A/N: Part three in my series of LP oneshots inspired by Taylor Swift songs and rain. This follows As the Lights Go Down and Kissing in the Rain. I expected this to be shorter than the previous oneshots, but it actually turned out longer. This time the song is Come in With the Rain; it's pretty angst-y, but I thought it was a necessary step in their story. I know I said this would be a trilogy…but there's going to be one more installment. This one is from Peyton's POV, and the next will be from Lucas', which will bring it all full circle. Reviews are lovely things. ;)

i. I could go back to every laugh

but I don't want to go there anymore

She can't help but think about all they could've had. They were so in love, with an attachment to each other that was so strong and so deep and so meaningful that, in the end, it scared them both away.

And now she just aches for it.

She feels alone and afraid and a bit like a failure. She's back at home but she feels more lost than ever. She's got good skills but no job opportunities. She's living by herself in her big, empty house like she used to in high school.

Her dad is gone. They made pizza together on his last night at home; she danced around the kitchen while The Beatles played on the radio, happy to make him laugh. They ate on the couch in the living room, old movies that her mom loved playing on mute on the TV in the background. She stretched out on the couch, resting her head on his shoulder and listening to his familiar voice promise that he loved her and wished for her to find everything she wanted and, the next day, he was gone.

Brooke's gone, back to New York and her successful life, her clothes and her money and her adoring fans. They spent their last night together hunkered down in Peyton's bed, whispering 'til dawn like they used to when they were kids. When they hugged at the airport the next day, Peyton had to force herself to let go.

Nathan and Haley and Jamie are one beautiful, happy family in Charleston, living their dreams. Joshua has gone back to Los Angeles and has hopefully found someone who actually deserves all his perfection. Her L.A. friends and ex-colleagues never call and rarely e-mail, caught up in their own lives.

Sometimes she sees Mouth and they get ice cream and take a walk, or she'll see Skills on the street and he'll instantly challenge her to a basketball game that he'll inevitably let her win. But those boys have got jobs and girlfriends and rent to pay. Peyton isn't their top priority and she knows that that's the way things should be.

Eventually, she tries to fill one of the many voids in her life by making frequent visits to her mother's grave. But after a few days, she realizes that her trips to the cemetery only increase her loneliness. She misses her mom and she's desperate for advice that she'll never get, sitting on the ground and talking to a headstone.

So she goes home and sits there all alone, pulling down the blinds and hiding away with only her hope and her heartache and her history for company.

Only those things and the man she can hardly bear to think about.

ii. and I

know all the steps up to your door

but I don't want to go there anymore

She finds herself hovering around him and avoiding him at the same time. She gives the river court a wide berth during the day, but that's where her feet guide her when she's restless in the darkest hours of the night. Occasionally she drives out to 'their' spot, lounges in the back seat of her car, reading his favourite novels and staring at the nimbus and cumulous clouds that glide lazily at the sky overhead. She sits in the sand on the beach at noon, watched the waves and allowing the sun to beat down on her back.

Though she keeps visiting all the spots that were sacred to their relationship, she only does so when she knows it's safe. She goes to the river court when she knows he's asleep, down to the beach when he's busy at his job, coaching high school basketball. She ventures to the river road when she has it on good authority that he's at away games.

Despite the fact that she's bit – okay, a lot – of a mess, there is something calming, almost peaceful about the place she's in, her current state of existence. She's stuck in limbo; waiting, yearning – but at least she's not investing absurd amounts of energy into convincing herself that this isn't what she wants.

That he isn't what she wants.

The simple fact that she's being honest with herself greatly contributes to her happiness.

Still, her friends and family are worried for her. Haley calls and plays psychologist, keeping up a steady train of casual conversation while artfully managing to slip in the occasional mention toward Peyton's wellbeing or he who no one dares to name. Brooke calls and begs her to "just give in to the sexual tension, already!" Nathan calls and gruffly threatens to kick his brother's ass, joking around and calling her a heartbreaker. Her father calls and pleads with her to find a new job – all this moping isn't good for her. She breaks down for the first time at the sound of the voice that comforted her throughout her childhood and insists that he doesn't understand how she's feeling.

"I do, baby," he tells her gently. "The way you love him…that's how I loved your mom."

At that, she starts crying harder – great, gasping sobs. Larry waits for her to get it all out before he speaks again.

"Peyton, you've got to do something, honey. Get a new job. Discover a great band. Get back into drawing. Find something to make you happy again. And if you think he is that something, you need to tell him so, you need to take a chance."

She chokes on her words. "But…but what if –"

"From everything I've seen and heard from you, not to mention from Brooke," he cuts her off, "I'm fairly sure things aren't really over. But if they are," he concedes, "then you're going to be okay, you'll be able to move on and find the right person. Either way, baby, you need to find out. I can't bear the thought of you sitting alone in that house everyday, wasting so much time. Life's too short."

She misses his rationale, his smiles, his hugs. And she knows, deep down, that he's right. She thinks of the sadness in his eyes after her mother's death and her heart aches on his behalf and on her own as she briefly considers herself to consider the boy she cares for so deeply.

"I love you, Daddy," she whispers into the phone.

"Find whatever, whoever, it is that you need, sweetheart."

Exhausted, she lies on her bed for a little while, sinking into her mattress and her pillows. Staring at the ceiling, she breathes deeply, thinking about her options, her choices. Her eyes ache from her tears and her body feels heavy, but her mind is all too awake. She feels rejuvenated, like her conversation with her father has finally clarified things for her.

She thinks of Ellie, of fairytale endings and enjoying the music. She thinks of Lucas, crumbling into her arms days after his uncle's death, aching to feel some sense of forever again.

She's scared. She's scared of the way she still feels about him. She's scared that it still won't be enough to keep them together permanently.

But life is too short. And even if this is the coda in the ballad of Lucas and Peyton…she's going to enjoy the music.

She falls into the lightest slumber, dizzily dreaming, or maybe just remembering, thunderstorms and lightning flashing in the sky, his lips overlapping raindrops on her skin. When she wakes up, she takes a shower, still thinking of the rain. Once she feels sufficiently revived, she gets out, squinting in the harsh light of the sun when she opens her curtains. She pulls on a deep green-and-gold dress that Brooke made specifically for her; it matches her eyes perfectly. She lets her curls air-dry into messy ringlets, grabs her purse, puts on her favourite piece of jewelry, and slips on a pair of heels before she heads outside.

She thinks she knows where she's going, and it would definitely be faster to drive there, but she walks because there's a detour she has to make.

Ten minutes later she's standing in front of his house.

It's funny, she can't help but think, that they're both here. They're the only members of their small group of friends who remain in their hometown. They've yet to fulfill their big dreams, to top the billboards with bands she's signed and to hit number one on the bestseller lists with books he's written. They're both all alone in their childhood homes. They're both in the same place.

But they're not together.

She knows he's at work, so she has the freedom to just stare at his house without worrying about getting caught, envisioning his life there, his life without her. Her gaze drifts to the steps that lead to his bedroom door. She thinks about the first moment they ever shared on those steps, her curls hiding her face, her fists jammed into the pockets of her leather jacket, the way her whole body seemed to shake, the combination of regret and longing on his face that practically tore her apart.

Life's too short.

Too short to live it as a bad person.

The heartbreak. And the sacrifice. Always, the heartbreak and the sacrifice.

Every moment afterward that they'd shared together on those steps – laughter and kisses and arguments and the sweetest smiles – flood her mind and she has to close her eyes, as if that could shut her memory off.

The heartbreak and the sacrifice. She's not ready to go back there. She's getting closer, she's getting braver, but she's not ready, not yet.

She tears her eyes away and carries on, heading for her initial destination. It doesn't take long for her to get downtown, to reach Tree Hill's main street. She stands across the road, allowing herself two seconds of doubt as she stares at the establishment, but then she sucks in some air, crosses the two-lane street, and steps through the door that announces her presence with the jingling of a bell before she can talk herself out of this.

The original proprietor is gone, taking in the world with her little girl and the man who loved her enough to wait for her, but there's still a familiar face behind that counter. The owner of that face has aged well; she straightens up and the pretty smile she wears is knowing – she's definitely been talking to her son and her daughter-in-law.

"Peyton Sawyer. It took you long enough," Deb Scott comments.

She feels the heat of her blush in her cheeks as she tucks her hair out of her face, shrugging one shoulder helplessly. "You need any help around here?"

Pausing to consider, Deb proceeds to edge at the forbidden topic: "You do know…that a, um…certain someone…still stops by here…often."

Peyton nods quickly. "I figured. Yeah."

Deb nods and tosses her a towel. "Dishes waiting in the sink." She looks the younger woman over for a moment and winks. "You look good, hon."

