A/N: To my BIF readers, I'm currently on vacay overseas so it's been difficult to update my other stories. I sure hope you'll enjoy it since I decided to write another Paily story. :) I started this before I left and I managed to write more on the 15+ hours flight I was on. Let me know if you do so that I can know whether I should continue this. It's about 17K+ words. lol Anyway, hope you all have a wonderful day! Can't wait to hear from my BIF readers too! ;)

If I learned anything from the first day of high school, it was that high school isn't that much different than you think it might be. In fact, it was just middle school being kicked up a notch at best. Sure, it's bigger and it makes you feel like a baby amongst all the upperclassmen, but at the same time it created a sort of comrade in the company of other kids in your grade. Being a freshman wasn't that bad. A new environment made it feel like a new start even.

During lunchtime, I'd gone and made my way over to Coach Fulton's office and ask about the swim team tryouts, and I was told to fill out some papers before walking in for practice after school the very next day. I had no idea it was going to be that easy, but I was told that there weren't a lot of swimmers this year so it was a walk-in situation, and I was warned that if I couldn't catch up with the other girls during practice, I'd be likely cut by the end of the week. That part of our discussion hadn't bothered me one bit, because I knew that I could perform well when I was in the water.

While I was making my way back into the school's hallway, I remembered that I'd forgotten my notebook for the next class, so I started to turn a corner and head to my locker. As I approached the lockers lined against the wall, I noticed that a girl was standing by my locker and rummaging through the one adjacent to mine. When I'd gotten near the locker and waited patiently for a minute for her to get her things together, I finally tapped her shoulder when I saw that she wasn't about to move anytime soon and her locker was opened all the way across and had blocked mine. The girl finally looked up and noticed my presence, and I smiled shyly before I pointed at my locker, and she blushed slightly before moving to pull in the locker door.

"Thanks," I smiled before I started to turn my locker's knob and dialed in the locker combination. The locker unlatched with a click and I opened it and reached in for my notebook at the back of the sizable compartment.

"Sorry," I heard the girl mutter almost too quietly for me to hear. I turned my head to the left a bit and saw that she must've found what she was looking for because the rummaging sounds have stopped and she was standing there staring at me, and I closed my locker before I turned completely to face her.

"No big deal. I'm Paige." I said as I reached out a hand and not a few seconds later, the girl timidly took my hand and shook it.

"Emily." she spoke loud and clear this time around. Her voice was so pretty, almost like a melody wind chime. Airy and light, but pretty.

Our eyes locked then, and I found myself staring into an oasis filled with half a million flowers and thousands of lights. I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn't seem to form words as I stared into her luminescent brown eyes. After a while, I heard her giggling and I then noticed that I had been holding onto her hand for way too long.

"S-sorry." I apologized before looking away and rolling my eyes at my idiotic behavior. What was wrong with me?

"It's okay. I'm going to have lunch with my friends now. See you around?" I noticed the hopeful tone in her voice.

"Yeah, definitely." I nodded as I watched her close her locker with such incredible grace before walking away. I stared at her in awe of the way she carried herself, and I found my eyes traveling up and down her figure shamelessly. A short denim skirt, a light grey hoodie, and a pair of sneakers. How casual. But so stunning all at once.

"Oh my god," my eyes widened when my brain began to catch up with what I was doing the moment she stepped out of sight.

No, I was not checking her out in that way. I was just sizing her up, and she's just really pretty. Girls can admire other girls in an appreciative way too.

I shook my head to relieve myself of those weird thoughts and began walking towards the courtyard where my best friend was and sat down when I saw her. I ungraciously dropped my stuff onto the table and plopped down next to her before I saw that we had company.

"Paige," Pru admonished me before I looked at her in question of who the guy sitting at our table was. "This is Sean Ackard." I glanced back over to the blonde and caught his blue eyes sparkling my way before I reached out a hand across the table to introduce myself.

"Paige McCullers, but you can call me anything you want." I flirted before I felt a hand swat at my upper arm, causing me to retreat my welcoming hand from Sean.

"Ow! That hurts, you know?" I scowled at Pru before I looked back to see that Sean was smiling amusingly our way.

"Don't scare him away. I just found him at the lunch line!" Pru scolded me.

"Hey, stop making me out to be a lost puppy you found at the corner of the street." Sean remarked as I looked back at him to find a teasing smile.

"I like him. Congratulations, you're welcome to sit at the coolest table in the courtyard from here on out." I nodded after giving him another once over. Sean smiled before he lifted up his fork and stuffed his mouth with spaghetti. I suddenly remember that I forgot to grab lunch and right as I was about to stand up, I saw a tray pushed over to me and I looked at Pru gratefully.

"You're the best, Pru!" I said before I bumped shoulders with her and began unwrapping the turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese.

"Yeah, yeah, you owe me lunch." Pru said before she went back to eating an identical sandwich like mine.

"So what classes do you have, Sean?" I said after taking a bite into the sandwich. I chewed slowly as I watched him with curious eyes. He chugged down his chocolate milk with great fervor before wiping his mouth and grinned just as he answered.

"Math, English, Physics, PE, and French." he responded before I saw him glanced away for a second, looking at something behind me. I turned my head around to see what he was staring at and before I knew it, my eyes were locked with the girl I had an encounter with from earlier. Emily. She was sitting at a table with three other girls who were just as attractive looking as she was, and it quickly clicked in my mind that they were the friends she was talking about earlier. I turned back around to see Sean looking at me, and I stared back in question before he smiled.

"So…what was that about?" I asked and he just shrugged before digging his fork into the plate of spaghetti.

"Nothing. Just got into another fight with my girlfriend." Sean said as I lifted the fork up to his mouth. I took another bite into my sandwich and I chewed on the thought for a moment before I decided to ask the personal question.

"What happened?" Pru asked before I could even open my mouth. I shook my head and smiled at my best friend's intrusiveness when it came to other people's business. Sean sat up straight before he leaned his forearms onto the table and looked both of us seriously in the eyes.

"She's angry and upset that I refused to have…sex with her. Again." he said rather hesitantly but without any signs of embarrassment, and I wanted to applaud him for being so bold and unafraid to talk about it in the way that he did. Of course, Pru had other thoughts about it and voiced them immediately.

"Why don't you want to…do the deed?" Pru questioned as she leaned forward, now completely interested in our table's conversation.

"I have deep religious convictions about waiting until marriage. I'm thinking about starting a virginity club and calling it 'Real Love Waits' too. You guys should join if you're interested." Sean said with complete sincerity. He didn't even hesitate for one second while explaining. How very…ballsy of him. It was still a little bit hard to believe though. Aren't all guys into that kind of…things?

"Wow," Pru managed to utter while I stared at him with the same amount of incredulity as that of my best friend.

"You're joking, right?" I asked while chuckling and he smiled lightly before shaking his head.

"I'm saving myself for the right girl, but most importantly I'm abstaining from sex to show faith to my God." he said before he looked past me again.

"That's crazy." I breathed out before taking another bite of my turkey sandwich.

"Totally." Pru agreed as she pushed her lunch tray aside and took out her phone.

"So tell me, who's the girl?" I asked before I gestured with my eyes that I knew it was someone sitting behind me. For some reason, I was secretly hoping it wasn't Emily. Sean chuckled before lifting his arms off the table and jerk his head in the direction past me.

"Her name's Hanna. She's the blonde sitting with three other girls over there. You can't miss them." Sean said before I turned my head to look at one of the three tables behind us. There was only one table that was occupied by four girls, and I immediately spotted the blonde who was staring our way and I noticed that Emily was sitting beside her. I turned back around and saw Sean's smile falter a little before I reached over and touched his arm to comfort him.

"She'll come around and understand where you're coming from." I said and Sean's lips curved into another sincere smile. Before Sean could open his mouth and speak, we were rudely interrupted.

"Hands off bitch, he's mine!" a hand suddenly jerked Sean's arm away from my grasp and I felt surprised by the unexpected interruption. I looked up and found a seething blonde glaring down at me while she still had a firm hold on Sean's arm, and I couldn't help but laugh at how amusing the entire situation was.

"Pretty and bitchy. You chose a nice one, Sean." I joked before I saw three other figures emerge from behind me in my peripheral vision.

"Hanna! We were just talking." Sean chided his girlfriend while I sat back with my arms folded against my chest and watching on the scene.

"Girls never want to just talk with you, Sean. She's totally onto something here." Hanna now crossed her arms across her chest and looked at me with a challenging look. I saw Pru watching us with hilarity and laughing beside me, and I bumped shoulders with her to get her to side with me.

"Yes, I'm totally onto something here. You know, like starting a virginity club with Sean?" I threw back at Hanna before I saw her eyes widened in surprise, clearly embarrassed that I knew about her and Sean.

"Really?" Sean asked excitedly as he sat up straight and leaned slightly forward.

"Paige!" Pru swatted at my shoulder again before she cracked up even harder than before.

