Alex didn't sleep in her bed a single night that week. She spent the charcoal shaded days curled up next to Amelia in her bed each night. Some nights they'd laugh away at insignificant shenanigans that happened during the day or god-awful sex jokes without getting a wink of sleep. Other times they'd just lie beneath the covers tangled in each other as they listened to the chorus of late night sirens outside the frosted window. They’d play with each other’s hands, tracing their fingers or doodling inside their palms, or one would rest their head on the other’s chest (the roles switched regularly). They even cleaned the apartment, even though it mostly consisted of Amelia moonwalking across the tile in cat-printed socks and Alex trying to mime her, without much avail. Alex was still retching in the bathroom at night and still had trouble keeping things down. But Wednesday of that week, she finished a bowl of rice and a slice of whole wheat toast without rushing to the toilet bowl. She kept working and her voice was regaining its fervor. When she was booking flights or talking to someone higher up in her field, it still had its underlying meekness. But the shadowy circles under her eyes were getting a little lighter. And that was progress already.
Things were looking up. Slowly but surely, things were looking up.
Alex never feared parent-teacher conferences. She knew it was always an in and out affair. The kid was fucking Einstein but without the credit. They'd tell her that her child was great, she'd make a few jokes, and she'd be out the door again to wait for another January. She took a 10-second shower and threw on a leather jacket before poking her dark head into the sunlit studio. Amelia had been in the same position sprawled out on the floor with various sketches for the past hours. Or days even. She lost track.
"You didn't set anything on fire right?"
"Burned down the whole damn school."
Miss Chapman finally got her teacher shit together. She was grading papers at a steady pace again, she was getting everyone's names right, she even made a few friends. She became acquainted with outspoken Chemistry teacher, who's frizzed auburn hair inadvertently divulged her subject matter. The Buddhist health and wellness teacher, who insisted that teaching high school until retirement was like a "mandala" (Piper still had no clue what she was talking about. Even after having the obscure metaphor explained). The ditsy Italian guidance counselor, and the Hispanic art teacher that inspired Amelia so.
She was in the swing of things. Sort of.
She was stacking papers and greeting parents goodbye. They'd leave either shell shocked or they'd stroll out the door with a skip in their step. She enjoyed doing these meetings. She got the chance to see who were the authors of her students' personalities. How they spoke, how they walked, how they bantered. It proved that the apple didn't fall far from the tree after all. That those hackneyed sayings that would get real fucking annoying real fucking quick had a little bit of relevance. Just a little.
She felt her heart beat a little faster when her eyes met the name Vause, Alexandra on her clipboard. In the back of her mind, she had wondered who it was that raised the student she had grown so fond of. Who molded and cultured her sense of humor and wit, her intelligence, and all the other good qualities that made up the girl. And the day was finally here. She smiled genuinely for the first time in a while when she imagined the mystery mother.
And then she knocked.
"Come in!" Miss Chapman was scribbling down all the things she wanted to talk about with her. All the discussions, the way they met, how beautiful she thought her chocolate eyes were. She heard the door creak open over the scratching of her pen, but she didn't look up when she called to the blurred figure. She finished writing the last of her thought and looked up.
"Hello, Miss Vau-"
And then they locked eyes.
It didn't dawn on her immediately. But when it did, the realization rammed into her like a speeding train. Her stomach hit the floor and she felt the color drain from her face. Her heart was turning in her ribs and throbbing deep in her skull. Her eyes felt like they had all the liquid sucked out of them like a sudden drought and she felt like melting into the cracks of the floor. Her pathetic mantra of Thisisnthappeningthisisnthappening was useless. She even tried to fucking close her eyes and fly to check if it was a dream gone south. But she opened her eyes and the woman still stood there. She was right fucking
Piper connected all the dots and she scolded herself for not seeing it any sooner. Alexandra, well Alex (the Alex) was the exact match of Amelia Vause. They had the same thin face and their cheekbones were both high on their faces. Their hair was the same shade of onyx (though Amelia's was slightly more chestnut) and their stance had the same dosages of confidence. They both had the same amounts of mystery about them. Every time she's talk to them she'd would find herself hanging on their every word. They both had identical forms of wit. She assumed it was a signature Vause trait. They both had quick tongues and keen remarks and paralleled sarcastic lark. Those eyes had the same piercing quality. Brown and green made no difference to her as long as those goddamn eyes would keep their razor edge. They had the ability to stare into souls and stop hurricanes or put an end to any other disaster she could come up with. But this time Alex's eyes didn't have that sharp quality behind them. And it made Piper felt that sharpness in a different way.