She scurries into the back before Deb can see through any of the other fronts she's putting on, relieved that this first task will let her stay hidden for a while.

But not forever, she knows, and she feels good about that.

Just before she submerges her hands in the soapy water, she pulls a diamond ring off of her fourth finger on her left hand and sets it aside, where she can see it as she works.

iii. talk to the wind, talk to the sky

talk to the man with the reasons why

and let me know what you find

Every single day, she prepares herself to see him. She wakes up every morning with him on her mind and gets ready for the day, drinking a mug of coffee in the time it takes her to shower, dress, do her hair, and put on her makeup. She doesn't eat real food until she reaches the café, she just needs something to get her going.

I'm telling you, P. Brooke writes in an e-mail, Pretty face, pretty hair, pretty clothes, pretty smile. You want to make him want you. And you want to make him regret every second he thought he didn't want you.

She follows her best friend's advice, partially straightening and partially curling her hair each day so that it falls in soft, perfect waves. She wears her best summer dresses, designed by COB or purchased in Los Angeles, dresses that showcase her long legs and her slender shoulders, the delicate bone structure of her collarbone and the curve of her neck, dresses that drip down just far enough in the front and maintain an appropriate-but-sexy length. She wears heels so that the sight of her legs has a greater impact; she's shamelessly aware that that will drive him crazy, her legs are his weakness.

But her new job is not just a fashion show or a waiting game. She works and she works hard – she's much more help to Deb than the high school kids who are working part-time over the summer. She washes dishes, clears tables, both makes and serves food. It only takes a couple days for the summertime regulars to greet her with familiar smiles and call her by name.

It's good to have company. It's an obvious boost to her overall cheer, exchanging pleasantries with her hometown's citizens, but even more so, it's surprisingly great to talk to Deb.

They never run out of things to converse about. They start with the things, the people, they're guaranteed to have in common, Nathan and Haley and baby James. Soon, they branch out to talking about Karen and Brooke and the brief period of history they shared when Nathan and Peyton were an item. It doesn't take long for them to easily talk of Peyton's life in L.A., Deb's life after her divorce, the innocently stupid and the not-so-innocent, entirely stupid things they both did as sixteen-year-olds. They laugh about the silly reality shows and late-night movies they both watch, alone in the evenings. Peyton's aware that Deb is dating someone, but the older woman never mentions him. Broaching the topic of romance is leading toward conversations revolving around the Scott men, the one subject they both studiously avoid, mostly for Peyton's sake.

She falls into a routine so utterly mundane that it would normally drive her insane, but she's strangely content with it. One day, he's going to walk through the door of that café and everything will change. Until that day, she savours the peacefulness of the current monotony in her life.

After work, when she arrives home, she kicks off her shoes and collapses on the couch, where she spends the next few hours. Her first task is to deal with her e-mail inbox. She writes first to her dad, whom she knows is glad she's keeping herself busy with a job, and who is also happy that she's got Deb in her life. "Just in case, honey," he says; just in case she loses her love this one last time.

Her next e-mail goes to Brooke, who's full of New York gossip and begging for the details of Peyton's relationship. She avoids Brooke's questions, laughs aloud, and signs off with a million little x's and o's. Then she writes to Naley and their little boy, wittily rebuking all of Nathan's typical remarks about how her reports of Tree Hill life are getting progressively crankier, and she clearly needs to "get some". She sends virtual hugs and kisses to little Jamie, scanning pictures she's drawn for him and attaching them to her e-mails. She and Haley talk about her job, a job that Haley knows all too well. Her friend teases her about moving backward in life, but she does it so lovingly that Peyton can't get angry. When she finally brings it up, Haley's reply comes within the hour: "Sometimes you need to go back to the beginning to get your happy ending." They talk about the café and silly stories from their youth, music and life in general, but never Luke, no matter how many not-so-subtle hints Haley drops.

Peyton brings home food from the café most days, which she eats on the couch as she watches faux-reality shows on MTV, rooting for her favourites to succeed. When the sun finally descends from the sky, she draws her curtains and heads to bed, listening to her favourite records until she falls into restless dreams, Lucas on her mind.

This goes on for a week, seven days. Even the weather doesn't alter.

Pathetic fallacy calls for a change on the eighth day.

Tree Hill is in the middle of a heat wave. The sun is relentless. There is so shade, very little cloud-cover, absolutely no wind, ever. For seven days she can bear it, but the temperature peaks on the eighth, dousing the town in a humid kind of heat that she can hardly breathe through.

She wakes earlier than usual, the sun too hot even through her glass windows and plastic-y blinds. She slept only in her underwear and kicked all her sheets off through the night, but she wakes up in a sweat, her skin fiery. She stumbles into a cold shower and can't bring herself to care about her appearance even when the freezing water shocks her system into wakefulness. It's too hot for coffee so she abandons that idea.

Her very favourite dress is hanging in her closet, waiting to be worn again, showing off her body in the best ways and highlighting her eyes, but she hates the thought of it sticking to her skin all day. Instead, she rifles through her bureau drawers, through the clothes she wore in high school and left behind when she moved to L.A. She finds a pair of super-short denim cut-offs and tugs them on before continuing her search. The only vaguely comfortable shirt she can find is a loose white tee. Knowing that it'll be see-through in the sun's harsh light, she digs right to the bottom of the drawer, hoping to discover a bikini top.

She does, but she's not sure if she can wear it. Stupidly, she stands there for a moment, sweat beading on her brow, just staring at the red, halter-style top of what used to be her favourite bathing suit.

This was what she was wearing under a black sweater on that night. That night in a shady bar all those years ago when she and Lucas finally gave in to all that they'd felt for each other for so long. The night he needed her and she tried to save him for once, the night he clung to her like she was his life raft and she begged him to feel something, to dance with her, the night they talked about the beauty of a rainstorm, the night they first made love, the night he said always, the night he practically proposed. That night.

A part of her doesn't want to put it on, but another part of her really does. She glances at the clock and sees that she's almost late for work; she doesn't have time for this internal debate. With a determined sigh, she puts the top on and pulls the old, worn-in, white t-shirt on over top. She pulls her hair, damp from both the moisture of water from her shower and the perspiration prickling every inch of her skin, into a messy ponytail, tendrils sticking to her rosy cheeks. She shoves her feet into some old baby blue flip-flops and forces herself out of her house.

Normally, she'd walk downtown, but it's far too warm. She gets into her car and drives to the café, the fierce sun glinting off the diamond ring she wears as her hands rest on the wheel.

"You made it!" Deb exclaims wearily when Peyton walks in.

She grimaces, wiping her brow. "This is…disgusting."

"Would you make some coffee, hon?" Deb requests as she sits at one of the tables in the empty café and fans herself with a menu.

The younger blonde can only blink at her incredulously.

Deb nods in understanding. "You might want to throw some ice in it," she adds with a smile.

"Yeah," Peyton breathes. She casts her apron a scornful look. She is not putting on another layer, no matter how insignificant, not today. She heads into the back to turn on the coffeemaker.

A couple customers straggle in; Peyton pours them cold drinks and they pay up before heading out into the heat of the day once more.

Halfway through the day, they've only had three customers. Deb is reading a magazine, listening to the radio. Peyton refreshes her pot of cold coffee wordlessly in the back. It's too hot for them to carry on a conversation; they've given up.

She hears the sound of the bell attached to the door announcing the presence of their third person who's braved the heat to reach the café. She heads out to serve, but she trips over her own tired feet halfway there, running directly into this customer, drenching said person in icy coffee.

"Oh, God!" she cries. "I am so –"

She stops short. She recognizes the chest under this coffee-and-ice soaked blue t-shirt. Her breath catches somewhere in the back of her throat as she blinks at those familiar abs.

"Peyton…"

The breathy whisper, full of surprise that is only partially warranted, is such an intimate memory of hers.

She looks up and meets the blue orbs she knows better than her own green eyes.

"Hi," she mouths the word because she still can't speak.

They're standing there in his mother's café on the hottest day in Tree Hill's recorded history. She just spilled iced coffee on his. She's wearing the dingiest outfit she ever could've put together and her hair is a tangled mess of curls.

This is not how she planned it.

And yet, she almost wants to smile. Because it seems so obvious that it would happen like this. Of course it would. And she knows in her heart that the details don't really matter, not at all.

What matters is that he's here. What counts is that he's looking at her like he wants her, or like he regrets thinking that he didn't want her for even a moment.

So smile she does.

iv. I'll leave my window open

'cause I'm too tired tonight

to call your name

Deb is pulled from her drowsy state by their noisy reunion of sorts. She grins to herself as she greets Lucas and assures Peyton that she can afford to take the rest of the day off.

"You may as well take that shirt off, Luke," she adds, gesturing to his stained blue tee. "It'll only stick to you all day, and you don't need that, not in this heat."

