Alistair watched as Piper separated the food on her plate. The vegetables were pushed to one corner, the potatoes to another, her salmon sat alone in the center.
"Is there something wrong?"
"What?" Piper suddenly looked up as if he had startled her.
"I've never seen you do that with your food," Alistair said with a smile and his girlfriend smiled back.
"I just don't want anything touching because they shouldn't be mixing right now. I don't think I want potatoes at all. That sounds horrible at the moment."
Alistair smiled and reached across the table for her hand. "I love you."
Piper smiled and gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "I love you too."
Alistair felt as if he couldn't say those three words enough these days. He had left Piper less than two weeks ago, after their first doctor's appointment, only to return 10 days later. He couldn't stay away. He never wanted to be away from her. But he could tell their relationship was strained and he had a pretty good idea why. It wasn't that he blamed the baby, but in a way, he knew that Piper was scared out of her mind for that very reason. Something about it made her not want to open up to him, made her not want to confide in him. He knew she talked about it all the time with Laila. Sterling would offer more updates than Piper.
Truthfully, he was worried that Piper didn't trust him, didn't trust him not to run when things got difficult. Maybe that's why she was pushing him away, she was preparing herself for when he left her. But he knew that was never going to happen. He knew what could happen if he pretended that a problem didn't exist and that was not an outcome he ever wanted to experience again.
"How are you feeling tonight?" He asked softly.
"I'm great," she answered as if the question had meant nothing at all.
He dropped her hand and she picked up her fork and started to eat. He watched her for a second before turning to his own food. They ate in silence for a while but Alistair was aching to talk about that what was going to happen in less than 6 months. They had to talk about it. She had to get past whatever insecurities she was feeling because that baby was coming no matter what.
"So I was thinking about next year," he started slowly.
Piper placed her fork next to her plate and looked at him. "Yeah?"
He nodded. "I was thinking that you will probably want to take next semester off…"
"Obviously," she interrupted him. "I don't want to risk going in to labor right in the middle of Latin now do I?"
She was trying to make a joke but Alistair really didn't find it funny. He wanted to have a serious conversation with her. He wanted her to make some decisions, include him in this part of her life. The baby was his, after all.
"So," he continued, "I was thinking you could come live with me just until I graduate."
"Well, my parents certainly aren't going to want me back in Seattle."
Alistair stared at her for a second. She wasn't making this easy. "Have you thought about when you are going to tell them?"
"I was thinking on her first birthday," Piper smiled and Alistair suddenly smiled back.
"Do you think it's going to be a girl?"
Piper shrugged. "Maybe. It just doesn't really feel like there's a little boy in there, you know?"
Alistair laughed. "Not really."
"It's just a hunch."
Alistair beamed at his girlfriend from across the table. It was the first time she had ever shown any interest in the baby at all, at least towards him.
"And then after I graduate, we'll move back to New Haven and you can finish school. I'll get a job and then…"
"Do we have to talk about this now?" She didn't look annoyed, just tired.
He paused and sighed. He didn't want to upset her. "Piper, we have to talk about it sometime. That baby is on its way and we can't put it off much longer."
She looked down at the table and Alistair was scared he had angered her.
"I'm just so scared," she said quietly. Piper knew she had been a lousy girlfriend lately. She would cut short their phone conversations, change the subject whenever he brought up the baby or their future. It didn't make that much sense to her, her recent behavior. She knew that Alistair would never let her raise the baby on her own. She knew that he was excited about being a father but she didn't want him to throw away his life because of it. Hers was going to change no matter what. But his didn't need to.
"Hey," Alistair reached for her hand again. "I'm scared too. But we can do this together."
But Piper shook her head. She hated that this mistake was going to alter their lives completely. She hated that she couldn't do this by herself no matter how much she wanted to, that she had to depend on Alistair for everything, ruin his life along with hers.
"So you're going to get a job in New Haven? What are you going to do there? What about Law School? Alistair this baby is going to change everything. You shouldn't have to put off your entire life just because…"
"Stop, Piper!" Alistair didn't know how to make himself any clearer. "I'm going to be a part of that baby's life whether you want me there or not. I'm not going to throw my responsibilities aside just because this baby has the worst timing in the world."
"Of course I want you there," Piper said, her voice cracking as she started to cry. "But you'll be giving up so much and I don't want you to end up resenting me or the baby because of it."
