"How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?"
-- The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers
Emily calls her, two days later. It's a rather ordinary Sunday, by all accounts. Paige has already heard the news by now, of course. Something this big, word was bound to travel fast. It's me, Emily says on the other end of the line, voice barely above a whisper. Can I come over? Please? I just need to -- She doesn't finish her sentence, just lapses into silence.
Of course you can come over. I'll be here.
They don't really talk. Paige's parents have left, thankfully; they'd left when Paige had told them that Emily was coming over. Which was for the best, really, all things considered. The things Paige's father had said about Emily a few months ago were still fresh in everyone's mind. Special treatment. God, it all seemed like such an awful joke now. It made Paige feel like throwing up.
Emily shows up half an hour later. She looks like she hasn't slept since the ball -- she probably hasn't. How could anyone? Paige is amazed that Emily's even been able to get out of bed. She can't even imagine what sort of state she'd be in, if the same thing were to happen to her. (She doesn't even want to think about it.)
Somehow, they find their way upstairs, sitting on Paige's bed.
Sorry, Emily says, after a long, long silence. Her head is against Paige's chest, one arm around Paige's waist. For coming over. I know it's -- well, I just had to get away from it all. From everyone. I couldn't deal with it. Sorry.
Paige strokes her hair. It's okay, really. I don't mind. You shouldn't have to deal with everything right now.
Emily starts to cry. Her fingers knit into Paige's shirt. She clings to Paige like a lifeline. Paige isn't sure what to do.
She just wishes she could fix things.
She knows things have changed between them. She just isn't sure how.
Don't worry. I'm here.
What about your other friends? Paige asks, two weeks later. Somehow, Paige's room has become their place; Emily says she likes it because it's so quiet. Sometimes they do homework together. Other times they just sit and talk. Most of the time, they stay in silence. Emily puts her head on Paige's shoulder and they they just sit like that.
Emily picks at a little tear in her jeans. They don't get it, she says, her tone distant. They don't know how to act around me. No one does.
They will. It just takes time.
She doesn't tell Emily that she doesn't know how to act around her either, it's just that she's just really good at faking it. She promised Emily that she would be there for her for whatever she needed. They could be friends, if that was what she wanted. Emily really needed a friend. Paige still remembers the way Emily smiled at her at the masquerade ball. That makes me really happy, she'd said, and moved over to put her hand on top of Paige's.
Emily falls asleep on her shoulder, after a little while. This has happened a few times now. Paige can't even imagine how exhausted Emily must be. She thinks Emily probably doesn't get any sleep at all. Paige knows she wouldn't. She presses a kiss to the top of Emily's head, leans back a little on the pillows nestled against her headboard.
Paige knows about grief transference. She learned about it in her elective Psychology class last term.
She knows it's why Emily kisses her, three days later.
(There's no excuse for why Paige kisses back.)
About the kiss, Emily starts. They're in Chemistry class.
Paige waves her off. Don't worry about it. We'll just pretend like it never happened.
She wants Emily to say that, the thing is, she doesn't want to forget it.
Emily just nods, opens her textbook
(She cries about it, later.)
(She is a terrible friend.)
She starts dating a girl from St. Agnes, a prep school two towns over. Kelsey. Cinnamon red hair and bright green eyes. Pale, freckled skin. She's the captain of her field hockey team and wants to go to Princeton. Her favorite drink is vodka and Red Bull.
And she is nothing like Emily. Not even a little.
It doesn't last.
A month passes. Then three. Four.
They sit on the edge of the pool, their feet in the water. They've taken up practicing laps after school. Pre-season still won't start for another few weeks, but it's nice to be back in the water again. It feels like an entire lifetime has passed since the state championship meet. Everything was so different then. Paige remembers glancing up at the stands and seeing Maya up there, holding a sign and cheering Emily on.
Paige had felt a sting then. She feels an even stronger one now.
I'm sorry, she says suddenly. She can feel sadness bubbling up inside her, spilling out. Her eyes burn with tears. I'm so sorry about everything.
Emily pulls her in for tight hug. It's okay, it's okay, she murmurs against Paige's shoulder, and it's so, so pathetic, because really, if anyone should be crying, it's Emily. She shouldn't have to be the one to comfort people -- least of all, Paige.
Paige laughs, more at herself than anything else. She sits back and wipes furiously at her eyes. Sorry, she says again, sniffing. I kind of suck.
Emily shakes her head. No, you don't. She smiles and moves forward. The kiss is light, hesitant. It only lasts for a few moments. Paige can barely breathe; her heart's lept to her throat.
She pulls back, brushes a loose strand of damp hair behind her ear. Looks anywhere but at Emily. I don't -- is it --
It's okay. Emily doesn't sound sad. Just sort of . . . hopeful. Like maybe things will turn out all right in the end. Like maybe they'll actually be okay. Maybe they could be happy again. This is what I want, Emily says. She shifts forward, cups Paige's face in her hands and kisses her again.
(She really loves Emily. She always has.)
(She doesn't try to be Maya. She can only be herself.)
(She thinks that might be good enough.)