Ahhh! Don't hate me! Seriously!

And yeah, I lied. There is going to be one more chapter and then the epilogue. Cuz 13 is an unlucky number and I just didn't want to write the last part of this story with this chapter. So, yeah. And I know it's a short chapter for such a long wait, but the next one will be worth it. I promise you (hopefully). Now I'm going to stop babbling and let you guys read! Any mistakes or spelling errors are my fault. After rereading this chapter over ten times, I started getting sick of it. Bleh.

I want to thank all who have favorited, alerted, and reviewed this story! I love you all so much, it really means a lot to me! Hopefully I can get the next chapter out a lot sooner this time around (I'm hoping before Christmas).


Somehow I didn't think time could pass me by so quickly, but apparently it did. It was already the sixth day of winter, Gray's birthday, but it felt like it was just yesterday that we had returned from the city.

The six of us (Ann, Cliff, Mary, Kai, Gray, and I) were relaxing at my home, celebrating Gray's twenty-second birthday. I had to admit, Gray was…doing okay, but somehow I knew he was isolating himself from everyone.

Said man was leaning against the counter in my small kitchenette, arms crossed, eyes distant. I furrowed my brow, frowning, before I made my over to him. His eyes lit up as soon as he saw me and my frown disappeared, replaced with a small smile.

Before he was able to get a word in, I said, "Let's go for a walk, okay?"

His stoic demeanor faltered before he answered. "O-okay."

Gray waited for me by the door as I shrugged into my silver and white baby-doll coat and put my silver flats on. After saying a quick goodbye to everyone, who were all frolicking around the Christmas tree I had recently bought, we went outside.

Snow had only just fallen, and it left a thin, sparkling white blanket across my whole farm. Even though the heavy snow clouds blocked the sun, a few rays were still able to shine through and melt a couple of patches of snow here and there.

Gray and I headed for the bridge at the very edge of my farm, leading to the forest that surrounded the bottom-half of Mineral Town. I let out a puff of breath which turned into a small circle of fog once it hit the chilly winter air.

"So…"

I giggled. "You act as though there is something wrong."

Gray went to cover up his obvious blush with his hat, but upon remembering that he wasn't wearing it, opted to cross his arms with a loud huff instead. "Well, why else would we be walking out here for?" he asked, scoffing as he quickened his walking pace.

I frowned when I couldn't keep up with his long strides, but decided to tease him a tad bit more. "Can't I just take a walk with you without there being something wrong?" I called after him, a little out of breath.

Upon hearing my voice from a distance, Gray turned around and frowned. After mumbling a small apology, he walked back to where I was panting and splayed a large hand on my lower back for stability. "Forgot that you're allergic to exercise," he grinned as we started walking again.

"Hmph," I grumbled as I wrapped my hands around his lower arm, resting my head against his upper arm.

He let out a content hum as we walked past the snow-covered scenery in silence. The only thing that could be heard was our footsteps against the dirt path under our feet and the rare scuffle of animals on the forest floor.

By now we were standing near Kappa's Lake, and a shiver ran down my spine, but not from the cold. I had heard some weird things about a freaky green creature that lived in this lake, and I couldn't help but wonder if the rumors were true.

"Cold?" Gray asked, gently laying his arm around my shoulders.

"No," I shook my head. "Just thinking about random things. Like, I don't know; say, freaky grotesque green blobs that live in lakes and like cucumbers."

"Oh," he chuckled huskily, "you mean the Kappa."

I frowned and took a step backwards, yearning to stay far away from that body of water. "Ugh, what if it suddenly pops out of the water and starts moaning indecipherable words, grabs us both and then proceeds to drag us back into his watery domain and never be heard from again?!"

Gray gave me a weird-almost-humorous look before practically guffawing on the cold, snowy ground. Well, not literally, but almost. He was clutching his sides and was bent over, laughing out loud. And I mean loud.

My face reddened. "I don't see what's so funny! And please, Gray, stay away from the edge of that lake!"

"First," he wiped the tears that were forming in his eyes, "it's winter, Claire, the lake is frozen over so you don't have to worry about the scary green blob coming out and grabbing you. And even if the lake wasn't frozen, the Kappa is a mere myth; no one has actually ever seen it."

