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.
Again, thanks for the reviews and for having the patience to read my lengthy chapters. Let me reiterate that though I want to answer your questions right now, I can't. It would ruin the story's... element of surprise so to speak. I know all of you want to find out what Paige is suffering from. And maybe as the story progresses most of you would have an idea. But in case you don't, I will say it now. You guys will find out everything about it the same time Emily does... when Paige decides to reveal it to her. Which will be in Part Four... so yeah... I need you all to be EXTREMELY patient with this story. ;-)
iowahawx and shokoshik... Thanks for the PM.
AliasThorne... Thanks for the PM and the help.
PART ONE: "Mutantur Omnia Nos Et Mutamur In Illis"
~ All things change, and we change with them. ~
"Hello? Paige? Are you still there?" Jai's voice from the other end of the line jolted Paige awake. Lifting her head from the study table, she looked around to try and find the cordless phone amidst the clutter of books and papers on her desk.
"I'm here. I'm here." Paige said hurriedly through the mouthpiece once she found the phone.
"Did you fall asleep or something?" Jai asked, half amused, half worried. "I've been trying to get your attention for the past five minutes."
"Sorry. I didn't fall asleep. I was just looking for my pen. It rolled off my desk and under my bed." Paige lied. "But everything's fine. I found it." She said, tapping a pen she found on her desk for effect. "So what were you saying?"
It was a Saturday and after another tension-filled breakfast with Emily at the Hayes household that morning, Paige headed straight home and decided to stop putting off the inevitable. She needed to start working on her college application to UPenn and she was thinking of ways to increase her extracurricular activities at school. She willed her brain to function but her body was protesting. It was finally craving the sleep that has eluded her since Jai left and Paige forced herself to stay awake, knowing her best friend will make a fuss if she found out Paige's insomnia was returning. Because like her, Jai also knew the warning signs.
"I said Emily told me about the whole Carla thing last week." Jai repeated. "I wanted to let you know that we talked about it already in case you were thinking of pulling an Edward Hyde on her. She wasn't doing anything wrong."
"Hyde of Jekyll and Hyde fame? Seriously?" Paige said, shaking her head. "You know you're really starting to hurt my feelings. You make it sound like I'm a monster." She joked, hoping her best friend won't figure out what she did but Jai knew her all too well.
"Paige?" Jai uttered suspiciously.
"What?" Paige asked, trying to hide her guilt.
"I'm too late aren't I? You already bit my girlfriend's head off!" Jai said accusingly. "Paige!"
"I was just looking out for you! I didn't realize until recently just how serious you are about her." Paige explained, immediately caving in. "I just don't want you to lose her."
"I appreciate you looking out for me. But you don't need to. I know how serious she is about me. I trust her." Jai said firmly. "Apologize, okay?"
"But..." Paige protested.
"Please?" Jai pleaded.
Paige exhaled. "Fine." She said reluctantly, mentally adding it to the list of things she's yet to apologize for.
"Thank you." Jai said sincerely. "So what are you up to today?"
"College application." Paige answered vaguely, letting Jai think she's talking about USC.
"Coach Reilly came through?" Jai asked.
"Yeah. She called the recruiter from USC and convinced him to come to the meet next week." Paige replied.
"That's great. I'm sure you're gonna get offered a scholarship." Jai said confidently. "Especially when they've seen you run before."
"I really hope so." Paige said, staring at the UPenn brochure in front of her.
"Is that the reason why you sound so tired?" Jai suddenly asked.
"That obvious, huh?" Paige admitted.
"Yeah." Jai answered. "So. Tell me why you're so tired."
Paige kept silent for a moment, contemplating what to tell her friend. She took a deep breath and finally told Jai what she's been up to since her best friend left, conveniently leaving out the part about her recent visit to the guidance office and the possibility of getting into UPenn. The last thing she needed was another person telling her to "think about it".
"So basically you're tired because you've been running every morning and afternoon." Jai concluded after hearing her best friend's explanation.
"Trying to improve my times." Paige added. "I've managed to do it but I'm telling you this college thing is stressing the hell out of me." She said as she slowly leaned backward and balanced the chair she was occupying on its hind legs.
"Hang in there." Jai said, trying to encourage her best friend despite the worry that was evident in her voice. "And listen, I know how much USC means to you. I want you to be able to go there too. But not if it meant you'd be this stressed out. Like you said, there are other schools out there if USC doesn't pan out for you." She reminded her friend.
Paige closed her eyes, exhausted. "I know. But I'll only consider those schools once I know for sure that I have no shot of getting in. USC is it for me. Kinda like UPenn is it for you and your girlfriend." She explained.
"How's Em doing by the way?" Jai asked, bringing the conversation back to her girlfriend.
"You've talked to her everyday. You know how she's doing." Paige answered, opening her eyes and getting up from the chair.
"Yeah but you're the one spending time together. I mean you are, right?" Jai asked cautiously.
"Occasionally." Paige said, sitting down on the edge of her bed this time. "Don't worry. Despite the Edward Hyde move I pulled, I'm keeping my promise. She's fine."
"Are her times improving?" Jai asked. "I mean, after you got her to start running with you every morning?"
"Yeah. It definitely helped. Just a little more push and she will beat the hell out of the other swimmers easily." Paige said confidently.
"Of course she will." Paige heard the pride in Jai's voice. "Thanks for pushing her to work hard. If you need any help just ask her. I'm sure she'll be willing to help you out." Jai reassured her.
I seriously doubt that. "I will." Paige said, lying so as not to worry her best friend. "Enough about me. How's the internship going?" She asked, changing the subject.
"Good." Jai answered. "It's mostly research work but it's really fascinating."
Paige heard something in Jai's voice but before she could figure out what it was, her friend spoke up again. "Crap. I didn't notice the time. Good thing you mentioned the internship. I gotta go. I have a meeting with the department head. I'll call you again next weekend." Jai said, finally getting used to Paige taking her calls on a Saturday.
"Okay." Paige said absentmindedly, still trying to figure out what she heard.
Once Jai ended the call, Paige stood up and walked over to her study table, returning the handset to its cradle but her eyes kept glued to the phone. She didn't know why it bothered her but she was certain that Jai was hiding something from her.
"We're still on for the campus tour at UPenn this month, right?" Emily asked Spencer as she leaned on the locker beside her friend's.
Spencer took out the books she would need for her morning classes and shook her head. "Uh, no. I checked and it turns out it's not until November. But it's fine. I'm still working on the list of students who are interested in taking the tour with us anyway. We need at least twenty before I can ask Principal Lewis to request the group tour." She explained.
"You're the student council president. Just mention it in one of our general assembly meetings." Emily suggested.
"I will." Spencer said, checking if she forgot anything else before closing the door of her locker and facing her friend. "That reminds me. The budget's finally been approved for the annual trick or treat. I just need the finalized details of that particular activity. Where the kids will be coming from, number of volunteers. The flow of the activity for the entire night basically." She reminded Emily.
Emily nodded as they began to make their way towards their respective classes. "I know. I'm almost done with it. I could give it to you tomorrow morning at the latest." She reassured Spencer. "Sorry it's taking me this long. I'm a little short on dependable members this year."
Spencer laughed. "I think most of them chose your committee just to spend time with you." She teased her friend.
"Well I don't mind the attention." Emily admitted. "I just wish they could multitask. You know, find it in between stolen glances to actually make an effort to do their jobs?"
"I could just imagine Paige's reaction once she finds out that most of the girls in your committee have a crush on you. She would be in sentinel duty twenty-four seven." Spencer declared, shaking her head.
Emily rolled her eyes. "Ugh. Don't remind me. I have enough problems as it is. The last thing I need is my girlfriend's overprotective best friend watching me like a hawk." She complained.
"Well you're not the only one with problems when it comes to their committee. Connor came up to me the other day and asked if he could limit the members of his committee to two." Spencer said as they rounded a corner.
"Why? Is there someone stealing funds from the budget committee?" Emily asked, concerned.
Spencer shook her head. "He said the girls in his committee kept sidling up to him and finding excuses to spend time alone with him. He's starting to feel harassed." She said, her laughter mixing with Emily's. "Of course I said no. He needs all the help he can get."
