Food, Cats, and Being in Love

I don't want to think about it
I don't want to talk about it
When I kiss your lips
I want to sink down to the bottom
Of the sea

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21. Chapter Twenty-One

Vincent went to sit on the couch while I finished with the hot toddies. I got the feeling this was going to get infinitely more uncomfortable now that we’d both blurted out things we shouldn’t have blurted out. But I really wanted us to be friends. Even if it was going to make things weird and complicated.

Once I got the mugs filled, I carried out drinks out to the living room and sat down next to him on the couch. I set the cups on the table, and neither of us drank. He kept his fingers on the mug but didn’t pick it up. I held my hands in my lap and sighed.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought telling you the truth was the best way to go about this. Now I feel like I just made it worse.”

“No, you didn’t make it worse. Honestly, I just felt like you were trying to get away from me,” I admitted.

“Well, I was. Just you know—not because I didn’t like you or anything.” Then he finally lifted his drink and took a swig. I was waiting to hear that “mm” sound he made when he tried my food for the first time. But he didn’t. I guess it was different with drinks. Or he was just nervous. He set the mug back down. “Bourbon?” he asked, coughing from the shock of alcohol. I nodded.

“Bourbon has a better flavor.”

“Jeez, I can tell.” There was another long moment of silence before I turned around to face him.

“I don’t want this to be weird.”

“I think it’s already weird.”

“Yeah, but there’s still a chance to save it. I just—think it would be best if we just stay friends. I don’t want you to be out of my life, and you said the same about me. I just think that maybe staying friends would be the best way to—do that.” He nodded and looked down at Reggie as he appeared from under the couch where he liked to nap. And tear apart the cushions. He gave him a pat on the head.

“Yeah, I agree.” He didn’t sound convinced. And neither did I. But I was thinking with logic and not my heart. Logic was telling me “Paige will hate you if you so much as kiss him,” and my heart was telling me, “Goddamn it, idiot, kiss him already.” I didn’t. I turned back around and reached for the remote.

“So I take it you’ve never seen Godzilla versus Mothra,” I said. He smiled and shook his head as Reggie hopped up onto his lap for more pats.

“Nope.”

“Good. You’re going to love it.”

And then it wasn’t so awkward after that.

He didn’t end up calling a cab, and we called it quits on the drinking after one hot toddy. By the time the movie was finished we were both feeling a lot more comfortable about the fact that he’d admitted he was attracted to me. Even though I couldn’t stop thinking about it and I was sure he couldn’t either.

But when the movie was over, he went to the bathroom and I made him a bed on the couch. There was only one more briefly awkward exchange as we said goodnight and I headed down the hall to my room. Then I laid there for a long time with Reggie purring on my stomach as I thought about Vincent and what he’d said. And I didn’t fall asleep until I pulled my pillow over my own head and held back a scream of frustration.

I woke up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. I had completely forgotten that Vincent was staying the night until I reached the hallway and saw the outline of him on the couch. The couch was kind of small, so one of his legs was sticking straight over the edge. He was probably really uncomfortable.

When my eyes finally adjusted to the light, I caught sight of myself in the mirror above the sink. My hair had gone frizzy and wild, and even though I’d washed my face before bed, mascara had smudged under my eyes. The most startling thing was that I caught a glimpse of Paige on my features. Not the pretty done up Paige that most people saw. But the real Paige. I mean, we always looked enough like each other for people to know we were sisters. But when she wasn’t all done up and perfect, she looked more like me. And I wondered if that’s why Vincent was attracted to me.

The idea hurt. A lot. They’d been together for so long. Even if things hadn’t worked out and they didn’t really get along. At one point in time, he’d been in love with her and she with him. They stayed together for a long time. They made a baby. And that’s why I wasn’t supposed to feel that way about him. I wasn’t meant to like him because of her. And not because it would hurt her feelings, though that was part of it, but because I was her sister. And I could never really know if I was just her replacement. Even if he didn't think of it that way. Or if he ever saw her when he looked at me. If the whole reason he was attracted to me was because I looked like her. I mean, I knew she and Vincent would never work out. Their personalities clashed too much. But that didn’t mean there couldn’t still be attraction. Physically. And that didn't mean that whatever part of him that had been attracted to her before was attracted to me now. And if that was why.

“Don’t think about her,” I said to myself. Not tonight. Not yet. Wait until things cool down.

I turned the light off and crept out of the bathroom. But since I was temporarily blinded by the sudden darkness I missed the fat fuzzy body waiting for me in the middle of the hallway. I didn’t notice him until my foot met fur instead of wood and he hissed and struck. I tumbled into the wall and cursed loudly.

“Asshole,” I said as he ran off down the hall, mad at me for stepping on him. Not caring that he hurt me more than I hurt him. “Shit,” I said as I sat up.

“You okay?” I heard from the living room. I could hear the springs in my couch creak as Vincent moved.

“I’m fine,” I told him. “Just tripped over the goddamn cat.” I could hear footsteps on the floor and the light at the end of the hall came on. He appeared before me wearing the t-shirt with a cat face on it and the sweats I’d given him that didn’t quite fit right. He leaned down in front of me and smiled, apparently amused.

“How bad did he get you?” he asked.

“Scratched my leg and I think I might have twisted my ankle.” He lifted his hands and took mine. Then he pulled me to standing, and I winced. “Definitely twisted my ankle.” He moved an arm under my shoulder so that I could lean against him. It was a lot closer than I wanted to be to him. No, that wasn’t true. I wanted to be a lot closer. But good old Miss Logic was telling me that was a bad idea.

