A/N: It's the last chapter, you guys! Here's the less Disney-esque ending as foreshadowed throughout the New Year's Eve party arc. This chapter ties together all three themes of this story—"Just be yourself", "Baby, I always have a plan" and "Falling for you." It's also definitely more T-rated than the other chapters (just sayin').
Epilogue: "OK, I Admit It, I Lost My Dress"
I see a light in the sky
Oh, it's almost blinding me
I can't believe
I've been touched by an angel with love
Let the rain come down and wash away my tears
Let it fill my soul and drown my fears
Let it shatter the walls for a new, new sun
A new day has... come
Celine Dion, "A New Day Has Come"
I wake up to strains of sunlight warming my face. The very beginnings of a sunrise appear through the porthole in Cabin 8-102. Zack's arms are still wrapped around me, and it takes me a few moments to disengage myself. "Hey, baby," I say and kiss his lips softly. He barely stirs. Since he's never been a morning person, I decide to let him sleep.
Last night was really special, a night I will never forget, even before we fell into Cabin 8-102 after totally breaking the rule about public displays of affection in the halls. As I've told you before, a girl has to have some secrets, so the most I can say is that we did use a condom (seriously, Mom and Dad didn't raise that much of a fool!), I never imagined I could feel this way about anyone, or that someone would feel the same way about me, and nobody knocked on the door. I have to give Zack extra props for banning Woody from the burritos. I guess the best laid plans do work out sometimes.
As much as I'd like to stay here, it's 6:30 and I need to get back to Cabin 8-201. The hall monitor will soon be on duty, even though it's New Year's Day. Getting a detention would not be a good start to the year. I have no idea where my dress landed after Zack finally managed to undo the straps (probably I should have remembered that he can't even figure out Velcro shoes), so I pull on his grey jeans and the purple Brooklyn Bridge t-shirt.
While I'm hunting for my shoes, something shiny catches my eye, half-hidden by Zack's skateboard. It turns out to be my Kettlecorn snowglobe, with a tornado inside that blows a bunch of cows over a truck. I must have missed it while I was packing on Monday night. Good old Kettlecorn... I actually do love my home town, and my family and friends, but I am so glad I won't be heading there tomorrow on a Greyhound bus. I don't even want to think about how that would have felt. Happy thoughts are already crowding out any negative ones.
I put the snowglobe in my purse and cuddle up to Zack. "Happy New Year, boo," I whisper. "I'll see you at work in a couple of hours." His eyes flicker open and when we kiss, I nearly crawl back under the covers. It feels like we've erased the hurt, confusion, and misunderstandings at last. If I'm completely honest with myself, which is my new year's resolution, I can see that I fell for Zack on the first day of school, the moment he decided once and for all not to trade me for Woody.
Then I tiptoe to the door and close it quietly behind me.
"Well, well, well," I say seconds later. "I never thought I'd see the day when you'd be busted for breaking curfew." Nothing like pointing out the obvious to dispel a potentially embarrassing situation. I quirk my left eyebrow like a pro. "Unless, of course, Mr. Moseby forgot his pants somewhere again."
Cody makes a remarkably fast recovery. "You're one to talk," he observes, putting the keycard to Cabin 8-101 into his pocket. He's wearing the same clothes from the New Year's Eve party and his hair is slightly messy, which suits him as always. "Nice outfit," he adds.
Since honesty is now the only policy, I own up to this fact. "OK, I admit it, I lost my dress. London's dress, actually." I recall the way she glared at me on the Fiesta Deck. "I think she's mad at me for taking it from her trash."
"I wouldn't worry," Cody says. "She probably didn't even recognize it."
"Sooo..." I don't want new secrets complicating my domestic "bliss" with London. "Are you starting a six-month plan with my roommate?"
Cody looks away, but only briefly. "Yeah, I think so. It might be more of a three-month plan, though. I had to speed things up a bit after I got back here last night and heard all the noise. It was pretty obvious you and my brother weren't watching Cheerleader Pillowfights this time."
