* This is an epilogue to a story I wrote called "Piper + Meredith". In some ways I think it can be read independently from the main story but I certainly wouldn't recommend that. For those who have read P+M and enjoyed where it ended, I would say "don't bother reading this" because it mightn't be what you think it is. Of course if you're not that intense then just read on and opine. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you could stop by my blog http://ksn-kaiser.blogspot.com/ and say what you think. All feedback is welcomed and appreciated.
Okay! Here we go!
Those Who Walk With Ghosts: A Piper + Meredith Epilogue
"What am I listening to?"
There were some rumblings. Someone in the background, presumably another musician, on the phone. He asked to be involved, that "this stuff was right". Meredith glanced sceptically, wondering what it was she supposed to be listening to. Piper's cute smile only told her to keep listening.
Then there came a fade out. Then the synthesized tones of a keyboard. Meredith peaked. Piper's beautiful almond eyes were fixed on her she listened to a vocalist pipe up.
"I like the way you move," he crooned. There were soft jingles and twinkling chimes. The keyboard beat faded into the background and a female voice joined him in saying 'all together'. When she stepped back and took stock, Meredith realized that Piper was right. The melody was beautiful.
"I like the way you move... period."
The twinkling song was easy to get lost in. Yet, when Piper's smile became sly, became lusty, Meredith knew something more special was coming her way. After nearly six months she could read Piper's emotions in a snap. As the girl slowly came up behind her chair she knew what was coming.
The kisses were light at first. Sweet. Soft. Little pecks against the length of her bared neck. By tilting her head to the left side and sweeping away her chestnut locks, she'd openly freed up her supple neck for Piper to caress with those tender lips of hers. Juicy kisses began behind the cool flap of Meredith's ear. Piper found a spot and suckled it for the briefest instance before moving on. Each kiss a little lower than the last.
"I just wanna dance with you..."
Meredith swallowed breaths so sharp her nostrils flared. The grip she had off the edges of the chair's armrests was so tight her knuckles turned white. It was all she could do to simply sit there and control herself. Piper's hands, so delicate and careful for someone her age, came to Meredith's shoulders and began to knead. The gentle caress purposefully worked the knots out of her system while those angelically soft lips kissed they way down to her trembling nape.
"I just wanna hold you close..."
Meredith's eyes rolled in their sockets with every gesture. Her lover's cool breath tickled her damp skin. Then before she knew it, before Meredith could tell her no, that tickling sensation glided from the back of her neck to it left side, where Piper replaced it with her teeth. The older woman sobbed and shut her legs to help stifle that familiar longing between her hips. She whimpered "...don't..." fleetingly, half-heartedly.
"Take you in my arms..."
She knew by now the fascination Piper had with her neck. Meredith had to admit to more than a little... arousal... when the teen told her how milky it was when they were in bed together. Piper would spend minutes lavishly explaining how beautifully her neck caught the light when it was wet, how delicate its flesh felt between her teeth, how her perfume complimented it. Meredith's neck bruised like a peach -- and more than a few times she'd been forced to come into work twirled around it to hide the hickeys. Meredith, all her senses exploding, strained to tell her to stop; but so sly was her young lover that she failed to notice Piper's true goal, the offending bra clip underneath Meredith's sweater...
It was one of those lazy Sunday mornings when it seemed like there was nothing other than lounging around to do. Was there more? Maybe. There were some clothes in the dryer that would be done soon. The dirty dishes from breakfast were still dirty and cluttering up their sink. There was even bowl of unmentionables waiting in the laundry room for Meredith to fold. So many little chores to run around and get done but right now she could hardly muster the will to yawn, let alone iron or fold or wash dishes. Instead Meredith looked down into her lap and found Piper's tired smile beaming back her. The youngster yawned, shielding her mouth briefly. Her free hand reached up and idly cupped Meredith's cheek.
"Are you doing anything today?" She asked.
Other than normal household chores there really wasn't that much to do. It was a Sunday. A boring, trivial, random Sunday. "Not so much. What about you?"
"Homework," Piper's shoulders depressed. "Homework, homework and more homework."
That was one thing Meredith always thanked the stars for -- not having to cajole the girl into working hard. Piper was far from an enthusiast when it came to academics but she had an understanding of its importance. So she grudgingly fulfilled her school commitments and kept everybody happy. None more so than Meredith.
The older woman reached for the O magazine by the coffee table. "We should do something fun."
"I don't know," the pages flapped open. "Wasn't there an exhibit you wanted to see?"
She'd been talking about it all week; during breakfast, walking home from school, so on and so forth. A collection of art projects gathered city-wide from a pool of 17-25 year olds. The exhibition was to be held in the arts centre downtown. If Meredith's memory served her, Ashley wanted to go but was too tied up in dates with her boyfriend to make it happen, according to a chagrined Piper.
"You wanna go?"
A page turned. "It's up to you. We're still going for dinner tonight, remember?"
Meredith pulled the magazine out of her sight. "Don't tell me you forgot...?"
She watched Piper lean up, sheepishly, and tuck a lock of her fluid ebony hair behind her ear. She had that guilty look in her eye, the one that told Meredith everything, no matter how hard Piper wanted to say different. Which was why when Piper folded her feet underneath her and sat upon her soles, she took the O magazine away. Youthfully soft fingers took Meredith's hand in their grasp while Piper's thumb sent soothing strokes back and forth across her palm.
"I'm sorry..." whispered the teen. "I guess I've just had a lot on my mind recently."
It might have been a trite excuse at any other time but Meredith knew otherwise. Things were kind of hectic right now. The school year was coming to a close and everyone was gearing up for the summer -- and that which lay beyond it, college. It brought back a lot of memories for Meredith, watching Piper go through that.
Of course, she graduated in the eighties, right in the heart of the Reagan era, which was VERY different from today. It was all counter-culture, leg warmers and Michael Jackson, but most of it was a haze for her, something that breezed by; not because time's passage was swift but because she wanted to overlook everything about her high school years. But Piper was living hers now, as well she should.
Meredith hardly remembered her prom. All she recalled was going with a boy named Duncan Butters; a gangly, pimply, semi-skinny boy whom had had a crush on her all throughout the senior year. She didn't want to go at all but her mother cajoled her into taking the plunge, and when Duncan asked her she couldn't say no. It was a trite evening. Punch and helium balloons, tortillas and congealing guacamole. Ice.
Meredith spent the evening in the arms of someone she didn't want. Every second she tried not sighing herself to death she would glance over Duncan's shoulder and watch Marisa Caldwell slow dancing with her boyfriend with such a heavy ache in her chest. All those lost years wondering why she just didn't seem to like boys the way her friends did...
"...Merry? Are you okay?" Piper blinked. "You just kind of zoned out there."
Meredith brushed the pane of her forehead. "...I'm sorry, sweetie. What were we talking about?"