His eyes remain locked with Peyton's and she can only look back at him. Finally, she moves her chin in the slightest of nods and pleads with him via her eyes. The sooner her strips, the sooner they can get out of there and away from Deb's prying gaze. Seeming to sense this, he pulls the shirt over his head and hands it over to his brother's mother, who's busy talking about stain removal. She shoos them off and calls something to the effect of "Be safe!" as they exit the café, making Peyton's pink cheeks turn red.

They surrender themselves to the sweltering streets, their feet hitting the sidewalk in perfect sync as the move slowly under the unforgiving sun. For a while, they don't speak. She sizes him up in her peripheral vision and thinks about how ridiculous this is. Here they are with all this tension between them, sexual and otherwise, just walking down the street without saying a word to each other. She's wearing shorts that barely cover her ass and a gross old t-shirt; he's just wearing shorts and his leathery flip-flops.

She remembers sitting on his porch swing on days similar to today, curled into his side, here eyes half-closed as her skin darkened and her nose freckled, his hips on her forehead, his hand in her hair. She'd get up, stealing his flip-flops and wearing them to protect her feet when she went to get a popsicle for them to share and a book for him to read to her; the sound of his voice, skimming over every word in this incredibly sexy way, making her whole body buzz until she finally couldn't take it anymore, she'd have to kiss him.

"Peyton."

"Mm?" Her eyes widen as he stops short and turns to fully face her. His tone and his worried expression make it clear that this is not the first time he's said her name. "Are you okay?"

She takes a moment to think about her answer, because it's a complicated question. "I'm…getting there," she finally tells him honestly.

His blue eyes are bright and wide with surprise. "I…I meant…I thought you might've had heatstroke or something…" he trails off uncomfortably and she stares studiously at the ground. This, this right here, is one of the many reasons she's scared to take chances and put herself out there.

Lucas' fingers gently graze her arm and it's a bolt of electricity, more heat than her body can handle. He tucks his other hand under her chin, forcing her to meet his eyes, and her heart jumps.

"Let's go to the beach, okay? Get cooled down."

She looks at him imploringly, resisting the urge to reach out and wrap her arms around him and never let go. She's not sure if she can go there with him. That beach, to her, is a hug so perfect it feels almost sacred in her memories, sunny mornings and rainy afternoons, kissing him under the stars, the place where their relationship came to this impasse weeks ago.

"C'mon," he encourages her gently. He makes a gesture like he's going to take her hand, but then he decides against it.

The beach is crowded with townspeople seeking some relief from the heat. Lucas does take her hand when they get there, holding it loosely in her own as he guides her to the water, weaving a path between teenagers tanning on towels, families under umbrellas, kids constructing sandcastles. When they reach the surf he lets her go and she wishes he hadn't.

They wade in until the water hits his knees, a spot that's a little higher on her legs. The water isn't cold, it's just pleasantly cool.

She pulls her t-shirt over her head and tosses it onto the sand – she's wearing a bathing suit underneath, after all. She glances over at him, this beautiful boy she loves to very much, and sighs. Her chest rises and falls as she breathes deeply, tilting her head back and letting her face absorb the sun's rays. She opens her eyes and lowers her head only because she can feel him staring.

"You are so beautiful," he says quietly, almost reverently, his eyes never leaving hers. He says it like he can't not say it.

They're drawn to each other magnetically, movements slowed because their feet are in water. He places his hand tentatively on her chest, right over her racing heart, like he did all those years ago, and her body seems to pitch forward of its own accord, her forehead resting lightly at the hollow of his throat. She wishes they had more privacy because she aches to take this further, but she's also glad they're in a public place because the more sensible part of her knows what a bad idea that is.

His other arm wraps around her waist, pulling her closer, and he's whispering into her hair, lips brushing the shell of her ear. She can't decipher his words but that doesn't matter because she can feel their meaning. She curls into his chest, flattening one palm over his heart, which is pounding at the same tempo hers is.

"I love you," she breathes out shakily against his skin.

He doesn't hear her because at that moment a forceful wind picks up, whipping around them and sending her hair flying; thunder crashes overhead and lightning flashes across the sky as it begins to rain. She pulls back to stare at the sky in amazement as the occupants of the beach cheer and scream. He's staring at her.

They kiss. His lips fuse to hers almost roughly, and they grasp at each other desperately, she wraps her arms tightly around his neck and shoulders while he lifts her until she stands on her toes, bringing her body as close as possible. All of that tension between them is poured out, but it's still gentle. His tongue skims over the seam of her lips and slips into her mouth without any rush or ferocity, his hand cups the back of her neck tenderly. It's enough to make her cry, tears mingling with the raindrops on her cheeks when they pull apart for oxygen.

She half-smiles at him and breathes out, "We have to talk."

The rain stops then, just as abruptly as it started. The beachgoers complain and laugh and makes new plans. Peyton blinks the water out of her eyes and is startled to find that she can't understand the emotion in Lucas' orbs.

She means to whisper his name, but she feels so uncertain that her throat closes up and no sound escapes her lips.

"Come on," he mutters gruffly, his hands brushing her skin as he lets her go. He moves quickly and she's a mess of confusion as she hurries after him, grabbing her discarded shirt and running a few steps to keep up.

"Lucas. What –"

"I'll walk you home," he says, so firmly that it leaves no room for any other conversation.

They walk quickly and silently; the heat soon becomes unbearable again and it's an effort just to put one foot in front of the other, it's an effort not to scream and throw things and demand to know what's going on in his head.

He halts on the sidewalk in front of her house and he won't meet her eyes.

"D'you…do you want to come in…?" she offers hesitantly, utterly unsure about where they stand.

He shakes his head, still set on avoiding her gaze.

"Luke," she pleads softly, and he winces at the familiar intonation in that single syllable.

"I'm sorry," he finally says, simply and stonily. "We shouldn't have done that."

She takes from his words what she wants to say. "Honey," she says mutedly, a smile tugging at her lips. She's affectionate with him without even realizing it, no matter how appropriate or inappropriate it might be. "Don't be stupid, I…I wanted it, too. I just meant…I think we should probably talk first, you know, sort thing out? There's still so much between us that's –"

"No." He cuts her off with a word so short and sudden that she's taken aback. He inhales and continues, "I mean…I guess I mean that I shouldn't have done that."

The world tilts on its axis.

"I don't know if I…want this. If I want to do this."

"Luke, I…I came home for you," she whispers. "I'm here for you." Not wanting to push him, she amends, "If you need time, then take it – God knows I've needed time and…" She forgets what she means to say, trailing off and searching his eyes. "But I'll always –"

He cuts her off once more. "Maybe you came home for me, but you left here because of me. Peyt…" He shakes his head. "The way I get when I'm around you, the way I get when I lose you…Maybe you should take some more of that time you talk about and figure out what you really want."

She can't understand where this is coming from. "You, Lucas." She reaches for him but he backs away. "I want you. And I've tried so hard to prove that, I've fought so hard of you –"

"Fought for me?" His eyebrows fly up in mocking skepticism. "Bringing some guy here, that was fighting for me?"

Peyton sucks in some air, trying to steady herself. "Luke, when we were…when we were kids, sixteen, you gave up on us before we even had a real chance because I got scared. And then when we got together, it was hard but…I fought for it, for us to stay together. Don't pretend our breakup wasn't mutual." She hates that his words are starting to sound like accusations, that this conversation is quickly morphing into an argument.

He shifts his weight nervously from foot to foot. "And look at all the crap we've dealt with. What I'm trying to say is that I don't know if it's…if it's worth it anymore. I just don't know."

Her eyes water and her voice shakes. "It's like you said to me." She has to swallow hard before she can continue, "The very first night you and I were ever together on that beach, it's like what you said to me. You and me, Luke." She can tell that he wants to look away but neither of them does. "It's always going to be there." Catching a glimpse of the heartache she feels in his eyes, she whispers, "You used to know me so well, and I knew you the same way. When I told you how I felt, you always believed me. Most of the time I didn't even have to put things into words." A tear drips down her cheek. "What happened to us?"

Slowly, Lucas lifts one shoulder and lets it drop. "You left. People always leave."

"Luke," she says sadly, a plea in her words, her throat aching with sobs that are begging to be released. He turns to go, leaving her in turn. She wants to call out to him as he walks away but she doesn't have the strength.

She stands there, in the street, in next to nothing, staring at the place he just stood. After a long while she turns and goes inside, burying herself under all the blankets on her bed despite the heat.

And she reaches out to him in the only way she can.

That night, she starts leaving her front door unlocked.

v. just know I'm right here hoping

that you'll come in with the rain

She resumes her routine. She wakes up early in the morning and gulps down some coffee somewhere in between stepping into the shower and stepping out the front door.

