Waking up the morning after his wedding day, JJ expected things to be clearer. But instead, he woke up alone, still baffled by his current situation. He was in a position he never thought he'd be in; forced to choose between his past and his future.
As he stared at his discarded tuxedo jacket across the room, a quick knock sounded on his front door. When it was apparent they weren't going away, he threw on a navy t-shirt with his sweatpants, treading to the front door of his apartment.
"Oh – hi." He said. Paige's smile fell a little at his lack of enthusiasm.
"Sorry I'm not Haley, but I thought you'd be a bit more excited to see your back-from-the-dead girlfriend again." He didn't have the energy to argue with her about it, not when he'd spent most of the night lying awake, his mind trying to process the day's events. Paige had gone to the Salem Inn shortly after Haley left, finally getting the hint that JJ needed some space, and that he couldn't take much more excitement. He was feeling better this morning, but he wasn't exactly up to matching Paige's energy yet.
"I'm sorry." He muttered. "Do you want some coffee?" Leaving the door open, JJ stumbled his way over to the coffee maker sitting on his counter. He couldn't help thinking back to when he'd bought it for Haley. He'd never been a huge coffee drinker himself, but Haley practically lived off of it. Right after she'd moved in, he realized that she was having to stop at the local coffee shop every morning to get her caffeine fix. In an attempt to make her feel more at home, he'd purchased the coffee maker for her and surprised her with it when she'd come home from work. That was one of the first nights he'd began to think of her as more than a temporary roommate.
Now, without Haley in the apartment, the coffee maker felt out of place.
"Yeah, thanks. Coffee would be great." Paige shut the door, sitting down on one of the chairs next to the couch. "Look, I know this must be overwhelming for you –"
"That's an understatement." JJ interrupted. "I need answers, Paige. My mind keeps spinning." He said, rubbing his hands over his face.
"I know. That's what I'm here to give you." Her dark eyes shone sympathetically. "What do you want to know first?" JJ poured the coffee into two mugs, and brought it over to the couch.
"I guess, just start from the beginning." Paige took a sip of her coffee and nodded.
"Okay, I can do that."
Paige opened her eyes, but all she could see was darkness in front of her. But it wasn't just that, something felt off with her. It felt like the darkness wasn't just surrounding her, but that it had invaded her mind, too. Kind of like a blank TV screen that hadn't been turned on in a while. She tried to sit up, but immediately felt woozy, and had to lower herself back down.
Just then a sliver of light appeared, growing as if a door was opening on the opposite side of the room.
"You're awake! How are you feeling?" The loud whisper sounded like it belonged to a woman. She could barely see them in the darkness, but the sliver of golden light seemed to reflect on a halo of light hair and a slim figure. "Oh, it's so dark in here," the voice said. Paige heard a pair of heels clacking on the concrete floor, followed by the flick of a light switch.
Paige squinted her eyes at the sudden brightness, the room now bathed in a soft light. She could see the woman better now, but she didn't recognize her. Her bright red dress coupled with her black heels and loose curls somehow made the room look dingier.
"Where…what-" Paige stammered, her voice coming out in a croak. She blinked her eyes a couple times, trying to clear her mind enough to talk, but her mouth felt like it had cotton in it.
"Here, let me get you something to drink." The woman said, gathering a cup of water from the side table. Taking a sip, Paige looked around the tiny room. Despite there being a bed, it was obvious that this room had not been intended as a bedroom. The walls were a grimy brown, and there was hardly any furniture or furnishings for the room. The bed she was currently occupying was more like a cot than any bed she'd ever seen, with only a white, threadbare blanket, and a small pillow under her head, probably thrown together last minute.
"You're probably wondering where you are and what you're doing here, and I'm here to answer all of your questions. But first you must answer one for me: what do you remember?" As the woman sat down on the edge of the cot, regarding Paige with a certain level of sympathy, Paige realized that she didn't even know her own name.
"I-I don't. I don't remember anything." Underneath the sympathy in the woman's eyes, she saw a spark of hope that hadn't been there before. Sympathy and hope – a very odd combination.
"Nothing? Are you sure?" she asked, resting her manicured hand over Paige's on the cot. Paige just nodded in response, her eyes beginning to well with tears out of fear. "Oh, don't cry sweetie. It's okay," the woman said. "The doctors said this might happen." She squeezed Paige's hand comfortingly. "I'm going to help you."
Paige rearranged the picture frames once more; she wanted everything to be perfect. Since she had woken up in the treatment center, what her and her mom now referred to as "The Warehouse," Paige had made significant strides in her recovery. Today was her mom's birthday, and it was their first celebration since Paige had been released from The Warehouse, and allowed to move into her mother's apartment nearby. Although it was still a little awkward between them, Paige felt that their relationship was growing, and she enjoyed having her mother here to help her remember her life before the accident.