"You're starting a virginity club?" I heard an unfamiliar voice speak up and I turned my head to see whose voice it belonged to. I looked over only to be met with a 5'2" brunette with hazel eyes. She had the most petite frame of the four girls, but she was no less attractive than the other three.

"Well Aria, I was just discussing about it with Paige and Pru here." Sean smiled at her in a way that had me a bit curious if they were closer friends than they appeared. Aria. What an interesting name. I made a mental note to ask him about her later.

"Hi Paige," the melodic wind chime voice sounded again. I glanced over from the shorter girl to the tallest one in their girl group. I met Emily's dark brown eyes almost immediately and felt a strange feeling inside, not quite sure if it was the mood of the situation or the food that made me feel a bit queasy.

"Hey Emily," I waved back and the girl shyly smiled my way in return. A girl with brown hair who was standing in-between Emily and Aria suddenly stepped forward and placed both hands on each side of her hips as she eyed me.

"Spencer Hastings." the brown-haired girl with dark brown eyes suddenly spoke. If that was how she introduced herself, I really wonder how she carries herself in a conversation. I couldn't imagine having a pleasant relaxed talk with her though. She seemed way too serious for something light and easy. God, what an action-packed group, and here I thought this day couldn't get any more exciting than the blonde getting in my face about her virginal boyfriend. I stood up and felt Pru trying to pull onto my hand to make me sit back down, but I yanked my hand away from hers and rose to my feet again, standing face to face with the girl who called herself Spencer Hastings.

"Paige McCullers." I responded as I looked her straight in the eyes. I could see how she was trying to intimidate me with her stance, but of course it took one to know one. She didn't scare me. Not even in the least bit with her now hardened stare.

"We haven't seen you around Rosewood before. You new?" Spencer Hastings began interrogating me.

"Relax, Hastings. I just transferred here from Scranton." I put on a smile to get the girl with thin lips and high cheekbones to stop glaring at me. It didn't really work. Actually, it didn't work at all.

"Scranton…" Spencer Hastings seemed to be muttering to herself now.

"Yes, Scranton. Two hours drive north from here." I went on, seeing that the girl was trying to figure out where that was.

"I see." she said and I barely saw the guards fading away behind her eyes.

"Well Sean, Pru and I better get going. It was very nice meeting you all." I said to excuse myself as I pulled Pru along by her arm. Pru didn't hesitate to follow my lead and we left before Sean could get in another word with any of us as Pru waved goodbye to him. I felt bad for leaving him behind with the blonde and her group, but it was obvious that there were more than enough tension back there and Pru and I both did not want to be stuck in the middle of it all.

"What was that about?" Pru chuckled as I pulled her into the school's hallway.

"Well, if we stayed any longer, we'd be in the middle of a war." I laughed with her as we neared Pru's locker.

"Sean Ackard's been off the market for a while now...Butdarn, I was hoping you two would hit it off." Pru added in as she started turning the knob with her locker combination.

"We did. He's nice. We'll all be great friends." I commented thoughtfully while Pru turned and gave me an unimpressed look.

"No Paige, what I meant was you two sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I – "

"Yeah, no way that's going to happen since he's totally on a leash with that blonde chick. Plus, so not my type." I rolled my eyes and Pru shut her locker closed after exchanging her notebooks for English class.

"Then what is your type?" Pru questioned as we began walking to our English class together. It would only be a few more minutes before the bell would ring for lunch to be over.

"Athletic build, full lips, simple dresser, minimal makeup…" the words trailed from my mouth without my conscious permission while I was daydreaming about Emily's charming features.

"Minimal makeup?" Pru asked in confusion and I quickly snapped out of my daydream then.

"Oh! I mean, uh, minimal… Ha! What were we talking about again?" I pretended to be forgetful. Pru looked at me oddly for a moment and then shook her head as we walked to class.

"So, you got a thing for Spencer Hastings huh?" Pru finally broke the silence after we had a full minute of it.

"What!" I cried out as I turned to stare at her with incredulity.

"It's okay, Paige. You like girls, right? No big deal." Pru shrugged as she just walked on, leaving me standing there in shock. I opened my mouth to protest, but the words won't come out and I dropped my gaze to the floor before letting out a deep breath. I trudged after Pru's footsteps and I could feel a gazillion thoughts running at light's speed in my head at that point. When we reached the classroom, the class was empty and Pru took one of the seats in the middle in front, and she gestured for me to sit beside her to her left. I slowly walked over and dropped my backpack, letting it lean on one of the legs of my desk before looking down at the table in front of me.

"I don't like Hastings, alright?" my voice quickened to a whisper by the end of the question. I knew I was acting quite defensive about it, but come on, Pru was totally egging me on to talk about my sexual preference and I wasn't comfortable knowing she might actually be right this time around. I didn't like the idea of it at all.

"Okay, you don't like Hastings. So who were you thinking of when you were describing your type to me?" I heard the smile in Pru's voice and I slowly lifted my head up and quickly glanced at her before returning my eyes to the table.

"No one..." I whispered quietly even though I knew that Pru could see right through my lie. We've known each other since we were kids. Whenever she was in Scranton for the holidays or the summer, we always end up hanging out and had eventually gotten closer over time.

"It's okay, Paige. Don't fret about it, alright? I'm your best friend. I'm here for you. For anything." I heard Pru say before her hand rested on top of mine, causing me to look up and stare at her as she smiled affectionately my way.

"I…haven't even thought about it yet." I confessed and Pru slowly nodded in understanding.

"It takes time when it comes those kinds of important things. Just know that whatever you need, I'm here for you, Paige. We're best friends." Pru reassured me again before I nodded in response. The bell suddenly rang, snapping the both of us out of our chummy moment and I smiled at her to let her know that I was okay. Pru returned the smile before she bent down and started pulling a notebook out of her bag, and I looked over to the entrance just in time to see a young-looking teacher walk in.

She looked like she was in the beginnings of her twenties even though she was donning a very business-like pantsuit. She suddenly nodded my way when she caught my eyes, and I found myself nodding back to acknowledge her greeting. The professional-looking young woman walked over to the teacher's desk and set down her bag and jacket onto the chair before turning around to pick up a piece of white colored stick and began writing on the chalkboard.

Miss Allen. She had really nice handwriting. I took in her business attire and wondered why she decided to dress up the way she did. Was it really that comfortable to wear such an outfit? I mean, all she was going to be doing was stand in front of a classroom teaching English to high school students the entire day. I shrugged before I looked over to Pru and saw her giving me a mischievous smile.

"What?" I asked when Pru just simply shook her head. More students began piling into the classroom and I hadn't cared to look up again until I heard four familiar voices.

Great. We shared a class with these four preppy chicks too. Just great. I turned and caught Pru's eyes screaming the same reaction to the girls, and we both bent over and started laughing when we realized we had similar thoughts.

"You stop it right now, Paige." Pru said through her laughs while I rolled my eyes at her and shook my head at her.

"No, you stop it, Pru!" I hollered before bending over on the side of my seat and held onto my stomach.

I suddenly heard a cough in-between our laughter and Pru and I both looked up to see who it was. Of course, it was no other than Spencer Hastings, and we stopped laughing immediately.

"I see that we have English together." she said. Way to state the obvious, Einstein. I only nodded in response and pursed my lips to refrain from laughing at her.

"Well then." Spencer Hastings barely said before she went to sit by the window in the front row. I looked over to Pru and shrugged before she gestured to something behind me and I turned around to look, only to see Emily standing there beside me holding a white binder to her chest.

"Hi Emily," I smiled at her before she returned a shy one at me. Emily nodded and blinked several times before she shook her head and began making her way past me, walking to the back row. Hanna and Aria followed but not before each of them stared at me in contemplation. My brows furrowed in confusion but I simply shook it off and looked back to Pru and saw her giving me a curious glance.

"Don't ask me, I haven't a clue either." I said before she could ask and Pru shrugged before flipping a page and writing the date at the top right corner of her notebook.

It didn't take long before everyone settled in and Miss Allen did roll call and took our attendance. She handed out the syllabi and gave us instruction to write half a page on a piece of binder paper, telling her about ourselves and when we were done, Miss Allen collected the papers before putting them away in a manila folder. She told us about herself and mentioned she just graduated from Hollis College, informing us all that it was her first time teaching. Almost everyone wanted to get her attention so they asked her questions at every chance they got, whether they were personal or academia-related things. Miss Allen seemed nice enough and quite laid back, because she answered most of the curious questions and she smiled a lot. I'd say she was doing pretty well for the first day of teaching. Before we all even knew it, the bell had rung and Miss Allen dismissed the class, of course not letting us go before she reminded us to go get the book that we were going to start reading the very next week. The book we had to get was called Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.

Pru and I both finished packing up our stuff at about the same time and began heading out of the classroom when I felt a hand on my arm and I turned to see whose hand it belonged to. I looked up from the olive complexion of the bare hand and found myself looking into a set of dark brown eyes, a bit surprised that I had so many encounters with the girl today.

