Story: Grand Romantic Gestures

Author: A Moment in Time

Sequel to: Try Honesty (book one) and You Can't Forget Your First (book two). You will need to have read or read those two books to fully understand this one.

Summary: The end of senior year is approaching. The future beckons but where will our favourite six spend it and, more importantly, who will they spend it with? Who will stay on the straight and narrow and who will meander off the paths they were destined to? It is a time of turbulence and tragedy where some will find love and others questions. Friendships will be tested, families pulled to pieces, lovers found and lost but in the end everyone will discover one simple truth. Some people were meant to enter our life for a moment and draw from us a lesson, others were meant to take root forever.

Includes: a road trip, prom, a retake on the lost weekend, a short but significant film, a ring, a letter, some rekindled romances, a wedding and an overdose and bout of alcohol poisoning just to stir things up. Oh, and a blink and you'll miss it cameo from Jenny.

Pairings: N/V/C/B/D/S (anyone within that grouping might be paired up). E/OC, B/L/R/OC, As per YCFYF the only "pairing" to start this tale is B/D

Grand Romantic Gestures

Prologue

December 17, 2008

If you're expecting some sort of brilliant beginning then let me remind you that I do my best work behind the lens, not crumpled on the roof of a town car parked between Nowhere, Indiana and Somewhere, Iowa (do those states even border?).

So don't look to these words as some sort of elegant beginning. This is just another entry in a seemingly endless string of mindless rambles. I've been preconditioned to self-reflection. Keeping a journal was a required part of therapy in the Ostroff Centre, and like the rest it was another middling requirement that I had planned to leave behind. However, by the time I was uncaged it, like the rest, seemed to have taken root in my psyche. It's why I gave Chuck that journal. Call it my last breath of naiveté or my first gasp of optimism. Oh who was I kidding? Chuck Bass writing about his deepest thoughts and fears? I should have bought him the bottle of scotch. Everyone mourns in their own way.

I ought to catch some sleep while Chuck is passed out in the back, his reign of terror temporarily silenced (who knew that if you took away the alcohol and drugs you'd end with Blair the masculine version?) I don't really feel like sleeping anymore, my mind has become an unpurposeful hive of activity and I'm afraid that to let it rest means to let other things rise up in the darkened emptiness. Serena keeps looking over at me with those damned glistening eyes. She keeps telling me that I should be sad but I'll be damned if I cry just to suit her stupid ideas of necessity. I would wonder what will become of her, or Chuck or even me but I've never learned to eulogize the future. I'll leave that to her.

Besides I've got something that neither of my siblings can covet; I've got true, reasonable anger. They lost their loves through their own mistaken pride and defect but I lost mine because he was a scheming bastion of avarice. So I'll dwell quite happily in justifiable rage.

It's too bad Georgina Sparks taught me that hate can never fully undo love.

Eric Van der Woodsen

I'm running away with you

That's all I ever do

That's all we ever mean

I'll forgive you everything

Meet me at the railroad bar

About 7 o'clock

We'll talk while the sun goes down

Watching the lovers leaving town.

This is for lovers, running away

This is for lovers, running away

Just for today.

I'm running away with you

From yesterday's news

Let's leave it all behind

Help me back to my mind

I paid the penalty

You're the jailer rattling the key

But the key was mine

I keep a spare one every time.

This is for lovers, running away

This is for lovers, running away

Just for today....

"What the hell kind of sentimental tripe is that?" Chuck spat from the back. He kicked his socked feet on his sister's patent leather headrest.

"For Lovers..." Eric explained.

Serena pushed aside his feet to share a glance with Chuck, unspoken instructions followed by the eject button.

"What do you think you're doing?" Eric took one hand off the steering wheel and made a grab for his CD.

Serena avoided his grasp and taking the slim disk, hurled it out the window.

"What the hell!"

"First rule of surviving a breakup: Don't listen to depressing music that is bound to remind you of an ex." Serena said knowingly.

"First rule of driving etiquette." Eric countered, grabbing another CD from his bag. "The driver gets to set the music." Within moments a screeching split the car, this time not from Serena's perfectly outlined lips.

"Oh dear Lord," Chuck put his head against the town car's thick cushioning and prepared himself.

The siblings hadn't even manoeuvred through New Jersey before Serena had the map laid on her lap, confused expression on her pristine face.

"Who would ever pick Serena as the navigator?" Chuck chided aloud. "She couldn't find her way out of Berdorf's without assistance."

"She's sitting in the front," Eric reminded his brother.

"If you'd like to trade," Serena suggested.

"No way," Chuck said. "I do my best work in the back seat."

