A/N: Joe Purdy is brilliant, and I wouldn't have known he existed if not for SmH-ac, who suggested I listen to/write something based upon this song, Miss Me. And it only took me...several months to actually do it. Love the song, so I wanted to make sure I could do it justice. I hope I have.


| Some movie star told you this ain't where it's at
So you packed your bags and one night you headed out |

"Maybe I'll be famous," she muses out loud one night. They're sitting on her porch with cups of tea in their hands, listening to the quiet and the insects and the leaves falling off the trees.

"Famous," he scoffs. "For what?"

"I don't know," she says. She shrugs her shoulder and the strap of her tank top falls down over her smooth skin. She puts it back into place and doesn't notice that he was staring at her bare shoulder. "I could do anything."

"No you can't."

"Jerk! I could too!" she insists. When she looks over at him, he's laughing to himself, obviously pleased to have gotten her all worked up. She would almost swear it's one of his favourite things to do. "So maybe I can't sing or act or whatever, but...People are famous for other stuff, too."

"Such as?" he prods.

She's a dreamer, and always had been. The thing is, she doesn't really show anyone else that but him. She's only ever quite this free around him. He can't describe it. She's closed off and cynical and sarcastic, and he loves that side of her too. He adores the bitchy cheerleader who can hold her own among vulgar basketball players. But she's different when they're alone together. She's a little quieter, a little more delicate. She's thin straps on her camisoles and light pink lip balm; softer curls and a sweeter smile. He doesn't really know why she saves all that for him, but she does.

They met, really, for the first time, when they were paired up for a freshman english assignment. She didn't want his help, and he didn't want someone else to mess up a project he knew he could ace on his own. They argued and fought and disagreed on everything until they compared notes and saw that they actually shared all the same opinions. She used proper language and grammar in her assignment, and he saw the metaphors and themes of the story, and neither had expected that of the other. They became fast friends. Lucas' group of friends merged with Peyton's group of friends, and then it was just one big group that broke all those high school clichés. The cheerleaders weren't snobby, and the smart kids weren't nerds. The jocks weren't 'stupid' and the guys who didn't play sports weren't looked down upon by the ones who did.

Peyton jokingly took credit for it all. Lucas let her, simply because he didn't have the heart to take anything away from her. She'd had enough of that in her life. A mother who died too soon and a father who was constantly out of town working.

"Look at Clive Davis," she says seriously. "All he is, is a record label mogul."

Lucas laughs and shakes his head. "That's a pretty lofty aspiration, Peyton."

"I could do it," she says quietly.

He doesn't say another word, because her tone leads him to believe that she really thinks she can do it, and he knows better than to doubt her. He can always tell when she's joking around and when she isn't. It's clear she isn't joking about this at all.

She wants to be the next Clive Davis.

But she'll always be his Peyton Sawyer.

"Brooke's talking about moving to L.A. after graduation," she says. Lucas has heard all about it. That's kind of all Brooke's been talking about for weeks; moving out west and growing her fashion line.

"It's October."

She rolls her eyes and lets out a sigh. "We're seniors. It's time to work all this out, isn't it?" she asks. He nods as he looks down to the mug in his hands. "Everyone else has all these dreams. Maybe this is mine."

"Well, you've got a few months to figure it out," he says.

He doesn't say the words, but he doesn't want her to go. The way she rests her head on his shoulder as they rock back and forth gently back and forth on her porch swing tells him that she heard him loud and clear.


She insists that she wants to redecorate her room, and it's the third time she's done it in the last year, easily the sixth time since they've been friends, and she tells him in no uncertain terms that she needs his muscles. He lugs all her furniture out of her room as she surveys the space and decides on colours and a theme or whatever the hell it is that she thinks is so important. But she looks so cute standing there in just a pair of paint splattered jeans (the same ones she's worn every other time she's redecorated) and one of his far-too-big-on-her button down shirts. He has no clue when she took that, but he hasn't missed it, so he says nothing, just admires her in the white shirt with thin blue stripes as she stands there with her hands on her hips and a pensive look on her face.

"What?" he asks finally. He's been watching her for two full minutes; he was starting to feel like a creep.

"Red," she says decisively.


"Yup. Red."

So they paint her room red. They drive to the hardware store and she chooses the perfect shade, and Lucas doesn't miss the way people are looking at her. She's dressed like a complete slob, but she doesn't care, and Lucas thinks she looks gorgeous anyway.

And that's the problem. They're friends, maybe even best friends, but he feels things for her that he can't explain, and every once in a while, he has to clamp his mouth shut from saying the words I love you and meaning them a different way than he knows she'd hear them. They say it all the time. He gets the feeling that if things were different, they'd say the words at quieter moments, and they'd be heavier, and they might even attach things like forever or always onto the end of the sentence. They've never even kissed. He's wanted to, a whole lot of times, and he's recently started getting jealous of the guys she goes out with (there aren't many, she's been on maybe two dates since the end of the last school year). He wants to think of her as his, completely, in all ways that implies. But she's not, and they're just friends, and he'd rather have that than nothing at all, so he buries the rest of his feelings and every time she wraps her arm around his waist as they walk, he ignores the way it feels like she's perfect for him.

"You remember last summer?" she asks out of nowhere. They're standing there, rollers in their hands, her formerly mint-green walls now almost half painted red. "Not this one that just passed, but the one before."

"Yeah. You punched me in the face," he says.

She starts laughing, and he can't help but smile, though his back is to her and her back is to him as they paint opposite walls. "I love that that's all you remember."

"It's not all I remember."

"And it was..."

"An accident," he says, his tone mocking. Every time they talk about that incident, she insists she didn't mean to hit him, and he knows it's true, but it's still fun to bug her about it.

"You got in my way!" she cries.

"Basketball isn't supposed to be that much of a contact sport," he reminds her. They both turn around at the same time, and they're both smiling widely.

"You're supposed to let the girl win. Don't you know that? No wonder you're single," she says teasingly, and the smile on her face is one he's seen a thousand times before, because she only ever wears it when she's making fun of him, but that happens to be a good portion of the time they spend together.

"I'm just emotionally scarred from the abuse," he mumbles. She laughs, and he's very well aware she's laughing at him, not at his joke.

"Please," she says, putting her hand on her hip. "I put my hand out to block you and you ran into it."

"Your ring cut me!" He points to his left cheekbone and says, "I have a scar, Peyton. A scar!"

She grins at him, then turns back around and dips her roller into some more paint as she says, "and now you'll think of me every time you see it," and her back is to him, so she doesn't notice the way he's frozen in place.

He already does think of her every time he sees it.

It takes them three days to finish her room. It wouldn't take so long, but they stop for a lot of breaks, have a ridiculous paint fight (of course), she kicks him out once when he suggests that the colour is too dark and maybe she picked the wrong shade. She spends at least an eighth of every day shuffling through stacks of records sitting in the hallway, looking for 'the perfect soundtrack' to listen to at any given moment. He brushes black paint onto her formerly white wall to wall shelves as she painstakingly paints the room's trim all black. He shows up one morning with coffees in his hand and she's listening to a singer/songwriter he's never heard before, and delicately painting a black tree, starting in one of the corners of the room and 'growing' outward and upward. He knows that tree. It's the tree in the cemetery, the one they always sit beneath because it's right between his uncle's grave and her mother's grave, and after they've both finished their visits and they aren't ready to go home yet, they'll just sit there in the quiet.

He loves that tree. He loves that she's got it memorized well enough and that he and it are big enough pieces of her life that she wants to paint it on her wall.

Once all her possessions and furniture are moved back into the room, they stand there and observe their work. This was by far the most extensive redecoration, but it's also the best, and he hopes she'll keep it like this for a while.

"You have a red bedroom full of records," he says, smiling over at her like he loves that she does, and she might just be the only girl in the world who would. "Very cool."

She's thinking that maybe, someday when she starts that dream of being the next Clive Davis, she might have a name for her label.

