A/N: My muse went crazy this weekend, and I wrote pretty much nonstop. I wrote a couple chapters of Try Me, three oneshots about this length, started on a new chapter fic, and sort of toiled with another NP chapter fic. I'm insane, it's official.

I heard the song 'Til Summer Comes Around on Keith Urban's new album (awesome, for the record), and it got the ball rolling on this one. I didn't intend for it to be this long, but...well, what can you do?

----

He saw a head of blonde curls walking down the pier ahead of him, and he jogged to catch up. They weren't quite the right shade, but it had been a few years, and women tend to change their hair colour. She once told him she never would, but you never know. He wasn't going to take the chance that it was her and he hadn't tried to reach out to her.

She was beautiful, that girl who'd swept him up into her whirlwind that one summer. Beautiful in every way that mattered. Stunning looks, gentle heart, kind smile and patient touch. That's how he remembered her. Perfect. Just perfect.

It was the summer after his sophomore year of college, and he was in his hometown until school began again. He loved that little town, with all its charm and unassuming grace. It didn't ask anything of anyone, and they all loved it like it could somehow love them back. Maybe it did, in some existential sense.

He'd taken his summer job - the one he'd had since he was 15 - at the little book store on Main Street, and he settled into that sleepy little hamlet for a few months of relaxation. Basketball on his court, warm nights sleeping on top of the sheets in his old bed, and reading books on the beach.

Memories of that summer flooded his mind, like they often did, as he chased after that woman with the similar hair that he knew in his heart wasn't hers.

"Peyton," he said breathlessly, cupping the woman's elbow.

It wasn't her.

"Sorry," he said dejectedly. It wasn't the first time he'd chased after a girl, and it wouldn't be the last, he knew.

The stranger smiled at him, turned and continued walking, and he was left trying to catch his breath and lost in thoughts and questions. Where was she? Was she safe? Was she happy? Did she think of him? Did she remember that summer as fondly as he did? Did she smile every time she saw cotton candy?

He wondered if maybe she'd forgotten about him the way he'd never been able to forget about her.

----

The first time he saw her, she was wearing the shortest shorts he'd ever seen and just a bikini top and a pair of flip flops, walking past the window of the store he worked in. Her hair was down and blowing in the summer breeze, and he thought he was dreaming for a moment. Surely, there was no way any girl could be that perfect. He pretended to arrange the books in the window display so he could watch her walk down the street, and he wouldn't lie, she looked every bit as good from behind.

It was a small town and he knew everyone his age, and so he wondered who she was and why she was there and how long she was staying. One little glimpse - well, several moments of unabashed staring - and he wanted to know whatever he could know about her.

The second time he saw her, he was running down the beach. It was early in the morning and most of the town was still in bed, but he was up and taking his daily run. 5:45 sharp, he'd take to the beach in just his shorts and run his five miles before the sun got too hot.

And there she was, jogging towards him in a pair of tight shorts and a sports bra. The girl was trying to kill him, he decided. Her hair was up, and her ponytail of curls was swaying with every step. She smiled at him as they passed one another, and he was so blown away by her green eyes and flawless skin and perfect body that he forgot to reciprocate.

But then he turned his head for another look at her at the same moment she turned her head for another look at him, and he smirked at her before they each turned away.

It may have seemed cool and collected, but he thought he was going to have to stop moving to get his heart rate to a normal speed.

The running had nothing to do with anything.

----

She walked into the store one day when they'd received a huge shipment, and he was in the middle of alphabetizing the classics section - his favourite section. He was on a ladder at the back of the store in the dusty corner no one really went to, for some reason, when he heard the bell above the door chime.

"Excuse me?" she said, standing at the bottom of the ladder and looking up at him.

"Yeah," he said absently. He didn't bother looking down to see who the voice was attached to, instead choosing to focus on which Dickens went before Great Expectations.

"Wait. You're the guy from the beach," she pointed out.

He finally looked down at her, and he was glad he was holding onto the shelf, or he surely would have fallen. Those bright green eyes staring up at him damn near made his legs give out.

"You know, you really shouldn't stare at girls like that," she said with a cheeky grin, referring to that day over a week earlier.

"Is that so?" he asked, still standing on the ladder.

"Yup," she nodded, putting a hand on her hip. "You might just give them the impression that you think they're pretty or something."

He was in love.

It was official.

She was stunning, yes, but she was clever and funny and she had a little attitude that was already making him smile.

Love.

"And what does it mean when girls stare at guys like that?" he countered, stepping down and planting his feet in front of her.

"Pleading the 5th," she said, eyes shining as she laughed.

He walked towards the main desk with her following behind him, and he felt his palms sweating. He was an athlete. He did well under pressure. He thrived under it, even. And yet, a two minute conversation with this girl had him coming unglued.

"So, what can I do for you?" he asked.

She leaned both elbows on the counter and put her chin in her hands as she looked at him.

"I need a book that'll make me cry," she said seriously.

"Cry?"

"Cry. Big tears," she confirmed.

"Why, exactly?" he asked with a smirk.

She thought for a moment and glanced around the store before looking back to him and shrugging her shoulders.

"Why not?"

He couldn't really argue. He didn't know that he would have if he could. The girl was a mystery that he wanted to figure out, and he'd always thought that a person's choice in literature was a great personality tell. If someone liked certain books or authors, he liked to think that said a lot about them. But maybe that was just the literature major coming out in him.