I'm just about to die of mortification when he rolls his eyes and says, "Bailey, I'm kidding. We saw Woody and Addison go to the midnight Mexican buffet, so she offered to let me stay over."
"Yay, you," I grumble, my face still on fire. It's too early for jokes like this, both in the day and in general. I'm going to give us an out. "Well, I guess I'll see you around. Maybe we can all watch Flowers & Chocolate on the Fiesta Deck tonight?"
"Hey, I have a better idea," he says.
The sun has reached the horizon when we get to Deck 13, sending golden streaks across the soft bluish black clouds. We stand side by side, elbows on the railing, watching the dawn of a new day and a new year. The sea sparkles below and the fresh breeze whips my hair around us. After countless sunsets on the S.S. Tipton, a sunrise is a refreshing sight.
"I'm really happy for you and London." I have to say it sooner or later, and not just because I mean it. "London needs a knight in shining armour, and you're perfect for that role. She must have been thrilled when you spent Christmas Day with her after her dad couldn't make it."
"Yeah, she was," Cody says reflectively. "And when she stormed away from the dance floor last night, I knew I had to go after her."
A light bulb flashes on in my head, like the final puzzle piece falling into place. Now everything makes sense—London's cold stares, my mini-meltdown, London and Cody's disappearance, Zack's suspicious questions while we drank our Holiday Happiness smoothies.
"Cody, I am so, so sorry," I say. There are those words again. "Seriously, I didn't mean to cause any crap to hit the fan. Especially after London spent all those hours getting dressed up, just for you. I just get really emotional whenever I hear "Brown Eyed Girl." It brings back all kinds of memories for me, first dates, barn dances, summer nights in Kettlecorn, other stuff..." That's as far as I can go without blushing to the extreme.
"It's OK. I understand." He looks down into my eyes and I know that it's true, we do understand each other.
The sun has climbed over the horizon now, turning the sky a brilliant orange. January 1, 2010 is going to be beautiful day.
"Thanks again for everything you did on Monday night, Cody," I say sincerely. "And by that I mean everything. Including the guy who knocked off my hat."
A smile plays on his lips. "No problem. Just promise me you won't let Zack flunk out of Seven Seas High, OK?"
"I promise." With my right hand I hold up the Wilderness Girl Scouts' honour sign.
Cody smiles for real this time. He puts his arm on my shoulders and I lean against him. Sunlight pours down as the sun continues its ascent. The sky is turning a pale blue and the stars have all vanished. Just knowing I have many more sunrises to look forward to on the S.S. Tipton makes me smile, too.
"Hey, Holly," Cody says suddenly. "Wanna play pool?"
I check my watch. It's only 7:30—enough time for at least one game. "You know me too well, Cody," I laugh and head for the stairs to the Sky Deck, my red hair streaming out behind me.
A/N: Tons of thanks for the nominations in the Suite Life Readers' Choice Awards (vote if you haven't already!), and for following this story to the end. I hope you liked it! Thanks to all the reviews and responses, I have plenty of ideas and motivation for a sequel. It will focus on the "Wizards on Deck" crossover and there will be some surprises. So keep a look-out for the first chapter before the end of September (hopefully!), or add me to your Author Alerts. In the meantime I'll be continuing to read and review. Inspired by tiger002's lost chapters for Separated, but Not Apart I will also post some alternate/early versions of chapters in a separate story.
On a personal note, your reviews, comments and overwhelming enthusiasm for Just One of the Guys really made my summer and gave me a major confidence boost in my writing skills. Today I am starting a course in screenwriting for television to learn more about this field.
Here's the rundown (again, sorry if I forgot anyone):
Reneyyy'Sprouse', tiger002 – your reviews inspired the lost article of clothing
All you Cailey fans out there (if you're still reading this! :) – the final lines are for you guys