Not Lovers, Just Strangers
As his Uber pulled up to the end of the gated driveway of the compound, Peter’s stomach dropped, and he felt an inescapable feeling of dread and impending doom. He was supposed to be in his room, but it was guaranteed that William knew that he snuck out. He was in enough trouble as it is, and he could only blame himself for adding that on, too. He promised himself that he would face whatever was thrown at him. He swallowed his pride and bucked up, ready to go head on. But, as he got out of the car, his legs felt like lead. It was a struggle to walk all the way up the drive and walk into the door, William sitting in the chair and reading a book, looking like a father would in the movies when his daughter comes home after curfew.
“I thought you were supposed to stay in your room and think about what you’ve done?” William asked without looking up from his novel.
“I’m sorry I left, but I thought about everything that happened tonight long and hard.”
“You ruined the suit in the process, huh?” William asked, spying the frayed fabric on the sleeves of the suit jacket.
“I’ll pay you back, Mr. Townsend, it was an accident. I tripped and fell out of a cab.”
“You don’t have nearly enough money to pay me back for that suit, Peter. Again, since I have to say things twice around here, apparently, you’re grounded.”
“Ooh, grounded? I’ll go get the shovel!” Thor’s voice boomed, he was lingering around that room and happened to hear the conversation. Both Peter and William were equally confused.
“What do you need a shovel for?”
“Doesn’t ‘grounding’ someone mean burying them alive?!”
“No, Thor!” William exclaimed. “That is NOT what grounding means!”
“Well, I owe Maize an apology, then. Excuse me.”
Earlier, William made Thor in charge of grounding Maize, and it led to Maize getting dirt thrown at her and chased throughout the house with a shovel, “The Shining” style.
“I am going to bury you until you learn your lesson!” Thor yelled at Maize. Yes, she did trip and fall into a partially pre-dug hole, but she ran out of Thor’s clutches before she could be buried. That was impressive, since she was still wildly intoxicated and was running all over creation like a track star. Then, she fell into the embrace of Jordie for the rest of the night, drowning her sorrows in somebody while Peter was alone and running through the streets with his woes.
On Peter’s way upstairs to his room to begin his sentence of grounding, he tripped over a stiletto heel in the hallway and picked it up in a touch of confusion. How did it end up there? Why didn’t Marnie just go and pick it up?
Then Peter realized that the next shoe was just outside of Jordie’s door. He finally figured out what was going on and his breath caught in his chest. He didn’t think her night would end up that way, but it all began with him and Talia. He had no one else to blame for it.
He gulped and picked up her shoes, carrying them gently down the rest of the hall and setting them neatly outside of her door in place. He didn’t want anyone else to trip. That’s all he could reason for that action, he was so taken aback that he couldn’t even spur up an intense reaction for it. He was just doing a simple task for his friend who wasn’t currently sleeping with one of their friends... no. He was just taking care of his friend... that’s all that was happening...
Peter swiped his keycard to gain access to his room, knowing it was far past his bedtime and he should be asleep, and he shouldn’t be upset. He pulled his tie off from around his neck, slowly unbuttoned his shirt, shrugged his jacket off, unfastened his belt, kicked his shoes off and tossed everything onto his designated laundry chair. He took a quick shower just so he could feel the horrors of the night rinsing off of his body before he climbed into bed as the sun was rising before him. He wouldn’t think about anything until morning... maybe ever. If he just ignored it forever then it would have to go away at some point, he could repress the memories or just forget entirely, wouldn’t that be a dream?
Peter slept until the sun was setting that evening. He came out of his room in his pajamas, sleepy face and bedhead, wandering into the kitchen to satiate his overwhelming desire for toaster waffles. He could really use a couple shots of anything to dull his regrets, but he knew that he actually had to find a way to deal with those, and after seeing how much tequila Maize drank last night, he didn’t want to venture down that path.
He walked into the dark kitchen only illuminated by the low orange glow of the appliance surface lights, reached into the freezer and took out two waffles and popped them in the toaster. He crossed his arms loosely and rested his head on his arms, his cheek touching the cold marble of the counter top. His eyes were looking out the glass doors that led into the hallway. Maize happened to be getting off the elevator at the end of the hallway with her school books in her hand looking exhausted, but her cheeks were irresistibly rosy, and her face brightened up even more when she saw someone at the end of the hallway out of his view.