"Dinner tonight. We're still going, right? I didn't spoil anything?"
"No, Piper. You didn't spoil anything."
When they heard the shunt of something thick by the door Meredith paused, not realizing she'd just leaned in for a kiss. Piper sighed. It was the paper boy, late as usual, disturbing them this hour of the morning. The weight of the couch shifted when Piper climbed off and headed for the door, slipping Meredith's own slippers on along the way. Piper came back not just with the newspaper but also the mail.
She cycled through each one, setting all of Meredith's letters at the back and slotting her own under her arm. That was when Piper came to one letter in the stack that held her still. It had a smudge mark at the back. Meredith watched Piper pause looking at it. She seemed to pay special focus to that particular letter. What was it?
"Is everything okay?"
"Y-yeah," Whatever it was Piper put with the rest of her share, underneath her arm. Then a postcard with more familiar handwriting perked her spirits. Teenage lips curled into a new smile as brightened eyes dashed from left to right, ingesting each word. A chuckle. "That goofball..."
Meredith stood. "What is it?"
"It's from Zack," she chirped.
"Wonderful. How's he doing?"
"Not great, if I'm supposed to believe this," Piper re-read an excerpt from the card, aloud this time. "...'I'm sending you this postcard because my Dad is too lame to pay for my broadband needs and my mom is too lame to give me my cell phone back. Tell Ash I sent her two 'heys', Krusty-style...."
"What does that mean?" Asked Meredith.
"Oh, it's nothing. He thinks he's being funny but all it does is show how much of a Simpsons geek he is. I don`t know why I miss him so much."
Though her smile was genuine there was a flicker of loss in Piper's eyes. It was a shock to everyone when his father finally became a senior partner. It meant a larger overall income for the family and obviously was a big plus sign on the resume, but there was a problem. The law firm in question was relocating to Annapolis, Maryland. It wasn't exactly D.C. local. Zack didn't want to go anymore than Ashley and Piper wanted to see him leave, but it wasn't up to them. The removal vans took him to Annapolis nearly three months ago.
Meredith's mood soured a little. She knew Piper missed him dearly. She didn't show it, and when Meredith tried talking about with her, Piper clammed up completely. No amount of cookies or French kisses could get her venting over the loss. Even now Meredith looked away, wondering if she aught to say something, but knowing Piper would only shoot it down and change the subject. She was a hard-headed girl. Inflexible. You wouldn't believe it was one of the things Meredith loved most about her.
Piper McCullough was ravishing.
It was all Meredith could think of while on top of her like this. No matter how many times Meredith saw Piper it always felt like the first time. She felt an odd nervous curiosity and hunger latch in her throat and stomach as she leisurely dragged her fingertips across the girl's smooth chest. Her touch made Piper quake. It didn't stop until her fingers drew an invisible line into that small valley of space between either of Piper's lush breasts.
Hungry shivers crept down Meredith's back as Piper watched her devour them with ravenous eyes. The older woman loved their natural `teardrop' shape. They fit her figure so perfectly, milky mounds capped by stiff pink nipples. The way their cerise colour contrasted her creamy skin made them look jewel-like. Piper's skin was remarkable in and of itself. Not a blemish could be found upon it; no moles, freckles or spots. Her flesh was hot. It flowered rouge all along her cheeks, her neck, her chest and her throat. Meredith felt each and every one of Piper's anxious trembles underneath her.
They locked eyes while Meredith unzipped Piper's jeans. She'd never understand how this beautiful teenager could lust after her so but it paled in comparison to every passionate urge Meredith felt. That passion dictated almost everything when they slept together. It gave Meredith the fluidity to kiss the breath out of her young lover whilst freeing her nubile hips from the denim fabric that confined them. She yanked the jeans all the way down to Piper's ankles where she kicked them off herself. One of them pushed the article out of the bed.
"...I love you, Piper..." murmured Meredith, holding her close. "I love you so much..."
Piper's only reply was a hard, guttural moan that melted into Meredith's mouth when they kissed. They writhed together utterly naked underneath the sheets of Meredith's king-sized mattress. As their shared moans grew in intensity the bed's metal springs rankled and groaned from the pressure. Young hips seized tight around the hand that found its way between them.
Meredith sobbed at the feeling, absolutely resplendent, of the walls of Piper's sopping vagina closing into a vice grip around her fingers. Piper's polished black fingernails drew furrows into Meredith's back. She clawed and sighed and sobbed and pleaded for her release.
Meredith drew every delight possible when Piper hit her apex. She shuddered and arched her back at the intensity of her orgasm. Piper's expression contorted with pleasure. Cool sweat glistened upon her fiery red cheeks. She bucked and cried until falling limp in Meredith's arms. She whimpered that loving nickname, Merry, over and over again. It was to Meredith's ear what honey was to her tongue. Sweet.
Tumultuous pants were the only thing heard in that bedroom until Piper's breath caught up with her. It wasn't long after that before they were kissing again.
Piper and Meredith often lost track of time when they made love. Not so much when they were downstairs (although they'd slept together on the dining table often enough) but when they were in bed together. It was an intimate space made even warmer by their shared presence. When everything became a haze of tangled limbs, sandwiched breasts and caressing tongues, the world outside was non-existent. When they embraced the world was warm. Oceans swelled when they kissed.
Meredith was on her back when she finally noticed it getting dark outside. An oblivious Piper straddled her by the hips. Her sodden hands, dampened by a mixture of saliva, sweat and discharge, lovingly kneaded Meredith's larger, more prominent breasts.
"...Wait..." groaned Meredith. She brushed wet, clingy strands of honeycomb-coloured hair from her forehead. "Our... dinner reservations... we`re going be late."
"...Who cares...?" Piper said it through a grin, leaning into Meredith's open neck. Hard kisses and bites came with the gesture. Her hot tongue lapped up every salty droplet of sweat that clung to it. "You already have me in your bed... save the money..."
As mature as Piper was for her age, she had an annoying streak of childishness that cropped up every now and again -- comments like that were its manifestation. Meredith turned on her bedside lamp. Artificial light flooded the room to eclipse the natural moonlight coming through the window, making things decidedly less romantic. Piper sighed.
"I need a shower first," Ever resenting anything on Piper that even looked like a frown, Meredith leaned up and kissed the girl on her cute little nose. "Do you want to come with me?"
Piper answered `yes' by pressing their smirking lips together again.
It was a French restaurant all the way downtown.
Meredith couldn't remember the last time she'd been here. It was still very much the same though. Nestled on the corner of a piazza with benches and a wishing fountain babbling nearby. A velvety crimson carpet extended from the glass double doors to the sidewalk. The last time she came she left with a very favourable impression of the food so it seemed sensible to take Piper here tonight.
