she saw the look Emily gave her. "I mean, she can't go." Paige said, nodding her head towards Emily. "That's why I came by. Your girlfriend's phone died. She asked me to swing by here and tell you that she's just gonna meet you at your house for your date tonight." She said to Emily, trying to keep her tone friendly in front of a stranger.
"Girlfriend?" Carla asked, looking at them back and forth.
"You didn't tell her?" Paige asked Emily, trying hard not to lose her temper in front of Carla. "Yeah. She has a serious girlfriend. She has been taken for two years, eleven months, two weeks, two days and counting." She stated, surprising Emily.
"Wow." Carla said, slightly embarrassed.
"Yeah. I'm sorry. I was trying to tell you earlier." Emily explained.
Carla shook her head. "No big deal. I should've known. Girls who look like you are rarely single." She said, trying to save face. "How about you?" She asked, turning her complete attention to Paige this time.
"How about me what?" Paige asked, pretending not to understand what the girl was asking.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" Carla clarified.
"I don't know. Do you think I have a girlfriend?" Paige said, throwing the question back at the girl.
Carla studied Paige before smiling flirtatiously. "I think you don't do girlfriends and that's totally fine." She answered truthfully. "I'm about to meet my roommate now to grab dinner before heading to the party. Wanna join us? Unless you have other plans."
Paige shook her head. "I'm free the rest of the day." She said, ignoring Emily's look of disbelief.
"Perfect. My car's this way." Carla said, jutting her thumb behind them.
"I'll be right there." Paige promised. "I just need to talk to her for a bit." She explained, pointing to Emily.
Carla nodded. "It's the red Corvette." She informed Paige before turning her attention to Emily. "I'm sorry. Again."
Emily gave the girl a smile. "It's fine." She said reassuringly.
"Okay then. I'll let you two talk." Carla said, finally giving the two some privacy.
As soon as the girl was out of earshot, Emily turned to Paige. "What are you doing?!" She asked incredulously.
"What are you doing?!" Paige repeated, incensed.
"Are you really gonna go to a college party by yourself on a school night? Paige you barely know the girl! One minute she was trying to get me to go with her, the next she's all over you! You know she just wants to hookup with someone at that party." Emily exclaimed.
"What's wrong with that?" Paige challenged. "I can do whatever I want because unlike you, I don't have a girlfriend. What were you thinking?!" She snapped.
"I tried telling her but she kept interrupting me!" Emily protested.
"Well you should've tried harder!" Paige retorted. She looked past Emily and saw Carla staring at them curiously. She took a deep breath, trying to calm down. "We are not done talking about this Sniffles." Paige said in a low voice, glaring at Emily before leaving to join Carla.
Emily watched Paige get inside Carla's car, part indignant, part worried. Yeah. She and Paige never got along. But she never considered that Jai's best friend thought she was someone capable of cheating. And that said best friend was being stubborn and stupid enough to go to a college party by herself because she refused to heed Emily's warning. As Carla's red Corvette drove away with Paige inside, Emily groaned in frustration. She didn't realize it until now but Jai's best friend drove her absolutely crazy.
On Wednesday afternoon, despite the disagreement they had yesterday, Paige found herself standing in front of Emily's house with a backpack, a bouquet of fresh flowers in one hand and a huge paper bag in the other. The last thing she wanted to do today was execute Jai's plan after what happened yesterday afternoon in front of the Brew. Because she had to draw Carla away from Emily, she barely made it back to Lucky Leons before the store closed. Then she ended up staying up all night last night making sure everything was ready and because of that, she wasn't able to run at dawn and this morning before classes started because she came to school late. For someone who made a promise to her coach yesterday that she would improve her times, she wasn't off to a good start.
As if that wasn't bad enough, she spent most of the day avoiding Emily. The second their eyes met earlier that day, she just knew Emily wanted to speak with her. But even though she said they weren't done talking about what she saw outside the Brew, Paige didn't want to continue the argument today. Because today was the one day she didn't bother Jai's girlfriend and if Emily managed to corner her, she knew she was going to ruin the girl's day.
She looked behind her and saw a middle-aged couple pass by, looking at her suspiciously. Paige rolled her eyes, annoyed. They were judging her for merely standing in front of Emily's house with a bouquet of flowers. I'm not trying to steal her. She thought, biting her lower lip to keep from saying those words out loud to the couple. She took a deep breath before slowly making her way towards the front porch, choosing at the last second to go around the back instead. The last thing she needed was for people to start talking about her again and if she stayed out front with a bouquet of flowers like a suitor, that's exactly what would happen.
