Chapter 29: "Never Let Go"

Steph paced the floor of her small living room, so very confused with the news she was given earlier. She couldn't even explain what was wrong to Gerry and just insisted that he bring her straight home instead of continuing their dinner plans. The teacher was worried about her, but was considerate enough to oblige to her request and not ask about what happened. He had tried to hug and kiss her before he left, but Steph turned away before he could do it. She saw the hurt in his blue eyes just as she closed the door on him. She wished she could tell him, but she was afraid of what the knowledge would do to their relationship.

Why was Kieran here? She had long accepted that her former girlfriend left for good so that both of them could start a new life devoid of the problems that plagued them prior to their breakup. Could it be that she still held feelings for her? No, Steph forcefully told herself. That can't be the reason. It's the holidays and that's what made Kieran come home from wherever she was the past two years. The stress and the overwhelming emotions were getting to her. She suddenly felt nauseous and fought the urge to throw up. "I'm riling myself up. I need to calm down and…" she paused and took a deep breath. "-and think straight," she continued, heading to her telephone and quickly tapping in a number.

"Hello?" A soothing woman's voice greeted Steph from the other line.

"Jane?" Steph tried to stay as calm as she could, but her voice cracked.

"Steph is that you? Is there something wrong? You don't sound well."

"I-I don't…" Steph stuttered into the mouth piece, her hazel eyes becoming bright with tears. "I don't know what to do!" A sob escaped her lips and it took a few more minutes of soothing words from the other woman for her to explain what had happened. "I'm sorry Jane," she apologized after calming herself down. "It's after work hours for you and I'm not supposed to be seeking help from you at this time."

Jane chuckled softly. "Steph, it's alright. I'm supposed to help you in any case. Talk Therapy remember? That's what I do."

Steph smiled in spite of the situation. Jane Muller was a psychologist who specialized in Talk Therapy and dealt with mostly cases involving depression. The middle-aged woman had been very easy to talk to and within a year of treatment, Steph was almost back to her usual self. In fact, this was the first in almost half a year since she last talked to the psychologist. "Still, I should have waited until tomorrow to call you."

"It's for the best that you called me right away and told me. Better to let it out as soon as possible rather than let it weigh you down." The woman paused for a moment the continued. "Could you describe what you exactly felt when you found out that Kieran is back?"

Steph furrowed her eyebrows in deep thought. "I'm not sure… more like it's difficult to explain."

"Try for me, Steph."

The young coach sighed and made herself comfortable on her couch. "I suppose… I felt panicked."


"The past is coming back to haunt me after all the work I've done to get back on the right track."

"What else?"

Steph groaned. She should know better that the psychologist was going to try her best to pry every single detail out of her. "Jane… what if she's back to… you know!"

"What?" Jane innocently asked, wanting her patient to come up with the answer herself.

"Get back together with me!" Steph almost yelled into the mouthpiece. "I-She can't do that!"

"How are you so sure that she came back for that sole reason?"

Steph opened her mouth to answer then remained silent when she realized that she couldn't answer that question. "I'm being paranoid aren't I?"

"Somewhat. You shouldn't jump to conclusions Steph. After all, there are a number of reasons why she could have returned. Maybe she's here on business or she's just on a short vacation."

"Maybe," Steph replied, still unsure.

"The more pressing matter to me is how you reacted badly to the news that she's back. I would have thought that Kieran didn't have such a significant hold on your being after all the treatment you underwent. I would have understood if you were mildly shocked or surprised, but this was completely different from what I expected. Also, you're entertaining suitors and that gave me the inclination that you were already over what happened between you and Kieran."

"It's been two years…" Steph murmured, drumming her long fingers against the arm rest.

"Two long years," Jane clarified, pausing for a long moment. "Steph, I'm sorry but everything you've told me so far tells me that you're still holding feelings for her."

Steph gasped in indignation. "I don't! I have a boyfriend! We've been dating for a few months already!"

"I thought you said you were just dating and that nothing was official yet?"

"Either way!" Steph retorted.

"And now we enter the denial stage," Jane remarked, her voice slightly amused. "In any case, talking over the phone won't be enough. I have an opening tomorrow morning around eight. If you're free, I suggest you come by."

Steph sighed in defeat. "Alright Jane. I'll come by tomorrow." She had enough time for a session before meeting up with the volleyball team and heading to their opponent's gym.

"You do realize that the chances are high that you'll be meeting her?"

"I guess."

"Well, we'll figure it out, but if you do end up meeting with her, I do suggest that you try to face her. Running away isn't such a viable option these days. I'll see you tomorrow then."

It was nearly six in the evening of the following night and Steph was loitering around the mall while waiting for her friends to arrive. She had originally planned to take a rain check for that night's dinner, thinking that she wasn't in the right mind to go out after just going through a session with Doctor Jane Muller. Her friends had been insistent that she push through with the plans so she reluctantly agreed a few hours before the said event. Steph arrived early having nothing else to do in her apartment. Thanksgiving was just a couple of days away and she should be looking forward to it. Her mother was coming home from Singapore and Luis was flying in from North Carolina the following day. Her younger brother had gotten a basketball scholarship from the University of North Carolina and he was ecstatic to play for the college of Michael Jordan. Kaila on the other hand was already a junior in high school and was already thinking about which universities she should try applying to. Unlike Steph and Luis, Kaila was more academically inclined and had the grades to get into the top universities in the country. The youngest of the de la Vega siblings was quite eager to pick a university away from home and experience the independent life.

"Where are they?" Steph mumbled as she glanced for the nth time at her watch. She and her former teammates had agreed that they would meet up at five-thirty, but they were obviously running late with the exception of Steph. To pass time, she walked through the crowded halls of the mall. As she walked, she couldn't help but recount what had happened earlier that day. As soon as she got up that morning, she got her things ready for the volleyball game later and went straight to the clinic of Jane Muller. She spent a good hour there, letting out all her feelings and answering the various questions of the doctor. Sure, she felt somewhat better after the session, but it wasn't enough to get that anxious feeling she had in the pit of her stomach. It also didn't help that the doctor continued to hold the belief that she still had hidden feelings for Kieran. No matter how much she denied it, Jane would only smile softly to herself and would just continue listening.

"Oh I see her! Steph! Over here!" Cha enthusiastically waved her hands in the air while the rest of their friends milled around her. Their core group, which included Jack, Cha, Ilina and Michelle, was complete for that night's dinner and all of them were looking forward to it.

Steph couldn't hide her amusement as Cha continued to make a fool of herself. "Alright already! I see you perfectly!" She started walking towards her old friends and was just about to throw out some greetings when something collided hard into her. Trying to ignore the shocked gasps she got from the people around her, Steph carefully sat up on the floor and checked if she was hurt.

"Are you alright?" Ilina asked, striding over with a look of concern written on her face.

"Pretty much," Steph replied, rubbing her backside, which took the brunt of the fall. A loud groan filled the air and made the former volleyball players look at the other person involved in the small accident.

An adult man with dark hair was gingerly rubbing his head. "That was a pretty good jolt to the head," he mumbled then shook the imaginary cobwebs in his head. "So sorry," he began to apologize and looked up at the group of women. "I wasn't watching where I was going so-" the rest of the words got caught in his throat as he blinked up at the group. "Y-You're-" he stuttered, pointing his finger at them.

