Riley sat on the edge of the bed twisting the diamond engagement ring on her finger. She'd worn it nearly a year and still wasn't used to the way it caught the lamplight from their bedside table at night or the weight it added to her hand. She peered at the golden band with its antique setting and flawless stone. The ring wasn't the problem. It was simple and elegant. Beautiful. Out of every ring in the world it was the exact one she would have chosen for herself.

Lucas wasn't the problem either. He was strong and passionate, kind and gentle, ambitious and motivated, and being one of the most gorgeous men God had ever placed on earth didn't exactly hurt either. He was every woman's walking, talking fantasy, and Riley had been drawn to him from the moment she'd first laid eyes on him.

Even before she understood love or aspired to it, she had stumbled onto her future happily ever after. Though it hadn't always been a fairytale. It had been a long hard road at times, but even when she had lost faith, Lucas never had. In all their years together his love had been steadfast, which only strengthened her own in return.

The ring made another rotation as her eyes wandered over toward the clock.

He'd be home soon.

Five years earlier…

Riley danced from one side of her bedroom to the other, depositing random items into boxes as she went. Graduation had finally passed and now the countdown was on. Only two more days remained before she took that first step into the rest of her life. Fortunately, she wouldn't be alone.

A smile crept across her face as she thought of Lucas. She twirled again absentmindedly, this time landing right in someone's arms. The brunette all but leapt from her skin as his hands instinctively flew upward.

"I'm sorry Riles, I didn't mean to scare you."

She quickly recovered, pulling him in for a "proper greeting" kiss.

"So how long were you standing there? She asked, her arms still hooked around his neck.

"Long enough to realize I'm the luckiest guy in the entire world."

His eyes beamed with so much love it made her heart flutter before traveling across the room of boxes.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked, giving her one last chance to back out.

She angled her head to the side, studying the features of his face.

"Do you not want me to?"

His grip around her waist tightened as he looked deep into those beautiful brown eyes, searching them for any sign fear or doubt.

"Of course, I want you with me. There's nothing I want more, but you're giving up an awful lot. I just want you to be absolutely certain this is what you want," he spoke softly, brushing her hair behind an ear. "I don't want you to regret this someday."

His concern was truly touching and it only cemented her decision. She could work for a year until the out of state fee was waved and then go to school. She could come back to visit her family and friends. There was nothing she could do in New York she couldn't do in Texas, but there was something she could do in Texas she couldn't do anywhere else in the world right now and that was to be with Lucas.

She smiled, taking his face between her hands.

"I love you for worrying about me, but you really don't have to. You are one hundred percent worth it and I could never ever regret being with you." She sealed her promise with another enthusiastic kiss.

Riley fought the urge to cry, determined not to greet him with tears.

'I should be happy," she scolded herself internally.

After being gone an entire week she should've been excited to see him again, to have more than a voice or a picture to hold onto, but she wasn't. Not because she hadn't longed for him during her absence. She had. She'd missed everything about him; his touch, his smile, the color of his eyes, the scent of his body wash. He'd become such a massive part of her life…the most significant piece of the whole puzzle.

Which was exactly the problem.

Lucas's favorite part of the day for the last two years had been coming home to his fiancée. He'd often arrived to find her by the door waiting for him. The first few months she'd dedicated herself to decorating their new home together. Once that task was done she'd committed herself to learning to cook and so he'd find her in the kitchen putting finishing touches on their supper for the evening. Later on, the dinner table had become her favorite place to prepare for school registration. She'd spent months at that table going over material for a test she'd never taken.

The last week without her had been torture and all he had wanted was to hurry home to her. Only now that he was there, it was a sickening silence greeting him in Riley's place. He found her alone in their bedroom, lost in her own thoughts, so lost she hadn't even heard him come in.

Gently, he tapped his knuckles against the door, alerting her to his presence.

His heart sank as she offered him a half-hearted smile.

She looked over at him, her heart near to bursting with devotion. There weren't enough words in the English vocabulary to describe her love for the man standing before her or her wonder at how the universe had somehow deemed her worthy of him. She'd spent the last few hours combing over those words, carefully searching for the right ones to say, but as she opened her mouth, they fled.

"Hi," she mumbled, avoiding his gaze.

He forced a grin, crossing the room to her side.

"Hey," he took her by the chin and guiding her eyes toward his own.

