11

A/N: I know that it's been a while but I've started something new. For those of you that have read my stories before, I should warn you that it's a little different. But I still hope that you enjoy it.

I was still shaking as I opened the door to walk into my bedroom. This room that now seemed both like home and unfamiliar at the same time. I'd spent so much time here during my childhood that it would always feel like home. But now that I'd spent the last few years away at college and working for GEORGE, it seemed almost like someone else's. Right now I needed it to be the sanctuary that it had provided me through those teenage years. More than ever, I needed it to help me keep the feelings at bay.

I placed my bag down and sat on the side of the bed, taking deep breaths and trying to get my racing heart to slow down.

I hadn't expected to see him and now that I had … everything had come back to me … in technicolor!

Nothing had changed. The feelings hadn't dimmed at all. If anything, they were stronger than ever.

I was in BIG trouble.

--

I don't know when it started.

Who am I kidding? I know exactly when it started. It started the first time I laid eyes on him.

I could still recall entering the fashion show fundraiser with Marissa and gazing across the pool. There he stood. Even from that distance, it was obvious that he was different; different from all of the spoiled rich kids that I'd grown up with.

Besides being gorgeous, he had this inner strength that emanated from him, as well as an 'I don't give a fuck what you think of me' vibe, and I knew right then and there that I wanted him.

But the immature teenager that I was hadn't appealed to him at all. He'd brushed off my advances nonchalantly, making me feel like some kind of wayward skank. I'd pretended to be drunker than I was, using it as an excuse to come on to him. But once I knew that my interest wasn't reciprocated, I'd happily taken to ridiculing him and his background as my defense from his indifference. He was only interested in my best friend and I would never admit how much it hurt to be rejected.

I'd gotten over it. I was young, immature and I knew nothing about love, sex or relationships. My father's messed up love life was the only thing that I had to go by, and that wasn't exactly a great example.

Looking back, I think it was Ryan's disinterest that made me even consider Cohen in the first place. At least it was obvious that he liked me. I was rude and mean to him and yet he kept coming back. I was hoping that maybe I'd be able to make Chino jealous. but he took no notice of it. He was too fixated on Marissa. It was like he needed someone to rescue … and I could look after myself.

It was all pointless and so I'd gotten involved with Seth. Maybe some part of me figured that hanging around with him and being part of the Core Four was better than having nothing to do with him at all.

And over time, I'd convinced myself that the initial attraction that I'd felt for him was misplaced. Sure, he was hot (and caring, and loyal, and …), BUT he didn't like me, not in that way at least. I had much too much pride to force the issue. Besides, he was much too complicated; too much baggage. I was much better off with Seth. He was funny. He put up with my moods. He loved me. And I … I … sort of loved him back. Not that I really knew what love was back then.

But I cared for him.

Or at least I did for a while.

But that was all over now. I was finally free. And here I was back in Newport for a few days and who should I run into but HIM.

He didn't even live here anymore. The Cohen's lived in Berkeley. I hadn't been prepared to see him again. Then he'd suggested that we go to the diner for dinner to 'catch up'. What did that even mean?

I fell back on my bed, rubbing my hand on my brow at the headache that had just surfaced. What the hell was I going to do?

I thought back over the meeting.

I was in Newport for the weekend, en route from New York to San Diego for work. I'd planned to spend some time with my father because he had been complaining that he never saw me, but of course his pager had gone off over the leisurely breakfast that we'd been enjoying and he'd been called in to the hospital.

With free time on my hands, I'd wondered what to do. Purely by coincidence (I really hadn't planned it, or at least I wasn't going to admit to it), it was the anniversary of Marissa's death. I'd intended to call Julie but with nothing to do, I decided to pick up some flowers and make a visit to the cemetery myself.

I still missed Marissa. For all her screwed up ways, she was still the best friend I ever had. Maybe I could have done more to help her. I don't know how, but still … maybe there was something more that I could have done. Looking back, I knew that I really hadn't done enough. I'd been too consumed by my relationship with Seth and trying to make it work. Even then it took effort. And look how that had turned out. If I could do it all over again, I would have dumped Cohen and spent more time with Marissa. But hindsight was a waste of time.

