[B]Here Comes The Bride[/B]

Haley James hated weddings. It wasn't that she didn't believe in love, or that she was frightened off by the staggering climb in divorce rates, which could make any sane person question why people in fact still got married. No, this hatred of weddings was neither new nor statistically based. It stemmed from the long standing James tradition of throwing horrifying ceremonies and terrifying receptions where everything and anything awful could and would happen. She could honestly say that she had not attended one family function that did not end with a fight, a birth, a trip to the hospital or a drunk relative face down in a cake.

Her six older siblings were marrying off one by one. In the last five years Haley had participated in the weddings for two of her brothers and one of her sisters. At the bridal shower for her sister Gina, their aunt Edna ate half of a tuna casserole before remembering she was allergic to fish and had to be rushed to the hospital. Then at the wedding itself their younger cousins Brandon and Jimmy decided it would be a funny trick to sneak into the kitchen and hide the little bride and groom figures that sit on top of the wedding cake in the base of the cake so that the bride almost choked on it while eating the celebratory first piece.

David, the eldest James child, had been the first to get married. His bride tripped over her train on the way down the aisle and almost fell face first into a pew. As if that weren't enough, at the reception held in a beautiful country club, her then sixteen-year old sister Noelle got plastered on champagne, cursed her parents out, called the bride an ugly dog, then proceeded to trash the bathroom with toilet paper and tampon wrappers.

When her cousin Frank got married six months after her sister Gina, Haley hoped to a higher being that nothing would go wrong. Noelle had been in therapy for a while by that point, Brandon had been sent to live with relatives on his fathers side, Jimmy had become more interested in girls than playing pranks, and aunt Edna was watched like a hawk to make sure she only ate poultry. What the James family didn't count on was trouble coming from another source - her older brother Timothy.

Haley should have known something was going awry when her brother began his "best man" speech in the following manner: "I am honored that Frank, my cousin and best friend, asked me to stand up for him even though he knows that he can never return the favor." Timothy then proceeded to 'come out' to his family in front of a room full of family members as well as many strangers. Timothy actually started a trend, as her younger cousin Jeff came out later that year right after the turkey had been carved during Thanksgiving dinner.

Last year when her brother Owen got married, it had been fifteen-year old Haley herself who had stirred up the trouble pot. She had brought her then boyfriend Jake to the reception, and much to her surprise nothing had gone exceptionally wrong. The party was boring though, too much elevator music and not enough free liquor, so they snuck away to a vacant room to spend some time 'alone.' Little did they realize they were in the bridal suite until her brothers walked in on Haley with her dress on the floor and Jake with his pants around his ankles.

It didn't help matters that when her parents later asked why she would have unprotected sex at her brothers wedding, her response was: "what does it matter, I'm already pregnant."

**

Haley stood at the foot of the stairs with her daughter Gracie in her arms. She yelled again for her sister Gina to get off the phone and drive her over to Jake's to drop off the baby or they would be late to the church.

"If you're not old enough to drive you definitely shouldn't be old enough to have a baby," her sister mumbled as she flew down the stairs.

"I can drive, just not well," Haley threw back at her sister as she followed her out the door.

"If you girls aren't back in fifteen minutes the limo is leaving without you," her mother called from the front door as Gina climbed into the drivers seat and Haley fastened her daughter into the car seat before scooting into the car next to her.

"C'mon, motor," Haley instructed her sister.

It took five minutes to get to Jake's house. With her six-month old daughter hanging on her waist, Haley rang the doorbell four, five, six times before it opened up revealing a disheveled looking Jake in the frame.

"Haley, its eight in the morning," he said, rubbing his eyes.

"You agreed to watch the baby today while I went to my brother's wedding, remember?" she said impatiently, almost thrusting her daughter into his arms.

"Mommy loves you Gracie but she's really late and grandma is going to kill her if she isn't back," Haley rambled as she kissed the baby softly on the head three times and threw the diaper bag at his feet.

Jake shifted so his daughter was in a more comfortable position and watched as Haley retreated back to the car. He waved at Gina who waved back at him.

"No loud parties Jake, I mean it and don't forget to feed and change her every few hours."

Jake smiled.

"Pizza bites and beer in her bottle," he teased. "I know, Haley."

She rolled her eyes.

"I'll pick her up sometime after midnight and she better be asleep this time," Haley said.

"She will. Try not to outdo yourself at this wedding," Jake called to her with a laugh.

