Chapter Nine: The Evil in Me
"I fucked up so bad, Ash. I fucked up."
When you could find Piper and Ashley in the food court at 5:14pm afterschool instead of hitting up every clothing store in a price-range just shy of say, Banana Republic, you knew something was wrong. They never crashed like this unless shopping bags were tiring their arms so bad they couldn't walk any further, or unless Zack was complaining about how much `girlish shit' they were doing.
As it happens something certainly was wrong.
It was so wrong it had Piper biting the polish off her nails. Piper's eyes wondered to and from Ashley, never settling anywhere, until she saw her chilling reflection in the window of a video game store. Her hair was a wild mess of tufts and strands from constantly forking nervous fingers through it. Her eyes were dishevelled not just because she'd been crying so hard she had to wash the mascara out, but because of the genuine... unsettlement lingering in them.
Piper had no words for the reflection she saw. She was ashamed of it. It was not the same girl she saw in the bathroom mirror this morning. There was something of a chasm between the two and Kristen's heartbreak informed the distinction.
The remnants of Ashley's smoothie rattled through the straw she drank it from. It broke the rhythm of Piper's thoughts. "Aren't you done with that...?"
"I am now," She dropped the empty cup in a waste basket next to their table. "D'you feel any better?"
Piper picked at her ice cream with a plastic spoon. There were other things were going on around her. Consumers darting in and out of the mall with many parcels in hand. School kids dropping by the toy stores on their way home. College students sharing notes over coffee. There was so much life and noise around but Piper couldn't register any of it.
"Not really." She replied dourly.
Ashley tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear."Was it that bad?"
"Ash, what am I gonna do? I've been a real jerk to her and I'm so sorry about it, but I can't leave it like this. I hate that she's hurting because of me."
"...Look Piper, I know what you're going to say. We've been over this. You can't ask her to be friends with you. If she really gets it now then it's best to leave her alone, isn't it? You're just gonna upset Kristen more if you pester her with that. Give it time. Maybe a week or two."
Piper bitterly shovelled a scoop of peach-flavoured ice cream into her mouth. It could've been tasteless for all she knew. "I can't believe I let it come to this. I just... I SO totally fucked up. Now Kristen hates me for real and I can't do anything to make it better."
"Just for the record," Ashley sidetracked. "What did you say that finally made her get it?"
It was only a matter of time before Ash asked her that. Zack did the same thing when Piper told him about the break-up, the only difference was that Piper had the cigarettes they were sharing to calm herself down. Thanks to Ashley's pesky no-smoking-around-me rule, there was no tobacco at hand to make lying to her other best friend any easier.
"...I guess I was just... more firm this time."
Thus another lie was born.
Truth be told, Kristen wasn't the only reason Piper felt so miserable right now. Meredith was angry with her but that wasn't it either. Those were pieces of a puzzle helping to make a whole. What stuck in Piper's craw more keenly than anything else was the lying... and how fucking sick she was of it.
She lied to Meredith about Kristen. She lied to Kristen about Meredith. And Christ, how many secrets had she kept from Ashley and Zack, her closest confidants, the only people in the world she could ever define as her best friends...? What did it say about her that she could lie to them so easily? Piper was so damned tired of it all.
"Just like that?" Speculated Ashley. "No more late night house calls, no showing up at our school? Kristen just suddenly understands now?"
The other girl frowned."...You weren't cruel to her, were you?"
"Of course not."
"Good, because she's the real victim here, slugger. I know you know that, but you sure as hell aren't acting like it. Just let everything settle down before you do anything else. Don't call her unless she calls you."
Piper glanced over the table."What about you guys?"
"How'd you mean?"
"You and Zack, what if she calls you two? What if she wants to talk to you? Are you gonna tell me or what?"
Ashley grinned but she didn't say anything. That said everything that needed to be said. It hadn't escaped Piper's mind that Kristen might not want to hang with Ash and Zack any more. In an odd way she felt like she was depriving them of a friend by ending things with Kristen. Then again, how awkward would it be if Kristen tried to keep in touch with them whilst hating the ground Piper walked on?
Though it didn't seem like it at first, talking with Ashley over ice cream did help some. Piper stopped crying a few hours ago when she and Zack connived to excuse themselves from class and light up a few cigs, but it wasn't until this ice cream date with Ashley that she mellowed out. A heartbroken Kristen still roamed around her skull and plagued her with guilty feelings but by the time Piper headed home, she felt less anxious than before, and it was all Ashley's doing. She had a knack for lecturing you into a chill zone.
