A/N: Okay, so, another story...I actually just started this one a few days ago, I'm not too sure if I like it or not. This is a little bit different from most of my stories in the writing style, but I hope you all like it. Let me know what you think.

--Welcome Home--

You haven't seen her in three years.

That summer after graduation was spent together, you relaxing, her working for that record company. Life was great, just the two of you. But fall drew nearer and you both were to head off to your respective colleges.

Except that didn't happen. Life didn't go as planned. Or as she planned. Sometimes you think for her it never will.

You had only been in New York for a month – studying fashion, of course – when you got the call.

Her father had died. Something about a severe storm out in the middle of the sea. You didn't hear it from her. It had been Haley who told you the news, said you needed to come back home.

And you did. You were right there next to her, when they buried her father, just like you were a little more than a decade ago when it was her mother. She didn't speak, to anyone. But you stayed right by her side, with her through it all, until a week later you had no choice but to leave. You had school to get back to.

And that was it. You never heard from her again, no one had. Well, everyone had gotten the same generic e-mail two weeks after the funeral, saying her thanks and appreciation for attending and how much it meant to her. Though you all knew it wasn't her saying that, it was her just being polite, trying to say what she couldn't.

You found out a few months later, during the first winter break of your college career, that the boy you thought you loved and the girl you loved had broken up before the two of you left for the summer break, which as much as it had hurt in the beginning you thought would never happen, you had accepted it, them. So you were shocked, then confused when he had told you of her decision to end it with him, especially since she never told you.

Over time, you realized more and more how much you really didn't know about your best friend. You see how much you missed at the time, and wish so badly that you could go back to fix what was right in front of you, to do or say the things that would have made things better, simpler, happier, for all. You wish you could have really seen her, when she was right in front of you, for so many years.

So now, three years since you had last seen her, heard from her, she is standing in front of your front door, you think it's a little odd that you aren't more shocked than you are. Or maybe ticked off? She's there, standing, arms hugging herself tightly, head slightly bent to the ground as you stand there, looking at her, not sure of what to say.

Yet for some reason you feel like you knew you'd see her all along.

And then you feel angry because you haven't seen her in so long.

And then you just feel happy because at least you know she's alive, seemingly okay, and here.

But still you don't say anything.

It's summer again. And you're back home in Tree Hill, spending your time just relaxing and shopping when you feel like it. But you mostly spend the time to yourself, or visiting with your old friends, whom you've still kept in contact with, enjoying the family they have become to you.

So when you see her here, on your front walkway as you stand in front of your door which you have now stepped away from some, still silent, you also think that maybe you feel a little more whole, seeing her again. You knew something was missing, and you're thinking maybe she's it, because she's always been there, until she wasn't anymore.

Finally she looks up at you, fear and sorrow in her eyes and she beings to talk. Slowly she gets the beginning awkward 'hello' out of the way and meanders her way to why she is here. Not just here as in on your door step, but here, staying in her house, in Tree Hill, in North Carolina, in front of you.

She talks. For a long time, rambling and talking in circles some. But she talks, and you wonder who this person is standing before you. Because this person, she is not the person you knew, she isn't your best friend. After all, you never thought she could be this, be telling you these things she is.

And suddenly you are looking at her, really looking, as she nervously hugs herself and fidgets. You're looking at her and seeing how much she has changed, how she hardly looks like her old self. Yet she still looks like the same girl you've known for most of your life.

And as you study her, you let the words that are falling out of her mouth sink in. Really understand them. You listen and are still silent as she tells you about AA and one of the steps involving apologizing and making amends for past mistakes. How she is trying to get her life back together and needs to make things right with you, or at least tell you what she is now, in order to move on. In order to do right by you, and tell you how sorry she is, for everything she thinks you need an apology for, some things you think you don't, don't even care about.