"I'm sorry about Spencer. She's a bit…protective of all of us when she meets someone new." Emily's eyes glanced away from me for a second and I noticed that she had looked over to Spencer Hastings who was standing by the door with the rest of the girls and Pru.

"It's alright. She'll fall in love with me in no time." I joked before I saw a smile reach Emily's eyes. Emily stared at me contemplatively for a few seconds, and I tilted my head to the right a bit and wonder why she was doing that. For some reason, I didn't dare let my eyes wander anywhere but her eyes, and finally Emily broke away from my gaze as she looked down to the ground.

"Um…" Emily muttered before she looked up at me from her eyelashes. "I'll see you around?" she asked and I barely nodded before she started walking away towards her friends. I looked over at Pru and began walking to her, ignoring her questioning expression as I waved goodbye to Miss Allen and told her to have a good day.

"What was that about?" Pru asked as soon as we were out in the hallway and a few feet away from the four girls.

"You're asking me that question a lot today." I chuckled as we walked over to my locker, just in time to see Emily close her locker and walk away with her friends again. My eyes traveled down her long legs and then trailed back up her stunning figure with unmistaken admiration. She had to be an athlete of some sort. No one can have that kind of body without working out regularly.

"Hello, Earth to Paige!" Pru snapped her fingers right in front of my face before I shook my head to shake the thoughts away.

"What?" I asked irritably and Pru leaned against the lockers as I opened mine.

"I was asking why Spencer and her posse suddenly took an interest in you. I've known Sean since middle school, and even then Hanna doesn't acknowledge my presence despite that I'm his friend. I mean, I've been in Rosewood all my life, and they haven't even taken one single glance at me. You strut in like you don't give a crap about anyone, and they all flock to you. What gives? Am I missing something here?" Pru asked incredulously while she watched me like a hawk as I grab my stuff from the locker.

"I swear, I have no idea. Is it really that important whether they notice you or not?" I shut my locker close as I turned to look at her. Pru had on a thoughtful expression before her features soften and she fixed her bag on her right shoulder.

"No…but it's just weird!" Pru chuckled as we began walking down the hallway and out of school.

"You're weird." I laughed as we made it towards the entrance of the school. "Trust me, there's nothing going on."

"Okay, if you say so." Pru sighed before she bumped shoulders with me. "Want a ride home?" she asked before I shook my head in response.

"I brought my bike, but thanks. I'll see you tomorrow." I waved goodbye to her as I headed towards the bike racks. Pru walked towards her mom's car and got in and waved at me before she shut the door and the car drove away right after. I went back to put in the lock's combination before the lock unlatched and I took it and stuffed it in my backpack. Pulling the bike slowly away from the rack, I got on and started riding home, passing by fifty or so kids as I got out of the school's lot.

It was a nice day out and the breeze brushed past me as I pedaled home in peace. My parents were currently out of town and still in Scranton packing things up, but they should be coming back tomorrow night. I just needed to remember to fax dad the forms for swimming and have him sign it, and then I could spend the rest of the day relaxing by the pool and get in some laps before sunset.

It wasn't such a bad start for a new beginning in Rosewood.

The whistle blew from above the water but I could still hear it since I wasn't wearing any earplugs today, so I lifted my head out of the water right at the end of the lap instead of doing my usual flip turn. Looking up, I saw Coach Fulton above me turning a page over on her clipboard before flicking it back and staring down at all of us in the pool.

"Practice is over. We'll go over your times before you get in the waters tomorrow. Remember to get a good night's rest ladies!" she yelled loud enough for everyone in the natatorium to hear. I nodded slightly before propping my hands onto the edge of the pool and then pulling myself out of the water. I sat on the edge for a bit and out of nowhere, I felt a towel covered my shoulders and I turn my head around to see Emily already wrapped in a towel herself.

"Thanks," I breathed as I looked up into her eyes. She smiled at me and sat down, and I pulled the Sharks towel closer to my body to keep warm.

"I didn't know you were a swimmer." Emily spoke after a few seconds of settling down beside me. I looked back at her from the water and I wondered the same thing.

"Me too. Never would've pegged you for a water bug." I teased and her smile widened even more at my words. "But it makes sense, you have the body. I should've known." I said more to myself than to Emily. She started blushing a little, and I found it quite adoring that she was so much more modest in nature than she appeared.

"We're going to be great friends." Emily simply said once she's gotten a hold of her blush. I thought it over carefully and shrugged, not too concern about her words.

"Only if you can keep up with me, Fields." I said just as I recalled her last name from roll call earlier.

Emily Fields. How fitting of a name for a girl like her.

"You're a very competitive person." Emily remarked. I looked at her in surprise and couldn't help but smile that she's caught onto my personality so quick.

"In many ways." I responded as I looked straight into her eyes.

Our eyes stay locked for what appeared to be a long while, because when Emily bashfully looked away, my eyes darted around too and I noticed that we were the only ones left in the natatorium.

"Do you…want to come over and…hang out sometime?" Emily's question snapped me out of my concentration. I looked over at her only to see that her eyes were on the water where our feet were paddling at the edge of the pool, and I watched as the shadows of the pool reflected interestingly onto her features.

"That depends. Does Mrs. Fields bake cookies?" I eyed her with some bit of reservation. Emily laughed softly but all I could hear were the music forming in my ears. It was like there was a symphony right in this room playing my favorite sonata piece at this moment.

"I can ask my mom to bake…but I can't guarantee that they'll be cookies." Emily responded almost shyly.

"I was kidding, Em." I smiled and I saw her lift her eyes up from the water to meet mine. It's funny, whenever I'm looking, I often find myself looking straight at her. I didn't quite understand it, but it wasn't something that bothered me all that much either.

"Pru told me you girls don't really hang out with anyone outside of your group. What's changing that now?" I decided to ask out of the blue, but mostly from curiosity. I saw Emily's eyes widened a bit at my question and she looked down immediately at the hands on her lap. I couldn't help but smile again at how adorable she looked when she turned into her shy self once more.

"I, um…like you." she spoke almost too softly for me to hear, but I caught all of her words. It was a bit of an unexpected answer, seeing that my eyes are widened now and I had no words to respond to that at all. Emily looked up and saw my expression before she shook her head and waved her hands back and forth. "I mean, as a friend." she corrected herself before blushing a very deep shade of red. "You're actually one of the people I feel comfortable with around here." Emily explained as she looked back at the water. I noticed her hands were twisting and turning in her lap, and I went over her words again in my head. You're actually one of the people I feel comfortable with around here. I guess I somewhat felt the same way about her.

"Is that so?" I asked aloud. Emily turned her head towards me and I saw the blush beginning to fade away as she looked into my eyes with a firmly held belief in those brown orbs.

"Yes." was all that she uttered. I nodded rather slowly to acknowledge that I've heard her, and I wondered what made her feel that way around me.

"Are you four the popular girls at this school or something? 'Cause it sure seems like it." I commented as she begins to look down at her hands in her lap again.

"I never wanted the attention." Emily said as she twisted her fingers around in her lap.

"Of course you didn't." the words had come out more sarcastic than I'd intended and Emily looked up with a stern look at me.

"I'm serious." Emily said as she looked me straight in the eyes.

"I know, I know." I sighed before playfully rolling my eyes at her. "Come on, let's head back to the locker room and change out of these." I gestured to our swimsuits as I got onto my feet and reached out a hand for Emily to take. Emily looked up at me with questioning eyes before she hesitantly took my hand. The moment our hands touched, I felt the strangest feeling of a current running through me for a fleeting moment. That was weird. I looked at Emily to see if she'd noticed it too, but when my eyes passed over her features, I didn't see any slight changes in her facial expression. Emily got up and then let go of my hand, and I couldn't help but miss the feeling of the contact of her skin on mine.

We began walking side by side in silence to the girls' locker room and I found myself glancing over at her every now and then, wondering why I felt the way I did around her. Emily Fields was on a whole different plane in comparison to all the other Rosewood High kids I've met. She had a certain calmness about her that made one feel at ease in her presence. There was another different thing about her. Something I couldn't really lay a finger on, but then I felt it was silly to keep on picking out details to separate her from the rest of the group.

When we entered the locker room, I saw that most of the girls were already dressed in their street clothes and some were actually making their way out. Emily walked to the middle of the aisle while I stayed by the edge of the line of lockers, dialing in my locker combination before it unlocked and I swung the door open. I took out my swim bag and placed it on the bench that sat in the middle between the two rows of lockers, and I reached into the compartment again to grab my cellphone. One missed call. I unlocked the phone and found that my father had called, and I shook my head in disbelief at how overly concerned he suddenly was now that we were in a different town. I clicked on his name to call him back and I waited as the line rang for several seconds before dad picked up the phone from the other side.

"Paige?" he asked as I smiled into the phone.

"Practice just ended, dad. I'll be home in half an hour." I rolled my eyes as I said it without being asked.