"Oh." Well I felt completely and utterly stupid. I had to remind myself never to listen to Karen EVER again when she was dunk. What the hell was wrong with me, listening to a drunken woman talking about a freaky-ass lake monster?!

He gave me an amused smile as he played with a few strands of my long hair. "Besides, you have me here to protect you from the big, bad, mythical lake creature."

"Yeah," I rolled my eyes playfully, "because that snippet of information makes me feel oh-so safe at night."

Suddenly, Gray wrapped a large hand around my waist and brought me flush against him, caressing my cheek with his knuckles. "Really." It wasn't a question.

"Nah, I'm just messing with you," I sighed as he buried his face into my hair.

"I don't deserve you," he mumbled into my hair, after some time of just standing there.

I barely heard what he said; his voice was hardly above a whisper. But I did hear it, and it made me frown slightly. "I'll be the judge of that, thank you."

A small hmph was his immediate response. "Whatever," he pouted gruffly, his voice throaty and low.

That's when I gave him a chaste kiss on the lips, hovering over them in an intimate gesture as I spoke softly.

"Happy Birthday."

___________

Quite frankly, the man in front of me was grating on my last nerve. Somehow, in our recent conversation over breakfast, a very important fact involving Mary came up.

He still hasn't worked things out with her yet.

It got to the point where I just couldn't take it anymore and made a scene by standing up and yelling at him in front of everyone who was at the Inn at that time. Of course, they had no idea what we were arguing about, but Gray wasn't about to give them a show.

So now we were just standing here, scowling at each other in his room on the second floor of the Inn.

It had only been a few days since Gray's birthday, and, slowly, he'd been growing distant with me. When I asked him a question, he'd only grunt or give me one word answers. He became more aggressive, more…possessive withme. If Kai got even remotely too touchy with me, Gray would be there, eyeing him like a hawk. It made Kai scamper away like a hurt puppy, and left me slightly confused and a tad bit angry. When Gray would kiss me, it was urgent, unsure, and slightly on the rough side. Like…he was afraid I wouldn't kiss him back, or perhaps…reject him in some way. But that was silly logic, for I couldn't reject him even if I tried. Whatever was going on in his head needed to stop.

First I thought the death of his father was finally sinking in, but when his actions continued, well, it bewildered me. Certainly someone couldn't act like that because a death of a loved one, but I suppose that grief affected people differently. So I pushed his odd behavior to the back of my mind, giving him the excuse of working too hard with his grandfather at the blacksmith's.

And now I just recently found out that this little predicament with Mary was still unresolved. I, of course, already made amends with the quiet librarian, but Gray still hadn't. I never believed him to be this stubborn or to be this much of a jackass.

It didn't help that now he was being even more broody than usual. He hardly talked to me anymore, and he kept his distance from most of the people in town. Even Cliff, who was his roommate and best friend.

Gray was doing his best to not meet my gaze with his own. The scowl was still plastered to my face, and I knew he didn't want to see the disappointment evident in my eyes. If I knew one thing that stayed constant in his changed behavior, it was that he hated it when I was disappointed in him for doing something stupid.

Like now.

"What it is your problem with not being able to confront Mary?" I asked, demanding a straight answer from him. Gray just loved to either, a) answer my questions with questions, or, b) ignore my questions entirely.

"There isn't a problem."

The way he answered, like he didn't give a damn about the whole thing, just made me snap.

"Apparently there is since you haven't talked to her yet. I know there was something between you two before I got here, Gray, don't be coy with me. I may be many things, but stupid isn't one of them. Perhaps you should explain to me why you keep avoiding her like the Black Plague."

He didn't say anything for awhile, and the silence led me to pick the imaginary lint off of my ivory-colored, long-sleeved, cashmere turtleneck. His silence was eating away at my very existence, and if I didn't get an answer soon, I probably would implode. Or explode. Whichever, they would both hurt the same in the end.

"She thinks she did something wrong," I added upon another minute of absolute quiet, my eyes sharp. "Goddess, I don't know why though. It's not her fault, that's for sure."

His arms were crossed now, a common sign that he was very much aggravated. He still wasn't looking at me, opting to rather gaze at the ground, his rust-colored hair hiding his face from my piercing stare.

I scowled and crossed my arms, mocking his stance. If he wasn't going to cooperate, I was just going to have to make him. By doing the one thing I would never do.