Her watch told her it was 6:19pm when Piper reared up at her front door. Washington sun had collapsed into a Washington sunset and it flooded her street with cool orange glow. In a way Piper would've preferred walking around for the rest of the hour to admire that glow before sundown.
She hadn't forgotten her row with Meredith this morning.
There were times throughout the day when, at school, Merry would spot her and try to talk, but Piper either dodged her or made up some excuse about being late for class or spending a free period on her homework. It wasn't the politest thing to do but Piper was still mad about what Meredith said -- and worse still -- how selfish would it be to mend things with Meredith after what she just did to Kristen?
When she came inside and shut the door Piper found Meredith in the lounge. She was still dressed in her work clothes, the only missing articles being her pumps (nudged up against a leg of their coffee table) and her jacket, which was suspended from a brass hook on their lounge door. Meredith stretched out across the couch. A fist propped her jaw up and her knees bent inward. The room was dark because the curtains were all drawn. The television's glow lit up the many contours and distinctions of her beautiful face.
She looked unhappy.
Even now, when she was still so mad at her, Piper's heart twisted itself in knots seeing it. She hated to see Meredith unhappy. Her immediate urge was to charge over there, bury herself in the older woman's bosom and beg her to forget everything, plead with her that they could go back to normal.
Then Piper thought of Kristen. Who's shoulder could she cry on? None of her friends nor her folks knew she was gay. The only people who knew her sexuality were Zack, Ashley, herself, and, of course, Piper. Who was her recourse? And what the hell did it say that Piper could think of herself with Meredith when that was the whole reason Kristen was so broken right now?
Was this what love was? Being able to fold yourself into someone, care for them and idolize them, without a damn bit of concern for anyone else`s feelings? Is that what love meant? As long as you get fucked -- fuck your conscience? Piper didn't know, immediately at least, why it took her so long to grasp things in their totality, but this... thing between Meredith and her...
...it was hurting people.
Not just Kristen, not just her Pop (if you believed in the afterlife) but them. Each other. Piper and Meredith. It was hurting them. That one night, where drinks were shared and clothes were torn; where breath was lost and hearts throbbed, it threw everything off balance, and now here they were, all of them paying for it.
Piper's innocent crush on her stepmother was no longer so innocent. Whatever was going on in Meredith's head when they did it, clearly it wasn't just a one-night thing. Though she didn't often think it for fear of raising her own hopes -- Piper KNEW that Meredith felt the same way. There was just no way of denying it. Things hadn't been awkward between them because they were embarrassed about fucking each other senseless that night, they were embarrassed because it confirmed their feelings for each other, at least that was how Piper saw it.
For months before that night they skirted and flitted around each other in this damned house.
Bumping into one and other out of the shower and blushing. The way their shoulders touched when they washed dishes together. The tremble that worked its way up Piper's spine when Meredith's toe accidentally brushed her bare ankle. That creepy streak of jealously she experienced every time she looked at Meredith's wedding ring. The way Piper's stomach fluttered hearing Meredith laugh when they watched The Colbert Report. The heat that throbbed between her hips whenever Meredith hugged her. The daydreams she had -- of Merry angrily refusing to deny her feelings any longer, throwing Piper against a wall, plunging her hot tongue down the girl's throat and brusquely shoving a greedy hand into her panties, a hand mysteriously absent of a wedding ring.
Snapshot moments of Piper's manifest feelings and emotions.
It wasn't all so one-sided. Piper knew what it meant when Meredith hugged her just a bit longer than necessary. She knew what it meant when she caught Meredith staring at her from afar. Piper knew what it meant when she fell asleep in front of the television and woke up with chocolaty lipstick on her cheek. She KNEW what all that meant.
All the feelings between she and Meredith didn't find a voice until that night they finally did it. Now they knew how they felt. They KNEW it. Piper knew that she had feelings for this woman and she was sure that Merry felt the same for her. And yet...
...what the fuck was the result?
Where were they even going?
Would they just ignore it? This giant elephant in the room? Would they just bury it away and hope that the other forgot? Piper didn't want that. She didn't want to let it go, that was why she still had that damn lipstick-smudged wine glass in her room. But what did her feelings matter when those very same feelings were doing so much damage?
