In Piper's world, bars are for thinking, and not drinking.
They're like her little sanctuaries; she takes a chair in the far corner, far from advances and flirts, and just...thinks. Reminisces. Wonders what could have gone so horribly wrong in the past few months to have her invest her comfort in such a place as a bar.
Instead of taking shot after shot, she gets drunk in her own way - drowning her sorrows in texts to Annabeth or Hazel or some other friend who has nothing to do on a Saturday night. Everyday is a bad day for her, and in the particularly bad ones, she drags the physical forms of her before-mentioned friends away from their everyday lives and into the seats next to her. If she can't be happy on particularly bad days, no one can.
Today had not been particularly bad, thank goodness. The only things that had happened today that were worth mentioning were that her agent had gotten her a deal for a minor role in a soap opera, and that her snippy publicist had quit, which was good. It wouldn't be that hard to find another one, considering who her father was. She'd have someone to replace the former in two days tops.
Today, Piper had taken her seat in the shadows once again. Stirring the straw in her drink of water and tracing the rim of her glass with a finger, she sullenly gazed at the burly alcoholics across the room. Some game was going on between some teams she did not care about, and she was right about to pry her phone out of her back pocket when the bell over the bar door 'dinged', and someone walked in.
Short guy. Latino. Curly hair and elfish ears. Piper brusquely upturned her nose and took a sip of her water. He wasn't a regular; probably just another junkie looking to get wasted. Nothing about the newcomer really stood out to her...maybe except for the fact that he was heading straight towards her and her sanctuary.
Piper felt exceedingly uncomfortable and self-conscious as the guy sat on the stool next to her and leaned over the counter, picking up the menu and skimming over its contents. She tried so hard not to stare, so extremely hard to look at anything but the perpetrator who had managed to infiltrate her corner. Piper realized that she had failed when he suddenly tossed the menu back down on the counter and spun around to look at her.
His eyes met hers, and she could only stammer. "Um - "
His eyes were brown, a deep shade of the color. She almost didn't catch it, but there was a glint in one of his eyes that looked more macabre than friendly.
"Sorry to bother you," he cut her off, and he did sound genuinely sorry. "But...I need to get somewhere, and my car's curbed two blocks back. Can you help me?"
His voice had pulled Piper out of her last thought and into the next. He tapped his fingers on the counter, and she blinked at him. The request had taken her so aback that the glass of water slid out of her hands and fortunately back onto the table, a small amount of water spilling over the rim.
"A ride," he repeats, and rests one of his elbows on the counter. "My car broke down two blocks down, and I left all of my tools at home. I just have to get home, bring the tools back here, and fix 'er up. I figured I should ask you for a ride since, you know, you seem to be the only sober person in here. Can you help me?"
She raised a skeptical and incredulous eyebrow at him. "You want a ride from me? How do you know I'm not a serial killer? I could turn around and chop you up," she pauses to raise the glass to her lips, and bites the rim in a smile. "...you wouldn't even see it coming."
He returned the gesture, arching an eyebrow into his curly crown of hair. "Well, for one thing, most serial killers don't voice their plans. Also, they're usually not that pretty."
"Oh har, har," she shoots back at him after grabbing her water again. "What a spectacular specimen of idiot you are. What's your name?"
"Leo. And yours, belleza?"
Meh. She figured it wouldn't hurt. "Piper McLean."
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Of the moneybag McLeans?"
Piper shrugged and took a sip of her water. "Sure, you could say that."
Leo took a good while to stare at her in awe before he remembered why he was there in the first place. "So, Ms. McLean. You going to help me or not?"
She let out a dramatic sigh that her coach would've been oh-so-proud of. "Fine." Her hand slid down from the counter and into her pant pocket, and she pulled out the keys to her car. Without hesitation [and not in her right mind], she tossed the keys to him. "Here. It's the Porsche out back. Just don't crash it and bring it back, kay?"
It's his turn to be taken aback. His eyes darted back and forth between the keys in his hand and her face. "You...you just gave me the keys to your car."
She gives a slight nod as she takes a sip from her glass, delved back into her own problems. "Yep. Now go before I change my mind."
"Leave." The surprisingly-not-a-junkie leaves in such a hurry, it's almost comical.
To be honest, Piper just wanted this evening to herself. She didn't care if he got a scratch on it, really (her dad would cover that. The car practically paid for itself). All she wanted was a few moments to herself, to wallow in her pathetic existence and be alone with no one but her thoughts.