"I won't be giving up anything," Alistair told her. "And neither will you. It will just take longer to get what we want. That's all."
"And how are we supposed to live when you're finishing up at Harvard and I'm stuck at home with a newborn?" Piper was skeptical about everything these days but if Alistair had a plan then he was already at least one step ahead of her.
"My trust fund," Alistair said plainly and Piper's eyebrows rose.
"Your trust fund?"
"Sure. The baby will be born in early June and I'll only have a few more weeks of school left. We can easily survive off my trust fund until I find a job."
"In New Haven?"
Alistair nodded and Piper smiled. "In New Haven," he confirmed. "There's a day care on campus so you can go back to school. I'll watch her in the evenings while you study. You'll only graduate one semester later than planned."
"You're making this all sound so easy."
Alistair laughed. "I know it won't be easy. We're going to be exhausted and frustrated and no fun at all."
Piper laughed as well. "How is it that you are so calm about everything? I feel like I should be the one convincing you not to run away from everything, not the other way around."
Alistair shrugged and winked at her. "Paternal instinct, I guess."
Piper laughed again. "Right." She was grateful that at least one of them had their head on straight, at least one of them was reasonable enough to know that this wasn't going to be the end of the world.
"Feel better?" Alistair asked.
"A little," Piper admitted. "Thank you for being so great about all this. I don't know what I would do without you."
"You'll never have to find out," Alistair promised and reached for her hand again.
His girlfriend smiled and looked at him as if he meant the world to her. Her green eyes had so much longing in them, her smile looked reassured and loving. He knew that she meant everything to him, baby or no baby, and it was probably that look which gave him the courage to do what he did next.
"So now that we are finally talking about our future," he started, teasing her and smiling as she laughed, "I was wondering if you would consider marrying me."
Her laugher was replaced by a confused stare once she realized he was no longer joking. She tried to pull her hand away but he wouldn't let her. "Alistair, now is really not the time…"
"Why not?" He interrupted her. "Now is just as good of a time as any."
"I don't expect you to marry me just because you got me pregnant," Piper clarified.
But Alistair wasn't listening. He dug into his pocket and produced a small silver pouch. He quickly opened it and clutched the ring in his hand. "Piper, I have loved you since nearly the first moment I saw you. I've known that I have wanted to spend the rest of my life with you since our first kiss. I was planning on proposing right after you graduated next year but this just gives me an excuse to do it earlier."
Piper was staring at him, confusion and uncertainty all over her expression. "Alistair, I love you so much but…"
"I want you to know that no matter what happens, I'll be there for you," he said, reaching for her left hand.
Piper's mouth went dry. Her boyfriend looked so excited, so eager for her to believe him, to accept what he was proposing. "I know that you…"
"This baby is going to be so loved, Piper."
"I know. But, Alistair, this is completely unexpected…"
"It's unexpected for me too," Alistair interrupted her again and Piper tried to pull her hand away. She needed him to understand that she loved him and that she didn't want to lose him, but marriage was too large of a step. "But I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you. Don't you want the same thing?"
Piper paused and stared at her boyfriend. "Of course I do." She did. She really did. Spending the rest of her life with Alistair would be perfect. It was exactly what she wanted. But making the decision to spend the rest of their lives together didn't necessarily mean making the decision to get married, did it?
"Okay, great!" Alistair was beaming as he slipped the ring onto her finger. Piper felt the cool band against her warm skin and her breath caught in her throat. She watched, nearly paralyzed, as Alistair smiled. Certainly he would understand that just because he had given her a ring, it didn't mean that they were going to be getting married anytime soon. This wasn't an engagement, per say. More like a promise.
But then her eyes fell to her hand. "Oh my God!" It was definitely an engagement ring. And it was gorgeous. A large canary yellow diamond sat on a silver band, surrounded by smaller white diamonds.
"Do you like it?" Alistair asked eagerly. "I picked it out yesterday and knew that you would."
"It's gorgeous," was all she could say as she stared at her hand. Even in the dim light of the restaurant, the rock was sparkling.
"I love you," Alistair told her for the millionth time that evening.
"I love you too," Piper said, finally looking up at him. He looked so proud, so sure of himself. Her heart twisted as she realized that his would break if she told him she wasn't ready to get married.
"I'm going to get the check. You ready to get out of here?"