It's her day off, but she's there anyway. Deb takes one look at Peyton, at her sturdy, darkwash jeans and her tightly pulled back hair, at her black t-shirt and scuffed sneakers, at her slightly puffy eyes. Deb doesn't say a word, she simply hands Peyton an apron and heads into the back to free one of the high school kids for the day.

The weather's the same, still hot, though not as brutally as it was the previous day. Her job is the same, she smiles at the same people, pleases them by correctly guessing their same old orders. Everything is so similar…and yet, so monumentally different.

She doesn't let the heartbreak set in until one of the regulars, a man in his sixties, gently and teasingly asks her what happened to the short dresses and high heels she wore, adding with a wink that he doesn't go to Karen Café everyday just because the food is good. She has to bite the inside of her cheek to keep herself in control. Her hope is gone, that's what's happened, that's what has changed. Her stupid naïve love has been disproved and the hope it produced is gone, and she hates herself for believing in things that should have ended long ago.

"Do you believe in soulmates?" she impulsively asks the man. She doesn't allow herself any time to think the question through.

His eyes twinkle. "Sorry, honey, I already found mine." The corners of his mouth turn downward when he adds, "And I lost her a couple years ago."

"I'm sorry," she whispers sincerely before breaking eye contact. She lets out a watery laugh and looks up, her vision blurry with tears. "Can I ask…how do you do it? How do you survive it?"

"Time," he says quietly, looking at her contemplatively. "That's what'll teach you to find the balance between remembering and forgetting."

"I can't…I…" She tried to forget. She tried to fall in love with someone else, she tried to build a new life, a life that involved all of her dreams but none of him, and she failed miserably. Everything came crashing down the moment she locked eyes with him, the second time she's experienced life-altering eye contact.

He sets a five dollar bill on the table, leaving a generous tip. "You're young," he tells her simply, "too young to even be thinking about forgetting. Besides, beautiful girl like you? A boy would be lucky to be considered your soulmate."

Peyton tries to smile at him, staring miserably at his empty table long after he goes. Deb comes to stand next to her eventually, gently touching her elbow. "Peyton. Why don't you take this day off, like you were supposed to? You need a break: get some rest, maybe give Brooke or your dad a call. I can come by after I close up."

She appreciates the sentiment, but it's not what she needs. She pulls her elbow away, whispering, "I'm fine. I'm going to be fine."

Over the next few days, Deb hovers over her. She doesn't ask any direct questions, but Peyton can tell she's just dying to know what went on with Lucas. She constant offers up her company, which is sweet, but Peyton always declines. She knows that something as innocent as dinner after closing would morph into an inquisition. Besides, she prefers to mope on her own.

Since Deb can't get anything out of Peyton, she resorts to questioning her daughter-in-law. Peyton knows that this happen, she can sense the change in Haley's e-mails, and her friend goes so far as to call her "just to check in".

Peyton's tired of herself. Her boring life is depressing her now that she doesn't have anything to look forward to. She slacks off on her e-mailing, allowing messages to pile up in her inbox. Brooke calls but she lets the machine pick it up.

She still brings home food each day – Deb won't let her leave without it even if she tried. She picks at it rather than eating it all like she used to. She finds that she's crying when her favoured contestant loses in the last round of the reality show she's addicted to.

In the later part of the evening, she sits by her open bedroom windows and watches the sun set. Her heart feels heavy in her chest, like it's sinking in sync with the sun.

From her window, she observes the summer evening activity of her neighbours. The demographic of her childhood neighbourhood has changed. A few elderly couples remain, but there's been a flood of young families settling into the houses around her, and it seems like everyone else is living in a house that's full of more love than it can handle. Retired couples hold hands while they sit on their porches, talking softly or sitting in that perfect silence that Peyton hasn't felt in years. Kids scamper through each other's backyards, throwing balls and frisbees, giggling and shouting into the night.

When the darkness hits, at that exact moment, that's when all the moments it practically hurts her to watch happen. One of the women sitting outside with her husband falls asleep with her head on his shoulder. Peyton watches a couple fourteen-year-olds share their first kiss on the girl's porch and her eyes well up before she forces herself to look away, not wanting to be such a voyeur. She watches fathers yell their kids' names and mothers hurry their children inside, pausing to hand out lemonade, bandage scrapes, and kiss foreheads.

It's all so very, very normal that is almost makes her grimace, though she can't deny that something inside of her cries out for that life that's so entirely average.

She realizes that life, that life of such simplicity, can be one of complete sweetness if it's done the right way. She's alone. She returns everyday to an empty house to carry out her pathetic traditions, solitary meals and only the television for company. But this life doesn't have to be so depressing. It could be good, it could be better than good. If she had the man she loves, and maybe a couple babies with curly blonde hair and bright blue eyes that Lucas would never be able to say no to, then maybe this life could be perfect.

In that moment, she knows why she came home. Deep down, that's all she's ever wanted. Music is great and art is wonderful, but her biggest dream is her simplest one. It's not that she's settling or bending down to something beneath her. Never before has she felt such a pull to be a wife, to be a mom. But it's not just that she wants those things, what she wants is to be his wife and the mother of his children. She wants him to be the one to bring her flowers when her label's successful or a gallery buys her painting, she wants to be the one he sweeps off the ground in the world's biggest hug when he learns that his novel is being published.

None of her big dreams matter without him.

Tears stick to her sweaty cheeks and she turns away, looking back into her room. She hates that she's here, sitting in her room being a creep, when she could have so much more. She hates that she ever let any of it go. And she hates that it's still so damn hot.

She reaches over and turns on her radio. She sits impatiently through the latest songs that every sixteen-year-old in America is obsessed with before the news comes on, followed by the weather forecast.

The announcer is much too cheerful as he announces that it's "Gonna be a scorcher tomorrow, folks! And the day after, and the day after…pretty much for the rest of the week! Maybe the month, wouldn't that be just nutso?!"

She throws a book at the radio, effectively shutting it off as it clatters to the floor, the plastic cracking. She's so sick of the sun. If she ever needed rain, if she ever needed romance, if she ever needed to boy who understood the beauty of it all, it's now.

She crawls into bed, defeated, leaving her window open. She stares outside until she falls asleep, hoping for rain. She wishes it'd fall through her window and into her room, into her heart.

Kind of like she wants him to.

vi. I could stand up and sing you a song

but I don't want to have to go that far

Haley outsmarts her. She calls way early in the morning, when Peyton's still dead to the world. She gropes for her cell without checking the caller ID and growls, "This better be important or I will kick your ass." She lets her head fall back to her pillow as she awaits a response and chances a glance out the window.

Even this early, the sun is shining. She sighs.

"Good morning," Haley trills, laughing to herself. "You're a hard girl to get hold of these days."

"I hate you," Peyton mumbles, grabbing her other pillow and covering her face with it.

"You know you love me," Haley replies confidently, because it's true, and even in her grumpy state Peyton can't deny it. "So…how are you?"

"Sleepy. Annoyed."

"Peyton," Haley says softly, her tone morphing into one of near-maternal concern.

She sighs heavily, admitting, "Not so good."

"You're avoiding everyone. We're worried."

"God, don't worry about me. You all have your own lives and your own problems to deal with."

"You'd worry about us if the positions were reversed and you know it, Peyton Elizabeth." Haley softens her tone. "Tell me what's going on, hon. What happened with you and Luke?"

"You haven't talked to him?" Peyton asks, sitting up in bed and hugging her pillow to her chest. A bird sings outside her window and she glares.

"He's being just about as evasive as you are. I called him late last night and he mumbled a bunch of crap about how it's just too hard or something."

"It is hard," Peyton confesses in a small voice, wishing her chin wasn't quivering. She's glad Haley can't see her.

"Aw, Peyton, I know it is," the singer sympathizes on the other end of the line. "I wish I could be there to knock some sense into you both."

She chuckles dryly. "I came back for him, Hales, and he…he basically told me I shouldn't have."

"He didn't mean it. You know that, right? He's just protecting his heart. Reminds me of someone else I know," she adds, gently but pointedly.

"I know. I know that. I told him so! I told him, that if he needed time, I could give it to him, because he's given me time in the past. But he said he couldn't handle…the way he gets around me, or something? The way he gets when he loses me…"

"He was devastated," Haley inputs softly. "When you went to Los Angeles…I haven't seen him so upset since…Keith."

Peyton squeezes her eyes closed. "I didn't die."

Haley stays silent in a wordless show of support.

"I just…we broke up. And I didn't know…I thought we were going to be together forever, but it wasn't just that naïve, teenage love, you know? It was more than that, it was real. He practically proposed when we were seventeen years old and he meant it."

"I understand, I promise. I've lived that love story," she adds, a smile in her words, referring to true love at a young age.

