A/N: Sorry this took so long. I sort of lost inspiration for this one. And then the file got deleted and then today I found it! I've tweaked all the chapters, but no major changes. So here is the last chapter of Girl Next Door, at least for now.
"We're moving? But we're finally building a life here."
Dawn tentatively took a step towards Ryan. "No. We're not moving. I am. I want you to stay here."
He looked at her like a puppy who'd been kicked. "You're leaving again?" You're leaving me again? The room started spinning and his first thought was to run from her. To turn his back, walk out the door, and never look back. But her pleading voice stopped him.
"No baby, it's not like that. I wish I could stay here with you, but I can't."
"So I'll go with you."
Dawn shook her head, fighting back tears. "You're doing so well in school, and you've made some wonderful friends. You're doing good for yourself, Ry, and I won't let you give that up. Besides, I'll be back to visit all the time, and you can come visit me too."
"Where are you going?"
"I called Ted-"
"Uncle Ted? I thought you guys weren't on speaking terms."
"We are now. I'm going to stay with him and his wife while I get back on my feet."
Ryan knew that for his mother to swallow her pride and go to Ted must have been rather difficult, and she'd never been one to avoid taking the easy way out. Things were changing; his mother was changing. And for the first time in years, he trusted that his mother was doing what was best for him. "Where am I going to live?"
"I talked to the Cohens. They're going to be your guardians."
Ryan sighed, his shoulders falling in defeat. "When are you leaving?"
"On the 26th."
"So at least you'll be here for Christmas."
He nodded sadly, "Okay." He walked back to his room, softly closing the door behind him. He pulled the small box out of his drawer, sighing. She was leaving again, and this time, he couldn't even bring himself to be angry with her. She hadn't told him in a note, she wasn't leaving him to fend for himself, and since he'd moved back in with her, she'd been like a real mom. Before the last few months, he'd only had very vague memories of his mother like this- like a real mother. He wanted to go with her, but if she wanted him to stay with the Cohens, then he would. She'd promised to call and visit often. It would have to be enough.
On the afternoon of Christmas Eve, Ryan was in his room packing when he heard a crash from the kitchen.
She smiled at him sheepishly, swooping down to pick up the ham that she planned to make for dinner that night. "It just jumped right out of my hands, Ry!" she laughed.
"Let me do this. You should stick to something a little um, safer. Like salad?"
She hugged him and kissed his cheek. He jokingly winced before she wiped the smudge of lipstick off his face. "Okay."
They worked together in the kitchen for hours. The feast was probably enough to serve ten people, but neither of them gave it a second thought. Dawn had turned on a Christmas CD and was singing along loudly. Ryan simply ducked his head to hide his laughter. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had this much fun with his mother.
Later that night, after they'd eaten dinner and the dishes had been washed, they sat together in the living room. The small tree in the corner of the room had two packages underneath it, and the glowing lights warmed the entire room. Ryan knelt down and picked up both of the packages, handing the small one to his mother.
"You first," he said to her.
"You didn't have to get me anything, Ry."
"I wanted to."
She slid her fingernail under the paper, opening it without tearing it at all. When she saw that it was a jewelry box, she looked at Ryan surprised, but opened it. It was a gold necklace with a heart pendent on it and a diamond in the center. "Oh, baby, thank you. It's beautiful."
He blushed, but was relieved that she seemed to really like it. He helped her put it on and she thanked him again.
"Your turn, Ry." He picked up the box and opened his gift the same way she had opened hers. There were several items inside. First he found a pair of simple, dark blue slippers. "I got Trey a pair a few years ago and I know how you loved to borrow them."
Ryan laughed at the memory of Trey barging into their shared room, demanding to know where his slippers were. It seemed like an odd thing for both of the boys to be so fond of, but they had been. Trey's had been a forest green color and were a little too small for his feet, but after slipping this pair on, he found that they fit perfectly.
Dawn smiled and urged him on. "There's more."
Next he picked up was a Swiss army knife that he recognized as his dad's. He'd often asked his mother if he could have one of his own, but she'd always refused. He turned it over, looking closely at the engraving on the back. Atwood.
"I know you always wanted one of your own..."
He grinned, thanking her again, and she told him there was one more thing. The last gift was a picture frame. In it was a picture of the Atwood family that had been taken when Ryan was about seven. He smiled widely, his two front teeth missing. His dad had one arm around his mom and her hand rested on Ryan's shoulder. Trey stood beside Dawn, leaning into her. They all looked so happy. It had been right before things started to go downhill.
For a moment, Ryan stared longingly at the photo. When he looked up at his mother, she was crying a little. "I just want you to know that becoming part of a new family doesn't make you any less a part of this one."
Ryan had felt tears prickling his eyes, but now one spilled down onto his cheek. "Thanks, mom."
Marissa was much less apprehensive about therapy after her first appointment. Oliver had sessions at the same time as she did and while she did find him a little weird, she also felt a connection to him.
