A/N: Sorry for the delay. I just wrote a oneshot that I'm actually rather proud of (it's LP, and I'm going to suggest it just because it might make you happier than this chapter does…) and that used up all my inspiration and creativity for a while, I guess. But here it is: chapter four. Enjoy and please review.
As she wakes up, she stretches a hand out, but instead of the warm torso of her fiancé, she encounters only the cool, wrinkly surface of the sheets. She sighs as she sits up and pushes her hair back, out of her face. Lucas might have gone on a run – a typical method of clearing his head.
She can't blame him for that.
Pulling on a sweater, she peers out of the window just in case he might be on his way home, running up the walkway. No such luck.
When she wanders out of their bedroom, she is pleasantly surprised to find Lucas slicing strawberries onto fresh waffles in the kitchen.
"Hey, baby," she greets him tenderly, walking over to him and running her hand gently down the length of his arm.
He gives her the sweetest boyish smile as he hands her a plate. "I made breakfast," he tells her needlessly.
"You're too good to me."
Lucas, ever the gentleman, pulls out her chair for her and says, "I was hoping we could talk."
She slips into her chair as she shoots him a thankful smile. She feels rested and prepared for this conversation. "Of course we can."
He nods as he sits down beside her. "So, um, listen…I kind of punched Julian yesterday."
Peyton resists the urge to roll her eyes. "I know."
He furrows his brow in confusion. "You do?"
"I didn't talk to him, Luke," she says with a frown. She knows that things are messy between them, but even now, she expects more trust from him. "Julian didn't tell me. When you said that you'd talked to him it was obvious that you hadn't actually…talked to him."
His smile is small and sheepish. "Oh."
"You know something?" she asks as she leans toward him conspiratorially. He leans in as well; their noses almost touch. "I'm glad you got jealous."
He grins bashfully. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." She leans back, throwing him a wink. "It's kinda hot."
Lucas laughs lightly. "Tell me about him. Tell me about…" He makes a sour face and bites out, "You and him."
She abandons her breakfast and rests her hand over his as she speaks to remind him that she is now a part of Lucas and Peyton and no other coupling. "The first time I met him was right after you proposed. I was crying in the mailroom and he walked in." She sees both remorse and suspicion in his eyes and rushes on, "We didn't see each other again for almost a year – the next time we met I literally ran into him outside of your…your book-signing. He called me the saddest girl in the world and I really did feel like I was. But then he made me smile and God, Luke, I needed that. I saw you and Lindsey and my world crashed down…he made me feel like things could be okay again."
Lucas frowns and asks protectively, "Was he good to you?"
She smiles softly. "I know that he comes across as kind of a jackass…but he really is a good guy. We had fun. We were in love," she adds mutedly.
"So things were…serious?"
"We moved in together," she admits, and he gulps audibly. She gives him a pointed look, wordlessly reminding him that he said I do to another woman.
He clears his throat. "Why'd you break up?"
"I read your book too often," she tells him. "He asked me if there'd ever be a day when he wasn't sharing me with you…and I couldn't tell him no."
Lucas can't hide a small smile. "Do you think Julian still has feelings for you?"
She is not entirely sure, but she shakes her head no anyway. "He left me, Luke."
"That doesn't mean he did it willingly," Lucas counters. He scoots his chair closer to hers. "You're a hard girl to let go off, Peyton Sawyer."
She can't help but think of how easily he walked out of that hotel room, out of her life. But then she remembers the look in his eyes when he first saw her again on the river court; it matches the look in his eyes right now.
She leans in to press her lips to his gently, chastely, her hand lifting to rest against his cheek. As she pulls back, she whispers, "I'm sorry about the kiss."
"What? That was good," he teases.
"With Julian," she giggles.
Lucas nods. "I'm sorry, too…about everything." She smiles in acknowledgment and he continues, "Peyton, you have been…so good to me, and so strong for both of us when I have…"
"Strayed?" she provides delicately, trying not to make it sound like a dig.
"Strayed from us," he agrees. "So I…promise to try to let your history with Julian go."
Peyton moves into his lap, wrapping both her arms and legs around him. "Thank you," she says earnestly as she runs her fingers through his hair, glad that it has grown back – it symbolizes the end of heartbreak.
He rests his hands on her hips and leans his forehead against hers. "I can't really blame a guy for having good enough taste to fall in love with you, can I?" he shrugs playfully.
"Luke…" she breaths, and kisses him passionately, ridding herself of all her bad memories and focusing on how sweet he is being to her right now.
He pulls back. "What about our waff –"
She presses her hips further into his and the protest dies on his lips, turning into a groan.
"You have me," she tells him coyly. "And I am much sexier than waffles."