Aside from that one night, nothing productive had ever come from her feelings for Merry. Nothing. All they'd done was force her to lie to Meredith, Ashley and Zack time after time after time. They'd broken Kristen's heart. They made Meredith mad at her. They made her mad at Meredith. And Goddamnit, if Terry McCullough wasn't turning in his grave about all of this then nothing could shake the dead.
Piper weighed all of that in her mind. She added it all up and it formed very cold, dark picture. For all the damage she was doing to herself and everyone around her, for all the shit their"one night stand" caused, when Piper gazed at Meredith now, so beautiful and so perfect; the final realization really hit home. She didn't care. She didn't care.
SHE DIDN'T CARE.
As guilty as she felt about Kristen; to know, or hear, or even FEEL that Meredith might love her back, Piper wouldn't pay her ex-girlfriend`s feelings any mind. If Merry suddenly came up and kissed her now, she wouldn`t care who knew or who was hurt by it. She just wouldn`t care. The selfishness, the callousness, the pettiness of that thought... it terrified Piper on a scale she never thought possible.
Was it her? Was she really that heartless? Or was this just what love was? Not caring how much damage you cause just so long as you have the one you love?
"Agh...!" Piper's chest suddenly hurt and she gripped it without realizing that Meredith saw her standing in the doorway with a disturbed look in her eye. Piper exhaled, struggling to breathe in. Why was she so selfish? Why was she so cold? Why was she finding it so easy to lie? Why was Meredith the only thing she could think about? And she kept coming back to this question of love. Was this what love was? Is this what love meant? Was this the thing that made Kristen act so crazy? Did NOTHING, not even the memory of her dead father, matter to Piper if she could have Meredith? Mother of God, what kind of person was she becoming?
"Piper? Honey, what's-"
"Don't!" The teen jerked out of Meredith's embrace. Stepped away from her. "Just... don't, okay? Don't."
She looked wounded. Hurt. The look made Piper flinch. Hurting people seemed to be such a brilliant knack of hers these days. Hurting people and lying to them. And she was sick of it. On every level Piper was sick of it. But even more than that, she was tired of this... stasis, this... here-nor-there pocket of space she and Meredith were living in, where they denied everything they felt for each other and broke a girl's heart in the process.
The phone rang at a instant in time that could only be described as God-sent because so complete was Piper's feeling of dejection right there and then, she wasn't sure what she might've said or done.
Meredith bit her lip, not wanting to let go, but did so anyway, and strode over to the coffee table to answer it.
"Hello?" Meredith paused to listen. "...I'm sorry, who is this...? Mrs. Perkins?"
Piper blinked. Mrs. Perkins? As in Marisa Perkins, Kristen's Mom? Why would she be calling here? Meredith huddled over the phone a little while longer until it became clear she wasn't who Mrs. Perkins wanted to talk to. Merry handed the phone to Piper. "I think this is for you..."
Piper took the phone wordlessly. She had no idea what this was about. Throughout all the time they were dating not once did Piper meet Kristen's mom. She didn`t even know her daughter was gay. As far as the Perkins Family were concerned, Piper and Kristen were just close friends. "Hello, Mrs. Perkins?"
"Hi, um... is this Piper? Piper McCullough?" She asked.
"Yeah, that's me... uh... can I help you with something?"
Mrs. Perkins sighed palpably."Yes, is... uh... Kristen wouldn't happen to be with you by any chance, would she?"
"N-no, she's not... is there-"
"I don't know," Mrs. Perkins chipped in. Her concerned voice was positively frightful. "It's that... her school called and told me she didn't show up for classes this morning. Kristen hasn't even come home yet. Nobody seems to have seen her since this morning, and... God, I'm getting a little worried. This really isn't like her, she never skips school."
Jesus fucking Christ.
"Did you try calling her?"
"That's the first thing I did when the school phoned," replied Mrs. Perkins. "but she isn't answering her cell. I even called some of her other friends and nobody's seen her since this morning. I don't know what else to do."
Piper shoved her face in her palm."...Just... hang tight, Mrs. Perkins. I'll go look for her, okay?"
"Thank you so much. If you find her would you tell her to call me ASAP? I haven't told her father yet and I'm hoping I won't have to."
"...I'll do that," the singer assured. "...Bye." Piper set the phone down. "...Goddamnit."
"What's going on? Who was that?" Meredith questioned.
The teen shrugged off her school bag and yanked out her cell phone."That... was Kristen's mom, apparently she... well, she skipped school and hasn't come home yet. Her Mom's getting real freaked out... I need to look for her."
