The first time Gansey hears about Helen’s girlfriend is when he calls his mother to verify timing of the weekend family dinner to which he is bringing Blue. He’s already nervous because this will be the first official meeting of his parents and Blue and there are so many pieces that could go poorly.
His mother is saying, “We’re so excited, both to meet your Blue and Helen’s lovely divorcee too.” Gansey blinks.
Gansey can almost hear his mother’s raised eyebrow over the phone, the one that says “I didn’t expect that of you of all people, Richard.”
“I just mean, I didn’t realize she was bisexual.” Gansey blusters. It’s not that he and Helen share everything about themselves, but after her last string of boy toys Gansey hadn’t expected this, much less the serious level implied by taking someone to meet the Gansey parents. It’s taken Gansey months to work up to this with Blue.
“Well,” his mother says conspiratorially, “I think the fact that you’re bringing a nice young lady home has freed her up to do the same. I know I’ve spoken with Helen about the fact that we’re supportive of any life our children choose, but she’s always been so considerate of my political needs you know. She’s been publicly seen with her string of boys, but none of them were serious and she’s clearly a career woman. I think when she heard you were bringing someone to meet us she realized that it would be strategically acceptable to act on her deeper interests.”
“Her deeper…is Helen a lesbian?”
“You’ll have to talk to her yourself dear.” Gansey’s mother says. “Anyways, I told her it’s quite fine. I already have the religious values section won over, my understanding acceptance of my daughter while committing to respect other’s Christian values, and perhaps some key appearances with you and you young lady will smooth anything over. The young generation is so progressive these days, Helen has offered to join me with her fiancee at some key appearances in liberal cities and at colleges.”
“Her fiancee!?” Gansey squeaks.
“Well, she can’t very well come out publicly if it’s not a strong commitment. Your father hasn’t met Piper yet but us girls went shopping together last weekend. She’s charming Gansey, perfect for Helen I’m sure you’ll see. As I said, I’m so excited for this weekend, lovely additions to our family.” Gansey swallows, a sinking feeling taking up in the pit of his stomach. There are probably other people with the name Piper in Virginia. Gansey can’t stop worrying about it the whole drive to pick up Blue from 300 Fox Way.
“I just want to let you know, Helen is bringing her girlfriend, or fiancee, I’m not quite sure, to dinner to meet my father.” Gansey says some miles later as he merges two lanes over on the highway to get out from between the trucks that seemed to intent on wedging the Camaro in.
Blue smiles, “It’s cool that Helen’s so open with your parents, and it might take some of the attention off of us, that’s not a bad thing right?” Blue’s fingertips skim over Gansey’s knuckles on the gearshift.
“The fiancee’s name is Piper, she’s a divorcee.” Gansey says, not looking over at Blue. Blue’s hand tightens against his in a momentary squeeze.
“There are other Piper’s right? It’s an uncommon name, but we never even met Piper Greenmantle, she wouldn’t recognize us. It’s probably not her anyways.”
Gansey blew out a breath. “I suppose not." He raises his pinkie finger so it brushes the underside of Blue’s palm, a subtle kiss of skin against skin. Blue’s smile widens back at him. Gansey’s breath catches and he jerks his eyes back to the road.
Blue has heard about the Gansey home from Adam and from Ronan and from Gansey himself, but none of their descriptors had quite prepared her for it. Not Ronan’s disdainful smirking about the fanciful topiary ducks, not Adam’s restrained comments about the alien place settings and sense that the walls, flower arrangements, and carpets should all not be touched, nor Gansey’s cheerful description of his father’s car collection, his mother’s plate collection, or the collected antiques of years of Gansey’s building up a visible fortune in spoons, decorative hand weaving, and antiquarian maps.
Blue does not let Gansey open her door, she hops out of the Camaro before he can slam his own door shut and stares up at the towering front of the Gansey estate. When Gansey’s fingers catch her elbow, she does lean against him. It hadn’t been overwhelming until she’d gotten out of the car and was faced with the reality of the front door. Blue has always wanted to make an impression but she’s never felt the need for that impression to be particularly good before. What if Blue, just Blue, isn’t enough. Gansey, just Gansey, tucks a strand of her hair behind her ear with fond precision. He square’s his shoulders, gearing up for an ambush. Blue still can’t quite believe she agreed to come. Dating Gansey had never been an option, for all the time on the phone, subtle touches and not so subtle moments where noses brushed cheeks in the silence of the Camaro, sharing the same harsh breath in wait for a kiss that could never come.