The two sat silently, Lucas watching her emotions flicker in those dark orbs sparkling with unshed tears.

From the moment she had fallen onto his lap in the subway he'd had a way of seeing through her, down into her. At first, she had found it unnerving, but over the years it had become comfortable and familiar. It was nice having someone who could make sense of herself even when she couldn't…but not this time. She'd have given anything to be able to hide her feelings from him in that moment.

The pain hiding there made him ache. If only she would tell him what was wrong, he'd move heaven and hell fix it for her. Finally, she could hold back no longer, collapsing against him, sobbing into his arms.

He did his best to comfort her, stroking her back, whispering how he would make everything okay. She knew how much he meant those words, and yet they brought her no joy. How could they, when he couldn't keep the promises he was making? Only she could make this right, and she'd surely have to break both their hearts to do so.

"I'm sorry…" she sniffled, daring to meet his emerald orbs.

The blonde shook his head with an amused smirk. He probably assumed she was apologizing for being upset. Knowing Lucas, he'd find that endearing. He didn't realize her agony was one they would share momentarily. If she could ever get the words out…

"I'm sorry Lucas," she tried again, "I really thought I could do this…"

She'd sworn no regrets, and she'd meant it. Even now, she couldn't find it in her heart to wish anything that would take her away from him sooner. True, she might have been able to avoid this gnawing at her soul, but she doubted any alternate course could have made her happy, if he wasn't in it.

A fear he wouldn't name flooded his senses as he hung on those words. He'd always feared this might happen. Despite her protests, he'd seen the distance chipping away at her each time they visited the city. She missed her home and those she loved there terribly. And though she'd never admit it, some part of him had always known he was only one person and couldn't possibly make up for all she had sacrificed.

Then he noticed her suitcase in the corner-a sickening sucker punch to his gut. She was leaving him. Maybe not that night or the next day, but she already had one foot out the door.

This time when he looked back at her, his anguish mirrored her own.

"What did I do wrong?" he asked dumbfounded.

The brunette shook her head, fighting a fresh round of tears.

"Nothing, okay, you did nothing wrong. You have been everything I could ever ask for…and I love you so much…"

His eyes filled with tears of his own. "Then why are you saying this? Why are you giving up on us, after everything?"

She hooked a strand of dark brown hair behind her ear, searching for the right words.

"Because when you aren't around…it's like I don't exist Lucas. I've gotten so consumed in us that I've lost me. And I thought I could live with that, that we would be enough, but I feel like if I don't choose myself this once then I'll disappear and there won't be anything left."

"But we're supposed to be getting married." his voice cracking under the strain of heartbreak.

He wanted to be more understanding, but, how could he? With every word, she was ripping their world apart and he couldn't accept it. He loved her too much to let her go so easily.

Riley took his face in her hands like she had on their first date when she had kissed him. There was so much pain in those green eyes and she hated herself for being the cause of it.

"I love you Lucas, and I want that. I want to be your wife. I want to have your children. I want everything we talked about having…but I want to be me when I do that. And right now, I'm not…"

He knew he should be more sympathetic. She had been willing to give up everything for their life together and now it was his turn to sacrifice, but Lucas didn't want to sacrifice. He wanted her. He wanted everything she had promised him and after seven years he'd grown tired of waiting for it.

"You don't mean that. You're scared. This is what you do, Riley. You look for reasons to distance yourself from me, every time we get a step closer, you take three steps back. Don't do it! Stay with me," he pleaded.

She almost said yes. She wanted to throw her arms around him and smother him in kisses until all the pain and emptiness between the two of them evaporated, but she knew it wouldn't happen. She had been ignoring those feelings for a long time and she knew now they weren't going away.

"I'm not saying I don't want to be with you. I'm just saying that I can't stay here," she gestured with her hands to the room around them. "I need to find myself again, and I can't do that a million miles away from home. I need to go back to my roots, to the last place I was myself. Can't you please try to understand?"

Could he? All he'd ever wanted was for her to be happy and to be with him. She was still wearing the ring he gave her. She was still saying she loved him and she wanted their life together…long distance wasn't ideal but wasn't it so much better than losing her completely? Except…there was already distance between them of a much more dangerous nature. Physical distance could be overcome but emotional distance on top of that? If he let her go to New York with such a void between them…how long before she slipped right through his fingers?

"Marry me." He declared.

She sighed placing her hand on the side of his face. "I already said yes, remember?"

