Chapter Eleven: Homecoming

Yeah. Food was a visible difference.

Oh, there was more than that. The walls were pallid white and painted, unlike her house, the walls of which adorned by ornate wallpaper patterns. Those were soothing. They were pretty to look at when you were bored. Her Uncle Frank's walls however? Meh. Just meh. Not much more than meh. His rough leather couch wasn't comfortable eight. If anything it chafed like hell when she sat on that mo-fo.

There were more rooms, though. Frank had three bedrooms and he treated Piper to one, though it was mostly bare-bones right now, just a bed, a table, a wardrobe and a lacklustre windowsill. Not that windowsill's tended to be exciting, mind you.

But food was the biggest difference.

A disconsolate Piper sighed her way through a boring bowl of plain oats that tasted as bland as they looked and as dull as they smelt. Truth be said, her uncle couldn't cook for shit. Oh, he tried hard enough. Frank made the point of making his vegetarian niece a salad last night (with crotons and everything! Happy, happy! Joy, joy!). Unfortunately her dour appetite for it was further spoiled by the meaty stink of the pot roast he made for himself along with it.

It would take weeks to wash that retch-worthy stench off of her Redskins jersey.

Maybe there was a little prejudice on Piper's part though. Few non-professionals had the kind of culinary skills that Meredith did. You ate food that good for too long you forget how lame other people's cooking can be.

Piper felt a twinge. She wondered what Merry was doing right now while she sat here by her uncle's dining table on this boring Sunday morning. She was probably propped up on their couch, fuzzy pink slippers jutting off the armrest, luxuriously sipping java from her favourite coffee cup and reflecting on how wonderfully quiet things were now that her dead husband's baggage was out of the way. Maybe that asshole across the street, Mr. Douglass, who made a habit of stopping by their house every week since Terry died to check that things were okay, maybe he'd see his opening now. Maybe he'd come over and see Meredith all on her lonesome and give it a shot. Maybe she'd say "what the hell" and let his crown-balding ass jump her bones. Maybe they'd start a relationship. Maybe they'd get married. Maybe...

What the fuck is wrong with me? Piper thought. Why am I...?

"Piper, are you alright?"

She cranked up. Her Uncle Frank sat patiently waiting for an answer. A warm Cumberland sausage sat impaled upon the fork in his hand. It quivered next to his goatee. The smell of the meat made Piper's head swim (more than it already was, perhaps).

"Yeah, I'm... fine."

Frank was unconvinced. The way he sighed and ripped the head off his pork finger said so. He kept silent for a little while, as befitting his customarily taciturn disposition, refusing to take his eyes of his niece, until he finally said, "...Meredith called me last night."

"W-what did she say...?"

"She asked me how you were. I said you were doing fine and she pretty much left it at that."

"Oh. Okay."

A pause.

"Are gonna tell me what this is about?" Frank cut straight to the point. "What the hell is going on between you two? Did you have an argument or something?"

Piper wondered how he might react if she told him the truth. What would he think of her and Merry? Frank was a serious guy, a Republican, the hard nut of the McCullough family. If you juxtaposed him with his late brother you would have thought Frank was more the military type than Terry. As it happens he was a mechanic. A blue-collar, anti-bailout working man; bread and butter, the orthodox American proletariat.

He'd never understand.

"...It's nothing," Piper squirmed. The urge to lie was almost compulsive now but she was still fed up of doing that. All she could do was stall him. "Uncle Frank, can we not talk about this right now? I'm hungry."

"Oh no you're not." He threw a glance down at the lukewarm bowl on Piper's placemat. She shrugged and he sighed. So Frank set his fork down, took a pack of Luckies out his shirt pocket, slipped one between his lips, and extended the box to Piper. "...Here."

She blinked. "I can smoke around you?"

"It's not much of a secret. Even your Daddy knew. Meredith's the only one who doesn't."

Surprisingly enough she felt guilty about that. Nevertheless Piper cautiously took one between her fingers. Her eyes never left his, not even when Frank unfurled a lighter and fired up both. "...Uncle Frank, you know I'm only seventeen, right?"

"I read the newspapers. Aren't kids as young as thirteen having babies these days?" He quipped, waving the flame out. "Everybody's got bigger problems than some little girl's smoking habits. Besides... if you're ballsy enough to move out of your Mom's house, you're old enough to smoke in my book."

Piper frowned. "She's not my mother."

The older McCullough blew a loop of smoke into the air. "...Is that what this is about?"