"Poor Connor." Emily said sympathetically.
"Poor Connor? Trust me Em, that guy doesn't need your sympathy. I mean, have you seen his abs? Those babies can cut through diamonds." Spencer said, stopping by the door just outside of her class.
"Uh, I hardly pay attention to his body Spence." Emily said, smiling as she moved forward a little before turning around to face her friend.
"That's probably a good thing too. Just imagine if Paige found out you've noticed Connor." Spencer teased, laughing when her friend rolled her eyes again.
"Spencer." The sound of Paige's voice behind her made Emily groan inwardly as she turned around and watched the girl amble towards them.
"Speak of the devil." Spencer muttered under her breath, just loud enough for Emily to hear.
Paige slowly approached the two girls, glancing at Emily briefly before focusing her attention on the other girl. Last night she finally realized the answer to her predicament regarding UPenn and it was an answer she regretted coming up with. Spencer Hastings. Student council president. One of Emily's best friends. Perfect. Asking for the girl's help will be piece of cake. Like walking barefooted leisurely across hot coals under the scorching heat of the sun.
"I think I'm gonna go." Emily said quietly to her friend, walking past Paige without so much as a glance.
Spencer watched her friend disappear into one of the rooms down the hall before reluctantly shifting her attention to Paige. "What do you want? I don't have time for you and your stupid antics." She warned the girl as she moved away from the entrance so other students can get inside the room.
"O-kay." Paige said under her breath. This conversation was going to be more like rolling around naked repeatedly in those hot coals. "You're the student council president." She began.
"Yeah." Spencer said in a tone that seemed like it wasn't supposed to be news.
Paige decided to ignore it and forged ahead. "You know, when Jai was president last year she and the student council had these activities planned out. Year-round. Every month there's an activity." She continued.
"I know. I was VP." Spencer reminded the girl. "What's your point?"
"I just want to know the activities you've lined up for the entire school year." Paige casually said.
"Why?" Spencer inquired suspiciously.
"Maybe I could help out." Paige offered.
Spencer's eyes widened in surprise. "No." She answered, shaking her head firmly.
"At least pretend you thought about it before saying no." Paige said wryly.
"I don't need to. The answer's no." Spencer repeated.
"What? Come on! I'm dependable." Paige reasoned out.
"Yeah right." Spencer retorted.
Paige sighed. "Set aside your dislike towards me for making your friend's life miserable." She asked.
"That's an understatement." Spencer said sarcastically.
"I'm asking as a student. Not as a friend which I'm clearly not." Paige persisted.
Spencer narrowed her eyes. "Why do you want to be involved? Emily's the social chair this year." She said slowly. "Are you doing this to keep an eye on her? Because that needs to stop Paige. You need to stay out of her and Jai's relationship. Jai asked you to look after her. That doesn't include giving her a hard time for talking to other girls. It doesn't bother Jai. It shouldn't bother you."
"What? This isn't even about that." Paige said, managing to hide her annoyance. "I know she's the social chair. But you're the president. I figured I'd talk to you directly." She explained.
"Well if you want to be involved with the student council's activities she's the person you need to talk to." Spencer stated.
Paige groaned inwardly. She knew that. Somewhere at the back of her mind she did. But she was hoping it wouldn't come down to that. "Thanks anyway." She said, turning her back to leave.
"You know, Emily isn't awful like you." Spencer called out after Paige, making the girl stop in her tracks. "She's actually capable of compassion. Swallow your pride and talk to her. If you need this to get into a good college she just might help you out." She said before heading inside the room and closing the door behind her.
Emily neatly folded the wet towel she just used and placed it inside her duffel bag with the rest of her things. She looked inside her locker to check one last time if she left anything before closing it. Swim practice was done for the day and because she decided to swim a few more laps after everyone had gotten out of the pool, she was the last to leave the locker room. Pulling the zipper of her bag, she slung the strap on her shoulder and was about to leave when she heard movement coming from Coach Fulton's office. A few seconds later, Paige emerged and their eyes met briefly before Emily looked away, heading for the exit.
"Wait." Paige called out, hurrying to catch up to Emily. It's now or never.
Emily reluctantly turned around. "What is it?" She asked, studying Paige warily.
Paige swallowed hard. "I was wondering if I could ask a favor." She said, getting straight to the point as she placed her hands inside the front pockets of her jeans.
Emily's eyebrow rose. "Seriously?" She asked, incredulous. "Just like that. You expect me to help you after you practically accused me of thinking about cheating on Jai."
"Look. I know you want to hear an apology from me. But I'm not gonna give it to you now." Paige admitted.
"Why?" Emily asked.
"Because. You and I both know I won't mean it." Paige explained. "I would be apologizing to you because I need a favor. Not because I was willing to admit I was wrong. So you choose. I can apologize now or some other time. When I actually mean it."
Emily sighed. "What's the favor?" She finally asked, choosing to hear a sincere apology from the girl someday.
"You're the social chair this year." Paige began.
"Yeah." Emily said, patiently waiting for Paige to get to the point.
"I was wondering if I could maybe help out in a few of the student council's school activities this year. Join the social committee." Paige clarified.
"Why?" Emily asked cautiously. "Is this your way of keeping an eye on me?"
Paige shook her head. "Not at all. It's for my college application." She explained. "I'm all set to go to USC but I've been cornered about this other school and the only way for me to get out of it is if I try to actually get into it."
"I can't help you." Emily said hurriedly.
Paige's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Wait, why? You're the social chair. You can call the shots." She reminded the girl.
"Yeah. That's exactly what I'm doing. I need people I can depend on." Emily explained.
"I'm dependable." Paige said.
"Do you really expect me to just take your word for it?" Emily asked, the disbelief evident in her voice.
"Come on. Give me a shot." Paige insisted. "Start with something small. Like asking me to read to kids or something. I can even teach them stuff. I'm good with kids."
"Oh yeah? What are you gonna teach them? How to be a bully and make fun of people?" Emily asked sarcastically.
Paige's jaw dropped. "Okay I totally deserved that." She said after a beat, impressed by the girl's witty reply that she felt a smile tug on the corner of her lips. "But I promise I won't let you down. Come on." She pleaded.
Emily shook her head firmly. "I'm sorry. I just can't risk it." She said apologetically.
Paige bit her lower lip then nodded. She really can't do anything to change the girl's mind. "Okay. I understand." She said, backing away. "Thanks anyway." Well that was a waste of time. She thought as she checked her watch. And now she's running late for her appointment. Crap. She hurriedly walked past Emily and left the locker room, her mind trying to think of ways she can get into UPenn now that her extracurricular activities weren't enough. This whole college thing was really stressing the hell out of her and she had a feeling she was about to start losing sleep even more.
Emily clicked the print button on the screen and stood back to watch the report she just finished for Spencer come out of the printer, feeling a sense of accomplishment. She was well on her way to spearheading her first activity as social chair and she was excited about it. When the last page finally came out of the printer, she turned it off and shutdown her laptop. Emily scanned the report, satisfied with her work. She suddenly smiled when she heard her phone ring. Just in time. She thought as she settled on her bed and answered it. "Hey love." Emily said without checking who's calling.
"Hey." Jai said in greeting. "You sound happy."
"Well talking to you is the best part of my day." Emily said, grinning. "Well that and I'm about to launch my first activity as social chair this year."
"That's great. I'm so proud of you Em." Jai said sincerely. "It's the trick or treat thing, right?"
"Yeah. The annual trick or treat by the end of the month. But this year I proposed that we take kids coming from hospitals and orphanages trick or treating for one night instead of the usual neighborhood kids." Emily explained.
"That sounds like a good idea. And I'm not surprised you came up with it." Jai admitted, impressed.
Emily smiled. "Thanks. But it hasn't been put into motion yet. The budget committee just approved my proposal and I need to submit to Spencer the finalized details of the activity. Then I'm going to start asking the members of the social committee to go around Rosewood to get volunteers to sign up for it, while I call the hospitals and orphanages to ask for their permission to let some of the kids go trick or treating for one night." She rambled on.