They were wide. Though Alex still held her assured stance and she stood all the way across the room, the blonde could see the whites as clear as day. She saw that her jaw hadn't moved an inch but rather clenched. Piper took all of it in. Alex looked fine. It fucking hurt.
"Please, sit." She swallowed thickly as she pushed the words out. Alex walked slowly to the vacant seat in the middle of the classroom. Her step was almost taunting or mocking. She slid her lush body into the chair and waited for the blonde to take her seat, arms folded across her ample chest. Piper tried her best not to sink in her chair across from her. She looked down at her corpse-like palms in that rested in her lap and averted Alex's gaze as she let her mouth ramble over. She looked up when she heard a scoff. Alex's lips were pulled up in a smirk and her green eyes sneered at the teacher.
"I'm still waiting to hear about my kid. You started your sentence about five times and never got any further."
Piper opened her mouth to answer, but no words came out. Alex shook her head smugly and sank her gleaming teeth into her plush lip as Piper returned her gaze back down to the floor.
"Why did you not tell me you had a kid?" Her words were articulated and drawn out. The question was shy. Alex scoffed again, this time with a laugh behind it.
"Was it vital information? Did you really think I needed you to know?"
"Actually, it would've been nice to know a little bit about the person I'd been sleeping with for three months aside from their line of work." Alex repeated the phrase line of work under her breath as her eyes rolled back.
"Well does it matter now? You can't even look at me." Piper finally picked up her weighted head and felt those eyes pin her to the back of her chair.
"I just would've never guessed. You just don't seem like the-"
"Type? Yeah I get that a lot."
"Look, I didn't come here to make small talk with the person who fucked me over. I came to hear about the kid." Piper swallowed again before responding meekly.
"See, not that hard."
Their gazes sealed again as another cold silence brooded over them. Piper didn't know what her own expression held. All she knew was that the only thing she felt was the echo of guilt and loss ringing inside her chest. The pain of something being so close yet so far away. The person who made her emotions sing and cry all at once sat within arm's distance, but she wouldn't dare touch. She thought she saw Alex's eyes soften. She thought she saw them gloss over with tears and the corner of her lip pull down for a second. Just for a second.
"My thoughts exactly." Alex's words weren't harsh. They weren't filled with the hate or bitterness. They were hurt. Frayed at the edges. Her voice was weak. It rasped as it naturally did, but in a tired, hopeless way. It quivered, like she was trying to pull the words out from inside and they were resisting her. She had never seen Alex as vulnerable or emotional. Someone capable of feeling loss or someone without depth. But seeing her face wilt, even for a moment, made her revoke that assumption. Fast.
Piper watched her leave.
She listened to her boots grow quiet as the door shut.
And she stood there.
She felt every emotion from that night scratch at her walls inside again, begging to come out. She wanted to let them out. She wanted to lock the door and weep and never let the next set of parents come in. She wanted to pull the tears out from her eyes and purge the sobs out from her body. But the tears wouldn't shed. The sobs wouldn't come. So she stood there. Breaking in silence. Feeling everything collapse upon each other. And feeling like there was nothing to do about it.
It wasn't like Alex didn't feel anything upon seeing her. No one could go emotionless when they saw someone who made them bleed so much. In fact, it was far from nothing. It was everything. When Alex laid eyes on doe-eyed blonde, her feet anchored to the floor. Every heartbeat felt like a dull knife driving into her chest. She felt her empty stomach wring itself inside and the air in each breath grow thin. She had the option to flip the bird walk away, but her cemented feet defenestrated that option. But in the myriad of bodily malfunctions and emotional fuck ups, she stayed. She set her jaw in place and went to meet her. She wasn't a coward. No fucking way she was going to let that adjective anywhere near her name. She wasn't someone who fled from anything. Alex knew that trying to do that was like trying to run away on moving pavement. It would somehow find a way to bite her in the ass. She faced it head on. Just as she had done in the past.
But this time was different.
She found herself struggling to catch up with the raging tides of pain. The pain that felt like salt in a wound. The whole time she was grinding down on the shaft inside her cheek, sending the urges of tears back into the green underbrush of her eyes. Sure, she looked cool and in control, but fuck she was drowning. And when her name was uttered out from Piper's lips, those sweet, sweet, lips that had once kissed her with abandon, she felt it all come crashing down. The dam that she had built as soon as she walked through the door fell into ruin. And it wasn't until Alex left the building that she felt a laden tear slip her eye.
