Out of Water
“Piper, I need you to do something for me.”
She had just finished scooping the last of her Frosted Flakes into her mouth when her father walked into the kitchen and asked for a favor. Chewing down on her cereal, she groaned as she shot Nathan a glare and mumbled, “Good morning to you, too.”
Sighing, Nathan pulled out the chair to his daughter’s right and took a seat, deciding to take a more delicate approach. He had always been an early riser, always the first to get up on busy days while and tour and take responsibility for making sure his band mates were ready to go as well. This meant, that despite the fact that his wife and son were still sleeping, he’d been up for a few hours.
Piper, on the other hand, was not a morning person in the slightest. It took her three cups of coffee and at least an hour after getting out of bed to be properly awake, and right now, she was only about halfway there, thus the less than friendly greeting to parental figure numero uno.
“I’m sorry,” Nathan replied, stretching his lips into a friendly smile. “How is my favorite daughter this lovely morning?”
She rolled her eyes, appreciating the attempt to ease into conversation, but still not particularly happy with the hour just yet. “I’m fine. What’s up?”
“I need you to go pick up Tyler from the Copeland’s house and take him to swim practice and then bring him back home.”
Blinking slowly as she processed the request, she swallowed what was left of her breakfast and set the spoon down against the edge of the bowl. “That sounds complicated. Why me?”
It wasn’t as though she had any aversion to Tyler or helping out the Copelands, but it seemed odd that her father was the one asking and that he would come to her in the first place. Tyler didn’t have a car or a license so he had to be chauffeured most places. Up until Jessamine left for college, this had been her job, and then his parents had switched off in this role until they got tired of having to be up so early and finally bought him his own car.
“We got word that a producer we’ve been dying to work with had a last minute cancellation, so a spot in the studio is open today and we have to jump on it and Tyler’s car is in the shop so he has no transportation,” Nathan explained. “And to be entirely honest, you’re the only person available.”
Of the kids who were still at home, she, Brody, and Caroline were the only ones who could drive and she knew Caroline was at an out of town tournament for the weekend and Brody had a doctor’s appointment later. Lifting the corners of her lips into a small smile, she nodded. “Alright, when do I have to go?”
She had been to a few of Tyler’s more important swim meets, but she had no idea how his practices worked. Usually, she had piano lessons on Saturdays, so she was busy as well, but her teacher had cancelled this week to attend a family wedding, so she had been intent on enjoying the first free Saturday she’d had in ages. Spending it driving Tyler Copeland around wasn’t exactly ideal, but when the family needed help, the family got it.
Grinning, Nathan leaned in and pressed a grateful kiss to his daughter’s temple. “Thanks, sweetie. And right now. He has to be at the pool in forty five minutes.”
Nodding, Piper picked up her bowl and swiftly pushed herself to her feet, carrying it to the sink to rinse it out and stick it in the dishwasher, slowly becoming more alert.
“You’re the best, Pipes,” Nathan called after her as she took the stairs two at a time to change out of her sleepwear and into something more appropriate to wear in public.
Approximately ten minutes later, she was clutching her car keys in one hand and the strap of her purse in the other, her brown boots pulled over her black leggings as she made her way out to the navy blue Mustang parked on the driveway. The Copelands lived a fifteen minute walk away, which had always been convenient before she had a car because it meant she could visit Jessamine whenever her heart desired. Now that Justin’s daughter was away at school, Piper hadn’t been to the house other than for family dinners in a few months and she wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about it. She loved Tyler and her aunt and uncle to pieces, but the house didn’t feel the same without Jessamine.
She knocked the beat of We Will Rock You into the heavy wooden door and smiled widely when it pulled open a few seconds later to reveal her father’s bassist best friend. “Uncle Justin. Don’t you get more handsome every day?”
“Piper,” Justin grinned, stepping forward to pull Nathan’s daughter into a tight embrace and kissing her temple as he pulled away and gestured for her to enter the house. “How’s my favorite niece?”