"Hey, you know the other day when I asked you about that summer?" she asks, continuing before he can respond. "I actually had a point, before you started acting like a baby." He laughs softly, and in her periphery, she can see him shaking his head. "That was my favourite summer."

He looks over, the gentlest, most precious smile she's ever seen him wear spread across his lips, and says, "mine too."

| Said these small town blues got you going insane
Gone into the city, gonna change your name |

She's not stupid. She knows how Lucas feels about her, or how he could potentially someday feel about her. She catches him looking at her, and she hears all those sweet little comments he makes, and she knows he brushes them off, but the fact of the matter is he doesn't make those comments to anyone else. And she lets him, because she thinks that if she said something to him about it, it might ruin their friendship, because she simply doesn't know what she wants, and he clearly does. So she keeps her mouth closed and takes it all in, and maybe it's selfish of her to let him feel the way he feels, but she thinks that he needs her as much as she needs him. Because after all, he hasn't said anything (not really, not seriously) about it either.

But she's leaving. It's been decided, and her ticket is booked, and she has a place to live and a job lined up.

She just hasn't told him yet.

She knows it's wrong and it'll only make it worse when she does break the news, she just doesn't know how to do it. She's tried to put herself in his shoes, to think of how she'd feel if he were the one leaving, and she can't do it. She thinks he'll be happy for her, but it's kind of out of left field. Sure, she mentioned to him months ago that she was thinking of maybe going out and doing something, but she didn't really talk about it again. She applied to one job on a whim and got it, and she accepted the offer on the spot, and now she's buying moving boxes and trying to decide what to take to L.A. and what to leave behind. There a huge, annoying part of her that thinks she doesn't want to leave him behind, but that's selfish too, so she ignores it.

He walks into her bedroom and his heart sinks, because he knows, just knows that she's leaving, and she doesn't have to say a word. He'd like to be surprised, but she was never as excited about her acceptance to UNCW as she should have been, and he never asked her, because he was afraid that she'd confirm that she didn't really want to go. When he sees her, she's wearing a little pair of red cotton shorts with the drawstring undone, and a black tank top, and he can see her red bikini top showing underneath. She looks a whole lot like everything he can't have, and when their eyes lock, she looks sad and excited and scared and happy, and he can't bring himself to be mad at her for not telling him what's going on.

"I got a job in L.A.," she says before he can ask. "I leave next week." He sighs and nods, and she thinks he was expecting it. She gnaws at her lip as he stuffs his hands into his pockets and looks to the floor, looking every bit like the small child he isn't. "Are you mad?"

"No." He laughs softly because he doesn't know what else to do (and he thinks he might honestly start crying or something stupid like that if he doesn't just laugh). "I'm not mad."

"Are you...What are you?" she asks. She laughs at herself because she hates that she's so nervous, but she loves that she cares so much. She sits down on the floor at the side of her bed, and he sits next to her, and she immediately slips her hand into his, whether he wants her to or not.

Of course he wants her to.

"I'm...not really surprised," he admits. "And I'm..." He stops and sighs, and she rests her head against his shoulder. He can see directly down her shirt, but he tries not to focus on that. "I'm trying not to be selfish and tell you to stay."


"I know," he says, his voice low. He can't tell her to stay. She wouldn't, even if he said all those perfect words he can't find.

"I just think...I think I'm bigger than Tree Hill," she says.

"You are," he insists. "You always have been."

"I'm kind of scared," she says. "What if I hate it? What if...What if L.A.'s too big, or I'm not good at my job, or..."

"Then you can always come home," he tells her. She pulls away and smiles at him, because he always says exactly what she needs to hear, and he's the only one who does it, and she adores that. "And you'll be amazing. You'll be Clive in no time."

She laughs and leans against him a little more. "I will."

"I'm proud of you, Peyton." He says it seriously, pulling them from their joke and forcing her to consider those words. She honestly can't remember the last time someone said them to her, and even so, she thinks he might have been the one to say them. "You've been through so much, and...you're better for it. And that's amazing."

"You have too," she insists. "With Dan, and Keith, and your heart and...everything."

It's left unsaid, but they have each other to thank for how they've come out of all of that no worse for wear. He saved her life, and though maybe not in quite such a literal way, she saved his right back.

"What am I gonna do without you?" she asks. He can barely hear her, and he's sure she wants it that way. She's being especially vulnerable, in a way she only ever is with him, and he can't stop himself from kissing the top of her head.

"I'll be right here." She knows he means that he'll always be there for her, he just didn't want to speak the cliché. "Just...don't change on me," he requests quietly. She wraps her arms around his waist and holds him tight, loving him a little bit for being so amazing. Always. "You promise?"

"Promise," she whispers.

They both know it's inevitable, and that he'll change too, and that maybe they'll drift apart, but that doesn't stop them from sitting there like that on her bedroom floor in complete silence for at least an hour. He doesn't ask about the job, and she doesn't tell him any of the details, because all that's important in the moment is that she's leaving, and he's staying, and neither of them likes that fact very much. But she's got things to do, and she is bigger than their small town, and he's always known it.

He could stay in Tree Hill forever and be completely content. That was what he used to think. Now he thinks that it won't be the same without her there, and maybe the idea of a forever in a place that doesn't have her just isn't an idea he can hang onto.

He wants to hang onto her.

| And you never look back at where you came
Swore you'll never be the same |

The first and probably last time she kisses him is at the airport. Brooke left days earlier, and they all went to see her off, but Peyton didn't want any of that, so she said her goodbyes that morning, kissing Nathan and Haley's cheeks and holding baby James close, thinking, but not saying, that she hated that she was going to miss him growing up. Nathan told her to kick ass out there, and Haley told her to call every second day, and Jamie held onto her pinky with his little fist and it all kind of broke her heart. These people have become her people, and she doesn't want to leave them.

She makes idle chat with Lucas on the way to the airport, and they both absolutely hate it, but if she gets all sentimental now, she'll just start crying, and though she has a feeling she'll do it anyway, she doesn't want to start so soon. Lucas asks if Brooke's picking her up from LAX, though she told him that days ago, and he listens to her talk about how she's going to love living above a record store. 'How apropos,' he says.

He helps her with her bags, and her hand finds his as they stroll through the airport. Always the prepared one, Lucas got her there 45 minutes before her flight even boards. They sit together quietly and she makes him promise to be in touch with her every day, and he kinks his brow, smirks at her, and makes her promise the same. After all, he says, she's the one with the big job and the new life, and he says that he doesn't want her to forget about him. She doesn't say so, but she couldn't forget him if she tried.

"We'll be okay, right?" she asks. "You and me?"

"Yeah," he answers after a moment, even though he doesn't entirely believe it. Too much is happening, changing. He thinks he's known since that day in October that she'd eventually leave, that her dreams couldn't come true in their hometown, and he kind of loves that about her.

But he can't shake the feeling that he'll just be a memory for her. Eventually, she'll be big and famous or whatever it is she wants to be, and all he'll be able to say is that he knew her once upon a time. That he remembers the day he met her and the night they walked along the train tracks and she got scared enough to hold his hand for the first time. The first time they drank together, and the first time they fell asleep together. She'll go out into the world and maybe forget about him, but here, right now, she's still his. She's still the girl who's got a handful of his tee shirts in her carryon, because in her words, they were too important to go in her checked bag.

And God, he loves her for that. Even if she doesn't, and never will, love him back, he's okay with that, because she was meant for better.

Her flight is called, and they take matching deep breaths, then laugh at themselves, because this shouldn't be nearly as hard as it is. They stand, and he picks up her bag and hands it to her, and her eyes search his for a moment, then she's toying with the bottom of his shirt, and he thinks that if she were the one staying and he was the one leaving, he'd reconsider it all. But it's not his choice to make.

"Thank you," she says quietly.

He doesn't ask what for, or say you're welcome, because he knows she's thanking him for a million things he would have done anyway, even if he never received an ounce of recognition for them. He just nods.

