Chapter Four: Over Pasta
If there was something Piper didn't like about Meredith teaching at her school it was that she couldn't slip up behaviour-wise. Oh sure, she could've gotten to chemistry late and be chewed out for tardiness by Mrs. Lieberman; something small like that wouldn't reach Merry's ears. On the other hand smoking would definitely raise some plucked eyebrows.
It wasn't like Piper was a chain-smoker. She only started doing it a month or two after meeting Kristen. But the more she did it the more Piper recognized she had an affinity for it. It relaxed her and soothed off some of those tested nerves. It looked good on her. That's why she snuck off with Zack at lunch hour to burn a few. Ashley didn't come. She didn't like cigarettes, cigars or their weed equivalents and she didn't mince her words on the issue.
"If you want lungs full of charcoal, be my damn guest. But if you think you're shaving eight years off my life with your second-hand smoke, you jackasses have another thing coming."
That was Ashley's motto on smoking.
Piper and Zack tried not thinking too much about her medically-conscious rejection since Ashley would've sent them on their way anyway. There was a new guy on her cell phone and she planned on making lusty vocal contact. Piper pictured her cuddled up with her cell in the toilets, charming her new stud into a night of chilli dogs, half-swilled wine and steamy make-out sessions.
Zack sat back with his thick fingertips fixed around the declining shaft of his cigarette. Its warm embers glowed a vivid amber in the overcast shadow of the oak trees that lined the far reaches of the school grounds. Just a short distance behind were its protective stone walls and before them stretched his high school's ever ready football field. One of the custodians mowed the grass at the ten yard line.
Piper sat next to him; her head balanced upon his shoulder, his arm curled around her waist. To unknowing eyes they might've looked like a couple. Zack had a chiselled, dusky blonde profile that meshed inexplicably with Piper`s heavy raven bangs and doc Martens. Those eyes would've been mistaken. Piper and Zack had been friends since childhood. It never occurred to either of them that they could be more than that, not just because Piper was gay, but because they were more like siblings. They were like a brother and sister pair. And yeah, they bickered, sometimes Zack could be a real asshole and Piper could be downright self-absorbed, but they always worked it out, always made up in the end. That was why Piper secretly loved having him manage her and Ashley's musical duo, "McCullough and Pfannenstiel".
A gust of smoke billowed out of Zack's nostrils. "I talked to Ash this morning."
"She said you made up your mind. About Kristen, I mean."
Piper nuzzled her head to his shoulder."Yeah."
"When are you gonna do it?"
"Today," she exhaled a smoke plume. "After school. I called her this morning and she said she'd come over quickly. I'm not looking forward to it."
Zack watched the groundskeeper mow the ten yard line."You know what you're gonna say?"
"Not really. There isn't much I can say, is there? She's gonna be crushed no matter what. I feel like such an asshole for letting it drag on this long."
"You wanna know what I think?"
"I already know what you think."
"No you don't," Zack tipped the grey ash off his cigarette with his index finger. "I think it's good what you're doing. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still think she's the BEST fucking thing to happen to you in dog years, but... you gotta let her go if you don't want her."
Piper smiled to herself."You've changed your tune."
"Yeah, well, I got to thinking about how I'd feel if I were in her shoes. It's stupid, messing around with someone who isn't into you. Just be easy on her, all right? And don't expect to be on her Christmas card list for a while."
"You know what I think, Zachary?" She chirped.
He chuckled and mimicked her sing-song voice."What's that, Piper?"
"I think you've got a little crush on my girlfriend."
"Heh, heh, heh. Yeah, I guess the big secret's out. I'm hot for Kristen. I'm hot for my best buddy's girl, a rich-as-shit lesbian who looks like Heidi Klum. Now I know how you guys feel when you fall for straight girls."
Piper and Zack laughed for a little while as they sat cuddled together in clouds of smoke. They tried to find levity in something that decidedly lacked it. That's why the shits and giggles didn't last long. Piper exhaled another hot gust of smoke from her lips and dryly watched it waft up into the air.
"...I don't want her to hate me."
Zack cuddled her a little tighter."It's not about you anymore, Piper. It's about her. Let her go."
