A/N: Happy New Year, everyone! I bring you now the last chapter of this story. Took me quite a while to finish it but I really hope you like it. I know it took so long to finish this story but I hope it was worth the wait. It is sad to finally see this baby come to an end, but I hope I did justice to the ending you've all been waiting for. There won't be any epilogue, so…Happy reading!
Jake lay awoke that night, the image of Allyson never leaving his mind. Allyson looking at him as if only the two of them existed…Allyson telling him she had forgiven him…Allyson touching him, comforting him…Are you teasing me? She'd asked laughingly. He replayed their kiss over and over, tried to evoke the same tender feelings she'd shown him unwittingly when she had surrendered to the kiss. But no matter how he tried to forget it, the image of Allyson leaving gnawed at him.
What was he supposed to do now? Leave her alone? He'd tried that already and he knew it was futile. He couldn't stay away from Allyson now, not when he'd kissed her and felt as if he could die and go to heaven. Or maybe hell. He couldn't give up now. That's what she expected him to do. This time, he'd disappoint her again…but for the right reasons and in the right way.
He tried to recall her exact words. She hadn't told him to stay away, had she? No, he thought, shaking his head as a smile broke the grimness of his expression. She hadn't. I can't believe this. Those were her exact words. So he had to make her believe his words. He would make her believe; he thought resolutely, even if that was the last sane thing he did. Just how he was going to do that, he still didn't know. With the last image of a smiling Allyson, Jake drifted off to sleep.
Allyson wasn't doing any better—she kept tossing and turning in her bed, waiting for sleep to come. But the memory of Jake's kiss left her so agitated that she could hardly think of anything else.
He had said that he loved her. No! Her mind rebelled even as her heart fluttered with repressed joy. He didn't love her. Miss her, maybe, but love her? No, he didn't love her. So why did he look so miserable when she left him tonight? And why in heaven did she care? With a frustrated sigh, she jumped off her bed and grabbed her coat.
Allyson stalked into the spacious living room without waiting for the maid to announce her presence. The elder woman gave her a last disapproving look before disappearing into the kitchen. It was the second time in a week that Al had come to Lou's house unannounced. Moreover, it was dead at night and she'd probably awoken the household up.
"Why am I not surprised?" Lou teased as she got up from the settee where she'd been ready to spend the rest of the evening lulling herself to sleep with a boring fashion magazine. "I didn't see much of you during the ball tonight. I did hear Mandy's brother complaining that you ditched him for some really tall guy."
"I kissed him," Allyson blurted out without thinking. "I mean he kissed me. But I…kissed him…too. God, what did I do?" Felling so restless, Allyson began walking back and forth across the room, wondering why she'd come here in the first place.
"Whoa! Christopher kissed you?" Lou asked in genuine confusion. "On your first date?"
"No! Why would he?" Allyson asked, equally confused.
"Then who did? Oh, no…don't tell me. It was the really tall guy, wasn't it? Hey. Would you please stop pacing? I'm getting dizzy here and this girl wants some answers," Lou demanded.
"Sorry," Allie replied apologetically, sitting with her hands under her bottom so she wouldn't wring them.
"So…?" Lou waited for Allyson to explain.
Lou had to keep herself from raising her hands in frustration. For such a smart girl, Allyson was acting really stupid right now. "O-kaaay. First things first. Did you like it?"
"What?" Allyson asked incredulously.
"Simple question. Did you like it?" When Allie mumbled her reply, Lou prodded, "Sorry, didn't hear you."
"Yes!" Allyson snapped out. She caught Allyson's knowing grin and demanded an explanation. "What? What's that smile on your face?"
"This, my friend, is the aha! smile," Lou replied arrogantly.
"The aha! smile?" Allyson asked sarcastically. "Really helpful, Lou."
"You're not over him. You know, I always knew you followed instructions to the letter. And you definitely did with mine. I just don't remember telling you to go the extra mile."