It's roughly forty-five minutes later, she's falling asleep and seriously considering to walk home when Leo comes in through the bar doors with a rather ceremonious 'ding', the keys to her car visibly in hand. When Piper sees him, she sits up, slightly and honestly surprised that he actually returned.
She allows him to enter her niche once again, and he hands her the keys with a smile. "Thanks, really. I got the tools from my place and fixed the car, and headed this way as soon as I was done. I fixed your engine too, 'cause it was making this weird sound that I felt needed to be checked out."
Piper yawned before raising her eyebrows. "Wow, thanks. That thing's been bothering me for weeks."
What's done is done. Piper expected Leo to up and leave the place and head back home, but when he sat back in the chair, it dawned on her that tonight was going to be a little bit longer than expected.
Leo leans an elbow on the counter, like before. "So...you regularly hand your car keys to strangers?"
"No," she replies with a small smile, and she stirs her straw in her drink for the second time that night. "Not really."
"Then why the sudden change of heart?"
"I just felt like it, I guess."
Leo gave her a disbelieving look. "You just felt like giving a stranger the keys to your seventy-five thousand dollar Porsche."
Piper snorted, and shoved him with her free hand. "Of course not. We're not strangers now, are we? And it's eight hundred and forty-five thousand, not seventy-five."
He gives her a look that's so incredulous that all she can do is laugh. If anything, it makes her seem more enticing.
The moment dissipated into the next. When she was done laughing, she took a few sips from her water to break the tension, and a question came to mind.
"Leo?" she asked after a while.
His head snapped up from the straw paper he was wrapping around his finger. "Yeah?"
She whirled the stool around so she was entirely facing him. "Why didn't you steal my car?"
The answer he gives her tells her that he'd been waiting for that question all night. He gives her a rare and lopsided smile, places an elbow on the wooden counter, and prods his head on his fist. "Because, McLean. Your number's worth a lot more than a one hundred thousand dollar Porsche."
"Eight hundred thousand," she corrects.
"Yeah, that. Or maybe a little more, who knows. Can I have the pleasure of having it now?"
Leo was an avid flirt, and on a particularly bad day, Piper would have avoided him like the plague. But tonight, seeing as how it was not one of those days, that the planets were in fact not aligned, and that the moon was waning and not full at all, she found him pretty endearing.
Piper jotted down her cell number on a bar napkin, then handed it to him. He gazed at it in his hands as if it were a relic.
"This is the best luck I've had with any girl in months," he confides, before carefully folding up the napkin and stuffing it into his pocket. Piper smirked at him.
"Congrats, then. You just scored one of the best." She sounded a tad bit conceited, but she didn't care. He knew it as well as she did.
The stuffiness of the bar dissolved into thinner air. Feeling much more comfortable and more open to the idea of letting people into her corner, Piper was about to ask him if he wanted to have a drink (water ha ha) when his phone rang.
Leo pulled it out of his jean pocket, and when he looked at the screen, he winced. "I got to go. Thanks for the night. Talk to you later?" She liked that fact that it was a question.
"Sure," Piper replied with a smile and a shrug, and with a slight wave, Leo left the bar. The burly alcoholics chose that poignant moment to spring out of their seats and yell in triumph, startling her to glance at her watch. It was almost midnight.
Piper finished her water and handed her glass to the bartender, deciding to put an end to a good day and a particularly good night.
Some time passed, and so did the night at the bar from her mind.
To be totally honest, her meeting with the repair boy hadn't re-entered her thoughts at all. She had shows to film, scripts to memorize - things to think about that were much more important than him. Because of this, a call from him was the last thing she expected to receive on her birthday.
She was at work, and it was almost a month since she'd been at the bar when her phone vibrated in her pocket. She glanced around the no-cellphone-policied room and stole behind a rack of costumes in the far corner before picking up.
"Hello?" said someone into the other line, and Piper didn't quite recognize the voice.
Her eyebrows drew together in confusion. A worker rolled past with a cart of confections and pastries, and the rumbling of it on the studio floors filled her ears.
"Who is this?"
"Wait..." There was a shuffling noise on the other end. "Piper?"
It took her a moment, but her head finally made a connection. Wait a minute..."Bar dude?"
Bar dude snorted on the other line. "One month and you already forgot my name, huh?"
