.THE END OF FOREVER.
They were the couple that everyone knew would never last, so it came as no big surprise when they broke up after eight months of dating. After all, she was the bright and savvy eldest daughter of an old-money, prestigious Boston family, and he was the punk rock drummer from a small farm in Iowa. The only thing they'd had in common was the college they both attended.
She'd secretly dreamed of him for a year before getting up the courage to ask him out at the start of their senior year, and he'd nervously fumbled his way through their first date, half-smitten and in awe of her.
The following April, three weeks before graduation, she found him at a party, drunk and with a blonde slathered all over him. They'd been over in a heartbeat.
Kelly had been furious, hurt, and, ultimately, baffled as to what had happened. He'd told her that she was different, that he was in love with her, and they'd made so many plans for the future only to see them shattered when he'd cheated. Everyone else told her what they'd been telling her from the start of her time with Jake: that he was, essentially, a man-whore and that he'd been known to sleep with so many of his fledgling band's groupies. She'd been so sure that she was different from those hordes of girls and that he really felt something for her.
She'd been wrong.
Luckily, there were only a few weeks left in the semester and her college career, and she'd never have to see the cheating bastard who'd broken her heart ever again if she didn't want to. And she really, really didn't want to.
But, late at night, when she couldn't sleep, she'd miss the way he'd hold her close and sing her to sleep, his fingers rubbing soothing circles on her skin, lulling her into dreamland. When she did manage to fall asleep, she'd re-live all those concerts his band had played, and she'd remember cheering for him in the first row. Despite the concentration with which he'd pound out a beat on his set, he'd look over at her, those deep green eyes piercing into hers with an intensity that shot bolts of heat straight through her down to her toes. And she'd stand there and know exactly how the night would end.
In his arms.
She'd wake up from those dreams and ache for him, hoping and wishing for him with all her heart even when her head screamed at her to forget him because he'd betrayed her.
To everyone else, she presented a completely composed exterior. Her chestnut brown hair was still perfectly smoothed, her complexion unmarred by evidence of sleepless nights. She always managed to cover up the shadows beneath her hazel eyes and was sure that no one could see the inner pain she was in.
Determined to forget about him, she threw herself into studying for finals and preparing for her future.
Jake, on the other hand, had no choice but to think of her. He completely took the blame for it all. Every ounce of pain she felt was a dagger in his heart. She might have looked flawless on the outside, but he knew her well enough to look past that perfect exterior she presented to the world. He could see the turmoil she was in, and he was the cause of it.
If he could go back in time and re-do that night at the party in her friends' apartment, he would've done everything the same way. It was the best thing he could've done for her, but, if she'd known his motives, she would've never agreed.
It was better this way, he told himself, even when he saw her looking absolutely miserable in their Development of Ethics class three times a week. He was Jake Taylor from Bumfuck, Iowa, and she was the daughter of business moguls. She had a promising future with a major firm in New York City after graduation, and all he could look forward to was going back to Iowa and helping his father run their small farm. He was no good for her, and he knew it.
But, knowing it, knowing that he'd done the best thing for her didn't stop the pain from ripping his heart to shreds every time he saw her.
This day, nearly three weeks after their break up, was no different. She sat in the front of the room, attentively listening to the professor, while he slouched in the back, unable to tear his eyes away from watching her. He knew it was pathetic, pitiful, and an exercise in self-torture to do it, but he couldn't help but keep his eyes glued to her. She was the shining light in his life, even if he'd pushed her away.
At the end of class, he watched her calmly gather her things together and walk out of the room, and the need to touch her made his fingers itch. Unable to help himself, he hurried after her and, just as she stepped through the doorway to the stairwell, he squeezed through with her. Allowing himself an instant of pure joy at the feel of her skin against his, he closed his eyes for a second before opening them to find her staring at him in shock.
He ignored her. Had to. If he talked to her, he'd break down and beg her to take him back, and that would ruin her life. So he pushed past her and sped down the stairs.
Kelly was no fool. There had been something in his eyes in that moment when they'd been squished together in the doorway. It had made her hope and yearn where she had no business yearning, and she couldn't help but let her heart lead. She flew down the stairs after him, ignoring the looks people tossed her way.
Managing to grab Jake's arm just as they stepped out of the building, she yanked hard, spinning him around to face her. Surprise widened his eyes for a moment before his expression went blank.
"What," she asked, "was that?"
One brow lifted. "You tell me. You're the one who just shoved me around." Despising himself, he leered at her. "I didn't know you liked it rough, baby."
"Stop it!" She pushed her fingers through her hair in a move that told him she was clearly upset. "Just stop, Jake! I know you're not like that."
"Oh, yeah? Wasn't I the one you called a cheating bastard a couple weeks ago when you found me all snuggled up with that blonde? Obviously, you don't know what I'm like."
She wanted to scream, she wanted to cry, but, most of all, she just wanted him to hold her. "Why are you doing this? Why'd you do this to us, Jake?" Her voice trembled, and she hated the weakness.
He wanted to tell her everything and knew that he couldn't. "You're the one who saw something in me that wasn't really there, babe. You've got nobody but yourself to blame for the deal going south."
"You said you loved me," she whispered as her heart swam in her eyes. "Was that a lie, too?"
