Think calming thoughts, think nice, warm, fuzzy calming thoughts... puppies... kittens... baklava... sleeping in on the weekend in my cozy, safe bed-
"Why are your eyes closed, silly? You're missing the beautiful Santa Cruz night life!" Charlotte's voice broke through Liz's thoughts.
Eyes still firmly squeezed shut, Liz responded, "I think I would still be missing it, even if I did open them. Everything would blur together, since we're traveling at ten times the speed of light!"
Charlotte scoffed. "You said to go fast!"
"Yes, I did, which is why I am keeping my eyes closed. If I saw the number of things I know we've almost crashed into, I'd be screaming and demanding we slow down." She pointed in the general direction of her face, "Thus, eyes closed. Can't be afraid of what I can't see." She cringed as she heard the screech of wheels, followed by the furious honk of a car horn that faded off behind them. She added in a mutter, "Ear plugs woulda helped too..."
Liz did not know how she had managed to convince herself to get into a car with Charlotte at the wheel ever again. But there she was, sitting in the passenger seat of Charlotte's Porsche, going at break neck speeds. She had not gotten in it since their visit to Rosings Park. Since that had been a couple months ago now, maybe Liz had assumed Charlotte's driving had improved, that she had honed her skills. That assumption was being proved dead wrong now. If anything, it felt like it had gotten even more daredevil. However, Liz's options had either been this or riding the bus downtown. At the time, the bus had seem to be the least appealing of the two options, given the number of stops it would have to make and taking traffic into account. Now Liz was second guessing that decision. She did not even want to look at how many miles per hour Charlotte was going. In fact, she did not want to look at anything - she just kept her eyes closed and hung on for dear life, waiting for it to be over.
"I'm so glad this is finally happening!" She heard Charlotte squeal in delight.
She also heard the distinct sound of clapping. Charlotte... clapping... while steering... how...? Shaking that disturbing thought out of her head and once more glad she could not see anything, Liz asked, "Finally?"
"Oh yeah, I've known this has been coming for ages. It's about damn time you two got together!"
"For ages? How? I've only known for the past few minutes!" Liz protested, before stifling a yelp as the car jerked into a frighteningly sharp turn.
"Ha. You're so blind, Miss Eliza," Charlotte's voice teased with a snort. "I saw the way you two were always looking at each other. Plus, I caught you two in that closet together, supposedly by accident. Yeah. Right. Trust me, even if you didn't know your feelings all this time, you've known it, at least on some level."
Liz's forehead scrunched up in confusion. "Okay... sure, if you say so," Liz drawled. Swearing she could smell rubber burning, Liz's hand searched for and began to fidget with her necklace. The necklace Will had given her. While she had been waiting for Charlotte to pick her up, she had snatched it off her desk, where it had been residing since her return from her trip. She had gone to the bathroom to put it on, only to let it slip off her neck, reminding her she had still not fixed the latch. In a spur of the moment decision and for lack of anything better, she had unreeled several inches of floss, strung the tear-shaped emerald pendant onto it, and had firmly tied it around her neck. It was not great, but it would have to do for now.
After listening to the tires shriek in protest a few times, Liz decided she needed to distract herself. Some small talk was in order. "I hope this isn't going to make life difficult with your future mother-in-law."
"Miss De Bourgh?" Charlotte snorted. "Life hasn't exactly been a walk in the park since a certain someone threw her in fountain."
Managing a wince even with her eye lids lowered, Liz said, "Oh yah, that... she hasn't been taking it out on you, has she? And to be fair, I didn't throw her in..."
Charlotte let a mischievous giggle. "Don't sweat it. Trust me, there are some days I wish I could push her in a fountain... or off a cliff... but anyway, while she hasn't been Little Miss Ray of Sunshine, it has not directed at me or any one thing in particular. She'll get over it. She likes to talk about all these connections she has and what she's gonna do, but she never does anything. The lady is the very definition of an old windbag."
"What about Collin?"