"So what are your plans for New Year's?" he asked, putting down the magazine he'd been reading.
Marissa looked up at Oliver, still taken aback by him. "I don't know." She and Luke hadn't made any concrete plans yet. He'd been angry when he found out she was driving drunk and had insisted they avoid the party scene. But that was last thing she wanted to do.
"Well," he pulled a flier out of his jacket. "I'm having a party at my place. You should come."
"Maybe we will."
"You and your…friend?" Oliver raised an eyebrow at her hopefully, but it was lost on her.
"My boyfriend, Luke. For some reason he wants to stay in this year."
While Dawn finished packing, Lindsay drove Ryan to the Cohen's house. They were greeted warmly by Sandy and Kirsten.
"The pool house is yours if you want it, or we have an extra bedroom upstairs."
Ryan gave Kirsten a small smile. "I kind of like the pool house, if that's okay."
Seth came bouncing down the stairs wearing a sweater with reindeer on it. "Ryan! You're here! Now I know you gentiles are done with the holidays, but we Cohens are still in the midst of a little something that I like to call Chrismukkah." He pulled out a menorah with candy cane candles and placed it on the mantle. It was then that Ryan noticed a stocking with his name on it, right along with Sandy's, Kirsten's and Seth's. "We need to put the wreath on your door! Oh, and I think some holiday lights would give the pool house a more festive feel. Tomorrow we'll make the snacks. And by we I mean you, me, and Dad, because Mom is not allowed near the food. What was I saying? Oh yeah, the story of Chrismukkah!"
Ryan and Lindsay were both gaping at Seth, wide-eyed. "Let's get your stuff in the pool house first," Lindsay spoke up, noticing that Ryan was really overwhelmed. "Seth, there's a few more boxes in the car if you want to help."
Seth shook his head. "Heavy lifting? That's not really my thing." After receiving a glare from his mother, Seth amended, "but I would love to assist in any way I can."
Lindsay smirked back at him as she and Ryan headed towards the pool house. He put away his clothes, which didn't take long. Most of them were things Kirsten had bought him while he was living with them. Lindsay organized Ryan's books in the shelf. Sandy, Kirsten, and Seth entered with all the remaining boxes, and Ryan looked at them and smiled, but it hardly concealed his sadness. "Thanks. You guys have been so great about everything."
Seth shifted eagerly. "You ready for a little play station?"
"Seth, let's give Ryan some time to get settled," Sandy interjected.
Ryan gave Sandy a grateful smile. As they walked out, Lindsay stood there awkwardly. "I'll leave; give you some space."
"No," he replied quickly, surprising both of them.
"I mean, you don't have to leave yet, unless…you know, you want to." He looked down and Lindsay quickly crossed the room towards him, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"I'm going to miss living next door to you." She felt his arms tighten around her and she let herself relax and enjoy the moment.
"Me too." He buried his face in her neck and she felt warmth spread throughout her body. After a minute, he slowly pulled back, his face only a couple inches away from hers.
"But we'll still see each other at school," she rambled, feeling suddenly warm and flustered.
He nodded, a grin spreading across his face.
"And we can study together, or maybe hang out on the weekends-"
She made a conscious effort to remain silent and watched him as his lips slowly moved towards hers.
The door flung open. "Hey Ryan!" Seth's voice broke the spell of the moment. "I thought you might want to keep some snacks out here. What kind of soda do you like? We need to go to the store!"
Lindsay smiled shyly at Ryan. "I should go."
She gave him a knowing look. "It's okay. I'll see you soon."
Marissa handed Luke the flier and after he scanned it, he tossed it carelessly onto the table. "We're not going."
"You shouldn't be around alcohol. We'll stay here, maybe watch a movie, just hang out. Who is this Oliver guy, anyway?"
"I don't want to stay here and do nothing," she replied defiantly.
"Well, you're going to," Luke shot back in a tone that sounded a bit too fatherly, even to his own ears.
"Excuse me? Now you're telling me what to do?"
He sighed, running his hands over his face. "I just want you to be safe."
"I'll be safe there. If you decide to stop being an ass, join me." She handed him the flier again before storming out of the house.
"Cohen!" Summer yelled as she pounded on Seth's bedroom door.
"Summer?" he opened the door and she stormed in. "What's up?"
"What's up?" she asked with disbelief. She grabbed his pillow and hit him with it repeatedly. "You haven't called me!"
"Ow! What? I thought you didn't want me to call you, you know with the whole groping incident."
"The groping incident?" she asked. She would have completely forgotten it, had it not sent spine tingling feelings through her body. "What does that have to do with anything?"
"I thought…" Seth struggled, "but you were ignoring me at school. I thought you were mad at me."
"So you just decided to hell with it? One little speed bump and you give up?"
Seth looked down, hoping to avoid a rage blackout. "What do you want me to do?"
