Chapter Six: She. Love. Me.
Things felt fuzzy.
Normally, to spend an evening watching Jon Stewart lampoon the highs and lows of the inauguration would've been great. A couple of weeks ago Piper might've been laughing her ass off or staring longingly across the couch at Meredith, who would've chuckled softly at the jokes, while Piper marvelled at how wonderful it was to just sit with an adult who took her liberal political humour at face value. It would've reminded Piper how special Meredith was and how lucky she was to have this woman in her life -- but not tonight.
It wasn't just the flowers. Those offending roses stood in water now, chilling a crystalline vase centring the dining table. It was the best place to put them considering that Piper didn't want them in her room. The paper wrapping they came in was all bundled up in the garbage and fortunately Meredith hadn't said anything regarding them -- she didn't even notice the flowers. Once she came home she greeted Piper, changed out of her work clothes, had a quick shower (one of two she always took before heading for bed) and made dinner. Then she capped it all by collapsing into the couch to watch TV.
Piper was grateful for Meredith not asking about the roses because she honestly didn't feel up to lying again. Right now she felt lousy -- and not just psychologically. The teen had an arm curled tight around her abdomen and was wincing painfully. Throughout the last couple hours Piper had been having terrible cramps and eventually dawned on her why she felt so poorly recently. Her period was coming.
For some reason it hit her worse than it did anyone else she knew. Ashley always bragged about how it 'wasn't that bad' for her, and sure enough she smugly breezed though it every goddamned month, but Piper? Not so lucky. That's why things felt fuzzy. That was why the Daily Show seemed less funny.
Maybe there was some aspirin lying around that she could take. The first aid cabinet was upstairs in the bathroom but Piper couldn't be bother to go all the way up there and then drag her ass back down again so she went for the smaller one in the kitchen. With a short, laboured grunt Piper stood up and wandered toward the door.
Meredith immediately noticed how slow she walked. "Piper, is everything okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." She replied -- unpersuasively.
The wooden cabinet was suspended over the windowsill that framed the back of the sink. Strangely enough though the open packet of aspirin wasn't inside it but rather on top of it. Piper pulled an angry grimace and leaned up on the tips of her docs to reach it -- but her fingertips could barely graze the box. She strained and strained for the packet, causing her more pain, until a sleeker, longer arm snuck up from behind her and claimed the aspirin for itself. Meredith's arm.
Piper turned around and found a concerned frown lying in wait for her. "Thanks" she said, trying to take the packet, but Meredith pulled it away from her.
"What's wrong?" She asked. "And don't fib to me again."
It was so adorable the way she always called a lie a 'fib'. Everything Merry did was done with a sort of mellow grace. Everything. From the way she hummed U2's When Love Comes to Town in the shower to the way she crunched cornflakes in the morning. Meredith was a creature of utter fluidity.
So Piper recanted. "...It's nothing. It's just that time of the month again."
"Oh, okay." The concern eased off a drop but not all the way. "How do you feel?"
Another wince. "...Not great."
"Well aspirin certainly won't help."
Piper didn't really ask that expecting a response but then Meredith had no time for rhetorical questions. She went straight for the cabinet Piper had been straining against and pulled out something, a russet-coloured bottle. It looked like medication.
"What's that?" Asked Piper.
Meredith removed a tablespoon from the cutlery drawer. "Evening primrose oil. It always settles my cramps, so I think it'll do wonders for you. And this kind is actually made for vegetarians too so you don't need to worry about that."
Piper twisted the cap and recoiled at the smell. "Ew! God, that's funky..."
"Just try it."
This woman could tell her to walk blindfolded into fire and Piper would still be stupid enough to do it. Swallowing down liquid with a 'funky' smell was hardly a stretch. So she held out her spoon, poured some of the primrose oil into it, and gulped. It tasted as odd as it smelled but Piper didn't complain. After a second spoonful she twisted the cap back on and slipped the greasy spoon into the sink. Then Meredith held the back of her hand to Piper's forehead to check her temperature. The teenager fell still. She didn't think she'd ever get over how soft and satiny Meredith's skin felt.
