Every girl has a dream guy.
A dream guy, for those who don't understand, being the perfect boyfriend that a girl imagines. The guy could be regarded for his brains, his looks, his body, his humor, or something else, but most likely it's a combination of all of those. So, obviously finding a huge brain, a fantastic face, a funny bone, rock-hard abs and a six-pack all wrapped up in one package of a boy is a little difficult.
But that's what makes him a dream guy, isn't it? The idea is that the guy is literally something, or someone, from your dreams, and is therefore utterly unattainable and nonexistent. So, naturally, pining after someone who doesn't exist your entire life is fairly unhealthy, and could ruin the chances of many girls if they kept up those foolish thoughts. Nobody's perfect, after all.
So most girls probably stop thinking about, or at least completely obsessing over, the idea of a perfect dream guy before they get too old. Most will retain the notion up until the age of 15 or 16, when they wise up to the way the world works.
But not Piper.
Piper McLean was still holding out for her perfect guy. Sure, she'd dated around every so once and a while, and she'd been dating Jason Grace for quite a while now. Maybe that made it seem like a serious relationship, but she didn't view it that way.
Don't get it wrong: she was crazy about Jason, and she really did care for him. And why not? He was smart, and quite enjoyed challenging math problems (as much as she cared about him, she couldn't share his interest in math). He was serious most of the time, but every so once in a while he would crack a joke. He was physically fit- very nicely- and exercised daily, practicing archery, sword fighting, completing the rock wall, running long distances to build his endurance, lifting weights in the gym...It all paid off very well for Jason's physical demeanor. Not to mention the fact that he was very attractive; everywhere they went, Piper caught other girls sneaking glances at her boyfriend, whether it was surreptitious or blatantly obvious. Even with his new glasses, Jason Grace was a stud.
In many ways, Jason was one of those dream guys that every girl dreamed about. His nickname was Superman, for crying out loud! Who wouldn't consider Jason perfect? He had everything you could possibly want. He was perfect.
But only from the outside.
Truth be told, Piper and Jason were facing some problems in their relationship. Maybe it was only Piper who felt that way, but there were definitely some issues lately.
Jason had been...different lately: distracted, distant, and anxious. At first Piper had thought it was just stress: after all, who wouldn't be able to withstand that much pressure without a few side effects? Jason was the only known son of Jupiter, one of the Seven, and a leader at both Camp Half-Blood and Camp Jupiter.
But Piper felt pressure too. After all, being the girlfriend of Jason Grace, the original Mr. Perfect, wasn't the easiest job in the world. She had to go places with him as his second, supporting him in meetings at camp and with the gods. She had to stay strong when every girl they passed on the street stared at Jason in awe and amazement while glaring at her with hate and jealousy. Every girl. Plus, there was the whole "Reyna situation". Sure, Reyna and Piper were friends- really good friends, actually- but a girl couldn't be best friends with the girl who used to date her boyfriend without the relationship having some sort of awkwardness at times. Reyna claimed she had moved on, but Piper wasn't so sure. The girl had gotten her heart broken twice, both times to discover that the boy she'd been in love with already had a girlfriend. The first boy was Jason, obviously, and the second boy was Percy Jackson.
Even thinking about his name sent shivers up Piper's spine. She hated herself for doing it, but she couldn't control her emotions and what they did to her. And Piper couldn't deny her feelings any more.
Recently, her emotions had been out of control. Her heart raced whenever she saw Percy, and she lit up inside whenever he laughed, tossed his hair, or caused crinkles to form around his eyes when he smiled, just like his father. And when she saw Percy and Annabeth together? Forget it. She couldn't stand it. Annabeth was just the right height so that she could tilt her head into the crook of Percy's neck, and he could rest his onto hers and kiss her hair lovingly. They hugged each other with expertise, like they'd been doing it for years (which Piper supposed they had). And when they kissed? Well... she didn't even want to think about it.
She recalled how she'd felt about it when they were on their quest aboard the Argo II:
They were so easy together, it made Piper's heart ache. Jason was great, of course. But sometimes he acted so distant... Piper wondered if she would ever be able to break through that barrier.
