Chapter Three: A Hot Shower
Piper felt like crap that morning. The way her head was pounding she was tempted to believe there was some disgruntled construction worker in there trying to drill his way out with a jackhammer. Her eyes were so tired she could barely open them and her throat was so damn sore it felt like the Sahara. Over the second she slowly recalled why she felt so damn ragged out. There was drinking. Kristen plied her with Breezers all night and while they weren't very strong, after twenty or so they made a mark. Piper didn't remember much about the night. There were some hazy bits and pieces... Ashley smoking out of Kristen's window... Zack passed out on her floor with a half empty bottle of Jack Daniels... Kristen pawing at her in a discreet corner, whispering "It's been a while, Baby...". From what Piper recalled that bit didn't happen until Zack and Ashley were gone.
The songstress yawned miserably and leaned up. When she did her stomach somehow felt constricted. It wasn't a girdle -- it was the dress she wore last night at their wedding gig. It's lavender folds were all bunched up around her waist. Apparently she'd fallen asleep in her dress without taking it off. That's how smashed she was.
Piper sneered at that and climbed off her bed. Despite her head banging like a Chinese drum she peeled the dress off and fumbled off out her bedroom into the shower. Hot showers were Piper's favourite moment of the morning. They had a cleansing effect on her. When she argued with someone or was bummed out about anything, she liked to imagine that she could step into a shower and let those hot chipping droplets strip her concerns away. That whole notion seemed less effective these days.
But at least it washed the crispy remnants of Kristen's cum from her hand.
When she was finished Piper sorted herself out. Combed her hair, brushed her teeth, fitted on something simple from the linen basket (her corduroys and a black tank top) and ran them over with an iron. By the time she was dressed she could already smell Merry's morning coffee and buttered toast, the aroma rising up from downstairs. Thankfully there were no morning meats amongst those smells. Out of respect for Piper's vegetarianism Meredith never cooked meat in the house. It was just another one of those little things that made Piper appreciate her all the more. She was so considerate.
Meredith had herself perched astride the dining room table with a coffee one hand and a ruffled newspaper in the other. Piper immediately noticed how she was dressed -- firm and sharp in a deep grey pantsuit and shapely black pumps. The angular collar of the pearly white shirt underneath folded over the suit's collar and every button was tidily slotted into its respective hole. The silvery eyes behind Meredith's Palin-esque reading glasses ticked from one side to the other, boning her up on the prospects of a bailout for the Big Three. She looked so professional. So mature. So unlike Kristen.
"Good morning," Piper greeted.
Meredith glanced at her evenly. Her eyes were still. If there was one thing Piper didn't like about Meredith, it was that she was so hard to read. Normally you could tell by looking into someone's eyes if they were mad or sad or lying -- but not Meredith McCullough. She had the power to be enigmatically pokerfaced when she wanted to be.
"Is everything okay?"
Meredith folded her paper."Piper... have a seat, please."
Okay, so something was wrong. That taciturn tone said everything. Piper sat down.
"Listen," the warmth returned to her Merry's demeanour. "I know that things have been... odd between the two of us lately. I don't blame anyone but myself. But there's something you have to understand, okay? I'm your legal guardian. It's still my responsibility to take care of you and it's a job I don't intend to mess up... any more than I already have."
"What's this all about?"
Merry paused a moment."...You didn't come home until 2AM last night. I was worried."
Piper flushed and felt irked by that at the same time. In some ways she liked that Merry was worried about her. Ever since their`night' Meredith had barely thrown six cohesive words her way. On the other hand -- she hated the way Meredith sounded right now -- like an overly concerned, overly dramatic, overly protective mother. And what'd she have to bring up that whole `legal guardian' bullshit for? That didn't define their relationship. It couldn't possibly. They weren't parent and child, they were-
"Piper?" Meredith set her coffee down. "Piper, talk to me."
The girl sighed."I'm sorry. Didn't I tell you about the wedding?"
"Yes, you did. But the reception ended at midnight and you were long gone by then. I checked."
Piper recalled leaving the number and address of the hotel on Meredith's desk yesterday morning. She was normally very liberal about that sort of thing, even on school nights, just so long as Piper told her where she was going and when she would be back. It was a gesture of trust, really -- a trust Piper's Dad never showed to her -- which was why Piper normally didn't go out of her way to push her luck.
Meredith looked at her sternly."Promise me you won't ever do that again."
"Okay," a slight smile. "Did you want some coffee? It's Jamaican Blue Mountain."
"No thanks, I'm gonna... grab a muffin with Ashley before school."
