A/N: I know I promised a sequel to The New Year, and one is in the works. This story, however, is a piece that came to me and seemed to write itself. It's set immediately after "The Countdown" and I will try to incorporate the new shows into future updates. This will probably be split into a few lengthy parts. Also, I am unfamiliar with California landmarks, and have twisted my same bit of knowledge to fit the story, so please bear with me!

Again, it's literati. Fox owns The O.C. characters and Leo Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina.

Please read and review!

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Summer Roberts tucked a loose strand of her dark hair back into her neat updo. She always wore her hair in a tight bun at the hospital, even though she wasn't required to do so. It just seemed more professional to appear sleek and clean when she was there - she would have felt self-conscious with her hair down.

The hospital was quiet this Friday night. She pushed the cart of donated books down the quiet halls, listening to the sound of the squeaky wheels. Summer had just added the Friday shift to her schedule, and the long-term care unit was glad to have her for a few more hours a week. She made excuses to Marissa, insisting that she needed to complete her community service hours for Harbor. This was a lie, of course. Summer already had worked more than double the amount of time required. She was hiding.

She slowed her steps as she approached door #541. Mr. Feinberg was one of her favorites to visit. She knocked on the door hesitantly, and the older man smiled when he saw her framed in the doorway.

"Summer!" Mr. Feinberg smiled broadly, and Summer couldn't suppress a small grin from sneaking across her lips. She pushed the cart into the room and sat down in the small chair next to the hospital bed.

"Hi, Mr. Feinberg." Summer reached out for the cart and curled her fingers around the worn leather volume that he had requested. She liked reading to him because he always seemed to understand the deeper meanings of every novel. Mr. Feinberg liked to read his favorite passages aloud to her, a special ritual that she enjoyed. No one had ever read to her before.

The white-haired man reached for his round wire-rim glasses on the bedside table, settling them over the bridge of his nose before winking at the young girl. "There we are." He leaned back into his pillows. "I have to have my glasses on when I have such a pretty visitor."

Summer blushed and unconsciously raised a hair to her head to be sure her hair was still secure. She hadn't felt pretty in a long time.

"You told me that you wanted to read Anna Karenina." Summer turned her attention to the book on her lap, opening the volume to the bookmark.

"Ah!" Mr. Feinberg cried out, and Summer looked up, concerned. He smiled. "Don't be so worried, my dear. This is exciting! This is my favorite book. You know, most literary critics agree that Tolstoy was excellent at writing women."

She smiled at him and shook her head. "Like any man could ever know," she retorted, and Mr. Feinberg guffawed. She opened the book. "Happy families- "

"I don't think so, my dear." Mr. Feinberg interrupted. He waved his hand at her, motioning for her to hand him the book. "I'll be reading this one." She protested and he shook his head. "Nope, darling, I'm reading the whole thing. This is a book to dream to, and you, my dear, are in need of some good dreams. I've seen that sad look in your eyes."

Summer knew better to argue with him; he was just as stubborn as she was. She acquiesced, handing him the book as he smiled about his victory. His voice rumbled as he began to read.

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Summer settled back into her chair and closed her eyes. Mr. Feinberg had lectured her many times about closing her eyes whenever someone read to her. He'd advised her to lose herself in the story, and although Summer was the queen of self-control, she enjoyed the escape.

The lull of the words swept over her, and she saw the story come to life before her eyes. And suddenly, Summer was drowning in the story as the words became familiar to her. She saw the characters as versions of people from her own life, with herself at the center, playing the part of Kitty. Probably because she's a princess, Summer observed wryly. But that wasn't it at all. Kitty was young, beautiful, the center of a wealthy and powerful society, playing the part that was demanded of her. Just like I did, Summer noted. Beneath all the trappings, no one understood Kitty truly, and she seemed to prefer to remain unknown. Just like I do, Summer observed.