"It's well thought out." Jai began. "Although I think you should call the institutions first before you start asking people to volunteer. Most hospitals and orphanages are strict about these kinds of things." She reminded her girlfriend. "You might end up having more volunteers than kids."
"Are you sure about that?" Emily asked, suddenly unsure about her plan.
"Yeah. But don't worry. I'll ask my dad to talk to the other board members and doctors at Rosewood Gen." Jai offered. "Penn State Gen is too far from Rosewood though so I doubt he'll agree to convince the board there."
"You don't have to do that. I'm sure I can convince them myself." Emily said hurriedly.
"It's not a big deal Em. At least you'll have one institution that's in the bag for this one." Jai explained.
Emily bit her bottom lip, hesitant. She really wanted to do things on her own for a change but on the other hand... it wouldn't hurt to have one sure institution this early on. "Okay. Thanks Jai." Emily said quietly, mentally crossing out Rosewood Gen.
"You know, you can ask Paige to help with the sign-up sheet thing." Jai reminded her girlfriend. "Or she can be one of the student volunteers. Take the kids out trick or treating."
"I don't know. Is she good with kids?" Emily asked, still reluctant to let Paige anywhere near the activity.
"Paige? Yeah. She's been reading to kids at the daycare center downtown since we were freshmen." Jai revealed.
"She does? Is that where she goes off to every afternoon?" Emily asked, suddenly curious about Paige's activities outside of school.
"Uh, yeah." Jai answered after a beat. "Paige has a soft spot for kids. Trust me. She'd be more than willing to help you out."
"Oh. Okay." Emily said absentmindedly.
"Speaking of." Jai began. "Is there something going on with her? When I talked to her last Saturday she sounded exhausted."
"Well what did she say when you asked her about it?" Emily inquired. Though she and Paige were still somewhat in a middle of a fight, she didn't want to accidentally tell Jai something Paige hasn't.
"That everything's fine. She's just tired because she's pushing herself too hard to impress that scout from USC that's coming to see her." Jai answered.
"She really likes that school." Emily observed.
Jai chuckled. "Like? I think love is the better term. She refused to consider other schools." She admitted. "Like she pointedly ignores them."
"Really?" Emily asked, now confused as to why Paige didn't tell Jai about the other school and that it was the real reason she seemed so stressed out.
"Paige said running every morning improved your times in swimming." Jai said.
"It's every other day actually. But yeah, my times are improving." Emily admitted reluctantly.
"That's great Em. I'm glad Paige is looking after you like she promised." Jai said, relieved.
"Yeah." Emily muttered, suddenly feeling guilty. She wasn't keeping her end of the deal.
"So how is she? I feel as if she's not telling me anything." Jai admitted.
"Jai it's not like she talks to me either." Emily said wryly. "We can barely tolerate each other."
"I know. But you see her around. Does she seem fine?" Jai asked, now sounding worried.
"Yeah. She's still calling me Sniffles every chance she gets and managing to get on my nerves everytime. Nothing's out of the ordinary." Emily affirmed.
"She does that a lot. Mislead people. But you have to look closer." Jai warned her.
"You're really worried about her." Emily said, detecting the anxiety in Jai's voice.
"I am." Jai said, heaving a sigh.
"Don't be." Emily said firmly. "Don't worry about us too much. Focus on your internship so you can come home to me soon."
"Well when you put it that way..." Jai trailed off.
"Trust me. I'm looking after her. I know how important she is to you." Emily said earnestly.
"You're both important." Jai corrected.
"I know. Okay enough about us. Tell me how your internship is going." Emily urged as she settled on her bed and turned off the bedside lamp, looking forward to spending the rest of the night talking to Jai until she falls asleep.
Paige looked around her as she stood by the sidelines, nervous about today's meet. The stands were at seating capacity and her body is buzzing with anticipation. Between racking her brain for other ways to have more extracurricular activities at school now that Emily and Spencer refused to help her, and trying to keep her grades up, she somehow managed to get her times down in a matter of two weeks and she had a good feeling about today. Now if only she could see that familiar cap and jacket of the Trojans, her day would be complete, but so far, no sign of it. She turned her back to the stands and decided to focus on warming up instead, trying to concentrate on the meet.
"There she is." A familiar booming voice behind her made Paige turn around in surprise. It can't be. She thought, but felt herself smile when she saw the familiar Cardinal and Gold colors. "Hey kiddo." The man said, approaching her.
"Adam." Paige said in greeting. "You're the scout?" She asked, smiling as she shook her head.
Adam nodded. "How's your dad?" He inquired, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
"He's doing well." Paige answered. "He couldn't make it today though. He had to fly to California for an emergency business meeting."
"That's too bad. I was hoping we could talk after the meet. Catch up." Adam admitted, looking around. "But it's good to hear that he's doing well." He said, smiling as he looked at Paige once again.
"So you're here to watch me?" Paige asked, suddenly getting nervous. It's been a while since Adam Grant saw her run and she didn't want to disappoint him.
"Formalities. I've been keeping my eye on you for years. You should've just waited for my call kiddo." Adam reprimanded Paige lightly.
"I wasn't sure you'd remember." Paige admitted sheepishly.
"Paige it wasn't too long ago. And even if it was, I'd definitely remember." Adam reassured her. "Still, since I'm here, I guess it wouldn't hurt to see how much you've improved."
"Now you're making me really nervous." Paige said, her heart starting to pound.
"Don't be. Just show me that girl I saw run when she was twelve then we'll talk after." Adam said encouragingly.
"Okay." Paige answered, managing a small smile.
"I'll see you at the finish line." Adam said, nodding. "Good luck out there."
"Hey." Paige was so preoccupied with thoughts of college applications and her performance at the track meet last week that when she heard Emily's voice beside her, she jumped back in surprise, dropping her books and everything else she was holding on the floor.
"Damn it don't do that Sniffles!" Paige exclaimed, turning to her left to face Emily. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack or something?!"
"Don't you need a heart for that to happen?" Emily shot back, not bothering to hide her amusement at seeing Paige so flustered. She bit back a grin. "Sorry." She said as an afterthought, trying to keep the laughter out of her voice but the girl heard it.
Paige rolled her eyes. "No you're not." She said wryly before crouching to pick up her things.
Emily was about to help Paige when she saw the UPenn brochures lying on top of some books inside the girl's locker and instead picked it up, feeling a sense of dread.
"You're applying to UPenn?" Emily asked, praying the girl would say no.
Paige stood up and stared at the brochures in Emily's hand. "Believe me. I am as excited about the whole process as you." She said before taking the brochures and depositing it in her locker, shutting the door with more force than she intended. She turned her back to Emily to start making her way towards her class.
Emily felt conflicted. She wanted to start keeping the promise she made to Jai about looking after Paige and she thought she could start by helping the girl get into the college she was being cornered to apply to. But now that she found out the school in question was UPenn, she wanted to back out. Helping Paige get into UPenn is like saying she enjoyed being called Sniffles and being made fun of every chance the girl gets so much so that she's looking forward to four more years of it in college. She sighed. I'm sure I'm gonna regret this later. She thought before hurrying after Paige.
"Wait!" Emily said as she stepped beside the girl. "About that."
"About what?" Paige asked as she kept on walking, not looking at Emily.
"Your college application to UPenn. You still need my help in the extracurricular activities part, right?" Emily asked.
"Help is such a strong word." Paige said, refusing to admit the truth.
"So is please." Emily added.
"You want me to beg?" Paige asked, knowing Emily was enjoying the whole thing.
"It wouldn't hurt." Emily admitted.
Paige stopped walking and turned to face Emily. If she had known senior year would be this stressful she would've just gotten a GED even if she would have to listen to her dad give her a lecture everyday. She had things figured out since she was a freshman. USC. That's it. Now because of that stupid guidance counselor telling her she could get into UPenn, she had to consider going to college in Pennsylvania and it sucked. But if she didn't start doing something to try and get in, she wouldn't hear the end of it with her dad.
Paige heaved a sigh. "Please help me nail the extracurricular activities in my college application into UPenn." She said monotonously.