He was graced with the retreating form of Haley's middle finger - stuck up and out of the car window as it sped away.

**

"Dude, how can we have a party with her here?" Tim asked incredulously pointing at Gracie playing with a rattle on a baby mat on the floor.

Jake chuckled.

"We can still party. I'll put her down in my room before everyone else gets here, and if we keep the music just a little lower than usual she should sleep right through it," Jake answered.

"Haley is going to kill you if she finds out," Tim reminded him, "but I guess it sounds like a do-able plan."

"I'm not worried about Haley. She is going to have enough to deal with after the fallout of whatever craziness happens at today's James wedding. She isn't going to be in the mood to rag on me," Jake said.

"Why didn't she just take the baby with her?" Tim asked, plopping himself down on the sofa next to Brooke and putting his feet up on the coffee table.

"Her brother says babies are too loud and messy for formal functions so I'm left with Daddy duty today," he explained.

Tim cracked a lecherous smile.

"You should have gone with Haley. You know, just to press your luck and see if you could have pulled off having sex again only this time without getting caught," he said.

Jake let out a laugh.

"That would have been fun, and we could have if Haley hadn't been banned from bringing a date," he said seriously.

"Her parents banned her? That's like - social suicide," Brooke chimed in with a horrified look on her face.

She looked fondly at the baby on the floor.

"You two did create a cute kid though so I guess it's almost worth it," she said as an afterthought, "and its not like they banned her from prom so that's a plus."

Jake smiled at his daughter and bent down to pick her up.

"Hey, speaking of cute where'd Nathan go?" Brooke asked suddenly.

"Who cares," Tim answered.

Jake raised his eyebrow at Tim.

"That's called 'jealousy'," he explained with a smirk to Gracie.

"No, it's just really pathetic how all you skirts chase after Nathan like he's so great," Tim replied.

"I do not chase," Brooke lamented, "and I think I'm also insulted."

"Yeah right, begging him to get to third base isn't pathetic at all," Tim shot back.

Brooke was hurt that Nathan told Tim about that. She looked around and noticed Peyton in the kitchen talking to Luke.

"You're such an ass," she said then apologized at Jake for cursing in front of the baby.

Brooke huffed out of the room and over to Peyton and linked arms with her best friend and put her head down on her shoulder. Luke and Peyton stopped talking mid-conversation.

"Uh, hi?" Peyton questioned.

"I hate boys. No offense pretty," Brooke said, using her pet name for Luke.

Peyton laughed.

"Brooke, if you stopped throw yourself at Nathan then the others wouldn't keep ribbing you about it," Peyton said knowingly.

Brooke sighed.

"I wouldn't want Nathan if Brett Mullen would just break up with Trisha Allen already," Brooke said, thinking about Tree Hill High's incredibly gorgeous lean muscled quarterback.

Peyton nodded her head.

"I understand how a girl might have to make such sacrifices," she mocked Brooke.

Lucas looked back and forth from Brooke to Peyton.

"Is this a usual conversation between the two of you because if it is I'm very frightened for the human race," he joked.

"It's no better than the conversation those two were having about Haley," Brooke said after a moment.

Lucas narrowed his eyes slightly at Tim in the other room.

"Is he talking trash about Hales again, or just you?" Luke asked.

Brooke rolled her eyes.

"Just me, pretty," she said not wanting to start another fight between Lucas and Tim.

Freshman year Lucas had joined the Raven's basketball team and at first Nathan, Tim and the others had given him hell. Over the course of the year though Jake befriended Luke and the hazing had stopped. Then Luke brought Haley to a victory party one night, introduced her to Jake, and the two dated but she got pregnant before they parted ways. Haley didn't seem to have any trouble finding comfort afterward, mostly with a few of the other guys on the team or a friend of Brooke's from another high school.

Lucas is Haley's best friend and Nathan is his half-brother. The two only get along if nobody ever brings up that fact, so of course it's the first topic to be brought up at every party.

"Why is your brother up in Jake's room with that slut when he could have me?" Brooke asked dejectedly.

Luke grimaced and Peyton tried to ease the tension by continuing her teasing of Brooke.

"You are definitely getting a vibrator for Christmas," Peyton said with a laugh.

Brooke sighed.

"Just make sure it glows in the dark."

**

Haley stood by the bar fighting with the bartender.

