She opened her eyes to near darkness. Her head hurt – a deep, throbbing ache that increased in intensity when she tried to turn her eyes from either side.

She wasn't sure where she was. The bed beneath her was softer than her bed at her old apartment, and the window, shedding the scant amount of light that was coming through, was on the wrong side of the room. She shifted slightly, and was aware of someone in bed with her, curled around her frame. And then it came back to her: her visit to Great Neck, speaking to Detective Andrews, her father being taken away in handcuffs, and finally, Kyle coming to bring her home and putting her to bed in his room, not hers.

She tried to breathe, but it came out as a shudder. Lindy realized now why her head was hurting so much – it always hurt like this either when she was very thirsty, or when she'd cried a lot.

She'd cried a great deal, she now remembered, but she was very thirsty too. Would she wake Kyle if she got up? She'd never shared a bed with someone else – she'd never had to be careful getting out of bed. Lindy turned to look at him, but she couldn't see his face in the dark. She had to assume he was asleep, judging by how still he was.

Then, suddenly, as if he somehow knew that she was watching him, he spoke. "Lindy?" he asked quietly.

"Yes." Her dry throat made her answer come out as a croak.

She felt him shift as he sat up slightly. "What do you need, Baby?"

How did he know she needed anything?

She swallowed painfully. "A glass of water."

"All right." The bed wobbled upward gently as he got up.

She heard the soft padding of his footsteps as he left the room. She felt guilty, getting him out of bed just to get her water. She wasn't used to this sort of thing – being cared for like this. She had been the caregiver for most of her life with her father, in effect, being the parent instead of the child. She'd never let her mask of control slip before, not in front of anyone. Kyle was the first person who had ever seen her that vulnerable. As disorienting as the whole thing had been, she was glad it had been him.

Over the course of the last hours, the loss of her father had dwindled down from a raw, tearing sharpness to a dull, empty ache. It was as if she'd nearly recovered from having surgery – the removal of a major organ that, in time, she'd adapt to living without. She knew that her life would be easier without her father, and the he himself had realized this fact too. But he was still her father, she still loved him, and she would miss him all the same.

By now, Kyle was returning with her water. He somehow managed to deftly maneuver his way through the room without any light. He switched on the lamp on the table next to the bed and sat down next to her.

He was beautiful. Even in the garish fluorescence of the electric light, even at the lateness of the hour. He'd always been beautiful, but it was the look in his eyes that made Lindy's heart race. Pure love, and concern. It was a look that told her that he'd never be happy if she wasn't happy too, and he'd spend his entire life ensuring this equilibrium. This beautiful man loved her, and only her.

Silently he held the glass out to her. Obediently she took the glass and sipped the water. She kept her eyes down, but she could feel him looking at her, evaluating her condition, ready to swoop down and catch her if she began to fall into despair again. She drank the whole thing, trying to put off looking at him as long as she could. Finally she finished and set the glass on the table.

He smiled gently at her. "You good?"

She nodded mutely, afraid her voice would fail her if she tried. He returned her nod and climbed back in bed to lie beside her. Because the lamp was on Lindy's side of the bed, Kyle had to lean over her in order to turn it off.

The warmth of him being so near made desire suddenly creep over her like a thick veil of steam. The timing was all wrong, she knew – she was still hurting from what had happened – but nonetheless, she wanted him. She reached up and clasped his shoulders, keeping him from moving away after the light was turned off.

"Kyle," she whispered softly. She started pulling him down against her. Lindy could feel him tense, softly resisting her, but she ignored it and reached up to kiss him.

He returned the kiss, his lips light and tentative against hers. She sighed and moved one hand to the back of his head, combing her fingers through his hair, trying to get him to press himself to her.

But he wouldn't. He began to slowly pull away while gently bringing her arms away from his shoulders to rest at her sides. He wrapped his arms around her and leaned his chin on the top of her head, in essence giving her comfort while effectively putting to rest the possibility of anything else happening.

"Kyle?" she asked, confused.