"That's the best you could do?" Emily asked, amused.
Paige shrugged. "It's all I've got." She said.
"Fine. I'll take it." Emily said, slightly satisfied. "Consider this your initiation into the social committee. I need additional help with the annual trick or treating. All you have to do is go around town, knock on people's doors and ask them if they'd like to volunteer. Then make them sign here." She said, giving Paige a sign-up sheet. "Can you do that?"
"Knock on people's doors? Yeah." Paige said, trying to control her sarcasm.
"I meant ask them to sign up for this. You need to be nice. Ask them to volunteer, not bully them into participating." Emily clarified.
"I can be nice." Paige insisted as she stared at the piece of paper she held in her hand. She wasn't really keen on knocking on people's doors but she had to start somewhere. "How many kids will go trick or treating?"
"Give or take a hundred. I figured three to five kids per person are just about right." Emily explained.
Paige nodded. "Okay. I'll get right on it." She said before tucking the piece of paper in between her books. She was about to head to her class when Emily called after her.
"Paige." Emily called out.
"Yeah?" Paige asked, turning around to face Emily once again.
"I know you're not really looking forward to getting into UPenn. I'm not either. I'd rather you go to USC. I don't even know why you're doing this. But I need to get accepted. Don't screw this up for me." Emily warned before leaving Paige.
"You're letting her help?" Spencer asked Emily, surprised.
When the bell rang earlier signaling it was time for lunch, Emily immediately texted her friends, telling them to meet her at the courtyard instead of their usual spot inside the cafeteria. She needed a relatively quiet place to tell them about her decision to help Paige and her misgivings about it, hoping they would find a way to calm her nerves.
"I know. Don't remind me." Emily said, stifling a groan as she settled on the chair next to Hanna and placed her tray of food on the table. "I'm nervous enough as it is but I did promise Jai I'd look after Paige and so far I'm doing a bad job of it."
"It's like asking for four more years of torture. If she gets in." Aria added before taking a bite of her apple.
Emily nodded glumly. "I know. I thought about that too. But it's weird." She admitted.
"What's weird?" Hanna asked as she unscrewed the cap of her bottled water.
"She didn't tell Jai about it. It's like she's keeping this thing a secret. She said she was being cornered into applying and the only way to get out of it is if she actually tried to get in." Emily explained.
"So she doesn't really want to go there." Spencer said, now understanding why her friend was so worried.
Emily nodded. "She's set on going to USC. That's why I'm so nervous. If she screws up there goes my plan of going to college with Jai. And since she isn't really invested on getting in, she could just say that she tried but it didn't work out and she gets to ride off to USC while I'm stuck being in a long-distance relationship with my girlfriend." She said, losing her appetite due to her nerves.
"I can keep an eye on her if you want." Hanna offered after a beat. "I can come with her with the whole sign-up sheet thing. Make sure she does get people to sign and not just write down imaginary names."
"Are you sure?" Emily asked, turning slightly to face her friend.
"Yeah. I can tolerate her." Hanna said reassuringly.
"Okay. I'll tell her you're coming with her." Emily said, smiling at her friend gratefully.
"So technically you're giving me a babysitter." Paige said incredulously as she and Emily stood in front of each other in the locker room before swim practice that afternoon.
"No. Technically I'm getting you help." Emily corrected, standing her ground as she anticipated the girl's reaction to her sudden change of plans.
"Really. Are the other members of your committee getting such special treatment from you as well?" Paige asked sarcastically.
"They don't need help. They have people skills. Unlike you." Emily stated.
Paige scoffed. "How can she be of help when she just stands beside me doing nothing everytime I knock on a door?! If you told me that she's going to take half of the number of people I need to get to sign up, that's called helping. But if you tell me she's gonna be standing beside me while I go around town knocking on doors, that's babysitting!" She exclaimed, indignant.
"Well she's my friend and I trust her not to screw this up for me." Emily reasoned out.
"I'm not gonna screw you over! I need to get accepted too." Paige reminded the girl.
"Let Hanna come with you or you're out." Emily insisted.
Paige conceded. "Fine. Tell her to meet me tonight outside the Grille." She said, having no choice but to agree to what Emily wanted since the girl didn't trust her.
"Tonight?" Emily asked, confused. "Isn't that kinda late? Isn't it better if you start after swim practice?"
"Well I have something to do first and I won't be free until around seven." Paige explained.
"Okay. I'll tell her." Emily said. "You better not make her wait." She added, ignoring the look of annoyance that crossed Paige's features as they exited the locker room and headed for the pool.
Paige nervously knocked on the door of the first house she and Hanna decided to try, practicing in her head what she was about to say. When the door finally opened and a middle-aged woman stood in front of them, Paige put on a smile.
"Hi. Good evening. My name is Paige McCullers and this is Hanna Marin. We go to Rosewood High and if you could spare us a few minutes of your time we'd just like to ask you a few questions." Paige said politely.
Upon hearing her name, the woman's expression turned from interest to one of pity. It was a look Paige thought she'd never see again but apparently the residents of Rosewood never forget.
"My roast beef is still cooking in the oven so I guess I could spare a few." The woman said, glancing briefly at Hanna but focusing her attention on Paige, making the girl feel uncomfortable.
"Thank you." Paige managed to say. "So as a resident of Rosewood I'm sure you're familiar with the annual trick or treating our school hosts for kids." She continued, refusing to let the woman's piercing stare derail her from her purpose for being there.
"Yes." The woman answered, nodding.
"Have you tried volunteering to take some of the kids trick or treating in the past?" Paige asked.
"Not really." The woman said as she crossed her arms in front of her chest, seemingly knowing what's about to come.
"Do you think we can ask you to try this year? It's a lot of fun and it's at most just five kids per person." Paige explained.
The woman smiled ruefully. "I have two kids and it's a handful. I don't think I can manage five especially if they're in costumes and on a sugar rush." She admitted.
Paige tried to rack her brain for an answer to that but came up empty. She was about to thank the woman for taking the time to talk to them when Hanna suddenly spoke up.
"We forgot to mention that these kids are from the oncology ward in the Rosewood General Hospital. This year our school decided to change things a bit." Hanna explained. "Taking these kids trick or treating will get their minds off their illness. Give them a chance to feel normal even if it's just one night. I'm sure you can spare a few hours to take those kids around town in your minivan." She said, subtly bringing up the fact that she and Paige saw the vehicle the woman owned that's why they decided to try her house first.
"They're sick?" The woman asked, now seemingly sympathetic.
Hanna nodded. "Most of them are terminal and we want to do something nice for them before they lose their battle with their illness." She admitted.
Paige bit her tongue to keep from saying anything. Hanna was flat-out lying. And even if it's true, after all Emily didn't say anything about where the kids will be coming from, it's not right to use their illness to get someone to volunteer. Those kids aren't to be pitied but to be admired.
"I guess I could spare a few hours with them." The woman finally said. "If I was a parent of one of those kids it'd feel good knowing someone out there was willing to spare a few hours of their time just to make my kid smile."
"Exactly." Hanna said, giving the woman a winning smile of her own.
"Where do I sign?" The woman asked.
"Right here." Hanna said, taking the clipboard and pen from Paige and handing it to the woman. "Thank you so much." She said after the woman signed her name on the sheet.
"No problem. You girls have a good night." The woman said, smiling at them.
"You too." Hanna managed to say before the woman closed the door. She turned around and made her way back towards the street, not waiting for Paige to join her. When she felt the girl finally caught up to her, she spoke up. "You're welcome by the way." Hanna said, rolling her eyes at Paige as they began making their way towards the next house. "You froze back there. You have to learn how to get them to say yes to you." She lectured.
"By lying?" Paige asked, not bothering to hide her opinion regarding the matter. "I think I'll pass."
"We got her to volunteer didn't we? And I didn't exactly lie. Emily's plan for trick or treating this year is different. She's talking to hospitals and orphanages to get the kids there to go trick or treating for a few hours. With their supervision of course." Hanna explained.
"Still doesn't make it right." Paige insisted. "You used their illness to twist the arm of that woman to say yes."
