A/N: This is the sequel to As the Lights Go Down. It has a lighter tone and is from Peyton's point-of-view this time, but in the end, it's still all about LP. This will be a trilogy, so there's one more oneshot to go, though I can't make any promises about when I'll finish that. Let me know if you're interested. Taylor Swift's song "The Way I Loved You" is amazing and the source of all the lyrics within this oneshot. There are jumps in time and changes in people, but I think you can figure them out. Happy OTH day! Reviews are love.

i. he is sensible and so incredible

and all my single friends are jealous

"Hey, gorgeous," Brooke greets her warmly; throwing her arms out for a hug the moment Peyton opens the door. She kisses the corner of her best friend's mouth, squeezes her tightly for a moment, and demands, "How's the hottie?"

Peyton smirks as Brooke brushes by her and into the apartment. She assures her friend that 'the hottie' is good, her words coy and full of muted meaning, leaving no room for any more questions.

"Oh, come on," Brooke cries, flopping down onto the couch. "P. Sawyer, I am having such a romantic dry spell! You need to give me something."

She just shrugs a slender shoulder carelessly. He's good. Brooke knows that already. "We talk all the time, B.," she offers up as a reminder.

"Yeah, but you never give me any dirt," the brunette whines, hugging a pillow as she pouts. "Do you have any booze?" she requests, brown orbs sparkling mischievously.

"Do have any idea what time it is?" Peyton retorts, walking into the kitchen to search for some wine nonetheless.

"Bring the bottle!" Brooke yells. Peyton rolls her eyes as she fetches two glasses from the cupboard, but obeys. Since Brooke is in the mood for boy talk, she may very well need some liquor just to get through the next hour or so without losing her mind.

Laughingly, she says that she's glad Brooke's there as the fashionista pours herself a full glass of wine. "I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too," Brooke replies earnestly, filling Peyton's glass as well. Her eyes glitter, and Peyton knows that Brooke did miss her, but that's not going to let her get away with changing the subject so easily.

"Brooke," she groans, grimacing to herself.

Her best friend adopts a dreamy expression as she lounges on the couch, rolling the stem of her wine glass lazily between her thumb and index fingers. Peyton doesn't care if she spills – she's lost track of the number of times red wine has stained her (originally) white couch. Now it's splotchy in an artistic way that she loves. Her boyfriend pleads with her to let him buy a new one. She's still trying to get him to appreciate the beauty of a mess.

"At least tell me how you met again," Brooke says.

Peyton arches his eyebrows. "You really are in a dry spell, aren't you?" She tilts her head to the side and plasters on an innocent smile which is entirely fake. "Why don't you just Brooke yourself?"

"Shut up," Brooke growls dangerously, her cheeks turning bright pink, "and tell me your cutesy love story already."

With a sigh, she dutifully begins, "It all started when, one night, I was sitting in a bar, drinking away the misery brought on by all my failures…"

Brooke patiently reminds her that she wants the happy stuff, not the depressing tale.

Peyton glares at her playfully. "It's not the same story if I leave out the hours I spent moping or the jerk who tried to pick me up."

Ignoring her, Brooke prompts, "And after that jerk tried to pick you up, your knight in shining armour came to your rescue…"

"And whisked me away to his apartment, put my drunk ass to bed, and slept on the couch like a gentleman."

"Don't sound so thrilled about it," Brooke chastises her for her blunt, unimpressed tone. She insists that it's sweet and tries to get the blonde to admit that much.

"I drank so much I almost gave myself alcohol poisoning and he saved me from date rape," she says, her voice fake in its sugary quality. "Yeah; can't wait to tell that story to my children."

The fashion designer chokes on her wine, spluttering, eyes wide. She's stunned, and Peyton knows why, but she's not going to acknowledge it until Brooke makes her do so.

"Brooke?"

"Um. Wow."

Peyton squints at her suspiciously and lets her green eyes ask the question: what do you mean, 'wow'?

"I just mean…well, P. Sawyer, honey, you…you've talked about…about kids?"

Her eyes flash downward; her hands have suddenly become impossibly interesting. She stares into her glass of wine instead of looking at her trembling fingers. She hates the ways her body betrays her. "Yeah," she whispers, "We have."

"Honey…that's a big deal. Why didn't you tell me?"

Peyton shrugs, wishing that they could stop discussing this and she could return to living in pseudo denial. At least she's happy that way. "Because it would make it an even bigger deal."

Something shifts in Brooke's eyes; concern seeps in and Peyton can sense the end to their casual conversation. She's saved from an inquisition by the shrill ring of her cell, the ringtone that signals that it's her man.

"Hey," she greets him quietly, avoiding Brooke's eyes.

"Hey, sexy," he replies easily. "Something wrong?"

He notices, of course he does. He's remarkably good at picking up her moods considering they've only really known each other for a period of time shorter than two years. "Nope, nothing," she says, forcing herself to lighten her tone. "What's up?"

"I'm at the store, and I remember that you were complaining about running out of shampoo this morning…but I can't remember what kind you use. For curly hair, or for blondes?"

Her heart melts. Leave it to him to remember something like that so naturally. It's moments like this when she stops having to pretend. "Colour-enhancing shampoo for blondes," she says gently, "Curl control in the conditioner."

He laughs good-naturedly. "I thought it was the other way around."

"You're sweet to remember."

"I'll see you at home."

"Thanks, Josh," she says. She hangs up reluctantly because she knows that setting her phone aside means that she'll have to face Brooke.

Her best friend is a little bit tipsy and totally swooning. "He buys you shampoo without you having to ask?" she raves. "I'm insanely jealous of you right now, P. Sawyer. Hell, most women in the world are insanely jealous of you right now, they just don't know it."

ii. he says everything I need to hear

and it's like I couldn't ask for anything better

Peyton smiles back like she wholeheartedly reciprocates this kind of enthusiasm for the man she calls her boyfriend. Brooke sees through her façade and her solemnity returns. "P. Sawyer, can I talk to you about something?"

Peyton can only smirk softly. It's not like her saying no will stop her friend, and she says as much.

"True enough," Brooke laughs in agreement, sitting upright and setting her glass of wine down. That's when Peyton realizes that they're truly crossing into serious territory, when Brooke sets her alcohol aside. "Listen, I know you're happy…"

"But?"

Brooke smiles sheepishly. But she's still worried. Worrying about Peyton is about as natural to her as breathing after all these years.

"You don't have to be. You said it yourself: I'm happy. And you like Josh, right? You think he's a good guy."