Paige nervously knocked on the kitchen door of Emily's house before checking the time on her watch. She only had a few minutes left to set up everything in Emily's room. She checked the box in her jacket pocket and looked at the bouquet of assorted flowers she held in her hand. Still intact. She was about to knock again when Pam Fields opened the door.
"Paige." Pam said in greeting.
"Um, good afternoon." Paige said politely. "You were expecting me? I mean, Jai said she called you to tell you to expect me?" She clarified nervously. She really wasn't good with moms.
"She did." Pam confirmed, stepping aside to let Paige in. "Although I was expecting you to come by sooner." She added before closing the door behind Paige.
"I know. Sorry about that." Paige said, her cheeks flushing in embarrassment. "I had track practice." She explained.
Pam nodded. "Well Emily is going to be home soon. Do what you have to do and do it fast." She said graciously.
"Okay." Paige nodded, starting to make her way upstairs towards Emily's room. "I'll be quick." She promised.
Paige bounded the steps two at a time and headed for Emily's room, stopping outside the girl's bedroom once she got there. It felt weird to be on this side of the door. Weirder still to go inside Emily's room when the girl wasn't there. But Jai got Pam to agree to the plan so she had to do this. She quickly opened the door and went inside, choosing to leave the door wide open in case Pam decided to check on her. She placed her backpack and the bouquet by the windowseat and for a while stood in the middle of the room, trying to figure out what to do first. Streamer. She finally decided, grabbing the chair by Emily's study table so she can hang the banner a little higher on the girl's wall facing the door since that was the only space that seemed available. Taking off her sneakers, she took the streamer from inside the huge paper bag and unfolded it, piercing the paper with a pushpin before getting up on the chair to hang the streamer.
"Need help?" Pam's voice behind her made Paige turn around. "I think you could use some help hanging that." She said before stepping inside her daughter's room.
"It's fine." Paige answered, giving Pam a small smile. "I don't want to trouble you." She added.
Pam shook her head. "Nonsense. This is for my daughter's birthday. It's no trouble at all." She reassured Paige. "What can I do?"
"Okay. Um, maybe you could hang the other end of the streamer?" Paige finally said, pointing to the other end of the banner which was on top of Emily's bed.
Pam took off her shoes and stepped on her daughter's bed to help Paige hang the other end of the streamer. "I appreciate you doing this for Emily." She said, smiling at Paige. "She's not in the mood to celebrate with Jai in London."
Paige nodded. "I know. I saw her around school today." She said, grateful that Pam was being civil and wasn't giving her a hard time for not getting along with Emily. "But once she gets home tonight, I know this is going to cheer her up. Especially when she finds out Jai planned all of this."
Pam smiled warmly. "Jasmine really loves her. And that girl is just so mature and responsible. I couldn't ask for a better girlfriend for my daughter." She admitted.
"Yeah." Paige said, smiling at Emily's mom. "They're really perfect together." She said quietly.
"So what's next?" Pam asked, taking a peek inside the paper bag Paige brought with her. "Emily might come home soon. I think I better help you with the rest."
Paige nodded. "Okay. Uh, well, how do you feel about blowing up balloons?" She asked hesitantly.
"Do you have a helium tank by any chance?" Pam asked, amused.
"I do." Paige admitted, walking over to her backpack and revealing the small helium tank she brought with her.
Pam laughed in amusement as she took the lightweight tank and the deflated balloons Paige handed to her. "You're a great friend for doing this." She said sincerely. "I got this. You set up the rest."
Paige took the bouquet and walked over to Emily's bed, placing the flowers and the box in the middle of it. She took out a note she wrote earlier and placed it on top of the box. She then made her way to Emily's study table and began to take out of the paper bag the rest of the things she brought with her, arranging the items neatly on the table. She made sure that they were near the girl's laptop, in the order that Jai told her to put them. That done, she looked around the table and saw some Post-It. Taking out a pen from her pocket, she took one and wrote something on it before placing the note in the middle of the laptop screen.
"All done." Paige said, turning around to face Pam.
Pam looked over where she stood and nodded. "Me too." She said, gesturing around the room to show Paige the inflated pastel-colored balloons she scattered on the floor. "We better get out of here then."
Paige moved to get her backpack, folding the paper bag and putting it inside with the now empty tank before following Pam downstairs. Once they were in the living room, Paige stopped in front of the door. "Thank you. For the help up there." She began. "I'm so sorry for the trouble."
Pam shook her head. "Paige it's no trouble at all. That surprise will surely bring a smile to my daughter's lips once she enters her room. So tell Jasmine thank you. For always making my daughter smile." She added.