Oh, okay. Now she saw what he was trying to do. Get her all relaxed with a cigarette (as if someone who voted for McCain would even approve of underage smoking) so she'd spill the shit about what went on between her and Meredith? Tch. There were a lot of things you could criticise Frank McCullough for but no one could question how earthily intelligent he was.

The rest of breakfast played out like that, them brooding together over their half-eaten breakfast and cigarettes, and Frank chipping at Piper every now and again to get to the bottom of things. Piper did eventually get bored of the standoff, by which time she'd ground her third cigarette butt into the ashtray, and retired to her room for the rest of the morning. The teenager slumped into her bed. Things were unmistakably humdrum at her Uncle Frank's. In her rush to leave home Piper only packed clothes. Everything else she loved, including her computer, her books and her CD collection, were left behind.

All she had for her personal entertainment were the dreary white walls and the equally pallid ceiling of her new bedroom. She huffed again. And then, with nothing to do, her mind went where it always did when Meredith wasn't around -- to Meredith.

The singer scowled. She dragged her legs into her stomach and wrapped her arms around them. She didn't want to think about her but she always ended up doing it. In her head she tried to recite song lyrics to avoid the incoming Merry invasion, like a child counting sheep to fall asleep.

Hell is for children... They shot Tupac and Biggie... Don't wanna be an American Idiot...

...but it didn't work. It didn't matter what lyrics Piper put in her head, they wouldn't push out Meredith. If anything, right now, she missed Merry more than ever. It was the first time in years that Piper awoke without expecting that woman's glorious smile for a morning greeting.

What was this? Why did she feel even lousier now that she left? Was this some bizarre kind of detox? Whatever it was, it was bugging the hell out of Piper. Her mind was beset with horrible thoughts -- like if she stayed away too long Merry would just forget about her and move on. And it wasn't as farfetched as it sounded. Piper thought about it all too rationally.

What was keeping Meredith in the McCullough family now?

Her Dad had been dead for a while. The mourning period was officially over. Without Piper there, what was to stop Merry from selling up and moving away? She always said she'd like to retire in the country, Dakota or some place. Even in this lame housing market that house would fetch the prettiest of pennies. What was stopping her?

Piper's cell phone went off. She jumped, forgetting that she set it to vibrate. The teen yanked it out of her jeans pocket and answered without even pausing to see who it was. "Yeah, hello?"

"Hello, Piper."


It was her. That balmy voice alone sent shivers down the Piper's spine. "...Hey."

"How are you?"

"I'm," She was doing terrible. She didn't want to be here. She wanted Merry over here on the first thing smoking with flowers, candy, and a South of Nowhere boxset, professing her undying love. Anything but these four fucking walls and their united colours of wax. "...I'm... doing good."

Enough with the fucking lies! Piper chided herself.

Meredith sighed on the phone call's other side. More than anything else she sounded tired. "...Sweetie, when are you coming home?"

"...I can't."

"Yes you can. Your room's still here, messy as ever, just the way you like it. This is where you should be. Here."

"With you?"

A pause. "...Yes."

Since Meredith took the bait Piper decided to try her luck. "You know what you have to do. Just say it and mean it and I'll come back. I'll come back running."

"Piper, please. You know we can't do this."

"Why? Why can't we? I told you I won't tell anyone."

She heard Merry sigh again. "Why are you being so difficult with me?"

"It's what I want, okay? You. You and me. If you don't want me then I-I-I just don't even know why we're still having this conversation."

"Piper, you KNOW how I feel, but-"

"But what...?"

The indecision was still there. It was heartening (in its own way) to know that Meredith was struggling in somehow, that this was no easier for her than it was for Piper, but all the girl could think of was... what was stopping them from being together?

"Piper," Meredith exhaled once more. "Please just come home. That's all I ask. Come home, sweetie."


Piper shook her head, utterly bemused. Meredith still couldn't do it. After EVERYTHING she said, after every chance she gave, serving herself up on a desperate plate, Meredith still wouldn't take her. "Goodbye, Merry."

She ended the call and switched her phone off before Meredith had time to call her back. It hadn't escaped her memory that Zack was going to call her later on, but Piper put that fact aside when she shoved her phone under pillow. She didn't even think she could muster the stomach to talk to someone else right now. Instead Piper curled up into herself again

and wiped the tears out of her eyes before they spilt. It was better this way. She'd get over Meredith somehow.



"Hey Ash, how's it going?"

