10

Did you ever love somebody so much that you would be willing to take the fall for them? That's what it's like for Jason and Paige. Both are involved in a mistake they have made but both are willing to take the blame for everything involved. Who will accept the guilt and the price to be paid?

I'll Be Guilty

"Paige, are you absolutely positive?" Jason asked her after a long, uncomfortable silence.

"I'm sure Jason. There's no mistake; this is really happening," she replied, her voice quivering and her hands trembling as she ran them through her shoulder length reddish blonde hair.

I think there's a problem here.

And I don't think I know what's going on.

Myriad emotions were present amongst the blue and green swirls of color in Jason's eyes, fear being the most prevalent. His muscular frame was rigid and his knuckles, always the hue of his natural, warm tan, were a pale bone white.

"I can't be a father Paige," he stated simply and Paige felt both her emotions and her body crumble with fatigue.

But suddenly I'm all alone

I'm holding something we both own

And I'm not sure I fired this smoking gun.

"I know Jason and I didn't expect you to be. I just thought that the honorable thing to do would be to tell you that I was pregnant," she told him. She had only found out yesterday and she had felt her entire world crash down around her when she heard the diagnosis from the campus clinic doctor. She wasn't sure what she would do – whether she would keep the baby, give it up, or… well, she didn't want to think about the other option.

"What are you going to do about it?" Jason questioned, running his hand through his golden chin length hair.

"I'm not sure yet," she told him honestly. She had been mulling the options over and over and over in her mind, but could not decide on any course of action. "What do you think I should do?"

His head snapped sharply in her direction and he looked her over for a moment, trying to determine whether or not she was serious. "You really want my opinion?" he was surprised.

"Jason Browning! Of course I do!" she scolded, slapping him on the knee – just as she had done so many times when they were dating. They locked eyes for a moment and awkwardness passed between them as they recognized the familiar gesture. They had been apart for quite awhile now and, despite the one night they had shared together after the party, they were still broken up; Jason had even acquired himself another girlfriend in the past couple of weeks. But now, suddenly, they were thrown back together to face the consequences of one evening's drunken mistake. Paige still cared for Jason and this situation hurt her deeply because she was messing up his life. She realized that no matter what the decision was, she would accept it and allow him his chance to achieve his dreams.

Stand back, stand back

Let them hit me with the heat.

Stand back, stand back

While they're all condemning me.

"Do you think we could wait a few days to talk about that?" he implored. "I still need to wrap my head around this."

"Sure," she told him with her strained voice.

"Could you also keep this quiet? Since we don't know what we're going to do yet, there's really no point in saying anything to anyone, is there?"

"No. You're right. I guess there's not,"

"You haven't told anyone have you?"

She nodded her head as her held back tears were slowly spilling over her lashes. "I told Erianthe," she answered, forcing her sob to the back of her throat. The strain was finally wearing her down and she suddenly felt too exhausted to move. "She was there with me when I went to the clinic," Paige explained. "But don't worry," she assuaged, "she won't say anything."

Another few moments of silence passed between them and with a gruff goodbye, Jason left the tiny campus apartment that Paige shared with Erianthe. Paige stood alone for a moment and then walked to the darkness of her room, not bothering to turn on the light as she entered the small space. With a cry, she collapsed onto her soft twin bed and hugged her pillow closer to her allowing her fiery tears to dampen the fabric of her pillowcase. Releasing her grip on the pillow, she turned over onto her back and as she situated herself, her hand came to rest on her stomach. The tiny little life inside of her belonged to her and Jason, the man she had loved since their senior year of high school. A few months ago, she would have hesitantly welcomed this life-altering complication. A few months ago, Jason was still in love with her and they were planning to spend the rest of their lives together. While it would have been a difficulty then, it would have been all right because she and Jason were together. Now that they were apart, everything was so wrong. Paige allowed herself to be consumed by these thoughts and musings until finally, with a frustrated cry, she threw her comforter over her head and permitted a welcoming sleep to take her.

She heard the whispers. She saw the gazes and the judgmental glares. Paige heard the gossip about her. "Paige Rosetti is pregnant" could be heard spouting from lips and dripping from tongues when they thought she was out of earshot. It did not bother her because it was, of course, a fact. What distressed her were the ideas and various theories as to the identity of the father of her baby. Many guessed that Jason had been unfaithful to his girlfriend and that he and Paige were having secret, sordid rendezvous while others surmised that it was just some guy she had a thing with. Some of the rumors even became so outrageous and tawdry as to suggest that Paige had been involved in some clandestine affair with her academic advisor, a professor, or a high-ranking faculty member. While Paige longed to dispel these rumors and set the record straight with the truth, she knew that she could not, even if she hadn't promised Jason to remain silent for the time being. Her mentioning him fathering her child before she knew what she was going to do could mean absolute adversity and grief for Jason in terms of the social life of their small college campus. Stand back, stand back

Not a word of it I'll breathe

I'll be…guilty if you want me to be.

