((Sorry it's taken so long to update, it's been hard to write it because I'm 99% sure this is the FINAL CHAPTER! So please read what I wrote at the end when you're done the story and review! Thanks everyone! ))
I can still taste Jenny's lip gloss on my tongue when I side step my way into the bathroom stall. I just barely slide the lock into place and Niki's on me, pressing my back against the door, her fingers in my hair, her one leg practically wrapped around my waist. I'm just barely keeping up when she pulls away and grins.
"I didn't think you'd come.'' She breathes out, forcing her tongue in my mouth again before I even come out with an answer. She starts grasping at my belt, pulling at buckle. When she finally gets it loose I pin her against the wall and start ripping off her panties.
Our kisses are fast and sloppy, I don't know if passionate is the right word, but it's the first thing that comes to mind. Even though I can barely stand Niki any time she opens her mouth, but right now she's all I want.
There's a pounding on the door, telling us to get out, that we only have 5 minutes, and I stop. I remember how Jenny's probably searching for me all over. She's probably combing the entire building looking for me. Then Niki grabs me and pulls me in again.
I hear the distant sound of the announcer saying there's two minutes left, for everyone to hurry up. Niki gently slaps me on the side of my face and I snap back to reality.
"Shane, what's wrong? Keep going.'' She says and I remember what my fingers were supposed to be doing. That my lips must've just stopped in the midst of our frantic kisses. Niki grabs my wrist with her hand and starts to guide me but I jerk away.
"What're you doing?'' she asks and I can already tell she's pissed off. I start doing up my belt again; doing everything I can to avoid eye contact, because I know that'll be my downfall.
"I'm sorry, I can't.'' I stammer and practically barrel through the door. I don't want her grabbing at me, I don't wanna give Niki the chance to pull me back in, because unfortunately I know it wouldn't take much for it to work.
I'm half asleep when I feel something pressing into my lips, touching against my face. My eyes peel open and I get the blurry sight of Carmen next to me. Her hand on the side of my face, fingernails scraping against the back of my neck. Her hair all flipped over to one side and I smile, returning her kisses.
"So, what're we gonna tell everyone?'' she asks me as I as I wipe the sleep from my eyes. I shrug and say they probably already know. Carmen gets a beaming smile across her face and chuckles.
"You're right, probably.'' She pushes my hair out of my eyes and I feel like a little kid. I lean in and kiss her forehead, I'm still getting used to being able to do it and not fear being pushed away. She kisses my neck and I start to get goose bumps.
"I'll see you in the shower.'' She teases, sliding out of bed with nothing but her underwear on.
We get to the Planet just as the lunch rush is dissipating; Kit's running around like a madwoman trying to collect all the dirty dishes and cups people left. Carmen's fingers are interlocked with mine, but she tugs on my arm with her other hand, silently telling me to lend her my ear.
"What should we say?'' she asks me nervously, I don't even have to look to know that Carmen's chocolate eyes are scurrying all around the room looking for Alice, because she wants to brace herself for the impact.
Kit spins around with an armful of dishes and her jaw drops, and the plates nearly do when she sees us. Her eyes drop down and she sees our hands and starts grinning from ear to ear.
"Oh, girl! I knew it!'' she exclaims giddily, resisting the urge to come up and hug us until she can put down all the dishes. Helena swoops in from behind the counter, having heard the conversation. Before I even knew she was there she's pulling me and Carmen into a simultaneous hug, and arm wrapped around each of our necks and I can hear her kissing Carmen's cheeks.
Helena pulls away and she's grinning from ear to ear, clenching her hands together so tightly that she's practically shaking. Her eyes keep flickering from me to Carmen; I guess she can't decide who she's more excited for, but then Kit cuts in from behind the counter.
"Hey guys, Alice is on her way so you might wanna take a seat, that girl is gonna explode when she sees this!''
Carmen and I slide into the nearest table that will accommodate all of us, and Helena's already presenting us with coffees. Carmen looks sideways at me with a little smile on her face as she brings the coffee up to her lips.
"What?'' I ask, looking at her quizzically, and she just shakes her head.
"Nothing.'' She says, her fingers wrap around mine under the table. I pull her hand up to my lips and kiss it, and she snickers at my gentlemanly gesture. She leans her head on her other hand, her dark eyes still focused on me, and she shrugs.
"I guess I just missed this.''
I feel a little squirm in my chest when she says this, and I realize I missed it too. All these years, even with the other girls, Molly, Paige, Jenny. Nothing ever really compared. I always thought the word 'heartwarming' was just a figure of speech, but I can say I actually feel it when Carmen looks into my eyes.
Our moment of solace is interrupted, as usual, by Alice bursting through the door with Tasha in tow. The split second it takes for me to look at her before she actually opens her mouth I can see Tasha with a grimace that tells me Alice has been chewing her ear off the whole way here. Whether Helena or Kit somehow spilled the beans to her before she arrived, or she just figured it out herself, she knows.
"UN-FUCKING-BELEIVABLE!'' she shouts with one of her palms turned up. Her eyes land on Carmen and mine's interlocked fingers, and she's grinning.
"Do my eyes deceive me!'' she's squealing overdramatically. I roll my eyes, taking in a deep breath; Carmen squeezes my hand, silently telling me to just keep my cool. I force a smile as Alice kneels down between, and hand on each of our backs. She's grinning from ear to ear, looking from me to Carmen.