Piper rolled her eyes and laughed as she took a step forward into the foyer, knowing that he said that to all of his nieces and that he would never outwardly admit that Caroline was, in fact, his favorite. “I hear you’re in need of a driver.”
“Yes!” Justin smiled brightly as he closed the door. “Thank you so much for coming on such short notice.”
“No worries,” she shrugged, tapping her sky blue painted nails against the leather strap of her purse. “Is Ty ready to go?”
Nodding, Justin gestured towards the kitchen. “Nearly. He’s eating breakfast.”
She obliged with his offering, walking towards the kitchen as though she were in her own home because it felt as though she was, seeing as she spent so much time at the Copeland house visiting Jessamine before Justin’s daughter left for college, to find Tyler sitting on a barstool at the kitchen counter, wearing nothing but low slung red boxers as he finished off the last of a banana.
His morning ritual consisted of doing one hundred sit ups and then eating a light breakfast before swim practice so that his blood was flowing and he was well energized when he got in the pool.
“Hey, Ty, look who’s here,” Justin said brightly as they entered the kitchen, not bothering to tell his son to put more clothes on. He figured that Piper had been to Tyler’s swim meets before and those speedos they wore covered even less than boxers.
Tyler swung around in the barstool, fully prepared to charm whoever his gaze landed on, but found himself speechless at the sight of Piper Peters. He considered himself pretty good with his words, but for whatever reason, whenever it came to Piper, it was as though he completely lost the ability to form coherent sentences. Maybe it was because she had eyes that made him feel completely transparent or her take no bullshit attitude, but Tyler had never found himself so utterly lost as he did around Nathan’s daughter. It was strange, especially seeing as he’d never been this way about any of his other uncle’s daughters. He could flirt with Caroline or Kira or Lucy until the sun came up and they would laugh it off, knowing it was harmless, but whenever he parted his lips to try and say something smooth to Piper, his words came out in stammers.
“H-hey, Piper,” he mumbled out, swallowing what was left of his banana and folding the peel neatly on the counter.
“Hey, Ty!” she replied brightly, not at all fazed by his lack of clothing. “Looks like I’m giving you a ride to swim practice. Are you almost ready to go?”
Truthfully, under normal circumstances, Tyler wouldn’t have been either because much like his father when the bassist was a teenager, Tyler had absolutely no problem walking around completely naked. Plus, years of swimming and weight training to keep strong had made his muscles lean and toned and him very comfortable with his body.
Still, Tyler blushed bright red as he slid off the barstool, mumbling, “Yeah, let me go get dressed real quick,” before practically sprinting out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“Is he alright?” Piper asked, her eyebrows lifting upwards as her fingers curled around the strap of her purse.
Justin was mentally asking himself the same question, but as his gaze went back to Piper and he replayed Tyler’s quick exit, realization dawned. Justin and his son didn’t discuss specific details of Tyler’s love life, but Justin knew the basics. Like why he broke up with Lindsay and that he was no longer a virgin, and apparently, somewhere along the way, Tyler had forgotten to mention that he’d developed a crush on Piper Peters.
“I think so,” Justin assured his niece, knowing better than to reveal such private information about his son. If Piper figured it out on her own, which was bound to happen seeing as Tyler couldn’t seem to function properly around her, then it was out of his hands. “Do you want some coffee for the road?”
Her eyes lit at the mention of her favorite beverage and she immediately forgot about Tyler’s strange behavior as she nodded and gave her uncle her good girl smile. “Yes, please.”
Laughing softly, Justin went to find a thermos and fill it with coffee he’d made for himself earlier, handing Piper the silver container once it was ready to go, just as Tyler descended the stairs, dressed in gray sweats and a navy hoodie zipped up over his still bare torso, the duffel bag with his swimming gear slung over his shoulder.
“I’m ready,” he said quickly to Piper, his hands stuffed into the pockets of his sweatshirt, the Copeland pulled over his thick, dark curls.
“Awesome,” Piper flashed him a smile, turning her attention back to Justin. Leaning across the counter with her fingers wrapped tightly around the thermos, she pressed a kiss to his cheek. “Bye, Uncle Justin. I’ll keep him safe.”