Refuse him.

"Well," I stood up straighter, "since you aren't going to cooperate with me… I guess this just means I'm not talking to you until you get this thing resolved between you and Mary."

His head snapped up after I said this, eyes wide with shock, but I was out the door before he could say anything.

___________

I trudged down the stairs, fuming. I hated pulling childish acts to make Gray listen to me, but if it was the only way for him to realize that he needed to step up and be a man, so be it. I just hoped we weren't fighting on my birthday that was in a few days. That would be the worst day of my life.

Ann was bobbing her head to some invisible music while wiping down the bar counter when I came stomping up to her, sitting down with a rather loud huff. I could feel Duke and Manna's eyes on me, as well as a few other patrons who were here earlier to witness my outburst.

"Lovers' quarrel?" Ann teased, continuing to wipe down the counter in front of her.

"Shut up, Ann," I grumbled, crossing my arms in front of my chest.

"Ah," she looked up and grinned, "so it was a lovers' quarrel. Perhaps you should enlighten me."

The barmaid leaned over the counter, rag in hand, waiting expectantly. She apparently wanted me to explain why Gray and I were fighting. I really didn't want to, but this was Ann we were talking about, and Ann always got what she wanted.

"It's about Mary, isn't it?"

My eyebrow quirked at that one. "How did you know that?"

Ann grinned, "Physic powers." She laughed, rolling her eyes when she saw the weird look on my face. "Nah, when you were yelling at Gray earlier you mentioned her name once or twice."

"Oh gawd," I placed my head in my hands dramatically. "I did, didn't I?"

She smirked. "Why yes, yes you did. And about half of the town heard you as well."

This wasn't good, but it wasn't like everyone was going to be kept in the dark for too long. Mineral Town was a small community, and our little squabble would probably make itself known in less than an hour.

I hated small towns, especially when the people were nosy.

I sighed outwardly, tucking a few loose strands of blonde hair behind my ear. "He hasn't talked to her about everything that has gone on yet, and Mary thinks she did something wrong. And I just told him that I wasn't going to speak to him until he straightened things out between her."

Ann dropped the rag and started tapping her chin, thinking, sporting a thoughtful expression. "Hmmm…"

Shaking my head, I tried to figure out my predicament. I placed my hands on the counter as I chewed on my bottom lip. I didn't know if I did the right thing when I told Gray I wouldn't talk to him, but what else was I supposed to do?

"Did I do the right thing?" I asked, casting my eyes downward and fidgeting with my hands.

"Oh, stop beating yourself up, Claire," Ann scolded, her eyes narrowing. "Of course you did the right thing! Men need guidance, they're puny little male brains are nothing without a woman's touch."

"You're weird," I joked. Laughing lightly, I felt much better for talking with her. "But thanks."

The redhead gave me a large grin, her eyes shining. "No prob, girlfran."

___________

I hugged my coat closer to myself as I walked down the snow-covered, cobbled road. Days like this, when the wind was being quite annoying, was when I wished I had a car out here in Mineral Town. The wind blew once again, making my eyes water and my nose run.

What a crappy day to celebrate my twenty-second birthday.

Well, why was I walking in the harsh winter cold, alone, you ask?

Mary. Wanted me to stop by the library today to give me a present or something. I didn't really know because I tuned her out for more than half of the conversation; I was just so excited to get out of my damn house, let alone listen to why I was getting out of the house.

Eh, oh well.

For the past few days all I did was take care of the small amount of animals that were on my farm, avoid Gray, talk to Ann, and just sit at my kitchen table and stare at the wall for hours. Gawd, there was nothing else to do in the winter. I was surprised that I was still sane from doing nothing for so long. I wanted to pull my hair out, it was getting so bad.

And now I really wished I hadn't told everyone not to throw me a party for my birthday, because now I had nothing to actually do. At least with a party I would have an excuse to not stare at walls for hours on end. Really, what was going through my head when I told Ann not to worry about not throwing me a party? Geez, sometimes I could be so doltish.

Gray was no help either. Sometimes when he came over to my house (even though I never talked to him, let alone looked at him; heck, I didn't even let him in, he just strolled right on in as if he owned the damn place), he would sit down next to me and just stare at the walls as well. Now that I thought about it, we had no ordinary relationship. I mean, really, what kind of couple, that was silently fighting, stared at walls all day?! It wasn't normal, but I guess my life was far from normalcy.