"How come I'm not surprised that you were the cause of this mishap?" Another familiar voice drawled from nearby. "Erik, you're as clumsy as ever." Short raven-black hair and gray-green eyes was the familiar sight that greeted the two parties. "Now what the hell are you staying on the floor for? Get up already. I've been looking for you for almost an hour now." When Erik continued to stay on the ground and didn't even acknowledge his old friend, Kieran let out a sigh and decided to see what he was staring at.

"Long time no see!" Cha forced a smile at the raven-haired woman before them. "We did hear that you were in town though."

Kieran stared for only a moment more then switched to a more polite and amicable manner. "Gossip travels well apparently," she mused with a shake of her head. "It's nice to see all of you though." She nodded at each woman before her then let her eyes settle on the frozen and still grounded Steph. "You too, Steph."

"Ah… it's good to see you too," Steph managed to murmur out. Her eyes locked with Kieran's for just a brief moment then she wrenched her gaze away.

Kieran sighed once more and ran her fingers through her hair. "Sorry about this," she apologized for her old friend. "Get up already, Erik." She helped the man up and let him dust off his coat. "Apologize to Steph and to her friends."

"Yes, Yes," Erik replied immediately. He turned to help Ilina get Steph back on her feet then gave his sincerest apologies. "I'm really sorry for bumping into you. For some reason, I've been spacing out a lot today." He suddenly clapped his hands together. "I know! Let me make it up to you! I just recently sealed a big contract today and I received the initial deposit!"

"Erik," Kieran warily said and placed her hand on his arm.

"I'm serious!" Erik shook off Kieran's hand. "It'll be my treat! Besides, a little get-together seems nice! We haven't seen each other in a few years already!"

"I don't know," Michelle muttered. "I don't really think it's a good-" she stopped suddenly when a sharp elbow hit her ribs. She glared at Ilina who was giving her a look.

"I don't mind," Ilina announced, looking at her friends. She knew things would get all the more awkward if Michelle continued. When the said woman found out that Kieran ditched Steph, she instantly became angry and held a grudge against the former basketball star. Other than that, Ilina thought that it would be a good idea that Steph and Kieran finally face each other. Steph had been overly anxious for the past few days and it would be better if they got the initial reunion over and done with. "Everyone okay with Erik's offer?"

Jack shrugged. "It's a free dinner so I'd hardly pass that up."

"Same here!" Cha chirped her agreement.

Michelle could only sigh in defeat while Steph numbly nodded her head.

"Well, it's decided!" Ilina announced. "Why don't you pick the restaurant then, Erik?"

"Leave it to me!" He linked arms with Kieran and half dragged his friend ahead in search of a potential restaurant. To the group of women who followed, they figured that the two friends were talking about a certain touchy topic.

"Small world huh?" Michelle let out, her voice tinged with slight disdain.

"And we can see that you're still very angry at Kieran," Cha retorted.

"Why wouldn't I be? I should have known the first time around that she would end up hurting Steph again."

"I don't think you understand her motives and feelings fully, Michelle," Cha argued back.

"Well, I don't need to understand!"

"Enough already!" Ilina stepped in between her two friends and stopped them from bickering any further. "This is not the time to be discussing this topic! You do realize that Steph is here with us?" She watched as the two young women looked ashamed and mumbled out apologies. "Now, let's all be civil in this dinner okay? It would be nice to catch up on each other's lives right?"

"Including Kieran's huh?" Michelle darkly added, scowling in reply to Ilina's warning look.

"Michelle…. please," Steph finally let out. She looked at each of her friends pleadingly. "Let's just try to get through this without any trouble." She took a deep breath to calm herself. "Anyway, my doctor said that it would be better to face her than avoid her. I think the anxiety will go away after this… I hope."

"I'll kill her if she says anything out of line," Michelle promised.

Steph grimly smiled as they tried to keep up with the two friends ahead of them. "I doubt she'll do that."

"Don't think that I don't know what you're scheming," Kieran growled at one of her oldest friends. "This single meeting won't make anything better."

Erik simply smiled as he and Kieran walked ahead of the former volleyball players. "That's true, but there's nothing wrong with hoping that it would start some progress." He looked at the slightly shorter woman with kind eyes. "It would do you some good if you at least get over the challenge of meeting with Steph. Also, there's the explanation that you're long due to give."

Kieran sighed. "I know I'm supposed to explain why I left two years ago, but I would have done that privately." She jerked her head back at the other women behind them. "This dinner might end up becoming a shouting match and we'd be a disturbance to the peace."

Erik frowned hard as he sank deep into thought. "You may be right. Michelle in particular seems hostile towards you."

"That obvious, huh?" Kieran asked in sarcasm. "Let's just get this over with. Pick a restaurant already!"

A few minutes later, they all settled themselves in a popular Asian fusion restaurant. They made a fairly strange sight. All of them were almost or over six feet tall and there was only one man in their group. After hanging their coats on the backs of their chairs, the waiters rushed over and served them some water and handed out menus. Conversation was awkward and tense. Erik and Ilina tried their best to facilitate smooth conversation in the group, but it proved to be too difficult. After the main course, people at their table settled down to wait for coffee and dessert. Kieran politely excused herself and headed out to the outdoor dining area to smoke.

The young women all watched the retreating figure then looked back at Erik. "So she hasn't quit the habit yet," Jack pointed out.

Erik nodded sheepishly. "We've been trying to, but ever since she stopped playing basketball regularly, it just got harder to convince her to stop."

"What else can you tell us about her life in the west coast?" Cha asked, thinking that it would be easier to get details out of the best friend rather from Kieran herself. "She's said very little about it when we asked a while ago."

"So you think I know more?" Erik raised his eyebrows at the group.

The young women exchanged glances with each other. "You are her best friend," Cha pointed out. "And aside from her friends from the basketball team, you're probably the one who knows most about what she's been doing for the past two years."

"Enlighten us at least. Steph here in particular should hear this," Michelle added, furrowing her eyebrows at the thought of possibly hearing Erik defend Kieran.

Erik nodded his head and lightly rested his elbows on the edge of the table. "So what do you want to know? I'll try to answer everything to the best of my knowledge."

"What does she exactly do in LA anyway? She works for her father of course," Ilina began the questioning.

"And apparently socializes with the so-called elite," Michelle added in a dark mutter.

Erik ignored Michelle's added comment and proceeded to reply. "You're correct of course." He was referring to Ilina's initial observation. "She's not being trained to just own her father's business. She's being trained to run it. Most people would think that delving into the management or administrative side of things would be enough to take over a business, but that's not true in Kieran's case. She's been learning every single department's operations and is currently studying the finance section of the business." He shook his head ruefully. "From what I heard, it's no picnic with all the number crunching she has to do. Just the finance and accounting of the cruise line business alone is enough to make someone's brain explode."

"And her social life?" Jack asked in a more polite manner than Michelle.

"It's nearly impossible to not meet new people and befriend them," Erik reminded the group. "Most of the people Kieran has befriended in LA are related to the business in many ways. Being a future business leader, building up a network of people is quite beneficial." He frowned when Michelle continued to scowl at him. "She's a busy woman and doesn't have as much time to party. She told me that there's only one group of friends she frequently tries to go out with. Other functions she tries to avoid unless it's work-related and necessary."

