Author's Note- I know I was hoping to get this final chapter out by Christmas, however, I was home the last two weeks and I just couldn't find the time. I'm really happy that I got to be with my family for the holidays, but I'm also pretty ecstatic about finishing up this story! :)

I have to say, for only ten chapters, this story has been a long road. I mean, a year and a half? To be honest, it's been a rough road. For me, that last year and a half was where I made a bunch of life changing decisions. And I'm glad I was able to share with you guys while I progressed and grew up.

My point is that I want to thank everyone for being supportive and following this story until the end.

(I told you I would finish it ;P)

There are way too many of you- nearly 300 reviews and 100+ followers- to thank you all individually. So my gratitude is this chapter. I hope you enjoy and continue to follow my work. I'll be cracking down on Beautifully Cursed next. :)

Love you guys! Please enjoy.

The Truth Hurts

Pull yourself together, Chloe.

I continued to tell myself to buck up, to get over it, to be stronger than that girl. But, all in vain, I was embarrassed to admit.

The truth? I was shattered. I shouldn't be but, I couldn't help it. I was the one that allowed Derek to take his time in our relationship. Just as new to everything as he was, I thought it would have been better to put less pressure on something so new and fragile. But, now I just thought that maybe I should have demanded what he wanted out of what was going on between us. That way, I wouldn't have gotten my hopes up or allowed him to string me along when he clearly had other ideas with Rae.

And, because he wasn't my boyfriend, he wasn't obligated to choose me over her. And that was what had me crushed into a million, pathetic, self- pitying pieces. The fact that he had to keep it a secret that he would pick having her, trusting her and sharing with her a bond he had no interest in keeping just between us.

So, for the past couple of hours- it could have been days, I didn't really care- I just sat there, back pressed against the front door ever since I had shut it on Derek's face, knees pulled to my chest, eyes puffy and red, cheeks stained in long since shed tears. I wasn't crying anymore, having doing so until I felt numb. I got so tired of just balling my eyes out that my thoughts finally became coherent and I knew it was really my fault that I felt so hurt.

I had been the one that had opened up. I had allowed Derek in, to trust and feel and share and I- I just felt so stupid. I should have followed my first instinct, pegging Derek as someone who didn't care about others. I could see how much he cared for his family, but, I had thought that he had cared that much for me too and really, I knew nothing about him or what he felt no matter how much I thought I understood him.

How could you be such an idiot?

I'm sure another hour or two passed as that became the center of my thoughts. Everything I had done wrong to get myself hurt. And soon, I just got tired of it. I wouldn't say I was done feeling upset or sorry for myself. Just sick of sitting there and crying about it.

So, I stood and wiped at my face. I glanced at my reflection in the window beside the front door and surprisingly thanked Tori for her waterproof mascara. When I was slightly satisfied that I didn't look I had been balling on and on for hours, I grabbed my sweatshirt from the coat hanger and threw the front door open, no purpose or certain desire in mind, just wanting to get out of the house.

It was nearly dusk and the sky was pink in light of the setting sun. I took a deep breath of nuke warm, late July air and started walking. I just walked. I didn't know where I was going nor did I care. I just wanted to go.

I decided to turn right when I reached Constance Ave. Instead of left towards the cul-de-sac and Derek's house. I'm sure the block party was coming to a close by now, but I didn't want to be anywhere near Derek, Diane, Rae or anybody for the matter. And, considering that everyone would be finishing up with their festivities, I figured that the park would be abandoned and open for business.

By the time I got to the park, the sun had set and the neighborhood was deathly silent, save for a few singing crickets. I was grateful for the peace that the area offered me. It was a little more settling than being around the empty house knowing that Derek was just a few yards away and that I was alone in a home that I used to be able to run up the stairs to Mom's room and confide in her.

I wandered over towards the swings and slumped into one of the simple, banana shaped devices. I allowed my feet to dangle, my toes grazing gingerly against the pebbles that layered the playground. I repeated over and over to keep control of my emotions at the moment, for I was on the verge of slipping back into the wreck I had been a mere twenty minutes ago. I was under the impression that telling myself to be strong was keeping me from breaking down again and that was good. Progress. But, in reality, who could I be kidding? I was by myself at a park in the early hours of the evening convincing my emotions that I was better than all this, which was clearly the biggest cliché in all romantic tragedies.