It baffled Paige how people had found out. Sure, the usual buzz around campus was worse than small town gossip, but she could not figure out how people had come to know this information. An extra five minutes in front of her full-length mirror had confirmed her paranoia of the swelling of her stomach to be negative. Her abdomen was still flat and her clothes still fit quite normally. There were no outward signs of her pregnancy to betray her. It wasn't until she was meeting Erianthe for lunch in the small coffeehouse at the edge of campus that Paige learned how the truth had been set free.

What makes secrets hard to keep?

Is the silence like a prison?

"How are you feeling?" Erianthe asked as they sat down at their favorite blue and yellow mosaic tiled table. Taking a sip of her herbal tea, Paige gave a small nod.

"I'm okay," she informed her roommate. "Have you heard people talking about me?"

Erianthe was reluctant to reply, but she answered in the affirmative. "You're a popular person in the English department Paige. It's natural that people are going to be talking about you and this is something big that everybody wants to talk about,"

"I know, but what I can't fathom is how everyone knows about it. I just found out two days ago myself and suddenly the entire English department knows. You didn't tell anyone did you?" Erianthe shot her a mean but also hurt look. "Sorry. I shouldn't have asked that. I know that you wouldn't do it," Paige apologized.

"Could Jason have said something?" Erianthe mused as she twirled a strand of her satiny raven black hair around one of her long, delicate, porcelain fingers.

"No," Paige disagreed vehemently, "He didn't want me to say anything to anyone until we decided what we're going to do so he wouldn't have said anything about it to anyone."

"So," a voice came from behind them, "Jason Browning is the father." Erianthe and Paige whirled around to see Bailey Shannon standing just inside the doorway.

"What are you talking about Bailey?" Erianthe demanded.

"Oh come on Erianthe. Everyone in the department knows that Paige was stupid enough to get pregnant, but until now no one knew who the father was," Bailey said.

"How does everyone know?" Erianthe asked.

"I told them," Bailey replied immediately without any hint of shame in her voice.

As angry as Paige could have been, Erianthe was worse. Paige saw the color of her roommate's Spanish hued skin suddenly erupt from her warm brown tan to flaming red to match the fire in her eyes. Placing a steady hand on Erianthe's arm to restrain her, Paige calmly asked, "And how did you find out?"
"You forget that my second job is at the clinic. Not all of us have rich parents to pay for everything – the rest of us have to work for our tuition," she answered in a bitter tone. Paige sighed a stressed and sad sigh. She knew that Bailey had held some sort of grudge against her ever since their sophomore year, but she didn't know that she held such contempt for her. Paige imagined Bailey nearly combusting with her hatred and excitement and running out to tell whoever would listen.

Is it all about escape?

Or do secrets want to be famous like everyone else?

With a smug sneer, Bailey walked toward the counter and cheerfully ordered her latte.

"This is bad," Paige murmured under her breath. "This is very bad." She dropped her head into her hands.

"Bad doesn't begin to describe it. It's going to get ugly. I've got Western Literature with her this afternoon and if she thinks that she can sneak away and avoid the unbelievable pain that's coming to her…" Erianthe trailed off and Paige shuddered to think of what sort of retribution she was plotting in the dark and sadistic portion of her mind.

"That too, but I wasn't thinking about that,"

"What were you thinking is bad? Besides me ripping out her heart and showing it to her before she dies, that is,"

"Think about it Erianthe. Who is Bailey dating? Palmer Woods. Who does Jason work with?"
"Palmer," she stated with a horrified look slowing crawling to her countenance.

"Exactly. And who did Palmer used to be engaged to?"
The look on Erianthe's face suddenly grew worse. "Hannah, Jason's new girlfriend."

Paige nodded her head as Erianthe repeated, "This is bad. This is very bad."

It had started innocently enough. After their weekly basketball game, the guys were trading the stereotypical locker room stories and banter but Jason was oblivious to their comments and remained as distracted as he had been on the court. It was the mention of Paige's name that snapped him out of his stupor and he was grateful the guys were too busy with their conversation to notice his tension and paranoia.

"Browning, you heard that Paige is pregnant didn't you?" Palmer asked.