"Shh," he said soothingly, rubbing her back. "It wouldn't be right. Go to sleep."

Rejection burned mildly at the back of her head and in her heart, but exhaustion easily claimed her and she was too spent to argue. She shut her eyes again and fell into a heavy, dreamless sleep.

Four days later…

Zola was loading the last of the dishes into the dishwasher when Kyle entered the kitchen, carrying a tray with a half-eaten plate of food. The look on his face was tinged lightly with disappointment. Zola shook her head and began to take it from him.

"Is there room in the washer, Zola?" Kyle asked.

"It full, but I can wash it."

"No, don't worry about it," he told her, holding it away. "I'll wash the plate. I have to learn sometime, right?"

Zola smiled sadly, thinking of her impending departure. "True enough, darlin'." She raised her eyes to the floor above them. "How she doin'?"

Kyle sighed when he reviewed the previous hour in his head. When Lindy had skipped both the previous night's dinner and that day's breakfast, he was determined to get her to eat. He'd first brought a tray of food to his room, expecting that she'd be there, as she'd slept in his bed every night since her father's arrest.

But she wasn't there. Pondering it, Kyle decided to go up to the very top floor, to her original bedroom. Sure enough, she was sitting on her bed, poring over an album. He knocked on the wood paneling next to the staircase.

She looked up, a small smile playing on her lips. "Hi," she greeted him.

"Hi. Can I come in?"

She frowned in confusion. "Of course, Kyle."

He laid the tray on the bed next to her. "I brought you some lunch."

"Oh. Thanks." Lindy went back to looking at the album.

"Lindy, please eat. I'm worried about you."

Lindy looked up at Kyle, ready to protest, but his steel blue stare made her back down. "All right," she acquiesced, but her tone made it clear that she was only doing it to appease him.

"What are you looking at?" he asked her, trying to lighten the mood.

Lindy took a small bite of the sandwich on the tray and replied, "Old photos of my dad and mom."


"I can't help wondering what my life would have been like if my mom hadn't died. I wonder what my dad's life would have been like."

"Sometimes I wonder how things would have been if my mom hadn't left my dad," Kyle told her, thinking of the one photo of his mother that he had. It was a small scrap of bonded paper with a snapshot of his mother, taken long before he was born, before she was even married. She was sitting on the sofa in her parents' house, her face lit up with a laughing smile. She looked so young, so carefree…Kyle couldn't help but wonder if the reason why she left was because she was miserable being a wife and mother and she wanted to go back to the way she used to be.

Lindy looked down. "There's something I've been wanting to talk to you about, but I didn't know how to start."

Kyle nodded. "I think I know what it is."

"You do?"

"Yeah. It's about me knowing about what your dad did, right?"

Lindy exhaled deeply, and Kyle realized she must have been holding her breath. "Yeah. I mean, I understand why you didn't tell me. You were put in a really awkward position, and you felt like it wasn't your place to tell me, right?"

"Yes. Exactly. I'm sorry."

Lindy gave a short, bitter laugh. "When I think about it now, I'm glad I didn't know. I've played the 'Hurt Now or Hurt Later' game lots of times with my dad, and for once, I think it was better to hurt later. At least I got to see him, one last time." Her words came out choked as she looked down at the yellowed plastic pages of the album.

Kyle reached out and cupped her face in his hands, gently turning her head upwards to look at him. "You don't always have to be so brave, you know."

She sighed and leaned her cheek against his palm. "I come with a lot of baggage, Kyle. Samsonite's got nothing on me."

"And you think I don't? I wore mine all over my body for a year, if you recall."

Suddenly Lindy pulled away from his hand and sat up, and the frightened look on her face scared him. "You know I love you, right?" she asked him softly.

He frowned. "Of course I do. Why would you even ask that?"

"Just-just with what's happened, and…something Kendra said to me."

Kyle's face darkened. "When did you see her? What did she do?" As grateful as he was to Kendra for showing him the errors of his ways, he still feared her and her abilities. It unnerved him to hear that she'd talked to Lindy.