She took the long way home. She came home drained. Jaded. It was only 2:30 some in the afternoon and she felt like curling up in beneath the sheets of Amelia's bed and crashing for the night. She let the front door shut itself as she trudged over to the studio, finding Amelia on her feet. She was sketching out something on the white wall in pencil, modeling off of a different sketch she held on her hand.
"Hey, can you toss me that sharpener over there?" She nodded to a red pencil sharpener on her desk.
"Yeah." She lobbed it over to Amelia who caught it with ease. She walked over to where she was making her graphite etchings on the wall and peeked over at the paper she held in her hand. It was an abstract mural of a face with cool shades of lilacs, blues, and pinks streaked across the eyes.
"That's gonna come out really amazing. for lack of a better word."
"Thanks. I want the violets to drip across the wall and down the cheeks. I'm gonna make the face white but highlight around the eyes kinda pinkish so it pops, but not too much." Amelia turned her attention to Alex. She looked exhausted and her face was drawn.
"Mom, you good?"
"Yeah, um." She cleared her throat. "You never told me about your English teacher." Amelia flashed a bewildered look.
"Oh, Miss Chapman? She's cool. I mean we're friends I guess. I mean she's got 12 years on me. And underhandedly called me a lazy delinquent..." Amelia shook her head and rolled her eyes as she trailed off. Alex gave a knowing look. It was almost forlorn. Her eyebrows arched towards each other and she sighed through her nose.
Then Amelia knew.
"No way." Alex sighed again. Amelia dropped her jaw and let out a harsh scoff. "I can't fucking believe this. You're joking." She was beyond appalled.
"I wish I was."
"How come you didn't tell me about her? You told me that you slept with someone. But you were sleeping with her for three months? I mean I know the rules but three months, Mom!" Amelia ran a hand through her untamed hair. Alex pressed her lips together and raised her glasses to the crown of her head.
"I don't know, I'm just as surprised as you are!" She shrugged heavily." You never asked or came out of your room when she was over so I never told." Amelia rubbed the corners of her eyes before continuing.
"So she's the one that completely fucked you over."
"Uh huh." Amelia's shocked expression morphed into one that was angered. Alex could practically see flames ignite in her chestnut eyes as her brow furrowed. Her grip on the pencil in her hands tightened until her knuckles went white.
"That bitch!" The pencil snapped in half.
Alex didn't know she could do that. Amelia didn't know either.
"Amelia," It was Alex's turn to give a bewildered look. She watched half amused, half confused as Amelia marched to her closet and yanked her trusty charcoal fleece off the wire hanger. She wrestled with it for a while before she pulled her arms through the sleeves and her head through as she muttered bitterly to herself.
"I'll be back in an hour." She combed her hair with her fingers and stepped into her rugged snow boots.
"Where the hell are you going?" Alex felt a twinge of worry begin to bubble up inside her.
"Don't worry. I'll be fine." She stormed out of the apartment and the walls rattled as the door slammed behind her.
Piper forced herself through six more meetings, countless feigned smiles, and through the endless pangs of regret that cursed her throughout. She didn't see her students in the faces of their parents anymore. All she saw was that face. The one that sat across from her just hours ago, dangling all her fuck ups right in front of her. The one that held the little glimpse of vulnerability that unstitched every awful feeling in Piper's chest. All she saw were those stained glass eyes that cut deep into her soul and how damn tired that face looked. She would search the parents' faces for some sort of release from the image that stuck in her mind, but every time, that face would be sitting across from her, stealing her focus and stealing her sanity.
But it was all over now. She had rearranged the bulky desks back to their original positions and she was organizing the students’ profiles into a Manila folder, labeling it with the date. She was scratching down extra feedback and notes and other meaningless teacher shit when she heard more footsteps. At first, she brushed the distant patter off, assuming that it was just another member of the staff. So she directed her attention back to her pen and files.
Until they were knocked out of her hands.
"You judgmental fuck!"
Before she knew it, the heavy wooden door swung open and Amelia was thundering into the classroom, slapping her hard across the face. Her hand, though slight and feminine looking, dragged like iron across Piper's cheek. It left a stinging, needle-like sensation pricking against the redness and sent her papers flying.