I huffed angrily and kicked at the rocks below me, my light swaying unpleasantly disturbed by the movement. As the pebbles I had defaced settled, the sound of them bouncing against each other did not. I frowned and listened, hearing the soft disruption sounding from behind. I glanced back, squinting in the dark to make out a light silhouette approaching slowly. My heart skipped a beat, finding the figure large and cautious and I was afraid that it was Derek. I didn't once think that it might have been a stranger and that willingly coming to the park in the dark had put my safety in danger. Just simply that I didn't want to see or talk to him.

I made to get up and spit out something that sounded like, 'Leave me alone, Derek,' before the hands of the shadow shot up in surrender, the figure instantly downsized into something just a hint smaller than Derek's.

"Hey, it's just me. Sorry, uh, I didn't mean to sneak up on you."

My brows knit together questioningly, as he was the last person I planned on running into- ever, really. Not since Derek and I had been at this very park nearly a month before. After the conflict we had run into and Derek's clear protection and caution against the idea, I just naively allowed myself to believe that he and I wouldn't meet again. I didn't really consider seeing him at school either.

That was stupid.

"L-Liam? What are you d-doing here?"

My eyes focused and his person became clear in the limited light of the park. Tall, not quite as big as Derek, long, dirty blonde hair pulled back into a pony and dark blue eyes, surprisingly, empathetic instead of sharp with a light leer and cockiness about them. He dropped his arms and shoved his hands nonchalantly into the pockets of his dark- washed jeans. He shrugged as a response to my question, not really looking at me as he did so.

His aura seemed so bi-polar of his actual personality that I nearly raised a brow in skepticism. However, I was too emotionally exhausted to delve into the freaky mysteries of Liam Malloy. So, I turned away from him, slouched back into my swing and mumbled, "Not now, Liam. I'm not in the mood."

There were a few light crunches beneath his feet as he continued to move. To my displeasure, they were getting louder instead of decreasing. I just sat there, choosing that it was best to ignore him until he lost interest and decided to ditch me. Unfortunately, he did the opposite.

Soon enough, he was right behind me, lightly taking hold of the chains of the swing, just above where my hands sat lazily, and tugging back ever-so-slightly before he let go. I remained still, questioning whether he was up to something or just simply being freaky. As the swing pulled forward, the momentum brought me back to him until his fingers gingerly touched my hips and pushed me again.

"I'll admit that it wasn't any of my business, but you don't deserve to be treated the way you were today. You know, back at the block party."

My chest seized; half in the reminder of events just as I was finding Liam a strange distraction and half from utter perplexity and incredulousness due to the tender tone of his words. He seemed- regretful, almost. Sympathetic and understanding even. To say the least, his current demeanor surprised me as I had never seen him behave in a way that wasn't willing to do anything to get what he wanted.

"I was walking home, not really interested in the stupid block party when I saw you and Mrs. Enright by your house. I heard what she said and, I was going to do something but, your boyfriend showed up. So I backed off."

I had been so worked up about catching Derek with Rae and then suffering through Diane's sinister words that I hadn't even noticed the rest of the block party going on, let alone that Liam was within hearing distance of the entire fiasco.

"And then you guys started arguing and I couldn't help myself. I had to make sure that you were alright."

"What did you say to him," I quarreled, wondering what it was he had done to Derek after I shut him out hours ago. I felt stupid for possessing concern that Liam might have made the situation worse than what it already was. He shouldn't have gotten involved, though. He had been right to begin with that none of this was any of his business.

Suddenly, Liam clasped his hands on the chains again and I stopped swinging. I glanced back at him just as he lowered himself to meet my eye level with wide, sincere blue eyes.

"I swear, I didn't go anywhere near him. I don't care about that asshole. I care about you."

"W-what?"

My stomach squirmed uncomfortably and I could feel my heart beating like a racing rabbit. I stared at him, dazed and troubled, anxiety arising at the very sound of his voice as he said those words. I didn't understand. I've never thought it fathomable to see Liam Malloy- arrogant, cocky and scary Liam Malloy- so grounded, open or- dare I say- sweet.

Was this sweet?

"Listen, Chloe. I know it may be hard to believe, but I really do like you. A lot. And I apologize if I've ever come off too strong. Mostly, I just try to impress the guys. You know, show Ramon I'm not the pushover he thinks I am every time he catches me staring at you."

"L-Liam, I-I-" What the hell was I supposed to say? For the majority of high school I've lived in a slight fear of being alone with Liam. Even now, deep down, I could feel in my gut that something wasn't right. But, for him- for God's sake, this was Liam- to admit something so personal and almost coyly as if he were embarrassed, either something didn't fit or this was the real Liam.