"All I want is one drink, two tops. I won't make it through this wedding unless I'm at least partially inebriated," she complained to the young twenty-something man.

She tilted her head sideways and gave him her most convincing puppy-dog eyes.

"I can't serve you. That woman over there gave me strict orders," he said, motioning over to her mother.

"You have to be kidding," Haley muttered under her breath.

The bartender laughed.

"Afraid not," he said, "but I know how these things can be so how about I put a little of this in your Shirley Temple, just to take the edge off," he said pouring a little rum into her red drink.

"You are a God. I swear I would give you my first born if I didn't already have one and love her too much to give her to you," she rambled as she downed the drink in one shot.

The bartender looked at her curiously.

"I'm not allowed to serve you alcohol but you have a child?" he asked.

"Yeah, kind of the reason I'm not allowed to drink. Last wedding my boyfriend and I got caught practicing position 28 in the bridal suite and since then I've been on a very short leash," Haley said.

The bartender took her now empty drink and refilled it with more soda and juice.

"I have a break coming up," he said slowly as he poured more rum into her drink. "I know somewhere we won't get caught."

Haley smiled.

"Let's go."

**

It was almost one when Haley knocked on Jake's door. Since it was late and there wouldn't be too many people on the road, she had actually convinced her sister to let her borrow the car. Haley knocked again, trying to make herself heard over the loud music that Jake promised wouldn't be played. She reached under the potted plant to where the extra key was hidden and opened the door for herself. She cringed as she stepped into a smoke filled room.

She walked past a crowd of cheerleaders and some basketball players who waved to her and tried to stop her to talk. She found Jake a moment later with a tall redheaded girl straddling his lap. The radio was on the table and she shut it off, instigating groans from many of the partiers.

"Where is my child?" she asked harshly.

Her voice sounded even louder than it was in the now deafening silence.

"Upstairs sleeping," he answered breathlessly, trying to untangle himself from the girl from his lap.

"There is no way she slept through that Jake. I've been here one minute and I feel like my ears are going to start bleeding," she said walking fast up the stairs with Jake right behind her.

She stepped over a couple who were making out on the top step and threw open the door to Jake's room. She peered inside. The crib was empty and Haley started to panic.

"Where is she Jake?" she started to scream. "What the hell happened to Gracie?"

She turned around quickly when she heard a familiar cooing noise behind her. There stood Nathan Scott with baby Gracie in his arms. Haley felt herself sigh with relief and she reached out eagerly for her child. Her hand grazed Nathan's arm as she removed the child from his grasp.

Haley looked over the baby for any possible damages.

"She's fine Haley. Luke, Peyton and I were watching her in the kitchen," Nathan said.

Haley looked relieved.

"As long as she was with Lucas," she said after a moment but still checking Gracie, kissing her hair and cheeks and fingers.

Gracie started to fuss and Nathan held out a warm bottle he was holding.

"Here, we just made this for her. I was going to rock her to sleep with it," he said before giving Haley one last look then turning on his heels and walking away.

Haley faced Jake angrily.

"If captain jackass Nathan Scott is a better babysitter for my child than you are, then we have a major problem," she spat at him.

"Hey, I watched her all day while Nathan was upstairs screwing every other cheerleader who walked through the door so don't get on my back," Jake replied.

"Forget it," she said before walking back the way she came and out to her car. She looked back at the house before pulling away, and noticed with passing thought that one of the open window curtains was pulled back. She was almost sure it had been Nathan Scott staring at her through the reflection.

**

Brooke twirled a strand of her long brown hair around her finger.

"Haley, this is not my fault. I shouldn't have to be there to referee Jake," she said to her friend, who was busy stuffing Gracie's chubby legs into a blue flowered jumper. "The baby was fine with Lucas and Peyton and I finally got lucky with Nathan, so it looks like everyone besides Jake all won."

Haley sighed.

"He tries to help me with Gracie but whenever the guys are around or he becomes all hormonal with a girl his parenting skills go to shit," she said.

Brooke laughed.

"He's sixteen. What did you expect? I mean, were you really thinking about Gracie when you were screwing the bartender?" she asked coyly.

Haley grimaced.

"Okay, no but at least I.I," she faltered.

Brooke rolled her eyes.

"The blame game isn't always so easy Haley. Give Jake a break. Hey, that rhymes," she said with a laugh.

Haley finished buttoning the outfit and slipped two pink booties on Gracie's feet and lifted the baby into her arms.

