A/N: Terribly sorry for how long this took. And, unfortunately, I hardly think this chapter is worth the wait. Endings aren't my strongest point, by far. In fact, this story started out much stronger than it has ended, I must say. And for that I also apologize. These last 10 chapters or so, I've gotten too carried away with the angst, it seems. Oh well, what can you do? In any case, I am very sorry for the delay in this update. But I promised myself it would be done before Christmas, so at least I stuck to that. Oh, and I don't know anything about how often or when or how much it snows in Sacramento, so just suspend your disbelief if necessary, k?
Chapter Thirty-Two: The End…Finally
Tawny hadn't been able to catch Ren for a moment alone since the episode in the stairwell. The older girl avoided her at every opportunity and Ruby made it a point to interfere whenever she could as well. It had been a week and in her head Tawny had gone over hundreds of things to say, ways to apologize, where to begin the explanation of her unbelievably indescribable behavior these past several months, the past year really. She sighed solemnly and closed her locker.
As if on cue, the older girl appeared at the end of the hall.
Tawny opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
Ren caught sight of her, and swiftly disappeared up a nearby staircase.
Ruby had informed Tawny that Ren didn't take the Charlotte news well. The nagging blonde had told Tawny to just back off, and let Ren move on. They both should just move on, that's what Ruby thought.
What did Ruby know? Tawny scoffed, and then scoffed again at herself for having the nerve to question anyone else after what she'd put everyone through. Still…Ren and me…we should have a chance…
"Any luck?" Lukas appeared behind her.
"No, but today is going to be the day…I can feel it," Tawny said. It had snowed nearly a foot the night before. It had been years since Sacramento had ever had that much snow, and so early in the season. Snow was something Tawny had considered a good sign even when she was little. Her father hated snow, and that made her all the more certain that it was a good sign.
Lukas nodded, out of support more than agreement.
Tawny slung her book-bag over her shoulder and made her way to class. Part of her wanted to give up the chase, to leave Ren alone, and to simply stick to the one night stands and drinking, but, for the first time in months, the part of her that won out was the part that said Ren would make her happier than alcohol ever could, that in time everything would be ok.
Tawny's opportunity finally arrived during the ten minute break between 2nd and 3rd period. She'd been hovering, discreetly, in the vicinity of Ren's locker, in hopes of catching a moment with the older girl. She'd purchased a tall caramel apple cider from Starbucks—she knew it was one of Ren's favorite drinks, and one that Tawny had spilled all over the older girl in the hall earlier that year, on the day Ren agreed to the 'friends with benefits' arrangement to begin with…
Ren didn't notice Tawny sneak up behind her, though it seemed like everyone else in the hall knew something big was going to go down between the two girls, and quickly vacated the area. It was the rapid emptying of the hall that caught Ren's attention, causing her to look up, and then, in dismay, lock eyes with Tawny.
"Hey, Ren," Tawny said, forcing a smile and holding the cup of cider up as a peace offering.
Ren's face was expressionless.
Tawny found herself at a loss for words, wanting to say so many things, but only managing, finally: "How have you been?"
Ren tilted her head to the side. "That's it?"
"You slept with Charlotte," Ren stated, her voice cold and hard. "How do you think I've been doing?"
"I don't know why you are even bothering with this, Tawny. We're done. We were done a long time ago."
Ren shut the locker more forcefully than she needed, though she didn't quite slam it, and, turning on her heel, she left Tawny standing alone with her cider.
"Hey Ren," Louis sat down next to his sister when the lunch period began.
"Hey Louis," she replied, without looking up at him.
"I don't really have much time, but Lukas is insisting I talk to you, so…"
"If it's about Tawny, I don't want to hear it," Ren stated simply, quietly, and pained with the image of Tawny's pleading blue eyes burned into her every thought.
"I think that what Twitty did to me was worse than what Tawny did to you. It was almost the same, except Twitty is my best friend and he stabbed me in the back. Tawny is just a girl you know, that you love, who has been going through a really rough time…according to Lukas anyway. She messed up and…if I could give Twitty a chance, you could give Tawny one."
With that he abruptly rose and left the table.
Ren sighed. He had a point… but Ren had spent forever trying to get Tawny to come around. She had given Tawny plenty of chances.
She shook her head and tried to clear her thoughts, only to catch site of Charlotte making out with someone else at the other end of the cafeteria. Ren frowned and pushed herself up from her seat, making her way out of the room. She didn't care for Charlotte one way or the other anymore, but she didn't think she'd ever be ok with seeing her with anyone else.
She headed to the Journalism room, her safe haven, only to find Tawny sitting in the room, reading over something.
Every fiber in her being told her to go the other way, but for some reason Ren entered the room and closed the door behind her instead.
Tawny looked up, obviously startled. "I-I wasn't trying to… I just wanted to check something."
"The article I wrote for you last year," Tawny replied, looking down at the pieces of paper in front of her. "The one you wouldn't print."
Ren nodded, but didn't say anything. She sat down across from Tawny.
"It is pretty inappropriate," Tawny said quietly, after a few minutes of painful silence.
"Oh, you're finally going to forgive me for that? Now? How convenient! Just when you're trying to get me to listen to you…"
"I am sorry, Ren," Tawny said. "I know I've been…difficult."
