A/n: Just a warning, this chapter isn't as long as it looks! It's a three page, roughly 1,500 word fluffy epilogue. There is a big author's note at the end! If you don't feel like reading it, by all means, skip it. I sincerely hope you enjoy this last installment.
Chapter 38: Epilogue
"No, seriously – you have to."
"But it's so pretty."
"You're too distracting."
"Excuse me? I'm the distracting one? I think you have it backwards, miss."
"Seriously, this Calc isn't getting done by itself. Plus, we're in class. You're lucky Mr. Raskin hasn't looked over here yet."
"Okay, okay, fine. Jeez. Way to blow a guy off."
He stopped playing with my hair and sat back in his desk, defeated, looking at me with those golden eyes in a very puppy dog expression.
"Good boy," I smiled. I didn't know what had suddenly moved him to such a public display of affection. Usually we were very non-touchy during school; we didn't even hold hands in the halls or anything, which was why it had taken people a while to pick up on the fact that we were going out.
"You can't do that to me," he complained, bottom lip stuck out just slightly in a childish pout. "It's not nice."
I laughed. "We're in class," I repeated.
"You're too much of a temptation," he said, with a sudden wicked grid. "I just can't seem to keep my hands off you."
It had been about three weeks since Zack had gotten the flu. We were currently nearing the end of another work-by-yourself day in Calculus class. Everyone was working in small groups. Guess who I got the wonderful pleasure of working with? Ha-ha. Very funny. Zack never does anything in class.
"You should try harder," I told him, entering an equation into my graphing calculator.
"You shouldn't try as hard," he retorted playfully. "Then you could make conversation with me."
"I don't try that hard," I objected. "I just don't want to have to do this work at home, which is why I'm doing it now. If you were smart, you'd do it now too."
"Whoa, pot shot," he grumbled, clutching at his heart. "Just because you're the brains of the relationship…"
I wasn't fast enough to stop myself from laughing. "Don't underestimate yourself, Crowne. You're not stupid. Now stop distracting me, oh brilliant one."
"Okay, okay." Zack hummed quietly to himself.
The bell rang shortly after, and we exited the room with the flow of other students. Zack was right behind me, saying, "Yes, brunch time. I'm starving."
I grinned. "Good to see you've finally gotten your appetite back," I commented, glancing back at him.
His eyes were serious. "Yeah. I've been sleeping better at night too," he said.
He hadn't told me this yet, but I already knew. I could tell. Gone were the shadows under his eyes and the tired posture. He was more energized when I saw him, more awake, more alive. It was so good to finally see him back to normal, and it made my grin fade to a soft smile to know that he wanted to let me in on it.
"Thanks," I said, tucking my hand into the crook of his elbow as we walked to our lockers.
"For what?" he asked, surprised.
I shook my head slightly, the action making my ponytail swish around. "For being Zack Crowne, duh," I drawled, unable to restrain myself from taking a playful jab at him with such an open opportunity, though I had meant for my words to come out more seriously.
"Oh, oh, of course, how could I forget?" he played along, mouth twitching at the corners. "The omnipotent Crowne prevails over all."
I slipped my hand out of the inside of his elbow in order to hit him lightly on the arm. "You sound like a bad action movie antagonist cliché," I laughed.
"Hey, the antagonist can be a super good-looking fallen star sort of fellow. You know, so incredibly sexy, and actually a good guy deep down, just too weak to resist the forces of evil that pulled him over to the dark side." He grinned self-confidently at me.
I had to press my lips together to keep from laughing again. "Sexy but weak, huh? Such a great combination."
"Hey, only psychologically weak. I didn't mean physically. You know…like Darth Vader. Anakin Skywalker was a total stud before that shady Darth Sidious character corrupted him," Zack explained, waving a hand around and nearly knocking a kid's baseball hat off. The kid was glaring at him. "Sorry dude; accident. You know," he plunged on, because I did know; we had just watched Star Wars: Episode III together just last weekend, "I hate how ironic it is. Anakin loves Padmé so much to the point that he's willing to do anything to save her life, even go against his Jedi teachings, and in the end he becomes so consumed with the Dark Side that he turns into someone she can't love. And she dies in the end anyway." Zack sighed heavily, scratching his head.
"So does love make a person weak, or what?" I asked, intrigued. We had reached our lockers by now, and I had called the question over to him in the distance between us. "Because I'm not sure Anakin really loved Padmé. I don't know…it seemed more like an obsession to me."
"No; if he didn't truly love her he wouldn't have been willing to risk it all to save her," Zack reasoned, shutting his locker door. He walked over to me, sidestepping the two people between us.