She doesn't want to say the word goodbye, because she hates the word goodbye, and he knows that, so he doesn't say it either. She smiles at him and turns to walk away, and he doesn't let go of her hand until the last possible second, and he doesn't want to let go of her at all. It makes her smile, though there are tears welling in her eyes.

And she realizes that she can't leave without doing one last thing, so she turns back around, ignores that he doesn't look confused, not even for a second, and as soon as she's in front of him again, her lips are on his. He's kissing her back, and it's then that she realizes that he expected her to do this all along, and that while everyone else always thought she was an enigma, an unworkable mystery, Lucas always discovered every part of her before anyone else. Almost before even she, herself, could.

They pull apart and she's breathing heavily, and when she kisses him one last time, just gently, he feels a tear fall from her cheek onto his lips, and if that's not the most heartbreaking thing he's ever experienced in the world, he doesn't know what is. It's like he's taking on and drinking in her sadness, and it's killing him, but he doesn't let it show. She blinks a few times, doesn't bother wiping her face, and walks away again.

This time she doesn't turn around. He thinks that if she did, he would have to hold onto her and never let her go, not for forever.

But she disappears through her gate, and he goes home, and he doesn't think about why she kissed him, because if he lets himself think about it, he'll realize that kiss was her way of saying goodbye without having to say the word.

| Do you miss me?
Do you miss me? |

They talk every day or every second day, but it's already different. They're both busy, and there's a time change, and a whole lot of excuses they use and pretend to understand when one can't get ahold of the other. She tells him about her new life, but it's hard for him to hear it, because he has a feeling that he's not as big a part of it as she still is in his. He tells her about class and coaching and Jamie, and they don't, not ever, not once, talk about that kiss, because it was supposed to be nothing, but it was very much a something.

She and Brooke webcam him one morning, and it's earlier in L.A., so they're in their pajamas on Peyton's bed, all bed head and no makeup, and he wonders how in the world he even knows two such beautiful girls.

"I know what you're thinking, Lucas," Brooke says, her brow kinked and her dimple showing. "But we're not going to start making out."

"A guy can dream," he says, and she laughs, and Peyton laughs, but the blonde blushes just a little, hiding it from her best friend by putting her hand on her cheek. "What are you girls up to?"

"We went out last night, and my mom said that I shouldn't come home drunk, so we cuddled," Brooke says, like it's not every guy who's ever met them's dream to see those two in bed together.

"That's...cute," he says with a laugh. "How are you?"

"Hungover," Peyton mumbles. Lucas smiles, because he knows how much she hates being hungover, and that's the reason she rarely ever drinks more than one or two in a night.

"I'm going to make coffee. Good luck tonight, Luke!" Brooke says happily. Peyton glares at the brunette's cheeriness. "You guys go ahead and make kissy faces or whatever it is you do on this thing." She wiggles her brows and winks at the camera, then hops off the bed, and Peyton's face is red again.

"Sorry," she says. "I don't know why..."

"Don't worry about it." He cuts her off, because he knows she'll just say something to deny that anything of any sort ever happened between them. "Are you alright?"

She smiles and shrugs her shoulder. "I'll be fine. Just stupid, is all. I should know better."

"Everyone should know better," he reminds her. She nods her head, because he's right, but he can tell that he hates just as much as she does how awkward this is right now, and he knows it's not just because Brooke's in the next room at her place, and Haley's in the next room at his place.

"You ready for your game tonight?"

"Yeah. Nathan's playing like a monster right now, so we should be good," he says. "I tell ya, it's still weird not to have you cheering us on."

"That feels like a lifetime ago," she says.

Her tone is somber, and he doesn't like it. He changes the subject, asks her about work and life and how things are going, and she sounds distant, like she's trying to convince them both that she's fine. She's doing a better job of convincing herself than she is at convincing him. He asks her what's wrong, and she actually smiles, because he's the only one who's asked her that in ages, and she loves that he can tell that she's not okay. She says that she just got homesick the day before when she met a woman from South Carolina, and Peyton tried to call him, but he didn't answer (he was in a class, and she knew that, but she tried him anyway) and when he called her back, she didn't answer. She says she doesn't want things to change, and he delicately reminds her that change happens when you move across the country, and she wipes her eye, and all he wants to do is wrap her up in his arms and hold her until she feels like home again. He doesn't say anything, just looks at her on his computer screen, and he wonders if she can see it in his eyes, all the feelings he has for her. He's stopped trying to hide it.

She lays on her side, her head on the pillow and her laptop's camera angled so she's framed perfectly, and she asks quietly, "do you miss me?"

He lets out a breath, and it sounds a little like an oh, like 'of course I do, and you know it.' He'd say nothing more than that, but he knows she needs to hear the words.

"I do," he answers easily, and she smiles the first genuine smile he's seen in weeks.

| You're a big girl now, got your big shoes
And you're running around with big girl blues |

By the end of the summer after his freshman year at college, their friendship is all but over. They still talk about once a month, but it's in passing. She'll text, or he'll email, and he doesn't even know the last time he actually heard her voice. He sees her photo sometimes, just every once in a while, in glossy magazines or on gossip sites, and she's flanking Brooke and the brunette's movie producer boyfriend. She wears stylish clothing and expensive everything, and she's so gorgeous, but she's not the girl he used to know. She's not the girl he used to sit on her front porch swing with, sipping tea and dreaming up crazy scenarios of what their lives might be. This, her in clubs with her famous friends, was never even bandied around as an option.

And he knows that everyone thinks she's happy. She smiles, but those little lines at the corner of her eyes that he had memorized every time she really laughed aren't there. She says she's busy and she loves her job (or at least that's what she said the last time they spoke), but he can tell it isn't quite perfect and she works far harder than she should. He's glad that underneath it all, she's still got her eye on that dream; at least that's something about her that he can recognize.

She calls him one day out of the blue, and it's just after he's moved back into his house at school with Nathan and Haley. He answers, and he's genuinely surprised to hear from her, because it's been, he remembers now, four months since they spoke on the phone. She asks him how he is, and he's too stunned to say anything other than 'fine', and she doesn't call him on the fact that it's obviously a half-hearted response. And that, he's not surprised about. Because as much as he doesn't really know who she's become, she probably doesn't know who he's become either.

She starts talking about herself and her job, and for the first time in probably years, he finds that he doesn't care. No, it's not that he doesn't care, it's just that he really doesn't understand it. She's suddenly talking to him again, acting like months haven't passed and they haven't been drifting apart (more like sailing apart in 100 knot winds) and she's not breaking the one promise he told her to make. She's changed. Drastically.

"You don't sound interested," she notes after making a joke he doesn't pick up on.

"No. I...I am," he says, completely unconvincingly. "I'm just...confused."


"It's just been a while, and...I guess I don't understand what's happening here," he admits. He doesn't regret speaking so candidly. They've always kind of been like this, honest with one another, even when maybe they shouldn't be.

"I'm trying to have a conversation with you."

"That's the confusing part," he says. "When was the last time you did that."

"Lucas," she says softly. "We're both..."

"No. Can we...Can we stop making excuses here?" he asks. What he wants to say is you instead of we, but he doesn't want to put it all on her. The phone works both ways, after all.

But after weeks of trying to get ahold of her and getting nowhere, he doesn't really think it's unreasonable that he stopped calling.

"Okay, you're upset," she notes, like she thought he would be, and maybe she'd been holding her breath and hoping he'd be so happy to hear from her that he'd forget how much time had passed.

"A little." He hears her sigh on the other end of the line, and he does the same, because this feels a whole lot like it'll end in that goodbye they never really said. "Why'd you call, Peyton?"

"I wanted to talk to you," she admits sheepishly, thinking she probably sounds about 10 years old and completely pathetic. "I...Don't you...miss it? Us?"

He thinks about it for a moment, and he knows she'll pick up on his hesitation. He swallows thickly when he realizes that, sure, he misses her, them, whatever, but not like he used to, and not like he probably should.