Meredith's black slingbacks clicked the asphalt as she came out of the cab. She was without a jacket. Despite the lingering breeze it was a warm evening. Summer was on its way. Piper emerged from the other side of the cab where she shut the door behind her. The impending graduate walked around the trunk and came up by her girlfriend's side, where her hands found the skirt of her dress and smoothed it out.
"My legs feel SO open in this thing," Piper whined. "And my feet are killing me already. Merry, how can you stand wearing heels so much?"
"Oh stop it. I think you look gorgeous."
And she did. The dress and the club-heel shoes and the choker, it all fit. Through the months since they first admitted how much they loved each other, Piper had been letting her hair grow. By now it already extended a third of the way down her back. For tonight the songstress bundled it all up in a ponytail that swished against the open back of her dress. Aside from her black nail polish and mascara, Piper applied no cosmetics to herself whatsoever, which was good in its own way. Lipstick and blush probably wouldn't suit her the way it did other girls her age. Plus her new footwear made a nice change from those scruffy old doc Martens she always wore.
Unfortunately Piper hated dresses. You'd think she was some stereotypical Second Wave feminist the way Piper resented wearing them. Despite that Piper realized that this night was important to Meredith so opted to look the part.
Piper was going to graduate soon and said months ago that she'd be celebrating the night with Ashley. That disappointed Meredith somewhat, she wanted Piper to be with her that night, but if that was what she wanted, well, she had no plans to stand in the way. They had a six-month anniversary coming up anyway -- that would be their night.
"You think so?" The teen eyed herself over. "Because I don't."
"You're perfect, sweetie. Don't be a sourpuss."
Piper blushed. Meredith was good at that, making her blush. As headstrong as Piper McCullough was Meredith had something of a sobering effect on her. A few kind words brought calm to her mind. Or reaffirmed love. In a second Meredith checked her watch. 8:12, they weren't late.
A hand cupped hers.
Its fingers intertwined with her own. At first Meredith did not noticed Piper taking her by the hand. The hand was so soft, felt so right and so comfortable, she didn't question it. Piper squeezed, sending a little jolt of warmth up her arm. Then it hit her. They were holding hands -- out in the open.
"...Piper...!" Meredith jerked her hand away. "We're in public, remember?!"
"...Oh. Yeah." A loving smile crumbled into a recollecting frown. "Right."
"I'm sorry.... lets just... lets just go inside, okay?"
Piper led the way. Stiffly. "Fine."
It was actually a little cooler inside the restaurant than out thanks to the discretely hidden air conditioning. Meredith and Piper came to the maître d' at the foyer's dais. It was a nostalgic place like that -- rather than keeping reservations on a computer they recorded everything on paper. It was thicker than a copy of Being and Nothingness.
"Bonjour, welcome to Le Ange Chevalier..." said the apathetic maître d'. "Would you happen to have reservations?"
"McCullough, party of two." Explained Meredith. "Eight-fifteen?"
He scrolled through the register. "Of course. The table is ready and waiting for you but it's been a slow night so, if you have any preference we could make an exception. Would you prefer a window seat for you and your daughter?"
"Oh, I`m not her mother, we're..."
"...Good friends," Piper finished the lie for her, somewhat sharply. "Just... `good friends'. It doesn't matter where we sit."
The maître d' paused a moment, eyed Piper then Meredith, then reached into the dais and withdrew two menus. He handed both to a waiter standing by. Said waiter led the two women to their table. It was in a non-smoking area. Here he proceeded to ask them what beverage they might like. Meredith asked for wine. Piper, ice water.
Things were silent when he left to get them.
Grocery shopping wasn't an art but with all the artfulness you needed to get it right, you'd think it was, particularly when it came to buying fruit. You needed to develop a way of inspecting produce without manhandling it. Meredith had the ability down to a tee as she strolled along by the fruit market with a shopping bag and curious eye.
Supermarket fruit and vegetables were never her thing. Some were wrapped in plastic and many were bruised by the touch of consumers. Meredith got hers from open air markets. Groceries were just fresher coming from them. Bananas (which bruised easily) were always ripe. Potatoes still dusty with soil. Tomatoes that were so firm you could strip the flesh off them with your teeth. Everything was better at markets. That was one of the secrets of contemporary cooking. Get your ingredients as earthy and natural as possible.
Meredith eyed her current finds. Her bag, tough and reusable, was packed to its brim with goodies. Three juicy melons, Spanish oranges, English Bramley apples, a bundle of unseeded green grapes, and a papaya (more for Piper than for herself). The bag hung heavy in her hand. Her fingers would surely be aching when she returned to her car but a private grin crossed Meredith's lips when she imagined Piper kissing them better. And she would. Even if she was at war with less than a cramp, Piper would eagerly come to those aching fingers and kiss them better, kiss away the pain, all to make her `Merry' feel better.
Whilst observing a stack of spring onions, each bundle tied together by rubber bands, Meredith wondered what Piper's kisses couldn't cure. For the few months she and the teen had been dating, it didn't matter how depressed or annoyed or angry Meredith was at... anything, all it took was her confident smile and a kiss... and they were washed away.
She used to find solace in grocery shopping, not because there was anything particularly interesting about it, but because it allowed her to get out of the house every now and again with no questions. Now, knowing that she had Piper's love to return to, it felt like the chore it really was -- and Meredith couldn't wait to get home.
"Excuse me,?" Meredith gestured to the Middle Eastern man running the stall. "How much for these spring onions?"
He glanced up from his copy of today's Post, rankling its pages, then eyed the product and offered his dour response; "85 cents."
Meredith frowned. The price had gone up a second time in three weeks. She suspected as much. "But it was 70 cents last week."
"Yes, and now it is more."
Food prices were ridiculous these days. Unfortunately Meredith wasn't of the mind to haggle, instead she handed over a dollar bill. In return she got her change and the roll of spring onions (which she put in her grocery bag). That was the last thing she needed for today, the rest was already at home for her to prepare. Meredith turned to leave, when...
She wheeled around without thinking. You do that when someone calls your name. A small, wiry woman in her late forties was behind her, her face scrunched into a disbelieving smile. Who was she? It took slight moments for Meredith to attach a name to a face but eventually memories trickled into something solid. She was Margaret Bates, an old neighbour of theirs who moved out with her three sons before the housing market flopped. One of her boys had a crush on Piper's friend Ashley for the longest time, but it never went anywhere. Apparently he wasn't "tall, dark and handsome" enough.
"It's been a long time," waxed Meredith's old neighbour.
"Margaret," she smiled. "How nice to see you again."
"Of course, of course! What's it been, a year? Where does the time go? Well, how are you, dear? How have you been?"
The past year had been a complete whirlwind. Half of which was a haze of suppressed feelings, lust and sleepless nights. Tears. The other half had been this golden gift from God, she and Piper finally living as a couple... albeit a discrete one. Of course those were the kinds of "activities" someone like Margaret wouldn't understand. Few would.
