Deleted Chapter #2

In the original version of Under the Lights, there were 3 POVs – Liam had a storyline as well. But Josh and Vanessa’s kept intertwining, and his kept going off in another direction, so I pulled it out. However, I promised I’d reveal some of the deleted scenes at some point, so, voila! The original chapter 6.

Chapter Six

Liam

“I still can’t believe I’m leaving,” Ally murmurs as I wrap my arms around her waist from behind and rest my chin on her head, both of us watching the sun sink below the Pacific from the edge of Josh’s backyard. “New York City’s got a lot of things, but it doesn’t have the ocean, and it definitely doesn’t have Malibu sunsets.” She reaches up and strokes my jaw. “Doesn’t have amazing boyfriends who throw fantastic parties, either.”

“I can’t really take credit for this, as I’m sure you can guess.”

She laughs. “No, but I’m guessing the massive display of French macarons was your doing, among other things. I love that there are stamps of you and Van all over this crazy thing.”

Seul le meillure pour ma petite amie.”

She shivers in my arms, despite the lack of breeze floating over the water. “God, I can’t believe how good you’ve gotten at French.”

“I’ve had an excellent tutor,” I remind her, dropping a kiss in her hair. It smells like the salt air mixed with coconut shampoo, and my gut twists when I realize it’ll be months at best before I smell that combination again. “So, are you having fun?”

“Mmmhmm.” She inhales deeply; I can feel her trying to imprint the sights, sounds, and smells of the beach to memory. It’s a relief to see her like this. I swear, sometimes I worry she’ll run off without looking back. “It was nice of everyone to do this. I’m gonna miss everyone.”

“We’re gonna miss you too, Al.” Understatement of the fucking century, but I’m trying to force myself to nut up.

“Yeah?” She turns in my arms, her gray eyes shining a little, and I wonder if she really doesn’t know that.

I don’t answer; I’m afraid of what I’ll say if I do. Instead, I bend down and kiss her soft, familiar lips. She tastes like champagne and buttercream, sweet and addictive, and I can’t get enough. I kiss so many girls, for the show, for movies, for ads, but only one feels, tastes, smells this perfect. Only one feels like anything to me at all.

And she’s leaving, and I’ll be here, still kissing, always kissing, but never the one I want to be.

“You okay?” she asks softly, brushing my hair back from my forehead. They want it long for the show, and while it’s not my preference, when she touches it like that, it’s hard to mind. “You seem a little…elsewhere.”

“I’m here,” I promise, kissing her forehead. “Trust me when I say there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Except maybe alone with you in my apartment.”

She grins and snuggles closer. “I think that can probably be arranged later—”

“Hey, lovebirds—this isn’t a rom-com,” Josh calls out from the party. “Stop hogging the guest of honor, Holloway.”

I roll my eyes and debate just running off with Ally down the sand, but she laughs and tugs me toward the crowd. “Come on. He got Columbia-blue Christmas lights for the palm trees. The least I can do is have a drink with him.”

God, I hate Josh sometimes. But I let her pull me, and we take shots with Josh, some of the guys, and a few of the Daylights Falls cast and crew. “Where’s Van?” she asks, but Josh just shrugs, and then we clink glasses and chug.

“Hey, Holloway—you ready for tomorrow?” asks Royce. “Let’s see those abs, bro.”

I cringe as Ally turns to me with confused surprise. She knows about the callback, of course, but I left the embarrassing ab display out of the story of meeting Scott Lassiter. The last thing I need my soon-to-be Ivy League girlfriend thinking about when she meets a bunch of freak-genius boys is that I’m basically a hooker. “There’s gonna be an ab showing?” she asks mock-innocently, fluttering her eyelashes.

Oh good, now I’m officially a joke. “Bitter much?” I snap at Royce. “Sorry you must be at least this tall to portray an adult in a movie now.”

“Burrrrn.” Josh cracks up and slaps me five while Royce gives me the finger. “Asshole, you’re so jealous.”

“Whatever. There’s no way you’re doing this movie even if you get the part,” says Tosh, grabbing another shot as one of the burlesque waitresses circles slowly around us with a tray. “Your show’s not gonna let you. Right, Cowan?”

Jamal raises his hands in the air. “I don’t even know what y’all are talking about. What movie?”

“Lassiter’s Iraq movie.” I take a shot too, and offer one to Ally, who shakes her head. “I auditioned a couple of weeks ago. Callback’s in three days.”

Ally squeezes my hand, and again my gut clenches, remembering there’s no going to her house after it; she won’t be there. I squeeze back with one hand, toss the shot back with the other.

“Oh, man, you got an audition for that? My agent tried his balls off, but no luck. They’ve already got a black guy, apparently.” Jamal rolls his eyes and takes another shot too.

“We ran into him at a club one night. Pure dumb luck.”

“And abs,” Tosh says with a stupid grin. “Don’t forget the abs.”

