AN: I say this with mixed regret and relief – this will be the LAST chapter. I thought of extending it a little longer but in truth, I'd really be stretching it thin and I'd rather end it while it's a still a 'good' story. All good things must come to an end, and all that. I think my last chapter was unconsciously leading me to this, anyway. So enjoy!

Chapter 24
That Comfortable Life

"Merry Christmas!"

We all sat around our living room, Zack's family and mine, staring at our beautiful Christmas tree. After the Hallowe'en dance, time continued to fly by pretty quickly. I mean, I didn't notice it day after day, but all the sudden school was finished for the holidays, and it was the Christmas season. Zack and I had spent a lot of time together as soon as school was out, buying Christmas gifts, decorating the tree, and visiting our friends.

Jeff had since moved out of his family's trailer, and was staying with Charlotte, I found out. Zira went with me to the trailer park to see him. He looked much happier – especially since Zira was there. I don't think I ever saw him so happy. He told me his dad had been going to Alcholics Anonymous, and had been sober for two weeks. He still wasn't ready to move back in with his dad, but it was promising. I had bought him some hair gel and some new jeans – he consistently came to school wearing old, torn ones. Zira bought him a chain necklace with a little heart on it, sort of like mine. I thought it might not suit him, since it didn't really seem to fit his 'bad boy' image, but we saw it around his neck the entire last week before school.

Sharon was doing well also – if you ignore the one blow-up she had with Thomas, they'd been going out for almost four months now. I had to smile when she spoke about him; ironically, it reminded me of the relationship Zack and I had had before….well, you know the story.

"I swear, that man can be so arrogant and bad-tempered." The redhead informed when the three of us had gone shopping.

"Hmmm…sounds like your perfect match then." I beamed at Sharon's glare. Zira just giggled beside me.

Not two days later was she calling me up telling me how she adored the new speaker system he'd bought her – and installed for her himself too – and after he'd finished they went over to his house and…

Maybe it's better not to mention that.

In any case, Zira and I bought her some new clothes and jewelry…I mean seriously, what do you buy a girl who's rich already except more clothes? And yes Sharon appreciated my gifts; since dating Zack and getting some advice on fashion from my two friends, I got an idea of what sort of things she'd enjoy.

Robby and Emily? I couldn't be happier with the two. After the Hallowe'en dance, Robby got the courage to ask Emily out – for an official date this time – and she said yes. Turns out she had a little thing for Robby after all, but never thought he was interested. Then Nick paid so much attention to her, so she decided to give him a chance. The lying snake. Anyway, with Zack's help we got them a present – two cell phones on the same phone plan, so they could keep in closer contact. They really appreciated it. They're so cute together! (I know, I sound just like Zira right now.) But I'm glad they're finally together.

And Nick? I only cackle at his misfortune. Turns out his new mystery girl – Valerie, I think it was – had been kept in the dark about his cheating ways also. When she found out, she dropped him quicker than a bad habit. Last time I saw him was at the Winter Dance, just before school ended. He had no date, no dance partners, and certainly no sympathy from any of us. Turns out word got around about his sleaziness. There was a crowd when he was exposed, after all.

Then came Christmas morning, and we were all seated around the Christmas tree. Zack and I sat on the love seat, excited and eager to get to the presents. My dad sat in a reclining chair next to the love seat. Aunt Maggie stood next to my dad, holding a cup of hot chocolate and looking like she'd rather sleep for another three hours. Theresa and Henry Merridson sat on the couch on the opposite side, the woman looking wide-awake and excited, her husband the exact opposite.

"Well, now that we're all here, let's get to those presents!" My dad said with a large grin. Since I was sitting closest to the tree, I grabbed some boxes and started handing them out. Zack's dad, on the other side of the room, leaned over and grabbed some presents also.

I bought my dad a new watch – his old one was busted – some jewelry for my Aunt Maggie and Theresa. I really didn't know what Theresa wanted, but Zack helped me come up with some ideas.

As I stood next to Dad, admiring his new watch, I saw Zack hand his father a gift. The older man looked genuinely pleased…and a little surprised.

"You….got me a gift…" Henry Merridson got out. From his tone, I couldn't tell if it was a statement or a question.

Zack turned his eyes away, staring at the Christmas tree. "Yeah well….Merry Christmas Dad."