"Whatever," she said, and then a question came to mind. "Why the hell did you suddenly call me?"
There was a loud rickety noise on the other end that her brain interpreted as a train running over some tracks. "Not exactly sure. I just found this random napkin with someone's number in my coat pocket, and naturally, I called it." His voice was loud and distinct despite all of the noise in the background. "So what's going on with you?"
Piper glanced around the set. Her co-star was busy talking to the director about something important, and everyone had taken five and was getting ready to film the next scene of the sitcom.
"I don't have much time to talk right now, but...a lot of stuff, actually. I'm at work right now, I have to go to my friend's house later, and I have to stop by the post office to pick up some presents."
"Presents?" he asked, and she could almost see him scratching his head in confusion. "Is it Christmas already?"
"It's my birthday," she said, and she couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face even if she tried. She'd been looking forward to this day all year.
"Oooooh. In that case, I shalt bake you a cake, m'lady."
Piper thought she hadn't heard him right. "What?"
"A cake," he repeated, and she could picture him with the same goofy smile that he had given her at the bar. "Every birthday needs a cake. How about you drop by my place and pick it up?"
She opened her mouth, and closed it again. All of this was just a tad bit too much to take in.
"You're going to bake me a cake," she repeated.
She smiled at the sheer ridiculousness of their conversation. "I don't even know where you live!"
"That's what directions are for, right?"
"About birthdays. Now get in your car, rev up the engine, and get your butt over here so I can bake you a cake."
Piper didn't see how she could argue with him, and to be frank, she didn't want to. "Okay, fine, sure, whatever. But if I get fired for leaving work early, I blame you."
She wasn't in the least surprised when she pulled into the driveway of a shabby, stereotypical Brooklyn home.
Not exactly a townhouse and not exactly an apartment, it was a little less than what Piper had expected it to be (a gate, fence, some sort of security would've been nice). The place that Leo seemingly called home was located in what many referred to as a bad neighborhood, in the district outskirts, a good driving distance away from Piper's place in Manhattan. She approached the house, and was about to knock on the front door (no doorbell) when, to her surprise, it swung open.
"Hey," said Leo with a smile. He was wearing a wrongly-buttoned plaid shirt and a pair of dark jeans. He stood to one side of the doorway and opened the door wide enough for her to enter. "Happy Birthday, belleza. Come on in."
Hesitantly, Piper walked into the house, and the inside was messier than she anticipated.
The house looked smaller indoors than out. She walked down a small hallway which led into a living area, where a couch, a moderately-sized TV, and a shelf stacked with DVDs sat against various walls. There was a coffee table in the center of the room, and a doorway to her right led into a small kitchen, and the one to her left into a bedroom. There was a staircase that went up into darkness that she had seen at the entrance of the hall, and she couldn't help but wonder what creatures lurked up there.
The entire room smelled like cake, as if he had sprayed everything with bakery scented Febreze. Everything was covered in a fine layer of clothes, magazines, and tools. Leo threw a pile of mags that had been on the couch into a trash bin and motioned for her to sit down. She did.
Leo stuffed his hands into his pockets and stood in front of her as she assessed his living quarters. Her eyes skimmed over dark, undrawn curtains, various scraps of metal, and other miscellaneous things before resting back on him.
She made a clicking noise with her tongue and fiddled with her thumbs. "Well...nice place you got here."
He smirked down at her. "You don't have to lie."
She sighed and relaxed into the sofa. "Thank God."
Leo gave a breath that she knew was a laugh and sat down next to her, far enough so that they weren't touching in anyway. Her watched her as she kicked off her dreaded heels and settled down. When she felt comfortable enough, she turned to face him.
"So...what kind of cake?"
"Vanilla. Didn't know if you were allergic to chocolate. Or grains. Or eggs. Let's just call it a vegan cake."
"Vegan cakes are good," she gave him a cheeky smile of approval before stretching out and resting her feet on the coffee table. "I'm vegetarian, so it's not that much of a difference. Let's just hope it tastes good, hm?"
Leo gave her a smile and a short, breathy laugh before picking up the remote that had been sitting on the coffee table. He leaned forward into a sliver of light that had escaped from the drapes, and Piper could see a dark spot peeking out from his shirt, right at the back of his neck. Her eyebrows knit together in thought. A birthmark, maybe, or a scar.