“There are things other than kissing.” Gansey had said and Blue had glared at him.
“We aren’t even dating!”
Gansey, not missing a beat had taken her hand, “Blue Sargent, will you go out with me.” He’d been so sincere, his eyes full of the street lights an the illicit rush of wind from the Camaro’s windows still echoed in his wind red face. Blue had opened her mouth to object, to reject but the words hadn’t been there so she’d closed it again.
“Gansey.” She’d said because that was all there was.
“Blue.” He’d replied, steady and sure and she’d never wanted to kiss him so badly. Gansey’s expensive watch had read 11:53 when she’d glanced down at it. The time they had was so short, months only till the end of the year. Each morning Blue woke with the same fear, that today would be the day. There were so few days left. Blue looked back up into Gansey’s eyes. He still looked hopeful, fond, patient. It could not be worse if she said yes. She was already committed, would it be so bad for Gansey to hear her say it. There was always Glendower, Adam knew what to ask. Blue knew what favor they needed.
“I can’t kiss you.” Blue said.
“I know.” Gansey’s palm curved over her cheek. Blue didn’t turn into the touch, afraid of her lips brushing his skin. Every day Blue still wakes up with the ghost of the not-yet kiss on her lips. Every day is one day closer to a fate so terrible Blue cannot begin to imagine it beyond what she already knows. Blue has considered burning all of Gansey’s Aglionby sweaters but somehow knowing the weather report, and looking at Gansey’s clothing can reassure Blue when he pauses in the doorway to her bedroom at 300 Fox Way. Blue has him, at least for a little while yet. And she can’t let Gansey know, so Blue forgets each morning, once the phantom kiss fades from her lips. Gansey is just her boyfriend.
“Shall we?” Gansey asks, gesturing up at the front door. Blue nods and they climb the steps together.
The inside of mansion Gansey is as intimidating as the outside. Blue immediately knows what Adam meant about not touching things. The sense of intention and perfection in the angle of every table runner and just-so piece of sculptural art reminds Blue of money. It’s nothing like the sewing-phone-cat-room and Blue appreciates the fact that while Gansey taps his fingers idly along molding of the door from the entryway to the receiving room, he looks just a bit out of place, as if the ease in which he’s begun to take up space in 300 Fox Way has subtly shifted the lodestar pointed to home.
“Come on,” Gansey says tilting his head toward another hall, “They’re probably out on the veranda.” Blue trails Gansey through the house, taking in the rich creme walls, the slick shine of the hardwood floors, the tall ceilings with their intricate detailing, flowers or fireworks of finely crafted plaster fleur-de-lis bursting over the sparkling chandeliers. Gansey’s family are on the veranda. The wide curving porch with it’s fine white furniture and elegant railings trailing fragrant flowers and riverside view just beyond are just slightly cool with the breeze. Helen, sheathed in a red dress and equally red heels rises to kiss Gansey on both cheeks. Her circular black sunglasses with their thick rims and the wide brimmed white hat with black lace and trim make her look like a 50s movie starlet.
“And Blue,” she greets, “Lovely to see you again.” Her tone isn’t antagonistic but Blue isn’t sure she feels welcomed. The woman beside Helen is in a tasteful baby blue pants suit with an elegant pale pink top. The color complements her fair complexion, the light pink of her sculpted cheeks and the soft blond waves of her hair. She looks perfectly at home in the Gansey’s luxury.
“I’m Piper,” She says. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Blue shakes her extended hand. Piper’s fingernails are perfectly curved, painted a pale pink, delicate and demure. Blue is sure Piper could scratch out Blue’s eyeballs without chipping her polish the slightest. Piper turns to Gansey.
“You must be Richard the younger.” she says offering her hand, “Piper Greenmantle.” Gansey stiffens, but he takes her hand, pressing a proper kiss to the sharp peaks of her knuckles. “Just in case you’re worried, I haven’t seen Colin in months, and if I did I’d probably shoot him.” Piper smiles.
“That’s right,” Helen nods, “You met her ex husband. He used to teach at Aglionby.” Helen explained to Mrs. Gansey.
“He wasn’t very good.” Piper dismissed with a flick of her fingers, “He never had the gift of teaching.”
