Emily Thorne sleeps with Daniel Grayson on a warm summer night after a charity function. He peels a gold dress which is the height of fashion from her frame and does his very best to make her body sing with pleasure. Everything about this night is going exactly as planned.
It's important to stick to the plan.
As Daniel slumbers beside her, Emily stares into the darkness and wonders what it would be like to take someone into her body for whom she actually felt some sort of passion.
* * *
Amanda Clarke wakes up in the middle of the night, the darkness pressing in around her. She jolts straight up in bed, jostling the person beside her, unsure who the sleeping man is, where she is, who she is. She waits for the memories to go away, repeats to herself that there will be no orderlies coming into the room to forcibly put her back to sleep, no guards to shout at her for disrupting the other juveniles.
She is technically safe but Amanda knows better than anyone how relative safety is.
Amanda climbs out of Emily's bed, pads barefoot down the stairs to the box which holds the remains of her life. On paper, amongst people, Amanda Clarke no longer exists.
But the universe forgot to tell Amanda Clarke to disappear inside Emily Thorne, so she just kept on existing.
* * *
Emily is at a party at the Grayson mansion, smiling blandly as the rich and ruthless trade banal stories about vacations and stock tips, gossip about someone's daughter being sent to rehab; inevitably the conversation turns to Lydia's suicide, and Emily feels her stomach clench even as she forces her body to stay relaxed.
Nolan meets her gaze from across the room, and Emily deliberately looks away, dismissing him. She does not care what promises Nolan made to David Clarke; this is not his fight, and she will not allow his misplaced guilt over Lydia's death to touch her while she's working.
Emily's first and only loyalty is to the man whose life was taken, systemically destroyed by the people he trusted and the woman he loved; she does not have time to feel sorry for a woman who was an accessory to the murder of David Clarke.
Sympathy is a gift only the innocent deserve, and Lydia Davis was not innocent.
* * *
Amanda sits on the porch of The Stowaway sipping a drink as she waits for Ashley. When she feels the wet nose against her thigh, Amanda smiles, scratching the top of Sammy's head as he lays it in her lap. She remembers the rush of pure joy she felt the first time she ever saw Sammy, the feel of his tongue against her face; she buries her face in his soft, gold fur, the last living, breathing reminder of Amanda Clarke's life.
“I think Sammy's stalking you,” Jack announces as he comes up onto the porch, a broken leash in his hand.
“I could be stalked by worse.”
Jack hesitates for a moment before dropping into the chair opposite of her, playfully ordering Sammy to his side; the dog doesn't budge, trying to burrow his head into the curve of her stomach the way he used to, and Amanda feels emotion rising in her throat, a hard lump which threatens to unravel her. She tells Sammy to go to Jack, and he reluctantly obeys, prompting Jack to laugh, the same laugh she remembers from running on the beach as children.
She glances out towards the water, at the Amanda bobbing in the ocean, and she knows Sammy is not the only person who remembers Amanda Clarke, who misses Amanda.
Longing is an emotion Amanda forces herself not to deal in, but, as Jack playfully threatens to trade Sammy in for a cat, she cannot help but want this life.
* * *
Daniel Grayson proposes to Emily Thorne in front of the very best of Hampton society. She isn't as stunned as she pretends to be, but there is still surprise in her blood; despite all of her intricate planning, she had predicted it would take more time to earn Daniel's absolute love. As she agrees and grins as he slides a diamond even more ostentatious than Victoria's upon her finger, Emily spots Jack and Nolan across the terrace. Jack smiles sadly, dropping his gaze to his glass of champagne, while Nolan glowers; Emily can practically hear the scoff he is letting out as she accepts Victoria's cool embrace.
“To the future Mrs. Grayson!” Conrad toasts, and Emily leans her head against Daniel's shoulder, hoping to convey the right amount of shyness and happiness.
It should sound strange, the idea of turning Emily Thorne into Emily Grayson, but if Emily knows anything absolutely, it is how unbearably easy it is to shed a name, shed an identity, shed a life and become someone else.
She sheds her skin like a snake and slithers between the monsters who made her one too.
* * *
Amanda Clarke used to go to her father's grave every week after she was first released, but she has not made the trip since becoming Emily Thorne, fiance of Daniel Grayson.
She dresses in all black, forever mourning, her hair held back in a lopsided ponytail, the only hairstyle her father's unpracticed fingers could ever master after her mother's death; the ring Daniel put on Emily's finger is in her pocket. As she crests the hill where her parents' rest, Amanda sees a man standing over the grave, fresh flowers resting upon the stone garden Amanda had installed years earlier. She sidles up to him, setting her own flowers upon the decorative stones, kissing her fingertips and pressing them against the marble.
“Did you pay for the headstone?”Amanda asks as she rises, remembering the small stone which had once marked her mother's grave, remembering the mentions in articles of an unmarked grave for the terrorist David Clarke.
Nolan shrugs. “No one should be forgotten.”
Amanda turns her eyes on him, glaring. “I wouldn't have forgotten him.”
“No, you definitely wouldn't have.”
They stand in silence for a few moments before Amanda inquires, “Do you bring flowers every year?”
“Standing order with the florist; they're delivered every week. But I bring them myself today.” Nolan tucks his hands into his pockets, offering, “I visited him every month while he was in prison. I was the one who claimed his body when the government was just going to burn it. Believe it or not, Amanda, I really loved your dad. He was the best guy I knew.”
She wants to reprimand him for calling her by her old name, by the name she can barely stand to breathe aloud, but she can't; she can't deny who she is today as she stands before the man who only ever wanted to protect her. The thumb of her left hand traces the infinity symbol on her wrist, the same symbol carved into the marble between her parents' names.
“Thank you for that,” she offers instead, letting softness enter her voice, dropping her guard for just this conversation, letting Nolan see the part of her she doesn't want to exist anymore. “Thank you for standing by him.”
He meets her gaze unnervingly. “I don't betray people, Amanda.”
She blinks, nods distractedly. Smiling sadly, she says, “I'll see you later, Nolan,” pressing one last kiss to the marble before heading back up the hill to the fake life waiting on the other side.
Later, when she sees Nolan at the party Victoria is hosting, he smirks and makes a crack about the size of her engagement ring, says “Emily” like it is a curse.
Emily is a curse.
But it is Amanda's curse, the burden she bears willingly and freely, and, no matter how much Nolan Ross loved David Clarke, he will never understand her quest, how it eats away at her in the middle of the night, how it consumes her until there is nothing left but bitterness and bile.
But he is also the only person who knows she was once Amanda Clarke, was once David Clarke's daughter, was once going to be someone else entirely, so she doesn't really mind how he hangs around, how he seems to like her in spite of and because of who she is and pretends to be, how he has entangled himself in her lives, both fake and real.
Amanda Clarke and Emily Thorne are not sure they can tell the difference anymore.
They aren't sure it matters anyway; if they have learned anything, it is every person in the Hamptons lives a double life too.