He shook his head. "No, I mean before you go. You need to go home, I get it, but I want you to marry me first. We can go to the courthouse tomorrow and make it official."

Her hands fell to her lap in disbelief.

Had he lost his mind?! She was in the middle of an existential crisis and he wanted to run to the courthouse? Reconciling with the idea of marriage at such an early age had been difficult enough, but now there was the pressing matter of relocating her identity. It hardly seemed the time for life-altering decisions.

"No. I'm sorry Lucas but I'm not going to marry you. Not like this."

He nodded with clenched jaw, his handsome face forming hard angles.

"So, you love me, but not enough to marry me?" he spat. His pain melting into white hot anger.

"That's not fair!" she shouted, backing away from him.

"You know what's not fair Riley?" He demanded, pushing himself off the bed. "It's not fair for me to have to push you into every step forward we take. It's not fair for you say you want to marry me and then ask me to wait around for however long while you go out looking for whatever it is you need to find. It's not fair you made me promises you clearly have no intention of keeping!"

His intentions hit her like a bucket of cold water. This proposal wasn't about love. It was about ownership. He wanted to stake his claim before she went back to New York because he didn't trust her to stay with him on her own. She wanted to scream or to fight, but how could she? How could they be trusted to last a lifetime, if they lacked the confidence to survive the year?

"You're right," she sighed as she slid off the ring. "It's not fair of me to ask you to wait, so I'm not going to."

She took his hand in hers and placed the symbol of their life together into his palm, closing his fingers around it.

"That's not what I meant Riley." They stood face to face now, the tension replaced with a devastating understanding of the event as it was happening. Riley and Lucas, the second generation Cory and Topanga, were a breath away from calling it quits.

He wanted to take it back. He'd been hurt and angry but he'd been trying to hold onto her not to push her away.

She looked into his emerald green eyes and he saw goodbye written in her dark chocolate orbs.

"I know…" she nodded numbly, "but you're right. You've been so patient and so understanding. And I want so badly to give you everything you want…but I'm not ready…and you are. I can't keep doing this to you. I can't keep hurting you like this. The last thing I want is to lose you, but if I married you right now, it would only be to keep you and that's not a good enough reason. You'd hate me for it…and so would I…

"I don't want to say goodbye." He choked out.

"Then we won't. We'll just say, "I'll be seeing you," like the song.

She tilted her head up and kissed him one last time, drinking in every sensation, committing it to memory; how he felt, how he tasted, the way he'd pull her so close she couldn't breathe. Finally, she pulled away, wishing she could change it but knowing she couldn't.

"I'll be seeing you Lucas." She whispered against his ear.

He clutched her tighter, afraid to let go.

"I'll be seeing you Riley."

Riley was in the kitchen baking cinnamon rolls when she heard his footsteps behind her. With every step he took her heart quickened its pace, until she could feel his body radiating heat against her back. She leaned her head back on his shoulder and peered into those deep green eyes she knew so well.

"Good morning," she giggled as he nipped at her shoulder.

"Mmm, not all people would call three am morning," he murmured against her skin. She raised her hand to the back of his neck as she greeted him with a kiss.

"They would if they knew how to read a clock," she teased.

His head shook from side to side, rejecting her argument while his arms encircled her waist.

"Nope, you're not off the hook that easy. It's the middle of the night Riley. You need to sleep."

Her lips formed a childlike pout. "I did sleep...for a few hours but then I woke up craving cinnamon rolls. You want one? They're still nice and gooey on the inside."

She practically sang the words.

"I'd rather you come back to bed and let me hold you until morning," he whispered against her ear, his hands roaming freely down the front of her nightdress.

"But it is morning," she rebutted.

Lucas rolled his eyes with a small chuckle as he pulled her closer to him. "I meant later this morning," he kissed her shoulder. "Much later," he elaborated kissing her neck. "When the sun is actually up and the birds are singing." He nibbled on her earlobe.

Riley was slowly melting under his advances, releasing little whimpers of pleasure. "Some birds sing at night," she argued trying desperately to distract herself from his assault on her senses.

"This is what I get for marrying a lawyer's daughter, isn't it?"


"Ugh" Riley groaned as the obnoxious blaring tore her from the sweet torture of her subconscious. Three years later and she was still dreaming of what could have been.

She swatted in the direction of her bedside table, still the noise persisted.