He sat back, and the atmosphere suddenly became one shade more hostile. He shook the remote a bit before turning on the TV, and she watched with wary eyes as he leaned across her to reach the shelf, grabbing a stack of DVDs to sift through.
Leo turned to her and smiled. "Lets. Now, who wants to watch a movie?"
In the end, they ended up watching The Karate Kid, the original. Leo had both versions, that one and the one with Will Smith's son, but when he tried to suggest watching that one instead she snapped and said, "No way in hell am I listening to Justin Bieber repeatedly say never," and that was that.
Somewhere along the line, Piper fell asleep. She had a weird dream that had mainly consisted of karate-fighting and movie deals, and when she woke up, the credits were rolling, an inspirational 80's song was playing, and...the room was filled with smoke.
There was no high pitched chirping of a smoke detector, which confused her to no end. The first thing she could think to do was shove a sleeping Leo so hard that he fell off of the couch.
He fell to the mauve carpet with a very loud thud before springing to action and glaring at her. "What the hell -"
"Fire, you idiot," she hissed at him. Piper proceeded to crouch to the floor and smack him in the head.
"We overslept! Your effing cake got burned and now there's smoke and - why the hell don't you have a smoke detector?"
"I dismantled it," he said. He sounded less panicked and more agitated than she thought he would."It got annoying, okay? I didn't think I'd actually need it..."
"Well, you do," she hissed back at him before surveying their surroundings. From the space in between the coffee table and the couch, with Leo crouched in front of her, she couldn't see much. The smoke wasn't thick enough to cloak the entire room, and she would've been able to see just fine if the sun hadn't decided to set. What she could see was the glow of the time on the cable box through the glass of the table, the faded beige-ish/mauve-ish color of the rugged carpet beneath her, the unarrayed once-a-stack of DVDs that had toppled down with Leo, and the beleaguered look in the said pain-in-the-rear's eyes.
Entirely irritated with the lack of breathing air and the limited moving space, Piper smacked him again.
The assault made a satisfying sound against his skull, and his eyes bore into her into what Leo must've thought had been a withering gaze. She thought he'd curse and it'd be over with, but he hissed something at her that was much more appropriate.
"Hitting me won't solve anything, you know."
"Shut up," she replied before shuffling back out of the space she was in. Her plan was to crawl into the kitchen, make it to the oven without dying from asphyxiation, and turn the thing off.
He looked at her with a look of confusion, one hand still clenching his skull. "What- " He stopped, realized what she was doing, and promptly shuffled forward until they were side by side. Crouched low and gripping the carpet to the right of the couch, Piper turned to him.
"How long did you put it in for, an hour?"
"I think so," he replied, his eyebrows knitting together in thought. "At least, I think that's how long it was supposed to be in for. Now that I think about it, if the movie was two hours long, and the thing's still in there, then I guess I was wrong."
"Well that helps a ton," she rolled her eyes as she crawled forwards, towards the kitchen.
It took them a while, but they got there. The air above them was thicker with smoke and the smog hung in low places, but the source of the heat was easy to find. The oven, which was a few feet off to their her left, spat out smoke from every side, which curled up into the air in billows and rolls and made her eyes sting and water uncontrollably. She opened her mouth to say something before she inhaled a whiff, and she found herself in a series of coughs.
When her vision cleared, she was surprised to see Leo by her side, on his knees and rising to his feet, wading through the smoke despite it's thickness and dashing in fluid movements towards the stove. She let out a ragged and ugly cough into her sleeve as her eyebrows drew together, the corners of her mouth twisting down and in the position to scold him when his hand turned a knob, he leaned down, opened the stove, threw whatever had been inside into the trashcan to it's right, and it was over. The heat and the smog still lingered, but it was over.
Leo reappeared in front of her, a hand reaching down towards her. She coughed again, still getting over the smoke, but she grabbed it, and she found herself on her feet. She removed her arm from in front of her mouth and stared at him, panting and giving the occasional cough. His look was almost indecipherable.
As she stared at him, it slowly dawned on her that Leo hadn't been coughing at all. When she looked at him, she noticed the tiniest things - like how the first few buttons on his shirt were unbuttoned and how he wore it untucked, and the sweat on his brow and the heat that was around them and other stupid things like that. Her eyes swept over him, his shoulder, his jaw, his eyes - he wasn't disheveled at all, except for a clump of curly hair that stuck up at an odd angle. Piper wondered how she looked - probably horrible - and realized with a start that she had in fact been checking him out and that he was doing the same right then. Her hand twitched in his grasp, and it struck her that he was still holding her hand when he felt it and let go, wiping his hand on his jeans.
