The night Maya's body was found, Paige was walking back from the masked dance, her mask swinging at her side. It was the last late night walk she would feel safe taking for some time. Her thoughts were filled with Emily in a blue dress; the warmth of Emily's shoulder under her hand, her smile, her eyes- Paige tossed the mask into the air and caught it with a grin. She had tried to keep her emotions realistically guarded, hitching the heavy word of friend to them to weigh down their exuberance, but she couldn't help the lightness of her steps, the tight feeling in her chest as if everything inside her was being yanked upward.
Paige slowed her walk and smiled up at the sky, every star just another stage light for a scene Paige felt she was finally learning the lines to. She willed her body to savor this moment; the exact smell of the air and the weight it left in her lungs with every inhale, the way her heels rebounded against the asphalt, the tingle that kept running up the back of her neck, and the way she kept finding the exact shade of blue in Emily's dress all around her. She wanted to have a precise catalogue she could flip through so her mind could run over it a thousand times; open to the remembered page, spine cracked in that position from the repetition of its use, and run her fingers down the lines of what she had felt, permanent as ink on paper. She hadn't felt this good in a long time, hadn't thought it was possible even. Eyes adjust to darkness, and hearts adjust to the steady chilling of hopes; the constant click of a dial being turned down on joy, on expectation, on love. Paige hadn't realized she'd been living in subzero temperatures until Emily let the sun in; sent shuddering cracks through the ice and left Paige blinking, shivering in a body that could finally feel again, cold as it was.
Thawing brought on movement and movement brought on terrible choices in making those moves. The look of betrayal and distrust, self-reproach and blame in Emily's eyes the last time Paige had let her body get away from her filled her with ache. After the fiasco of nearly kissing Emily on the street, of taking advantage of an uncharacteristically uncollected and upset Emily, Paige had embarked on a program of penance, as if somehow she could train her body into submission, the way she always had; exhausting every muscle and nerve until her mind could finally control it, tell it to take the shape she needed it to- the straight deacon's daughter with perfect times who worked hard and had leadership potential. She would demand these things of herself and her body would be drained enough to comply. It was a constant game of keeping just ahead of the strain in her body that kept it obedient while still keeping the system running; like flooring a car with the emergency break on. And it used to work- it was exhausting, and Paige could feel the gears grinding, smell the burning, knew that some things would be shredded and ruined- but it worked.
With everything but Emily.
Emily seemed to override the fail-safes; short circuit every routine Paige had in place to keep herself in check. The girl flipped switches in her and snarled wires and overheated her most sensitive parts until Paige almost remembered what it felt like to have blood in her veins instead of battery acid. Emily reminded her that she was flesh and animal and impulse and desire and it always ended up with Paige lunging to kiss the girl.
Paige was determined it would not happen again. Every time some leafy new hope started to grow in her chest she would use the serrating pain of the hurt look in Emily's eyes to saw it in half. Paige knew these things had roots though, knew that it was only a matter of time before it grew back again, and, unable to find the tool that could uproot her hope for Emily, steeled herself for the constant pain of slicing it apart again and again.
But leafy things, green things, need the sun to grow- will crumble even the most stubborn walls of will to get at it- and Paige remembered who the sun was to her. There was a dance, and a girl would be there, and Paige would go, and something that would have to be cut down inside her would reach up a little higher.
There would be pain later, but for now, there was just Paige and air and stars and the memory of a blue dress.
Paige noticed the lights first, the color so close but so unlike the one she had been remembering. The red and blue flashes were eerie without the sound of a siren, it's absence letting everyone know that the tragedy was already over and done, no amount of hurry or hustle would change it. Paige's senses were still keyed to the height of their awareness and Paige had the sick feeling that this would also be a part of her memory of tonight—whatever the flashing lights held for her becoming as indelible as blue and red ink. The emergency vehicles were parked on the corner of Rose Glen and Concordia. Emily's block. Paige's slowed gait turned to an instant sprint, dropping her mask, wrenching off and tossing aside her suit jacket so she could run, rescue, save, stop, as fast as possible.
If there had been space in her head for thought she would have begged, bargained, threatened for Emily's safety, but there wasn't space for it; everything crowded out of her body by movement and the memory of Emily in a blue dress, Emily smiling, the dance not asked for. She should have asked Emily for the dance.
She hadn't asked Emily to dance; their friendship too new, the physicality of their relationship still too awkward. And Paige didn't trust her traitor body in the slightest- not with the temptation of hips in her hands and fingers on her neck and a body pressed close. Paige knew her limits, and that was so far past them it was in another time zone.
Instead they'd sat together most of the evening, the safety of a table and a few feet between them. They'd kept the conversation light; mostly talking about the ball, about whether Aria and Ezra or Hanna and Caleb were more diabetes inducing sweet. There was very little actual content to their talk, but there was substance- a strand of deep affection for each other- constant as a heartbeat and as thick around as the fists Paige made from holding onto it so tightly- that ran through everything they spoke of. And Emily was gentle—handled Paige like she was a long lost piece of childhood treasure, found in that haphazard unlooked for way; still precious, but lacking the immediacy of the talisman it used to be- the magic remembered, but without place now. It should have felt like a stone in the center of Paige's gut that there was still so much chemistry between them, and perhaps it would eventually, but for now it made the sacrifice of just being Emily's friend easier to bear.
Every now and again Paige would catch Emily watching the dance floor and then her eyes would flick down to the phone resting on the table. Her eyes had a wistful sadness that made Paige's chest hurt. Paige would run her palm against her sternum, try to loosen the tightness of the temptation to have Emily in her arms, their bodies finally moving in sync, tried to remind herself that it wasn't Paige that Emily wanted to have ask her to dance
She hadn't asked Emily to dance, but then, Emily didn't dance with anyone else either.
Paige was about to hit the line of bystanders at a dead run, unthinking of what would happen once she slammed into the wall of bodies, when she heard Emily's screaming howl of Maya's name. It started her into a tripping stop that angled her into the solid body of an onlooker- everything in her body and her heart off balance- and ended with her slipping sideways and skidding to the ground on her knees and palms. Paige started to stand, a helping hand under her arm from whomever she had run into, when another wailing yell from Emily sent her stumbling back to her knees, shoving the assistance away.
If there had been space in her head for thought Paige would have thanked god that it was Maya, not Emily, and then taken it back in shame with every sobbing yell Emily let loose. But there wasn't space for it- not around the sound of Emily screaming herself apart, audibly breaking. If there had been space for thought Paige might have thanked god that she was on her knees, skin grinding into the pavement so that she could only hear Emily shattering, rather than having to see it. Then she would have cursed herself and taken it back, because even if it was the end of Emily, she wished she could be holding onto her while the pieces she would never be able to hold onto flew apart in her hands. If there had been space she might have thought all these things, but the sound of Emily was so loud that there was only room for the knowledge that there was not time enough in the world to heal some wounds. Some hurts never scar over and some wrongs become the hinge that everything else turns wrong on. There were enough dead spaces in Paige- places where no kind thing could grow- to understand that.
Emily's screams turned into loud sobbing and there was finally space around the sound in Paige's head for one thought: she should have asked Emily to dance. She should have held Emily as tightly as she could before things shrieked apart. She should have asked Emily because she would never be able to ask her again. Emily's cries were a wordless keening now, but Paige could hear in them what there were no words for. Everything was lost.