I anxiously waited in line to be served for dinner, hoping that Gloria wouldn't have seen my indiscretion against Diaz as a reason to deny me food. I probably should've thought my actions through before executing them, but I wasn't that kind of person. Fucking with people was one of the only small joys I was afforded in this place and I took advantage of any opportunity.
I finally stood in front of Norma, who wordlessly set the tray in front of me. I stared at it for a few seconds, expecting her to push it to the next person in line, but she just pushed it forward and nodded. Taking the tray, I left the line and felt myself relax a little. Now all I had to worry about was sleeping while surrounded by Diaz sympathizers.
The first thing I noticed when I went to find a table was that Piper was nowhere to be seen. I shrugged it off and made my way towards where Mercy, Lorna and Nicky were seated. Because of all the tension between Mercy and Big Boo, the group had split and now sat at different tables to avoid conflict.
I took a seat beside Lorna and she looked over, smiling, "Hey, Alex. We were just talking about your girl." She tried to stifle her laughter and I rolled my eyes before setting my sights on Nicky, who had obviously told Lorna to refer to Piper as my girl to piss me off. But it wasn't happening today.
"What about her?" I asked casually, picking up my fork and spearing a piece of lettuce.
"I don't get it," Mercy said and looked between the other two women, "I thought you said she was gonna lose her shit?"
"Sorry to disappoint, but my shit is present and accounted for," I told Mercy.
Nicky, who was sitting next to her, had an odd look on her face but quickly composed herself. "So, I heard you're in with the Spanish now," she said.
"Ugh, good luck with that," Lorna muttered and I couldn't help but laugh.
"It's not so bad," I assured her but she just shook her head. "I'd take my new roomie over Leann any day."
Nicky leaned forward and lowered her voice, "You know she's the reason why Pornstache got suspended, right?"
"Who? Daya?" I asked and Nicky nodded.
I was about to ask her to explain when I spotted Piper walking into the cafeteria. She made her way to the lunch line quickly, keeping her eyes straight ahead. I could tell by the way she carried herself that something was up.
My assumptions were only further confirmed when she got her tray and sat at the table with Tastee and the others, all the while making sure she didn't look my way. What the hell was that about?
"Yo, Vause, did you hear me?" Mercy said, loudly, and I turned to look at her, realizing I hadn't been paying attention to the conversation around me because I was too busy watching Piper.
"Ya done creepin' on Chapman, or what?" Mercy asked with a smirk.
Having been called out, I sheepishly stared down at my food.
"Are you two back together or something?" Lorna asked, then continued before I could answer, "'Cause the whole mattress thing was kinda cute, you know? I mean, getting put in SHU because of it wasn't so great but it's the thought that counts, right?"
"We're not back together," I said, ending the conversation and changing a subject, "So, what were you saying, Mercy?"
The rest of dinner involved good conversation and no mentions of Piper, but that didn't mean I could help myself from glancing over at her every now and then. When I saw her leave, I wanted to follow her so badly, but I wasn't sure if this was what she meant by 'needing time'. So I opted to stay put until everyone else left and then headed to the common room with Mercy and Nicky to play Scrabble and watch TV until I had to go back to my block for prisoner count and lights out.
The next morning, Piper wasn't in the cafeteria for breakfast, but I still refused to let it get to me. I ate quickly and headed for the laundry room. I knew that if she missed work she would get shot, so she would definitely be there.
She showed up ten minutes after I did, saying an uneasy greeting and, once again, she wouldn't make eye contact.
"So, what should I do?" she asked and looked around the room.
I sighed and decided to just explain the whole process to her and not pry just yet. She listened and then began working silently and I did the same, growing increasingly frustrated by her odd behavior.
After an hour of this, I couldn't take it anymore, "Are you gonna tell me what the hell's wrong?"
She stopped what she was doing and finally looked at me, seeming surprised by my outburst. "Nothing's wrong."
"Really? Because when you said 'see you at dinner' I kind of got the idea that I'd see more than just your back. So cut the shit and just fucking tell me what's going on."