"I'm okay, you know?" Explained Meredith. "The house is fine and I've got a new job that pays well... at Piper's school and everything."
"And Piper? How is she?"
Meredith resisted the will to grin. "She's doing well. Really well. Things are a little hectic now, what with her applying to Corcoran Arts and Design, and all, but... I'm very proud of her."
She was glad to hear that, apparently, as she smiled and informed Meredith of the activities of her boys. Two of them were set to graduate and attend college out of state. The youngest of the three was still a freshman. At first Meredith was happy to speak with Margaret, what with her being one of the kinder neighbours on their street. At first. Then Meredith watched the sunlight fade from her older friend's smile as she asked,
"How have you been coping?" Her ashy voice was a whisper. "Since Terry passed on?"
Maybe they lived an isolated life. She and Piper. With Zack gone and Ashley busy, Piper was at home more often than before. Meredith herself was an understated person who didn't have an exceedingly big social life -- the few friends she had were either fellow teachers from work, neighbours (current and old) like Margaret, or some lost acquaintance from her college days she exchanged emails with. Because of that, most of the time, it was only her and her lover, Piper and Meredith, living together in that big suburban homestead of theirs. A de facto cross-generational cohabitation, if you will. Their life was like a bubble with its own rules and intricacies, and one of them was silence with regards to that name; Terry McCullough.
Meredith blanched. She threw an uncomfortable half-smile to her left and distracted herself with a different stall across the market, one that sold tinned goods.
Out of everything that complicated her relationship with Piper, nothing confused things more than Terry did. Neither she nor Piper liked to bring his name up. Anytime they did it always made things... awkward. Meredith hated that. Sometimes it felt like she was cruelly asking Piper to choose between her and her father's memory. Meredith herself came to terms with her husband's death a long time ago, he was resting, and she certainly didn't miss all those tearful nights wondering how Terry would return from Afghanistan; traumatized, limbless or just fine.
And suddenly her wedding ring finger felt absurdly naked.
Meredith forced herself to smile when something wet stung her eyes, turning her mascara into globs. She couldn't see through her lashes. That was funny. Were those tears? She wasn't sure, it'd been so long since she last...
Something clunking hit the ground.
Warm arms enfolded Meredith's forearms and back. A hand cradled the back of her hair and took her congested nose and her quivering lips to a shoulder. Margaret's shoulder. Almost beyond her volition Meredith reached for her too, holding her close, struggling to control sobs that suddenly sprung from her chest and wracked her throat. Some other shoppers passed by watching Meredith cry against Margaret's shoulder. The old neighbour waved them away from business that wasn't their own.
"Shhhh..." soothed Margaret. "It's okay, dear. I understand."
But she didn't.
No one did.
"But I don't understand, why now? It's once every couple of months, right? What does Piper think?"
Sometimes Frank really pissed Meredith off.
He had this unmistakable knack of making you feel like a fool by arguing with him. Fortunately he had a mind for Piper's welfare. Even back then, when Piper spent a weekend at his place to get some space, he didn't ask too many questions. Meredith was equally grateful for Frank not questioning her, personally.
So why on earth did he have to start now?
The widower sighed, tossing one stocking-enfolded leg over the other and leaned back into her chair. Her French tips repeatedly rapped the coffee table's grain, sending ripples throughout her lukewarm coffee cup.
"I haven't asked her yet."
"...Tch. Figures. If you did, she won't take it too kindly."
"Doesn't that bother you?"
"Let the kid be. When she wants to do this, she will."
Most of the time Meredith struggled to understand how to approach Frank. And why? Because he was so darn approachable. Candid. He was such a gruff seeming man and yet so rational and level-headed. That was what made him so hard to argue with. That was what made it so hard to tell him to shut up and get on board, back you up.
"Maybe it isn't good for her, bottling it all up."
"We don't all do things the same way, Meredith," Frank mused. "And we can't all cope as well as you."
He didn't say that to chastise or slander her, presume that there was something curious about how 'well' Meredith dealt with his brother's death. No, Frank long said he admired her for it. It was in keeping with Frank's earthy wisdom to know that people expressed their grief at differing tempos.
Piper never spoke about Terry unless she had to -- she hadn't even told her friends he was gone -- but Meredith's little breakdown... whatever you wanted to call it... made her rethink it all. Maybe it wasn't healthy submerging Terry's memory like this. What was it really accomplishing?
"Lets bring her along," Meredith reaffirmed. "I know normally it's just you and me, but... I really think it would be good for her to see her Dad again."
Frank sighed. "...If she says yes, I'll come. Okay?"
"Thanks. That's all I ask, Frank. Just support me." Meredith reached for her coffee before it went completely cold. It already had. Meredith gagged, coughed it back up, the shock of which caused her to rise. As her chair shunted back it knocked the coat stand behind the table. Meredith glanced over her shoulder and quickly grabbed it before it fell, but one of its jackets, Piper's, flew off its peg and slumped to the floor. An open envelope slipped from the pocket.
"Meredith? Are you still there?"
"Y-yeah," Gosh, when did she get so clumsy? "Give me a second, Frank, I just dropped something."
Meredith down the phone for a second to steady the coat stand. Once it was in place the honey-haired teacher dropped to her knees and took Piper's jacket up. That was when she noticed it. The letter. The same one she'd gotten with Zack's postcard a few weeks back. Meredith could tell from the smudge mark it had. The letter inside had slipped free from the envelope. On the furthest corner of that letter was a symbol. A blue one. And in equally blue letters around that symbol it said proudly;
"The University of California"
"Let there be light"
As a kid Meredith often bit her nails.
She did it the first time she saw the 'pig blood' scene in Carrie. She did it that night her Papa took her camping and told her scary stories. She did it the night before her wedding. Now, with her manicure in mind, Meredith managed to resist that urge. Kept it numb. She had to. Who would've believed a college acceptance letter could chill her so?
A longing arm reached for warmth, a body, her lover's warm body, but her fingertips only grazed the bedding. Meredith blinked her eyes open, let them adjust to the darkness, then glanced to her right where Piper's slept. The teen slumbered on the other side of their bed all balled up like a foetus. Her thin arms clutched tight to her chest and her knees were drawn underneath them. She looked so vulnerable like that, fragile and helpless, and it was Meredith's sole urge to reach out and just cuddle her, hold her close, but she didn't want to wake her.
Maybe Piper was still mad.
When she came home from Ashley's, Meredith had asked, oh so mechanically, if she wanted to come visit Terry's grave with her. She got the reaction she expected. Surprise. Disbelief. Anger. Sadness. What Meredith didn't get was the answer she expected... instead she got a 'yes'.
And Piper hadn't spoken to her since.
Even her kiss goodnight was cold.