She nods. She worships the very ground that boy walks on for the way he treats her. She definitely thinks he's a catch, buying her shampoo and naming their kids already and taking care of Peyton like she's the most precious thing in his world.

"But I just…I worry that you're…settling." She chooses her last word very carefully.

"You know that I don't want to have this talk again," Peyton grumbles, gulping down some wine.

The thing is, she feels a certain measure of guilt. Brooke, out of all the people in the world other than the two most essential to forming the relationship she doesn't like to think about, has the most invested in the wellbeing of said relationship. She's interfered. She's gotten hurt. She's made sacrifices. She's apologized and she's forgiven. And in the oddest way, Peyton feels that she owes her an explanation for giving up on the boy they once fought so fiercely for.

It breaks her heart to think that it wasn't worth it for any of them.

Strange, it was, how they fell apart. They had never claimed to be perfect, but they had been right, with an unmistakable sense of forever about them. He'd loved her for years and years, she'd fallen for him hard and fast, like it was meant to be and he'd been waiting for her all along. He had been the cause of a fair amount of pain in her life, but so much pleasure that any heartbreak had faded away. Soon enough she'd forgotten that it even existed.

Their lifestyles synched together in perfect ways, long drives in her car on the back roads on Sunday afternoons, washing dishes in his mom's café on Wednesday nights, flicking soap bubbles at each other. She cheered while he played, he read while she drew, they were content to sit on her porch and share the earphones from an iPod, watching the rain fall from the sky. She waited for him to come to her at midnight, hated to say goodbye to him in the mornings, basked in the starlight and dreaded the sun. They kissed and talked and joked and loved. He wrote her love notes and she burned him CDs. They sprawled across her bed to fill out university applications, watched the real estate channel on the floor of his living room. He would kiss her forehead as she held his little sister in her arms; they would both admire the little girl's delicate perfection as she slept, the warmth of her tiny body, and they would both feel the pull of a new sense of longing.

They planned a future.

He let her keep the engagement ring. She wore it when she slept, in memoriam on the anniversary of Keith's death, slipped it onto her finger when he read her J.D. Salinger on Friday nights while their classmates drank and played pranks, far removed from the cozy world the two teenagers had created for themselves. When their relationship started to deteriorate, she'd hold her hand up as she laid in bed at night, admiring the sparkle of the diamonds, and promise herself that they would be okay, because he was her definition of forever and she was his.

And when they finally broke up, screaming at each other in the very spot where they'd met, smoke pluming into the air from the front of her car, it was sitting on her finger. She was crying quietly when he said that he'd drive her home, and the only words her spoke to her in the car were just as he pulled up in front of her house. His voice sounded so unfamiliar, so hoarse and pained and angry. She'd held out the ring to him and he growled out, "Keep it."

Then she was running away as fast as a plane could take her from the small town she'd imagined she could always be calling home, getting lost among the thousands trying to make it in the business in L.A., wearing her ring and listening to John Mayer and crying into the early hours of the morning, going to bars just to avoid the depressing vibe of her apartment. It was there that some random asshole drugged her drink and attempted to get her to go home with him. It was there that a man with kind, intrigued eyes took her back to his place and made her drink glasses of water and watched over her while she slept before passing out on the couch, giving her some privacy.

When she woke up in his bed the next morning, head pounding and vision fuzzy, she felt the change. She felt appreciated again, valued again. She felt the potential to be loved again.

She pulled the ring off her finger and slipped it into her pocket.

There is a box buried deep in one of the closets, full of mementos from the most valuable relationship she's ever had, but she doesn't leave the ring there. It's concealed in one of her drawers, folded into the one shirt of his she couldn't bring herself to part with.

It sits in her drawer, right next to one of Joshua's, only two thin panels of wood separating the ring that means forever to her from the ring that her boyfriend wants her to wear forever.

She swallows hard as she hears his key in the lock. He loves her. He wants her. She's the one who's got a problem – she needs to get over herself and readjust her idea of forever, because this man can give her the world.

"Peyton?" Brooke asks anxiously.

She shoots her friend a soothing smile. I'm happy, she lies with her eyes. I promise.

iii. he opens up my door

and I get into his car

"Hey," he says casually as he walks in, smile in place. He spots Brooke and the wine and his grin widens knowingly. "Hey, Brooke," he greets her. "Even prettier in person, as always."

"Joshua," she says fondly, exuding warmth and happiness as she stands and walks over for a quick hug. "You flatter me," she insists.

"I only tell the truth." His reply is smooth yet somehow honest. He turns his to Peyton, his smile softening with affection. "Hey, baby."

She stands and moves toward her, rewarding him with a soft smile of her own. She murmurs her own reply and kisses him languidly – Brooke tends to appreciate rather than scorn a little bit of PDA. Peyton wants to prove her own happiness, and this is one of the few ways she knows how.

He pulls back, thinking that they're making Brooke uncomfortable rather than making a point. His eyes meet hers and she sees both appreciation and a playful warning to stop.

"So what have you wild girls been up to?"

Brooke grins in an innocently flirtatious way and says that they've been waiting for him before getting crazy. He chuckles, eyebrows raised, and makes a teasing comment in return that Peyton doesn't really bother listening to.

"Peyton?"

She blinked up at him, smiling her sweetest apologetic smile. She makes excuses about zoning out and he chuckles about Brooke tiring her out already. Brooke intervenes instantly, insisting that they have to go out so that she can experience Los Angeles.

Joshua gives his girlfriend a playfully inquisitive look and asks her if she's up for it.

"Of course she is!" Brooke declares insistently, and Peyton knows what she's doing. If she's really and truly happy, she'll go out tonight and drink only a little, dance with her boyfriend, joke with her best friend, and smile the whole time. Brooke sets down her wine and reaches for her best friend's hand, ordering Peyton to help her unpack. She winks at Josh as the girls walk into the guest room, promising to make Peyton look stunning.

And because he's Joshua and he's everyone's idea of the perfect man, he clears their wine glasses off the table, heading toward the kitchen to wash them, and says, "She already is."

Almost an hour later, they're standing on the sidewalk in front of the apartment building while he hails a cab. Brooke squeals excitedly, pointing to a billboard featuring her brand, as a taxi comes to a smooth stop in front of them. Joshua opens the door and Brooke, still admiring her own success, thanks him with a sweet, coy smile and climbs in.

He stops Peyton before she can brush by him.

iv. and he says "you look beautiful tonight"

and I feel perfectly fine

"You okay, honey?" He brushes her hair out of her face, fingertips savouring the feeling of her skin, so that he can look into her eyes.

