Pepper White did a double take when she glanced up from the preparation counter and saw Frey Lincoln slowly walking into Hillsboro Pizza. He looked surprisingly thin and pale and he walked with a limp. He was wearing a Hillsboro Hurricanes brown tee shirt and gym shorts with sandals. His dark hair was longer than before and his baby handsome face was now covered with a thick beard. His knees were scarred and one kneecap seemed to be off center.
"Frey!" Pepper exclaimed as she rushed around the counter and gave him an awkward hug. "When did you get back!?"
"Last week," he said, glancing around the shop, looking embarrassed. "I didn't know you worked here."
"Summer job," she explained. "God, it's really good to see you!"
"I ordered the meatball grinder," he said without emotion or responding to her welcome. "Number 41."
"Oh wow, I didn't even recognize your voice on the phone!" Pepper said with amazement.
"Is it ready?"
Pepper was taken aback by his lack of enthusiasm and his seeming disinterest in her presence. "Oh, sure," she said, trying to maintain her customer service professionalism as she glanced over her shoulder. "Hey, Tony, is 41 ready yet?" She asked her co-worker.
"In a minute," the burly Tony answered.
"You can pay for it now if you wish," Pepper said as she returned behind the counter and manned the cash register. "$7.99".
Frey took a coke from the cooler by the counter. "This too," he said.
"$9.54 then," she said as she rang up the order on the register while not taking her eyes off of him.
Frey handed her a ten dollar bill which she took, handing him his forty six cents in change from the till which Frey dropped into the tip jar on the counter.
"I'd really like to get together with you sometime, Frey," Pepper said when she realized he wasn't going to say anything. "I'd really like to talk with you."
"Sure," Frey mumbled unconvincingly.
"47!" Tony announced, sliding the wrapped grinder onto the counter which Pepper picked up and handed to Frey.
"There you go," she said with a smile.
"Thanks," Frey replied, accepting the grinder, turning and slowly walking out the door.
"Holy shit, was that Frey Lincoln?" Barb asked as she came out of the back room just as Frey disappeared out the door.
"Yeah," Pepper sighed. "He looks like a ghost." She wanted to add 'and acting like one too' but she bit her lip.
"Are you upset?" Barb asked when she reached the counter. "Seeing him all of a sudden must be emotional for you."
"It wasn't his fault what happened," Pepper replied.
"Well, Ginger's still dead," Barb pointed out. "Doesn't matter what happened."
"I guess," Pepper shrugged.
"I thought he was in the loony bin somewhere," Barb frowned.
"Rehab," Pepper clarified. "He had to learn how to walk and talk all over again, or so they said. I never saw him after the accident. They flew him off somewhere."
Barb leaned against the counter and gave Pepper a look as she stood dumbly at the register staring out the front window as if she was waiting for Frey to come back in.
"You sure you're okay?" Barb asked with concern.
"Sure," Pepper replied, saved by the ringing phone for the next call in order.
Pepper handed Barb the order when she was done with the call and Barb stepped over to the preparation counter to make a large Italian.
"Its okay if you're upset, Pepper," Barb said. "You don't have to deny it. Ginger was your best friend."
"And she was Frey's girlfriend," Pepper replied. "Everybody's upset. She's dead."
An uncomfortable silence fell over the room. The older Tony wasn't interested in the conversation and he stayed focused on the pizza ovens. Barb, a few years older and a bit heavier than Pepper, made the Italian grinder. Pepper stood awkwardly at the counter before deciding to distract herself by wiping down a few of the tables.
Pepper was surprised at how flustered she became seeing Frey. It had been six months since the terrible accident and that horrible day came flooding back into her conscious now as she dutifully wiped down the table and booth benches.
Frey and Ginger had gone skiing for the day and drove home at dusk in a brewing snowstorm. Just as they came up over a hill, a tractor trailer coming in the opposite direction jackknifed on the slippery road and crashed into Frey's car. Ginger was killed instantly and a comatose Frey was not expected to survive his critical injuries but he somehow pulled through. And now he was home and Pepper had so many questions to ask him.
Pepper wasn't upset. She was just sad. Sad thinking about Ginger all over again (not that a day didn't go by when she didn't think about her at some point) and sad to see Frey so broken and apparently different from the outgoing, friendly, personable guy Ginger had fallen for in the first place. Pepper was happy to admit that she had always been attracted to the likable Frey too although she never would have done anything to betray Ginger. Pepper therefore played the role of Ginger's best friend as best she could, behaving with as much dignity and grace as she could muster whenever she was in Frey's presence (usually with Ginger by his side).
Business picked up and Pepper stayed busy taking and making grinders to keep her mind off of thinking about poor Ginger and mysterious Frey. When she got off shift she drove home but for some reason, she swung down Viewpoint Avenue in the Hilltop neighborhood and found herself pulling to the curb in front of Frey's house.
Ginger and Pepper both grew up two streets over in the fancy neighborhood which is how the three first met. They were friendly as were most of the kids in the close knit neighborhood. It was always platonic between the three until the summer before sophomore year when Pepper made the mistake of admitting to Ginger that she "liked liked" Frey. Two days later, Ginger was asking Frey to the Fourth of July Fireworks (and not as friends). Pepper was shocked that her best friend would backstab her in such a callous way but she knew she had to let the betrayal go or their friendship would be doomed. Still, she never quite forgave Ginger for her catty behavior.
The Lincoln house was a stately one story brick home with a perfectly manicured lawn behind a black iron fence. Pepper always loved this particular house and not necessarily because it was where Frey lived. It just looked very storybook to her and she liked being on the property and in the house through the years. She walked through the opening in the driveway and up to the front door, ringing the doorbell and hearing the musical chimes from inside the house.