"I guess," he says.

She knows that anything less than a yes is a not really, and all she wants to do is hang up the phone before she starts crying. She misses him. More now than before, really, and she knows it's her fault for not getting in touch with him, that maybe if she'd called more often or written more, they wouldn't be in this place, barely able to speak civilly to one another.

She says she has to go, and he says her name quietly, but she says it, that word, goodbye, and when he sets his phone down, it feels like the end. And his heart shatters and the only thing he can think to do is drink, so that's what he does.

| And I know you don't doubt yourself anymore
No, when you feel like leaving, walk out the door |

She's been in L.A. a year and a half when she decides that she can't take working for her label anymore. She's done her research, drawn up a business plan, and she knows what it'll take to start, and successfully run her own label. She's been working, busting her ass, actually, at her job, and she knows the places to go to find unsigned artists, and she even knows one or two who may just sign with her once she gets things up and running.

Brooke, blissfully living with Julian and making more money than she knows what to do with, offers to financially back Peyton, and they work out a payment plan (upon Peyton's insistence) that they both know Brooke won't make her best friend stick to. They find a little office in the same building as Julian's father's company, and Paul insists that since he owns the entire building, she get her rent at a discounted rate, as long as his company gets her artist's songs at a discounted rate for his movies. Considering she doesn't have any artists, she thinks that's another one of those 'deals' that'll never really be followed through upon.

She decorates the office, red and black with a silver desk and a cool meeting area, and she comes up with her company logo on her own.

Red Bedroom Records. Just like she'd decided that day two years ago.

By the end of her first day, after she's got her office all set up and a press release written up and distributed, she wants to call Lucas and tell him all about it. She's excited, and she wants to share it with him. Then she realizes that she's been talking to Haley, who no doubt talked to Lucas, and he hasn't called her yet to talk about it.

So she goes home and orders cheap Japanese from the place around the corner from her apartment, and that night, she sketches the lines of a tree that she just couldn't bring herself to paint on that wall in her office.

| And I bet you ain't got nothin' left to learn
It's better that way cause you never get burned |

She's changed, and it changes him too. Because if she's not coming back, and if there's no chance for them to ever be anything, then there's no point in him trying to be the guy she always knew. He doesn't want to be anymore. He's sick of staying the same while everything around him changes, and he thinks it's about time that he hops on that bandwagon. He's 20 years old, and he's in college. He's a head coach, an honours student, a literature major, and, he realizes, he's kind of a hot commodity. He's noticed the way women look at him, and he's started smiling back, throwing a wink every so often, or talking to women in bars. It was never his scene, really, to go out after games like that, but it is now, because he likes the attention. He realizes it's probably horrible, but he also figures that he's had a few years of having one girl ignore his feelings that he's due for a little fun.

So he has some. And his family/roommates notice. Haley gives him admonishing glances every time he sees off some girl in the morning. Not that it happens often, but it's certainly more often than...ever. Nathan keeps his mouth closed, but the looks he gives his brother let Lucas know that his actions are pretty transparent.

And it's always a brunette girl, never a blonde. Girls with dark eyes and dark hair. She'll never have green eyes or the same style as Peyton, because he's not trying to replace her (he's in denial and he tells himself that she was nothing to him anyway), but he doesn't want reminders. He already thinks of her far more than he should without running his hands through a blonde's hair. It's just easier to be with someone who doesn't remind him of her at all.

When he brings home two girls in a month (weeks apart, but still...), Haley pulls him aside and has a talk with him about what he's doing and why. She doesn't come out and say it, but she wants him to think about who he really wants and why he's not letting himself have it. It's not like he and Peyton had a fight or a falling out, they just kind of stopped. Haley knows there's more to it than that, that Lucas loved Peyton, or at least would have if given the chance, and that Peyton left without ever acknowledging it. She suggests that he email Peyton, at least to ask her how the label's doing (he knows, of course, because his best friend keeps him in the loop). He knows the name of that label and that he may have had a hand in it.

But he says he can't do that, and Haley asks what he can do, because it seems like he's floundering and his behaviour can't be healthy. She asks him if he wants to fall in love with someone (she doesn't say someone new, but he hears it anyway), and he shrugs his shoulder, because he's still saving his I love you's for a girl who might not ever be in a position to hear them.

| And you try not to think about what might have been
'Cause you know this town is just sink or swim |

She ignores that nothing feels like maybe it should. She's successfully signed and promoted two artists who are touring and selling better than she could have hoped. She's, with the help of Paul, who adores her more than he does Brooke, a constant sore spot with the brunette, working on a compiling a soundtrack for a film that's just started shooting. She's finally making money, quite a bit of it actually, and she's moved out of that apartment over the record store and into a condo that she loves, but doesn't feel quite right. It's modern, and she's warmed it up with colours and furniture and her own personal style, and yet it still feels temporary somehow. It feels like she won't live there forever, like it's just a place she'll keep her things for a while until she moves on. She's still young, just barely 21, and she figures that's okay for this stage in her life.

She's in her office one day, an uncharacteristically slow day, and she's decided to do some things she's been putting off, like listening to a few demos, filing papers, and returning nonessential emails that piled up over the course of the week. It's early Friday afternoon, and she's a little surprised to see Brooke walk through the door. Of all the people she knows, she, Brooke, and Julian are the three hardest working, all trying to make names for themselves in their respective industries.

"Hey," Peyton says, managing a smile as she turns down the music coming from her laptop.

"Hi. What are you doing?" Brooke asks. She sets a latté down on the desk for her best friend, then sinks into one of the leather chairs across from Peyton, slipping off her heels and crossing her legs.

"Busy work." Peyton shrugs her shoulder and holds up the paper Starbucks cup in a silent thank you. "You?"

"I had a meeting this morning, but kind of an easy rest of the day. I decided to take the afternoon off," Brooke says.

Peyton laughs and shakes her head. "You forget Julian and I work in the same building. He told me you were taking the afternoon off. That you two are going away this weekend."

"Oh," Brooke mouths. "Right."

"Where are you going anyway?" Peyton takes a sip of her latté and closes her eyes appreciatively. She didn't realize how much she'd been craving it.

"Just to Napa." She shrugs as Peyton nods. "The least Paul can do for us is let us stay at his vineyard," the brunette adds bitterly.


"Yeah, yeah. Just because you're practically the daughter he never had, that doesn't mean you have to defend him."

"I'm not defending him," Peyton says, almost laughing. She knows, though she wouldn't dare say a word, that perhaps Brooke and Paul are just too similar to get along. Both headstrong and have a 'take no prisoners' approach to almost everything they do, and that's why they butt heads.

"Anyway, I know you'll probably say no, but you're welcome..."



"Brooke, I'm not going to tag along as a third wheel on your romantic weekend in Napa," Peyton says, tilting her head at her best friend like it's the worst plan ever in history. "No thank you."


"Not gonna happen!" Peyton cries laughingly. "I love you for inviting me, but...no." Brooke sighs and looks away, out the window, her gaze inevitably meeting the glass facade of the building next door. "What?"

"I'm worried about you, Peyton," Brooke admits quietly. Peyton rolls her eyes, but they both know Brooke won't let it go so easily. "You work too hard. Harder than you have to, before you lay that excuse on me. And you don't...You come out with us like, once a month, and..."

"You guys are domestic. You only go out once a month."

"Okay, fine, but...ever since you and Lucas stopped..."

"Brooke, this is not about Lucas," Peyton insists firmly, her voice hard and steely, like the subject should be dropped.

"What isn't? What's going on with you?" Brooke asks, just pleading for a straight, honest answer.

Peyton shakes her head, heaves a sigh and tries to find the right words to explain it. "I'm just trying to get things together."

"What things?"

"Life!" Peyton shouts, unnecessarily and unintentionally. "Life in L.A., and...the label and myself."

