Here it is, the final chapter. The end. Enjoy.
For days I laid in bed regretting the fact that a week after my lunch with Billy I'd be coerced into agreeing to have dinner with the Campbell family. Dread filled my being, consuming my every facet as the date grew closer. The night before the doomed dinner I called Shannon and demanded her presence.
"Part of me is surprised you're actually going through with this. You must really love him-ow! What the hell? What was the for?"
"Loved. I loved Matt," I grumbled.
My best friend dove into my closet with all the grace of a dancer. She resurfaced half an hour later with an overflowing bundle of clothes in hand. Tossing the garments on my bed, she spun on me placing her hands on her hips. "Alright, get naked."
One blush and a smart comment later I began to strip. Shannon had snagged three dresses, two jean-blouse combos, and one skirt-and-shirt outfit. I immediately nicked the jeans and slipped into one of the dresses. Three hours later I finally chose. The dress was a light pink with a deep back and V-neckline.
"It looks nice. Hugs the curves just right."
"It looks okay," I frowned, smoothing down the dress. I could see Shannon's reflection in the mirror behind as she swept up behind me to play with my hair. She lifted it this way and that before letting it fall gently on my shoulders.
"Matt's not going to know what hit him. One peek at you and he'll regret breaking up with you for the rest of his life."
Shan stayed the night and woke with me early the next morning. She helped tame my hair and apply my make-up once I'd showered. Then, she made me breakfast while I had a slight panic attack. When the doorbell finally rang I took a deep breath, receiving a confident smile from my best friend. Billy greeted me with a warm hug detangling the second he spotted Shannon. He launched himself at her. They exchanged quick pleasantries as we left.
"Nervous?" the young, handsome Campbell asked as we pulled into the driveway of his family's new home. I caught the humor in his eyes and pursed my lips, "No."
"Liar. Come on; it'll be fine."
Billy the kid held my door open for me. He guided me down the cobblestone walkway. All of a sudden the front door of the house swung open and a blur of brunette locks and green eyes dashed down the path. Wendy nearly knocked me to the dirt with the force of her hug. Teetering in my heels I giggled returning her embrace.
"When Aunt Sara told me you were coming over for dinner I had to gatecrash." She squealed. Wendy looked fabulous, almost exactly how she did four years ago. Hints of physical maturing dawned her face. Smoother cheek bones, clearer skin, deeper laugh lines…but she was still beautiful. I suspected she always would be.
"How are you?"
"I'm wonderful," Wen grinned, looping an arm around my shoulder effectively tugging me out of her cousin's grasp. She shot Billy a triumphant smirk. The blonde gave a scoff. "Okay, you'll get her until we get inside and then she'll be all Matt's."
Flushing I went to deny his words but Wendy, with a roll of her eyes, beat me to it. "Oh, shush. Let me have my moment." She turned to me. "How've you been? You look great! Billy told us you go to Yale now. What happened to Brown?"
I shrugged, "Yale had more to offer; a better debate team mostly."
The house was beautiful and modern, a polar opposite of the former Campbell residence. Sara and Peter Campbell were in the kitchen. Peter gave me a friendly smile and quick hello. He lifted a platter of steaks. "I need to take these out to Matt. Excuse me."
"Of course." Of their own accord my eyes trailed after him. I stared at the screen door he disappeared through – the only barricade between me and Matt. Mrs. Campbell snapped me out of my reprieve almost immediately and started to gush over my dress and haircut and how much time had passed since that fateful summer.
"Mom's right," Billy's deep voice rumbled. "I meant to tell you that you looked stunning back at your apartment but Shannon distracted me."
"Yes, she's good at that," I smiled. Wendy inquired about the wellbeing of my best friend. I responded, laughing quietly when Billy stole a bread roll off the dining room table only to have it smacked out of his hand by his mother. Mr. Campbell came stomping into the kitchen, announcing that the steaks should be done shortly. A calm chatter flowed amongst the family. Most of the conversation was about or directed to me. I tried my best to keep up but found I was distracted by the back door.
A gentle hand was suddenly on my forearm. "Go say hi, honey," Mrs. Campbell gave a soft smile. "Go on. It'll be easier if it's just the two of you."