"She didn't do anything. She helped me, actually. It was that time I went back to Buckston, and Pibner was saying I owed money, and she worked her juju and…somehow made him drop it. But she told me not to take anything for granted." Lindy decided to leave out the part about Kendra threatening to teach her a lesson. She hadn't missed the look of alarm on Kyle's face.

Kyle's brow furrowed in confusion. "I think I'm missing something."

She looked down. "I just don't want to lose you. I've lost so much…" Her voice trailed off, lost in the beginning of a sob. Half a second later, she was in Kyle's arms, sitting across his lap.

"I'm not going anywhere," he whispered in her ear as he rocked her. "You saved my life."

"But I couldn't save my dad," she murmured into his neck.

"Your father made his own choices, Lindy. You can't change them. It's not your fault," he told her. "Sometimes – sometimes, you have to just let people go." His heart tightened in his chest when he thought about his parents, who'd both deserted him.

Lindy looked up at him, her eyes clearer, as if she'd had an epiphany. "That's what my dad did. I see that now. He let me go."

"So?" Zola's accented voice shook him from his thoughts. "How is Lindy copin'?"

"I think she'll be okay," Kyle replied quietly as he cleaned the dishes. "But I wish…"

"Wish what, darlin'?"

"I wish that happily ever after was easy to get to."

Zola laid her hand on Kyle's shoulder. "Nothin' would be worth it if it was all easy to come by, ya know. I know dat for a fact." She sighed. "And now dat I bring it up, I been waitin' to tell ya—"

"That the Waldorf-Astoria offered you a job as a concierge?" Kyle finished her sentence with a playful smile. Zola looked surprised, so he explained. "The manager called me the day before yesterday for reference info. It sounded like you killed it in the interview. When do they want you to start?"

She smiled shyly. "Two weeks from Monday. But I stay on, if you need me-"

"No way," Kyle interrupted. "Are you all ready? Do you have a place? What about your family?"

Zola laughed. "So concerned, Mr. Kingson! Well yes, my husband and children are comin' in on Sunday, and we have an apartment already. I would have told ya, but…wit' all dat happen…"

"I know, I know. It's been insane." Kyle paused for a second, thinking of something. "Do you have a way to pick them up?"

"I get a taxi," she answered with a shrug.

Kyle shook his head. "Actually, I think the limo will do fine."

Zola's eyes grew wide. "Boy, you crazy!"

He laughed and put his arms around her. "No, I'm just paying you back for all the great advice you've given me over the last year. I'd still look like an overgrown patchwork doll if it weren't for you. So say 'yes'."

She laughed. "Yes."

Kyle and Lindy stood quietly in a corner of the baggage claim at Laguardia, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible. They both knew that this was a big moment for Zola, a moment she'd been waiting for for years. Kyle convinced Lindy to come with him to meet Zola's family; he figured that was the best way for her to heal: going out and continuing to do things, live life.

Time seemed to drag as they waited for flight 1890 to land – Kyle reasoned wryly that if time seemed to drag for him, it must be petrified like amber for Zola – so he found himself focusing on the warmth of Lindy's hand in his.

He squeezed the hand he held and smiled at her when she turned to him. "I know I ask this to a crazy amount these days, but are you okay?" he asked her.

She rolled her eyes and smiled. "I'll be fine. Life has to go on, right?"

Kyle was about to affirm this statement when a throng of passengers from flight 1890 filled the claim area. They watched as Zola darted her head up and down, searching anxiously for her family. Then, at last, a joyful cry escaped her throat as her husband and three children bolted towards her like a ray of pure light.

"This was what it was all about," Lindy heard Kyle murmur.

She looked at him with a confused smile. "Huh?"

"Kendra's curse. I thought it was all about me, about teaching me a lesson. But it was really about all the connections in life. You know, helping others, and letting them help you." Kyle looked pointedly at Lindy during the last part of his sentence.

Kyle's message was not lost on her. Taking his arm in hers, she leaned her head against him while looking at the ground shyly. "I never thought I'd like someone taking care of me. But you do a great job. You're a natural."