I hurriedly opened the door leading to the library, turning around to make sure the door slammed shut behind me. Shuddering from the cold, I scrunched my nose in confusion as to why the lights were off…

Crap.

Well, I had two options. Either flip the switch and act surprised, or just stand there, letting them know I figured it out and ruin their plans of throwing me a surprise party. After letting out a small, quiet sigh, I turned on the lights and sashayed around to face my-

Nothing. There was absolutely nothing there. Just a few books scattered across the table waiting to be put away and a pile of loose-leaf paper on Mary's desk. Now I was just acting silly, I told them I didn't want a party, so why would they thrown one?

I sighed in relief.

Since Mary was nowhere in sight, I decided to check the back room for any sign of the librarian. Knowing her, she was probably alphabetizing her library cards for the third time today. She told me it kept her level-headed and calm, but I knew if I had to do that multiple times a day I would practically go insane.

I called out Mary's name. Just silence. It didn't even seem like the clock on the wall above Mary's desk was making its annoying little ticking noises. By this time I was getting worried. What if something horrible happened? Was Mary hurt? Did she lock herself in the backroom for some obscurely odd reason?

With these worrying thoughts racing through my mind, I jogged over to the door leading to the backroom and practically swung the door off its hinges.

"Hey-"

"SURPRISE!!!!"

And I fell flat on my ass.

___________

"How does it feel to be old?"

I glared at the red-head and stuck my tongue out at her. "I'm only twenty-two."

"Yeah, because twenty-two-year-olds stick their tongues out at people."

I laughed. "Well if you're saying I'm immature, what do you have to say for yourself?"

Ann grinned and started walking away to go talk to Karen and Popuri who were sitting on a small couch a few feet away. "Absolutely, positively…nothing."

Heh, that's what I thought.

Well, after everyone fretted over my fallen form once I stepped into their little surprise, they all congratulated me on becoming twenty-two. It didn't even feel like my birthday, it just felt like any other day, except for that fact that the whole young generation of Mineral Town was crowded in the back room of Mary's library.

After taking a sip of my soda, I took the time to look at everyone around me. Ann was making odd gestures as she talked with Karen and Popuri. I silently laughed at her silliness. I hoped Ann never changed; she was a handful, but she was amazing none the less. Cliff and Rick were leaning against the opposite wall from where I was standing, talking to each other quietly. It didn't help that Cliff kept stealing glances at Ann and Rick kept glaring at Kai, who, at this moment, was mega-flirting with a very flustered, very flushed librarian. I think everyone was just waiting for the day those two came out and told everyone that they were dating.

Gray was nowhere to be seen, which had me confused. Ann said something about him helping with the party planning, and that it was partially his idea in the first place. So where in the world was he anyway? Of course, we were still not on speaking terms, but that didn't mean I wasn't going to fret over him.

As soon as I was finished with my drink, I walked up to Cliff and Rick and talked to them for a few minutes before Rick's constant glares towards Kai started annoying the crap out of me. "Hey," I snapped my fingers at the chicken farmer when I didn't get his attention. He reluctantly turned towards me with force.

"Yeah?"

"Could you stop with the glaring? Kai isn't doing anything wrong, and I'd really appreciate it if everyone just got along on my birthday, okay?"

Rick's shoulders visibly slumped and his face resembled that of a hurt puppy that had just been scolded. "Sorry…of course, Claire."

I gave him a small smile. "And Kai isn't a bad guy; trust me on this, yeah?"

He crinkled his nose in disgust but quickly masked it with a smile. "Sure…"

"Thanks," I said halfheartedly as I left him to his own devices. If he continued to stare at Kai as if he'd suddenly go crazy and start charming everyone in the room, I'd have a few more choice words to say to him.

I decided to go talk to Ann, but upon noticing Cliff talking to her, and how she was giggling like a little school girl, I opted to leave them alone and go see how Mary was doing. The librarian was talking civilly to the purple-clad traveler (thanks to her sewing skills, Mary had made Kai a new bandana, much to Ann's chagrin), and they both looked like they were in deep conversation. Hopefully they didn't mind talking to me since I had no one else to talk to. Gawd, I was such a loser sometimes.

