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I is for Identity

Title: I is for Identity
Fandom: Pretty Little Liars
Characters: Paige McCullers. Mentions of Emily and Alison.
Pairings: Paige/Emily
Rating: PG
Warnings: Spoilers through S3
Summary: Written for the A-Z challenge at 1_million_words. Paige struggles to accept her own identity and come out to her family.

Her father had been channel surfing one day, and had happened to switch on some show called Queer as Folk. It could only have been on for a couple of seconds before Nick McCullers switched over to yet another channel, muttering about how he didn’t want that sort of thing in his house. “It’s against God’s will,” he had said when Paige had protested, saying she might have wanted to watch it.

In that moment, Paige determined that she would never tell her father the truth.

She still had no idea how Alison had found out. Paige had only just been coming to understand it herself at the time. But when Paige read the note that was supposedly from Emily, the one that talked about how she had these feelings for Paige but had been scared to admit to them up to now and didn’t want Ben finding out, Paige finally began to feel like she wasn’t alone any more. She had someone she could share her feelings with, someone she could talk to about her struggle to work up the courage to come out to her family. Because she understood that her decision never to come out to her parents had been a knee jerk reaction; she couldn’t live this lie for the rest of her life. Maybe Emily was feeling the same way, and this was something they could go through together.

Paige kept telling herself this right up until Alison DiLaurentis approached her, admitted she had written the letter and threatened to show it to her father.

She didn’t know why she had even allowed herself to believe it. Why would Emily be interested in her, after all? Someone in that group of friends would never look twice at the likes of Paige.

The next day when they were back at school, Paige had seen Alison and Emily in the corridor, laughing about something, and had immediately come to the conclusion that she was the butt of the joke. Alison had glanced up, smirked at Paige before leading Emily away. Emily later said that she couldn’t remember that specific day, but that she had never laughed at Paige with Alison so they must have been talking about something else. But at the time, Paige had assumed that Emily had been in on the plot with Alison and they were laughing at her together.

Paige tried to steer clear of Alison and her group of friends as far as possible after that. But she hadn’t been able to resist giving Ali that kick to the shoulders that day on the soccer field. The sports arenas were about the only places where Ali didn’t rule. Even if Coach had any suspicion that it hadn’t been an accidental kick, she wasn’t going to do anything about it. She needed Paige out there in the pool, she didn’t need Alison for anything. So even if she had her suspicions, she probably wouldn’t investigate that hard. Out there with the swim team, she was somebody rather than the nobody the student body saw her as on dry land, she was Paige, not Pigskin.

In the water, she had her own identity.

When Alison DiLaurentis went missing, Paige finally felt that she could breathe again. The first few weeks, Paige kept expecting Alison to walk in as though nothing had ever happened, or more likely, to make a grand entrance into school one day with no other explanation apart from to say “Did you miss me?” and walk away with a wink for Emily as she left. Over time, although no one dared say it, it became clear that she wasn’t coming back. After a while, Paige felt more confident to approach her classmates and strike up conversations, and even develop friendships of sorts. Since she had brought Rosewood High some success with her swimming, it was easier for her to shake off the name Pigskin than it was for, say, Lucas Gottesman to lose Hermy the Hermaphrodite.

And as long as she kept to superficial chat, things were fine. But then people started asking questions about her, things like what guys she liked. In the end, Paige had just blurted out something about Sean Ackard. Half their grade liked him, the other half liked his best friend Noel Kahn. None of Paige’s friends questioned it. Besides, everyone knew he and Hanna Marin were hot and heavy and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future, so it was a safe lie to tell. She could talk, but not have to follow through on anything.

Her new friends bought it. But Paige was always aware that what they were seeing was the smokescreen she put up for everyone, not the real Paige, and she started to wonder whether any of these friendships were real after all. How could other people get to know her when she wasn’t even sure she knew herself?

When Maya St Germain joined their class, Paige didn’t take much notice of her at first. Any of the attention that would normally have been given to the new kid in school was pretty much pushed to one side by the news that Alison DiLaurentis’s body had been found buried in her own garden. So Paige thought nothing of Maya until she found out that Maya and Emily were together. In some ways, this made what Paige still perceived as Emily’s actions in going along with Alison’s joke seem worse. If Emily really was gay, then she obviously had been going through some of the same things as Paige had, and yet she still felt she could play that joke.

Then one day, Maya wasn’t coming to their school any more, and Paige heard a rumour that she’d been caught with a joint and her parents had shipped her off to some weird rehab place. While she wouldn’t have ordinarily cared about Maya one way or the other, Maya not being the kind of person that appealed to Paige, for one moment Paige wondered whether this development meant that she might stand a chance with Emily after all. Then she shoved it from her mind, remembering the day she had watched Emily laughing with Alison. Someone like that wasn’t someone she wanted to be with.

But over time, Paige began to wonder whether she had misjudged Emily. If Emily really wanted to shaft Paige, all she had to do was tell the whole truth about what Paige had said to her about which team she really played for, or to tell Coach about how Paige had held her head under the water. One word from Emily, and Paige could have been off the team. Instead, she chose to keep quiet, and she was even willing to try and keep things amicable with Paige after the embarrassing scene when her father had kicked off in front of the whole school and Mr. Fitz had to take him somewhere to defuse the situation.

Emily may have been one of Alison’s friends, but she wasn’t Alison. She had an identity of her own, and Paige realised that she hadn’t taken that into account when she began to form the negative opinion she had of her. And over time, she realised that she had reacted so negatively to Emily after Alison’s letter because of the strong feelings she had struggled to admit even to herself that she had for her.

The night when Paige and Emily should have gone to the concert, Paige had initially kicked herself for the way she’d suggested that one of her guy friends also go so that it wouldn’t look like a date. At first, she thought to herself that she could have just told her parents that she was going with Emily and let them think that it was just as friends, and they probably wouldn’t have questioned it. But then, Paige realised that that was her being cowardly too. She wished she could have been as brave as Emily, coming out to her family. Emily had told her that her own mother had reacted badly at first and only really started supporting her after the incident with Paige’s father, but they had got past that now and Pam had accepted her, and Emily was sure that Paige’s parents would do the same in the end. But Paige wasn’t so sure, and in the end, her decision to remain in the closet for longer was what pushed them apart.

When Paige finally made the decision to come out to her parents, she imagined as she did so that Emily was by her side, giving her the confidence to be proud of her own identity, to do what she should have done long ago. The world would finally see the real Paige McCullers, she would no longer be living a lie.

She just wished her lie hadn’t cost her Emily. Maya was back now, they appeared to be making a go of it. But Paige was not going to give up hope. Maybe one day, she and Emily would be able to get back together, and Emily would get to be with the real Paige.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 15th, 2014 10:51 am (UTC)
Absolutely AWSOME new chapter in this series!!
May. 16th, 2014 11:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Next up is friendship fic with Lucas and Holden. I am wondering though what I was thinking in deciding L is for Legend was going to be post-Ravenswood Caleb without having actually seen Ravenswood - hopefully I won't really need it for writing about his reaction to first meeting Ali.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


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