A few moments later, the heavy wood front door swung open and there stood Frey Lincoln, squinting at her through the sunlight behind her.
"Hi, Frey," Pepper said cheerfully.
"What are you doing here?" Frey asked blankly.
"I told you," she said hopefully. "I want to talk to you."
"About what?" He frowned.
"Come on, Frey, it's been six months. I haven't seen or heard from you. Did you get my letters and cards?"
Pepper stared at him. "Can I come in, Frey?" She finally asked when he didn't make a gesture to invite her inside.
"I guess," he said doubtfully, stepping back.
Pepper had been in the Lincoln house plenty of times and she was quite familiar with its layout and appearance. It featured a well kept, well decorated, attractive interior with nice furniture and interesting wall paintings.
"Where can we talk?" Pepper asked when Frey made no effort to lead her anywhere, standing in the foyer with a blank look still on his face.
"My room, I guess," he said, finally taking a few steps.
Pepper followed him down the hall to his large bedroom that featured a queen bed, a large computer table, a couch, a desk, three dressers, and an entertainment center. Pepper took a seat on the couch while Frey took a tentative seat on the end of his bed.
"Why didn't you tell me you were home?" She asked, feeling slightly hurt.
"I'm trying to stay undercover," he replied. "I just don't need the drama and attention. I want to try to make a smooth transition back into reality at my own pace."
"I understand," Pepper said bravely. "I've thought about you often."
Frey didn't respond and his eyes seemed to be glazed.
"How are you doing?" Pepper wondered.
"They still got me pretty doped up," Frey answered. "Uppers, downers, pain meds, anti-depressants. You name it, I've been on it."
"How are you feeling?" Pepper clarified.
"Mostly numb," he admitted.
"Do you remember anything?" Pepper needed to know. "About that day?"
Frey shook his head no. "I don't remember skiing. I don't remember driving up there. I don't remember anything after the accident until I woke up however many days later. The last thing I clearly remember is Sanders' party."
"Wow, that was like four days before the accident," Pepper recalled.
"You were giving me a hard time about the Notre Dame game," Frey reported neutrally.
"You remember that?" Pepper was flattered that one of his last coherent memories was of her.
He didn't answer and Pepper was saddened to see how sedate and unresponsive Frey seemed to be. He used to be so talkative, expressive and engaging. Now he was a stone.
"I talked to your mom a few times," Pepper offered. "And I see Ginger's parents from time to time. They look so sad sometimes."
Frey looked at her but he didn't say anything.
"It must have been so hard for you," she said.
"Ginger's parents came to see me a few times," Frey revealed. "They say they don't blame me and that they forgive me. That it was an accident and nothing more. But it doesn't make it any easier."
"I can imagine," Pepper sighed.
"No you can't," Frey replied coldly.
"It was a nice service," Pepper remarked.
"Nice?" Frey gave her a funny look.
"You know what I mean," she said awkwardly. "People gave warm and moving sermons and tributes. The music was wonderful. A lot of people came."
"Do you blame me?" Frey wanted to know, not looking her in the eyes.
"Of course not," she assured him forcefully. "It was an accident. I'm just glad you're alive."
"What about Ginger?" Frey groaned. "She's not alive."
"I know," Pepper acknowledged, her eyes filling with tears. "I miss her all the time."
Pepper had known Ginger longer than Frey. They met in kindergarten at Hillsboro Elementary but the Lincolns didn't move into the neighborhood until sixth grade. Ginger was a happy, cheerful, and pretty girl with an electric personality so it was easy to become fast friends with her. Ginger was the striking blonde while Pepper was more of the girl next door type with dark brown hair and a friendly smile.
Ginger became more popular than Pepper as the years progressed, Ginger growing like a tall weed and staying razor thin while Pepper's height stumped a few inches shorter and she had to watch what she ate to maintain her weight at an acceptable level (how ironic that she ended up working at the Pizza House!)
Pepper had the best of both worlds until that fateful summer day after Freshman year. She had a best girl friend in Ginger and a best guy friend in Frey and the three often hung out together as a threesome, at least until the Fourth of July that summer. Pepper knew know that Frey had always been – and still was - her first love, but Ginger's death complicated matters because Frey had clearly been crazy about Ginger even though he and Pepper remained friends after Ginger became a couple.
Pepper never told anybody about Ginger's double cross and she was pretty sure that Ginger took that awkward secret with her to her grave. Pepper wasn't sure if she had yet to forgive Ginger for stealing Frey away from her.
"Have you forgiven yourself, Frey?" Pepper asked as she brushed some of her tears away.
"I don't know," he admitted sadly. "It's not something that ever goes away."
"Losing the love of your life?"
"Being responsible for killing someone," he clarified.
"It was an accident," she reminded him.
"I was driving the car," he replied.
"The truck crossed the center lane."
"Doesn't matter," Frey sighed.
"Maybe not," Pepper reluctantly agreed as she continued to stare at him. "How come you never wrote back?"
He looked blankly at her.
"How come you never answered my letters or cards?"
"I didn't know what to say," he admitted with a shrug. "I was just trying to get through each friggin' day. I was busted up pretty bad."
Pepper remembered the long list of injuries. Fractured scull. Ruptured spleen. Punctured lung. Internal bleeding. Kidney damage. Broken collarbone. Two broken wrists. Two shattered ankles. Leg injuries. Nerve damage.
"A lot of surgeries and rehabs and therapy and hard physical work," Frey was saying. "Plus I was messed up in the head. I thought I'd been in that place for like three weeks. When my mother told me it had been three months I couldn't believe it. That's how out of it I was."