"Huh," I said thoughtfully. "Or maybe he was caught in an illusion he believed was love." This conversation was distracting me. What books did I need for my next class? Oh, right, Spanish. Suddenly, something disturbing occurred to me, and my eyes snapped up to his.
Zack's strong eyebrows furrowed slightly. "An illusion?" he asked slowly. He knew from the look in my eyes that we weren't talking about Star Wars anymore. He reached toward me, brushing back my hair and letting his fingertips linger on the spot of sensitive skin behind my ear. "An illusion is insubstantial. The only thing behind an illusion is a dream, a vision. A fake reality can only carry you so far." His voice dropped to a whisper and his golden eyes were smiling gently at me. "I think we've come a lot farther than an illusion could ever carry us. Live with it, baby," he said, brushing an affectionate kiss on my jaw and nuzzling my ear with his nose. "I'm not going anywhere."
I smiled up at him. I knew he was being truthful; only the truth could have reassured me the way my heart felt so at ease in that moment. "Good," I said. "Now walk me to class."
"Yes ma'am," Zack chuckled as the bell rang.
"Hey, it's Winter."
"Hey Win, what's up?" Eva asked, upbeat. I could hear a smile in her voice, and that in turn made me smile as well.
"Nothing," I replied, relaxing on the couch. I punched a pillow to make it more comfortable and settled back, getting ready for a good long phone conversation with my best friend. "How're things?"
Eva groaned, laughing a little. "Hectic, man. One month to go to the wedding. It's freaking crazy around here. Emma just finished moving all her stuff into the house two days ago. I'm going to be stuck going with her to bridal shops, caterers, etcetera this weekend. She says if we don't pick wedding gown and bridesmaids' dresses by next Monday, this wedding isn't going to happen."
I thought this last sentence implied a joke on Emma's part, but I wasn't sure if Eva thought it was amusing or not. "I see…" I said.
Eva read my mind. "Oh, don't worry," she said quickly. "I'm over that. This wedding'll happen, just wait and see."
"Okay," I nodded. "By the way, do people have dates for weddings? They do, right? Like the guests, I mean."
"Yeah, sure," she replied easily. "Haven't you ever seen The Wedding Date?"
"Why?" she asked slyly. "Planning on bringing, oh, hmm, a little hottie? His name wouldn't be Zack, would it?"
I grinned. "You do realize that I wouldn't bring anyone else, right? Seeing as he's, um, my boyfriend." I blinked. Wow. My boyfriend. This was the first time I'd actually called him that. The words sounded kind of weird coming out of my mouth, but at the same time made these crazy bubbles squirm around in my stomach, in a good way.
"I know," Eva said. "But I still like teasing you about him."
This I already knew. She wouldn't stop nagging me for about a week straight about how Zack and I had "finally" gotten together.
"You should catch the way he looks at you sometimes," Eva continued softly. "Like he can't believe someone as perfect as you has landed in his life."
I laughed quietly, embarrassed. "Thanks, Eva."
"Just telling it like it is. You two are good together."
"Yeah," I smiled, agreeing wholeheartedly with my best friend. She was right. I could feel it.
A/n 2: Whew. Wow. I cannot believe that this is the last chapter! I'm both sad and happy. I think I'll be taking a break from posting stuff for a while after this. First of all, because this is obviously the most important, I want to thank each and every last one of you who reviewed – you all were seriously one of the driving forces behind this story reaching this point. If it weren't for all of you and your support, I might have given up long ago. I wish I could give everyone individual responses, but it would take pages and pages. I love all of you!!! You all make me laugh with your cute comments. Here's thanks to all of you, in no particular order:
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Harmonized, Bubbl3gum: Copying Yoda's grammar: you two, I love!!! Thank you so much to both of you for giving me such helpful, amusing reviews! I always looked forward to reading what you two had to say about the newest chapter. You two are hilarious. Thanks for sticking with. It means a lot, it really does. You guys are stars in my book. :o) Hugs and kisses!
murky: You are awesome!!! I was contemplating sending you this chapter, but I didn't want to bother you with a three page chapter. I hope that's okay. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being my beta. You've caught grammatical errors and inconsistencies for me and I am so indebted to you. And thank you for not only beta-ing, but also dropping reviews even though you'd already read the chapters! You are so sweet. Rock on! Hugs and kisses for you too!
I would be ecstatic if you would all leave me one last review! On a more sentimental note, I do believe I will miss this story quite a bit now that it's finished. This has been the first multi-chaptered story I've ever completed. Going back and looking at the first few chapters (which I cringe at) compared to the last couple I've posted recently, I like to think that I've grown as a writer a little bit. I've got a couple new ideas floating around, but I won't post anything until I've come up with at least a vague sketch of the beginning to end of a new one.
Thanks so much for