"Let this be my last word, that I trust in your love."

-Rabindranath Tagore


chapter thirty-two



She was terrified, I could tell. Her body was completely stiff and her arms were tight around my shoulders, tension from the closeness breaking out in sweat on my skin despite the slight chill in the room. I paused for a moment to realize how pleased I was that she was looking for comfort from me- even though I was the one hurting her. Two years before, she wouldn't have. She would have pulled away- curled up- turned her back. Run away, probably. She would've collected her clothes from the floor and jerked them on, running out of the house.

Stop. She wouldn't say it, though it was in her eyes and stamped across her face. She knew I wanted her, and she was afraid.

"Lissa," I panted, trying to calm my erratic breathing, forcing myself to let go of my own nervousness. "Lissa."

She opened her eyes, slowly. Dark blue. Her pupils almost overwhelmed the iris; black pools of fear.

"Liss, please relax," I begged. "I don't want to hurt you- more."

She didn't reply, didn't move, just let her eyelids fall closed. "Lissa!" I pleaded. She just shook her head, hair sliding on my pillow, eyes squeezed tight.

I drew in a quick breath and let it out slowly. "I can't to do this to you- I'm- I'm going to stop."

Her eyes fluttered open again. "No," she finally said. Her voice was tight and choked. "No, Caden."

I sighed heavily with deep care. "I mean it. You've got to relax, or I'm going to stop. Your first time can't be like this- you have to relax."

The tears did fall then; leaking from the corners of her eyes to slip down the sides of her face and fall onto my pillow with little taps. I wiped them away with one reverent finger. "Liss, please, if you want this, try."

Her mouth tightened. She was terrified, tensed completely, but as I patiently rubbed my thumb on her cheek, tracing slow, soothing circles on her pale skin, she sighed shallowly and released her arms around my shoulders, letting her head sink back onto the pillow.

I slid my hands down to her hips, feeling her relax under my touch. She let out a deep breath, a rush of warm air into my face, and let her body fall limply on the mattress. I marveled at the trust she had in me.

"Good," I breathed, dropping a quiet kiss onto her collarbone. Her eyes lifted to mine again, searching. She was still afraid.

"Why don't you hate me?" she asked quietly, her breath fanning across my face with each word.

I smiled a bit ruefully. "I can't..." I let it trail off, waiting patiently for her to relax completely. Allowing my face to drop into her neck, I pressed a light kiss to her skin, smiling softly as she sighed.

I finally lifted my head and stared her straight in the eyes. The tear trails on her skin had dried; her pupils were calmer.

"Are you ready?" I whispered, one last time.

"Yeah," Lissa replied, allowing her arm to drape back over my shoulders. I let my lips drop; my mouth taking hers in a kiss that made her writhe and moan softly.


Later I remembered the rest in segregated pieces. The way she'd shivered and moaned at every touch, every movement, the way she'd screamed my name and dug her nails into my shoulders when she came... my rush of relief at being able to please... but most of all the sweet way that, when I'd collapsed on top of her, exhausted, sated, she had pressed a soft kiss to my forehead, dragged my sweaty hair back from my face, and wrapped her arms tightly around me.

There was passion; I mused, and sweetness. Passion was lust, a fast-burning brush fire; hot and intense, consuming, but rushing through and leaving you with nothing but cold ash, feeling drained. Sweetness was a slower oak fire- not as hot- but lingering, lasting, and leaving you with a sense of contentment.

You needed both, I decided. You needed both in life.


I woke drowsily in the morning. I was thirsty, my stupefied mind realized. There was a strange taste in my mouth. I couldn't remember what it was. I lifted my head, eyes slitted against the light in the room, and started to reach for the cup of water I always kept at my bedside. At the movement of my body against the sheets, I realized that I was completely naked. With that, everything clicked into place.

I turned my head slowly, not knowing what I would see behind me. Lissa asleep, or Lissa awake? Would she regret it? I hoped she was still asleep.

She wasn't. She wasn't even there. I suppressed the funny sense of loss I felt at seeing her gone. I reached out to feel the mattress where I knew she had been, and smiled at the relief that surged through me as I felt the lingering warmth.