"So you and Nathan huh? What happened?" Haley asked, fishing for details.

Brooke let out a whistle.

"He is just as good as everyone says Haley. I never worked so hard to keep up with a guy," she said.

Haley brushed Gracie's fuzz hair with a soft baby brush.

"That doesn't sound good. That sounds like unnecessary aggravation," Haley replied. "Although, with bartender-guy there was no aggravation and it got boring fast."

Brooke laughed.

"You're parents are going to kill you if they hear any of this sex-talk," she said. "So tell me, did anything catastrophic happen at this James wedding besides your lack of an orgasm."

Haley grimaced.

"Noelle fell off the wagon. She knew mom would be watching her so she smuggled in some John Cuervo and drank it in the bathroom."

"Oh, poor girl," Brooke empathized.

Haley half-smiled.

"It's not so bad. I get to use her television and DVD player while she's in rehab," she tried to make light of the situation.

"You're terrible Haley."

Haley shrugged.

"Maybe, but at least I'm honest."

**

Nathan closed his eyes as the nameless girl writhed above him. She wasn't exactly nameless. He swear he knew it when he asked her to come upstairs with him but right now he had no idea what it was so instead of just keeping silent he moaned 'baby' a few times and that seemed to appease her. He started sucking on her neck to keep from having to say any more.

His enjoyment slowly turned to boredom and his mind started to wander away from the girl on the bed. He started to fantasize that he was with Brooke but not even that thought was enough to keep him interested. He let the girl do whatever she wanted as his mind turned back to the sport's game he watched earlier that day with Jake. His favorite college team had lost and the guys had been so angry about it. It wasn't that he knew they could play better than they had, it was that more selfishly he knew that he could play ten times better than those guys. He grunted remembering the final losing score and he watched as the girl squealed in surprise as he angrily flipped her over.

It was another Saturday night and they were throwing another party at Jake's house. His parents were still in Europe and the team was milking their vacation for all it was worth. When the girl fell asleep he slipped on his boxers and his jeans and headed downstairs to see what else was going on.

He heard a baby crying and realized Jake's kid must be here again, which was why he didn't hear any loud music pulsating through the house. Instead soft make out music was playing and it didn't seem like anyone minded the difference that there wasn't any rap or hip-hop blasting. Peyton and Lucas were on one couch and two girls Nathan didn't know were on the other.

He followed the crying and saw Haley and Jake fighting in the kitchen. He was hidden in the shadows and was able to observe the pair without being seen. The two hardly acted like old lovers. He was about to go back upstairs to the nameless girl when Brooke tapped him on the shoulder.

"There you are," she whispered.

Nathan smiled at her.

"Where were you? I was looking for you," he made up on the spot.

Brooke grinned.

"Let's go up to Jake's room," she said suggestively.

Nathan leaned in closer and nibbled on her ear.

"There are people up there. Let's go to the guest room," he said, putting his arm around her shoulder.

He watched Haley and Jake for a moment longer. The two were staring at each other over their daughter's head before she leaned in for a kiss.

"Nathan, you ready?" Brooke asked.

"Yeah, c'mon," he answered, digging his hand into her back pocket and pulling her towards the hopefully empty room.

Gracie's ear-piercing scream jolted Haley out of sleep. She quickly untangled herself from Jake's arms and ran over to where Gracie was standing up in the crib her paternal grandparents had bought for her. She lifted the fussing baby up and tried unsuccessfully to appease her daughter's distemper. Gracie continued to wail so loudly that even sound- sleeper Jake cracked an eye open to see what was going on. Haley checked Gracie's diaper but the child was neither wet nor dirty. The baby wasn't rubbing her ear so it wasn't another ear infection. Haley had only one more idea left. She ran her pointer finger along the child's hard gums. The contact made the baby squirm even more violently in Haley's arms. Gracie had indeed started teething and she seemed to be in a great deal of pain.

Jake had pulled the pillow over his head and gone back to sleep without even asking if Gracie was okay. Haley cursed at him under her breath before walking with the miserable baby downstairs in order to try and find some temporary relief for Gracie in the kitchen. She searched for a teething ring in the freezer but Jake must have forgotten to buy one so she grabbed an ice cube and let the baby suck on it instead.