It didn't really need to be said but Piper wasn't a wonder in the kitchen. Meredith was dynamite, she could whip up anything from a veggie burger to a full-fledged Thanksgiving dinner. Piper couldn't hope to match that and she didn't want to. Being a young 21st century woman, good cooking skills seemed old fashioned. It worked for Meredith because she was a working woman as well as a homemaker but Piper never envisioned herself as some kind of domestic goddess. But just for just one night she wanted to change that.
It was 4:43 and Kristen would be showing up any minute now. In a smudged apron Piper buzzed around the kitchen cleaning everything up. The teen wiped stray grains of salt from the kitchen counter and condensation from the windows, grabbed two plates from the cupboards and four pieces of cutlery from the drawers, two glasses and two napkins. After setting up the table she checked the oven to make sure she didn't have a burnt monster in there, then shoved her soiled pots into the sink to soak.
There were only three things Piper knew how to cook and from that limited arsenal she drew forth a pasta bake recipe. It wasn't anything much. She just boiled some water, put in half a bag of pasta shells (penne rigate) and sprinkled the bubbling pasta with salt (a bit of which Piper threw over her shoulder ala Meredith). While Piper let it boil to a soft firmness on her stove top she grated some cheese, `mozzarella di Buffala`. After draining the pasta off she put it into a casserole pan, spread it out evenly, then smeared it all in a smooth tomato pasta sauce, a bit like Ragu. She then speckled her grated cheese over that and grazed it with finely-ground black pepper. Once the oven had been given a moment to warm up Piper put the dish into the oven to cook for twenty minutes, so within those free moments of time she prepared a quick side salad. It was nothing fancy, just some chopped tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, lettuce leaves, mushrooms, corn and croutons.
By the time her pasta bake was ready Piper was busy clearing everything up. She rushed to grab something for she and Kristen to drink, deliberating nervously over soda or coffee until settling on soda. Then while Piper was busy fumbling to undo the knot of her apron, the buzzer buzzed. She was here.
The liberal teen gruffly yanked the apron over her head and rushed out of the kitchen to the door. She took a slight moment to pluck at her bangs then opened it. Sure enough it was Kristen... still clad in her Catholic school uniform... brown blazer, tan shirt, coffee-colour skirt, auburn knee-length socks, russet moccasins. Everything emphasized the platinum blonde of her hair. A satchel dangled from her shoulder by its leather strap. In her small hands was a disposable Tupperware container and through its transparent walls Piper saw two slices of some kind of chocolate cake. She was extremely chipper.
"Hey Baby!" Kristen scooted inside and claimed a kiss. "I hope I'm not late."
Piper blew an anxious breath."No, you're right on time."
"I'm glad," whilst taking off her blazer Kristen sniffed giddily. "Hmm! Well, something sure smells nice in here. What did I do to deserve a treat like this?"
Inside Piper's stomach there was a distinct twang of guilt. There was no way that doing this could be anymore awkward than it already was... or so she thought... because the next thing Piper knew, Kristen opened up the container, lathered up her fingertip in its thick chocolate topping, and popped that finger into her mouth. Piper reflexively sucked the chocolate from it, drawing a lusty grin from her soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.
"For dessert," quipped the blonde girl. She draped her arms around Piper's shoulder and nudged into her warmth, whispering seductively. "But I think I'd taste much better in your bedroom."
So Piper quickly peeled herself out of Kristen's arms. "I made dinner. Lets do that first."
"It's a bit late to play hard to get now, don't you think? But I can wait."
Piper breathed a sigh of relief while Kristen sashayed into the kitchen and set the cake she bought in the refrigerator. This was going to be so much harder than she thought. Kristen didn't have a CLUE that they were in trouble. All the worries and doubts that Piper tried to push away with Meredith's smile and Zack's cigarettes returned threefold. Using all the strength she could, Piper buried them for just a few more hours.
Under her directions Kristen sat down by the dining table while Piper set everything out. She offered to help but Piper nudged those pleas away and did it all herself (setting the glasses and the silverware, pouring two cream sodas, etc) then returned from the kitchen with two dishes; one with the pasta bake and the other with the salad.
"It all looks gorgeous, Piper," complimented Kristen.
Piper pulled off her oven gloves and sat down."Thanks. It's not much."