Damn, was he missing out, and he knew it.
Earlier that day, Maize slipped out of Jordie’s room and down the hall just to see that her shoes had been placed neatly by her door. She wondered if Meaghan did that for her, or if anybody else took a second to line up her stilettos to be right where she would find them. She picked them up and entered her room in a haze, hopping in the shower and getting the remaining dirt out of her hair from when Thor tried to bury her alive.
The entire night was a blur to her now, but there were parts of the night that stuck out to her as crystal clear. She couldn’t possibly forget Peter getting involved with Talia. No, that would forever remain in her memories.
If anything, she learned the lesson from the night before that she can’t be around Peter and shouldn’t be around Jordie. It was a mess waiting to happen after the events of last night unfolded.
Even worse, she didn’t know how to fix it. She didn’t have the right words for Jordie, and she couldn’t find anything to say to Peter. If she had the chance, she would go back to yesterday and do everything differently, start to finish to guarantee that Peter never kissed Talia. That’s the only thing that she felt resentful for. That never should have happened; she wanted to backhand Talia for it and she could never physically hurt Peter in a way that would equal how he made her feel last night when he kissed Talia.
She needed someplace quiet, some place where she could occupy herself for the day. She spoke to Jason for suggestions.
“Yes, Ms. Leto?”
“Where haven’t I been where I can go to be alone? I want to do some exploring.”
“How about the lounge on the top floor?”
“Sounds good to me. Beam me up, Scotty.”
“You must have me confused with someone else. I am able to give you directions, but I cannot physically transport you there.”
“It was a reference... never mind. Thanks, Jason.”
Maize collected her things and headed upstairs, giving herself time and distance away from everything that was hurting her. Maybe when she returned, it would be like nothing ever happened, they would be on a different timeline... She could only hope that something like this could disappear forever or resolve itself, but she knew it needed active effort on her part and Peter’s part, which wouldn’t happen on its own.
She was just afraid she would never get her “normal” back.
But she was more afraid that she would never get Peter back.
Peter concluded that if she was going to be with Jordie, if it was bound to happen then there was nothing he could ever do or say that would change the outcome of the situation. If it was always meant to be like that then the night where everything went wrong wouldn’t have altered Jordie and Maize getting together in any way. If it was predisposed to happen, nothing would have been able to make that change.
Even if it was meant to be, Peter still felt like they just weren’t the right fit for each other. There was something she and him had that Jordie just didn’t have with her. He wanted to say it right to their faces, it wasn’t right, it didn’t play out in real life the way he ever imagined it to...
But he could blame himself for not kissing her in the car when he should have, or not making a move sooner. Of course, she was going to move on without him while he stayed in the same place, never changing.
It still hurt like hell, seeing them together, knowing what happened when it could have been him... it could have been them, but he never took the chance when it was right in front of him.
Maize hadn’t played piano in as long as she could remember.
She found her way up to the lounge that looked like it hadn’t ever been occupied, and the grand Steinway in the corner was looming over her head and haunting her. All she wanted was a place where no one else would disturb her so she could do her homework and ride her emotional rollercoaster in peace, but she couldn’t do that with the Steinway staring at her. She took piano lessons as a kid and was pretty good at it then, but she hadn’t touched the keys ever since. She didn’t even know if she would still remember how to play. All she could remember is her memories of the recitals where she was so proud to play her pieces, but her father never showed up to any of them. He missed all of her performances, and it left a bad taste in her mouth. Just seeing the piano made her stomach lurch since she immediately thought of her father.
She was hungover and didn’t know exactly what else to do since the piano was distracting her so much from her homework, so she sat down at the piano and tried to play her thoughts out hoping she’d feel better. She could only hope she would get the same kind of feeling she got when she was a kid, and everything was dazzling now that her entire world seemed to be gray.
She lifted up the cover and propped the piano up for the fullest sound, and lifted the lid over the keys, sitting down on the bench. She touched the keys nervously. The sound rattled in her head and she almost didn’t play, but she rested her hands above the keyboard and pressed down, more confident. She played bits and pieces of some songs she had memorized as a kid, did a few warmups and plinked around on the keys until she started humming. She was playing with one hand and had her jaw resting on her other hand that was propped up against the side of the piano, slowly playing one of her favorite songs that she and Peter loved together.