Mr. Merridson unwrapped the gift….it was a small, thin rectangular shape. He took the paper off and stared at it for a moment. I could see it was a picture frame. Judging by 's reaction I figured there must have been a picture in the frame already, but since he was facing Zack, I couldn't see it.

He said nothing, and then looked up. "Zack…"

His son still wasn't looking at him, but I could Zack's expression had softened.

"I just….want you to remember...us….when you're at work…." He said softly.

Another small silence, and then Henry Merridson nodded, a smile forming. "I will. Thanks son."

A nod. "Sure." Zack said, turning back to the presents.

Nothing more than that, but I smiled. It was a start.

I got some clothes from my aunt and Theresa. Dad got me the latest CD from the Barenaked Ladies – my favourite Canadian music group. They have the funniest lyrics.

"This one's from me." Zack handed me a gift. I lifted it and shook it, trying to guess what it was. "Hmmm….a heavy box that doesn't rattle or make noise."

He laughed. "You know, you could just open it and find out what's inside."

Deciding to follow his suggestion, I tore away at the wrapping paper….and shrieked.

"You….you got me the InuYasha series? All of them?"

He shrugged. "All the ones that are currently released on DVD, anyway."

"You're so awesome!" I hugged him enthusiastically. "Ohmigosh, we're going to sit down and watch the whole thing tomorrow!"

He shook his head, laughing. "Pace yourself, Kay. I personally can only take some much anime per day."

"My turn now!" I handed Zack a present from me.

"Hmmm….a heavy box that doesn't rattle or make noise."

"Just open it, loser."

Smiling, Zack did so and his eyes widened.

"A digital camera! And just the one I wanted!"

I laughed. "Well you were the one who pointed it out to me, so I bought it."

He looked up at me. "When? I was with you the entire time."

I grinned and winked. "Not the time I told you I was going to the washroom."

He smiled back and we shared a hug. "Thanks so much, Kay."

"Welcome."

One after another the presents under the tree were opened until they were all gone. After all the 'thank yous' and snapping some pictures using Zack's new camera, we all began to pack up our new presents to take to our rooms. Christams at the Woods' house is pretty routine. After the opening of presents we have 'free time' until lunch, where the whole crew gets together for Christmas dinner. It would be nice having company. I remember, when Mom was still alive we used to meet with all our other relatives, but we'd moved after she passed away. I think Dad couldn't stay in a house that reminded him of her. Now we lived too far away from everyone else, so our Christmas times were quieter, but nice. I was looking forward to having Christmas dinner with a few more people.

As I turned to go up the stairs, Zack nudged me and winked. "Go and get dressed."

I blinked. "Huh…why?"

"Let's go for a walk."

"It's –8 degrees outside."

"So? Put on some extra layers. I'll see you soon."

It was a little weird, but I just shrugged and went upstairs carrying my new presents. I quickly slipped on some jeans with windbreaker pants overtop and a large sweater. Such clothes were considered 'fashion taboo' now, but since I would rather be warm than pretty, I put it out of my mind.

Besides, I'm sure your boyfriend will keep you PLENTY warm.

Shut up.

You know you were thinking it.

I said, shut up!

Touchy touchy.

I put on a bit of make-up – again, proof of how much I've changed – and then put up my hair in a bun. Or rather I tried to. For some reason it wouldn't seem to cooperate, so after a moment I just gave up and decided to let it hang loose. I skipped downstairs to see Zack waiting there.

"Sorry….were you waiting long?"

"That's okay. I know how long you take getting ready…"

I glared at him in mock anger. "Don't start, mister…or you'll be in big trouble."

I expected some kind of remark, but instead he just chuckled. "Okay. Come on."

Slipping on my ankle-length boots, we walked out the door and began to go around the block. There was only a few centimeters of snow outside. It was cold, but with a touque on my head it didn't bother me much. Zack didn't even have a hat on. I was a little worried his ears could get frostbite, but he didn't even seem to notice the cold.

We walked on in silence for a bit. It wasn't really uncomfortable, just…strange. I didn't know why he asked me out here.

"I just remembered….Santa forget to put one present under the tree." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled something out of his pocket. It was a small box, very long and narrow. He hadn't even wrapped it, so I recognized it immediately. It was a jewelry box. Wordlessly, I took it and pulled off the cover.

Inside was a small silver necklace, with a heart. Except instead of the locket like I had, the ornament on this necklace was an outline. A thin band of silver looped around in the shape of a heart, the silver chain linked to the top.