Ren laughed. "Ha, no kidding…"
"Ren, come on," Tawny started, getting annoyed, but trying as hard as she could to keep her temper in check.
"Come on?" Ren repeated indignantly.
She looked livid, and Tawny didn't know what to say.
Then, all of a sudden, Ren lunged forward, grabbing Tawny by the collar of her shirt and pulling her across the table toward her. She kissed her, hard and fast. And before Tawny knew what was going on, her top had been torn from her body and she was pinned down on the table under Ren, the older girl's lips hungrily devouring her own, and her sure hands deftly covering the surface of her smooth body, making their way up her back, toward her bra strap…
"Stop this at once!" Mr. Zimmer bellowed suddenly, shattering the moment.
Ren looked up and where Tawny expected shock and humiliation, she found a devilish smirk. Still obedient though, Ren climbed off of Tawny. She hurried past Mr. Zimmer out the room.
Tawny scrambled for her shirt, finding it terribly ironic that she was as embarrassed as she was, when Ren seemed so…cool and collected... which is not the right reaction, considering what they had just been caught doing.
"You know, I'd call your parents but I've done that a couple times already and to no avail, so I'm not going to bother this time," Mr. Zimmer started. "But in the future, you know, these doors lock."
Tawny laughed awkwardly, more than confused with the situation at hand. Had Zimmer caught Ren in the act before, or something? Was that why both of them seemed so ok about it and she, the girl who very nearly had sex in a public stairwell a week before, was utterly humiliated? That's when possibility number two hit her: maybe Ren planned this whole thing… No, no…that would be the Louis-way to respond, not Ren though, she wouldn't do something like that. Humiliating pranks weren't Ren's thing…at least, Tawny hoped they weren't.
She spent the rest of the lunch period trying to find the older girl, with no luck.
When the final bell rang at the end of the day, Tawny still hadn't seen Ren once since lunch. So, with new confidence and a firm resolve that Ren still wanted her, she headed over to the Stevens' house. She stopped at Starbucks on the way for a peppermint mocha, almost getting another caramel apple cider, but then refraining.
Ren wasn't home when Tawny got there, so the younger girl opted to linger around the front lawn and intercept Ren whenever she did show up.
Tawny waited nearly two hours before Ren pulled into the driveway. She didn't seem surprised to see Tawny when she got out of the car.
"Hey," Tawny said, the words barely audible.
Ren approached her silently, stopping about two feet away from her.
Tawny just stared at her, still struggling for her own words.
"I was at Ruby's," Ren spoke suddenly, a wry smile playing on her lips. "I am under strict obligation to report to her whenever I have any sort of sexual encounter, so she can be up to date on the latest gossip. On principle I think it's none of her business, but by now I know she finds everything out anyway, and if she hears news about me from someone else she tends to get ridiculously…well, emo, for lack of a better term."
"Well, I'm familiar with emo, so that works," Tawny smiled weakly.
"Are you going to talk to me, Tawny?" Ren asked, her face full of concern.
Tawny swallowed hard. "I…I can try."
"Ok," Ren nodded, taking a seat on the front porch steps, high enough that it was covered by the overhang and not coated in snow.
Tawny took a seat beside her and sipped from her now-cold peppermint mocha. "I don't know how to do this," Tawny sighed. "It just…I guess it all started with my dad's affair...or, before that even…I mean…my parents were fighting a lot…all the time…and then it turned out my dad was having an affair…and he never wanted me. And he still doesn't. And my mom…I don't think she does either, not really. I'm just this unfortunate thing that happened and bound them together…" Tawny frowned, biting her lip, the tears streaming down her cheeks now, in spite of her best efforts to keep her emotions in check.
"You can't keep things like that bottled up inside, Tawny," Ren said, rubbing her hand in comforting small circles on the younger girl's back.
"Yeah, well, I know that now… but it's easier said than done."
"Well, thank you."
"For being so damn persistent."
"Ha, well, I gave up on you in the end there…when I probably should have tried the hardest," Ren said, her voice revealing more frustration with herself than Tawny expected to hear.
"Yeah, well, you kept it up for months. You were very…dedicated to the cause…of me."
Ren laughed. "I can be that way, sometimes. When I really care about something I can be tremendously obstinate about it," Ren said softly, then smiling: "Although, you more than gave me a run for my money in the stubbornness department."
Tawny laughed through her tears. "Well, I can't promise that will be ending now. I've always been stubborn, regardless of how screwed up or not I may be in a given year."
Ren nodded. "I can handle stubborn, but just know that I meet stubbornness with stubbornness. And fighting fire with fire…doesn't usually work."
"Are you saying this won't work? With us, I mean?"
"I don't think this is going to be an easy relationship," Ren said. "But I think it could work."
"Good," Tawny said, smiling through her tears.
"Now, your dad…"
"He's…I…this is going to take hours," Tawny said, her shoulders sinking in frustration.
"It's probably going to take longer, but we have time, and I'm here," Ren said, sliding an arm around Tawny and pulling her closer. "Everything is going to be ok."
Tawny smiled and wiped her eyes. "Everything is going to be ok."
She rested her head on Ren's shoulder just as more snow began to fall from the darkening sky.
Everything would be ok.