"Do you want, like, an epic, tragic tale of love and loss? Or do you want a more modern story?" he asked, stepping out from around the counter again.

"Epic, tragic sounds too heavy for summer," she said with a laugh. "Let's go modern."

"OK," he said pensively. He led her to a particular shelf and searched for the book he had in mind, pulling it off the shelf and placing it in her hand.

"Nicholas Sparks?" she asked. "Didn't he write The Notebook?"

"Yeah," he said with a nod. "Did you cry watching The Notebook?"

"Like a baby," she admitted.

"Then you'll cry reading this," he said, tapping the cover of the novel.

"Message In a Bottle," she read. "Isn't this a movie, too?"

"Don't watch the movie first!" he insisted seriously.

"I won't," she said. "I promise."

"Good," he said as they walked back to the register. "So where are you from?"

"Why does everyone keep asking me that?" she asked with a chuckle. "Do I have 'outsider' stamped on my forehead or something?"

"Small town. Everyone knows everyone," he said with a shrug of his shoulders. "And you and I would have gone to school together, and I would definitely remember you."

She looked to the floor, but he saw the pink rise to her cheeks anyway, and he smiled to himself that he was able to get that reaction from this amazing girl. He didn't even know her name, but he was sure he had never felt for anyone the way he felt for her.

"I live in New York," she said after a moment.

"Oh yeah? What's in New York?" he asked as he keyed in the sale.

"Everything," she said, handing him a crumpled $20 and smiling.

"So what brings you here?" he inquired, handing her back her change and receipt.

She thought for a moment as she dropped her change into the bottom of her purse, then smiled at him again.

"Nothing."

She walked out of the store and down the street in the amount of time it took him to realize that he was absolutely head over feet.

He didn't know her name, or how long she was in town, or where she was staying or...anything, really. He just knew she was incredible and that she lived in New York. Those weren't great details to go on.

He was sure he'd love anything else he might learn about her, too.

----

A few days later, he was sitting on his stool behind the counter of the store, his nose buried in an old Chaucer that he'd read several times before. He had a fan pointed at him and a glass of ice water at arm's length since the A/C in the store was being repaired. It was still too damn hot, and all he really wanted to do was go to the beach and swim like almost everyone else in the town.

He was wrapped up in his book and ignoring the world outside the little store, and he didn't see that blonde haired girl stomping down the sidewalk.

"You jerk!" she shouted, bursting through the door of the store and stalking to the counter where she slammed the novel down in front of him.

"Uh...sorry?" he said obliviously. He wouldn't lie, he was a little terrified.

"Look at me!" she cried.

And so he did, not that he'd needed her to tell him to. Her eyes were red and puffy and she had tear stains on her cheeks.

She'd finished the book.

"I'm a mess!" she said. He saw the corners of her mouth turn up when he grabbed a box of tissues from beneath the counter and set it on the surface between them.

"You liked it, though, didn't you?" he asked with a smirk.

"Loved it," she admitted. "It's just so..."

"Heartbreaking?" he offered.

"Yeah," she said, shaking her head. "God. It's just...wow."

"Don't tell anyone," he whispered, leaning across the counter, "but it's one of my favourites."

"Really?" she drawled out, as though she'd been let in on the dishiest piece of gossip ever. He just nodded in response. "I actually..."

"What?" he asked when her voice trailed.

"I think that probably says a lot about what kind of person you are," she said sincerely. There was no joke or sarcasm. He wondered if she knew him better than anyone he'd ever met. "Well, I just came to tell you I finished. And to yell at you."

She started towards the door as he chuckled, and he knew that he couldn't just let her leave.

"Hey!" She spun around to look at him again before he continued. "Do you want to...I mean, if you have some free time, we could watch the movie or something."

"Or something?" she inquired with a raised brow. He laughed again and shook his head. "That'd be cool."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah," she said with a smile, walking back towards him. "Pen?"

He grabbed a ballpoint and a piece of scrap paper, but she reached for the book he had been reading and dog eared the page before opening the inside cover. She wrote just her name and phone number, and, probably in reference to the movie they were going to watch together, a little doodle of a sailboat.

"I'm..."

"Lucas. I know," she said with a smirk, walking backwards toward the door.

"How?"

"I asked around," she said. She offered a little wave, then she was gone.

She was always doing that. Well, always might have been a bit of a stretch. The two times he'd talked to her, she would smile and say something insightful or just plain sexy - maybe both - and then she'd walk away.

As the old cliché goes, he did like to watch her leave, though.

----

He waited a few days to call her. He tried to do it sooner, but he over analyzed and worried and talked himself out of it. He had Saturday and Sunday off, as usual, and so he decided to call her Thursday night and see if she wanted to do something that weekend.

She sounded totally distracted when she answered, but she explained that she was just getting changed, then laughed and said she probably shouldn't have told him that. He wanted to argue that it was definitely OK that she had.

"So, let's hang out!" she said. "You loser, you waited three days to call."

"I didn't want to be the guy who called the next day," he said with a chuckle.

"I didn't want you to be that guy, either," she laughed. "What are you doing tomorrow night?"

"Hopefully hanging out with you," he said.

"Nice, Romeo," she teased.