"Yourself without Lucas," Brooke whispers. Peyton closes her eyes, looks every bit as exhausted as they both know she is. "I just worry that you're taking it all too seriously. It's...life...is supposed to be fun, Peyton. You know that L.A. can chew you up and spit you out, and I don't want that to happen to you."

Peyton manages a wry smile. "And I know you won't let it happen to me."

"Which is why I want you to come this weekend," Brooke says, like it's obvious and Peyton should say yes.

So she thinks about it. She's caught up with work and doesn't have any shows to go to or plans made for her weekend. She has no reason to stay in L.A. by herself while her two closest friends are out of town. And she rarely ever feels like the third wheel with them. The include her without reducing her to feeling like she's interrupting a date or something, and she knows that a weekend away would be fun. She loves Napa, and she loves Paul's place in Napa, and there's plenty she can do on her own to give the couple the alone time they'll no doubt take.

Somewhere amid her contemplation, a bouquet of flowers arrives, which sends Brooke into a spree of giddiness, and Peyton sets the vase of gorgeous wildflowers on her desk.

"Who are they from?!" Brooke practically yells, leaning down to smell the arrangement.

There's no card, and Peyton runs her fingertips over the petals of a golden gerbera daisy. "I don't know."

She lies easily, because she knows who they're from and she knows that if she says the name, it'll only spur Brooke on more.

But he never did miss an anniversary, and she knows he's probably in Tree Hill right now, setting similar flowers on her mother's grave, simply because Peyton isn't there to do it herself.

| Do you miss me? |

She doesn't call or write or email to thank him for the flowers, but he knows without a doubt that she got them. Without a doubt. He's the only one who'd do it. Even last year, after that really weird phone call where they basically agreed to not talk anymore (or whatever the hell happened), he sent her an email to ask how she was doing, if she was okay and to call him if she needed him. She didn't call. He deduced that she didn't need him, on that or any other day.

| Do you miss me?
Do you miss me? |

It's crazy, the way she meets Carter, but she's the only one who thinks so. He's a B-List actor, quickly on his way to the A-List. She's seen his movies and she knows his name and that he's ridiculously gorgeous and keeps his personal life out of the spotlight as much as possible. He auditions for one of Julian's movies, though they all know that he's such a brilliant actor that he doesn't need to audition at all, could pick and choose from any project out there. She's juggling her bag, cell phone and coffee in the morning as she tries to press the button for her floor, and they're alone in the elevator together. He presses the button she's reaching for, and she mumbles a thank you without looking at him, because she's checking the calendar on her phone to see when her first appointment of the day starts.

"Can I lend a hand?" he asks politely.

She recognizes the voice, and she tenses. There's no way this is happening. "Um. I'm...I'm okay."

"You sure?" he asks with a laugh as her coffee tips and some splashes onto the floor. He doesn't wait for an answer before he takes the cup from her hand, and when she looks over at him, he can see the surprise on her face. He flashes her a million dollar smile, and her heart races as he says, "I like these shoes. It's precautionary."

"So it's all about you," she teases. She has no idea where the joke comes from, because as much as she hates it, she's at least a little starstruck.

"Of course." He winks at her, and she's hoping the elevator will stop or something. She's sure he's just a smooth guy, completely aware that he probably acts like this with everyone. That's probably why he's so successful, so well-liked. "Carter Freedman."

She knows who he is, everyone does, but she likes that he still introduces himself, and she can tell he's not just doing it to drop a name she might have heard. He's strikingly handsome, brown eyes and closely-cut brown hair, gorgeous bone structure and pouty lips that she knows for a fact make just about every woman swoon. But with all that, he somehow maintains a boy next door quality, like you can't help but think he's sincere.

She shakes his extended hand with her now-free one. "Peyton Sawyer."

"Really?" he asks, pulling back a little. The smile fades from his face, and it's replaced with one of shock or...something. It unnerves her, and he must notice. "No. I'm sorry. I just...I've heard about you. You're not what I expected."

And this is the way it's been for the last year or so. She's heard of, but not seen, and she's got three platinum selling artists signed to her label. She made headlines last year when she lured one of the most popular, most talented, best selling singer-songwriters away from one of the majors. He signed with her, and since then he's told every interviewer who asks that she's the most professional, kindest, brightest person in the music business. She's getting attention and recognition, and she thinks she'll have to expand her office soon.

But she's never quite gotten that reaction upon meeting someone new.

"What you expected," she states incredulously.

"I thought you'd be older or...not...gorgeous."

"Uh...thank you?" she draws out. He laughs softly at himself, and his uncertainty, this rare flaw that she knows no one else has probably witnessed, is so damn endearing that she finds herself smiling coyly, looking at him and biting the inside of her bottom lip to keep herself from just kissing him. The elevator door opens, and she takes her coffee from him. "This is me." He nods, and his smile returns. "It was nice to meet you."

"Likewise, Miss Sawyer."

She's still completely breathless when she sits down in her office.

She receives flowers again, and when they come in the afternoon, she knows, just knows they're from him. It's a simple arrangement of a dozen bright red calla lilies, and there's a card with his initials and the words, 'I'll call you' written out. She has no idea what that means until Julian strolls into her office wearing an entirely too amused grin, his arms crossed over his chest, and says that she's made quite an impression on the star of his next movie. He explains that he gave Carter her number, and they're both surprised when she doesn't yell at him for that.

She ends up at Carter's sprawling place in the Hollywood Hills for their first date, and she feels almost completely out of place in her simple cotton dress (the fact that Brooke designed it is the only thing keeping her from getting back in her car and driving home). But then he opens the door, wearing just jeans and a white button down shirt, and the way he looks at her has her feeling at ease again. He invites her inside, hands her a glass of wine, and they spend their entire evening sitting together on his large balcony, eating dinner, dessert, talking, and looking out over the lights of the city.

He doesn't kiss her at the end of the night. She calls him the next day to ask why (she hardly slept a wink, her whole body buzzing with the feeling of wanting him). He tells her that he had a feeling she wanted him to, and that's why he didn't. He said he needed to make sure she'd call him, says he wants to see her again, and then that night, after the quiet dinner they share at an exclusive restaurant, he kisses her outside her apartment door, and she doesn't let go of his hand until he walks away.

She's only ever done that with one other person, and she has no idea why she thinks of Lucas as soon as she's inside her apartment, but it's a fleeting memory, then she's dialing Brooke's number and not caring how late it is, because 'ohmygod he kisses just as good as you'd think he would.'

| Well the last time I saw you were waving goodbye
From the back of the train with a tear in your eye |

Nathan has moved on to the University of Maryland, and of course, Haley and Jamie go with him. That leaves Lucas alone in that little college town, in a new house, smaller and with more affordable rent. He's still the head coach of that team, the team he's coached to two championships. Well, one and a half, as Nathan so aptly points out every time it's brought up.

He's toned down his actions from the year prior, when he'd let girls approach him (never, ever the other way around). The summer in his hometown alone changed all that. His mother and little sister were around until only the second week of July, then took off sailing with Andy, and Lucas was thrilled for his mother and the happiness she'd found. The town felt strange with the closed café and the empty house he was living in. He got a job at the auto shop Keith used to own, and he worked 8:00-5:00 each day. He'd spend time with Nathan and Haley and Jamie while they were around, but other than that, he kind of kept to himself.

And he finds that he likes keeping to himself.

He also finds it makes him think of her more. But what he's come to realize is that the time he was, not happiest, that's not the right word, but the most balanced, the most stable, in his life, one of the constants was her. He thinks that maybe missing her or whatever it is he's doing is the thing that'll keep him focused, sane even.

