Written for the Behind Every Good Woman Challenge.
Somebody must have spiked the punch. That was really the only explanation for the way every last damned thing went wrong that day. Something had been bound to happen, considering they were all eighteen and particularly prone to melodrama. After all, weddings were scandal-magnets even for people who were supposedly older and wiser.
But, even then, what did happen was so above and beyond…
After three trips to the hospital, two rides in an ambulance, one detour to the police station and a very unpleasant scene during which Brooke threw an open bottle of champagne at her, narrowly missing the side of her head, Peyton and Mouth wound up at a Denny’s two miles outside of Tree Hill, spiking their burnt coffee with Black Velvet and eating pie at 3 a.m.
“I wish somebody would find a cure for stupid.”
"I wish somebody would find a cure for drama," Mouth shot back, not looking up from his plate.
Chocolate chip pancakes… duh, said the Brooke in her head -- who, frankly, was the only version of Brooke who was going to be talking to her any time soon. Those cure everything.
“It was pretty dramatic,” he said, cracking a small smile. “Brooke just about christened you the Good Ship Peyton tonight.”
Peyton just stared at her plate.
“At least pie helps.” He looked sidelong at her. “Pie helps, right?”
She was still in her bridesmaid’s dress, with a twice-broken heart and a pregnancy test in her purse.
“Sure. Pie helps, Mouth,” and she’d smiled.
It did help, a little bit. Not enough. Having Mouth as a friend actually helped a lot more than pie, so she took his hand and told him so.
The tips of his ears went red, but he managed to reply that the feeling was mutual.
At least there was one man in the world who wasn’t going to use, abandon, confuse or otherwise screw her over.
The pregnancy test had been weird. She’d never taken one before and hadn’t been entirely convinced she needed to then. Still, she’d been nearly two weeks late and wanted to make sure.
The line behind the test’s plastic window hadn’t turned pink, but part of her wished it had. So maybe Jake was right about her – just a little bit. If there was one thing she knew about him, it was that he couldn’t walk away from a baby – and she wanted him back so badly it hurt. She’d wanted him back badly enough to be willing to use that to get her way.
Of course, she kind of wanted Lucas, too. She still wanted Pete a little bit, just to make things even more complicated. All this, of course, added up to make her a total asshole.
Three weeks after what should have been Nathan and Haley’s (second) wedding night, Brooke announced that she was pregnant. For real, no false alarms. All those babies, Peyton thought. There really must have been something in the water in Tree Hill.
Two weeks (and another particularly nasty and very public fight with Brooke) after that, Peyton hopped on a plane at midnight and headed to Minneapolis. She’d been drinking, but she liked to think that even if she hadn’t she would have done the same thing.
“Do you have any idea what you’re doing?” Pete said when he met her in the lobby of his hotel.
“Not at a clue,” she replied and followed him up to his room.
They went to Madison after Minneapolis, and in a bar at the airport she saw on CNN that Dan Scott had been arrested for murdering his brother. Pete grabbed a cocktail napkin and wrote a song about leaving home and what happens to the people you thought you knew. Two weeks later he sang it during the encore in Dayton.
After a couple weeks on tour, the different cities began to blur together and Peyton got used to no sleep, puddle-jumper flights, bad take-out and sharing bus space with a bunch of musicians and their entourage. She never got used to the rush of seeing Pete onstage, though. Every time felt a little like the first time.
So, of course, the first time she saw her own picture on the cover of a tabloid, it felt a little bit like an out-of-body experience.
The magazine described her as “emo front-man Pete Wentz’s barely legal girlfriend du jour.” Flattering. The picture, though, was actually pretty good. She and Pete were walking hand-in-hand along a rainy sidewalk in Soho. He was pointing at something and she was laughing at him, unaware they were being photographed. It was a nice moment; she was glad to see it.
A week after the magazine hit stores, her cell phone rang in the middle of the night.
“What are you doing, Peyton?” It was Jake’s voice on the other end of the line.
I think I’ve had this dream before, she thought. But instead, she said, “Well, I was sleeping…”
Pete was out, and she’d stayed home with a headache. It was an unusual occurrence. It was probably the first night since she’d had that bad Korean BBQ in Newark that she’d stayed at the hotel while Pete and the others went out. If she’d gone with them, she would have missed Jake’s call. But that night, of all nights, she had a headache.
Like it was fate, she started to think, but pushed the thought away so hard she almost missed what he said next.
“Sleeping?” Who with? he didn’t ask.
She almost wanted to tell him.
“Peyton…” He sounded so sad it made her throat close up. “Is this because of me? Is that why you’re doing this?”
“You sent me away. What did you think was going to happen?” Her voice shook a little, with tears, but also with anger that she hadn’t quite realized she felt.
“I thought you were going to figure things out. I thought you were going to come back to me.”
“If that’s what you really wanted, then you should have been brave enough to let me stay. You should have been brave enough to figure it out with me.”
“I thought I was being brave by letting you go.”
“Well, you weren’t.” He was a total chickenshit and the best guy she’d ever known, and she loved him and hated him all at once.
“I love you,” he said.
“I still love you, too.”
“Then come home,” he said.
She hung up.
She couldn’t go home. Jake wasn’t home anymore. Brooke wasn’t. Tree Hill wasn’t. She was going to have to make her home wherever she could find it.
They were in Portland the next time Jake called. The band was doing an acoustic set at this tiny club that looked like it had probably been a Howard Johnson’s at some point in the not-so-distant past.
Pete was onstage, singing about angels with broken wings, and she knew the song was about her.
“Jake?” she said, stepping through the front door and out into the foggy night. The club was on the east bank of the river, just blocks from one of the city’s busiest bridges. Cars zoomed past, their headlights reflecting in the standing pools on water on the street.