He tilted her chin gently upward so he could see her face. "So, do you forgive me?"

"For what?"

"For lying about who I was. For pretending to be someone else, all that time."

Lindy took his face in her hands, kissing his cheeks, his chin, his nose, and finally his lips. "What do you think? I know why you did it. But really, I think that all that time, together in the house, you were becoming the real you anyway."

Kyle grinned and was about to respond when he heard a voice call out, "Kyle, Lindy! Come meet me fam'ly!"

The couple looked across the way to Zola's beaming face, her arms full of her three children and tons of suitcases at their feet.

Kyle and Lindy spent the rest of the day helping Zola, her husband Stefan, their two daughters, Daisy and Selina, and their son Anthony move into their apartment in Queens. Stefan and Kyle instantly bonded over being the only two people in the group with upper body strength, resigned to lugging the heaviest of the furniture. The two girls took to Lindy quickly, especially Selina, the younger one. She wanted to buy clothes like Lindy's, wear her hair like Lindy's, listen to the music Lindy liked. It seemed to unnerve Lindy at first, to be so admired in so short a time, but she quickly became fond of the little girl, even giving Selina one of her CDs to keep.

Before they knew it, the day was over and their work was done. It suddenly occurred to Kyle that Zola would no longer be there when he woke up in the morning. She would no longer take her afternoon tea at the table on the roof. He wouldn't hear her singing "You are My Sunshine" while she did the laundry. No more "thinking" advice to win Lindy.

But she belonged with her family, and he was happy for her. He quietly shut the door to their apartment and left, the sounds of laughter and calypso music echoing gently behind him.

The first thing Kyle and Lindy noticed when they got back to the apartment was a neat line of bags and boxes marking the side wall of the foyer. Kyle looked at Lindy in confusion and walked to the bottom of the stairs. "Hey, Will?" he called out to the floor above them. After a few seconds, Will appeared at the top of the stairs, an overflowing cardboard box in his arms.

"Hey there, you crazy kids in love!" he called to them, gingerly walking down to their level.

Kyle scowled. "What the hell is all this?"

"It's called 'moving out.' The most wonderful time of the year," Will joked.

"Will? You're leaving us? Where are you going?" Lindy asked.

Their tutor laughed lightly. "About 1,000 yards away. I'm renting one of the townhouses across the street."

Kyle and Lindy simultaneously turned around and peeked out the window to the line of blue and white houses that glowed in the early evening sun. "Jeez, Will. Why waste your money? You can just stay here."

"Because the contract I had with your dad is terminated. I've prepared you for graduation like I was supposed to – and this, of course, is his house. Besides, you two need your own space. You're adults now." Kyle and Lindy smiled at each other when he said this.

"So what about a job?" Kyle asked.

Will set the box in his arms down and grinned. "Funny you should ask – it looks like I'm heading out to your own stomping grounds at Gucci High – I mean, Buckston Academy."

"Buckston? That vapid hole?" Kyle asked, ignoring Lindy as she rolled her eyes. "Well, all I can say is, they're lucky to have you."

"I'll tell them that you sent me. I'm sure that'll go over real well," Will joked. "So…I guess that's everything. I'm going to bring the last of the boxes over to my new place tomorrow."

Lindy stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Will. "Thanks so much. For everything," she whispered.

"Aw, this isn't goodbye. I'll be right across the street," he told her.

"But it won't be the same," she told him, trying not to pout.

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened," Will told her.

"Dr. Seuss?"

"Yes! The only doctor I've ever trusted. Kudos for knowing that."

"I had a good tutor," Lindy told him with a wink.

"Let me help you walk some of the boxes over," Kyle offered, then gave Lindy a pointed look that told her that her boyfriend wanted to talk to their former tutor by himself.

"So what's on your mind, Kyle?" Will asked as they walked over to the new house.

Kyle grinned. "Just wanted to say that I'm grateful for everything you've done for me. Yeah, I know, my dad paid you to be here, but you really went above the call of duty. And, also wanted to say…sorry for being such a dick those first couple of days."