"Oh is she?" he said in a neutral tone, praying that his voice did not betray him.

"Yeah, Bailey was telling me last night. How do you feel about that dude? I know that she was your girl and everything,"

Jason was quiet for a long time before he responded. "Paige and I aren't together anymore. It doesn't matter what I think."

"It doesn't bother you at all that another guy was with your ex and got her pregnant?"

"No," Jason said in an irritated tone. He was really getting annoyed with Palmer's question. "Why should it bother me?"
"I'll tell you man, Hannah and I broke off our engagement a long time ago, but it still bothers me sometimes to think she's with you now. It's got nothing to do with you or how I feel about Bailey, but it gets to me occasionally," Palmer told him, "So I could understand you being upset about Paige having a baby with another guy."
"Well, I'm not," he said brusquely, roughly unzipping his duffel bag.

"Really? Okay then. Any idea who the guy could be?"
"Nope. No idea," Jason lied.

"How about Michael? He's always hanging around with Paige," Palmer suggested.

"It's not Michael."

"You think Justin then?"

"No, of course it's not Justin. He and Paige barely know each other,"

"She and Alex have gotten pretty close lately, maybe…"

"No! It's not Alex and it's not Justin or Michael either!" Jason exclaimed, throwing his sweat sodden tank top across the locker room.

"How do you know?" Palmer questioned with a look of feigned innocence on his face.

"Because it's me! I'm the guy. I'm the one that got Paige pregnant!" Jason knocked his bag off into the floor and flopped down onto one of the locker room benches. He pounded both fists down on the hard wood of the seat and then placed his face in his hands for a moment to calm down and regain his composure.

"You knew," Jason stated to Palmer.

Palmer nodded and pulled on his clean T-shirt. He then sat down next to Jason as he was asked how he came to his knowledge.

"Bailey told me. You forget that my girlfriend is gossip central on this campus," he replied. "I wanted you to admit it to yourself and figure out what you wanted to do because you have very little time to decide,"

"I know, Paige won't be pregnant for long,"

"No, that's not what I'm talking about. You better figure something out because my girlfriend will be having lunch with your girlfriend here in t-minus two hours and Bailey is bound to tell her," Palmer explained as he laced up his dark brown boots.

"Oh my God," Jason groaned. "I hadn't even thought about Hannah. This is going to kill her."

"Yeah, so do something fast, buddy because this is about to get really bad for everybody," Palmer advised. He squeezed Jason's shoulder and flashed him an encouraging smile that sparkled nearly as much as his bright green eyes. With that, he grabbed his belongings and left the locker room, leaving Jason alone to fight the tears that were brimming in his eyes.

Paige saw her when she was leaving the Business Building. She wasn't sure if she should greet Hannah or not. She normally did, but now things were different and Paige was not sure if it would be appropriate. Despite her best judgment, Paige raised her hand and waved.

"Hannah," she said by way of salutation and Paige was nearly wounded by the daggers shooting from Hannah's honey brown eyes.

"Paige," Hannah replied coldly.

"How is your class going?" Paige asked, nervously shifting her backpack to her other shoulder.

"Don't bother with the politeness Paige," Hannah said harshly. "I know what happened with you and Jason. He told me last night."

Paige breathed a sigh, although not one of relief. Sure, now Hannah knew, but it didn't make things any better.

"Were you really so desperate that you had to seduce him like that? You know very well that there are plenty of guys on this campus that would kill for a chance to be with you and yet you had to go crawling back to Jason. You've told me so many times yourself that you never go back and that things were really over between you and Jason, so why would you do this?"

Paige was stunned into silence and she couldn't even bring herself to form a coherent thought.

At first I was relieved you told

The truth was out but then I heard

And I know that's not how the story goes.

Suddenly she realized that Jason had twisted the events to save his own skin. Despite the flaring anger that was surging through her body, Paige bit her tongue and refused herself the delight of speaking the truth and really ruining things for Jason. She still cared for him too much to wreck his life any more than she had.

Stand back, stand back

Let them hit me with the heat

Stand back, stand back

While they're all condemning me

Stand back, stand back

Not a word of it I'll breathe

I'll be…guilty if you want me to be.

With an evil glare full to the brim with hatred, Hannah whirled around and quickly made her way into the building. As she watched Hannah's retreating form, Paige suddenly had a moment of lucidity which was rarity in these past few days she had been in a hazy fog. She knew what she was going to do.

