Thanks again for all the nice comments. I'm glad you guys are enjoying this! Though it can be a pill at times, I am definitely having a good time writing it! Here's the next part. More notes at the end so I don't spoil anything!

All of these quiet battered voices
Wait for the hunger to come
We got little revolvers and stupid choices
And no one to say when we're done
(Well, I don't want to bring you down)

(Catapult)

Grace sat on the steps leading to the Girardi house. The night was unseasonably warm, but a cold wind still ripped through the air. Grace hugged her arms around her body to fend off the biting breeze. The chill felt good. Numbing.

She stared up at the night sky. The atmosphere was clear tonight giving her an unobstructed view of the stars. Her eyes played connect-the-dots with the glowing orbs. It made her wonder who decided that everyone should see the hunter Orion and his faithful dogs instead of something else. She liked to map out her own patterns, create her own mythology to explain the heavens. Because, really, who knew just what was out there and why? Her eyes followed a satellite as it traced its path over the earth.

All this she did without thinking. The blissful detachment she felt served to restore some of her sanity. She'd once told Joan love felt like a breakdown. If only she had known then how much worse it could get.

The door to the house opened behind her. She knew it was him. Something about the way the hairs on the back of her neck stood up in his presence. She waited. He walked slowly over to her and sat down on the step below the one she sat on. He leaned back on her step, his arms just inches from her legs, but didn't look at her. They watched the sky.

After a long moment, he spoke: "And this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart."

She couldn't help the way the corners of her lips curled up at his words, at the gentle tone of his voice. "You gotta get a new line, Girardi," she teased.

"It's not a line, Grace," he whispered, sending a shiver through her body. She chanced a look at him. He was still mapping the stars with his eyes, calmly picking out various constellations with practiced ease. She wondered if he'd said those words at all.

Her eyes drifted closed. Damn him that he could still do this to her. Damn him quoting poetry. They spoke those lines to one another in sacred embraces and quiet moments under the sky. Hearing them again from him set the universe back nine years. It made her forget everything but the smell of him. (A new cologne, but still he smelled like science and coffee and comfort.) It made her forgot that a party was going on inside, a party that contained Science Barbie, whoever the hell she was. Run, Grace, run.

Physically, she stayed, but her words sought safer ground. "Don't they make you physics geeks take an oath when they hand over the fake doctor title? Forsake the laws of science by spouting hopelessly romantic poetry and face certain death?"

Their eyes met. Luke chuckled. "Yeah, something like that. Still, it's an intriguing theory."

Grace raised her eyebrows. "A theory that can be too easily refuted." She tore her eyes from Luke's and looked at the sky. "Stars burn for billions of years. Love? You're lucky if you get a couple good years, tops. No way is it keeping this whole thing going."

Luke's face lit up, excited by their theoretical argument. Just like old times, huh? "I don't know about that, Grace. Stars have a distinct life cycle. From the moment of their birth, they begin to die. Eventually their hydrogen will run out, nuclear fusion will cease. But love? It may fade over time but all it takes is an instant, a single moment, and it can be refueled. Reborn. To me, love seems like a constant. Something greater than the stars." He paused, then added somewhat sardonically, "It endures against both odds and reason." His gaze was heavy on her, searching for something.

Her breath caught in her throat; she felt her face go warm. Scared at the thought of what he might see in her, she forced her eyes to stay fixed on the empty street. Danger warnings sounded in her head.

Her hands were trembling. She picked at her sweater, trying to ignore the sign of weakness.

She chose her next words carefully. "They say that love shares the same neurochemical characteristics as the manic state of manic-depression." Grace paused, risking a look at her former boyfriend. His face was open, listening. I forgot how it feels to have someone so completely focused on you. She cracked a grin. "I always knew it had to be some sort of mental disorder."

Luke smiled back. "That would certainly explain a lot about Joan and Adam's relationship."

Grace laughed out loud. Whatever it was between them-- Sexual tension? Unrequited love? That moment had passed for now. The intensity between them seemed to dissipate, much to her relief, leaving a comfortable silence. Luke visibly relaxed. He stretched his legs out and titled his head farther back. Though the cold steps were far from comfortable, she wanted to stay there all night.