The point was, the way they fit together was just so...perfect. It was infuriating in an endearing way: the ideal couple everyone wanted to be like. It was maddening, considering Piper was used to being called the perfect one, especially paired with Mr. Perfect, a.k.a. Jason Grace.
Percy and Annabeth, Annabeth and Percy; either way it sounded good. And they had a great ship name too! Percabeth. It just sounded so good. So right.
The truth was, Piper hated herself for feeling these things. Absolutely hated herself for it. Annabeth was her best friend in the whole world, the closest friend she'd ever had, in fact. Those nights they'd lain awake on the Argo II, just talking- really talking- had brought them so close together, and then it had been almost impossible for them not to bond even more after they went on such a trying quest together. They trusted each other so much now, and Annabeth would be crestfallen, so heartbroken, if she knew Piper felt this way. Percy was her man, and that was it.
But let's not forget about Jason: think about how he would feel if he knew Piper's feelings had shifted from him to Percy. She could just imagine his hurt expression, like a puppy who just realized he'd been run over by a big semi-trailer truck. He'd stare at her with those big blue eyes in utter shock, no pun intended. First he'd be angry, for sure, and his fingertips would crackle with electricity, traces of purple lightning dancing behind his eyes in fury. But then he would get over it, and just be heartbroken. Like Annabeth.
So feeling these things about Percy would hurt not only Annabeth, her best friend in the entire world, Jason, her wonderful boyfriend, but also, more than likely, herself.
Piper didn't want to think about how much more emotionally screwed up she'd be if she let her emotions take control of her. But how much more screwed up can I really feel? she asked silently as she made her way to the arena. At the moment, she was headed to swordfighting arena to practice- you guessed it- swordfighting.
That's right. Apparently, the world and, more importantly, Camp Half-Blood continues to go on even if you're feeling like a big ball of poop on the inside. They don't care about problems that you're dealing with. No matter what, everyone still has to get up out of bed, and go do their same old monotonous tasks. That had literally been the case for Piper today: she had felt so guilty and torn up inside that she'd wanted to just go to sleep and pronounce to the world that she was bed-ridden for the day, but she wasn't able to do that. Still, she'd managed to drag her feet in defiance and take her time getting ready for practice, which had felt satisfying at first, but now only made her day worse as she realized with a look at her pink wristwatch just how late she was.
Crap, she thought as she sped up the pace. The prospect of going to practice just got ten times worse than it had been.
Normally, Piper loved swordfighting. But today, she had to swordfight with other people her age, which wouldn't be so bad if she didn't have to face three certain people involved with her personal problems, one green-eyed son of Poseidon in particular.
With a sigh that could doubtless be heard all the way down in Tartarus, Piper threw open the heavy oak doors of the arena and marched in, her head held high and the blade of her sword resting comfortably on her left shoulder.
Yes, you heard right: Piper had a sword, not a knife. Since this was swordfighting, Piper figured a sword would be better to use than Katropis. She still had the prophecy knife; in fact, it was attached to her belt loop right now. This new sword was one she'd picked up out of the weapons room: a gladius, she thought it was. She shifted the sword around in her hand, and found that it was very uncomfortable to hold. Swinging it around, she felt the effect likewise. It felt unbalanced and heavy in her hands. Oddly out of place. Like me, she thought with dismay. I shouldn't be here. I don't belong to be around great demigods like these.
Glancing up from her momentary sadness, she saw that all the other campers in the Senior Camper group- those between the age of 16 and 18- were already gathering in a somewhat organized circle in the center of the arena. In all there were probably between twenty five and thirty campers. Around the formation she saw Katie Gardner, Connor and Travis Stoll, Will Solace and Nico di Angelo, Hazel Levesque and Frank Zhang, Leo Valdez, Rachel Elizabeth Dare, and many others. Off to her left she saw Annabeth give her a friendly wave and a stunning smile.
