Author's Note: Hey, here's my newest story. It's going to be multiple chapters, how many, I can't say right now. It's Lucas-centric and it's basically my take on season five. Expect a lot of Leyton. I'll try and get chapters done and up as quickly as I can but I can't set any definite time tables.

The story's title is a song by 1969.


1. The Longest Night

He saw her for the first time in three years at the Rivercourt.

Lucas was a little surprised, to say the least. Truth is, he'd always pictured his reunion with Peyton Sawyer happening at their spot on River Road. Countless times he would venture out to that grassy nook desperately trying to hold onto something he'd already lost, and each time he rounded the curve that brought him into eyesight of that special place, some childish whim deep inside him would expect to see her standing there gazing out at the water. He imagined slowly pulling up, shutting the engine off, calmly exiting his car, and strolling up to her side. The two of them would stare at the river for a while, not saying a word, and then they would simultaneously turn to face each other, blurt out "I'm sorry!" in unison, and then kiss.

Yeah, that never happened.

Instead, Peyton materialized in the last place Lucas had expected her to be. He had been at home, pacing restlessly throughout his house, when he'd gotten the urge to do something he hadn't done in awhile. Grabbing his worn old basketball and clad only in jeans and a faded while button-down, Lucas had proceeded to trot towards the Rivercourt bouncing the ball off the pavement and probably annoying half of the neighborhood in the process. Upon reaching his destination, he'd been surprised to see the blacktop aglow with light and a woman standing near the center, arms folded, staring down at something near her feet.

It was a little after nine at night, who else would be here this late? When the thud of the ball bouncing on the court drew her attention to Lucas, a pair of familiar green eyes gave him his answer with all the subtlety of a big-rig slamming into a concrete divider. Peyton Sawyer stood there staring at him with as much shock as he probably felt.

Lucas's breath deserted him the moment his eyes took her in. The curls that he used to love so much were gone, replaced by gentle waves, some of which terminated in wild ringlets and all of which spilled over her shoulders in a brilliant mane. Peyton had always sported bright-blonde hair, but now, it was a darker shade, almost reddish in certain spots, and it looked absolutely astounding on her. She was dressed in tight, form-fitting jeans and a black, long-sleeved shirt that bared just a sliver of midriff and provided a great view of the creamy flesh of her neck-area.

Her body seemed curvier, more filled-out, and while it might have been the high-heeled boots she was wearing, she looked a bit taller than when he'd last seen her. His basketball now tucked between his right arm and side, Lucas had to squeeze it to restrain himself. He wanted to run over, envelop Peyton in his arms, lift her up, twirl her around, then starting kissing her all over. He wanted to run his hands through her mane of golden locks and he wanted take her back to his room and not let her out for a week.

Kind of creepy, he knew, but that's how he honestly felt in that instant. Mostly, though, Lucas wanted to tell her he loved her; he wanted to apologize for being such a dick and walking out on her three years ago, tell her how sorry he was for all the pain he'd caused her, and he wanted to make her see how much he wanted—no, needed—her.

As he cautiously approached her, Peyton's arms unfolded and her body turned to fully face him. She played with her hands, a nervous habit, and she tried to avoid his gaze a couple of times, but inevitably their eyes locked together.

"Hi…" It came out as barely above a whisper, but to Lucas, the sound of her voice after so long was like hearing his favorite song after being struck deaf for years.

"Hi…" All he could do was echo her greeting back to her. Now only a couple of feet apart, Lucas caught a whiff of her familiar scent which frantically excited the already numerous butterflies in his stomach.

"How long has it been?"

Her question struck him as odd. Hadn't she been counting the days like he had? "About three years."


Lucas couldn't stand it any longer. He needed to tell her everything he'd wanted to say to her since that disastrous night in LA three years ago. He inched forward. "Look, Peyton, I…"

"Luke." Her voice stopped him cold. It was soft, but firm and louder than before. "I have someone. I mean, I'm with someone."