"I'm sorry," Pepper sighed. "It must have been so hard."
"I'll never feel sorry for myself, though," Frey vowed.
"Because you're alive?" She guessed.
He nodded affirmatively. "They said I had survivor's guilt. And PTSD. And depression. I'd get angry. Act out. Throw stuff. Swear and cuss. I was an asshole."
"It's understandable," Pepper remarked. "Your mom told me you went through a lot to make it back physically."
"I'm not sure if I'll ever make it all the way back mentally and emotionally though," Frey admitted. "I have to make up the last semester of school. I missed graduation."
"We had two empty chairs there," Pepper said. "One for Ginger and one for you."
Frey looked incredibly sad as he sat on the foot of his bed. Pepper wanted to hug him and hold him and tell him everything would be okay but she really didn't know if that was true or not. She wanted to tell him she loved him but he was six months behind in his grief and now was probably not a good time to make such a confession. Not when he was mourning Ginger as if she had died yesterday instead of six months ago.
"I guess I should get going," Pepper sighed as she stood. "I just wanted to see you, Frey. I've been thinking about you and praying for your recovery."
"Thanks," he said as he got off the bed. "I'll walk you out."
Pepper started for the door and she was surprised when Frey grabbed her by the arm, twirled her around, pushed her back against the closed door and kissed her with a ferociousness she had never felt before. Then he reached his hand up under her chin and cupped her face as he kissed her again.
"Frey…" she moaned into his mouth as she burst out with a new set of confused tears, not sure if she was delighted or mortified by his unexpected display of emotions.
Frey pressed himself against her as he continued to kiss her with an intensity that actually frightened her. Was he venting his anger and frustration in a bizarre way or was he desperately seeking solace, comfort and companionship through Ginger's best friend?
"Frey…" She said again as the tears freely flowed from her eyes, steaming down her cheeks. "What are you doing?"
He wrapped his arm around her waist and squeezed her against him as she continued to cry, now uncontrollably with a variety of buried emotions and confused feelings rushing out of her like a fast flowing flooding river. She was able to see through her tears that Frey's eyes were wet too but there was also something else in them – a look of want and need and loneliness and pain and hurt and sorrow and regret and shame and vulnerability.
Pepper raised her hand to his face and wiped some of his tears away and he didn't resist the gesture.
"Don't be so angry," she whispered as she gently kissed his lips.
"It's hard not to be," he sighed as he embraced her, burying his face into her neck.
"I know," she mumbled into the side of his head.
"I hate it," Frey groaned.
"Me too," she sobbed.
Frey pressed himself hard into her, nearly squashing her against the door. She slipped her hands beneath his tee shirt and gently rubbed his stomach, slowly inching up to his chest. He lifted his head up and looked into her eyes with a pleading SOS cry for help.
"Pepper," he whimpered and she loved hearing him say her name like that.
She leaned up and kissed him before using both her hands to lift his tee shirt up over his head. Pepper was momentarily shocked to see the scars, marks, dents and potholes all over his upper torso and that caused her to burst out into tears once again, unable to imagine the suffering he had gone through during his physical recovery.
"Sorry for the ugliness," He sighed.
"No," she said, moving her head down to kiss one of his scars. "You're beautiful."
Pepper could feel his heart vibrating on her lips and she gave slow and gentle kisses all across his chest and ribs. She was surprised yet flattered when she felt his erection bulging inside his gym shorts rubbing against her stomach and she gladly welcomed his caressing hands as they explored her sides, working their way inside her shirt and up her torso, eventually releasing her bra which fell to the floor as she continued to kiss every mark on his upper body.
Pepper didn't protest when Frey pulled her red Hillsboro Pizza tee shirt off over her head to reveal her breasts which she used as an imaginary sponge patting the various scars and other marks on his body. She's the one who unfastened the button on her khaki shorts and let them fall to the floor and she used her hands to tug down his shorts that slowly slipped down past his swollen and scarred knee caps, revealing scar material on his thighs and it was only then - as he kicked off his sandals - that Pepper saw his disfigured toes and the scars along both ankles with what looked to be a metal plate on one of his discolored shins.
They stood in their underwear, Pepper topless as she moved her face back up to his and kissed him, feeling sad for his battered body and everything he had gone through and wondering if she should stop this right here and now out of respect for Ginger. But Frey was kissing her with such passion and emotion that she was left breathless even as the tears began to flow again. Frey had his hands down the back of her panties feeling her rump and she wiggled her hips to signal him to remove the panties which he did and finally she was naked in front of him, something she never thought would happen even in her wildest fantasies.
Pepper finally broke from him, turning and walking to the bed, falling on her stomach and then rolling over to expose herself for him to see. Frey pulled down his underwear and Pepper stared at him, noticing that his groin area was about the only spot on his entire body that wasn't scarred, potted, or otherwise marred.
Frey went to the bedside table, opening the bottom drawer and digging out a box of condoms. It occurred to Pepper that Frey most likely made love to Ginger in this very bed but she didn't want to think about that even though she started sniffling more as she watched Frey put the condom on and then carefully fall on the bed, slowly kissing Pepper all over her body including licking away her tears before he finally climbed on top of her and had sex with his dead girlfriend's best friend.
Pepper knew it was wrong and foolish to be doing this no matter how long she previously thought about Frey in this way. Her overpowering need to be alive with Frey struck her as a logical way to deal with the reality of Ginger's death. Even as she cried in the sorrow of loss and grief, Pepper moaned with excitement and pleasure as she rocked underneath Frey. Whatever guilt she felt was lost in the joy of the moment. She screamed out at the moment of fulfillment while at the same time crying in sorrow and she clung to Frey when he fell on top of her, spent and drained from his unaccustomed physical exertion.