Piper didn't always hug Ashley when they met up for school but that Monday morning she couldn't help herself. She dragged her duet partner into a bear hug and sighed, their puffy padded coats scuffling each other.

"Uh, Piper?" Ashley curled an eyebrow. "You know I'm straight, right?"

Piper let her go with a smile. Her slow breath was visible through the chill in air. "Sorry, I guess I just missed you guys. It's torture over at my uncle's."

"If you missed us," Zack put emphasis on the "us". "Then where the hell is my hug?"

Not to be a party pooper she hauled off and hugged him too. When they parted Piper shivered. It was cold out today and despite her coat, mittens, scarf and toque; she felt like a living popsicle. It didn't help that the bus she rode down here on (for two whole hours) had no fucking heating to speak of. Between that and the brutally loud alarm clock her Uncle Frank let wake her up, Piper was just relieved to be back on this side of DC.

The three friends stood in solidarity before the iron gates of their high school. Other students marched in together around them while they had yet to follow suit.

Though her teeth were chattering from the cold Ashley clobbered a question out. "How are things with Kristen?"

"She's g-good," Piper stammered. "I talked to her Saturday night. Her Dad is still m-mad with her over the whole disappearing act she did b-but he'll get over it. I think Kristen will too. Everything."

Ashley smiled. "That's cool. I'm glad."

"Guys, c-can we have this conversation inside before my ass freezes off?"

"Boy, you know you don't have an ass."

Yet it was much warmer inside. Unlike Washington buses, Washington high schools made heating the classrooms and hallways and labs a priority in cold weather. Well, the suburban ones did, at least. Piper, Zack and Ashley went straight for their lockers before their first class then retreated to a spot astride the vending machines to talk quietly. There were two jocks in the background throwing a football around and just begging for detention.

Ashley took her gloves off. "Are you going to tell us now or what?"

"It's not a big deal," Piper's eyes rolled. "I needed space."

"Piper, you hate it there, I can tell, and I don't get it. If you don't want to be there then why leave home in the first place? Is this about your step-mom finding out about Kristen or what?"

Piper didn't want to lie to her best friends anymore either but she couldn't inform Zack and Ashley of the realities anymore than she could with Frank. "Look guys, this is just something I need to do right now. That's where I need to be. Back me up, okay?"

"Well, it's not like we have any choice," Zack stuffed some art supplies into his duffel bag. "That's what best friends do."

And she was grateful for it. "...Thanks, guys."

They were about to head off to class when someone cast a shadow cast over the group. The three found Meredith standing behind them, slightly out of breath like she'd run to catch up with trio. The jocks throwing that football around cooled it down when they noticed her, but she didn't to notice them. Instead her silvery eyes went straight to Piper. The step-daughter trembled, silent, unable to look back. What would've been an uncomfortable silence was broken by Zack saying,

"Hey, Mrs. McCullough. How's it going?"

Meredith impatiently jutted a lock of hair behind her ear. "I'm fine, thank you, Zachary. Not to be rude, but could Piper and I talk in private for a second?"

Piper keenly felt her friends' eyes upon her as Meredith waited for an answer. Ashley said a brief "sure, I guess" and took Zack by the straps of his bag. They went off down the hallway together, dissolving into the foot traffic of over six dozen teenagers rushing all about before the last bell.

That left Piper and Meredith alone between the vending machines and the busy staircase leading up to the building's second floor. The loud shouts and chatter and laughter of all the students around them drowned out the likelihood of their words being overheard.

Piper tightened up. She stared at her doc Martens. They were still wet from the snow she waded through on the way in. Focusing on something so fundamentally and utterly unimportant helped steer Piper away from those desperate doe eyes Merry had.

"I called you twice last night." Meredith said. Finally.

Piper bit her lip. "...I didn't want to talk to you."

"So moving out wasn't enough, now we're supposed to ignore each other? That's your solution is it, just... to just shut me out of your life entirely?"

"...I guess so."



Then the bell rang. It always did. Piper shrugged. "...So are we done here?"

Meredith's eyes sharpened. "You know, for someone who wants to be treated like an adult, you're really not acting like one, Piper."

"I'm not the one who wanted it to be like this...! I want-"

But Piper quickly shut herself up when a geography teacher, Mr. Ellison, strode by. Too close by. With a briefcase swaying at his side his eyes briefly darted their direction, just as Meredith cast an eye over her shoulder.

