A/N: With this one shot, there has been a slight role reversal. What this means will become apparent as the story progresses. Also, just to let you know, the way it ends is VERY ambiguous, and, before anyone asks for it, there, in all likelihood, WILL NOT be a sequel. I ended it the way I did on purpose. That said, I hope you all enjoy the story. Thanks for reading. :)

Charlynn

Unhealthy Obsessions – A One Shot

The rain had always made her reflective. Perhaps that was why she had always enjoyed living in Southern California; it didn't happen very often, but, as luck would have it, she was back in her hometown for the first time in ten years, and the coastal community was experiencing what many were referring to as the storm of the century. Obviously, something or someone was trying to tell her that coming home had been a grave mistake.

Sitting in the back of the cab she was taking from the airport to where she was staying for the weekend, memories of why she had left in the first place came crashing down upon her with more vengeance than the storm raging outside the thin, tinted windows of the slow moving vehicle, and doubts about her ability to remain detached and professional for the three days it would take to complete her work duties taunted her sanity. Was she a glutton for punishment? Did she enjoy testing herself and her willpower to remain impassive in the face of her past? How was she supposed to stay in the very house she had shared so many special moments with him in without giving in to her destructive urges and wanting to see him again? Why did she feel the need to risk the amazing life she had built for herself all because of one unhealthy obsession she had left behind years before on a night very similar in nature to the one storming around her?

She had waited up for him, cloaked in darkness and shrouded in pain, in the living room of the two bedroom, 'just friends' apartment they shared while at college together. Since they were kids, it had been Ryan and Marissa, Marissa and Ryan, joined together by a bond their families considered unbreakable. She was his rock, the person who held him together, who protected him against the unavoidable grief the world always seemed to offer him, the only person he truly needed to be happy, and he made her laugh, helped her let go of the duties, the commitments, the responsibilities she had taken on for herself and simply be. Never were two people more unlike each other or compatible in the same breath. However, despite the rumors and the whispers that constantly followed them around, they had always been best friends and nothing more.

That didn't mean there weren't deeper feelings though.

At a quarter after three, she heard the front door's locks snap open, alerting her to the fact that he was finally home. His being late wasn't something new. While she enjoyed quiet nights reading in bed or watching television, Ryan enjoyed the party scene around the campus, and, although he was no saint, to reassure her and make her feel somewhat comfortable with his rather loose, misguided lifestyle, he kept his revels limited to cigarettes, alcohol, and pot – never hard drugs. It was just another way she kept him on the right path.

His keys, as were his habit, dropped on the first available flat service, his shoes were kicked off haphazardly, for he knew no matter where they ended up the night before, she would always be able to find them for him the next day, and his beer dampened coat was shrugged off to land unceremoniously in a stinking heap on the hardwood floors before he made his way, maladroitly, to the hall which led to their separate bedrooms, never once noticing her keeping vigilance from an uncomfortable arm chair tucked into an obscure corner of the room.

"Make any more bets tonight?" Her voice was cold and distant; he had done that to her.

"Jesus, Marissa," Ryan exclaimed. Startled, he wobbled in place before propping himself up against the wall. Laughing, he joked, "this feels like the beginnings of a very cheesy slasher movie." Too drunk to notice her angry mood, he simply smiled at her. "What are you still doing up?"

"Answer my question. Did you make any more bets tonight?"

Shrugging sheepishly, he squinted in a useless attempt to focus his eyes upon her. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Can we do this another time, say when the room isn't spinning and I'm not a few minutes shy of passing out?"

"We can't," she announced without any remorse or sympathy for his plight. "I won't be here."

"What do you mean? Of course you'll be here; you live here."

"I'm transferring."

"It's the middle of our last semester," he shouted imperviously. Quickly, his alcohol induced buzz was being replaced with the harshness of reality. "You can't do that."

"There were extenuating circumstances," Marissa continued as if he hadn't objected. "I had to have some favors called in, but it was necessary."