They kept panting. He took a breath for each gap she left behind.
Leo spoke up first. "Um..." He turned and gazed at the kitchen, thin curls of smoke wafting up into the air. The oven itself looked like it couldn't take much more, and was burnt and charred in places. Her eyebrows came together in thought of why she was even bothering with this guy, when he smiled sheepishly at her.
He leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "Happy Birthday."
Piper bought him an oven.
After some investigation, Leo discovered that his old one had had several mysterious perforations that had made way to leakage ("So that'swhy it got so hot whenever I baked..." "You dumbass."). Piper, being her nice and stinking rich self, went shopping, found the kitchen appliance in question, slapped a bow on it, and gave it to him as a seven-month-early Christmas present.
Weeks had passed since that incident, and Piper got the occasional call from Leo every once in a while. She hadn't seen him since when she'd given him the oven, which she'd counted as a blessing, and spent most of her time with her friend's imbecile fiancee, Percy Jackson.
"So, what's his name again?" Percy asked, his voice repetitively loud and then receding and he spun around the room in a swivel chair.
Piper, who was lying on her back on the bed to his left, craned her neck to look at him. "Leo. I told you already."
"What's..." Percy took a moment to play with the lever under the chair to alter it's height. He pressed it down before sinking down, nearly level with the floor. "...his last name?"
"It's..." she trailed off, stunned when she came up with a blank. She was pretty sure she that she had known it at some point.
"Don't know?" Percy asked from across the room, and she hesitantly nodded. "Well, find it out. How am I supposed to do a background check if I don't know his last name?"
"You're not supposed to do one at all," Piper reasoned, and she pushed herself up so that she was lying on her elbows. Her back ached from lying down for so long.
"We're not dating or anything. I just met him at a bar and he burned my birthday cake, that's all. Besides," Piper pushed one arm off of the bed and rolled over so that she was on her stomach. "Who made you relationship police? I thought that was Annabeth's job."
"Annabeth's not here right now," said Percy with a smirk, his chin resting at the top of the headrest. "Lucky for you, she's at a smartass convention for the next couple of weeks. Don't tell her I said that."
Piper was so telling her that he said that. "There's no reason you should have to check him out. I mean, he seems pretty decent - excluding the fact that he nearly burned his house down with me in it. And he's fixes stuff, which is cool. He fixed my engine some months ago. He could check out your car for you, too..."
She went on and on until it turned into a ramble about Leo's good qualities. Percy watched her with a growing smirk, and when she was finally done talking, her eyebrows came together in confusion.
Piper blinked. "What?"
His smirk threatened to tear his face in half. "You two aren't dating, remember?"
That earned him a pillow in the face.
Later that week, she was at her place, surfing the channels on TV and looking for one that currently didn't play a soap opera when her phone rang.
It took her a good while to rummage through a great deal of blankets and pillows before she found her bag. She fished around inside and was surprised that it was still ringing when she pulled it out with a mass of credit cards.
She didn't check to see who it was. All she did was tap the screen, hold it up to her ear, and say, "It took me ten minutes to find this so this better be fucking good."
She heard a laugh on the other line. "Hi to you too, Pipes." Leo. She was relieved. Anyone but Percy would've been fine.
"Hey," she said, her free hand reaching for the remote. She fumbled with it before finding the power button and turning off the TV. "Why the sudden call?"
"Well..." Leo trailed off, and she raised an involuntary eyebrow (which she did a lot when it came to him). "I was just using my new, hella rad oven when I remembered that I owed a certain someone a birthday cake. Or, at least something equivalent to a birthday cake, like dinner maybe. At my place. Tonight."
It took her more than a moment to process this. The hum of the dryer in the other room was the only noise as the remote threatened to fall from her hands and onto the floor.
She narrowed her eyes at nothing in particular. "Did you just..."
"You're an idiot, you know that? A lucky idiot who knows how to pick desperate girls," As she said it, he gave a breathy laugh. Piper rolled her eyes and shook her head, trying to think at exactly what point she had gotten herself into this mess. "I'll be over in an hour, on my own time. Wear something nice 'cause I feel like being pretty tonight. And brush your hair, for God's sake. The thing's a rat's nest." By the time she was done, the corners of her mouth had stretched out into a smile, and she was delighted in the thought that she'd have something to do that involved something other than her job. She was really glad that Percy wasn't there to hear this.