“Let me check it out,” he said as he moved me toward the living room and I tried not to groan out loud. Not from the pain. But because he smelled really good and he was warm. He helped me hobble to the couch and went to turn on the overhead light as I examined the small scratch. Then he sat down beside me and moved my leg onto his lap. He ran his fingers over my ankle and squeezed it. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was the wrong one. Mostly because I couldn’t breathe and I was thanking all the gods that I’d shaved my legs. “Looks okay,” he said. “Does it hurt?”

“No, it feels fine. The other one kind of hurts, though,” I told him. He laughed and moved to my other side. Then he did the same, gently lifting my leg onto his lap to examine my ankle. He bent my foot and looked up to see my expression.

“Hurts?”

“A bit. I don’t think it’s sprained or anything. It’s starting to fade.” He let me go, and I took my foot back. “Sorry I woke you up. He likes to stand in the middle of the hallway at night.” He smiled, and his face was still sleepy. His hair was messy and god he was too cute.

“This happens frequently?”

“Not the falling part. I usually catch him first. But my mind was a bit occupied.” His hazel eyes met mine again.

“Occupied by what?”

“Just thinking,” I told him.

“About what?”

“My sister.”

“What about her?”

“That you really loved her.”

“It was in high school, Pip. I don’t know if it really counts.”

“It does.” He shrugged and leaned back on the couch.

“When I was younger, I fell in love easily,” he explained. “It was different back then.”

“How so?” I asked.

“When you were in high school what kind of relationship were you looking for?”

“I don’t know. I think I mostly just wanted someone to like me.”

“Exactly. You just wanted someone to care about you. You didn’t think about things in the long run. Not marriage and children and that kind of stuff. Just kind of hoped the person still liked you the next day. Even if they were awful for you.” I nodded slowly.

“I see.”

“So yeah, I loved her. But we were kids. It was temporary.”

“You were together for a long time.”

“A long time in the sense that we were young and anything longer than a few months was a long time. I just wanted to be loved. I didn’t like being alone. I didn’t know how to end it when I should have. It was my first serious relationship. It fell apart. We fell into a pattern. I was with her for a long time, but I wasn’t in love with her for very long. She felt the same about me.”

“Is that why you kissed me?” He looked back at me and tried to smile. But I could tell he was nervous again.

“That’s part of it,” he said. “You were just sitting out there looking so sad. I always liked you.” I shook my head.

“Why?” I asked.

“You refused to change who you were. You didn’t try to please anyone but yourself. That took a lot of courage. It was something I took a long time to do for myself. You inspired me, I guess.”

“I did want people to like me, though. I wanted it bad.”

“I know. But you wanted people to like Piper. You never tried to be Paige or anyone else. It wasn’t in you. You were meant to stand out, even when you tried not to.”

“Is THAT why you kissed me?” He laughed again.

“I didn’t like seeing you upset. You told me you felt humiliated. You were hurting because you thought no one would ever want to kiss you. I was dumb. I wanted to prove you wrong. I shouldn’t have done it. But I don’t think I regret it either.” I felt my cheeks blush and I looked away.

“I’m going back to the pity kiss theory now.”

“It wasn’t pity. I don’t usually go around kissing people who look upset. I just liked you. I thought you were cute and you’d been treated badly. You said you weren’t kissable and I wanted you to know that you were. I was planning on breaking up with her for good. I wasn’t thinking straight. So I just went for it. Never really got the chance to explain myself.” I nodded slowly.

“She was really upset when you broke up, you know,” I told him.

“I know. But it wasn’t because she wanted to be with me,” he said. “She was scared, and I was scared too. She didn’t want to do it alone. And when we finally decided what we were going to do there was no point in staying together. I took responsibility for what I’d done, but our relationship ended long before we knew what to do.”

“Is that why you didn’t want to tell me—what you said? Because she’s my sister and my family might not be very happy about it.” He shook his head and chewed his lip.

“I don’t care what they think about me. They don’t like me and they never will. I’m okay with that. But I like you. A lot. And when I walked into that coffee shop, and I saw you sitting there with your pink hair and your weird colored scarf, I thought, ‘Wow, future Pip really did turn out awesome.” I smiled again. "And then I don't know. Hanging out with you all the time. Just thought—This girl really is special.' I always knew that she was. I wish I'd done things differently." My cheeks got hot again, and I turned to face the black TV screen.

“I think I’ve changed a lot since we were kids, though.”

“Me too. We grew up. It happens. But we’ve spent a lot of time together lately. I just—connected with you six years ago—and I don’t think it ever went away.” Reggie was standing at the end of the hall now, swishing his tail as he watched me. Looking at me like I was a complete moron. I finally had a guy in my house who was saying everything I’d ever wanted to hear and who made me feel things I never felt for Sean or anyone else. And I couldn’t/wouldn’t do anything about it.

But Vincent had gone quiet again. And I could see him rub his own face as if he regretted saying what he was thinking.

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m tired. It slipped out.” I shook my head, but I couldn’t get any words to come out. “How’s your ankle?”

“Better,” I told him. There was another awkward silence before I stood up. My ankle felt tender, but not bad enough for me not to be able to sleep. “I’m gonna go back to bed.”

“Alright,” he said. “Goodnight.”

“Night, Vinnie.” I limped to the hallway and Reggie darted off back toward the bedroom, probably to find another place to hide and knock me over again.

“Hey, Pip?” Vincent said from the couch. I stopped and turned back around to face him. “I won’t say anything again. I promise.” My throat felt sore and tight because I wanted him to say it again. I wanted him to tell me everything. To tell me he liked me and he wanted to be with me and that he thought I was pretty and all that. But it just wasn’t supposed to be him. So I bit my lip and nodded.

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