Will's eyes widened. "Couple of days?"

"All right, all right, weeks, I guess," Kyle admitted. "But you made it bearable for me, you and Zola. I'll never forget that."

Will smiled and nodded. "It was my pleasure. Really." He held his hand out to Kyle. "I guess we have to thank your dad for our friendship."

Kyle's face darkened automatically at the mention of his father. "Must we?"

"Kyle, I know you're angry at him, and you have every right to be. But what Zola told you before is right – he has provided for you. In his own, indirect way, he gave you the tools to cope."

Kyle felt like a pitch black room in his heart had been opened with Will's words. He'd never thought about it, but it was true: his father had made sure that he'd had what he needed to make it through his isolation. True, it was material things and not the love he'd wanted, but thanks to his father, he had the means to do what was most important to him: take care of Lindy.

"Will, what's today's date?"

"Um…it's the 12th. Why?"

Kyle smiled. "I just realized I have a party to go to."

Rob Kingson took another sip of his scotch and sighed. He'd been trying all night to get the attention of Bernie Lauter, the head of the network, so he could sell his spiel about the talk show that was being developed. Unfortunately Brick Dennison, that bubble-headed weatherman who tries to pass himself off as a "meteorologist," had been monopolizing Bernie's time the moment their boss walked into the banquet hall. Rob had to suppress a chuckle when he thought of Brick actually thinking he'd ever have a chance to get the talk show. It was well known that his lemon-yellow pompadour was nothing but an elaborate comb-over, and only slightly lesser known he'd been getting speech therapy for years to conceal quite a prominent stutter. Give Brick anything more stressful than reporting a blizzard watch, and listen to him sound like a b-b-b-broken re-re-record.

Then again, Brick had his entire family with him that night, including his big-toothed wife and their two big-toothed daughters. That definitely worked in his favor. If only Rob could have convinced Kyle to come to the dinner. Now that Kyle was back to his normal self, Rob hoped that his son would remember what was important in life. But that girl he'd taken up with had apparently skewed all of his values. He knew his son would tire of her eventually, but it was just frustrating all the same.

Rob looked around the room restlessly, and was surprised to find his son Kyle, dressed impeccably yet simply in black, talking to the chunky receptionist Brenda. Rob felt his face automatically twist in disgust when Kyle hugged her, his hands practically getting trapped in her folds of fat.

Even so, Rob was glad Kyle had listened to him. He forced a smile onto his face and jaunted over to his son. "Kyle! Son! You made it!" he called out cheerfully.

Kyle turned to him with almost a Buddha-like calmness on his face: not a smile, but nothing even approaching disdain. "Hi, Dad. I've come to talk to you."

"Of course. But first, there's someone I'd like you to meet." Ignoring Brenda completely, Rob put an arm around Kyle's shoulders and began to lead him away.

"It was good to see you again, Kyle!" Brenda called out.

"You too, Brenda! Have a great time!" Kyle returned.

Rob guided his son with effective precision to Bernie Lauter, and with a smile dripping with well-practiced charm, he interrupted Brick's monotonous story-telling. "I'm so sorry, Brick, but Kyle hasn't had the chance to meet Bernie, even though I've been talking about him for years!" he laughed. Brick glared at Rob, but took the cue and sauntered off in search of his orthodontically-challenged family.

"Bernie, meet my son Kyle," Rob purred.

"Ah, Kyle, it's nice to finally meet you," Bernie told him.

"You too, Mr. Lauter."

"Well! I can see the family resemblance. No doubt you're a chip off the old block."

Kyle looked at his father and smiled. "Actually, Mr. Lauter, my father and I are about as different as they come. He's done things I don't agree with, and I know I believe in things he doesn't approve of. And of course, we both think that each of us is right and the other is wrong, and neither one of us plans to back down – at least, I don't plan to."

Rob's smile began to falter into an embarrassed grimace and his mind began to frantically find ways to salvage the conversation. Just when he was about to fumble his way through an excuse, Kyle continued his statement.

