Chapter One: The Wine Glass
While Piper paced back and forth across their make-out spot a pillow of smoke trailed the ashes at her cigarette. Smoking wasn't normally her thing but it felt appropriate right now. It calmed her nerves and dropped some of the stress off her back thus for that reason it was worth the potential risks of yellow fingernails and emphysema. Zack did it too and it worked for him. Right now Piper needed the relief. There hadn't been this much anxiety roiling in her since her iPod was stolen at the batting cage downtown. This wasn't like that though, this wasn't like mulling over a lost musical marvel or a dead pet or something. This was her preparing to cut the head off the past five months of dating, kisses and presents.
While the minutes rolled by she puffed the cigarette into plundered stub so she tossed the shrivelled end from the lips, where it joined the pile of sixteen littering the grass underneath her shoes. In her haste Piper immediately went for the second pack in the back pocket of her jeans only to find that it was empty -- so she threw that away too.
Without her smokes and nary a vodka bottle in sight, Piper took to admiring her surroundings for a new distraction. It was their make out spot, right in the back of Bierce-Holland Park. A tiny little dell shielded by towering oak trees and trimmed hedges. For some reason not many people knew about it so Piper often brought her dates here if there was nowhere else they could go, but once she met Kristen it became their place and no one else's.
Then it all came flooding in for her. The moment Piper thought of Kristen all the celluloid moments of their relationship struck up a dirge. A procession of lofty images; that mushy, almost dopey smile Kristen sent her over a shared basket of chilli fries last Tuesday, that warm and loving hug of encouragement she gave her whilst teaching her to skate. Kristen was a special girl. A hell of a lot of people, male and female, would've killed to be in Piper's doc Martens.
They certainly wouldn't have understood why she would be breaking up with Kristen.
Well, that was the plan. However the moment Piper stopped smoking and started thinking, and all those images of heir lives together made themselves known, all that she had done to psych herself up into finally doing this, to be fair to Kristen and tell her that it was over, was quickly coming undone. After what happened last week dumping Kristen was the smart thing, the fair thing, the right thing to do; but it took Piper all of five minutes to realize that she was going to chicken out.
Hearing her name called out so suddenly made her jump but the next thing she knew her girlfriend of five months had bounded up to her and wrapped her up in one of those big, gushing embraces Kristen was so popular for, and more sweetly she added a loving kiss. Kristen's hand seized into the back of Piper's cropped black hair and she passionately brought their lips to each other, whilst the hand she had at Piper's back smoothly traced its way southward. That palpable feeling of Kristen's French tips gliding down the small of her back made her shiver a little, ever so slightly, but not with pleasure or excitement -- not anymore. Piper couldn't remember the last time Kristen's touch had made her feel... anything. In fact she was actually a little relieved when Kristen finally broke their kiss. They were so close now, close enough to feel Kristen's breath tickling her moistened lips, close enough to take in the jasmine scent of her hair; and yet nothing.
"Hey, you..." said the blonde lushly, boasting that habitual 24-carat smile. "God, I missed you so damn much. The next time my folks go away for the weekend I have to take you with me. If I could hide you in my purse I would`ve."
Piper licked her lips. "...Kristen, we need to talk."
"Oh Baby, not now," at that point she pulled that Louis Vuitton bag of hers off her left shoulder (Bowling Montaigne Gm or something like that) and removed something. A red and pretentiously velvet box. Just the sight of it made Piper sigh, a sigh that Kristen was characteristically oblivious to. Nothing could rob her of her pearly white smile whilst she softly whispered, "I got you something..."
As if that wasn't obvious.
"You know, you didn't need to get me anything," explained the brunette.
By its Epi leather straps Kristen swiftly tugged her bag back onto her shoulder. "I know I didn't have to but I wanted to. You know how special you are to me, Piper. I couldn't stop thinking about you all weekend."
Just hearing that sent Piper terse with discomfort.
"Close your eyes, okay?"