"I'm aware that you might have trust issues now, after what that jerk did to you. But I'm not Souza and I'm not that backstabbing, bitch Rachelle either. If it means that I have to look like a sucker in front of the guys too, then let me show you that I mean it." He seemed so earnest that I wouldn't be surprised if I were dreaming all this up in my movie-fanatic noggin right now.

But why would I dream about something like this? It wasn't like I had mutual feelings for Liam. In fact, his first impression was that of a predator and a creep. Of course, who was I to judge first impressions when my judgments of Derek never turned out to be accurate whether he had lied to me or not.

"I don't feel the sa-"

"I'll grow on you, Chloe. Just give me a chance."

"How do I know you're telling the truth?"

Liam's lips quirked in a sad smile, eyes flashing in hurt as I still didn't trust him. And I just felt so wrong for regretting making him feel this way. If anything, after all he's put me through, he deserved to be questioned.

"Figuring out that Souza had been lying to you must have been painful, Chloe. But, when he said the truth, about you not being his girlfriend, that hurt worse. I could tell." Liam said quietly. He released the swing and slowly grazed his fingers across my cheek, bright eyes holding mine mercilessly as he continued.

"The truth hurts, cutie. Even now it's conflicting you and all I ask is for a chance. I can't promise I won't ever hurt you, but I can promise that I'll never lie to you."

His palm settled against my jaw and I swallowed anxiously as his face drifted closer to mine. I was frozen, hypnotized and unable to break free. This wasn't fair. He couldn't do this, even if he was being honest. I was too vulnerable. Incapable of functioning correctly. If I were, then I would have run at the first sign of him.

But maybe-

His lips brushed mine softly and I gasped before he claimed them. I didn't stop breathing because I was surprised or taken off guard. Not because of pleasure or desire. Not because he left me breathless and dazzled.

It was because I knew, in that moment, that I was in trouble.

I broke contact and stuttered, "L-Liam-" But his mouth was against mine again before I could get another word out. I squirmed and brought my hands up to his chest, attempting vainly to push him away as his hand slithered around the back of neck and held me to him. When minor force didn't work I went into a full-on spaz attack.

I writhed against Liam's grip and with each break I breathed, "Stop it. Liam, don't. Get off-" But he wasn't listening and he never had the intention to.

He played you, idiot!

When Liam seemed to get ticked off by my struggles, he wound his free arm around my waist and ripped me from the swing. Before I could release the breath that escaped me, my back hit the floor of rocks, head smacking painfully against the gravel, causing lights to erupt and cloud my vision.

Blindly, I braced to fight or scream or do whatever it took to keep this from happening. Only, it took me a second- after the lights died down and my head stopped spinning- for me to realize that it wasn't.

I staggered to my feet, finding with unspeakable relief that I was free to do so. Grunts and growls filled the air around me, the world tipping slightly as I stood, head throbbing. I carefully gathered my bearing before assessing anything else, the fear of the idea that I might have a concussion overwhelming everything for the briefest moment before I heard, "Stay away from her," in the most threatening, darkest tone of a voice I loved more than I should have.

I spun back towards the swings, just as Liam stumbled up from the gravel, rocks embedded into his right arm and cheek as if he had been thrown to the ground. He chuckled lowly and unevenly as he faced the wall of flesh that stood between us. Tense, vibrating from head to toe, racking with heavy, angry pants, Derek's back greeted me as he became every meaning of the word barrier possible when Liam advanced.

Despite everything- against how much I wanted to hate him- my knees trembled with nothing short of relief.

"D-Derek-" I breathed, voice shaking though I had never felt more safe than I did in this very moment.

"Why don't you mind your own business, Souza? You said so yourself, she's not your girlfriend. If you're allowed to get around with every other girl in the neighborhood, why can't Chloe have a few options of her own?"

"There seems to be a common ground that you and Rachelle are failing to understand. I don't want anything to do with her. Not interested."

My gut clenched in uncertainty at Derek's words, leaving me at a loss of understanding. I had seen them. I heard them talking. Derek even said himself that he had no tie to me and that I shouldn't be concerned about what he did outside of our friendship. How could he state so factually that he didn't have the slightest interest in Rae? Was it just a ruse to rile up Liam's attitude?