"He's been busy trying to calm his mother down, waiting on her hand and foot... oh, he sends a dirty look my way from time to time, as if I have any control over my best friend's actions. Don't worry though, I have my own dirty look to rival his, one that usually sends him running with his tail between his legs."
Forgetting for a moment that this car felt more like a deadly roller coaster ride than a short trip downtown, Liz let out a laugh at that. "I don't doubt that you can handle those two. But... when Miss De Bourgh hears about Will and me..."
Feeling a friendly punch to her shoulder, Liz heard Charlotte say, "Don't worry about that, I'm not. I'm too busy thinking about what cute kids you and Will are gonna have."
"Woah, wait, kids? No one said anything about-" Liz made the mistake of opening her eyes, and quickly regretted it. Her sentence ended in a yelp as Charlotte, wanting to pass a car that was going at the slow speed of merely 80 miles per hour, swerved into the oncoming traffic lane, a huge semi-truck going the other direction greeting them. Liz threw her hands over her head, not knowing or even having the presence of mind to even care if that would really even protect her.
However, seconds passed where Liz did not hear the metallic, bone crunching sound of their crash, as she had expected. Instead, she heard the semi's horn passing them and fading off behind them. Then she heard hysterical snorts of laughter coming from Charlotte, followed with, "You're so silly!"
Not dignifying that with a response, Liz instead focused on calming her breathing down. How they had gotten out of that one without a scratch was beyond Liz. Either Charlotte was a driving genius or just plain mad. Either way, Liz knew one thing for certain. Never again, she thought. This is the last time I willingly get into a car with her driving.
She then felt a strange sensation. It took her a second to recognize it as the car slowing down and coming to a stop. She hardly recognized the feeling of not being in motion.
"You can open your eyes now. We're here!"
Arms still squeezed protectively around her head, she shifted an elbow to peep out. Blinking once, she first confirmed they were indeed parked, with the headlights of the cars in traffic whizzing by them. She scowled - as much as she could with her one visible eye - at Charlotte's teasing smirk. Finally, Liz noticed they were parked right in front of Neptune's Kingdom. The boardwalk just lay on the other side.
"In all seriousness," Charlotte said as Liz finally relaxed her arms, "I'm really happy for you. Not everyone can find who they are supposed to be with, but I think you've been lucky enough to do just that. Sure, you can be stubborn sometimes... kind of a loud mouth... and you seem to enjoy sticking your foot in your mouth, plus sometimes you can be just plain dense-"
"Does this have a point?" Liz arched an eyebrow.
"Don't screw it up," Charlotte put it simply.
One corner of her mouth quirking up, Liz said, "Thanks for the pep talk."
"Any time," she responded, before pulling her friend into a tight hug. She then nudged Liz out of the car, "Go on, scoot."
Liz closed the Porsche's door behind her and took a few hesitant steps away. Now that she was here, her resolve was shaken a bit as doubt and nervousness seeped in. But there was something else... excitement, anticipation, longing... and something more that she could not quite put her finger on. But the more she thought about it, the harder it became to just stay still. She took a second to glance back at Charlotte. The chocolate-haired girl was leaning back in her seat, grinning knowingly. "Go on. Run. You know you want to."
Liz needed no further encouragement.
Before she even realized it, her feet were pounding on the ground, digging into each step as they propelled her forward as fast as she could move. She was in Neptune's Kingdom in half a second and all the tacky glow of all its arcade games blurred together, all its noises and jingles muddled into indiscernible sounds. None of it mattered, all that was important was the people. Even as every stranger's face melded into the background, even as Liz pushed passed people while others jumped out of her way, she checked each of them, looking for the one. That one important face that she needed to find, that she needed to talk to, that she... just needed.
She charged through the arcade, stumbling over a few teenagers here and there and offering a hasty apology over her shoulder without even stopping. It was not long before she burst out the doors on the other side of the building, onto the boardwalk. Though she had scrutinized every face she had passed in her sprint, she hardly could fool herself into believe she had checked every single person in there. Still, she kept running. She could not doubt, could not hesitate. She had to trust this unexplainable feeling she had. The feeling that told her if she just kept going, she would find him. Her necklace bounced against her collarbone with each step, reassuring her in a way and urging her on.