It's crazy, absolutely ridiculous, and if he were to see a psychologist, they'd probably tell him it's unhealthy, but it makes sense to him. Everything to do with Peyton always did.

| Now I hear you're in love with some big city man
And together you're making your big city plans
And you hope he don't find out about who you are
That we used to catch fireflies in mason jars |

It's April the first time he sees a photo of her with that actor that he hates that he likes (what can he say? the guy's talented). She's wearing a beautiful floor length gown that he's sure is by some big designer, her arm linked through Carter's and a smile on her face as they attend some event. She looks gorgeous, staring back at him from the cover of People. She's smiling. She looks happy. And the way Carter is looking at her, it's like she's the most precious, perfect, beautiful thing in the world, and Lucas smiles, because she is. The headline, in bright, tacky yellow block letters reads 'Looks Like Love.' Lucas shakes his head, then greets the cashier at the grocery store, trying to ignore what he's seen, though he knows he's going to receive phone calls from everyone who knows both he and Peyton.

But it doesn't really matter that she's with someone, because it's no change from the way they always were. Separate, even when they were 'together'.

Never just together.

He takes the sudden surge in tabloid gossip with a grain of salt, because they're tabloids and he has a hard time believing anything within their pages at the best of times. He hates to see photos of her and her boyfriend shielding their faces from paparazzi, but there is a part of him that likes that every single time, her hand is tucked into Carter's as though her boyfriend is hanging onto her, supporting her through the attention neither of them wants, touching her skin with his simply to remind him why they're doing it.

But Lucas could be reading too much into it.

He reads all about her success and her business in some industry magazine that Haley tells him to buy, and he's so unspeakably proud of her that he can't even begin to explain it. She's doing exactly what she set out to do, and she mentions in the interview that the name of the label was inspired by her bedroom in high school, and that she might have to credit 'an old friend', and he smiles, takes the magazine and drops it into the drawer at his desk. Of all the magazines she's been in, this is the only one he's kept.

The day there's a flurry of media speculation, suggestions that Carter was spotted at a jewelry store looking at rings and left with something in his hands, Lucas receives an email from Brooke, the first in probably two years.

All it says is, 'It's not true.'

He breathes a sigh of relief.

Because as much as he thinks that Peyton might be happy, he wonders what she's like when she and this other guy are alone. Does she lounge around in his tee shirts? (Carter's, not Lucas', though he wonders about that from time to time, too.) Does she still sit in her pajamas all day long if it's raining on a Saturday? That was always one of her rules. Does she still melt little squares of chocolate into her coffee every so often, just because? He knows she's not the same person she was at 18, and he doesn't expect her to be, but he still has to wonder if she feels like herself with this new guy. Whatever self that is.

And it's entirely selfish, the way he both does and doesn't hope she does.

| And we used to go down to the county fair
And we listened to blue grass in summer air |

After Peyton bursts into his home (she has a key now, and they spend most of their time there anyway), demanding to know if he's planning to propose, and what the hell, and I'm not ready for that, and why were you in a jewelry story, Carter decides that they both need to get away from L.A., tells her that he's most definitely not proposing (though in the back of his mind, he's thinking that maybe someday down the line, he will), and he's not ready right now either, and he was buying a gift for his mother's birthday.

"Oh," she says.

He gets up from where he was sitting comfortably, reading through a script, and walks towards her. "I'm going home for the week. Come with me."

She shakes her head as his arms loop around her waist. "Carter..."

"I want you to meet my family," he says seriously. "To see where I grew up." His voice is so earnest that she has to stop glowering. "You'll love Texas."

"I've been," she says quietly. His brow furrows, and she knows he's about to ask why he didn't know that. "In high school. We took a road trip."

"Where to?"

"Honey Grove."

"Never heard of it," he says. She laughs, and he kisses her. "Come with me. Please? You can't say no. Me, you, the ranch..."

"Your family," she mumbles.

"Who'll love you." He leaves no room for argument, like it's preposterous for anyone to dislike her. "Like I do," he adds quietly.

They haven't yet said the words. He's felt them for a while, and she's known it, and recently, she's been doing everything she can think of to avoid hearing him say it, though she doesn't exactly know why. From what she's heard, you're supposed to want to hear it from your boyfriend, and you're certainly supposed to want to hear it from your gorgeous, talented, maybe kind of perfect actor boyfriend.

She senses that he can tell she won't say the words, and so he doesn't say them either, even though it's out there now and he can't take it back. "So will you come?" he asks, flashing her the puppy dog eyes and the grin that probably won him the Golden Globe that's sitting 10 feet away from him on the mantle.

That award sits next to his SAG Award, which sits next to a photo of he and Peyton together, which sits next to one of he, Peyton, Brooke and Julian all together, which sits next to one of Peyton, Brooke and Lucas that he insists he loves and wants to keep in his house. Peyton has no idea why, but it's there, and she sees it almost every single day, and almost always, she smiles. It seems like forever ago. Every so often, she wonders where all the time went and how she ended up where she's ended up.

In the arms of a man who's practically just declared his love, but who she can't say the words to. She ignores that photo of her younger self (and that other boy's younger self) and looks at Carter.

"Let's go to Texas," she says, and he takes a sharp breath of pure happiness and kisses her quickly. She's laughing, because as sexy as he is, all the time, he's so adorable sometimes that she just wants to put him in her pocket.

His family fawns over her like she's some amazing girl to have been able to get 'their Carter to bring her home'. As she helps his mother, Karen (yeah, she didn't necessarily need that reminder either), with dinner, the woman tells Peyton that the last time they met one of Carter's girlfriends, he was in high school. Peyton doesn't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, so she says nothing, just continues peeling potatoes, and she's a little less nervous knowing that his family likes her.

The second night they're there, she's a little more comfortable, and she's cradling a beer in her hands as she sits out on the back deck, listening to her iPod and enjoying the warm night air of Western Texas or wherever exactly it is that they are. Carter comes outside and sits next to her, and like he does so often, he pulls one of her earbuds out and pops it into his own ear so he can listen to whatever she's got playing.

"What is that?" he asks with a laugh, handing the earbud back to her.

"Bluegrass," she answers simply. "The SteelDrivers."

"Why are you listening to bluegrass?"

She shrugs her shoulder and sips her beer, then looks back out across the lawn. "It's good."

Good and reminiscent. It's not the time, and it's definitely not the place, but as she was searching through her library of music, this genre and this band stuck out to her. And Lucas had made fun of her for it at first too, but by the end of the album, he was wholeheartedly on her side. She smiles to herself; getting Lucas on her side had never taken much.

She doesn't know why she's thinking of him. Carter slips his hand over to rest on her shoulder, then lightly runs it over the back of her neck, and she tries to stop thinking of Lucas, but then she just can't. She tenses, leans forward in her chair at the sight across the yard, moving around by the wooden fence that lines the property.

"What?" he asks, turning to her and letting his hand move down her arm to wrap around her fingers.

"Nothing. Just...fireflies," she says quietly, and she gently, subconsciously, pulls her hand from his.

Another memory from that same summer, and she can't shake it. A boy with blue eyes and a childish smile on his face, suggesting 100 per cent seriously that they catch fireflies. She'd thought he was joking, but he wasn't, and it ended up being one of the most fun nights she's ever had.

It hits her like a freight train, knocks the breath from her lungs, when she realizes that no night since then, no movie premier or awards show, has been as much fun as being 16 years old, running through some farmer's field at the outskirts of town, laughing with Lucas as they tried to fill their mason jar with fireflies and came up with only one.

And so it's absolutely insane, truly crazy, but she breaks up with Carter when they return to L..A.

Because it's two years too late, or maybe something like five years too late, but somewhere in those six days in Texas, she realizes that all that time she spent ignoring that Lucas loved her, she spent loving him back just as much.

| And we danced all night as the rain came down
And you held my hand as we slept on the ground |

She shows up at Brooke and Julian's place late after the heartbreaking (he just looked so sad) conversation with Carter, and okay, maybe she stopped at the bar down the street for a few (seven) beers before finding her way to this door.

"Peyton?" Brooke asks, though it's very clear who it is that's waking her up at one in the morning. She pulls open the door and ties her robe at her waist, and Julian's pulling his tee shirt over his head behind her. "What are you doing here?"

"Breaking up with Carter."