Had Meredith not found that acceptance letter from UCLA, maybe, just maybe, she would've paid that more mind. But no. No. The widower's mind was so encumbered by its own fears. Like why on Earth Piper even applied to an out of state school. Her grades were great and money wasn't an issue so why? Why? When all her life was here, when Meredith herself was here, her lover; why the hell would Piper apply to a college in California?
It had to be some kind of mistake.
She wasn't sure what the nature of that mistake was but she was sure that it was a mistake. Of that Meredith was certain. So all night she struggled and wondered if she should bring it up. But how would she explain accidentally breaking Piper's trust and reading something so utterly private? There was just no way to.
Meredith's tired grey eyes gazed across the bed again. At the gap between herself and her dearest sweetheart, Piper.
It seemed like that gap got bigger every night.
It wasn't normally so depressing when Meredith visited Terry's grave. She would bring him flowers, usually the only kind he liked, carnations, and thread them into the softer soil by his headstone. She would tell him how things at the house had been, how Piper was doing, how the family was coping without him. With a cloth and some water she might wipe off any dust or bird droppings the groundskeepers failed to spot. It wasn't depressing.
Why this time was so different was something to be puzzled by.
A bristly Frank crouched at the stone bearing his brother's name and years. It called Terry a 'true American', a phrase he asked Meredith to have engraved at his own expense. Such a title suited his memory beautifully.
"Hey, little brother," Frank's smile was small. "Been a while, huh? Meredith always keeps you so nice, I'm beginning to wonder if Mom was right about me."
Meredith moved to ask him what he meant by that but stopped and glanced when she heard a sneeze to her left. It was Piper. She protected her lengthier hair from the drizzle with an umbrella while her shoulders remained hunched beneath the musky warmth of Frank's leather jacket.
Meredith couldn't keep from wondering even as the drizzle pelted the roof of her own umbrella, threatening to distract her from her thoughts. Piper acted liked she didn't want to be here at all. Not only did she refuse to look Meredith's way but she refused to turn an eye to her father's grave. If she were anyone other than Terry's daughter it would've been downright rude.
"Piper?" called out the elder woman. "Don't you wanna say hi to your father?"
She shot a sharp glance Meredith's way, wordless, like she couldn't believe she'd just asked her that. Yet in her own way Meredith was just as mad at Piper for acting this way. Even throughout the ride over here Piper was sullen. It wasn't like Meredith expected miracles... after all it was her Daddy resting underneath this earth... but did that mean she couldn't try, for all their sakes?
The teenager paused at Meredith for a moment, then turned briefly to the headstone, before moving again into the distance. The cemetery was a wide patch of shallow hillocks with dirt and cobblestone and dirt paths streaking between them. Each one had a respective plot of stones, some stretching as far back in age as the early 1800's. Piper seemed to find those more interesting than the one marking her father's place of burial.
"My Dad is gone," she said, scornfully. "No point talking like he's still here."
And she stomped off toward the gates down the path. Meredith tried catching up with her, calling her name, but Frank's placed a hand on her shoulder. Held her back. "Don't. Just let her go."
"Frank, I didn't mean to-"
"I know you didn't," he said. "You're good for her. I know that. If I didn't think that I wouldn't let her stay with you. But I think you need to just... let her do this in her own way."
"Meredith. Let it go."
It was so easy for him to say that when he was on the outside of things. But this wasn't just about Piper's grieving. The last thing Meredith wanted was for Terry to be this... shadow hanging over her relationship with Piper. That was not the way she wanted to see her former husband nor was it the way she wished Piper would see him. How unfair was that to wish for? And what on earth was the alternative?
Meredith thought about the UCLA acceptance letter again. The 'alternative' in question was so unbearable she shuddered to think it.
While her head swam in its secret fears she let Frank talk. It gave Piper a moment to herself and providing Meredith with the same. It was about a quarter of an hour later, when Frank had burned through his third Lucky, that they caught up with her. Terry's daughter was where they expected her to be, by Frank's car, waiting for them. Rain droplets whizzed around her bangs as she grumpily twirled the umbrella in her fingertips.
All three climbed into the car in silence. Frank took the wheel while Meredith sat in the passenger side and buckled up. She moved to tell Piper to do the same but when she looked back Piper already had. Okay.
They locked eyes for a minute. Meredith saw Piper's eyes flash with little wet traces, a dull sparkle. Then she looked away and rubbed them out. All Meredith wanted was to reach out and hold her but with Frank just adjacent...
It was one of those moments where Meredith REALLY felt the constraints of their relationship. Not being able to touch Piper when she wanted but when society wanted, only able to cuddle her in private like they were outcasts.
After they left Frank drove them a mile or so off to a cafe Meredith told him of earlier. She often went there after visiting Terry's grave, usually to gather her thoughts and calm down a bit, so arranged for Frank to take them there today. Piper's reaction wouldn't change that. It was a quiet little spot reminiscent of an English pub. Very wooden and rustic. Sturdy support beams loomed overhead. It was ornament rich with numerous posters and flags for Washington sports teams; the Wizards, the Nationals, the Redskins, etc.
After finding parking in the lot around back, Frank, Meredith and Piper came in and found a table by the window. Meredith closed her umbrella and shook it dry then draped her jacket over her chair, freeing up her sweater collar. Piper bothered not to remove her own when she took her seat.
Frank was the first one to say something since leaving the cemetery. "I'll get us some drinks. What do we want?"
"Cappuccino for me, please, Frank." Meredith said.
He turned to his niece.
"...Ice water. Thanks, Uncle Frank."
Frank grunted his approval and made his way over to the counter. The instant he was out of earshot Meredith grabbed the moment. "Piper, listen to me, I didn't mean to upset you, that's not what I wanted."
The girl sighed, looking up at her briefly, before tossing her lashes and turning left to the window. Her honey-brown orbs absorbed the cloudy skies outside. Didn't people normally pray for good weather when they visited the cemeteries their loved ones were interred in? Yet somehow those ugly grey clouds seemed appropriate today.
Finally Piper replied. "...I know. I know, Merry. You 'L' me. What's best, right?"
"Yes," Meredith breathed a little sigh... maybe of relief. "That's what I want."
Piper chuckled then. Derisively.
"He's my Dad, okay? My Dad. And we're doing you and me now, right? What? Did... you... did you just think me coming down here would make me feel better about it? How could it? He's my Dad, Merry!"
Maybe she should've moved to tell Piper to keep her voice down, not draw any unwanted attention to themselves from neighbouring people, but found herself humbled instead. Is that why Piper didn't want to come see Terry?
"I know it's hard to think about," Meredith expressed. "But do you really want it to be like this between us every time we talk about him?"
Piper said nothing.
"It won't go away, you know. Not until we learn to... accept it."
"Well, that's my decision, okay?" The teenager replied, turning back to Meredith. "And I'll make it when I want. You can take off your wedding ring and he's gone but he's my Dad, alright? And any time I come down here all I think about is... "would he hate me if he knew?". So don't sit there and make decisions for me because you don't have a clue, okay?"
