She kisses you first with her eyes – a peck upon your cheek and then a sweet assault upon your lips – and you let her; you let her because you are giddy and you are young and the rush of wanting carries you past any and all inner complaints.
Because what does Piper Chapman – Smith graduate and pretty perennial liar – know about actual hardship? About coming out, about bullies and verbal battering, about a family’s disapproving stares and uncomfortable friends who slide from her side…
…What does Piper Chapman know about anything at all?
And Alex Vause – with that dark, making-out gaze – is a map of the whole… wide… world…
She thinks that they have forgotten her down here.
She thinks that this is what it is like to be lost.
A hole in your pants pocket and so pennies travel down the leg, caught in the folds before they slip to the ground – run over by car wheels and stepped on by shoes – and Piper is a penny on the pavement.
She thinks that they have given up on her ever changing.
She thinks that this is what it is like to be discarded.
Piper is losing her shine, losing her value, losing the point of being and feeling and this must be the second week or the third or the fourth and when she closes her eyes – squeezing them shut until the mind creates a wave of colors – she watches from the icy sidelines as she beats the ever-loving hell out of Pennsatucky’s face.
And Piper screams – stop stop stop stop stop – but it is all blood and snow.
And Piper screams.
“Stop stop stop stop stop…”
You don’t cry and you don’t talk about it with Polly and you take a few days to settle things – where to live, how much rent to pay, a few apologies to your parents – and then you go on with your life.
You date and you drink and you dance.
You work and you laugh and you meet new people, make new friends.
You don’t box up the past, you just bury it – clothes to goodwill and the rest to the trash – and you slowly convince yourself that you’ve dealt with it.
Because it is done, isn’t it?
You are done with Alex Vause and you sigh before you fall asleep and you convince yourself that you did what you had to do; you had to get away before you were lost and you had to step back before you got caught and you couldn’t stay one more minute with a woman that wanted to use you – money in your suitcase and a hot palm grazing your breasts…
…and so Piper doesn’t cry and she doesn’t think about Alex’s tears either because it is done…
They tack on the important words and they reconfigure her stay in this place and they analyze everything she says – or doesn’t say – and they won’t tell her if Pennsatucky is alive or not and they pack her up and they send her off again.
Someone tells her that March is on its way.
And the sunlight hurts her eyes, makes her feel bleached-out and unreal – I am a vampire now, I don’t know how to live in the daytime anymore – and yet the first face she sees is Alex’s; Alex’s face, all twisted up with the pull of concern and the tug of apathy, and Piper is unable to look away.
It’s not some scrap of newfound bravery that causes her to stare, though.
It’s because Piper has finally been broken down and if anyone should know about it… well, Alex Vause comes right after Piper herself on this never-ending list.
Larry sometimes feels like an escape from something and sometimes Piper feels like a fake when she kisses his face – neck smelling like bought cedar and pancakes, clean-shaven cheeks and smiling at her over coffee – and then it all feels too real, too perfect, too much like marriage.
And maybe Piper doesn’t want to get married.
But there’s got to be something else, right?
And it’ll be soap and it’ll be cleanses and it’ll be Mad Men and maybe it’ll be children and maybe it’ll be commitment and there’s just got to be something else…
Larry sits opposite of her, hands clasped and lips shut, and Piper cannot find the words that she spent all night searching for.
They’ve hurt each other so much and she’s afraid that that is all she’ll ever be good at in this world (she was never a decent waitress and really only a passable student).
Piper Chapman, Destroyer of Other’s Feelings.
And maybe Larry can’t find his words either; maybe he doesn’t have any words stockpiled at all and maybe they just need to be silent with each other, as if digesting the other person’s presence – he’s got a five o’clock shadow and a new coat and if she inhales just right… she can smell his cologne and it smells nice…
…and his eyes kiss her first, betraying all those other emotions, and Piper feels a familiar stab of comfort over something so simple, so unexpected and so kind…
…and she reaches over slowly, opening his hands and then threading his fingers with her own, and there comes that fluttering of hope – skimming over his face like a shadow – and Piper forces herself to swallow back every self-serving impulse that still beats somewhere deep down in her body in order to tell him the truth.
And the truth is the only lover that Piper can handle these days.
But you remember even as you swear that you don’t. And you forgive even as you swear to hold this grudge forever. And you find yourself imagining those lips all over your skin and you drive yourself mad with desire and you punish yourself with guilt later on – lying on your bed, lights on and a fiancé waiting for you outside these walls – and still the next day arrives and you want her even more then you did the day before.