All Piper could do was nod as Alistair leaned across the table and kissed her before walking off to find the waiter. Her eyes dropped back to her hand and the seconds seemed to tick by slow as hours as she waited for her boyfriend to return.
"You ready?" She heard him standing over her and was snapped back to reality.
"Sure," she said quietly and stood up. Alistair helped her with her coat and she walked out of the restaurant as if in a daze. As soon as she stepped out into the cold Paris night, she realized what had happened. She was engaged. She had, almost by default, accepted Alistair's proposal. But she hadn't meant to. She didn't want this. Not yet anyway.
But what was she supposed to do now? She couldn't take it back, not after seeing the look on Alistair's face. He was so excited, beyond thrilled. She couldn't let him down, she couldn't break his heart. But surely he would understand. Surely he wouldn't stay angry at her for long. She was carrying his baby, after all.
She was about to say something to him, something along the lines of how they should wait until they were both ready, when they stopped outside her door. How had they gotten home so quickly?
"Do you want to pack a bag for tonight? Stay at my hotel?" Alistair asked, still glowing.
Piper was about to turn him down, say that she was too tired, but she couldn't leave things like this. She had to talk to him. "Sure."
She opened the door to the courtyard and Alistair put his hand on the small of her back as they walked up the stairs. Why did he have to be so good to her? This would be so much easier if he weren't so amazing.
"I'll be right back," she told him, trying to smile, as she pointed toward the chairs at the kitchen table where he could wait for her.
Her boyfriend smiled back and she turned down the hall to her room. The door was closed and she pushed it open. It felt like it weighed a million pounds. But what she saw in her room temporarily flooded her head with a new confusion. There was Tamlyn, sitting on her bed, leaning her head close to none other than Sébastien. They were both smiling but both quickly snapped out of it as they heard her come into the room.
"Sébastien! How dare you!" Tamlyn suddenly shrieked and pushed her host brother hard enough to make him fall off the edge of the bed.
The room fell silent until they heard Sébastien hit the hardwood floors. Tamlyn was glaring at him. Piper was staring at the two of them with her mouth open, unsure of what to say, unsure of what she just witnessed. Sébastien was swearing in French.
"Get out!" Tamlyn screamed at him. "You have no right to be in our room!"
Sébastien rubbed his shoulder and gave her an angered look before stomping past Piper and out into the hallway.
"What the fuck was that?" Piper asked as soon as the door was closed again.
Tamlyn just shook her head. "I don't know. I was in here, minding my own business, and he just came storming in here, yelling at me about not cleaning up the kitchen. I mean, come on. I'm the only one who actually does clean up that kitchen."
Piper stared at her in confusion. Nothing about her story seemed to be out of the ordinary, but she knew it was a lie. No matter. She had bigger things to worry about. Specifically, how to tell her fiancé that she still wanted him to be just her boyfriend.
"Boys," Tamlyn was still talking. "I swear. I mean, it's just like they don't get it. Oh, but I'm sure Alistair is different. He seems more perceptive than most, doesn't he?"
"You'd be surprised," Piper said almost under her breath as she started to pack some clothes into a small duffel bag.
Tamlyn was quiet for a few seconds, something which Piper wasn't used to, and she turned around to see what the redhead had found to occupy her thoughts. But Tamlyn was still looking at Piper, or rather, she was looking at Piper's left hand.
"Is that…?" Tamlyn started but Piper quickly stopped her.
"An overnight bag? Yes. I'm staying with Alistair for the rest of the weekend."
"Okay," Tamlyn said quickly and looked up at Piper's face. "Have fun."
Piper tried to smile but failed miserably as she swung her bag over her shoulder. She left without saying goodbye and dragged her feet down the hallway and back to her waiting fiancé. She wasn't getting used to that word. Alistair stood up as she came into the room, took her bag from her, and kissed her on the cheek.
"Have I told you that you look beautiful tonight?" He asked her and she blushed.
Looking down at her hand as her fingers laced with his, she realized that she wouldn't be able to do this tonight. She couldn't break his heart. Not tonight. Not after everything that he had said about wanting to be there for her and the baby.
She smiled up at him and knew that she was lucky. She had a wonderful man who wanted to marry her, who wanted to take care of her, who wanted to help her succeed. Why wouldn't any girl want that? Why should she be scared or doubt that he knew exactly what he was doing? Maybe she could get used to the idea of getting married. A baby was a better reason to get married than some people had.