A/N: Here is the follow up to You Always Say Something. It probably didn't really need one, but a bunch of people asked, and I wrote it anyway. My muse held me hostage, and this is one of the results of a weekend in my pajamas, sipping coffee and typing feverishly.
It surprised them both, how quickly they fell completely in love with each other. Merely two weeks after getting together, she said the words. She looked into his eyes and told him that she loved him, and that she was terrified, but she wanted him to know. The way he kissed her, and the way he looked at her when he said the words back, pretty much erased that fear.
They'd spent those two weeks almost inseparable. Nothing had changed when they were at school or when they'd bump into each other at the café, but he'd go to her house for dinner, or she'd go to his to watch a movie, and no one seemed to notice when one of them would leave the other's house late at night or early in the morning.
There was no scandal. There was no gossip in their town. Peyton was already talked about anyway, since she was still the newcomer. Men wanted to know if she was single, and women wanted to know why she wasn't married. Those are two very different ways of asking the same question. She was in her twenties, and she was beautiful, and it didn't make sense to them that she lived alone. Lucas laughed at her when he saw her at the grocery store and the town's 50-year-old flirt trapped her in the frozen foods aisle. Lucas rescued her under the guise that he wanted to talk to her about a student on his team. She'd thanked him in a very nice way.
Karen was thrilled, and told them she'd seen it coming a mile away. She said she'd known since that first day Peyton stepped into her café that she was the kind of girl Lucas could really fall for. Peyton started helping out in the café on weekends, and though Karen insisted she didn't need the help, she certainly appreciated it. The two women would talk about Lucas like he wasn't there, and he'd groan at the stories his mother shared about his childhood. Peyton would laugh at photos of him as a young boy, chasing bubbles in the yard, or cuddling up with an old golden retriever.
Things have moved fast. They almost haven't stopped to think of the consequences.
But it's a month into their relationship when Peyton walks into his office and he's on the phone with the Athletic Department.
It's an obstacle they should have seen coming, but didn't.
"There are rumors," he says as he hangs up.
"About us?" she asks, though she already knows the answer.
"One of the parents on the PTA saw us in Raleigh last weekend, apparently," he explains.
They'd gone shopping and to dinner together before stopping in at the cemetery and seeing her mom. Her father was out of town, so Lucas couldn't meet him, but he got a tour of the home she grew up in, and she drove him around to all her favourite places. Coffee shops and art galleries and the schools she went to. It had been a great day.
"What does this mean?" she inquires with a shrug.
"I don't know," he answers, twirling his pen between his fingers. "The Athletic Department is going to meet about it, but you can probably expect to meet with Principal Turner soon."
"And I'll be the one let go," she says as though it's already set in stone.
"What? Why?" he asks in confusion.
"You've been here longer, your team is 6 and 2," she rattles off. "I've been working here not even a semester."
"Peyton, let's not jump to conclusions, OK?" he says, standing from his desk. "Whatever happens, we'll do it together."
"Easy for you to say. You still have a job," she mutters. He lets out a sigh and she knows he's rolling his eyes, but she picks up her bag from where she'd set it on the chair across from his desk. "I'm gonna go."
"It's fine," she lies. "I shouldn't be in here anyway."
She turns around and leaves before he can say anything else.
He wonders if just maybe nothing's as perfect as it seems. She's closing him out and he knows damn well that she's going to pretend that this doesn't bother her. She won't talk to him about it, and by the way she's acting, she might not talk to him at all.
He's always known she was stubborn, but he still hates that side of her when it makes her act like this. They should be sticking together; proving how strong their relationship is so they can assure the PTA that they can maintain a professional relationship without their personal one getting in the way.
But the thing that scares him most, is that maybe their relationship isn't really that strong at all.
She's avoided him for a day and a half, and he's sick of it. He's tried to give her space, because he knows her well enough to know that she needs to sort things through on her own before talking to him.
It just never takes her a day and a half.
They've spoken on the phone once, briefly, but other than that, he hasn't seen or heard from her, which he finds absurd since they live across the street from one another, and they work in the same building.
He walks into her house without knocking, like he always does, and he sees her wearing one of his sweaters, and he's momentarily sidetracked by how in love with her he is. She doesn't look up from the newspaper that's in front of her, though, and he's back to being a little angry that she's going to such lengths to freeze him out. He would have thought, by now, that she'd know that they just can't ignore each other.
"What are you doing?" he asks as he stands across from her with the coffee table between them.