I was just parking the car at the cemetery when I noticed him walking towards a car off to my right. I hesitated for a moment, wondering if I should stay where I was. He hadn't seen me and as long as I didn't move, then maybe I could stay hidden until after he left.

I could feel my heart racing. I wasn't sure whether it was because I was attempting to remain hidden or because he was still damned good looking. It was probably a little of both, I thought, as I watched him from the car. It had been just over a year since I'd last seen him, but if anything he'd gotten even better looking. How was that possible?

Putting my head down as he neared his car, I was certain that he wouldn't notice me. That was until the car in front of me backed into my dad's fender. I jumped at the impact, small though it was. The elderly driver of the other car instantly got out to apologize, and Ryan came over to see if he could be of any help (just like him – always trying to help – why couldn't he just ignore it and go on his way like most other people would?). So much for remaining incognito. He opened the car door.

"Are you O … Summer? What are you doing …." he asked, obviously surprised.

"The same thing as you, I suspect," I replied, picking up the flowers from the front seat and getting out of the car.

"Are you okay?" the driver of the other car asked concernedly.

"I'm fine. How's my Dad's car?"

"Barely a scratch," Ryan commented. "The bumper took most of the impact."

I moved to the front of the car to inspect the damage, but it was hardly noticeable.

"If you'd like me to get my insurance details …" the elderly gentleman started, his voice full of concern.

"There's really no need," I assured him. "It's fine. A shopping cart does more damage."

"And she's speaking from experience," Ryan assured the grey haired man.

I turned to Ryan. "How would you know?"

"By the law of averages. Given the number of shopping centers that you've been in, it stands to reason that you must have come across a cart or two."

I wanted to deny it but how could I? He knewme.

"You're right," I admitted, then turned to the other driver. "It's fine, really."

He looked relieved and said, "If you're sure?"

I nodded.

"Okay. Then I'll be on my way," he said moving back to his car. "I'm really sorry."

I smiled as he repositioned his car, moving off slowly. Then summoning my confidence, I turned back to Ryan.

"So Atwood, what are you doing here?"

Ryan smirked at the use of his surname.

"I think we've already established that, Roberts. Or is it still Cohen?"

"No. I got rid of that as soon as I got rid of him," I explained. "I know it sounds harsh, but it was part of the cleansing process."

Ryan nodded his understanding. Seth was his brother but Ryan, probably more than anyone, would understand why I'd had to divorce him.

"So what are you doing in Newport?" he asked.

"I think that question would be better directed at you. I still live here," I point out.

He frowned momentarily and I had this sudden urge to ease the creases from his forehead, but I managed to control myself.

"You do?" he asked, perplexed.

"Well … not really. Dad still lives here. Sometimes, I'm on the road for three weeks out of every month, so this still seems like home. I'm just here for the weekend on my way to San Diego. What about you?"

Ryan hesitated. I could tell that he was looking for the short version. He was never one to be generous with words.

"I'm on my way to the east coast to start a new job, and I promised Jake that I'd stop and see him, since I don't know when I'll be back."

"And it just happened to be on the anniversary of Marissa's death?" I asked quietly.

He shrugged. "It didn't hurt," he said softly.

My heart constricted as I watched the fleeting glimpses of pain that appeared on his face. He still missed her. If only Seth had loved me the way that Ryan loved Marissa. He tried over and over again to make her happy, but it was never enough. I couldn't help but compare it to my relationship with Seth. I'd tried over and over again to make Seth happy, but he just kept hurting me and finally I couldn't take it anymore.

I nod, not really sure what I'm agreeing with. Maybe just to accept his answer and not push any further.

He sighed then swiftly switched topics.

"So what are you doing later? I promised Jake that I'd spend the afternoon with him, but maybe tonight we could go to the diner and get something to eat? You know – catch up?" he suggested then went on to explain. "Julie has some Newpsie dinner tonight. If I don't come up with a good excuse, then she's expecting me to join her."

I can't help but chuckle at the look of desperation on his face.

"Well … after an invitation like that, how could I possibly say no?"

He looked ashamed.

"I didn't mean it like that. Really. It would be great to catch up PLUS I'd have the added bonus of being able to skip her party."

"Sure. I believe you. I'll have dinner with you. But you're paying."

He smiled one of those smiles that make his eyes sparkle and I could feel my heart do a flip flop.

"That, I can do," he promised.