Things might've been a lot different if that football those two jocks were playing with had hadn't come flying in from nowhere and knocked Mr. Ellison in the chest. He grunted and threw a furious glare towards them then yelled, "Summers! Anderson! See me after school!".

With a newly confiscated football in hand, Mr. Ellison stomped the rest of the way to his class.

"...We can't talk here," Meredith said swiftly. "I have a staff meeting at four. If you come by the house at six we can talk properly."

"...I don't want to talk anymore."

She turned to leave. The instant she did, the older woman took her by the wrist and pulled her right back. "Why are you behaving this way?" Meredith's fluffy voice was now a furious whisper. "This just isn't like you...!"

"Leave me alone, Meredith," Piper snatched her wrist back. "Just leave me alone."

Piper stalked off then, clutching her books to her chest like some shell-shocked pre-teen on her first day of school. She begged herself not to cry again, not here, at school, of all places. It was all she could do.


That cold Monday of school felt like a blur. Half the time Piper was hardly sure of what was going on around her. She was vaguely aware of it when her Math teacher asked her for the answer to a simple equation and partially aware of the derisive sniggers she got when she muddled it up, but it all seemed to unimportant and therefore... blurry.

At lunch it was too cold to go outside so she, Zack and Ashley ate indoors. In the old days, when they had to eat in because of bad weather, she and her two friends would find a discreet corner table from which Piper and Zack would ogle the cheerleader's table and debate which of whom was the hottest while Ashley would chide the pair over how equally pathetic they were. Today Piper barely strung two words together. Ashley led the forum for debate, talking about what homework she had yet to hand in or what she and Damien planned to do to each other that night, while Zack whaled on a pudding cup and objectified cheerleaders alone.

Classes after that felt just as remote. Piper didn't even try to keep up. It was a wonder no one noticed that she wasn't paying attention, lesson after lesson. When the final bell rang Piper didn't even feel relieved. She only made her way toward the bus stop and waited for a ride back across town to Uncle Frank's house of boredom.

Piper was cold. So cold that her nose turned red. She ignored it but just about had enough of her bearings to cuddle herself and bury her mouth in her scarf's fading warmth.

Then fate conspired for her in ways she'd never really understand.

It started when cold flecks of white tipped her skin, one after the other. Piper looked up from a cold cloud of her own visible breath and saw snow falling from a grey Washington sky. It wasn't the kind of snow that just fell for a little while and then passed, but the kind that dragged its ass and warranted thicker layers. The snow fell harder until it settled in the streets and slowed down the traffic, which inevitably delayed the bus by at least an hour.

Piper stood there grimly, the new level of coldness slapping sense into her, knocking her out of a day's worth of haze. If anything pissed her off more than having to wait hours for a bus that would likely be as cold within as it was without, it was the knowledge that all the bus would do is take her to her new, boring, miserable home all the way across town, so far from her friends, so far from...

Nah. No way. At the very least, Piper couldn't go back there with nothing to do. She couldn't. If she did all she'd end up doing would be thinking about Meredith, and that was painful enough already. What she really needed was something else to distract herself with. Something to do at her uncle's place. The girl then wracked her brain over mental coals until coming up with something, her mp3 player. It wasn't a "do" thing but it was enough. Why have silence sing her to sleep when she could replace that with Stevie Nicks?

The problem with the mp3 player was that it was back at the house.

Piper grumpily yanked her coat sleeve down and checked her watch. It was 4:53pm. Didn't Meredith say she had a staff meeting at four? If she ran home now she could probably grab it and leave before she came home. She still had her keys, after all. Piper weighed the pros and cons and decided that it was worth the risk. So the teenager carefully left the bus stop behind and walked all the way home, crunching snow beneath her boots and wondering which artist to listen to first.

Fifteen minutes later she was at her door. Piper dusted the chilly snow off her hat and shoulders, took out her keys and opened the door. She was surprised to find that it was warm inside. But why would it be? Hadn't it been empty since this morning or had Meredith forgotten to turn off the heating when she left for work?

Then a particular sound tickled the young woman's ears. Thin glass clicking with thicker glass. Piper hung her coat up, took off her mittens, scarf and hat, then stepped down the hall toward the lounge (which was where the sound was coming from). She opened the door slowly. To her utter surprise it was Meredith she found, draped over the couch. The black slingbacks she wore to school were on the floor. She'd thrown her jacket over an armchair. In one hand was a wine bottle and in the other a wine glass. Alcoholic red flowed free down the rim until not a drop was left. She muttered something that vaguely sounded like "bottom's up" and tossed it back.