Neither moved for the longest time but Pepper knew it was only a matter of time before one or both of Frey's parents came home from work.
"I should go," she whispered into his ear as his face was planted in the pillow above her shoulder.
"Please don't." It almost sounded like he was crying too but his voice was muffled by the pillow so she couldn't be sure.
"I don't think your mother would want to find us naked on your bed," Pepper said.
Frey sighed with resignation and rolled off of her, tuned on his side looking at her. "Are you okay?" He worried.
"How could we have done this to her?" Pepper asked, bursting out in a whole new level of sobbing crying.
"We did this for us," Frey said, kissing her on the cheek before taking off the condom and tossing it into the wastebasket.
Panicked, Pepper jumped up from the bed and began to gather her clothes from the floor. "Oh my God, Oh My God, Oh My God!" she cried.
"Pepper, don't think about it," Frey told her as he sat up on the bed, covering his lap with the pillow. "This was necessary."
"Necessary?" She asked with disbelief as she hurriedly dressed. "What are you talking about?"
"I'm just saying that we shouldn't regret this," Frey said. "We needed it."
"It's the ultimate betrayal," Pepper insisted.
"I'm not sure if you can betray a dead person," Frey remarked.
"We're betraying her memory," Pepper said, completely dressed now. "I have to go."
"We were always friends, Pep," Frey reminded her. "Wasn't this the natural progression of that?"
She stood frozen by the door staring at him, not sure what to think or how to respond to any of this. She knew it was unfair to blame him for what had just happened but the guilt and shame she was suddenly feeling was overwhelming.
"Look…" He sighed with exasperation. "Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe we let our grief and mourning get the best of us...or the worse of us...or whatever, but you want to know something?"
She looked at him, waiting for his answer.
"I don't care," he announced. "I was half dead. I was depressed. I was lonely. I was miserable. I was defeated. You're the only person who could possibly know how it's felt because I loved her and you loved her and now we're here comforting each other. I'm sorry, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
Pepper's mouth dropped at his proclamation. "We shouldn't have done it," she told him, starting to feel freaked out.
Frey stared at her with sadness in his eyes. "I'm sorry you feel that way."
"I've really got to go," She whimpered, feeling the tears come one more time as she finally bolted from the room, leaving the damaged and sad faced Frey behind naked on his bed with a pillow covering his privates.
Pepper struggled for the next days with the guilt of her actions. She put on a brave face when she got home, able to sneak into the bathroom and freshen up before seeing her parents. She told them during dinner that she had seen Frey and that he appeared to be doing well all things considered. Her parents were sympathetic and understanding knowing Pepper was probably thinking about Ginger having seen Frey again.
But Pepper was convinced that she had betrayed Ginger and that her behavior was inexcusable. She never should have stopped at Frey's house knowing how vulnerable they both were and how long she dreamed of the chance to be with him. She thought with Ginger gone it would be easy to take back what she believed was rightfully hers (she liked him first) but as soon as she saw Frey removing the condom from his penis she was struck by the terrible reality of what they had done.
Pepper cried herself to sleep that night and she woke up the next morning exhausted. She went to work with her game face on but inside she was traumatized and conflicted, sorry (but not really) that she had slept with Frey and guilt ridden for her betrayal of Ginger in death. And yet she desperately wanted to see Frey again as strange as that reality felt to her. She felt awful for what they had done while at the same time missing him and strangely wanting to be with him like that again. She was the one who was messed up in the head, she realized.
Did Pepper owe Ginger anything in death? Her loyalty? Her honor? Her commitment to the memory of their friendship? Respecting the relationship Ginger had with Frey? Or did life go on without Ginger? Did Frey and Pepper deserve the chance to be together? Pepper felt torn between her want for Frey and her devotion to Ginger.
Every time the phone rang at the pizza place Pepper hoped it would be Frey calling for a meatball grinder but it never was. Several days went by and Pepper realized that Frey would not be back. She had shamed him and he probably blamed himself for what happened between them that upset her so. But she still didn't know why she was so upset because making love to Frey was the one thing she had always wanted to do in the first place. So she drove to Frey's house again one afternoon after work and once again she found herself ringing his doorbell.
Frey opened the door and she could see that he was genuinely surprised to see her on the front step.
"I liked you first," Pepper announced.
"What?" He asked with confusion.
"I liked you before Ginger did."
"What are you talking about?"
"I liked you the moment I saw you," she said.
"I liked you too," Frey replied.
"That's not what I mean," Pepper groaned.
"What do you mean?" Frey asked, still confused.
"I mean I really liked you from the start," Pepper clarified. "Like in dream of you at night like. Like wet dream like. Like masturbate at night like."
Frey stared at her with wide eyes.
"Ginger knew that," Pepper revealed. "I told her. That's when she decided she wanted to like you too. And she asked you to the fireworks."
"Oh," Frey said, still staring at her.
"And now she's dead."
"Yeah," Frey sighed.
"And I don't know what to do about it," Pepper confessed.
"Why don't you come in?" Frey suggested.
She was crying even before she reached his bedroom and Frey closed the door behind them.
"It's okay," he said and he held her and soon he was kissing her and before she knew it they were naked together on his bed and she tried not to think about Ginger when he put his condom on
""I….. I…." she sputtered but he cut her off by kissing her as they lay together on the bed in the nude.
"Don't say anything," he pleaded.
"But what about Ginger?" Pepper fretted.