"I will." Paige promised. "You have a lovely home by the way."
"Thank you. That's nice of you to say." Pam said, touching Paige's back gently. "Your mother raised you well."
Paige smiled tightly. "Thanks." She said, her voice hoarse.
"Be careful out there." Pam reminded her.
Paige nodded. "Goodnight." She said before leaving the warmth of Emily's house.
As she made her way down the cold, empty street, Paige couldn't help but wish she didn't have to leave so soon. She forgot what it felt like to have a mother. And the few minutes she spent with Emily's made her miss her own. But more than that, she wished her mother was someone like Pam Fields.
"I'm home." Emily called out as she entered the house that night. She was tired from an extra shift at the Brew and all she wanted to do was crawl into bed. It was her birthday and the whole day sucked. Especially since Jai wasn't there to celebrate it with her.
"Sweetie." Pam said once she emerged from the living room, greeting her daughter with a hug. "You look tired." She observed once she pulled back and took a good look at Emily.
"I am tired. I'm not really in the mood to celebrate tonight." Emily said apologetically.
Pam nodded. "That's fine. We can go out to celebrate this weekend instead. But I think you should head to your room. Maybe something there would cheer you up." She hinted.
"Jai." Emily said, barely able to contain her excitement. She kissed her mom on the cheek and quickly bounded the steps up to her room. She opened the door slowly, her hand covering her mouth in pleasant surprise when she saw the banner above her bed which read Happy Birthday Love! Emily entered her room, her eyes taking in the balloons scattered all over the floor, the items lined up near her laptop and the two objects on top of her bed.
Smiling, she hastily made her way towards it and grabbed the note on top of the box. Open me. It read. Emily stared at the box and lifted the lid, smiling when she saw the necklace. She ran her hand lightly over the heart-shaped locket before opening it and felt her throat constrict when she saw Jai's face on the other half. She wished Jai was really here so she could kiss her girlfriend.
Looking around the room once again, she finally stood up to check out the things on her study table. She took the note in the middle of her laptop screen. Call Jai. It said. She turned on her laptop and stared at the objects beside it, wondering what's up. She quickly connected to the Internet and called Jai via Skype. The moment her girlfriend's face filled the screen, Emily forgot how hard her day was.
"Hey love." Jai said in greeting, smiling widely.
"Jai." Emily said, grinning as she settled in front of her laptop.
"I'm guessing you got my gift and the flowers?" Jai asked as she fixed something on her head.
Emily nodded. "I did." She said, the happiness she felt evident in her voice. "Thank you. Not just for the gift and the flowers. But for doing all of this. You made my day better." She said sincerely.
"I can't exactly take all of the credit on this one." Jai confessed. "The plan was mine but Paige did most of the grunt work there. Told you she's great." She said, grinning.
Emily's smile wavered, suddenly reminded that she hasn't told Jai about the misunderstanding yesterday. She didn't want her girlfriend to be worried. About their relationship and about Paige being stubborn and reckless. That's why she wanted to clear the air with Paige first but the girl kept avoiding her the entire day. Emily mentally shook her head, forcing all thoughts of the incident outside the Brew at the back of her mind. Now is not the time to talk to Jai about it. Focusing on the image of her girlfriend on her laptop screen, she spotted something odd about Jai.
"Wait. What are you wearing?" Emily asked when she finally noticed the thing on top of Jai's head.
"Oh you mean this?" Jai asked, pointing to the conical-shaped thing on her head. "It's a party hat." She supplied, not taking the item off. "Guess where I am." She said, moving away from the webcam so Emily can see behind her.
Emily squinted, noticing something familiar about it. She took in the streamer and the balloons scattered on the floor. "That's... Is that my room?" She asked, looking around her own room in confusion.
Jai laughed. "Well technically it's my room here in London." She began. "But tonight, yeah, it's your room. I tried to recreate it from what I could remember and then I added the streamer and the balloons. Because just for tonight, we're not thousands of miles away." She said softly. "Let's pretend I'm right there. I really wanted to celebrate your birthday with you and this is the only way I know how. Wear your party hat." Jai urged, nodding towards the things on Emily's desk.
Emily chuckled and took the hat, placing it on her head. "I look silly." She said, feeling self-conscious.
"No. You don't. I think you've never looked more beautiful." Jai said tenderly.
Emily felt herself tear up. "What's next?" She asked, looking at the items to her left.
"Party cracker?" Jai asked, grabbing hers.
Emily looked around and saw hers. "Got it. On three?" She asked, grinning.
"On three. One." Jai started.
"Two." Emily continued.
"Three." They said at the same time before pulling the string on their respective party crackers, creating a small popping sound.