"I'm not. I mean now. I mean I already did. Broke up with him," Peyton rambles drunkenly. Brooke turns to her boyfriend, very quietly asks him to get Peyton some water, but the blonde doesn't hear any of that conversation. "Texas is hot, you know?"

"Um...yes. I...I gather," Brooke says, completely confused as she guides Peyton to the sofa, where she flops down. "Start at the beginning. What in the world happened?"

"You know I kissed Lucas?" Peyton says, her head rolling lazily to the side to look at Brooke.

"Where? When?" Brooke questions quickly. Why the hell is Peyton talking about Lucas?

"On the mouth. When I left home."

"No, I don't mean where on his body, I mean.." Brooke stops, presses her fingers to her forehead, and tries to compose her own thoughts so she might be able to understand Peyton's. "What do you mean, you broke up with Carter?"

Julian walks back into the room and hands Peyton the bottle of cold water, and she takes a long sip. "It was good. It was...what it was supposed to feel like, you know?"

Brooke nods, rests her hand on Peyton's knee as Julian sits down on the coffee table across from the girls. "I know. Carter's..."

"No! The kiss. God, can you keep up?" Peyton says, sounding exhausted and drunk and...something like completely confused. Julian laughs from his place as Brooke sits there, stunned. "You get it, right, J?"

"Uh. Yes. Yeah, I get it," he says, just to humour her. He honestly has no clue what's going on.

"And Carter...Carter...Carter is...He's Carter. You know? Carter!" Peyton says desperately. "He's..."

"Carter?" Julian supplies, unable to keep himself from grinning, and Brooke glares at him. He's so not helping this situation.

"Yeah," Peyton says. She makes it sound like he's the most profound person she's ever met, saying the most amazing things, like finally there's someone who understands.

"Okay, maybe we should just get you tucked in and we can talk in the morning," Brooke suggests gently, brushing the hair back from Peyton's face. "When you're sober."

Peyton stands when Julian reaches for her, then loops his arm under hers. "I think I love him."

"Who?" Julian asks. "Cart..."

"No," Brooke interrupts. "Lucas." She looks at her boyfriend pointedly, like she's known it all along and she's kind of been waiting for this.

Then she realizes that Peyton is talking about Lucas for the same reason Brooke sent him that email to Lucas a couple weeks ago. Because there was always something there. Brooke hadn't realized just how much, or that Peyton felt those feelings quite so deeply. It's so obvious now that she can't believe she didn't see it earlier. Like, ever.

"Lucas," Peyton whispers, her voice full of longing and regret and maybe something like...whimsy. Whatever it is, Brooke can't identify it in the middle of the night when it's coming from a drunk person.

Julian gets Peyton into a seated position on the bed in the spare room, and Brooke helps her off with her jacket as he tackles removing the blonde's shoes. They make her drink the whole bottle of water, though they know it won't be much help in the morning with the hangover she's sure to have. She lays down, and Brooke pulls up the covers, and Peyton's asleep before she and Julian have closed the door behind them.

"What the hell just happened?" Julian asks, shaking his head.

"She's in love with Lucas, probably always has been, kissed him before she moved here, and she broke up with Carter."

"But wh..."

"Probably because something happened that made her realize it, and she knew it was better to end things with him than to drag it out when she knows she's still got feelings for Lucas," Brooke says. They step back into their bedroom, and she wraps her arms around him.

"This is crazy," he says quietly. He and Carter are practically best friends. He, and he suspects Carter, too, never saw this coming.

"I know," she says, and Julian's lips graze her temple.

"I guess not everyone figures it out as quickly as we did." She pulls away, smiles at him sadly, because it's sweet, but she can't be happy right now, not when she's so worried about her best friend. "It'll be okay. She'll be okay."

Peyton wakes up in the morning, and it takes her a minute to figure out where she is. Then she sits up, remembers the alcohol (it reminds her in the form of a splitting headache) and also remembers something about telling Brooke about Lucas, that maybe she loved him, and... Oh God, she needs to take some painkillers. She can't possibly face the questions from her best friend just yet, and she can tell the apartment is completely quiet, so she slips on her shoes and leaves a note for Brooke, says she'll explain everything later when it makes more sense to her, and she leaves.

When she gets back to her place, she heads straight for the closet and pulls out an old shoe box she knows is full of a bunch of pictures that she just normally can't, won't look at. There are a bunch of their group from high school, doing all those normal high school things; at basketball games or dances, concerts or the River Court. But the majority are just Lucas, or just Peyton, or just Lucas and Peyton together. There's one of the two of them, Peyton gesturing with her hands and Lucas in the middle of an eye roll. She knows Haley took that picture, walked into Lucas' bedroom in the middle of some kind of argument and took the picture, breaking the tension. There's one of the two of them on graduation day, the tassel from her cap dangling in his eye.

And there's one of his battle wound from that basketball game where she (accidentally) punched him in the face. There's a close-up of his face from shortly after the incident, the camera focused on that quarter inch long gash just below his eye. There's another from that same summer, the two of them drenched to the bone because all day she'd insisted on staying inside in her pajamas, then at night she wanted to go out, so they walked through the town in the pouring rain.

She thinks she loved him even then.

She thinks she needs him now.

| And we wrote our names in the old oak wood
I guess some things don't work out like they should. |

That feeling that he had years ago, that he couldn't stay in Tree Hill if she wasn't there with him, isn't there anymore. He owns his house (well, it was given to him), and he finds he likes the quiet, the stillness he feels when he steps out onto his porch after dark. He'll sit there for hours, all on his own with a cup of tea or a glass of whiskey, just letting his world exist around him. It's perfect. It's what he's wanted, but didn't want to admit. His family is off in other parts of the country and other parts of the world, but he still feels close to them when he's here. It's nice, he decides, that he's young and he's got his life in order, and he can just live it quietly. He's got ambition and things he wants to do, but he can do them from here, and it's kind of perfect.

He doesn't ignore the reminders anymore. Doesn't ignore that every time it rains, he smiles to himself, thinking about how crazy she got anytime the forecast called for it. He thinks of her every time he sees that scar, though it's faded a bit over the years. He thinks of it all. Laughter and stupid fights, and every time he's in the school walking to his office and he's forced to pass her old locker, he thinks of how much time they spent there, what drawings she'd posted inside.

He realizes that he probably still loves her. He's gotten pretty good at living with that, too, since he's been doing it for almost ten years.

He's at the cemetery on Saturday afternoon with two bouquets of flowers in his hand, and after he's finished at Keith's stone he walks over to Anna's, but on the way, he glances to that tree, grown taller and wider since he last really paid it any attention. He sees two sets of initials carved in the bark, right there in the space that was always between them when they'd sit there together. She'd always thought it was cool, poetic, she'd say, that only their first initials were different and their middle and last ones were the same.

He doesn't stay long at Anna's grave, just sets the flowers down, lets his hand fall to the stone for a moment, then walks away, because he's preoccupied by the thought that he could have married her daughter and been happy for the rest of his life.

| Do you miss me?
Do you miss me? |

She's on her way to the airport with a bagged packed with...whatever; she doesn't really remember what she put in there. It doesn't matter. She called her assistant and said she'd be gone for a while, and when she was asked how long a while was, she didn't know what to say, because the only word on her tongue was forever, and she knew that was a terrifying concept for a 19-year-old receptionist.

It isn't terrifying for Peyton at all. She could leave L.A. for good if it meant she got Lucas. She has no idea, though, if he'll want to see her or care that she has things to say, and oh God, what in the world is she doing? He could be dating someone, though Haley didn't mention anything about it the last time they spoke about a month ago, and she's on the verge of tears thinking about it in the back of a cab when her phone rings. She tells Brooke she's going home, and Brooke says something about them getting together for dinner, and Peyton says that no, she's going to Tree Hill. She's met with silence, then Brooke lets out a sound that's a little like a laugh.

"Okay," she says.

"Okay?" Peyton asks skeptically. Okay is not a Brooke Davis response to such ridiculous behaviour.

