(A/N) Yes, in case you were wondering, you should go reread Chapter 27! Major rewrite of the ending!

Chapter 28

A Kiss to Build a Dream On

I was on my way back home, trying not to think about what Adam would do next, when it hit me like a brick: Adam was eighteen now – a legal adult – and had dozens of options open for him. He could vote, get a tattoo, go to jail, get married, join the military –

I almost slammed on the brakes in the middle of the street.

Oh, shit.

Both of Ryan's older brothers had enlisted for the military on their eighteen birthdays – the oldest, Jake, in the Army, and Robbie in Air Force. They had graduated a year early and gone into basic training a few weeks into that summer.

Ryan turned eighteen just over a month ago. Right around Valentine's Day.

No. Ryan wouldn't stay quiet about this.

He had spent the last two summers taking classes at the local community college and I was sure he would have enough credits to graduate high school by the end of the year.

Oh my God.

Ryan's oldest brother, Jake, had been killed by a surprise bombing in Afghanistan just last year. After that, most of us had been sure Ryan wasn't going to follow in his brothers' footsteps.

I bit down on my lip to fight back the tears until I knew for sure - or at least until I got to Kyle's.

He was in his living room, half-asleep in front of the TV. He didn't look up when I walked into the living room.

"Kyle," I forced out, thinking I had swallowed the tears welling up in my eyes.

Kyle recognized that tone in my voice and sat up erect, his head snapping to me. I wasn't expecting the ferocity burning in his eyes as he got up and crossed the living room in quick strides.

"What did he do?" he all-but growled, reaching a hand out for my shoulder. "I swear I'll kill him."

I caught the hand, taking in a breath that turned into a hiccup. "Tell me he didn't, Kyle."

Confusion flashed across Kyle's face and he frowned, his anger momentarily forgotten. "Who? What?"

"Ryan!" I exclaimed. A thick tear fell straight to the floor. "Did he enlist or not?"

Realization shot across Kyle's face. He stared at me in bewilderment. "H-how…? Did he…?" Kyle swallowed, then let out a breath. "It's...it's his news to tell, Lexie."

"Oh my…" I leaned my back against the doorway, my head turned to the ceiling. "Carrie thinks…But he…Oh my…"

Kyle tried to pull me in for an embrace but I turned away harshly. "I have to talk to him," I announced.

"It's past midnight," Kyle reminded.

When I stared at him, my eyes ghost-like blank, he understood how much I didn't care.

"I'll drive," he offered. I couldn't even walk straight; I had no choice but to oblige.

Kyle took his time driving to Ryan's house, purposely giving me time to calm down. I couldn't decide what I was more bothered by: the fact that he had enlisted without telling anyone or that he'd made Carrie believe he cheated on her. He made all of us believe that.

With that thought, I turned my head to glare at Kyle. "You knew," I accused with narrow eyes.

Kyle kept his eyes on the road, prepared for this. "It wasn't my news to tell," he repeated.

"It wasn't your lie to tell!" I returned. "You lied to me, Kyle. Right to my face. Over and over again." I buried my face in my hands. "I hit him because of it!"

"I'm sorry for that."

"For that?"

I was the first one out of the car when Kyle pulled into Ryan's driveway; I jumped out before Kyle even turned the engine off. Kyle was closer to the door than me, though, and grabbed my arm with an intensity I wasn't expecting before I could knock.

"Calm down, Alexis," he said. His voice was hard as stone. "Don't be too tough on him, all right?"

"Shut up, Kyle," I muttered, trying to get past him.

He tightened his grip. "Listen to me, Alexis, or I swear I'll take you right back home," he warned. "Ryan's been dealing with this alone for over a month. Cut him some slack."

"Like you did that night?"

"Listen," he began, leaning in so his eyes could stare deep into mine. "I'll kill anyone who lays a hand on you, but I'm on Ryan's side with this one. He's the one that enlisted and he's the one leaving – not you, and not me."

As I slowly but surely swallowed those words, I finally understood what Kyle was trying to get through to me. The thing was: that temporary insanity I was feeling wasn't from anger anymore – it was from downright fear for Ryan.

"I'll be nice," I promised. Then, because I could see how terrified Kyle was, too, I slipped my hand through his and let him knock on the door.

Ryan's sister Jane answered. She nodded hello at Kyle but raised an eyebrow at me.

"She knows," Kyle said simply.

She nodded again and said, "He's in his room."

I didn't get anxious until I was at the top of the stairs and could see Ryan inside his room. He was lying back on his bed, but with a laptop open on his lap. He had a pillow over his face and his chest rose and fell with each long, deep breath.

I almost stepped back, ready to leave without a word, when Kyle put his hand on my back and whispered, "Trust me; he's awake."

I felt light-headed all of a sudden from my disappearing anger and heightening worry. But then I looked at Kyle and thought, I'll bet he's known about it since the day Ryan enlisted, and somehow he still hasn't said a word to anyone, and I knew that this secret was now my burden to bear as well.

"He still thinks you hate him," Kyle said to me as encouragement.

It worked well enough to get me all the way to his door and knock.

Ryan lifted the pillow off his face and turned his head to me all without getting up. He blinked at me a couple of times before raising an eyebrow.

"Hi," I spat out.


Both of our greetings sounded like questions.

He sat up, and then glanced over my shoulder at Kyle, who was still standing at the top of the stairs. "What's up?"

"I don't believe…" I drawled out before finding the right words, "you really cheated on Carrie. Not anymore."

He blinked and his expression changed from surprise to irritation just like that. "It's midnight, Alexis."

I gave him the same blank, 'I-don't-give-a-damn' look I'd given Kyle earlier. He got the same message.

"Then what do you believe?" he asked next, as if he was tired of the subject.

"I think you're too good to cheat on anyone," I said, "and you love Carrie too much to cheat on her. But I think you love her enough to lie to her."

He was silent as he stood up to put his laptop on his desk. Then, with his back turned to me, he stretched for a few seconds, ending with a deep sigh. "Lie to her about what?" he finally asked without turning back around.

"Something much worse than you cheating on her." My voice got higher as I tried not to let my emotions get the best of me. I wanted to hear him admit that he lied to Carrie but I also couldn't bear hearing him tell me the truth.

"What's worse than cheating on Carrie?"

"I can think of one thing."

"And what's that?"

I hesitated. I wouldn't be the first to say it; I couldn't even think those words. "Ryan, look at me, please," I said.

He did, leaning back against his desk, arms crossed.

I thought for a moment while he stared at me, eyebrow raised expectantly. I asked the only coherent question I could come up with: "Does Carrie know about your brother? About Jake?"