"Hey!" Mary grinned when she saw me walking towards them. "How do you like your little party?"

I laughed; it was airy, light. "I'm enjoying myself, thank you. What were you two lovebirds talking about?" I grinned at Mary's blush to the nickname I gave them. Kai just smirked knowingly. What…

"O-o-oh, what? We w-w-were talking ab-about nothing, C-Claire!" She managed to sputter out. What had gotten into her? They weren't keeping a secret from me, were they?

"Wha-"

"What my girl Mary here is trying to say is that it's none of your business what we talk about in our spare time, Claire. You are so nosy sometimes, I swear," Kai grinned. I could tell he was teasing me by the twinkle in his eye. Of course he'd say something foolish like that…now I really wanted to know what they were talking so intently about.

"Now, no, that's not what I meant-"

"Where's Gray?" I suddenly asked, opting to change the subject before they both started bickering at each other. Or worse, before I started yelling at them to tell me what they were secretly whispering to each other.

"Oh, Gray?" Kai chuckled, rubbing the back of his neck nervously."I really-"

"H-He's…making waffles!"

I raised my eyebrow at that. "He's…what?"

"Mary!" Kai hissed, his eyes growing as big as saucers. "Wow, would you look at the time?" he asked as he grabbed the sputtering librarian's arm. "Heh heh…we gotta go…help Gray make those waffles!"

They were both out the door before I could even open up my mouth to try and stop them.

…What the heck just happened?!

First off…Gray didn't like waffles. Why would he be making them? They were obviously just hiding something from me, of course. What else was new? And second, I didn't even know where Gray was! What the heck was going on?!

"Ann," I said as I approached the redhead who was still talking to Cliff. They both turned their undivided attention towards me immediately. "Do you know what's up with Kai and Mary? They were acting really funny before they just ditched me…saying something about helping Gray make waffles…but Gray doesn't even like waffles! Speaking of Gray, where is he?"

Both Ann and Cliff's eyes got so wide that I thought they would pop out. A funny image skirted across my mind: Ann and Cliff trying to retrieve their fallen eyeballs, blind, whilst making fools of themselves by bumping into each other. I chuckled despite myself.

"JESUS CLAIRE!!! Can't a man have himself some waffles if he wants them? Who cares if he doesn't like them, if he wants to make them, let him!" Ann all but shrieked at me.

Her outburst startled me (and, apparently, the rest of the occupants in the room, who were all just as silent as I was) and all I could do was stand there and stare at her. Cliff nervously looked anywhere but at me while Ann kept rambling on about Gray and his sudden waffle epiphany.

"I think," Cliff finally spoke, interrupting Ann's massive rampage, "that I should take Ann home before she hurts herself."

"I am not going to hurt my-" the redhead stopped suddenly, something finally dawning on her. "OH! Oh yes, please take me home! I am a hazard to my health! Hurry Cliff!"

I kept staring at the exact spot they were both standing at even as they walked out the door, leaving my party.

"Well then." That was Rick, to my left. "Oh, Claire! Are you okay?"

I shook my head, as if to get rid of the craziness that just ensued. I swear if stupidity was a virus, Ann could probably spread it around the whole town like peanut butter and jelly on white bread…

Oh dear gawd… I probably caught Ann's Stupid.

And that was when I knew I needed to stop hanging out with Ann so much.

"What…just happened?" I asked reluctantly (because I really didn't want to know), rubbing my eyes. They were sore from having them open so wide for such a long period of time. Staring at Ann wigging out could do that to people.

"…I think Ann finally hit rock bottom."

"Now Karen," Rick chastised, "Ann's just tired." Even Rick knew that statement was ridiculous.

A hand came out of nowhere and landed on my forehead. "You don't look too well, maybe you should go home and get some rest," Doctor Tim suggested as he felt up my forehead. "I'm sure the rest of us could clean up."

The funny thing was that I didn't even know Tim and Elli were at the party. Wow, Claire. Real observant. And here he was feeling my forehead to see if I had some fever or something. Which I didn't. I was just weirded out.

Extremely weirded out.

"Yeah…maybe I should just go home…"

After saying my goodbyes and getting a few more "Happy Birthday!"'s thrown my way, I grabbed my coat and left the backroom of Mary's library in a confused haze.