"I loved him so much. I…I love him so much."

"Honey, you have been in love with that boy since you told me you were on top of a roof after he had that accident only a couple months after you'd known each other. That's not going to change."

"Why doesn't he understand that?" Peyton asks desperately.

"'Cause he's scared. Lucas tends to…panic, and make stupid choices when he's presented with options, but…he's never really been on the other side in a relationship like that."

Peyton thinks over her friends words. "Are you saying that I went to L.A. in a panic? And that it was stupid?"

"Yes and yes." Peyton laughs and Haley continues, "But it's okay, you were heartbroken, and God knows he's done the same thing to you. He just needs some time to do what you did, to come to terms with the fact that you two…are meant to be."

"I don't know what to do…or how to…how to prove to him that I'm here for him, I'm back for him, and I'm not going anywhere. I don't want to wait forever, it's so hard, I… He kissed me, Haley. He took me to the beach, our beach, and he held my hand and he wouldn't stop staring at my legs and he told me I was beautiful and he kissed me and then he just…ran away from it all."

"I'm sorry," Haley laments. There isn't much else she can say.

"It is worth it," Peyton sobs, hiding her face in her pillow even though she's alone. "Everything we've been through is worth it, and I don't know how to make him believe that. I've given him up so many times, and I've tried to give us up, but I can't do it anymore because I've tried other things, other people, and I that…that he's it for me. But he won't…he's avoiding me and he's scared and I don't know…how to tell him. We always just understood each other, you know? I mean, there were words, but we didn't need them."

Haley's quiet for a moment, then she says, "You know…sometimes people write the things they can't say."

"Meaning?" she whispers, sniffling.

"Meaning…all the time, when I'm writing lyrics to my songs, some of my emotions always make their way in some how, even if I don't mean for it to happen and I don't notice it until the end. Maybe if you just sat down and tried to write something…you'd find the right words."

"And then what, give a speech? I can't just show up on his doorstep and bare my soul. First of all, he'd probably slam the door in my face –"

"Would not."

"And secondly, I can't go back there. I've done that, I did that, and I thought it was right…but it backfired, and that's what resulted in my being afraid of us for so long."

She remembers standing there so vividly, confessing that she wanted everything he wanted. And she remembers, so vividly, the way she felt when her brunette best friend appeared, a myriad of emotion that tore everything she'd just put out there to shreds, maiming her heart.

The heartbreak. And the sacrifice.

"Okay, that's fair," Haley tells her kindly. "Why don't you just…write it all in a letter and mail it?"

Peyton frowns and shakes her head, curls falling in her face. "I can't write him letters. That's just so…Brooke."

Haley bursts out laughing. "Okay, well, I'm sorry, but I'm out of ideas. You'll figure it out, though. Find a way to get the message across to him that's totally…Peyton."

She laughs weakly. "Thanks, Hales."

"You're regretting avoiding my calls for so long, aren't you?"

"Maybe," she says cryptically, unwilling to confess.

"Keep in touch, Peyton, okay? I love you, and so do Nathan and Jamie."

"I love you guys, too. Kiss those boys for me."

"You got it," Haley promises, smacking her lips near the phone in a kiss-y noise before she hangs up.

Peyton tosses her phone aside and sighs, looking around her room for some kind of inspiration as to what to do to communicate with Lucas. Her eyes fall on her artwork and she remembers what Haley had said about confessing that she was in love with Lucas over Karen Café that time he was in the hospital way back when. She grins to herself and flings off her covers, hurrying to get ready. She calls Deb and apologizes; she won't be able to make it into work today. The older woman sounds relieved that Peyton's finally taking a break and assures her that it's no problem.

Peyton gets dressed in leggings and a cotton, tunic style shirt, adding a belt to her outfit before she grabs her purse and hurries out the door. She doesn't look quite as fancy as she used to, but she looks good again.

She heads to what used to be one of her favourite stores in town and purchases all the supplies she thinks she could possibly need. She loads them all into the trunk of her car and pauses only for half a second to admire the way her ring sparkles in the sun. She hops back into her car and drives to her destination.

The river court is deserted, for which she is thankful. She takes out her paint and her brushes and heads toward the center, setting her things down and planting her hands on her hips as she stares at the tarmac, contemplating what she should draw and/or write.

In her mind she can still see that flaming heart encompassing his jersey number. She can still remember the care with which she drew it, as if loving him hard enough and making something beautiful enough to show it could cure him.

She wonders why it wasn't enough. She wonders why half a year later she convinced herself to pine for Jake and he convinced himself to love Brooke. She wonders why it's just not enough.

Letting her paintbrush fall to the pavement, she wonders if he's right, if it's really not worth it.

She shakes her head, clearing her head. It is worth it, she knows it more surely than she knows any other thing in her life. She shouldn't be here, doubting herself. She shouldn't be here trying to prove herself.

He should know. He should understand it the way she does, the way he used to.

She sits down in the middle of the court, crossed-legged, and puts her head in her hands. She's just going to have to wait until he realizes it. Until he knows her and loves her like he used to.

It's just like she told him after that accident, sitting in the hospital and clutching his limp hand, begging him internally not to leave her. She'd known even then that he was the one person who just couldn't leave her. It's just like she told him then, whispering to him in the solemn atmosphere of his hospital room.

She'll wait forever if she has to.

vii. and I, I've got you down

I know you by heart

and you don't even know where I start

She takes the next day off as well. Deb doesn't have a problem with her absence; she says that she'll miss the younger blonde, but she's thankful that Peyton's finally taken some time off to relax.

She's not exactly relaxing, though. She can't just lie in bed listlessly anymore. She finds herself roaming around restlessly instead. She walks by the river and ventures near the beach, but she doesn't let herself stop anywhere.

Downtown, she runs into Skills on his lunch break from his job as Assistant Coach at the high school. He's chugging Gatorade and carrying a bag full of basketballs, clearly on his way somewhere. "Sup, baby girl?" he asks, eyeing her appreciatively.

Smiling back hesitantly, she says, "Just…walking."

He smirks at her nervousness and comments, "Cool."

"Are you…"

"Alone?" He makes it easier for her. "Yeah."

"Oh." She looks down at the ground, taking a deep breath before she meets his deep brown eyes again. Earnestly, she asks, "How is he?"

"He's a'ight. Working himself too hard, though."

Automatically, worry surges through her. "Is he taking his medication?" she demands urgently.

With a nod, Skills promises, "I'm looking out for him."

Her heart is racing. "And he's okay, really?"

Skills shrugs and says bluntly, "Not as good as he was when he had you."

She sucks in air sharply and clenches her teeth.

Uncomfortably, knowing how strange this conversation is for them both, he adds, "Don't give up on him. I know, it ain't exactly my business, but –"

"I don't plan on it," she interrupts him, flashing a brief but genuine smile.

He grins, bumping his upper arm lightly against hers as he carries on his way. "Take care of yourself, P. Sawyer."

She walks back home after her brief conversation with Lucas' current closest friend, and she spends the entire duration of the trip trying to figure out whether Skills' parting statement was personal or something Lucas would have wanted him to say.

Does Lucas still care about her wellbeing? She's so mystified when it comes to his thoughts as of late. They fought and then they kissed. They kissed and then they fought. She doesn't really know what comes next, and apparently, he doesn't either.

Once at home, she gets in her car. All of her art supplies are still in the trunk. She tells herself she's too lazy to take them out, but in reality, she still thinks she might end up using them. If and only if it comes to that.

She drives out to their spot on the river road. She climbs into the backseat and puts her sunglasses on before sprawling out with her face tilted toward the sky. Sighing, she relaxes and allows herself to really feel. She thinks she might need to cry, but she decides not to. She wants Lucas, always has and always will, but she's going to try to stop that fact from torturing her quite so much. Wanting to share her decision, her minor epiphany, with someone, she grabs her cell phone and dials Brooke's number from memory.

"I am done crying over him," she announces assertively before her best friend can even speak.

There's a short silence before a familiar male voice asks, "Uh…Peyton?"

Her jaw drops and she quickly checks the number she dialed. Once she sees it, she groans and resists the urge to throw herself into the river. She puts the phone back to her ear and says awkwardly, "Josh. Hi. Wow. I am…so sorry, I must have dialed the wrong number. Well, I did, obviously, because you're there, I called you by mistake. I, um…I'm sorry."

He chuckles lowly as she rambles. "It's okay. It's actually…really good to hear your voice." He pauses. "It'd be pretty obvious that I'm not the guy you're referring to there, huh?"

"I'm sorry," she says yet again.

"It's okay."

"It's not. You don't deserve this. I didn't deserve you."

"Peyton. Stop. It's okay, really. And don't you dare say you're sorry again."

Her lips curve into a small smile. "Okay, then I apologize."

