With Piper everything had clicked into place. The doubts that had often kept Alex out of relationships had ebbed away before they could take hold. Mornings turned into afternoons turned into nights while she and Piper stayed in bed alternating between having sex and talking. They'd pass books back and forth debating the merits of this or that, and order take-out to eat in bed. When they tired of laying around they'd spent long nights in expensive restaurants and dive bars.
Alex had never met anyone whose body fit in her hands like Piper's did, or who could make her hot with just a look. There was an immediate trust between them, that meant they could try and do anything. She knew Piper felt like she was discovering something new – but in a way so was she. It wasn't just about the sex. Piper could make her laugh so much. It had felt like they were never going to run out of things to talk about.
The end had been like death itself. It had been incomprehensible at first – the idea that Piper was really going to leave her. Alex had hoped right up until the minute she actually walked out of the door that she was going to lose her nerve. Surely Piper would see reason and transform this into just a slightly more serious version of any other fight they'd had.
They didn't speak for hours after Piper had said she was going to leave. Piper had left their apartment and Alex later gathered that she was calling her parents. She was getting money wired and working out her flight. Putting it all into place. Once Piper had made the decision she hadn't wasted a moment. Alex had sat down at her computer feeling numb, trying to turn her mind back to work. Intermittently she rose to call Piper's cell, which Piper had eventually turned off.
Alex was staring blankly at the screen when Piper returned. Alex looked at the clock and then at the blackened sky outside the window. She hadn't even noticed that it had gotten dark.
“My flight's at two Thursday,” Piper announced flatly.
Alex ignored her, her only defense to act uncaring. Nothing betrayed the sinking of her heart and the answering drop in her stomach. So she was really doing this. Behind her Alex heard the sound of Piper pulling a suitcase down from the top of one of the closets. There was the opening of drawers and the taking of garments off their hangers. Alex swallowed around the lump in her throat.
“You've made your point. What do you want me to do?” Alex still hadn't turned around, but she'd taken her fingers off the keyboard and laced them behind her neck tensely.
“Nothing. I'm not going to ask you to give it up. You love it too fucking much. We both know what you'd choose.”
Alex felt the stoking of her temper, and she slowly pushed herself up from her seat.
“Even if I wanted to, do you think they'd let me leave just like that?” Alex said, snapping her fingers. “In case you haven't picked up on it, I'm in this thing pretty deep.”
Piper scoffed. “If you wanted to being the operative words. You'd find a way if you wanted to.”
Alex shook her head. “This is all starting to feel like an excuse. It never seemed to bother you so much before. No, you were always going to leave. It's not like we didn't have an expiration date. You haven't even told your parents about me.”
Alex went on, the impulse to goad Piper irresistible. Piper wasn't responding to her words but her face told her that she felt them. “I guess you're done with your experimental period. You can go find a nice boy and make mommy and daddy really happy. Hey, even pop out a kid or two.”
“Don't start that again,” Piper replied, her movements angry and tense while she folded up a sweater and put it in the case.
“No really, it'll be great for you. And you'll always have this exciting lesbian past, you can use it to spice things up when it gets stale with Mr Right.”
Alex watched items disappear into Piper's suitcase. She shifted back and forth on her feet. She felt like walking over and pulling things out of Piper's hands, anything to get her attention. Alex hated it when Piper shut down more than anything – if Piper would yell at her again that maybe it would feel like she still cared about them.
“You were never really in this, not like me. I hope you've had fun slumming it with me at least. It was an adventure for you, right?” Alex continued.
“Leave me alone.”
Alex shrugged. “Alright. I'm going out.” She grabbed her things and left partly because she didn't want to cry right now in front of Piper, not when she was being so cold. It was the first time she could remember being unsure of whether Piper would comfort her if she cried. In the past it hadn't mattered how bad the fight – if either of them started crying they'd eventually stop and cool it down a little.
Now that she was alone she let the tears come. A couple of hours passed while she walked around with an empty feeling in her gut. There was nothing she wouldn't do to make Piper stay but this felt terrifyingly final. They had friends here, but nobody that she felt close enough to that she could call them and talk about this. The time difference meant that it would be too early – or too late - to call her mom.
Her mom had been cool when she'd casually come out late in high school. She'd cracked that at least she didn't have to worry about Alex getting pregnant young, and that it would be nice to have a daughter-in-law instead of some good-for-nothing guy. Her mom had started to nag her after a few years that she wanted Alex to find someone to settle down with, not end up perpetually single like herself.
“Aren't you lezzies supposed to be more into commitment, honey?” she'd drawled around a cigarette while they were catching up over a couple of beers. “You're acting like your daddy, just a pussy hound.”
Alex had frowned distastefully. She was nothing like that loser. “Please don't bring him into this mom. I'm fine. I'm happy.”
She didn't bring a girl home until Piper. It hadn't even crossed her mind with anyone else, not even Sylvie after she'd moved in. It would have been embarrassing if it didn't make her feel so warm, the way her mother fawned over Piper. She'd exclaimed over how gorgeous and smart Piper was and what a beautiful couple they made. She'd insisted on making a pot roast when Alex had told her she was bringing someone, even though her dislike of cooking was well-documented.
Alex had been doing the dishes when her mother had sidled up to her. “This one's a keeper Alex. I feel like I've never gotta worry about you again. She's crazy about you.”
When Alex got back to the apartment she found that Piper had gone to bed leaving one of the lamps next to the bed on. She stood in the doorway, heart aching. How many times had she watched her sleeping like this? Piper's eyes opened suddenly and Alex looked away self-consciously.