"What's wrong with that? They are sick." Hanna reminded Paige.
"They don't need your pity. They're admirable for fighting their illness." Paige stated.
"Jeez Paige, unclench. Why are you so gung ho about this? I'm not saying they're pitiful for being sick. I just mentioned they were sick to get that woman to volunteer." Hanna defended.
"If she said no there are other people we can ask. You didn't have to play on her emotions like that." Paige reminded the girl.
Hanna stopped walking and faced Paige, fed up with the girl's holier-than-thou attitude. "What's your problem?! I'm trying to help you." She snapped.
"You're trying to help your friend." Paige corrected.
"By helping you." Hanna insisted. "Look, it's not like I butted in when you were making your boring sales pitch. I just stepped in to save your ass when you froze back there." When Paige didn't say anything, she continued. "Do your thing. But if you can't convince them I'm gonna do my thing. That's how it's going to be. So if you want me to stop lying improve your sales pitch." She said before heading for the next house, smiling because she was able to render the girl speechless for a second.
Emily crossed out yet another name of an orphanage, starting to feel as if she's about to indeed have more volunteers than kids in this year's trick or treat. She really wanted things to go smoothly. But with the way things are going, her first activity as social chair might disappoint a lot of people. She was contemplating which of the remaining six institutions she was going to call first when she heard the door to the student council office open and close. When she looked up to see who it was, she stifled a groan.
"Can I do something else?" Paige's grouchy tone made Emily rest her head on her hands. As if she didn't have enough problems as it is, Jai's best friend just walked through the door complaining about the responsibility she gave her.
"Figured you were gonna give up sooner or later." Emily said once she forced her eyes to meet Paige's.
"I'm not giving up." Paige said hurriedly. "But your friend and I have different ways of making people volunteer for this thing and I want out." She explained.
"Why?" Emily asked, annoyed.
"I don't want to make people volunteer out of pity. I want them to say yes because they genuinely care about the kids and your friend is playing the sick card everytime someone tells me no." Paige admitted. "I'm all for helping you make this event a successful one. I want the kids to have fun. But I don't want them to be hauled all over town by adults who keep looking at them with pity." She said with so much sincerity that Emily felt as if she was looking at a different person.
When Emily didn't say anything, Paige walked over to her and looked at the list of institutions Emily wrote on a piece of paper. "You need help getting those hospitals and orphanages to agree to take the kids trick or treating for one night?" She asked when she noticed the crossed out names, realizing that Emily is dealing with a much bigger problem.
Emily looked up at Paige. "No offense but if you can't convince an ordinary individual to say yes to you, what makes you think you can convince an authority figure to allow you to take the kids out for one night?" She asked, trying to hide the list from Paige.
"I have my ways." Paige answered vaguely. "Judging from the number of names you've crossed out you need my help. Come on. We'll split the rest. I'll take three you take three." She offered.
Emily studied Paige for a minute, wondering if she should let the girl help. "You take two." Emily finally said, writing down two names from the list on a separate sheet of paper.
"Fine." Paige said, knowing Emily didn't want to risk losing three more institutions. "Write down your number on that paper." She added. "I'll call you in case I get an answer right away."
A few days later, Emily found herself staring at the final list of hospitals and orphanages that have agreed to participate in the annual trick or treating at the end of the month, still unable to believe that Jai's best friend managed to convince these institutions to join at the last minute. When Paige called her to tell her she got the two to agree, the girl asked if Emily wouldn't mind if she tried contacting the previous institutions that turned her down. Having no luck with the last four, Emily reluctantly gave the girl the names on her list and the next thing she knew, Paige told her she got seven more institutions to agree, bringing the total number of hospitals and orphanages to ten including Rosewood General Hospital. Paige refused to tell her how she did it and Emily decided to drop the matter for now. A part of her felt glad that things were going well so far but there was also a part of her that felt disappointed. She couldn't tell why exactly. She just did.
Emily was distracted from her thoughts when she heard her phone ring. Getting up, she was surprised to see Jai's number on the screen. It was a Friday morning and Jai usually called her at night.
"Hey." Emily said in greeting as she sat on the edge of her bed.
"Em. Thank god you answered. Can you miss school for a few days next week?" Jai's frantic tone of voice at the other end of the line made Emily sit up straight.
"Slow down. What's going on?" Emily asked, worried.
"Can you?" Jai repeated.
"Why?" Emily inquired.
"I just talked to Kayla and she told me she and Paige are going on a road trip to California. Paige's going to visit USC for a private campus tour." Jai explained hurriedly.
"Wow. She impressed that scout, huh?" Emily said, still confused as to why Jai was so anxious.
"She impressed him again." Jai corrected. "It's a long story but the track meet wasn't the first time Adam Grant saw Paige run." She clarified.
Emily nodded. "Okay. So why do you want me to miss school?" She asked.
"It's just the two of them on a forty-hour drive. To and from." Jai emphasized as if that was supposed to bother Emily as well.
Emily knit her brows in confusion. "So?" She asked. "Jai, I know Paige and I never got along but I'm kinda getting the impression that she's a true friend to you. When she told you she isn't planning on making a move on your sister I think she means it. She's not gonna risk your friendship if you were so against it." She said, trying to reassure her girlfriend but the opposite thing happened instead.
"Why? Did she say something? If I wasn't against it does she plan on pursuing Kayla?" Jai asked urgently.
"Uh Jai, we don't talk about her love life. We hardly talk actually." Emily reminded her girlfriend. "Why do you keep warning Paige to stay away? She gets it. You don't approve of her for your sister."
"It's not that I don't approve. She's my best friend Em. If things were different I'd want my sister to be with Paige." Jai said, finally calming down.
"So why are you freaking out everytime you find out they're spending time together?" Emily asked lightly. "Paige seems to genuinely care about her. Like she's the one girl other than you that she treats nicely. Is it so bad if they end up becoming more than friends?"
"Right now, yeah. Paige can't commit. Kayla knows it too. But she has this idea in her head that she's the girl Paige will fight for. Disobey her dad for." Jai explained.
"Disobey her dad? How does Paige's dad factor into this?" Emily asked, confused.
"Like I said. Long story. But Paige doesn't know that Kayla sees her that way. And I just don't want Kayla to get hurt if Paige rejects her. So can you miss school to come with them? I know it's asking a lot and you know how serious I am about grades and stuff. I wouldn't ask this of you if it wasn't so important to me." Jai admitted.
"I know. I'll do it." Emily said, getting up and heading to her laptop to search for something on the internet.
"Really?" Jai asked hesitantly.
Emily smiled. "Of course. I love you. And I don't want you to worry so much when you're so far away. It's just a few days. I can catch up." She said reassuringly.
"Thank you. And I love you too." Jai said earnestly. "They're planning to leave before dawn tomorrow." She informed her girlfriend.
"I'm on it." Emily said as she hit the search button on USC's website.
"What are you doing?" Jai asked, curious as to what Emily was up to when she heard the sound of typing.
"Paige won't let me join them if I told her you asked me to come with them to keep an eye on Kayla." Emily explained as she continued to browse the USC website. "I need an excuse and I think I just found it."
Paige got out of her dad's car and hurriedly made her way to the Hayes' front door. She rang the doorbell and stood back, checking the time on her watch as she waited for Kayla to emerge from inside the house. She had a forty-hour drive ahead of her but she didn't mind. She was invited for an official campus tour of USC. Things were looking up.
"All set?" Paige asked once Kayla opened the front door.
"Yeah." Kayla said, giving her overnight bag to Paige when the girl extended a hand to take it from her. She took out a scrunchie, tying her hair into a ponytail as she followed Paige to the car.
"You're fine with drive-thrus, right?" Paige asked as she opened the rear of the car to place Kayla's things together with her own.
"Restroom stops only." Kayla said in reply. "I remember what we talked about."
"All set then." Paige said, closing the door and going to the passenger side of the car.
Kayla smiled and moved to hug Paige. "Congratulations by the way." She said once they separated.
Paige grinned. "Thanks. And thank you for volunteering to come with me. Even if you couldn't drive at least you can keep me company." She admitted.