“That’s true.” Gansey mutters agreement. Blue raises an eyebrow out him. He’s watching Piper as if she might explode.
“You teach, don’t you?” Mr. Gansey asks. He hands Blue a glass of iced tea, though he never asked if she wanted one. He holds an empty glass towards Gansey who shakes his head.
“Oh, well, my ex husband had a few degrees, I figured I might as well too.” Piper brushes it off.
“Piper is quite a passionate lecturer.” Helen puts in, her hand curves possessively around Piper’s waist. Gansey’s eyes widen then narrow. Blue can’t decide how she feels about it. Piper leans towards Helen with comfortable interest, clearly attentive and pleased. Blue can imagine Helen and Piper, a united front of perfect hair and thousand dollar shoes bent on world domination. “They selected her for this years esteemed lectures series.” Helen says and Piper smiles like a shark.
Piper had never had particular ambition, happy to follow along with Colin’s projects and plans. For all his faults, Colin had had decent ideas and an excess of inspiration, but Piper longed for competency. Colin was inefficient with his fingers and his money and his time, unable to finish anything including Piper herself. Colin collected things, sure but so much of it wasn’t his own work. Not really. Colin was the king of his little hill, the spider in his web. He liked to catch things, had probably thought he’d collected Piper. Instead Colin got caught, but nobody ever caught Piper, really no one thought about Piper all that much beyond the blond hair and the neatly pressed suits or perfectly fitted sports bra and yoga pants. But Helen had caught Piper with two fingers placed to her collar bone. Such a forward, intimate gesture. When Piper had met Helen, she’d thought “here is a woman who gets things done.” Helen wore her competency like her eyeliner, subtle but exaggerating all her features to their best effect. The self assured lift to her posture meant she possibly commanded armies beyond a serving staff and was certainly ready to grind out the scum of the earth with the toe of her strappy black Steiger heels and a sharp word. Helen had caught Piper after the lecture, but her words of thanks distracted into that certain press of her fingers to Piper’s collar bone.
“You should get that looked at” Helen had said. Even if the spot where Helen’s fingers had rested hadn’t itched for the next two days, Piper would have gone to the doctor. She’d readily take advice from anyone with eyes as observant and sure as Helen Gansey.
The next time Piper saw Helen, the little black sutures along her collar bone where the Doctor had removed the melanoma were concealed under the soft cling of pink cashmere. Helen still approached her after the lecture, pausing a reasonable distance from Piper and drifting a hand suggestively over her collarbone.
“How did it go?” Helen asked.
“You were right.” Piper said, “I probably owe you my life.” Helen shrugged. “Thank you,” Piper continued. “Can I treat you to a coffee? They serve shit on this campus but I know a nice spot near by that’s not overrun with acne laden, blank eyed students trying to drown their exams in caffeine.” Piper had asked. The truth was, Piper and taken the job because a three week commitment to a lecture series at a Georgetown seemed like a good distraction from her lack of direction. Colin had provided direction for so long, Piper wasn’t quite sure where she wanted to go next.
There was of course the issue of the deal with the spider-thing in the cave, but Piper didn’t feel that needed to rule her life, it wasn’t a direction she was particularly invested in anyways. Anything that might compromise Piper’s own autonomy didn’t sit well with her. The life of a slavering mind-compelled zombie just didn’t fit with her five year goals. And it provided more money for shoes. Some women liked hats or handbags, but Piper preferred shoes. Helen’s shoes were particularly nice, displaying the the attractive curve of her ankles and the elegant arch of her feet without seeming overly showy. Piper would have liked the kind of woman who’d wear those shoes even if Helen hadn’t had challenging, bright red lips, firm eyes, and a no nonsense attitude that made men want to carry her bags and bring her flowers.
“I would love to,” Helen had said, “but I’m busy this afternoon. Maybe we could go out for a glass of wine tomorrow evening?” Piper had appreciated her knowing smile.
“It’s a date then.”
And it had been a date, several in fact over the next few weeks. They went out for Indian food and though Helen protested she didn’t enjoy the burn of capsaicin she still stole pieces off of Piper’s plate. Piper appreciatively watched Helen suck yogurt from her fingers to cool the burn, pleased when Helen made a show of it, the simple seduction not limited to any particular gender. It was clear that Helen had been with women before, a difference from Piper’s last liaisons in college before Colin. Helen knew what to do with her fingers, and her teeth. Piper was unsurprised by the truly spectacular sex that followed their fifth date, though she’d thought it might have happened sooner.