"Well, I…what…where are you going," he sputtered, tripping his way into the living room and collapsing onto the couch, his attention suddenly completely riveted upon his roommate.

"I can't tell you that." Pausing, she rethought her statement. "No, that's wrong. I won't."

"Come on, Marissa, quit saying these things. You're being ridiculous. Of course you're going to tell me where you're going. How else will I get transferred, too?"

"That's simple. You're not going with me."

That made him pause and take notice. "What do you mean? Since the day I met you, we've never been more than a couple of miles from each other. I can't….you have to stay with me. I need you."

Standing up, she scoffed. "I guess you should have thought about that before you made your bet."

"What fucking bet?" His voice was rough, emotional, desperate, and the volume of it seemed to shake the very photos she had displayed of them on the walls. "I don't understand what's going on here, Marissa. Please, help me understand."

"No," she snapped, "you make me understand, because, I've got to tell you, I'm so confused and hurt right now, I can't even see straight."

He instantly became comforting. Standing up and moving across the room, Ryan attempted to take her in his arms, but she roughly shoved him aside, and he had to brace himself against the coffee table to keep from falling flat on his face.

"Do not touch me," she warned, backing up and away from him like a timid, scared child.

"Okay, I won't," he placated her, "but I can't help you if you don't tell me what's wrong. Who did this to you, Marissa? Who hurt you?"

"Someone I thought never would," she revealed, the tears she had been fearing all night finally clouding her deep, soulful blue eyes, "someone I thought I could depend on, could trust, someone I thought loved and respected me."

"I didn't know you were seeing someone."

Ignoring him, she continued. "When you first moved to town, when the Cohen's first took you in and adopted you, I was the only kid who saw past the resentment in your eyes and the walls you put up to protect yourself. Even when you tried to push me away at first, I never let you, and, before we knew it, we were practically one person. You told me everything about your past, the poverty, the abuse, the disappointment, and I let you into my heart, telling you all my secrets. You became my best friend, and I never thought…"

Her voice trailed off, and she was forced to take a long, steady, deep breath to calm her sobbing emotions. "It was never awkward between us, even after we became teenagers and left the innocence of childhood behind. We could date other people, and, when it was all said and done, turn to each other for a sympathetic ear or a comforting shoulder. When you started to get yourself into trouble in high school with drugs, I was there to pick you up and get you clean, and, since then, you've always respected me enough to control yourself. When I was almost raped freshman year of college, you found me, you saved me, and you helped me heal. That's when we moved in together. You said it was because you wanted to protect me, to make sure I was never hurt again, and I was just thrilled to spend even more time with my best friend. But that's when things started to get complicated.

"After a while, something I thought impossible happened – the simple friendship I felt for you turned into more; I wanted more, but, instead of letting it become a problem, we dealt with it by talking it through, by promising each other that it wouldn't change anything, and, for a while it worked. I dated other people, tried to forget the deeper feelings I had for you, and you went on your merry way, fucking every skank who was either drunk enough or desperate enough to spread her legs for you, knowing that it would never be more than a one night stand. A part of me felt as if your refusal to be with me was your way of loving me, of showing me that I was special to you, and it helped make the fact that you didn't want more of a relationship with me okay. But I know better now."

"Marissa," Ryan interrupted her long dialogue, "I still don't understand what this has to do with you leaving me?"

In a barely audible whisper, she revealed, "I talked to Seth today."

He blanched, physically took a step back and collapsed onto the couch as if she had hit him, and dropped his head into his hands. "Oh my god."

"He called, completely out of the blue, because he was concerned about me." Yelling again, she pressed, "your brother who has never even considered me a friend was so concerned about me that he put my welfare above your precious sibling bond, and do you know why he was worried?"

Although he mumbled something under his breath, the words were unrecognizable, and his inability to face up to his own behavior infuriated Marissa even further.