"Strike two," Allyson warned grumpily, resuming her pacing again.
"Face it, Al. He kissed you, you liked it, and then you come running over here acting like a madwoman? That's some serious not-getting-over thing. That means you still feel something for him."
"What if I didn't feel anything then? What would I have done?"
"Well, you would have gone home and dreamt of a better kiss."
"Did you kidnap my best friend? Are you trying to tell me that I should get back together with Jake? The guy who kissed another girl in front of me, in your house?"
"You did forgive him, didn't you?" Lou asked patiently. "Listen to yourself Al. One minute, you're defending him. The next, you're ready to dig up every dirty thing about him and use it against him. What do you really want?"
Feeling like the world's biggest hypocrite, Allyson sank into the sofa like a deflated balloon. "I want to know if he's telling the truth," she answered in a resigned tone. Leaning forward in her chair, she covered her face with her hands.
With the look of a sad little girl who had her present snatched on Christmas day, Allyson replied, "He says he loves me."
That rendered Lou speechless for a full minute. "Sorry, Al but…I don't really see the problem here," she replied when she finally recovered her voice.
With a trembling, aching voice, Allyson replied, "I don't believe him." She wouldn't dare.
"Hey, Al," Jake greeted casually as he got into step with her. He'd just come from class and luckily enough, had spotted Al just before she disappeared around the corner. His resolve to clear things out with her had slowly dissolved throughout the day. The first subject they had together, he was too busy admiring her profile he didn't notice the time passing by. Then he spent the next two classes trying to gather the courage to talk to her…and miserably failing.
"Hey," Allyson murmured in reply, noticeably walking faster now. Too bad Jake didn't miss a step. With his long strides, he didn't have any problem catching up with her.
"May I…carry your books?" Jake finally asked after a long awkward pause.
"Why?" she asked without looking at him.
"What do you mean why?" Jake asked, perplexed at her grumpy attitude.
"Why do you want to carry my books? Why are you acting so chirpy? Since when do you start your sentences with May I?" she said in one breath. Amazingly enough, she never missed a step. She was walking so fast that they were now walking in front of the park, just two more blocks before her house.
"Whoa! Wait. First, I'm not acting too chirpy; I just thought I'd abandon the to-hell-with-the-world act for awhile. What?" he asked when she rolled her eyes. Because she simply shrugged, he continued. "Last I checked this was a democratic country. I have every right to start a sentence with May I. Third, I want to carry your books because I think they outweigh you by a hundred pounds."
"I'm not weak," Al retorted.
"I didn't say you were. Why are you angry at me? Aren't we friends?"
"We're friends, but you overstayed your welcome last Friday."
"You mean when I kissed you?"
"Friends don't go around kissing each other," she replied in an indignant tone. His raised eyebrows got her more riled up. "Not that way."
"What way?" he asked obstinately, loving the tinge of pink that was creeping to her face.
"You know what way!" she replied, irritated at his cool attitude.
"You could have pushed me away," he replied coolly, trying to hide how awful he felt at the moment. "You kissed me back. I counted two tongues."
"You sure it wasn't three?" she snapped out.
"You didn't push me away."
She looked like she was about to throttle him, or push him in front of the first car that passed their way. "I did push you away."
"Only after that sweet, long, but hardly satisfying kiss," he replied evenly, deliberately stating ambiguously that he'd wanted more, that he hadn't wanted her to stop.
Her eyes narrowed at his insult. "Well I'm sorry I disappointed you, but I'm not discussing my kissing abilities with you," she replied before stalking off.
"I thought we were friends!" he called after her. "Would you please stop?" She was now just ten yards from her house.
"No!" she shouted back, finally stopping as she reached the gate. "Friends don't go around professing love for their friends!"
"You don't?" he asked. God, she was lovely when riled—lovely and exasperating.
"Well, we do," she replied. "But we say it and mean it!" She regretted her words the moment they left her mouth. He looked stunned, as if she'd slapped him physically.