"Looking for a job."
"This is the Charleston paper," he points out needlessly.
"Yup," she says absently, circling a listing.
Now he's mad. Not only has she jumped to conclusions, but by the looks of it, she might just leave. She's just gotten here, and she just admitted to him the other day that she loves it here, and now she's thinking of leaving.
And where does that leave him?
"Stop," he says, pulling the paper from in front of her and folding it haphazardly.
"Luke, don't," she sighs, closing her eyes and shaking her head. She really doesn't want this to be harder than it needs to be.
"No! You don't," he retorts. "Why are you being like this?"
"Like what!?" she cries. "I'm being...prepared. There's one high school here, and I'm about to lose my job there. Since I need a job, I'm looking for one."
"Yeah! In Charleston!" he yells, raising his hands before dropping them to his sides in frustration. "What the hell does that mean for us, if you move three hours away? And besides, we don't even know what's going to happen."
She's acutely aware that he keeps saying things like we and us. She should love that. He's her boyfriend, and he obviously wants to keep being her boyfriend. But he doesn't understand. He's the town's golden boy, and she's the outsider, and she knows how things are going to turn out. It's better for her to leave now - or at least be prepared to leave - instead of being run out of town.
"We'll..." she starts. But her voice trails because she can't tell him they'll be fine. She's pretty sure they won't be, actually.
"You're running again," he states, like he's informing the both of them at the same time.
"Unless you can tell me honestly that everything will work out, and we can both keep our jobs, and we'll be together? Then yeah, I guess you could say I'm going to run," she says, grabbing the newspaper back from his hands.
"Will you please be rational about this?" he asks.
"I am being rational! You're the one pretending that everything's perfect, when we both know that it's not, Lucas!" she shouts, standing from her spot and putting her hands on her hips.
"So you're just going to throw this away?" He gestures to the two of them, and when she doesn't say anything, he just shakes his head. "Good plan. Glad to know how you really feel about me. It should make it really easy to get over you."
She still can't say anything, because she's in shock at his words, and she lets him walk out the door. She doesn't know why it's taken the harsh words to make her stop and think, but it has.
The only thing she knows is that she doesn't want to throw it away, and that she doesn't want him to get over her.
She knows she won't get over him.
As soon as he's inside his house, he feels like the wind has been knocked out of him. He literally has to double over and place his hands on his knees. Did he really just say that? Did they really just break up? Will she really leave?
He's only known her a short time, but he's so damn in love with her. Hopelessly, head over heels, scary in love with her. And to think that he might have just let that go is breaking his heart so much that he feels a tear pooling in his eye. He's crying over a girl he barely knows, and a relationship they were barely in.
Even as he thinks that, he knows both those things are lies. He knows her better than anyone - she told him so - and they were all the way in that relationship, as far as either could go.
She's cried all night, and the tears only stop when she makes them. She realizes, maybe a few hours too late, that leaving would be crazy, and that she loves him, and that just maybe he's worth losing her job over. She doesn't know if he's awake, but she knows him, and she knows he'll want to hear everything she's feeling, even if she has to wake him to do it.
She just hopes that he didn't really mean the things he said. Losing him isn't an option, but he made it sound like she already had.
She walks across the street in her plaid pajama pants and his sweater, and she lets herself into his bedroom using the key he gave her 'in case of emergencies'. If this isn't an emergency, she's not sure what is.
He's sleeping, and she's momentarily mad that she's been up for hours and he's in here sleeping it off. Why isn't he upset? Why isn't he the one coming to her? How can he just lay there in his boxers with his hand resting on his stomach like it always does? Like nothing's wrong?
But then she catches sight of a list on his desk. It's a list of high schools and colleges, and the names and phone numbers of athletic directors. It's clear that he's looked for coaching jobs in the area. None of them are even that close. The nearest one is over 40 miles west, and it's absurd that he's even jotted down this information.
But she still smiles a little.
He loves her enough to leave the school so she won't have to.
She lets out a soft sigh as she climbs into bed with him, and he doesn't stir until she tucks herself against him and slings her leg over his a little bit. He takes a sharp breath when her hand falls to his chest, and she knows he's awake.
He knows right away who's laying with him, and he instinctively pulls her closer to him before speaking.
His voice has that sexy rasp that she loves, and it hits her that she never wants to go a day in her life without hearing that. She loves waking up next to him. She loves the way his thumb traces hers when their hands are intertwined, and she loves the way he looks at her when he sees her laying next to him. She can't be without that. She actually wonders how she lived without him for so long.