"I try."

"So...where do you live? I'll bring the movie if you get the snacks," she said. "Shit!"

"What?" he asked worriedly.

"No. Nothing. I just dropped...something," she said vaguely. She didn't want to tell him that she'd dropped her shirt before she could put it on. "Anyway. Address."

He recited his street name and house number, and explained that he lived alone when she asked if it was OK if they met there. She told him she'd see him the following evening, and when he hung up the phone, he was still smiling. She was energetic and hilarious, and she wasn't nervous or conventionally flirtatious. He adored that about her. She could be flirty and suggestive without batting her eyelashes or making obvious innuendos.

Friday lagged on longer than any other day he'd ever lived. Maybe that was an exaggeration, but it certainly felt that way at the time. The store was unusually slow - there was a boating festival going on the next town over - and all he could think about was the girl who'd already, he was certain, stolen his heart.

He got home, showered, needlessly tidied his house, and he waited for the knock at the door that he knew somehow would change his life.

She showed up in a pair of denim shorts and a plain black tank top, and he was thankful he was in just jeans and a tee shirt. It wasn't too date-like. He didn't even know if it was a date. They were just 'hanging out'.

"Hey," she said with a smile when he opened the door.

"Hey," he answered, stepping aside to let her in. "How are you?"

"I'm great," she said, surveying the space. "I'll be better if you tell me you have ice cream."

"It's summer in North Carolina. Of course I have ice cream," he said with a smirk. "Double chocolate alright?"

"OK, you certainly know how to please a girl," she said before she could stop herself. She needed to change the subject. "This is a nice house."

"I grew up here," he called from the kitchen. "My mom and sister are traveling the world right now on my mom's boyfriend's yacht, so she gave me the house."

"She just gave it to you?" Peyton asked, appearing in the doorway.

"She didn't need it anymore, I guess," he said with a shrug. He certainly knew how generous it was for his mother to give him a house, he just didn't like to boast.

She was quiet for a moment as she looked around the kitchen and down the hall. His home felt...homey. It felt lived-in, like it had seen a little, and life-changing events had happened there. She liked that. She hadn't felt anything like that since she moved out of her father's house. It had long-since been sold. She felt oddly comfortable in this relative stranger's house.

"So I'm not gonna lie," she said as he handed her a bowl of ice cream, "I have an insane and probably inappropriate crush on Kevin Costner."

"You have a crush on Costner and you haven't seen Message In a Bottle?" he asked incredulously. "That's just wrong."

"OK, do you have a crush on Costner?" she asked with a laugh, following him back into the living room.

"No," he assured her, casting a glance over his shoulder.

"Ever since Robin Hood," she continued. "And I loved Field of Dreams and The Upside of Anger."

"Wasn't he, like, an overweight alcoholic in that one?" he asked, queuing up the DVD player.

"Sort of, but he was funny," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

He wasn't sure how they could be quite so nonchalant and easy with one another. He didn't even know her last name yet, and they were having a comfortable conversation on the merits of an actor. He figured he'd get to know her eventually. But even 'eventually' sounded like it was too far away.

But the movie started, and they snacked on ice cream and potato chips and sipped cold beer while they watched the story play out on screen.

And then she started crying.

She tried to hide it, and she almost did, but when she raised her hand to wipe her cheeks, and she sniffled a little bit, and he just looked over at her and smiled. He thought it was adorable that she'd just read the book, she knew the ending, and she was still crying.

"C'mere," he said, holding his arm out for her to nestle into his side.

"Sorry," she said softly. She kind of liked the way he cradled her next to him and ran his thumb over her bare shoulder. She pulled her legs up onto the sofa and rest her head on his shoulder, and wondered for a moment how his body seemed to be contoured perfectly for hers.

"It's OK," he insisted, just above a whisper.

She raised her hand to her face again towards the end of the movie, and after she wiped her tears, he felt her intertwine her fingers with his. He wouldn't pull his hand away. He'd be crazy to. He just caressed her thumb with his and he heard her let out a little sigh, and he smiled to himself.

He didn't kiss her that night, though he wanted to, and she'd later tell him that she wanted him to. They talked a little more about their lives, and she left around midnight after she learned that he was a literature major and a basketball coach, and he learned that she was a business major and a part-time artist. She was in Tree Hill only for the summer, and though he'd suspected that, it kind of hurt to think of her ever leaving the place where he was quickly beginning to think she belonged.

With him.

----

The first kiss caught her off guard, but she loved it. They were at the beach together the Sunday after their movie night at his place. They'd met for lunch at the little diner near the pier, then made their way to what she had dubbed the best part of the beach. There were only a few people there, and there was plenty of room to lay out their towels. She explained that there was a sand dune about a hundred feet out and when the tide was out, it was the 'coolest' place to be. He of course knew all that, but he liked the way she explained things, so he hung onto her every word.

She pulled off the black cotton summer dress she was wearing, leaving her in only a black bikini, and she pulled her hair up off her back. He watched intently as her delicate hands swept up the loose curls and fastened them in place with an elastic.

He tugged off his tee shirt and dropped it next to her dress on the sand, and he watched as she lay down and put her sunglasses on. It was apparent that she intended to just lay in the sun, and if he was being honest, he'd be perfectly content in just laying there with her.