There was a pause that moment (not an awkward one though) where Piper curiously took in the pantsuit Meredith was wearing again. Maybe it was just to distract herself from how`motherly' Meredith sounded but she got to wondering just why it was that Merry was even wearing something like that. The older woman read her mind.
"I start work today, remember?"
Why did that slip her mind? Meredith was right. Today was the day that she took over Mr. Froebel's English class, a class Piper took. Since Meredith was a substitute teacher she was often in and out of work. The last job she had was at a junior high school three weeks ago (yet by some miracle of God she managed to keep all their finances in order).
Piper liked the fact that Meredith would be teaching her. Most of the kids there wouldn't know that she was her step-mom, they would be out of the house, and Piper would see her in her intractable element, teaching and advising her class. Meredith had a kind of grace and glow in all the things she did whether it was something mundane like washing dishes, or something boisterous like a morning jog around Bierce-Holland Park. It would be wonderful to see how she did her thing at work.
Maybe she should've been more worried. There were a lot of jackasses at her school. It made sense to worry. Unfortunately Piper didn't really do that around Merry. Meredith made her feel... mellow. Even when they weren't getting along Piper never felt threatened or chided by her. Meredith Ann McCullough was the right shade of perfect aside from one thing. That wedding ring around her finger.
"I need your support today, Piper." said Meredith. Piper knew what that meant. Please don't bring up anything about `us`, like she planned on screaming their dalliances to the world. If that was her intent she would've done it already.
Piper shrugged a faint smile."It's cool. We're cool."
It wasn't cool at all but what could she say? Meredith made herself clear -- it was a big mistake, they were both lonely, both had a few too many glasses of wine, they were both missing Terry too much. But it wasn't that at all and Piper felt so with all her heart. There was something special between she and Merry. Something magical. Different, yes, but still magical. All Piper could do was lean back and wait patiently until Meredith figured it out for herself.
The vocalist said her goodbyes to Merry and made her way out. Just three blocks away there was a little morning bakery that Piper liked to frequent with Ashley. Sure enough her best friend was there waiting for her beside one of the three plastic tables outside its glass doors. A parasol cast a charming shadow over her in the warm Washington sun. There were two logo-emblazoned paper bags in Ashley's hand and a muffin stood in each. One blueberry, the other chocolate. The blueberry muffin was for Piper and the chocolate one was for Ashley herself. Once they hugged hello Piper and Ashley bounced to Bierce-Holland park to kill off the last hour before school. They ended up on a bench by the rear gates. Joggers and dog walkers quietly strolled the path.
"Did you break up with her yet?"
Piper sighed, taking little nibbles out of her muffin."You know I didn't. You saw how she was last night, didn't you?"
Ashley smirked to herself. Kristen was practically shoving she and Zack out the door to get Piper all to herself. Apparently it's easy to forgo subtlety when you're horny.
"So you slept with her?"
Piper didn`t ignore now fundamentally cruel that sounded; sleeping with Kristen when all she really wanted to do was dump her. It just felt like there was never a right moment for it.
"You're playing with fire, you know," warned Ashley. "You don't want a rich girl mad at you."
"What am I supposed to do? I'm trying, Ash. I don't want to lead her on or lie to her but she's so damn... sweet, you know? I can't bear to hurt her. I just want her to forget me, move on and find someone who could really make her happy."
Ashley took another bite out of her muffin."She can't do that until you dump her."
"Well what about you and Zack?"
"...What about us?"
Piper wiped the crumbs from her cheek."You think Kristen would wanna stay friends with you guys after we broke up? How am I expected to do that to you two as well?"
"Okay, now you're just reaching," chided Ashley. "If Kristen still wants to be friends with us that's great. If not, well... I can accept that. It's her call. I'm sure Zack feels the same way too, but... you know he isn't as liberal as I am. Look, Piper, you know what I think so right now you need to just..."
Piper observed Ashley as she drifted off, and she didn't wait long to wonder why. There was a black guy walking down the bend of the footpath. He was sturdily built but definitely in high school. Strong jaw. Confident gait. And the closer he came by the more Ashley's sly, lusty grin widened. Here we go...
"Gimme your poetry book."
"I said gimme your poetry book," Ashley repeated. "I need it."
With a sigh Piper took it out of her bag and handed it over. A reenergized Ashley gave her a distant"thank you" as she launched up from the bench and walked around the wide grass patch they basked in. Ashley quickly fluffed up her wavy ginger-brown tresses and doubled around the footpath so that she and the black guy she planned to devour were walking toward each other. Ashley pretended to be so engrossed in the poetry text she couldn't see where she was going and slammed face to face into the boy. She flapped backwards and dropped the book, acting all startled and breathless, until he quickly grabbed her arm stopping her fall. He broke into apologetic concern and asked her if she was okay, if he'd `hurt her'.