Piper waved back, though she felt guilty just doing that. If only you knew what I'm feeling, I bet you wouldn't be that friendly...she thought with dismay and grief. She was dragged out of her thoughts by someone tapping her on her right elbow. She turned and her heart dropped at who she saw.
"Jason!" she cried, a lot louder than she should have. Her cheeks flushed with embarrassment when a few people turned to look at her. Oops, she thought.
"Piper," said her boyfriend, a look of concern etched on his face, "where were you? You're late. I was worried about you."
She sighed, and was about to explain, when suddenly the instructor in the middle shouted at them to pair up with someone. Without taking her eyes from the son of Jupiter's face, she whispered simply, "I overslept." None too soon, for saw Leo grab Jason and ask him to be his partner.
She was secretly glad, since it meant she wouldn't half to talk to him more and bring up any awkward conversations. But when she saw that everyone else in the circle was already paired up and that there was only one person left, she instantly wished she'd been paired up with Jason. That would have been ten times better than the person she was stuck with:
Percy Freakin Jackson.
"Hey Piper!" he said with a blinding smile. "Looks like we're partners!"
She let out a small noise that sounded like "eep!" and then they dove right into it: parries, thrusts, advances, fades, pivots, lunges... They were all part of the workout.
"Hey, you're pretty good at this!" said Percy, the pleasant surprise evident on his face.
Piper was stunned by what an excellent swordfighter Percy was. Sure, she'd seen him fight before; multiple times, actually. But she'd never really watched him while he did. She was usually too distracted by saving her own butt and dealing with some insane monster to stop and take a popcorn break.
But now, when she had the time, Piper noticed how he did it with such expertise. I mean, his muscles rippled when he moved. Most people, and quite a few gods, had admitted that Percy was the best swordsman at camp, possibly the best at the time, and definitely one of the most powerful demigods out there. Even Nico di Angelo, who rarely seemed to talk or radiate any emotion whatsoever, had said that Percy was the most powerful demigod he'd ever met. Piper again recalled the way she'd felt on their quest: After hearing so much at Camp Half-Blood about Percy Jackson this and Percy Jackson that, she thought he looked...well, unimpressive, especially next to Jason. Percy was more slender, about an inch shorter, with slightly longer, much darker hair. He wasn't really Piper's type.
Piper stopped concentrating on sword fighting long enough to think, Did I really feel that way?! before she was knocked off of her feet by Percy. She lay on the ground for a moment, the wind knocked out of her, just staring at the sky, not even bothering to move or close her eyes to shut out the harsh, brilliant light of the sun boring into her kaleidoscope eyes.
There had actually been a time when she hadn't found Percy Jackson attractive. She'd thought he was unimpressive. She'd even said he wasn't her type! Her thoughts were even more conflicted now than they'd been earlier today, so she felt sick to her stomach when a shadow passed overhead, blocking out the blinding sun.
"Here Piper, let me help you up," said Percy as he extended a rough, tan hand towards her. She accepted, but even that felt wrong somehow. He saw her face contracting in ugly spasms, and asked with worry plain on his face, "Are you alright?"
That was it. The floodgates opened with those three simple words, and the water poured out of her eyes.
"Whoa- what?" exclaimed Percy in surprise, as he backed away uncertainly. Tears streamed down her face, and would have caused her mascara to run if she'd been wearing any (bonus of being a daughter of Aphrodite). She bawled her eyes out, her eyes forcing themselves shut. It wouldn't have mattered anyway; there were so many tears, she couldn't have seen anything. She was certain she was attracting plenty of attention, since the usual clatter of swords and shields had ceased in a dead silence. But she didn't care. She just didn't care anymore. She was so tired of keeping these dreadful, ugly emotions to herself that she had to let it out somehow, and this was the way it would have to be. This was her punishment.
Suddenly, Piper felt a set of hands grasping her arms on either side, pulling her forward. She didn't even bother removing her hands from her wet face; she just walked forward obediently, allowing whoever was steering her to navigate their way through the arena to wherever they were going.