Kayla opened her mouth to speak but ended up hitting her forehead with the palm of her hand instead. My fake ID. That might come in handy. She thought.
"What?" Paige asked, worried.
"I left something inside. I'll be quick." Kayla promised before jogging back towards the front door.
Paige shook her head in amusement and walked around the front of the car to go to the driver's side, twirling the car keys on her forefinger as she did so.
"I can drive." A voice behind her made Paige turn around in confusion.
"And I love road trips." Emily said, walking slowly towards Paige who was currently staring at the overnight bag she held in one hand. "Is there room for one more?" She asked.
"If I say no will you go away?" Paige shot back.
"I think there's room for one more." Emily said, ignoring what Paige said.
"Why are you here?" Paige asked suspiciously.
"I'd like to see USC. Check out the Annenberg and Marshall Schools." Emily said offhandedly. "Jai said you and Kayla were headed there for a few days so I thought I'd join you two."
Paige smirked. "Nice try. But you and Jai are pretty set on UPenn. Why do you really want to come?" She insisted.
"I want to be able to look after Kayla." Emily finally admitted, mentally berating herself for thinking that her excuse would work.
"And you think I'm not going to be able to do that." Paige stated. "I've been part of their lives since Kayla was nine. I think I know how to take care of her."
"I'm not questioning your ability to take care of her. I'm just saying I could keep her company while you look around the campus." Emily offered. "Besides, we could take turns at the wheel. It's a forty-hour drive. To and from. And the last time I checked Kayla doesn't have a driver's license yet." She reminded Paige.
"I don't mind driving for forty hours." Paige stubbornly said.
"You say that now." Emily warned the girl. "Why didn't you just book a flight anyway? It's faster."
"I like traveling by land rather than air or water." Paige explained.
"Well you're gonna be exhausted once you get there if you insist on driving by yourself." Emily reminded her. When Paige didn't say anything, she smiled. "I guess I'm coming with you two."
Paige heaved a sigh and wordlessly extended her hand to take Emily's overnight bag, walking towards the rear of the car once again to place the girl's bag with the rest of their stuff.
Emily leaned forward from the passenger seat of the car, studying the stereo system in Paige's dad's Buick Encore. They've been on the road for almost twelve hours and she was tired of listening to mellow music. She wanted to find a station that played some upbeat sounds for a change.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." Kayla warned her from the backseat of the car.
Emily slightly turned her head to ask what Kayla meant when she felt Paige glaring at her. "What?" She asked Paige instead.
"I forgot to tell you." Kayla began, leaning forward and positioning herself on the space between the front seats. "Paige has two rules when riding in her dad's car. One, no eating inside unless it's absolutely necessary like on this road trip. And even if she allows it, you can't drink juice, coffee, soda or any other beverage that isn't water. And you can't eat messy foods or foods that leave an 'aftersmell' as she likes to call it like noodles, burritos, tacos, burgers, and subs. And two, no touching the stereo. That one she's really strict about." She added. "You almost earned yourself a strike."
"And there's no one exempted from those rules." Emily stated, staring at Kayla.
"Nope." Kayla answered. "Well unless you're god." She added. "I'm still trying to figure out a way to trick her into believing I've become god for a day." Kayla stage-whispered, making Paige roll her eyes in annoyance.
"You're serious?" Emily asked, tongue-in-cheek, directing her question to Paige this time, whose eyes were now back on the road.
"Why are you in the front seat?!" Paige asked grumpily, not taking her eyes off the road.
"Kayla asked to switch places because she wanted to sleep at the back." Emily reminded the grouchy girl. "Don't worry. You won't even notice I'm here." She promised.
"I seriously doubt that." Paige muttered under her breath as she shifted gears.
"Bathroom break." Kayla suddenly declared from the backseat.
Paige nodded wordlessly and continued to drive, on the lookout for a gas station.
"So you're really going to accept a track scholarship?" Emily asked as she leaned back on the passenger seat of the car.
Paige nodded. "Yeah. I love running more than swimming." She admitted.
"But you're the captain of the swim team." Emily reminded the girl.
"Still love running more than swimming." Paige insisted.
"Why?" Emily asked, focusing her eyes on the road ahead of them.
"I feel freer when I run. I like being able to cover wide distances, feel the solid ground on my feet, hear the pounding of my heart. I do love swimming. But I love running more. It makes me feel alive." Paige explained.
"It's a full-ride, right? At least for one year?" Emily asked, glancing at Paige. When she saw the girl nod her head, she continued. "And you're pretty much a shoe in. I mean, that's why you've been invited for an official campus tour. So you could familiarize yourself."
"I don't know. I don't want to expect too much." Paige said as she turned on the signal to switch lanes when she saw a sign indicating a gas station nearby.
"Why?" Emily asked, confused by Paige's seeming lack of enthusiasm about the whole thing.
Paige shrugged. "It's easier. That way it won't be too disappointing if I don't get in." She explained as she looked around for a parking space.
"Why do you think that way?" Emily inquired. "Have such low expectations? Not everything turns out disappointing in life." She reminded the girl.
"I know." Paige said as she eased her dad's car into an empty spot. "Just people doing something to disappoint you." She added as she killed the engine. "Be quick." Paige said as she met Kayla's eyes in the rearview mirror.
Kayla nodded and quickly got out of the car, leaving Paige and Emily alone. The two girls sat in awkward silence, staring straight ahead.
"Jai asked you to come with us didn't she?" Paige asked quietly. "My best friend's paranoia is getting out of hand. You're missing school because of it and I know how much you two are obsessed with your studies."
Emily glanced at Paige. "She asked but I was the one who decided to miss a few days. She's just worried about Kayla and I don't want her to worry so much when she's so far away." She explained.
"Why is she worried?" Paige asked, exasperated. "I told her countless times I wasn't interested in her sister. And Kayla likes some senior at her school. Jai should be worried about that not me. When we go to that campus tour to UPenn next month I'm gonna swing by Girard on the way home. Check out this girl Kayla is so smitten with." She said resolutely.
Emily furrowed her brows in confusion, trying hard not to laugh. She didn't know Paige was so naïve.
"What?!" Paige asked when she saw the grin Emily was trying to hide.
"You're going to Girard to check out the girl Jai's sister is interested in." Emily repeated cautiously.
"Yeah. Since Jai isn't here it's my duty to act as her older sister and by knowing who this girl is I am doing just that." Paige explained.
"I don't think Kayla sees you as an older sister." Emily said, trying to clue in Paige.
"What does that mean?" Paige asked, offended.
"You really have no idea?" Emily asked, amused.
"No." Paige answered emphatically.
"You are so dense it's endearing." Emily said, starting to smile.
"What the hell is your problem?!" Paige asked irately.
"Kayla told you this girl she likes goes to Girard?" Emily asked, trying again to clue in Paige.
"Not exactly. But where else will she meet this girl?" Paige challenged.
Emily broke into a wide smile. "Paige, you're so dense..."
"If you say 'it's endearing' one more time I swear on the ride home you're occupying the compartment." Paige declared.
"I promise to behave." Emily said, managing to hide her smile just as Kayla entered the car.
"You girls up for some competition?" A lanky guy wearing a USC letterman jacket asked as he and his friend who was sporting a crew cut and wearing a letterman jacket as well approached the pool table.
After spending more than forty hours on the road, they finally arrived in Los Angeles. Paige wanted to turn in for the night, exhausted from all the driving, but Kayla insisted on checking out the night life around campus for a few hours. They finally found a decent dive bar where most of the crowds were students from USC and Paige gradually found herself enjoying the atmosphere, feeling like she was getting a taste of what her life would be like if she went there next year.
The minute they arrived, Kayla immediately spotted the couple leaving the pool table at the far end corner of the room and she made a beeline for it, reaching it the same time the two college guys did. Paige was right behind the girl and noticed the guys eyeing Jai's sister appreciatively.
"How much are we talking about?" Paige asked, standing beside Kayla and trying to get the guys' attentions.
"One round, hundred bucks." The lanky guy answered. "We're willing to give you girls a handicap of course."