Jason was startled out of his slumber on his overstuffed couch by the hard pounding at the door. He took a quick second to shake himself out of his dazed state and wiping a tired hand over his bleary, icy cerulean eyes, he shuffled toward the door. Standing in the hallway of his apartment building was an angry looking Paige, her arms crossed at her chest and tapping the heel of her dress shoes on the onyx tile. Now, Jason was not exactly the smartest man in the world, nor had he ever been, but he was intelligent enough to know that Paige was not in a mood to be trifled with and so with respect to this intelligence, he kept his mouth shut and allowed her to jump right in and release her rage which he was positive was because of him.

Maybe I've done something wrong

"You told Hannah that I seduced you?" she said through her tightly clenched jaw. Her beautiful porcelain skin was becoming a shade slightly lighter than the crimson of her skirt and Jason, in his wisdom, knew that subterfuge would do him no good. Mutely, he shook his head and stepped aside to allow her to enter his domicile. Paige took a couple of steps in, but never moved more than a few feet away from the threshold.

"I didn't get myself pregnant Jason! This isn't entirely my fault you know!" her voice raising an octave above her normal speaking pitch. "Now, we both were there. We might have been drunk, but we were both there. Why are you trying to put this all off on me?" she demanded.

Whether it was because of his grogginess from sleep or his shame at his actions, Jason had no reply and remained silent, his head hung low with his chin nearly touching his muscular chest.

I'll admit I had a hand in this

Now it seems I'll need them both

Just to catch the blame that I've been thrown

"I made my decision Jason. I know what I'm doing about the baby," she informed him, crossing her arms again in a defiant motion.

"Don't you want to know what I want to do?" he questioned, his first words through the entire exchange.

"No Jason, I don't. You can keep your life just the way that it is and you won't have me around messing it up anymore since that's all I ever did when we were together,"

"Paige, don't…" his voice choked out.

"No," she interrupted, "keep your conscious clear Jason. Forget about me, forget about the baby. Forget about it all."

Since your mirror treats you well

And you can sleep with all you've done

Paige twisted around quickly and rapidly moved through the hallway, her heels clicking and echoing down the corridor as she walked away.

"Paige!" he cried, finally snapping out of his stupor. She did not halt or even slow down at the sound of his voice. "Paige!" he yelled again, his voice aching with longing. He then found the ability to move his legs again and he managed to bound out of his apartment. He caught up with her as she was descending to the landing between the first and second floors. Grabbing the post, she tried to hurry around the turn and Jason grasped her wrist just as her foot reached the top step of the last flight. "Paige, wait!" he implored but she yanked her wrist out of his tight fist and suddenly everything became a horrible nightmare. It was almost as if everything was happening in slow motion. As she spun out of his hold, Paige's heel slipped off the edge of the step and she began falling backwards on the stone staircase.

Jason screamed out her name and was at the last step in a flash. Carefully, he turned her limp body and cradled her head in his lap. He could feel the knot already forming underneath her mass of strawberry blonde strands and he choked back his emotions as he whipped his cellular phone out of his back pocket and called the campus emergency number.

Jason did not even really know if he had given the squad the correct information or even if he had really done it at all, but after an interminable amount of time, the paramedics arrived and set about preparing to put her in the ambulance at the curb. Reluctantly, he unlocked his intertwined fingers from her hand and allowed them to take her to the nearby hospital.

Everything became a blur, but somehow Jason Browning made his way up to the county hospital. He entered the emergency exam room some time later to find Paige still unconscious and her face contorted in an expression of pain.

"Sir?" the nurse said to him as he stood at the bedside.

"Yes?" he replied without even looking at her.

"Are you related to the patient?" she questioned.

"No I'm not," he answered after a moment.

"Then I can't allow you to be here at this time…" she began.

"I'm the baby's father," Jason explained, his eyes never moving from Paige's face. It struck him how much easier it was to admit each time he said it. He couldn't understand how it had been so difficult for him before, but it was comforting to him to know how pleased Paige would be with his acceptance of this child. At least, he hoped she would be pleased. There were so many things that needed to be worked out, but that would happen later. All that matter right now was Paige waking up to see him there.

"I see," the nurse stated. "Well, I still need you out of here. Doctor's orders."

With extreme reluctance, Jason placed a gentle kiss on the warm flesh of her cheek and then inched toward the door, finally tearing his blue eyes from Paige's sleeping countenance – his Sleeping Beauty, he thought briefly. When Jason stepped out into the corridor, he glanced through the window and felt his heart soar as he saw Paige's beautiful emerald green eyes flutter open slowly. He heard his name called and looked to see Erianthe striding toward him. "What the hell happened?" Erianthe demanded roughly.