"Ginger snapped and she's not here," Frey nearly sobbed and Pepper didn't say another word as they made love for the second time, each of them desperate not to think about Ginger as they consoled each other in the here and now because they were alive and they were together and it seemed that was all that mattered – to be able to feel something other than sorrow and guilt.
When they were finished, Frey rolled off of Pepper and they lay side by side trying to figure out what just happened - again. Pepper was asking herself why she was so willing to betray Ginger a second time and why it happened so easily.
"Do you think this is just grief sex?" Pepper asked, turning her head to look at him. "Comfort sex?"
"No," Frey replied confidently. "This is 'we're alive' sex."
"Are you sure we're just not using each other…to forget?" She worried.
"You said you liked me," He reminded her.
"I do," she confirmed and Frey reached out and held her hand in his as they lay on the bed side by side staring up at the ceiling.
"I liked you too," he told her.
"Really?" She asked with surprise.
"But Ginger asked first," he said.
"She stole you from me," Pepper revealed bitterly.
"It doesn't matter now," Frey said.
"Yes it does," Pepper sighed as she rolled off the bed, found her clothes on the floor and began to dress.
"Because she's dead?" Frey asked painfully.
Pepper let out a long sigh as she stared at Frey who once again covered himself with a pillow now that Pepper was no longer naked. "Yes, Frey, because she's dead."
She smiled sadly and then left the room realizing the awful truth. Ginger was dead and that fact would never change. The only question now was could Pepper live with that reality without feeling as guilty as hell whenever she got naked with Frey (which was twice now).
Pepper thought about Frey's comment about how Ginger had asked him first. Had Pepper been foolish not to act on her feelings sooner? Why did she hesitate to tell Frey how she really felt about him? She assumed it was because she didn't want to wreck their friendship and now she realized that she had been naïve to tell Ginger how she truly felt because Ginger was always competitive in their friendship. Pepper never understood this because Ginger was certainly the prettier of the two, more popular too and constantly flirting with the guys at school while Pepper had been more reserved and cautious.
But Pepper was definitely smarter than Ginger who felt semi-stereotyped as the dumb blond even though she really wasn't that ditsy although sometimes she played that part up to get more attention and popularity. Maybe Ginger was waiting for Frey to ask her out and when she realized that Pepper liked him she moved first to get what she wanted. Ginger usually got what she wanted. Her parents were well off and Ginger was spoiled and pampered while Pepper's parents were more traditional (even though they made good money too) and they expected Pepper to be independent and self-sufficient.
Pepper realized that two out of the three times she had seen Frey since his return they got naked and had sex, almost immediately. On her next day off, she stopped by Frey's house in the morning hoping to spend some quality time with him before they got rid of their clothes and hopped into bed together. She rang the bell and Frey appeared at the door.
"What do you do all day?" Pepper asked.
"School work," Frey replied. "I cut a deal so I could make up the semester now instead of going back in the fall for a half a year."
"Do you need any help?" Pepper offered. "I'm a pretty good student."
He smiled and Pepper was pretty sure it was the first honest and true smile she had seen from him since his return. "Come in," he said warmly and Pepper followed him to his room where several books were spread out on the desk and bed. Pepper took a seat on the couch and reviewed some of Frey's already completed work while he worked on an essay on the computer.
"I generally last only four or five hours a day before I get fatigued," Frey revealed. "I had some glass in my right eye so it tires easily and I'm vulnerable to headaches because of the accident, sometimes migraines."
"I'm sorry," Pepper said with sympathy.
"But I think I'm on schedule and progressing well with the work," he said proudly.
Pepper pointed out a few areas that Frey might want to amend or re-write and soon it was lunch time.
"Would you like to have lunch with me?" Frey asked.
"That would be nice," Pepper smiled.
They went into the kitchen and Frey made them a couple of turkey sandwiches with iced tea and chips. They sat at the breakfast counter and ate together but not talking much. Pepper was pretty sure it was because of the pall of Ginger that hung over them. Ginger had most likely sat on the very stool Pepper was now seated on and Frey had certainly made her lunch too.
"Pepper," Frey said quietly but she was afraid to look at him. "We're alive," he told her softly. "It's okay."
She sighed and closed her eyes trying to keep Ginger out of her thoughts.
"We just have to get through this," Frey said. "I have to get through this. But it helps having you around."
Pepper finally looked at him. "I wish it had been different," she said finally.
"I do too," Frey agreed and Pepper fell into him, burying her face in the crook of his neck.
Frey brought his hand to her cheek, rubbing it softly and with gentleness. "It's not your fault," he whispered. "This is my cross to bear."
"You still don't feel guilty about what we've done?" She asked.
"I already told you before," he said. "I wish you wouldn't regret this so much."
"I can't help it," Pepper sighed.
He embraced her tighter. "Stop obsessing about her."
"I'm not," Pepper insisted. "I just think about her. A lot."
"Maybe too much," Frey observed.
"Don't you?" She asked before even thinking.
"For different reasons," he said heavily and Pepper felt remorse for being so foolishly insensitive.
"I'm sorry, Frey," she said. "I didn't mean it that way."
"We're both having a hard time with this," Frey replied. "But for different reasons." Frey kissed her gently. "Try not to think so much," He advised as he continued to kiss her.
Pepper sucked in her breath and kissed him back.
They cleaned up from lunch and returned to his bedroom where they worked on his studies, Pepper reading aloud to Frey when his eyes began to blur and he became fatigued. He was stretched out on his bed like a little boy listening to his mommy reading him a bedtime story.
Pepper was still reading to him when Frey's mother stepped into the room hours later, thrilled to see that her son had a visitor.
"Pepper!" She nearly screamed.