"Mm," Lucas growls in appreciative agreement, one hand running up her thigh.
She loves him. She loves him so much and for a million reasons, including that he is willing to try and forget.
But she isn't having quite as much luck. Her own words haunt her and Lucas' hands drift under her shirt.
But you'll have me, and I am way sexier than Sundance.
When Brooke shows up, Lucas and Peyton are sitting together in the living room, their hair still dripping from their joint shower. Peyton's wearing one of Lucas' old basketball jerseys over tiny blue shorts, her legs stretched out over her fiancé's.
"What are you thinking?" she asks quietly as he flips through the screenplay that he spent so much time on.
"I don't want to do it."
"Oh, honey…I think you should."
He runs a weary hand over his eyes. "I don't trust him, Peyt. The guy's a jerk."
"Okay, Luke, but…you signed over the rights to your book. It's your story. And if you don't trust him…that's all the more reason for you to be on board, for you to have your say."
He looks so broken that it tears at her heart. This is her fault.
"Just think about it," she encourages, making sure not to put any pressure on him.
Lucas' smile is all love. "Thank you for being here for me."
She smiles fondly in return. "I'll always be here for you."
That's when Brooke interrupts, announcing her presence with, "Aw. If my teenaged foster child were here, she would gag." She pauses and shrugs. "Or make some kind of sexual joke." She paces over to them and plants a hand on her hip. "C'mon, P. Sawyer-soon-to-be-Scott. We're going to lunch."
Her eyebrows fly up. "We are?"
"Yep. I need girl time with my bestest friend, and Luke looks like he could use some lonely-broody time to himself."
"Thanks, Brooke," he smirks.
"Just looking out for ya," she chirps back, feigning a modest shrug. "Come on, Peyton, move your ass – get dressed. Or, I guess you could go like that…" she muses with a twinkle in her eye.
"Get dressed," Lucas says immediately, and both girls smile.
"So protective," Brooke sighs.
Peyton cups Lucas' chin in her hand as she stands. "And I love you that way," she tells him.
"So how's it going, P.?" Brooke asks as they settle into her car. "Looks like you and Luke had some good make-up sex."
Peyton rolls her eyes but she can't remain aloof, she ends up confessing, "Yeah…we did."
"You still feeling a little conflicted?" Brooke inquires.
She shakes her head. "Lucas is…my guy, Brooke. A lot of the time I think that he always has been. You know that," she adds, casting a fleetingly guilty look at her best friend.
Brooke smirks. "Yeah, I do." She swerves onto a street, the squeal of her tires piercing the peace of the quiet neighbourhood.
"Jeez," Peyton gasps, gulping down the bile that rose to her throat at the harsh momentum. She places a hand on the dashboard to steady herself and teases, "I know you're still bitter, but do you have to try to kill me?"
"Ha," Brooke says dryly. She glances over at Peyton, suddenly concerned. "It wasn't that bad, P. Sawyer. Your driving used to be worse."
She smiles softly. "Yeah, I know."
"You look shaken," Brooke points out, unrelenting.
"I'm fine," Peyton assures her patiently.
"You know, stress is a contributing factor in ninety-nine percent of all cases of illness."
"Oh, Brooke…tell me you didn't just quote your yoga instructor."
Brooke keeps her gaze focused on the road, but Peyton sees the beginning of a blush in the apples of her cheeks. "Peyton, yoga is a wonderful method of both exercise and relaxation."
"I agree. But not when you only joined because you thought the instructor was 'the hottest thing on two feet'."
Brooke pouts as she pulls up in front of the Scott home. Haley walks out of the front door, a jacket thrown over her arm.
The brunette perks up, pleased with the change of subject. "Yeah, I need some company over the age of eighteen."
Peyton gives Brooke a knowing smile. "You love her," she says, referring to Brooke's foster child.
She nods, glancing down, her smile gentle and genuine. "Yeah. I do."
Haley pulls the back door open and slides in, greeting them, "Hey, girlies."
"Teacher mom, thank God," Brooke says, instantly brightening again and she pulls a u-turn. "Tell Peyton that stress is a contributing factor in ninety-nine percent of all cases of illness," she says, verbatim once again.
"It's true," Haley agrees. "Are you not feeling well, Peyton?"
"I'm fine," she insists, and she really does feel okay. "I think it's time for a new topic."
Haley leans forward between the two front seats. "I agree," she says wholeheartedly, and both she and Peyton give Brooke knowing looks.
The brunette feigns ignorance. "I don't know what you are talking about."
"You're a designer, honey, not an actor," Haley tells her dryly.
"What restaurant do you want to go to?"
"Your pick, B. Davis," Peyton says patiently. "Now, tell us what's up."
"The sky," Brooke deadpans.