She promises him that she's fine. "It's just been a while since I've seen her. I've forgotten what a whirlwind she is."

"But you love it."

She smiles. She nods. She loves her best friend and all of her craziness.

"You look…you're gorgeous, Peyton."

She smiles. She thanks him. She jokes about Brooke working miracles.

And she tries to love this man and all his perfection.

v. but I miss screaming and fighting

and kissing in the rain

"Oh, that's great, Peyton," he fumed sarcastically. "I'm clearly the only one at fault here, right? You never make mistakes!"

"Don't play martyr," she snapped back bitterly. They were standing at opposite sides of his bedroom, as far from each other as they could get.

"Me play martyr? Are you forgetting who you are and who you're talking to?!"

She shot him her most withering glare. That was a low blow, especially considering their history.

His mother rapped on the door and pushed it open gently. "Hi. I'm sorry, I can tell that you're…in the middle of something…but there is a sixth-month-old down the hall that I just got to sleep, and if she wakes up, you've got babysitting duty. Both of you," she added, settling that fight before it could even begin.

Peyton met his eyes across the room. She clapped a hand over her mouth and averted her eyes from his green orbs, but not before she started laughing at the ridiculous quality of the situation.

He rolled his eyes at her but cracked his own grin, the one capable of making her heart race and her knees weak. "Thanks, Mom," he replied wryly.

The older woman smiled, wearily but peacefully, her eyes full of love. "You fight like an old married couple, you know that?"

"This must be why people get divorced…" he muttered, only partially serious, and his mother ducked out of the room before the CD she flung at him could smack into the doorframe.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" she screamed at him indignantly.

"Hey, c'mon, I was joking – do not throw another CD at me, that's my favourite La Rocca album!" he protested hotly, holding his hands up to shield his body.

She asked him, bluntly, if he wanted to break up with her. She tried to ignore the way his face contorted as if he was physically in pain and the way her own heart felt like it was disintegrating in her chest.

She tried to be reasonable – they'd been fighting so much lately that it might not even be worth it any more.

She tried to be strong – if he wouldn't break things off himself then she would take the initiative.

She tried to be brave – it wasn't like she needed him.

She tried to be impartial – who cared if she lost this boy?

But it was worth it, so worth it, and she couldn't bare to be the one to end something so wonderful, she did need him, and she cared for him, more than she'd ever thought possible. He wasn't a boy, he was the boy.

He opened his mouth to reply to her but she held up a hand. She didn't want to hear him; instead, she cocked her head to the side, listening.

"Peyton –"

"Shh."

"Peyt, please –"

"Would you shut up already?" she demanded impatiently. She pressed her lips together, just waiting for it. She turned around, placing her hand on the doorknob. She heard him behind her, protesting, trying to explain himself, trying to apologize, but she ignored him.

A lightning bolt cracked through the sky, illuminating the silvery clouds, and then it started. She smiled, tugging the elastic band out of her curls, tilting her head back and closing her eyes, reaching out her hands as drops of water splashed down softly.

She turned around to look at him, hair resting on her shoulders in damp ringlets, thin tank top clinging to her skin. She looked at him, standing there in the doorway of his room, a fond smile on his lips as he crossed his arms over his chest, and she remembered how much she loved him.

He yelled to her that she was crazy, his voice rising over the sound of rain hitting the pavement.

She grinned and shouted back.

"So come be crazy with me!"

vi. and it's two a.m. and I'm cursing your name

so in love that you act insane

and that's the way I loved you

"This is your fault, you know," she whispered, goading him as she walked into the room. The only light came from a lamp that revolved, casting images of a carousel onto the pale pink walls. Her wet hair was pulled back in a tight French braid and she was warm and dry in a pair of his sweatpants and one of his t-shirts from high school basketball.

"My fault? You were the one who ran outside into the rain," he teased back through a yawn.

"You shouldn't have yelled at me from the door."

"You should have explained to me what you were doing instead of being irrational."

"You shouldn't have been irrational in the first place."

"What does that mean?"

"You started the fight," she replied, arching her eyebrows.

He scoffed. "I did not."

"Did, too."

He groaned tiredly. "Does it really even matter?"

Smiling softly, she walked over to stand at his side next to the crib, gazing down at Lily as she slept. "No," she whispered. "It doesn't."

After a moment of comfortable silence, he snorted, holding in laughter so as not to wake his baby sister again.

What? she mouthed, smiling just because he was.

"I can't believe you threw a CD at my head."

"Hey! In my defence, it didn't actually hit you." She held her hands up as if to prove her innocence before gently settling them on the rail of the crib.

His hand covered hers, tracing over Keith's ring, which he hadn't realized until that moment she was wearing. He leaned in to kiss her temple, watching her watch the baby sleep. "We really are like an old married couple sometimes," he sighed.

She tore her gaze away from Lily to meet his eyes, nodding softly, pretending to be resigned, before she leaned in to kiss him, sighing as he pulled her closer. She didn't really care if they acted like they'd been together for decades, because in the deepest parts of her heart, a lot of the time, that was all she really wanted.

vii. breaking down and coming undone

it's a roller coaster kind of rush

"Hey." It amazed her how one word could mean so much.

She sat up a little, not wanting to look quite as pathetic as she felt, curled up in her bed in her childhood room with red-rimmed eyes and red-tipped nose. She'd created a cocoon for herself, hiding out from the world, and she didn't like that he was invading it. "Hi." Her voice was gravelly, betraying every bit of her vulnerability, revealing it all to him.

Though, if she were to be realistic, he had already seen all her weak points.

"Can I talk to you?" he asked tentatively.

She rolled her eyes and fed him the same line that elementary school teacher deliver to kids who ask if they can go to the bathroom. He can, she told him sarcastically, and waited for a moment before she finally said that he also may.

He thanked her earnestly, like her permission meant the world to him, crossing the room and perching on the other side of the bed. He was quiet for a long time.

"I thought you wanted to talk."

He smiled at her, all endearing and sweet and pretty damn irresistible. "I don't really know what to say," he admitted.

"I can't…" She buried her face in her hands and forced herself to breathe until the urge to sob faded away. "I can't keep doing this, Luke. I'm tired. I'm so tired."

"Ninety-nine percent of the crap we fight about doesn't even matter. You know that, right?"

She nodded.

"So then why do we do it?"

She frowned at him, angry that he'd throw the ball back into her court. She pulls the same move. "You tell me."

