A/N: I don't really know what to say about this one, other than it was therapeutic to write; loosely based on a true story...
Just in case it's not entirely clear, Lucas and Peyton never dated/kissed/hooked up whatsoever.
She can't help but feel that wrenching in her heart. Laying in bed at three in the morning, crying over things that haven't happened, that never happened. She's completely breaking down, and she has no idea how to put herself back together without help. But there's no help.
She's 24 and she feels like she's light years away from where she thought she'd be at this point. She thought she'd be married. Maybe a baby or one on the way or at least the prospect of one on the way. A job that she loved. She thought she'd be happy and loved and content.
She's not married and there are no babies and she feels like she's drowning in a job that she's good at, but doesn't like. She's swimming in a sea of mediocrity and it's all her own doing. And every time she comes up for air, she gets pushed back down, held underwater. Throwing punches at things she hates, and unable to stop doing that long enough to propel herself to the things she thinks she could love.
She thinks if she could just walk away from the life she's created, then just maybe she'd be able to find her passion, her purpose. But the prospect of failing is absolutely terrifying, and she doesn't know if she could risk it. Maybe mediocrity is better than failing. Maybe going through the motions is better than taking a chance and realizing that what you wanted, you just can't have.
Maybe the fear is crippling and all-encompassing and persuasive. Maybe the fear tells her she can't have what she wants before she's even tried to get it.
She thinks she'll take a trip, but she doesn't know where she'd go and she doesn't have the money to do it anyway. She dreams of finding herself in a place that's calling her. London or Rome or Prague. Maybe Paris. Maybe anywhere. But she's down to her last few hundred dollars on her emergency credit card, and she really can't spend it.
Though, isn't a quarter life crisis an emergency?
On her way home from work, she buys a bottle of wine that costs more than she should spend, but she doesn't care because she needs it. Not the alcohol or that warm buzzy feeling that gives her a false sense of comfort and euphoria. She needs to taste something good. That tingle on her tongue that spreads to the hinge of her jaw when she takes that first sip of something that's alive. A potion that's constantly evolving and reinventing itself as the weather or humidity or pressure changes. She needs to taste something that can give her a temporary, momentary escape and make her feel...
Just make her feel.
She sits on her sofa and stares at the blinking light on her answering machine. She's afraid to listen to it in case it isn't him. It's never him, and hasn't been in what feels like forever, but it still makes her heart sink every single time she presses 'play' and his gravelly tone doesn't fill the room. She wonders for a moment why she even has an answering machine. She hates voicemail and she doesn't usually listen to her messages for a couple days anyway. Maybe she'll disconnect it. Maybe.
But then...what if he calls and can't leave a message?
Two glasses of wine and an album and a half later, she's got her head tipped back and resting on the sofa as the lyrics of a song she's heard a hundred times before make her tear up. She turns her head to wipe her eye and sees that blinking red light and she's had just enough Pinot that she gets the nerve to press that little arrow. She holds her breath as the tape clicks.
"Hi. It's me. Lucas. It's been a while, and I know that you're...busy or whatever. But I miss you and I was thinking about you, so I thought I'd call and tell you that. I miss you. Hope things are good. Call me back if you want."
There are a few more tears now because he misses her and he was thinking about her and he hopes things are good.
And he called her.
She's wanted that message to come to her for so long. But she's stuck. What should she do? What could she do? They'd had their chance. He'd confessed that he loved her and she'd smiled and said she loved him too but she wasn't in love with him and he had said that he just wanted her to know. He smiled that smile that he'd always given her when he was nervous and trying to put on a brave front, but absolutely breaking inside. She wonders why she was the only one who ever knew that face of his.
It's because she was in love with him, but she'd ignored it or hadn't wanted to see it or hadn't known what that feeling was.
And then he started dating someone else. A beautiful girl who wasn't complicated and was open to what he was offering, and looked at him like he was the exact man she'd been looking for. And Peyton had never been more jealous of anyone in her entire life. Every time he called her, he'd tell her about his girlfriend and the things 'his girl' did and how it felt to wake up next to her and what they did at night. Peyton was just a friend, a buddy. A cool girl he can treat like one of the guys. Peyton was just a footnote on his young idealist history; a love confession he might have meant, but might have wanted to take back.
She wants it back. She wants that moment to relive so she can tell him how she felt; how she feels.
It's been 8 months since he told her he loved her, 6 months she's seen him, and a month since they last spoke. She lives only a couple hours away, but she hasn't been able to get back home or hasn't wanted to. But she misses him, too. Of course she misses him.
Something in the tone of his voice is telling her that something's wrong, and she worries. Her mind races and she's not sure why she feels such a protectiveness towards him. He's always been her friend - her best friend since they were teenagers - but they've been drifting. That love, however, hasn't gone away, as much as she's wished it to.