"You don't feel hot," she assessed. "Have you been having any headaches or trouble sleeping or anything?"
Piper thought it over."...Not really."
"So it's only the tummy pains?"
Then Piper did something she didn't often do. She blushed -- and she couldn't say another word.
"What?" Wondered Meredith.
Piper smiled in spite of herself."...Do we really need to... talk about this?"
"Oh Piper, you can't possibly be embarrassed. You're not a little girl anymore. It's your cycle, it's perfectly natural. You shouldn`t feel squeamish talking about it, especially not with me."
"You sound like an OB-GYN." Claimed the younger woman.
That made Meredith smile."...It might've been nice to be a physician, I suppose. There's certainly more money involved. I always wanted to teach though. I don't think I could handle anything as depressing as medicine either." Then she thought back to the task at hand. "If you're not feeling too well you should lie down. At least for a little while. A bit of ginger tea might help, too. I`ll make you some."
"Merry, you don't need to go to all this trouble-"
"I'm not arguing with you, Piper." Warned the teacher. "Get on up those stairs and get into bed. I'll bring the tea up in sec."
There was no point in protesting because she wouldn't listen. Meredith never let up when she was in "oh my God, you're not feeling well" mode. Piper carried herself out of the kitchen, left Meredith behind hooking up the electric kettle, and went up the steps to her bedroom. It was dark out so she flicked on the light. Her bed was still unmade from this morning and Piper simply slipped underneath them surreptitiously.
Then her cell phone went off.
If Piper's head wasn't so bubbly about Meredith's fussing over her and her cramps weren't working her nerves like they were, she might've anticipated who it would be -- as it happens she didn't -- so when she clutched the cell from her nightstand to say "hello", it shocked her just a little to hear Kristen's voice in her ear.
"I'm missing you like crazy, Piper."
"Where were you this afternoon?" She asked. "I came over but you weren't there."
Now it all came flooding back. For a moment her period (and of course Meredith) let Piper put Kristen and her yellow roses to the back of her mind. Now here it all was again. What the hell was she even supposed to say? What was she expected to say? Piper just mumbled the first coherent thing she could."What are you doing...?"
A pause."...I left something for you. Did you like them?"
"...Yeah, they-they were great, thanks." Piper sighed.
"...What about my message? Did you get that?"
Of course she damn well did."I got your message, Kristen, okay? I got your message. You shouldnt've gotten me those flowers. I told you where I stand. I thought you got that."
"You didn't even give me a chance!"
"...What are you talking about?"
"You didn't even tell me what this was about, y-you didn't...!" She paused for breath, to calm herself down. Even through the phone Piper heard Kristen's desperation. "...Look. You're my first girlfriend... and I know I'm not the first girl you've been with, Piper. I know I'm not. But I know I'm as special to you as you are to me. I know you care about me. That's why I can't figure it out. What are you so scared of?"
Oh. God. How in the world had Kristen gotten THAT into her head? Piper couldn't even believe that Kristen was still talking to her, let alone believe that there were still some feelings lingering here. Wasn't she clear enough last time?
"Kristen..." The singer strained her brain to get her thoughts in order. "Okay. Okay, look, okay? I... think we had something... nice. It was nice. I like you, Kristen; I still do. But... I don't feel the same way about you that... you do about me. I don't. I want us to be friends. You, me, Zack and Ashley... but that's it."
Silence filtered through from Kristen's end. It made Piper wonder what she was thinking, if she'd gotten it now. As it happened it was the complete opposite.
"...There's someone else, isn't there?"
"Who the hell is she?" Seethed the blonde. "Is it Ashley...?!"
Where the hell did that come from? That didn't even make sense! Ashley was straighter than a ruler, add to that the fact that her preference was for African-American men. Piper had less chance with Ashley than she did with Scarlett goddamn Johansson.