"Speak up, Ryan," she demanded, screaming at him. "For once in your fucking, miserable life, stop being a coward, quit hiding behind someone else, and fight your own damn battles. Tell me! Tell me what you just said!"

"I said," he roared, springing up from his seat and swiping his hand across the coffee table in one smooth motion of rage and fear and knocking everything off of it, the sound of breaking glass only serving to intensify the palpable level of tension in the room, "I said the bet – he called about the bet!"

"He did," she acknowledged. "Seth called to tell me that you had made a bet with some friends of yours, that, not only did you share with them the secrets of my past and the details of all my most intimate relationships, but that you also informed every single one of them about the night I was attacked three years ago. And then, to make matters even worse, you bragged about how I was in love with you, how you could use my feelings for you to get me to sleep with you, how I was just another slut you would be able to con your way into bed with."

"Come on, Marissa," he tried to pacify her, "that was just guys in a locker room blowing off steam. We all do it, and it never means anything."

"Then why did you tell Seth about your plans? If you weren't serious, why did you call up your brother last night and boast about how, after all these years, you were finally going to fuck Marissa Cooper?"

"I was drunk," he yelled in explanation, throwing his arms out in a form of obvious gesticulation and dismissing his actions. "I had no idea what I was doing or saying!"

"You know, you've used that excuse one too many times in the past, and, maybe if I was naïve enough to believe you, I'd be able to forgive the bet, but I can't forget what you said, Ryan."

"I don't understand what you mean."

"If you said those things about me, even if you were drunk or simply showing off to your friends, it's obvious that somewhere deep inside of you, you believe them yourself, and that's what I can't get past." Swallowing the lump in her throat, she ran a shaking hand through her disheveled hair and harshly bit down on her quivering lip. "I can't get past the fact that the man who I've held in my arms as he cried could so casually toss aside the bond we built over the years just so he could make himself look good in front of some brainless, egotistical jocks. I can't get past the fact that the man I let bathe and hold me in his arms after I was almost raped could so brutally discuss the most private and personal secrets of my life with a bunch of men who would rather hurt me themselves than help me if I was ever attacked again. And I sure a hell can't get past the fact that the man I love obviously feels so little for me. If it was the booze that made you do and say the things you did, then all I have to say to you is that it's time to grow up, Ryan. Yes, your childhood was terrible, but others have lived through and survived worse than you have, so quit using your past as an excuse and face your future. Someone is not always going to be there to pick up the pieces for you. You've already pushed me away, Seth's just about had it with you, and your parents, if they had any idea how much trouble you've gotten yourself into over the years that I've bailed you out of, they would have written you off long ago. So, grow up, sober up, and get your life in order before there's nothing to fix."

Turning around, she walked quickly into her bedroom where her packed bags were waiting for her. Unfortunately, he wasn't satisfied yet; he still couldn't let her go.

"Wait," he begged, "you don't have to leave. We can sort this out together, you and me against the world like it's always been, like it's supposed to be. We can work us out."

"There is no us anymore, and I'm beginning to wonder if there ever was. Did you think that I would always be here, waiting for you whenever you needed me? Did you think that I would always put my life on hold just to make sure that you were okay? Someday, I would have left anyway. I would have found someone else to love, someone who would love me back the way I deserve, and I would have left you and our friendship behind. I would have gotten married, had children, lived happily ever after, and you, eventually, would have become a distant memory. Just think of me leaving now as pulling the band aid off quickly instead of nursing the pain."

"Can I at least know where you're going? Can we still talk?"

"No," Marissa announced definitively. "This is goodbye. Don't try to find me, don't try to contact me, don't even use your brother and have him attempt to speak to me on your behalf. Stay away from my sister, stay away from my family, and, most importantly, stay the hell away from me, Ryan."