The elder one blinked."Has something happened? Is this about-"
"She came to my school this afternoon," Piper interjected. "I told her... that we were done, for good and... she's... out there. She's out there and it's all my fault."
"Honey, this isn't your fault, you..."
A second time Meredith tried to reach out to Piper and a second time Piper recoiled. With her cell phone and keys now in her pocket the teenager turned her heels and headed for the front door."I've gotta find her."
Meredith kept pace with her."Piper, it's getting dark. I don't think you should be alone right now."
"I don't care."
"Piper, you can't just-"
"I can't what...?" She yelled. "What can't I do...? Look for her...? Because you say I can't...? You're not my mother, Meredith! You're not and you NEVER have been. And you know what, if anything? I think I need a break from you, so please just... leave me alone, okay?"
The silence as she left... was discomforting. Piper didn't look back once. Not once. She couldn't. If she looked back, Meredith would see the tears in her eyes and she would hug her. And Piper wouldn't be able to let go. And Kristen would still be out there...
...and Piper was fed up of putting herself first.
Looking for Kristen sent Piper on a rollercoaster. Memories from those long gone days when they used to date came rushing back with every store she passed by. Piper ducked her head in each doorway and glanced around hoping to find her. No Kristen -- but plenty of Kristen-influenced memories. When Piper headed up town by bus and strode by the blonde's favourite custom boutique, she saw flashes of Kristen flattering a shimmering white party dress against her body. She'd run her hands over it and ask a less interested Piper; "How does it look?"
Piper stopped by the Pizza Hut Kristen took her to when she chastised her for being so fast and loose with her Daddy's money. That was what she called "slumming it". She was nowhere inside to be found but Piper recalled that day fondly. It was one of the few times she remembered Kristen listening to her.
It was the same thing with every old hangout Piper searched hoping to find Kristen. She didn't see the heiress but faint recollections presented themselves to her. Looking back, they did have some fun together. In so many ways the blonde girl drove her crazy but in others, Piper loved her vitality, her spirit. This odd hindsight made it clear that Kristen was everything she wanted in a friend.
If Piper had figured that out early maybe she wouldn't be out here freezing her ass off in in the dark.
When she couldn't find Kristen anywhere near the mall or her school, Piper called Ashley and Zack. Neither one of them had seen her. Zack offered to help her look but Piper turned the offer down. It was her responsibility. She caused this, in her mind, it was her duty to damn well fix it. So she kept looking. Piper strode around the Washington asphalt and stumbled through every commerce centre local to her, hoping to catch Kristen in some guilty act; buying her way out of the pain with a parade of shoes or something.
An hour and twenty minutes came and went by the time Piper called Mrs. Perkins back, just wondering if Kristen had returned home on her own. No such luck. Suddenly Piper was more aware that it was pitch black out right now. A cold worry griped at her. What if Kristen had done something... stupid?
She kept thinking back to this afternoon when she told Kristen off. The heiress was hurt, yes, but that didn't mean she'd... hurt herself, did it? Piper shuddered at the thought. It was absurd. Kristen wasn't that kind of person. But then where was she? Even if she had no plans to hurt herself, there was no shortage of people in D.C. who'd hurt her. Young rich girls don't do well in the dark.
"Damn it, Kristen," seethed Piper. She hugged herself for warmth. "Where are you?"
Then it hit her.
Kristen was trying to get away from things for a while, that's what this was. It had to be. So where did she go to for distance? Where would she go for clarity? At that moment Piper remembered Bierce-Holland Park, that huge common she lived near. They always hit that place up when they wanted somewhere to make out if neither of their houses were free. Why didn't she think of that earlier?
With this fresh hunch, Piper leapt off the bench she rested on and dashed across the street to a bus stop. When one came she climbed aboard and rode it back to her suburbs until disembarking a block shy of the park. Piper went from walking to jogging to running. She was panting by the time she veered past the park gates (already locked) and came around the corner to the patchy hedge work surrounding the east side. There was a hole large enough to crawl through. Piper used it to get inside and she navigated through the eastern side of Bierce-Holland until finally she made her way to that secluded make-out spot she and Kristen shared.
There she was.
* Chapter Nine ended up being a lot longer than this (about 7000 words) so I split it into two, and what was originally supposed to be Chapter Ten has to be pushed to Chapter Eleven. It's not a big deal, but if you felt like this chapter ended suddenly then that's probably why.
* You know the drill. If you like what you read, visit my blog,http://ksn-kaiser.blogspot.com/ or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.