Meredith's felt her heart pounding in her mouth. "If you didn't want to go this badly then why..."
The older woman was silenced by the stark, almost disbelieving glare Piper gave her the second she said it. "I... can't believe you'd even ask me that..."
The girl scowled, wrenched away the hand that Meredith place upon her knee, whispered, "I have to go to the bathroom" and slid out of the compartment just as Frank returned with three beverages for them. He watched Piper storm off to the ladies' room, then cast a confused eye Meredith's way.
"What the hell's going on?" He asked.
Meredith's face tensed in her palm. "...Nothing."
Her gasps were profound.
Meredith vainly tried to keep up as Piper's stumbling fingers jerked her skirt down the length of her writhing legs but the teenager's kiss was too bruising, too explosive. She tried to hang onto Piper but the teen took her wrist and forced it against the pillow, tangling it with Meredith's golden hair, all sweaty and limp from exertion. While the older of the two women found the presence of mind to kick the skirt from her ankles, the younger ignored it and broke from Meredith's lips, pausing to hear her breathless gasp, then plunged into her neck.
And yes, it hurt.
Meredith grit her teeth hard, tensed, as Piper bit and sucked and licked at it. Piper's hands made themselves useful by taking her. One had Meredith by cheek to keep her still while bites rained up the length of her neck, while the other made good on the promise it made by pulling off Meredith's underwear with a brief slip. Piper's hand slid between Meredith's wriggling thighs.
Meredith's back arched. Her body briefly lifted at Piper's weight until she gave way and collapsed into a cloud of sighs. Tuffs of golden chestnut hair writhed with her as she tossed her head back and forth. She was caught between two opposites, the pleasure of twinned fingers thrusting into and out of her vagina perfunctorily; and the sharp pain of Piper's bruising kiss, gnawing at her neck's flushed skin.
She smothered the two sensations together, pain and pleasure, until they blurred, a world removed inside their bed sheets, blocking out everything else, even the remembrance of him and whose bed this really was...
'Just let her hurt you a little more...' thought Meredith. Her eyes blinked away something crystalline. 'Maybe that way you won't lose her...'
Okay, now she was REALLY getting annoyed.
School ended at three today, right? Well it was half-past now. What on earth could be keeping that boy? Didn't he understand that she had places to be as well? It wasn't as though she wanted to talk over his bad behaviour, she'd much rather leave that to a teacher he knew better. Still, it was Meredith's class he was failing in worst of all, so that counted for something.
While waiting for Wayne to make his appearance, Meredith tossed some coffee back. Meanwhile her tips fiddled through a stack of test papers until she found Wayne's -- which was pretty unmistakable -- it was the only one with a big red 'F'. She sighed.
In all honesty it was a lousy day. First she was late for work because Piper shut off her alarm clock, thus she forced to skip breakfast. When she finally got to school half of her first class was gone, thinking her absent. Unfortunately she was then put on lunch room duty, which normally was no big deal, but of course something HAD to happen today and it did -- a huge fight between two boys over a girl they both wanted to date. Meredith nearly lost a heel prising them off one and other. Finally there was this, being forced to wait around for Wayne when she had so much to get done.
He was failing pretty hard in English, had a string of poor results across the spectrum, and some were wondering if it had something to do with all the football practice he was putting in. He was a fullback for a local team unaffiliated with the school so it wasn't like they could cut him and demand he pull his grades up, but they could call his parents, and if he didn't buck his ideas, Meredith would. Practice was demanding but that was no excuse, especially not the way kids seemed so apt for multi-tasking these days. So she tried to hide her lack of sympathy.
When she was at school Meredith felt... younger than she was, and memories rang strong with her, so she recalled the way football jocks would leer at her between classes. That streak of teenhood never really changed. Just two days ago she had to slap Jason the quarterback with detention after he scratched "Mrs. McCullough is a total MILF" into his desk. It wasn't flattering or amusing.
The only thing getting Meredith through such a hectic day was knowing that tomorrow, finally, was her and Piper's six month anniversary. Six whole months. Meredith had been planning it for weeks and tomorrow would finally be the night.
She couldn't help but smile a little, just to herself. Things had been so strained between Piper and herself recently so it was her hope that a quiet night in would make things better, smooth over the wrinkles in their relationship. Those wonderful thoughts had Meredith so enraptured she failed to notice the door open when Wayne finally made his appearance. He came up to her desk while she sat there grinning over her coffee until he got tired of waiting.
The supply teacher jerked up. "Huh?"
Wayne shrugged. "You wanted to see me?"
"Yes," she cleared her throat abruptly. "Yes I did. Wayne, we need to talk."
He didn't complain. For fifteen minutes of lecturing and warnings he agreed to pull his grades up come next year -- but he was less complicit when she finally got around to what she really brought him here to say... summer school. After that he argued and complained and protested, but it was well out of Meredith's hands. He needed to make up the credit but it was too late in the year for a turn-around, all she could do was tell him to be thankful he wasn't a senior.
He sulked away after that. As sorry as she felt for him she couldn't linger on this. Meredith got her purse and her jacket in order, filed away all the paperwork she didn't need to carry home, then left school grounds and headed off downtown. There were lots of foodstuffs to buy, a card to get, and a present to wrap.
Tomorrow was going to be a good night.
Okay. Okay, okay, okay, okay, okay...
Meredith breathed a calming sigh, bid herself to relax, and reflected. Everything was cool. The table was laid out perfectly. In the middle of the oval-shaped dinner table was a vase blooming with fragrant red roses. Two candlesticks were lit either side of it providing the room with its only illumination. All the silverware was set against two plates either side of the table over two folded burgundy-coloured napkins. A bottle of Chianti chilled in a bucket of ice so cold it was foggy. The fettuccine alfredo Meredith cooked left a pleasant aroma. It could only be complimented by the salad she made; crotons, pine nuts, cheese, lettuce, currents, tomato slices, mushrooms, etc...
There was also some cheesecake in the fridge waiting for the two of them after their meal, but she had to guiltily admit that it was store-bought. She wasn't good at making desserts just as yet but shelling out a few extra dollars wouldn't hurt.
Once she was sure everything downstairs was taken care of, that dinner was ready to be served as soon as Piper came home, Meredith undid her cooking apron and went upstairs, first for a shower and then to get dressed.
Fifteen minutes later Meredith nervously emerged in a fetching spaghetti-strap black dress. It ended just below her knees where the handiwork of her waxer became the focus, all the way down to the alaqua slingbacks her toes wiggled in. She wore the chocolate shade of lipstick Piper was so very fond of, powdered her nose a little, applied a dash of mascara, and peppered her skin with perfume.
It was 6:13.
Meredith paused to admire herself in her bedroom mirror before going downstairs. She certainly felt gorgeous, but did she look it? Well, that was for Piper to decide.