And your eyes kiss her first – from that cold damn smirk right down to the tender places kept hidden – and Alex knows exactly what you are doing and she lets you…
…she lets you and you don’t know why she would…
…or maybe you do know and just wish you didn’t.
And Piper’s eyes betray every other command, drifting to a mouth she still recalls, and Alex catches her and smiles as though she’s got Piper all figured the fuck out…
…Alex has figured her out and Piper doesn’t know how the woman could do such a thing…
…or maybe Piper does know and just wishes she didn’t.
There is something missing and sometimes Piper can almost feel it, like a phantom limb that continues to twitch even though it is long gone, but soon the sensation disappears and real life filters back into her bones again.
She has gotten better at fixing problems with electrical devices – less sucking of fingertips that have been shocked. She’s gotten better at talking to the bullshit therapist that they’ve assigned to her as well – less lies being told every time she decides to speak.
She has learned which ropes to climb and which ones to leave alone, which people to trust and which ones to keep at an arm’s length.
She has learned to survive and that’s more than enough for now.
Pennsatucky is alive and has new teeth and she skirts around Piper like a skittish child around a snake and the others laugh but Piper gets that feeling again – an emptiness that still has a shape, tingling along her flesh for endless seconds – and so any shred of laughter is stuck somewhere in her throat.
And she wonders how she got to stay here at Litchfield and she wonders if Larry made his father intervene on her behalf and she stares at her hands like she doesn’t recognize these sudden fists – coiled and so very ready to strike – and Piper wants to hate herself for what she has become but Piper is so damn tired of hating herself and soon that sensation disappears and real life floods back into her bones again…
…because Piper has gotten better at loving herself, too.
And you kiss her, not with your hot gaze but with your eager lips, and she melts underneath you.
And you fall into his arms, weeping against his shoulder, and he holds you like you are precious.
And you love them both and you fear that this makes you terribly foolish or horribly selfish and you tell your right hand to let them go but your left hand only grabs on tighter – and the same goes for the life you almost had and the same goes for the life you’ve got now.
And you hear his voice and you miss him so damn much.
And you feel her warmth next to you and you cannot stop grinning.
And you love them both and you don’t know why either of them love you because you are so foolish and you are so selfish and your hands keep doing whatever they want to while you just sit back and watch…
…and Larry holds onto a ring and Alex holds onto a connection and Piper holds on…
Piper just keeps holding on because a love freely given is so very hard to turn away from.
They’ve not talked to each other yet, but Piper can feel a conversation coming her way just like birds know when a storm is about to rattle their nests.
And the air has a certain taste to it – all metallic and sharp - and the clouds collect in gray clusters and whatever Alex is doing with Nichols will one day tumble to the earth like loose branches (this consolation fucking, this killing time while you do time, these friends with benefits) and so Piper prepares subconsciously – fingers always flexing, muscles growing tense before they will relax, stringing together invisible sentences and sentiments in between the hours…
…because this is it, isn’t it?
They’ve said a lot to each other – “…I love you and I fucking hate you…” – and Alex took her trust and burned it and Piper took Alex’s heart and wounded it and so maybe they’ve not said nearly enough to each other.
Maybe they are just getting started on all they’ve been meaning to say.
And you blink and you remember and the past doesn’t seem so distant from you now, not while she touches your face and brushes back strands of your hair, and you were so done with her because you had a new life – a safer life, a stable life, a life not hot but comfortably temperate – and when she looks at you… god, when she looks at you like that…
It’s as if you never stopped loving her at all.
And the realization thunders into Piper’s brain and the words just fall from her tongue, coated in dreamy shock, and every ounce of Alex’s resolve crumbles before her very eyes.
“I heart you, too.”
And it’s as if they never stopped loving each other at all.
And maybe that conversation will happen tomorrow – Piper with her laundry in hand and Alex behind the table, green tags ripped off with nonchalance – or maybe it’ll happen on the day that Piper gets to leave this place for good – gate looming behind Piper’s back while Alex stands solid in front of her – or maybe it’ll happen when they are both finally free – free from this prison, free from the mistakes and the missteps, free from the lives that they thought they had to choose all those years ago…
…and Alex Vause – with that dark, making-out gaze – is a map of the whole… wide… world…
…and maybe their journey with one another is just beginning.