"I'm sorry," she says softly.
"Me too," he assures her. "I'll never get over you."
He's half asleep, and he's still somehow making her heart beat a little faster with the things he says. That's the best promise he could have given her, and she loves him for it.
"Good," she says, burrowing a little closer, though it's not really possible. "I love you."
"Prove it," he says. She looks up at him and sees that his eyes are still closed, and she laughs at him.
"Babe, you're asleep."
"No," he says with a sleepy chuckle. "I mean don't move away."
There's a childlike quality to his voice when he says it that she'll never tell him she can't say no to.
"I'm not going anywhere," she promises. He kisses the top of her head and tells her he loves her before they both fall asleep again.
Maybe their apology shouldn't have been so simple. Few words were spoken, but they were all the right ones, and nothing else was necessary.
She gets ready and goes to work just like any other day, and she's surprised when no one brings up her relationship with 'Coach Scott'. She doesn't get called to Principal Turner's office, and she doesn't hear murmurs from other teachers at lunch. It seems that no one else knows yet, and it's almost unnerving. She expected that she would have heard something by now. Lucas tries to assure her that no news is good news over dinner that evening, and she almost believes him.
Except he has a meeting with the Athletic Department the next day, and she can tell he's nervous about what's going to happen. Maybe, since no one's talked to Peyton, he'll be the one let go.
But neither of them mentions it. They have dinner and she reads one of his old hardcovers while he types away, and when she falls asleep with her hands on the pages, he cuddles up next to her and pulls a blanket over the both of them. They sleep in their sweats, and sometime in the night he wakes up to her kissing him. He doesn't know why she's doing it, but he won't ask. He'll just kiss her back.
He realizes that no matter what happens, he'll be with Peyton, and everything will be fine. It has to be fine.
They're both exhausted in the morning, and when she complains about it, he reminds her that their lack of sleep was initiated by her, and she raises her eyebrow and asks if that's a problem. He insists it isn't.
He's pulling on his pants so he can get to practice, then to his meeting afterward, and she can read the worry on his face.
"Hey," she calls out, making him turn to her. She's laying back on his bed in one of his tee shirts, and he smiles just looking at her. "We'll figure it out, Luke."
"Yeah," he says with a smile, moving to the bed and laying down on top of her. "Yeah, we will."
"But if you're late for practice because you were seducing me, they might not be so forgiving," she points out as his lips trace the curve of her jaw.
"You're the one seducing me, laying here in just my shirt," he says as he pulls away and stands. "And actually, that's the shirt I was going to wear."
She sits up and pulls the shirt over her head and tosses it at him before he can stop her, then she burrows back beneath the sheets and laughs when she sees the expression on his face.
"Not fair," he pouts, pulling the fabric onto his own body. It smells a little bit like her, and a little bit like him, and he's lost for a moment, wondering if that's how their house would smell if they lived together.
"Sorry," she says unapologetically, shrugging her bare shoulder. "That's what you get for waking me up so early."
He always does that - wakes her up as he's leaving - and she always pretends to hate it. She doesn't have to be at school for a couple hours, but he'll 'accidentally' nudge her as he's getting out of bed, or he'll forget to turn off his alarm. He secretly just loves her staring at him as he gets ready. She secretly loves staring at him as he gets ready.
He leaves for the day and he tells her he'll see her later. He kisses her forehead and winks at her just before he tugs the door closed behind him. She lets out a content sigh when she's left alone in in bed and his room and his house. She loves it here. She knows he said his first word - mama, naturally - in the kitchen, and that he has a million memories within these walls. She's comfortable there; almost like she was meant to be there.
She knows that if she asks him, he'll tell her she is meant to be there.
She pulls on her own clothes and heads back across the street to her house to get ready for her day, and by the time she leaves her house, she knows he's probably in his meeting. She wonders if maybe he's as nervous as she is. She knows he's willing to lose his job for her, but she doesn't want it to come to that. It shouldn't have to come to that. They're adults, and this isn't the 1950's, and they can have a relationship without it interfering with their work. Considering they don't even really work together, they just work in the same building, it really shouldn't matter at all if they date each other.
She gets out of her car and starts towards the door, then halfway down the hall, Principal Turner calls out to her and asks her into his office.
She's surprised to see Lucas sitting there, his ankle resting over his knee, looking at her with an unreadable expression until she sits next to him.