He sighed as if he didn't want to but knew that he had to. "I really love you, Peyton," he said simply, "And I don't understand why you keep pushing me away."

viii. and I never knew I could feel that much

and that's the way I loved you

It amazed her that he knew her so well that he could figure her out before she could even understand her own mind. She blinked at him in surprise, green eyes wide. Her throat ached and her eyes burned with unshed tears.

"Because I really love you, too."

"You're afraid." It wasn't a question, it was a fact, he was secure in that piece of knowledge.

She nodded, trying to think of a way to make him understand. He already knew all the old lines, her predictable worries. So she just waited for his response, his comforts.

"I won't leave you. And I will never hurt you, not on purpose. You mean the world to me. I just wish you'd believe that."

She wished she could, too. After all, he'd done a hell of a lot that proved that very fact. He'd saved her countless times.

Tears tumbled down her cheeks. "I love you more than anything, than anyone, more than…more than I can tell you. More than I ever thought was possible."

He looked right into her eyes, entirely serious, and spoke slowly. "That's the way I love you."

She nodded, smiling ever so slightly through her tears, and reached out to him. He didn't need any more persuasion. He climbed into bed with her, nestling into her cocoon, gently pressing his lips to hers, murmuring about how good she tasted. She sighed as she felt the reassuring weight of his body against hers and realized that this was where he was meant to be.

He came not as an invader, but as reinforcement. He would fight the world with her.

And he would fight the world for her.

ix. he respects my space

and never makes me wait

She wakes up in the morning to see his sleepy eyes, and he leans in for a long, lazy kiss. "God, you're beautiful."

Sighing, she blushes and tells him to stop. "Don't you have work?"

"Unfortunately, yes. I should never have let Brooke talk me into those shots."

"Yeah…amateur," she teases, kissing him to make sure he knows that she's joking.

"What are you girls doing today?"

She shrugs. Getting coffee. Shopping. Gossiping. Probably going out again in the evening – Brooke is unstoppable once she has plans. He promises to give them some girl-time to themselves, and she can only smile appreciatively, kissing him once more in gratitude. She's always needed space, and he's always been good at giving it to her.

Brooke's plans are exactly what she expected that they would be. They buy huge lattes and shop all morning long, eating lunch in a small restaurant when they finally stop. Brooke insists on treating and Peyton teasingly asks her what favour she wants in return for forking over the cash for their meal.

It turns out that she actually does want something.

"I'm going back to Tree Hill on Thursday."

Peyton nods. She knows this.

Then the bomb drops: "I want you to come with me."

"Oh, no. Brooke, no!"

"Sorry, I'll rephrase. You are coming with me."

"But why?" Peyton whines, dragging out the word.

Brooke begins by reassuring her that she absolutely adores Joshua, but hurries on, "That boy is about two seconds from popping the question. And I will not allow you to marry him until you're sure."

"I am sure."

"Sure, you're sure," Brooke says blithely.

Peyton whines her best friend's name, but it's pointless and she knows it. She's going to Tree Hill. She's going home. And she knows that this is the one thing her perfect relationship might not be able to survive.

Brooke sees the expression she's wearing and reaches across the table to give her hand a squeeze. "C'mon, P. Sawyer," she says gently. "Let's get you good and drunk."

x. and he calls exactly when he says he will

"Don't answer," Brooke orders when her cell phone rings.

"It's Josh," Peyton protests. It's eight-thirty. He said he'd call and eight-thirty, and he's always on time. She flips her phone open and holds it to her ear. It takes her a moment to find her voice before she can say, "Hey, baby."

"Hey, beautiful. How are you? Do you girls need a ride home or anything?"

"No. We're fine. But listen, I have some…news."

"Of which nature?"

"I don't know," she mutters before raising her voice to reply, "Brooke wants me to go to Tree Hill with her on Thursday. And…I'm going to. I'm going to go. Is that okay?" Normally, she'd never ask for his permission, but she's desperate for a reason not to go.

"Of course it is, honey. It's your home. You don't need to clear things like that with me. But I've got to say…I'll miss you so much."

A smile slowly blossoms, her eyes lighting up. She's found the loophole in Brooke's plan, and she shoots the brunette and satisfied smirk. Brooke stops flirting with the bartender and straightens up warily.

"Peyton –"

Before she can say another word, the blonde speaks.

"Hey, baby," she says to her boyfriend, eyes sparkling with triumph, "Do you want to come?"

xi. he's close to my mother

talks business with my father

Peyton sighs as the rental car glides to a stop next to the cemetery.

"How're you doing?" Joshua asks. He reaches over and massages her shoulder gently, helping release some of the tension. "Brooke practically had to drag you off the plane; are you okay?"

"Yeah. I'm fine," she promises, making vague excuses about how it's just weird because it's been a while since she was back here.

"Do you want to do this later?"

She shakes her head vehemently. If she ever needed a mother-daughter moment, it's now. Besides, this is always her first stop. "I'm fine," she repeats like a broken record.

"Want me to come with you?"

Smiling softly, she shakes her head. This is a preciously private activity and she can't let him join her, not yet.

She's only ever brought one boy to this graveyard.

"Okay," he says quietly. He kisses the top of her head and holds her for a moment. "I love you."

She doesn't say it back as she gets out of the car, and she lets him think that it's because she's too busy thinking about her mom.

Larry shows up at the cemetery about fifteen minutes after she does, roses in hand, coincidentally in town at the same time. "Peyton?" he asks softly, happily, his voice warm, and that's when he notices that she's crying, pleading for help from some cosmic force. She can't remember the last time she felt like she needed advice from her mom so badly. This is worse than the day her dad tried to take her bra shopping, worse than his insistence on a sex talk. This means more.

Her father lays the flowers carefully in front of the headstone and sits slowly next to her. She hugs him instantly, burying her face in his flannel shirt.

"Baby," he says softly, rocking her in his arms like she's nine years old again. "What is it? Are you okay? What happened?"

She doesn't want him to worry about her. "I just…I miss her. I've missed you."

He's smarter than that, he knows there's more to the story. But he just holds her tightly and kisses her forehead, whispering, "It's okay. You're home now."

He can't understand that that is exactly what is causing all her grief.

Away from home, she could pretend, and now she finds herself thrust into the reality of what her own heart wants.

xii. he's charming and endearing

and I'm…comfortable

Her father chuckles at something her boyfriend says, smiling widely. She groans as they both laugh at her expense.