“Thanks again, Pipes,” Justin laughed, walking around the counter to walk them to the front door.
She shrugged. “What’s family for, right?”
Justin stretched his lips into another wide smile as held the front door open, waving as they walked towards Piper’s Mustang.
Piper waited until Tyler was strapped into the passenger seat to pull out onto the road, reaching over to turn on an R&B radio station as she pointed her car towards the recreation center where the school team practiced.
“So,” Piper said, tapping the nails of one hand against the steering wheel while the other reached down to grab the thermos from the cup holder and carefully take a sip of coffee. “How’s the swimming going?”
Of course, she knew about the Olympics and that he’d been chosen to train for the national team. Achievements like that were always recognized in the Vertical Limit family. But she reckoned he had more specific goals in mind, like his timing for a certain race or his technique for a certain stroke, because she knew that’s how she dealt with her piano playing; by focusing on the little things that would help improve her overall performance.
“Pretty good,” he muttered, avoiding eye contact because he knew as soon as brown met green, his entire thought process would fly out the window. “I’m still working on my butterfly.”
He had no idea why Piper Peters affected him in such a way. And the entire situation was made even more embarrassing by the fact that he knew it was never going to go anywhere. Their story wasn’t going to end like Jamie and Kira’s or Caroline and Brody’s. Piper wasn’t going to all of a sudden realize that he gave her butterflies as well. Tyler was achingly aware of the fact that she thought of him the same way she thought of Brody: a little brother she could adore. Plus, maybe he didn’t want anything to happen anyways. Maybe he just liked the idea of admiring her from afar.
“Still your worst stroke?” she smiled wryly, her gaze drifting to his profile briefly before finding the road once more. The last time she had gone to one of his important meets, she remembered that he had gotten first in every race except for the ones involving the butterfly stroke.
“Yeah,” he smiled sheepishly, his eyes laser focused on the road. “I’m getting better, though.”
“That’s good,” Piper laughed as she pulled the car to a stop in front of the recreation center, pulling her keys out of the ignition and reaching into the backseat to grab her purse as Tyler pushed open the passenger side door. Once the strap of the cross body bag was successfully hitched over her shoulder, she collected the thermos of life’s nectar from the cup holder and shut the car door, making sure to lock it multiple times before following Tyler towards the center entrance.
“So I’ll just meet you in the hallway after practice?” she asked as they powerwalked, panting a bit because she couldn’t remember the last time she engaged in physical activity.
“Sounds good,” Tyler mumbled, holding the door open for her just long enough for her to step inside the building before turning towards the locker rooms. “Later, Pipes.”
Furrowing her brow in confusion at his quick exit, she brought her thermos to her lips and muttered, “You’re welcome for the ride,” before taking a sip.
She clutched her thermos tightly as she went to find somewhere to sit for the next hour and a half. It was only after she’d plopped down on the cold metal bleachers and resumed sipping her coffee that she realized had no form of entertainment, seeing as watching people do laps for ninety minutes wasn’t exactly thrilling. Sighing, she placed the thermos between her knees and squeezed her legs together to hold it in place, pulling a hair tie from her wrist and raking her back and upwards, twisting the silky chestnut locks into a bun at the top of her head as the swim team began to file out from the locker room.
A few of the swimmers she recognized because they were in her year and it wasn’t as though the school they went to was humongous. So she spent her time alternating between checking her social media accounts on her phone and watching the practice, paying special attention to the people she knew and hollering out cheers of encouragement each time Tyler was in the water.
He was very focused during practice, so he didn’t have time to be flustered by her presence, his eyes narrowed as he thought about his actions before he stepped onto the diving block, his fingers unconsciously rubbing the lyrics from one of his father’s songs tattooed at his hip for good, a constant reminder to always strive for more.
“Woooo, go Ty!” she screamed through her cupped hands as he pulled himself out of the water at the end of practice, her now empty thermos stuffed into her purse as a reminder to return it to Justin later.