The party had ended some time after two. Haley had a feeling there must be some people still left in the extra bedrooms but for all purposes the house looked and felt deserted. The ice had worked for a time to calm Gracie's aggravated gums but the baby was starting to squirm and fuss again in her arms. She switched positions so the baby was now over her shoulder but that didn't make any difference. Gracie screamed in frustration and spit out the ice that Haley had tried to place back in her mouth.

"Here, let me take her while you make a bottle," a deep voice said from behind her.

Haley handed Gracie over to a half-dressed, rumpled-haired Nathan Scott.

"I'm sorry if we woke you up," Haley apologized.

She removed a bottle from the refrigerator and placed it on the counter, then ran some water into a pot and placed it on the stove to heat up. She was surprised when she turned back around and Gracie had stopped crying and was now sucking contently on Nathan's pinkie finger.

"Be careful she bites," Haley said with a laugh.

"So does Brooke but I've gotten used to it," he responded, smiling down at Gracie who must have chomped down hard because Nathan made a face.

"See, I told you so," she said as the water began to boil.

"That hurt," he said to the baby who just stared up at him cooing.

"Well, the bottle will be done in a few minutes then you can go back to sleep," Haley said, "hopefully with all your appendages still in tact."

He leaned down to kiss Gracie on the forehead.

"I'd rather stay up," Nathan said honestly.

Haley looked at him confused.

"Why do you do that?" she asked.

He chuckled.

"Why do I do what?" he asked her back.

Haley sighed.

"You know, help me with her when Jake won't," she replied.

Nathan shrugged.

"I just like to," he answered. "So tell me about the wedding last week. I hear things went pretty badly for Ellie."

Haley nodded.

"Yeah, she's back in rehab. If you want to visit I can give you the times for conjugal visits," she said.

"Haley, it wasn't like that with me and her," he explained.

"Why was that?" she asked, terribly curious for the answer.

She took the bottle out of the boiling water and tested the temperature of the formula on her wrist. It was still cool so she turned her attention back to Nathan.

"I was interested in someone else," he replied simply.

"Oh," she said, "anyone I know?"

To which he replied.

"Yeah, probably."

**

After the bottle had finally been warmed up, Haley had taken Gracie back upstairs and Nathan had returned to Brooke in the guest room. He slid into the bed quietly but the shifting weight on the mattress woke her up.

"Hey," she greeted him huskily, "where were you?"

Nathan grunted and pulled some of the blankets away from her in order to warm himself up.

"In the kitchen with two beautiful girls," he replied.

Brooke laughed tiredly.

"Yeah, you wish lover."

She tried to reach for the blanket he stole but he swatted her hand away, then kissed her chastely on the lips.

"Gross, you have stale beer breath," Brooke giggled, "and stop being such a cover hog."

"I can still kick you out so quit complaining," he ordered, stifling a yawn.

Brooke smiled.

"Did I tire you out, Big Man?" she asked suggestively.

Nathan caressed her exposed stomach.

"Yeah, you wish lover," he repeated her sentiment, before turning his back to her and closing his eyes.

**

The next day was a Sunday and Nathan had invited the team and the cheerleaders to chill at his parent's beach house. First, he had to help Jake clean up the mess from the party before. Haley and Gracie had left earlier with Brooke so it was just the two boys, two cans of trash, and two dirty beer soaked Swiffer Mops.

Nathan swept some Fritos from the floor into the trash bag. He noticed that Jake looked unusually upset. He kept huffing and sighing as he cleaned up a pile of broken pretzels.

"What's your problem man, you're acting more dramatic than Lucas," Nathan said.

Jake set down the rag he was holding.

"It's you and Haley," Jake said.

"Okay, well what about 'us'?" Nathan questioned him more specifically.

"You're making me look bad, dude. She thinks you love my kid more than I do," Jake whined.

Nathan raised an eyebrow.

"I probably do," he answered.

Jake stepped in closer to Nathan.

"No, you just want in my girl's pants and you're using my daughter to do it," Jake accused him.

Nathan started seething and his fists were suddenly clenched.

"If I wanted her she'd be mine," Nathan spit out the words.

"Look, our only rule is that we never fight over the same girl and so far we never have."

Nathan laughed then.

"You're deluded if you think that's what I'm doing. Besides, you've slept with ten or more other girls since breaking up with Haley, what claim to do you even have to her anymore?"

"We have a baby. You can't understand but we'll never really be over," Jake replied.

"So then why was I the one talking to your girl and rocking your baby to sleep last night?" Nathan shot back.