"This isn't some sick joke?'' she asks sarcastically, causing Carmen to giggle. Alice pushes herself back up and hooks Kit's arm as she walks by, spinning her around.
"Fucking pinch me!'' she beams and Kit just laughs.
"Alice…'' Tasha mutters, her muscles all tensed up while she stands like a statue, waiting for Alice to stop her little show.
By the time Alice does finally sits there's coffees already placed in front of us, and The Planet's starting to fill up with people.
I prop my head up on my fist and looking over the table I can't help but get that old nostalgic feeling. Alice is across from me, still smirking, so I guess she feels it too.
"You know what this is missing, don't you?'' she asks me, but Kit answers.
"Tina.'' Helena chimes in, I look over when she speaks and see Dylan sitting next to her, and I wonder how long she's been sitting there because I didn't notice until now.
"Max.'' Dylan says a little quietly, probably thinking that he has more of a right to be at the table than she does. Carmen wraps both her arms around my bicep and squeezes me tight against her chest. She leans her chin on my shoulder and draws a huge heavy sigh.
"Dana.'' She mutters glumly, and I see a flicker in Alice's eyes as she's holding Tasha's hand. Mine and Alice's eyes lock and it's almost like we're having a telepathic moment, because I can tell she's just seeing Dana's face in her mind.
"Angie.'' Tasha adds, I guess she feels a little uneasy with her lack of seniority, and knowing the effect Dana has on us all, especially Alice. I break out of my gaze and see that all eyes have fallen on me for the final remark. I take in a quick breath and feel my pulse slow as I say her name.
We all sit in silence for the longest time, not even touching our coffees. To anyone watching us we must just look like we're taking a moment of silence for some tragedy everyone else has forgotten, instead of us all just simultaneously revelling in our old friends.
I picture the table lined with my best friends, back before everyone had to move on. Back before the kids and the relationships and the cancer. Back when it was just me and Alice, Dana, Kit, Bette and Tina. When Jenny used to come sit with us, her huge mop of hair hanging all around her.
As I look over the table I can almost see Tasha, Dylan and Helena fading away and being replaced with them all. Bette and Tina on my right all curled up into each other with Kit laughing beside them. Dana and Alice on the other end of the table just staring into each other's eyes, resisting the urge to just jump one another's bones. Jenny sitting on my left, watching and sitting but never really listening, just off in her own world while Kit tells us about some new guy she's met. Our perfect little family.
I actually feel myself grinning, just imagining us all together again. My chest getting warmer and warmer each time my heart pumps. I feel a tickle in the back of my throat like tears are about to start falling, but then she pulls on my arm.
Instinctively my head turns and I remember that Carmen's here, she replaces the vision of Jenny. Carmen stares at me with her brows pulled together, she puts her hand to the side of my face and raises and eyebrow.
"What's wrong?'' she asks me. I look around the table again, just in time to see everything fade back to reality. Back to what our little family is now. Carmen cups my chin and turns my head back towards her. Her fingers spread over my cheek, a look of genuine concern in her eye.
"Shane, are you ok?'' she asks, and I can't help but smile.
"Yeah.'' I tell her, staring into her dark eyes. "Everything's fine.''
Carmen smiles back, gently stroking my face. She leans in and kisses me, and when she pulls away I say those words I never said enough.
"I love you.'' And her smile grows, her lips part but before she can speak, Alice does.
"Guys!'' she chirps, always great with timing. Everyone's heads turn simultaneously to look at Alice. Her eyes are wide and she has her fingers all spread apart, hovering on either side of her head.
"We forgot the most important thing!''
Almost unanimously the whole table groans and sighs and laughs. I just try to prepare myself for her answer. Who else could be missing? Marina? Tim? Or maybe she finally misses Tanya.
"Sounder!'' and we all burst out laughing.
"Wait…'' Carmen says after a long giggle fit, "Didn't Sounder die?''
"Shit you're right, Sounder 2 then!'' Alice corrects herself.
"What ever happened to him anyways?'' Helena asks, perplexed.
"Oh Jenny rowed off into the fucking sunset with him or some shit!'' Alice says, followed by Tasha's hearty laugh. The whole table is grinning for the first time in what seems like forever, myself included. Even though our group isn't the same, I realize now that it was always changing. People coming and going. This is just what it is now, and it may not always be like this. At any time any of us could break up or get cancer or…
"Shane?'' Carmen whispers in my ear, my head snaps in her direction, my train of thought long derailed.
"Yeah?'' I ask her and she just smiles.
"I love you too.''
((I'm debating whether or not this should be the end. I don't know what else to do with the story, as I never even planned on it going this far. I think I like where it is, left with some of the same ambiguity as the actual finale, however mine's a bit more hopeful and just about everyone's left happy and resolved (poor Max). The only reason I see to continue it is if I've left any holes you guys would like me to fill, I'm not sure if I have. I might do a sequel someday, but right now this feels pretty perfect. I'll leave the story as in progress for now though and based on what you guys say I may continue it, but like I said, possible sequel in the future, maybe them actually getting married haha. Anyways sorry for ranting. Thank you to anyone who has read/reviewed this story. ))