"Brooke!" her friends cry in unison.
"Okay, okay…Owen and I…are very good," she says firmly.
"That's so great," Peyton says earnestly. "I'm really happy for you."
"Thanks," Brooke smiles as she parks effortlessly.
Haley nods. "And what about his fear of kids and commitment?"
Brooke shrugs, grabbing her purse as they all get out of the car. "We're working on it," she says like he's recovering from an addiction. "He and Sam actually get along pretty well, and you know that he's good with Jamie."
There's a break in the conversation as they step into the restaurant and a waitress seats them, hands them menus, and writes down Brooke's wine selection. The moment she leaves the air feels empty, like there is something more to be said.
"What is it, Brooke?" Peyton asks her gently.
Brooke is uncharacteristically shy and nervous as she toys with the buckle on her purse. After a long moment, she says, "I think he might be the one." Following her confession, she rushes out with, "Is that crazy? Is it too soon?"
"It's not crazy," Peyton says instantly, just as Haley says, "It's not too soon."
"Brooke," Haley continues, "it's not either of those things. Nathan and I met and got married in the space of less than a year, and we were sixteen. And yeah, we've come close to falling apart a few times and it's been really hard, but there was never a moment when I questioned if he was the right guy or not. He is. When you know, you know. Right, Peyton?" she asks, wanting back up. Brooke still looks dubious.
Her smile is half-hearted and bittersweet. "Yeah," she whispers.
The day she almost ran Lucas over, the moment his eyes met hers and a crackle of sizzling electricity flew down her spine, had she really known? Haley and Nathan have had their ups and downs, just as she has with Lucas, but Haley and Nathan never loved other people.
That doesn't sting her, because she cared deeply for Nathan, but she knows the difference between infatuation and real love. What does sting her is that she and Lucas are different. There was a time when she was madly in love with Jake Jagielski, a time when she assumed that she would eventually marry Julian Baker. Lucas was in love with Brooke, and he went through a hell of a lot to prove it. He proposed and stood at the altar with Lindsey. They have known love that is not with each other.
And yet, he was always there. Whether it was a hug in the hallway or the words in his book, he was there, constantly lingering in the deepest recesses of her mind. That's what makes this real, that's what makes this forever, she figures. When she's with Lucas she thinks of nothing but him; her thoughts never drift to…
"Oh, you have got to be kidding me," she breaths.
"What is it?" Haley asks.
Brooke follows Peyton's gaze. "Oh," she says, her lips forming the shape of the vowel she's just spoken. "Look who it is."
"That's…Julian?" Haley asks, her eyebrows flying upward. "Wow."
"I know," Brooke agrees, giving her a knowing nod. "He's definitely charming, definitely hot."
Peyton ignores them, focusing on the woman sitting across from him, sipping her drink and fluttering her eyelashes. "Of course he has a date already," she mutters.
Her friends' eyes fly to her.
"You sound a little jealous there, P. Sawyer," Brooke comments.
Peyton turns to look at her and her eyes nearly bug out of her head. "Oh my God. Brooke, you knew?"
Brooke winces as Haley shoots her a disbelieving look as well. "Maybe?"
"How?" Haley demands incredulously. "How could you have possibly known that he'd be here with a date right now?"
The brunette just shrugs mysteriously. "I think the real question here is how Peyton feels."
"Is this a test?" Peyton gasps. "If you're keeping score, how about I remind you of the months I spent crying on your shoulder over Lucas last year. That might even things out a bit," she bites out sarcastically.
"Honey…no," Brooke protests, as soothingly as she can. "There's no scorecard. I'm just concerned about you."
"Brooke, I am engaged, and I'm in love with my fiancé."
"So what're you doing kissing Julian?" Haley's eyes are gentle, softening the accusation in her words.
Peyton glares at her. "I'm sorry, who was it that kissed Chris Keller?"
Haley presses her lips together. She can't say much of anything to that.
"Peyton…" Brooke calls her attention again. "I'm not trying to imply anything, you just seem so…flighty lately. One minute you and Luke are fine, the next you're kissing your ex. Then you're fine again, and now you're all worked up."
"Because you set me up."
Brooke gives up on trying to comfort her and lays out her thoughts. "I think you're scared," she says flatly. "And I get, Peyton, I do. I've been there. Lucas hurt you and you are terrified that it's going to happen again. So…maybe you're looking for backup. Or maybe you're trying to remind yourself that Luke is really the one by checking out your other possibilities. God knows I've done both."
"Lucas is insanely in love with you," Haley interjects softly. "I know he loved Lindsey, but never like he does you. When you came back from Vegas and told me that you two were engaged, you should have seen the look on his face. He said that you're both happier than you've been in a long time, and he is, he really is."