A puzzled Piper watched Meredith's throat, the same throat she'd kissed again and again and again in her daydream and fantasies, bob up and down with each debilitating gulp.


Meredith tossed an unhappy smile her way. "...Piper? You came home, Piper?"

What the hell was THIS? The younger girl charged over to the couch and snatched the glass and the bottle (mutually empty) away from her. "What on earth are you doing?"

While Piper put them away Meredith found herself giggling oh so scathingly. "Not... very 'ladylike' is it? I, uh... I guess I don't do... "without you"... very well. But then... you know... if no one's here... who's there to make an effort for...?"

Piper stood back, shaken to the very tips of toes. She'd never seen Meredith like this before. Sad. Disconsolate. Lifeless, even. Those lovely silver eyes didn't sparkle anymore. Her smile was cold. Only seeing her like that made Piper's heart ache worse and without even knowing it she climbed onto the couch with her, folding her arms around her beautiful Merry and holding her close, closer than she ever wanted to hold anyone, so close you'd think she'd break if Piper let go.

"Merry, I'm so sorry," she sobbed. "I didn't mean to upset you... I didn't mean that..."

She didn't say anything at first. Meredith only sat there, her feet, ankles and shins folded underneath her, wordless, hugged to death by her step-daughter. But the words came over the coming moments, adding their gifts to a room affected only by Piper's whimpers.

"You're beautiful," Meredith blurted it out suddenly. Piper was only sure she heard right when the older woman gradually caressed the bangs out of her eyes. "I always... thought that. You don't know how much I think it."

Piper licked her salty tears off her lips. "...Y-Yeah?"

"It's... not new," Meredith's voice hitched. "The way I think about you... I mean." Then she looked at her wedding ring, still sparkling off her finger, teasing them both. "I don't have any right to wear this..."

"...Are you okay...?" Piper asked in a snivel.

A strident hand suddenly slipped up Piper's back. It settled right there behind her neck with the softest-firmness, holding her in place as she watched the gap between her lips and Meredith's shrink into nothingness.

It was the most perfect kiss of Piper's young life.

Despite everything, it was perfect. Her eyes fluttered shut as resplendent sighs faded into the air around them. She couldn't help it. Merry's lips were just as supple as she remembered, wet and sherry-flavoured, totally flawless, sweet enough to send Piper's heart on fire. Their kiss was slow and luxurious, as if to regain a lost sense of an old lust, a suppressed passion, but Piper felt it. That surge of lightning and fireworks that told you who you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, the one that confirmed everything you'd ever wondered or needed to know, the one that shattered every doubt and smote every query.

For Piper to have her Merry there, holding her tenderly and kissing her, making her the centre of the universe, was the realization of a dream.

When Meredith pulled away, slowly, Piper's eyes drifted open and settled with the woman she loved. Their chests heaved between them. Piper found both of her hands gripping the teacher's shoulders -- she didn't know how they got there but it didn't matter. None of it mattered anymore. The only thing that mattered... was this. This moment in time. A moment worthy to be crystallized, a moment she'd cherish forever.

Meredith's smile was tiny enough to be a flicker. "...I think I'm in love with you..."

In waiting so long to hear those words... Piper had no idea how to respond to them. She laboured, bit her lower lip, tried to find something that captured the magic she felt between them, but nothing dawned. "I... I..."

"Don't," Merry's gentle touch found her cheek. "It's okay. I know."

She didn't know what to say. Piper just couldn't find the words. They were there but they were all jumbled up and fractured. Nothing seemed to string itself together the way she wanted them to and so Piper did the only thing it felt natural to do. She buried herself in Meredith's chest and cried. Hard. Harder than she had when she first broke up with Kristen, than when she broke up with her the second time, than when she mustered the courage to leave. Piper cried harder and more openly than she ever before did.

"Shhhh," Meredith soothed, stroking her hair. "It's okay, sweetie, it's okay. I love you."

Throughout all her sobs and tears she made out little things, Merry holding her tight and kissing her forehead, telling her everything would be okay. She coughed and wailed but after a few minutes Meredith managed to calm her down. Piper's erratic, jumping snorts came back down to a steady breathing. Her heart stopped pounding so hard in her chest. In time she pulled her hot and sticky face away from Meredith's dampened shoulder. The substitute teacher, herself much relaxed now, delicately drew Piper's wet forelocks away from her forehead with her thumbs.

"Do you feel better now?" She asked.