Piper hadn’t been with anyone since Colin, and she hadn’t been with a woman since before Colin. Colin had thought about cheating, but like many things he’d never had the dedication to actually do it. Piper had been strictly faithful through their marriage, not that it had done much. Their divorce had been amicable enough. A pleasant text with a photo stating, “I took pictures of those boys’ nasty scheme. Also I want a divorce.” The signed paperwork had arrived within the week. But Piper hadn’t found anyone to date for the first few months, no one for a one night stand either. Life had been busy, some blank days in her memory, waking up with muddy fingers and a dark substance she didn’t explore too thoroughly caked through her hair. Extensive showering and scrubbing followed by a long soak in the tub, her mind churning like the water tumbled up from the tub jets, wriggling out from under the cave-things compulsion. Piper had left Henrietta without looking back. She’d sent a postcard to the book club from Virginia Beach wishing them all well. She’d gotten in contact with some of her old friends from back before Colin had invited her into his globe trotting life. Her thesis professor had kicked the bucket since their last conversation but enough people still knew Piper Greenmantle in the right circles. Piper kept the last name, it had the right level of fear lurking about it’s edges. Helen had known Piper’s last name, printed neatly on the pamphlets printed out for her lectures, but Piper hadn’t been properly introduced until their 3rd date.
“Helen Gansey?” Piper had asked, “Are you related to Senator Gansey?”
“She’s my mother.” Helen had confirmed. They didn’t talk much about their families. Piper sometimes complained about Colin and Helen laughed agreeably. Piper knew Helen’s family by reputation, though something about the perfect nuclear southern propriety of it seemed familiar. Something in the face of the younger brother standing just next to Helen in the family photograph Helen kept crinkled in her wallet. But there were so many rich Southern Aglionby boys, Colin had hated all of them. He wasn’t either of the two who’d so wonderfully freed her from boredom and Colin so it didn’t particularly matter.
Helen continued to be delightful. She brought sun screen on their trip to the beach and unstrapped the back of Piper’s bikini to thoughtfully rub it into Piper’s back. When Helen had pressed a surreptitious kiss against the wispy blond curls that lurked at the back of her neck, fallen out of the bun Piper’s hair was pulled into, Piper was almost sure her heart had skipped a beat. When Helen, hands firmly on the wheel as the drove back, said “I’d like you to meet my parents.” Piper hadn’t been surprised.
“Will we have a spring wedding?” She’d asked instead. Helen had glanced over, smile pulling over her face.
“We’ve only been dating two months.” She pointed out. Piper raised one shoulder. “My mother and I are going shopping next weekend. If she likes you, we’ll have a spring wedding.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior.” Piper simpered.
“I’m wearing a dress for our wedding.” Helen stated. One of her hands had fallen down from the wheel to curl fingers over Piper’s own.
“I have always liked fitted white trousers. All that white is intimidating. I want a pink boutonnière.”
“You’ll have to wear your hair down.” Helen said, fingers crawling up out of Piper’s hand to tangle through a lock of hair.
“And I’m sure yours will be one of those gorgeously chic up-dos.” Piper agreed. They lapsed back into silence and Piper’s five year plan shifted, but only slightly.
When Helen had first met Piper her immediate thought had been “blonde” followed by, “someone could cut themselves on those cheekbones, I wonder how she gets her skin so flawless,” it didn’t look like make up, and, “if Helen of Troy was intentionally a weapon of mass destruction she might look like this, like atomic fire crystallized in her veins, ready to to melt the world around her with a smile.” Helen hadn’t caught much of the subsequent lecture, to caught watching the petal pink of Piper’s lipstick form her academic sentences. Helen had signed up for the lecture series because it killed a free hour between appointments and meant she spent the time doing something more productive and interesting than sitting in a coffee shop.
After the lecture she’d waited for the handful of people who wanted to speak with the professor to drift away from the podium. She’d approached to offer her own thanks, mind half on the business card in her pocket, and half on the curve of Piper’s calf where it bloomed from beneath her pink pencil skirt. But then she’d looked up to meet Piper’s eyes and gotten stuck on the path up from her knee by the particular mole on Piper’s collar bone. After four years of medical school, and a degree Helen never intended to use, it was a thoughtless impulse to point it out. Helen watched Piper’s fingers flick over the spot, disinterested when Helen withdrew her hand. The spot is now a pink-white pucker just visible over the draping scoop neck of Piper’s pink top.