"Apparently, she's very responsible now," Michelle remarked.

"Michelle!" Steph shot her friend a warning look. Sure, she and Kieran weren't exactly on good terms, but that didn't give her any right to unload all her bad feelings on Kieran's best friend who's been more than accommodating. "How about the case of Kieran's dad against Nathan Mallios?"

Erik smirked. "That's been done over a month ago and Kieran and her family are quite content with the outcome. Nathan is pretty much labeled as guttersnipe and he's been struggling financially after he had to pay hefty fines." He paused and glanced outside to see if Kieran was heading back inside. "Media-wise, everything about the Fortun situation has died down. They don't come flocking to your door anymore, right?" He directed the question at Steph who shook her head in reply. "Unfortunately, Kieran tends to be a hot topic in gossip particularly her sexual preference."

"I'm sure she's had many opportunities to have a love life in LA," Cha mused.

"If you're talking about that article that famous celebrity gossip blog made, there's no truth to it," Erik beat them to the punch. "That actress was certainly hitting on Kieran, but I can assure you that nothing happened." He took a sip from his cup of coffee before continuing. "She hasn't been interested in getting into a relationship ever since she left Rotterdam. Her father though thought differently and tried to make things up to her after what happened."

"How?" Ilina asked.

"He tried to set her up on several dates," Erik replied with a grin. "The plan wasn't well-received by Kieran of course and those dates never turned out well. She wasn't interested in any of the men her dad set upon her. As for the women who willingly chased after her, they were all rejected."

Cha also grinned. "I could imagine Kieran doing that."

Erik chuckled then turned serious soon after that. "Look," he began, his eyes set only on Steph. "I know you want to know her reasons for leaving. Truthfully, I can only assume. This is the only topic she hasn't delved into with me. If I were you, I'd ask her personally."

Michelle opened her mouth immediately to protest the suggestion, but couldn't carry it out when Ilina slapped a hand over her mouth.

"Seriously Steph," Erik told the younger woman. "Asking anyone else would only give you inaccurate accounts and it's most likely that the gossip vine has influenced their versions." He gave her a kind look when he saw how unsure Steph had become. "She won't bite if that's what's making you worry. I doubt that she'd be rude as well. She knows all too well that she owes you an explanation." He flicked his eyes at the raven-haired woman sitting at a small table close to the balcony railing. "It's an opportunity you shouldn't miss."

Steph looked down at her clenched hands and stared at them. Was it too soon for her to talk to Kieran? Erik seemed very honest though and she wanted to believe him. She thought about asking her friends for their opinion, but she shook that thought away. If she asked, they'd just argue about what she should really do and it was really up to her whether or not to confront her former girlfriend. Procrastinating would just extend her anxiety as Doctor Jane said. "Excuse me…" she mumbled, not making any eye contact with her friends and Erik.

"Oh good," Erik let out with a sigh of relief. "They're finally going to talk."

"Michelle! Can you please stop being such an ass?" Cha demanded angrily when she saw the older woman roll her eyes. "They're never going to settle things if they don't talk to each other!" She didn't seem to care that other diners were looking at them.

"And how exactly are things going to get settled?" Michelle shot back. "They're going to get back together and live happily ever after? Please!"

"Why are you like that?" Ilina asked in a softer tone, but the sheer seriousness and anger in her voice made both Michelle and Cha fall silent. "Do even care about Steph? Because it seems like you're letting your personal feelings cloud your judgment." Ilina shrugged. "Sorry Michelle, but you're just being plain selfish right now. It's like you're trying to govern Steph's life."

Michelle was fuming, but she couldn't fight back. For some reason, Ilina's words hit her deeply. Perhaps she was really trying to govern Steph's life. She had no right to do that of course. What could she do anyway? Steph was a dear friend and she worried so much about her. Her disdain and anger towards Kieran increased to such a level after seeing Steph go through so much pain. Honestly, she believed that Kieran didn't deserve to get a second chance. Heck, she didn't think that Kieran even deserved to have Steph talk to her. Why did they even need to have this talk?

Erik answered that thought unwittingly. "Closure is the word. Kieran and Steph need it. We need it as well." Having said that, he waved to one of the waiters and asked for another round of coffee.

Her nervous gut was getting to her as she hesitantly approached the serious faced woman sitting alone at the table. Steph was feeling nauseous and was willing herself to stay calm as her mind scrambled for words to say. She didn't get the chance to be the first to speak though as Kieran took notice and motioned with her head for her to join her. The young volleyball coach slid into the vacant chair and tried to look at her former lover.

Kieran took a few moments to look at Steph and the few physical changes she went through over her two years of absence. She couldn't deny that Steph still had that appeal. Seeing that the other woman was wracked from her frayed nerves, Kieran called a waiter over to their table. "Could you get me a Campari and ice? Take her order as well."

Steph was going to refuse but thought better of it. A little alcohol intake would at least calm some of her nerves. "Long Island Ice Tea," she gave the order to the waiter and watched him scurry off. She fidgeted in her seat, suddenly feeling conscious about the situation.

"How have you been?"

Her head jerked up at the inquiry. "Oh… I've been doing well," she mumbled.

"From what I've heard so far, it looks like it," Kieran politely replied with a small smile. They fell silent as the waiter came back and served them their respective drinks. "I heard from Bea that you're coaching Arch Lake High's volleyball team. Racking up the wins?"

Steph couldn't help but smile when the topic of her team was brought up. "Winning more than losing, but it's doing pretty well. I'm rather surprised at myself with the success despite my young age as a coach." They fell into another awkward silence. Both women found it difficult to talk. "You've… been doing well too," she blurted out.

Kieran's lips twitched. "I suppose. Work has been treating me well."

More silence.

"This is so awkward," Kieran finally admitted, grabbing her drink and downing its contents with one gulp. She raised her glass to the waiter for a refill then pressed her fingers against her forehead. "I'm sorry. I know that this must be as difficult for you as it is for me, but I believe that I should be giving you all the answers you want." The waiter returned with another glass of Campari and ice. She immediately gulped that down and watched as the waiter hurried away to get her another refill. "So if you may?" It was a sign for Steph to start asking.

Steph had so many things to ask, but strangely enough, the first words out of her mouth weren't exactly phrased in a question. She was also shocked and deeply mortified that those words slipped out. "I… missed you," she said in a whisper soft voice.

Kieran merely blinked back at her, unsure of how to reply to that. Her heart was urging her to say the expected thing, but her mind warred back. Still, she knew she shouldn't say things without really thinking about it. "Steph… I'm… happy that you feel that way even after what I did to you." She sighed and looked in on their group of friends who seemed to be in the middle of a heated conversation. "I'm sorry. If Erik hadn't imposed, I wouldn't be troubling you."

Steph looked up and bore into Kieran's gray-green eyes. "Just like you troubled me two years ago," she murmured back. She didn't intend for it to sound so scathing, but she could see it in Kieran's saddening eyes how her words affected her. "You could have… said something."

"What Steph? What could I say without hurting you?"

"I don't know! Something! Anything! It just wasn't right that you left without a word!" Steph clutched the front of her shirt, directly over her heart. "If you wanted to break up with me, I would have expected you to at least do it properly."

Kieran breathed out. "Leaving… was the only way left."