Picking up her suitcases, she passed through the doorway and out into the hall, following the path to the front door she had made so many times in the past, except for this time it would be her last. She was leaving everything behind there in that apartment – her whole life. Her bags only contained the essentials, a few basic items of clothing, her laptop, and her various forms of identification; everything else would remain in the home she had shared for the past three years with the man she had believed to be her best friend. Closing the front door behind her, she made her way towards the elevator, Ryan's pleading voice calling for her to return, to go back to him, but, no matter what, she never would. By sacrificing the man she loved, it was the only way she could save herself.

The taxi had arrived at her destination, but she could do nothing but remain seated, staring out the window, neither coming nor going, neither facing her past or running away from it. Just outside the car's door lived a bevy of memories she was unsure she could face. Not a day went by when she didn't think of him, wonder how he was, worry that her leaving had finally pushed him over the edge and into a dark oblivion of his own demons. Just outside the car's door stood the home of his family and the poolhouse they had practically shared growing up. Just outside the car's door remained the spirits of her past that had never stopped haunting her.

"Miss," the cab driver interrupted her thoughts, "this is the right place, isn't it? I mean, this is the address you gave me. I can sit here all night if that's what you want, but it'll cost you."

"No, I'm sorry," she hastily apologized, handing him his fair and a generous tip. "This is the place I asked to go to. It's just…a long time has passed since the last time I was here."

"Doesn't look like anyone's home," he observed, furrowing his brow in worry. It seemed even strangers doubted her ability to face her history. "Are you sure you want to stay here?"

"I'm sure," Marissa reassured him. "At one time, the people who live in this house were practically my family, and I still have my key to get in. They know I'm staying here; I'll be fine."

And they did know. Climbing out of the vehicle, she braved the elements, the wind whipping her hair out of its delicate coif and giving her the wild appearance of a Greek goddess, the rain drenching her fine, designer suit in mere seconds and sending a cold chill of alertness down her long, slender back, the thunder and lightning making her hasten her steps up the driveway, her carryon luggage obediently trailing after her. It had been a strange coincidence that she had become reacquainted with Kirsten Cohen. On a return trip home to Paris where she lived and worked as an assistant to the Vice President of Public Relations and Advertising at Chanel, she had randomly been seated next to the mother of her former best friend on the connecting flight from New York to London. Her former neighbor was going to England for a work conference, and, instead of sleeping or watching the in-flight movie, the two women had caught up on each others lives and struck up a very secret, tentative relationship. In fact, the older woman had not even shared the fact that she had seen and spoke with the fashion executive with her husband. Now, three years later, she was staying in their home for the weekend.

At first, she had been hesitant. After all, wasn't agreeing to Kirsten's generous offer risking the very life and existence she had built for herself away from Ryan, but her former neighbor assured her that the family would be away for the entire week at Seth's wedding in Philadelphia, and that her adopted son would never realize she was even in town. Even with the reassurances, Marissa had declined the offer, opting to stay in a hotel. She was there for business, meeting with a prestigious, famous client who, because of their penchant for finding their way into the press, demanded the company's utmost attention, so it was no problem to let her bosses pay for her accommodations. However, Kirsten had insisted, especially since she had knowledge of the younger woman's distaste for hotels, and, so, here she was about to step into the poolhouse and, once again, confront her past.

The tumblers of the lock turned easily, and the French door glided open almost if they were sweeping her into a welcoming embrace. Stepping into the shadowed space being illuminated by only the brief flashes of lightning from the storm, Marissa was immediately assaulted with the familiar scent of her former best friend. He hadn't lived there in nearly fourteen years, but, for the rest of her life, the poolhouse, in her mind, would always be his...be theirs. After putting her purse down and letting go of her suitcase's handle, she moved to turn the lights on, only to change her mind. Although, despite the storm, there was still electricity, all she really needed after the long, exhausting day was enough candles to allow her to change out of her wet clothes and into some dry pajamas, and the only plan Marissa had for the night was to sleep. But, first, she wanted to take a shower.