"I'm not stupid, Peyton," Brooke says. "You don't just show up at my doorstep drunk and talking about love for no reason at all."

"Can we maybe...never talk about that?" Peyton says, embarrassed to the tenth degree. "Ever?"

"Julian wanted to take pictures."

"Oh God," Peyton groans as her cab pulls up to LAX. "I've gotta go."


"Brooke, I'll...I'll...I don't know what the hell I'm doing, but I...I have to."

She hangs up before Brooke can respond, and she knows she'll pay for that later, but right now her main concern is getting on the next flight to North Carolina.

This is the craziest, stupidest, probably destined-to-cause-heartbreak thing she's ever done. She's just scared that if she doesn't do it, she'll always wonder and she'll always hope and she'll always miss him. At least this way, she can end a chapter that they somehow paused in the middle of.

Or maybe get some kind of happy ending.

| Do you miss me?
Do you miss me? |

He gets home and he's not paying attention to anything but the keys in his hand and trying to find the right one to unlock his door. He's got his playbook and laptop in a bag in his other hand, and he's had a long day of sitting with Nathan in the kitchen of his brother and Haley's summer home, trying to come up with new plays to use with his team when he starts his job at Tree Hill High.

He really doesn't know what this woman, this gorgeous, spectacular, terrific woman who is making him weak in the knees already, is doing sitting on his porch steps, looking sad and scared and nervous. But also like she belongs there. He stops in his tracks no more than ten feet away from her, and he thinks that if this is some kind of cruel dream or something, he's going to be really pissed off.

She notices him there and her heart races, and she can feel her chin trembling and tears in her eyes. He looks...perfect. He is perfect. "Lucas," she says, just barely a whisper.

"Hi." It's all he can think to say. "Um...hi."

She laughs, bites her lip, and stands, and the tension radiates from her. "Hi."

He walks towards her, and her heart breaks when he walks past her. It's clear she's surprised him, and she expected as much. But she also expected a hug. A smile. An 'ohmygod you're here'. Or something. Not...that. But then she remembers that she's the one who left, kissed him and left and messed it all up, and maybe she can't blame him for treading lightly or being mad at her. He walks through the door into his bedroom, and he leaves the door open, and she assumes that it's okay to follow him.

He doesn't invite her in, because what the hell is she doing there? She's got a boyfriend and a life in L.A., and they haven't spoken in years, really, and this is insane. She literally shows up on his doorstep out of nowhere, looking like a fucking goddess, all blonde hair and tanned skin, and there's no way he can look at her right now. But then he hears the door click closed behind her, and he's confused because he wants this, wants her, and it might be wrong in a thousand other ways, but it's right in that one. He wants her.

"So...hi," she says, laughing quietly after, because they've done this part. He hardly looks at her, sets his bag on his desk and moves a few things around that she realizes he probably doesn't want her to see. It hurts her. "I know this is...out of the blue."

He laughs, looks over at her with a strange expression on his face. "Just a little."

"I'm sorry. I didn't even know if you lived here. I thought Haley might have said something about it, but I...I just...came here, and then I asked your neighbour and she told me that you...You do. And...I waited," she says hurriedly. She can't even remember if there's an apology in there, but she thinks there might have been, but she adds for good measure, "sorry."

He wants to smile, because he loves that she's nervous around him. It might mean something that she is. "No, it's okay, I'm just...confused."

There's that word again, the one he used before and it practically tore them apart. But that was stupid, and she shouldn't have let it happen, and she knows that now, knows that it was selfish and childish to let their friendship go, almost end, the way it did. She's determined not to let that happen again.

"I thought you were with...That you had a..." he says.

She realizes he can't say the word. She thinks that might mean he still feels the same way for her as he always did, and it's selfish of her to think that she's glad he never really moved on. But she thinks it. Because she loves him. If there was ever any doubt, it was erased completely when she saw his car round the corner and him step out and start towards her.

"No. I mean, yeah, I was. But not now. Not anymore."

"Peyton?" he asks, noticing that she's not looking at him.

"Yeah?" she answers quickly. When she looks at him, he's smirking, like he's absolutely amused by her state of soul-shaking nervousness. He looks so damn good that she almost wonders if he's trying to make her fall even harder.


| Do you miss me?
Do you miss me? |

She closes her eyes and sits herself down on the edge of his bed so that her back is to him. She doesn't know what to say, if anything, that'll make him understand. And yet she realizes she hasn't tried very hard. She just doesn't know where to start, and telling him that she ended her relationship yesterday probably wouldn't be a good jumping off point.

"So um..." She's lost for words when he sits down next to her. He smells like cologne and cookies and grass and summer and just about everything else that's good in the world. She may be exaggerating. "So...Okay, you remember that time we fell asleep?"

"Which time?" he asks, laughing how vague her question is. They fell asleep together too many times for him to possibly know which one she means.

"Right," she whispers. "By the River Court. That summer." That summer. He nods his head, because it's very apparent now. She loves that he remembers. "You kissed my forehead."

He looks over at her, and she smiles weakly, and she can tell he's embarrassed. That was the first time his lips ever touched any part of her. "I thought you were asleep already." She shakes her head. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because...because I liked it, and...I just...I liked that you didn't know," she admits. She looks down at her hands, because she fears that if she looks at him, she'll just lean over and kiss him.


"I kissed you at the airport because I wanted to, and I think I always wanted to, and I thought that...that maybe if I didn't do it then, I'd never get to," she says. It's all quick, and her words run together, but she's sure he hears her anyway.

"Okay," he repeats. He doesn't quite understand exactly what she's getting at.

"I think about you all the time. And it's stupid things, like...like the tee shirts in my drawer that I never wear but can't throw away," she says. He turns towards her a little more and their knees touch. She feels like a teenager again. "And then I was in Texas, and..."


"With Carter," she explains, though she waves it off, because really, that other guy doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things. "And there were fireflies, and I was listening to music - bluegrass - and it was like you were everywhere...And I wanted...He could have been it, but...but you are."

"Peyton..." He shakes his head, but it's not because she hasn't just said the most amazingly perfect things. It's because she's here, now, after all this time, and it seems like someone just flicked a switch, like she suddenly thought of all this, and he doesn't know how much that means.

"I'm just...I don't know. It feels like...like I never should have left or something," she admits quietly.

He wants to kiss her, to tell her in every way he can think of that this is what he wants. Just her. That he loves her and he's been waiting for this moment, and that he never stopped wanting her, not since he was 14 and she was arguing with him over the integrity of The Grapes of Wrath. But after years of it being so damn hard for them, for him, he can't believe, maybe doesn't want to believe, that it's this easy. He doesn't want to believe that she can just hop on a plane, show up at his doorstep, and have him any way she wants him. There's a bigger part of him that knows that she's well aware that this is crazy. She knows that she can't really expect him to just pull her into his arms and they can be together. He likes that she doesn't seem to think that he owes her anything, or that she really owes him anything.

And he does want to just pull her into his arms so they can be together.

"What...what are you doing here, Peyton?" he asks, though she's just explained it all, and he knows her answer, and he wants it all to be true, wants her to want him.

She looks at him, his face so close to her own and his eyes soft, forgiving. "I just missed you."

That's all it takes, those simple words, ones he's been waiting for her to say, and none of the rest of it means anything at all. Of course, all those other things she said do, but not the years and the stupid distance and everything else. Now, suddenly, it all seems so insignificant, so petty, and all he wants is to somehow go back in time and avoid it all. He'd tell her all the reasons she couldn't move to L.A., starting with I love you. And he could say it now, those three words. Or he could say he missed her too.

But he doesn't.

Say it, that is.

He just kisses her. He takes her face in his hands and kisses her, almost the same way she did to him at the airport. They can talk about the rest later. Right now, the way they're pressed together, his hands tangled in her hair and hers holding his shirt, is doing all the talking for them. They haven't talked at all in the last couple years or however long it's been, and they've hardly spoken now, really (she has, he hasn't). He doesn't care.

Because she missed him.