Then he walked the distance between them, and stopped so close they were almost touching. Then before she realized his intent, he bent down and captured her lips. She had expected force; she found gentleness. The soft, lingering kiss was so sweet that she forgot all thoughts of resistance, and it was just as unnerving as the sensual one they'd shared a few days ago. This time, he was the one who broke it, but not without regret.
"And you think I don't mean it?" he asked softly, a sad smile on his face. How ironic it was that in his many flings before, he had never bothered to say the words…but when it came to the only girl who mattered, she threw them back at him in disbelief. It hurt…so damn much.
"No," she whispered, refusing to meet his gaze. When she'd gathered the courage to look up, he had already looked away.
Then he looked back at her, but his eyes were shuttered and inscrutable. "You're a real heartbreaker, Al." With that, he turned around and walked the way they had come.
"Are you sure this is going to work?" Jake asked grumpily as he got ready to climb up the stairs leading to the platform.
"Absolutely," Matt replied. "You know Allyson. She's a natural mother hen."
Jake scanned the crowd, his gaze instinctively singling out Allyson. Various money-making booths were scattered around the school playground for the school fair. Allyson was selling peanut butter cookies just twenty yards away. She laughed at something Louise said and it sounded so musical to him. Or maybe he was just imagining it.
The first customer came not five minutes since Jake opened the booth. He stared warily at the icy water inside the tank as he stepped onto the platform. A few seconds after, the platform jerked suddenly and he was unceremoniously dumped into the water, fully clothed.
An hour later, Jake had been dunked almost forty times to the amusement of the crowd. They had gathered in front of the booth when they noticed the school's basketball star being dunked into a tank of cold water. The nerds came out of curiosity; the jocks to cheer and jeer; the cheerleaders to see him topless after he'd taken off his damp shirt after the twentieth dunk. His teeth were chattering and he was just about ready to kill Matt. He looked over to where Allyson was sitting. She still hadn't noticed him.
When they stopped for lunch, Jake stalked over to Matt and picked up his still wet shirt from the chair. "I'm going to kill you for this Schommers," he threatened, "if I don't die first."
"Relax, man. Look, if she doesn't notice you after another twenty dunks, I'll go sub for you," Matt offered to appease him.
"Twenty dunks?" Jake blasted out. "Then you'll have to pull me up again and again because I'll be dead after the first one."
"I'm going to get us something to eat. Don't worry, she'll come," Matt replied, although not so sure about his hunches now.
Allyson stepped out into the playground, quickly checking if he was still there. He was. Good. And he was out of that stupid tank. Better. The crowd had thinned as people went off to eat lunch. She had already eaten earlier with Lou. They'd been so engrossed with their conversation that she didn't notice Jake until just a while ago. And if it wasn't the stupidest thing she'd ever seen…
"Hey," she said softly as she neared him. He looked like a drenched puppy coming home after a thunderstorm.
"About time," he mumbled under his breath.
"Are you okay?" she asked casually.
"Yeah." What was wrong with him? He'd waited for her the whole morning. Now that she was here, he didn't have a damned thing else to say but yeah? And could someone please stop his chattering teeth?
"You don't look okay. You look terrible," she replied matter-of-factly.
"Geez, thanks," Jake replied curtly, wondering when his vocabulary was switched for a ten-year-old's.
"I mean, you look like you could use a towel—no, two towels and a shirt. Here," she said, as she held out the towels and the cotton shirt she'd borrowed from the school clinic.
He looked at her with an odd expression before wordlessly taking them from her. "Thanks," he said quietly.
Allyson stood there awkwardly, belatedly averting her gaze when she saw a glimpse of toned muscle as he took off his shirt. She turned around and waited for him to get dressed but when she turned back, he was still drying off his body. He tapped her uneasily after he had put on his shirt and offered her a seat. He thought of something to say but she saved them from an uncomfortable silence by speaking up first.
