A/N: Final chapter ladies and gents. I really struggled writing this and have done it at least three separate times – haha. Maybe it was because I didn't want to let go of some of my favorite characters! Let me know how you feel about the end of Gabe and Lily's story. Love you all, and thanks for sticking by me this whole time! New stories coming soon, I swear. xoxo
Chapter Seventeen: Give Me Love
There is no worse feeling in the world than being completely and utterly alone. Of course, when I got home, the house was empty; all of the lights were off and the darkness of the overcast sky made the deserted house look shadowy, dismal, and frankly, pathetic. I wasn't quite sure where my family was, or when they would be back, but that was really the last thing on my mind. All I could think about was Gabriel, and how he had walked away, and how now, like my house, I was really, truly empty. I had never felt desperation like this before. Like there was no where I could turn, no one I could run to.
Because the one who I would have had walked away. And because he'd chosen to.
And that was something that I was just going to have to live with. The fact that Gabe refused to acknowledge whatever…whatever obscure, or strange, or indecent emotions he may have for me. That I wasn't enough to make him decide that it would be worth the risk. That he wouldn't admit to himself that maybe, like Noah and Allie, maybe whatever was between us was something that couldn't be hidden, or shoved away, or ignored. That it would always be there, waiting. And nothing we did was going to make it go away.
So, shivering and wet, I made coffee and didn't turn any lights on.
It was around 8:00 when I laid down. I registered that I'd changed clothes, but I didn't really remember doing it. My family still wasn't home. I didn't have any tears left, so I just stared up at the ceiling, feeling the strangest, aching feeling through my entire torso. It was the same feeling I got watching him walk away with Sydney, the same emotion that came over me when he waved goodbye from the passenger seat of some girl's car. The sensation of being left, forgotten, cast off by the boy that my world revolved around.
And that's when, for the first time, I admitted to myself that maybe things weren't going to work out between Gabe and I. Maybe no matter the amount of time I spent pining, or the phrases he "wished" he could voice, he would always be the one leaving me, and I would always be the one watching him walk away.
Maybe – and the thought didn't bring more tears to my eyes, just a strange, mind-tingling numbness – maybe I had to remove myself from him completely. Maybe I couldn't keep this up, maybe I couldn't put on a smile every day and pretend it wasn't killing me. I would never be over him, and he would never admit he cared about me. After all these years, I had to let him go. And that was the beginning and the end of everything.
I fell asleep numb and cold, listening to the rain.
When I opened my eyes, I was disoriented for a long, quiet moment. There was something off, something wrong. I blinked blearily, and it was when I turned my head that I realized what it was.
"Hey," his voice was soft and I could only see the faint outline of his body in the moonlight. A lump formed immediately in my throat and I wiped a hand over my eyes, trying to clear my head.
He sighed and looked away from me, his arms crossed over his chest tightly. I felt my pulse quicken. It all came back to me in a rush – the journal, the beach, his headlights disappearing over the hill. Laying here, in this bed, broken.
I was sure he could read the pain in my voice. "What are you doing here?"
After a few seconds, he looked back at me, his expression unclear in the darkness. I felt a strange fear deep in my throat and attempted to swallow. He didn't say anything, and I felt my breathing catch, propping myself up on my elbows.
And then, suddenly, he moved. He crossed the space between the desk and my bed slowly, as if every motion was being rethought, debated, weighed. And then he reached my bedside, and like he had a hundred times, he climbed in next to me.
I didn't speak, just tensed as he wrapped two, strong, toned arms around me and he tugged me to himself slowly. I choked, the breath catching in my throat as he buried his head into the crook of my neck, his muscles so taut and terse that I could feel him trembling.
"I'm sorry," He mumbled, and I could feel his lips moving on my bare shoulder. I shivered as his warm breath tickled my skin. "I'm sorry, Lily, I'm just scared."
I didn't say a word, just lied there. As much as I hated to see him hurting, I wasn't going to bail him out this time. I clenched my hands into two fists and stared past him into the blackness. I could feel his fingertips digging into my back, almost painfully, as he clutched me to him as tightly as he could. He shifted me in his arms, and I realized with a sudden jolt that there was a wetness on my shoulder.
"Gabe?" I finally broke my silence and softly pulled away from him, my hands disobeying me and finding his face, searching it like I'd done with my eyes a thousand times. But this time I used my fingertips, following the angles and planes and curvatures that I knew by heart. "Oh my God, Gabe, are you crying?"
It was silent for a long, excruciating moment. I didn't know what to say as my fingertips found his tears, the liquid hitting my hands with a soft, sad, tingle.
"Lily?" His voice was a sad, sorry whisper.
I felt my chest constrict. "Yeah?"
And then his hand closed over mine, tugging it away from his face, his fingers folding into mine, our palms flush against one another's. His forehead suddenly pressed into my own softly and I couldn't breathe. I could scarcely see the outline of his face in the dim light from the moon filtering in through the windowpane.