"Is that all you can say?" Steph choked out, feeling her eyes become wet with tears. "Did it ever enter your mind that maybe… just maybe, I would have been able to get through all that pain and suffering as long as you were with me?" She glared hard at Kieran. "Well did it?" she demanded harshly.

Kieran closed her eyes and looked away. "I did what I thought was right," she said softly. "You can't blame me for thinking that way. I was under a lot of pressure, Steph. It was the kind of pressure that would surely make any person buckle." She locked eyes with her former girlfriend once more. "I don't know how else I can apologize to you. Truthfully, I don't even expect you to forgive me." She paused once more then lit up another cigarette. "I just needed to find out if you were well." The raven-haired woman took in a long drag and exhaled slowly. The alcohol was making her feel mellow and she wasn't sure how much more she could stand herself being this way.

"I… am well enough," Steph decided, trying to sound as certain as she could. "I've managed to get my life back together after you left." She wasn't sure if it was pride or something else in her voice. "It took a lot of hard work, but it all came out good in the end."

"Is that so?" Kieran asked, seemingly courteous.

"Yes. I am also seeing someone," Steph rattled on, somehow feeling that she wanted to crack that façade Kieran was putting up. "A man," she clarified before her former lover could ask. She ended up becoming disappointed when Kieran merely nodded her head.

"That's good then." Kieran flicked the ash off the tip of her cigarette and looked at the starless sky. She knew that Steph was deliberately trying to rile her up. It took her a good minute or so before she finally got enough nerve to look at Steph. When their eyes locked once again, she could see the overwhelming sadness in those hazel eyes.

"Are… you that happy to be rid of me?"

"No. It's not like that," Kieran tried to explain. "I'm-" she paused, searching for the right words. "I am happy for you. I'm happy that you've got your life back on the right track and that you've found someone to share another part of your life with." Wondering if she was doing the right thing, Kieran reached across the table and gently covered Steph's hand with her own. "I'm grateful that you shared part of your life with me." She smiled reassuringly at the teary-eyed woman before her. "You should know that I have no intention of ever hurting or troubling you again. I won't meddle with your affairs from here on out."

"Kieran…" Steph murmured, feeling a combination of shock, anxiety and regret mix in her stomach.

"Don't cry," Kieran ordered, watching as her former lover struggled with that task. "I don't ever want to be the reason for your tears." She shrugged her shoulders and forced a grin. "It's a waste to cry over someone like me." She let Steph gather her thoughts as she asked for the bill and paid for their drinks. "I have to get going, Steph," she told the younger woman. "Let's go back in so that you could join your friends." Together, they headed back inside the establishment in relative silence.

"Hey!" Cha greeted with forced cheer. "Did catching up with each other go well?"

Steph tiredly nodded her head. "It was… fine," she decided after a short pause. She and her friends watched as Kieran quickly conversed with Erik as she grabbed her coat and put it on.

"It's still early!" Erik complained.

"I know, but I'm tired and I have a couple of morning appointments to make tomorrow. I'd like to have enough energy for that." Kieran glanced at her watch once more and frowned. "I'll call you, alright?" she told her longtime friend. "We can hang out another time." She then turned to Steph and her friends then nodded politely at all of them. "It was good seeing all of you again. Take care." All the former volleyball players bade her goodbye with the exception of Michelle who decided that a scowl was enough.

Steph stayed on her feet and put on her coat as well. "I'm going ahead," she told her friends. "I have a lot to think about." She turned her attention to Erik and said, "Thanks for dinner." The player turned coach walked over to Erik and lightly pecked him on the cheek. In a voice just loud enough for him to hear, she added, "And thank you for giving me this chance to talk to Kieran again." Without further ado, she left.

27th of December

She was already planning her return to Los Angeles. Kieran intended to only stay for Thanksgiving, but her family and friends urged her to spend Christmas and New Year's in Rotterdam. She didn't really have much of a choice anyway. Her Uncle Neil had informed her that she needed the long break anyway and that she could return after the New Year celebrations. Kieran could only suspect that he and her father were working in conjunction with each other.

Since her arrival back in New Rotterdam and her fateful though awkward reunion with Steph, she has been busy. Refusing her mother's offer to continue living in their family home, Kieran opted to purchase her own home. With some help from her cousin Johnny who just happened to have the right connections to those in the real estate industry, she was able to purchase a newly constructed modern design house in a gated community just on the outskirts of the city. What made Kieran buy the said home was because of how spacious it was inside and outside. All the rooms were larger than usual and all the furnishings were to Kieran's liking. The living room also gave a great view of the large backyard, which contained a medium-sized swimming pool with heating capabilities and a newly installed basketball court. The annexed garage could hold three cars, but in this case it was only Kieran's BMW motorcycle in there. All in all, the young heiress was happy with her new home. The only thing that bothered her once in a while was that the home seemed awfully big for just one person. In any case, Bea and her other friends from the team visited and stayed over whenever they were in the area. If she did get really lonesome, she would just call on Morgan and she would come over with her son.

"Man… I should have gone grocery shopping yesterday!" Kieran shook her head at the very empty refrigerator in her kitchen. It was close to six in the evening and she was starved. She had woken up very late that day due to a wild party she attended the other night. It was planned by her former teammates and lasted until six in the morning. Kieran ended up leaving later than usual because she was still feeling the effects of alcohol in her system and that meant she wasn't fit to ride her motorcycle back to her home. She had to make several calls to designated driver services to find someone who could ride her bike and drive her home safely. Thankfully, she was able to find one and was in her home at eight in the morning. After taking a shower and brushing her teeth, Kieran immediately fell asleep, woke up late in the afternoon hungry then finding her refrigerator empty.

"Oh well," Kieran sighed and stepped out of her kitchen. "I guess I could get some coffee and a sandwich at Subway." She gazed through the glass doors leading to the backyard and shook her head at the weather. It was snowing again, but she was also in the mood for a jogging session. Making up her mind, Kieran dressed warmly enough for an early dinner jaunt and jog. She headed out into the cold wearing her thickest jogging pants, two layers of shirts, her old Faber University hoody and running shoes. To entertain herself, she brought along her iPod Touch and earphones. By her estimate, it would be a ten minute walk out of the gated community and to the nearest Subway branch. She'd eat and hang around there until she was ready to jog.


A bright red Mazda 6 carefully cruised down the highway, braving the snow that was coming down harder with time. Inside the vehicle, Steph and Gerry chatted about the resumption of classes and their plans for the upcoming New Year. The two had just come from an intimate dinner at a nice restaurant and were now on their way home.

"The college has given me a heavier work load once classes start. They want me to teach four classes now," Gerry told his girlfriend. "I don't really mind though."

"You'll be earning more money that way," Steph added with a smile. "And that also means more students to torture, right?"

"I do not torture my students!" Gerry protested.

"Oh really?" Steph asked. "I recall you saying one time that your students complained all the time about your graded recitations." It was rather fun to tease the German man who never seemed to get annoyed.

"That's not torture," Gerry defended himself. "It's necessary. It's my way finding out if they're prepared for class."

"Sure, sure," Steph agreed with a grin. She had to admit that Gerry was generally an easygoing man inside and outside the classroom. His dedication and passion for his forte just made his classes a bit more intense. He always said that students had to take initiative when it came to learning and not rely on their teachers to spoon feed them. Despite his dreaded graded recitations, Gerry's classes were always full of students. He found out recently that during online enlistment, his four classes were full in mere minutes. He was rather popular among the student population for his good looks and interesting manner of teaching. He made it a point to make his classes as fun and interactive as possible.