She wants to call him back and let herself cry into the phone so he'll know that she doesn't know why she's living the way she's living. She wants to tell him that she's not happy and she's confused and she's not sure what she's supposed to do next. She wants him to tell her where she's supposed to go or what she's supposed to do or how she's supposed to get what she wants. She knows he won't have the answers, but he'll have that tone. That tone he's always used when he was helping her. It's low and soft and gravelly and it fills her heart. And she's missed that tone maybe more than anything else about him.
Another glass of wine and another set of sad songs that remind her of him, and she's got the phone in her hand, all but one number dialed, and she's wondering if she can go through with it. One number. Press the button and hear his voice. Her thumb moves seemingly on its own and then she's listening to that ringing and her heart's racing as she waits for him to answer. It's late and she's not sure he'll even be home or awake or wanting to talk.
But then he answers and just that single word makes her heart feel again, and that feeling makes a lump form in her throat. Because that's what she's been searching for.
"Hi," she says softly. "I know it's late..."
"No," he insists, interrupting her. "It's OK. How are you? I didn't know if you still had the voicemail boycott going on."
"No," she says, letting out a strangled laugh that isn't nearly as joyous as it should be. "I listened."
"What's wrong?" he asks. She can hear the panic in his voice and the unmistakable rustling of sheets, and she briefly wonders if he's alone. "Peyt?"
"Yeah. Sorry," she said quietly. "I was just...I miss you, too."
"What's wrong?" he repeats. He's always known her better than she wanted to think, and she should have known she wouldn't be able to hide anything from him.
"I don't know where to start," she reveals. It's an honest statement and she knows he'll recognize that.
"Start with telling me you're OK," he pleads.
"Yeah," she replies eagerly, wanting to ease his worry just that little bit. "Physically, I'm fine. I just feel like..."
"What?" he asks. "God, getting information out of you has always been like getting water from a stone."
She laughs because she can hear him smile, and she can almost picture it, that smile. The way his lips curl and every once in a while she'll get that glimpse of a dimple on his cheek.
"Are you...alone?" she inquires tentatively. She just needs to know, and this is a less blunt way of asking if he's still with her.
"Yeah. Well, if you ever answered your phone, you'd know that we broke up," he answers. How he knew that was exactly the question she was asking, she isn't really sure, but it doesn't matter.
"I'm sorry," she whispers.
She's not sure what she's sorry for, but it's probably a lot of things. Too many to fit into a late night phone call after three glasses of wine when there are quiet tears rolling down her cheeks.
"It's fine. No biggie, right?" he jokes, but he knows it isn't a big deal, and she just hopes it isn't. "Now stop avoiding the question and tell me what's going on that's making you call me crying at one in the morning."
"Can you just talk to me for a while? I just want to hear your voice," she says softly.
"OK, look, I'm putting on pants and driving out to see you right now," he insists with finality.
Her mind wanders to seeing him without pants on, and she doesn't know if that's the wine or the fact that she's completely, absolutely in love with him. Either way, she thinks as she needlessly shrugs her shoulders. They've never, not once, so much as kissed, but since she realized how much she feels for him, it's been at the forefront of her mind. She wants to know if those lips feel as good as she thinks they will.
"You don't need to do that. And why aren't you wearing pants?" she asks before she can stop herself. There's the slightest hint of a laugh in her voice and she thinks he's the only one who's ever been able to make her laugh when she's in the middle of breaking down.
"I was in bed!" he cries. "I wasn't expecting a late night booty call from my best friend."
"Dude, shut up!" she squeals. "This is so not a booty call."
"It could be," he says quietly.
She's frozen. She wonders if she's just hearing what she wants to hear, or if he actually just said those words. Part of her just wants him to drive to her and stand at her door and wrap her in his arms until she feels good again.
"Luke," she whispers.
"Sorry. That was...sorry."
"Is it?" he asks.
"Do you know what I did today?" She doesn't give him time to answer, because she knows he'll think she's avoiding the question and the issue, but really, she's diving in head first. "I talked to potential advertisers about buying air time on the morning show. All day long, I talked about listeners and reach and why it was in their best interest to spend their thousands of dollars on pointless 30 second radio commercials."
"And I just keep asking myself what I'm doing, you know? What am I doing, Luke?" she asks desperately. Her voice breaks and she's crying even harder. A song comes on that's always made her cry and that's not helping matters.
"You're listening to Jeff Buckley? No wonder you're crying. You've never been able to get through Grace without tearing up," he says.
She wonders how he remembers these things, but she loves that he remembers these things.
"This is one of my all time favourite songs," she says softly, playing with the tie on her shorts as she speaks.
"I know it is."
There's a silence, and she knows they're both thinking about their relationship and how even though they haven't spoken in a month, and haven't seen each other in far, far too long, they are still best friends. That doesn't go away.
"So you hate your job," he states. "What now?"
"I think it's time to come home," she admits after a moment. The line goes quiet as soon as she's said the words. "Luke?"
"Come home," he says with a happy desperation. "I want you home."
"I've always wanted you here," he says quietly. "I'll come get you myself. I'll come right now. Where are my pants?"
She laughs again because now he's frantic and rambling, and he doesn't ramble and he rarely gets frantic.
"Luke, you're not driving out here," she says through her giggles.