Pepper stood and gave Mrs. Lincoln a warm hug, happy to see her again. They made small talk for a few minutes, Mrs. Lincoln giving Pepper an update on Frey's progress and positive attitude and commenting on how wonderful it was to see her.
"You come over anytime you want too," Mrs. Lincoln told her. "You are always welcomed here."
"Thanks," Pepper smiled with affection. "It's nice to be here."
Mrs. Lincoln left and Frey was grinning as he stood from the bed. "You're always welcomed here," he repeated happily.
Pepper smiled and gave him an affectionate kiss goodbye. 'Thanks for a wonderful day," she said.
Pepper was intrigued that they had spent the whole day together without getting naked and having sex.
"It was nice," Frey agreed as he held her hand for a moment.
"Maybe we can go out and do something sometime," Pepper suggested.
"I'm still not comfortable going out much," Frey admitted. "It feels like people are talking about me. Hillsboro is a small town and people know who I am and what happened and I don't want to hear the whispers or gossip about how I'm the one who caused the Ginger snap."
"Well, maybe when you're ready," Pepper replied with understanding before leaving his room.
Pepper was friendly with Barb and a few other girls at work but she knew she'd never replace the friendship that she had experienced with Ginger. The last semester after Ginger died was painfully tough. Her other friends tried to be there for Pepper but it just wasn't the same and Pepper withdrew from her social circles and mostly hid out in the library and student newspaper office.
She managed to get through graduation although the empty chair tribute to Ginger was very emotional. She missed Frey terribly and worried about him, hoping he would be okay and not permanently crippled, maimed, or messed up in the head because of the accident and what happened to Ginger.
Except for her job at the pizza place, Pepper really wasn't all that much different than Frey. She spent plenty of time at home and she didn't have much of a social life, mostly by choice. Her friends stopped calling and that was okay with her. But she missed Ginger all the time, sometimes seeing her in a crowd of people and constantly being reminded of her. Pepper had been hurting for a long time which was one of the reasons why she so easily fell into bed with Frey. But Ginger was still dead and Pepper was still haunted by guilt, sorrow and loss, meshed with a desire to be with Frey – naked and in his bed.
So it was no big surprise when she was ringing Frey's doorbell after work a few days later. He was happy to see her when he opened the door and she reviewed some of the school work he had completed that day, both of them seated on the bed, Frey so close to her that she could feel his breath on her cheek.
'Good work," Pepper said when she was done scanning the material and Frey leaned in and kissed her in reply.
Pepper was happy to kiss him back, smirking though the kisses as she kept her eyes open and peered into his eyes.
"It feels like you're looking right into my soul," he said, his eyes fixated on her.
Pepper never remembered how she ended up naked when she was Frey. It just seemed to happen – almost magically and instantly and she never felt shy, timid or vulnerable in the nude in front of him so there they were rolling on the bed together, melded together as one. She let him feel her breasts and she wrapped her legs around his waist as he thrust his hips into her, making her breath labored.
"Pepper," Frey whispered as he kissed her.
"Oh, Frey," Pepper gasped as she once again lost herself in the sex.
This time when she left Frey's house, beating herself up for betraying Ginger while at the same time feeling loved and comforted by Frey, Pepper headed for the cemetery instead of going home.
She didn't visit Ginger's grave as much as she did in months following the accident and this was her first time back since Frey came home. Pepper was already crying when she got out of the car, feeling remorse and sadness as she knelt by the gravestone weeping uncontrollably.
"I love you, Ginger," she sobbed.
When she helped Frey study a few days later, Pepper had to ask the question from where she sat on the couch reading some of his work.
"Have you been to the cemetery?" She wondered.
Frey glanced up from his book where he sat on the bed, caught off guard by her unexpected question. "Once," he mumbled quietly. "Late one night."
"Did it help?" Pepper asked.
"She's not there," Frey sighed. "Maybe her bones in a box in the ground under a stone, but not her soul. She's elsewhere."
"I used to bring flowers," Pepper said. "Balloons sometimes. But I stopped."
"How come?" Frey asked gently.
"I can visit her anytime," Pepper explained, her eyes tearing up. "In my heart and in my thoughts."
"That's a good thing," Frey said.
"You think of her, right?"
"Yes, I think of her," Frey confirmed with a sigh.
"I hope you remember the good things," Pepper said with a sad smile.
"No point remembering the bad things," Frey replied with a nod.
"Were there bad things?" Pepper asked with surprise.
"Andy Thompson," Frey answered.
Pepper frowned. "Andy Thompson?" she said with confusion. "He was at the service. An absolute basket case that day. I couldn't understand why he was such a mess."
"I think Ginger was getting ready to dump me for him," Frey revealed.
"What!?" Pepper said, caught clueless. "That can't be true."
"She was cheering for the basketball team, remember?" Frey sighed. "He was named captain of the team and he was destined to have a star season. I think something was going on between them"
"She would have told me," Pepper insisted.
"You sure?" Frey asked, raising his eyebrows. "Knowing that you liked me first?"
Pepper chewed on her bottom lip as she considered his theory. There was the time she saw Ginger and Andy nestled together under the stairwell between periods one day. And the time Ginger blew Pepper off for a girl's night out only to learn a few days later that Ginger had been spotted at the movies with Andy. Even that night of the party a few days before the accident, Ginger had skipped out for a while which was one of the reasons why Pepper and Frey ended up teasing each other about Notre Dame football for a while. Had Ginger slipped out with Thompson?"
"That complicates the grief process, doesn't it?" Pepper sighed.
"Slightly," Frey sighed. "It also adds to the mystery."
"What do you mean?" Pepper asked, peering at him.