Gerry sniffed and pretended to look upset. "It's sad that the love of your life has little faith in you." He and Steph chuckled at that just as Gerry pulled up in front of Steph's apartment. "Well, here we are," he said, cutting off the engines and stepping out the car. He quickly made his way around and opened the door for Steph.

"Thank you." Steph smiled at the courteous act and allowed Gerry to take her hand and lead her up the short flight of stairs. "Thank you for tonight," she told her boyfriend, tucking a stray lock of hair behind her ear. She silently reminded herself to dust the snow off her body before entering the apartment. "I enjoyed myself and your company."

Gerry gave her a wide smile. "Me too." He glanced at both directions, checking if the coast was clear. He then focused his attention at Steph and turned serious. Reaching up and cupping Steph's suddenly blushing face with his hands, he slowly leaned in. Mere inches from her lips, he gazed into her half-lidded eyes and asked, "May I?"

Steph slowly nodded.

The kiss was soft and sweet at first. Soon afterwards, Gerry deepened the kiss and wrapped his arms around Steph and held her close. Moments later, he pulled away feeling just as breathless as Steph. They gazed at each other, breathing heavily until Steph took Gerry's hand and pulled him into the building and up two flights of stairs. The German man aimlessly kicked the door to Steph's abode closed and struggled to continue the kiss at the same time. He was ecstatic that he was finally going to get his chance with Steph.

The volleyball coach on the other hand was struggling with the amalgam of feelings within her. She was certain that part of her was yearning for the physical contact and anticipating what was going to happen next. On the other hand, a little voice in her was screaming for her to stop. Gerry's kisses and his wandering hands overpowered that voice though and she soon found herself lying on her bed. She heatedly stared up at her boyfriend who hand his hand gently pressed against her neck. She was sure that he could feel the rapid pulse there.

"You're beautiful, Steph," he whispered, leaning down and capturing her lips in another heated kiss. He then pulled away and let his lips kiss a path down her neck, smiling when he heard a sharp intake of breath from Steph. "I love you," he murmured against her skin, his hands finally winding through the layers of clothing and making contact with Steph's skin. "What the---Hey!" He was suddenly jolted off Steph's body and almost fell off the bed. Gerry regained his balance and stared at his girlfriend who was now sitting up and trembling. "Steph? What's wrong?"

"I can't…" Steph wrapped her arms around herself. "I can't do this." She forced herself to look at her shocked and upset boyfriend. "I'm… sorry. Leave… please."

Gerry laughed bitterly, looking exasperated. "My God! What is wrong with you?" He extricated himself from Steph's bed and began to straighten his clothes. "You're definitely hiding something from me and I'm going to find out one way or another. Half a year and this is what I get?" He shook his head and showed himself out, slamming the door behind him.

Steph closed her eyes and hugged herself. She was distraught at what had just happened. It only took that profession of love for a memory to flash in her mind. It had been very inappropriate for it to happen. Steph trembled and felt her tears flow. "Why did it have to be you?" Steph whispered in anguish. "Why did I have to be reminded of you?" She buried her face into her hands and sobbed.

You're falling back to me,

A star that I can see.

I know you're out there,

Somewhere out there.

You're falling out of reach,

Defying gravity…

Kieran jogged along a lonely path, listening to a set playlist of her favorite songs. It was nearly ten in the evening and she was on her way back home. Checking her watch, she realized that she had been jogging for the past two hours. Not wanting to extend her jog and risk getting a cold or worse yet pneumonia, she darted into a park. Crossing the park would shorten the distance to the gated community where her home was located. The park was devoid of people, but it was definitely still a beautiful sight with the lamps flickering against the dark skies and the snow coming down and decorating the trees and stone paths. Kieran jogged on, seeing her breath come out as wisps of white smoke. Her muscles were burning from the workout and she was feeling more tired than usual. She thought that it must be her smoking habit that was affecting her endurance. She was thinking about quitting the habit when she saw a figure bent over and keeping herself upright by pressing a hand against the brick wall. From afar, she figured it was just another jogger who was taking a break, but as she got closer, she realized that the woman didn't seem like she was exercising at all. In fact, she wasn't even in the right attire for the cold weather, only wearing a long-sleeved shirt, jeans and leather shoes.

"Hey!" Kieran slowed her gait and approached, pulling her earphones out of her ears. "Are you alright? You shouldn't be out in that kind of outfit." She stopped suddenly when the woman looked up and depressingly gazed at her with hazel eyes. "Huh? Steph?" Kieran's jaw dropped in shock. This was certainly a surprise. She was certainly clueless as to why her former girlfriend was out in this freezing weather. She hadn't seen Steph since they bumped into each other at the mall prior to Thanksgiving. As promised, Kieran tried to stay out of Steph's affairs and avoided bumping into her.

Steph shivered and wrapped her arms around herself. It was a useless attempt to keep herself warm. She called herself different kinds of stupid for aimlessly wandering out of her apartment and into the cold weather without putting on her coat. Not being in the right mind was the main reason why she had done it. Still, it was extremely stupid and not only was she in trouble of getting sick, the person plaguing her mind happened to just chance upon her during this difficult time. She flinched when Kieran grabbed her shoulder and forced her to straighten.

"Are you stupid?" Kieran demanded. "At this rate, you're going to freeze!" She ignored the blank look Steph was giving her and quickly took her hoody off. Since she had two layers of long-sleeved shirts underneath, she figured she would be able to brave off the cold for a little while. Steph needed to get warm. "Put this on," she ordered, taking charge and just putting on the hoody on Steph's trembling body. With that task done, Kieran this time grabbed hold of Steph's forearm and dragged her along. "What the hell is going on in that head of yours?" she growled. It took them five minutes to reach the gate where Kieran punched in the passcode and another five minutes of brisk walking to get to her home. Kicking off her shoes, she dragged Steph inside then took a moment to adjust the temperature a few degrees higher for the sake of her companion.

Steph was led upstairs and into Kieran's bedroom, her frozen mind vaguely assumed. She watched as Kieran strode into her walk-in closet then came back out with a fresh set of clothes and another sweater. Kieran ordered her to get those snow-damp clothes off then dumped the fresh clothes beside Steph on the bed. The raven-haired woman then rushed out of the room and trudged downstairs. While Kieran was gone, Steph did as she was told and discarded her damp clothes. It took her some time before she could get Kieran's clothes on. Her hands were trembling too much from the cold and it was difficult to get a good grip. Kieran walked in with a steaming mug of tea as Steph tried to will some warmth into her numb feet.

"Here. Drink," Kieran ordered then stepped away. With Steph shakily sipping from the mug, she stripped off her two shirts and her jogging pants then changed into a wifebeater shirt and loose cloth pants. "You're as white as a sheet!" She furrowed her eyebrows and knelt on the floor, taking Steph's feet into her hands. "I might as well be holding ice," Kieran said crossly, rubbing her hands against those icy feet to generate some warmth. It took a good twenty minutes before Steph finally stopped trembling. Kieran relocated herself to her armchair and leaned back heavily as she observed her former girlfriend. What could she say to her? Actually, it was better to ask what has she done? Why did she bring Steph to her home? Kieran shook her head and frowned deeply. She was merely concerned about her health. She would have brought her to her home if she knew where Steph lived, but of course she didn't have that kind of information. Besides, if she did have that information, who knew how far off Steph's home would have been. She probably would have collapsed if she stayed out any longer.