"Happy birthday love." Jai said softly.
Emily smiled through her tears. "Even if you're not here… this is my best birthday ever." She admitted. "I miss you so much Jai."
"I miss you too." Jai said, wiping her own tears. "I wish I was really there so I could kiss you."
"Me too." Emily said, trying to smile.
"We can't have the same wish." Jai reprimanded Emily teasingly. "You can make your own."
"How?" Emily asked, curious as to what Jai still had up her sleeve.
"That white box on your table. Open it." Jai instructed. "Don't shake it!" She warned.
Emily took the small box and opened the top carefully, grinning when she saw what was inside. "Mint chocolate chip?" She asked wryly.
"Mint chocolate chip." Jai confirmed as Emily removed the cupcake from inside the box. "I didn't buy one here because I wanted you to have the cake all to yourself. Well, cupcake." She corrected, grinning. "Make a wish." She urged.
Emily looked around the table and saw the birthday candle and the lighter. Sticking the candle in the middle of the cupcake, she lit it and smiled at Jai, making her wish before blowing out the flame.
"So what did you wish for?" Jai asked.
Emily smiled. "I know it sounds ridiculous. But I wished that we could reach our dreams sooner so we could be together. I wish it was ten years from now." She said quietly.
"Good work out there today, Paige." Coach Reilly said as the girl walked over to her.
"Did I manage to get my time down?" Paige asked breathlessly, gathering her hair up and wiping the sweat off the back of her neck.
"Almost." Coach Reilly admitted. "We'll try again next week." She said encouragingly. "We're done for the day."
Paige nodded, hiding her disappointment. "Is it okay if I run one more lap?" She asked as she bent over to grab the water bottle from her duffel bag on the ground.
"Yeah. Just don't strain yourself too much." Coach Reilly reminded Paige before making her way back to the locker room.
Paige exhaled, lifting the lid of the water bottle and taking a quick drink. When she was done, she crouched to return the bottle inside her duffel bag before fixing the shoelaces of her running shoes. "What are you doing here?" Paige asked impassively when a pair of black mid high boots stopped in front of her.
"I need to talk to you." Emily answered timidly from above her.
"About what?" Paige asked, standing up and glancing at the necklace on Emily's neck before meeting the girl's gaze.
"About what you did." Emily began but Paige interrupted her.
"You're still hung up on that whole college party thing?" Paige asked, annoyed. "I know I'm not as smart as Jai but I'm not stupid. I didn't go to that party Sniffles. If I did I wouldn't have been able to do all those things Jai asked me to do." She rationalized, not giving Emily a chance to say anything. "That girl wasn't gonna leave either of us alone unless one of us came with her and I have far better things to do than listen to her rebuff every excuse we could think of."
"Oh." Emily uttered, briefly forgetting why she wanted to talk to Paige. "That's good to know." She admitted, playing with the locket nervously. "But I didn't come here to talk to you about that. I actually came by to say thanks."
After the private party Jai threw for her last night, Emily finally told her girlfriend what happened outside the Brew. About Carla and Paige seeing the whole thing. She didn't want Jai's best friend to be the one to tell her girlfriend about what she saw. She didn't trust that Paige wouldn't make it sound worse and she didn't want Jai to worry.
"Thanks?" Paige asked, trying to figure out what Emily was actually thanking her for. She hasn't talked to Jai since their conversation last Saturday and even if she did answer her best friend's call, she wasn't going to tell Jai about Carla. That was something she wanted to talk about with Emily first. The last thing Jai needed when she was thousands of miles away was to worry about her relationship when Paige didn't even know the whole story.
"Yeah. For helping Jai with the whole party thing. If there's anything I can do..." Emily offered.
"There is." Paige interjected.
"What?" Emily asked, for some reason nervous.
"Remember that you have a serious girlfriend." Paige said sternly.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Emily asked, giving Paige a challenging look.
"It means I promised Jai I'd look after you. But it doesn't mean I'm gonna stop looking after her. The next time a girl comes up to you to ask for your number or to give you hers, learn to say no. You're not the only one having a hard time. We're all… having a hard time. You're not the only one who's in a long-distance relationship. My best friend is thousands of miles away. Alone. At least you still have your friends. The least you could do is let girls know you're taken." Paige rambled on, finally getting to say what she wanted to say to the girl since Tuesday afternoon. "I can't keep coming to your rescue Sniffles."
"And you don't need to. Paige I'm not gonna cheat on Jai. I love her." Emily insisted.
"So do I. Remember that the next time a girl comes up to you." Paige said quietly before walking past Emily and breaking into a run.