It had to be said that Ashley had a flair for flirting. The way she bit her lip and smiled up at guys she was hot for didn't really have anything to do with it, those were a draw, it was the way she orchestrated these little "mix-ups" and turned them into coffee.
Piper watched the discourse between them morph from fender-bender to damage appraisal to number exchange. Leers and lusty smirks were their currency. But Piper worried about Ashley sometimes. If it wasn't already obvious, she had this... `thing' about black guys. Namely she had something of a fetish for them. Piper didn't like to sling around mean words like `objectification' because Ash was so cool about the whole gay thing, but it was only a matter of time before someone pointed out how racially-biased it made her look. But you wouldn't think so the way she came back -- grinning like a cat with fresh cream.
Ashley waved the number she got from that guy."Watch out now! Hottie alert!"
"Did you get his name or were you too busy salivating?"
"It's Damien, actually. Guess who's got a date tonight...?"
On the way to school Piper got to thinking about herself and Kristen again. They'd had sex last night. Was it vindictive to do that? At the time she was so wasted she didn't really protest the fact but looking back... what kind of image did that send up? This thing with Kristen was so complicated. It actually made Piper wish that she'd never gotten involved with the heiress. The reality was that the longer this thing dragged out the more hurt Kristen would be in the long run. Ashley was right about that -- no matter what Piper did, Kristen was gonna be crushed. It was time to woman-up and do the right thing.
When they reached school Piper waved Ashley on while she waited outside to make a call. As other students passed her by Kristen picked up on the other end,"Piper?"
"Yeah. It's me." She whispered into her cell phone.
"Baby, I'm sorry, I can't talk right now, I've gotta get to school."
Piper dourly pictured her in her prissy bedroom with her expensive-ass cell phone jammed between her ear and her shoulder as she scrambled to roll one of those long russet socks up her leg and fit on her moccasins. Kristen attended a Catholic school across town. Believe it or not there had been a day when watching that pleated brown skirt dance around her sylvan thighs turned Piper on.
"I'll be quick, okay?" said the singer. "I really need to talk you later. It's important."
"What's it about?"
Piper rolled her eyes."I'll tell you when I see you. Where can we meet?"
"You wanna come over to my place?"
"...Uh..." Originally Piper considered somewhere like a Starbucks or a deli, but it occurred to her that a public place was out of the question. Rule no.1 of break-ups? You never dump someone in public. "Maybe you should come over to mine. I'll make you something. Come straight after school, okay?"
Meredith wouldn't be there. She'd be in staff meetings until seven.
"I'm there. See you then!" After making a smooching sound effect through the phone Kristen hung up.
Piper exhaled. She really was gonna do this. She was gonna break it off with Kristen. The young liberal tried to picture what it might be like, how she'd react, if she'd burst into tears or throw a dish at her or something. Either way it wouldn't be pretty. But it was the right thing to do this. It was time for both of them to move on, grow up, and become better people.
Piper felt a finger tap her shoulder. It was Merry; pantsuit, briefcase, billion-dollar smile and all.
"Can't you get in trouble for loitering?"
It seemed like getting back to work put something of a spring in her step. In turn Piper swelled cheerfully. It seemed like ages since Meredith last smiled at her like that, a full semi-circular smile of warmth and gentleness."Bell hasn't rung yet."
"Well get inside before it does," said Meredith. "You've got a whole day of work ahead of you."
The teen sultrily pulled the bangs from her eyes."Yes ma'am."
They walked in together. Quietly. All the guilt Piper had knowing that in seven hours she'd break her girlfriend's heart was a burden to her shoulders. A problem. Meredith's civil and excited smile washed the weight of all that guilt away -- like a hot shower.
* I know it might feel like the plot is moving slowly at this point, but I think, logistically, it's necessary. Put yourself in Meredith's shoes. She's raising her husband's child who she's clearly attracted to and has had sex with. Despite that she's still trying to be a `mother' to Piper which is precisely what Piper doesn't want. For them to have sex again would require Merry to be in the right head space -- and that will be the focus of the next few chapters; can she face up to what she really wants. That's one of the reasons I like this story. The scenario is more complicated and psychological than it looks.
* As usual I encourage all commentary, criticism and suggestions. Many thanks to the people thus far who've given me theirs. You wanna speak to me more in depth, come to my blog, http://ksn-kaiser.blogspot.com/, which I'm trying to update daily from now on.