Caleb calls to say that he’s going to be staying in California for a lot longer than expected.
“I know I said I’d come back, but she wants me to stay here. I really like them, Hanna.”
He at least has the good grace to sound extremely regretful, almost like he’s crying again. It’s not like she can really be mad at him. This is his family, and he deserves to be happy. And anyway, Hanna had a feeling this was coming.
Caleb tries to apologize a few hundred times, but Hanna just tells him it’s okay and wishes him good luck with the rest of his life. He tells her he loves her at the end.
“I know,” she says, and hangs up. Then she curls up into a ball at the bottom of the steps and sobs to the point where she almost throws up.
That’s exactly how Emily finds her when she comes home almost an hour later. Emily’s eyes go wide and she drops her bag in front of the door, rushing over to kneel in front of Hanna. She puts her hands on either side of Hanna’s face and asks her what happened. It’s all Hanna can do to choke out his name as an explanation before she falls into Emily’s arms and starts sobbing anew.
Somehow Emily manages to get Hanna upstairs and into their bedroom. Once Hanna is lying in a ball on the bed, Emily disappears for a moment and returns with a glass of water. She doesn’t try to get Hanna to drink it now, just sets it on the nightstand and climbs into bed beside her. Hanna feels herself being wrapped up in strong arms, smells Emily’s perfume when she buries her head in the girl’s chest.
Hanna doesn’t know how long they stay like that, but it’s long enough for her to eventually stop crying and breathe properly again. She lifts her head out of Emily’s chest just enough to look up at her. Emily’s face is creased with that familiar look of empathetic pain, as if she can feel just how much Hanna is hurting. Hanna loves her for it—beautiful, sweet Emily, who has always been there for her no matter what. Hanna wonders how Ali could have ever toyed with Emily the way that she did, feels a wave of fierce protectiveness come over her that is very out of place right now.
Without another thought, she tilts her head forward and presses her lips to Emily’s. It’s a sloppy kiss, salty from Hanna’s tears and certainly not one of her best, but it’s warm and comforting in a way that Hanna wasn’t expecting.
Emily doesn’t look upset when they pull away, just licks the salt from her lips and smiles sweetly. Hanna knows that Emily would allow her friends to use her for just about anything. It makes her feel guilty and sad, and she puts her face in Emily’s neck and silently thanks whatever force it was that brought Emily into their lives. Even it was Alison Dilaurentis.
Hanna stays home from school the next day—a “mental health day” her mother calls it. Emily tells her to call if she needs anything, promises to pick up Hanna’s missed assignments, and kisses the top of her head before she leaves. The gesture makes Hanna’s heart hurt in ways she can’t describe.
They start spending more time with each other than they do with anyone else. Emily doesn’t really have a girlfriend right now and Hanna certainly doesn’t have a boyfriend, so more often than not they end up staying in at night, studying together and watching terrible action movies and those awful horror films that Emily loves so much. Hanna almost always ends up curled into Emily by the end of it. Emily always lets her, and strokes her hair in a way that makes the gaping hole in Hanna’s chest seem a little bit smaller.
Emily never presses Hanna about how she’s feeling like Spencer and Aria and her mom do. She lets Hanna talk in her own time and always stops what she’s doing to listen when Hanna starts in about something.
“What Alison did to you was awful,” Hanna declares one evening after they’ve stuffed themselves on Chinese food. They’re watching “Dancing with the Stars” on Hanna’s bed, and Hanna’s got her head lying in Emily’s lap. When Emily doesn’t respond, Hanna turns her head to look up at her. Emily is staring at the television as if she didn’t hear anything, but Hanna can tell by the way her jaw is clenched that she did. “I would never do that to you, you know.”
Emily’s dark eyes finally flicker down to look into Hanna’s and soften into something that looks like trust.
“I know. You’re not her,” Emily says softly. “I love you for it.”
They spend the rest of the evening with their fingers laced together and Emily’s other hand combing gently through Hanna’s hair.
She realizes one day that it doesn’t really hurt anymore. She’s not sure when it happened, but she can think about Caleb now without feeling like her heart is going to burst inside of her chest. It makes her really happy, and she decides to wait for Emily outside of her class to tell her the good news.
“I feel like I can breathe again,” she says as they walk past the benches in the quad.
“That’s great, Hanna,” Emily says, face lit up in a blinding smile. “I’m so happy for you.”
“It’s because of you,” she tells her, and then she’s leaning up to press a soft, earnest kiss to Emily’s lips. Emily’s mouth hangs open slightly and her cheeks are dark red with blush, but Hanna just smiles. “Thank you.”
She leaves Emily gaping after her while she walks off to math class, a small grin plastered to her face the whole time.
Hanna remembers unbidden one morning while she’s getting dressed how Emily used to tell her she looked beautiful when no one else would. Alison was always eager to remind her that her weight made her look disgusting. Spencer and Aria would never dare say anything so mean, but they never told her she was beautiful either.
Emily did, though. She would compliment Hanna on her outfits in the morning during homeroom, and anytime Ali would make some remark about Hefty Hanna, Emily would lean over and whisper in her ear.
“I think you’re beautiful. Don’t listen to her.”
Hanna doesn’t know why it didn’t mean anything to her then, but the memories bring tears to her eyes and she suddenly loves Emily just a little bit more.
