Alistair twirled his room key through his fingers as he walked down the hallway with Piper. She had met him at the airport and they had spent an incredibly awkward and an incredibly silent cab ride into the city. They still hadn't said more than three words to each other by the time he opened his hotel room door and set his bags at the foot of the bed.
He sighed as he turned around to face his fiancée. Fiancée. That word didn't even sound right in his head. Piper was looking at the ground, biting her top lip and rocking back and forth on her toes. She looked nervous. Maybe she could sense what was about to happen. The thought broke Alistair's heart and he walked to her quickly, wrapping her in his arms and hugging her close.
"How have you been?" He asked in a whisper.
"I've been fine," she answered robotically, as if she had said those words too many times before.
"How's the baby?"
Piper pushed him away slightly and looked down at her belly, a slight smile on her face. "Dr. Benoit said I would be ready for my second ultrasound early next month. We can find out if it's a boy or a girl."
She looked up at him with hopeful eyes and he smiled down at her. "Do you really want to know?"
"I don't know," she smiled and shook her head. "What do you think?"
"It's going to be a surprise either way," he said, debating his choices in his head.
"If we found out, we could plan for his or her nursery. We could buy the right clothes."
"Whatever you want is fine with me."
Piper nodded and then looked back down at the floor. Alistair knew he was going to have to do this soon. But how does one start a conversation like that? How does one tell the woman he loves, the woman who is carrying his baby that he doesn't want to marry her? At least not right now.
"Speaking of planning," Alistair started slowly, "have you thought at all about the wedding?"
Piper bit her lip again and he saw her reach for her left hand, twisting her ring absentmindedly around her finger. "Some," was all she said.
"What have you been thinking?" He asked softly and Piper couldn't hold back her tears. She could tell he was hesitant about this topic. She could tell that he didn't want to really discuss it. Perhaps he could sense that she was having second thoughts. Or that her first thought, the one where she thought they shouldn't rush into things, was still overpowering her.
"Alistair, I…" but she was crying too hard to finish her sentence. She reached for his shirt and pulled him close, burying her face in his chest.
"Hey," Alistair said soothingly, his hand stroking her hair. "I don't want to stress you out about this. We can take our time…"
But she only started crying harder and Alistair clenched his teeth. He had to do it, no matter how much it hurt her. He just couldn't let her leave this hotel room until she understood that breaking the engagement didn't mean they were breaking up.
"Look, Piper, I know that I rushed us into this and I want you to know that I love you more than anything…"
"Alistair, don't. I can't talk about this right now." Piper pushed him away and started walking toward the bed. He watched as she sat down and tried to control her tears.
"We have so much to think about already," she added. "Let's just not discuss this right now."
"We'll have to talk about it eventually," he pointed out and sat on the opposite side of the bed, his back to her. He stared at the patterned carpet and tried to unclench his fists. He could hear Piper's quiet sobs and he longed to hold her. But this would be easier if he didn't.
"I know that it seems like you are doing the right thing," Piper choked out and Alistair could feel his own tears starting to form in his eyes. "But I can't pretend that it's what I want as well."
Alistair hung his head. He wondered how long she had known. He hated to think that she had been dreading this conversation, knowing what was going to happen when he arrived this weekend. "You know that I still love you. You know that I'm only doing this because I think it's what is right for us and the baby."
"The baby shouldn't be an excuse for anything, Alistair."
"I know that. But it is a consideration, one that carries a lot of weight right now."
"Alistair," she was crying even harder now, "I just can't do this. I love you and I don't want this to come between us. I don't want this to tear us apart."
Alistair turned around and slid across the bed, wrapping his arms around Piper and feeling her rest her weight into his chest. "That's the last thing I want as well."
Piper relaxed into his arms and tried to calm down. She hated what she was about to do but she believed that Alistair loved her enough to listen to reason. This wasn't a one person decision. They both had to be on board and Alistair's enthusiasm wasn't enough to carry her to the altar.