"Is that so? Because Rae can't stop bragging about her hook up with the new guy, not to mention Chloe saw you two with her own eyes-"

"Sounds an awful lot like you talking a big game to Nate about Chloe, who happens to hang around my brother," Derek interrupted. "As for Rae attacking me this morning, the situation is pretty damn similar to you taking advantage of Chloe just a minute ago."

I shakily glanced between Liam and Derek, processing their argument, mind specifically reeling around Derek's statements in his defense. Rae attacked him? Just like Liam had just done? Suddenly, their moment from earlier that morning came rushing back in detail.

Derek's grip on her shoulders, arms flexed as if he were struggling to pry her off, shoulders hunched and tense as if he were uncomfortable.

"I don't have time for this, Rachelle."

"Why?" Rae snapped, "Got to hurry and get back to babysitting your boss' little girl?"

"Don't," Derek replied, his voice low. Could it have been depicted as threatening or angry?

"I really don't understand why you continue to entertain her and her little fantasies. Why bother when you have something ten times better? Smarter, prettier and way more experienced. Name one thing Chloe has that I don't."

Why hadn't Derek answered? If I knew him, which, before today's events, I thought I had him pretty figured out, I would have assumed that he could care less what Rae thought nor that she deserved for him to explain himself or his feelings.

I wanted so badly to believe this side of the story but, I just couldn't. Not entirely. Not while I had the slightest doubt as Derek had still lied to both Tori and Simon and then to me. Was the idea that Rae had jumped Derek plausible? More than that of Derek having a relationship with her, I'll admit. But what was he still so keen on hiding?

"I don't know what game you two are playing at," Derek continued as Liam's eyes darkened in disdain. "But you don't want to have me involved anymore. That includes dragging Chloe into it. I'm giving you one last warning. Don't start anything with me, or I'll make you regret it."

I assumed that Liam might have been smart and would have taken Derek's word into consideration. Instead he just stared at Derek, dark eyes calculating for a moment before he smirked.

"You think you have things all figured out, don't you? You just stroll into my neighborhood and think you can order me around, call all the shots as if you own the place?" Liam chortled, slowly sauntering towards Derek who took a more defensive stance. I whispered a silent curse, knowing this tactic for I had seen Liam use it before just as he was about to start a fight at school.

His plan was to psych Derek out. Make him feel inferior until Derek's efforts to defend himself became as much. And, knowing Derek, it wouldn't work. And Derek wasn't the kind of guy to let someone like Liam get whatever he wanted, especially if what Liam wanted was me. So he would fight. And he might get hurt.

I quickly dug into my pockets and ripped out my phone. I flipped it open in haste and punched three single digits into the receiver.

"Liam!"

The two about to face-off glanced in my direction, Derek looking at me for the first time since he had separated Liam and I. I ignored his, 'Get the fuck out of here, Chloe,' look and met Liam's perplexed eyes. I stepped forward and held up my phone for him to see, hopefully making the image as clear as the message.

"I'd think twice about picking a fight if I were you." I noted dryly. He quirked his brow and an almost disbelieving, crooked smile danced across his lips.

"What are you going to do, Chloe? Call your Dad?"

"No, the police. An eighteen year old attacking two minors? That doesn't really sound too good to me."

Liam scowled. First at me, then he tossed it over to Derek. Again, I kept thinking the best of Liam, figuring that he would just give it all up already and leave. Probably because I genuinely thought that the Liam I had seen alone existed somehow, even if it was all just an act. But, Liam did something else.

He took that last step he needed to be just a few inches away from Derek. I clutched my phone tighter, thumb hovering over the call button in waiting for Liam to throw the first punch because, after my threat, I knew that Derek wouldn't. Liam leaned into to Derek's ear, slowly and methodically and whispered something inaudible to my ears a few feet away.

Suddenly, Derek shoved at him and growled a string of curses. He recoiled and made to pounce again but I was there, grabbing at his arms from behind and shouting, "Derek, stop. He's not worth it."

Derek stopped, but he didn't relax. He was panting heavily and angrily and he hissed a low, rumbled, "Stay away from her," as I pulled him away, guiding him to the street that would lead us home. I didn't bother to look at Liam or bombard him with any more threats. I merely received his leering chuckles as Derek and I turned away, Derek's arm pulling me into him in the process, much like that of our first encounter with Liam. The only thing I fought about the physical contact was of how good and bad it felt all at the same time.

"What did he say?" I questioned, tossing that part of our issues aside for later.

"It doesn't matter. The point was to get a reaction out of me and he did. Now he's going to make my life a living hell because he knows he has you as leverage."