Tyler shot a grateful smile in Piper’s direction, but turned away before she could see his reddening cheeks and rolled his eyes at the knowing smirks he got from some of his teammates. Everyone at school was completely aware of the relationship the Vertical Limit children had with each other, so it wasn’t particularly surprising that Piper was cheering Tyler on, but she was a pretty girl nonetheless, so they understood the flushing on a theoretical level, but not on Tyler.
Because Tyler Copeland didn’t get embarrassed. Tyler Copeland could charm the pants off anyone, no matter their age. Tyler Copeland didn’t blush when someone complimented him, he smiled proudly because he knew it was true. So the fact that a friendly cheer from Piper Peters had heated his cheeks was highly suspicious.
Still, they all knew better than to tease the guy who would undoubtedly become the next captain of the swim team, keeping their observations to themselves as they all headed back into the locker room to shower and change.
Piper waited in the hallway once practice was over, scrolling through the DIY page on Pinterest for craft ideas that she knew she would never get around to doing but liked to pretend she would do at some point.
She lifted her gaze from her phone to settle it on Landon Henry. He was on the swim team with Tyler, a fact she knew because he was also in her Economics class and because her friend Katie had a massive crush on him.
“Hey, Landon,” she smiled widely, turning off her phone and slipping it into her purse. “Good practice?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, running a hand through his slightly damp hair. “It was nice to have you here, cheering us on.”
Her eyebrows lifted slightly in surprise. She wasn’t particularly good at knowing when people were flirting with her, but the way his lips stretched into a slow smirk was certainly giving off that vibe. “I was just here for Tyler, actually. Gave him a ride.”
Landon was cute and all, but Piper had strict rules against getting involved with people her friends liked. She held in a sigh of relief when she spotted Tyler approaching from behind Landon, his brow furrowed in confusion at the sight of them speaking.
“Hey, Ty,” she greeted brightly. “Ready to go?”
“Yeah…,” he replied slowly, his fingers tightening around the strap of his duffel bag, his eyes focused on his teammate. “What’s up, Landon?”
“Just catching up with Piper,” Landon grinned, dropping one in a wink in Piper’s direction, causing her to lift one eyebrow in questioning disgust. “You looked good out there today, man.”
“You too,” Tyler nodded, reaching out to shake his teammate’s hand and pat his arm supportively. “See you Monday.”
With one last toothy grin, Landon smirked at Piper and waved as he walked away, leaving both Tyler and Piper wondering what the hell had just happened.
“So…,” Tyler said as they began to walk towards the exit. “Are you and Landon…?”
“No!” Piper scoffed, digging her car keys out from her purse and smiling gratefully at Tyler when he held the recreation center door open. “I hardly know the guy.”
“That’s good,” Tyler smiled once they were outside, letting out a soft sigh of relief. “Cause, honestly, he’s kind of a dick.”
Piper snorted, clutching her keys in her palm. “That’s good to know. I’ll pass the information along to my friend Katie. She’s like half in love with him.”
Nodding, he turned his gaze straight ahead, once again avoiding eye contact, which left her feeling weirded out once more. Tyler was as noble as they came, so it made sense that he would warn her about flaws in any potential love interests, but the way he was acting wasn’t so much protective as it was disappointed.
Like he would have been sad if anything had happened between her and Landon.
Which made no sense, unless…
An odd thought struck her, one that she definitely wanted to explore, but she wanted to give Tyler the chance to bring it up on his own, so she started from a different angle.
“Are you alright?” she asked as she walked around to the driver’s side of her car. “You’ve been acting weird all morning.”
“No, I haven’t,” he said defensively, throwing his duffel bag in the trunk and slamming it shut with a little more force than necessary before walking towards the passenger side door. “I’m fine.”
“Something’s up,” she insisted, refusing to let it go as they got into the car on their respective sides.