Piper's nose felt all muggy and congested and she needed to rigorously wipe the damp out of her eyes to see Meredith clearly, but yes, she did feel a little better. And she gave Meredith a shallow nod to tell her so.

"Good girl. Sometimes it just helps to just let it out," She paused a moment. "I'll go get you a glass of water."

Piper watched her dismount the couch and jog into the kitchen. While she was gone the teen took a few more moments to compose herself. She thanked God for forgetting to bring her mascara with her when she went to her Uncle Frank's, otherwise her face would be all blotchy with it now.

Meredith came back with a glass of spring water and towel. The latter she compelled Piper to drink, which she did and which helped settle her down, and with the former Meredith cleaned her up. Rubbed all the tears away. When she was done Piper was all spick-and-span again. You almost couldn't tell she'd just cried her heart out.

"I'm sorry," apologized Piper. "I don't know why I did that..."

While she said that Meredith reached for one of the arm chairs and yanked the comforter off it. She draped that around herself and Piper, drawing the younger woman close. Piper sighed tenderly. Merry was doing all the right things and all she could do was put her silly head on the woman's shoulder.

"It's okay. I understand."

"I'm not sad or anything. I'm happy. I'm so happy."

Meredith's smile had its lustre again. "I know how you feel."

"I still can't believe this is all happening," Piper expressed. "Did we really just kiss?"

"If we didn't, don't tell me so."

"So..." The teenager pulled up off Meredith's shoulder. "...you wouldn't mind if I kissed you again...?"

Who could blame her for wanting to sip from that chalice again? But Meredith set a solitary finger at her lips -- and stopped her.

"What's wrong?"

A sigh. "Piper... if we do this... if we really try this... then I need you to be strong for me. I need you be mature for me," She pressed their foreheads together and beamed the softest of smiles. "We have to talk first, okay?"

She'd never argue. "...Okay."

They settled back. Something in her mind told her that Meredith needed a minute, maybe to just gather her thoughts into one piece, so Piper gave her the time she needed to say it all straight.

"This will be hard," she started. "I need you to understand that, Piper. I know you think you can handle this and... maybe I didn't try and look hard enough to see if you could, but... we need to be clear. I'm your father's widow. We live together. I work at your school. Most people will not understand what we have."

"I know that," Piper stressed. "I can deal."

Meredith stared evenly. "Can you? It's not just about keeping things quiet, Piper, it means us not being as affectionate as we might like in front of other people. What if your friends found out somehow? Would you ask them to lie about us for you? Or what if they found the whole thing so odd that they just stopped talking to you? Neither one of us has any idea how people will react if they know. We'd have to watch ourselves all the time. Is that really the kind of relationship you want to have?"

"No, it's not," Piper snuggled closer. "...I'd love it if I could just walk out there, us holding hands and me showing you off to the world, I'd love it. But I get that it can't be like that. I know it'll be tough, but... I mean... can it be much worse than us not being together? How could it be?"

"God," Meredith shook her head and sighed. "I wish I could be as confident about this as you are, sweetie, I do. I feel like if I analyse things too much I'll talk myself out of it."

"Then don't think about it."

"But I have to," she replied. "Piper, for as long as I've known you, especially after Terry passed away, I've felt like I'm the one who needs to take care of you. I know that we love each other but more than that I want what's best for you."

"You're what's best for me."

"...Am I...?" Meredith carefully stroked Piper's hair again. "Haven't I been hurting you these past few weeks? I didn't mean to ignore you or make you feel like... what I mean to say is... it's..." she exhaled. "It's hard for me to act or... feel like there's just nothing wrong with how everything is. Do you know what I mean?"

Piper frowned at her wedding ring. "...Yeah."

"Just be patient with me," Meredith put a little kiss upon Piper's forehead. "This thing we have between us is so complicated... but I know I don't want to say "no" to it anymore."

The younger woman just held her tight. It was like basking in a glow.



"I'm really glad you came back to me."

She blushed sheepishly. "...Um, I actually came back for my mp3 player."


"B-but I would've, eventually," Piper clarified. "I hated being away from you, even if it was just a day."

Meredith smirked privately. "You didn't have fun at your uncle's?"

"He's so... I dunno... peculiar. It's like one minute you think you have him sussed and the next he's doing the exact opposite. And Jesus, he can't cook for beans. I love Uncle Frank and all, but..."

"...He's not the easiest person to live with?"

"Pretty much." Said Piper. "How'd you figure that out?"

"Your father told me, when we first..."