She closed her eyes and wiggled a little bit to make herself comfortable, and as he sat down next to her, he was overcome by the feeling that if he didn't kiss her then and there, he'd never forgive himself.

So he leaned over and pressed his lips to hers gently, and when he pulled away and saw her smile, he smiled back. Her hand reached up and caressed his upper arm, and she tugged him towards her a little bit and they kissed again.

"You're good at that," she mused contentedly as he lay down and she reached for his hand as it sat between them.

"That surprise you or something?" he asked, turning his head to look at her.

"No," she insisted with a smirk. "I've just been thinking about it since the first day I saw you, so I was worried you wouldn't live up to my expectations."

He could only laugh and shake his head at her.

"But you're pretty much the best kisser ever," she said softly, leaning up on her elbow to look down at him.

He raised an eyebrow like a challenge, and she leaned over and kissed him again, and he hooked his arm around her and pulled her closer, making her squeal his name. He let her go only when he remembered that they were in a public space, but not because he wanted to stop kissing her.

Later that day, they'd lay on the sofa of the condo she was staying in, making out like teenagers and laughing that they should know better.

Neither of them really cared that they were acting like 16-year-olds, because it felt really damn good to act like 16-year olds.

----

It wasn't even a week after their first kiss(es) that Peyton stayed at Lucas' house overnight. They'd both say it was because there was a fierce summer storm raging outside, but they each probably knew, on some level, that the weather had nothing to do with her desire to sleep in his bed, and his desire to have her there.

She'd met him at the book store and he scolded her for walking around in a thunder storm, but she shrugged her shoulders and said it "wasn't that bad." The thunder that punctuated her sentence had them both laughing. They ran to his car after he closed the shop, and laughed again at how soaking wet they were after just the short dash in the rain.

"It's officially insane weather," he said, running a hand down his face as he turned the key.

"Yeah, it's a little nuts," she confirmed.

"So what are you doing, you crazy girl?" he asked as he pulled onto the street. "You should be at home waiting it out."

She placed her hand over his on the gear shift like she'd done in the few drives they'd taken together, and she shrugged her shoulder when he looked at her

"I'd rather wait it out with you."

He shook his head, but smiled, and raised her hand to kiss her knuckles.

He pulled off his wet tee shirt when they stepped into his bedroom, and he tossed her a towel to dry her hair with. He grabbed a sweatshirt and laid it on his bed for her while he ran to the bathroom to change.

He didn't expect her to be wearing only that sweater when he came back into the room.

Her hair was wet, and her legs were endless, and the sweater was far too big for her. All those things combined had him taking a deep breath. Why in the world this girl was choosing to stand there like that with him and not someone else, he had no clue.

"Quit staring," she said with a raised brow.

"Quit looking amazing," he countered, reaching for a sweatshirt to put on with his sweat pants.

The power flickered off just as the words came out of his mouth, and they both chuckled a little bit. He hadn't lit candles or found a flashlight yet, since the first priority was getting into dry clothes, so the room was completely dark.

"Can I tell you a secret?" she asked.

"Of course," he said softly, reaching blindly for the matches he knew were in the drawer of his bedside table.

"I really, really hate thunderstorms," she admitted seriously.

He could hear the fear in her tone, and all he wanted to do was make her feel safe and secure. He struck a match and lit a candle, then crossed the room and took her in his arms, cradling her head against his chest.

"It's OK," he whispered. "I've got you."

She'd never heard a promise so sweet.

He pulled away and kissed her gently before lighting a few more candles and heading to the kitchen. When he returned with two glasses of water and saw her laying on her side on his bed, he couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen. She had her legs tucked up and bent at the knee, and the sweater wasn't leaving much to the imagination. Almost every time he'd seen her, she'd been wearing a bikini, but this was so much different.

This was her, a little scared, a bit of a smile, and a lot beautiful, laying on his bed waiting for him to come back to her.

This was different.

He lay down next to her, and she was instantly cuddled up against him, and when he pulled a blanket over them, she tugged it up to her chin and slid her hand beneath the cotton of his sweater to rest her palm on his bare chest. He made a joke about her being presumptuous, and she laughed but silenced him with a kiss.

His sweater was quickly discarded, and then it was his hand beneath her sweater, and she pulled away from him, her breathing shallow and her eyes dark, and he asked her what was wrong.

"I don't do this," she told him. "I don't...meet boys and kiss them after a few days. I don't kiss in the rain. I don't....I just don't."

He smiled down at her and kissed the tip of her nose as he tucked a stray curl behind her ear.

"I don't convince beautiful women to go on dates with me and kiss me after a few days and make out during thunderstorms," he insisted. She closed her eyes and blew out her breath as she smiled at him. "So we're even."

She pulled his face back towards hers and kissed him like a fever. So maybe she didn't do this. Usually. But there was nothing usual about her 'relationship' - if it could even be called that - with Lucas. There was nothing usual about the way he looked at her, or the way she'd hold his hand, or the way she couldn't ever seem to get enough of him. There was nothing usual about the way she felt about him.

So she was doing this.

"Lucas," she whimpered as he kissed her neck, "make love to me."

He thought he was hearing things. He thought he was going crazy. Maybe she wasn't real. Maybe she had said something completely different, and he only heard what he wanted to hear.

