A/N: The last chapter!!! Finally back to the real story!!!

CHAPTER 21: Sweet Surrender

As soon as the curtains were closed, the cast took their places for bows. Rissa marched over to where Ryan and Stella were standing backstage and promptly wacked Ryan on the head.

"No improvising!" she hissed at him angrily.

"What? But, Rissa, the audience loved the kiss!" he protested.

She stuck her finger menacingly in his face. "Then you better be prepared to do it every night!"

Upon hearing this, he grinned smugly down at Stella, whose face was still a brilliant shade of red, not yet recovered from being kissed in front of so many people.

Rissa whipped around and quickly found her next target. She marched right up into Ashley's face, and Ashley took a step back, obviously a little unnerved by the fury on Rissa's face.

"And you! You and me are going to have a little talk about you trying to ruin my show," Rissa whispered fiercely.

"But I didn't-"

"Don't think I didn't see you. We'll talk. After bows."

Rissa stormed off, and soon it was their turn onstage.


"Meet me outside, okay?" Ryan told Stella. "I'm going to see what Rissa wanted."

"Probably to yell at you some more for improvising," Stella said with a smile. Right when they had both finally gotten out of their costumes and make-up, Rissa had sent someone to get Ryan so she could tell him who-knows-what.

Ryan chuckled. "Probably."

Stella headed toward the backdoor while Ryan went in search of Rissa. But guess who she met on the way?

"Why, Lady Katherine, don't you look pretty?" Ethan drawled from where he was nonchalantly leaning against the wall by the door, presumably waiting for her.

"Hey, Ethan," she sighed. She'd been having a good night and didn't want it to end here.

"What'd you think of my performance?" he asked her eagerly.

She grinned inwardly. "You make a perfect Lord Raymond."

"Really? You think I did better than Jacobs?"

She shrugged, and his face fell.

"Look, Ethan," she began hesitantly. "I really don't think you should've broken up with Ashley-"

"But you said that if I broke up with Ashley, you'd go out with me, right?" He peered at her confidently with his dazzling eyes.

"No, I never said that," she stated firmly.

"Then, what-"

"Ethan, I can't go out with you." Stella was finally putting her foot down. She had thought she would feel guilty for turning him down, but she found that it felt surprisingly good to be firm with her decision. Ethan definitely didn't like it, though.

"Why not?" His voice became louder. "Why can't you go out with me?"

"Because she's going out with me," Ryan stated simply as he walked up behind Stella, pointedly taking her hand and intertwining their fingers.

Ethan stared dumbly at their interlocked hands while they walked past him and out the door. As soon as they were outside, Ryan laughed.

"Do you think he'll get back with Ashley?" Stella asked jokingly.

"Of course. Their perfect for each other!"

They both laughed at that, there hands still intertwined as they walked aimlessly down the moonlit sidewalk.

"Hey, Ryan?"


She turned her pretty green eyes to look up at his. "When did I ever agree to go out with you?"

He grinned, running his free hand through his hair. "Sorry. I got a little ahead of myself back there."

She looked at him expectantly, and he rolled his eyes. He stopped walking suddenly and got down on one knee. Holding her hand in both his own, he looked up at her dramatically.

"Stella Rogers, will you go out with me?"

She struggled to hold in the laughter. "Hmm…I don't know…"

"Please?" He blinked at her with an overly beseeching expression.

"Can I ask you something first?"

"Anything!" he shouted eagerly.

"How long were you standing there listening to me and Ethan's conversation?"

He stood up, chuckling. "A while. Rissa only told me that I did good and not to ruin the show tomorrow, and then she let me go."

She pulled her hand from his and crossed her arms, her lips twitching with the effort to hold back a smile. "If you were there, then why didn't you interrupt us right away like you usually do?"

"I figured you could handle it. And you did."

Stella smiled smugly. "Yes, I did."

"So can I have my answer now?"


"Is that your answer?"

"No. I have another question."

He sighed, clutching at his heart. "Save me from this agony!" he called out exaggeratingly to the heavens.

"Why did you kiss me at the end of the play?" she inquired curiously.

"What? I can't just want to kiss you?"

"No. At least, not during the play and not in front of all those people."

He ran his hand through his hair again, wondering if he should tell her or not. He knew it would bring up "the incident" again and wasn't sure what her reaction might be.