He knows he shouldn't be, but all he's thinking is that she's worn all his favourite things. The leather blazer she bought a few weeks ago, those black boots that make him crazy, and that deep green wrap dress that shows off her figure. If they were just about anywhere else in the world, he'd tell her she looks incredible.
"I'm not going to treat you like adolescents," Principal Turner starts once he's seated at his desk. "But I'm also not going to pretend that you haven't disregarded the rules. I just want to give you a chance to explain yourselves."
"What's to explain?" Lucas asks. He already knows how everything is going to go, but he wants to defend himself and his girl, anyway. It's just in his nature. "We met, we started dating, we're in a committed relationship."
"What Lucas means, is that our working together has very little - if anything - to do with our personal relationship," Peyton says, looking between the blonde next to her and their boss. "Work is strictly work, and we don't let our feelings interfere with that. We hardly see each other during the day anyway, and when we do, it's strictly professional."
"Regardless of that, Miss Sawyer, the rules are in place for a reason," Principal Turner explains. "The fact that you're handling this maturely doesn't change the fact that you have engaged in a relationship that shouldn't have started."
"And who are you to say that?" Peyton asks, surprising both men. "No offense, but our personal lives are no one's business but ours. And just because some outdated rule book from the middle of the century says that we can't date...I mean, that shouldn't have bearing on what I do in my free time. With all due respect, Principal Turner, if you knew what it felt like to be one half of a relationship like this one," she said, gesturing between she and Lucas, "you wouldn't care about the employee code of conduct, either."
"No. You know what? I love this job. And I love this school, and my students are...they're wonderful," she says, standing from her place and slinging her bag over her shoulder again. "But I don't think I want to work in a place that discourages the kind of healthy relationships that we're encouraging our students to find."
"Peyton," Lucas tries as he shakes his head.
"I'm sorry," she says, glancing at him briefly before turning back to their boss. "I quit."
She kisses Lucas' forehead quickly and leaves the room before either man can say a word, and the two of them are quiet for several moments, neither of them sure what to say.
"Well, that was..." Principal Turner says before his voice trails.
Lucas just looks towards the door with a fond smile and shakes his head before looking back to the man in front of him.
"That was Peyton," he finishes.
"Are you going to tell her I was going to let her go?"
"No," Lucas says, shaking his head in the negative. "You are."
He gets up from his spot and leaves the office. He knows Turner will understand, and that Peyton deserves to know what was going to happen. But he loves that she stuck up for their relationship and she actually quit her job to prove her point. It's that fire in her, that stubborn, hardheaded quality that he loves, that makes him think that she's absolutely the most perfect woman in the world. If nothing else, she's the most perfect woman in the world for him.
He finds her in her classroom packing her things, and he leans against the doorway and looks at her for a moment before she sees him there. She sniffles and it almost breaks his heart. She really did love this job.
"I love you," he says, drawing her attention to him.
She looks up at him and quickly wipes away a couple tears with the back of her hand.
"I'm so sorry," she says as she shakes her head. "I might have been a little dramatic."
"Well, maybe a little," he says with a smirk. She lets out a breathy laugh and he shuts the door before stepping into the room. "That's what I love about you."
"No," he says, walking towards her and perching himself on her desk as she continues gathering her belongings. "You stand up for what you believe in."
"Well...He can't just...They can't tell students to respect each other and find loving relationships with people who will take care of them, then punish other people when they find it!"
"Hey, I was there. I heard it the first time," he says, holding up a hand in defense. She smiles at him and places her hand over his where it rests on his knee. "The kids are going to miss you."
"I'm going to miss them," she says softly. "God, Luke, I just quit my job!"
"I know, babe," he says. He wants to reach out and grab her, but he's well aware that students are starting to file into the halls, and he doesn't need there to be any gossip about them among the students.
"You better freaking be worth it," she says with a raised eyebrow. He chuckles and wipes her cheek with the pad of his thumb, and she moves away to drop some of her personal art supplies into the box.
"You OK?" he asks when he sees her close her eyes and take a deep breath.
"I will be," she says with a weak smile. "Right?"
"I'll make sure of it," he tells her, and her smile gets a little wider. She loves that man and all his promises. She loves those promises because she knows he'll keep them.
"I guess that's it," she says before heaving a sigh and surveying the room one last time.
"Hey," he says, making her turn to him again, "it's a beginning. Not an end."
She closes her eyes, smiles and nods her head, because he's right and she knows it.