After a few moments, Piper heard a door shut, a shout from far away, and suddenly the normal noises of sword fighting practice were back, assuming their usual cacophony of clatters and clangs. The sounds seemed to come from a distance, on the other side of some immense object. Piper guessed that she and the other person were on the outside of the arena.
"It's alright now, Piper," the person said gently: a girl's voice, which she recognized. "We're outside. We're alone. Let's talk." Annabeth.
Piper removed her hands from her face. Her friend was gazing at her in a steady gaze of expectancy. She knew her friend cared about her as much as she did. The concern was everywhere on her tan face: in the crease lines on her forehead, her furrowed eyebrows, her pursed pink lips, and especially her intense grey eyes. She didn't bat an eye while Piper tried to stop her crying long enough to get out some words.
"Annabeth, I've got something to tell you, and this is going to be really hard for me, but I figure it will just be better to go ahead and get it over with, so I'm just going to say it, alright?" The daughter of Athena nodded slowly. Piper took a deep, shaky breath and closed her eyes. "I think...I think I have a crush on Percy. Like, a big one. I might even love him," she said with a terrifying realization, one she hadn't thought of before. The thought was even more horrible and terrible than she'd imagined. She looked at her friend, afraid of her reaction, and was astonished when the blonde started laughing.
Piper stared at her in stunned silence for a moment, before finally asking, "Um...what's so funny?"
The daughter of Athena was still keeled over from her laughing fit, her shoulders literally shaking from the effort of trying to stop. She finally did stop, and she took long, gasping breaths while wiping her eyes before answering. "Oh, I'm sorry Piper. It's not you, don't worry. I just feel so bad for you!" She must have noticed her friend's confused expression, because she quickly continued. "What I mean is, you feel terrible for feeling this way, but I promise it's totally normal. First of all, this is Percy we're talking about. The guy who has attracted dozens of girls without even noticing. Is this really what's been eating you up all this time?" she asked, to which Piper replied with a nod. "I thought so. No offense, but this was bound to happen at some point. No need to worry though. You're not in love with Percy, and you probably don't even have a real crush on him.
"What you've got, my friend, is the seven-month itch." Piper looked puzzled, so Annabeth continued. "Ever heard of the seven-year itch? Marilyn Monroe was in a movie of the same title. The idea is that adults, after seven years, traditionally, of being married, one spouse or the other starts to get antsy and discontent, and starts to look at other people. Anyway, it's the same concept. Usually teenagers get the same way after seven months of dating. I mean, seven months is a long time to be together, right? So it's normal to feel like this. I bet Jason's been feeling this way too. Have you been experiencing some trouble in your relationship lately?" Piper nodded trustingly, and Annabeth gave her a reassuring smile. "Yep, that'd be why. You two should talk about this. Be honest with each other. In fact," she said with a smile, looking over Piper's shoulder, "here comes Mr. Perfect now. Why don't you two spend some time together to talk things over?" she asked, while walking away.
Piper turned around in time to see Jason bursting out of the arena door and sprinting towards her as fast as he could. When he passed Annabeth, who was walking in a leisurely stroll, Piper heard the daughter of Athena murmur to the son of Jupiter, "She's all yours, Sparky."
Jason didn't even stop long enough to respond before pulling Piper into a bone-crushing hug. "Oh, Piper, are you okay?!" he half exclaimed, half asked. "When you were in there...and you were crying, and they wouldn't let us, I mean, me, come talk to you...and you were crying, and, and...oh, sorry, am I crushing you?" he asked finally, backing off. He pulled back and grabbed her shoulders tenderly. "Seriously though, are you okay?"
Piper studied Jason's face carefully. She could see it in his eyes, in his body language, in his face, everywhere, that he really cared about her. Sure, they might have been going through some rough patches lately, but they loved each other, and that was all that really mattered. Everything else was just a small, unimportant bump in the road. Hell, they'd fought monsters, Titans, gods and goddesses, and other demigods. They could work through anything now.
"I'm fine, Jason. And I think we will be too."