As much as she didn't want to, as much as she wanted to put and end to this all and be straight with Kristen, Piper acquiesced. Ignoring the tension in her stomach she slipped shut her weary russet eyes and let the blonde girl do as she pleased. At first there was silence -- then a giddy chuckle -- right before Piper heard the loud snap of a opened box and an accompanying metallic jingle. What she felt next was Kristen rolling up the sleeve of her jeans jacket and fastening something to her wrist, which already prickled with Goosebumps from the slight chill in the air. When she opened her eyes what she saw was a glimmering silver love bracelet encrusted with five deeply pronounced diamonds. In all its gaudy glitter it made the nine or so rings Piper was wearing all look cheaper than a 20 cent cheeseburger.
This wasn't the first such `present' Kristen bought for her but its sheer extravagance left Piper speechless none the less.
Kristen's smile was expectant. "Well? Do you like it? It's Cartier."
How was she even supposed to answer something like that? Of course she didn't. It was like Kristen didn't know her. Piper could only look at something like this and wonder how many Sierra Leonean kids had had their limbs chopped off to get the stones for it. But of course that was never something she could've said to her face so her only respite was to avoid saying so.
"How much did this cost?" She asked, trying her damned hardest not to sound, by any length, ungrateful. Fortunately Piper hadn't done that because the next thing she knew Kristen had her hands possessively stationed at her hips again.
"It doesn't matter how much it was, okay? You know I like buying you nice things. I just want you to know how serious I am about you, Piper. You mean everything to me."
This was precisely what Piper did not want to hear -- Kristen saying emotional things like that. They hadn't shared the Big L, `love', yet, but you didn't need any insight to see that that was where Kristen was headed. Piper could see it in her eyes, her voice and in all that histrionic overexcitement; this blonde heiress was falling in love with her. An internal commanding voice (with James Earl Jones-like presence and tonal force) was screaming indelicately "Don't wuss out this time, Piper McCullough! Break up with her! Grow a fucking backbone!" but the longer she looked into those bright blue eyes of Kristen's the more she realized how impossible this situation was.
None of it had been planned. Kristen was an All-American dream; sexy, rich and discreet. Despite her numerous faults she was a genuinely compassionate and sensitive girl who just happened to be gay. There were some really good times between them too. When Piper first met Kristen she really wanted to give this whole commitment thing a try, even though they lived miles apart and went to two completely different schools, but that was five months ago, before...
No. She couldn't think about that. Today was about Kristen, about being fair to her, not about... that. Piper could NOT think about that right now. Just doing so would make every wit and sense she was trying to amass implode on her, and in their place would reign those bittersweet moments of rapture, ready to send her off into private delirium and cloud every other thought she could summon.
Even so, for the plainest of reasons, though Piper tried and tried and tried to make herself do the right thing, she just couldn't break up with Kristen. It wasn't because she was the selfish and egotistical bitch people might've thought she was; it was because she couldn't bear the idea of hurting this girl. Kristen was such a sweetheart and so undeserving of it. Up until now she had been the only girl Piper really cared about and despite how little they had in common, she wanted them to be friends no matter what. How would any of that be possible if she dumped the Kristen and broke her heart? Piper imagined herself choking on the guilt. So she did what she knew she was always going to have done no matter what she told herself -- and swore off breaking up with Kristen `till another day. Maybe there would be a better day than this. Maybe a better opportunity would offer itself up. Piper had to `settle' for that.
Funnily enough she'd told herself the same thing three days ago... and the day before that one... as well as the day before that.
Kristen wanted them to spend the rest of the day together and although they had school tomorrow she was sure her folks would allow it. According to her they had `lots of things to catch up on' since she'd been away with her father for the weekend. Honestly Piper was glad to have her away for a couple days because it meant a long overdue break from this tiresome sport of pretending to harbour feelings for the girl. But now that she was back Kristen was itching to exploit their time together; first by taking Piper to the movies then for a meal or something. Piper dreaded that. The last time they'd been to a restaurant together it was a steakhouse and she'd spent half the night not trying to heave from the overpowering stench of cooked beef fouling up the air -- her girlfriend had somehow forgotten that she was a vegetarian. After reminding her of that disastrous date she and Kristen agreed on a less offending Italian place instead. She wanted to change her clothes though. All her smoking in the park earlier had rubbed off on her threads.