Ryan blinked in surprise, his eyes opening wider. There was no denying the pain in his eyes at the mention of Jake. He'd been as close to Jake as he was to Kyle.

He didn't answer, diverted his eyes to stare out his window.

I slowly inhaled a breath. "You should have told her, Ryan," I said softly.

"What does it matter? I cheated on her."

"But you didn't," I argued. "Carrie doesn't believe it, either."

That got his attention. His eyes returned to mine and his eyebrows formed a light frown. "Why not?"

"Because you didn't."

"What makes you so sure?"

I let out a puff of air. "Give me a little credit here, Ryan," I said. This conversation was going in circles. "I've known you as long as Kyle. I remember Jake. And...how his death changed you."

A muscle twitched in his jaw. "What does this have to do with Carrie?"

I shook my head lightly. "This isn't fair to her. She never knew Jake. There's no way for her to guess that you…" I swallowed but the words were stuck in my throat. "That you…"

He wasn't making this any easier with his hard and steady stare.

"She's asking if you enlisted," a third voice said. At the same time, I felt Kyle's presence behind me and his hand on my back.

I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding. Well, that was a load off my shoulder, but I couldn't help feeling that Kyle had done all the work for me.

"In the Army," I added, then felt stupid for not saying it earlier.

Slowly, Ryan's head fell along with his arms. He looked defeated, all of a sudden, by those words. I took the remaining steps to him and wrapped my arms around his neck.

"The Navy, actually," he breathed.

I let out a weak snort that turned into a whimper. The truth was slowly sinking in and it finally hit me that maybe this wasn't a burden I could bear.

No, I had to. Ryan had entrusted me with it – or rather, I had entrusted myself with it – and I would bear it as long as he needed me to.

Even if that meant that sometime during the summer, he would disappear into thin air and some of us might not care. Because we still believed he cheated on Carrie.

Ryan was only beginning to return my embrace when I pulled myself away to look at his face. "I won't make you do anything," I said, though I so badly wanted to, "but…I'll ask you for one thing: don't leave Carrie out in the cold. Tell her something else. Another lie, if you need to, but don't leave her here, hating you."

Silence. Troubled eyes.

Then Kyle said, "I think she's right." He had no idea how much I appreciated that.

Ryan wasn't about to speak soon so I sat him down on his bed. I pulled his desk chair to sit across from him. Kyle stayed leaning against the doorway. I wished he would come further in and hold my hand.

After a few minutes of silence, Ryan rose his head - he'd been staring at the carpet with a dazed look in his eyes - the slightest bit in Kyle's direction and asked, "Did you tell her?" He didn't sound mad, just tired.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Kyle shake his head no. "She figured it out herself."

I gave Ryan a small nod of agreement before asking, reluctantly, "How's…your mom dealing with this?" I remembered the last time I'd been here and Ryan's mother had burst out into tears because Jake's favorite song had just come on the radio. It took Ryan a good hour to calm her down and convince her to go to bed, while I stood by, shocked, frozen, and confused.

Shivers ran up my spine.

If possible, Ryan only retreated further into his shell. He rubbed the side of his face with his hand before murmuring, "She hasn't spoken to me in a week. Only Jane will, and even she tried to kill me when I first told her. And…Robbie doesn't know."

The sigh that followed that statement was so heart-breaking, so devastating that I couldn't help throwing my arms back around his neck and pulling him in for another embrace. He returned it quicker, yet somewhat hesitantly.

"I'm so sorry, Ryan," I whispered. "I'm sorry I didn't realize it before. I was so terrible to you. Can I do anything to take back that slap?"

Ryan snorted lightly. "The slap was nothing. I bruised your face," he returned.

"You're still not off the hook for that," Kyle's voice cut in.

I released Ryan so they both could see me roll my eyes. "It was an accident," I stated. "It's in the past." A question popped into my head but I hesitated asking. There was no non-blunt way to ask, "When do you leave?"

Kyle dropped his head, hands digging deeper into his pockets. He turned a few degrees to the right so he wasn't facing us anymore. I knew I wouldn't like this answer.

A shadow fell over Ryan's face.

"Start of the summer," he murmured, slouching.

I quickly calculated the months before his departure and came up with a heart-wrenching number.

"Three months," I breathed with disbelief.

Kyle turned his back to us.

"At the latest," Ryan added, turning his head away to the side. "Maybe during the break."

Now I understood why Kyle hadn't wanted to hear the answer - spring break was just next month.

Before I could stop myself, I was flying to my feet, arms flailing in the air. "Spring break?" I exclaimed. "That's in – in less than a month!"

Ryan looked a little green as he stared up at me; I couldn't deny that I probably looked the same way. "I know."

I felt Kyle's hand reaching out for my arm to calm me but I shrugged it away. I was fighting the return of my tears through deep but frantic breaths; finding out he was leaving was one thing but knowing - knowing just how soon it might be made it all the more real.

"Oh, Ryan!" I cried out, wishing desperately the circumstances and condition he would be leaving under were different. "I wish you'd told me!"

Suddenly, Kyle's hand came down hard on my shoulder, stopping me from starting a rant about how impulsive he was being. I almost slapped my hand over my mouth when I realized what Kyle was trying to get across to me. And how right he was.

This was harder on Ryan than any one of us. His eyes had fallen back to the floor,

I swallowed my would-be rant and forced myself to ask a rational question, though I was still too shaken up to sit still. Kyle's hand remained on my shoulder and I felt him shift closer to me. "What about school? Don't you need to graduate?"

"I'm eighteen, technically I don't need to. I can get my GED and still go to college when I get back," he explained, only speaking full-heartedly now.

When I get back my ass, I thought bitterly. I'd be praying for Ryan to get back safe, but I'd heard the same speech about the GED from his brother, Robbie, before he left three years ago and he still hadn't made it back with enough time off for a single course.

I wasn't heartless enough to pass off my negativity to Ryan, especially now that our time together was so limited and sacred, but I still wanted to know if he knew just what he was getting himself into.

"It's getting late," Kyle's voice said just as I opened my mouth to speak. His hand slid down to curl around my elbow, as if sending me a secret message.

The words stayed in my throat until I caught a glimpse of the time on the clock. 1:15 A.M. The words quickly dissolved when I acknowledged that this was the wrong time to continue the conversation, especially in the direction it was headed.

I leaned down to give Ryan what I hoped was a reassuring peck on the cheek. "I believe in you, Ryan," I told him because it was true and he ought to know. "We all do. And that's why I know you'll do the right thing, before you have to leave."

Ryan gave me a sheepish smile that confirmed he understood what I meant by "the right thing." Nonetheless, he said, "Thanks," and nodded his goodbye to Kyle as we walked out.