"Well, since I can't remember anything before or after the accident, who the hell knows what happened? Did we have a fight on the ski slopes? Were we arguing on the way home? Did she break up with me in the car?"
"It was an accident, Frey," a horrified Pepper said, her voice breaking. "Don't you ever for even one second think it was anything else."
"I wouldn't have tried to kill myself over it if that's what you're thinking," Frey said with annoyance.
"And you wouldn't have tried to kill her either, right?" Pepper foolishly asked.
Frey looked at her with shock written all over his face. "Jesus Christ, Pep."
"I'm sorry," Pepper said, dismayed that she had said such a cruel remark. "That was awful."
Frey's face was askew and stricken. "How could you think such a thing?"
"Look, we're both struggling with all of this," Pepper cried, her frustration and confusion spilling out in the form of tears. "We're both obviously hurting. I didn't mean to say that."
"But you did," Frey said, hurt in his voice.
Pepper jumped off the couch and rushed to him on the bed falling in his lap as she plopped on the bed and kissed him. "Just pretend I didn't say anything."
"But you did," Frey said again, his voice distant and pained.
"Frey," Pepper sighed. "I'm so sorry."
"Maybe I've done enough school work for today," Frey replied, getting off the bed. "Thanks for coming over."
"Frey," Pepper pleaded as she stood too. "You know I wouldn't say or do anything to hurt you."
"Why don't you just go, Pep," Frey suggested. "I'm going to rest now. I'm feeling kind of wiped out."
He opened the door to the bedroom and made a gesture for her to leave.
"I want to stay," she said desperately.
"You need to go," Frey told her.
Pepper wiped the tears from her cheeks. "I love you," she said, her voice breaking.
Frey didn't respond so Pepper walked out of his room, his house, and presumably his life. She didn't blame him for being upset. It was a thoughtless, cruel, and stupid thing to say but there was nothing she could do about it now. Just when she thought she had Frey in her life the way she always wanted she had dropped a nuclear bomb and she was crushed.
Now Pepper had the double whammie of grieving Ginger all over again while mourning the loss of what could have been with Frey. Pepper moped around for a few days feeling sorry for herself and missing Frey and what they started to have but she knew she had no choice but to drag herself through the days. Ironically, in the past, these were the kind of moments when Pepper would go to Ginger for comfort, advice, solace, and together time. There had been other guys that didn't work out and Ginger was always there to get Pepper through the misery, pain and rejection. Now Pepper was truly on her own.
It was a hot and humid summer's evening and Pepper decided to take a long stroll to try to clear her head. Her stroll eventually took her past Beano Field and she smiled at the sight. The old neighborhood ball park was home to the amateur Serguci baseball league, one of Frey's favorite hangouts in younger days. He was a pretty good ball player and he always said he would play in the league after high school. That dream, of course, was over now with Frey's damaged eye sight and broken body.
It was the adolescent Frey who liked to ride his bike to the ballpark on summer nights and Ginger and Pepper often tagged along, learning the game from him and waiting to catch foul balls from their seats in the stands. Pepper smiled at the memory and she decided to go into the park and catch a few innings of whatever ball game was being played. It had been a few years since she had seen a game and nostalgia was her calling.
The ballpark wasn't very crowded. Pepper recognized the uniforms of the Browns and Beansters, the two Hillsboro teams in the eight team league. Frey always wanted to play for the Browns because the team originated in their hilltop neighborhood. Pepper sat in the stands behind home plate and took in her surroundings. She caught sight of a guy sitting in the third base side seats and she knew it was Frey, even with his ball cap and sun glasses. She felt incredibly sad but as she sat there she realized how stupid it was to be sitting so far away from somebody she knew so Pepper changed seats, walking through the stands to the third base line and hopping up the steps to where Frey was sitting. She sat about five feet away from him on the bench seat and watched the game.
Neither spoke to the other and three innings passed. With each pitched ball and swung bat, Pepper became more emotional and upset as she thought about the situation she found herself in - a dead best friend and now an estranged potential boyfriend. She thought about all the good times the three had shared and how simple, uncomplicated and easy life seemed to be back then. She thought of the loss she and Ginger's family suffered through and all the obstacles Frey endured working his way back from his critical condition comatose injuries. She thought of their lovemaking and how comforted and supported she felt and how she ruined everything by saying something as unconscionable as the unfortunate crack she made that day in Frey's bedroom.
The tears were streaming down her face now as Pepper sat watching the game feeling like she had truly hit bottom.
"Don't you remember Tom Hanks' line in 'A League Of Their Own' ?" It was Frey who had slid down the bench closer to her. "There's no crying in baseball."
"I'm not crying about baseball," Pepper mumbled, wiping some of the tears away with the back of her hand.
"I know," Frey sighed.
"Please don't hate me," Pepper blurted out. "I just can't deal with it."
"I don't hate you," Frey said
Pepper knew there wasn't any point apologizing for what she said all over again so she didn't. She didn't need to. Frey could see how miserable she was. So she sat watching the ball game with him by her side, Pepper pretending everything was the way it was supposed to be even though she had no idea how things were supposed to be anymore. Not since Ginger snapped like a twig, crushed by the truck smashing into her side of the car.
"I'm sorry you can't play," Pepper said as they watched the game.
"This is the first time I've been here since the accident," Frey said with sorrow in his voice. "I don't know why I came."
Pepper continued watching the game without saying anything.
"Do you still come to games?" Frey asked after a few pitches were thrown.
"No, this is the first time for me in a long time," Pepper replied. "I was just walking by and I felt the urge to go in."
"I needed to get out of the house," Frey explained. "It's been more lonelier than usual since you stopped coming by."