"Stay here tonight. It's snowing too hard outside for me to take you to your home on my bike." Now, she was just trying to be hospitable. It wouldn't be right to send her on her way in this kind of weather and time of the night. Things may have been shaky between them, but Kieran was willing to push that aside for at least one night. She noticed the drooping shoulders and the sad hazel eyes and willed herself not to ask any questions. It wasn't her business and she didn't want to get involved. "You can have my bed. I'll go sleep in the other room." Without prolonging her stay, Kieran exited her bedroom and headed into the next one. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she pressed her fingers against the sides of her forehead and breathed deeply. Okay, she's just going to stay for the night. Tomorrow, I'll drop her off wherever her home is at then just be on my way. Just a stroll in the park… Kieran shook that last thought away since she did bump into Steph at the park. She stayed in that position for a long while, just breathing deeply and calming herself down enough so that she could sleep easily. She snapped out of her trance when she heard footsteps. She snapped her head towards the door in time to see Steph hesitantly close the door behind her and come closer.

"What is it?" Kieran numbly asked, gazing at those sad hazel eyes. She wanted to make a dumb comment to ease the weird atmosphere in the room, but she just couldn't. She sighed and broke away from Steph's gaze. "I suppose you want to explain why you were out?"

Steph anxiously wrung her hands together. How could she explain what happened a while ago without gaining Kieran's ire? She shook her head instead and breathed in deeply. "I just wanted to… thank you," she mumbled out in an unconvincing voice. She tried to avoid the stare of those gray-green orbs, but she just couldn't seem to wrench her gaze away from them. Those ever so familiar eyes observed her, seemingly searching and diving deep into her own eyes. A noticeable shudder ran through her body.

"Boyfriend trouble?"

Steph flinched hard and stared at the woman seated before her. She tried to figure out if Kieran had meant that in a malicious manner, but instead she saw kindness. "H-How-"

"I guessed." Kieran shrugged. "Had an argument?" She saw Steph hesitating and ruefully shook her head. "I know I promised I wouldn't meddle," she told the younger woman. "But the least I can do is listen, right?" She leaned back against her hands and waited patiently.

Steph's lips trembled and she bit on her lower lip in an attempt to mask it. She parted her lips several times, but couldn't seem to find the right words to say. Those open and fathomless gray-green eyes encouraged her to talk. "I-I just couldn't do it."

Brows raised in question. "Do what?"

The dam broke at that instant and hot and unwanted tears streamed down Steph's face. Kieran tried to make sense of the garbled things Steph was trying to tell her. Kissing… his touch… her eyes… it was all very confusing to Kieran, but nevertheless she continued to listen. "He tried to take you to bed?" Kieran deduced, watching as Steph nodded her head and tried in vain to wipe away her tears. "Cold feet?"

Steph shook her head and fell to her knees. With her hair falling over her face, she willed herself to be calm enough then spoke. "It was… you I saw in my mind," she said softly. "Every kiss, every touch…" She shuddered and fisted her hands against the floor. "It was wrong, but I just couldn't stop those images from coming." She watched as anger bloomed on the heiress' face. Kieran abruptly got to her feet, strode past Steph and into the hall. "Kieran! Please!" Steph chased after the other woman.

"No! I shouldn't have taken you in!" Kieran cursed loudly, heading into her room. "I sacrificed so much and promised that I wouldn't get involved with you anymore!" She twisted around suddenly and towered over Steph. "And this is what you give me after doing all that?" Kieran's fists trembled on either side of her. "What the hell are you trying to do?" She didn't bother waiting for a reply and grabbed her cellphone on top of her bedside table. "Taxi…" Kieran fumbled at the keys of her phone. Before she could hit the call button, Steph had padded over and laid a hand over Kieran's trembling ones.

"Don't…" She was slowly leaning in.

"I can't do this…" Kieran whispered in a raw voice. Her emotions were warring within her and she was honestly at a loss. She didn't know what she was supposed to do anymore except for staring at Steph's leaning figure come closer and closer. She turned away at the last second and tried to push Steph aside. Before she could get on her feet to run away, Steph firmly gripped Kieran's chin and gently pressed her lips against hers. Jerking back from the initial touch, Kieran grit her teeth and continued to tell herself that she shouldn't be doing this. Just that kiss alone was enough to make her body and resolve weak, which allowed Steph to pounce again. This time around, the volleyball coach pushed her former girlfriend onto her back and straddled her hips. She had lost all her strength and was now lying limply on her bed. Still, she couldn't bring herself to look into those hazel eyes full of yearning.

Her hand gently cupped Kieran's face and gently made her look up. "Please don't push me away." She leaned in again and nibbled Kieran's lower lip.

It was those words said with so much need that snapped the last string holding on to Kieran's resolve. With her mind switched onto automatic, Kieran's arms circled Steph's lithe body and pulled her in. Regret for what she was about to do would have to come later she supposed as clothes were quickly discarded and the familiar and exciting feel of heated flesh coming together overloaded their senses. As Kieran's fingers found their mark and stroked albeit in a little rusty manner, she couldn't help but admit that she missed this. The room was soon filled with needy whimpers and moans of pleasure.

The snow never let up the entire night.

The quiet chirping of the birds outside slowly woke Steph from her deep slumber. Her sleepy mind couldn't register what time it was and she couldn't even remember when she actually fell asleep. Twisting her body, it took her a few seconds to untangle herself from the bed sheets. She soon realized that she was the only one occupying Kieran's bed. Immediately after having that realization, a feeling of dread and regret weighed heavily on her. Various scenarios played in her head, all bad. She was rather sure that Kieran was furious with her and was for sure regretting giving into Steph's advances the previous night. She knew she had some explaining and perhaps a fair bit of apologizing to do. The volleyball coach got out of bed and quickly put on the clothes Kieran loaned to her the other night.

Kieran's home was quiet as Steph padded down the stairs in search of the raven-haired woman. It was during this quick search that she was reminded of how well-off her former girlfriend was. The heiress was certainly capable enough to buy a much larger home, but she was apparently content with the one she currently resided in. Despite the smaller size of the house, Kieran had obviously chosen high quality furniture and the best electronic appliances. After exploring the confines of the house, Steph wondered if she should stay and face Kieran or just leave and avoid a possible fight. Her nerves were obviously getting the better of her for she was startled when the front door opened then noisily closed.

In walked Kieran with a two bags of groceries in her arms. Gray-green eyes met with nervous hazel ones. The raven-haired woman was also feeling a little anxious as she made her way into her home. She halted a few feet away from Steph and glanced at her laden arms, thinking that Steph was probably wondering where she had gone. "I… was going to make breakfast, but I forgot that my kitchen isn't stocked." Their eyes lingered on each other for a few more seconds before Kieran broke their staring match and walked past Steph and into the kitchen. "I wasn't entirely sure what you'd like to eat so I bought quite a few things." She laid out bacon, eggs, pancake mix, a loaf of bread, milk and orange juice on the cool marble counter. "Coffee? Oh shoot!" Kieran moved over to her pantry and rummaged inside. "I'm out of coffee filters. Maybe I got some teabags in here somewhere." Something clattered noisily onto the floor. "Damn it! This is obviously stale," Kieran murmured to herself, instantly realizing that she was just rattling on in an attempt to ease the tension between her and Steph. "Errrr…" She glanced over at Steph and saw that she hadn't moved from her position. "I guess I'll start cooking now," she mumbled, moving over to the stove.