The sun had set not too long ago and the night was still young. Neon lights of reds, blues, greens and seemingly hundreds of other colors lit up the beachside park, decorating the rides and flashing on large signs. Beyond the park, the darkened waves of the ocean hit the shore, reflecting the glow of the pier and the first few emerging stars. The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk could be quite a sight to see at night, if one were actually paying attention. But Liz saw none of it as she still searched each new face, picking up speed determinedly with each stranger she ran past. It was crowded that night, but Liz refused to let the daunting task slow her down as the minutes went by and she covered more ground.
There! She felt her heart skip a beat when she spotted him. Will! His back was turned as he eyed one of the mini games, but there was no mistaking his slender height or his long, golden hair. It had to be him! Not pausing for even a second more of thought, Liz shouldered her way through the rest of the people gathered around the flamboyantly illuminated game and placed a somewhat trembling hand on his arm. "Will-"
He turned around. Or rather, she. The tall girl, rich blond hair swept behind her ear, regarded Liz with a bland look. She then cast her eyes briefly at Liz's hand, which still grasped at her forearm, before raising an unamused eyebrow.
Embarrassed, Liz quickly retracted her hand as if she had been burnt. How had she confused this girl for Will? Or even for a guy? Taking in her appearance at a quick glance, Liz noticed that the stranger was wearing a bulky, black jacket. That could have made it harder to discern a gender. Even considering that, Liz doubted the girl would appreciate being mistaken for a boy. She was already beginning to look a little annoyed, apparently expecting some sort of explanation and getting impatient.
"Will..." Liz said a second time, dragging it out as her mind reached and came up blank. Trying it again, she blurted out, "Will you... direct me to the boardwalk?" Her question was followed closely with a wince.
The blond looked at her like she was stupid. But really, who wouldn't? "Um... you're at it already," she answered. Liz could almost hear the unspoken 'dumbass' at the end of the sentence.
"Oh." Making a show of looking around and nodding in satisfaction, Liz responded, "Thanks." Plastering a polite and almost disturbingly large grin on her face, Liz backed up a few steps. She then turned and bolted.
Liz fought to keep a frown off her face as she ran, fought to keep from being disheartened. What was one mistake? It was merely a setback. Not even a setback, more of a delay rather. It did not mean anything. She would find Will. She would. She just needed... higher ground! That was it! Liz was not exactly short, but plenty of taller people were around, blocking her view.
Spotting a bench, Liz blundered through a few more park goers as she dashed for it. It was already occupied by several people crammed into it, but Liz was not to be deterred. "Sorry," she mumbled as she wedged a foot in between a pair of the sitters and used that to leverage herself onto the bench's back. With that, she raised a hand to shield her eyes - a useless gesture since the sun had gone to bed and the decorative lights were hardly blinding - and took a wide, sweeping view of the area. While she did get a better view of the nearby people, or rather the sea of bobbing heads, there was still no Will. I'm not seeing far enough, Liz thought obstinately. Higher... I must get higher.
Her eyes fell upon the stairs leading up to the Sky Glider ride. Perfect. The stairs alone were enough. As good idea as getting on the Sky Glider seemed in itself, the ride went too slowly and if she did manage to spot Will while in one of its carts, there was no hopping out in the middle of it... it was a long way down after all.