"Don't give up so quickly," she replied harshly. Her features softened and she looked unsure of herself. She folded her hands together uncomfortably. "And I'm not really the best with this relationship stuff, but I like you."
"Well, I know this is sort of short notice, but if you don't already have plans tonight, there's a party at The Bait Shop. Do you want to go?"
Luke fought through the crowd of people as he searched for her. When his eyes landed on her, the first thing he noticed was the drink in her hand. The next thing he noticed was the guy she was talking to.
As he made his way towards them, he tried to calm down. He saw Marissa stumble back a little bit, losing her balance. The guy caught her arms, pulling her closer to him. For a moment they just stared at each other. Luke looked on miserably as their lips met. He hoped she would push him away, but she only pulled him closer.
"Marissa! What the hell?"
She and Oliver slowly turned to him, both clearly buzzed. "Luke...uh...this isn't..."
"You weren't making out with some guy after blowing me off on New Year's?" he yelled.
"Well, from what Marissa has told me, you certainly aren't the world's greatest boyfriend," Oliver added, smirking. "She deserves better."
Without a second thought, Luke punched Oliver in the jaw, sending him flying backwards.
"Luke!" Marissa quickly knelt down beside Oliver. "Are you okay?"
Luke watched in disbelief and turned to walk away.
"Where are you going? We need to talk about this!" Marissa called after him.
"No," he replied shaking his head. "There's nothing to talk about. We're done." He heard her sobs, but he was immune to it now.
About an hour into the party, Ryan and Lindsay finally managed to get passed the awkwardness between them caused by the anticipation. Ryan was still debating with himself about whether or not he would kiss her, but he realized that it was nearly eleven and they'd spent the whole evening together. And wasn't it tradition to kiss someone at midnight? Certainly he couldn't break tradition.
"How's it going with the Cohens?" she asked tentatively.
"Good. It's kind of cool having a brother that isn't drunk or high more often than not, and who doesn't just call me to get me to bail him out of jail."
"Ryan!" Marissa grabbed his shoulder, turning him to face her. She had streaks of mascara running down her cheeks, her eyes were bloodshot and she was slightly off balance. "I just wanted to tell you Happy New Year before I leave."
He looked at Lindsay who looked vaguely annoyed, but not angry. "Why are you leaving?"
"Luke and I had a fight. Broke up. I just can't be here now. I have to go home." She slurred and Ryan smelled the alcohol on her breath.
"Marissa, you can't drive home like this."
"No, I'm fine. I'm going home."
"Why don't you just wait a little bit and ride home with someone?"
"Because I'm leaving now. See ya." She turned away and ran into someone, causing them to spill their drink on her. "Sorry," she mumbled, continuing to push her way through the crowd.
Ryan looked helplessly at Lindsay. He didn't want to leave, but if anything happened to Marissa on the ride home, he wouldn't be able to live with himself. "Go," she nodded at him. "Just be back by midnight." He smiled at her gratefully and pulled her to him, kissing her forehead, before he called out after Marissa.
Anna's eyes drifted to Seth and Summer as she leaned on the rail on the upper level of the Bait Shop. Seth had his arms around Summer and his chin rested on her shoulder while she leaned back into his embrace, content.
"You really liked him, didn't you?" A voice startled Anna and she smiled when she saw Zach.
"I guess," she shrugged. "But I'm over it."
Zach raised an eyebrow at her in disbelief.
"Okay, I'm almost over it. Just not when they're being all lovey dovey everywhere I look."
"For the record, I think Seth's an idiot. I mean, Summer's a really good friend of mine, but he was an idiot to let you go."
"Thanks." She stole a glance at the clock and was surprised to find that it was only a few minutes before midnight.
As he rushed in the door to the Bait Shop, he heard the chorus of shouts, "Happy New Year!" His eyes landed on Lindsay, standing upstairs, leaning over the rail, disappointment written all over her face. He ran to her as quickly as he could, and when he finally caught her attention, she looked at him uncertainly.
"I'm so sorry, I tried to get back, but the traffic-"
She shrugged, looking at the ground. "It's okay."
"No." He stepped forward so their bodies were only inches apart. "It's not." He placed his hand under her chin, forcing her to look up at him. His lips brushed against hers softly, before he leaned back, gaging her reaction. Her eyes were dark as she stared at his mouth. As her hand came up to cup his cheek and her thumb traced his bottom lip, she pulled him down to her again, and this time there was no holding back. They'd waited too long for this. His hand held the back of her head, his fingers running through her hair, as he pulled her closer. His tongue nudged her lips apart, and she gasped, her hands moving to rest on his shoulders. She felt the power in his muscles and nearly moaned.
Several minutes after the rest of the crowd had resumed the party, Lindsay pulled away breathless. "Happy New Year."
He smiled at her, pulling her close and planting kisses on her neck. "Oh, it will be."
Fin, finally! Sorry it took me three and a half years to finish this!