Then I heard the quiet rush of the shower in my bathroom, and slipped out of bed, relinquishing the warmth for my curiosity. I located my boxers and pulled them on, noticing with a smile that my sweatshirt from the day before had disappeared; another good sign.

I tapped lightly on the bathroom door. "Lissa?" There was no answer.


"What?" She sounded totally normal. I laughed at her.

"What are you doing?" I felt stupid as soon as the words left my mouth.

She sounded amused. "Taking a shower."

I hesitated. In my fantasies of my first time, I always pictured myself showering the next morning with the girl... who was usually (always) Lissa. Now, though, presented with the actual situation, I realized that showering with another person was almost more intimate than sex itself.

"Can I come in?"

"Yes," Lissa answered, as if she'd been waiting. I'd expected a 'no' or maybe an 'I guess', or even a 'sure, whatever', but not a plain, simple, 'yes'. It was such a direct answer that I didn't see it coming.

I pushed open my door. My sweatshirt was draped over the towel rack, along with her jeans and the blue- and yellow-striped panties. She was already in the shower, and had been for a bit already, judging by the steam forming on the mirror. I scrawled my name onto it with a finger, and after a moment of thought, seated myself firmly on the counter.

The shower curtain, which was opaque, hid her from view. I decided that it would make conversation easier.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

There was a brief hesitation. "Yes," she answered. "I was really sore when I first woke up but it's going away."

"God, I'm sorry," I said with feeling. There was a muffled laugh from inside the shower.

"Don't be," she said. "It was worth it." The water turned off, and a wet arm slipped out from behind the curtain to snatch a towel from the rack.

Lissa pulled back the curtain, the towel wrapped around her. "God, Caden, that was incredible."

I smiled. "I'm glad you thought so," I said. "You're still so modest though."

She rolled her eyes and pulled off the towel, using it to dry her hair. "I never said you couldn't come in," she remarked, indicating the shower.

"I thought about it," I responded, pulling off my boxers and tossing them into a corner. "But I figured there wasn't much room." She smiled, and I stepped into the shower, shaking my hair out of my eyes and soaking it. The water was hot for a few minutes, but suddenly it started to quickly cool down. Well familiar with the shortage of hot water in our house and the warning signs, I hastened to turn it off, but not before it had gone dead cold on me. I yelped and jumped away.

I could hear Lissa laughing. "You don't have much hot water here, do you?" she asked.

"Give me my towel."

"I already used it," Lissa said. "I don't see any more."

I sighed, shoving back the curtain and stepping out, pressing my palms to my hair to force the water out of it. Lissa, already dressed, was sitting on the counter, calmly watching me. Her eyes didn't rake hungrily down my body as they had done the night before, but she was very definitely noticing me, and she knew I knew it. She didn't blush, and neither did I, because we were past that. I pulled the towel off of the towel rack, ignoring its dampness and drying off hastily. My eyes drifted from her to the clouded mirror, where my 'Caden' was still faintly visible. I saw with a radiant smile that she had added below it, 'Lissa' and around our names had drawn a heart. The pure childishness and lightheartedness of the gesture made me grin.

"So you're not regretting anything?" I asked, tightening my towel around my waist and following her back into my room.

"I always intended to wait," Lissa said thoughtfully. "Not even because I had a reason, just because it's so risky, I guess."

I shrugged at her as she sat down on the carpet by the bed. Lifting the condom wrapper from my bedside table, I waved it playfully in her face before tossing it into the trash. "I think we're pretty safe."

She smiled in spite of herself. "Yeah, I guess." She paused a minute, and then added, "You know, I still have that condom."

"Which one?" I asked, and then realized and started to laugh. "The one-"

"The one we stole from Bran," she finished, laughing too. "I bet it's expired- I haven't looked at it in two years."

I grinned and shook my head. "What a sentimental memoir," I said. We were silent for a minute, but it was a comfortable silence.

"I'm hungry," I said, buttoning my jeans and pulling a shirt over my head. "Come on." I caught Lissa's hand, recalling, as she wrapped her fingers around mine, the promise I'd made to myself in sophomore year- I want to hold her hand.

"I'm stealing your sweatshirt," she said. "I hope you don't mind."

I laughed quietly. "I never mind," I assured her.