Once sure she was as tasty as the meal she cooked, Meredith returned to the lounge with her gift for Piper and waited. Her beloved spent most of yesterday and today at Ashley`s house. Meredith didn't allow herself to be miffed that they wouldn't share the brunt of their day together. As long as they had the night together that was all that mattered -- and to surprise her with all this, well, that was merely the icing on the cake.
Meredith checked the clock.
She could feel it in her stomach -- that she was excited to the point of nervousness -- but somehow Meredith held it down and flicked on the TV. Nothing interested her so she settled on watching a gardening show for the time being. Shears cut weeds and a bulky woman planted seeds in soil. Potted plants. Dandelions.
Meredith checked her wrist watch.
Didn't Piper call and say she'd be here by now? Half-past-six, she said. Hm. Maybe they were caught up in their little sleepover. Meredith knew that Piper hadn't seen Ashley in a while, what with them both being so busy and all... they had a lot to catch up on. Obviously. So the McCullough woman went into the kitchen and checked on the fettuccine. It was fine. Still looked succulent as all hell from where she was standing.
Meredith strode around the lounge, television left alone to emit a pale glow, as she pondered calling Piper. Was she caught up in traffic or something? Ashley's mother was supposed to drive her back, wasn't she? Maybe they found themselves in the thicket of it. What else could it be? Meredith dejectedly helped herself to another glass of wine, downed it in a single swill, and heaved a sigh. Her third of the night and Piper wasn't even here yet.
Her face was in her palms, propped up by her elbows, fingertips tangled in her hair, as that familiar sound pierced the silence -- keys turning in a lock. When Piper came in and switched the light on Meredith glanced up, tiredly, angrily, bitterly. She couldn't see those stale tear tracks descending her face but she felt them and their crispiness. They were less than enough to ignore and they emulated how she felt anyway.
Piper dropped her overnight bag and exchanged glances from Meredith, the two candlesticks melted into extinction, and the empty Chianti bottle propped up against the vase. "Merry?"
"Where... the hell were you?"
"You did all this for me...?"
"I did this for us!" Meredith yelled. "But why the hell should I have bothered, you obviously don't care!"
Piper frowned. "Merry, I didn't know you were making dinner, I-"
"It's our anniversary! Half a year, Piper, half a year! What did you expect me to do, yawn and throw a fuck your way!?"
"I'm sorry, okay?" Defended the teen. "I'm really sorry... I just... I didn't know. If I did, I would've come straight back, but..."
She trailed off when she realized that nothing she said could make this better. Meredith rubbed the wetness out of her eyes quick enough to see the regret in Piper's... but blinked at how minimal it seemed to be. The older woman chuckled disbelievingly. Hurled an angry smile at the two candlesticks melted into disfigured clumps of wax. Why did they seem so emblematic right now?
"What happened to us, Piper?" Meredith asked it honestly, tiredly.
The teenager looked away, eyes without lustre. "I... don't know what you mean."
"And you couldn't call? You couldn't pick up the phone and tell me you were going to be late? You didn`t have the decency to just do that for me?"
Piper's eyes sharpened. "Are we living out of each other's pockets now? I told you I would've come if I knew you were making dinner, I just... I didn't think tonight was such a big deal."
That pretty much said everything, didn't it? Six whole months. Every misgiving Meredith forced herself to suppress to make this relationship happen, and six months later there was this? This? Was this the purchase? Meredith chuckled mirthlessly again, threw her hair back and tied it into a ponytail. She had no idea why she did so but she did. Maybe just to busy her hands. It was when she tossed that ponytail off her shoulder that Meredith caught Piper staring at her, longingly.
"...You look beautiful..." She whispered.
Meredith half-smiled. "I thought so too."
"Couldn't we have dinner now?"
Piper exhaled. "Meredith..."
"What? What do you want to say?"
"...I don't understand why you're so mad at me. I didn't do it on purpose."
For some reason Meredith found herself thinking about someone she hadn't spared a thought for in months.
Looking back at Piper's old girlfriend she remembered how desperate she was to keep the girl in her life. Kristen would've done anything for her, if her actions were any indicator. For a long time Meredith felt the same way. Maybe a few weeks ago she would've been willing to forgive this, let Piper's smiles and kisses lull her away from the cracks in their relationship and just reheat the pasta, eat, and then fall asleep in each others arms. She could've done that. Ignored the problem. Meredith wanted to do that. She wanted to just forget this and let Piper hold her. But... it was because she loved Piper as much as she did that she couldn't let it go. Not tonight. Instead... Meredith went for the jugular.
"Why did you apply to UCLA?"
The question struck Piper so suddenly she didn't see it coming. She looked up, ripped from whatever personal thoughts she was having, and directed all of her attention at Meredith. "...How do you know about that?"
"Not until you tell me how you know that!"
"I saw the letter," Meredith admitted. "It fell out of your jacket pocket."
Piper's eyes thinned again. "You went through my stuff?"
"It was an accident, Piper, and that's not even important. Explain to me why you're applying for a college on the other side of the goddamn country."
"Who the hell are you to be going through my stuff?!" Piper barked, turning on her heels. "You know what? I'm outta here."
Meredith kept pace with her. "Don't you walk away from me, Piper!"
She practically jogged into the corridor but before she turned to ascend the stairs Meredith took her by the wrist and turned her back. A scowling Piper yanked her wrist free. "You had no right to do that!"
"Piper, talk to me...!" Meredith pleaded. "We're supposed to be a couple, aren't we?"
An icy stare met that plea. "...Stay the hell away from me."
She ran all the way up to her bedroom. Hers. Not the one with the bed they'd shared since they first fell in love. The other one. The empty one. All Meredith's instincts told her to run up there after her and fix this but all her sensibilities told her otherwise. Meredith breathed a trembling sigh and returned to the lounge, slinking into the sofa and cocooning her face in her hands. She couldn't stop shaking. Then disturbing wonderings and misgivings clouded her mind, turning black and white into grey, as she seriously stopped and asked herself... if she could fix it.
Look at her.
Look at her eyes.
She's looking at me like I'm pathetic... but why? Why was she being like this with me? It's like she thinks I forgot everything. I didn't want to feel like this or anything, I didn't just... wake up one morning and beg myself to like girls. I didn't want to like girls. I wanted to be normal. I wanted what my Mommy and Daddy wanted for me, I just wanted to grow up and get married and have kids, just... be a normal girl. But she did it, she... brought this outta me.
I hate feeling this way!
I would've preferred to just lock it up somewhere inside and never see it again.
But how could I after Marisa kissed me?
We were always friends. My Mom was friends with her mom. We liked the same music, liked the same shows, ate the same food, went to the same school. She made me so happy. I liked that we were best friends and I didn't ask for anything more than that. I would've been cool if that was all we were, just good friends.