I’m about to tell him to shut up when Ally’s free hand slides over said abs, warming my skin through the thin fabric of my shirt. “I could never. Trust me,” she says, cutting me off, and I have to kiss her again. Champagne, buttercream, and vodka. Perfect.

“You guys are the worst,” Royce says sourly. “I’m going to find Bridgid.”

“For the millionth time, Royce,” says Josh, “Bridgid does not like dudes.”

“Who gives a shit? She’s wearing a bikini.” Royce disappears, and I think a few other guys too, but I’m not really paying much attention. I’m the one with the guest of honor, and judging by the way she’s kissing me back right now, I think she’s pretty happy with the party’s entertainment.

 

Despite the fact that I’ve been waiting for this part all night, it feels like the end of the party comes all too soon. Not that I’m not dying to take Ally back to my place and give her my present, but now the last goodbye is really here, and I’m not at all ready.

We say goodbye to Josh and everyone else and get in the limo I hired to take us back to LA, since we’ve definitely both drunk too much to drive. I don’t feel drunk, though—just a light buzz that’s mostly overshadowed by a feeling of pressure that this has to be a perfect night. As she stretches out on one of the long seats, curling up with her head in my lap, I can’t help thinking so far, so good.

“Just a little nap and I’ll be good by the time we get to your apartment,” she says into a yawn, one of her hands curling into my shirt as if it’s a security blanket. “I swear.”

I laugh, stroking her hair. “It’s fine. Sleep. We can just sleep when we get home, too. No pressure.”

“Of course there’s pressure,” she murmurs into my shirt, already drifting. “It’s our last night.”

I squeeze my eyes shut as if it’ll combat the flash of pain in my chest in her words. It doesn’t. “It’s just our last night here,” I say, hoping to convince myself as well as her. “We’ll have plenty more, Al.” I think of the present burning a hole in my safe and wonder if she’ll like it as much as I hope she will. “Just sleep.”

But she already is.

I try to nap too, but it doesn’t work. My mind is racing. I’ll be here in the setting of our relationship, but what’s gonna happen when she’s out there? When she meets new guys, and falls in love with New York, and realizes it’s where she wants to be? How am I supposed to compete with guys on her intellectual level, with goals of college and becoming lawyers or doctors rather than just another tool who works out three hours a day and makes his money pretending to be sixteen when he’s just turned twenty?

I can’t compete with her new life. I always knew I wouldn’t be able to. But I thought maybe, if she stayed here for the last year, she’d change her mind about wanting to go. Maybe realize that she’d be just as happy—more—if she went to UCLA instead.

But it never even came up, and I could never bring myself to ask.

It’s a full half hour of self-torture before we arrive at my complex, and I watch as Ally slowly stirs, has a brief few moments of disorientation, and then sees me there and smiles, sleepy and relieved. Like she just realized she was exactly where she wanted to be. We kiss lightly. Then again, a little less so. And then again, and again, until we’re practically wrestling with the limo door in our rush to get upstairs.

We don’t even make it to the bed, and I’m laughing as I fall off the couch and onto the floor afterward. Ally looks down at me with twinkling silvery eyes and a devilish grin on her face, her body wrapped in my bright-red throw blanket. “Told you I just needed a nap,” she says smugly, and I laugh again.

“Not bad for our last run.” I sit up and find my boxers on the floor, pull them on. “Or one of our last, if you’re feeling as ambitious as I am.”

Just like that, her face grows serious, but she doesn’t say a word.

“Al, I was kidding.”

But she won’t meet my eyes now, and whatever’s changed in the last minute, it’s completely over my head.

“Ally. Please talk to me.”

She takes a deep breath and forces her gaze to mine. “Do you want to see other people?” she asks. “While I’m away, I mean?”

I’d been so happy and warm just a minute ago, but now an icy dagger is slowly penetrating my chest, clogging my throat. “Do you?” I manage, though I really don’t want her answer. Not if it’s what I’m suddenly afraid it will be. I’ve heard the “I want to be free to explore things in college” speech on TV and in movies—hell, I’m sure I’ll be giving one on Daylight Falls next season—but the thought of hearing it now….

“I asked you first.”

“Okay, well, my answer is no, I absolutely fucking don’t.” I hiss in a breath through my teeth, steeling myself. “But since you’re asking, I’m guessing you do.”

She laughs, and it sounds…relieved? “God, no, not even a little. I just keep getting this…vibe from you. I’m trying not to be insecure, but—”

“Well, I’m trying not to be a clingy, controlling asshole. So maybe we’re both trying too hard.”

“Can’t argue with that.” She reaches out her hand for mine and pulls me back on the couch, making room for both of us to lie down, and covering us both with the blanket. “Maybe we should both just get what we’re thinking out of our systems. Deal?”

“Deal.”

“You first,” she says with a smile.