Kayla smirked. "No thanks. I have a feeling you two will need it more. You guys better be ready to explain to your mommies where you spent your allowance for this week." She quipped.
"Confident. I like that." The lanky guy said, smiling at Kayla flirtatiously.
Kayla rolled her eyes. "And totally gay. Rack 'em up." She told the guy, nodding her head towards the pool table as she and Paige went to get cue sticks.
Emily grabbed a stool by the bar and watched as Paige and Kayla walked over to the side to let the guys begin their turn. It was clear that the two spent a lot of time together seeing how comfortable Paige is with the girl, leaning in close to whisper something in Kayla's ear before placing her arm around the girl's shoulder. What Paige wasn't aware of is how Kayla feels about her as Emily noticed the hint of blush on the girl's cheeks. All thoughts of that were quickly forgotten when one of the guys missed sinking a pool ball and Paige's lips broke into a smirk as she moved to start their turn.
"Corner pocket." Paige called the pocket shot before leaning forward to position herself better and easily sank the pool ball. She straightened up and moved once again, studying the pool balls while rubbing a piece of chalk on the tip of her cue stick.
Emily watched Paige for a second, realizing that for the first time she's seeing Paige when the girl wasn't being mean to her. She watched as she interacted with Kayla and laughed at something the girl said. The two were good pool players but Paige was easily better and when she sank the final pool ball on the table, Emily couldn't help but be impressed. She watched as Paige and Kayla exchanged high fives and took the money from the guys before shaking their hands. Paige handed half of the money to Kayla and pocketed the rest, grinning at the girl standing in front of her. Emily felt a tinge of sadness. She felt like an outsider just now. When the two seemed to forget that she was there. She couldn't help but wonder why Paige refused to spend time with her the same way.
"Up for a game of pool?" Kayla asked, jarring Emily from her thoughts when the girl approached her.
"I don't know. I don't have a hundred bucks with me." Emily said lightly.
"So pay up when we get back to Rosewood." Kayla said, shrugging. She grinned when she saw Emily's look of disbelief. "Kidding. Come on. Paige's waiting for us. She sent me here to get you."
"Really?" Emily asked, surprised.
"Yeah." Kayla said, nodding. "Actually I told her that I was going to the ladies' room and she told me to get you on the way over." She corrected. "Try not to kill each other while I'm gone." Kayla added before turning her back to leave.
Emily watched Kayla approach the bartender and ask for directions before getting up and making her way to where Paige stood, racking up the balls.
"You know how to play, Sniffles?" Paige asked, not looking at Emily.
"Not as good as you and Kayla but I think I can manage." Emily answered as she accepted the cue stick Paige handed to her and rubbed some chalk on its tip.
"Good. Break it." Paige said as she lifted the triangle and moved to let Emily break the racked balls. "Careful though. Wouldn't want you to break a fingernail." She added sarcastically.
Emily ignored Paige's mockery and angled her cue stick to break the racked pool balls, disheartened. Just like that, the Paige she saw earlier seemingly left the bar. Leaving in its wake the Paige she has known for three years.
"How's Kayla?" Emily asked once she saw Paige emerge from the bedroom of the hotel room she rented for the night.
After three more games of pool at the bar, Paige finally decided to call it a night and checked-in to the hotel the USC athletic department provided for her during her stay for the private campus tour. Since the original plan was that Kayla was her only companion, she only reserved one extra room. The last minute change in plans resulted with Emily getting said room, Paige volunteering to sleep on the couch and her telling Kayla to sleep on her bed instead. But for some reason, as the night wore on, Kayla ended up getting drunk and Paige had to change the plan again.
"Passed out." Paige answered as she gently closed the door behind her. "I can't believe you let her order beer." She said, reprimanding Emily in a hushed tone. "Several times." Paige added.
"What?!" Emily exclaimed, incredulous. "How is this my fault? All those times she kept leaving I just thought she had a small bladder or something. I mean, you two are close. You should've known what she was up to." She retorted.
"Well you're the one who first saw her talking to the bartender before you left." Paige reminded Emily.
"I thought she was asking for directions!" Emily said defensively. "Where's your superpower of observation now?" She asked, mocking Paige. "Kayla kept returning to the pool table with a bottle. I thought you knew she had a fake ID."
"I didn't notice she was drinking beer. She kept wrapping those damn bottles in table napkins." Paige said, exasperated.
"We were in a bar. What did you expect? Milk and cookies?" Emily shot back.
Paige sighed. "Jai is gonna kill me if she finds out about this." She said, glancing at Emily hesitantly.
"Not if we don't tell her." Emily said, getting the hint. Though she refused to take all the blame, she knew she was at fault as well.
"Are you sure you're fine sleeping on the couch?" Paige asked, staring at the makeshift bed Emily managed to put together while Paige tucked in Kayla.
"Yeah. We can't carry her to your room. Good thing this room's near the elevator." Emily added.
"You can sleep in my bed if you want. I can take the couch here." Paige offered.
Emily shook her head, surprised by Paige's attitude towards her just now. "It's fine. It'd give me a chance to look after her. In case she needs to vomit or wakes up with a hangover." She said reassuringly.
"Okay then." Paige said, heading for the door to go to her room.
"Why didn't you tell Jai about UPenn?" Emily blurted out. The question has been gnawing at her ever since she saw the brochures in Paige's locker. Since the girl's attitude towards her seemed different just now, she asked the question before she lost her nerve.
Paige turned around to face Emily. "Obviously I don't want her to know." She answered, too tired to bicker with the girl.
"Why?" Emily asked, slowly walking towards Paige.
"She's gonna ask me to 'try to get in' like the guidance counselor told me and my dad told me. Kinda getting tired of people asking me to try for something I don't want." Paige admitted.
Emily nodded thoughtfully. "So that's how this thing started. A talk with the guidance counselor." She concluded.
"I'm not keen on getting into UPenn. Same way as you not being so eager on helping me get in. I really want to get out of Pennsylvania." Paige said, sounding almost defeated.
"So why are you still applying? Why can't you just say no to your dad?" Emily asked, confused.
"Because." Paige answered.
"Because what?" Emily urged gently, seeing how conflicted the girl seemed.
"Just because, okay?!" Paige snapped, surprising Emily. "I'm not gonna start sharing things about my life with you. You're not my friend."
"Well Jai's your friend. So why won't you tell her?" Emily asked, ignoring Paige's sudden outburst.
"Because even if she's my best friend she'd insist that I attend UPenn as well. She stopped taking my side a long time ago. She's not gonna start now." Paige said dryly.
"Because of me." Emily said quietly, hit with a sudden realization as to why Paige has hated her for so long.
"What?" Paige asked, baffled. "No. This isn't about you. Not everything is about you when it comes to Jai." She insisted but Emily wouldn't listen to her.
"Paige you don't have to feel threatened. I'm not going to take Jai away from you." Emily said reassuringly.
Paige scoffed. "You think I'm threatened by your presence in my best friend's life? We've been friends longer than you two have been together." She reminded the girl.
"Exactly. Just because I came into the picture doesn't mean you're gonna lose her." Emily continued, realizing it all made sense now. "There's room for both of us in her life."
"I'm not threatened by your presence in my best friend's life. I don't mind sharing Jai." Paige said firmly.
"Just not with me. You don't mind sharing Jai just as long as it's not with me." Emily said, starting to get angry. "You don't think I'm good enough especially when you saw me with Carla and you just assumed I was gonna cheat on Jai since she isn't around." She concluded, getting fed up with Paige's attitude towards her. She wasn't going to let Paige treat her this way anymore. She wanted the girl to realize something. "Before you judge me and start calling me a cheater, why don't you take a good look at yourself in the mirror? Because between the two of us, you're the one who's capable of cheating. Like father like daughter." Emily blurted out before she could stop herself.
"Excuse me?" Paige said, her posture instantly becoming rigid.
"You heard me." Emily replied, refusing to take those words back.
"I did. I just didn't think you'd be one of them." Paige said, trying to control her temper.
"One of them?! You really think you're better than the rest of us don't you?" Emily said in disbelief.