Her plunging an industrial-grade boning-knife into his chest, slicing down his torso, and cracking his ribs open like a clam would've hurt less than the words that came out of her mouth. Peyton averted her eyes and he wanted to shout at her to look at him, but he said nothing. There was nothing to say.

She was with someone. The possibility had always been there, glaring at him from the deepest, darkest corners of his mind. The possibility that Peyton Sawyer could or might move on with someone else, but he'd unconsciously taken a 'See No Evil, Hear No Evil' stance over the years. Lucas had figured out that it was a lot easier to dream about getting back together with Peyton one day if he pretended that simply not finding out she was seeing anyone meant that she actually wasn't seeing anyone.

Well, the illusion had been shattered, which was probably a good thing since it only occurred to Lucas now how stupid that was. He was stupid for having ever let the vision standing before him go in the first place, and now she was with someone else, someone who probably wouldn't let her go so easily.

Lucas Scott felt like dying at that very moment. He gaped helplessly at Peyton and almost recoiled at the pain and sympathy in her gorgeous eyes. That was too much and he needed get out of here. Now.

"I should get home," he said. "See you around…I guess."

Peyton sighed. "Lucas…"

Ripping his eyes away from the girl—now woman—that had always had a stranglehold on his heart, Lucas, basketball in his hands, turned and walked away.

Peyton never called after him and perhaps that hurt worst of all.


He didn't see or hear from her for the next two days. Lucas couldn't decide whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. As he'd gone about his daily routines, he'd been looking out for her but he hadn't been actively looking for her, if that made any sense.

As early-evening sunlight infiltrated his bedroom, Lucas shrugged on a long-sleeved white-t then covered it with a dark-grey button-down. The get-together at Nathan and Haley's technically wasn't supposed to start till around eight but Lucas wanted to get there an hour early and help set up. Nathan's recent acceptance into the ranks of the Charleston Chiefs, a developmental league team, was cause for celebration and Haley had insisted on everyone being there.

As he was pretty sure that 'everyone' also meant Peyton, Lucas was hoping to corner Haley so he could get some intel on Peyton's 'someone.' Because of her hectic teaching schedule, Lucas hadn't had a chance to talk to Haley that much in the past two days, but she had called him a day ago to tell him that Peyton was back in town. Of course, she'd had no clue that Lucas had already known since he hadn't told his best friend about his encounter with his ex on the Rivercourt. This was a chance for Lucas to do a little reconnaissance.

A few minutes later, Lucas pulled his Shelby into the spacious driveway of Nathan and Haley's estate and parked facing the attached three-car garage, near their Range Rover. Lucas noted the absence of other cars and was relieved that he'd made it ahead of the first arrivals. As he approached the front door, it opened to reveal his brother, clad in a light blue dress-shirt tucked into ash-grey dress pants.

It was good to see Nathan on his feet. After his accident eight months ago, things had gotten pretty dark for a while, but Nathan had eventually pulled out of it and managed to rehab his back enough to attract the attention of a minor-league team. It wasn't the NBA but it was a step in the right direction.

"Hey man," said Nathan.


"C'mon in."

Lucas followed his brother into the house and was immediately pounced on by his nephew. "Uncle Lucas!"

"J-Luke, what's going on?"

"Daddy's going to be in the NBA!" The little blond-haired ball of energy, clad in a miniature Ravens 23 jersey that was just a little too big for him, bounced like a spring and positively hummed with manic energy.

Lucas chuckled at his nephew. "Really? I hadn't heard."

"Easy, you little knucklehead," said Nathan. "I'm not there yet."

Jamie just grinned. "Yeah, but you will be. Right Uncle Lucas?"

Lucas ruffled the boy's hair. "No doubt."

"Anyway," Nathan said. "Don't you have homework you need to finish?"

Jamie deflated slightly. "Yeah…"

"Well, get going."

"Okay…" The boy scampered up the stairs.

"So I take it he's excited about this new gig of yours?"

Nathan laughed. "He's been on a permanent natural high since he found out."