"I didn't think you wanted me coming by anymore," Pepper said.
"Yeah, that was pretty dumb of me," Frey admitted. "Sorry about that."
"I understand," Pepper said bravely.
"I understand too," Frey sighed. "I know we're both having a hard time with all of this."
"Strange how we both ended up here on the same night for the same reason," Frey noted.
"What reason is that?" Pepper asked.
"Memories," Frey said, glancing around the ballpark.
"Nice memories," Pepper smiled
The Browns beat the Beansters 8-2. Frey was impressed that Pepper was willing to stay until the last out of a lopsided game and he complimented her baseball dedication as they walked out of Beano Field when it was over.
"I would have loved staying to the end watching you play," Pepper smiled.
"I try to focus on what I can do instead of what I can't," Frey replied.
He was walking them toward the parking lot across the street. "Would you like a ride home?" He offered. "I can't walk very far so I drove."
"Sure," Pepper agreed.
Frey led her to a late model silver Cadillac. "It's my grandmother's," he explained. "I don't drive much so I'm in no hurry to get another car of my own."
"Yeah," Pepper said knowing why he wasn't interested in driving much these days.
It was a relatively quick drive back to the hilltop neighborhood. The Whites lived in one of the older and larger Victorians, theirs painted a bright purple for as long as Frey could remember. Pepper said her dad wanted their house to "stand out"!
"Well, good night," Frey said when he pulled into the driveway.
"Would you like to visit for a while?" Pepper boldly asked, hoping to further mend the fence she had blown a hole through. "Nobody's home."
"Nobody's home?" Frey asked with surprise.
"My parents are at a wedding on the cape, my sister is working at Summer Beach, and my brother is on his summer midshipmen's cruise," Pepper explained. "I'm alone for the weekend."
"I guess I could stay for a little while," Frey said.
They got out of the car and Pepper led him around back, through the gate to the backyard that featured their built in swimming pool. It was dark except for the lights in the pool. It was still humid though and Pepper was sweaty from sitting in the stands watching the game.
"I was thinking a cool dip would be nice," she said with a smile.
Ginger and Frey had been in the pool with Pepper plenty of times but never naked which was the idea Pepper had now as she calmly stripped out her shorts and halter top and stepped naked into the water using the large steps at the shallow end of the pool.
"In all the years I've lived here, I've never skinny dipped before," She told Frey, glancing at him over her shoulder as she slipped into the water.
"I'm honored," Frey replied as he stripped out of his clothes and followed her naked into the pool. "A lot of my physical therapy was done in a pool," he revealed. "Never naked though," he grinned.
Pepper swam to the edge on the deep end and it didn't take Frey long to catch up with her. She rested with her back against the wall, using her hands on the pool's lip to anchor her in place. Frey tread water in front of her, his face close to hers.
"The water feels good," he said.
"Very nice," she agreed. "Refreshing."
"Soothing," Frey smiled.
"So, are we going to be okay?" Pepper worried.
"With time," Frey said, resting his forehead against hers.
Pepper wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. Frey turned them in the water and his feet found the edge of the side of the pool so he could hold her above the water as she pressed herself against him and they stared into each other's eyes.
They made love like that, in the water, this time with no condom but Pepper assured him it was okay - she wouldn't be ovulating for a couple more weeks. Pepper didn't cry or think about Ginger. This wasn't about Ginger so much anymore. It was about Frey and Pepper trying to find their way through the emotional minefield in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy.
When they were done, Pepper led him from the pool to the bathhouse where they dried off. They then walked naked into the house and to her bedroom where Frey spent the night, cuddled with Pepper under the covers of her bed holding her and being held as they both tried to comfort each other once again.
"Do you think we can make it together?" Pepper softly asked him in the dark of her room.
"I think we should try," Frey replied.
They were facing each other in the bed and Frey rubbed his hand along the side of her face.
"Do you think you can be happy again?" She asked.
"I want to be," he said.
"Even with Ginger imprinted in our psyches?"
"She'll always be a part of us, Pep," Frey told her. "There's no point fighting it. We're better off accepting it and learning to live with it."
"I still feel guilty," Pepper sighed. "About liking you first. And loving you now. And her not being here."
"It will get easier," Frey promised. "We're both healing. Slowly but surely."
He gently kissed her with sympathy and warmth and Pepper couldn't help but feel her eyes fill with tears again. She had been crying more in the weeks since Frey came back into her life than she had in the weeks following Ginger's death - maybe she was too numb and frozen to cry as much back then and the recent tears were all those suppressed emotions finally coming to the surface - her guilt, her grief, and especially her love - for both Ginger and Frey.
Frey held her tight while she sobbed uncontrollably in his arms and it was a good half hour before she was finally able to pull her emotions together and quiet the weeping.
"I'm sorry," Pepper apologized yet again when she was able to speak coherently. "I didn't mean to become so emotional."
Frey cupped her face in his hands and rubbed his nose against hers. "It's okay," he whispered.
"Why?" Pepper asked.
"Because I love you," he answered.
Pepper helped Frey finish his high school credits to earn his diploma. He attended Blue County Community College in the fall while she was a day student at Green College in Greenville. She kept her job at the pizza house and Frey worked there as a delivery driver, slowly getting his confidence back behind the wheel. On the first anniversary of Ginger's death, Pepper and Frey spent the weekend in Boston to get away from the memories and reminders - at least for a few days.
They married after Pepper graduated from college. She worked as a social worker, helping adolescents deal with death and loss while Frey purchased a local driving school making sure his students heard his story and learned about Ginger snapped, the girl who went skiing one weekend and never came home.