"You don't have to protect me. What do you think you're going to do, retire from your current job and ask my Dad to enlist you as my bodyguard for school?"

"That's an idea." Derek muttered, still steamed but notably calming down as we made our way down Constance Ave.

"Derek, the only reason he involved you is because you got in his way. I know you don't want to have anything to do with it, so just stay out of it. I can take care of-"

"Chloe, stop." Derek snapped. He stopped us dead in our tracks and stood in front of me. Only, it was less of standing and more of a looming as if I were a little girl who had just stolen from the cookie jar and was about to get an ass chewing.

"First of all, you clearly can't take care of yourself. You have to understand that if I hadn't of shown up, Liam wouldn't have stopped. He would have hurt you, Chloe. You know that right?"

"Of course I knew that, I was getting ready to fight-"

"Getting ready to-" Derek interrupted again, tone incredulous and even unnecessarily angry. "You shouldn't have even been there in the first place. After our last experience there, what the hell had you been thinking, wandering the streets and the park at night? A lot worse than Liam is out here, Chloe-"

"I'm aware of that, but I wasn't exactly feeling well and who could blame me for not wanting to stay home by myself?"

"Chloe," Derek growled and I knew that my argument was mediocre. He was right and I hated that. But I had taken a stupid risk and could have gotten myself hurt. Much like I had done in trusting the very guy that stood protectively over me.

"Secondly," Derek continued, lower and surprisingly calmer. "I am involved in this because I don't want to see you get hurt."

He said this slowly, partially because he seemed to be trying to get it across as meaningful and sincere as he possibly could and also because he seemed almost bashful in admitting it. Like he was that guy who had first kissed me two weeks ago, treading uncharted waters.

"Believe it or not, I care about you-"

"That's the same thing that Liam said."

"Because Liam is a psychopath but I'm the one who's been trying to prove it to you for the last couple of months." Derek blurted heatedly.

I blinked, slightly taken aback by his abrupt confession. His green eyes glowed dangerously bright in the dark, emotions flitting through them unusually and too quickly for me to gather exactly what they meant. But still, the number one question reverberated through my brain, forever halted me from fully believing anything he said.

"Then why did you lie to me?"

Derek sighed and bowed his head confirming that he was, in fact, at fault here. He couldn't blame me for my concern and I was glad that he didn't fight it. However, he stepped back to my side, grabbed my hand and tugged at me until I followed him towards my house. After a minute of silence, where I was beginning to doubt that he was going to explain himself, Derek spoke.

"I was pissed, at first." Derek admitted eyes on his feet as we walked. "I just thought that you would know better than the idea that I was hooking up with Rachelle. But then I thought about what you had said and I knew that, though I never lied, I didn't exactly tell the truth."

"Derek, that doesn't make any sense-"

"Yes it does, Chloe. Do me this favor and hear me out, okay?"

I met his eyes that begged me to listen and, for the first time, my instincts were rooting in his favor. I nodded and allowed him to continue.

"I was heading back over to your place to explain everything that had gone wrong whether you were going to let me or not when I ran into Nate. He asked me if I had seen you and said he had stopped by your place a couple times to see if you were home. I asked him why he cared so much and he told me what Liam had planned."

"What?"

Derek's gaze become hard and his fingers tightened subconsciously around mine. What he said next came out with so much animosity and hate, I found myself just as frightened of Derek's demeanor as when he had reeled to fight Liam.

"He had everything plotted out, Chloe. Maybe not my own fuck up or Diane's involvement, that all just worked in his favor. But he wanted you to catch me with Rachelle, because he knew that would get you alone."

"Oh my God," I muttered disbelievingly. However, before I could dwell, Derek pressed on, surpassing the utter shock I was about ready to slip into.

"I need you to understand that none of that matters now, Chloe. I'm never going to let him get anywhere near you. Nothing like this will ever happen again, I swear-"

"I believe you," I whispered, testing the words. I felt Derek's gaze on me, but I was too busy focusing on how true my words rang. I did believe him. I knew he wouldn't let anything hurt me because I had just witnessed him put his own safety on the line for me. I wasn't fond of that idea, but I knew that there was nothing I could say or do that would change Derek's mind.

I trusted that he cared about me, and that made all the pain I had felt during the entirety of the day settle. Not diminish completely, just lesson. I met Derek's eyes and found him fighting off something akin to a relieved smile. I made to say more but Derek cut me off, shaking his head and gesturing off towards something down the street.