"Enough Peyton talk, okay?" she pleads. They've discovered that they have other things in common; she doesn't know why they're still talking about her. She stands, intending to clear the dishes as an escape, but Josh stops her as his hands gently cover hers.

"I'll get those, babe. You talk with your dad."

She smiles because she's supposed to and sits back down.

Larry thanks him and waits until he's out of earshot to say, "He's a good guy."

"I think so," she replies automatically, jokingly, trying to grin.

He reaches across the table and takes her hand. She admires the way her small fingers get tucked so securely in his large hand, thinking about all the times he comforted her as a child. "I mean it, Peyton. I'm happy you're with him. I can tell that he loves you. He'll take care of you."

She blinks at him before asking brokenly, "He asked you, didn't he? For your permission. To propose."

Larry nods slowly, trying to figure out what the correct response is. In the end, he just says, "Yes. He's good to you, isn't he, honey?"

She exhales, shaking her head in a way that indicates that he shouldn't worry. "He's perfect."

He reaches out and tucks her hair behind her ear with his free hand. She closes her eyes.

"I'm so glad that you've found him. Happiness is all I've ever wanted for you. You know that, don't you, baby girl?"

She opens her eyes very slowly, struggling to breathe. "Yes," she says faintly, "I'm glad I've found him, too."

Up until today, she really was.

xiii. but I miss screaming and fighting

and kissing in the rain

He stared at her incredulously, water dripping from his bangs and into his eyes. He brushed the moisture away impatiently. "How could you forget to put gas in the car?!" he thunders.

"Don't yell at me!" she screamed back. "I'm sorry, okay? I was…I was in a hurry. I haven't seen my dad in so long, I just wanted…I was trying to get everything together so that this trip would be perfect."

"I know," he growled, trying to keep his temper under control. "But it won't be perfect, will it? Because it's past fucking midnight, we're on a deserted road, and you forgot to get gas! So, we're not going to get there, are we?"

"You've been driving for the past three hours! You could have checked to see how much gas we have!"

"You were trying to seduce me," he reminded her. "Which is totally unsafe while driving, by the way."

Her cheeks heated up, the warmth contrasting with the cold sting of the late autumn rain. "It's not like you were complaining!" she cried, arching her eyebrows.

He hesitated. She had him there.

xiv. and it's two a.m. and I'm cursing your name

so in love that you act insane

and that's the way I loved you

He sighed. "We should probably just get back in the car."

"No! No, no…we have to get there."

His eyes were soft and gentle. "Peyton. Baby, get in the car, and then we'll talk about this."

Frowning and muttering profanities, she wrenched open the door on the passenger side and got in, crossing her arms over her chest and pouting. He joined her, shaking off his hair and sending the spray toward her. She giggled reluctantly before her lower lip slipped outward again. "Maybe we could walk?" she asked hopefully.

"It's pouring. And we probably wouldn't get there for a day." He sighed. "Look, I know you miss your dad, but do you want to explain to me why you're so anal about this trip?"

"I am not being anal."

"Oh, I'm sorry, how about absolutely insane?"

She shot him a look, grumbling, "I take it back."

He leaned over, pressing a kiss to her jaw and running his fingers lightly through her tangled hair. "What is it?"

"I just…" She sighed. Quietly, she confessed, "This was the trip I wanted to tell him that I'm going to marry you."

xv. breaking down and coming undone

it's a roller coaster kind of rush

She started to cry then, she couldn't help it. She missed her dad. Her perfect plan was ruined. They were stranded in the middle of nowhere.

He murmured "hey", along with several repetitions of her name, a slew of affectionate terms. His hands got lost in her hair as he kissed her cheeks. "I'm sorry I yelled at you."

"It's okay." She laughed through her tears and pressed her lips to his quickly. "I don't even know why I'm crying."

Smiling gently, his face still close to hers, their noses brushing, he said: "I want to tell you something, but you have to promise me that you won't cry more when I do."

She promised to try.

He kissed her repeatedly, all over her face, speaking when his lips weren't touching her skin. "Your dad…already knows…that we're…going to get married…someday. And he knows…because…I've already asked him…if he's willing…to let me take care…of his little girl."

Peyton was speechless. "Oh," she finally whispered, her voice very small, her eyes searching his. "You did?"

His eyes lit up as they locked with hers, a teasing smile curving his lips upward. "I couldn't take the chance of some other guy getting there first, now, could I?"

"There'll never be another guy. There could never be, not with the way I feel about you. God, I love you…" she trailed off in a desperate murmur, grasping his shirt in fists, pulling him as close as humanly possible.

xvi. and I never knew I could feel that much

and that's the way I loved you

He kissed her until she forgot her anger, her sadness, her disappointment, and could only remember that he was hers. She loved him, he protected her, and they were going to have their forever no matter who knew about it.

He pushed her sweater off her shoulders and gently tugged her shirt over her head. She would have been cold if his body wasn't radiating so much heat.

There could never be anyone else.

She gasped for air, her chest heaving under his. "Car sex, really?" she demanded breathlessly, a teasing lilt in her tone.

His eyebrows flew skyward. "It's not like we have anywhere else to go, you know. Why?" he teased right back. "Are you too cool for giving in to your hormones?"

As she shook her head, her hair frizzed against the fabric of the seat behind her. She honestly felt, for the first time ever, like she was capable of taking flight. They way he looked at her made it seem like she should be.

"I'm not too cool for anything with you," she whispered, cupping his neck with her hand and brining his mouth back to hers.

xvii. he can't see the smile I'm faking

and my heart's not breaking

'cause I'm not feeling anything at all

"I'm starving," Peyton sighs. She's restless, sitting in her childhood home with a boy who feels like he's invading her space.

Her father seems to sense it. "Good luck finding food here, honey. I haven't been around in nearly a month. You two should go out for month."

She shoots him a grateful look. "Great idea, Dad. You ready to go, Josh?" She's already wearing shoes, she's already grabbed her purse, and she's halfway through getting her coat on.

He stands slowly, teasing her about how anxious she is to get out of there. She playfully whines back that she's hungry, calling goodbye to her father as she pulls her boyfriend out of the house.

The fresh air calms her down a bit. She takes a moment to breathe again. His hand finds hers, holding on gently, and it doesn't feel as wrong as she thought it would.

"So where do you want to go, babe?"

"Not sure." She's not up for dedicating herself to much.

"Well, I Googled Tree Hill –"

She stops short in the middle of main street. "You Googled it?"

"Uh…yeah. I wanted to know things about where you're from."