Chuckling again, he says, "So there's still…difficulty there?"

"Oh, Joshua," she says sadly, "No. You and I…we don't have to talk about that, about him."

"I know we don't have to," he replies patiently, "but you sound like you need someone to talk to, and you called me, accidentally or not. And I'm guessing you didn't get your happily ever after yet."

She blows out her breath. "Far from it."

"I'm sorry," he says, and she knows he's sincere because that's the kind of person Joshua is. "I'm sure it'll work out for you."

"Yeah?" she asks hopefully, "Why…why do you say that?"

"That guy is not done loving you, believe me. Peyton Sawyer is one hell of a hard girl to get over. I'm learning that the hard way."

"Joshua…"

"I'm sorry, that wasn't fair."

"Yes, it was."

"What I'm trying to say is that it'll work out. Maybe not easily and maybe not tomorrow, but it'll work out. You know that. You knew it after we'd been in that town, in the same place as him, for only hours. You knew it when you woke me up in the middle of the night and broke things off. You know that it's him and not me. Maybe you always knew, throughout our entire relationship."

"Josh, no," she insists, the smallest of lies, because sometimes she'd forget, she really would. She closes her eyes and sighs; her throat is tight when she speaks again. "I wanted to want you. You're such a great guy, and if Lucas had never been in my life…"

"Don't go there," he interrupts, sounding a little hurt and a little bitter for the first time in their conversation. "Because he was, and he is."

"And he's…everything," she agrees softly.

"You may have wanted to want me, but you know that you want him."

"Yeah, I do know." Her eyes water and her throat aches. "So why doesn't he?" She sniffles into the subsequent silence. "I'm not crying," she whispers fiercely.

Josh's voice is gentle on the other end of the line. "Okay," he says simply. "Okay."

viii. talk to yourself, talk to the tears

talk to the man that put you here

don't wait for the sky to clear

She stays there for a while, and not long after she hangs up with Joshua, she sees a car that sparks recognition in her mind.

Lucas gets out, frowning as he walks over to her. He stands by her car and for a moment, they don't speak. Finally, he clears his throat, but she's the one who ends up talking.

"Hi," she says, surprised by how gravelly her own voice sounds. She sits up a little in the backseat of her car, pulling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms loosely around her legs.

"Hey," he mutters, looking toward the river before turning back to her. "You come here?"

She swallows hard, unable to believe he's actually asking her that. She speaks softly and purposefully: "Luke. Of course I do."

"You come here and you…cry here?" He's trying to figure her out.

Peyton takes a deep breath. Her eyes are aching and she's sure they're red, her cheeks feel tight with tears that have dried on her skin, and her nose is probably pink, too. There's no point in denying it. She just shrugs and squints at him in the sunlight. "What're you doing here?"

He sighs, scuffing his toe in the gravelly road. "I guess…the same thing you are."

Her heart melts. "Luke, I…I want us to work. And I want to be able to say to you whatever it is that you want or need to hear from me but you…you've got to help me out."

He rubs the fact of his neck, that old nervous habit of his. "Peyton, I…I don't know if I want it to work out. It took me a long time to…to get over it, when we broke up, and you left. I guess I never seriously thought that would happen."

"Neither did I," she whispers.

Lucas sighs. "And now…now I have a life and you have a life and…maybe they should just stay separate."

She laughs bitterly. "Lucas, I do not have a life." She sits on the upper part of her car, her feet resting on the backseat, so that they're at eye level. "I do the same boring things every day. I'm bored and I'm tired and I'm lonely. My life is not the life I wanted. Do you…do you remember what we planned, all the things we wanted? Your novel and my music and that old house on Chapel St. with the room above the garage that I could turn into a studio and that Victorian tower, that little room you could use to write in, and the balcony off the master bedroom. Luke, we talked about our kids and our wedding and the vacations we could take…don't you remember all of that?"

"Of course I remember all of that," he says, as though it hurts him to think about it.

"So…okay," she manages to reply. "If you…if you don't want all of that anymore, if you…if you think you could have it with someone else…if…if you're really over it, then…okay, I guess. But I don't have the life I wanted Lucas, not separate from you, and I never got over it." She holds his gaze and pleads with him with her eyes.

He tears his eyes from hers, desperate to look at something else, to not have to confront what she's telling him right at this moment.

"I'm being honest with you," she says softly. "I'm trying to tell you, I am telling you, that I want you. I want us. I'm telling you that I still lo –"

He cuts her off abruptly, his eyes trained on her hands, "You still wear it."

Taken aback, she follows his gaze, and gasps when she realizes that his eyes have settled on the diamond ring on her left hand. Her thumb slides against the band of it hesitantly as she looks back up at him. "Yeah, I still wear it."

Lucas' eyes flash. "You wore it when you were with him?" he asks sarcastically.

"No," she agrees softly, "I didn't. But I'm wearing it now."

He groans. "It's not as simple as that, Peyt!"

It warms her heart just a little bit to hear him shorten her name. "Luke," she says quietly, feeling tempted to smile. "I've been where you are, don't you remember? I've been scared of us, of you and me, and how simple you made it out to be. But it is that simple, it can be that simple. It makes more sense than anything else."

"Peyton, we can't," he says firmly.

"We can."

He sighs heavily. "Maybe we can, and maybe you will, but I won't." He takes a deep breath as if he's shocked by his own words before repeating quietly, "I won't."

Her heart twists in her chest and it gets harder to breathe. She presses her lips together as she tries not to cry. "So that's it, then? That's it."

"You should have stayed in L.A.," he mumbles, turning away.

She shakes her head. "That would have been stupid, because I wasn't happy, and it wasn't what I really wanted. And you promised me always!" she yells hotly, holding up her left hand to display the ring. "But apparently your definition of always has changed, huh?"

"It changed when you left!"

"After we broke up, Lucas! After you broke my heart and I was falling apart."

"You still left! You gave up on always before I did."

"I didn't give up," she cried. "I came back!" That's what counts, the fact that she came back, and she wishes so much that he'd find it in his heart to understand that.

"Well, you shouldn't have, and it doesn't count." His eyes seem to pulse, that perfect blue, in tune with her pounding heart. "Like you said, that's it. That's it, you and me, we're done. It's over."

Her tears spill over, she can't help it. If this really is it, she figures she's allowed to cry over him one last time. That thought triggers another onslaught of tears, because she never truly thought that things would really be over with him. "Fine," she whispers, a sob welling in her throat. "I guess it's over." She meets his eyes for a split-second, full of pain, and sees that his blue orbs are watering, too.

"Peyton…" he begins softly, almost regretfully.

"No. If it's over, then it's over." She swings her legs over the side of the car and hops down, wiping at her eyes. "I'll just go." Her voice cracks on the last word.

His hand cups her elbow delicately as she brushes by him and a sob escapes her lips.

"You can't drive like this," he says.

She wrenches her elbow away, insisting that she's fine, and gets into her car.

"Peyton –"

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, (she's too much of a mess to really know which), he doesn't need to say anything more. He doesn't need to say anything more because the second she turns the key in the ignition, a cloud of smoke plumes into the air. It's déjà vu on so many levels that she can only bury her face in her hands. It's reminiscent of their first meeting and their last breakup and a million moments in between.

Lucas' hand rests so tentatively on her back that she can barely feel it, but she knows it's there. "I'll drive you home," he says quietly.

Her hands are wet when she pulls them away from her cheeks. "What the fuck is with this road and my stupid car?" she cries.

"C'mon," he murmurs, opening her door for her, and she's reminded of a sixteen-year-old boy in jeans and a red t-shirt, fixing her car, fixing her heart.

She knows she doesn't exactly have another choice. She gets out and lets him guide her to his car. She sits in the passenger seat with tears on her cheeks and her arms crossed over her chest. She cries all the way back to town, not even bothering to hide her tears from him. She tilts her head forward and lets her curls fall in front of her face, but she knows that that's not going to fool him.

He doesn't say a word. She can feel that he wants to; the sight of her crying has always been unbearable for him. But he doesn't. He doesn't say anything, but when he stops at a red light he tucks her hair out of her face, fingers lingering against her cheek, and when he pauses at a stop sigh his hand brushes against her arm.

Peyton hates that he can say that it's over and still touch her like that.

They sit in silence for a couple moments once he pulls up in front of her house. She doesn't really want to get out of the car because it'll mean that it's the end.

After a moment, she takes a deep breath and ignores the tear that rolls down her cheek, pulling the ring off her finger and turning to face him. She grips it tightly between two fingers, holding it out to him. "Okay. Lucas, if this is over, then for God's sake, will you please just take this back?" Her hand is trembling as she holds the ring in the air between them. "Take it back," she repeats when he doesn't react. "Please," she whispers once more, noticing how tightly he's gripping the steering wheel. She looks down, away from his face.