My brows knit together in confusion and I followed his gaze, surprised to find that we were simply a few feet away from my front porch. However, something sitting there on the top step stopped me in my tracks, sucking the breath from my lungs sharply and suddenly.

"The reason behind my, 'lies,'" Derek mumbled, his fingers dancing in air quotes around the word, even with my hand still laced with his. I blinked, unable to believe my eyes before a light laugh escaped my lips. Soon, my laugh grew louder then became quiet sobs as I stared with watery eyes, dumbfounded.

"Patrick," I breathed, voice shaking with elation.

The courageous garden gnome from my childhood stared back at me stoically, his porcelain appearance glossy and healthy as if he had never been a pile of a million pieces.

"H-how did you-"

"Super glue," Derek deadpanned. His thumb rubbed over my wrist and I noticed that the padded texture was rough instead of soft and warm, as if he had fought with the blasted glue sticking his fingers together. My rollercoaster of emotions skyrocketed and I was laughing again, tears spilling freely now.

"I told you I was working on a project, but I said it was for Dad so that you wouldn't go snooping and ruin the surprise. The reason I lied to Tori and Simon was because they're both loud mouths and can't keep a secret to save their lives-"

Derek's explanation was cut short, my lips capturing his attention as they mashed against his own. He was still for a moment, surprised, but he quickly recovered and wrapped his free arm around my waist, pulling me close to him instantly. His hand still clasped around mine tugged at my arm, pulling it around himself briskly before releasing it and cupping my face. His tattered thumb grazed across my cheek and I smiled against his lips.

Derek had a similar reaction but refused to release me, not that I cared. It felt so incredible, safe, warm and oddly filling to be tucked within his arms that a volcano could have erupted and I wouldn't care. With everything that had passed, I would have thought to have been more emotionally exhausted if not tired of the drama. Only, the feeling of Derek's lips moving securely and confidently against mine pushed the fatiguing haze aside, almost eclipsing it as if most of the misunderstandings hadn't even happened. Derek's tongue sliding over my lower lip forever erased the image of Rae latching herself to his face from my mind. The feel of his large hand resting firmly against the small of my back provided the most security and safety from assholes like Liam than I could ever dream.

In all, I just imagined that the block party hadn't happened. That Rae had never gotten involved and that I never ran into a confrontation with Diane or Liam. I fantasized that Derek's surprise went on without a hitch and this was me thanking him for the heartfelt gift.

Derek seemed to be able to read all of this and his lips twitched against mine, his smile causing me to melt into a pile of putty in his arms.


One Month Later

With a mixture of annoyance and slight amusement, I placed my hand upon Derek's obsessively bouncing knee as we both sat on the two barstools that lounged against the island in the kitchen. He glanced up at me where his green eyes had been previously focused on the granite countertop in deep concentration.

He was anxious.

"Don't be nervous, Derek. He's going to love the yard." I stated, consoling him.

Derek released his signature, sarcastic snort and mumbled dryly, "That's not what I'm worried about."

"Then what-" I began but was cut off by the sound of the front door swinging open and familiar grunts as the sound of tiny wheels rolling from the porch into the house filled the kitchen. Derek immediately stiffened and I rolled my eyes before calling out, "Hey, Dad. Derek and I are in the kitchen."

"Hey, guys!" Dad called from the entryway just before he slid into the kitchen through the swinging door, suitcase in tow. Derek stood up upon my father's entrance and I followed suit.

"How was your business trip," I asked in accordance to our usual routine whenever Dad made it back home. He smiled brightly, brown eyes crinkling as he dropped his suitcase and made his way over to me, throwing his arms around my shoulders in a gesture that was far from the norm.

I hesitated for a second, shocked really, but hugged him back nonetheless.

"My trip was excellent, thank you. And how was your summer, kiddo?"

"Productive," I stated simply, catching Derek's smirk as he processed my double meaning.

"Mr. Saunders, do you need any help with your luggage?" Derek asked politely and Dad turned to him as if he had completely forgotten that he was even there. He smiled whole-heartedly and nodded.

"Sure thing, Derek. My bedroom is right up the stairs."

Derek gave him a curt nod and made to grab Dad's suitcase. I jumped up and snatched it before him and said, "I've got it. Derek, why don't you show him the yard?"

Derek, frowned, facing me so that Dad couldn't see his expression. He seemed displeased and his anxious aura was beginning to suffocate the air.