We were barely to the car when Kyle and I both turned to each other and asked, "Are you all right?"

A bittersweet smile broke out across my face as I let him wrap his arm around my shoulder. I was more concerned about him, though, than the tears that had found their way to the corners of my eyes on our way out. Nonetheless, I crossed my arms behind his neck so I could bury my face in the crook of his neck for a few deep breaths.

A few seconds in, those few deep breathes began to turn into deep heavy sobs. The reality of the entire conversation was catching up with me fast. My body began to shake and I tried to muffle my desperate gasps in Kyle's shoulder. Every tear I'd been holding back rushed out, soaking his shirt. I hadn't expected this but these were tears that had to be shed, clawing their way out of me.

Kyle knew well enough to just let me cry it out and he simply kept his arms around me and held me. It killed me that he was holding back his own feelings – that he had hid them for so long. Hid them from me.

And so I cried for both of us.

"I wish he'd told me," I forced out even though I wasn't sure I could speak coherently. "I wish you had told me. I wish both of you hadn't lied." I pulled myself out of his embrace to wipe away my own tears, which were getting slightly out of hand. "I wish he didn't have to leave."

Kyle reached his hand out toward me but I caught it inside my own when I saw the look in his eyes. He looked so broken. I could see the toll the past few months had taken on him, yet somehow he was still standing here, being strong enough for the both of us while all I did was cry.

That slowed my tears, for better or for worse. I held his hand in mine and pressed my lips against it.

"I hope you'll be okay," I mumbled into his skin, because I honestly hoped he would be.

"I will," he said, but his eyes were covered by his hair so I had no idea if he meant it. "At least...I'll have you."

It wasn't the same, but I gave him a sheepish smile as I let him go. "I'm glad I have you, too," I replied, but I wondered if that would be enough for him when he lost his best friend.

The silence between Kyle and I after we left Ryan's house was just as grueling as the one before. I kept my eyes locked on the all-too-familiar scenery outside my window while Kyle had set his eyes firmly on the road. I wasn't angry at him anymore - not in the least - but I still found it hard to get words past my throat when he asked, "Where to now?"

"Not home," I croaked out. Home meant being alone and I couldn't bear that tonight. At least not until I passed out from exhaustion.

Half-heartedly, I hoped for Kyle to suggest I come over to his place. Dozens of memories of nights spent passed out in the middle of his living room in front of the TV with Kyle as my pillow flashed through my eyes, simultaneously choking me up.

"Carrie's, then?" he asked instead.

Oh, God no.

"No, not there, either. Not tonight." I was being such a big help to him, huh? I had to wonder how he put up with me sometimes.

Oh, right. For a while, he hadn't.

"A couple of months? That's not just a break, Kyle! It's a break from me! I guess I'm just too big of a burden for you when you have the championship game coming up! Wouldn't you rather just get rid of me once and for all?"

The memory of that night came back with a throbbing headache. To fight it, I first blinked away the wetness from my eyes, then turned to Kyle with the only smile I could muster up. "Where do you want to go?"

Even I noticed that Kyle's eyebrows shot up in surprise at the question. He drove silently for the rest of the ride.

It was a stupid question to ask, really. I should have guessed that five minutes later we would be parked across from the bowling alley. The large "Crescenta Lanes" sign outside was off and the neon lights glowing across the front doors had dimmed hours ago.

I looked at Kyle to see him flashing half a grin at me. Behind the smile, though, I saw his eyes searching for my reaction.

The only emotion on my face was confusion. "It's late," I reminded him.

He tried to replicate my earlier "I-don't-give-a-damn" look but there was too much disappointment in his eyes. He let out a short breath, then reached out for my hand to give it an even shorter squeeze. "Come on," he said, eventually.

I forced myself out of his car and to my feet while he shuffled through the junk in the glove compartment. A minute later he dug out a single key, looking relieved, and stuffed it into his back pocket.

He was careful to take my hand before heading toward the bowling alley. I followed silently, knowing that key had to mean something I didn't know.

Instead of going up the stairs to the locked front doors of the alley like I had naively thought he would, he led me to a dark green - almost black in the poor lighting - gate at the back of the building. I didn't know if Kyle knew I could feel his heart thumping from the place where ours palms touched. Or if he knew I knew it was racing just as fast as mine.

He carefully reached over the gate - even he had to stand on the tip of his toes - and eased the doors open. They made a horrid squeaking sound that tensed Kyle even more but I didn't see why it mattered – ours was the only car in the entire parking lot. If that wasn't enough cause for suspicion, I didn't what was.

Past the gate was another door attached to the main building. As we eased our way there, Kyle reached into his back pocket to retrieve the key. He took a moment to press a finger to his lips at me, which I found completely unnecessary and rolled my eyes at.

Of course, the key fit perfectly into the door lock. What surprised me was Kyle's absolute disregard for the camera in the corner locked on the two of us. Once the door was open, Kyle murmured, "There's no tape in there."

That's when it finally hit me that Kyle and I were not only trespassing, but breaking and entering. Well, maybe not breaking, but the whole thing felt just as wrong.

Kyle wouldn't let me go of me as we moved farther into the building. The door led to a good-sized storage room, which led to another room with bowling balls stacked up to the ceiling on the walls. The key worked on every locked door we encountered until suddenly, we were standing right behind the front counter, overlooking the lanes.

Kyle let out a deep breath of relief that echoed throughout the empty lanes along with his footsteps. He swung his legs over the counter and helped me do the same. I didn't realize till then how I must have been cutting off the blood circulation in his arm, the way I'd latched on to it.

It was a big mistake letting it go. Within seconds, he had disappeared into the darkness that encased most of the building. Still too afraid to speak, I eased my way toward the middle of the alley to the top of the stairs that led down to the lanes. There was some moonlight shining through some invisible window on the ceiling.

I was just getting used to the sight - when was the last time I'd paid attention to the moon? It was full and radiant tonight - when, out of nowhere, a million neon lights flashed on simultaneously from every direction and knocked me right off my feet. Fortunately, I fell backwards on my butt, rather than forward, down the stairs. The dizziness was just as hard to brush off.

A hand – clearly Kyle's by the chills his touch sent up my spine - landed on my arm seconds later. I turned my head to his general direction but saw black spots in my vision rather than his flawless face. His words still rang through my ears, though, "Oh, crap, are you all right? Lexie? I'm sorry. That was a bone-headed move. Oh, crap." His other hand was on my cheek. Either his hand or my cheek was burning up.

I narrowed my eyes, hoping to regain my vision soon. "Dizzy," I mumbled, blinking a hundred times a second.