"Alright, I'm just checking in on my little girl. Are you sure you don't want a ride home?" he asked almost a bit too eagerly.

"Dad…" I whined into the phone before I heard two voices chuckling on the other side of the line.

"Nick, let her be. She's in high school now." I heard my mom tell him.

"Alright, alright, clock's ticking, young lady. I'm expecting you no later than midnight." he joked as I turned around and started pulling out clothes from my swim bag.

"Oh where, oh where, shall I go 'til then?" I asked before letting out a pretense heavy sigh.

"Alright, dear. I'll see you soon. Ride safely." he said and I could hear him smiling into the phone from the other side.

"Okay, I will. Bye dad." I said quickly before ending the call and setting the phone down onto the bench.

"I see where you get your personality from." Emily's voice suddenly appeared right by me to my left. I looked up just as I took the towel off my shoulders, and I smiled as I rolled my eyes at her. She was already changed out of the one-piece swimsuit and dressed in a pair of shorts and a loose fitting t-shirt, and everyone else had somehow disappeared while I was having a conversation over the phone with my dad.

"You overheard it all?" I asked. Emily nodded before she looked at me thoughtfully. I took off my swim cap and began to towel my hair as Emily shifted the swim bag's strap over to her other shoulder.

"I'll see you tomorrow?" Emily asked as she stepped aside and looked back over her shoulder.

"You can count it, Fields." I answered before Emily gave me one last smile and walked out of the locker room. I shook my head to rid my ridiculous thoughts about her smile, but I found myself smiling like an idiot as I heard the echoes of her voice inside my head. Such a strange girl. Always asking about tomorrows' meeting.

Stop kidding yourself, McCullers. You totally love it when she does that.

Yeah, exactly, and I don't know why I do. I let out a heavy sigh as I began to change.

I was leaning against a locker next to Pru's as she dug into the mess that she managed over the last two weeks. It wasn't easy to just stand back and watch, but it was still pretty entertaining to see her shuffle through so many papers to find her homework assignment that she said she's already completed.

"Do we need to call the housekeeper to stop by at least once a week to clean up this mess for you?" I joked as she blindly reached out and tried to punch me in the arm. Lucky for me, she missed by a few inches and I chuckled as she went back to searching for her math homework. We still had five more minutes before the next period starts.

"Ugh, I remember I put it in my notebook! I don't know why it's gone now." Pru let out a frustrated sigh as her shoulders dropped. Before I could reach out and comfort her, Pru suddenly squealed and jumped up and down before raising a piece of paper into the air.

"Found it!" she exclaimed excitedly and I tried my best not to frown at the crumpled up paper. It was in such bad shape, I wonder how the teacher was going to accept it.

"Yeah…you might want to straighten that out or something." I suggested as Pru proceeded to dump the textbooks she was holding into her already messy locker.

"Whatever. As long as I turn it in, I'll get full credit." Pru said confidently as she shut the door to her locker. I shrugged as we began to make our way down the hallway. After dropping Pru off at her class and waving goodbye, I began walking to my art class near the corner turn of the hallway. I walked in and found everyone else wandering around uncertainly and I looked down at the tables to see that there were name cards on each of the desks. Great, new seating assignments and I don't even get to choose my own partner. I moved through the little crowd and tried to find my name amidst the disarray of students in my class, and finally I found my name near the left corner in the back of the classroom. I sat down in my assigned seat and not too many seconds later, I heard the chair next to me scrape the ground as it was gently pulled out. I looked up and suddenly found myself in for a surprise when I stared into a pair of familiar hazel eyes.

"Hi, you're Paige, right?" Aria Montgomery asked as I looked down at the name card not too far away from mine. I glanced back up at her to watch her sit down gracefully, and I nodded before my eyes narrowed a bit as I scrutinized her interesting attire. I've seen her around before, and every time I saw her, she appeared to have a very unique outfit on.

"I guess we're partners for the rest of the year." Aria said as she jerked her head to the front of the class, and I turned and saw in writing on the whiteboard that she wasn't kidding. Our art teacher, Mr. Owen, had a sore throat and had been writing on the whiteboard to give out instructions since the day before yesterday.

"So it seems." I muttered to myself as I looked down to stare at both our name cards. From what I can tell, the girl seemed nice from afar. I haven't really spoken to any of the four girls beside Emily since the first day of school. I can only hope that she's just as nice as she appeared to be.

"Emily seems really…taken by you. She talks about you all the time." Aria remarked as I looked back at her to find her hazel eyes full of sincerity. Nice? Check. Inquisitive? Check. Snoopy? Getting there.

"She has?" I went along with it as I quirked an eyebrow, suddenly curious why Aria decided to tell me that.

"Yeah… She rarely opens up to anyone but us. She hasn't since...Ali left." Aria said with a sad sounding tone. Us meaning her, Hanna, and Spencer if I was right by that assumption. And who's Ali? "What have you said to her?" Aria asked curiously and I couldn't help but look at her in disbelief.

"What makes you think I've said something to gain her trust?" I answered with another question. Aria seems taken aback by my defensive tone and I stared right into her eyes as I looked expectantly for an answer in return.

"I didn't mean anything by that." Aria spoke rather softly, and I saw that she was starting to tread carefully around me by saying those words. "It's just really nice to see her so…happy lately." Aria grinned as she looked away. I stared at her in question, wondering where all of this was coming from. Why was she telling me that I made Emily happy? Who was Ali? And why exactly hadn't Emily been happy before I came along to be her friend?

"I didn't know." was all I could tell Aria as she turned her gaze back to me.

"Emily's always kept to herself, even around us since we were kids." Aria explained as she put on a thoughtful expression. "We all grew up together. It's nice to finally see that she's opening up to someone else since... I'm just simply curious how you managed to get her out of her shell, that's all. Plus, she's only known you for what? Two weeks, right?" Aria scrunched up her face in amusement when she finally thought of the time that Emily and I had been friends.

"Yeah," I said back, not really knowing what else to say to that. "We just really hit it off." I said offhandedly while I turned to look up at the front and saw Mr. Owen writing further instructions for today in art class. I sighed from exhaustion, not having slept well the past couple of days due to the new workload and swim practices after school. It wasn't really how I'd picture my third week of school to begin, but I suppose it could've been worse. Mom and dad were out of town again to visit Grandpa Alan in Scranton because he hasn't been feeling well, and I was left behind again so I wouldn't miss school. I missed him a ton, but darn school for making me miss the opportunity to go see him this week.

"You okay?" I heard Aria asked from beside me. I glanced at her for a moment before I nodded my head and tapped the pencil lightly against my sketchbook.

"You're pretty nice." I whispered as the class slowly began to settle down. The instructions on the board said to draw a portrait of our face with our eyes closed, and to turn it in at the end of class when the bell rings.

"Thanks," Aria whispered back and we smiled at one another. I flipped the sketchbook to a new blank page and closed my eyes as I imagined how I'd draw myself. The tip of the pencil was already on the paper and I begin to let my senses guide my hand to draw what I thought in my mind was the girl I see in the mirror every morning when I woke up.

At the end of class, I was really shocked to walk out of the classroom with the uncomfortable truth about the art world: I needed to revise my previous notions of space.

It was so easy to get lost in how you think things are and isn't until you finally open your eyes and can see, because there is so much more empty space in-between where one line started and the other one ends than we previously thought. It was pretty much the same concept with people.

Aria had come to the conclusion that Emily and I were close from what I can tell of our conversation earlier, and she was implying that Emily was possibly sharing things with me that she no longer did with the other girls. It puzzled me to say the least and made me question Aria's words. I could feel the wheels already turning in my mind.

Where does she end, and where do I begin?

Actually, the real question should be: How much space is there really in-between us?

Yet again, why should this matter to me at all? And why am I questioning it?

Emily's just a friend.

I stood in front of the Fields' residence, taking in the entire design of the house and I tilted my head to the side, grinning at the fact that it looked very similar to the houses neighboring it. The place was a humble abode and although it was not as large as the house I just moved in with my family, it was a pretty great size for a family of three. Well, two, taking into consideration that Emily's father was away most of the time for military services. It made me feel sad for Emily and her mother when I heard of her father, but Emily had told me that it was a given since she grown up in a military family and she had come to accept it a long time ago. Despite the fact that Emily said that, I had seen the sadness in her eyes when she spoke about her acceptance of her family's situation.

I took a deep breath and then stepped forward, walking along the pathway in-between the lawn to get up to the porch and just as I raised my hand up to knock on the front door, the entrance to the Fields' household flew open without warning. I blink furiously from the unexpected act and almost took a step back when I felt a hand wrapped around my wrist and pull me in. Before I could even make sense of the little whirlwind and find steady balance on my two feet, I felt myself slammed against the wall and staring into a pair of blazed blue eyes.

"First, you try to steal my boyfriend and now you're trying to take away one of my few best friends from me! What is your problem?" Hanna poked me with each of the last four words before she placed her hands against her hips and looked at me with disdain.