“I got full custody of Jenny,” he said, and hung up before she had a chance to speak.
It started to drizzle.
She stood there, staring at the phone in her hand, letting herself get wet and her hair start to frizz up at the ends.
They drove up I-5 the next day, stopping for burgers in this grey, misty little town halfway to Seattle, and Peyton realized it was the farthest north she’d ever been. She sat on a bench with Pete, eating Walla Walla onion rings out of a greasy bag and watching clouds roll in from the West.
“I think I might love you,” Pete said, not looking at her and chucking his empty to-go cup in the general direction of the garbage can.
“Oh,” she said, and they didn’t talk about it again for a few weeks.
In Seattle, Peyton finally realized that her brief re-infatuation with Lucas had been equal parts grief, survivor’s guilt and petty jealousy.
She stood on Pier 52 at 6 a.m., drinking a café latte, watching the ferries arrive and counting the commuters from Bainbridge, Bremerton, anyplace that started with a ‘B’.
She forgave herself for living when other people died. She forgave herself for being selfish and confused. She forgave Brooke for not trusting her, for having a relationship that only left a little time for best friend stuff. She forgave Lucas for being so damned good all the time, and for making her wish that she had a boy (a man) like that who loved her as much as Lucas loved Brooke.
Forgiving Jake, though, was going to take a little more time.
The band played three shows at the Tacoma Dome, and when they finally left Seattle, Peyton fell asleep somewhere just south of the Canadian border. She dreamt about the last time she could remember not being in love with someone and woke up in Vancouver near sunrise.
They were in Kansas City when she got the birth announcement: c/o Peter Wentz, on embossed raspberry-red stationery and postmarked Chapel Hill.
Ella Davis Scott, born January 3, 2007, 7 lbs. 3 oz.
There was a picture of the baby, pink-cheek and fat, wearing a clearly mommy-designed t-shirt that read “I’m Perfect” in fuchsia glitter. Brooke had written on the back of the photo: “Come home, P-Sawyer. We miss you. Everything’s okay now.”
Peyton put the picture in her wallet, but didn’t dare pick up the phone.
It was too soon. She wasn’t ready. She still had things she needed to figure out. She had a thousand different reasons for not wanting to go back, and none of them were quite honest.
They were in Vegas when Pete turned to her and said, “Let’s get married.”
She remembered an echo of herself saying those words to someone else and it felt like lifetimes had passed since then.
“Sure. Why not?”
That hadn’t been what she meant to say at all, but she said it and there was no taking it back. So she let Pete buy her a ring and just hoped they wouldn’t end up on VH-1’s Most Disastrous Celebrity Marriages within the year.
The wedding was surprisingly not tacky. True, she had two swimsuit models, a former cocktail waitress and a reality television star as her bridesmaids, and the wedding ‘reception’ was held in a crowded booth at AJ’s Steakhouse… but the ceremony itself was subdued and nice, held at City Hall and not some drive-through wedding chapel with a neon sign and a fat, balding Elvis.
They made Access Hollywood the next day, leaving Pete’s publicist flailing and flustered and issuing a series of non-answers to the press.
Eventually, of course, the news was officially confirmed and Peyton’s cell phone didn’t stop ringing for two days straight. On the second day, she just turned it off and tossed it into her backpack for a week.
They were in Washington, D.C. on the Fourth of July. Pete was singing a song about a girl he’d wait for forever if she’d only love him back, and Peyton really hoped he wasn’t singing about her.
Fireworks went off after the show, reflecting on the Potomac and lighting the hazy sky over the Virginia countryside, and she realized that a flight from Dulles to Raleigh-Durham took less than two hours.
Throughout the rest of the night, Pete kept casting sidelong glances at her as though he was worried that she wouldn’t be there the next time he looked. Peyton locked her I.D. and all her credit cards in the hotel safe, let him take her into the city for sushi and forgot all about any potential airplane trips.
A week later in Charlottesville, she joined Mouth and Kiki in the front row. Pete sang a song about spilled coffee on a subway car that Peyton knew was about her because she’d been the one who spilled the coffee in the first place.
After the show, she took Mouth and Kiki backstage, and the four of them went to The Biltmore Grill and sat on the patio with pitchers of beer.
“You realize you guys are the coolest kids on campus now, right?” Peyton said when Pete had gotten up to go the bathroom.
Kiki nodded, grinning. “We party like rock stars… or, you know, with rock stars.”
“He’s a nice guy. He seems good for you,” Mouth said. There was an unspoken “for now” at the end of that statement but he was nice enough not to say it out loud.
The band didn’t play any dates in North Carolina that year, and Peyton spent the night before their last show trying to decide how exactly she felt about that.
When the tour finally did end, they bought a house in L.A. Actually, Pete bought a house and Peyton lived there. Not a rock star mansion up in the hills, but a mid-century modern bungalow at the end of a quiet street in Abbot Kinney.
It was pretty much perfect.
That’s not to say that everything was perfect. Pete partied a little too much, and Peyton knew she was probably too young to be married (not that that had stopped any of her friends). But, surprisingly, their house was far more peaceful and happy than it had any right to be.
At Christmas they bought an electric blue, aluminum Christmas tree and threw an Ugly Holiday Sweater party that inevitably ended with someone setting the patio on fire. Peyton sent Christmas cards and they had her Dad out to spend the holiday. Brooke sent them a card, bursting with baby pictures and gossip, and Peyton finally broke down and sent something back. The card didn’t have any text, just a sketch, but she was fairly confident that Brooke would understand what it meant. Jake sent pictures of Jenny, each one a silent plea for her to knock this off and just come back.
She wasn’t under any delusions that this thing with Pete would, or could, last. But it was good enough for now -- and maybe someday, when she was ready, she would finally go home.