"What were you thinking? That's the most stupid thing I ever saw."
"Did you come here just to preach?" he asked as he dried his hair with a towel.
"I came before you succeeded on killing yourself," she retorted.
"Why? Are you going to miss me?" he asked, couldn't resist teasing her.
"There you go again. Mocking me even before I get the chance to do what I came here to do."
"I thought you just didn't want me to freeze my ass off."
"That," she said with a nervous laugh. "And to apologize. I was rude yesterday. I'm really sorry."
"Rude," he repeated, his eyes narrowing, his lips twitching in amusement.
"And disrespectful…and bitchy." She broke off when she saw the impish grin on his face. "You just love teasing me, don't you?"
His smile grew even wider. "That. And I love you," he said simply. The stricken look on her face was like a kick to his gut. She got up; he tried to call her back. She wouldn't. He turned around, wanting to kill the first person he saw.
Matt was looking at him with an amused expression. "Look's like my sister just saved me from an icy death."
"Not one word, Schommers," he warned in a steely voice. "Not one. More. Word."
"What's so fascinating about Allyson's nose, Jacob?"
Allyson and Jake jumped in their seats in surprise, turning instinctively to face Mrs. Engelland. The class was reading Kurt Vonnegut's A Long Walk to Forever and so was Al, until the surprising reprimand.
Jake, meanwhile, was thinking about the different ways of committing suicide. If there was a moment when he needed to be obscure, it was now. Ever since he'd walked into the room, seen Allyson avert her gaze from him, and frightened another guy to give up the seat next to Al, he'd done nothing but stare at her. Subtly, at first, but when he learned about the period's agenda, he completely abandoned the act.
"Since you look so comfortable with each other, why don't you," she said pointing at Allyson, "read Catherine's part, and you Jake, read Newt's part? Both of you will act as the narrator. Allyson, you read the longer lines dear. Jake, you do the single lines.
Allyson stood up hesitantly, uncomfortably aware of the tension in the room. "We shake hands. We shake hands and part friends. That's what happens next."
"Newt nodded," Jake replied, hating the slight tremor he heard in his voice. "All right. Remember me from time to time. Remember," Jake paused, "how much I loved you.
She had to tell herself to calm down, remind herself that they were just reading parts. "Involuntarily, Catharine burst into tears. She turned her back to Newt, looked into the infinite colonnade of the woods."
"What does that mean?"
"Rage! You have no right—" Allyson answered with what Jake knew as genuine rage. He closed his eyes, remembering their kiss. He had no right to kiss her, but he had. Twice. It was almost enough to compensate for her indifference today. He really was an idiot. She had been really sweet yesterday, and he just had to go and ruin it by telling her he loved her. He'd never said the words before, but now, they seemed to slip unconsciously every time he was around her.
"I had to find out."
"If I'd loved you, I would have let you know before now."
"You would?" Jake asked, not able to hide the hopeful tone in his voice.
"Yes," Al replied, her voice hoarse with emotion, "You would have known."
"How?" How, Allie?
"You would have seen it. Women aren't very clever at hiding it," Allie read, almost whispering now. She dreaded the next words she had to read, knowing how close they were to the truth. "Newt looked closely at Catherine's face now. To her consternation, she realized that what she had said was true, that a woman couldn't hide love," she finished, her voice quavering as she spoke.
"Newt was seeing love now," Jake replied, silently wishing he was Newt and she was Catherine. "And he did what he had to do. He kissed her."
"Lovely! Perfect!" Mrs. Engelland exclaimed with delight. "Oh! To be young and in love again," she said wistfully; oblivious to the barely-suppressed giggles in the room. "Sit down, dears. Next!"
Allyson slumped into her chair in relief, deliberately veiling her face with her hair so that Jake wouldn't see the tell-tale color of her cheeks. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest as she resisted the urge to sneak a glance at him.