"First of all, I'm not trying to steal anybody's anything. And secondly, you didn't need to be so hostile and resort to aggression with me about it. Oh right, I'm here to see Emily Fields, not Hanna Marin." I lifted up my third finger after I named off all three things and gave Hanna an equally annoying look.

"You – " Hanna began to lunge at me before a pair of hands pulled her back and I noticed that it was Emily now standing behind Hanna tugging her backwards.

"Hanna." Emily's sudden stern voice magically got Hanna to stop struggling in her arms.

"What? She started it!" Hanna pouted as she folded her arms across her chest.

"Yeah, I totally pulled myself in here, body slam my frame into the back of the front door, and then began pointing fingers at whose fault at whatever this was." I threw back nonchalantly. Emily shook her head at the both of us and turned to Hanna and gestured with her head for Hanna to go upstairs. Before Hanna could protest, Emily gave her a serious look and Hanna threw her hands up in the air and relented before trudging up the steps.

"I'm sorry about Hanna…" Emily suddenly returned to her old bashful ways, and I smiled amusingly at the change of tone that she now used with me. It was more gentle and kind than the tone she'd use with Hanna earlier. "Her mom suddenly got a call to fly out of town for work on short notice, and she's going to stay with me for the next three days." Emily explained as she leaned against the post near the framed rails of the stairs.

"It's alright. I can go." I said as I backed away and was about to turn around and let myself out before I felt a hand on my shoulder. The touch was so gentle and warm, and I found myself turning around and looking into Emily's eyes before she slowly retracted her hand.

"No! I mean, you can stay, but…" her eyes moved upward towards the stairs, referring to Hanna's presence in the Fields' home.

"Yeah… I don't think she likes me." I said as my shoulders tensed up and I looked nervously up the stairs. Why was I even nervous to begin with? She's just a chick with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a bad attitude. I don't even know how she and Emily can be friends to begin with.

"Hanna can be…difficult at times, but once you give her time to warm up to you, I'm sure she'll enjoy your company just as much as I do." Emily promised as she took a step forward and reached for my arm. "Come on, I'll reintroduce you two." she smiled with all of her pretty features as I let her pull me along and up the stairs. I couldn't help but let out a sigh and roll my eyes as she dragged me upstairs, but for some reason, I felt that Emily was worth it and so I followed along as she led the way. After we got to the top of the steps, we took a right turn and not more than ten steps later, we were standing in front of a bedroom with an opened door. I allowed myself to take a peak at the room over Emily's shoulder and saw that Hanna was lying on her stomach with feet dangling in the air and headphones on as music blared through her ears. I saw Emily shook her head slightly as she stepped into the bedroom and then pull me in, and that was when Hanna looked up from the magazine she was flipping through. It didn't take that long before her facial expression went from relaxed to one of annoyance immediately.

"What is she still doing here?" Hanna said more than question as she yanked her headphones down and sat up while glaring at me.

"Hanna, play nice." Emily said as she went to pick up a shirt and a scarf on the bedposts at the end of the bed. "And can you not turn my room into a pigsty?" Emily groaned slightly in frustration as she bunched up what appeared to be Hanna's clothes into a suitcase by the window seat. A window seat. Emily's room has a freaking window seat. I've always wanted a room with one of those.

"You have a window seat." I said in awe as I walked over and glanced at the bookshelves built into the two walls beside the window seat. They were mostly filled with photo albums more than books it seems, and as I took a closer look, I noticed that they were more like scrapbooks than photo albums. I walked over to the window and reached out to let my fingers trace the windowpane in admiration of the sunlight coming in, casting a dreamy glow onto the spacious long seat with tons of cushions that sidled along the wall. It was so perfect.

"Nice room." I breathed out again as I turned around to face the two girls. Emily was sitting at the end of the bed with both hands on one of the bedposts as she watched me in contemplation. Of what I don't know, but then I noticed that Hanna was no longer inside the bedroom.

"Thanks." Emily said as she briefly looked down at the ground before bringing her gaze back up to meet mine.

"Look, I think it's pretty clear she doesn't like me and I – " I was stopped midsentence when Emily stood up abruptly.

"Can you wait here a second? I need to go get something real fast, so I'll be right back." Emily said over her shoulder as she exited the room, not even giving me a chance to respond. Great, and then there's one. I chuckled softly to myself and glanced around the cozy room that belonged to no other but Emily Fields. It was so Emily. Everything about the room just screamed her name. Well, whispered probably. Emily never raised her voice at anyone and she isn't the type to –

"I love you Hanna, but this is not something I can deal with anymore." I suddenly heard Emily's voice getting louder downstairs. Well, alright then. I take that back. I've now heard Emily raised her voice at someone, and of course that other lucky individual had to be Hanna Marin of all people.

"Ali's gone and I know we're all guarded, but I haven't felt this happy in a long time. Paige…she makes me feel good about myself. Swimming was the only thing I had left, and I…care about her now, okay?" I heard Emily say. Did I hear her right? My brows furrowed and I walked closer to the door, trying to hear the muffled conversation a bit better since they went back to speaking in hushed tones.

"You have us, Em! We're here for you." Hanna sounded like she was currently in despair from what Emily had just said.

"I know but…it isn't the same." Emily said back. The house grew quiet and all I can hear is the ticking sound of the grandfather's clock downstairs. Who was this Ali person? Why did all of the girls sound so strange when talking about her?

"Okay, fine. I'll try to be her friend too." I heard Hanna say in defeat and I can almost imagine her rolling her eyes as she said it.

"Promise?" Emily spoke rather softly now. I almost had to strain my ears to hear that one.

"Promise." Hanna gave Emily her word of honor.

I couldn't help but smile, and I could already see how special Emily was around here. Everyone treats her so delicately, and it was beyond me how I'd befriend a beautiful girl with overprotective friends and a reputation that unquestionably precedes her.

As for Hanna…

Well, I guess we'll see.

It was one thing to be body slammed into the door by a blonde, but it was whole different story to be tackled to the ground by the one and only Spencer Hastings. God must hate me. I mean, what have I done to deserve this? I couldn't help but ask myself as I stared up into the blue sky, rolling back and forth on the ground for a bit while trying to find the air that was knocked out of me. A hand reached out to me and I could barely make out the person's face who was holding out their arm. Lifting my head off the ground a bit, I shook my head back and forth in an attempt to get a clearer vision, but that only made me feel dizzier while the sunlight blinded me even more until the person's head was covering up the sun. To my surprise, it was Spencer Hastings offering me a hand to help get me up.

"I swear, between you and Hanna, I can never catch a break." I said when I got onto my two feet and bent over, hands resting on my knees to support my upper body weight. I was breathing heavily, trying to catch the air that I missed in the last minute or so after being knocked down by no other but Spencer Hastings.

"Hey, all is fun in hockey and war." Spencer smirked as she folded her arm across her chest. I looked around us and saw that our PE teacher had two other players playing in the hockey game in our place on the other side of the field. I was now even more surprised that Spencer was standing here instead of taking out other players on my team in the game.

"I'm okay, you can get back into the game." I said as I shooed her off with one of my hands. Spencer continued to look down at me while I looked up from my bent over position, wondering why she hadn't leave yet.

"Nah, it's no fun without you anyway." Spencer said as she walked over to the empty side of the bleacher and sat down before leaning back on her two hands and stretching out her legs to cross them at the ankle. I stood up straight and began walking over, studying her perfect image that she was always working hard to keep in tact. She had long dark brown hair that she usually wore down and a sort-of peach and cream complexion in comparison to the other girls. Her very slim face was complimented with high cheekbones, thin lips, and dark almond shaped eyes, and she had a very slim and athletic figure from playing field hockey, tennis, and other sports. Spencer Hastings also came from a very studious background, and a lot of people felt intimidated by how smart, overachieving, and wealthy she and her family were. Everyone aside from her friends and me it seemed. I could really care less about everything that made her impossible to approach, and she seemed to have taken a liking towards me for it. Well, I might've taken a lot of harsh words before she actually warmed up to me, but the point is that she likes me now. More so than Hanna to everyone's surprise. Hanna was still a bit wary of me since the incident with Sean on the first day of school.

"You should think about joining our field hockey team." Spencer said as I sat down next to her. I glanced over at her in amusement and shook my head in disbelief.

"Yeah, I may be slow but I'm not that stupid." I scoffed as Spencer shook her head at me while smirking.

"What? You're really good. I don't often pay people compliments, you know." Spencer looked back to the field where the game was still going on. I looked too and I went over her words in silence, wondering if I really was field hockey player material. I sighed and then noticed that some of the other girls to our right on the side of the bleacher giving us odd glances, and I looked back over to Spencer to see that she paid none of them any attention.

"I don't think so. Besides, I've got swimming to focus on. I'm gunning for anchor for the swim meet in two weeks. The juniors and seniors aren't too happy about it, but…being second leg in the relay isn't good enough for me." I confided in her as she looked at me with her mirthful-looking eyes.