"How'd you like your eggs?" Kieran cut in suddenly. She didn't even wait for a reply. "I'll just cook everything I bought." She hurriedly opened cabinets and pulled out two pans. "Just have to start with the batter… shit!" she cursed. "I forgot about the syrup and butter!" She smacked her forehead and put aside the box of pancake mix.

It was easy for Steph to see that Kieran was out of it so she forced herself to walk to Kieran's side. "Bacon and eggs will do," she said in a soft voice. "I'll just have some of the orange juice." When Kieran froze and just stared at her clenched fists on the countertop, she took matters into her own hands. She set the pans on the stove and began to cook the bacon and eggs. Offering to help in the kitchen would ease some of the awkwardness. It was the least she could do since she did spend the night in Kieran's home. While she expertly fried the strips of bacon and sunny side-up eggs, Kieran slowly trudged over to the glass doors leading to the backyard.

Snow continued to fall outside, blanketing her expansive backyard in white. She pressed her hand against the cool glass and lost herself in her thoughts. What was happening between her and Steph? Was there still something between them? There shouldn't be in any case. After all, Kieran did swear that she wouldn't get involved with the volleyball player after their short reunion. Whatever happened last night was just a… fluke. That had to be it. Both of them just caught in the moment. Nothing like that would happen again, she'd promise that.

"Sorry…" Kieran muttered.

"Pardon? I didn't get that."

Kieran sighed, the cool glass somehow comforting her. "Last night," she said in a slightly louder voice. "I… shouldn't have done that."

Steph put down the spatula and slowly faced her former girlfriend. "I'm the one who should be giving that apology," she said, swallowing hard after giving that admission. "It was wrong for me to have…" she paused, feeling herself blush in embarrassment. "Taken advantage of you," she finished, turning her gaze away. "I didn't mean to be so needy. I don't want you thinking that I used you as a means to forget how I botched up having sex with Gerry."

The raven-haired woman shrugged her shoulders. "I don't," she assured the younger woman. "I suppose we've both been due for some release. I can only assume that I wasn't the only one deprived of sex." She managed a weak grin while Steph let out an awkward chuckle. "We both got carried away," she decided. "Let's just leave it at that." She took one last look outside then sat herself at the dining room table. Steph eventually joined her with the dishes of bacon and eggs. They silently ate their breakfast until Kieran decided to start some conversation between them. "So… what are you going to do about Gerry?"

Steph almost dropped her fork at the suddenness of the question. "I-I haven't thought about that yet." She poked the yolk of her egg with her fork and watched as the dark yellow liquid seeped out. "I suppose I have to apologize and…" she made a face. "-make it up to him."

"Meaning you'd eventually have to let him have sex with you," Kieran supplied, sounding like she didn't really approve.

The volleyball player and coach sighed. "It's one thing that I dislike about him," she admitted. "He's not explicit in words, but you can certainly tell that he expects you to share your bed with him." Steph shook her head at that. "He was pushy in many occasions."

"Perhaps you're just not keen on the idea of doing it with a man?"

Steph gasped in indignation and wanted to rebuff that suggestion. Still, she gave it some thought and admitted silently to herself that maybe Kieran had a point. Kieran had been the first and so far the only one she'd have sex with. She lost her virginity to Kieran as well and after they had separated, Steph had never been in a sexual relationship with anyone until that botched attempt with Gerry the other night. All her firsts had been with Kieran and now that she thought about it, she couldn't help but feel strange that she and Kieran were not together. They had been an almost perfect couple, greatly enjoying each other's company and caring for one another deeply. Good things don't last forever unfortunately as they both found out. Either way, Steph desperately wanted to rekindle her relationship with Kieran, but that couldn't possibly happen. So many things have happened in the two years they were apart and those things would surely get in the way.

"I suppose," Steph slowly replied. "After meeting you, I believed that I was just into girls. I guess it's better to say now that I go both ways." She finished her orange juice then brought her empty plate to the sink. "I should get going. I don't want to impose on you any longer." She tried to kill off all her remaining feelings for Kieran, but failed. Smiling shakily at the still seated raven-haired woman, Steph decided to come clean then swear that last night would be the last. "Look Kieran," she began, scuffing her foot against the floor. "To be completely honest, I thought that I was completely over you especially after going through treatment."

Kieran nodded her head, acknowledging the difficult admission. She could tell from those open and inviting hazel eyes that Steph was being honest.

"My doctor somehow saw through my façade though and insisted that I still held some feelings for you. She was able to confirm it when I was given the news that you were back." She tucked away the stray strands of hair that fell across her face. "I was in denial and it was because of what happened last night with Gerry and with you that made me accept my true feelings." Steph swiped at her suddenly teary eyes and forced a smile. "Yes, I still wanted you," she told the silent woman before her. "Moreover, I needed you. Your absence left a hole in my life… a hole that nothing and no one could fill." Her eyesight was now becoming blurry from her unshed tears. "I just…" she wiped one stray tear away. "I just want to thank you for having been a part of my life no matter how short-lived and tumultuous it was." She bit her lip and forced her emotions under control. "A-Anyway, that's all I wanted to say. I'll just change back into my clothes and head out." She bowed her head then walked towards the stair when she heard the scrape of the chair being pushed away.

"It was a mistake."

Steph stared at Kieran, the dread inside getting heavier with each passing second. "I know… and I'm sorry," she reiterated. "I'm promising this time around that I won't bother you again. You can trust me. That won't ever happen again so-" Her breath hitched when she saw the look in those gray-green eyes. Suddenly, she was frozen in place and she was sure that some kind of warmth was radiating from Kieran's eyes.

"It was a mistake," Kieran repeated, walking over and stopping in front of Steph. She gently smiled down at the shocked woman. "I should have never let you go," she finally admitted. "I was an idiot to have left you." It was a good thing that was well-braced because Steph threw herself into Kieran's chest and tightly wrapped her arms around her waist. "I'm so sorry, Steph. You didn't deserve to go through that kind of pain and suffering." She pressed her face against Steph's long hazel hair and breathed in her scent. She held her close, reveling on how their bodies fit so well against each other. Kieran soothingly rocked Steph as she waited for her lover to calm down.

"I'm alright now," Steph announced, sniffling as she pulled away and smiled up into Kieran's worried face. She let her eyes close when Kieran's fingers gently wiped away the remaining tears.

"Looks like I broke my promise," Kieran murmured, lightly kissing Steph's lips then pressing their foreheads together. "I remember vehemently swearing that I would never become the reason for your shedding of tears."

Steph chuckled. "I don't think that applies now," she informed the taller woman. "These are tears of joy so it's nothing that should trouble you." They lovingly smiled at each other again before Steph leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss Kieran once more. "I love you much, Kieran," she murmured. "I just want you to know that."