"Three little words. Shouldn't be that hard to say, right?" He chuckled softly, no humor in his misdemeanor, his whole body taut.
I wouldn't reply. I couldn't. There wasn't anything left to say.
"I don't know what – what's wrong with me. I can think, it, I can write it, I could spell it out in the sand for Christ's sake; I just can't make myself say it. And God knows I've tried a thousand times." He let out a strangled sigh. "Fuck." It was a pathetic, distressed moan.
He took one deep, shuddering breath and then let it out, straightening his shoulders a little. "I love you, Lily. And not like a best friend, more than that. There. I said it. I fight it every single day, tell myself that I don't, that I can't, that I'm fine, that –" his voice broke off and he squeezed his eyes shut. "It's just I…I'm scared of losing you."
My mind was blank, wiped clean. All I could think is that this was a dream. This had to be some sort of dream, couldn't be happening, couldn't be real.
"Say something," he pleaded, and he disentangled himself from me, sitting up. I could imagine him watching me, though I couldn't make out his gaze. "I thought –"
"You thought you could just come in here and say whatever you think I wanted to hear so you didn't feel guilty anymore? Is that what you thought?" I couldn't help the anger that was spewing up and out of my throat. This boy, this pathetic, stupid boy had put me through so much, and then suddenly he was sorry and he wanted everything to be okay?
"No, I – "
"I'm not just some toy that you can toss in the corner when you're bored and then pick up and dust off when you suddenly realize that you want it again!"
"That's just it, Lily, that's what I'm trying to tell you!"
I threw the covers back angrily, standing up and flipping on the bedside lamp. He squinted in the sudden light, and stood up on the opposite side of the bed from me. His eyes were bloodshot, his hair a messy crown on top of his head. He had on an FSU sweatshirt and shorts, and his attractiveness, for the first time, pissed me off.
"You think you can just –come in here, and say these things, and expect me to forget about the other night? About how you…" a lump surfaced in my throat and I swallowed around it, blinking back tears. "You used me, Gabe, and then you walked away. And you just left me laying here, like I was any other girl. Like I wasn't your best friend."
He hung his head, his hands coming up to the back of his neck.
"And just because I –" I couldn't swallow around it this time, and my voice broke off, and I had to cover my eyes for a minute because he wouldn't see me cry again. "Because I care about you, the real you, not this – this womanizer front that you put on, the Gabriel that I've known my whole life, you think you can treat me however you want. And you always have. And that night just proved it."
"Stop, okay? Please." His voice was strained as he interrupted me. I looked up and met his gaze from across my bedroom. There were tears in his eyes again. "I couldn't do it, Lily, I couldn't ruin you."
"Ruin me?" I repeated dumbly.
He laughed then, two, soft barks that didn't seem funny. "I've laid beside you a hundred times, watching you sleep and wishing I was brave enough to kiss you. And then I finally do, and it's everything I've ever wanted, and all I could think was that you were so much better than me. And you deserved so much more. So how could I touch you? With these hands?"
"Come on, Gabe, really?!" My chest hurt so completely that I couldn't believe I was forming words. "Do you think that's how I look at you?"
He was silent, looking at the floor.
"I read your journal," the words were up my throat and hanging in the air before I could stop them. His head jerked up and his mouth fell open, and then closed again. "I knew, at the beach earlier, how you felt. And all I wanted, all I wanted was for you to just…say it."
He took a few steps towards me, but I shook my head and stepped back.
"But it's not enough, now, it just feels…like I've forced you and, this is all wrong, and it's not us, and this isn't you. And for all I know, tomorrow you're going to take it all back, just like your wishy-washiness in your diary, and some hot girl is going to walk by and I'll be watching you leave just like I did tonight."
"Don't do this," he was the one pleading now, and it was so strange to see Gabe, my Gabe, so with fear in his eyes. "Lily, you've gotta trust me."
"Then prove it," I muttered, and I wondered if my eyes were blazing like my chest. "If you mean it, then prove it."
It only took a second for him to cross the room, and it took my completely by surprise as he put his hands on either side of my face, his thumbs so gentle on my cheeks.
"I'm here," he whispered, and I could hear the desperation, the desire in every word he muttered. His fingers on one side slid down, coming to explore my neck, urgently curling around, his fingers digging into the back of it. "I came back and I'm right here, Lily, and I want to fix you. Fix this. If that means – if that means that I leave you alone, I'll go. If it means that you want me to stay, to be your friend, I'll be here. Every day. Just like always. Just like before. If - " I watched his eyes close in the dim light of the lamp. "If by some – some miracle you – you feel even the tiniest bit like I do, and you let me call you mine…after everything I've put you through…" his eyes fluttered open, his breath brushing across my face in tiny gasps, his hair falling over into his forehead.