Meredith stopped herself before she said something that would've spoilt the mood. Silence hung thick and pervasive in the air. Piper's eyes strayed to Meredith's wedding ring again. Right then she had to wonder... how were they even supposed to bring him up if they really did this? It wasn't like she could walk away from his memory, he was her father. It occurred to her now that Terry was likely a big part of why it took so long for Meredith to finally open up to her. Shadows never stray from the source.

"Piper," She set two fingertips under her Piper's jaw and charily drew the girl's eyes to hers. "You need to REALLY consider this because it won't be easy. Is this what you want? Can you really do this?"

Piper already knew the answer. All the thinking had been done months ago. "Yes."

"...Okay," Meredith took a deep, steadying, readying sigh, and made the biggest possible gesture she could have done.

She took off her wedding ring off.

The younger of the two sat with her in silence as Merry put the diamond-topped band on the glass of their centre table. It left a pale welt of skin behind where she took it off but it was the most decisive break from the past possible at that point. Piper got that. She couldn't help herself. She smiled.

"...Thank you."

They spent much of that evening like that, on the couch, chatting, talking about things. They spoke about when these feelings first encroached and what it was like keeping it all to themselves for so long. Piper related how guilty she felt about using Kristen. Meredith explained how hard it was to keep everything bottled up inside herself. They didn't bother to turn on the television and Piper refused to let Merry stray too far from her. She only got as far as the kitchen -- where Meredith made two cups of hot chocolate. Piper had a marshmallow swimming in her hers. After that she called Frank and told her that Piper was with her just in case he got worried. It was still snowing heavily out there.

There was a lot to think about.

They sat there huddled up together into the wee hours of the night, both of them forgetting that they had school tomorrow, and eventually Piper and Meredith fell asleep in each others arms. Hours rolled by. Darkness claimed the sky. Piper wasn't sure who popped off first but she did know she was the first to stir.

It was late. Still dark. The snow piled up so high that its white glare added partial light to the rearmost window. When Piper's eyes opened she saw Meredith's peaceful, slumbering visage there. Somehow they ended up stretched out on the couch together, their heads by one armrest and their feet by the other. The comforter still blanketed them. Merry still clung to her waist with a looser but unbroken grasp. They were so closely pressed together that Piper felt Meredith's chest rising and falling against her own. Her cool breaths tickled the teen's lips.

Piper found herself studying her lover's sleeping face with new freedom. Merry was and had always been devastatingly, heartbreakingly pretty. She was perfect in everyway, from that prism jaw and button nose to those dimples bottoming out with every slow breath she took. Even her eyebrows were cute. Meredith made Piper feel greedy and possessive. There was just so many things about the school teacher, so many wonderful things adding up to such an amazing person, that Piper found irresistible. It was why the youngster reached up and covetously caressed that face, lightly at first, sliding her probing fingers up the line of her jaw, over the bridge of her nose, down the noticeable trench of her cupid's bow, then back down her curved chin. Piper's fingertips explored the length of Meredith's vulnerable neck, a kissable neck, the sort you wanted to riddle with hickeys every time you saw it. Piper's fingers travelled all the way down that open neckline to the very summit of the concave that those mouth-watering breasts informed. Reluctantly, she stopped them there.

Then when she looked up again Meredith's warm stare met hers.

She hadn't meant to wake her. Though Piper parted her lips a bit to say so, nothing came out, instead she lost herself in the silver of Meredith's eyes. They lay there together for so many minutes only staring at each other, admiring each other, wondering how on earth they'd been so lucky to find what they had.

Piper reached for Meredith's face again. Meredith's embrace tightened around Piper's waist. The space between them was non-existent. And then they found themselves kissing.

Lip smacking and faint sighs wafted around a once silent room. Piper tilted up and opened up her lips, deepening their sumptuous kiss. She ran her tactile hands up Meredith's back all the way north to her golden brown hair and tangled her fingers into its mass. One of Merry's thighs, stretching the rim of her skirt, pushed in-between Piper's nubile hips. It happened so quick Piper gasped, a throaty huff that disappeared into the heat of their kiss; so overpowering were Meredith's lips over hers. Butterflies waged a tireless flutter inside Piper's stomach.

The embrace Meredith had around Piper expanded until one hand braced her hip and the other her shoulder blade. Without pausing the older woman shifted Piper flat upon her back. Merry broke their kiss, leaving Piper gasping and desperate whilst she straddled the teen by her writhing hips and leaned up. Their lips were so wet they shimmered in the moonlight -- only added to in its romance by the snow.