"...Okay. You need to calm down, right now. Ashley isn't just my friend, she's yours too and even if she wasn't straight, why would she do that to you?"
"Would you? Would you do that to me?"
Anybody's natural reaction to that would be "screw you, you're being paranoid and jealous", and maybe Kristen was being those things -- but that didn't mean she was wrong. This was why Piper struggled so badly to defend herself. There was someone else. A woman who happened to be downstairs right now making her ginger tea and Piper didn't just carry a torch for her, the girl was head over heels in love with her. What's worse... they'd already slept together, long before Piper had the decency to break up with Kristen.
Piper wanted to defend herself from the heiress' charges... but she was guilty as sin. All she needed to do was look at her trophy of a wine glass, still mounted on her nightstand, still adorned with a kiss-shaped smudge of coffee-coloured lipstick. Meredith's lipstick.
That fact alone told Piper she was right to break up with Kristen, that the heiress could do better, that she was wasting her precious time. But how could she possibly get Kristen to see things that way too without hurting her anymore than she already had?
"This is over, Kristen. Please don`t make it any harder."
Kristen heaved a miserable sigh over the phone. She replied."...I miss you so much. I couldn't stop thinking about you all through class today. I got in trouble with Sister Mary-Margaret for not paying attention in geometry."
"I don't know what you want me to say. I've told you how I feel."
"Can't I at least talk to you?"
"We are talking."
"I mean properly, in person, me and you. Can't we just sit down and talk? My Mom and Daddy are out all night, if you could run it by your step-mom to come over-"
"No," As soon as she heard the word `step-mom' Piper's tone become forceful. "I'm not doing that. I don't feel so great as it is."
"Oh, I'm sorry, I-I didn't realize. Are you sick? Do you want me to come over and-"
"No!" Interrupted Piper. "For God's sake, Kristen, what's the matter with you?!"
A pause."...Do you even have to ask...?"
Then realization dawned and the cumulative 100,000 volt lightning bolt hit her in the back. Piper didn't know why it didn't hit her before. It was so obvious. The weird thing was that Kristen tried to nudge at it before (the McCullough girl remembered that) but she didn't completely say it. Now the more Piper heard Kristen speak the less she needed to say it. It was so damn obvious... and it made Piper's mood sink even lower. But no matter how sure she was Piper had to ask Kristen the question.
"...Do you love me...?"
There was a glimmer of hope in Kristen's voice. "...I think I do."
She said it. Right there and then. She finally said it. Kristen said it the same time Piper overheard Meredith's bare footsteps carrying her up the stairs. With her on the way, naturally, Piper panicked. "Kristen, I have to go."
"Wait, you didn't give me an answer...! When can I see you?"
A knocking sound hit wood -- Meredith's knuckles rapping the door. "Piper? May I come in?"
"I have to go...!" Whispered Piper. Without even thinking it she further said, "Come in."
"Piper, please-" It didn't matter what Kristen's protests were, Piper ended the call that second. Meredith carefully nudged open her bedroom door open with her toe. There was a small plastic tray in her matronly hands that carried three things. One was the bottle of evening primrose oil from earlier. The second was the hot cup of ginger tea she'd promised to make. The third was a spring roll -- Piper's favourite snack.
"I've got some things for you, as you can see." Said the elder woman.
Piper speedily shut off her cell and cast Merry the biggest possible smile she could fake with her period and a love-struck ex-girlfriend plaguing body and mind. "Thank you."
One by one Meredith unloaded all items, the tea, the oil and the spring roll, onto Piper's nightstand, then, just in passing she happened to remark,"Who was that?"
"W-who was who?" Stumbled Piper.
"The person you were just on the phone with. Who was it?"
Great, now she had to lie again?"Uh... Ashley. It was Ashley."
"So you two made up?"
Meredith took a seat on the edge of the younger woman's bed."You told me you had a fight with Ashley. That was why you were... crying that night. Remember?"
"Oh," Great. Now Piper was telling so many lies she couldn't keep up with them. "R-right. I mean, yeah, we made up. It was silly, really."