"If you're not gonna go all the way, why go at all?" Spencer smirked as she said this.

"Exactly. Plus, if I want to beat them I've got to work harder." I added.

"It's a shark-eat-shark world in the waters huh?" Spencer asked.

"Pretty much." I rolled my eyes before we both chuckled and then I heard the whistle blown, indicating that our PE period was over. Spencer and I both stood up at the same time and began heading towards the locker room together, and I tensed up a bit when I surprisingly felt her arm around my shoulders.

"Listen, I know Emily's been hanging out with you a lot, and I get it, you two are friends now…but…we miss her too." Spencer spoke barely loud enough for just the two of us to hear since there were a lot of students surrounding us now. "If you wouldn't mind, can you at least try having lunch with us so we can spend some time with her as well?" I quickly caught on to what she was saying, and I felt a bit hesitant to agree. It was true that Emily and I have been almost inseparable in the last few months, and I couldn't help but feel bad that she's drifted away from her friends because of me. I hadn't any idea of it until now actually.

"How about I just bring it up to her? I don't have to be there, you know. I'm sure you all want to – "

"No, we want you to be there." Spencer cut in as she retracted her arm from around my shoulders.

"We?" I quirked an eyebrow her way and Spencer rolled her eyes before she folded her arms across her chest.

"Okay, me and Aria. Hanna's still a bit…iron-willed after you know…" Spencer nodded her head and looked at me expectantly, assuming I knew what she was talking about.

"I see." I remarked as she sighed and uncrossed her arms.

"We just want Emily back, okay? And we want to get to know you better and for us to all be friends." Spencer said. After a minute of silence of unbearable tension between the both of us, I finally relented.

"Okay. I'll do it." I huffed as I crossed my arms. I felt like I just finished a tour around a party for the guilty as I was standing there.

"Great! I'll text the girls while we get changed and then we can head to lunch together." Spencer said excitedly as she sped towards the girls' locker room. I could only chuckle as I stared at her retreating figure and wonder what I'd gotten myself into. Another tensed conversation perhaps. Or maybe an entire lunch filled with tension.

After we both changed out of our PE clothes, Spencer and I headed out of the locker room together, and before I even reached my locker with Spencer right behind me, I saw that Emily was standing by my locker per usual and already waiting for me by it. I waved to her and saw her wave back until her smile turned upward in amusement as her eyes flickered to the my left a bit, and I assumed it was because she saw Spencer right on my heels.

"Hey," I breathed as I started dialing in my locker combination and then opened it when the lock unlatched. I stuffed the locker with the various textbooks from previous classes, and then took out my English notebook for later after lunch. That way I wouldn't have to make a stop here at the end of lunch.

"Hi," Emily continued to smile at me before her eyes went to Spencer. "What are you doing here, Spence?" Emily asked in amusement.

"Oh, Paige didn't tell you? She promised to have lunch with me today." Spencer brilliantly answered and I couldn't help but to roll my eyes at her white lie.

"She did?" Emily looked from Spencer to me as she quirked an eyebrow.

"Yup. Alright. Let's go. I'm starving." I tried to add in a tone of desperation to my terse statement while I shut my locker close and pulled the both of them along towards the school's cafeteria.

"Wait! Why do you have a bruise on the side of your neck?" Emily commented as she pulled on my hand and halted all of our steps. I looked at Spencer briefly who only looked down in shame, and I chuckled as I reached up a hand to rub the small bruise on the left side of my neck. Emily looked at me in concern and stepped closer to take a look, and I held my breath as her face was nearer than I expected. She reached out with her hand and the next thing I knew, I felt a gentle caress against the bruised spot and I gulped in response.

"It's no big deal. I was getting really competitive and then ran straight into a wall." I chuckled as I briefly glanced at Spencer who was trying to hold back from laughing too.

"A wall? What kind of wall?" Emily asked in confusion while her brows stayed knotted and she briefly looked up into my eyes before returning to stare at the black-and-blue mark.

"A figment of my imagination." I said dryly as I saw the corners of Spencer's mouth curling upward. "I ran into an invisible wall and fell." I watched as Emily's countenance scrunched up even more in confusion. "Forget about the bruise, I'm starving!" I said again as I dragged the both of them towards the cafeteria after seeing Spencer beginning to look at us weird.

"Look Em, why don't you join the girls at our usual table? Paige and I will stand in line and grab the food." Spencer suggested. Emily opened her mouth to disagree, but before she can even speak, Spencer was already pulling me away by the elbow and we began heading towards the long steady line in the cafeteria. I managed to look back just in time to see Emily's puzzled expression, and then she turned and headed in the opposite direction towards the courtyard. I could only imagine how she's trying to figure out Spencer's plan at this very moment as she went over to Hanna and Aria outside of the cafeteria. I would've done the same after seeing our lousy acting.

"So…that was close." Spencer commented and stood rather awkwardly beside me.

"Oh yeah," I let out breath of relief as I rearranged my short almost shoulder length auburn hair around both sides of my neck. "How do I look?" I asked and Spencer quirked an eyebrow at me. I rolled my eyes at her and subtly pointed at the bruise she'd given me during the hockey game from earlier.

"Oh," Spencer shook her head and rolled her own eyes as she caught on. "It's covered. But geez, did I really knock you over that badly?" Spencer looked at me with unrestrained panic as she leaned in closer to get a better look.

"And how is that I got a penalty named after me?" I asked in disbelief as I threw my hands in the air in amazement at that little known fact.

"They probably call me something behind my back too." Spencer shrugged as we moved forward in line.

"How about Smarty McSmartpants?" I teased as she looked at me, not in the least amused at my non-original nickname for her. "Okay, fine. Jane Bond." I proposed as she folded her arms across her chest. "What? It's what Emily calls you!" I laughed as her hardened stare soften up a bit.

"Okay, what's the deal with you and Emily?" Spencer asked with undisguised bitterness.

"What do you mean?" I frowned when the mood of our conversation changed so suddenly.

"Emily has never been that…concerned about any one of us like she was with you when she noticed that bruise earlier. Which may I add, if she ever finds out I was the one that caused it, I should probably be prepared to dig myself a grave." Spencer said as she gave me a dirty look.

"Spencer, that's ridiculous." I smiled as I touched her shoulder to reassure her that it's no big deal and that I wouldn't tell on her.

"Uh, yeah. Have you not seen how much she cares about you? Emily is going to kill me if she ever finds out I hurt you." Spencer said in distress.

"Look, she's not going to, because I won't tell a soul." I promised Spencer as she looked up at me through her upper eyelashes and contemplated my words.

"I just don't understand. What have we done wrong? Why is she not sitting with us any more?" Spencer asked question after question.

"Okay, you're awfully moody today." I commented as Spencer looked at me with sad eyes. "Is this about Emily? Or are you not happy with me? You're blaming me for all of this, am I right?" I started asking because it seems like that's what her tone was implying. Spencer looked at me with a guilty expression and I laughed with incredulity at the ridiculousness of it all. We started moving forward again as the line progressed.

"Spencer, I'm not trying to steal her away from you, or anyone for that matter. Believe it or not, I don't understand why she wants to hang out with me either…" my gaze fell to the ground as I admitted the last part. It was hard saying it aloud but I knew deep within that I felt unworthy of Emily's company more than half the time we spent together. Emily was just so incredible and amazing, and I was just…me. An ordinary girl trying to get by.

"Hey, I didn't mean to make you feel bad about yourself." Spencer said remorsefully. "It's just with Ali gone, Emily's been really distant. Then she meets you, and she's all…lively again. Livelier." Spencer made clear to me. Why do they all keep on saying that?

"About this Ali girl… Who was she to Emily? I mean, I've heard things about her here and there from Em, but whenever she talks about her, Ali didn't sound like she played much of a dynamic role in Emily's life. And when I talk to any of you, it's like…Ali was a very important part of your lives. Am I missing something here?" I asked in confusion.

"Emily worshipped her." Spencer said with a flat tone after a few moments of silence. "We all did." she continued while her eyes held a contemptuous look I'd never seen before. "We were all friends already, but…she really brought us together. Alison rebuilt, refashioned, redeveloped, redesigned, and reconstructed each one of us, promising us all status and friendships that'll last forever. She modified us to be like her so that we'd blend together evenly, but she placed herself right in the center of our group as the queen bee and everyone knew it. She manipulated us into thinking she was our friend, and we followed her around like lost puppies. Finally, on the last day of middle school, she announced that she was leaving town for good, and she barely said goodbye to any one of us before hopping onto the next morning's flight. She just…left us like we never mattered to her. Our group had never been broken like that before in the last three years since middle school began, but we spent all of summer trying to get over our loss. Everyone but Emily tried to stick around and keep our circle unbroken. I mean, Emily was already slowly detaching herself from our group, but then she met you. You were the last straw for her. Probably the last chance she saw as an opportunity to escape." Spencer looked me straight in the eyes as she spoke in her serious tone. I blinked furiously at the newfound information, and then let out the breath I didn't know I was holding in the entire time she explained to me about Alison's role in their lives before me.