"So…I heard you are on the verge of becoming a fake doctor yourself." He looked proud. Grace's stomach fluttered.

She nodded. "I'm All But Dissertation right now. If I'm lucky, I'll be finished before next year. Though, the way things have been going...who knows?" Thoughts of all the obstacles she'd had to face the past few years hung heavy between them.

"Grace…" His voice was full of pity. Grace bristled. No, Grace, not pity. This is Luke remember? It's sympathy…empathy, even.

Still, it was a place Grace wasn't quite ready to go. "Don't…it's okay, really."

"I wanted to be at your mom's funeral, Grace. I really did. I tried like hell to be there, but my team had a paper to present and—

"You were in Russia." Grace pointed out the obvious. She sighed. "It's cool, dude. You had no obligation to be there anyway."

"I care about you, Grace. I want to be there for you." He added derisively, "You can't take that away from me no matter what."

Grace's eyes burned. She opened her mouth, found nothing to say, then closed it again.

"I'm sorry. That was uncalled for."

"No," Grace shook her head. She took a deep breath, unprepared to face these issues at the moment but knowing it had to be done. "You have every right. I shouldn't have ended it like I did. But if I hadn't, you wouldn't be where you are now. Would you have ever gone to MIT? Won all those awards there? Studied in Europe? Would you be doing the research you're doing now?"

Would we still be happy together? Would I have someone to share the load with? Would my life be more than a fucking joke? She ignored those questions.

Luke sat up. He ran his hands through his short blond hair, messing up whatever style he'd been going for. "No one can pretend to answer a 'what if' with any certainty. Not even you, Grace. If I stayed local for college like we'd planned would I still have pursued the same scientific avenue? Yes. Would I have had the same opportunities? Be in the same place now? Probably not. But even if I was toiling away in a closet-sized laboratory at Arcadia Community College, I would've been happy. There is more than one kind of success, Grace." He gave her a pointed look that left no mystery to what he was trying to say. He would've given it all up for me. Why?

She didn't understand him. What made her worth it? He had Miss April waiting inside for him. How could she compete with that? "Yeah, well, you seem to be moving up in the world if Science Barbie is any indication."

"Science Barbie?" Luke rolled his eyes, barely hiding a grin. "Jealously isn't a good look for you."

Grace narrowed her eyes. "I'm not jealous. Just stating fact. You're the one talking all the hypothetical, 'what if' nonsense here. At least you come out of it with a swimsuit model." She folded her arms across her chest.

Luke adjusted his glasses. "Lindsay is a very intelligent woman, Grace. She assists with my research group. She is working toward her doctorate in aerospace engineering." His hands punctuated each point.

"Rocket Science Barbie," Grace snarked.

"Grace," Luke warned, though he laughed.

Grace thought for a moment. Maybe it wasn't her place to ask, but she had to know. "Do you love her?"

"I…" He paused, debating his words. "I care about her. A lot. She's a good person. Smart. Funny. We share the same positions on many issues, not to mention our similar interests in the scientific community and shared research agendas. We're very compatible."

Grace felt an odd comfort at his familiar logical reasoning, his need to explain away emotions with fact. She didn't want to push him, but he didn't answer her question. "But do you love her?"

Luke took a deep breath. He wouldn't look at her. "No, not like I should." He seemed to be admitting it to himself for the first time.

"Why?" She was almost afraid of his answer.

He looked at her, then. His eyes filled with regret and sadness. "I can't go through this again."

"What?" She was confused.

"You, Grace. Us. I won't do it again. I can't give everything to someone who isn't going to give everything back."

"I…" She swallowed the lump in her throat but it didn't matter. No words would come out. Don't even think about crying, Polk.

"It's okay, Grace," he comforted. She wanted to reach out to him. She dug her fingers into her arms instead.