But then she laughed at the shocked expression on his face, and he knew she was real. She was real, and she was asking him - telling him, even - to make love to her, and if she hadn't already stolen his heart, her voice as she said those words certainly sealed the deal.

"Are you sure?" he asked. "We don't have to."

"Yes," she sighed, running her hand through the hair at his temple. "Please."

And then they were everywhere together. There was no awkward adjustment phase, where she'd move her arm as he moved his and they'd bump into each other. It was like they knew each other and could predict what the other was going to do. He groaned when she gently nibbled his bottom lip, and she shivered when his fingertips caressed the spot on the side of her neck that had always been her weakness.

He wasn't too gentle or too rough, and she didn't feel like he was afraid to hurt her. He was the best she'd ever had, and when she told him that as they lay naked in each others' arms, he rolled on top of her again and told her not to say things like that unless she wanted to do it again. She told him that she wanted to do it as many times as his body would allow, and he let out a sound that was either appreciation or...she didn't know. She definitely liked that sound.

Neither had any clue what time they actually fell asleep that night, but they realized they skipped dinner when they woke up the next morning to rumbling stomachs.

The sun was shining brightly, and when she wrapped the blanket around herself and walked to the door to peek outside, she saw that the pavement was completely dry and it was just like any other summer day. She looked back to Lucas and he was laying on his back, completely undressed and uncovered, and she bit her bottom lip as she took in the sight of him.

"Careful," he warned with a raised eyebrow. He saw her cheeks turn pink and she lowered her head as he smiled to himself. He loved to see her blush like that. "I need food."

"Are you sure?" she asked. "I kind of don't want to let you out of this room."

"You're going to be the death of me, Peyton Sawyer," he said with a smile as she curled up next to him again.

She convinced him - though it didn't take much more than a few kisses and a few not-so-innocent touches - that breakfast could wait.

And he had to bite his tongue from telling her that he loved her.

----

She started staying at his house almost every night, and he didn't complain at all. They'd somehow become more and more comfortable with each other with each passing day, and it felt completely natural for her to be sitting on his sofa when he came home from work. He'd bring her more books to cry over, then wipe her tears when she broke down. She tried to tell him that she normally wasn't a crier, and that he'd seen more tears from her than anyone else in the world. He kind of felt a strange sense of pride, knowing that.

They were at the diner one day when she called him her boyfriend for the first time. He was walking up behind her returning from the washroom, and she was engaged in a casual conversation with the waitress, and she said the word. The waitress shot him a wink and walked away, and he kissed the side of Peyton's neck before taking his seat next to her.

"So I'm your boyfriend, huh?" he asked with a boyish grin. She rolled her eyes in that way he loved and he let out a chuckle.

"What did you think you were?"

"I dunno," he answered honestly, shrugging his shoulders. His biggest fear was that it was just a fling, though no fling he'd ever had - or heard about - included nightly sleepovers and long talks about family histories and life goals and five-year plans.

"I told you," she said quietly, "I don't do this."

"Have boyfriends?" he teased.

"I just don't...I'm not the kind of girl who just messes around," she said seriously.

"I know you're not," he said with a smile. That was exactly why he loved her.

He kissed her softly before their pancakes arrived, and she placed her hand high on his thigh to distract him while she stole his strawberries. He glared at her playfully, but they both knew that if she'd just asked, he would have gladly sacrificed the fruit for her.

In fact, he was pretty sure he'd sacrifice anything for her.

----

The Fourth of July in Tree Hill was always a big deal. Since he could remember, there was a little carnival and a beach party. There was a pancake breakfast and sidewalk sales and fireworks and just general fun.

She was in a little red bikini that had him wanting to keep her in his house, and he was wearing his black board shorts and a baseball cap from the college he attended. They held hands and strolled leisurely to the beach, holding hands and stopping to talk to a few of his friends. They'd all heard about the girl Lucas had found and was taking up all his time, but when they met her, she was nothing like what they expected. But she was still somehow everything they thought Lucas needed in a girl.

"They're...are their names really Skills, Mouth, Fergie and Garbage?" she asked with a smirk.

"It's Junk," he corrected with a laugh. "Nicknames. Well, except Fergie, since his real name is Ferguson."

"They seem cool," she said, leaning into him a little more when he wrapped his arm around her shoulder.

"Yeah. I've known them forever," he explained.

She could tell, just the way he spoke to that group of guys, that he treated his friends almost as well as he treated her. He was kind and compassionate and still funny. For some reason, she was relieved to learn that. It wasn't that she doubted it, but the confirmation was still nice.

They bumped into his old high school ball coach - the man Peyton knew had a huge influence on Lucas' life - and the older man winked at her like he approved of her choice in men. He called her darlin' and Lucas chuckled when Whitey told him to watch out because women were wily.

"How is it that I've never met any of these people?" she asked as the old man walked away and they sat down on the sand.

"Because we pretty much only stay in my house," he suggested, making her laugh. "I dunno. I kind of just want to spend all my time with you."

Her heart fluttered in her chest, and she just had to lean over and kiss him.

The unspoken truth was that she was leaving at the end of August. Sure, they had two months together, but at the end of those two months? Well, what would happen then? She already couldn't imagine going without hearing him say those things. Or kissing her temple the way he always did. Or looking at her with lust when he saw her in her bikini (or less).

So they didn't talk about it.