She wanted to get to the bottom of whatever was going on because she didn’t like this awkwardness between them. Tyler was like a baby brother to her and she loved him just like she loved Brody. Despite being only two years older than him, she was fiercely protective of him and wanted him to feel like he could talk to her about anything, which was something that wasn’t going to happen if he kept refusing to look her in the eyes.
“Did Lindsay find out about Sasha?” she asked as she strapped herself in. She’d heard all about Tyler’s house party escapades from Lucy at a sleepover the girls had two weeks ago.
His eyes widened in horror, though perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised she knew. They all knew each other’s secrets and despite her views on loyalty and friendship, she wasn’t judging him for who he lost his virginity with. “No, that’s not it.”
“Then tell me,” she replied, sticking her key into the ignition but waiting to turn on the engine. “I’m not taking you home until you tell me what’s wrong.”
He glared at her, crossing his arms over his chest. “You’re becoming as dramatic as my sister.”
Piper’s smile widened at the mention of Jessamine, but she stood her ground, reaching up to brush back the bangs that had fallen into her eyes. “Come on, Ty. Either you can tell me, or I can keep guessing. It’s your choice.”
He stayed silent, rolling his eyes and finding a speck of dust on her dashboard to be extremely interesting.
“Fine,” she shrugged, deciding to put him out of his misery. “I’ll guess.”
He parted his lips to object, but she had started speaking already.
“Ty, do you have a crush on me?”
That wasn’t at all where he thought the conversation was going and he cursed himself for being so obvious as he finally lifted his gaze to meet hers, nearly having a heart attack when he found her grinning. He meant to deny it, but nothing came out and her smile widened, a laugh bursting through her chest and her eyes crinkling in delight at his silent affirmation.
“Well, shit,” he groaned. “You don’t have to make me feel stupid about it.”
She immediately felt bad for laughing, her giggles lessening as she reached out to squeeze his shoulder gently. “You’re right, I’m sorry. It’s not funny. It’s just really cute.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’m not a child, Piper. Don’t be condescending.”
Impressed that he was so willing to call her out for her reaction, she smiled softly and squeezed his shoulder once more before bringing her hand back to her lap. “Again, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to make you feel bad, it’s just…you and me?”
“I know,” he sighed in frustration. “Trust me, I wish I didn’t feel this way and I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually. Maybe it’s a hormonal thing?”
“Maybe,” she shrugged, glad that he wasn’t going to make the entire situation awkward and profess his love or something. “I just don’t want things to be weird between us. You and Brody are like my baby brothers and I don’t want that relationship to get strained.”
He cocked one eyebrow upwards. “You do realize that Brody is only a few minutes younger than you, right?”
Piper really enjoyed reiterating the fact that there were seven minutes in which she was in the world and her brother was not. Brody never particularly minded, though, because having Piper protect him like a big sister was a nice feeling.
She ignored the statement, chewing on her lower lip and smiling softly in his direction. “Are we gonna be ok? I totally get if you want space and time for those feelings to fade or be directed towards someone else. I just want you to know that I’m always gonna be here for you.”
He appreciated the sentiment because although he was a bit embarrassed that she found his crush so hysterical, she was also completely willing to just move on. And maybe it would take some time, because he was pretty sure he would always think she was beautiful, but he was sure there would come a point when she didn’t give him butterflies anymore. There was only so long he could harbor feelings for someone who would never feel the same way.
Tyler didn’t really have regrets because he had a habit of going for the things that he wanted and he was glad that Piper wasn’t going to be the first on that list. Now that everything was out in the open, it was a lot easier to laugh about it, despite the pinkness of his cheeks. In a few weeks, he was absolutely certain that things between them would be back to normal. Piper wasn’t the type of person to keep bringing up the past, so as long as did his best to move on, she would do the same.
“Yeah,” he smiled, leaning forward to pull her into a one armed hug. “We’ll be fine.”
“Good,” she grinned, ruffling his thick curls as she pulled away and turning towards the steering wheel. “Wanna get some food on the way home? I’m in the mood for French toast.”
“Sounds good,” he laughed, settling back into the car seat, glad that when it came to family, nothing ever changed.