I let out a yelp when the ground suddenly disappeared from my under my feet. I was lifted up way too high for comfort, seeing as I was still blind, and I sensed myself being moved. "Put me down before I puke, please."

A second later, I was back on the cool marble counter, sitting up with my legs dangling off. Kyle was nowhere to be seen. Not like it mattered, anyway, though. The good thing was the black spots in my vision were slowly but surely disappearing. Kyle thrust a plastic cup in my hand filled with some light fluid - water, my mind registered later - that helped rid of the spots within seconds.

When my sight finally returned, all I saw were Kyle's ocean blue orbs staring into mine. My face flushed a dozen shades of red before I could stop.

"I'm fine," I forced out to his unconvinced eyes.

Kyle's fingers entwined through mine and I realized his hands weren't abnormally warm - mine were just freakishly cold, along with the rest of my body.

"I'm sorry," he repeated as I stared down at our hands. Only sitting on the counter was I finally at face level with Kyle, but now I couldn't meet his stare. "Do you want something to eat?"

I nodded my head once. I hadn't had any food since the barbecue that day and was genuinely starving. That might have had something to do with the black spots and headache earlier.

I plopped down off the counter with the help of Kyle's arm and followed closely next to him as he headed for the food court. Even though we were the only ones in the building, I felt like I was just waiting for the cops to bust in and arrest us.

"So, you broke into the bowling alley," I finally said, slowly examining the small food court in the side of the alley, even though I had spent a significant portion of my life here. Kyle loved bowling but this was a new level of obsession for him.

He was looking behind the counter for the key to unlock the churro machine. He lifted his head up long enough to cock an eyebrow. "We broke into the bowling alley." He disappeared behind the counter and found the right key seconds later. As he unloaded a pack of 3-feet long-churros, he said, "Murphy gave me the master key himself when I used to work here. He never asked for it back and I never remembered." He looked up at me with a sheepish grin. "He said he wouldn't mind if I brought someone here as long as I cleaned the place and locked up afterwards."

I lightly rolled my eyes at that - obviously Murphy adored Kyle too much - but then something else about his statement caught my attention. I turned to pretend I was admiring a painting of a flower on the wall as I asked, "So, who else have you brought here then?"

Silence. Not even the sound of churros being heated like my stomach was hoping.

Nope. Nothing.

I glanced over my shoulder to find him staring at me, wide-eyed.

Then: "Are you crazy, Lexie?"

I didn't appreciate that question one little bit. I pursed my lips tightly, immediately going on the defense. "It just looked like you knew what you were doing. Like you've done it before."

"And that's enough to imply that I cheated on you?"

His bluntness cut me like a knife. Remorse washed over me like a wave, making me feel like a complete idiot.

I turned my whole body to face him so he could see I meant it when I said, "I'm sorry. That was a stupid thing to say."

Kyle acknowledged me with a nod – he wouldn't even look at me – then continued with the churro business. I walked over to him, wanting to say something other than "I'm sorry" a million times over, but only watching him work instead.

Fifteen minutes later, Kyle had whipped up a pair of hot dogs, a basket of fries, and churros for dessert. Along with two VIP-only glass Cokes, it was a perfect midnight meal. For someone who could barely use a stove, Kyle had done a pretty amazing job.

The guilt was practically eating me alive.

I tried my hand at another 'I'm sorry' but Kyle only shrugged. We were back on the stairs above the lanes, sitting side-by-side, with only the French fries separating us.

Anxiety filled my stomach before I took a single bite, but I was able to finish every scrap of food on my plate. When Kyle offered me his churro, I politely shook my head, but my eyes were screaming out, "I've taken too much from you, already."

I escaped to the ladies room then to wash my hands but I stayed leaning against the sink another few minutes trying to think of ways to fix the damage my stupid mouth had done. Would he appreciate - or rather, accept? - the kiss I'd been wanting to give him since I'd regained my eyesight? Surely, he wouldn't reject it?

I decided against it. If he did reject it - and I wouldn't blame him if he did - the damage done would be too much to repair in one night.

With broken spirits, I dragged my feet back to alley. What I saw made my eyes light up and my knees go weak. Kyle was standing at the bottom of the stairs, smack-dab by the middle lane – which was impossible to get no matter what time of day – armed with a dozen blue-green metallic balls. My favorite kind.

His soft - almost shy? - smile when he saw me almost made me trip walking down the stairs.

Leave it up to Kyle to find the perfect way to not only make peace between us, but let me know he forgave me, too.

"You're too much," I told him, when what I really meant was, "You're too perfect - too good to me. Too good for me."

I watched over his shoulder as he put our names into the machine: 'Kyle' - because he knew I hated going first - and then 'Alexis.'

Kyle and Alexis.


Even when we came with other people, our names were always together on that screen. And they always would be, if I could help it.

I reached my hand out and placed it on his shoulder, against his neck. The back of my hand was right next to his vein and I felt the slight jump in his heartbeat. I smiled, and when he finally looked down at me, blue eyes sparkling, I kissed him on the cheek. Not just a peck, either, but a real, slow one that I cherished.

I was pleasantly surprised to find butterflies in my stomach afterwards.

"You're forgiven," Kyle decided, only encouraging the butterflies.

I smiled and gave him a pleased nod. Good. Now I wanted my real kiss, but I was still far too afraid to take that step. I still felt like we were walking on eggshells around each other.

He would have to make the first move for that kiss to happen.

I welcomed the butterflies, to be honest, now that I remembered just how good Kyle and I were together when we were both content. It was just like the old days. Yes, there had been a time when we were happily in love and not afraid to show it. I longed for those days back.

I watched Kyle as he contemplated on which ball to use for his first turn - as if it mattered. He would get a strike no matter what. He was that good. I couldn't help but notice the flex of his arm and back muscles when he lifted the ball. He had shed his jacket, leaving him with a plain white shirt on, which I didn't mind at all, though I usually preferred blue on him.

But even with the new muscles from training for the Championships, he was still my Kyle. Still as adorable as always. And huggable, of course.

I frowned as I pondered over that. Yes, we had embraced quite a lot of times since then but had I taken the time to notice if he was any different? Did he feel the same as I remembered?

I wasn't stupid. I waited until after he had sent the ball flying toward the pins before I pushed myself away from the table I was leaning on and headed toward him. Only, I hadn't expected to get there so fast, or for him to swing back around so abruptly. Or...well, you get the point.

"Oof," I let out, bringing a hand up to my head. Had it always hurt so much, colliding with him that hard?

Fortunately, his arms had caught me by the waist before I was sent flying to the floor with as much force as the bowling ball.