"Well, I don't blame him. It's been a long time coming, little brother." They bumped fists.

"Thanks. And hey, thanks for helping me with rehab and everything else after my accident. I don't think I would've made it this far if it weren't for you."

Lucas was surprised by his brother's earnestness. "You'd have done the same thing for me, right?"

"Yeah, anytime." Nathan smiled then started nervously playing with the buttons on his shirt, which was classic Nathan for 'This-is-too-sappy-let's-change-the-subject.' "Anyway, I got to finish getting ready. Haley's in the kitchen."

"Okay, thanks."

As his brother trotted up the stairs, Lucas made his way to the kitchen where he found Haley at the counter, which was covered end-to-end with paper cups and plates. His best friend and sister-in-law had her back turned to him. Her chestnut-brown hair was tied into a pony-tail and she was wearing a flattering sleeveless royal blue dress.

"Hey Hales."

"Oh, hey Luke," she said, turning away from the pie she was ministering to on the stove. "You're early."

"Yeah, figured I'd hang out till the first guests arrived."

"Uh-huh." She turned away from the counter to look at him and her brow furrowed. "What's up?"

"Nothing. Why?"

"Because you've got that 'something's up' look on your face," Haley said.

Lucas sighed. She knew him too well. "Listen, umm, is Peyton going to be here tonight?"

Haley gave her own sigh. "Yeah, I invited her when I saw her the other day. Are we going to have a problem?"

"Not that I can see. I'm just curious if she's bringing anyone with her."

Haley's nose crinkled. "Yeah, I think Brooke will be with her. Why?"

Brooke? So she was back, too? Never mind, time enough for that later. "Well, the night before you called and told me Peyton was back, I saw her, at the Rivercourt. She said she was seeing someone."

Haley tilted her head back, her mouth forming into a silent 'ahhh.' "So that's why you're here. You're hoping I can give you some dirt on the guy she's with."

Lucas cringed. "Kind of."

"Well, I hate to burst your bubble, but I didn't know she was dating anyone until you just told me," Haley said. "She didn't mention anything about it when I ran into her the other day, and the last time I even spoke to her before that was when Nathan was in the hospital, and she didn't say anything about it then, either. So sorry, I can't help you."

Lucas couldn't hide his disappointment. He'd at least wanted to get some sort of idea of what this guy was like. He wanted to know if he was treating her right, if he was good enough for Peyton, though deep down, he knew he'd have a problem with any guy Peyton ever dated that wasn't him.

He was slightly startled by Haley's hand on his. "Lucas, you're my best friend and I love you. You know that, right?"

He nodded.

"We're not in high school anymore. If Peyton is seeing someone and she's happy, you have to respect that. You owe it to her."

Haley's voice was gentle and caring but her words were hard. And they were right. Lucas did owe it to Peyton to take the high road. The last thing he wanted to do was cause her any more pain. Still, it hurt like a bitch to think of her laughing with, kissing, or making love to someone else.

"I know this must suck for you, Luke," said Haley. "But you chose to walk away from her. Now you have to step aside and let her be happy."

Lucas swallowed a lump of bitterness. "You know…before that night three years ago, I never walked away from anything that mattered. So why…why did I walk away from the one thing that mattered more to me than anything else in this life?"

Haley let out another sigh. "I don't know, Luke. That's something only you can figure out."


As light became dark and 8:00 loomed, Lucas's nerves turned his stomach sour. While Nathan and Haley went over last minute details, Lucas agreed to go upstairs and put Jamie to bed. He found the boy conked out on his little desk, an open workbook serving as a makeshift pillow. Either the homework had just been that boring or he'd finally crashed from his perpetual state of elation over his father's induction into the Chiefs.

Gently, Lucas lifted the boy from his desk and placed him onto his racecar-themed bed. Making sure his nephew was neatly tucked underneath the covers, Lucas switched off the light and quietly closed the door. He envied the little boy's ability to tune out the world so completely like that. Lucas wished he could.