"That's exactly it. Nate, I'm telling you to stay out of my business," Jake had wanted to diffuse the situation but that was looking like a hopeless wish.

Nathan wasn't ready to let the conversation die down either.

"You stop being a dick and I'll stay out of your business," Nathan exclaimed.

He pointed around at his half of the living room, which was now clean and Jake's side, which was still filthy.

"You've always needed me to clean up your messes: parties, girls, grades.it's almost second nature to me by now Jake; but just remember buddy, Tim's parents go away just as often as yours," he threatened.

"I'm fine on my own," Jake countered.

Nathan walked to the door.

"We'll see about that," Nathan said as he slammed it shut behind him.

**

It's normal to have dreams about what you want your fantasy wedding to be like. Haley hadn't had one of these dreams in a while but each time she did they were pretty much the same. There was always a beaded white gown, which she discarded in the trash so she could saunter down the aisle in a red low- cut party dress. There was always a man (usually Jake but not always) in a tuxedo waiting anxiously for her in front of the minister, but it was usually the hand of the best man who she would grab before running back out of the church doors.

Once she did have a dream where she was wearing the white dress and she did make it down the aisle. Her father handed her over to her expectant groom and he had recited his vows to her with a very passionate declaration of love and devotion. The wedding almost went off without a hitch - until Haley tried to say 'I do' but was unable, and instead she self-combusted and the wedding was called off on an account of 'charred-broiled bride.'

The most curious part of her dreams was the best-man figure. She felt so drawn to him, as if her very being had been created out of him; Adam and Eve-wise. She felt naked under his gaze, so hot and bothered by him, that if she didn't leave the ceremony with him she would do something vulgar right there in front of her family and minister.

She could check off a lot of people who were definitely not this best-man, like the bartender at her brother's wedding for starters. Brooke claims she knows a guy at Duke who fits this description perfectly and could easily hook them up, and Haley definitely plans on taking her up on her offer at the next college party they attend.

Then again, Haley's sixteen and she hates weddings. She has a child, she is never lacking for a bed-partner and once she even let herself fall in love, or so she thought at the time. The white gown would stay in the garbage unless it was one of her other two sisters wearing it, and knowing the tradition of James weddings, most likely staining it with blood, wine, salad dressing, vodka pasta sauce or all of the above.

Her subconscious was just going to have to give it a rest.

**

It was a perfect day to spend beside Nathan's pool. The sun was out, there were no clouds in the sky, and there were plenty of boys to provide Haley and Brooke with suntan lotion backrubs. Gracie's aunt Gina and grandmother were taking her shopping so Haley had the entire day to herself, and even better she didn't have to worry whether or not her daughter was in capable hands.

"I don't know about you but I've died and gone to heaven," she said to Brooke.

Brooke tilted her head in Nathan's direction. He was chatting with a few other football and basketball players, including the guy Brett that Brooke liked.

"Yeah, it's not a bad sight at all," she whispered dreamily as she stared.

Haley took in Nathan's form. He looked a little upset.

"Jake's not here and Nathan's acting pissed. Do you think something happened after we left?" Haley asked.

"I don't know. I could ask Nathan but frankly I'd rather be screwing him," Brooke said as unabashedly as if she had just read off a laundry list.

"Give it a rest," Haley rolled her eyes and sat up, "or fantasize about it all you want in my absence. I need a glass of water."

With that she stood up and sauntered past Nathan and the others into the kitchen. She poured some ice into a cup and ran it under the tap. She dripped some of the water on her chest to cool off her sun-tanned body. She jumped though when she felt some of the cold ice on her back. She turned around immediately to find herself face to face with Nathan.

"I wonder what the point of having an Indian summer was before bikinis were invented," he started their conversation.

Haley smiled.

"Somehow I don't think the rotation of the sun is all that concerned with fashion trends," she responded.

She crunched on a piece of ice and she couldn't help but notice that he was staring at her mouth.

"Are you teething too?" he asked slowly, mouth erupting into a wide grin.

"Nope," she answered, "but you know what else intense ice chewing is a sign of?"

"Um, iron deficiency," he guessed correctly.

"Yeah that," she began before walking to the screen door and turning around to finish her thought, "and sexual frustration."

"Too bad Jake's not around," Nathan lowered his eyes and called out to her.

"Yeah, that's too bad," she responded before joining Brooke again on the lounge chairs.