Her eyes drifted to my face, and she didn't answer.


"How can you not hate me?" Lissa asked later. We'd eaten breakfast, and were now lying on my bed, cuddling. I had located our French project, slightly crumpled, under my bed.

"It's all been my fault."

"What do you mean?" I replied quietly. She pulled at a loose string on the sleeve of the borrowed sweatshirt.

"I wouldn't date you when you wanted me," she began.

"But I didn't blame you for that," I interjected. "I expected it, frankly."

"Well, yeah," Lissa agreed. "But I was faking half the time... I was testing you, really. I'd heard the rumors from the public school, and I wanted to know if you were really like they said."

"Like what?" I asked. She shrugged.

"People said you were a player. That you used girls and dumped them. That you wouldn't stay true. That you cheated and slept around. I threw those rumors in your face once."

I laughed quietly. "I remember that. And did you believe them?"

"You didn't seem like that to me," Lissa answered, shrugging. "I knew you didn't sleep around, because you told me you were a virgin, back then, and I believed you." She turned her head to meet my eyes. "The cheating... you just didn't seem like you'd do that. I think cheating is a personality trait- some people do and some don't. You're such a good listener that it just didn't seem like you."

"I am?" I asked. She smiled a bit.

"Of course you are," she said. "You're listening to me evaluate you without breaking in and telling me I'm wrong. You listened to me after the trial... hell, you encouraged me to talk. No one ever really did that before." She shrugged. "Anyway. I know you didn't cheat on me... When you started to date Anna after me, I felt betrayed, of course, but I didn't have any claim on you at that point, so it wasn't justified." Her eyes lifted to mine. "You don't cheat, do you?"

"No," I said. "I did once, accidentally, before I came to Clayton, and a girlfriend with whom I had a very bitter breakup never forgot that."

Lissa smiled a bit. "I guess the whole player thing wasn't all that far off, though; from the number of girlfriends you had. But we're getting off topic..." She inhaled deeply and breathed out. "I wanted to see if you'd get tired of me playing hard-to-get and go after Anna, but you didn't. I never figured out why. I don't think anyone else would have put up with it all.

"And later, I was the one who broke us up. You can't say that wasn't my fault; it was. My mother caught us, but she liked you. You were the one who reported Pierre, after all. She might've let me compromise, maybe, but I didn't even ask. I just ended it."

"Why?" I asked quietly.

"I was afraid," Lissa answered. "We were so physical-" I frowned and opened my mouth, but she shook her head. "We were, Caden. I mean, sure, we went out on dates occasionally, and we'd talk and flirt, but we were really physical." She saw me open my mouth again, and stopped me. "Seriously, Caden, she caught us about to have sex!"

I nodded. "I know."

"It was all attraction, too. We didn't actually have a mental attachment."

"I'm going to disagree with that last," I said. "I'll agree that it was blind lust, for a while, but I know that a relationship without real feelings doesn't last long. Anna was a prime example of that, and she was just a fling."

Lissa wrinkled her nose. "You were attracted to her? That's disgusting."

I grinned ruefully. "Shut up. I find you much more attractive in every way. Anyway. I really liked you before you finally accepted me... God, I started to form an emotional attachment that one morning when I was still dating Andrea."

Lissa smiled a bit. "I was so uncomfortable that time," she said. "I'd never even been close to a guy, and then there was you. You're really physical."

"What do you mean? Is that bad?"

She grinned. "Nah. It means you're a good cuddler."


We were silent for a long time. Finally, I said quietly, brushing a tendril of hair from her forehead, "It feels right now."

"What?" Lissa murmured, moving a little so that her cheek rested on my chest.

"Last time," I mused, "we were always waiting for some calamity to happen. We were never sure if it was the last time we'd kiss, or hug. Now- it just feels right."

"I know," Lissa said. She buried her face deeper in my shirt. "I could stay here forever."

"You can," I said quietly, smiling softly, and she looked up and smiled back.


Well, we've reached the end. Thank you to everyone who joined along the way. Review- please point out any typos or grammatical mistakes, and feel free to comment on plot, structure, and content. Remember, however, that as a cliché, trite moments tend to be there on purpose. Thanks very much for reading!