"I don't think that's considered work," Eric muttered.

Chuck took the cell from his pocket as Serena muddled through Map Reading 101. "You need to take the exit onto 1-80 West."

"And how would you know that?" Serena muttered angrily, finger trying to match up the red lines to blue.

"Mapquest," Chuck handed her the cell. "It says we can make it in one day and nineteen hours," Chuck arched one eyebrow in challenge.

"It's 3000 miles." Eric reminded his brother.

"So we'd better keep going."

"Can we stop and get a few magazines?" Serena begged.

"No!"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"Look, look, look," Serena pounded on Chuck's half asleep form.

"What the..."

"There," Serena pointed at the sign off the highway.

"You are entering Iowa," Chuck read it aloud. "Jesus Christ Serena. For that much slapping I'd expect to see at least a couple polar bears humping."

"I'm not taking a detour through Canada to satisfy your strange sexual cravings," Eric retorted from the front seat.

"Just keep driving," Chuck said, fiddling through his pockets for a pack of cigarettes. He nearly had one lit before Serena stole it away.

"I thought we talked about that," Serena reminded him.

"That was ten hours ago," Chuck complained.

"Bet you're wishing we'd stopped at that motel."

"Did you pack some lingerie? That might tip the scales."

"Pig!" Serena rolled her eyes.

"Slut," Chuck countered.

"I thought we'd make it to day two before the name calling started."

"It is day two."

"Really?" Eric asked.

"Didn't you notice the ten hours of night driving?"

"I've been driving twenty-three hours without a break," Eric reminded with a glare at Chuck.

"What?" Chuck shook his shoulders. "We all have to make sacrifices for productivity."

"I'm going to dream of yellow lines until I'm dead."

"I'm going to dream of Serena's stomach gases."

"You're the one who insisted on a steady diet of fast food," Serena glowered at her older brother.

"Who would have thought something that beautiful could smell that bad."

Serena grabbed her clutch to do battle but then put it aside. "You still want that lingerie," She asked with a provocative smile.

Chuck took his time in consideration. "After some expertly applied duck tape."

"Arggg," Serena went back to her original plan and hit Chuck upside the head.

"Je suis dans la medre" Eric spoke in with a forlorn look at the clock.

"Why are you in trouble?" Serena said turning back to her brother.

"French final...9am," He pointed at the clock.

"Oh," Serena mumbled and waved at Chuck to offer some witticism.

"It's about time you let someone better you," Chuck tried. "You've been top of your class since preschool."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

"I've got to pee," Eric abruptly announced at the Nebraska border. It was hardly surprising as littered around his feet were at least seven 32oz coffee cups. It was Chuck's solution to staying on schedule.

"Then pull over and find a tree," Chuck suggested.

"I'm not going out there," Eric swore. "It's like 14 degrees."

"I once hung it out of a helicopter dangling 100 ft above the snowy Arctic."

"Chuck!" Serena screeched in disgust.

"What?" Chuck shrugged. "I was thirteen...oil investment...my dad."

"Do you really think that is going to convince Eric to..." Before she could even finish the sentence Eric had swerved the car to the side of the highway, landing the company in a snow drift. He was over the cement guiderail before Serena could wipe the surprise from her face.

"Don't underestimate the power of male posturing," Chuck educated his sister.

"I don't see why we couldn't have found a gas station," Serena whined as her brother, red faced and shaking hands, got back into the car.

"Are you still going on about that magazine?" Eric asked as he pushed the accelerator. Nothing moved. "We're stuck."

"Great," Serena rolled her eyes. "Couldn't you two have just taken it out and measured. You could have done it while I got..."

"Teen Vogue," Chuck and Eric moaned in unison.

"What? They're supposed to have a twenty-page spread on accessories."

Chuck and Eric shook their heads in unison. "You're going to need to push," Eric turned back to his brother.

"Why can't you do it?" Chuck whined.

"I'm driving!"

"Serena?"

"If you think I'm ruining my Chanel heels then you're nuts."

"Isn't there a homeless migrant somewhere," Chuck suggested.

"On the side of the Interstate?" Serena muttered in disbelief.

"They're never around when you need them," Chuck muttered and threw the door open, narrowly missing a large transport truck that swerved to one side.

"You might want to look first," Serena suggested.

Chuck threw her an irritated glare before stepping from the car and slamming the door behind him. He dug his John Lobb flats into the snow, waterlogged slush leaking into his cashmere socks. With an unrepentant curse Chuck put his hands to the car, shuddering at the film of dust that soiled his fingers. "You better appreciate this," Chuck yelled at his brother and pushed.