Finally, he moves, but she still doesn't look up and she knows that he's not looking at her. His hand reaches out, warm and gentle as it closes over hers, forcing her to envelope the ring in her palm. She can feel the diamond digging into her skin but it doesn't hurt. It feels like their initial breakup all over again, and that feeling is reinforced when he finally speaks, his voice hoarse.

"Keep it," he says firmly, and she squeezes her eyes shut but her tears fall anyway.

It wasn't over then.

It isn't over now.

ix. I'll leave my window open

'cause I'm too tired tonight

to call your name

Lying in bed that night, she thinks about how ridiculous that it is that one boy, one man, can make her feel this much. She's cried more tears over him than he probably deserves.

The thing is, it's not that he's just a man. She doesn't need a man to be happy, she knows that. She lived independently for a long time, she's capable of self-sufficiency.

She doesn't need a man to be happy, but she needs Lucas. And thinks that he needs her, too, that they need each other.

That thought sparks a myriad of other theories in her emotionally exhausted man. Maybe she's expecting too much from him. He has always been there for her, and maybe now she needs to be there for him. He told her once that she always saved him back; it might be time to prove that those words are true. She doesn't need to find him and he doesn't need to find her and they don't need to find themselves, they need to find each other. She's been waiting for him to realize everything that she knows, waiting for him to come to her.

She thinks she needs to meet him halfway.

She throws the covers off her body and glances frantically at the clock. She doesn't bother taking the time to get dressed, she simply gathers her hair into a messy bun as she rushes down her stairs.

She takes two steps out the door, and it's only then that she remembers that her car is still sitting, abandoned, on the river road. She pauses to think for only a moment. It's past eight and stores in Tree Hill close around six p.m., but if she's lucky, someone might still be around. Without another thought, and without letting herself change her plan, she starts running. It's more of a jog, really, and she knows she must look ridiculous, heading downtown as fast as her tired feet with carry her. She's not wearing shoes and that slows her down – she's careful not to step on any sharp rocks or broken glass. She really must look crazy, running toward main street in an old Tree Hill Ravens dark blue t-shirt that's about three sizes too big and a pair of tiny red cotton shorts, but she can't find it in herself to care.

The owner of the store is just closing up, and she breathlessly begs the woman to let her in to buy just a couple things. She receives a skeptical, worried look, and a pointed glance at the No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service sign, but the owner knows her from her artistic days in high school and Peyton puts on her best puppy dog face and in the end she's allowed entrance. It's relatively obvious that she's there for an important reason.

She grabs some black and red paint and a couple of brushes. As the owner accepts her cash, she points out that Peyton bought the exact same things yesterday, amongst others, and that this seems like a waste of money. Peyton explains that it doesn't matter and it's okay, and the owner just shakes her head and tells her to take them for free, and to get out of there before she changes her mind. Peyton grins and thanks her profusely, grabbing her supplies and rushing out.

The river court isn't too far away, but she speed-walks there, impatient to get to her task. She sits down on the tarmac in her shorts and her oversized t-shirt and sighs, smiling as she gets to work.

She knows what she's going to write. Maybe she always knew, because there's not really a question about it. She writes easily and fairly quickly in smooth, artistic strokes. Underneath her heartfelt words, she draws that famous flaming heart in red. Then she sits back, stargazing and just thinking as she waits for her masterpiece to dry.

When the sun starts to rise, ready to heat the town mercilessly for yet another day, she gathers her things and stands up to asses her handiwork. She can't help but smile. She's satisfied. Yawning, she gathers up her things and begins to walk back home in her pyjamas and her bare feet.

In the very middle of the court, above that flaming heart, it says, I Will Always Love You. She could've written out every word of the song, but she wasn't willing to go that far. She knows that he'll understand. He'll know that she's talking about the song by The Cure, not Whitney Houston. He'll know what all the other lyrics to the song are and he'll know what every single one of those words means to her, and to them.

She thinks that there's a sweet, gentle kind of coincidence, or maybe fate, in that name of her very favourite band. The last time she was here, painting on this court, she was searching for a way to cure him. Now, she's asking him to cure her heartache. Maybe they were always meant to save each other.

He'll know all of that. They may not connect on every single level anymore, but she knows with certainty that he'll understand what she's saying in those five important words.

They'll find each other. They'll meet halfway.

x. just know I'm right here hoping

that you'll come in with the rain

Something about sitting in her window, staring out into the street late at night, makes her think of love. Of Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet and love doomed from the start. The story of Rapunzel and the prince who climbed her hair to save her.

But Peyton isn't trapped. She's just waiting.

She listens to The Fray on vinyl, the record spinning slowly on the other side of her room, and thinks about literature and love, and about Lucas. She props her chin in her hand and thinks about how she once stared desolately into the street thinking about Jake. The thought of that boy, his sweet smile and his amazing music and his adorable baby girl, makes her reflective. She wonders what's happened to Jake.

And she wonders how she could ever make herself think she loved him. She knows what love is, and it's not what they had. It's what she had and wants to get back so badly…with Luke. Being with Jake, even being with Joshua, had made her feel moderately happy and relatively safe. Some people would have settled, some people would have taken what they could get.

Peyton couldn't. She remembers her mother and father, standing in the doorway of this very room after tucking her in and kissing her goodnight. Her mother would lean into her father, her father would kiss her mother briefly and chastely, and in the single look they shared Peyton could see so much love.

She hadn't known that that had been what she was searching for until she'd found it with Lucas. And afterward, nothing could compare. Her mother's death and her father's long, continuous absences left her alone, defensive, and lost, and Lucas had turned all of that around.

Lost and found. Scared and then safe. Happy, compared to the crazy sense of ecstasy she felt with him. So much love.

He had her wearing an engagement ring when she was seventeen years old. He had her dancing in her bedroom to cheesy old music, waking up in the morning with a smile on her face. He had her gushing over thunderstorms, baking for him on Saturday afternoons, sleeping in his bed just to be close. He had her believing in all those clichés about love.

And now he's got her gazing at the stars out of her window like the heroine in their very own romance.

The sky is utterly clear. It's beautiful, she can pick out several sparkling constellations, but she wishes for a rain cloud. She wants to reach the point in the story where the hero sweeps his girl off her feet and kisses her senseless in the middle of a storm, the point where he whispers always in her ear and she says it back right away…

Because this time they're going to keep their promise.

xi. I've watched you so close

screamed your name

I don't know what else I can say

It takes another week for him to come back into the café. On the day he arrives she's wearing her best dress and her flirtiest heels; maybe it's coincidence, maybe it's fate.

"Coffee, please," is the first thing he says to her, clearing his throat nervously.

She makes sure he can see her ring when she places the mug in front of him. "There you go. Anything else?"

He nods but doesn't specify what. There's an unmistakable twinkle in his eye that has her heart fluttering instantly. "Do I need to pay for this?"

Peyton shakes her head slightly and gives him the ghost of a smile, leaning into the counter as she speaks to him. "It's on me."

He throws back half the contents of the mug and sets it down forcefully afterward as though he's taking a shot, and she smirks in spite of herself and all her uncertainty.

"You look amazing today," he says quietly. "I mean, you look amazing everyday, but…"

"Not so much when I'm wearing a grungy old t-shirt and cut-offs."

"Nah, you look amazing even then." He presses his palms flat against the surface of the counter that separates them as she blushes. "I shouldn't have kissed you that day, Peyt."

She tears her eyes away and mutters, "We've been over this."

"That's not what I mean. We just…we should have done things differently. Seeing you again was just so much and everything got…out of order."

Peyton shrugs one shoulder. "We both should have done a lot of things differently," she whispers meaningfully.

"I'm sorry. Some of the thing I said were…"

"Luke, it's okay. I've been there, in that place, and it's hard to like yourself…never mind anyone else."

"No, it's not okay," he insists, locking eyes with her. "I said it was over and it's…"

Gently, with both hesitance and tenderness, she lays a hand over one of his. "Truce?" she offers. She doesn't want him to beat himself up over this. It doesn't matter if he apologizes or not, she can see in his eyes that he's sorry and she just wants this conversation to move forward.

He flips his hand over under hers and clasps her hand tightly, his thumb stroking the band of her ring. That gesture makes her stomach flip as he says, "I missed you. God, I missed you so much that it hurt, and I just started taking it out on you, and I shouldn't have…because I missed you."

She stares at his hand holding hers. "Can we be okay?" She asks the question aloud, but she's talking more to herself than she is to him. "Can we be…like before?"

"You said you never got over it. Neither did I. Peyton, God, I said it wasn't worth it but it…really, really is."

She leans forward slightly, her free hand covering her face, her features scrunching up as she tries to hold back tears.