Stella rolled her eyes at his hesitation. "Just tell me."

"Pushy, pushy," he mocked. But, seeing that she was serious, he sighed. "Fine. When we were dancing during the last scene, it looked like Ashley was reaching out towards you, so I kinda freaked. I didn't want a repeat of, you know, last time."

He watched her face intently and was surprised by the amusement that danced in her eyes.

"You think she was planning on undoing my dress?" she asked in mock-horror. "Would Cordelia do such a thing?"

Catching on, Ryan returned her humor. "Well, of course she would. She would be crazy not to!"

"And why is that?"

"Because you were dancing with me."

Stella laughed. "Oh, really?"

Ryan faked surprise at her question. "Have you seen me? I'm pretty hot stuff!"

"And modest, too."

He ignored that last comment. "Who wouldn't want me?"

Stella raised her eyebrows and, accepting his challenge, turned on her heel and began to walk away.

He stopped her by wrapping his arms around her and leaning in close to whisper in her ear. "You want to know the real reason Ashley did that?" he whispered.

She nodded slowly.

"It's because she's jealous," he murmured, sending shivers down her spine. "She's jealous because she knows I belong to you. Always have, always will."

Stella went stiff beneath his arms at these words. At first Ryan thought she was just surprised, but when she didn't say anything, he turned her around to face him and saw the distress on her face.

"Hey, what's wrong? Did I say something?" he asked quickly.

She smiled weakly. "Sorry. You just surprised me, that's all."

He studied her face for a little longer, not satisfied. "No, that's not all. You're not telling me something."

She shrugged, wringing her hands. "Okay. I'll tell you. Just don't get mad, okay?"

He nodded, taking her hands in his own to stop the nervous wringing and to hopefully reassure her.

"Back in middle school, the night of the play-"

He groaned. "Stella, I thought we were done with this?"

"Just listen, okay?"

He nodded again and stared at her somewhat patiently.

"After the play- after the incident- I came back to the dressing room to get my stuff, and I-" she trailed off.

"The dressing room?"

She nodded slowly. "I saw you, Ryan. I saw you and Ashley kissing."

Ryan sighed loudly, his eyes shining guiltily as he took in Stella's expression. "Aw, Stella. I-"

"Ryan," she stopped him. "It's okay. I don't care." She squeezed his hands, knowing he was now the one who needed to be reassured, before adding, "Anymore, that is. I obviously cared a lot back then." Stella gave a little laugh that had no humor in it.

"And that's the real reason you were mad at me for so long?" he asked solemnly, catching on quicker than she had expected.

She nodded, blushing. "I guess I was a little jealous," she mumbled self-consciously, peeking up at him from under her eyelashes.

He dropped her hand and brought his up to cup her cheek, forcing her to look straight into his dark penetrating eyes.

"There was no need to be," he intoned. "Then or now. I've never liked Ashley."

Stella couldn't stop the words that came tumbling from her lips. "Then why did you kiss her?"

Okay, maybe she hadn't been entirely honest when she said that she didn't care. She definitely did care, just not as much as she had before. She had tried for three years to puzzle out why in the world Ryan would want to kiss Ashley instead of her. And Stella had never come up with a single reason, discounting the obvious- that Ashley was gorgeous whereas Stella was, well, not. Needless to say, she really wanted to know his answer.

He sighed again, dropping his hand from her cheek to run it through his hair for the third time that night. "I know it's the oldest excuse in the book," he stated imploringly, "but I didn't kiss her. She kissed me."

Stella shook her head. "But in school after that, you guys were holding hands, and everyone was saying that you were a couple."

Another sigh. "I don't know how, but Ashley somehow got it in her tiny little head that we were a couple. I only went along with it because I didn't want to embarrass her by telling her off in front off all those people. Although, if I had the choice now, I would jump at the chance to embarrass that conniving b-witch."

It was Stella's turn to sigh. She let out a heavy sigh of relief. "So you guys really weren't going out?"

She had recently begun to suspect as much, but she needed it confirmed. She needed to hear the words come from Ryan's mouth.

"No," Ryan responded firmly. "She just told everybody that we were." Something suddenly seemed to dawn on him, and his mouth dropped open. "She didn't tell you that, did she?" he asked in horror.

She gave a slight nod.

Ryan spun on his heel, marching rapidly in the direction they had just come from.