Helen brushes her fingers there as she turns back to her seat on the green and white striped cushions of the porch bench. Piper brushes a tacky kiss to Helen’s cheek, a return kiss, when she sits down. Helen catches Dick’s pale worried face out of the corner of her eye. Blue tugs on his hand and he follows his girlfriend to the other bench not taken by their parents. Helen looks back at Piper who is surveying Helen’s family with a pleased expression on her pretty lips. It makes something curl warmly in Helen’s chest to see Piper there, fitting in so easily. We are a good investment, Helen thinks fiercely. The loyalty of the Gansey family, to one another and their chosen additions is deep and unwavering. Mrs. Gansey has already taken a liking to Piper’s polished presentation and poise. Mr. Gansey appreciated her frank political assessments, academic mind, and choice of gift liquor. Helen hadn’t yet had to step in and steer the conversation toward safer, or less boring waters as she’d had to with previous dalliances she’d brought home. But Piper isn’t a dalliance. They haven’t mentioned it since the car conversation, but Helen has seen Piper’s newly acquired pile of wedding magazines and the carefully penciled in scheduling for a cake testing in three months that appeared in Piper’s neat penmanship in Helen’s day planner. Piper also expects this evening to go well.
The satisfied smile she lays against Helen’s ear to whisper, “You didn’t tell my your family was fun.” makes Helen shiver in anticipation. Piper’s happiness is a gift that keeps on giving as parts of Helen have become intimately aware.
“Try not to intimidate my brother too much.” Helen says, before leaning back against the bench and watching Piper shift her attention. Sometimes Helen feels like a huntress, Piper the hawk, jesses held firmly in Helen’s grip, keen eyes finding them their pray. Dick doesn’t quail under her gaze, though Blue’s spine straightens in consternation.
“Blue,” Piper says, “that’s such a lovely, unique name. How did you and Richard meet?”
“He tried to chat me up because a friend of his was interested in me.” Piper presses her manicured fingers to her lips, the nail polish and lipstick matching perfectly.
“Did he charm you away from his friend?”
“No, he was very offensive and I was mad at him.” This time, Piper’s smile is genuine. Helen can see a bit why Dick likes Blue. “After I’d dated and broke up with his friend, I’d been spending time with all of them and I got to know Gansey.” Blue shrugs, “He’s not as awful as he first appears.” Piper giggles and shifts slightly on the bench so that when she leans back, her shoulder nestles into Helen.
“Well aren’t the two of you a lovely couple.” Piper observes.
“Our family has good taste.” Helen says.
Blue ducks her head a little, possibly confused by the unexpected compliment. Mr. Gansey looks down at the reflective gold face of his watch. despite the size and the color it’s the kind of wealth that speaks of taste rather than opulence and sits as if it was crafted specifically for his tanned wrist.
“Dinner should be just about ready.” he offers an arm to Mrs. Gansey. “Shall we move to the dining room.” Helen smirks at Dick till he stands an follows their parents first, allowing Helen and Piper to bring up the rear.
Dinner is served in three courses and the conversation is remarkably pleasant. Blue and Dick sit on one side of the table, with Piper and Helen on the other side and Mr. and Mrs. Gansey taking the head and the foot respectively. Piper compliments the wine and discusses vintages with Mrs. Gansey while Mr. Gansey tries to engage Blue about her studies. Helen is unsurprised by Blue’s ability to fend Mr. Gansey’s overly direct questions, roping Dick in and turning the conversation to comparison of the public and private school systems. Helen smiles over at Dick approvingly, noting that Blue hasn’t addressed the standards of her own educational experience but rather a social context of socio-economic disadvantages against which her intelligence glitters. As always the conversation veers into politics. Blue stays quiet but watchful through Dick’s put upon sighing and Mr. Gansey’s observations on other politicians home lives and voting records. Most political conversations are thinly veiled gossip about family friends and acquaintances at a Gansey family dinner. Helen offers her few tidbits and smiles smugly when Piper has a few choice tidbits to contribute. Mrs. Gansey smiles her appreciation.