He checked his watch for what had to have been the hundredth time in the last two minutes. 7:57. He sighed and headed downstairs. The doorbell chimed, signaling the arrival of the first guests. Half-wishing he had BS'd his way out of this engagement beforehand, Lucas blew out a breath. It was show time.

The first guests to arrive were Bobby Irons, the Chiefs' coach, and a few of Nathan's new teammates. Soon after, Skillz, Mouth, Junk, and Fergie joined the party and Lucas briefly caught up with each of them. Not long after, several of Nathan's friends and former teammates from the University of Maryland showed up, and by then, the house was thoroughly crowded and buzzing with mixed chatter.

Lucas, blue plastic up in hand, perched himself against the wall of the hallway that separated the stairway from the den and the kitchen. From his vantage point, he had a clear view of the front door but could disappear from sight in an instant if he wanted to. Haley approached him.

"So, seeing as how this is a party and all, are you at any time planning to—I don't know—socialize?" Haley's sardonic tone wasn't quite sharp enough to cut, but Lucas could tell she was displeased by his reclusiveness.

"This is Nate's night," he said, gesturing towards the guy in question who was vigorously conversing with Coach Irons and several other Chiefs in a circle near the front door. "I don't want to steal his thunder."

Haley saw through his pathetic lie. "Bull. You're avoiding Peyton."

"She's not here yet. Maybe she's not even coming." Lucas hated that he actually felt somewhat relieved at the thought of Peyton not showing up, but he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that something bad was going to happen tonight.

Before Haley could reply, the sound of the front door opening drew both of their attention. Brooke Davis, sporting what was probably a Clothes Over Bro's exclusive satin red dress, sauntered into the Naley house like she owned it. Following behind her was a tall, lanky brown-haired man that Lucas didn't recognize. He tensed. Was this…?

But then Brooke took the guy's hand and held onto it in a blatantly intimate way. This was Brooke's date, not Peyton's.

"Well, well, well, is that Nathan Scott, newest point guard for the Charleston Chiefs?" Nathan laughed and excused himself from the group he'd been chatting with and walked over to the brunette. They shared a warm, friendly hug.

"Hi Brooke. It's good to see you," he said.

"You too. This," she said, gesturing to her date, "is Julian Baker, my boyfriend."

"Boyfriend, huh?" said Nathan. "Nice to meet you."

The two men shook hands. "The pleasure's all mine," said Julian. "I've heard a lot about you. Congratulations on everything, man."

Haley patted Lucas on the shoulder. "I'm going to go over and talk to Brooke. You can hide out here if you want."

Lucas grunted in response and watched his best friend as she strode over to where her husband and their old friend were. Brooke let out a high-pitched squeal that probably temporarily deafened half the people in the house when she caught sight of Haley and the two women embraced. Introductions with Julian were made and pretty soon they were catching up. Brooke rapid-fired questions about Jamie and Haley's new teaching gig while Julian and Nathan talked.

Lucas considered joining them but thought better of it. He hadn't seen or spoken to Brooke since he and Peyton had broken up. The brunette had stopped responding to his emails and had started ignoring his calls and he didn't have to be a genius to figure out why. Besides which, Lucas didn't want to give up his current position in view of the door.

Keeping an ear on the excited chatter between Brooke and his brother and best friend, Lucas continued his surveillance of the front door as guests milled about. He only then noticed that his heart was thudding in his chest and his palms felt damp. It was almost like being back in the locker room the night of his first game playing for the Ravens. God, this was torture. Why couldn't Peyton just—

Lucas nearly jumped when the door opened. And there she was.

Once again, she stole his breath. In a sleeveless lemon-colored dress that ended just above her knees, that would've looked ridiculous on any number of other people but seemed to suit her perfectly, with her dark-blonde hair flowing loose, Peyton Sawyer stepped into the scene. Leaning forward slightly, head adorably cocked, her large green eyes curiously scanned her surroundings, and then they landed on him. She straightened up abruptly but didn't look away.