"Sorry," Kyle said, though it came out sounding more like a question.

I held up a finger to stop him and shook my head. "My fault," I stated. "I get to be sorry. So, sorry." Sort of. I didn't really mind the collision if it meant his arms would hold me that securely.

"Are you okay?"

I gazed up at Kyle's confused expression. He wasn't exactly sure how this had happened. It was sort of amusing to watch him try to figure it out, to be honest. I stood on the tips of my toes to glance over Kyle's shoulder at the lane. I looked back at him with a forced frown. "You got a strike," I informed with a roll of my eyes. "Go figure."

Kyle's arms tightened around me and he shoved his face into my hair, murmuring something about, "...my Alexis..." Out of nowhere, he left me a warm kiss on the neck. Shivers ran up and down my spine, heating up my entire body.

Then, a giggle escaped my mouth. Followed by a full-on laugh. The next thing I knew, I was having a laughing fit right there in Kyle's arms, the vibrations running through both our bodies. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his chest. He stared down at me first, even more perplexed than before, but soon he joined in, laughing at me more than with me. We must have been quite a sight, entangled in each other's arms, high off of pure happiness.

I half-expected Murphy to walk in then and catch us breaking a hundred different laws. But Murphy did not walk in. And Kyle and I laughed until we were sore. We collapsed on the stairs to catch our breaths and waited for our abdomens to stop burning.

"So Murphy told you you could bring anyone here whenever you wanted, eh?" I questioned with mock suspicion.

Kyle gave a nod. "He might have even mentioned you by name."

"And he won't be back till 7 in the morning?"


I raised an eyebrow. "So what exactly did you have in mind when you brought me here so late tonight, Henderson?"

It was amusing catching Kyle off guard for a few seconds before he smoothly played along. He leaned in till his lips were grazing my ear. "I don't think you really want to know, Harper."

I could hear my heart thumping behind my chest. I'm certain Kyle could hear it, too. If not, he saw the rate at which my face was flushing. I'd just been joking but if he had a serious answer for me, I wanted to hear it. "Tell me," I squeaked out.

"Well," he began, sliding his hands slightly up my waist till they were in position, "it went a little something like this–"

I yelped and tore myself away from him when his fingers brushed against those specific places on my waist. I couldn't laugh anymore, so I squealed as I jumped up and sprinted for the other end of the room. Kyle wasn't following me, though. Oh no, he was sprawled across the stairs, head thrown back, arms clutching his abdomen, letting out endless howls of laughter.

I blushed a deeper shade of red if that was possible, but I wasn't angry. Not really. I'd show him.

Kyle couldn't keep his eyes open long between laughs. So, he didn't see me march on over back, grab the first ball I could get my hands on, and send it hurling toward the pins. All he heard was the familiar sound of the ball making contact with the lane and he forced his eyes open, his laughter slowly dying out.

All he saw was me with my back to the lane, hands on my hips. "Take that," I said childishly, patiently waiting to hear the sweet sound of all 10 pins hitting the lane and scattering.

I waited. And waited. And the sound never came.

The look on Kyle's face confirmed my fear. "Sorry, babe, but the only thing that knocked over was the gutter."

I knew he was right but I turned around anyway to stare at my precious ball rolling away in the gutter. Well, damn. That hadn't gone how I planned.

I let out a huff of air as Kyle appeared behind me. He had the decency not to laugh that time, though I was the first to admit just how funny the entire scene had been.

He wrapped his arms around me from behind and I let my hands rest against them, both of us staring off at the stray ball. "It was probably a bad ball," he offered. I wasn't nearly as upset as he figured but I enjoyed seeing him like this more than I should have.

And so I scoffed. "Puh-lease. You obviously picked out the wrong type of balls. These aren't authentic metallic blue-green bowling balls." I swung around in his arms so I could be face-to-face with him. I narrowed my eyes. "Trying to pull a fast one over me, Henderson?"

His lips were already approaching my neck. "Forgive me," he mumbled. "I'll make up for it."

"You'd better." I reached down beside our legs and pulled up another bowling ball. I held it up in-between us. It was still my turn. "This one better be a strike."

And it was.

That's how the rest of the game went, until it was my absolute last chance to lose by less than 50 points. Naturally, the ball stopped halfway to the pins, right in the middle of the lane. Kyle went to retrieve it.

Maybe it was the way he had been trying so hard not to win, or the way he insisted on wrapping his arms around me and showing me the right way to throw the ball even after my 3rd consecutive gutter ball. Or maybe it was because his hair had grown longer and fell over his eyes in a way that all but stopped my heart altogether. But I think it was because when he stooped down the pick up the ball, there happened to be bright neon blue spotlights in every shade washing over him, turning his white-shirt tie-dye, and I just had to see how his eyes looked at that moment.

It probably wasn't the best idea embracing him from behind – the same way he'd done to me – while he was handling a 14lb bowling ball. He dropped the ball right back onto the lane with a crack, thank God saving his feet, but kept it from rolling away.

Then he glanced over his shoulder at me and asked, "What's this?"

I rested my head on his back. "This is thank you. For tonight. For this. For being here right now. Thank you, Kyle."

I let him go long enough for him to turn around. I let out a short, involuntary squeal when I caught a glimpse of his eyes. The spotlight was revolving now, only adding more magic to the scene, and the neon blue light entrapping us seemed to be made of the same color as Kyle's eyes.

I could only stare at him, mesmerized, until he kissed my forehead and said, "You don't have to thank me."

Just like that, I was snapped out of my trance and a frown appeared where he had kissed me. "I do," I insisted, adamantly. "I've been horrible to you for the past who-knows-how-many months, Kyle. You've apologized more than enough times and still I treat you like this. And you put up it and you don't say anything and then…and then you go do something like this and remind me why I love you so much. And I love you – I really do – but I don't know how to show it anymore, but you love me and you show it every moment of every day when–"

"Alexis, shut up," Kyle said, swiftly shutting me up, though I was having trouble taking even breaths anyway. "I understand."

I made a quiet "humph" sound and put my forehead on his chest. "That's another thing," I continued. "You understand me. But you never give up on me, no matter what I say to you." I lifted my head to look into his dazzling eyes. "You're too good to me, Kyle. I don't deser–."

Something flickered through Kyle's eyes too fast for me to identify. He pressed a finger up to my lips. "Shut up," he whispered, the blue in his eyes intensifying.

And like that, with me standing on the tips of my toes and Kyle cupping the back of my head with his hand, ours lips came together with the intensity of an electrical shock. A thrill ran through me, making my lips curve into a smile. I put my hands on his shoulders at first, but as the kiss deepened, I crossed them behind his neck. One of Kyle's hands was tracing the hem of my shirt, grazing bare skin every few seconds, while the other was on my cheek and kept my lips pressed against his.