I take a deep breath, and force myself to be honest. “I’m so, so proud of you. You know that, right?” She nods. “But it hurts my heart every damn time I think about you going. I know how much you still hate this life, and I think as you soon as you touch down in New York, and start your new one, you’re going to realize I’m part of what you’re dying to leave behind.”

“Holy crap, Liam—”

“I’m not proud of it,” I grumble. “And I’m not proud of how jealous I am of all the guys who’ll be at school with you, who are as smart as you, while I’m here making a career out of letting people ogle my body.”

“Hey,” she says gently, her cool hands wrapping themselves around my rib cage, “I love this body. But you are so much more than it, and I promise you, I see it every day. And directors do too. You were amazing in Jim’s movie, and you’re going to get this Lassiter role and be amazing in it too. You can be both. You are both. Hell, look at Brad Pitt.”

“Do I have to?”

She laughs. “Yes. How many people thought he was gonna be just a body after Thelma & Louise? And after Snatch, who could possibly deny he’s more than just a six-pack? I swear that’s gonna be you, Liam. I know it with every bone in my body.”

She says it like she means it, and I know she does. I curl my arms around her, pulling her close under the blanket. “Your turn, Al.”

She closes her eyes and scrunches up into the crook of my arm, as if she can disappear for a minute while she speaks her mind. “There is such a huge part of me that doesn’t want to go,” she admits. “But last year, that was because of you and Van and my family. And now, it’s just you. I love them, of course, but I feel ready to leave everything else. And it scares me how much I still don’t want to get on that plane because I don’t know what we’ll be when we’re apart.

“When you travel without me, I hate not falling asleep together, even if it’s just on the phone. And now that’s gonna be our new normal. And even though I trust you with all my heart… this is Hollywood. You’re surrounded every day by girls—and guys—who would gladly crawl over my dead body to get you, and it’s hard enough to compete now—”

“Ally.” I kiss the top of her head. “There is no competition. I’m in love with you. There can’t be a ‘you’ versus ‘them’ when you are my heart and they’re…an amorphous blob.”

I can feel her lips curving against my chest. “You used the word amorphous. If that’s not intellectual, I don’t know what is.”

“So, I think what we’ve learned tonight is that I love you, and you love me, and we make each other happy, and we both want to stay together, yes?”

Yes.”

“And that we’ll talk and see each other as often as possible, and trust each other, and not see other people.”

“Correct.”

“Hmm. Interesting. I think this has been a good talk, but we may have to have some sort of all-night summit, just to finalize some things.”

“Euphemisms are really not your strong suit.”

“You might be right,” I concede. I pull her up against me and press my mouth to hers, kissing her hungrily until she whimpers, and then I pull back. “How’s my kissing?”

“Oh God. So good.”

“Remember that when you’re sitting in a classroom three thousand miles away.”

“Keep doing that, and I’m not even gonna remember my own name.”

I grin. “I’ll take it.” Then I slide off the bed and scoop her up into my arms, blanket and all, laughing when she shrieks in surprise.

“What are you doing?” she demands.

“Practicing my soldier carry for my callback,” I tell her, bringing her into the bedroom and depositing her on the bed. Then I walk over to the safe, punch in the combination, and take out the box. “Plus, one more little thing.”

Her eyes widen as I walk back to the bed with her gift in hand. “Liam, you really didn’t have to get me anything.”

“I really wanted to. Trust me,” I say, handing it over. “Sorry, it’s not returnable, so I hope you like it.”

She removes the lid cautiously, as if the box itself is precious, then reaches inside and lifts it out.

I watch with nervous anticipation as she turns it over in her hands, reading the inscription first, as I knew she would. “Tu as mon coeur,” she murmurs, sliding her thumb along the edges of the heart-shaped charm with one hand while her other moves to cover her actual heart. Then her gaze shifts to the other charm, an Eiffel Tower studded in canary diamonds to resemble the way it looks lit up at night.

“Oh, Liam,” she breathes, her eyes filling with tears. “Jesus Christ.”

“I thought it was cool,” I say sheepishly, because now I wonder if it was stupid, if it looks like a shiny tourist trinket or something. Or maybe it’s cheesy. “I like that the tower looks like an A, for Ally, and—”

She yanks my mouth down to hers, cutting me off completely. Her kiss is so fierce I feel it traveling through my body, buzzing through my limbs. After a minute I realize my face is wet; tears are streaking from her eyes down between our cheeks. I can taste the salt. We move back on the bed and remove the blanket, and I shove my boxers back to the floor. The keychain remains clasped in her fist as I kiss down her throat, her collarbone, everywhere I can possibly reach.

I commit every curve to memory as I kiss and touch and tell myself that I’ll visit soon, that this is only the last time here for a while and the last time, period. But there’s no point in pep talks. Our mouths and hands and hips and cries show all the desperation we’re not putting into words.

It’s only afterward, as we’re both falling asleep, wrapped around each other, that I realize I never actually gave her the rest of her present—the keys for the chain.

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