Peyton smiles softly and tells him that he just could have asked her instead of stalking her hometown online. He tells her that it's not possible to stalk a town, and, "I'm always trying to impress you, babe. Anyway, I read about this little café –"

His words are the most perfect foreshadowing she could have asked for. She's not sure if anything really happens, if the wind shifts or the earth moves or the air gets warmer, but not matter what it is, she feels it.

She feels him.

She whirls around, still awkwardly holding her boyfriend's hand, and there he is, standing in the doorway of his mother's café, staring at them. His eyes are guarded but she can see it all, the anger and accusation, the hurt and the forgiveness. Their eyes lock. Her heart leaps into her throat and she knows that his must be doing the same.

Longing to free him, free them both, from some of that emotion, she drops Joshua's hand.

"What is it?"

She tears her eyes away from the man she pines for and faces the man she lives with. "Nothing," she says with a plastered-on smile, reaching for his hand again and pulling him in the opposite direction. "I just want pizza, not café food. I've decided."

The moment she gets him to change direction, she pulls her hand back and glances cautiously, hopefully over her shoulder, wondering if he aches to talk to her and touch her the way she aches to run to him.

Then she can feel it, the change in this relationship that she was dedicated so much and yet so little of herself to. She can feel the honesty seeping in, she can feel herself letting go. She can feel the beginning of the end.

And she wonders why it's not breaking her heart.

xviii. and you were wild and crazy

"Done!" she announced proudly, throwing her dishtowel aside and sighing with satisfaction. Her boyfriend set his book down, smiling at her as she flopped down on the couch at his side.

"Are you sure you washed everything?"

Insulted, she assured him that yes, she most definitely had.

His hand grazed over her thigh as he stood up, smiling mischievously as he walked into the kitchen of the small café. "I don't think you did…"

"Hey! We are finally on Spring Break, and the whole objective of this week was to come home and spend time with each other all alone without school to worry about, and I am not debating the damn dishes with you while we could be…"

He grinned lasciviously. "We could be…what?"

Frowning, she stood up as well, rushing toward him, unsure of what she intended to do when she got there. However, before she reached him, he said, "Uh-oh, looks like you did miss something…"

Her brow furrowed, but before she could ask what, water hit her in a massive spray. Spluttering, she wrenched her eyes open only to see him standing at the sink, grinning at her as he soaked her.

"Yourself," he replied innocently, answering the question she'd never had a chance to voice.

"Oh, you are so dead…" she murmured, rushing toward him and trying to wrestle the hose attached to the spray-nozzle from his grip. She giggled, shrieking as he tickled her, elbowing him in the ribs. She was no match for him in strength, so she finally managed to manoeuvre their bodies into the right position, pinning him back against the counter and pressing her body against his. He groaned and her fingers crept up his shirt.

"I thought you liked me a little dirty," she teased him in a whisper, her teeth tugging slightly at his earlobe.

The water spray ceased as he reached back, twisting his arm a bit in order to turn off the taps. He pulled her close, burying his face in the juncture of her neck and shoulder.

"You have no idea how much I do, you crazy girl."

xix. just so frustrating

"Is he seeing someone?"

She can visualize Haley James Scott rolling her eyes on the other end of the line, balancing the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she jotted down song lyrics or washed dishes. She was reluctant to admit it, but Peyton was massively jealous of the love and stability and music in her friend's life.

"Oh, hey, Peyton. It's great to talk to you, too, after…what, two months?"

She groans, covering her face with one hand as she flops over onto her back on her bed. Joshua is downstairs in the backyard, barbecuing with her father. "I'm sorry, Haley. I'm awful. I know. I'm really sorry. How're Nathan and Jamie?" She sighs, feeling a rush of regret. "I really do miss you, I –"

"No."

She frowns. "What?"

She can hear Haley's smile. "No, honey, he's not seeing anyone."

Peyton lets out a breath she didn't know she was holding in. "Am I a horrible person, Haley?" she asked, searching for honesty, because she sure as hell didn't know how to give it to herself anymore.

Haley starts ranting about what Brooke's told her, and what she and Nathan have discussed while Peyton lies there and listens, grimacing internally at their need to discuss her personal life. At least they do it because they care.

"…I guess, in the end, you shouldn't be leading on that Joshua guy. But I don't think that's what you're asking me, is it?"

Always intuitive, Peyton muses. She stays quiet, and that is a good enough answer.

"No, Peyton. I don't think you're a horrible person for wanting him back." Haley sighs. "And I shouldn't be saying this, but…he sometimes asks me the same kind of questions."

xx. intoxicating, complicated

"What if someone comes in?" She asked him in between gasps for air, trying to resist the urge to moan as his nose brushed against the swell of her breasts. She hadn't seen him in weeks, what with a trip he took with his literature class, and she's absolutely dying to be with him. But she was trying to be rational for them both, since he'd clearly stopped thinking. And sex on the living room couch of his house might not have been the best idea.

"No one will," he insisted, kissing her stomach once before bringing his body back up and covering her mouth with his. He pulled back for only long enough to say, "No more talking."

"Luke –" she tried to protest, but she was already giving in. The feeling of him, the smell of him, the taste of him…everything left her thoroughly intoxicated. She was addicted to him, there was no doubt about that. She'd practically gone through withdrawal during those fourteen days without him.

"Am I allowed to say I missed you?" she whispered, tilting her chin up to kiss his jaw just before he pulled her shirt over her head.

He smiled gently down at her and she sighed. She didn't know how she got so lucky, how she fell in love with a guy whose eyes convey just how much he loves her back every time they looked at one another. He leaned down, reaching behind her, his fingers toying with the clasp of her bra. "I missed you, too."

She pressed some of her weight into the couch, trapping his hand against the couch, and frowned playfully. He sighed in frustration. "Me or my body?" she demanded teasingly.

In response, he kissed her, but it was chaste and sweet and perfect. "You," he said tenderly. Then he caved, admitting, "But also your body; Peyton, you're killing me here, I –"

"Oh! Damn! Shit! I mean – sorry!" Nathan stood in the doorway, slowly turning red. "I'm, uh…just going to go." He closed the door and yelled. "Welcome home! And nice work!"

Lucas made an angry noise as she giggled incredulously. She bumped her chin gently against his to get his attention. "Told ya someone would walk in."

"You did try," he sighed, glaring at the door.

"Luke. Hey…it's okay."

"It's not okay! You're practically naked!"

"Well, baby…it's not exactly anything he hasn't seen before."