They had hot dogs and sodas for dinner, though he insisted they could have gone home and had 'real food'. She told him that part of the Fourth of July experience was having junky food and that they'd only just started.

She somehow sought out the only candy apple vendor in the whole town, and her eyes lit up when she saw the bright red treats. He grimaced and told her he was more of a cotton candy guy, and when he bought them each what they wanted, he wasn't at all surprised when she stole bites of his cotton candy from his fingertips before he even had the chance to put it in his mouth.

"Would you stop that?" he said with a laugh after the third time she did it.

"What?" she asked, feigning innocence before taking another bite of her apple.

"Honestly, it's a miracle you're so damn skinny," he said, shaking his head. Her jaw dropped and he just laughed harder. Her tongue was red and blue and purple, and it was clear she had no idea. "Your tongue is ridiculous right now."

She narrowed her eyes to scowl at him, then leaned closer to him, pressing her body against his so much that he had to wrap an arm around her to steady them both.

"Baby, that's not what you said this morning," she murmured into his ear.

He damn near choked on his cotton candy.

----

They were sleeping one night, well, she was sleeping and he was trying to force himself into slumber, and she said it.

I love you, Lucas.

It was whispered, and she was basically unconscious, but he heard the words and they made him somehow feel better and worse than he'd ever felt.

Better because she said them. Worse because she didn't know she had.

His heart started beating so fast that it literally woke her up.

She took a deep breath like she always did when she first woke up, and she pulled away from him and looked at him through bleary eyes.

"You OK?" she asked, her voice thick with sleep. Her palm was still on his chest, and she drummed her fingers on his bare flesh. "Your heart's beating really fast."

She knew about the heart condition that ran in his family - he'd told her weeks ago when they had first started 'dating' - and she was looking at him with a concerned expression on her face.

"Fine," he said quickly, shaking his head. He was still in a daze until he reached up and placed his hand on the side of her neck, rubbing his thumb gently over the spot just below her ear. "I'm fine."

"Lucas," she said admonishingly, "what?"

He smiled at her when she placed her hand atop his, and he knew that he couldn't hold back the truth any longer.

"I love you."

It was crazy. It was too soon. They'd barely known each other a month. But he loved her, and he had since that first day he saw her glide past his store window, and he was falling a little more every day.

"What?" she asked with a smile.

"I love you," he repeated. "I'm in love with you."

She shook her head, but smiled as she kissed him and pressed her body against the length of his. He quickly realized that his heart rate wasn't going to be returning to normal any time soon.

"I love you," she whispered against the shell of his ear.

She didn't do this either, but she had learned to stop fighting it with him and just let it happen. And she loved him. She assumed she'd loved him since the first time he took her into his arms.

----

Admittedly, they were spending too much time together. Almost every waking moment was spent with each other, and the little things started piling up and making big things.

She wanted them to spend the evening at her place instead of his, and he questioned why he had to leave the comfort of his home, stressing that he owned his place and hers was just a rental.

"You arrogant jerk," she seethed, grabbing her things angrily off the bed. "Don't call me."

She was out the door and had it slammed behind her before he could say anything. He had no idea how they'd gone from discussing what to do for the evening, to her stomping out of his house in a matter of minutes. He didn't know why they were fighting over something so stupid. The one thing he knew was that if she said not to call, he shouldn't call.

An hour after she left, he had his phone in his hand and was itching to hear her voice and apologize.

But she said not to call.

She knew, when she heard the knock at the door, that it was him. The only other people in the town that she knew were friends of his, and she didn't know them well. She knew it had to be him.

"What?" she asked curtly as she pulled open the door.

But then she looked at him and he was all shy and apologetic and remorseful before he'd even said a word.

"You didn't say not to come over," he pointed out. She rolled her eyes, but he could tell she was doing her best to hide a smile. "I brought a chocolate shake."

Oh, he was good. He'd found the loophole and brought chocolate.

"I'm not sharing," she said seriously, grabbing the paper cup from his hand.

He stepped into the condo, and that's when she noticed the backpack he had with him. It was obvious he had come to spend the night, and she had to turn around so he wouldn't see her smile. She'd won that round, but she still felt that they had to talk.

But she really didn't want to talk.

She joined him on the sofa and they started watching an old movie on television, and neither spoke a word until she finished her milkshake.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, turning his head to look at her.

"Good."

Of all the responses he'd generally gotten to those two words, he'd never gotten that one. It was clear that she didn't think that she needed to apologize for storming out of his house or for calling him a jerk. If he was being honest with himself, he didn't think he deserved her apology. He'd been an ass, and she had every right to walk out, and it took her walking out to realize that he really hated being away from her.

She leaned against him and he draped his arm around her and kissed her hair, and they fell asleep together on the sofa.

They woke up at 1:00 in the morning, stiff and sore and melded to one another. The television buzzed in the background, and the lights were on, and she looked up at him with sleepy eyes before he pressed his lips to hers gently.

"Come on," he said, standing and taking both her hands in his.

"Luke," she said, stopping him from walking further away from her, "what happens at the end of summer?"

And there it was. The question they'd both wanted to ask since their first kiss, and the one neither had the answer to.

He just shrugged his shoulders and took her face in his hands, kissing her in a way that somehow made them both believe they'd be OK.