"Yes I am," he insists. And they both know that's the final word. That tone and those words will not be argued with.
"I'm tired," she informs him. It's a weak and unconvincing protest, because she doesn't want to protest.
"I have a key," he says, and she can picture him shrugging his shoulders. "Hang on a sec....OK."
"What was that?" she asks, trying not to swoon at how damn adorable he is.
"I was putting on a shirt," he says. She hears the jingle of his keys and a door closing, and she knows he really is on his way.
"So you were shirtless and pants-less the whole time we were talking?" she asks. If he could see her now, he'd see that she was biting her lip and her eyes were probably shades darker.
"I told you, I was in bed," he says in a low voice that makes her let out a breath that she's aware is far too seductive, given that he still believes that they're 'just friends.' "Now you get into bed and I'll see you there in a couple hours."
She's speechless because not only does that make her heart rate speed up, but it also sounds like the most amazing sentence she's ever heard.
"Yeah," she answers quickly. "I'll see you in a couple hours."
And so she does what he tells her to do, because frankly, she hasn't anticipated anything in the last 6 months as much as she's anticipating him stepping into her house and laying down with her. She brushes her teeth and slips into her pajamas, and she settles into bed, but she can't stop thinking about him. It's nothing new. It seems she's always thinking about him.
But this time, he's actually going to show up. She won't be laying there, wondering who he's with or what he's doing, or if she should just call him, just to hear his voice. He's actually coming. That thought alone makes her fall asleep better than anything else she's tried, and she knows the wine has nothing to do with it.
It's after 3:00 am when he turns the key in the lock and closes the door behind him as quietly as he can. He wants to wake her, but he wants to see her face when he does. He wants to see that smile that's always been only for him when she opens her eyes and sees him.
When he steps into her bedroom, he takes a moment just to look at her. She's beautiful and her hair is a mess, she doesn't have on any makeup, and he thinks maybe the sexiest thing about that is that she doesn't put on an act for him.
She's just Peyton. The girl he fell in love with at the first sight of those curls and those legs and that adorable little scowl that he assumes she employed to drive people away. It certainly did the opposite for him. He wanted to know the girl behind the sad eyes. Behind the smile she'd fake.
And when he got to know that girl, she was more amazing than he even could have predicted.
He sits next to her on the bed and brushes one of those wild curls away from her temple, and he's absolutely overcome. She's beautifully tragic. Flawed in all the best ways. Perfect in her imperfections. She is an anomaly, and he loves absolutely everything about her, even the things he hasn't seen or figured out yet.
She stirs awake when he supports his weight with his arm on the other side of her body, and she looks up at him with bleary eyes and half a smile, and that's the best hello he's ever received.
"Hi," he says softly, looking down at her.
It's mostly dark, but she can somehow still see every feature, every curve of his face, perfectly. Blue eyes that know too much and a smirk that she could never forget if she tried. There's a stream of light coming through the window from the street lamp, and it's just the perfect amount to remind her just how beautiful he is.
She doesn't say anything, she just lets out a contented sigh, and sits up so she can wrap her arms around him like she's wanted to do since the last time she saw him. She's not sure how long they stay like that, but neither is complaining, because this is what they both need.
"I love you," she whispers into his shoulder.
"I love you, too," he replies.
"No, I mean I..."
"I know," he says, and he pulls away and she can see that smile through the darkness.
"How?" she asks sleepily, almost childlike.
"Because I know you," he answers, and she leans against him again because she just can't not lean against him again.
She lays back down after a few moments, turning onto her side and tucking her hands up under her cheek like she always has. He tugs off his tee shirt and steps out of his jeans, and he climbs over her, and as soon as his head hits the pillow, he drapes his arm over her and pulls her body as close to his as he can. He places a lingering kiss to her bare shoulder, right next to the strap of her tank top, on that freckle he first noticed when they were 16 and at the beach together. He told her he loved that freckle, and since that day, any time he sees it or traces it with his finger tip, she smiles, remembering that first time either of them referred to loving anything about the other.
She wakes up the next morning with her hand intertwined with his, and the steady rise and fall of his chest beneath her cheek. She can't wake him because she knows he must be exhausted. And she knows that if he wakes up, she'll have to leave that place in his arms where she feels so good, and she doesn't want to do that just yet. She doesn't think she can do that just yet.
She realizes that they didn't kiss. They said 'I love you' and they both knew what that meant, but they didn't seal it with a kiss. She panics for a moment, wondering how they could have botched that first kiss moment, but then she realizes that their statement didn't need a kiss. They didn't need to kiss to know that the love was there, or feel each others' lips to make it real. It's always been real.
She slips out of his grip after a while and walks quietly to the kitchen to make coffee, and she's standing there in her little shorts and tank top. He stumbles up behind her sleepily in just his boxers, and turns her around and smirks at her right before he presses his lips to hers.
Last night, they spoke but didn't kiss, but this morning, they're kissing and not speaking.
She realizes that it doesn't matter which they do, because she loves it all - she loves him - just the same.