It took several moments but eventually the high priced tires were able to grab against the snow. Chuck gave one last push for good measure and was rewarded by a huge spray of snow and sludge that was picked up from below and flew through the air to cover him head to toe. Chuck trembled from the dampness. He stared down at his designer clothes and could have cried. The bright yellow and orange were polluted to a mute grey.

"You're supposed to step away as the car starts moving," Eric called out knowingly.

"Said by the boy whose licence is still a slip of paper," Chuck spat back, pushing the sludge-soaked hair from his face.

Eric and Serena didn't even try to stop their laugher.

"Pop the trunk," Chuck ordered.

"Why?" Eric asked.

Chuck just glared from behind the car. "I'd like to change."

"You're not stripping naked on the Interstate!" Eric yelled.

"You think I'd be the first time?"

"Ewww!" Serena gave another involuntary shake.

Another semitrailer truck sped by, adding further spray to Chuck's already drenched clothing.

"Just get in the damn car," Eric ordered. "We'll stop at the next exit. You can get changed and Serena can get her magazine. Chuck showed his agreement by stepping back into the car. They drove another twenty miles before they saw any sign of life.

"Where are we?" Serena asked with the map folded flat across her legs.

"Hick town number five hundred and two," Chuck complained from the back.

"Be quiet children or I'm turning the car around and we're going home."

"You used that threat 600 miles ago," Serena reminded.

"And it worked if I recall."

"Are you going to find a place to change?" Chuck complained from the back. "I'm starting to lose feeling in important extremities."

"Why do I get the feeling he's not talking about his hands or feet?"

"You know me so well sis," Chuck smirked from the back seat.

"You'd better pull over," Serena rolled her eyes. "If he lost that he'd have nothing left to live for."

"Or Eric could keep driving," Chuck suggested. "And you could find another way to warm it up."

Serena squealed in disgust and then pointed to a large blue building off the highway. "Look," she cried "Walmart."

"Hell no," Chuck refuted on instinct but Eric had already pulled to the exit.

"Come on Chuck," Serena smiled at her brother. "Their bathrooms are clearer than a gas station, and they have every magazine printed."

Chuck was about to refuse again when another thought struck. "Did you say any magazine?"

"Every." Serena shook her head knowingly.

"How come every hick town in every hick state has a Walmart?" Chuck asked, struggling to replace his shoes in the cramped state.

"Like you would know," Serena shot back.

"I wonder if they have donuts," Eric considered, jumping from the seat the moment he pushed the car to park.

"Can you pass me my bag?" Chuck asked before his brother could run off.

Eric opened the trunk with his key and made a show of pushing things from right to left.

"Hurry the fuck up," Chuck complained with hand out the window.

Eric slammed the trunk shut with nothing in hand. "I'm sorry Chuck. I must have forgotten to put your bag in."

"You've got to be kidding me," Chuck glared at his brother. "Then lend me something from yours."

"Did you forget? You didn't even give me enough time to pack one. I was planning on borrowing from you."

"Just great. I knew I should have let Dexter do it."

"Sorry Chuck," Eric shrugged. "But maybe you could get something here?"

"At Walmart?" Chuck just laughed at the absurdity of his brother's suggestion.

"Unless you'd prefer to stay in those clothes. We should hit a major city in five hours or so."

An ill timed shiver showed Chuck just how foolish that suggestion would be. "I should make you strip down and give me your clothes." Chuck slammed the door for good measure.

"Come on Chuck," Serena put a hand to her brother's shoulders. "It's an adventure."

Chuck glared at the big box store and growled. "It's turning into a tragedy."

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck huddled in front of the sliding doors. He'd forgone buying a jacket because even he had standards. He hid his head under the thick black cotton hoodie, matching pants keeping his neither regions marginally warmer than before. He'd spent half an hour marching up the artificially lit isles before he'd settled on his ensemble. It was an elimination process as everything else in the store was made of polyester. There were still limits.

Of course this 100% cotton felt more like 100% horsehide. He wiggled right and left, yanking angrily at the scratching plastic tag. When he looked down he realized that his lit cigarette had burned a tiny circular hole into one sleeve. Now I really belong here he muttered and took an extra-long drag.

Chuck was well on the way to chainsmoker of the year when Serena appeared twenty minutes later. "What the hell took you so long?" Chuck mumbled at his sister. "Couldn't decide between bracelets and bangles?"

"Hardly," Serena gave him a little wink and he was intrigued. "I took a slight detour." She gave her bag a little jingle.

"I knew you'd come through for me," Chuck said with a smile. "Single or double malt?" He held his hand out expectantly.