Piper nearly squealed. She was going on a date with Leo.
Crickets chirped in the grass around them. Leo tugged on his collar, dug his chopsticks into his bowl, and looked up from his lo mein. "Yeah?"
"Um..." she scratched her head, which was hard, because her bun made it hard to scratch anything. "What's your last name?"
The two of them were eating outside tonight, on Piper's suggestion. They ate in Leo's backyard, which was small, but good for the occasion. There was an old, weathered fountain that was grounded in one corner of the yard, which listed dangerously to one side but wasn't going to fall, and yard tools on the back porch that were rusted over. Also on the porch was a small table, and two rickety lawn chairs that had holes in various places. The yard itself was patchy in places and the ground was uneven, but the bright side was that the back was fenced off with a tall picket fence that you couldn't see over unless you stood, so she guessed that it could've been worse.
Because Piper no longer trusted Leo with an oven, they had ordered Chinese. Leo was chowing down on lo mein while she was entirely content with a container of veggie dumplings. The stars were out, the night was warm, and he had hung a bunch of Christmas lights on some poles so that they're little dining alfresco would look more romantic and less pathetic. Surprisingly, it worked.
Piper was admiring the tableau when he answered her question. "Valdez."
His voice pulled her back into reality. "What?"
"My last name's Valdez," Leo repeated with a small smile, stirring his chopsticks in his meal. "Did I tell you before? I thought I did."
"You didn't," she assured him as her eyes were drawn down towards her food, her hand reaching for her fork once again. "I tried to tell someone what it was the other day, but I drew a blank."
"It's always good to know your future last name, right?" The smirk he wore was the complete opposite of her scowl.
"Stuff some food into your mouth before I stuff something else inside."
"My fist." she glared at him from across the table, but felt the heat leave her face in a flush. She quickly brought her paper cup to her lips to hide it, taking a sip of the punch inside. Leo was entirely impossible.
She stole a glance at him as he chuckled, looking at his food at not her. Speaking of Leo, he knew how to clean up.
Tonight, Mr. Valdez wore a white, collared button-down (he seemed to like those), suspenders, and pinstripe pants. It was evident that he had heeded her request and tried to grease his hair back, but it kept sticking up in random places. Leo kind of looked like one of those cheesy actors from one of her dad's movies, but he didn't look that bad - not really bad at all.
She had zoned out, again. She was staring at him, and she didn't realize that he was doing the same to her until a sharp ring pierced the air.
They both jumped. Piper fumbled with her cup and Leo with his chopsticks, and his hand crept to his pocket but stopped in it's tracks when she pulled out her phone from her bag.
"Sorry," she muttered in apology before standing, tugging down her dress and retreating to the porch for privacy. Her wedges were wobbly and uneven against the hard packed dirt of the lawn, so she hurriedly stumbled over to the back porch and climbed the splintered wooden steps.
She let out a breath that she hadn't realized she'd been holding before glancing at her phone, gripping the porch rail. It was Hazel.
Piper tapped the screen and held the phone to her ear, turning her back to Leo and biting her lip. She could feel his gaze on her from across the yard.
"Hey Piper!" Her friend sounded cheerful and happy. An array of different noises filled the phone - laughter, shouting, and other things that made Piper wonder where her friend was.
"Where are you?"
"L.A.," Hazel said, and Piper remembered that Hazel was back in California and that her trip to NYC was over. "Frank and I've been hanging with Jason and Reyna. They took us down here from Berkeley earlier today, and we went to an amusement park. Oh my gosh, you should've seen Frank - we went on a rollercoaster and the look on his face was priceless!" Hazel laughed a cheerful, giddish laugh that only she could pull off. Sure it was funny, and yes, it sounded great, but Piper's eyes darted back to the table, where Leo sat, picking at his food and pretending not to be eavesdropping.
Hazel continued on. "...and they were amazing. Anyways, we just got back from the mall, and I just called to see if - "
"Hazel," Piper didn't mean to sound harsh, but she hissed her friend's name into the phone so severely that even she had to wince. "I can't talk right now, okay? I'm sorry, but I'm really busy right now and I have to get back to- "
Piper inhaled, then exhaled, glancing at Leo. "I'm on a date, okay?"
Hazel took a long and precious moment to reply. "Oh."