----

It was two weeks before she had to leave, and they were still dodging the subject, though they both knew they shouldn't. They needed to talk about it and figure out what they were going to do. She didn't want to be without him, but she had to leave, and she suspected he didn't want to be without her either. She hoped he didn't.

She was walking to his place one day after a full day of sitting in her condo alone while he worked. She'd cleaned, then sketched for a bit, then started a book he told her was one of his favourites. He sent her a text telling her to come over, and she couldn't say she didn't want to.

She grabbed some margarita mix and the makings for tacos, since they'd had a discussion the week earlier about their shared love of Mexican food.

But as she approached his house, she saw a perky little brunette leaving his bedroom, and her heart wrenched in her chest.

The girl smiled as she passed Peyton on the sidewalk, but it wasn't a friendly smile. It was a bitter one, and it scared the hell of of Peyton. She didn't know who that girl was, or why she was in Lucas' bedroom, but she was immediately jealous, though she hated that emotion.

She contemplated just leaving and giving herself time to cool down, but she knew that if she didn't get some answers, she'd just feel worse, not better.

She entered the house through the front door, which she never did, and headed straight for the kitchen. He stepped out of his bedroom and looked at her questioningly, but she just went back to unpacking groceries without saying a word.

"What?" he asked, knowing something was wrong.

"Nothing," she said with a shrug. "Just wasn't sure if you had any other girls in your bedroom, and I didn't want to interrupt anything."

She was being catty, and she knew it, but it felt good to say it. She didn't turn around to see his reaction, and if she had, she probably would have just been more angry. His jaw was set and he was shaking his head.

"Any other conclusions you want to jump to? Or can I explain?" he asked, walking over to her and standing next to her, leaning on the counter and crossing his arms.

"Explain," she demanded. She finally looked at him, and he saw a fury in her eyes that was somehow still calm. It was almost like she'd expected something like this to happen, and it made him angry that she thought that.

"You know I told you about Brooke?"

"Your ex," she stated.

"Yeah," he said with a nod. "That was her."

"You dated her?" she asked, raising her voice. "You dated her, and you're with me now?"

"What the hell does that mean?" he asked, narrowing his eyes in disbelief.

"She's gorgeous, Luke!" she cried.

"You're the most gorgeous girl I've ever seen!" he countered, like he was shocked she hadn't believed him every other time he'd said it.

"She's gorgeous," she said, ignoring his statement. "And she was in your bedroom, and you two have this history!? Sorry if I'm not really handling it all that well!"

"You're insane," he said, shaking his head.

She let out a humourless laugh and put her hand on her hip as she glared at him.

Maybe calling her insane wasn't the best move, he decided.

"She's just in town for a few days, and she stopped by to say hi," he explained.

"She didn't look too thrilled when she left!"

"Because I told her that I'm in love with you!" he shouted. "She started talking about us getting back together or something, and I told her she and I are over."

"Luke..."

"Peyton, I am in love with you," he said firmly, hopefully leaving no room for her to doubt him.

She closed her eyes, and a few tears slid down her cheeks, and he reached for her hand, but she jerked it away.

"Don't do that," he demanded, shaking his head. "Don't pull away from me."

"Maybe you shouldn't be."

"Shouldn't be what?" he asked with a furrowed brow.

"In love with me," she clarified, wiping her cheeks hastily.

"What? Why the hell not?"

"Because I'm leaving!" she shouted desperately. "I'm leaving in two weeks, Lucas. Two weeks! And what then? You have these girls who obviously aren't over you, and I'm...I'll be out of the picture."

"Not girls. Girl," he corrected. "And I don't care if she's not over me."

"That is so not the point," she said softly. "You're ignoring the fact that I'm leaving Tree Hill."

"We've known it all along, Peyton," he explained, grasping her wrist and not letting her pull it away.

"What are we doing, Luke?" she asked as more tears fell. "What were we thinking?"

"I was thinking that you're amazing," he said, smiling weakly at her and taking a step closer. "And you make me feel like a fool half the time because you're a million times too good for me."

"Shut up," she scoffed, shaking her head.

"I will not," he insisted. He cupped her cheek and smirked at her when she looked up at him.

"Lucas, I'm leaving."

"Stop reminding me," he said, making her shake her head.

"You can't ignore this," she told him, looking into his eyes.

"You can't ignore this." He placed his hand over her beating heart, and she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"What are we gonna do?" she sighed.

He kissed her gently and wiped her tears, then smiled at her when she opened her eyes.

"We're going to eat tacos and drink margaritas, and we're going to have two amazing weeks together," he said confidently.

"And what then?" she asked.

"Then...you'll go back to New York," he said, failing in his attempt to hide his sadness. "And I'll go back to school."

She shook her head at him and her chin started to tremble again, and she said words that he never thought he'd hear her say.

"I can't do this."

She was out the door before he could even register what had happened.

----

She spent the next week avoiding him. She wouldn't take his calls or answer the door when he came over, and she ignored the perfect things he'd say through the door of her condo. He'd tell her he loved her and that he didn't want to be apart from her, and that it'd suck when she had to leave, but she was there now. He'd tell her he needed to see her and hold her, and those words would just make her cry harder.

But by the eighth day without him, she'd realized she was being stupid, and that being apart from him when she had the choice not to be was the biggest mistake she'd ever made.