"...Okay. Drink your tea."
It wasn't very nice. In fact it was surprisingly bitter. It was hot too which burned Piper's tongue a little, but not too badly. She blew at it to help it cool before drinking more of it. In the meantime Piper left the spring roll alone because she didn't feel up to eating anything else. Once she was about halfway done with it Meredith took the mug from her hands and gently pushed her back, settling the teenager's head upon her pillow. With careful joy Meredith pulled the covers over her shoulders to keep the teen secure.
Piper's heart swelled inside her chest. There was nothing like it when Meredith cared for her this way. Things had been so awkward between the two of them lately. Her heart ached all the more when her beautiful Merry affectionately touched her cheek. Her thumb stroked back and forth over the smoothness of Piper`s skin, like a pendulum, and Piper found herself staring stupidly up at the love of her life, unable to say a word.
"You have to take better care of yourself, okay?" Said Meredith, softly.
Piper nodded. It was all she could do.
"I mean it. Lie down for a little while. I promise, in a few days, you'll feel so much better."
She stood up, taking her tray with her, then shut off the lights. Before she left though, Piper called out to her in the darkness. "Merry?"
"Thanks... you know... for looking after me."
Even though it was dark now Piper perceived Meredith's buxom smile. She left the younger one alone after that and went back downstairs to catch what little she could of the Daily Show. As for Piper? She sipped a little bit more of the ginger tea then caught some Zs, just as Merry asked. For a few hours she did manage some shut-eye. She could've gotten more. The problem was that bell on their front door. It'd always been loud, loud enough to buzz out the whole damn house and now was no different. The buzzer shook Piper out of her sleep, forcing her head up. Half-open eyes just about made out the time her digital clock conferred; 22:03pm. Who on Earth would be calling 'round their place at this time in the night? Piper pulled the sheets off and stepped (carefully) to the window to see who was buzzing the house but she couldn't see who it was from there, so she trundled out of her bedroom to investigate.
Meredith emerged from the bathroom in a pink gown with damp skin, a towel wrapped around head and hair, and an irate expression framing her face. Momentarily Piper was distracted by how awesome Merry's hair looked when it was wet. It was slightly darker and it clung to her jaw and cheeks in thin, slithering strands. Awesome.
"Who is it?" Piper wondered.
Meredith frowned again. "I don't know. Wait here."
Her soggy bare feet took her downstairs where she unlatched the door and opened the door. You couldn't blame Piper for expecting to hear a next door neighbour explained how they'd been locked out of their house or some passing commuter asking to use their phone 'cause her car broke down outside. But she didn't get that. No, what she got instead was a very rich, very blonde, very ex-girlfriendy voice say;
"H-hey, um... Mrs. McCullough, I uh... I know it's late, but can I see Piper please?"
A hellish mix of fear, anger, anxiousness, and disbelief raged through the younger of the McCullough women like a torrent. She crossly gripped the wood railing in her hand like she wanted to crush it to pieces... but was so desperate to hear what was being said downstairs that she hardly noticed it.
Meredith sounded slightly less pissed... but only slightly."...Excuse me, but... do you realize what time it is? Couldn't it wait until tomorrow?"
"No, ma'am, I understand, I just... I needed to see her. She told me she was sick, and I would've come around earlier it's just difficult where I live, and my Daddy has the car and everything and-"
"Okay, okay, okay. Slow down and take a breath. First off, who exactly are you?"
"...My name is Kristen."
Merry paused a moment."You're a friend of Piper's?"
"Mrs. McCullough..." Piper heard Kristen exhale all the way upstairs. "...I'm her girlfriend."
The blood drained out of Piper's cheeks. "...Oh no."
* Heh, heh, heh. I love stories where an ex-girlfriend `doesn't get the message'. I think it's the first time I've tried it in one of my own fictions though. As usual all commentary is appreciated and very deeply encouraged, either by e-mail or by visiting my bloghttp://ksn-kaiser.blogspot.com and saying what you wish to.