Was he really that nervous over what Dad would think of the amazing job he's done?

"He just got home, Chloe. I'm sure he would like to-"

"Actually, I would love to see the progress you have made this summer, Derek. I'm sure that, with the state the lawn was in, there was a lot of work to be done, but I'm anxious to see the change." Dad spoke up and I gave Derek a, 'Ha,' smirk.

He closed his eyes and groaned almost inaudibly, then tossed me a glare before turning back to Dad and leading him to the sliding glass door. Just as they stepped out onto the back patio, I rushed up the stairs, tossed Dad's luggage onto his bed and raced to my room, instantly ducking beneath the windowsill and peeking out the screen-less window. I had purposefully left it ajar earlier for this very moment.

"Incredible." I heard Dad whisper in astonishment. I silently pumped my fist into the air as Dad praised Derek's handiwork, knowing confidently that he would love it. "It looks as if we had never let it go." He continued.

Derek quickly explained the process and informed Dad of all the extra expenses. I really didn't need to overhear all of these details as all I wanted was to know that Dad approved of Derek's hard work. However, just as I was getting up and going to close the window, their conversation turned into something I wasn't expecting in the slightest.

"-I couldn't have done it without Chloe's help." Derek stated rather simply. Though, I sensed a strange and alien inflection in his tone.

"I'm amazed. Not just by the job, but, as I have to admit, I was afraid that you and my daughter weren't going to get along when I saw how she first reacted to you."

"Chloe and I worked really well together, actually." There was a pause for a second and I shifted behind my curtains to hear better. Derek released an uneven breath before continuing and I wish I could have seen his eyes so that I could understand where he was going with this.

"I didn't expect to be speaking with you alone so soon, Mr. Saunders, but there is something that I wanted to run by you- about Chloe."

"What's that," Dad inquired curiously. I gripped my curtains uneasily, perplexed by Derek's actions and coming to the realization that Derek hadn't been nervous about Dad's reaction to the yard, but something else entirely.

"I've gotten to know Chloe as we've worked together and-" Derek coughed briefly, as if clearing his dry throat before pressing on in a rush. "-I'm in love with your daughter, sir."

A sharp intake of breath stabbed at my lungs and my heart leapt up to my throat. My grip on the curtains tightened to hold me stable as my knees quivered.

Derek loved me?

When Dad didn't reply, Derek continued, still speaking rather quickly as I knew he wasn't one to express these kinds of things to complete strangers.

"I haven't told her or made to act on it yet. I've been waiting so that I could ask your permission, Mr. Saunders."

"You want to date my daughter," Dad said, more in a tone that was reiterating Derek's intentions than asking.

"Yes sir."

For possibly the most agonizingly longest minute of my life, the two downstairs were silent and I mentally willed for my father not to screw this up. It's not that I thought he would do anything embarrassing, but- well, I honestly didn't know what he would do. I've never had to bring the 'boy issue,' home to Dad before because, well, there never seemed to be anyone I liked on this level. I've had crushes before, of course, but those didn't go anywhere.

Then Derek walked into the picture. I've known for a while that I liked him. Really liked him and there were even times where I thought that my feelings for him were even more than that. But, did that mean that I was in love with him too? In retrospect, I've never liked someone else to compare my feelings for Derek too, whether they would be stronger or not.

I could imagine the symptoms of the emotion, having written it before in several screen writes. Fluttering heart, warmth swimming throughout the stomach and radiating from the tip of the toes to ends of one's hair, loss for words, shaking fingers, quivering knees, ringing ears and the list went on. Of course, these were mere physical attractions. Where did that leave the emotional aspects?

Trust, comfort, safety and confidentiality. There had to be that feeling where you could go to that other person with anything without the fear of judgment or disloyalty. The comfort of each other's company was important as it was directly related to the chemistry. Being challenged and supported all at once and having the chance to be yourself and never having to change. These, I felt, were the reasons to be in love with someone.

And I could check every single one off of the list when it came to Derek.

So, was I in love with him?

It was probably too soon to tell, but I was a hundred percent willing to find out.

"Well," Dad sighed finally and I could practically feel the awkward tension a story above them. "I suppose that's what happens when I leave two teenagers alone for a couple months." I could imagine him eyeing Derek speculative and warily, contemplating, much like he would do during the many times I had seen him at his home meetings while making a business deal. I was nearing the urge to just blurt something along the lines of, 'Get on with it already and give him your damn permission!' Though, I would have agreed to date Derek whether Dad gave his blessing or not, but I rather not have to go behind his back about it.