And now I was alone in the front room, still slightly shocked from what had just happened.

So, okay, I knew a few things so far: Gray was definitely not making waffles (that is the stupidest excuse to make up when you're being asked a question, seriously); Ann, Kai, Mary, and Cliff were all hiding something from me; Gray was definitely going to get it for ditching my birthday to do whatever he was…doing. I mean, sure, we were fighting and all, but that didn't mean that he had to skip out on the party he helped plan. What was wrong with the man? Did he just think since we were fighting that I didn't want him there? Of course I wanted him there, he was my boyfriend!

And now my party was cut short because I just had to ask questions. Yeah, a lot of good that did me. Somehow I couldn't help but blame myself for all of the weirdness seeming to be going on.

___________

I went straight home because there was no way in hell that I was going to go chase after Ann or any of the other four stooges. I had enough of their cracked-up weirdness for one afternoon. And I didn't even want to begin on the Gray situation. I'd leave that for another time. All I wanted to do was go home and take a nap until it was time to wake up again tomorrow morning.

The good news was that the wind had finally died down since this morning. Even the sun came out to warm up the remainder of the afternoon. At least the weather turned out to be better than I planned. At least the day didn't stay as dreary as it was this-

"Claire."

"Ayeeeeeaaaahh!!!" I screamed, jumping about ten feet into the air. Someone was at my door, obviously waiting for me to get home. And when I saw who it was I started screaming some more.

"Claire, dear goddess, calm down! It's only me," Gray practically hissed at me, though, through my screaming frenzy, I could still see a slight smirk decorating his face. He was obviously amused by my sudden fright.

I took a couple of deep breaths, glaring at the man leaning on my front door looking absolutely smug, to calm myself. "Y-you," I pointed at him, "I hate it when…," breathe, "people do that to me!"

He lowered his gaze so that he was looking at his feet instead of at me. "Sorry…"

I sighed. "It's fine, Gray. But please, just don't do it again."

Gray looked up at me again, making me gasp at what I saw. His eyes were dark, smoldering, and it felt as though he could see straight through me, into my very soul. I tried my hardest to keep my eyes locked on his, but it was hard.

"No, Claire. I'm sorry."

We were both quiet after that; me mulling over that statement and Gray still leaning against the door with his hands in his pockets, fidgeting nervously, and waiting for me to respond.

There was just so much meaning behind that simple apology; he was apologizing for everything he did and so much more. I didn't even have to ask him if this was true, I just knew. Well, if he was willing to make amends, then I was willing to listen.

"Why weren't you at my party today? I thought you were the one who helped plan it."

He scoffed then, breaking his gaze with mine, obviously having a hard time over something I just said. "I…I just…," he paused; running a hand through his unruly shaggy hair. His other hand kept fidgeting in his right pants pocket. "Claire…I…," he scowled.

"What?" I asked, confused. Why was it so hard for him to talk to me all of a sudden? What did he need to say? "What's wrong?"

Gray rolled his eyes at me. "Nothing's wrong," he drawled, his voice deep and rough. "Why would there be something wrong?"

It was my turn to scowl. "Well maybe it's the fact that you can't spit out what you want to say. Why wouldn't there be anything-"

"Just…just not here, okay?" he interrupted me, sounding hesitant. "Can we go somewhere else? Yeah. Let's go for a walk."

"Uhhh…" I just nodded because I couldn't seem to make coherent words come out of my mouth. I was confused, again, and even more-so. Why couldn't we talk here? Or, you know, inside? But then again, that wouldn't be Gray's style. His style was to confuse me every chance he got. Of course this wouldn't be easy. I was an idiot for thinking otherwise.

"This better be good," I mumbled under my breath as he grabbed my hand.

I'm pretty sure he didn't hear me.

___________

We brushed past a few snow-covered bushes and walked into a small clearing surrounded by trees. Even though everything was dead during winter didn't mean it all couldn't look so beautiful. Large icicles hung from bare branches, glistening in the setting sun. Gray moved to the right, kicking at the sparkling, untouched snow on the ground with his hands in his front pockets.

I smiled as I walked towards a large, lone rock in the middle of the clearing, disrupting the perfect blanket of white fluff below my feet. I always had the urge to leave my footprints in the unmarked snow ever since I was a child; it always amused me to do so.