And so they ate. Since Kristen was habitually talkative she filled in the silence that Piper's lack of speech left behind. It escaped her noticed as she prattled on and on about her school assignments, a teacher she disliked, her father's growing stinginess in these credit crunch years and so. Piper let her talk. It was all she could do to nibble at her salad. They did about half of the pasta bake and half the salad before they were done.
A moment of stillness was had, a weird one, where Piper wobbled. Seeing Kristen so cheerful and feeling the warmth of her hand pulling her toward her couch so they could sit together made her question it all. Maybe this was too cruel. Maybe Kristen would just get bored of her. Maybe it wasn't the right time.
"You wanna go away together?" Asked Kristen.
Just looking at Kristen, cuddling up next to her and holding her hand, everything Ashley and Zack said made new sense. It wasn't a question of her being nice anymore. It was about Kristen. It had to be done.
"Let go away together. Just for one day. I've got the money. If we ditched school and I tell my Dad I'm staying at your place and you tell your Mom you're staying at mine, maybe we could go some place."
It was that`Mom' comment that did it. The insinuation Piper had been fighting with for so long, that Merry was her `mother', when in fact NOTHING could be so far from the truth. That was all Piper could take.
"Oh God," Piper buried her face in her hands. "Kristen, I can't do this anymore."
Kristen blinked."Huh? What's up, Baby? What are you talking about?"
"...Jesus, this is so hard... look... Kristen, look... being with you was... God, for a time it was great. It was great. I really, really think that. I love that I mean so much to you and I think you're a wonderful person, I mean... you're pretty and kind and adorable, but... I just... I can't..."
"...Piper, I don't get what you're saying. What's the matter?"
It was time to come clean. Time to act like a woman and be honest. So Piper took a deep, calming breath and said it once and for all;"...I don`t think we can see each other anymore..."
For a prolonged moment there was nothing but quiet. Neither of them said a word as brown eyes glazed nervously into blue and waited for a reaction. They got one. An almost disbelieving scoff. Kristen smirked, as if it was some pale joke, like Piper was just kidding around with her. But then she looked harder. And she saw a certainness in her lover's eyes that spoke every word her silence didn't.
It broke Piper's heart to see Kristen's face crumple the way it did.
"...Oh my God, are..." the blonde's lip trembled. "are you dumping me?"
Piper unlaced her fingers from Kristen's. "...I'm so sorry..."
"I-I-I can't believe this! Is this for real? A-are you actually dumping me?"
A nod. A solemn one.
Kristen was almost breathless."...Why?!"
"Kristen... I'm sorry, okay? I'm so sorry, but... we're just... we're so different, aren't we? We like different books, we wear different clothes-"
"What the hell does that matter?!" Shouted Kristen, desperately. "I don't CARE how different we are! We've been dating for months, why is this a problem NOW!? I care about you, Piper, I don't think about anyone else...!"
"You can't mean this...!" The heiress drew closer to Piper, drawing her hands to her hips and keeping them there. "You can't mean this, okay...? Y-you just... Oh God... look, maybe I've done things wrong sometimes. I-I-I mean... is it because I'm selfish sometimes?"
Piper bit her lip awkwardly, unable to look Kristen in the eye. She knew she was being asked a question, a probing call for reason, a way to break her argument and resolve. But, in her gut, Piper also knew that she couldn't fumble anymore.
"It's not you... y-you didn't do anything wrong. It's me..."
"Oh God," Kristen shook her head in utter disbelief and collapsed her mouth into her palm. Those agonizing tears had already formed in her eyes, burning them, threatening to spill. "I can't believe this is happening, I mean... five minutes ago we were eating dinner, we were talking about going away together, and now you're dumping me...? Piper, whatever I did I'm sorry, please just..." those worst first few drops hit her chin as she said it. "...don't do this... please..."
Piper desperately pulled her hands away."Kristen, it's not you. It's not you at all."
She snivelled."W-well... is there someone else?"
And there it was.
It didn't matter how Piper talked this down or explained it away. That was it. That was the real reason why she couldn't be with Kristen anymore. There was someone else. Someone who Piper slept with whilst still dating Kristen. She was out there somewhere. Making nice-nice with the other teachers at her school, sharing jokes and chit-chat over lattes. Out there was her beautiful Merry, the woman who made her feel all the swells and urges that Kristen never could. That was reality behind everything. Meredith.