"P. Sawyer, over here!" Her eyes left him and she answered her best friend's call with a thousand-watt smile. Lucas watched as the beautiful blonde rushed over to Brooke, Julian, Nathan, and Haley and embraced the latter two vigorously.

A figure appeared in the front doorway and Lucas tore his eyes away from Peyton, focusing on the newcomer. He was early-thirtyish and tall, maybe half-and-inch over Nathan, and broad-shouldered with blue eyes and neatly-arranged longish bleach-blond hair. Lucas noted his expensive apparel: black khakis, black suit-jacket over a white dress-shirt sans tie, all of which was probably designer wear, and a silver, diamond-encrusted Rolex on his right wrist. In his hands was a bottle of very fine looking champagne.

For a split-second, Lucas thought that maybe he was the Chiefs' owner, he certainly looked the part. But then he made his way over to Peyton, laid his Rolex-adorned meaty hand on her shoulder, and she greeted him with a smile and a kiss.

Bile rose in Lucas's throat and his stomach dropped. So this was Peyton's 'someone.'

Who the hell was this jerk-off? Didn't matter. None of his business.

Lucas watched as Peyton introduced her someone to Nathan and Haley but he couldn't hear what was being said over the blanket of noise that was shrouding the house. Mouth and Skillz eventually joined the group of six and soon it was like a party within a party. Everybody laughing, joking, jostling, as if Julian and the mystery-man had always been a part of their circle of friends. He couldn't make out what he was saying but Lucas could tell that Peyton's someone was a hell of a talker since he seemed to have everyone enthralled. And when he put an arm around Peyton and snuggled her up to his side, Lucas wanted to retch.

That should be him with his arm around Peyton.

Remembering he had a drink in his left hand, Lucas brought the cup up to his lips and took a sip but the sweetened liquid tasted like ashes. Withdrawing into the hall, Lucas made his way to the kitchen and abandoned his drink on the counter. Skillz then sidled up beside him.

"Yo Luke, don't look now, but Peyton all up in this joint, and she looking fine."

Lucas snorted. "Thanks Skillz."

Apparently missing the sarcasm, the shorter man just nodded. "So you got a plan?"

"What are you talking about?"

Skillz looked at him like he was crazy. "To steal Peyton away from that dude."

I wish. "No, not really. If she's happy with this guy then so be it. I've got no right to interfere."

Skillz rolled his eyes. "Whatever. But anyway, if you change your mind, let me know. I got a foolproof plan guaranteed to work."

"Sure thing, Skillz."

Lucas patted his old friend on the back and then headed for the bathroom. After taking care of that, he maneuvered his way through a throng of people whose faces he didn't bother to try and place and escaped out onto the back patio. Taking in a deep, refreshing breath of fresh air, Lucas threw himself onto one of the wooden chairs facing the pool and sighed.

It was going to be a long night.


The soft click of the patio door drew Lucas's attention away from the game of Angry Birds on his iPhone. Light from the pool lamps illuminated the face of the water, casting liquid shadows on flowing lemon-colored fabric as the person he'd been trying to avoid but had been secretly spying on all night wandered over to the edge of the water without seeing him.

Exiting out of his game and pocketing his phone, Lucas quietly got up and approached the blonde. She started slightly and Lucas offered a silent apology with his hands. Peyton gave him a shy, half-smile then quickly turned away and glanced down at her high-heeled boots.

Lucas ached to touch her, to hold her, but he couldn't. He'd forfeited that right the moment he'd left her in that hotel room.

"This house is nice," Peyton said.

"Yeah, it really seems to fit Nathan and Haley."

"It does."

They were silent for awhile, and somehow, in spite of everything between them, it wasn't uncomfortable. It wasn't entirely comfortable, either, but it reminded him of how they used to be.

"You look beautiful, by the way," said Lucas.

"Thanks. You pretty good yourself."

When he saw the trace of color in her cheeks, he allowed himself a sparkle of hope. Did she still find him attractive? Did she yearn to touch him the way he did her? He searched her eyes for the answers but he all he saw was uncertainty and maybe something like pain.