Jake sat silently for the rest of the period, clutching a piece of paper and staring at it with so much concentration it was a wonder he didn't burn a hole through it. Should he or shouldn't he? What if she doesn't come? What if she does?
The bell finally rang and this time, he caught her before she could get away. He couldn't help feeling relieved that she didn't flinch from his touch. "I know you're not so fond of me now, but…I'd like you to read this note…and consider." He gave her the paper he'd been clutching all period. "I'll be waiting."
Allyson stood fixed at the spot for a minute, before finally reading the note.
I know I've been bothering you these past days, Al. And I'm sorry if I've been nothing but a pain in the neck. But please give me this last favor. Meet me at your secret place at 5:30 this afternoon. I will wait.
Allyson closed her eyes tightly, as her heart bravely waged a war against her mind. She almost jumped when she heard the voice from behind.
"Hey, sis, you alright?" Matt asked, worried at his sister's weary look.
"Sure," Al replied weakly. She tried to brush away his concern, but surprised herself by showing him the note. "Jake gave me this." She didn't say anything more, simply waited for his reaction.
He looked thoughtfully at her, carefully weighing his words, "You know what Al? Sometimes gifts don't come wrapped in neat little packages. I know you're afraid, but you know what they say? To get to the gold, you have to dig." He took the car keys from his pocket and gave it to her. Then he hugged her tightly. "I love you."
She was late. An hour late to be exact. Because the climb was to steep to the top of the hill, she parked the car at the bottom and decided to walk the rest of the way. What if he was gone? But he said he would wait. Would he, really?
She almost backed out, but she knew she couldn't live with not knowing what could have been. Just walk…one foot in front of the other…through leaves over bridges. Her heart pounded nervously as she neared the top, and stopped when she reached it. Just a short distance below, where the side of the hill had flattened to a plateau, were countless yellow daisies. There must have been a thousand of them. In the midst of that glorious earthly sunshine, stood Jake with his back to her. Her heart tumbled…and fell.
She thought of something witty to say, but in the end all she could muster was a meek hello. He turned around sharply, his eyes focusing sharply at her. He blinked a few times, as if he couldn't believe she had come. He was disappointed when she hadn't come an hour ago though he'd prepared himself to wait. He had almost given up when a few minutes ago, it seemed all but certain that Allyson wasn't coming. And yet she was here—beautiful…and uncertain.
The smile he gave her seemed brighter than the field of daisies as he came bounding up. He felt powerful and strong, and all because she was here. He took her hand and guided her down the slope, returning to the spot he'd been standing on as he waited for her. He didn't let go of her hand as she looked around her and took in the beauty of the place. "It's beautiful," she said breathlessly.
They stood there for a long time, relishing the sheer beauty around them. The sun was just beginning its descent, and different streaks of gold and crimson splashed through the sky like a painting.
Then he finally spoke as he turned her to face him. "I'm Jacob Strauss, seventeen. My family moved here from Philadelphia. I live with my father and my sister; my mother left us years ago. I play basketball and I love it. I hate boy bands and Britney Spears wannabes. I would admit only to you that if you give me chocolate, I'd do almost anything you want."
He paused, looking for a reaction from her, but she was just looking at him with an amused expression. "I've had my nose broken once in a fight but the doctors fixed it. After which my father tried to break it again, all the time telling me how stupid it was to pick a fight with someone who had a hundred pounds on me. I'm usually grumpy. I'm not a good talker but I'm a good listener. I know you can't give what you don't have. But now I can give you my love, because you gave me yours.
"I'm only scared of two things, Ally," he said with a catch in his voice. "Failure…and losing you. Not in that order." She tried to pull her hand back but he clutched them tightly. "I love you, Ally."
She didn't believe him, he knew it. He watched her with the same dread he felt that night she found him kissing another girl. She had to believe him because he didn't know what he would do if she didn't. So he forced himself to get the words past the lump in his throat.
