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You made another mistake
And went another round
You thought that you'd never break
But now you're broken down
It was a jump that you thought you could make
But then you crashed and burned again
-Wideawake "Bigger than Ourselves"
When her boyfriend decides he doesn't love her anymore, no one is surprised when Serena pulls a Lily and escapes to California.
With heart wrenching skill, she looks back at years' worth of photo albums, all of her and Dan. She sits crying in her bedroom at the Palace after a nightmarish graduation dinner and far too many drinks. It is ironic how fast she falls when her heart is thrown back in her face, back into her old ways, back to who she used to be.
So just like she fled to Hanover six and a half years ago, now she flees a little further west.
Her first day in Los Angeles is spent learning that without a car, you just cannot get around. So she makes like Victoria Beckham and applies for her license, only failing the driving test once before she passes. Her absent father wires her the money for a car, and sends just enough to feed about every underdeveloped country in the world. She wants to opt for an eco-friendly Prius to be trendy and true to the environment, but eco-friendly utilities remind her of Dan, and she doesn't want to be reminded of him, so she pulls a Blair and purchases a shiny black Mercedes convertible instead. Her best friend voices her approval through a text, and Serena wonders when she will see her next.
A week passes and Serena begins to think she made a mistake by choosing to move so far, but when she calls her mother to complain, Lily chastises her, "It was your choice to move thousands of miles away from me, Serena. Don't complain if I'm not there to help you out of every little dilemma. Chuck came back to the city for graduate school. I wished you would do the same, but the tuition has been paid, so please, just stick this out."
It is two months until classes start and her apartment is fully furnished, her car shiny and washed, and new clothes have been bought, but she still has no friends. She laughs, because she used to make them so easily, a delightful treat in the eyes of many. The girls next door make her come out with them and she obliges, donning a glitzy minidress for the after hours party at Les Deux.
At the club, there are martinis and cosmopolitans and shots and more martinis before Serena feels her head begin to spin. She realizes she has drank way too much because the last time she was this drunk, she accidentally had sex with her best friend's boyfriend. She thinks she sees Nate sitting at the table next to hers and winces, only to have the lookalike boy come strolling over to her and ask, "Are you alright?"
And it's okay because the boy is not Nate, but she still feels like she is fifteen and vulnerable under the stare of his intense blue eyes. She remembers that Nate graduated from USC this past spring and is beginning his graduate studies at Yale before she nods in response and breathes in some air, "Yes, I—," but she can't finish and there is a breathy quality to her voice.
"Here, let me get you some water," he starts, but she shakes her head, "No, no, I can get it. I'll be fine."
But when she lifts herself up to go to the bar, she finds she can't, and he is lightly smiling at her. He returns quickly with a bottle of Voss which he hands to her, "It's unopened, so I didn't drug you or anything."
She raises her eyebrows in response and takes the water, greedily sipping, before responding, "Thank you. I guess I needed that."
"You think?" he asks, and before she responds with something rude, he lifts his hands in retreat, "I kid, I kid."
"You're not very funny," Serena adds, before he holds his hand out to her, "Ryan Atwood."
"Serena van der Woodsen," she responds, before he asks if he can sit down. She gestures to the empty seat next to her and he sits down before his friends walk over, too. He introduces them as Seth and Summer Cohen, and Serena glances fleetingly at the enormous Tiffany diamond on the girl's left hand.
The girl reminds her of Blair and in that instant, Serena misses her best friend more than she has missed her in a long time. She reminds herself to call her in the morning to update her that yes, she finally did go out.
Seth takes one look at Ryan before he says, "You always did have a thing for self-destructive blondes with a penchant toward alcoholism," before Summer hits him and apologizes to Serena, who looks confused at the whole exchange.
"You're such an ass, Cohen," Summer angrily begins, before her husband interrupts her, "You do know you're a Cohen now, too?" Summer hits him again before they excuse themselves to leave.
She and Ryan talk some more before he asks for her number and she gives it to him. After she utters the obligatory 212, he asks, "Oh, a Manhattan girl?" And she smiles before she responds, "Born and bred."
Ryan continues, "So what is a New Yorker like you doing in California?"
"Grad school," Serena replies, before Ryan asks, "Where did you go for your undergrad?"
"Brown," she says, "and you?"
"Berkeley," he replies, and notes that Summer also went to Brown. He adds, "So, UCLA or USC grad school? You look like a business student."
"That obvious?" Serena cringes, before saying, "USC. I'm sad to say that I'm not adventurous enough to try public school. According to my best friend Blair, I wouldn't survive."
"Now we can't have that, can we?" Ryan asks. He promises to call her next week.