A change of subject was desperately needed. Lucas wasn't ready to let this moment alone with her end just yet. "So how's your life, Peyton? I'm sure you're the top A&R rep at Sire Records by now. I hope all the world-famous acts you've signed remember to thank you in the liner notes."

Peyton laughed, and it was a genuine Peyton-laugh. Lucas's heart swelled at the sound.

"Not hardly," Peyton said. "Try former assistant-to-the-assistant of the label president, which is just a catchy term for pack-mule. It was pretty much like working in the mail room except I got this tiny little tinderbox of a desk and nose-bleed section seating at new music meetings."


"I quit my job a few days ago."

Lucas nodded. "I'm glad." She looked at him surprised. "I mean, not that it was so hard for you, but that you finally got away from that place. They weren't good enough for you."

Her eyes widened and Lucas saw gratitude. "Thank you, Lucas."

Her lips formed into yet another shy, semi-smile and she shifted her gaze back onto the pool. Another calm patch of silence descended on them before Peyton lightly elbowed him.

"So what about you? How many best-selling novels have you published?" Her tone was teasing.

"Umm, try none," he said. "The whole author-thing really didn't work out for me."

Her brow furrowed and her eyes radiated sympathy. "Luke, I'm sorry. What happened?"

He sighed. "Most publishing houses rejected my manuscript outright. The ones that didn't saw my name and realized that I was the son of the infamous 'Mayor Murder' and wanted to turn "Ravens" into a tell-all book about Dan and Keith's murder."

"Luke…" Her hand found his forearm and the touch sent sparks careening through him every which way. He was disappointed when it was gone.

"Anyway, I wasn't going to be a part of something like that so I threw "Ravens" into the trash, metaphorically speaking."

Peyton sighed. "God, I am so sorry, Luke. It's not fair to you. You put so much work and feeling into your novel…the world should've gotten to experience that and you deserve to be recognized for it."

The raw compassion in her voice and in her eyes, the fact that she was genuinely crushed for him, made being here with her and not having her all the more unbearable. In that instant, Lucas realized what a fool he'd been for ever thinking she hadn't believed in him. Peyton had always believed in him, even now after three years of estrangement, after he'd broken her heart. He hated himself for throwing her love and support away.

"It doesn't matter," he said.

Peyton's eyes were firm. "It does matter. You deserve to have your dream."

"I already gave it up." He wondered if she realized that he was no longer talking about his book. Peyton broke eye contact then, half-crossing her arms, half-cradling herself, which she did whenever she was nervous or uncomfortable. "Anyway, what's next for you?"

She looked up and he saw relief on her face at the change in direction. "Me? Well, Brooke offered me a freelance gig doing sketches and graphics for Clothes Over Bro's in New York, at least until I figure out what I really want to do. It'd be nice since Brooke is there and so is Dean…"

Dean. So that was the fucker's name. Lucas stifled the rising tide of bitterness as best he could. He wanted to know all about this 'Dean' guy but he wasn't about to ask Peyton. He really wouldn't be able to take listening to her gush about her new boyfriend. Though maybe they weren't that serious.

Either way, Lucas knew he had to seize this opportunity to tell her how he felt. "Listen, Peyton, there's something I need to tell you."

"Luke…" Her voice was a gentle warning.

"No, Peyton, I really need to say this." Before she could object, he took a deep breath and let loose: "I'm sorry. I am so, so sorry for walking out on you like that. I ask myself how I could've ever done something so callous and I don't have an answer. If I could go back and do it differently, I would in a heartbeat, but I can't and you need to know that—"

"Lucas, you need to stop." Her voice was firm and her hands were up defensively. "You can't be saying these things, not now. It's too late."

Hurt but undeterred, Lucas took a step forward. "I don't believe that Peyton. I just—"

"I love him."