"Peyt." His voice is an apologetic hum as he reaches out to her, gently touching her cheek. "Baby, I'm sorry. I saw you back here with that guy and I kind of lost it because…I don't want to sound like a caveman, here, but I've always thought that…"

She bites the corner of her lip and smiles at him with her eyes. "I'm yours," she assures him quietly. "I am."

"And I'm yours," he replies. "I read the river court and it struck me, it really can be that simple, and it is. I love you, Peyton, always have and always will. Does anything else really matter?"

Tears dripped down her cheeks and onto their entwined hands.

"Shh, Peyt –"

"Luke." She met his eyes, overwhelmed by an anguish that had risen inside of her so abruptly that it startled even her. "I want to say it back, so bad, but I really don't know if I can right now." Sometimes she can't figure out if she's giving herself to him or if he's just taking her.

"I…" He swallows hard. "I get it. These past few weeks, I've hurt you…too much."

"That day…after we broke up. In the morning, when I was in your room, I should have stayed there for…for five more minutes. And everything could've been different. Everything should have been different."

His fingers trace the contours of her face lightly, as if she's breakable. "I didn't mean to make you think that everything was your fault. Our breakup was mutual, like you said."

"But I loved you."

Lucas smirks as if he knows something she doesn't. "Sometimes that's not enough…"

"But we're here, we're back here."

"…and sometimes it is," he concludes, squeezing her hand.

She looks at him for a long moment before she sighs. "This is ridiculous. I waited for you and now I'm making you wait for me."

"It's okay," he says soothingly, "It really is."

Peyton shakes her head stubbornly. "We've waited long enough, Luke."

"So waiting a little longer won't kill us." He cups her cheek in his palm and leans across the counter to kiss her forehead. "Whenever you're ready, I will be, too," he whispers against her skin as his lips skim toward, dropping a kiss on her nose, then her cheeks, then the corner of her mouth.

She inhales. He smells so good and feels so good and his words sound so good. "I…I'm working," she tells him regretfully. "I have to get myself together."

"Okay." He strokes her wet cheek with his thumb before smiling and winking at her. "I'll be seein' ya."

It's an effort to release his hand, to let him go, but the smile that lights up her face forms without effort. "Hey, Luke?" she asks casually just before he leaves the café. He turns back to face her and she busies herself with rinsing out his mug. "I leave my door unlocked," she says simply, not even bothering to look at him.

She says it like it's nothing, but it's everything.

He nods slowly, comprehending what she means. They don't say another word to each other, but that's okay because they don't need to. She feels like jumping up and down: he's understanding her again.

There's a shift when he opens the door as he goes. The air is cooler; wind whooshes in aggressively, ruffling tablecloths. It's humid and full of moisture. She looks outside and sees that leaves are dancing on the street.

She turns on the radio just in time to catch the weather forecast, and the cheery announcer says, "Well, folks, looks like the dry spell is coming to an end…"

Peyton smiles to herself, glancing out the window as she runs water for the dishes.

Its going to rain.

xii. but I'll leave my window open

'cause I'm too tired tonight

for all these games

She calls Brooke when she gets home.

"Hey, girlie!" her best friend chirps when she answers the phone. "You're finally making contact, thank God! I was starting to think I'd have to fly out there just to make sure you were alive."

"Sorry," Peyton replies earnestly. "I should've written to you, to all of you. I was being immature."

"No, hon, you just needed some time. It's fine. Now tell me why you've finally deigned to call me."

"Deigned. Nice word," she comments, impressed.

"Yeah, well, dating this movie producer guy has improved my vocabulary somehow. Now stop stalling and give me the dirt, P. Sawyer."

"We talked today."

Brooke squeals. "Were you wearing the dress?"

"I was wearing the dress," she confirms, "totally by coincidence."

"No such thing. So…what did you guys say? Tell me everything!"

"We both kind of…apologized. And admitted what we've been feeling."

"Don't give me that casual bullshit, Peyton Elizabeth. You are so overjoyed right now!"

"Maybe a little," she admits with a grin.

"What else, what else?" Brooke demands impatiently.

"He…told me he'd wait for me like I waited for him, and then I cried and told him that I don't lock my front door."

"Oh my God!" Brooke practically shrieks. "You are having sex tonight!"

"We are not."

"Um, yeah, you are."

"The thing is…" She flops down on her bed. "You're right, I'm overjoyed, but I'm also scared."

"Oh, honey. It's obvious that he loves you. So just give in and love him back already."

"But what if things don't work out again? That broke me, and I had to work so hard to build myself back up. I left another life for him."

"Yeah, because you knew he was worth it." Brooke sighs. "Peyton, you will never forgive yourself if you don't try again. I will never forgive you if you don't try again. It's going to work out – you guys are meant to be! And if, by some crazy freak incident, it doesn't, I promise that I will be there to help you pick up the pieces."

Peyton's eyes fly to her window; she's instantly distracted. She leaps up and rushes over, throwing the window over. "It smells like rain," she breathes.

"Peyton?" Brooke's voice asks. She sounds impossibly far away. "Sorry, I don't think I understand…"

Thunder crashes in the sky and then it starts, millions of water droplets falling from the sky. Peyton sticks her hand out the window and lets them fall against her palm.

"It's raining, B. Davis," she tells her friend, almost in awe.

"Honey, you've lost me."

She shakes her head to clear it and laughs at herself. "Sorry. I guess it just sort of feels…like a sign."

The brunette's smile is evident in her words: "P. Sawyer, you can't deny always. You can fight it all you want…but you can't deny it."

She bites her bottom lip to keep from grinning. "I've got to go."

Brooke's voice is a mixture of concern, excitement, and approval. "Hell yeah, you do."

xiii. just know I'm right here hoping

that you'll come in with the rain

It's not until she's sleeping soundly, covers kicked off, wearing nothing more than camouflage sleep shorts and a clingy green tank top, that he shows up.

He crawls in through her window, which she left open so that she could listen to and smell the rain. He's not exactly quiet in his entrance, and she wakes up just before he yells as he topples to the floor, and she screams because for a second she thinks he's not, well, him. But then she sees who it is and her heart rate slows down as she hurries to his side, crouching on the floor next to him.

She's a bundle of nerves and laughter, fear of what comes next and joy for him falling into her window soaked from the rain, as she cries, "Luke, oh my God, are you okay?!" Her hands skim over his arms, rising upward to touch his cheeks.

He sits up carefully, staring at the floor in concentration as he monitors all of his body parts. "Yeah, I think so," he finally says breathlessly.

Peyton starts giggling as she gets into a more comfortable position at his side, she can't help it. "Smooth, Romeo," she teases him dryly. "Very stealthy."

"Hey, now. I had to climb through your damn window because your door was not unlocked."

She claps a hand over her mouth. "Oh, God, I'm so sorry. There was this thing on the news earlier about burglaries in small towns and…" She trails off, grinning at him. "And you don't care, do you?"

Lucas shrugs, grinning back. "I'm glad you're staying safe."

Her heart is pounding. "You're here," she says softly.

One of his hand traces up her calf and comes to rest on her knee, inching higher at a slower pace. "I'm here," he confirms.

Peyton can't catch her breath. "I don't…I don't know what happens next," she admits.

They shift their positions; she follows his lead. They sit crossed-legged, facing each other, and his hands land lightly on her hips, fingertips sneaking under her shirt. "I think," he says in a low voice, "what happens next is that you think it's incredibly romantic that I'd attempt to climb through your window in the middle of the night because I couldn't want to see you. And then you'd say that you love the rain, that it reminds you of romance and it reminds you of me, and then you'd promise me that I look sexy as hell right now and not like a drowned rat." He smirks softly. "How'm I doing?"

She threads her fingers into his dripping hair. "You kind of look like a lost puppy." She lowers her hand so that she's cupping his cheek, cradling his face in her palm. "But everything else sounds perfect." She inhales deeply. "And then what do you say, after I tell you all of that?"

"Then…I say that every single time it rained when we were apart, I missed you that much more. And I say that I love you, that you are my past and you're the only person I can imagine a future with, and that I was a huge idiot to ever lose sight of those facts." Their eyes lock and his blue orbs are dark, smoldering. "I say that it's you."

She doesn't have to ask any more questions or wait for any more cues. She grabs a fistful of his shirt and pulls him into a bruising kiss. It's desperate and frantic and she finds herself leaning back until she's lying on the carpet, his hand catching the back of her head before it can hit the floor. She needs more air than she's getting but it doesn't matter. When they do pull away from each other, it's not for oxygen, but instead to whisper against each other's lips, their words and their breath colliding, coinciding.

It's always been you, he murmurs passionately, and it's everything she's needed to hear.

They can only hope that it's enough.

I could go back to every laugh

but I don't wanna go there anymore