She took a deep breath and turned toward him, adjusting her weight to support her growing belly. "I want you to know that I do want to marry you," she started and watched as a pained look crossed Alistair's face.
"Piper, you don't…"
"Please let me finish. I need to say this."
Her boyfriend nodded and she looked into his eyes. "I do want to marry you. One day. I just, I can't do it now."
Alistair's mouth dropped and he started to speak but was having a hard time figuring out what had just happened. Piper didn't want to get married? Not right now?
"You can have your ring back, if you want it," she continued and reached for the canary diamond on her left hand, sliding it off her finger and holding it out to him.
Alistair took it without speaking. He looked at it as it lay in his palm. "When did you decide this?"
"About three minutes after I agreed to marry you," Piper said and Alistair raised his eyebrows at her honesty.
"You seemed so excited about it. I knew that you would take care of me and you seemed to have everything all planned out. I just thought that the idea would grow on me but it hasn't and I'm so sorry…" Piper began her apology but was interrupted by Alistair's lips on hers. He kissed her fiercely, a long and hard kiss. Relief washed over both of them and they clung to each other like they would never let the other go.
"Do you still love me?" Piper finally managed to ask.
"Now more than ever," Alistair smiled at her and wiped some tears from her cheek.
Piper smiled at him. "You don't hate me?"
"No," he laughed. "This entire time I thought you were trying to avoid the topic of our wedding because you knew I didn't want to go through with it."
His girlfriend gave him a disbelieving look. "You were trying to call it off?"
"Not call it off," he stipulated. "Just postpone it for three or four years."
Piper smiled at him and looked almost as if she was about to laugh. "And when did you realize this?"
"The second I got on the airplane to fly home. I knew I had jumped the gun but I thought you were scared that I would leave you and the baby and I wanted you to know that I was always, that I am always going to be there for you. By your side, forever."
"I know I've been acting crazy lately," Piper admitted. "But I just didn't want this baby to ruin our lives. I thought that if we weren't together you could accomplish everything you have been dreaming about and I didn't want to hold you back. But then I realized that I couldn't do this without you. That I wouldn't want to do it without you, even if it meant dragging you down with me."
"Being with you, seeing you happy, and raising this child together are the only things that I'm dreaming about now," Alistair assured her. "Our lives are going to be changed forever but it's not going to be a bad thing. This baby is going to be great. She will be so loved and we will be the happiest parents in the world."
"She?" Piper asked, relieved that they had sorted everything out, feeling slightly ridiculous that they had both wanted the same thing but it had taken weeks and too many tears to figure that out.
"You think it's a girl, don't you?"
She nodded her head. "I do."
Alistair smiled and held out his hand. "I want you to keep this."
"Alistair, it must have cost a fortune and I…" Piper started to protest but he refused to listen to it.
"You don't have to wear it. And, if you want, I'll buy you another one when we are actually ready to get married. But I want you to keep it so whenever you start to worry, you'll know that I'll never leave you. No matter what."
Piper choked back some more tears but nodded her head again and took the ring from his hand. She reached behind her and unclasped her necklace, sliding the ring onto the thin silver chain. Alistair smiled as she placed it back around her neck and tucked it into her sweater.
"I love you," she told him, holding out her arms and beckoning him to come closer.
"I love you so much. And I'm glad we talked about this."
Piper sighed and kissed his neck. "I am too."
They didn't stray from Alistair's hotel room that night, opting to order room service and stay in bed rather than battle against the frigid Paris winter. Alistair couldn't remember ever feeling happier than he did in those hours he spent in his room with Piper. She was laughing again, confiding in him about her worries, joking about what her parents were going to want them to call the baby. She listened to his stories of school, his demanding schedule and his crazy chemistry professor, giving him all of her attention, her mind no longer wondering into the dark depths which he never wanted her to visit again.
He watched as she fell asleep that night, softly snoring next to him, lying on her side with a pillow between her legs for comfort, her small bump stretching her t-shirt. God, she was so beautiful. His heart swelled as he realized that soon, after he graduated next semester, he would never have to spend another day without her.