"I've gotta go, though," he says, checking his watch. "I've got player meetings."
"I'll see you tonight?" she asks. He nods his head, kisses her cheek quickly, and walks out of the room.
She's surprised, a few moments later, when Principal Turner comes in and explains that he was going to have to let her go anyway, but that he actually admired her little performance, and that she obviously knew what she wanted.
The words mean little to her, however, because he isn't offering her job back.
He asks if she wants to stay and explain to her first period class of seniors that she won't be their teacher any longer, and she says that she doesn't. She tells him that he had ultimately made the decision and that he can make the explanations. She thanks him for giving her the opportunity to teach a great bunch of students, turns on her heel with her box of things tucked under her arm, and steps into the hall to make her way to the door.
She draws stares from students in the hallway, and she's well aware that there will be hushed whispers about her departure, and she'll face questions when she bumps into students in town, but she doesn't care.
Lucas has already proven that he's worth it.
The next few days are almost impossible. She doesn't know how to not be busy, so she organizes and cleans her entire house, though it really doesn't need it since she basically just moved in.
And when that's done, she cleans and organizes Lucas' entire house.
That's when he calls in reinforcements.
She starts helping Karen at the café during the days, and she chats with the students that come in after school, and she helps them with their homework. They tell her that the new teacher doesn't know what he's doing, and that she was better, and she kind of feels proud about that. She helps with business plans and entrepreneurial assignments, and they tip her well, telling her that she's the most insightful waitress they've ever had. She can only laugh. She's certainly overqualified.
But she likes spending her days with Karen. The two of them get along well, and Keith comes in for lunch a few times a week, and they all talk about Lucas and brag about him like he's the best thing since sliced bread. If you asked any of them, they'd tell you he was.
When Lucas steps into the café one day, and the coffee's overflowing, there are no customers, and there's no sight of his mom, he starts to get worried.
"Mom! Peyton!?" he calls out, rushing behind the counter.
He finds Peyton there with her knees clutched to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks, and her cell at her side.
He doesn't know what to tend to first, his girl or the coffee maker, so he does both. He reaches for her hand and holds it as he shuts off the machine and drops some towels on the counter and floor to sop up the mess, then he kneels in front of Peyton and places his hands on her shoulders.
"Talk to me," he demands, shaking her gently.
She looks up and locks eyes with him and says only one word; "Derek."
He knows what that means.
He gathers her into his arms and sits himself down next to her, and he rocks her back and forth as she cries. He's not sure how long they sit like that, with him mumbling reassuring words and stroking her hair, but when Karen steps in and sees the empty café, her panic doesn't dissipate when she sees her son and his girlfriend in that position behind the counter.
Lucas just shakes his head when he sees her, telling her without words not to ask what's wrong, and he stands up, pulling Peyton up with him.
He doesn't know how, but they make it to his house without him ever really letting go of her. As soon as they're through his bedroom door, she's trowing her arms around him, and he holds her as tightly as he can without hurting her. There are teardrops on his shirt, and the sight of her so visibly upset has tears forming in his own eyes.
He didn't know Derek. But he knows Peyton, and his heart is breaking for her.
He nudges her towards the bed and he unbuttons her top for her, but there's nothing sexual about it. She slips off her jeans, and he gives her her favourite tee shirt of his to wear, and she pulls the cotton over her head while he changes into his sweats.
He starts towards the kitchen to get her some food, and maybe some tea to calm her nerves. She's barely spoken, and he's terrified of that. She's keeping everything inside, and it can't be good.
He's halfway to the door when he hears a muffled whisper of his name.
"Don't go," she pleads.
"Peyt, you need to eat something," he says delicately. "I'll be right back."
"Please, Luke," she begs. Her chin quivers again, and he knows he's not going anywhere.
He lays down with her, and she's immediately in his arms and laying as close to him as she can get.
"Baby, you've gotta talk to me," he says as she clutches the fabric of his sweater in her hand. "What do you need me to do?"
"This," she whispers. "Just this."
They don't move all evening, and it's two in the morning by the time she finally starts talking. She tells him everything from the beginning, and she tells him about the 'arrangements', and she tells him that she hates that word. They're both shedding tears when she says "He was my brother" in a broken whisper. Maybe it's selfish, or maybe it's the perfect time to think it, but Lucas makes a mental note to call his own brother the next day and tell him he loves him.
She finally falls asleep, but he can't. He didn't necessarily need the reminder, but he realizes he'll do anything in the world to make this woman feel better, and this situation is making him feel absolutely helpless.