After brushing off the small layer of snow on the top of the rock, I breathed out as I sat down, watching my foggy breath mingle with the chilly air. Even though winter made everything look pretty, I longed for it to be fall again. It was my favorite season, I loved everything about it; the soft colors, the way the leaves changed, the holidays…

"We need to talk."

Well, I was glad I was sitting down because if I was standing up when he said that my legs would have probably given out. I stared at his oncoming form with wide eyes; his eyes staring at me intently, his mouth set in a straight, grim line…

This could not be good; nothing spectacular came out of a statement like 'We need to talk'. I sucked in a breath as he knelt in front of me, staring at me with such intensity that I just couldn't look away. His dark pools of blue were swirling with an emotion that I couldn't quite decipher, which bothered me, and I watched him until his face disappeared and I felt his lips next to my ear, a touch whispering against my skin.

"Don't be scared."

His unusually hot breath tickled my ear and I involuntarily shivered, letting out the breath I didn't even know I was holding. I knew I was acting nervous, and I knew he could tell. But afraid?

"Scared of what?" I asked quietly, as coyly as I could.

He chuckled, moving his face down so his nose lingered at the skin right below my ear for a few fleeting moments, kissing there twice before leaning backwards to look me in the face.

"Of what I'm about to ask you."

A thick layer of ice froze over my heart, and it wasn't because of the cold, frigid weather. My breathing came out heavy and labored, and I knew Gray was keenly aware of that fact.

"Did you speak with Mary?" I inquired as I blew out a puff of warm air. I needed to change the subject, and fast.

Gray shot up immediately and paced around me for a few minutes. He patted his pocket a few times, seemingly musing over my question in his head. "Of course I did," he answered, his voice quiet. A few beats passed. "I'm not fond of upsetting people, but it always seems like I do it unconsciously." Gray scowled as he told me this last part. Obviously he wasn't happy about it.

"Well, I'm happy you and Mary are finally friends again. I know how much she adores you."

He scoffed at my comment and rushed a shaking hand through his unruly mop of coppery hair. "She shouldn't," was all he said.

Before I could open my mouth to retort, though, Gray hopped down on one knee in front of me. His movements were so unexpected that I jumped up in the air a few inches and gasped at his sudden closeness.

"Claire."

"Gray," I breathed out.

He rubbed his thumb across my knuckles as he fiddled with something in his pocket. After a few agonizing minutes, he brought out a small, dark blue velvet box. Tears instantly pooled my eyes and my breath hitched dramatically.

"I made it myself," Gray mentioned before opening the box slowly.

My heart practically stopped beating.

The ring was so beautiful that it almost took my breath away. It was a platinum engagement ring with small rounded diamonds encrusted around the entire band. In the middle was a large, sparkling diamond surrounded by a diamond of small sapphires. Tiny, elegant script covered the inside of the band. It read: For my only love, Claire.

He took it out of the box and slipped it onto my ring finger. The ring looked so perfect; it was meant to adorn my hand. "So this is why you didn't show up to my party," I acknowledged as I held up my left hand to observe the large diamond twinkle in the sun's rays.

Gray chuckled lightly. "I was nervous."

"You shouldn't have been."

"I know," he said with a husky tone, taking my left hand and staring at the beautiful ring on my finger. "I'd be honored, Claire, if you would be my wife."

I breathed in. And then breathed out.

"It sure is a pretty ring," I said slowly, gauging his reaction. Gray swallowed nervously, still holding onto my hand. He was waiting patiently for my answer, which he seriously should have known by now.

"Of course I'll marry you."

I was suddenly lifted into a hug as Gray twirled me around the snow-covered clearing. I cried happily into his neck as he whispered, "Happy Birthday, Claire," into my ear.

I vaguely realized that it started to snow.


SQUEEEEE!!! Did you like it? Hate it? Let me know in a review, and I'll try to reply. I know I haven't been replying to much of anything lately, but it's been a busy school year. I know that's a stupid excuse, but I'm trying to get back into the swing of things here on ffnet. So...yeah. LOL. Anyway, if you want a picture of the ring, I'll post a link up in my profile page. And you wanna know how Gray made such an awesome ring? Well, he just did. Don't question it. The next chapter is the WEDDING! Yaaaaay!

Lots of love,
Brittanee.