"No. I think I'm better than the people who have nothing better to do than gossip and spread rumors." Paige corrected.
Emily crossed her arms in front of her chest. "Rumors." She began. "So the part about your mom and dad fighting in the middle of the street for everyone to see; your dad standing outside your house in tears while your mom rode off in a cab. That's not true? Your mom catching your dad in bed with another woman; the same woman who happens to be his real wife. That's not true? You being a love child, that's not true?" Emily spouted; blinded by the indignation she was feeling that she didn't see the pain in Paige's eyes.
"Stop it." Paige ordered, controlling her anger.
"Your dad couldn't keep it in his pants. Since your mom wasn't around, he had no choice but to raise you by himself and having him as your role model growing up, it made you a skirt chaser as well." Emily concluded, refusing to listen to Paige.
"You don't know anything about my life or my dad for that matter." Paige said firmly, her hands balling tightly into fists.
"I don't need to. It's obvious how you ended up like that. People talk. All I need to do is listen." Emily stated.
"You shouldn't. They're all talk. They don't know the truth." Paige said quietly, her anger ebbing.
"Just like you don't know the truth about what really happened with Carla. You just judged me." Emily reminded the girl.
Paige ran a hand through her hair. "That's what brought this on? You want me to apologize now for what I did?" She asked, suddenly feeling drained.
"It's about time don't you think?" Emily said, waiting for the apology.
"Fine. I'm sorry. That I was looking out for my best friend. I said those things because I didn't want her to lose you. It wasn't until recently that I realized just how serious she is about you. So I'm sorry. For biting your head off and trying to be a good friend to her." Paige said sincerely.
"There. Was that so hard to do?" Emily asked. She stared at Paige for a while, studying the girl closely. "I'm sorry I said those things to you just now. I just wanted to make you feel what it's like to be judged unfairly. Now we're even." She said quietly.
Paige scoffed. "No. We're not. You see, I said those things to you with good intentions. Did it come across wrong? Yeah. But I said those things to you with good intentions." She repeated. "I know my heart is in the right place even if my head isn't. But you? You just retaliated because your feelings were hurt. This conversation was never about you and Jai and what I think I saw but you refused to accept it and instead you turned it into that." She said, not bothering to hide the hurt she was feeling.
"My dad? He's not perfect. He's overprotective. Overbearing. He's a lot of things. And he frustrates me most of the time. But he was never a cheater. I'm not a child born out of wedlock." Paige said adamantly. "People talk. That doesn't mean you should listen. Because those people weren't there the day my mom walked out the door. My dad was there. I was there. You and the rest of Rosewood have no business talking about him behind his back. Pitying me for being raised by a cheater when you don't know the whole story. Just like me you jumped to conclusions based on what you think you saw. What you think you heard. But unlike me, you did it for the wrong reasons. You say I'm heartless. Well that makes two of us." She said quietly.
Emily heard the pain in Paige's voice and immediately regretted the things she said. When Jai and Paige entered her life, she began to hear the stories circulating around Rosewood about Paige's family. She listened but she never really paid attention. But Paige's refusal until now to admit that she was wrong to judge Emily made her repeat the things she heard to make Paige realize she had no right to act like she was better than them. She was turning into someone she didn't like and it was because of constantly being around Paige.
"I hate being around you." Emily finally said.
"Well join the club. The same goes for me." Paige said bitterly.
Emily shook her head. "No. It doesn't. Because unlike you, I am not this rude person. I am nice. I am a nice person. Being around you turns me into this horrible person and I don't like it." She admitted.
"I see. Well I'll let you in on a secret. No one is just plain nice." Paige began. "I don't think you hate being around me. I think you hate to see a part of yourself that you try so hard to hide to others when you're with me." She corrected. "People may see you as nice. Sweet. Maybe even innocent. But you're not perfect. You can't be those things all the time. I'm not saying you're horrible. But I'm the only person who's seen a different side of you. I've seen it because you never bothered to hide it when you're around me. Because you refused to be intimated. That's why you kept fighting back. And that's why I think even if you say you hate being around me, you find yourself arguing with me all the time. Because the truth is being with me is the only time you get to be yourself."
"That's not true. I can be myself when I'm around my friends too. And unlike you, they don't need to make fun of me all the time just for me to show them who I really am." Emily insisted.
"You've never lost your temper around them. Not like this. How can you say you've shown them who you really are?" Paige asked. "That's what I meant. You've never shown anyone else this side of you. I'm not saying it makes you a horrible person. Or that I enjoy bringing out this side of you. It's a flaw. Being around me makes you realize that you're not as perfect as people make you out to be. That you can stop smiling and playing nice. That you get angry too when it matters. So ask yourself why you really hate being around me. Is it because you don't want to admit that you have a flaw? Or is it that you don't want to admit that even if it's just for a few minutes, a part of you that you don't want others to see gets to come out around me?" She asked quietly.
They stood staring at each other for a few seconds before Paige spoke up again.
"You don't need to apologize. I understood why you said those things to me. And maybe I had it coming after everything I've said and done. But you don't have to apologize because I know you didn't mean them. You're just fed up. You're tired of fighting with me all the time. And we're both tired from the trip. So let's just forget this ever happened." Paige said quietly. "I'll see you in the morning." She added before turning her back to leave.
"Paige?" Emily called out hesitantly, for some reason scared to ask the other thing she realized.
"Yeah?" Paige asked, turning around to face her.
"Do you think I'm not good enough? For Jai? Is that why you're this mean to me?" Emily asked cautiously. If Paige thought she was capable of being this mean, maybe that was the reason. She didn't deserve to be with someone like Jai.
"What?" Page asked, confused.
"I keep racking my brain. It didn't bother me before. I mean it did. But tonight it bothered me a lot. Seeing you in that bar with Kayla. Laughing, smiling, making jokes. It's like there's this part of you that you're so unwilling to show me. When it was the three of us again the Paige I saw when I was sitting from the bar disappeared and you were back to this scowling, name-calling person. It's like you have this mean attitude reserved only for me and I don't understand why. The only reason I could think of is because you think I'm not good enough for your best friend." Emily admitted.
"That's not it." Paige said, shaking her head adamantly.
"Then why? It was only for a few minutes but I knew instantly that the person I'm talking to right now isn't the real you. The real you is the one I saw for a few minutes in that bar. When you seemingly forgot that I was there. And from what I saw I knew we would have gotten along really well. It's like I know more about you today than in the three years we were around each other. So why are you so dead set on refusing to be friends with me?" Emily asked, puzzled.
"Why are you so dead set on wanting to be friends with me?" Paige threw the question back to the girl.
"Because I love your best friend very much. And I know it can't be easy for her to see us fighting all the time." Emily explained.
"It doesn't matter if we never get along. I don't have a problem with you being Jai's girlfriend. If I did I wouldn't have gone off on you when I saw you talking to Carla. I want my best friend to be happy. She deserves to have the best in life." Paige said firmly.
"But you think I'm not it. You think she could do so much better. Seeing me with Carla somehow proved that to you didn't it?" Emily asked, trying to force Paige to admit the truth. "Paige I may not be the best but I love her and I know I make her happy." She said confidently.
"Then what I think about you shouldn't really matter, should it?" Paige said rhetorically, opening the door to end the conversation.
Frustrated, Emily called out after the girl. "Tell me. What you think of me. Just tell me." She pleaded.
Paige didn't bother to look at Emily. "Trust me Sniffles. You're better off not knowing." She said quietly before closing the door behind her.
For a minute, Paige gripped the door handle, her knuckles turning white as she forced herself to stop thinking about going back inside and apologizing. She closed her eyes and willed her hand to relax its grip on the door handle, telling herself to let it go. When she finally did, she opened her eyes and stared at the door for a brief moment before turning her back to go to her room.
I knew we would have gotten along really well.
I love your best friend very much.
I want my best friend to be happy. She deserves to have the best in life.
I may not be the best but I love her and I know I make her happy.
Tell me. What you think of me. Just tell me.
Paige closed her eyes, fighting the bitterness she felt. It was better this way.