The heiress drove Piper home and stole a discreet kiss goodbye for herself before she peeling off down the asphalt to get ready for later.
Piper exhaled bitterly on her way up her stoop. It was such an asshat thing to do to be leading Kristen on like this that it actually depressed her. In spite of that though when the McCullough girl twisted her key into the lock her thoughts took a turn elsewhere. Even on the drive back here Piper's thoughts strayed to her. The teenage hung up her jacket and stepped the lounge knowing full well she`d be there... and so she was.
With a copy of the Washington Post spread open in front of her (its headlines naturally dominated by the newly elected 44th POTUS), one lengthy leg crossed over the other, and her beautiful golden-brown hair tied into a ponytail; she sat quietly on the edge of their sofa gradually thumbing through the pages. Her glistening grey eyes slowly tottered from left to right, studying the page, her luscious peach-tinted lips absently moving as she read. Her name was Meredith or sometimes even "Merry", the 38-year old woman who happened to be the real reason Piper felt nothing for Kristen.
Piper bit her lip longingly the instant she saw her. Even in those lame indoor sweats she always wore, Meredith somehow she managed to look as graceful and tantalising, and for the longest moment she wished she could just stand there and absorb Meredith as she read that newspaper, undisturbed by anyone else. Then of course, thanks to the thin walls of this house, the silence was broken by the sound of Mrs. Hoch (their elderly next door neighbour) slamming her front door on her way. Meredith's haunting doe eyes lunged up from the pages of her paper.
Across that quiet room their eyes met, and for a instant that felt as long as an eternity, neither strayed, until Piper gave her the smallest of smiles.
"Hey," she uttered softly.
What there was of Meredith's previous calmness vanished. Piper could only watch her as she took a deep and nervous breath, as if to steady herself, before responding with an anti-climatic "Hi."
And then silence.
Why did things have to be so awkward between them now? When Meredith noiselessly returned to her newspaper after giving her nothing more than that cheap-ass "Hi", a now frustrated Piper considered simply going to her room. And then--
"How was school?"
Thus Piper was smiling again. Not just that, she was even bold enough to take a seat next to Meredith. It didn`t matter that the older women froze up when she did, it didn't matter that her heart was beating so hard she thought she might faint; just to hear the caring, intellectual lilt of Meredith`s voice was enough to block it all out. "It was fine. There's just a few more papers I have prepare for. Nothing big."
"Oh," she whispered. "I see."
Piper went about breaking it. "When do you start your new job?"
"...It isn't a job. It only lasts a few weeks until Mr. Froebel is back."
In other circumstances Piper would've spoken against this, the prospect of Meredith (as a substitute teacher) coming to her high school and working there. These days the idea just excited her. To be near Meredith outside of this damned house...the thought was intoxicating. She could see her now in one of those fitting pantsuits she liked, making a smooth gait down the dim halls of her school, her honey-brown hair pouring down her shoulders and her analytical stare scrutinizing the jocks and stoners who'd likely fawn over her. Piper was so caught up in the idea that she almost failed to notice her trembling hand as it absently reached out for Meredith's creamy knee. She quickly stopped herself.
However, she couldn't stop herself from speaking.
The older woman looked up, noting Piper's nickname for her: Merry. "...Yes?"
All the thoughts and urges and longings wanted to voice themselves there. Piper breathed deep as the butterflies began fluttering in her stomach, while through the corner of her eyes she saw Meredith's concern for her. There was a warm look in the grey of her eyes, one of curiousness and genuine interest but far beyond that Piper saw everything that she was currently feeling -- tension, fear, confusion, and more than anything else, longing. Seeing that made Piper struggle not to stop herself. She struggled not to simply reach out and shove their mouths together, to plant kisses up and down her neck, to plunge her pink tongue down the cleft of her Merry's lovely breasts, to do everything they had done to each other last week. Then she noticed the one thing that could dampen her mood, sober her feelings, temper her lusts.