William was walking in the hall and heard the grand piano being played for the first time in years, the sound echoing down the hallway. He stood in the doorway of the lounge and saw Maize sitting at the piano, her soft and sweet voice emanating through the lounge. He admired her music until she was finished, and she finally noticed she was there. She sighed and turned off the bench, eyeing up her remaining homework with a scowl, but then she met William’s eyes.
She turned around, startled and almost fell off of the bench completely. As quickly as possible she slammed the lid over the keys and shut the piano, trying to act as if she hadn’t just been performing to an audience of one. She couldn’t find any of the right words for him to explain. She stuttered as she tripped over herself and the piano bench.
“Sorry, I was just- I didn’t- how long- did you hear- never mind, I, um-”
“Maize, you’re incredible.” He spoke genuinely.
“No, just pretend you didn’t hear anything, okay?!” She responded, flustered, trying to find a way out of the room that didn’t include passing by him. She felt embarrassed, she never liked it when people heard her play or sing. That was a talent she liked to keep to herself, and nobody else. Well, except Peter.
“No, Maize, you can’t just leave that out there. Did you take piano lessons as a kid? Why didn’t you tell me you played?”
“No, William, I woke up one morning a piano prodigy. Yes, I took lessons as a kid and I don’t like to think about it.”
“Any particular reason for that?” William asked, trying to dig a little deeper.
“My dad never came to my recitals. Every time, I hoped he would be there, but he just didn’t want to be there and that’s why I don’t play piano anymore, okay?” She explained, thinking about
He swallowed hard. William thought angry thoughts: he was upset at her father and angry at himself that he just couldn’t tell her the truth.
“Listen, I get that you’re hurt and all about your father. But the person you call your father isn’t your father because he never acted like one. I’m really sorry you grew up without a lot of support for this kind of stuff. But, I’m here now and I would absolutely adore it if you played a piece for me. I understand if you don’t, if you want to walk away from piano forever, but I’d like to be your dad replacement and fulfill the recital requirement. What do you think?”
“William I’m really not that good, I’ll make a lot of mistakes...”
“Does it look like I care? I’m going to love whatever you do, and I won’t even notice if you make mistakes.”
“Well, what do you want to hear?” She asked quietly.
“Anything.” He responded gently. He sat down on one of the velvet couches by the piano and she sat back down at the piano, sighing. She began to strike the melody of her mother’s favorite song, and William smiled. He remembered the last time he played that exact piece, and it was when him and Anne played a duet on that exact same piano in William’s old apartment in the city almost twenty years ago. That couldn’t possibly be a coincidence.
But he looked at her in admiration as she played, and when she was finished she turned to him and rolled her eyes.
“Are you happy?” She asked him.
“Yeah.” He said, a little choked up.
“I’m glad you’re happy with that, that was so horrible...” She said, brushing her hair away from her face.
“No, we are not starting down that path because that was masterful. Humor me, why did you choose that piece?” He asked, trying to investigate without being too weird and obvious that he had questions he needed answers.
“I don’t know, my mom asked me to learn it because it meant a lot to her and I ended up playing it for my biggest recital that my father didn’t come to and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget it after the hell I had to go through to memorize it. Why?”
“I was just curious.”
“I know it’s cheesy, but I guess it means a lot to me too.”
William didn’t have the heart to tell her that he was there. He was there for every recital. He always snuck in in the very back corner so he wouldn’t make a scene, but he was there. It pained him to hear her say that her father was never there, because he was. He was always there. The man that was living with her temporarily and that she was trained to identify as her father was never present. But William was. He couldn’t tell her, no. Not now. He just nodded in agreement.
“Okay, well, I’ll let you get back to your homework. Sorry if I bothered you. If you need anything...” He said as he made his way over to the door. Maize nodded and returned to her spot on the velvet couch and met her fate with Calculus. William shut himself in his office and made a very important phone call to Anne and didn’t get a single answer. He knew he didn’t stand a chance, but it was worth a shot.
“Hello, Anne, do you know what Maize just did for me?” He greeted, pacing the floor and scratching his goatee.
“No, and now I’m concerned.”