"Ryan?" Stella called worriedly, jogging after him. "Where are you going?"

"To kill her!" he shouted without stopping.

It was obvious that Ryan was furious, and Stella knew that if he got a hold of Ashley, it wouldn't be pretty. It would be kind of nice to see Ashley getting a taste of her own medicine… No. Even though Ashley probably deserved it, Stella knew she had to stop him. She reluctantly yanked on his arm hard enough that he had to turn and look at her.

"Stella, don't you realize?" Ryan growled angrily. "She planned the whole thing! Ashley did this to break you and me apart! Don't you see?"

"Of course I know that! I've known that for a while! Why else would Ashley undo my dress and then tell me that you were in on it?"

The anger in his eyes slowly abated to guilt.

"I should've known, Stella. I mean, I knew she was conniving. I knew she probably had some kind of scheme, but I didn't think that she would- I mean, all this just to break us apart? I had no idea-"

"Ryan," she interrupted firmly, "it's okay."

"No, it's not!" Both his hands went to his head, and he pulled at his hair in frustration. "If I had just been honest with you, if I had just told you about the kiss and everything-"

Stella reached up and took his hands in her own, giving him a weak smile. "Ryan, I know how conniving Ashley is. None of this is your fault."

"No, it's all my fault. Stella, I'm so sorry."

She shook her head, still smiling, and Ryan suddenly pulled her into his arms.

"Stella, can't we just start over?"

As much as she was enjoying snuggling into his warm chest, she brought up her hands and firmly pushed him away from her. He looked down at her, pain showing clearly in his eyes.

"No, Ryan. We can't start over."

"Stella-" he muttered desperately.

"I don't want to start over!" she shouted. His eyes widened at this outburst, but Stella continued. "After all we've been through, you honestly want to start over? You want to forget all the good times we've had? All the things we've done?"

He slowly shook his head.

"Neither do I. In fact, I wouldn't even wish the past three years away. I'm glad Ashley did what she did." She peered up at his dark eyes with her green ones. "I trust you more now, Ryan, than I have ever trusted you. And I don't think I would have found this trust if it weren't for everything that happened. So-"

Before she could say anything else, Ryan pulled her towards him once again and leaned his head down, his lips meeting hers and sending a tingling warmth like a shock wave throughout her body.

After a few seconds, Stella pulled away before she wouldn't be able to anymore and tried to regain control of her breathing. Ryan wasn't finished, but she put a finger to his lips before he could lean in again.

"You know," she muttered with a smile, "you didn't have to save me from Ashley this time."

He kissed her finger and gazed unblinkingly at her with his darker-than-ever eyes. "Really?" he whispered, grasping her hand and then bringing her palm to his lips. "And why is that?"

Stella struggled to keep her composure despite the butterflies fluttering restlessly around in her stomach.

"Because I safety pinned my dress," she stated proudly, "just in case."

He grinned, pulling her hand away and kissing her lips again. But, to his dismay, she pulled away again. He sighed, peering down into her sparkling green eyes. "What now?" he asked in mock annoyance.

"Don't you want to hear the answer to your question?" she replied innocently.

He looked confused for a couple seconds, but then he chuckled. He brought his lips inches away from hers. "And what's your answer?" he breathed.

Her heart was breathing frantically as she struggled to form the answer in her mind. His lips were distractingly close, and even though it was just a one-word answer, she was having trouble getting it out. How could one little word mean so much? Once said, it would mean that she forgave him for anything and everything that happened. And it would also mean that she forgave herself. Was she ready to do that?

Peering into Ryan's dark eyes, though, made her realize that she was far past forgiveness. She had already forgiven everything, including herself, and all that remained was that one little word…

"Yes." She smiled. "Yes, I will go out with you."

He pulled her in once more for the long-awaited kiss, and this time, she didn't pull away. She finally allowed herself to surrender to her feelings and let them carry her away- right into Ryan's arms.




A/N: Well, that's it, folks!!! I hope u enjoyed reading this story as much as i enjoyed writing it!!! Thank you for all ur fantastical reviews!!! I know I will miss them the most out of everything. Oh, and yeah, you guys got it right (if it wasn't clear from this chapter). Lord Raymond was Ethan, Erik was Ryan, Katherine was Stella, and Cordelia was Ashley. And i will soon have a new story up, so if you liked my writing enough, please review for that one, too!!!