She showed up at his house in the middle of the night, using the key he'd given her to step through his bedroom door. And there he was, laying awake on his bed with a candle burning.

Neither said a word.

He opened his arms to her and she settled herself on top of him, and they kissed and made love like desperation. They fell asleep afterward, still having not said anything important, but they didn't care. He just needed her with him, and she just needed to be there. They'd figure the rest out later.

She woke up in the morning with him kissing her bare shoulder, and she sighed in contentment.

"I thought I was never gonna see you again," he admitted softly.

"I love you," she whispered. He felt a tear fall onto his arm, and he pulled her a little closer to him. Maybe she'd just promised him that he'd see her soon, even if she left.

They spent the rest of the week making love and making promises neither knew for sure they could keep. His coaching schedule was too intense for him to visit her on weekends, and her course load was too intense to go to his games like she said she would.

They both knew it was the end, but they really didn't want to admit that.

So they didn't.

They pleaded ignorance until the last possible second, and as he stood in front of her at the airport, he refused to say goodbye until she said it. She was crying, and he was doing his best not to, and he kissed her for what they both knew might be the last time.

"I love you," he whispered.

"I know," she said with a broken smile. "I love you, too."

"I'll see you again, right?" he asked, almost desperately. Almost like he needed her to promise it.

"I'll be back someday," she said, looking into his eyes.

Neither of them knew if that was true.

Her flight was called, and she kissed him one last time as she placed something in his palm.

"Bye, Lucas," she said, wiping her tears before she turned away and walked quickly to the gate.

He opened his hand after she was out of sight, and there two little wallet sized photos of them from the Fourth of July, kissing in a coin operated photo booth. He knew she had the other two.

All the way home, he couldn't help but question whether or not she'd just told him she'd be back to make him feel better, or if she actually meant it.

----

They tried to keep in contact, but it became too hard. He didn't want to hear about all the people she was meeting, and she didn't want to hear girls in the background when he called her from an away game to tell her about the win. The truth was, she wasn't meeting anyone as amazing as him, and he wasn't paying attention to other girls. She'd question who was with him, and he'd ask if there were other guys, and they'd both be insulted that those concerns were even voiced.

It was just all too hard.

Calls became less and less frequent, and emails stopped coming, and when he didn't call her on her birthday, they both knew it was over.

That was three years ago.

It was summer again, and Lucas had been back in Tree Hill for a year, having moved back after his final year of college. He coached the Ravens - his high school team - the season before, and he still loved his town more than he loved any other place in the world.

But it still felt a little less perfect now, knowing Peyton wasn't there.

He bought that little book store the summer before - right after he'd finished school. The owner was selling, and it was going to close, and Lucas just couldn't let that happen. His mother's boyfriend fronted Lucas the money for the purchase, and that store stayed open and flourished under Lucas' ownership.

He couldn't help but wonder if maybe he was so insistent on buying the place because it held so many memories of his summer with that girl.

He returned to the store after the case of mistaken identity at the pier, and he saw one of his employees unpacking a new shipment.

Nicholas Sparks.

She suggested they put his books in the window display, insisting that they'd probably catch the attention of passersby, seeing as the author lived in North Carolina, and Lucas could only chuckle to himself as he nodded his head and told her to go for it.

He excused himself and asked her if she was alright to close the store. He just needed to get out of there and away from reminders of the woman he was still in love with, and with each passing day, he was realizing he'd always be in love with.

Then he saw the thunderheads rolling in off the ocean and he could only laugh bitterly at how much the universe seemed to want to remind him of what he didn't have.

It was pouring rain by the time he arrived home, and he was drenched head to toe just from running the short distance from his car to his door.

He stepped inside his bedroom and shook his arms so the water would fall off his skin, but he froze when he saw her sitting on his bed.

He couldn't speak. Surely he was dreaming.

"You don't change your locks in three years?" she asked with a smirk.

He looked over his shoulder then back to her, as though he didn't believe she was there or that she'd let herself in or that she'd kept his key after all that time.

"What...? How are you here?" he stuttered, still standing in the same spot.

She just shrugged her shoulders and stood from the bed, stepping towards him so there was only a foot of space between them.

"I told you," she said softly.

'I'll be back someday.' She'd meant it.

He pulled her against him and held her as tightly as he could. He didn't know if she was staying, or if she was just visiting, or how long she was staying if she was visiting. She was there, standing in front of him, and he didn't care about anything else other than that.

"I still hate thunderstorms," she spoke into his chest.

He pulled away and they both laughed when they realized she was now soaked, too. He placed his hands on her cheeks, and hers fell to his hips.

"I've got you," he said with a smile.

"Lucas," she said, looking into his eyes, "I still love you."

He pressed his lips to hers like he'd been waiting three years to do, and they both sighed when he rest his forehead against hers.

"Me too," he whispered. "Are you here?"

She knew what he was asking. Neither of them wanted a repeat of that summer. Well, they didn't want a repeat of the end of that summer, when they'd had to say goodbye.

So it was a good thing she'd bought herself a house at the beach and was planning to open her own art gallery.

"Yes."

"What brings you to Tree Hill?" he asked with a smirk, knowing she'd remember the first time he asked her that question.

She pondered it for a moment, smiling as she ran her hands through the wet hair at the back of his neck.

"Everything."

-Fin-