"Oh, God. I do not need to be thinking about that right now!"

She sat up underneath him and pressed her lips to his jaw. She traced the shell of his ear with her tongue and whispered, "So stop."

He groaned, all thoughts of his brother and her past involvement with him drifting from his mind as she pushed him backward, effectively reversing their positions.

"But what if someone walks in?" he protested laughingly, his hands resting on her thighs.

She scowled at him, bending her head to kiss the spot on his neck she knew drove him crazy. "Screw it," she murmured. She didn't want to wait anymore. He was her drug, and she needed a fix.

xxi. got away

by some mistake

She was a whirlwind of grief and forsaken love as she rushed around his bedroom, trying to gather all of her things. She wasn't really sure of herself or what she was doing anymore. She was a mess. She was running away to Los Angeles with the desperate hope of rebuilding her life.

She'd staked him out, feeling like an idiot. She watched him leave, on his morning run, frowning sadly even at six a.m. And she moment he was gone, she used her key, letting herself into his space.

Then she dashed around in the small space of his room, digging through his CD collection, searching for his favourites, snatching up an abandoned bra, taking her preferred shirt of his. Someone between ransacking his closet and throwing clothes out of his drawers, she stumbled across a mix she'd made him when she was fifteen.

P.S. Whatever. She was trying to prove that she didn't care. But she did then and god, it hurts her so much because she does now.

She fell apart, crumpling into a ball on the floor at the foot of his feet, crying in great sobs that made every part of her body ache, her throat and her eyes swelling. She sat there and hugged her knees, mourning her biggest loss of all, and as she buried her face in her hands in an attempt to get herself under control, she felt the cool band of her ring, the ring he'd given her and insist that she keep, pressing against her tearstained cheek.

xxii. and now…

I miss screaming and fighting

and kissing in the rain

She makes up an excuse about needing a new toothbrush at almost ten o'clock. She tells her father and Joshua, who are contentedly watching TV together, that she'll take the car and she'll be fine, but not to wait up because she's going to grab a drink with Brooke.

Brooke is hanging out with Naley tonight and she parks the car around the corner, just out of sight.

It smells like rain, and that makes her smile. She thinks of oceans and lakes and rivers, lets her feet guide her to the nearest body of water without allowing herself to think of the possible outcomes of this situation.

He's there, shooting at the basket like his life depends on it, and she's not surprised. He doesn't look surprised to see her, either, shivering in nothing but a red t-shirt and black shorts. Perhaps, to the rest of the world, they seem unpredictable, but they find it so easy to figure out one another.

She perches on the picnic table and just watches him play for a while. He makes every basket and she almost wants to cry because she's so proud of him.

Almost twenty minutes pass before her teeth start chattering. He throws the basketball to the side and she sits up straight, watching him carefully as he paces over to her angrily. She expects yelling. For the briefest of seconds he even looks violent.

But then he pulls off his sweater and shoves it into her arms, and she realizes that his anger is directed at himself, for wanting to save her even now.

She puts it on because she fears he'll lose his mind if she doesn't, and because she really is freezing. She snuggles into the fabric. It doesn't bother her that it's a little sweaty. Strange as it may be, she's even missed his sweat, gleaming on his forehead after a successful game, sticking his bare skin to hers.

"Hey," he murmurs. It's sort of a growl but not quite.

She whispers hi.

"What are you doing here?"

"Brooke asked me to come. Well, really…she demanded it." She tries for a smile and her heart soars when he reluctantly rewards her with one.

It's short-lived. His eyes darken as he demands to know if it was also Brooke's idea to bring the boy toy. He speaks so mockingly that her eyes water.

"Lucas, please don't be angry with me."

"Angry with you? Is that what you think I am? Oh, hell no, sweetheart. Why the hell would I ever be angry with you?!"

Her heart wants to soar when he calls her sweetheart, but the way he jeers makes it want to sink. Instead, it stays as is, settled at equilibrium.

"Don't do this." She can barely hear her own words. "Whatever you're angry for is just as much your fault as it is mine. We broke up, Luke. It was a joint decision."

"It wasn't supposed to be permanent!" he fumes. "Every couple hits bumps in the road, we just…" As he trails off he looks so vulnerable, just as heartbroken as she's felt for years now. "You were…I just, I thought…forever."

"You gave up forever," she murmurs, looking downward.

"I gave up on us?!" he yells incredulously. "Are you fucking kidding me, Peyton?"

She's too stunned to speak.

"You gave up on us! You were scared of us! You were scared of how much you loved me. You were crying next to that stupid car of yours on that stupid road and you wouldn't look at me. You gave up on us."

Enraged, she gets to her feet. "Yeah, you're right. I was crying in the very place that we first spoke and you didn't even try to fight for us. You didn't even try. And my car is not stupid!" She raises her voice on the last part like it's the most essential thing she's said. If this was another day in another year, he'd find it endearing.

"I was angry! I was frustrated!"

"You wouldn't wait for me!" She feels a tear drip off of her chin and it's only then that she realizes she's crying.

"I needed one day to cool off, Peyton. Just one. And do you know what happened the next day? I get up in the morning to go to your house, and you're not there. I come home, and my room has been ransacked. A call Haley, and I'm crying and freaking out and she says that Brooke told her you left for goddamn Los Angeles! And I never heard a word from you again."

Her heart seizes up as she pictures him, pacing around his room, tears shining in his eyes. She should have stayed there, for just five more minutes. She should have let him find her on the floor, and she should have let her heart find his again. She should have.

All she can say is: "You promised me. I may have promised you forever, but you said the same thing to me. You promised me, Luke; I loved you so much, beyond…anything. And you said you've never leave me. You said you'd never hurt me."

"I tried to show you that I meant it," he says roughly, meeting her eyes. "God dammit, Peyton, I told you to keep the ring, didn't I?"

She stares at him, searching his eyes. She's missed being able to read someone so easily.

"And what about you, what about all you promised me? There'll never be anyone else?"

There's not! her mind screams, but the words don't reach her lips. Instead, she blurts, "How dare you try and pin this on me? I know I made mistakes. God, I know. But you left me, Lucas. You left me, and it hurt so badly and I –"

"It hurt me too!" He cuts her off, his eyes flashing a stormy blue. "I left you, then you left me. Really classy. Really mature."

She gets right in his face, finding strength in this release of all she's kept bottled inside. "You know what? You're such an ass, because you're standing right there saying all this to me like you still love me! How dare you –"

Whatever she meant to say dies on her lips as he kisses her. He grabs her upper arms roughly, but somehow manages to pull her body to his gently, and captures her lips with his with both tenderness and ferocity.