"I didn't know." I whispered more to myself than to her. Spencer nodded her head slightly and she stepped forward towards the food counter and grabbed two wrapped chicken sandwiches for her and Emily. I grabbed one too and we stopped by the drinks section to get juices before we went over to the line to pay. We were both silent for the rest of the time until we finished paying for our food. But as we began to head outside, I felt a hand on my arm, and I looked back to see Spencer staring at me rather intensely again.

"What I told you stays between us. The girls are still a bit…vulnerable after what happened. That's why we all find it hard to trust anyone around here and keep to ourselves. Promise me this stays between us." Spencer looked me dead in the eyes, and I could only nod in response. She let go of my arm and then walked in front of me to lead the way out to the courtyard and to the table the three girls were sitting at. They all looked up when we approached, and I smiled when I met Emily's concerned gaze, reassuring her that everything was all right between Spencer and me. Emily moved her bag from the seat next to her and gestured for me to sit down, and I looked hesitantly at Hanna and Aria before I sat down.

"Hey," I said to the both of them as I passed Emily my lunch and juice before retrieving the other sandwich and juice from Spencer, who looked at me oddly.

"Hi Paige," Aria smiled happily while Hanna just stared at me in question of why I was sitting at their table. I saw slight movement under the table and then Hanna jerking before she let out a heavy breath and then waved at me.

"Hi Paige." Hanna reluctantly greeted me as she looked down at her food and then stabbed her fork into the mac n cheese she was having. I hope it really wasn't me she's imagining in that small bowl.

"Paige." I heard Emily say beside me and I turned to my left to see her smiling at me like I was sent down to Earth from heaven or something.

"Emily." I said back teasingly before she stuck her tongue out at me. I heard a cough from across the table, and then I turned to see the three girls looking at us in amusement.

"You promised to have lunch with me. Therefore you should be talking to me." Spencer joked to lessen the tension surrounding us.

"Geez, Captain Bossypants. Give me a moment." I said before rolling my eyes at her.

"But there's only thirty minutes of lunchtime, and we already spent five minutes of it getting food." I heard Spencer whine for the first time. I had to do a double-take in order to make sure I saw the pout on her face right. Was she really giving me the sulky expression? Spencer Hastings? No…

"Okay, what did you do to two of my best friends?" Hanna said as she dropped the plastic fork and stared at me with the expectant look of a needed explanation. I looked briefly over to Aria to see a questioning expression as well, and then glanced over to both Emily and Spencer, Hanna's two best friends.

"Nothing…?" I answered uncertainly.

"Lies!" Hanna barked as she pushed her lunch tray forward and folded her arms across her chest.

"Han, stop giving Paige a hard time." Spencer scolded the blonde who only looked at her in disbelief. It didn't take more than three seconds before Hanna was full on pouting before she looked down at the food tray and muttered a few incomprehensible words. I was betting my money on them being curse words towards me right now. I looked over at Spencer not knowing whether to be grateful or not for what she did, but I suppose I should be thankful since she got Hanna to stop picking on me. I suddenly felt a hand on my left thigh and I looked down and knew right away that it was Emily's from the olive complexion I saw. I brought my gaze up to her face and found her frowning a bit while looking in Spencer's direction. What was this all about?

"So like I was saying earlier, you should really consider joining our field hockey team. We could use another competitive player on the squad." Spencer said to make conversation even though we both knew the answer to that proposition already. Anyhow, I felt Emily's resting hand on my thigh clutch onto me a little tighter and I was surprised at how upset she suddenly appeared when I looked at her again.

"Paige is already on the swim team." Emily said rather firmly. She was speaking for the first time to one of the girls since I've sat down with Spencer.

"Yeah, but she could still join the field hockey team if she wanted to." Spencer pointed out the obvious. That didn't seem to go too well with Emily because her vice grip on my thigh only tightened even more and I winced a little in pain. I put my hand over hers under the table, and her tense facial expression relaxed a bit from the gesture. Emily looked over at me and smiled apologetically but I only shook my head to assure her that it was all right and for her to drop the subject. Yes, it was beyond my own understanding how we've already mastered the art of conversing silently but we accomplished that after only a few months of getting to know one another. I scooted closer to Emily and she didn't seem too unsettle about it even though she retracted her hand from where it once rested on my thigh and she went to unwrapping the chicken sandwich, not wanting to look up and meet the girls' gazes. I sighed silently in frustration and wonder how I could fix whatever it was that's going on between the four girls, because I felt so uncomfortable remaining voiceless about their situation even though it wasn't my place to say anything.

"Emily," I said as I turned to look at her. She stopped what she was doing and looked at me with her undivided attention whenever I called her name. "They're your friends, please stop treating them this way. They don't deserve that, especially after what you all went through together." I know it was a lot to ask of her and I saw the hurt briefly flash through her eyes before she tore her gaze away from me and looked at the ground. I reached over and tried to grab her hand, but she only pulled away from me and looked back with a hurtful expression that covered all her beautiful features. I knew the girls were all watching us, and I tried my best to keep calm even though I was beginning to panic from within. What if she hates me for doing this? For intervening? It wasn't any of my business after all. Well, Emily's my friend and she's having issues with her friends, so being Emily's friend, it would only make sense that I help with those issues, right? Right.

"Emily. Please." I managed to pull out my desperate tone, and it worked immediately because her features had softened at the two pleading words. Emily looked down at the hands in her lap and I tried again to reach for her hand, and this time she didn't pull away. Instead, she held my hand in-between both of hers as she lightly caressed my hand wordlessly. It was about a minute of silence before Emily finally looked up and glanced at me briefly and then turning to face her three friends.

"Sorry." Emily spoke softly and it was obvious to see that her eyes held the same amount of remorse as the single word she uttered.

"Em…" Aria sighed as she looked towards me gratefully for a few seconds before she returned her gaze to Emily. "You don't have to apologize. We just miss having you around." the petite girl said as she smiled sadly at her.

"Yeah, we all miss you, Ems." Hanna added as she looked cautiously from me to Emily. I caught Spencer's gaze from across the table and she was trying hard not to smile that her plan was working. I barely shook my head at her and rolled my eyes before I felt a slight tug on my hand. I looked back at Emily and saw her staring at me with a longing look I didn't understand, and when we were staring into each other eyes for way too long, one of the girls decided to clear their throat to break up our moment. Right. This was supposed to be about fixing their amazing friendships with one another. Why does this keep on happening?

"Well, does this mean you'll be sitting with us at lunch again?" Spencer asked hopefully but I could see Emily's shoulders tensed a bit at the simple question. Emily briefly glanced my way and Spencer seemed to understand, so she continued, "Paige, you should sit with us too. The more the merrier." Emily breathed out after hearing that and I couldn't help but smile at how adorable she was for wanting me here with her too. "Okay, it's settled then. You're sitting with us from now on." Spencer said to me as her eyes sparkled with mischief.

"Great, now everyone's going to be avoiding me too." I sighed overdramatically and all of the girls chuckled at me.

"Hey, we're not that bad." Hanna chipped in and I had to smile at that small grin forming on her glossy lips.

"Oh no, you're far worse than bad. You're – "

"Paige!" Emily laughed beside me as she pulled onto my hand again, and I swore in that very moment, her laughter was the reason for all of our smiles.

"Okay, okay, but please don't make me wear a t-shirt that screams 'You can't sit with us.'" I chuckled before I felt a light smack to my shoulder. I gaped at Emily with a fake hurt expression, and she smiled in return.

"You're horrible, you know that?" Emily said jokingly while giving me one of those adoring smiles she's been sporting so often recently.

"Adorable? Well, you tell me that almost every day, so how can I not know it?" I grinned playfully as her eyes widened in response.

"I don't tell you that almost every day." Emily denied and I rolled my eyes in return.

"Oh yes, you do." I nodded with a convinced expression on my face that tells it all.

"God, the sexual tension between you two is almost unbearable." Spencer commented before she went back to her sandwich, causing the both of us to return our attention back to the group we've momentarily forgotten about.

"Isn't it called sexual energy?" Hanna asked with a slightly confused look.

"Okay… Moving on." Aria said awkwardly and looked anywhere but the two of us as she tried to steer the conversation in a different direction. I felt Emily slowly inching away from me from the corner of my eyes, and I took my hand back in response. I missed the contact immediately, but it seemed like something I had to do right at that moment.

The rest of lunch went by with the girls talking idly amongst each other, while I just sat back and watched their interactions. Emily and I stayed about a foot apart from each other since the moment she scooted away from me, and I couldn't find a reason not to be nervous that maybe she was bothered by the girls' comments about us. They seem to have a closeness I've never seen with any other friendships before, and I only sat in awe of the relationship that they had with each other. Emily was still trying to get used to hanging out with the girls, but I could see that it made her happy to be able to speak with them again. It was simply one of those moments where you don't know that you've been missing something until you had it again. A part of me was happy that she was friends with them again, yet a smaller part of me wondered if things were going to stay the same between us now that she's reunited with them.