"Oh…I wasn't…I mean…" I sighed, fiddling with my hands. The wise mother sent me a knowing look and swatted me out the back door. I did as she instructed. I sucked in a rapid breath, freezing on the door mat. The grill was across the deck, a mere ten feet away. Matt's back was to me as he stood flipping and poking the steaks as they slowly cooked.
From behind he looked…different, but the same. He appeared to be the same height but stood taller. The natural slouch that all but defined him was gone. He now stood defiantly. His hair was the same blonde but a little shaggier. He-
As if sensing me, he placed the tongs on the empty plate and pivoted, cutting off all thoughts. The air in my lungs rushed out as quickly as I'd sucked it in. "Hey, Matt," I croaked. His beautiful face was expressionless for the briefest moment. Then, two pale, thick lips spread in a tender grin. "Hey, Nic."
In that second I felt like I was going to cry. So many things hit me at once. Every ounce of that summer came tumbling back, slapping me in the face. Every kind word, every scared confession, every kiss, and a single goodbye. Jaw clenched, I watched Matt cross the open space and wrap me in his arms before I could spare a blink. Immediately I wound my arms around his neck and squeezed for dear life.
Matt's grip had improved. He was impressively stronger now. Sniffling, I swallowed a few tears and gave a nervous giggle. "Let me look at you."
He was still pale but in a pleasing way. The permanent bags were missing under his eyes and there was a glowing aura about him. The beautiful boy was as spectacular as ever.
"You've been working out," I teased, dragging my fingers down his bicep.
"Nicolette, you look-"
"Are they ready, son?"
Awkwardly, we separated, glancing at Mr. Campbell who stood in the doorway. His mouth was opening and closing like a fish. Matt spoke to his father, "Yeah, dad, almost. I'll bring 'em in – just a second."
Mr. Campbell nodded, then grunted and shuffled back inside, "Right. Uh…sorry."
Passing tense smiles Matt and I joined his family at the dining room table. I pretended not to notice the subtle looks they were giving Matt. Mr. Campbell said grace and the dinner began. The meal went smoother than I had any right to expect. Why had I been so nervous? They were good people. People I knew and trusted, people I had once loved. After the steaks and potatoes and salads were consumed Wendy and I helped Mrs. Campbell clear the table while the men stored the grill back in the shed.
"Dinner was excellent, Mrs. Campbell. Truly. Thank you. And thank you for having me."
"Nicolette, please, call me Sara," the woman smiled.
"You should stop by more often," Wen cut in. "She cooks like this constantly."
"When do you need to be back?" Billy asked, appearing at my side. I looked at the round clock hanging by the pantry. My lips twisted into a frown. "Soon, actually. Is that okay?"
The youth's lips dipped. "I'm supposed to get a call from Claire in about twenty minutes. I could take you later but, oh, wait. Dad volunteered me to fix Mr. Tedman's lawnmower." Billy frowned, the expression looking more than exaggerated when he suddenly perked up. "Oh, I know, Matt can run you home. You don't mind, right, Matt?"
His older brother popped up to my left. "What?"
"See, he doesn't mind."
"Billy," I warned. Mrs. Campbell sensed my distress. She stepped forward, "Wendy, darling, could you-"
"I have to get back to New York before the last ferry to Staten Island. I don't have the time, sorry, Nic," my old friend smiled.
Nostrils flaring, I glared between the cousins. They were grinning like fools, proud that their obvious set-up was working. Eyes narrowed, I mouthed 'I hate you' to them both. Ten minutes later I was sharing goodbyes and found myself in the car with Matt. He glanced at me, "I'm sorry about that."
"About just that?" The question poured from my lips, me powerless to stop it. "They mean well." I blushed and gazed out the window.
We rode in silence the rest of the way there. We'd just passed the sign for my apartment complex when Matt mumbled something.
"I said no…that's not all I'm sorry for."
"Please, just…let me say this because if I don't I'll live the rest of my life knowing that I hurt you and wasn't even man enough to apologize." He parked the car in front of my building. With a sigh, I invited him in.