The candles she found in the drawer in the kitchen where they had been kept in all those years before when she had practically lived in the poolhouse with Ryan. She scattered them throughout the small space, placing several on the counter, a few by the bed, and one on the desk in the far corner just so that her imagination could not play tricks on her later and make her think something was hiding there. Not only did storms make her reflective, but, apparently, they also made her paranoid. Despite knowing she was all alone, it felt as if someone was watching her, but she dismissed her absurd fears and realized it was merely her own past self that used to feel at home in the poolhouse that was haunting her now older, more mature, less benevolent silhouette.

It made her feel safe, the soft, warm glow of the candles, and, comfortable with her surroundings, she began to undress. Letting her suit jacket fall to the floor, she moved to deftly unfasten the delicate buttons of her blouse, working slowly for there was no rush. It, too, eventually fluttered to the ground, leaving her clad in nothing but a lavender, strapless bra, pencil skirt, seamed, sheer stockings, and round toed, platform pumps, hair untamed and starting to curl, dripping cool water down her exposed back. In that moment, she was any man's fantasy.

As she moved to sit on one of the stools by the bar, she found a note from Kirsten, detailing to her the various provisions the older woman had set aside for her younger friend and letting her know that she would get in touch with her soon so they could catch up. Seeing the brief letter made Marissa feel wanted and at home, two things she had not been expecting. Smartly, she slid her heels off her slender feet, letting them hit the floor with a soft, hollow smack, the only sound in the small poolhouse besides her own shallow breathing. Standing up, her skirt followed a similar path, pooling at her feet. She kicked it aside and traveled into the bathroom in nothing but her silk lingerie.

Since she was all alone, she left the bathroom door open as she prepared to take her shower, turning on the water and removing the final, remaining articles of dress she was still wearing. It was then when she was completely vulnerable that a shiver of apprehension exploded through her fragile, supple form. The chill was not the reaction to the brisk night air but a sudden awareness of not being alone, of being watched, of being coveted. However, the realization in and of itself didn't frighten her – what did was the fact that she wasn't scared of the nameless, faceless presence but, instead, was stimulated by it, enlivened, excited by it.

Even after ten years, she could sense his aura surrounding her, and, as he stepped into the poolhouse and out of the elements where he had been surreptitiously watching her through the open and bare windows, it cloaked her like a familiar, comfortable, reliable sense of coming home. In that moment, Marissa decided to let the night be what it may. Whatever happened between them, it would end the next day. For one evening out of the rest of her life, she would forget the past, forget the pain, and forget the future and simply exist in the present with him. It was dangerous, it was obtuse and ill-advised, and it was everything she had been secretly wishing for since the moment she had pushed him out of her life.

Without a word shared between them, she beckoned him to come to her by simply not turning him away. Opening the shower curtain, she stepped inside the tiled stall and the let the steam of the hot water cleanse her mind of any final, remaining doubts. Although in reality it was several minutes later, it felt like mere seconds to her before Ryan was there, holding her, embracing her, kissing her, becoming one with her.

She thought he would be quick, that he would take advantage of her moment of weakness and, just as suddenly as he had arrived, take her and make her his, but he didn't. He took his time with her, savored her, worshipped from her body. Gently, his fingers washed her hair, massaging the tension from her lithe form and unwinding her to the point where she was forced to lean back into his arms and let his strong, dependable body support hers. When he had finished, he simply placed a butterfly soft kiss at the nape of her neck and proceeded to wash her body. His actions were oddly dispassionate; there was nothing erotic or seductive about them, and, instead, he was simply taking care of her, and, astonishingly enough, she was letting him.

When there wasn't a hint of her skin left to bathe and the water had turned from blistering hot to lukewarm, Ryan simply lifted her into his arms, turned the shower off, and carried her into the outer recesses of the poolhouse. Laying her on the bed, he moved to extinguish every candle but the few sitting beside them on the nightstand table. Before returning to her, he opened all the French doors, allowing in the fresh, newly cleansed and purified seaside air the thunderstorm had brought in with its salt-tinged mists, eerie thunder, and suggestive lightening, and immersed both them and the room into the very atmosphere of the volatile gale. It was mysteriously sensual and inexplicably the perfect ambiance for them to make love in for the first and last time.