She sighed. She'd never hear the end of this.
"Oh," Hazel said again, and she sounded to her as if she had just comprehended something, something Piper didn't quite understand. "Well, you could've said that before I started rambling. Call me later, okay? Be ready with details."
"Goodbye, Hazel," said Piper with a roll of her eyes and a relieved exhale, and then the conversation was over. She hung up after her, and then turned back to face Leo, who looked away as soon as she looked at him and pretended to be interested in his food. Piper shook her head at his stupidity and ambled off of the porch before making her way back over to him.
She sat down in her chair, which made a squeaking noise. "Sorry about that. It was just a friend of mine calling to see if everything was okay."
"Mm," Leo said in reply, which was all he could say because he had stuffed a mouthful of noodles in his mouth in his haste to make it look like he hadn't overheard. "S'okay. Juth tell them I said hi."
Piper smiled. She leaned her head on her hand and watched this passing excuse for a man as he stuffed more lo mein into his face. Around them, the crickets chirped softly, a breeze threw the grass to one side, and she could hear jubilant sounds of laughter from the world beyond the fence. Her mind drifted away into some secluded place far, far away, and it had completely passed her thoughts that she was on a date when Leo leaned across the table towards her.
She snapped back into reality. Piper felt the heat rise into her cheeks, and leaned back into her chair as he leaned forward.
Her eyes went wide. "What- "
"Wait..." he said before touching her cheek, and she went rigid in trepidation. Then he swept his thumb over the edge of her mouth, and moved his hand away.
She blinked at him. It took him a few seconds to realize that she had no idea what the hell that was for. "There was food on your face," he tried to explain, and Piper was relieved. She looked at him, and it occurred to her that the situation was entirely ironic because he had some food on his face, too.
She leaned forward, reaching out, and Leo leaned back. She saw his face flush as his hands gripped the sides of the seat of his chair.
"What ar- "
She wiped it off. Piper sat back in satisfaction, thoroughly pleased that she had put the same amount of emotional tension on him.
"You had food on your face," she said with a smirk. Leo rolled his eyes, but then he had a look on his face that told her that he was up to no good. To her slight shock and surprise, Leo leaned forward again. For a second she thought that he'd just do it again, and the gag would go on until she ended it, but something else happened - something entirely unexpected, unexplainable, and probably not complainable.
The stars shone brighter and the moon shone fuller, illuminating the clouds around it and all the world below. Leo kissed her, and when her arms found their way around his neck and her hands into his hair, she realized with a pang of pleasure that she didn't have a problem with that.
"Percy?" she yelled at the top of her lungs. No reply.
Piper finished braiding her hair, twisting one of the braids around her finger over and over as she shoved a drawer closed with her hip.
"Percy," she called again. Again, no answer. Piper stopped playing with her braid and picked up the basket full of clothing that was lying on the table to her right, and balanced it against her hip. Then she leaned down and picked up the articles of clothing around her, stuffing Percy's dirty boxers down to the bottom of the pile.
She sighed and scratched her head, annoyed. Going to see if everything was okay, Piper set the basket back down on the card table and padded out of the room.
She descended the staircase, jumping over the step that was faulty and ready to collapse, and then walked down the hallway before making a right into one room and then a left into the area that was Annabeth's office.
Sunlight poured in through the blinds of the window; particles danced around in the thick air as Piper put her hands on her hips. There was Percy, back to her, his gaze glued on the monitor.
Piper pursed her lips. "Why didn't you answer me?"
At first, he didn't budge. Piper was about to stride across the room and move his limbs for him when she heard the creak of the chair swiveling around, and Percy, looking a lot more tired and concerned than usual, ran a hand along the stubble on his chin before rubbing the back of his neck and letting his hand fall down into his lap.
She opened her mouth to utter a snippy rebuttal when he cut her off and the words died in her throat. "Your boyfriend's last name is Valdez, right?"
Piper had no idea where he was going with this. "I don't see what this has to do with- "
"Right?" His sharp tone cut right into the serenity and calmness of the morning. She felt an odd feeling in her chest, and tension began to flood the room, suffocating her.
"Yes," her voice sounded skeptical and small, quiet and nervous. "Why'd you ask?"
The serious look that was directed before her was unlike anything she had ever seen on Percy Jackson.
"I searched him up. Your boyfriend's an arsonist."
Her train of thought derailed and combusted on the spot. For once, she was at a loss for words.