"She pulled away from me and fell down the stairs. I was trying to stop her from leaving, but she jerked away from me and fell," he explained.

"This was your fault?"

"I guess…" he felt a fresh stab of pain at Erianthe's words. His guilt had been horrible earlier, but Erianthe had a way of making it come back anew and ten times worse. "But it's okay," he said soft, more to assure himself than to lessen Erianthe's rage. "Everything will be fine and Paige and I are going to have a baby."

"What are you talking about Jason?" said Erianthe harshly, angrily "Paige had a miscarriage."

At that moment, the nurse walked out of Paige's room and Erianthe breezed past her. Jason saw her plop down on the edge of the hospital bed and take Paige's head to her shoulder, slowly rocking her back and forth. Paige's arms were wrapped gently around her now empty, vacant abdomen that heaved with her stifled sobs and her tears were running down her porcelain cheeks. Jason sunk to his knees in the hallway, just outside the exam room door and grasped at his long golden tresses with angry, trembling hands. Erianthe was right. It was his fault – all of it. He knew that it was the truth. His failure to take care of Paige from the beginning had been the cause of this accident earlier in the evening. Had he been able to step up and take care of Paige a mere four days ago, when she needed him most, they would still have their baby. Life would have been more difficult than he could have imagined for some period of time, but he would still have Paige and he would still have his child instead of the guilt, the regret, the remorse, and the utter despair. He would do everything in his power to make this right, but he knew that it would take time to heal this pain and desolation and it was all because he was guilty.

And since I really care about you still.

Stand back, stand back

Let them hit me with the heat

Stand back, stand back

While they're all condemning me

Stand back, stand back

Not a word of it I'll breathe

I'll be… guilty if you want me to be.

If you want me to I'll be guilty.

Epilogue

Jason jerked upright from the couch, his heart pounding rapidly – almost in time to the pounding at his door.

"Jason Alexander Browning! Open this door!" Paige called from the hallway. Quickly, he bolted to the door and nearly ripped it off its hinges as he flung it open.

"You told Hannah that I seduced you," she said through her tightly clenched jaw. Alarm bells were ringing in the vaults of his mind and a horrified look struck his eyes during this terrible moment of déjà vu. He quickly grabbed her arm, pulled her inside, and slammed the door.

"I know. I was a jackass," he began speaking rapidly.

"Damn right," she interrupted and crossed her arms in a huffy gesture.

"I wanted to have everything with Hannah and so I lied and tried to push the blame all on you," he moved on without missing a beat. "But I don't want that. I want what I had with you, Paige. Everything was right when we were together and I'm tired of being wrong. This fits," he took her hand in his, "we fit."

Her expression was unreadable but he plowed on, hardly stopping to breathe. "I am so sorry Paige. I've been absolutely terrible about this whole thing and I've gone about it all wrong but I want to make this work," he emphasized his words by gently placing his free hand on her stomach, " – you, me, and our baby. I love you Paige."

Her head was hung low and she was silent. Jason had run out of things to say and felt it was unnecessary to belabor the point. Paige placed her hand on his on her abdomen and when their eyes met, her emerald orbs were brimming with crystalline tears.

"I came over here so angry and I was going to tell you to forget about me and the baby and I was planning to raise her by myself. But I can't be angry when you've just said everything I've been waiting to hear for months now," her tears were spilling down her face, yet she made no effort to wipe them away. With a happy sigh, Jason pulled her close to him and they clung tightly to each other. He kissed the top of her head and then placed his lips on her dampened cheeks, kissing her tears away.

Her fall had been a terrible dream, a nightmare, but it was one from which he had awakened. He found himself emerged from overwhelming shadows and embraced by glorious welcoming light. It wasn't his fault because it hadn't happened. He wasn't guilty, but he knew he would be for her, if she wanted.

"So I'm not messing up your life?" she questioned, "This isn't stealing you from your dreams?" Her biggest fear had been tying him down and taking away his freedom.

"How could it Paige? You're my life and my dreams," he answered sincerely.

With a beautiful, happy, and mildly embarrassed smile, Paige gave Jason another hug just to feel him in her arms again – a feeling that she had missed so much over the past few months. Feeling the same, Jason held her tightly in his embrace and they did not move for a long moment until Paige broke away from him. As they sat on the couch in his tiny living room, Paige thought to herself that she was overjoyed that Jason did not feel any obligation to her and that his actions were out of genuine love and affection, but she knew that even if he hadn't felt this way, she would have happily taken the blame for the wrong in his life. She would be guilty if he wanted her to be.

I'll be guilty if you want me to be.