Begrudgingly her eyes opened to glance at the digital clock on her phone.

'Five-thirty," she grumbled as she pulled the covers back, cursing her own ingenuity.

'Now see, if you hadn't moved the clock to the other side of the room you could have hit the snooze and been back asleep by now' she chastised internally. Then she remembered that's exactly what she had been trying to prevent when she'd had the brilliant idea to put it there. She was always making life more difficult for herself.

The brunette grabbed some clothes from the dresser and a towel from the cabinet before tiptoeing to the bathroom for her morning shower. Quietly, she stripped and stepped under the water, hoping to wash the picture of wedded bliss from her memory. It didn't help anyone for her brain to keep going there.

Meanwhile, Maya slid her key in the lock and let herself into Riley's apartment as she did most mornings. She made herself comfortable on a bar stool and laid her head on the counter, using her arms as a pillow. The blonde was many things, but a morning person wasn't one of them.

"Morning" the brunette twittered as she made her way into the kitchen. Maya raised a hand and waved it lazily in response not even bothering to look up until she felt something cold and wet on the back of her neck.

"Aw Riles, seriously!"

Riley giggled as she continued ringing out her wet hair.

"Why are we up? The sun hasn't even gotten out of bed yet so why do we have to?" Maya whined.

"Because I have to get to work and you are the most amazing best friend a girl could ever ask for. I can't thank you enough for doing this."

The sleepy blonde sat up and reached over the counter for a box of packaged muffins.

"Sure you can, in fact you do it too much. You know I don't mind helping you. I actually enjoy it. But don't tell anyone. I've got a reputation to uphold."

Riley smiled as she pulled a mug and tall glass from the cabinet. Maya always tried to downplay her generosity and concern ever since they were kids but Riley had no doubt there was no way she would have survived in this world without her best friend by her side.

She filled the mug with fresh brewed coffee and loaded it with sugar and cream before placing it in front of her friend and pouring some orange juice for herself.

"In that case I will accept your gratitude, as long as it continues to come in the form of caffeine," Maya teased as she took a nice long sip of coffee.

"Deal!" Riley glanced over at the clock on the wall. "I'm going to finish getting ready. Feel free to make yourself at home peaches."

"I always do honey."

Riley rushed back into the bathroom to finish getting dressed. She settled on a basic maroon v neck, some jeans and her flat brown boots. It was one of the benefits of her current job; no dress code. By the time she finished her hair was mostly dry and drawn up in waves. She threw it into a ponytail, a few strands falling carelessly before deeming herself presentable. Finally, she snuck into her room to gather her essentials; careful not to wake Maya, who true to her word had made herself at home in Riley's bed, before hurrying out the door.

Once she'd graduated high school she'd assumed her days of working at the bakery were behind her, yet there she was, five years later, wrestling for a light switch with one hand while balancing her bag and books in the other.

"Haha! I am triumphant," she announced to the empty room flooding with light.

She hung her bag on the arm of the office chair, her books splayed out across the desk, before beginning the morning routine. A smile tugged at her lips as she worked. She and her friends had done a lot of growing up inside those walls. It was home, and apparently part of the universe's plan for her.

Waitressing wasn't her calling in life, that had come a little later, but it was the solution to her dilemma when she'd first returned to the city. Having spent the last two years in Texas, she was considered a citizen of that state and would therefore have to pay a significant amount more for college. She hated putting off her education for another year, but without the funding there was no choice. So instead of enrolling at NYU that fall she joined the ranks among her parents' employees.

Katy, who was now manager, trained her dutifully until she knew the workings of the bakery backward and forward. She was great with the customers but preferred to spend her time in the kitchen. There was something innately peaceful about slipping into her own little world while she was kneading dough or frosting cookies that reminded her of those women in the black and white movies she loved to watch; the ultimate sign of bliss in domesticity.

However, that morning there was a different scene playing in her mind; one of her and Lucas alone, half-naked next to a stove while she tempted him with cinnamon rolls. She shook her head, willing the image away. There was no sense dwelling on fantasies that had never happened or memories that had, especially when there were much more urgent matters to attend to.

On the other side of town Lucas slowly weaved through the masses making his way to the baggage claim area. It had been at least three years since he'd stepped foot in New York City, but he still knew the layout by hand. As he came up on the conveyor belt he saw swarms of couples, families, and friends reuniting with their loved ones. He walked past them and gathered his duffel bag. Each of those people had something he didn't; someone waiting for them.