As if anything could have separated them otherwise.

I began melting into Kyle and his touch burned intensely everywhere he made contact with my skin. I felt him leaning deeper into the kiss, too, turning my legs into Jell-O.

I'm not sure who pulled the other down, but the next thing I knew, we were both simultaneously easing down to the ground, right there in the middle of the lane. I landed firmly on my knees between Kyle's legs. His hand slid up the back of my shirt and I let out a quiet squeak at how warm his touch was against my icy skin.

Eventually, we had to put apart for air but I was on too much of a high to register much else other than the need to reduce the distance between Kyle and I. Our lips reconnected like magnets.

We stayed like that for an eternity, or at least until the sound of the bowling ball sliding into the gutter – but not rolling away – snapped us back to reality. I realized I was on the brink of passing out and the fact that my heart was beating a million times a second didn't help.

But I couldn't tear my eyes away from Kyle, who was just as out of breath. His hand still held my face and his short, uneven sighs grazed my cheeks. I wondered if he could tell how scared I was of what would happen next from the way he was gazing into my eyes, as my lips curved into a shy smile. I knew, just like his, my eyes were lit with excitement.

I parted my lips to speak but Kyle beat me to it. "I missed that," he breathed.

I shut my mouth and let my smile grow. He'd stolen my words. "Me, too."

Kyle leaned in again and I let him kiss me once more before twisting my body in his arms so I could rest my head inside the crook of his neck.

Kyle brushed my hair past my shoulder again and surprised me when his lips met with my neck. He left a trial of kisses down my neck to my collarbone and then back up while I focused on taming my heart. That was not an easy task when Kyle's every touch sent it racing. A few seconds in, he again whispered something along the lines of "…my Alexis…." I didn't know what he meant by it but I liked how it sounded.

Eventually, I had to distract myself from the thrill I got from Kyle's warms lips on my icy neck before I passed out right then and there. Unfortunately, the first thing my mind chose to remember was Ryan.

Carrie's face popped into my head alongside his. I saw her sitting by the pool with me – had that really been earlier today? – giving me that reluctant smile. I was amazed but relieved that she knew better to believe Ryan had cheated on her without questioning it.

I could only hope he would heed my warning and tell her the truth before he left. Maybe it wouldn't fix everything but nothing was worse than knowing Carrie hated him when he could be in the line of fire.

I let out a slow sigh when Kyle's lips met with my collarbone again. His hand was tracing the skin where my shirt rode up, forming little circles on my back with the tips of his fingers, leaving my entire body tingling. I was about to turn my head and force his lips back onto mine when another thought I didn't want popped into my mind: Chris

He and Carrie couldn't have been that serious in the three weeks since the birthday party but I'd gotten the vibe that there was potential for those two. Was there potential for them?

I didn't even want to think about that anymore. Everything was so much more complicated now that I knew the truth about Ryan's lie.

Not if Ryan tells Carrie the truth, they won't, my mind replied. And that was the truth. Carrie wasn't over Ryan yet – and she wouldn't be for a long time – but if Ryan told her the reason he lied to her, she would be more devastated than now.

Or would she be relieved? I tried to think of all the different ways she could react to the news, but when my mind came up blank, I just tried to look at Kyle.

His cerulean eyes met mine and he smiled, tucking a few strands of stray hair behind my ear. As he leaned into kiss me on the lips, I asked myself which would hurt more: him cheating on me or him joining the military and being shipped out a few months later, all without telling me.

I almost tore my lips away from Kyle's , tightening my eyes from the pain of the thought. Instead, I threw myself deeper into the kiss, tracing his jaw with the tips of my fingers. I never again wanted to forget the curve of his jaw or the softness of his full lips.

Neither, I thought sharply as my other hand clutched at a fistful of his hair. I want him right here with me – all mine and safe.

I pressed his lips firmly on mine with more force than before, but just the amount I felt was appropriate to let the whole world know he was mine. The thought of a bullet aimed at Kyle – my Kyle – was enough to make my heart stop. Along with the way I was currently entwined with Kyle, that was a dangerous combination.

By the time we parted, I had tears flowing down my face. Kyle didn't ask me if I was okay or even try to stop them; he just pulled me back into his arms and held me as close to him as I needed him to. I was gasping for breathes, trying to remind myself that he wasn't going anywhere.

Neither, I decided.

My tears were silent enough for my mind to continue churning out new thoughts, despite how I wished it would stop. But a part of me knew I had to if I was ever going to calm down.

And of all people, they returned back to Chris, which didn't help me get my tears under control whatsoever.

Chris deserved so much better than both Carrie and me. He deserved someone who didn't come with this much extra baggage. Someone who wasn't heart-broken or depressed or would be with him only because of someone else's mistake. Frankly – for lack of a better expression – Carrie and I were damaged goods.

I scoffed lightly from disbelief. First I used him to distract myself from both Kyle and Adam, and now Carrie would use him to keep from dealing with Ryan.

Unless Ryan told her the truth, in which case Ryan would break Carrie's heart all over again.

No, Chris deserved so much better than that.

This whole situation sucks, I thought with a groan. I felt Kyle's hand trace over my stomach, making it burst with fresh butterflies. I gave him a smile, but thinking about his kisses and what they meant was too much for my mind to handle at the moment.

I remembered everything Lena had said about Kyle and Chris and me, without any regard for the way any of us felt. I still had trouble believing how insensitive she had been.

I took a deep breath and held it in as long as I could.

She couldn't imagine me wanting anyone other than Kyle.

The thought made me turn to look at Kyle's flawless face with his azul orbs meeting mine at the same time. His lips lured me in for another kiss.

Except this time, I felt him murmuring something to me through the kiss.

"I love you."

My lips formed another smile against his before I pulled back the slightest bit. I waited for him to open his eyes before replying with, "I love you, too, Kyle. And I want to be with you."

His grin was impeccable. "Forever," he whispered against my cheek.

I wrapped both my arms around him. "And always."

I felt something between us then that I hadn't felt for a long time. Something I hadn't known if I would ever feel again.

It started in the deepest part of my heart, the part only Kyle could reach, and it spread at the speed of light throughout the rest of my body with every heartbeat, warming up my chilled body in a second. It flushed my face, made my vision blur until all I could see was the boy in front of me trying to give me a heart attack with every breath he took. When he kissed me, I knew he felt it, too.

I called it "love."

I wondered if I'd ever felt something this strong before. Surely, if I had, I never would've let go of him.