She couldn’t help but notice how much like Alex she looked then. Which only made her cheek throb harder.
"Ah! What the hell!?" Piper was holding the tender place in her hand, but Amelia had already seized her by the collar of her navy sweater and forced her against a wall.
Piper could've easily made light of this situation. The girl was standing on the tips of her toes just to get her pinned, and Piper still had about a good six inches or more over her. But she couldn't. Even though she was still head and shoulders above her, she still cowered as the blades of her back dug into the wall. Amelia's eyes were fatal daggers that made deep wounds in her heart. They were like fire and ice at the same time, burning through her line of defenses and leaving them frozen all at once.
"Don't play stupid with me you know exactly why I'm here and don't even think for a fucking second think that Alex put me up to this."
Piper felt her body shut down at the sound of Alex.
Amelia released Piper, but she still felt the girl's terrorizing grip against her neck and collarbones. The fury was still bright in her chestnut eyes and fright was still bright in Piper's.
"Do you know what the fuck you've done? I know she seems too tough or cynical to even have emotions but do you know what the fuck you've done?"
"I don't give two shits about how you made false assumptions about my work ethic or character. But don't fucking judge my mother and act like you're better than her and then leave. Who the fuck does that? Do you know what sorta hell she's seen?"
Piper was silent at this. Hell? She bent her troubled brow at the fervid question.
"Do you, fucker?" Piper jumped and felt tears burn at the seams of her eyes. Amelia took Piper's response as a no.
"Well I'll tell you. She had me when she was 21, a victim of rape. Her higher-up decided it would be funny to fuck a lesbian or some twisted shit like that."
Piper's breath caught up in her throat as she was transported back to the night Alex saved her sorry ass. She thought of young Alex. Scared. Alone in the dead of night. Feeling every inch of fear and helplessness Piper felt, on steroids. Her eyes were already swimming with tears and she assumed Amelia wasn't near finished speaking.
And she wasn't.
"She was supposed to have aborted me. But she decided to keep me. You know, it's dangerous knowing that her boss could have both of us killed depending on the weather, but she stays there for us. It's the only thing she knows will put food on the table. And even though she's tough as nails and no one dares to rub her the wrong way, I remember nights where she'd cry and apologize to me and I would make her cups of coffee to feel better. She'd always promise me that we'd make it. We'd be happy and safe and that everything would be okay as long as we had each other."
Piper's heart had long stopped beating. The thought of Alex, tough, sexy, unemotional Alex crying made her physically sick.
"And then she met Sylvia. She fell in love and when she falls for someone she fucking falls. They were together until Alex caught her in bed with someone else after she was out of the country for a month." Amelia shook her brown head at the reminiscence. "She shut down. She had finally let down her iron walls and they fucked it up. They fucked her up."
Amelia's metal expression softened. And she began to laugh. That same low laugh that Alex laughed before she left so long ago. It was malicious. Jeering. Streaming from her like a smooth river of black silk. Piper felt her blood run cold in her veins.
"And then she found you. How nice. How sweet. She came home from your little 'playdates' and I hadn't seen her so damn happy, not since Sylvia was with us." Her voice regained its thunder. Even more so than before. "And then you had to go and ridicule her and abandon her just for the choices she had to make. Do you think she wanted to import heroin? Do you think she wanted to worry about a child? Do you think she wanted to do both at the same time? Fuck no. You ripped her fucking heart out you know that? You hurt her. So bad."
Piper was already crying, biting back bitter sobs and averting eye contact for as long as possible. And whenever she'd look back at the girl, her eyes would be waiting.
"But she has to keep going. She has to worry about bills and food and a kid and the gun that's always against her back with her job. She hasn't eaten in weeks. She hasn't slept in weeks. She hasn't gone three fucking days without vomiting out of anxiety or depression and suppressing all the shit you put her through. You know she was using my old antidepressants just to feel numb? Just for a little. She doesn't have time to be heartbroken. Think about that. She doesn't have time to feel the hurt you caused her."
That made Piper's body weaken.
"She is strongest person I know and deserves to be treated like fucking god himself. You may think that you're the shit because you went to college or you sell luxury soaps in your spare time, but you will never be half the woman Alex Vause is and I hope you fucking know that. How dare you disrespect her."
Piper’s heart was far blown out of her chest. Her tears left bite marks in their ducts before dragging down her face.
“Fuck you, Piper. Pretend you never knew me.”
And it was the last thing she heard from Amelia Vause.