"Piper..." the tearful Kristen stood up, just as Piper did. "...Is there someone else...?"
Piper tiredly ran her hand into her bangs. There was. For so long she'd told herself it was only a compatibility issue, that they just weren`t right for each other. She even said it to Zack and Ashley. It was more than that now. Much more. But there was no way she could ever say that to Kristen. She couldn`t tell anyone about her and Meredith. They wouldn`t understand, they wouldn`t get it because people were too judgemental. But even if Merry was some seventeen-year-old cutie Piper still wouldn't say anything. Kristen was hurting badly enough as it was... there was no need to exacerbate it by telling her the truth.
"There's no one else," lied Piper. "I just... I don't think we're right for each other."
The sunlight drained from Kristen's face. Tiny sad rivers trickled down her cheeks and their dimples, pooling at her chin and her nose. Her shoulders trembled. "That's not true..." She sobbed. "...You don't know how much I..."
"Can't we just be friends?"
Kristen's eyes shot up to her own so fast her teardrops slung off her jaw. The fury of her expression told Piper she'd just said the wrong thing. The blonde glared angrily for a single moment in time, locking Piper in place, making her wonder if Kristen was about to reach for something -- but instead she watched her weeping heiress stomp to the door, grab both her blazer and satchel, then storm out.
She slammed the door so loudly it made her teeth rattle.
Piper didn't know what to think when Kristen was gone. What was she supposed to say or do? For a moment she trying to think. She sat down again and swallowed down deep breaths. But even as she tried it was hopeless. Her head was so clogged with so many divergent thoughts and feelings that she couldn't process them all. So she got up again and cleaned up. Piper took what was left of both the salad and the pasta bake into Tupperware and shovelled them off into the back of the refrigerator next to Kristen's chocolate cake. She put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and soaked the pans. She took out the garbage. A few grains of pepper still tainted the counter so she wiped it with a cloth. There was not a thing left to do in the kitchen thus Piper returned to the lounge and turned on the TV. She couldn't focus on it. She switched it off and left for her bedroom.
Piper spent what was left of the day there -- in silence. She sat upon her bed with her trembling legs drawn up against her chest, quivering arms wrapped around them, head bowed. Her eyes felt... tired. Hot. Wet. In the corner of her sight she saw that trophy she'd grown so fond of. That wine glass of Merry's with the kiss-shaped smudge of lipstick. That wine glass was the reason Kristen was out there somewhere... in bits.
It was pitch black outside when she finally heard Meredith's keys jingle the front door's lock. Her pumps rattled the polished floorboards and the door slowly clicked shut. Piper heard Meredith call her name. She didn't offer a reply. Then she heard footsteps; slow footsteps taking a wayward fantasy up their staircase, down their hall, and into her room.
Meredith flicked the light on."...Piper?"
"Hey," the girl whispered, weakly. "How w-was work?"
Through cloudy eyes Piper witnessed Meredith's concern firsthand -- she glided across the room and knelt down to meet her at eye-level, kneading a tender hand into her cropped black hair. "Piper, what... what's the matter? Have you been crying?"
"Oh Honey, come here..." Piper collapsed into the protective warmth of Meredith's arms the moment they were opened to her. She tried to stay strong. She tried not picturing Kristen's heartbroken, tear-soaked face in her mind... but it was useless. It was all she could see: Kristen's sadness and anger. It was enough to tear Piper up inside. Enough to make Piper forget that this was the first time since their night together that Meredith had hugged her. The teen's head so fuzzy she didn't care. All she wanted was for Meredith to hold her close, stroke her back, and affectionately whisper "everything's gonna be fine, sweetie" into her ear. Cynicism could teach her otherwise. It could teach her that nothing would be the same again. It could teach her that she just made a huge mistake. It could teach her that Kristen would hate her forever. It could teach her all those things... but she wouldn't listen... not whilst she was folded into the arms of the woman she loved.
That was the only place Piper McCullough wanted to be.
* Oh, I'm REALLY digging this story right now. Anybody ever had a story they were writing that they were so excited about that they couldn't wait to continue working on it? That's how I feel about Piper + Meredith. As always, show your love or hate, support the blog.
* Nobody get comfortable yet! Kristen is far from gone...