She kisses him back, opening her mouth against his, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck and pushing her whole body against his. Her hand cups the back of his neck and gently runs across his cheek as his hands skim down her arms.

And she's finally home.

xxiii. and it's two a.m. and I'm cursing your name

so in love that you act insane

and that's the way I loved you

She can't sleep. She lies as far away as possible from Joshua in her double bed, and curses Lucas under her breath.

He only kissed her to shut her up. She shouldn't have kissed back. She should have slapped him.

But she couldn't not kiss back, and she couldn't slap him, because the only thought in her mind as he kissed her was I love you.

She bolted afterward, her mind too hazy to form a response of any kind. She's ashamed of herself. She doesn't want to be this girl, the one lying in bed with a man several days away from being her fiancé, she's sure, while she's really and truly in love with an ex-boyfriend she's only just allowed herself to miss.

Joshua kissed her sleepily when she crawled into bed and she's ashamed because she made an immediate comparison and, on the scale of attraction, the boy she's chosen had his ass kicked by the boy she once promised to choose.

She thinks she's having a panic attack, as her breathing picks up and her heart beings to race so fast it's almost painful. Either that or she's falling in love again.

She rolls toward her boyfriend, sits up a bit, and takes a deep breath. Five seconds later she's frantically shaking him awake.

xxiv. breaking down and coming undone

it's a roller coaster kind of rush

"Peyton?" He blinks some of his weariness away and studies her face as she stares down at him. He instantly sits up as well. "Baby, what is it, why are you crying?"

She whispers that she has to talk to him, trying not to let her voice crack.

"It's two a.m., Peyton." He says it so gently and with such innocence that a sob breaks loose from her lips. "Whoa, hey. It's okay. What is it?" He reaches out to her and encounters unfamiliar material. She watches his brow furrow, watches the silent worry in his eyes increase, reflecting back to her. "Honey, whose sweater are you wearing?"

"I'm awful," she tells him, wishing that is was that simple to explain the whole situation.

"What?" he asks, all sleepy, heartbreaking confusion.

"I found the ring," she chokes out as tears roll down her cheeks. He smiles for an instant, reassuring her that that's not a big deal, but she rushes on, "I found it and I sat down and I cried. And it wasn't…they weren't happy tears because…Josh, you're perfect, you know that? You really are. Every single one of my friends who meets you tells me how much they wish they had a guy like you. And that ring…it's perfect. And it means…God, it means so much that you want to give it to me. I just…I love you. I do. But I've never been one for perfection."

"You're not making sense." He's worried but also getting defensive.

"I can't marry you. I can't be with you."

"You…you're kidding me."

"No. I'm so sorry, but I'm not. I…the thing is, Josh, I can't take that ring because I already have one. I always have. It sounds crazy, but I fell in love when I was…I was just a kid and I didn't want to believe that it could last this long, but it has. I didn't want to come back here because I didn't want to feel it again, but I do and…"

He inches away from her and speaks softly. "And you're wearing his sweater."

She shakes her head. "This is going to sound so lame, but it's cold outside. Nothing happened between us." Nothing, she decides, can be defined as sex, not an emotional kiss, a huge fight, a hell of a lot of eye sex, and a lot of unspoken, meaningful things. "And honestly, I don't know if anything will, because it's been a long time." She sighs. "I would love to marry you. I really would. But it's not fair to you, to get caught up in Luke and I. That story's already had its victims. I can't make you one, not more than I already have."

"I love you."

Her heart aches for a split second. She knows that, but she also knows that he's better off without all of this. He's going to be fine. He has his pick of girls, that's for sure. "You can't. You will find someone else to love, someone who will smile when you show up for the first date in your Mercedes and expect you to buy them roses and wake you up at five in the morning to watch the sun rise. You'll find that. Let me drive around in my broken-up car and have someone bring me lilies and dance with me during thunderstorms."

xxv. and I never knew I could feel that much

and that's the way I loved you

She sighs when he doesn't say anything. "I love you, too. And I am so sorry."

She takes a moment to really look at him. She knows heartbreak. She's lived it, she's living it, still. And as she looks at her now-ex-boyfriend, she realizes that he really is going to be alright. He's not falling apart the way she has, the way Lucas is.

"Sleep," she says gently. "We'll figure everything out in the morning, I promise you. I'm just…I'm going to go for a walk."

His eyes widen. "It's the middle of the night. Are you…are you going to see him?"

She rests his hand over his and links their fingers together one last time. This is such an easy goodbye compared to the one she has not yet been able to bring herself to say. "I just have a lot I need to let go of. And a lot I need to find."

Joshua sighs mournfully. "I…I knew when I met…or, uh, found you…that you had to have a broken heart. You looked like someone had torn your heart right now, honestly. I wanted…I wanted to help you, to heal you. And I…I fell for you, because even then, you were so beautiful and funny and kind."

"I shouldn't have let you," she replies, ducking her head down shamefully.

He squeezes her hand before he lets go. "You should go."

She stands without argument and walks to the door. In the doorway, she pauses, looking back at him. She smiles softly, "For the record, Joshua…you did help heal me."

xxvi. whoa, oh, oh

oh, and that's the way I loved you

The town is peaceful, the calm before the storm. She looks up to see the clouds crash in the sky, and soon enough she's close enough to the beach to see the waves crash onto the sand. There's definitely a storm crying.

He's already there, just like she'd hoped he would be. Her heart feels full as she walks toward him, burying her feet in the cool sand with each step. She sits down on his right and mirrors his position, knees pulled up toward her chest, long arms wrapped loosely around them. They're both wearing his sweaters.

She reaches down with her left hand and doodles a heart in the sand between them. Her index finger moves carefully through the grains, the light of the moon glinting off of her ring. He glances down and then quickly away, but she catches the ghost of a smile on his lips.

It's twenty minutes of silence.

They don't speak

They don't touch.

But he knows.

She knows.

And she knows that he knows, he knows that she knows.

xxvii. oh, oh, oh, oh

oh, oh, oh, oh

It's twenty minutes before the rain starts, twenty minutes of silent acknowledgement, twenty minutes of repressed desires bubbling up toward the surface at a dangerous pace.

When the first drops fall and they tilt their heads back in unison to look up at the magnificent night sky.

The stars are crying for what they could have had.

never knew I could feel that much

and that's the way I loved you