All thoughts left Marissa's mind though as Ryan's body blanketed hers. For several moments they simply stared at one another, drinking in the others face and memorizing it. While she could see that he had changed throughout the ten years they had been living separate lives, he also seemed like the same exact boy she had left behind. In her eyes the new shadows in his eyes didn't exist, the faint lines of worry and stress puckering his brow weren't there, and the constant look of fear and sadness covering his countenance was replaced with an expression of peace and contentment as soon his gaze locked with hers. To her, he was man she had always wanted him to be…at least for as long as their moment in time lasted.

Shyly, almost hesitantly, he began to love her at a leisurely pace. Their lips coupled first, hers soft, plump, and pliant, his firm and insisting, needy and begging, but neither were satisfied for long with the simple, safe gesture of affection. Eventually, his mouth lingered from hers and traveled down her body, kissing, revering, licking, venerating, nipping, adoring, tasting, loving her neck, her arms, her hands, her fingers, her feet, her legs, her abdomen, and, finally her chest. Taking first one and then the other breast in his purely masculine hands, Ryan devoted all of his attention to her heaving mounds, suckling from her awakened nipples and arousing the firm buds to even higher levels of desire.

When his actions no longer contented either of them, he slid his body and his mouth down her withering form, unfolding her long, luscious legs and allowing himself to finally taste her very essence. Sipping from her, savoring her, letting the epitome of her femininity envelope him, Ryan brought Marissa to her first orgasm. By the time she came down from her sensual high, her body's trembling and clenching mellowing to a point where lucid thought was possible, she realized that her former best friend had completely given to her, demanding nothing in return, and it only increased her yearning to pleasure him just as exhaustively, but he wouldn't let her.

Leaning down, Ryan embraced her once again in a decadently rich and sinful kiss, allowing her to taste herself on his mouth, while his hands began to worship her body for a second time that evening. When she tried to take control, when she tried to love him the way he had just finished loving her, he simply smiled, shook his head no, and continued to cause sensations she had previously believed to be impossible to assault her satiated yet still ravenous form. It was as if being with him had awakened a desire within her that could not be quenched…or perhaps it was simply years of unrequited affection finally being returned and fulfilled.

They made love three times that night before she fell asleep, blissfully exhausted and feeling secure in his arms. The last things she remembered before slipping into a state of unconsciousness were the feeling of Ryan moving inside of her, the completeness she experienced while reaching her release at the same time as he did, and the knowledge of the fact that for one night they had belonged to each other…even if it had been a mistake.

Hours later, she woke to the sounds of her former best friend sleeping beside her and the sensation of his arms wrapped around her, holding her tightly to him while they rested together in a bed they had only shared platonically in the past. Slipping out of his embrace, she got up, changed her clothes, and prepared to leave before either he could wake up or she could change her mind. Just as she was about to disappear, steal out the door and blend into the night like a ghost that was never there to begin with, his voice, rough with sleep and desperate with apprehension, disrupted the quiet and obscurity of the darkness.

"Marissa, what…what are you doing? Where are you going?"

Turning back around to face him but never letting go of the door or her suitcase, she replied, "I'm going back to where I belong. This, coming here to Newport, staying in your parents' home, a place we once shared together as friends, sleeping with you, it was all a huge lapse of judgment."

The hurt her words caused him was apparent in his next sentence. "You think that what we shared here tonight should never have happened?"

"Yes."

"I didn't force you," he immediately defended himself. "No matter what has happened between us in the past, you have to know that I would never do that to you."

"I do."

"Then it was consensual," he continued as if she hadn't said anything. "You made love to me because you wanted to. You can't take that back now and tell me that it was a mistake."