The dessert course is typically wind down discussion of personal events, Mr. Gansey’s new car purchase, Mrs. Gansey’s scheduled campaign trip, how Dick’s friends are doing, what new event or wedding Helen deigned to take on challenge of coordinating. With both Blue and Piper present the typical prying is kept to a minimum. Dick quickly steers the conversation away from approaching college visits. Helen notes the quickly schooled twist of Blue’s face. Mrs. Gansey notes Dick’s discomfort and readily adjusts her trajectory. Though Dick still looks uncomfortable, Helen thinks dinner has gone better than she’d hoped. Mrs. Gansey rises gracefully from her seat to guide Blue to the guest room. Piper presses another tacky kiss to Helen’s cheek and murmurs.
“I think I’m for a bath. You’re welcome to join me when you’re done here.” Then she drifts up the stairs to Helen’s room with the en suite. Mr. Gansey claps a hand to Gansey’s shoulder and then only Helen and Dick are left in the dinning room.
It’s only been a few minutes of silence when Dick bursts out, “What about Colin Greenmantle” in a hiss. Helen smiles down at his concerned face. She throws an arm around his neck, pulling him into a familiar headlock.
“She hasn’t heard from him since before she asked for the divorce papers. I know all about Colin Greenmantle.” Helen reassures him. Dick doesn’t relax but he’s not squirming nearly as hard as Helen typically expects. “And,” Helen ads viciously, “I know all about your friends little blackmail plot.”
Helen watches Dick’s face, but the blank confusion and knitting brows make something chill a little in her gut. Dick has always worried about being surrounded by sycophants and friends of money. He curates his circle to the strange, the loyal, and the opinionated. Helen never sought the kinds of friends Dick spins his world around, but she can see how deeply Dick has entangled himself with them. His place in the world is defined by the small pool of light in which Dick’s flights of fancy, backwoods hiking, refurbished manufacturing warehouse and stories about his Welsh King are accepted, met with honest curiosity rather than the placating smiles Helen’s high school friends would have given such discussions.
“Blackmail plot?” Dick asks. Helen lets him go.
“One of your friends found out something about Colin Greenmantle and threatened to expose him unless he left town. Piper saw the pictures, she used them as grounds for her divorce. There are no hard feelings.” Helen shrugs, smudges a toe over the thick red carpet. “It’s worked out to everyone’s advantage. Colin is a creep, and now enough people have proof he isn’t going to be coming back.” Dick’s frown hasn’t eased. Helen shoves his shoulder lightly. “Don’t worry about it.” She leaves him in the dining room, following in Piper’s wake up to the brightly lit bathroom with sparkling white porcelain, deep blue walls and the crystal chandelier Helen had requested on the last remodel.
With the lights turned out, the guest room is pitch black. Henrietta has small town darkness. The Henrietta sky is beautiful without city light pollution, but the Gansey guest room looks out over the river and with the blinds closed the dark drenched room feels timeless, no electrical glow from smoke detectors or filter of street lights or the inconsistent wash of headlights. Blue tosses off the thick duvet and settles her bare feet into the thick pile of the carpet. The door creaks lightly when she opens it, but Blue doesn’t pause to check if she’s disturbing anyone. She sort of hopes that her aimless wander towards the sitting room will reveal Gansey’s shadow separating from the dark beyond the french doors. However, when the night does eventually part for a figure leaning against the veranda railing, it’s not Gansey. Piper turns around at the sound of the french doors opening.
“Oh,” Blue says, “I can just.” She jerks her thumb over her shoulder. There’s something about Piper that’s kind of unsettling, like a pit viper wearing a pink bow, you still don’t want to give it to a child as a birthday present.
“It’s surprisingly warm for this time of year.” Piper says. All the small hairs on Blue’s arms are standing up with the chill night air, but it’s true. It’s unseasonably warm. “You were the girl in the cave, weren’t you?” Piper asks. Blue looks at Piper, the woman’s face is calculating, curiosity curving her neck to track Blue’s frozen retreat. “It was your mother in the cave you said?”
Blue nods silently. There’s no way to deny it. The fact that Piper has finally asked the question eases a tension that has been churning Blue’s stomach to acid all evening. Blue imagines she’ll want to eat a very hearty breakfast because she choked down so little of the delicious dinner, nerves jangling at Piper’s pleasant smile and hand proudly placed over Helen’s on the table. It seems to pat for Piper to just be here, but Blue hasn’t yet figured what angle Helen provides. After the cave, Blue hadn’t thought about Piper much. With the cave collapse and finally having her mother back and then the whole business with Blue’s biological father. It wasn’t that Piper had slipped her mind, but some part of Blue wrote Piper off, dead in a cave with her henchman, starvation or worse. It seems odd that the guilt of that belief is only noticeable now that the live woman is observing Blue’s face with sharp eyes.