He dials his mom first thing in the morning when Peyton's still sleeping, and she gasps when she hears the news, and tells him that anything Peyton needs from her, she'll do. He tells her he loves her, and she says, "I love you too, my boy," like she always has, and he smiles. He's a grown man, but he's still a total mama's boy, and Peyton laughs every time she hears the older woman say those words or kisses his cheek.
When he calls Nathan to tell him what's happened, the men share an oddly comfortable moment where Lucas says he loves Nathan, and Nathan says he loves Lucas. Nathan chuckles and says he's glad Haley's not in the room or she'd make fun of them. He offers to come in and run the team while Lucas is out of town, and then Haley comes on the line, all sympathetic and maternal and just so Haley, and asks if there's anything she can do for Peyton. He loves her for that.
Lucas goes with her to the funeral. She told him she couldn't do it without him, and he told her he wouldn't have let her. He meets her father for the first time, and both men express that they'd wished it were under better circumstances. They each hold one of Peyton's hands, and she's the only real family of Derek's that's there, and that's a little heartbreaking for all of them. She flinches when the guns sound, and Lucas pulls her into his side and cradles her head, and Larry gives the younger man an appreciative nod and a weak smile.
That's the moment he knows that Lucas Scott is the one for his little girl. He can't explain it, and maybe it's crazy, but he just feels it. Lucas emits a stability that Peyton's been longing for since she was a young girl, and Larry knows that blonde man isn't going anywhere. He can see it in his eyes.
They're driving back to Tree Hill, and they both spot a little chapel by the side of the road, and she smiles at him, and he smiles at her. Neither of them says the words, but the know that someday, they'll stand in a chapel like that together.
It's not really a promise, but it feels a lot like one.
Christmas comes, and it's really hard to believe it's her first with his family. He excitedly tells her about all the silly and not-so-silly traditions they have, and how now that Nathan and Haley have two kids, Christmas day is a blast, with paper ripped and thrown around. She teases him that he's probably the only grown man to admit that he loves Christmas more than his three year old niece. He fakes a pout, and she places a fresh-baked gingerbread man in his hand, and he smiles again. She rolls her eyes at him, but she can't wait until it's their kids they're having Christmas morning with.
She freezes in her place as soon as she has that thought - that vision - in her mind. She's never, not once, really, pictured her kids with a man she's dated. With Lucas, she can see them. Blue eyes and blonde hair and goofy squint. She loves them already, and it scares her that it doesn't scare her. She's not running from him or closing him out or telling him their relationship has moved too fast.
Instead, she wraps her arms around him and kisses the frosting from his lips, and she tells him that he's going to be such a fun dad. He beams with pride and kisses her again, and he tells her she tastes like a candy cane.
Christmas Eve is bittersweet. They drive out to exchange gifts and have lunch with her dad, and visit her mom and Derek, and she cries in the car on the way home, until he tells her that he loves her and that she's a part of his family now. She rests her head against him and says thank you, and he kisses her hair and tells her she doesn't need to thank him.
Christmas morning, she wakes up and he's staring down at her like it's killing him that they aren't out of bed yet.
"Oh my God," she mumbles. "If you weren't so cute, I'd hate you."
"Liar," he says with a smile, kissing her temple as she grumbles her distaste at being awake. "I made coffee."
"I love you," she says, perking up immediately. He laughs at her sudden change of heart. "Now, Lucas Scott, did you peek under the Christmas tree?"
"I didn't shake anything!" he insists boyishly.
Oh yes, their children will be adorable.
"Come on," he says, getting up from the bed and reaching for her hand. She sighs dramatically but gets up and pulls her hair up like she does every morning, and she wraps her arms around his waist as they walk into the living room.
The amount of presents under the tree seems to have doubled since the night before, and she wonders what on earth he's done.
"I hid some so I could surprise you," he explains when she looks at him questioningly. "I set them out while you were sleeping."
"If you ask me to call you Santa, I'm so out of here," she teases, and he shakes his head.
"I may have gotten carried away," he says sheepishly. "But...I love Christmas."
She chuckles and kisses him and says, "I know you do."
They grab coffee and settle onto the sofa together to open each others' gifts. Everyone will be coming later to have dinner and exchange gifts, but they have most of the morning just the two of them together, and she'd told him the night before that she was staying in her pajamas until the last possible second. That was always her Christmas tradition.