I would never forget this moment, I knew that. I dedicated it to memory, the image of him, the way I could smell the ocean and his soap lingering on his clothing, my heart pounding against my chest.
He searched for words. "I will do everything I can to make sure you always wear a smile. To treat you the way a girl is supposed to be treated, to protect you and hold you…" This didn't feel real. Didn't feel possible. After all this time. His voice lowered an octave, his face tilting closer to mine. His other hand left my cheek, his fingertips lingering lightly on my cheekbone, feeling their way down my jaw line, my neck, my arm and wrapping around my waist as he tugged me flush against him. I was frozen, unable to move. "Kiss you." His lips moved against mine with the faintest sweep and I was unable to form a coherent sentence. "Lily? Lily, tell me what you want."
"Jump into a pool of flesh-eating sharks or listen to my grandmother explain how and why the world is all going to hell every single day for the rest of your life?"
I laughed, pausing for a moment with my coffee cup almost to my lips. "That's not fair."
"That's the game!" Gabe was, strangely, working. He was sizing the t-shirts on the racks nearest the counter.
Gabe's mouth fell open. "You should be ashamed of yourself, Lily, that's my Nana that you're talking about!"
"Yeah, well, your Nana's insane."
He leaned across the counter and glared at me. "Best friends for twenty-one years and you're making digs at my family now? I thought you were better than that."
"Don't get your panties all up in a bunch," I huffed, setting my coffee down and glaring straight back at him. "You know I love your Nana. I just…"
"Think my Nana needs to be admitted. Unbelievable."
"Do not put words in my mouth Gabriel Thomas!" I reached out to smack his shoulder and he grabbed my hand, tugging me close with a playful grin on his face.
"Such a pretty little mouth, though," he murmured, and suddenly his lips were on mine.
Just when I was about to wind my hands into his hair and deepen it, he pulled away, smiling, and winked at me.
"Besides, one day that lady could be holding our child." He straightened up and put his hands in his pockets.
"Dear God, please don't say that," I shuddered, but couldn't help the smile that stretched across my face. I wondered if I'd ever get used to him saying things like that.
"Are you saying you don't want to have my children?" His eyebrows were raised, and I was spared an answer as the door dinged open.
"Well, if it isn't the lovebirds." It was the entire group – Arty, Shane, Shane's new girlfriend Abigail, Phillip, Carmen, Ray and Nicole. Shane was the one who was batting his eyelashes at us, and I rolled mine in response.
"You just missed our latest love-making session, actually. We just put our clothes back on."
"That is beyond disgusting."
"Are you guys about to clock out yet, or what?" Nicole was looking at the time on her phone. "We're going to miss the sunset."
"We'll meet you guys there," I chimed in, glancing down at my watch. "Be off in five minutes."
"Don't take too long, now." Carmen wiggled her eyebrows suggestively and after joking around with Gabe for a few more minutes while I counted down the drawer, they all piled out just as quickly as they'd piled in.
"Sometimes I feel like they're happier we're together than we are." Gabe joked, locking the door behind them and coming to stand behind me as I finished up the deposit.
"Probably because now I'm not moping around half of the time," I said, straightening up and turning around. "And you actually kind of behave, now."
"You've changed me," he joked running his fingertips down my arm and to my hand. "Tamed the wild beast!"
"Come on," I got the familiar urge to grab him, the one I'd been fighting for years, but I didn't have to fight it anymore – another one of the things that had changed since Gabriel and I were…official. So I let my hands come up on either side of his waist and tug him closer. "Like I could tame Gabriel Aldridge."
"You could do anything to me, love." He muttered, and he was pressed up against me. I could feel his heart pounding through his polo shirt. "I am completely yours."
We were a little late clocking out.
It was a little cooler tonight, which was fitting, because it was the last night we all had together before we had to leave for school. Gabe and I were heading out sometime tomorrow afternoon, in fact, after we left here tonight I had to go help him pack because he'd spent the previous night playing video games instead of getting his stuff together, as he'd promised to do.
I watched him, now, from across the bonfire that the boys had assembled before we'd arrived. I'd never seen Gabriel smile so much as he had, lately.
It was so strange, remembering that night – looking back to when I'd been frozen and unable to reply to him, when he'd looked at me so heartbreakingly sad, let go of my body, and told me he'd leave – and he was sorry that he hurt me. And just when he'd turned to walk out of my bedroom, I'd opened my mouth and everything had poured out. Every detail of everything I'd been trying so hard for years to hide – how he was all I thought about, how I'd been in love with him since I was eleven, how every time I'd watched him with someone else I had to bite my tongue – how every time he touched me I got a tingle up my spine.
And he'd exhaled one, short breath. As if I'd just saved him from execution. As if I'd just saved his life.