"What're you thinking about?"

I settled into his arms, ready for a long night with Kyle. "I'm thinking about how much I missed being in love with you. And that maybe I never fell out of love…I just needed to be reminded," I confessed, my eyes flickering shut. "And that maybe Lena was right about how I could only love you, and that Chris will never change that. And I'm hoping someday they'll both get to feel the way we do but honestly, it's hard to imagine anyone else feeling this way."

"Chris? Lena?"

My eyes fluttered open at the catch in Kyle's voice. That hadn't been the part I was hoping he would latch onto.

"Yeah," I said easily. "Except for Ryan and Carrie. I always thought they were the smart ones – the ones you knew would make it through the good and the bad. Like us. But…I guess you can never know."

Kyle was staring at me, unblinking. "Ryan? Carrie?"

"Yes, our Ryan and Carrie," I said. "The ones we all thought would grow old together?" I sighed lightly. "They are perfect for each other. Absolutely perfect."

Kyle still stared at me as if he couldn't understand a word I was saying. "And that's who you've been thinking about since we got here?" he asked with a hint of incredulity in his tone. "Ryan and Carrie?"

A confused frown found its way onto my face. "Not since we got here. Only a few minutes," I guesstimated. "Lena, too. Mostly what she said about me and Chris. I can't believe how cold she was. But it makes sense now, the way I used Chris as an excuse not to be with you." I brought my arms around his neck again and smiled at him through my lashes. "Big mistake."

Kyle's arms, in turn, fell from my waist. "Lena," he repeated, then scoffed, "And Chris."

"Kyle, what's-"

I never had a chance to finish my question. Kyle had already slid out from under my grasp and was almost to his feet. I found myself sitting on the cold, slippery floor rather than Kyle's lap and tried to make sense of what had happened to make that happened so quickly.

Kyle was almost out of reach when I lunged forward and grabbed his hand. "Kyle!" I exclaimed. "What's wrong?"

Kyle looked back at me with that same disbelief on his face. "Did I pass through your mind for even a second there, Alexis?" he asked, narrowing his eyes just the slightest bit in question.

I didn't understand what he was asking but I sensed he was about to leave me if I answered wrong. And that was a something I couldn't let happen.

"Of course!" I replied. "More than anyone else!"

All of a sudden, Kyle was down on one knee, gazing into my eyes with the same intensity he had been only seconds ago but the love in them was hard to find now. His hand took my chin and when he pressed his lips on mine, I put everything I had in me at the moment into that kiss - especially the newfound love. I let one of my hands get lost in his hair, while the other grazed his jaw.

Once it was over and we both were out of breath, Kyle only cursed under his breath. "Damn it, Alexis," he said louder to me.

"What's wrong?" I asked as my frown was replaced by a look of pure terror. If that had disappointed him, nothing could fix this.

"How can you kiss me like that every time if you're not even thinking about me?" he asked. It seemed more like he was directing the question to himself, but once enough time had gone by, I took a shot at it.

"What're you talking about? You're the only one I've-"

He cut me off again. "No, you've been thinking about everyone but me," he countered, making a move to stand up again. He sighed, his disappointment in me as clear at the moon that night. "I understood it at first, Alexis, but come on - I kissed you for a good twenty minutes there and you're more worried about Travis and Ryan and Carrie and whoever the hell else you're thinking about."

He was standing up now and there was no way to reach his hand. And so, I jumped to my feet just as fast as he had, refusing to let him get away again. I took a step toward him and warily took his hand to hold between both of mine. "I wasn't more worried about it," I argued. And to no avail, by the way Kyle was staring at me with contempt. Where had all the love gone? "You're my first and last thought, Kyle."

"But I'm nowhere in between," he said. "You don't have the time - or the decency - to think about me when I'm kissing you! Damn it, Alexis, what am I supposed to think?"

The only thing worse than having Kyle yell at me was knowing what he said was right. Had I not been avoiding thinking about him and distracting myself from his heart-wrenching kisses when I should have been embracing them? I didn't want to think about what his kisses meant and just how real my feelings were, and so I thought instead about trivial things like Ryan and Carrie.

And now, when Kyle called me out on it, I had the audacity to want to apologize. I'd been apologizing all night. Apologizing wouldn't cut it anymore.

I opened my mouth to try again anyway but all of a sudden, Kyle pulled his hand out of mine and took off for the exit. Halfway there, he realized his mistake and headed for the door we had snuck in from. It didn't occur to me he was leaving until he slammed the door shut behind him, leaving me alone in the blinding lights of the bowling alley.

A lump began rising in my throat and along with it some bile. I sunk down into the uncomfortable plastic seats and hugged my knees to my chest, put my head in my arms. This, there was no doubt, was all my fault.

I didn't even have it in me to scold myself for how cruel I'd been. Every kiss on my neck, every graze of his fingers against my skin - why had I distanced myself from him? I wanted to be here with him completely - give him my 100%. Instead, I gave him less than half when he was here. But when he was leaving...that's when I gave him my all. When he was almost gone.

I didn't want him to leave me. I didn't want to be alone.

But now, thanks to no one but my stupid self, alone was exactly what I was.

The tears that flooded my eyes were anger tears and that's why I didn't mind. My shoulders shook as my face drowned in the river flowing down my cheeks. I forced myself to my feet, no doubt looking for an outlet for my emotions. The bowling balls were the closest to me and before I knew it, I was sending one after the other hurling down the lane, three per lane. A new game started and I never paused, hurling those balls until my hair stuck to my face, my breathing became unbearably ragged, and the weight of a bowling ball finally dragged me down to my knees.

You forgive him. You do. Now act like it. Tell him this isn't his fault anymore.

I almost pulled myself back up to my feet but something else stopped me.

Forgive...and forget. I forgave, but I'll never forget. I can't forget.

And that's what's holding me back. It's what will hold me back for the rest of my life. "Love with all your heart." I'll love him, I swear I will. But I'll never forget what he did to me.

I can't forget, but…I shouldn't let that keep me from being happy.

I sat there until the well ran dry, only after which I began to wonder where Kyle had gone. I figured the bowling part of our stay was over so I returned all of the balls to where they belonged, just to keep myself busy. But my heart thumped every time I remembered the sight of Kyle standing by the lanes, rows of blue-green metallic bowling balls next to him.

Then I felt sick to my stomach because of how I'd treated him only an hour later and the sound of him slamming the door when he stormed out echoed inside my head.

I did everything except turn out the lights before setting out to find Kyle. It didn't prove to be very difficult because I found him leaning against a stack of boxes in the small storage room we'd passed earlier. He didn't meet my eyes when I entered and asked rather gruffly, "Ready?"