Lucas froze and it was like someone had injected his veins with liquid nitrogen. He wanted to pretend he hadn't heard her right, but he most certainly had, and there could be no doubt as to who 'him' was. Peyton Sawyer was in love with someone else.

"I'm sorry, Lucas," said Peyton. "I just…I can't do this with you."

The sound of the patio door opening and closing and the click of heels on cobblestone drew their attention to Brooke, who was approaching them. Lucas finally realized his mouth was wide open and promptly closed it.

Brooke smiled warmly at Peyton. "Hey P. Sawyer, your boy's looking for you."

Peyton nodded at Brooke then turned back to him. Lucas searched her eyes for any sign, any hint that she hadn't meant what she said, but all he saw was hurt. "I…I'll see you, Luke." Lucas's gaze followed her until she disappeared inside the house.

The clack-clack of heels reminded him that he was not alone and he looked over at Brooke. Her eyes were poison and as she slowly stalked over to the spot Peyton had occupied only seconds before, Lucas knew this was not going to be a fun conversation, though at this point, nothing could make his mood any worse.

Brooke said nothing for about half a minute, then: "His name is Dean Francis. He's a former model and now the chief editor of a very successful men's fashion magazine in New York. I set him up with Peyton a little over a year ago. He makes her laugh, he treats her like a queen, and they're in love. Just in case you were curious."

Lucas had been curious, but now, not so much. "Brooke, I know you're mad about what happened between me and Peyton—"

"You mean what you did to Peyton?" Her face was accusatory, one eyebrow sharply cocked. "You broke her heart, Lucas. You shattered her world into a billion pieces and stomped all over her spirit. You have no idea how bad it got, how I had to scrape her off the floor because she'd forgotten how to breathe without you. So I'm way past the point of being mad, Lucas. I don't think I'll ever be able to forgive you for what you did to her."

Lucas jammed his eyes closed and took in a deep breath. Shaking his head, he tried to plead with Brooke: "I'm sorry, okay? I wish I could undo it."

"But you can't! And that's something you have to deal with. So don't you dare even think of trying to get in between her and Dean." Brooke's voice was low, deadly. With one last glare, she turned and started to walk away.

"Brooke…" It came out hoarsely. "You look good, by the way. It's nice to see you after so long." And he meant that. Any romantic notions he'd ever once had for his high school girlfriend were ancient history, but he still valued the brunette's friendship and he hated that he'd lost it.

"Save it. We are not friends, Lucas Scott, and you and Peyton are not anything. So stay away from her and Dean, and stay away from me."


"No! Peyton and I will be in town for the next few weeks. If you see Peyton in the street, whether she's alone or with Dean, you walk the other way." And with that, she turned her back on him and re-entered the house, the patio door slamming closed with finality behind her.

Lucas stood there alone on the patio for a few minutes afterwards, staring at nothing in particular. He marveled at how this night had so rapidly deteriorated into one of the worst in his life.

And he dreaded how much worse things could get before morning.


11:00 came and went, and so did Coach Irons and much of the party. By 11:15, everyone except for immediate friends and family had left, though Lucas could hardly count Brooke, Peyton, or their boyfriends in that latter category. Lucas himself wanted nothing else then to get the hell out of there, but he didn't want to let on that anything was wrong and face the inevitable questions from Nathan and Haley.

So when everyone adjourned to the living room, Lucas reluctantly followed and sequestered himself on the periphery, as far away from Peyton and Dean as he could. As the group socialized, Lucas remained a silent observer, throwing the occasional one-word response to a question from his brother and best friend and making some small talk with Skillz and Mouth. Mostly, he tried to catch Peyton's eyes but she took great pains to avoid looking at him, so he contented himself with surreptitiously peering at her bare legs. It was basically freshman- and sophomore-year of high school all over again.

A couple of times, Brooke caught on to what he was doing and flattened him with a glacial stare and Lucas would rapidly pretend the coffee table was the most fascinating thing in the world. Overall, though, he desperately wanted this gathering to come to an end.