She set down the shirt she was folding and stared at it. "I know," she said, quietly.
I frowned, thoroughly confused, "You know what?"
"I know what happened with you and Nicky."
I was caught off by this turn of events. I almost laughed, raising my eyebrows at her. "And?"
"Why didn't you tell me?" I could hear a slight anger in her voice.
"Why does it matter? We weren't together."
"You should have told me, Alex."
I gave a small chuckle, unable to help myself. "So, that's why you were avoiding me? Because you're jealous?"
"I'm not jealous," she shot back indignantly. "I just think that's something you should have told me."
I walked over to her and she kept her eyes downcast, "You know, I'm glad you're jealous. It means you care."
"Why did you do it?" she asked, apparently not seeing the need to deny her jealousy any longer.
I shrugged, "It just happened. It's not like I'm in love with her or anything."
"Did you do it just to hurt me?"
The thought that Piper would even give a shit about what happened hadn't even crossed my mind, but maybe there was a chance that was true. Like a subconscious motive or something. Or maybe her question was making me overthink it, because when it happened, it meant nothing more to me than a way to pass the time. "No, I didn't. But I'm sorry if it did, because I know what it's like."
She looked up to meet my eyes, "What do you mean?"
"Think about how you feel right now, over a meaningless encounter, and multiply it by a thousand; that's how I feel every time you say his name," I admitted.
She took a minute to process this and then shook her head, "If it hurts that much, then why do you stay?"
I laughed because that was a question I'd been asking myself constantly since this all started. "Well, it's not like I enjoy this. I'm honestly beginning to wonder if I may be some sort of masochist," I told her. "But I think the answer is pretty fucking obvious, Piper. I stay and I put up with all this because I love you. And I get that I don't have much to offer at this point; I'm just a felon and he's a fucking poster boy for your idea of a perfect life. But I'm still hoping that maybe those ridiculously cheesy romantic movies are right and love is enough, because that's all I've got right now." I took a deep breath, hating how naive I sounded. "You're all I've got, Piper. So, no, I'm not going to give up. Not yet."
Piper's eyes were focused on the ceiling and I realized she was struggling to hold back her tears. I hated this whole situation. I hated that we both had to hurt so much when the answer was so easy, and I hated that she still wouldn't let herself see that.
"He's coming to visit tomorrow," she whispered.
I swallowed back the biting reply I wanted to give and pressed, "And?"
She exhaled shakily, her eyes coming down to meet mine, "And he still wants to get married."
I bit the side of my bottom lip and nodded, "So, what? You're gonna have your wedding in prison? Real classy, Pipes. I'm sure your folks will love that."
"I didn't say I was going to do it, Alex," she said firmly. "But if I do choose him, yes, I will. I don't care what my parents think. He doesn't trust me and he definitely has good reason not to, because I can't really trust me."
"Jesus! Are you hearing yourself?" I almost shouted, completely amazed by her logic. "If he doesn't trust you, why would you go through with it? For fuck's sake, Piper, if you can't even trust yourself, doesn't that say something?!"
She didn't have a chance to answer because Mercy and a few other girls walked in, carrying their bags of laundry.
Mercy looked between me and Piper and quirked an eyebrow, "Is this a bad time?"
I readjusted my glasses out of nervous habit and walked over to my station, hoping the other girl hadn't heard too much of the argument. "Just drop them here, I'll get your tickets."
There was a steady stream of prisoners coming to drop off and pick up their clothes, so we didn't speak any further. When it came time for lunch, I made my way out of the laundry room, but stopped near Piper in the hall. "I'm sorry I flipped. It's just… this is really stressing me out. I'm trying to be patient here, I really am. But it's not easy."
She nodded. "It's okay, I get it. I'm sorry, too. But nothing's been decided yet, Alex, and I can't say when it will be." With that, she turned and continued down the hall, leaving me standing there to wonder how much longer I could do this before I broke.