Mr. Feinberg began to describe Levin, the simple, kind, honest man with curly hair. Seth, Summer's heart identified, and she breathed in deeply. The way Levin spoke with his nervous stutterings was painful familiar. She felt the way she had at midnight on New Year's Eve, lost and lonely and more afraid than she'd ever been in her life. She focused on Mr. Feinberg's words, searching for a way to understand her own life through the old novel.

"But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her."

"Why?" Summer blushed at her interrupted. Her voice sounded strange after listening to Mr. Feinberg read for so long. Mr. Feinberg looked at her thoughtfully.

"There's only one reason you'd ask me that question, my dear." He smiled softly. "Either you are a Levin, or you are a Kitty."

Summer felt exposed. The errant strand of hair escaped from her head again, but this time she made no effort to tuck it away. She leaned forward to the older man, confessing. "Kitty."

"And somewhere out there is a Levin." He nodded in understanding. He returned to the book, covering her hand with his own as he read.

"After spending two months in Moscow in a state of enchantment, seeing Kitty almost every day in society, into which he went so as to meet her, he abruptly decided that it could not be, and went back to the country. Levin's conviction that it could not be was founded on the idea that in the eyes of her family he was a disadvantageous and worthless match for the charming Kitty, and that Kitty herself could not love him."

"But why?" Summer's voice was more insistent now as she strained for answers. "Why wouldn't he try harder? Why would he just move on at the first obstacle?"

Mr. Feinberg looked up from the text. "My dear," he said softly, "There is no evidence that Kitty loves Levin. So he believes himself to be unworthy of her." He read aloud again.

"An ugly, good-natured man, as he considered himself, might, he supposed, be liked as a friend; but to be loved with such a love as that with which he loved Kitty, one would need to be a handsome and, still more, a distinguished man."

"You see," Mr. Feinberg said, "Levin is on the outside of this wealthy society, but even he had fallen victim to its rules of courtship. Even if Kitty would have him, he believes that he is only worthy of being her friend. And so, he offers her his friendship."

Summer recalled standing beside the Cohens' pool as Seth offered her his friendship. She felt a familiar chill run through her.

"But love-" Summer stumbled over the word, and then regained her thought. "But love isn't like that. It doesn't abide by society's rules, or at least, it shouldn't. If he really, truly loves her, why doesn't he tell her? Isn't it worth the risk?" She asked the question aloud to Mr. Feinberg, and it resonated within her, and she asked herself the question, already knowing the answer. Isn't it worth the risk?

Mr. Feinberg smiled and turned his attention back to the novel. "Levin agrees with you, my dear. It is worth the risk."

He began to read again.

"But after spending two months alone in the country, he was convinced that this was not one of those passions of which he had had experience in his early youth; that this feeling gave him not an instant's rest; that he could not live without deciding the question, would she or would she not be his wife, and that his despair had arisen only from his own imaginings, that he had no sort of proof that he would be rejected. And he had now come to Moscow with a firm determination to make an offer, and get married if he were accepted. Or...he could not conceive what would become of him if he were rejected."

Mr. Feinberg closed the novel and looked up at Summer. Her eyes were closed and he wondered if she had fallen asleep. When she slowly opened her eyes, he noticed an unfamiliar glistening over her eyes. As if she felt it coming, she quickly wiped away a tear before it had the chance to travel down her cheek.

"More next time?" Summer asked hopefully.

Mr. Feinberg smiled with concern. "Of course."

Summer nodded and slid the book back onto the cart, making her way out of the room.

"Summer?"

She turned at the sound of her name.

"What you have to remember, my dear, is that what is important can't be said aloud." Mr. Feinberg looked at her thoughtfully, and spoke with a heaviness that grounded each word. "The very best things in life are communicated between the lines."

Summer nodded and turned around, pushing her cart down the hallway towards the elevator. When the doors opened, she pulled the cart inside and leaned against one of the walls. She suddenly felt exhausted.

