"You're turning an unflattering shade of green there, Pippy," Nick teased as they danced to the slow beat prom committee had picked out.
Piper glared at Nick, but only for a moment, her eyes darting back to where Erin was pressing herself as close to Leo as she possibly could.
"Oh settle," Nick said with a roll of his eyes. "Leo's only got eyes for you. Erin's not even on his radar and hasn't been for years."
"Leo and I are just friends," she replied with the exasperation of someone who'd been answering that same question for far too long.
Nick tried not to let on he was just annoyed with trying to convince her as she was hearing it. "Sure you are. Is that why he keeps glancing over here and you keep looking at him?" He felt a rush of satisfaction at Piper's blush.
"Why does everybody think that there's something between us?" she asked quietly. "Especially this close to the end of the year."
Nick hugged Piper tight, recognizing the underlying insecure note in her voice. "People like gossip, what can I say?"
Piper sighed, hugging him then letting go. "I don't like it. At all. Leo and I are friends, that's it, end of story."
"Why won't you give him a chance?"
"What?" Piper's eyes were wide in surprise when she looked up at Nick. "What are you talking about?"
"You're not that blind, Piper, nor are you that stupid,' Nick admonished. "Leo's crazy about you."
"That's the other thing everyone's saying."
"At least he admits it."
He'd caught her off guard again. "What?"
"At least he'll admit he's got a major crush on you. You won't even consider it," Nick responded shaking his head.
Piper raised a disbelieving eyebrow. "Uh huh. Sure he does."
Nick rolled his eyes. Piper's stubborn nature had gotten her where she was, but it drove him absolutely batty. "I know you love denial, but take a moment to look what's right under your nose. He asked you to prom; he orchestrated the Operation De-Stress Piper; he sat and comforted you after Erin quit… Heck, Piper, you and I both know he's factoring you into his decision to stay."
Piper stiffened. "I didn't ask him to consider me."
Nick had to tread carefully and he knew it. Piper's voice had dropped to a dangerous octave and even he was smart enough not to push too hard. "Whether you want to or not, you're a factor. In his decision and in mine."
Piper pushed away from him, disgust on her face. "You'll regret it."
Nick let her go, but read deeper than her disgust. He was once again glad he hadn't lost his knack at reading Piper. "I won't."
"You will," she repeated. Even the conviction in his voice did nothing to assuage her fears.
As he felt her pulling away completely, he grabbed hold of her hands tightly. "You're a walking contradiction."
"You've been friends with me for years. You sound like that's something new."
"I didn't realize it was going to be this bad. Piper, you're important to people."
"I don't care how important I am, it's no reason to throw away the Ivey Leagues. You guys have worked 4 years for this. You're not going to give it up because of me."
Leo had been surprised to find Nick on his own at the table. He knew there wasn't much room for Piper to wander, but that didn't help his mind. Something had thrown Piper off and he wasn't sure is she was going to be open to sharing. Nick's mutinous face had clued him in to the possibility of what had occurred. He knew there was a good possibility that talking to Piper was going to be an uphill battle.
When he did find her, he paused in the doorway. She looked angelic with the street lights around her, her hair long against her back. Yet, he knew the fold of her arms and the tense posture of her shoulders spoke of her churning mind. "Piper?"
She turned and gave him a small smile. "I'll be in soon." Even as the words came out of her mouth she knew it wasn't going to be enough for him. Sure enough, as she turned her eyes back on the football field, she heard his footsteps on the cement.
"What's going on?"
There was no way Piper could stop or hide the shiver that raced through her when his hand settled on her shoulder. Her emotional boundaries were weak at best and she could feel those emotions welling up in her chest. Leo's presence wasn't helping either. He wreaked havoc on her emotions as it was.
"I'm just… Thinking."
"I can hear the gears turning. Want to talk about it?"
She smiled at him briefly. "I'd rather not."
Leo didn't ask questions, just steered her to the nearby stadium seating. He sat beside her in silence, both of them simply looking out across the field. By this point he knew Piper well enough to simply wait it out. She'd talk when she was ready.
"Are you afraid of leaving?"
He looked over at her in pensive surprise. It was a question Leo hadn't been expecting. "Afraid of leaving? Baker High you mean?"
Piper nodded. "This has been everything for the last 4 years." It scared her to think of them going.
"But there's more out there."
Sometimes, she thought to herself, he thinks he has all the answers. "You're not afraid of getting lost in the crowd?"
"I'm going to," he said with a small laugh. "I'm aiming for med-school, Pip. My life will be books, books and more books."
Piper rewarded him with a small smile, but nothing more.
With a sigh, Leo turned his body towards hers, facing her as best he could in the seats. "What's going on?"
She echoed his sigh. "I don't know," Piper said honestly. "I don't know."
"How can you not know?" He asked the question softly, carefully. The last thing he wanted to do was spark her anger.
The air she inhaled shook her whole body. "It's… overwhelming."
Leo stayed silent. He didn't want to interrupt her and have her shut down.
"There's so much going on, so much to do, so much to say and I can't… It's too much."
He took her hand, holding it tight enough to be reassuring without crushing her bones. "Start small," he coached softly. Her glistening eyes broke his heart.
"It feels like the end," she whispered.
He smiled, trying to make it as reassuring as possible before pulling her close to press a kiss to her forehead. "Nah, of course not. It's the beginning."
I know, I know, anticlimactic ending and no Piper-Erin fight. But really, which is more dramatic? A fight between Piper and Erin or the upcoming epic battle between Leo and Piper? And I warn you now, Piper's reasons for ignoring Leo aren't exactly the most mature of reasons...
Before anyone asks, as soon as chapter 3 of Seventeen is written, I will be posting chapter 1. Be patient with me for a bit.
And yes, people, this is the unfortunate end. Thank you to everyone that reviewed it.