"I know…" Kieran replied, the last of the ice encasing her heart melting away. "I don't care what other people are going to say or do. I want you to be my side… I want to be with you forever."

Laughing into Kieran's chest, Steph jokingly asked in a muffled voice, "So just marry me then." When she saw how seriously Kieran looked at her after making that remark, her jaw dropped. "I-I was just joking! We could take it easy first! It doesn't even really matter to me actually! Being with you is enough so-"

"Shut up." Kieran leaned in and captured her lips again in a searing kiss. "I do want to marry you!" she fervently admitted with a loving smile. "Well, we'll have to fix several things first."

"Our friends and family, right?"

Kieran nodded. "Yes. We'll have to let them know about us and our plans. In your case, you have to deal with Gerry as well. I don't think he's going to take this lightly."

"I'll handle it," Steph promised. "He can't do anything about us anyway. He'll just have to accept it."

"Easier said than done."

She laughed again, this time around happiness distinctly ringing in her laughter. "As long as you're with me, I feel like I can face anything."

One year later…

"Hey coach! Want to join us for a quick snack at the fruit bar?" The members of the Arch Lake High School volleyball team crowded around their nationally renowned coach.

"Sorry girls," Steph apologized to them. "I already have plans."

"Awwww!" The girls let out a collective chorus of disappointment. "But coach! You hardly go out with us anymore!"

Steph laughed as she tucked her clipboard in the crook of her arm. "Do I have to keep reminding you girls that I'm not exactly in the same age group?" Her hazel eyes twinkled happily.

"Yeah you keep mentioning it, but you're pretty much like a big sister to us!"

"I'm flattered, but seriously girls, I already made plans."

The captain playfully smirked at their coach and glanced at the simple silver band on Steph's ring finger. "It's easy to guess that she's going to spend time with the love of her life!" The team members all burst into fits of laughter and hooted as they witnesses Steph blush deeply. "You could have just told us that you were going out on a date with her you know!"

"It's not just with her, girls!" Steph retorted. "We're going out with a bunch of our closest friends. We have a couple of things to talk about."

"Oohhhh! Is Kieran going to… you know!" They all started giggling again.

Steph shook her head at the volleyball team's folly. The school administration had been surprisingly lax when Steph revealed that she was in a relationship with the heiress of the most influential company in New Rotterdam City. Her players in the team were all the more accommodating and frequently teased her. "Girls!" Steph raised her voice and gave them a warning look. "Any more teasing and I'm going to make your next training harder."

"And here I thought of you as the type of coach who never threatened her players." Kieran ambled across the court and smiled as the volleyball team riled themselves up with her entrance. She first hugged Steph then smiled at the athletes. "I see you're teasing Steph again," she remarked with a grin. "It's fun to make her flustered, right?"

"Kieran!" Steph punched her lover hard on the arm while the team laughed at them. From the way Kieran was dressed, she knew that she had just come from work. The raven-haired woman was dressed in her trademark work attire of slacks, a well-pressed long sleeved blouse and a blazer that hung on her arm.

"We're just teasing! Anyway, we should get going if we're going to make our appointment with our friends. I'll wait here for you to get your things ready."

Steph quickly pecked Kieran's cheek. "I'll be right back then." She hurried away into her office to gather her things. When she came back out a few minutes later, she couldn't help but feel flabbergasted. Her volleyball players were once again interrogating Kieran so she strode into the huddle and grabbed her lover. "Another time girls," Steph firmly announced. "I'll see you all in two days!"

"We're going to be invited right?" the coach called out to the retreating couple. "We want to be there too you know!"

"I don't think our budget can handle it," Kieran called back.

Steph slapped a hand over Kieran's mouth. "What the hell were you talking about with them?"

Kieran grinned mischievously. "They're suspecting that we're going to tie the knot soon."

She was absolutely exasperated. "Those girls are having too much fun at our expense," she muttered, they walked hand in hand towards Kieran's Mercedes Benz. Months ago, Kieran had the car delivered from LA to New Rotterdam after deciding that she wanted to be permanently based in her hometown. Soon afterwards, Steph sold her apartment and moved in with Kieran with the approval of both their families. Their mothers in particular were very happy with the arrangement.

"They're young and giddy. What can you do about it?"

"I guess you're right," Steph admitted, squeezing Kieran's hand with her own. "They're getting their hopes up too much if they're expecting us to invite all of them to our wedding." Two months before, they finally decided and informed their family and friends that they were going to tie the knot. Everyone was beyond excited and ecstatic for them. Since then, the couple and their respective friends and family have been extensively planning for the event. Today, they were going to finalize their plans with their friends. The parents had already voiced out their agreement the day before when she and Kieran sat down to an intimate dinner with them.

Glancing at her watch after helping Steph into the luxury car, Kieran said, "Looks like we'll make it in time to meet with our friends."

"Actually, Cha just sent me a message saying that all of them are waiting at our home." Steph had earlier informed her friend that they could just let themselves in by using the key Steph hid in the mailbox.

"It's going to be a rowdy one," Kieran mused as she drove onto the freeway. All of their closest friends from their basketball and volleyball teams were going to be there at their home. "Think they'll go crazy when we tell them the final plan?"

Steph nodded and grinned widely. "I'm sure! It's definitely going to blow their minds that we're actually going to take them all to a special European cruise for the bachelorette parties and other pre-wedding events then stop at Amsterdam for the wedding itself."

"All-expense paid too!" Kieran added. "I'm excited."

"Same here," Steph agreed, reaching over and gripping Kieran's hand.

"Now that we're going to get married, I have another thing that I want to ask you regarding our future."

"What's on your mind?" They were now driving past the gate of their community and entering their street. Their driveway was nearly filled with the vehicles owned by their friends.

The smile on Kieran's face was warm and loving though the look in her eyes was quite serious. "I was wondering if you'd be alright with adding to our family."

"Huh?" Steph looked genuinely confused. "Do you want to get a dog or something?"

Kieran rolled her eyes as she pulled into their garage. "That could happen, but I meant something else," she told her fiancé. She and Steph exited the vehicle and walked up to their front door. "The thought of raising kids with you is very appealing to me."

"Kids?" Steph repeated with wonder in her voice. It just simply astounded her that Kieran wanted to start a family with her. Now the question is how they were going to have kids. "How are we going to… you know?" She was blushing now at the thought.

Kieran laughed. "Well, we'll have to discuss that first." She pulled Steph into her side and kissed her deeply. "We have a lot of time anyway before making that decision." They opened the door to be smothered and greeted by their closest friends.

"I can't wait," Steph decided, twining their fingers together. Their silver bands glinted in the light. "There's so much to our new life that I'm looking forward to."

The End

Finally done! I'm not entirely sure if I liked how I wrote this last chapter. Nevertheless, I'm glad that I was finally able to end this story. No plans for any sequels yet although as I mentioned before, I do have a story idea in the same universe of this story. I'd like to go back to writing for my fanfiction account though.

To all my faithful readers, thanks for sticking with me for this long. It's been almost two years since I first put this up on fictionpress. Twenty-nine long chapters have given me some fulfillment. At least, I'm sure now that I'm not giving up on writing any time soon. Obviously, I can't make it a career, but leisure-wise it's an activity that will continue to make me happy. Here's to future stories and hopefully to more inspiration to write them!