"It was just sex, and I had a moment of weakness," Marissa tried to reason with him. "For years I was attracted to you; we both know that, and, when the opportunity presented itself for me to sleep with you, I grabbed onto it with both hands, but, now that the haze of desire has passed, I realized what we did was foolish."

"It was more than just sex," he argued, standing up from the bed and quickly pulling on his boxers before crossing the room to stand before her. Imploring her to look at him with his eyes, he pressed, "and it was more than just a moment or weakness or attraction. We're connected, always have been and always will be. Not even ten years was a long enough time period to break the bond that we share."

"Look at it this way," she instructed, dismissing his impassioned words. "You're my addiction, my obsession, and, in what would be a laughable moment of vulnerability if it wasn't frankly so sad, I relapsed. However, I'm not going to allow myself to wallow in my setback. I'm going to pick myself up, forget about this night, and start all over again with my sobriety. Some people are addicted to drugs, like you are, some are addicted to danger, to porn, to shopping, to gambling, to, hell, I don't know, adopting abandoned animals from the pet shelter, and I'm no different, except my addiction is you. However, unlike other addicts, I have the power to stay away from you and not allow you to drag me or my life down again. That's why I'm leaving."

"It's alright to be addicted to something if it's good for you," Ryan argued, grabbing her hand and pulling her back towards him when she went to leave, "and we're good together, great even."

"That's where you're wrong. You and I are a disaster waiting to happen," she contradicted him, "and I, for one, try to avoid wrecking myself at all costs."

"For twelve years, you were the best thing in my life," her former best friend explained, begging her to listen. "I never thought you would leave me, but it wasn't until you did that I realized everything I had done wrong. I took advantage of your love, your friendship, and I took you for granted. You leaving me was the hardest thing I've ever had to get through. For the first two years, I was a mess, drunk or stoned every day. I ended up flunking out of school that last semester, eventually my parents and Seth got sick of my antics just as you predicted, and it wasn't until I hit rock bottom that I realized I had met every single one of your low expectations for me. That's when I pieced my life back together, and I did it all in the hopes that somewhere out there you were watching and approving of me. That, living my life for your unlikely praise, is what finally made me realize that I didn't just love you – I was in love with you. I still am."

"And what now," Marissa prompted him. "So, it's a new decade and, instead of me having feelings for you, you want to be with me, but how is it going to be different this time when I walk out of your life? Am I actually supposed to believe that you won't turn back to the alcohol and the drugs this time, too? After all, it is your pattern. Someone disappoints you, you self-destruct. Well, thanks for the offer, but I won't be taking you up on it. I have no interest in letting you destroy me while you tear apart your own life."

"How can you stand there and lie to me," he asked, furrowing his brow and shaking his head in bewilderment. "You never used to lie to me, but here you are denying the fact that you love me."

"I don't."

"The Marissa I know would never make love with a man if she wasn't in love with him."

"Well," she shrugged her shoulders flippantly, "I've changed. Ten years will do that to a person. As for making love, how many times do I have to say it? We did not make love. We had sex, no strings, emotionless sex."

She could tell she was destroying him, that her cold words and aloof actions were ripping him apart and leaving him in disarray, but, like the night she walked away from him for what was supposed to be forever, it wasn't about keeping him held together but about her own self-preservation, and, as the first tear, unchecked, fell from his pained, azure eyes, she accepted her actions as the right thing to do. "Where are you going?"

"First, I'm going to a hotel and getting a room for the rest of the night, and then tomorrow, before I get a flight back to where I live, I'm going to the hospital."

"For what?"