For Thanksgiving, she chooses to stay in California because for months she and Ryan are not-so-casually-dating and he invites her up to Berkeley to wine and dine (but less on the wine, because Kirsten used to be an alcoholic) with the Cohen family. Over the months he has told her the story of his life, how he grew up in Chino (God, this reminds her of Dan), how the Cohens sort of adopted him during his sophomore year of high school, and about the girls he has dated.
The names that pop up the most are Marissa and Taylor, but mostly Marissa, and for the first time in Serena's life, she feels a little like Blair when a glimmer of second-best bubbles in her stomach. She tries to not let it bother her, because it is so hard to get Ryan to open up anyway, and so she chooses to ignore it, instead smiling delicately when he looks her way.
Sandy and Kirsten graciously welcome them into their home, and Serena has yet to meet another set of parents that still look so in love. She comments on this and Kirsten laughs, saying, "Things got easier when we left Newport."
"Yeah," Summer pipes up, "those crazy Newpsies just drive you insane!"
"Um Summer," Seth begins, "you are a crazy Newpsie."
"Nuh uh," Summer retorts, and this is the second, but not the last time, that Serena witnesses the tiny brunette hit her husband.
Little Sophie crawls from Summer's lap into Serena's, asking where she's from, what her hobbies are, and if she loves Ryan. Serena says, "New York, shopping with my best friend—" but then her voice trails off and she looks for Ryan, but he has already left the room with Sandy.
"So," Sandy began.
"So," Ryan repeated.
"I can never have a decent conversation with you, kid."
"I can't say anything if I don't know what we're talking about."
"Oh," Sandy began again, "I think you know what we're talking about."
"Serena?" Ryan asked dumbly.
"Serena," Sandy repeated, this time with a questioning eyebrow.
"She's—I don't know, Sandy. She's beautiful and carefree and at times, she reminds me of Marissa, but other times she doesn't. I don't know. It's hard to explain."
"And they always are. Blonde Gentiles, you gotta love 'em."
It takes one year of dating for Ryan to introduce Serena to Taylor, and Serena is more than surprised to meet a smart, perky (and pretty) brunette with a fondness for Korean men. Her last name is now Kim, she tells Ryan, and she holds up the pretty Cartier diamond for the whole table to see. They are lunching at the Ivy and past the glint of the diamond, Serena almost swears that she sees Lindsay Lohan at the table behind the tree.
When the girl gets up to go to the bathroom (probably to do something illegal), Serena sees it actually is Lindsay Lohan (albeit a blonde one) and she squeals her surprise when she texts Blair. Blair responds to her text by asking her to find real celebrities, not trashy sluts.
The name Marissa floats around less and less these days, but Serena still has a gut feeling that she should not ask about her, so like her passive self, she refrains.
One day, as she shops with Summer on the second floor of Bloomingdales, she finally musters up the courage to ask who Marissa Cooper is.
For a second, Summer looks shocked, but the strapless yellow dress does not leave her hands because the grip she has on it holds. When tears well in her eyes and she whispers, "My dead best friend," Serena really wishes she did not ask. She finally knows why Ryan cannot let go, because this girl was his first love.
When she makes him dinner that night, she is extra attentive because she feels guilty for asking. He doesn't give it a second thought.
When she graduates with honors from the MBA program at USC, her family flies in and takes her out to dinner at Koi. Blair comes on a later flight, arriving thirty minutes after everyone else at the restaurant, all curly brown hair and royal blue dress. Serena feels her stepbrother's eyes wander over to her best friend when she introduces herself to Ryan, dubbing him worthy of Serena's affection.
Her family leaves to retire, but Blair stays behind. Ryan asks Chuck to come out with them, and the four leave to Area.
Blair nearly giggles with delight when she gets mistaken for Keira Knightley, and she eagerly poses for the paparazzi. They ask who her entourage is and she tells them in a horrible English accent that her best friend is London-based model Lily Donaldson and these okay-looking boys are Rupert Friend and Chad Michael Murray. The girls giggle some more as they saunter off into the club, leaving behind Chuck and Ryan.
"I've never seen her this happy before," Ryan says, motioning to a long-gone Serena.
"She and Blair get that way," Chuck replies.
Ryan nods toward the girls, who are blatantly flirting with the bouncer to get a good table, "What's up with you and Blair?"
"What?" Chuck looks up.
"I'm pretty sure you heard me, man."
"Yeah, I did. Did she say something?"
Ryan shook his head, "She didn't have to. You've been staring at her all night."
Chuck rubbed a hand through his hair before he answered, "The thing, whatever it was that we had was over six years ago. I don't know why she still makes me feel seventeen."
Things were apparently going alright for Chuck and Blair because an engaged Ryan and Serena received an invite to their wedding a year and a half later.
The necessary arrangements were made, and a flight booked before Serena realized the implications of returning to New York. She did not want to return to the city, return to the pain it caused her, return to him. She would just avoid Constance, avoid the Brooklyn Bridge, avoid any thoughts of Dan.