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Later that evening at home, Summer shifted in her bed. The thought of Seth Cohen haunted her at night, and she was having another one of her restless evenings. She glanced at her clock. 11:47. It was late, but not by Newport standards. She stretched out on her mattress, unsure of what to do. She couldn't sleep, and as usual, she was alone at her house. She recalled that Marissa was going to a concert with Chino, so calling her wasn't an option. Summer's skin prickled, and on impulse she stood up and began to dress. She pulled on an old pair of Seven jeans and a loose white oxford blouse. It wasn't normally her style, different than the brightly colored miniskirts she usually wore, but for some reason the white button down always made her feel comfortable. She slid her feet into a pair of sandals and ran out the door to her Lexus.

Summer was already feeling silly as she arrived in Santa Monica. She'd been driving for some time and had ended up here. At least the stores are still open, she thought ruefully. The Third Street Promenade was hosting a Midnight Madness event, and the streets reverberated with loud musical beats. She made her way through the crowd, anxious to see the band playing.

Rooney, she recognized. A band of boys with curly dark hair. Like she needed another reminder of Seth. She turned away from the stage, preparing to head into BCBG when she heard someone calling her name.

She turned and smiled broadly. "Coop!" Summer squealed out in delight and hugged her friend. "I am so glad to see you! This is the concert you were going to?"

"Yeah, they're good, don't you think?" Marissa smiled at her friend. "But you're not here for the band, are you?"

Summer furrowed her brow quizzically. "Um, no, I'm here for the shopping." Marissa was still smiling. Summer put her hands on her hips. "Coop, what is up with you? I'm going shopping, it's not like that's a new thing for me."

"Sure, you're just going shopping," Marissa teased, "You aren't here because-"

"Hey, tall one! This isn't a Laker game, you can't just move upcourt-" Seth pushed his way through the crowd with Ryan and Anna. He stopped abruptly when he saw Summer standing beside her.

Summer bit down on her lip and forced herself to breathe. Kitty would know what to do in this situation, she remembered from earlier, and she forced herself to smile brightly.

"Hi guys!" Her voice faltered a bit when she noticed that Seth and Anna were holding hands, but she drew herself up to her full height and continued. "Wow, it's so funny to see you here. I was just popping into BCBG to pick up something for Tom Seekin's party."

"Oh, you're going to that?" Marissa asked. "I thought you said that Newport parties weren't your thing anymore."

Summer laughed and pushed her friend gently. "Whatever, Coop! You know that Tom is, like, the coolest, hottest guy at Harbor." Her eyes met Seth's for a minute and she forced herself to keep up her Valley Girl charade. She raised her eyebrows at Anna. "Are you guys going?" she asked pointedly.

"We weren't really invited." Anna ran the toe of her shoe along the pavement as embarrassment crept over her face.

"Aw, that's too bad." Summer tilted her head to one side, ignoring Marissa's nudge to be nicer. Before she could stop herself, she said, "You know, I'm sure you could come if you wanted. No one will even notice you."

"Maybe we will." Seth stated bluntly. He stared at Summer and she felt her fa├žade melting away. Before her emotions were completely apparent, she turned away, dragging Marissa into BCBG with her.

"What was that all about?" Marissa hissed. "That was completely mean, even for you."

"I know." Summer toyed with the hem of a cocktail dress in the store. "I just don't know how to act around him without being completely pathetic."

"Well, you're going to have to figure it out." Marissa admired a silver skirt. "After all, we're all going to be at the party tomorrow."

Summer groaned. She pulled at the cuffs of her white oxford, wondering how she could follow Mr. Feinberg's advice to read between the lines when she kept making the text unreadable. She pulled a few items at random into the dressing room with her, looking at herself in the mirror.

Why didn't he want you, she asked herself. The hurt was even more acute when she remembered that he'd liked her for so long from afar. He didn't want the real you, a harsh voice told herself, he just wanted the fantasy.

She slid a red dress over her head and looked at herself again. She looked more like Summer, the Queen Bee of Newport now, she thought with a sad smile. And if I can't be the real Summer, this will have to do.