"I just slept with a man who is an admitted former drug user, and don't forget that I know about your sordid ways. Who knows what you've done or who you've been with during a drunken stupor or stoned haze, and, before I go home, I have to make sure that I'm clean and safe for my fiancé." As the words tumbled from her lips still bruised from his kisses, she felt his hand slip from her arm and watched it fall idly to his side. "Like I told you ten years ago, this is goodbye. Don't try to find me, don't try to contact me, don't even use your brother and have him attempt to speak to me on your behalf. Stay away from my sister, stay away from my family, and, most importantly, stay the hell away from me, Ryan."

And, with that, Marissa walked out his life for the second and final time.

Six months later….

"Hey Mom, it's me," Marissa spoke into her phone, disappointed that she had only reached the answering machine. "It's snowing here…again. Don't get me wrong, I love Paris, and I love having four seasons, especially since that means it's necessary to have four distinct wardrobes, but I don't think I'll ever get used to the cold. I was just calling to see if you could hold the phone up for me so I could hear the waves of Hawaii, and I wanted to let you know how our appointment went today. There's just three months left until the big day, and I can't wait. Before you worry, we're both doing fine, perfectly healthy despite the blizzard assaulting my apartment at the moment. The gifts have really been coming in lately. It's amazing how generous people are sometimes." She paused momentarily to reflect upon her life and to see if there was anything else she wanted to share with her mother. "Oh, and did I tell you that I found the perfect furniture? I was out shopping with a friend of mine a few days ago when I spotted it. Ordered it immediately, just as you taught me, and it'll be here next week. Even though I had my doubts, everything's coming together…just as you said it would. Well, that's it, everything I can think of to tell you. Call me back later. I'll be home for the rest of the night. By Mom, love you."

Snapping her phone shut, she dropped it into her purse and moved to hang up her heavy, winter coat. Just as she was about to turn around, she sensed it. She sensed him.

"There is no fiancé." His voice was calm, nonjudgmental, even slightly tender. "You lied to me; you're not engaged, just as you lied to me about how you felt six months ago after we made love. You see, I know you. Despite everything that's happened between us, both the beautiful and the heartbreaking, I can still tell when you're lying to me, and you were lying to me when you claimed to be planning to marry another man. I know why you did it," he continued, never giving her a chance to speak. "You did it to hurt me, because you weren't strong enough to push me away any more. You figured that you could hurt me so much that I would not come after you, but you were wrong, Marissa. Once we crossed that line, there was no going back, and there was no way I was going to let you run out of my life again. So, I'm here under any capacity you may want me. I'll be your friend, I'll be your lover, I'll even be the pain in the ass from your past who won't leave you alone, but I'm not giving up on us, on what we share together. I quit my job, sold my house, sold my car, and cut my ties with everyone and everything back in California except my parents, so you're stuck with me. Like I told you ten years ago, we can work this out. I'm a different man than I was the day you walked out of my life; I'm the man you always believed I could be, and all I ask is that you give me a chance to prove myself to you. I won't let you down or hurt you again, I promise."

She listened to every word he said, took them in and absorbed them, but, still, she remained silent, never turning around to face him.

"Please," he beseeched her, "say something – anything."

Swallowing thickly, she pushed down her emotions and started to answer him. "I can't…"

"Come on, Marissa," Ryan interrupted her almost desperately. She could hear him stand up from the couch where he had been sitting the entire time. "At least have the decency to turn around and face me." She didn't move, didn't even dare to breathe. "So this is what our relationship has been reduced to," he cried out miserably. "I beg you to give me another chance, and you simply stand there and ignore what I have to say."

"I didn't ignore you; I heard every word, but I can't turn around. You need to leave."

"Not until I see your face, not until I can look into your eyes and see for myself your refusal to let me even try and make up for all the horrible things I've ever done to you. Please," he pleaded one last time, "just turn around. If you do and your eyes are still telling me to leave, I will."

"Fine," she agreed on a loud, petrified sigh. Bracing herself, she moved her hands down to gently wrap around her swollen form, cradling the life growing inside of her as if her touch alone could protect her baby, feeling vulnerable and completely stripped of all her defenses as she finally turned around to face him.