I bit my bottom lip to hold back the tears. He would know how much such a thing would mean to me.

"Here, try it on."

I pulled my hair up, and allowed him to loop the necklace around my neck. I heard the clasp click into place, and then I examined my two necklaces. The locket from my mom, and now this small heart-shaped one. Curiously, I examined the two of them, and when I pressed them together, my mom's locket fit right into the silver heart outline. I smiled.

"Cool. It fits."

"I thought it might." Zack said with a grin.

I turned and looped my arms around his neck. "It's perfect. Thank you." And we kissed.

And wow….I mean this was a kiss. Now we've had some serious make-out sessions before but somehow they all paled in comparison to this. I could feel all the passion, all the love, and all the desire he had pouring out into me, and it quickly dissovled all of my inhibitions. I kissed him back with equal passion, which only fueled him on more. My hands gripped his hair as I kissed him harder, and I could his hands roaming a little too.

Eventually we had to break for air, and when we did our breaths came out in huge puffs of steam in the below zero temperature. I didn't feel it though; instead my body felt like it was on fire. My gaze travelled from his eyes to his lips, and back up to his eyes again. All I wanted to do in that moment was kiss him. All I wanted was for him to kiss me.

Taking a few more breaths to calm down, he placed a gloved hand on my cheek. I leaned into it.

"Kay?"

"Mmmm hmmm?"

"Remember how I told you I had two years of high school left?"

"Yeah?"

"Well the school board reviewed my acedemics, and after talking it over with my parents, they decided there was no need to hold me back."

"Oh."

"So…..I applied to York University."

"Oh."

"…and they accepted me."

I blinked. It felt like the ground had fallen out from under me.

"You're leaving me?" It came out in a whisper.

He smiled down at me. "Only temporarily. Besides, I can still come see you on the weekends."

"Toronto's over three hours away. How would you get down here?"

"By train, probably."

I tried to fight back the tears, but I was losing quickly. "Zack no…"

He pulled me in for a hug, rocking me slightly like a child. I didn't mind; I just held onto him as though he would dissolve into thin air if I let him go.

"Kay….we'll still see each other. I promise you."

I nodded, though the tears wouldn't stop. "You won't make it down here every weekend. You'll have exams and midterms and stuff. I can't….I can't lose you."

"You're not going to lose me, Kay. I'll be back here to see you every chance I get. That's a promise. Besides, we've still got six months of school and then the summer before I leave. So we've got plenty of time left."

I nodded; I heard everything he said, but it was hard to accept. "You'll probably meet some college girl and forget all about me…"

I was cut off as he pulled me in for yet another fiery kiss. I forgot about my protests and just gave myself into the moment.

"Still think I'll forget you?" He whispered in my ear when we pulled apart.

"No." I snuggled in close to him.

"Like I said, we've got plenty of time before I go….so let's make the best of it, okay?"

"Y-yeah." Trying to be brave, I wiped the tears away. "Dinner should be starting soon; we should probably head back."

We made it back to my house, but I wasn't ready to go back in yet. I paused on the doorstep, staring up at the sky…snow was starting to fall, floating down gently to the earth.

Life never turned out the way it's planned….but sometimes that's a good thing. The past four months had been nothing like I had planned them; I went from being a cynical feminist to a teenage girl madly in love with her childhood tormentor. Just when I thought I had everything figured out, life changed things around on me. Zack had managed to charm me, win me over and make me feel things I'd never felt for any other man. And now he would be leaving me in the future, though he promised we'd still see each other. And I believed him. We'd be farther apart, but we'd make it work. After all, what were the odds of us ending up together in the first place? If we could beat those, we could survive anything.

I felt his arms wrap around me from behind, and I leaned back against him.

"What are you thinking about?" He asked me softly.

"Life." I answered simply. I then turned around in his arms. "Kiss me again."

He gladly complied, and my mind forgot about the future….for now, I would just live in the present.

AN: Aaaaaaand it's done! It is a short chapter, but as I said I didn't want this to drag on. Some of you may not like this ending, but that's life. Good news: I am SERIOUSLY considering writing up a sequel on this story. Toying with ideas for the main character right now; Jeff might be a possibility, considering his popularity. His story would be much darker, however. Kay's story is very much a 'dramedy' – Jeff's would be more drama than comedy. But regardless it will probably be some time before I start a new story – I need to finish a few other things before I start my next one. Hope you enjoyed it! Don't forget to R & R!