Jake couldn't do it. He couldn't look into those eyes, so glossy with tears, and keep lying. Her eyes were his weakness, and they crumbled his resolve. "No. No, damn it, Kelly. No, I didn't lie to you." He shut his eyes at the sight of hers filling with hope. "I did, and still do, love you."
"Then why did you sleep with that girl? Why did you break my heart?" He could hear the tears in her voice and couldn't steel himself to them.
"I didn't sleep with her. I couldn't." He cursed at himself, furious that the truth was slipping out of his fingers. "I love you too much to do that to you."
She squeezed her eyes shut and wished for strength. "You keep saying that you love me, then why, why did you hurt me like that? Why wasn't I good enough for you?"
He couldn't control his fingers as they reached out and brushed the tips of her hair lightly. "You were always good enough for me. Hell, Kelly. You're more than good enough for me; I didn't deserve you."
Opening her eyes, she stared up at him, confusion etched in her features. "What?"
"You heard me. I'm not and never will be good enough for you." He spun away from her to pace restlessly. "You live in a mansion, you drive a Porsche, your family's rich enough to own a country, and you're on your way to bigger and better things. You know what I'm on my way to? Spending the rest of my life on my family's farm. We're too different, and you know it."
Kelly couldn't speak for several moments, but, when she did, her words made his jaw drop. "Jake Taylor, you're a snob."
"A snob!" Jake sputtered on the word, stunned at her words. "I am not a snob!"
"Sure you are, and, what's worse than that is that you broke my heart because of it. You could've been nicer about it, but you weren't. You couldn't even be honest with me!" Now, it was her turn to pace as anger raged through her. "I've spent three weeks wondering what was wrong with me, why it was that you couldn't love me, and all this time it turns out that you broke my heart because you're still stuck in the nineteenth century! God, Jake, you're such an asshole!"
He exploded. "I'm the asshole? I'm the asshole? Jesus, Kelly! I was fucking protecting you from ruining your life. You've got stars in your eyes, and you're not thinking clearly. Twenty years from now, you would've realized the mistake you made by sticking with me and destroying your promising future. Well, guess what? I wasn't about to watch you make that mistake, so, if it makes me an asshole to want what's best for you, then I guess I'll be an asshole."
She sighed and shook her head. "So, what? You decided to sacrifice yourself for me? You hurt me to get rid of me, to keep me from pining over you because you stupidly thought you were doing me a favor?"
"People do what's best for the ones they love," Jake said quietly now. "I love you, Kelly, but I can't watch your brilliant future go down the drain because you stayed with me."
His sincerity did nothing to placate her. If Kelly had been angry before, she was infuriated now. "You stubborn, self-righteous jerk! Why on earth do you think you're the only one with a brain?"
"No, you shut up!" She shoved him back a few steps, and he froze. "You inconsiderate asshole! Did you ever think that, maybe, just maybe, I have a brain of my own? That I know what I'm doing? When I told you I was in love with you, that I wanted to spend my future with you, I wasn't being a bubble brain, which is what you think I am."
"I don't think-" he began, but she cut him off again.
"I'm in love with you, Jake, and only God knows why at this point. I get that you were trying to help me because you love me, and I can't tell you how happy it makes me that you do still love me."
His hands fisted. "I can't stop loving you, no matter how hard I try." The fight had gone out of him, and all he wanted was to hold her.
Kelly managed a smile. "Good. I always have a plan, and you know that because you know me. I don't care that you aren't part of the country club set or that you weren't raised the way I was. If anything, I love you more for the fact that you weren't and aren't. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Jake. I want to have a family with you and share our accomplishments. I want it all, and I have for so long." She took a deep breath and realized that she was no longer angry, just hopeful. "I need you to tell me, right now, if you want to be with me, too. If you want what I want, and if you can see our future as clearly as I can. If you tell me no, then that's that. You'll never see me again, but if the answer is yes…" She trailed off and searched his face hopefully.
Jake stared at her for a long time, her words swirling in his mind, his eyes locked with hers. The silence stretched out interminably between them, and he could practically see that future she'd spoken of.
When he didn't say anything, her heart fell again. "Okay," she whispered. "That's fine then."
But just as she turned away, he stopped her. "I told myself I was doing what was best for you," he murmured. "I might have been able to let you go, but…" He looked deep into her eyes as though he could see her soul. "Thank God, you didn't let me."
The smile that bloomed on her face confirmed that he'd done the exact right thing. He swore to himself that, in the coming years, he'd do anything to make sure that smile came out as often as possible.
"Okay," she murmured. "Okay, good."
He reached out and linked their fingers together, the solid feeling of completeness echoing into his soul, allowing him to fully believe in soulmates. "I love you, Kelly, and I swear, I'll make it up to you for hurting you that way."
His arms came around her as she rested her head on his chest and felt his steady heartbeat beneath her ear. "I love you, too, and I'll hold you to that." She tipped her head back to smile up at him. "No running away. Ever. Not again."
"No," he agreed softly as he lowered his lips to hers. "Not until the end of forever."
AN: So that was attempt number two. I like it a little more than the first one, I think. It's still not quite right, but it's the best it's going to be...for now. Let me know what you thought and whether the first one was better or not. Thanks to all of you for your reviews and your helpful suggestions! You guys rock!