He leaned forward. "I came to a realization the last time we were together. That next morning I woke up so filled with hope for us, I wanted to run singing around the hotel. Just having you next to me again…. You look so peaceful when you sleep, you know. It's just another part of the mystery that is Grace Polk." He chuckled at his remark. Grace smiled, too, but he didn't see. He just stared off into the distance, remembering. "Nothing about you makes sense, Grace." He turned to her. The look on his face was enough to make Grace's eyes water. "We didn't make sense. But that was okay, you know? Everything else in my life is based on logic and science, laws and certainties. But the things you make me do, make me feel, go completely against everything else I believe in. In a world of reason, you are chaos. I love that about you. I wanted to be the one to solve the mystery, to be let into your world. I was willing to spend my life trying and not caring if I ultimately failed."

He stood up. Grace couldn't take her eyes off his. She held her breath.

He continued, "That's when I realized. The possibility that I might fail…was that right? For me and for you? I wondered if I was just deluding myself. For so long I thought that if I tried hard enough, I would succeed. But I could no longer ignore the cold truth. In an experiment you change variables one at a time, keeping everything else constant. I thought that constant was us and that one day I would find the magic solution, the key to us being together, really together. But I had to face the fact that maybe I wasn't a constant. Just a variable. Maybe I wasn't meant to be the one to really know you."

Grace was frozen to the steps. She wanted to stand up and go to him, tell him he was wrong. You are, Luke, you are the one. If there was any upside to her current psychosis, it was the realization that Luke was the constant in her life. Without him, she was just wandering aimlessly.

Before she could say any of this, she watched as something came over him. The former tropical blue of his eyes went icier; his face hardened. No! Luke! Wait, I'm almost there! She wanted to yell, get up in his face, and bring back the man she'd once loved. The man that she did love. But she didn't have the words to say anything.

Luke watched her silently. For a brief moment he looked disappointed, but the look was fleeting and Grace wasn't really sure she saw it at all.

"I should get back inside," he muttered. Grace just nodded in affirmation and watched him go.

When she heard the door shut behind him, she buried her head in her hands. She wouldn't let herself cry. A few tears escaped anyway, icy rivers on her cheeks. She wiped them harshly away.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of her tattoo. Cradling her right wrist in her left hand, she ran her thumb over the black ink there. The tattoo had been a gift from her parents on her eighteenth birthday. In an uncharacteristically liberal and thoughtful frame of mind, her father had said he would pay for the rebellion only because that was the one thing she hadn't defied his rules about while underage.

Truthfully, she never really wanted one.

But the rabbi's one condition to the offer had inspired her. He firmly maintained that he would only pay for something discrete and tasteful insofar as those terms applied to permanent body art. When Grace suggested her name in Hebrew, her father actually looked proud. For the first time there had been a common ground between the radical and the conservative. She wanted to preserve that moment forever.

And so the three characters that represented her name were permanently etched in black ink on her wrist, each no larger than a dime. She traced the three distinct letters, moving from right to left: Gimel Resh Samech. A constant reminder to herself to never forget what it meant to be Grace Polk. Gimel Resh Samech. She sighed and wished she remembered.

When had her life gotten so out of her control? When did she stop moving forward and start regressing? It was time to let go of everything that held her back. The only way she was going to make anything of this mess was to put herself out there. Completely.

I can't give everything to someone who isn't going to give everything back.

His words echoed in her head. She knew what she had to do. She just wished it wasn't going to be so hard.

TBC

A.N.: Luke stole his line from e.e. cummings. About Grace's tattoo: I'm not Jewish; I don't know Hebrew. I did my best researching just what her tattoo would look like, but I found about six different versions of how the name Grace would look in Hebrew. I just tried to link to the websites in here but, alas, the website would not have it. If you want/need a link to the explanation I'm going from or the letters how I envisioned them, just drop me an email (address in my profile).

If I bungled it up, I apologize.

Hopefully the next part will be out in a timely manner. I start classes again this week so my time will be limited. But I feel as if I got the hard parts out of the way, so hopefully it shouldn't be too long before I update. We'll see. Thanks for reading!