"You're Lucas and Peyton. You're meant to be," Brooke insists. "So you need to focus on your future with the love of your life and let that…" she tilts her head toward Julian's table, "go."
Peyton glances back toward Julian. His date has disappeared and he's drinking coffee on his own. "I need to talk to him."
"Peyton –" Haley protests.
"It's fine," she says firmly. She stands and walks toward his table, pausing to stop a waiter and ask for extra mushrooms in the salad Brooke will undoubtedly order. She appreciates her best friend's concern, but she can't resist getting a little revenge.
She stalks over to Julian with her head up. "This seat taken?" she asks, arching an eyebrow.
He shakes his head, his eyes searching her face for a sign of what she's thinking. "All yours."
She sits down across from him and sighs. "Listen…I need you to work with Lucas on this, okay? It's important to him, and some parts of the story are hard for him to revisit. I need you to cut him some slack and listen a bit. Okay? Please?"
Julian nods. "Alright. I will."
"Thank you," she says earnestly. "Listen, Julian…I'm sorry that this is messy, and I'm sorry that things ended between us – sorry that you didn't think I really loved you, because I did. And I'm sorry –"
"Are you happy with him, Peyton?" he cuts her off.
She inhales sharply. "I am," she whispers.
"Well. Then. That's all the matters, isn't it?" he asks, lifting his eyebrows.
"Julian…" she sighs, and realizes she still says his name in that gentle, adoring way. She looks at him sadly and sees sadness staring right back at her, buried beneath the sarcasm and defensive confidence he's put up as a wall. They are so alike sometimes that it breaks her heart.
"I read the new book," he says idly, maybe pointlessly. "The boy saw the comet and suddenly his life had meaning. That's a serious compliment, right there. Though, I've got to say, I would've given you a nicer celestial object to be compared to. A star or something."
She wants to comfort him, and she searches her mind for the words. She settles on: "You'll find your comet someday."
She needs to stand up and walk away, because his eyes are boring into hers and it's just too much and her friends are undoubtedly staring. She pushes her chair back and turns away; he waits until that moment to softly utter, "I kind of thought it was you."
There is no way that she can't turn back, so she does. She walks over until she is standing right next to him and leans down toward him. Her hand drifts up to lie gently on his cheek, covering the bruise left there by her fiancé's fist. She leans in and lifts her hand, pressing her lips to that same spot. When she pulls back her lips brush his ear and she whispers, "I'm sorry."
And she's not talking about the punch.
When she arrives home she's inexplicably fighting the urge to cry. Maybe Brooke's right, maybe she is flighty – maybe she doesn't know who she loves, or maybe she's too afraid to admit it.
But she does know, and she realizes it when she walks into the living room to see that Lucas has framed another picture of the two of them, definitely taken by Haley. The two of them are standing on opposite sides of a room exchanging flirtatious smiles. Eye sex, that would be Brooke's assessment.
So maybe she is flighty, but there is some knowledge that she's absolutely grounded in, and she realizes this as she curls her body into Lucas'. He's asleep on the couch, a book in his hands, and she gets as close to him as possible, breathing lightly, trying not to wake him. When he does open his eyes, it's because she's covered his mouth with hers.
"Do you know…" she whispers, blinking quickly, "why I fell in love with Julian?" She doesn't wait for a reply, because there isn't one. "It was for a lot of reasons, but also because he was like a connection to you. Our first two meetings, I was crying over you, and it was like he rejuvenated me. He took all my hurt over you and showed me that it was possible to turn it into something good, to fall in love again. But it would be a lie, for me to tell you that there was ever a day when I stopped thinking about you, when I was with Julian. Because there wasn't."
A tear escapes her eye, sliding gracefully down her cheek, and Lucas kisses it away. "God, you're beautiful," he murmurs, his fingers tracing over her cheeks in a pattern that's like secret code. "Thank you," he adds meaningfully, pulling her closer. His smile is drowsy but honest. "I love you so much."
His words go straight to her heart, filling her up with the warmth of love, but there's the smallest part that still feels empty.
She wants him to say, There wasn't a day with Lindsey, with Brooke, that I stopped thinking about you. She wants to know that the intensity of her love is reciprocated. She wants to know that it's for real. She wants to know that their history really doesn't mean anything…not that they just say so to comfort themselves so that they can believe in an ideal that doesn't exist.
That day in her car, when their eyes met and her heart stopped and they were encompassed by something bigger than them both, she believed in true love, always. Now she's not so sure.
And Brooke is right. It scares her. She thought Vegas and proposals and moving in together and I love you's and sex everything in between would renew her belief, but those things haven't.
Her confidence is gone and she doesn't know why, but she hopes her wedding dress isn't ready just yet.