"But one thing that my dad has made me understand, is that in the end, it doesn't matter. I'm only going to get one father in this life, and that relationship goes far past what I believe or what he believes. My dad's given me what I need. Parents do the best they can with what they know – that's what I've learned."

Bernie smiled at Kyle. "Well, that's a pretty deep philosophy, Kyle. It usually takes people years to understand that." He turned to Rob. "Rob, can I speak with you when you have a moment?"

Rob felt his heart jump out of his chest, but remained cool on the surface. "Of course. Kyle, you'll excuse me for a moment?" He barely waited for his son to nod his assent before he followed the network head over to the hors d'oeuvres table.

Once they were alone, Bernie turned to Rob with a serious, yet pleasant look on his face. "I'm not sure if you are aware of this, but the network is developing a new talk show. We want it to be family-oriented, but we want it honest too. From the interaction between you and your son, I can tell that your personal philosophy matches perfectly with what we're looking for. Would you be able to come in on Monday to discuss the opportunity? That is, if you're interested?"

Rob gave his best professional smile and replied, "It sounds like a wonderful opportunity, Bernie. I'd love to hear more about it on Monday. Thanks for thinking of me."

After finishing up with his manager, Rob looked for Kyle around the room. To his dismay, he found him making his way to the door.

Rob clutched his son's shoulder and turned him around. "Kyle! Where are you going? You just got here."

Again, Rob was met with a zen-like calmness. Kyle shook his head with a smile. "Already told you, Dad. This isn't my thing. I only came to say what I needed to say, and I did that."

"But, Kyle! Do you know what you've done? You've cinched that talk show hosting gig for me! At least let me take you around and meet some of the movers and shakers in the business. I can repay you for what you just did."

"Dad…what I just did was just as much for me as it was for you. After I was cursed and you left me at the apartment in Brooklyn, I was just full of hate. I hated the world, I hated everything. And as long as I felt that way, nothing was going to change for me. I don't want to be an angry, bitter person. What's done is done. I wish you nothing but the best, Dad. I want you to be happy."

"I don't understand, Kyle."

Kyle smiled sadly and laid his hands on his father's shoulders. "I hope someday you do." He turned and left the hall, leaving his father in a state of confusion.

As Kyle was climbing the stairs to the exit, Bernie was around the corner, conversing with a young woman about Kyle's age. Her long blonde tresses were streaked with black and her makeup leaned toward the theatrical, but her tight black leather suit and jacket were the height of fashion.

"Well, it's a great pleasure to have the daughter of one of our investors interested in learning more about our business. I assume you have a resume to send us, Miss Hilferty?"

Kendra smiled. "I can email it first thing tomorrow morning to your production assistant, Mr. Lauter. I'm really looking forward to working on your new talk show."

"Well that's wonderful, my dear. And I've just made my decision on the host. You'll be working very closely with him."

Kendra cast her sparkling green eyes across the room at Rob Kingson, who was admiring his profile in the mirrored wall next to the buffet table. She chuckled lightly. "I can hardly wait."

The day after Will left, Kyle received two game-changing pieces of mail: one was the results of his and Lindy's GED tests, and the other was a communication from his father's bank.

He had to admit, he was dreading looking at how he did on the GED exam. So he opened the bank communication first. He read the letter enclosed in the envelope, then blinked and read it again. His father had granted him early access to his trust fund. Originally supposed to be available to him when he turned 21, he could now access the hundreds of thousands at his current age, 18.

A wry smile played upon Kyle's lips. While he was most definitely excited about having all this money at his fingertips (he already had an idea about what he wanted to do with it), he still felt sad that this was his father's way to reaching out to him. Rob Kingson still felt that the best way to show his love was through the giving of material things instead of the giving of himself. Still, Kyle held on to hope that one day, this would change. After all, stranger things had happened.

It was finally time to stop delaying the inevitable: the GED test results were still sitting there, waiting to be revealed. Kyle opened both envelopes from NYSED: his first, then hers. Lindy had asked him before to open her letter when it arrived, hoping it would be easier to take bad news if it came from him. He looked at the results gravely, then went up to the greenhouse to tell her.