And much as he hated to admit it, Dean Francis seemed like a genuinely nice guy. Peyton had not even attempted to introduce the two of them, but Lucas could see he really cared for her. A part of him was thrilled that she'd found someone that loved and adored her but seeing her with this guy still felt like an ice-pick in his windpipe.

Lucas also found Julian to be a really likeable, down-to-earth guy with a goofy sense of humor. Apparently, he was an Indie film producer but he certainly didn't fit the stereotype. He and Brooke had a natural chemistry and synergy and Lucas predicted these two would be married soon. It looked like Brooke had finally found the guy for her, and although the brunette would've liked nothing more than to see his guts splattered on the pavement, he was still glad for her.

Lucas's nerves had had enough for the night, and he was about to stand up and excuse himself when Dean suddenly got up from his seat.

"How about a round of expensive champagne to toast the start of Nathan's journey to success?" he said.

"That's what I'm talking about," said Skillz.

"Why not?" Mouth said.

Nathan shrugged. "Yeah, sure. Hales?"

"Okay, one last round."

Dean clapped his hands. "Terrific! I left the bottle on the counter. Haley, where do you keep your glassware?"

"There should be a bunch of them out by the sink," Haley said.

Lucas winced when Dean kissed Peyton before hurrying off to get his bottle of champagne. Yeah, it was definitely time to go. He stood up. "I think I'm going to cut out, guys."

"Oh Luke, can't you just stay a few more minutes?" Haley's voice was pleading.

"Yeah man," Nathan said. "I wouldn't want to make this toast without you."

"C'mon, Luke," said Skillz. "It's free alcohol."

Lucas looked at Peyton but she was staring at her lap. Would she want him to stay? Probably not, so he shook his head. "I don't think so…"

"Stay, Lucas." He looked over at Brooke, surprised. "Trust me, you're not going to want to miss this."

Her features were marred by a vicious little smile. What the hell? Why did Brooke want him around all the sudden? Even though the front door was calling like a siren, Lucas let himself sink back down into his seat. Just as he did, Dean returned with the bottle of champagne and several glasses.

Placing the bottle onto the coffee table, he then proceeded to make the rounds with the glasses, making sure every one of them had one. Almost everyone.

"Umm, hello?" Peyton waved at Dean, obviously perplexed. "Am I supposed to just take a swig straight from the bottle?"

Dean turned towards her. "Oh, sorry! Let me get you one." He sashayed off and Peyton stared after him, a 'What the hell?' look on her face. A few seconds later, he returned with a glass for his girlfriend. "Here, sorry."

Peyton accepted the glass, but as she brought it towards her, she stopped suddenly. "What is this?"

"What's what?" asked Haley.

"There's something at the bottom of the glass." As she reached into fish out whatever was in the glass, Lucas suddenly felt sick. This whole charade looked like—

Peyton's gasp drew everyone's attention. "Dean…" In her hand was a small object, a very pricey looking object.

Lucas's blood ran cold. No…this could not be happening.

Peyton looked at her boyfriend in shock. "Dean, what is this?"

"I believe that's an engagement ring, and I'm pretty sure it belongs on your finger," he said. "Will you marry me, Peyton Sawyer?"

Silence. It was a stale expression, but you really could hear a pin drop. No one said anything, no one moved, everyone just gawked at Peyton and Dean, as stone-still as gargoyles. Lucas felt his sanity slip. This wasn't really happening, it was ridiculous. Here? Now?

As Peyton's wide eyes oscillated from the ring to Dean and then back again, Lucas's bored his own eyes into her. No-no-no-no-no-no-no! Don't do it! He tried to burn these words directly into her mind. Just then, her eyes met his, and the ring, Dean, and everything else faded away. This can't be the end of us, Peyton. This isn't how our story ends. Don't marry him, please…I love you, I always have and I always will.

Peyton's eyes deserted his and refocused on the ring. And then they centered on Dean, who had an excited grin on his face, as if the smug bastard couldn't even conceive of the fact that she might not accept his proposal.

Because she did.

~Chapter One End