He excitedly picks the order in which she can open her presents, and she's impressed, though she probably shouldn't be, at how well he knows her. Art supplies and hard-to-find vinyl and a few items of clothing that he somehow knew she'd love. There's a spa gift certificate and a 'save the date' card for a reservation at her favourite restaurant in Raleigh.
The final gift is a long, slender box, and she knows that it's jewelry, and she looks at him in surprise.
"Just open it," he says with a smile. He can't wait to see the look on her face.
She does as she's told and there's a beautiful white gold chain with a simple round diamond pendant, and she's blown away by how perfect it is.
"Luke..." she whispers, shaking her head as she glances between the necklace and her boyfriend. "It's beautiful."
He smiles and takes the chain out of the box, and she turns so he can fasten it around her neck. She toys with the pendant as she leans over to kiss him, and she thanks him quietly once they've parted.
His gifts are just as much him as hers were her. She managed to track down first editions of a few of his favourite novels, and when he asks how, she shrugs her shoulders and tells him that she has her ways. She got him a six-game ticket package for the Bobcats, explaining that he can take whoever he wants with him, and it doesn't have to be her. When she asked Nathan what he thought of the gift, he smirked and told him that it was as much of a gift for him as it was for his brother. Lucas tells her that she's the coolest girlfriend ever, and he laughs when she tells him she knows. He unwraps a few sweaters and a pair of jeans exactly like the ones he has that she loves that are threadbare and almost unwearable, and a Tar Heels tee shirt they both know she'll steal after the first time he wears it.
He opens his last gift, and he wonders if she takes notes on everything he says. It's the watch he saw that day in Raleigh, months ago, when they were shopping. It's too expensive, and he tells her so, but she scoffs and waves off his concern.
"I just wanted you to have it," she tells him as he slips it onto his wrist. "And you got me diamonds, so you shouldn't be talking about how expensive things are."
He laughs, because she's right. He doesn't point out that he has a job and she doesn't, really. He knows better than that. He just kisses her and thanks her, and he tells her that they have to get ready for their guests.
He watches her after dinner as she and Haley chat over coffee. Peyton's got Emily in her lap, and the little girl is playing with what she called 'pretty treasure' as it hangs around Peyton's neck. Lucas vaguely hears Haley tell Peyton that he did a good job, and he laughs because Nathan said the same thing about Peyton and the watch she bought.
She's never felt more like part of a family than she does with this group of people. Not since her mother passed away has she felt that. Keith and Karen joke at the kids' expense, and Deb spoils her grandkids rotten. Nathan and Haley moderate how many cookies Jamie and Emily eat, and Lucas wraps his arm around Peyton as they all sit down to watch A Muppet Christmas Carol.
She really is part of the family.
She finds herself getting more and more restless. She loves Karen, and she loves working at the café and talking to the people who live in her town. She feels at home here now and it has everything to do with Lucas. This is her home now. But she's young and she needs to figure out what she's going to do with her life.
Lucas comes home to find her sitting at his kitchen table, papers strewn about and her eyes fixed on her laptop. He has no idea what she's doing, but he laughs a little at the sight of her so relaxed and at home in his home.
"Whatchya doin'?" he calls out from where he leans against the door frame.
"Oh! Hey," she says. It's clear she didn't hear him come in.
"What's going on?" he asks. He takes the seat next to her and tries to read her writing on a few of the pages that are laid out in front of her, but she must have been writing in haste, because her words are illegible.
"I've just been thinking," she starts, turning her attention to him, "I really need something to do that doesn't involve serving tuna sandwiches. And you know, even though I love helping Karen, I can't do it forever, so I was thinking..."
"Peyton, slow down," he says with a smile, laying his hand over hers. He loves it when she gets all cute and rambly, but he knows she hates it.
"Well, when I was a kid, there was this woman in our neighbourhood who had her own studio, and she gave art lessons and stuff," she explains. "I was just thinking, there's nothing like that in Tree Hill."
He smiles, because even though she's said all along that she's not going anywhere, her opening her own business just means that she'll really stay in Tree Hill for good. Though he shouldn't really be questioning it, he's glad to get the confirmation.
"So you wanna open one," he finishes, flashing that smirk she loves.
"Well, yeah," she says, shrugging her shoulder. "I think I could really do it, Luke."
"Of course you can," he says, leaning over to kiss her. "You'll be great."
"Well, the only thing is that I have no capital to start a business, and I need to find a space big enough, and I was thinking I'd have like, a proper gallery or something, but...It's all going to cost a lot, and I don't have the money," she says.