I hadn't been expecting him to say anything at all but when I thought about his question, I had to answer with "No."

As if he hadn't heard me at all, he breezed past me back in the bowling alley. I didn't follow him but I listened to the sound of his bowling shoes, then his sneakers walking around, until the entire place went even darker than when we'd arrived.

Kyle reentered the storage room, put his hand on my elbow to lead me outside into the cool March night air. The moment we were out, his hand dropped back by his side and he set off for his car, but I noticed the hesitation in his steps.

"Stop!" I called out, standing firmly in place whereas my voice shook.

He did, but he wouldn't turn around. I didn't blame him.

I went to stand next to him, instead, but kept a comfortable distance between us for both our sakes. He had his hands shoved deep into his pockets whereas I blew on my own to defrost my fingertips. It wasn't working, so I put on a brave face when Kyle glanced my way and then dug deep into my own jeans.

We stood there for a good five minutes at least. Kyle had his sight set on the lone car parked in the lot but he didn't make any movement toward it. It was warm in his car, I bet.

We both knew it was too late to stay at the alley, but this wasn't the time to go home either. We'd taken two steps forward tonight, then four steps back. Even breaking even, I don't think I could have handled.

No, something had to give tonight.

And so, for the first time since Kyle had ripped my heart straight out of my chest, I didn't hesitate to tell him just how I felt.

"It's not fair," I began with, barely getting my voice over a whisper. I turned my body to face him just the slightest bit but his eyes wouldn't meet mine. I kept mine locked on his for the moment when they would. "What you did. To me. The way it affected me. And the way I treated you even when I believed you were sorry. But especially, the way I treat you now."

That last part was enough to make his gorgeous ocean blue orbs flicker to me. Unfortunately, I was the one who gave in and dropped my eyes instead, focusing on a large crack in the asphalt between us. This time, when I saw the distance between his shoes and mine, all I wanted was to close the gap.

"You're like an open door that's always there," I continued. "I know the way I treat you isn't fair. I know you're sorry – I know it and I believe it and I see it when you look at me and I feel it when you kiss me. And I've forgiven you, Kyle. I forgave you a long time ago. But…it's hard to forget, because I remember it – I remember crying and hating you and missing you with every breath…" I let my voice trail off because I was beginning to feel slightly delirious, but I didn't let that stop me from what I was trying to say. "But in the end, I still love you and you still love me."

I took a step toward him and sucked up enough courage to take his hand.

"You asked me what you're supposed to believe," I reminded as my lips curled into a smile. "You're supposed to believe me when I tell you I love you."

That seemed to do the trick – or at least part of the trick – because when Kyle removed his hand from inside mine, he repositioned it on my cheek. "I know that," he said, his voice back down close to a whisper, "and I believe you." He looked as if he was contemplating either putting his arms around me or pushing me away. I tried to help by taking a step closer to him but all he did was shake his head slowly. "But we're never on the same page, Alexis. I'm trying to fix what I broke but you're more concerned about if Ryan and Carrie will be okay. What about us? Are we going to be okay?"

He dropped his hand from my cheek with a sigh, but instead of backing away like I thought he would, he tilted his head down so it would rest against mine. His sudden change in mood almost made me lose consciousness for a moment. "You said you thought they would grow old together," he continued. "I thought we would grow old together. You thought so, too. What changed? Is it because of what I did? Because I'll apologize for the next fifty years if it means keeping you."

He was right. Once, I, too, imagined Kyle and I making it through the good and the bad and growing old together. When did that change? I asked myself, but I already knew the answer: it changed when everything else changed – when Kyle broke up with me.

But…will that ever change? Am I going to be doing this forever - stopping myself from thinking about Kyle because it hurts too much? For the next fifty years?

"Fifty years, huh?" I breathed, looking at him through my lashes. "That's a long time." I didn't realize Kyle's hand was on the small of my back and the action made me smile. "In fifty years, we'll be sixty-seven." The thought of Kyle and I growing old and making it through the good and the bad for that long made my light smile spread across my face. "I like that."

"Do you want that?"

I didn't even hesitate. I rested one hand on his chest as if picking him. "I want that with you."

"Do you?" A smile played on his lips.

"You know what I did tonight?" I asked, figuring if this didn't prove how much I loved him, nothing would. "Adam…" Kyle's smile twisted into a frown like I expected. I made a point to ignore it. "Adam told me he loved me…but you know what? I didn't tell him the same." Kyle just looked confused now. "Did you think I would?" I asked, then let out a laugh. "Kyle, there is a huge difference between what I feel for you and what I felt for Adam. There's really…no comparison. I know I love you. It's a fact. It's how you make me feel and the things you do for me and the things I want to do with you. It's the truth."

Somehow, that still wasn't enough. "I need to know," he said, eyes suddenly serious. "Did I almost lose you to him?"

I rolled my eyes, partly because I didn't want to think about the question. It was all in the past now and I knew I was here to stay. "There was never even any competition, Kyle. It was always you."

"I don't believe that," he replied. His voice was even but I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted a real answer. "I caught you looking at him a few times."

My face flushed a bit as if I'd just been caught in the act. I didn't know what to say to that because, even though it was now officially in the past, I couldn't pretend like I was comfortable talking to Kyle about Adam. It was as if they'd existed in two different worlds all this time, colliding once on the night of the party and then again tonight.

"We don't have to talk about that," I insisted.

"We need to, Alexis."

"It's in the past."

It was the patience in his voice that undid me. "No!" I caved. "No, you never lost me, Kyle! I…I guess he was different and I needed 'different' after everything with you. But if I learned anything through all of it, it's how much I love you and that there isn't anything – or anyone – that can keep us apart."

"I need you, Kyle," I continued. "I've always known that. But more than that…I want you. I want to be with you." The words felt so good to say, I couldn't help laughing as I wrapped my arms around his neck.

My laugh was cut short by a sudden and intense kiss, turning my euphoria into pure lust – or more likely, love.

Kyle's hands slid to my waist, tugging me closer with every wave of the kiss. My lips parted and my back arched and I crossed my own hands behind him and breathed in his familiar, serene scent. I swear I could hear his rhythmic heartbeat through the short distance between us. I entangled my hands in his hair and felt him softly rubbing circles on the small of my back.

We kissed as if for the first time in years. It might as well have been.

Every breath we took in together and let out filled me with another burst of adrenaline, racing through my body, making me shiver. But nothing could do that quite so well as when he pulled away and said, "That's all I wanted to hear. It's all I needed to know. I want you, Alexis."

(A/N) Explanation for absence (really just an apology) coming soon!

~ DolphinWriter88