And she's listing some things, events, talking about situations like she has dissected them over and over again in her mind trying to figure out where it all went wrong. She's telling you things, about herself, about how she messed up, over and over, and you're just standing, looking at her, as she tries to avoid eye contact.

You're still listening, but only half paying attention, as she finishes what she has to say, your own mind churning with dozens of questions.

She says she'll be in town for a while; she has a lot of past mistakes to try and make right, things she has to do. You can tell this is hard for her, you can tell in the way she's reacting to you not reacting and how what she is saying really isn't saying much, or the whole truth in some matters. But she's trying, and as you take in all this information, you figure that's the important part.

And you continue to listen as she turns to go and quietly says if you want to talk more or 'whatever' that you know where to find her, for at least a little while.

Then she's walking slowly, almost heavily as if the weight of her world crumbling down around her is resting on her shoulders, and she's not quite half way down the walkway when you finally speak, almost before your mind can catch up to what you're about to say, stopping her dead in her tracks.

"Were you in love with me?"

At first you think that to both of you that probably seemed to come way out of left field. And then you wonder when you started using sports analogies.

You're not sure if you meant to say that out loud, but a part of you is glad you did, relieved, because honestly you've been wondering, and with all the reflection you've done over the years, you've wondered things about yourself as well. But once you've said it, you don't dare want to take it back.

And she's still standing where she stopped, back turned as she answers you, shoulders slightly slumped but back rigid with some sort of depleted determination.

"Yes. I was."

And there you have it. But you don't really know what to do with that answer; you are still in shock at seeing her after all this time. But you have to ask the next question before she leaves. Before any more time has passed and you really lose her for good.

"Do you still love me?"

She doesn't seem to have ever expected this question, as her body almost turns around to face you, but moves back just as quick. With a small, disbelieving shaking of her head she replies with a question of her own.

"What does it matter anymore?"

You think she's going to continue walking away and suddenly you feel a restriction in your chest and a fear so overwhelming that you may never ever see her again, that this may be it, that all of your questions will never be answered, that her mantra will become yours. So as she takes her first step you take one more step away from the door, closer to her. And you again stop her with sound of your voice.

"It matters to me. It matters because I haven't seen or heard from my best friend in almost three years and no one knew if you were alive or lying dead in some ditch somewhere. I have been so worried and had this void in my heart because you were missing. So it matters, despite everything, it matters."

You take another step towards her as she remains rooted to her spot. She turns around and you see the few silent tears that have fallen down her face, you see the fear, hesitation, the pain, and regret in her eyes. You see her once again.

"Of course I still love you. How could I not? I can't fix this; I can't make it all better, despite what I'm trying to do. I'm only just getting back on my feet, I can't take any more blows to the gut, so please, just leave it. Just let me try and make my amends, and then I'll leave. I'll leave everyone alone, or keep in touch, whatever you want me to do, but having you know that I love you isn't something I can take right now because it all hurts so much. I almost drank myself into oblivion; I can't even begin to tell you the things I've done these past few years, how I lived, or didn't for that matter. So whatever you're trying to get at right now, please don't, because I can't handle it, please."

You stayed silent.

"Goodbye Brooke."

The words were said with so much emotion that it didn't matter what you were going to say, because you could clearly see she was hurting, and you didn't want to do anything to make her hurt any worse. So you stayed silent, and let her turn to continue walking away, a broken shell of the girl you once knew.

But she was still her.

And as she reached the end of the drive, you yelled out to her, making sure she could here you.

"I'm not going to give up on you Peyton Sawyer! I love you and I'm going to help you with whatever you need. We'll get through this, I believe it. I believe in us, P. Sawyer!"

You were standing a few steps away from your front door. She had once again stopped, this time at the end of your drive way, but she didn't look back. A moment passed and she was on her way again. You watched until you could no longer see her frail form in the distance before you turned back and went into your house, feeling a weight lifted, and the air changing, giving you hope.

Right now all you can think is you're glad she's home.

A/N: So continue, or no?