That look in her Meredith's eyes, one of pure, primal lust, made Piper's juices flow.

Piper watched her curl fingers underneath the band of her tee shirt and pull it over her shoulders. Piper acquiesced and lifted her arms skyward to be stripped of the article. Where it landed she did know nor did she care, she wasn't given a chance to, for the breathless teen found herself deeply kissed again in that amorous cloak of darkness. Piper was even less concerned when Meredith reached behind her back to help unclip that bra. It felt offensive now.

The younger one relished the sparkle she saw in the older woman's eyes when her tits bounced into freedom.

Firm grips surrounded her thin young wrists and pushed them above her head, to the armrest, where her ebony hair lay splashed about and slinking, while Piper's ductile lips danced waltzes with Merry's. The older woman suddenly ripped away from that lip-lock only to plunge again at Piper's chin. She threw steamy wet kisses down that smooth neck Piper had. It trembled magnificently from all her heavy intakes of breath. When Meredith went beyond that to her chest, the McCullough girl shot her arms up around Meredith's back and clung to her. Black-painted nails drew troughs into her business shirt's fabric.

"...Oh...!" Piper's eyes scrunched shut. "...Oh God..."

Her moans occupied the quiet alongside the wet sound effects of her beloved, slowly throwing her lips and tongue down the shallow cleft of Piper's jiggling breasts. But she wouldn't stop descending. Meredith's passionate ministrations searched ever southward right down Piper's midriff.

When Meredith playfully dipped her tongue inside Piper's bellybutton, the high-schooler squealed an excited mix of a giggle and a groan.

But she didn't stop there.

French tips found their way under the band of Piper's jeans and panties and pulled them down her legs, just far enough to free up the womanhood that lay beneath. Meredith paused, looked up in the nocturne, locked eyes with her lover, whispered "I want you so much" to her, then lowered herself. Piper watched Meredith's face disappear between her hips.

She could see a lot of the moon out the window above them.

But Meredith showed Piper the stars.


It was the combined smell of toast, butter, coffee and oranges that finally woke her up, particularly because it didn't smell anything like the lame breakfast Uncle Frank made her yesterday morning. Piper's eyes fluttered open. Her clothes were all folded on one of the armchairs while her doc Martens stood together by the door. She stretched out her arms and yawned, then blushed a bit when she realized that she was naked underneath the comforter. The smell of sex still clung to her skin.

Out her garden window she saw snow piled so high not a single blade of grass was visible. The clock said it was quarter to eight. Weren't they going to be late for school?

Piper wrapped the comforter around her from her armpits to her ankles and waded barefoot from the lounge to the kitchen, where Meredith was. She was clad in her pearly bathrobe. Her rich honey hair was tied into a working girl ponytail and she stood over a counter, carefully tearing the peel off an orange and humming a little tune to herself. There was a definite spring in her step.

"Mornin'..." Piper sighed, cuddling her from behind. She took the older woman by the waist, leaned up on her tippy-toes and kissed her cheek.

Meredith smiled opulently. "Good morning. Want some breakfast?"

"Aren't we gonna be late for school?"

"No school today, sweetie. Snow day. Just heard it over the local news."

Piper pressed her ear against Meredith's back. Held her close. Wouldn't let her go, not for anything. "Can't say I'm disappointed."

"So I repeat -- do you want some breakfast?"

"Uh uh. Rather have you."

"Well," Merry turned around in Piper's arms and embraced her with just as much love, biting her lower lip with excitement. "I think we can arrange that..."





* Yep, you read right, last chapter. I had a lot of fun writing this story. Like I said before, it was very easy to write for. I loved the characters, especially Merry and Kristen, they came out better than I planned. Thanks much to everybody who sent me emails or posted on my blog about it, I cherish all feedback.

* I have mixed feelings about the use of alcohol in this story. On the one hand people drink, it's not unusual, but I feel like my use of it in this story was as a kind of deus ex machina, a cheap way of making Meredith loose enough to admit to her feelings. Anybody else notice that?

* As I said on my blog, I have plans for an extended epilogue to this story with a 10,000 word minimum, told entirely from Meredith's perspective. I'm not sure when that will be ready but if you have any suggestions for it then by all means, e-mail me or propose them on my blog.

* You know the drill. If you like what you read, visit my blog, http://ksn-kaiser.blogspot.com/ or email me at moonknuckle@hotmail.com.