"Seeing what you have done here, I know you're fit to take care of Chloe. I'll warn you now, though," Dad said and I could hear the smile in his voice. "She's going to be a lot more work than merely repairing an old man's yard."

"Oh Dad," I muttered with a role of my eyes. I frowned slightly when I heard Derek chuckle lightly. I knew half of it was due to relief at how accepting Dad was to the news, but I knew he was also agreeing with my father.

"I'm aware," Derek rumbled.

"Just, don't tell her Aunt Lauren. She'd have a hay-day," Dad laughed and I decided that it was about time that I interrupted their little powwow as Dad was slowly beginning to prove that he was the embarrassing type.

Dazed in a giddy stupor, I bounced down the stairs and made my way to the back patio, finding Derek and my Dad shaking hands. They both glanced up at me as I pushed open the glass door and Dad coughed awkwardly.

"I'm going to go find my wallet. It's buried in that damn suitcase somewhere. I'll be back in a bit to write you a check, Derek." Dad mumbled quickly. He patted my shoulder and winked fairly conspicuously before he went inside.

As I turned back towards Derek I collected every elated and anxious emotion coasting through my body and put on my best poker face. I wasn't supposed to hear his conversation with Dad after all.

"So? What did Dad thin-"

"Chloe," Derek interrupted, giving me a stern look. I blinked quizzically, confused by his tone.

"What?" I asked honestly.

Derek sighed and slowly closed the gap between us, his jade eyes disapproving, though, he was unable to hide the dark shade of mirth swimming within them. I almost had the instinct to back up in caution, wary of his abnormal mood.

When Derek was close enough, he slipped an arm around my waist and lowered his lips to my ear, his breath tickling my cheek as he said, "You were spying again."

"W-what?" I squeaked incoherently, partially dazed by Derek's actions- the symptoms of love coursing through me in overdrive- and partially surprised that he had caught me. Again. "I-I wasn't-"

"Liar," Derek whispered smoothly, his lips like a feather as they grazed across my earlobe.

"H-how did you-"

"I could hear you," Derek chuckled. "You were scolding your Dad."

"That was out loud," I gasped, replaying my- what I had thought to be- inner statements for Dad to allow Derek and I to date. "Did my Dad hear?"

Ever-so-slightly, Derek shook his head, his lips moving against my jaw now and I released a relieved- and very content- sigh.

"So, how much did you hear," Derek breathed against my neck. I closed my eyes blissfully and nearly forgot what he was asking me.

"Dad's comment about you dating me caught my attention." I was so grateful that I was able to lie without stuttering. I didn't want Derek to know that I had heard his confession. I wanted him to be able to say it to me as if I were hearing it for the first time and, technically, I would be. Hearing, 'I'm in love with you daughter,' doesn't really count.

Not in my book, at least.

Derek looked up at me then, his head bowed, green eyes smoldering beneath lush, black eyelashes. I swallowed the lump forming in my throat and worried that he could hear the nervous pattering of my heart.

"In that case, I'm taking your threats to disown your father as a yes."

"Geez, how much did I actually say out loud?"

"Enough. You're not a very good stalker," Derek mused.

"I-I wasn't stalking!" I blurted, cheeks flaming. I frowned when all Derek did in response was smile in a, 'whatever helps you sleep at night,' fashion. "And I didn't say yes to anything. You're only making assum-"

Interrupted again, I allowed this time to slide as Derek's lips molded against mine, his free hand tangling itself into my hair and his arm around my waist pulling me close. I didn't have to say yes to Derek's unspoken question because, as he kissed me, I kissed him back and that was all the confirmation that he needed.

It was all I needed to know that there was something more here than just a fling or a backyard, summer romance. This was a guy that loved me and I was pretty sure that I loved him back.

Of course, summer was quickly coming to an end. The only way to test this theory was to see how our separate lives and school would affect it.

After all, we would both be starting the new year within the week and, honestly, I couldn't wait. Senior year was going to be amazing, as long as I had Derek at my side.

WHEW!

Took long enough, right? So, is anyone else catching the hint there at the end?

Review PLEASE and let me know what you guys thought of the fic and your thoughts on the foreshadowing there at the end. ;P

I'll try to start working on Beautifully Cursed again, but I'm starting a new continuous fic for my neglected fandom so I can't promise too much.

Thanks for reading and I hope you all enjoyed! :)