Hopping off the back of the bench and ignoring the irritated comments of the sitters behind her, she pushed her tired legs to start running once more. As she pushed her way up the steps, the fact that she was not in the best of shape started to kick in more and her breathing started to come out in puffs, her knees wobbling slightly. She was just thankful there was not a huge line leading up to the Sky Glider. I have run over enough people for one night, thank you, she mused. Now she just needed to get to the top and survey the area. Sure, she still would not be able to see the whole boardwalk, but she would be able to see a lot more of it. If it did not tell her where Will was, she could at least rule out where he was not. Just one more step and-
Liz was suddenly face first on the pavement. Her chin and the palms of her hands stung and her knees were sore. Through her daze, it took her a few seconds to realize she tripped and landed on the ground, her hands barely having saved her from going completely head first. Groaning, she did not get up right away. Instead she lifted an aching arm and ran her thumb over the part of her chin that was burning. When she pulled it away, she saw flecks of blood. Lovely.
"You okay, Miss?" Came a slightly nasally voice from behind her.
She glanced out of the corner of her eye to see that the voice belonged to one of the boardwalk employees, probably the one who was currently running the Sky Glider. "Yeah," Liz answered in a grunt. "Just dandy."
"Do you need any help up?" the teenager asked.
"No, but thanks." Liz did not get up right away. From her position lying on top of the platform, she had a perfect view of the boardwalk beneath her. There was a metal fence only a few inches from her, to protect people from falling, but there was a gap underneath it that gave Liz a perfect view of the throngs of tourists walking by. She felt the corner of her eyes begin to prickle. She was not sure if it was from the pain of her fall or from the disappointment, but she did not really care as she squeezed her eyes shut against it.
Had she really thought she would be able to find Will this way? How stupid could she be, there had to be hundreds of people here. Had she really been so naive to think that she would just happen to run into him? Heck, he may not even still be here - there was no rule anywhere stating that he had to stay at the boardwalk until she found him. He probably had already left long ago to go get dinner with his sister. Geeze, could I have been anymore-
"Are you sure you do not need a hand?" came the same voice of the ride operator.
Suppressing a growl of annoyance, she mumbled, "I'm sure. The ground is comfy, I'm just gonna lay here a bit, if you don't mind."
"Um... okay, I guess," came his perplexed response, before she heard him wonder off to help the next couple in line onto the ride.
Now he thinks you're weird. Probably because you ARE, Liz berated herself. But she could not really get up the energy to care. Her eyes opened once more and she scowled at the people below. How had she ever thought she would be able to find him in that mess? Narrowing her gaze in on someone, she thought bitterly, There's even another blond head of hair trying to trick me into believing it's Will again. But nu uh, I'm not going to fall for that this time. Even if the wavy flow of hair next to it does a perfect impersonation of the back of Georgiana's head. Probably just a dude that doesn't know the meaning of the word 'haircut'. That's right you two, turn around, shatter the illusion. Huh... funny, even their eyes look-
Liz had propped herself up on her elbows in half a second, and was on her feet in the other half, pressing against the chain link fence, her eyes wide with disbelief. It was them, really them this time. She watched Will as if frozen, before realizing staring stupidly as he walked by would do her little good. And he would not see her on his own, he had no reason to look up. She briefly debated hopping the fence, but decided that would look a little desperate - oh, and she might break a leg when she hit the ground. Minor detail. Wisely, she opted for running back down the stairs, even if that would waste precious seconds.
She charged head first into the crowd, pushing her way past tourists without outright knocking them over. When she got to the spot where she had seen them, she looked around frantically. Everywhere she looked however were nothing but unfamiliar faces. She could not have imagined them, could she? No, they were here! Could they have gotten away? They would have had to run, and that's impossible in this crowd! They had to be here, they just had to be! But where are they?
As if to answer her unvoiced question, the droves of people chose that second to part, revealing them. Giana, playing one of the side games with a water gun. Will, arms crossed and off to one side, watching as his sister failed miserably at the game.
Will! All noise drowned out around her, as none of it mattered anymore. Her feet pushed off into a run once more, hopefully for the last time that night, now that she had found him. She did not feel the ache in her tired legs or the throbbing in the cuts from when she tripped. The only complaint she had was that she could not seem to run fast enough.
Maybe it was the sound of her shoes or maybe it was some other unexplained sense that drew his attention, but Will turned his head, slowly at first then snapped fully around to face her, eyebrows raised in surprise. Voice colored with confusion, he started, "Eliz-?"