Even now he wasn't sure what had brought him back to the city. It wasn't as if he had any solid reason. Sure, New York had been his home at one point, but that was a long time ago. His parents had moved away since then and he'd managed to lose all his childhood friends. Looking back, he supposed that was the danger of dating within the sacred circle. All his friends were her friends too and so when they had gone separate ways he'd gotten their apartment and his ring back while she had gotten Maya, Farkle, and most shockingly of all, Zay.

He had completed his first four years of school in his never-ending endeavor to achieve his dream of veterinary school, but that degree was all he had to show for his life. There was no house with the swing or the wraparound porch. The woman he had expected to spend his life with was gone, and the family they had so often talked and dreamt about was nonexistent.

It wasn't long ago his life made complete and utter sense to him. He'd laid in bed with Riley wrapped around him as they would daydream about their future together. He'd imagined every unforgettable moment with her which he truly believed they would share. How had they lost that?

After she'd left, he'd thrown himself into his studies and the ranch. Occasionally he'd go out with a guy from class or dance with a pretty girl in a bar, but no one ever made a lasting impression. Strange as it sounded he couldn't allow himself to move on without feeling as if he had betrayed Riley and their imaginary children. They were more real than his current reality, and so he'd remained faithful to the ghost of a dream.

Almost three years later and her words still echoed. That awful sensation that had swallowed him whole of listlessness and helplessness...was that how being with him had made her feel?

Regrets and memories raced through his mind as he loaded himself into a cab and checked himself into a hotel. He didn't have anywhere else to stay and he didn't plan on being there long. He only had to see her one last know she was okay. Then maybe he could finally let her go.

Between the sounds of the city and the voices in his head Lucas had no hope of sleeping. He tossed and turned for hours battling with his thoughts. Already he was second-guessing his decision. Perhaps coming there wasn't a good idea after all? All attempts to remain friends after the breakup had quickly frayed. In the end, it was too painful, and they'd both agreed the only viable option was a clean break. What would she say if he showed up on her doorstep after all those years?

What would he say, assuming he could even find her? Sure, she'd come home to find herself, but that was three years ago. A woman as brilliant and amazing as Riley would have the whole world at her feet and an open ticket to a million opportunities. There was no guarantee she was still in the city, and even if she were, he had no way of knowing. She was one of the few people of their generation without social media, or else he'd been blocked. Her number had been changed, and it seemed their friends had all broken up with him too shortly after. He supposed he could wander over to her mother's bakery and see if she showed up there. Her father was busy educating young minds and her mother was likely at the firm. It was a long shot, but the only one he had.

The duration of the afternoon was spent at war with himself. He'd left his hotel with every intention of going to Topanga's but had wound up wandering the city streets instead. His mind played cruel tricks on him, envisioning the numerous ways his plan could go wrong. She could get up and storm out, or worse walk past him like litter on the sidewalk. She could be with someone. The thought alone was enough to make him reach for his neck in jealousy.

'Or she could not be there at all, and this whole trip be for nothing,' a voice hissed in his mind.

The longer he stewed, the more he questioned his motives. It couldn't honestly be about closure. She had given back his ring and cut him out of her life entirely. A book couldn't get more closed than that. There was nothing she could say or do to free him from the nightmare he was living. If she'd handed him written permission to move on, his heart wouldn't obey. He didn't want any reasons or apologies. He wanted hope.

He wanted her.

Lucas boarded the subway, his head hung in defeat. He knew now it was a fool's errand he was on. There was no amount of closure great enough to end the longing of his heart. Nor was there a prayer of winning her back. All he could do was return to Texas and pretend this lapse in judgement never happened. There was only more heartache waiting for him in the city. But just as he was prepared to give up, a guiding hand stepped in, urging him to look over.

There she was, in the middle of the subway car, with her nose in a book. Suddenly, her eyes shifted from the text to the surrounding crowd, a quizzical expression on her face. His breath caught as he fell into her chocolate gaze. She was even more beautiful than he remembered. After a moment, she shook her head, focusing once more on the words in front of her, but she couldn't seem to concentrate, as seconds later she scanned the crowd again. Was she looking for someone?

Her head angled slightly, her bangs falling in her face. She brushed them away with the back of her hand, laughing at her own silliness.

The blonde watched in awe, with new resolve.

He would see her again. He had to.