He's silent for a moment, just looking at her as he thinks. Then he smiles and she looks at him questioningly.
"Yes, you do," he says. "Your house."
"Very funny," she scoffs.
"No, Peyton," he says, shaking his head. "Sell it and move in with me."
"What?!" she almost yells. "Luke..."
"I'm serious. You're here all the time anyway," he says, smiling when she rolls her eyes. "If you sold yours, you'd have enough money to at least get started."
"Are you serious?"
"I just said I was," he laughs.
"You really want me to move in?" she asks needlessly. "Because I am a disaster in the kitchen, and I hate doing laundry, and I leave stuff around all over the place."
"You think I don't know that already?" He raises his eyebrow and she drops her jaw momentarily before she lets herself smile. "What do you say?"
"I say...I love you," she says, leaning across the table and kissing him. He knows she's telling him she'll move in.
Her house goes on the market immediately and sells within a few weeks. She's drawn up a flawless business plan, and Deb invests in the studio, and the two women work out a system for Peyton to pay her back. The older woman is more than just a little impressed by how professional Peyton is, and she tells her so.
She finds the perfect space, essentially an old warehouse along the river. After some construction headaches, she's got a main gallery, two instructional rooms, and an office for herself. Lucas smiles proudly as he helps her paint the walls and move in furniture.
Not surprisingly, her first students are several of the kids she taught at the school, and soon enough, she's teaching classes in a few age groups. Elementary school kids with washable paints, high schoolers with charcoal, and adults with water colours.
She displays some of her own work in the gallery, and she's surprised when a few pieces sell.
She wonders why she hadn't done this ages ago, and Lucas tells her he's glad, because if she had, she wouldn't have moved to Tree Hill. She smiles and tells him she's not going anywhere, and he tells her he knows.
Lucas coaches his team to the state championship game. He's excited and nervous, and as he's straightening his tie and pulling on his jacket, he sees Peyton start to tear up. She's so damn proud of him that it catches him off guard sometimes.
"Good luck," she says as she throws her arms around his neck.
"Thanks," he says before kissing her. "Drive safe, OK? Traffic's going to be crazy."
"I'm getting a ride with Nathan, remember?" she assures him.
He's been forgetting little things for days, and she knows it's the nerves, and she's been ridiculously understanding and patient with him, even when he forgot to pick her up from his brother's house after she took care of the kids.
"Right," he sighs. "I'll see you there?"
"Yeah," she says with a smile. "Go be amazing."
He kisses her again and takes a deep breath before walking away from her.
He drives to the school and gets on the bus with his team, and he doesn't give the typical motivational speech. He knows his team, and he knows it's not the time for that. They're all plugged into iPods and listening to their choice of music, and he can remember that feeling from just 10 years earlier. Sitting on the bus, nervous as hell but trying to hide it.
He sits in the little office in the arena where the game is being played, and he can already hear the roar of the crowd echoing through the building, and when he steps into the locker room, he says a few simple words.
"You hear that?" he asks, pointing to the ceiling as it shakes. "Let's make sure that's all for us."
His players nod their heads and smile and take deep breaths, and they follow him out into the corridor. They're announced and they step onto the court, and it's pretty much all a blur from there.
They're down at the half, but they come back in the second and fight like hell, and by the last 30 seconds, they're just trying to kill time to hang onto the lead.
And they do.
The confetti falls and it all feels familiar. He searches the stands for his family, and they're already rushing towards him, with that girl with the blonde curls leading the charge. Nathan points to him and then presses his fist to his heart. Jamie's jumping up and down and Emily is covering her ears.
And Peyton's in his arms in record time. She says an excited congratulations, and he pulls away.
"Nice game," she says.
"Nice everything," he says, echoing his words from months ago after his first win of the season."God, I love you."
"I love you," she tells him. She kisses him again as his family - their family - gathers around them.
He knows it's the worst timing - or maybe the best - but he needs to say it and he doesn't want to wait, and he has been waiting. He doesn't want to wait any more.
"Marry me," he says seriously, looking into her eyes.
Haley's hand flies to her mouth, and Nathan looks to his wife as if to question whether or not she knew, and Karen wraps her arms around Keith's body.
They all know she won't say no.
She's shocked into silence. Her voice won't work, and she feels herself starting to tear up as he waits for her answer. She shakes her head but smiles, and she leans forward to kiss him, holding him even tighter.