It becomes a regular thing without her really intending it to, this waiting for Emily outside of all of her classes. Emily has taken to scanning the hallways for her whenever she walks out, and her mouth always curls up into a shy smile whenever their eyes meet. Hanna knows that smile, has seen it before directed at people like Maya and Samara and Alison. She knows what it means when Emily smiles at a girl like that, and even though she thinks it should scare her, it actually makes her really glad that she gets to have Emily look at her like that.
They go to a cheesy romantic comedy at the theater, and Hanna can’t even remember the name of it because she spends the majority of the time watching Emily instead of the movie. Emily is the kind of girl who finds things funny that aren’t meant to be, yet still turns to mush during the cute romantic parts. Hanna thinks it’s absolutely adorable, and every time Emily laughs it makes her stomach twist in a very good way.
Emily notices about halfway through that Hanna has been pretty much staring at her the whole time. She turns to look at Hanna with a confused smile. Hanna leans forward without hesitation and kisses Emily with intent, her hand resting on Emily’s cheek. If Emily hesitates, it’s only for a moment, and then her lips are sliding against Hanna’s. Hanna pokes her tongue out to taste them and comes away with something like sweet mint.
“Hanna,” Emily breathes into her mouth once they part. But Hanna just smiles, shakes her head, and places one last chaste kiss on the corner of Emily’s mouth before turning to watch the movie. She feels Emily looking at her for a long time after, so she reaches out and tangles their fingers together. Emily eventually turns back to the movie, and when Hanna gives her hand a light squeeze, Emily squeezes back.
Making out with Emily Fields is not like anything Hanna has ever experienced before. Emily is never too soft or too forceful with her. She seems to be able to gage Hanna’s needs before their mouths even meet, and adjusts her kisses accordingly. Her touches have a way of letting Hanna know she’s wanted without ever making her feel like something is expected of her that she might not be ready for.
It’s the way that Emily looks at her afterwards that really gets her, though. The way her dark eyes crackle with want, but her cheeks are flushed and her smile is shy. The sight of it makes Hanna lean in and kiss her all over again.
She’s not really sure what this is, but Emily never asks or presses for more. She lets Hanna lead, and Hanna, for once in her life, doesn’t overthink. She lets things happen as they feel right—from making out in her room when no one is home, to holding hands under their desk in biology, to stealing kisses in the girls’ bathroom, to offering Emily her jacket when she shivers as they walk down the street and putting her arm around her instead when Emily refuses. One day Emily sits next to her at one of the tables in the quad and hands Hanna the coffee she bought her, and Hanna kisses Emily in front of Spencer and Aria without even thinking about it. She only realizes what she’s done once she sees the look of caution on Emily’s face, and the look of absolute shock on Spencer and Aria’s.
“Problem?” Hanna asks with a bite of attitude, looking at the girls across from her like they’re idiots.
“We’re so discussing this later,” Spencer says, and Hanna just rolls her eyes. She can’t ignore the look of pure elation on Emily’s face, though, and soon she’s grinning without meaning to, sitting closer to Emily than is strictly necessary and holding her hand under the table.
Some idiot jock makes the mistake of making a snide homophobic comment in Emily’s direction when Hanna is nearby. Hanna whips around so fast that it should make her dizzy and stalks over to him, jabbing a finger into his beefy chest and threatening to cut his balls off and donate them to the chemistry department if he ever talks to her girlfriend like that again.
Emily drags her off into the bathroom immediately and Hanna is pretty sure she’s going to get yelled at now for embarrassing her or something, but instead she’s shoved into a stall and kissed senseless.
“Your protective streak is so fucking hot,” Emily breathes hotly into her ear, and Hanna is pretty sure she’s never been so wet in her life.
“We need to go home now,” Hanna says shakily, and Emily agrees, so they sprint out to Emily’s car and head home. She barely has a chance to shut the front door before Emily is tugging her upstairs and practically throwing her onto the bed.
“I really want to fuck you right now,” Emily says, and she’s straddling Hanna’s waist with her knees so Hanna can’t really think that clearly, but she knows that she’s definitely tired of waiting.
Emily quickly discovers that Hanna is really, really loud in bed.
Maybe their first time isn’t the typical romantic coupling that most girls dream of, but they have plenty of times after that. It really amazes Hanna sometimes how Emily can be so urgent and sexy and dirty, and then turn around the next day and be so sweet and gentle and loving. Hanna doesn’t really mind which version of Emily she gets; she loves them both, and Emily never fails to make her soar in any situation.
They’re actually cooking tonight, making pasta because Emily loves it and she doesn’t mind making it, and Hanna is bored so she decides to help. She’s draining the spaghetti when she says it.
“I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you.”
Emily looks up from the stove where she’s stirring the sauce. For a second, Hanna is afraid that maybe that was the wrong thing to say. But then a slow smile spreads across Emily’s face.
“I know,” she says simply. “I love you, too.” And then she goes back to stirring her sauce like nothing ever happened.
It’s perfect, in Hanna’s mind. She looks out the window and thinks she can almost make out Ali’s face in the reflection.
You could have had this, she thinks. You could have had this amazing girl all to yourself. But I’m glad you didn’t. I’m glad you didn’t get to break her like you tried to break me.
When she blinks, Alison’s face is gone and Emily is asking her to set the table. Hanna just smiles and does as she’s asked.