Not giving him a chance to get further, he let out a surprised Oof! as Liz threw herself at him, wrapping her arms around behind his neck and, for the first time, she was the one to kiss him. She kissed him with all her being and all she had. She took all her feelings for him that she had been holding back, that she knew she had had for a long time, even back when she thought she hated him - she took everything she felt and put it into that kiss, knowing she could never even come close to expressing them as clearly in words. Will's posture stiffened, then she felt his frame slowly relax. He slowly drew his hands, shaking ever so slightly, to her waist, hugging her to him. He held on tight, as if she were a dream that he did not want to wake up from.
Much too soon she felt him pulling his lips away. Despite the interruption giving her a minute to breath in some much needed oxygen, Liz frowned up at him in disappointment. However, Will seemed just as annoyed that they had stopped, for he was directing a small scowl off to his right. Following his gaze, Liz saw Giana staring at them, her mini game forgotten, wide eyed, and a huge grin that contained a barely suppressed giggle.
Liz felt her face heat up and she tried to jump back from Will in her embarrassment. However, his arms were still wrapped firmly around her waist, keeping her held possessively to him.
"Do you mind?" Will asked his sister gruffly.
"Nu uh," Giana chirped with a perky little shake of her head, her smirk now becoming wicked. "Continue."
"Giana," he hissed.
Reluctantly taking the hint, Giana glanced in the opposite direction. "Oh, look. Sand!" she said in over exaggerated excitement before jogging off to the beach.
Turning his head back to Liz, he began to scrutinize her face in concern. He lifted a hand to place his thumb delicately on her chin and she flinched when she felt a small, but sharp pain where his finger trailed over her cut. "What happened?"
Shrugging it off, Liz answered, "No biggie, the ground and I just got a little close and personal." Liz then smiled warmly up at Will. "I know you did it."
He eyed her with a hint of suspicion as he asked, "What did I do?"
"All of it. Everything." Will still looked at her questioningly, so she elaborated, "You got Lydia to come back, you straightened out George-"
Will groaned with a slight wince. "You weren't supposed to know about that. Did Luc tell you? Because I asked him not to."
"Actually, Lydia did," Liz answered. At his drawn out sigh, Liz shrugged, "You should have known Lydia can't keep a secret to save her life. Luc filled in all the details, but only after Lydia had totally blown your cover first. I also know you got Charlie and Jane back together..."
"Really, they got themselves back together. All I told him is that I had been wrong and that I should never have gotten involved in their relationship. He was angry, but he seemed to blame himself more for having listened to me without much argument. The rest, he did himself."
"You still fixed your mistake, no matter what Charlie did afterwards," Liz beamed up at him. "Plus, you helped rescue Matthew and introduced him to Mary..."
Will shrugged, "I remember you wanted to help him, but just never really got the chance. I only nudged him in the right direction… and suggested a coffee shop."
"Uh huh," Liz answered in an amused, humoring tone. "You're a regular ol', matchmaking fairy god mother, ain't you?"
"Please don't call me that."
"But you are! You also set up Red and Kitty, which is awesome, but also kind of random."
"Red went with me when I went to see Charlie and Matthew. He started bugging me, saying that he felt left out and wanted to be set up with someone also," he rolled his eyes at that.
Liz smirked playfully at him. "Also, huh? So you were setting everyone up."
"No," Will said quickly, "that's just was Red said."
Liz continued to smile knowingly, but did not push it. Instead, she hesitated for a second before telling him, "Thank you. For everything you did. Some of them will never know how much you did for them, and I'd hate it if you thought it wasn't appreciated and-"
He placed a finger to her lips, silencing her gently. "I don't care. No thanks is needed, from them or you."
"If you must thank me, let it be for yourself alone. I was only thinking of you the entire time."
She looked down, feeling her face redden slightly. She realized Will was still hugging her to him, and her face heated up some more. She quietly murmured, "I read your letter."