I guess I can only hope that nothing will ever change.

"Paige?" I glanced up from the math textbook when I heard my name. I looked over to Emily who was sitting near the bed's headboard, legs crossed at the ankle while she tried to read Of Mice and Men. She had this look on her face, a serious expression of some sort showing a bit of her nerves and hesitancy to talk.

"What's up?" I asked as I pushed myself up a bit more onto my forearms, seeing that I was lying on my stomach with feet dangling in the air and ankles crossing too.

"What if I – " she stopped midsentence and looking away briefly before she shaking her head a bit. I looked at her in question and it was obvious that whatever it was is troubling her.

"What?" I asked even though it seemed like she needed a few more moments to gather her thoughts. Emily looked back at me and I could see a pool of emotions swimming in her eyes. Emotions I couldn't really make sense of.

"It's nothing…" Emily sighed and waved it off, and I then felt thoroughly confused by our short conversation.

"Okay…" I trailed off and went back to doing my math homework, of course I shot her an odd look so that she knows she was acting weird before I turned away. Emily's been acting like this quite often lately, and I couldn't get her to talk about whatever it was that's troubling her. It's like she wanted to talk to me, and then not want to talk to me at the same time. I somehow felt left out when she did that. What was I missing here?

Shaking my head to rid myself of those thoughts, I tried to refocus on the geometric problem at hand. Given the length, height, and radius of the cone, I had to find out the surface area of it and work out the question step by step to show my work. I had already started working on the problem when I felt Emily's bed shift a little, which of course distracted me and caused me to look up. Emily had bent over to reach her cellphone on the night table by the bed and I found myself staring at the bare skin where her shirt had rode up past her hip. I swallowed the small lump at the back my throat, and looked away, feeling so adrenalized all of a sudden.

"Hey, Aria just texted me saying she's coming over with Spencer and Hanna in ten minutes." I heard Emily say. I looked back at her and tried to appear calm even though I felt way feverish inside.

"Really?" I asked as I sat up and faced her. Emily marked a page in the book she was reading and put it down beside her before she gathered her legs together and sat criss-cross on the other end of the bed.

"Yup." Emily said as she looked at me with another one of her pretty smiles.

"I still have a few more problems to go…" I scratched the back of my neck as I looked down to my homework and math textbook.

"Here, I'll help you and then you won't have to worry about it later when the girls come over." Emily said as she began crawling on all fours over to me. Okay, that wasn't supposed to look seductive at all, but for some reason I was really beginning to see provocative images. I ducked my head in an attempt to hide the blush from being given such a charge, but it didn't help to keep my body temperature from rising. I felt Emily scooting next to me and she mimicked my earlier position as she began to flip through the page and look at the questions I still had left.

"Okay, so…" Emily's voice began to trail off in my ears as I gazed at her wavy dark brown locks. The sunlight coming in from the windows in her room flickered lights that danced on her lightly tanned skin, and I gaped at how all of her features and melodic voice went so perfectly together. God, why is she so pretty?

"Paige?" Emily's voice suddenly snapped me out of my daydream.

"Yeah?" I responded more quickly than I intended.

"Did you hear what I just said about problem eight?" Emily smiled amusingly my way.

"Yeah, let's get to it." I jumped in before she could find out that I'd been spacing out on her. God, what is wrong with me? I shook my head a little to forget that ever happened, and I picked up the pencil and started working out the problems with Emily's help. Just ten minutes later like Emily had said, the doorbell rang signaling the girls' arrival. I was just finishing up the last problem and Emily went to go get the door while I try to polish my answer to the second half of the question.

The bedroom door to Emily's room reopened and in walked four of the prettiest girls of Rosewood High School, sauntering over to where I was to see what I was currently up to. I smiled at all of them in greeting and gave Emily a knowing grin to let her know that I finished. She returned the gesture and walked over to the window seat with Aria while Spencer and Hanna hovered over me.

"Math homework?" Spencer questioned me even though it appeared she already got her answer.

"Ew, I hate math." Hanna said with disgust before she plopped down right next to me.

"Well, math hates you too." I joked and Hanna smiled before she looked over to the other two girls at the window seat, probably wondering what they were talking about.

"Hey, do you guys want to watch a movie?" I suggested since we were all standing and sitting around doing nothing. Idle chats can only get us so far, but movies can go a long way.

"Sure." Spencer agreed.

"Yeah." Hanna followed after.

"Okay." Aria then added.

"What do you want to watch?" Emily asked after they all said yes.

"Why does she get to choose what movie we watch?" Hanna pouted and I laughed.

"Okay Princess, what would you like to watch?" I asked before I saw the other three shaking their heads back and forth my way. Whoops, too late.

An hour later found the rest of us in the living room, sitting in front of the television and watching Scary Movie 2, the horror comedy spoof with the lights off.

"Why, Hanna? Why?" Spencer continued to shake her head back and forth like she has been for the last hour since we put the DVD in.

"Uh, because it's funny! Duh!" Hanna laughed as paranormal activity continued to go on at the haunted mansion in the movie. Spencer continue to shake her head in response to the ridiculous scenes going on in the mansion, and Aria and Emily laughed along with Hanna when one of the college teens, Cindy Campbell, got involved in a fist fight with the house cat, Mr. Kittles. I looked over at Emily who was sitting next to me on the couch, and then stared at Aria and Hanna who were sitting on the floor. Well, Aria was sitting and leaning against the couch while Hanna lay sprawled on the floor on her stomach with her two feet dangling in the air. Spencer had taken the lone armchair to the right, and that left the two of us with plenty of space on the large sofa.

I knew Emily enjoyed horror movies, but I didn't think she'd enjoy horror comedy spoofs too. While Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and I jumped at certain thrilling parts, Emily remain unfazed and even let me hide my face behind her shoulder once when a toy clown tried to kill Ray Wilkins, one of the other college teens staying in the haunted mansion. I'd scooted closer to Emily after that, not knowing that I'd have trouble watching the rest of the movie since all I could focus on was the warmth and softness of her skin against mine. Emily suddenly leaned her head on my shoulder, and I held my breath at the movement and blinking my eyes furiously at the sudden positions we were in. Emily wrapped her arms around my left, and I finally had to let out a breath when oxygen became a necessity. We were really close. Too close. Unbelievably close. Yeah, I'm really dying here. Stay still, Paige. Stay. But it was so hard to stay still while Emily was cuddling into my side. What was this strange feeling? Why do I keep on feeling this funny pull? It wasn't funny at all.

Emily's bubbling laughter right beside me made me groan internally at how tortuous this was. Her proximity to me was already driving me insane, and now I've got to deal with this melodic wind chime laughter? This is so unfair. I could slightly feel Emily's heartbeat against my arm, and my eyes closed at the part of me that found this closeness pleasant and disagreeable all at the same time.

"Are you okay?" I heard Emily whispered next to my ear, and I opened my eyes to look down at her and found her staring right back at me.

"Yeah, I'm fine." I said after pursing my lips together. Her doe eyes were too adorable for words, and I felt my breath caught in my throat when I saw her eyes flicker to my lips momentarily before she brought her gaze back up to meet mine. Emily then bit her bottom lip while the rest of her features showed contemplation for a decision she was making inside of her head. I couldn't move from where I sat, and I could only hope that God was on my side and let me get through this without messing things up between us. Emily's eyes bore into mine for a while and just when I thought she was about to speak, she tore her eyes away from me and went back to watching the movie as she repositioned her head on my shoulder. I let out a quick sigh of relief before I glanced around the room to see if we'd attracted any attention. Luckily, no one had noticed, seeing that Spencer was trying not to look so miserable in the armchair while Aria and Hanna continued to laugh at the funny but violent incidents that ensued in the haunted mansion. My eyes trailed over to Emily momentarily, staring at the top of her head and wondering what was going through her mind earlier. How was it that I could feel so tense yet at ease around her like this? Nothing seemed to make sense to me any more when it came to Emily. She was one of my closest friends now, and I really didn't want anything to get in-between us.

I've never met anyone as kind and sweet as Emily Fields, and I don't think I'd ever get over losing her as my friend. Emily was the type of person who could even make flowers grows when she casts one quick glance their way. Emily challenged me in all aspects of my life and made me want to become a better person. She always made sure I know that she was there for me, and I'd never have to be afraid to tell her anything. Emily made me feel fearless.

Emily was the very reason why I believed in something I don't know, because right at this moment as I sit here with her cuddling into me, she makes it so easy for me to trust this feeling she's making me feel.

I know this because I could feel her guiding me with the beating of her heart.

That was simply all I needed to not be afraid.

Disclaimers: I do not own Pretty Little Liars.