But then she kissed me.
She changed everything.
We were just sitting there in my bedroom, talking about dumb stuff, about graduation and who would take who to the prom and... then Marisa kissed me. Put her lips against mine. Held me. I tried to pull away but I didn't move. I just... felt all weird in my tummy. I liked it. Didn't want it to stop. Then my Mom had to... choose to come upstairs and Marisa stopped kissing me... practically jumped off my bed to get away from me.
But it didn't matter. She liked me. I knew that she liked me. She was the one who chased me. I didn't want to be that way, I thought... maybe my Daddy might hate me or something, but she wouldn't let it go. Marisa kept coming to me even when I ignored her calls and told her to stay away. She got through to me. Made me love her. Made me want her. Made me so angry and jealous anytime I saw her with another girl.
So then why...?
Why go to all this trouble if she was just gonna break up with me like this...
I don't get it...
I just don't get it... and I can't stop crying... and she's looking at me like I'm so pathetic... like I'm this big... thing getting in her way... even after I let her touch me...
"Stop crying, Meredith," she says, hands ten-and-two on the wheel. "You know I don't like it when you cry."
I wiped the wet salt out of my eyes and gulp, trying to keep my lip from shaking anymore. "I can't help it..."
I just thought this was gonna be our big night. I thought we were gonna celebrate her new car and everything. Now she's saying she doesn't want to see me anymore... that she's gonna let some boy take her to the prom when we agreed not to go if we didn`t go together.
"Meredith, I don't want to do this anymore," Marisa wouldn't look at me. "It's too hard. Remember how my Dad went crazy when he thought I was dating that coloured boy? How's he gonna be if he finds out about us...?"
"But why now...?"
"We almost got caught..." She shuddered thinking about that time we were almost caught kissing in the toilets. "It's too hard, okay? I just wanna... I just need you to leave me alone for a little while. Don't make it hard."
My throat was so dry.
"Meredith? You don't hate me, do you?"
I don't understand. How can anyone make you feel like this...? How...? I wanted to hate her, I did, but... how could I when I love her this much? When all she has to do is smooch me and everything's okay again? Maybe she's right to look at me that way. Maybe I am pathetic.
"...Take me home," I said, trying to calm down. "Just take... me home, please."
Meredith wasn't sure what woke her up but she knew the first thing she saw when she did. Piper. Over by the wall, standing in the same clothes she'd worn home last night. Meredith glanced at own clothing and saw she was too... the only difference was her lying across the sofa. Apparently she had the strength to fall asleep on it last night.
Her gaze settled on Piper.
Despite the haziness left behind by the alcohol she remembered everything exchanged between them last night. Every last fucking detail. And there she was. The love of her life. The new Marisa. All that crap you think you overcome in your childhood... all the bad memories you refuse to let yourself be shaped by... why do they always come back in some other form to taunt you?
Oh, but who was she kidding? Falling for Piper made it clear a long time ago that she NEVER really got past how badly Marisa broke her heart. That was why she married Terry. A sweet, wonderful guy, so noble, so secure, so giving, so utterly approvable. So normal. In the end that was what this was all about. Normalcy. That was why their relationship wasn't working. They would never have it. Only this time? It was for all the worst reasons.
Meredith reclined into the armrest again. After a few long and quiet moments where it seemed like both of them were afraid to speak for fear of making things worse, she saw Piper approach her. She came to the edge of the sofa Meredith was sprawled across and threw her leg up, climbing it. Piper hooked her knee between Meredith's waist and the throw pillows to pull up her other leg so she could straddle her step-mom by the waist. They looked at each other.
Piper's eyes were so full of melancholy it was disarming. But she shut them regardless and lowered her head toward Meredith's. A kiss was tender enough to be a whisper, but Meredith didn't respond. So Piper ignored the wet heat in her eyes and kissed southward, down her jaw and chin, until her youthful lips found her favourite spot, that neck they loved so much. All the while her fingertips... they quietly worked their way underneath the thin straps of Meredith's dress. Tried to slip them off...
...until the teacher pushed her unthinking lover's hands away.
"Stop it," Meredith said sternly. "Talk to me."
But she didn't say anything. She went terse and frowned, closed her eyes and swallowed. Too much emotion to voice. That was her problem through and through, Meredith noted. Maybe it was up to her to finally turn this page.
"Are you going to UCLA?"
The question wasn't shocking this time. Piper nodded. "...Yeah."
"...Are you going to tell me why?"
"-already know?" Meredith finished the sentence for her. Then she looked away. "...Yes."
One of Piper's tears hit her cheek as she spoke. So warm. "...Merry, I love you so much..."
"Yeah, you do," she confirmed wistfully. "Just not enough to fight for it."
"...Please don't hate me."
As if she ever could. One of the things she'd regret for the rest of her life was making the mistake of marrying a man she loved rather than a woman she was in love with. And this endless dichotomy she had in her head of Piper and Terry, these two polar opposites that meant so much to her at some stage... something you put in place to make yourself feel better for thinking that you don't know the truth...
"I love you more than anything, Piper McCullough," She reached up and enunciated that with a sad little kiss. Lips to lips. Forehead to forehead. Chest to chest. When they parted they looked at each other. That was when Meredith knew... that she had to have the strength to help Piper finalize this monumental decision of hers. "...That's why I can let you go."
And she cried. A lot. Meredith held her close. Tried to forgot how badly she wanted to join Piper in all of it, how desperately her own tears threatened to fall. But no. She sat and made herself strong for the girl she loved. The girl she wanted to be happy... even if it meant her being happy hundreds of miles away in Los Angeles.
Maybe that was what love was.
Piper exhaled a little in Meredith's arms. "Can I tell you something?"
That little admission earned itself a smile. Odd. Wasn't it? A 38-year-old woman finding the heart to smile when the love of her life was about to be lost to her. But it was more that that. What it was, was a flicker, a heartbeat, a signal. A message. It said "you'll be fine". The message felt like so many wasteful whispers in juxtaposition to this... malignant ache in Meredith's heart. Fragile and shallow in essence. But it was something. Worth enough to listen to. Worth enough to abide by. Worth enough to hang on to.
END OF THOSE WHO WALK WITH GHOSTS
* Hm. I don't think anyone who enjoyed Piper + Meredith could be happy with this, but... I'm gonna come right out and say I didn't intend to break them up when I first wrote the story, it just seems like the natural outcome for a relationship with THIS much baggage. Plus, if you read the last chapter of one of my other stories, My Girl is My Poison, you'll know that Piper ends up in UCLA.
* For some reason this story was DAMNED hard to write and I have no idea why. What it did do was remind me how much I love the McCullough family, even Frank (who was something of a late addition). It makes me want to do something with Meredith's character in the future.
* I tried to include a little more sex in this epilogue since it was so lacking in the main story, but it's all mostly softcore, nothing heavy.