"Do you live alone?" he asked, hand rolling over my living room mantle. He picked up a wooden frame that held a photo of me, Shannon, and my cousin Gabriel. A smile twitched on his lips. He placed the photograph back and faced me.
"I sincerely hope you haven't become a serial killer in my absence," I poorly joked. I played the part of charming hostess and offered him a drink. He politely declined and we settled down on my love sofa. Worry not, the irony was not lost on me.
"I know nothing I can say will change how things ended that summer. I'm stupid; I know that but Nic try to understand the situation I was in. I loved you but I thought I was dying."
"Oh, Matt," I interrupted. "I understood that perfectly. You were scared and that was fine. I couldn't force you to be with me. What I don't understand is why you completely cut me off. Four years and not a single phone call or letter. Whenever I tried to contact you I was ignored. You didn't tell me when you went into remission! Do you know that for the last four years I've been terrified of answering the phone? Every time it rang I stopped to think, 'This is it. This is the call letting me know that he's dead.' Why couldn't you just speak to me?"
Matt stared at me with wretched eyes. He folded his hands in his lap and dropped my gaze. "Because it was too hard. It took every bit of self-control I had not to beg you to take me back that second. Nic, I was so in love with you. I thought I was protecting you. If I had tried to speak with you, even just once, my resolve would have been demolished."
My lips quivered. I could feel the swell, the tingling of tears in my eyes. I didn't want to do this. I wanted to get up and run. It was too hard.
Suddenly, Matt reached over and caressed my cheek. He wiped my tears on his jeans and when our eyes met I saw that he too was crying. Matt's lip parted. He spoke in a tortured voice. "By the time the cancer was gone I was too scared to call. I was afraid that you'd be with someone else…engaged or in love. I was a coward."
"It's been four years, Matt," I weakly admitted. "And I've been on three dates." Sympathy and pain flicked in his eyes. I shrugged, "When I told you I loved you I meant it. Love isn't something I take lightly. It wasn't easy getting over you…"
"I am so sorry."
The beautiful by took my hands in his. Pain shook me. The action was too familiar. I tore from him and stood, breaking. "You should go."
"No!" I cried, saltwater tears falling faster. "I can't do this. Please, Matt, I need you to go. Please, leave."
"You really want me to go?" He looked suddenly like the boy I'd fallen for. He wore the kicked puppy pout, eyes miserable. I nodded rapidly, "Yes."
I walked the boy who used to mean so much to me to the door. He paused just as he was leaving. He pinned me with a sad stare. "I can't begin to tell you how sorry I am, Nicolette. I never wanted this; I never wanted to hurt you."
"I know," I shakily mumbled, wiping my nose with my shirt sleeve. "I'm sorry, too."
"Don't be," Matt sternly spoke. "You have nothing to be sorry for. You saved my life that summer in more than one way. I'll always be grateful to you. And I'll never forget you."
I bit my lip. "Bye, Matt."
Matt Campbell cupped my face. He stroked my cheeks with his thumbs and through wet lashes I peered pathetically up into eyes I longed to get lost in. His lips were on mine. Harsh, unforgiving kisses were exchanged. Lips, teeth, and tongues clashed in a furious passion. I clung to him until I was gasping for air. Tearing from him, I took several labored breaths. Matt pulled me to him once more. He brushed stray hairs and tears from my face. A kiss was pressed to my forehead. We hugged, our broken and blistered hearts beating in time – together.
Matt kissed my temple. "I love you, Nic."
A sob wrecked my body as he brushed his lips over mine. This kiss was gentle and loving. Easy, like it used to be.
He broke from me and gazed down with a depressed frown. Once more he grazed my cheek for the final time. "Goodbye, Nic."
He shut the door behind him.
I fell to my knees and sobbed.
Not the ending you were wanting, I know. I'm sorry but it just felt right. If you want a sappy, cute Haunting fic that ends with rainbows and butterflies read my other story 'We Will Get Through This'.
I hope you guys like it and I want you all to know that I am so ridiculously thankful for your loyalty. You are the best readers in the world. You're all so kind and so dedicated. Many thanks.
As of now I predict no future Haunting fics...but hey, things change.