Meredith's wedding ring.
It was modest and thus beautiful, given and received in love, nothing like the bombastic piece of crap around Piper's wrist right now. That was all it took to calm her down -- that and the guilt it provoked in her -- guilt enough to make her back away, unwillingly, from the one person she wanted most to be close to.
"Piper?" Meredith said, her eyes following her across the room.
The younger one faked a smile. "It's nothing. I'm fine. I`m going upstairs, okay?"
She didn't even give her the chance to reply, or hear her, or ask her what she wanted for dinner -- instead she strode out of the lounge and jogged upstairs to her bedroom, where she threw herself onto her bed. Piper exhaled deeply, ran her trimmed fingernails through her hair, and willed herself to breathe normally. It took all of six minutes for Piper to make that dull ache between her hips go away.
It was when she finally calmed down that she noticed a treasured something standing atop the coffee table astride her pillow; Meredith's wine glass from last Friday. It still had the seductive kiss of her beige lipstick painted on its rim. Little droplets of Cabernet Sauvignon remained, pooled and hardened, at the bottom of the glass. Over the weekend Piper intentionally kept it there as a reminder. Nothing cut more deeply than to hear the words "It was a mistake" and "lets keep this between us". They hurt so much Piper might have forgotten what they did. That was impossible though when she had that wine glass to remind her of the night. It was like a trophy of some sort that Piper couldn't stop staring at. It said to her somehow "It did happen, no matter what she says" and for that reason alone she was in love with it.
There might have been other things she could have done, like checking her e-mails or updating her blog or thinking up some way to finally dump Kristen, but she didn't get the chance to consider it -- because seconds later her cell phone buzzed at her trouser leg. Sighing, Piper drew it from her pocket. "Hello?"
"Hey, it's me."
Noting the cool baritone voice on the other end of the line, Piper smiled a bit. "Zack. Hey."
"Are you alright?" He asked. "You sound a little pissy."
"No, it's nothing. Just got a lot on my mind is all," although that wasn't completely true it didn't matter much to Piper whenever she spoke with Zack. They were best friends and had been since they were kids, and was one of only three people outside her family who knew that she was gay. "What's the noise...?"
He was positively bursting at the seems to tell her. "I got us the gig!"
"You did? Wow, that's... really great."
"...Okay. Try not to get too excited over there..."
Great, now everyone was picking up on her apathy. "Sorry. It's great, Zack. That's awesome news. So did you tell Ashley yet?"
"Nah, I can't raise her. Last time we talked she said she was gonna finish up that English paper Mr. Froebel's been moaning on and on about. Hey, now that I think about it, isn't Mrs. C gonna take over for him next week?"
Just having Zack bring Meredith up made Piper send an aching glance at the wine glass again. Its kiss-shaped smudge of milk-chocolaty lipstick teased her.
"Yeah, she is," replied the girl, trying to keep up. "Ashley knows too."
"Man, I sure don't envy you. Don't you think it's gonna be weird having your step-mom teaching at our school for a month? If you screw up at all your Dad is totally gonna find out."
Not once did Piper take her eyes from the wine glass; but whilst watching it, that earlier sense of guilt welled up inside her again. She knew there were many names, faces and lives to be hurt by what she was feeling but to her nothing could've felt more natural. Even as she tried to maintain her conversation with Zack she struggled not to slip into her own thoughts yet desire to do that proved fruitless. Piper knew she was falling in love harder and faster than she ever would've thought possible, and she knew just as clearly that there was nothing that could be done to stop it; not her fears, not the age gap, not her current `All-American' girlfriend, nor even the most sobering truth of them all.
She'd slept with her Father's wife.
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