Her mom had told her all about the tragic accident landing her in a coma for a month. Their house had burned down in a fire, and Paige had been severely injured when one of their bookcases had fallen, landing on top of Paige. Ultimately, she had ended up in a coma, and when the doctors at the hospital had told her mom they couldn't do anything more, her mom had found the treatment center. They had made sure Paige had everything she needed, and they'd taken care of her until she woke up. However, the injuries to her head and neck had been so severe that she'd woken up with amnesia. No one seemed to know when, or if, she would ever get any of her memories back, but for now her mom was working to fill her in on whatever Paige wanted to know. She was grateful to have such a loving and patient woman to take care of her.
Paige had been working all morning on the decorations while her mom was out at work, and looking around the apartment, she thought she'd done a decent job. She'd gathered some pictures they'd taken together since Paige had woken up from the coma and put them in frames, placing them all around the apartment, along with a few streamers and balloons. The best part though was the red velvet cake she'd baked for her, currently sitting on the countertop with the words "Happy Birthday" scrawled across the top in red frosting.
Hearing keys fumbling in the door, Paige made sure all the decorations were in place. Her mom had left for work before she woke up that morning, so she hadn't seen her yet.
"Happy birthday!" Paige announced, her arms out wide. Her mom's lips curved into a smile, their red color a perfect match for her dress.
"Oh sweetie, did you do all of this?" she asked. The large metal briefcase she was carrying made it more difficult for her to maneuver around the couch, but she managed, coming to wrap her arms around Paige. "You're so sweet."
"I just wanted to do something special for you. You've been so patient with me since everything happened." Paige watched her mother's face, something resembling guilt flashing across her features.
"That's my job isn't it?" She stroked Paige's hair with her comforting hand. "Now, what do you say we cut into this cake? It looks delicious."
Paige pressed the 'answer' button, her hands practically shaking in her distress. Sitting on the floor of her mom's bedroom in their apartment, her mom's voice came through her phone.
"Hi Paige! Sorry, but I think I might be a little late tonight. Something came up at work an-"
"Were you ever going to tell me?" Paige asked, her voice trembling. She heard hesitation on the end of the phone, followed by shuffling as if her mom were moving around.
"Sweetie, what are you talking about? Tell you what?" Her mom's voice poured out of the phone, her confusion hiding the fear Paige recognized. She hadn't expected her to come clean. Since when had she ever told the truth?
"I remembered. Everything."
"I'd gone into her bedroom that day to borrow one of her sweaters, but then I'd seen a red silk tie that she used as a belt for a dress she had. At first, I hadn't paid much attention to it, but my eyes seemed to keep coming back to it. After that, everything kind of came in flashes. The first thing I remembered was Ben's tie around my neck, and I didn't know what was happening. I thought I was going crazy because I didn't know this man, and I couldn't remember ever being strangled in my life. But then more memories started to flood in; and I remembered you, JJ. Of all the things Kristin had taken from me, I was the most upset at the time she'd taken away from us." The only visible sign of Paige's hurt that JJ could see was the way she clenched her jaw. He almost couldn't believe her story, but he knew Kristin. Kristin had always wanted a daughter, and she'd grabbed at her chance when she'd seen it. But had she never wondered what she was doing to Paige? To Paige's life? As if nearly dying wasn't traumatic enough, Kristin had tried to erase her life too.
"Paige – I'm so sorry. And I can't imagine how painful it is for you to relive all of it, but I appreciate you telling me." His heart constricted at what he had to say next. "But it doesn't change the fact that I thought you were dead. When I first found out, I didn't know how I was supposed to go on. I felt like no one could understand how hollow I felt inside." JJ felt those reminiscent pangs of loss rattle through his body at the memory.
"Then why don't you say you still love me? I still love you, and JJ, I'm not going to back down just because you don't want to hurt Haley's feelings. Not after everything I went through to come back to you." JJ was all too familiar with that fierce look in her eye, and he didn't doubt her words for a second. But this was about more than just hurting Haley's feelings, because if he hurt her, he knew that it would hurt him just the same. It was an impossible situation.
"It's not that I don't love you; I do. I'm just not sure that that love is in the same place it was five years ago. I had no other choice but to move on, Paige, and I wish you would see things from my perspective. I know that what you've been through has been terrible, but what I went through was also terrible. I thought I'd lost you forever, and I've had to deal with that loss for the past five years. Do you know how guilty I felt when I began developing feelings for Haley? Or even for experiencing any kind of happiness, knowing that I would've given anything to have you here to experience the same?" The gleam in Paige's dark eyes subsided a bit as her look grew softer. Relaxing his shoulders, JJ tried to push away those past emotions. He'd grown a lot since then, and he was in a much better place now, until Paige had showed up at his apartment, bringing the weight of those emotions back full force.
Paige reached her hand over to JJ's in understanding, its warmth soaking into his fingers.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't here. If I could go back and change it, you know that I would." JJ could feel the intensity punctuated in each word she said. "I'm just asking – if there's any chance at all – to give this a chance. Give us another chance. I just got you back, and I don't want to lose you again." Before JJ could think of a word to say, Paige's lips were sliding over his own, and all the memories of kissing her, holding her in his arms, flooded back to him.