"They don't sell alcohol at Walmart," Serena shook his head.

"Or Playboy," Chuck complained, "So much for selling every magazine printed."

"You might like this as much," Serena winked and slipped the discs from her bag.

"Oh thank the Lord!"

"You know what you have to do."

Chuck gave her a quick nod and then hurried back towards the car.

"Oh and Chuck," Serena called out. "You're looking very fashionable."

He didn't even slow at her mocking; he just offered her the universal salute en route.

Eric was already waiting in the town car when the siblings returned. With a wink at his sister, Chuck opened the back door. He sat directly behind his brother and then nodded at Serena. Within a second he had Eric's arms pinned from behind and Serena was emptying the CD changer. "What are you doing?" Eric asked revolting against his confinement. It was a useless exercise. Eric might have outgrown his brother in height but Chuck was still considerably stronger.

"For the last thirty seven hours we have been subjected to the Kooks, Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, the Libertines, Dirty Pretty Things, The Cribs, Franz Ferdinand, Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlights, Muse and the Rakes," Chuck started the speech.

"In constant cycle," Serena reminded her brother.

"If I have to hear Pete Doherty's cracked up screeching one more time," Chuck took a deep breath "Then I'm going to throw myself under the next tracker trailer to come along."

"Fine," Eric relaxed his hands to show that he wouldn't fight and Chuck let him go.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

They made it another three hundred miles before Serena tired of her entire haul of magazines (she never did have a long attention span). She put the lot on the dashboard and tried counting stars. That occupied her for another twenty minutes and then she started poking around the car itself. Chuck had a book folding across his knees and he was reading intently. "What are you reading?" Serena asked.

Chuck looked up from the book he'd been reading for the last four hours. "I have no clue," He threw the novel onto the floor. "It's bloody awful."

"So why are you reading it?"

"It's a New York Times bestseller."

"And this had ever mattered to you before."

"I figured I needed something to talk about with Lewis," Chuck revealed. "I mean after the obligatory sorry my stupidity ruined your life and exiled you to a foreign country speech."

"Hmmm," came Serena's reply.

"I thought Ms. Smith's undergrad with in Psyche and English was just a minor," Eric asked.

"It was."

"Then shouldn't you be reading Dr. Phil or something?" Eric asked, his smirk half-distinguishable through the rear-view mirror.

"I'll leave that to Serena."

"It was one time Chuck," Serena screeched. "Let it go!"

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Eric kept his eyes glued to the narrow streets. They'd detoured away from the major highway and Eric was intent on not getting lost. California was bad enough (he'd leave the beach fantasies to his blonder sister) but he didn't plan on taking up root in Wyoming.

Serena was chewing some god awful strawberry-flavoured gum beside him and he could feel his eyebrow involuntarily twitch at every loud smack.

He really needed sleep.

"I thought they didn't have playboy?" Serena leaned into the back to see what Chuck was reading now.

"They didn't," Chuck mumbled distractedly.

"What other magazine would you possibly read."

"You'd be surprised," Chuck mumbled further.

"Maxim?" Serena guessed only to have her brother shake his head. "FHM? Esquire? Stuff?" Serena gave a hiss of frustration. "The New York Times."

"That's a newspaper," Chuck arched a brow in condescension. "Just let it go."

"Now I can't." Serena tossed her head. "Just tell me."

Chuck tried a smirk but it formed as more of an irritated glower. He lifted the magazine, just enough to make the cover legible.

"You didn't," Serena gasped in shock.

"What," Eric turned his head but Chuck had long since recovered himself.

"Tell him," Serena insisted.

Eric didn't even wait for his brother to respond before snaking a hand to the backseat and ripping the magazine from his brother's hand. When he saw what it was, he couldn't help but stare back in surprise.

"Eric!" Serena screamed. "Eyes...road."

Eric made a quick swerve to recover himself. Then, taking the magazine he threw it at his brother's head. "Really Chuck?"

"I couldn't let my little brother triumph without a single look," Chuck justified himself.

The entire company fell into an uneasy silence.

"Do they look good?" Eric asked at last.

"Of course they do," Chuck decided, reopening the New York Arts Magazine. "How could the photos not be excellent? You took them."

"Can I see?" Serena asked and Chuck passed the periodical forward. "Wow, these are excellent." Serena decided after a careful examination. "It's too bad about the subject." Ah yes, the subject. There wasn't much joy to be had in publication if the subject of your photographs was a lying, greedy ex-boyfriend like Eric's. Not to mention that publishing intimate photos ought to be reconsidered when ones mother was still ignorant of their sexuality.