“She just sat down at the piano in the lounge, the same piano we played on together, and played the exact same piece we did, that cheesy Celine Dion song from Titanic that I hated but loved because you loved it, and just said that she learned it because it was important to you. Now, you and I both play piano and so does your daughter, but does her alleged father-”
“William, I know where this is going. She isn’t yours! Just because you share traits that are common among a population doesn’t mean that she’s your daughter. Go hug Talia, maybe?” She suggested lightheartedly. They have this conversation every couple of years when William gets drunk on the day of Anne and David’s ex-anniversary, can’t sleep and finds himself calling Anne at three in the morning. Every time she gives him the same answer. Every time, her answer doesn’t sit right with him.
“No buts, William. Anything else?”
“No,” he sighed. “That’s it for now.” He said before hanging up the phone.
Once again, William convinced himself of Anne’s answer, even though the pieces didn’t seem to fit quite right, and he always felt as if he was missing something. For now, he had to let it go.
The sun had set, and Maize had long completed her school work. She took the time to relax in the lounge, tracing patterns on the velvet. She wandered around the room and found a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes behind the dust-covered bar and lit one with a spark of lightning she learned how to channel through her hands. Maize wasn’t letting go, and as much as she hated having to do what she was about to do, she knew that it was the only solution to the problem she was having. She got up from the couch and left the lounge, asking Jason where to find Peter. She had some choice words for him that would only make a difference if she said them now. She had to tell him what she was feeling, despite how much she hated revealing that to anyone.
She burst into his room unannounced, and he was scrolling through Twitter, using his open Theoretical Physics book as a phone stand. When she entered he jolted up, not expecting to see her and not knowing how to react. He was completely frozen and couldn’t even think.
“Okay, Peter, we’re going to talk about what happened the other night even if it kills us. We only stand a chance on fixing this if it happens now. It’s really now or never with this, Peter, so, I’ll start.” She said, beginning to drop her truth bomb on him.
“Last night, Peter, I finally got up the courage to go dance with you, and the second I turned around I saw you with Talia, that hurt so fucking bad, Peter. I thought maybe you were into me as much as I was into you, and you’re the one I wanted to dance with that night. You’re the one I wanted to be kissing. But I can’t read you, I don’t know where you’re at. When you could have kissed me in the car you didn’t, and then I saw you with her. I need to know your direction. What’s going on, Peter? Is it her? Is it me? This has to be clear for the both of us so neither of us get hurt.”
“I can say the same thing for you and Jordie!”
“Okay, after all I said you choose to respond with that?! Fine. But let’s just think about this: I didn’t sleep with Jordie right in front of you in a public place and humiliate you in front of everyone and their mother. What happened between me and him occurred after the mess that was you and Talia, but I’m sorry if that hurt you. But now it’s your turn, I need you to tell me what’s going on in your head. I just need some simple answers from you because I’m putting everything out here for you, Peter. Do you want to be with Talia? Do you want to be with me? Neither of us? Because I’d really like to be with you, Peter, but I’m not going to waste my time if I don’t know if you feel the same way. You had plenty of chances to show it, but you didn’t, so that’s why I’m asking, Peter. What’s it going to be?”
Peter sat in silence. He didn’t have answers for her. Not the answers she wanted to hear, that’s for sure.
“I don’t want to be with Talia. She kissed me to make you upset and I didn’t want her to do that.” Peter said, but that’s all he could tell her.
“Okay.” Maize responded, processing that and waiting for Peter to continue. He didn’t.
“Peter. Please say something else.” Maize said softly, almost begging him. She desperately wanted him to express that he shared the same feelings she did, but he was silent.
“Can you just go?” Peter said softly. Maize choked on her breath and ran out of his room, slamming the door behind her. She didn’t need any more reassurance he didn’t feel the same way as her than that.
He could have told her everything. He could have said every word that was lined up on the tip of his tongue, ready to be formed in his throat. He could have said it all, but he was paralyzed.
But he wasted his chance and he knew it. He felt nauseous. He never completed anything, start to finish. Not once has he ever seen something through, almost exclusively in his relationships. He was so afraid of rejection and hurt that he just couldn’t even begin something that would have to be ended at some point. He never even started, even if he knew he would be happy, and he wished he could change that about himself.
But now, he and Maize were more like strangers when they were, at one point, so close to being lovers. He could barely stand seeing his mistakes displayed out in front of him, but he just couldn’t seem to make things right. He needed to find a way, he needed to force himself to dive right in head first, or he would lose everything he ever loved- forever.