Lindy had finished watering the last of the rosebushes and sat down on the bench, facing the glowing setting sun. The unseasonable heat of the day had faded and now it was getting cold and breezy. Lindy pulled her denim jacket a little closer to her and crossed her arms against her sides.

She heard footsteps on the stairs outside of the greenhouse, and she turned toward them. There he was, standing in front of her, smiling gently. And something felt different.

Ever since Lindy had found out about the curse Kendra had placed on Kyle, she had to keep reminding herself that Hunter and Kyle were the same person. When she heard his voice, when she felt his touch – she had to tell herself that the handsome man talking to her or touching her was the same as the scarred man who saved her life.

This was the first time it didn't happen. She didn't look at him expecting to see scars or tattoos; she didn't look at him and get flustered by his gorgeousness. All she saw was him – Kyle, the man she loved.

"Hey," she said, walking over to him.

"Hey," he replied, waving two pieces of paper at his side. "Our test results came in."

She took a breath. "Okay. And?"

"And…we passed."

She laughed and embraced him. "Yay! Not that I ever had a doubt."

He laughed too. "I never doubted you. Now me…that was a different story."

"Oh, stop it."

"So…how should we celebrate?" Kyle asked, holding both her hands. "I could take you out to dinner, or we plan a weekend getaway, or…you know, something like that."

But Lindy made a face and said, "Hmm. Maybe we should just go to bed."

He frowned and looked out at the sliver of sun left in the sky. "Uh…it's a little early to go to sleep, don't you think?"

She shook her head and smiled. She then wrapped her arms around him, pulling him in for a long, breathless kiss. After they broke away, she gazed up at him with a devilish smile on her face. "That's not what I meant."

His eyes widened in surprise and delight, thrilled by the love and conviction in Lindy's eyes. Kyle pulled her against him, resting his lips against her neck. She could feel his chuckle vibrate deliciously against her skin. "I think I could be convinced."

"So I was thinking…"


"We just passed the GED, and my dad just gave me early access to my trust fund. How about we celebrate our good luck…and take that trip to Machu Picchu you've been jonesing for? Better yet, how about we make it a trip around the world – see it all? What do you say?"

Lindy smiled and turned over onto her stomach, resting her head on her crossed arms. "I say…I'm glad I put out before you asked me, or I might feel a little bit of pressure to later on."

Kyle laughed. They lay together in their bed – it was an unspoken understanding that it was now their bed, not just Kyle's – feeling pleasantly numb and spent. He rested his hand on the small of her bare back, marveling at how the shape of his palm seemed to fit every curve of her body he'd explored that night. "Did it hurt a lot?" he asked, feeling a bit guilty.

"A little," she admitted. "But it was one of these rare, good kind of hurts."

He looked away, his empty moments with Sloan flitting regretfully through his mind. "I wish…I'd waited for you."

She leaned over and kissed him reassuringly. "Don't worry about it. I think at least one of us should know what they're doing."

With a chuckle, he said, "So tomorrow, we'll figure out our itinerary for the trip. And I'm gonna laugh my ass off all the way to the bank to withdraw the money we need."

"Sounds like a plan." Lindy turned over onto her side to face him, wrapping an arm around his waist with a contented sigh. "So, this is what happily ever after feels like."

"Yep. Get used to it, Baby. Because I don't plan to ever let you go."

"You'd better not," she replied with a giggle. "I love you."

He combed his fingers through her hair. "I love you too." He rested his hand on her hip, quickly realizing that he was touching her scar. Quickly he moved his hand away. "Oh, sorry," he apologized.

It took Lindy a moment to figure out what Kyle was talking about, because she hadn't noticed at all. The pain of her old life, the burden of a closed heart – it had faded away like waking up from a bad dream. All that she loved and lost and gained and wanted and needed – it was completely reconciled, at long last.

"No, that's okay," she said, moving his hand back to her hip, then snuggling against his chest. "It doesn't hurt anymore."

- The End -