"Mom is going to kill me when she sees them," Eric decided.

"I don't think you should be worried about the pictures," Chuck enlightened his brother.

"What do you mean?" Eric asked.

"Read the article," Chuck instructed his sister.

New York Art Scene Wowed by Youthful Import

Some people bank on their sexuality, others avoid it but even fewer are presented with an opportunity on the basis of it. It's no secret that the New York Arts scene has been striving to reinvent themselves for a younger audience. What better way to do that then to showcase a peer and to better that by showcasing an openly homosexual one?

"Sexuality is a theme throughout my work," The young artist admits "but it's not the single thing that defines me. It's a part of me but it isn't me."

We can't help but agree. Damien Allenby is so much more than any one thing. His work is so multifaceted that you could come back to the same piece over and again only to find a new truth on each viewing...

"It goes on from there," Serena explained and quietly handed the periodical back to Chuck.

"Great," Eric said very softly and then pounded the steering wheel with an open hand. As if to punctuate the point, Eric's cell started ringing. His bag was in the floor of the backseat and Eric made no move to answer it. It rang four times before he nodded through the rear-view mirror for Chuck to take it out. "If it's my mother then please click it to voicemail."

Chuck pulled the cell phone but once the name flashed even Chuck froze.

"Who is it?" Eric asked, snaking his hand back to take the baby blue cell from his brother's immobile fingers.

"It's not your mother."

Eric looked down at the phone and then went as still as a statue. That was definitely unexpected.

"Eric!" Serena screamed again. "Eyes...road."

This time he didn't recover himself fast enough. At least they were travelling at a snail's pace. If he'd had another five yards then the mailbox would have come off the better for it. As it were, the crack was soft but deafening to the Van der Bass children.

"Oh Fuck!" Chuck expressed their sentiments.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Chuck wrapped his hands around a steaming cup of coffee. It was a plain brew that they'd found in a plain town in Utah but after over forty hours on the road one lived for small pleasures. "Sweet caffeine," Chuck breathed in the aroma. "Nectar of the Gods."

"I thought you reserved that label for scotch." Serena climbed onto the hood of their car. Eric was grabbing a few moments of sleep in the back seat. Even Chuck couldn't refuse him after he'd cracked Bart's bumper through. Eric had thrown his constantly vibrating phone into the cavernous glove compartment. He never did answer it.

The three didn't mention the calls. They were becoming good at ignoring things. Like Serena's cell that chimed in regular intervals.

"Each has their purpose I assure you." Chuck mumbled between sips.

"It's cold," Serena shivered against the morning air.

"I'd lend you my blanket but someone forgot to pack my bag."

"Are you still bitter over that?"

"Probably left it in the underground parking."

"Why do you care?" Serena asked. "You never wear anything twice anyway."

"It had my scarf in it." Chuck mumbled with certain sadness.

"Oh," Serena understood it then. "Maybe you could call..."

"I already called Dexter," Chuck enlightened her. "They couldn't find it."

"I'm sorry Chuck," Serena sounded almost sincere.

"Here," Chuck took off his cotton hoodie and wrapt it around his sister's shoulders.

"Don't do that, you're going to freeze," Serena started to push the jacket back but Chuck put his hands on it, stopping her from moving.

"I'll be fine."

"Hey," Serena smiled at Chuck. "I'm the one who's supposed to be being nice to you."

"It doesn't matter."

"I'm the one with everything to make up."

"I wouldn't worry about that."

"How can you even say that? If it wasn't for me then you and Blair..."

"How can I not say it?" Chuck interrupted before Serena could put his wishes to sound. "I know you Serena. I don't have trumped up expectations of your worth. I never expected anything better."

Serena didn't know whether to be insulted or impressed by his words, so rather than speak she leaned her back against his now shivering form.

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

The morning sun reflected across the once pristine bumper of Bart's Lincoln Town Car (They were really going to come up with a better excuse than the mailbox moved), painting the lush interior in shades of red and orange. Chuck opened his still tired eyes, blinking against the sudden brightness. He struggled to sit, his back aching miserably from being confined for two days. When he stared up at the front Chuck saw that his brother and sister were sitting in relative silence, each studying the narrow streets and signs.

"Where are we?" Chuck asked.

"Look," Serena pointed at the large sign. Chuck needn't read it: the tall academic buildings tucked between quiet tree-lined streets spoke enough. They'd arrived at Stanford.

"I think I slept through Nevada," Chuck rubbed at his eyes.

"Me too," Eric retorted and Chuck wasn't entirely sure it was in jest.