"I love you," he started, his voice hoarse with emotion, "without knowing how, or when, or from where." He watched her closely, hoping that he'd somehow cracked a hole on the protective wall she'd built around her. Allyson closed her eyes, shaking her head lightly as if she didn't want to hear it, didn't want to believe it. He tipped her chin up and forced her to meet his gaze. But she wouldn't, and it took all his courage to continue.
"I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride. So I love you…be—" he paused, blinking away the moisture that had formed in his eyes. And when he spoke, his voice almost broke with emotion. "So I love you…because I know no other way."
Allyson closed her eyes tightly, afraid to believe his words. "Neruda? You're wooing me with poetry?" she whispered. She leaned her head forward, unconsciously resting her head on his chest.
"I can work on Shakespeare or Shelley or Byron if you want," he replied with a nervous laugh. "I know I've never been vocal about my feelings, but I can be that guy. I can be sweet and sensitive if that's what you want. Just tell me and I'll be who you want me to be." He was begging now, he realized belatedly, but he didn't care, knowing for certain that this was his last chance. "I love you, Allie. Please…" he spoke, as if each word was being wrenched from him, "love me again."
Her defenses crumbled as fast as she'd built them. When she finally opened her eyes, they were glistening with unshed tears. He had hurt her but that was over now. She couldn't deny him any more. The look in her eyes was filled with so much love and longing that it almost brought him to his knees. She touched his face lightly, finally accepting that she wasn't getting the perfect guy but the right guy. "I love you," she said tenderly, with all the love she had to give.
He took her in his arms and held her tightly, amazed and grateful to have this angel with him. She loved him! It was the single most illogical thing he'd ever heard. She loved him. He who had been nothing but a thorn on her side since they'd met. He, who had hurt her, pushed her away.
Then they were kissing each other, aching lips to aching lips, pounding heart to pounding heart. They clung to each other, afraid that the reconciliation was just an illusion. They felt safe in each other's arms, knowing that they loved and were loved.
"That one's Orion. See it? The one with three stars as his belt." They were lying on a blanket, their arms crossed under their head as Allyson tried to name the constellations she could see with her naked vision.
"Uh-uh," Jake replied, watching the light dance in her lovely eyes.
"You're not listening to me," she complained half-heartedly. Then she shifted and propped one hand for support, then leaned down to kiss him. "Uh-uh. Not yet," he said when she began to pull away. He threaded his hands through her luscious hair, and pulled her closer for the kiss.
"I'm listening," he replied jokingly, when they finally pulled apart, "but you're very distracting." He tugged her hair and pulled her down again for another kiss. "Distracting," he said between kisses. "And addictive."
Minutes later, as she laid her head on his chest, she whispered softly. "Jake?"
"Hmm?" He whispered, twirling her hair with his fingers.
"I don't want you to change," she said past the lump in her voice. Then she faced him and said with all honesty. "I love you…just the way you are."
"You're entirely too good for me, Allie," he said, emotion clogging up his voice. Then with tenderness and teasing and love, he said, "But I love you anyway."
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way
than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
The lines above are lifted from the poem of the maestro, Pablo Neruda, called I do not love you. It's one of my favorites.
Thanks a lot to everyone who stuck with me through more than a year of writing. I know it wasn't easy waiting to see when the next chapter's coming. I really really thank everyone who reviewed, especially those who's been with me since the start. But as one of the early reviewers has pointed out, it doesn't really matter if you've just picked up the story now. I'm just happy that you took the time to finish it and even more blessed to know that you loved the story. Thank you for all the encouraging comments that inspired me to make each chapter better than the one before it. Special thanks to Lonely Forest for helping me edit some chapters.
I will now focus on my other story, Love's Reservation. It's still just on to the 4th chapter but I hope I can update soon. If you have time, please check it out and leave your reviews.
My, my, what now? I'm gonna miss Allyson and Jake... goes under the sheets and gets ready to bawl