“What happened?” Blue can’t help asking. Piper smiles but the tug of her lips is more performative than emotional.
“We opened the door.” Piper brushes a stray lock of hair back over her shoulder. “I don’t remember much of it. There were a lot of legs.” Piper taps her lips thoughtfully. “I was looking for something more you know. I had a connection, this was going to verify that, that there’s something more. They say sleepers grant you a favor.” Piper’s gaze is inescapable. “I don’t think I got a favor, though I’m still walking so I suppose that could be it, I don’t remember what I asked. Waste.” Piper’s mouth curls distastefully. “If you all hadn’t been there it could have been so easy. But never mind.” Piper sighs, “it all turned out for the best. I’m not holding it against you.” She looks back out over the river and Blue relaxes slightly, released from Piper’s unsettling stare, “not if we’re going to be family.” Piper finishes.
Blue coughs, choking on her own spit and whatever word she was about to use to attempt a polite retreat. “Family?”
“Helen and I are getting married in the spring. We’ll be announcing our engagement tomorrow morning at breakfast. You’ll have to act surprised I suppose.” Piper’s smile drips self satisfaction.
“Gansey and I aren’t-“ Blue doesn’t know how to object. Helen and Piper are getting married. There’s something so awfully unfair about that. Blue’s fingers clench around the ghost of Gansey’s drenched sweater, she smells mint and rainwater in the rush of emotion that angrily blurs her eyes. She spins around before she can start tasting salt. Piper hums softly.
“Other people’s secrets can be the hardest to keep, particularly when they don’t know them.” Piper observes.
“What do you mean?” Blue spits, dashing the heels of her hands at her eyes and jerking back around.
“Just making an observation.” Piper shrugs, “I tend to notice secrets. It’s not hard to figure out you have one and it’s about him. If he doesn’t know it and it’s not about you it’s his secret that you’re keeping from him.” Piper slides away from the railing. Blue wonders if punching Piper in the nose would stun her, like that advice about sharks, jab to the nose quickly and escape. Piper doesn’t touch Blue, but Blue can feel the warmth of Piper’s arm where it reaches around her to open the french doors.
“Sleep well.” Piper says, and then she’s gone leaving the clinging jasmine of her perfume sharp in Blue’s nostrils.
Back in the safety of the Pig, Gansey puts his head down on the wheel with an explosive sigh. His parents are probably still celebrating Helen’s pronouncement with another glass of champagne but Gansey was able to use the time of the drive back to Henrietta and his “promise” to Blue’s mother to return her before lunch as an excuse to avoid the continued festivities.
“I can’t believe it.” Gansey mumbles.
“They seem like a well matched couple,” Blue offers.
“I know, that’s what’s so terrifying.” Gansey looks up from the wheel and reaches over to take Blue’s hand. “Well, hopefully the world isn’t in too much danger.” Gansey shakes his head, “Helen with an ambitious fiancee, who knows what could happen.” Blue squeezes his hand and smiles across the car at him.
“I certainly don’t know the future.” Blue’s lips twist viciously around the words, Gansey frowns. It’s not nearly as comforting as she might be intending, something about the bitter edge under her words.
“That’s just fine. Life is not knowing, right. That’s what makes it exciting. I’d rather not know what’s coming next, that way I can live in hope.” Gansey revs the engine and the Pig squeals down the grand curve of the Gansey estate drive. He can feel Blue’s eyes, tracking the quirk of his own smile. He almost misses Blue’s words, quiet under the roar of the engine.
“Maybe it’s better not to know.” Her hand squeezes his then lets go. She rolls down the window, first threads of whipping wind tearing her hair out of the small clips she’s used to pin it up out of her face. Gansey merges onto the highway, miles and miles still before they’ll even seen the first sign for Henrietta. Like always, the Pig and Blue and the wind combine with the road and the endless stretch of distance before them into a slipstream that seems timeless. No matter what’s happening at the Gansey mansion, or in Henrietta, this is the only space and time that really exists: the beginning of Blue’s smile, the thunder of the road beneath them, the most perfect mundane magic.