"What letter?" she heard him ask slowly.
"The one you just wrote, but didn't complete. The one you threw away."
"How did-?" He began, the cut himself off with a growl. "Damn it. Red?"
She gave a tiny nod, "Yeah, Red." She then cast her eyes up at him again and said softly, "I love you too."
She felt him go stock still against her as he took in a sharp, but barely audible breath. He stared at her unblinking, searching, every line on his face telling her he was not sure if he had heard her correctly. A smile tugged at the corner of her lips before she continued almost in a whisper, "That's what you were going to say, right? In your letter, if you had completed it instead of throwing it away, you were about to write that you loved me. Well... I love you too."
There was a silence that stretched on and enfolded the two of them. As they stared at each other, it was one of those moments where they felt like they were the only two people in the world, even though there was a whole park full of noisy human beings constantly walking past them. But those people did not matter, all that mattered was each other. Slowly, Will brought his hands to Liz's face, caressing her cheeks with his warm fingers and gently pulling her face to him as he leaned forward.
"No, you dolt! You're supposed to say you love her back and then you kiss her!"
Liz blanched, Will's eyes narrowed, moment was shattered. They both haltingly turned their heads to see that Giana had rejoined them, her arms crossed in disapproval at her brother. However, she was struggling to keep a teasing smirk off her face.
Will was not amused. "Giana," was all he said, but it was all he had to say, for it was dangerously quiet and held all the promise of death and dismemberment. It wiped the grin right off her face.
Giana quickly turned around and exclaimed, "Hey, look! There's water by that sand! Amazing!" And she was gone once more, faster than a blink of an eye.
Will shook his head as he looked back at Liz, not meeting her eyes right away. Rather, his eyes fell just below her chin as something caught his interest there. Raising his hand, Liz felt his hand brush against her neck as he placed a finger under the pendent she wore so it caught the light better. It felt like he had given her that necklace so very long ago. If he noticed that it was secured with floss, he did not say anything. Instead, his striking green eyes traced up her face to look into her own once more, and he smiled. It was one of those rare smiles that Will hardly ever wore, one that made Liz feel it was meant only for her. It took her breath away.
"I love you too," he told her finally, tenderly. Before she could respond - he knew her answer anyway - he pulled her in her in for a kiss. And for once, it was not interrupted by anyone or anything, nor did it end in a fight or someone's nose bleeding. It did almost crumple apart when Liz could not stop smiling against his lips, but he did not let that spoil it as he continued to thoroughly kiss her. It had been a long, strange trip that had brought them to this point, and without a doubt there would still be a few minor bumps in the road to come. But somehow none of that, past or future, mattered to them now. They were in each other's arms, where they belonged, and nothing would tear them apart. She may have loved hating him when they first met, but she got the feeling she would enjoy just simply loving him a lot more.
A/N: YAY! I can't believe this story is finally done. I've been working on it for over 4 years, and it feels really weird to finally set it to "Complete". I'll have you know, this is the first multi-chapter story (fanfic or my of my own imagination or otherwise) that I have ever completed, so this is a huge milestone for me. It feels really good :)
I hope the ending didn't disappoint. I liked it, but I wasn't sure what everyone else's take would be on it. Since as I mentioned this is the first long story I've ever completed, this is also the first time I've ever written an ending! And I can definitely tell, endings are hard. Endings with ifluff/i are especially hard. I've never really been good at the fluff part, I'm more of a banter kind of gal. But still, hope you guys enjoyed this all the same.
One more final thank you to all the people out their who read, reviewed, favorited, and alerted my story! I feel really honored to have had people who have been here since I've started and have been patient enough to stick with me all the way through the end, rooting me on. Hugs and kisses and much love to you all, without you guys, I doubt I would have ever finished this story.
As for what's next for me, I may or may not be back with another fanfic. Please visit my profile page for more information. I feel I've rambled on long enough here, so I'll continue over there. One more time, thank you so much to you all, and hopefully see you next time!