“Do you want me to sleep in the other room?”
Piper shook her head. “No.”
Alex pulled off her clothes, stripping down to her underwear. She couldn't remember when she'd last felt this exhausted. Her glasses landed on the night stand. She slipped into bed making herself small so she wouldn't touch Piper, who was now lying staring up at the ceiling.
“None of what you say is true. You can't say I wasn't in this 100%. You know that's bullshit. You know I've always loved you,” Piper said, her words piercing the silence.
“Does that mean you're not going?” Alex said hating how pathetic she sounded. She had to ask though she knew the answer to the question. Piper had spoken in the past tense about their relationship.
“I'm going. I just need you to know that it's hard for me too.”
Alex couldn't reply at first. “If you loved me like I love you, you wouldn't even consider leaving,” she said bitterly. “So. I wish I could believe you.”
“Al. You know it's not that simple,” Piper said sadly.
“Yes it is. You can fuck off with your I love you's. Don't tell me you love me when you're about to walk out.”
Piper sighed. “I'm trying to talk to you. You know what, maybe you should go and sleep in the other room. I'm tired.”
Alex finally rolled over and sat up. “Oh, don't let me interrupt your beauty sleep princess. Why don't you go and sleep in the other room? This is my place.” Alex put her hand on her chest, choked up with sadness and anger. She'd started crying again. “Mine. You don't want me? Then none of this is ours any more. It's mine.”
Piper sat watching her for a moment with conflicting expressions playing over her face. She sat up and reached forward at last and pulled Alex in. Alex sat stiffly at first then put her arms around Piper, her face in soft hair. She breathed in, the air coming out again in a harsh sob. After a couple of minutes she wiped her face. Her tears dried and it was quiet. She was torn between wanting to shove Piper and trying to hold onto her as tightly as she could.
It might be the last time. She picked the latter, an one arm dropping to Piper's waist and another around her neck. Firm and close.
They'd always had this. No matter how serious the argument or how much they were hurting at one another. Drawn together no matter what was going on. All Alex needed to feel was Piper's hands on her hips to understand what Piper wanted from her, and she took Piper's face in her hands and kissed her. Piper's mouth opened, and Alex felt tongue sliding against her own.
Piper was wearing a tank top and underwear. They pressed the nakedness of their thighs together, Piper moving a leg between hers, then reaching to pull off her own top. They kissed roughly, Alex feeling Piper's breasts pressing against her own.
Alex pushed Piper back onto the bed and yanked down her underwear, finding her still wet and waiting for her despite the speed of the encounter. Neither of them had moved to turn off the lamp and Alex could watch Piper's face. She could see the gentle contortion that took place when she thrust inside of Piper in one long stroke. Piper's hands were grasping at her back and she kept a steady pace, their eyes locked. Stay. Just stay.
The next day and night played out in much the same way. Piper had spent some time finishing up packing her one small case and then had gone out, leaving Alex alone with work that was impossible to focus upon. They fought, they made love, and argued some more.
In the early hours Alex hadn't slept, and while Piper snatched a couple of hours rest Alex crept to the desk and found Piper's passport. If she could just stop her from getting on that flight today then they could work through this. There hadn't been enough time. She had been angry and she'd lashed out, instead she needed to talk to Piper about it more calmly. Alex would promise to never ask Piper to take part in the business again and she'd mean it.
It was clear how futile her plan had been when Piper said she wouldn't even stay for the funeral. In that moment she gave up.
And then Piper was gone, walking out without a look back. Without Piper or her mom there was nobody left in the world who loved her or, or who she loved in return. She didn't know how to live with this double shot of grief. Piper might not be dead like her mother, but she was lost.
As soon as she’d touched down in America she’d tried to call Piper anyway. Her phone was switched off and then disconnected. Alex knew practically to the minute when it had been disconnected because she’d been calling again and again.
She couldn't fathom the thought of going through this alone. The flight had been awful - a claustrophobic hell ride. The pleading e-mail she’d sent when she'd gotten to her mom's empty house had returned only a message that it had been undeliverable. The e-mail was the last straw. Seeing it in black and white like that made it real. Piper was really never going to talk to her again.
She knew how far she'd fallen when she started trying to anaesthetize herself with heroin and other girls, never alone but lonely always.
In all the years before Piper left – before she'd even met Piper - she'd barely even tried the product she spent her life distributing. There had been one misguided attempt at smoking it just to see what all the fuss was about but the idea of using a needle had been unthinkable. She'd spent enough time watching the desperation in her addled customers to think that there was anything good about it.
Now she understood heroin's function as a painkiller. Alex let herself get sloppy and stupid for a while, skimming relatively tiny amounts and putting them up her arm. Kubra would kill her if he ever found out and in her more self-pitying moments she wished that he would.
As the years passed the ache dulled but it never took much to bring all of the memories back. Sometimes she could only see Piper through the lens of how it ended and she wondered how she could have been so in love with such a selfish person. But most of the time she just missed what they'd had together. She couldn't imagine that she would find anything like it ever again. When she started dating properly again there was a big piece of herself that she held back. It wasn't like she'd ever been the most trusting person in the world in the first place.
When they each got locked up it was like their whole relationship repeated in fast forward. Her heart had surged when she'd seen Piper again across the crowded cafeteria. The possibility that Piper might end up in the same place as her had occurred but seemed too crazy to really happen.
Then they'd done it all again, and it had ended the only way it could with them – with Piper leaving her.