Then I was sobbing in his arms and he was laughing and telling me to stop crying because he was here, now, and he was done running. And he kissed me so softly, his thumbs wiping away my tears as his hands explored me, touching me gentler than he ever had before. He whispered that even though he was a long time coming, we had forever, now. And he was never going to let me go.
"Okay, if you don't wipe that newlywed grin off your face I'm going to murder you. Some of us are still single and desperate." Ray scowled, taking a sip of the Jungle Juice that they had made earlier.
"Sorry," I murmured, tearing my eyes away from Gabe and taking another drink myself. "It's just –"
"He's perfect," Nicole sighed, batting her eyelashes.
"Yeah, yeah." I couldn't deny it though. Things with Gabe were just…easy.
"Have you had to deal with any of the crazy exes yet?" Carmen asked, watching the boys through the flames.
"Eh, no. Not really. I think he keeps most of that hidden from me, to be honest." I replied, thinking back to the other night when his phone had gone off about ten times at 2:00 in the morning. He'd scowled, rolled over and glanced at it, scoffed, and put it back down.
"Who is it?" I'd wondered, propping myself up on my elbows sleepily. I had just dozed off.
"Nobody," he'd murmured, kissing my temple gently. "Go back to sleep."
"Gabe it's 2:00 in the morning," I couldn't help the sinking suspicion in my gut.
He'd sighed. "It was Sydney."
I'd swallowed. "What – why is she texting you?"
"It's stupid, babe, just lie down."
"Seriously, what did she want?" I couldn't help the anger that slipped into my voice. He'd chuckled lightly.
"What do you think?" He had tugged me to him, wrapping his arms around me and kissing my shoulder. "I told her to leave me alone."
I'd asked him later that night if he got those kinds of texts a lot, and he'd just made a non-committal noise in the back of his throat and told me that he didn't even reply to them anymore.
"He's changed, though. Honestly. Even I can tell." It was Ray again. "Who would've thought that after all these years, our little Lily would be the one to make him settle down."
"Um, I did. I totally saw this coming." Gabe was, somehow, suddenly, right next to me, and he slung his arm over my shoulders possessively. "If you guys are done gossiping, the hot dogs are done."
So Gabe and I spent our last night of the most, confusing, life-changing, amazing summer on the beach there with our friends. And unlike that first night, when I'd watched Gabriel with a deep, longing desire in my chest, tonight I leaned back against him laughing as he dripped mustard on my leg, leaning up and kissing his jaw line when he least expected it. Someone had rigged up some speakers, and Dominic Sanderson's latest slow, soft love songs were playing as we all talked about the summertime and how lucky we all were to still be friends.
Later that night, when we were just tipsy enough to decide to leave the car and walk home, I paused in the sand. He nearly stumbled, caught himself, and then quirked an eyebrow that I could barely see in the moonlight.
"Kiss me," I ordered, tilting my face up to his. I'd stolen his hoodie at some point during the night, and it was hanging off of my frame loosely. He was looking at me as if he'd never seen me before and I would never get used to this either – the intensity, the emotion that I saw burning through his gaze.
"Kiss you?" His hand was on my cheek, so soft, and he pushed my hair from my face.
I nodded, pushing myself up on my tiptoes so that I was level with his mouth. "Mmm-hmm. Right here. Kiss me."
I cocked an eyebrow. "Why?"
"This summer – at the beginning, this spot, this is where you left me. To go get Sydney, remember? We were standing right here, and you told me you loved me."
He smiled, and this one was a sad one. I tilted my face towards him even more.
"And I left you here," he muttered.
I sighed. Not again. "Gabe, don't."
"No, Lily, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I walked away so many times, I was just so god damn scared and–"
I pressed my mouth to his to stop his speech, and he scooped me up, holding me tighter than he ever had, his tongue searching mine desperately, hotly, and I wanted nothing between us, no words, no space, no clothes…
He had to tug me away, chuckling, and I buried my head into his chest.
"I love you," I said, and he kissed the top of my head.
"I've loved you," was his reply. "Always have. Always will."
The wind whipped his hair into his eyes and he brushed it back as I took a step away from him.
"C'mon sweetheart. Let's go. You've got my entire room to pack."
"Excuse me?" I laughed and wound my fingers through his. "In your dreams, Sunshine."
"Ooh, Sunshine. I like it."
As we walked hand-in-hand down the beach, I realized that's exactly what he was. He was my Sun, the one thing my life revolved around. Every time I saw him, even before all of these emotions were out and dealt with and he'd promised himself to me, I'd felt happy. And warm. And safe.
And the 11-year-old girl in me couldn't have been happier.
A/N: So there it is. The happy ending that some of you wanted. Sorry to the Caleb fans – he never really stood a chance. And to those of you who are asking about a sequel – you never know! Anything can happen! Lots of love to you all – don't forget to review!