R-A-V-E-N-S, the cheerleaders lead the crowd in an invigorating cheer to try and boost the spirits of the basketball players, who were down twenty- five points in the last quarter.

Brooke and Peyton were going to be hoarse if they screamed any louder, Haley thought to herself as she watched her spirited friends in their element. Lucas and Tim had played a good game, but Jake had failed to make any baskets and hadn't been passed to for any assists. It was obvious to Haley at least that Nathan had something to do with it. Like usual he had carried the entire game but the lack of teamwork really weakened their overall effectiveness and they were trailing far behind the Wizards.

Nathan scored a three-point shot at the very last second but it wasn't enough to win the game. The buzzer rang. A loud chorus of 'boo' reverberated through the bleachers. The players sulked into the locker room.

Haley got up and walked down to the court to wait for Jake and the girls. She usually spent a little time with them after a game before having to go home, feed Gracie and put her to bed.

"They were so bad tonight it was embarrassing," Brooke was whispering to Peyton.

"They would have won if Nathan hadn't totally shut Jake out," Peyton responded back.

Haley joined their conversation.

"You noticed that too? I told you something happened the other day between them at the party Brooke," she emphasized.

"You were right Haley," Brooke agreed.

"I mean, I've known Nathan a long time. He is a very selfish player but he has never let his desire for a perfect scoring average affect the game in such a way that they lost," Peyton said.

The girls stopped chatting when they noticed some of the boys from the other team getting closer.

A very good-looking boy smiled a dazzling smile at the three girls.

"My friends and I were wondering if you beautiful ladies would rather spend the rest of your night with the winners of tonight's game, rather than those losers you call friends," he said.

Brooke crossed her arms over her chest.

"Yeah, I don't think so," she said angrily. "Take your obnoxious self and get the hell out of our gym."

Just then Lucas, Jake, Tim and Nathan emerged from the locker room and were heading over to the girls.

"What's going on here?" Lucas asked.

"Don't worry your gorgeous self, pretty," Brooke began, "these obnoxious losers were just leaving."

One of the other Wizards nudged the leader who had spoken earlier.

"I thought you said these girls were easy, not bitchy," he whispered.

Haley couldn't help but laugh at the boy's apparent wonder that he wasn't going to automatically get laid tonight because he helped win a high-school basketball game. She ignored him though and went to Jake's side so they could talk.

"Okay spill," she said knowingly, "what the hell happened with Nathan?"

"Don't start with me Haley," he said.

"Hey, don't be like that. It wasn't my fault you played atrociously tonight but I do want to know what it was about before you take out your bitterness on me or my daughter," Haley said.

"Why do you do that? Why do you assume I'm going to do something terrible to her? I'm a good father," Jake yelled.

Nathan, Peyton, Luke and Brooke turned around to see if Haley was okay. She nodded that she was.

"Can we take this outside?" she asked.

"No, we'll talk about it right here. You want to know what my problem with Nathan is? We'll I'll tell you. I'm sick of him trying to get into your pants."

This was so absurd that Haley couldn't help but laugh.

"Jake, he and I aren't even friends. He tends to show up when I need some help, or when I'm in the mood to banter with someone. I don't see how that equals him trying to get into my pants, especially when he spends most of his time in Brooke's," Haley replied.

"Brooke is a waste of time. He wants you," Jake insisted.

"Why the hell are you saying these things? Brooke is your friend and Nathan is supposedly your best friend. Should I assume you have plenty to say about me when I'm not in the room?" she accused him.

He didn't answer.

"You're an asshole. If you want to see your daughter, make sure I'm not home when you pick her up," she said before walking back over to the others, ignoring his plea for her to come back and finish their conversation.

"What was Jake mouthing off about?" Peyton asked.

"You don't even want to know," she answered, "but I am completely done with him."

Nathan had a tight smile on his face but he hadn't said a word the entire time Haley and Jake had been fighting. He just kept his gaze permanently fixed on her.

The Wizard came back over, alone this time.

"I couldn't help but overhear. Why don't you get your mind off that jerk and come party with us?" he asked.

He outstretched his hand.

"I'm Austin," he introduced himself.

"Haley," she replied, shaking his hand then letting him keep her hand in his.

"So what do you say Haley? Come with me?"

Haley nodded at the boy.

"Yeah, lets go."

**

Haley buried her head in the pillow so she wouldn't scream out. He was on top of her, mouth nipping at her neck and nails clawing deeply into her back. Beads of sweat dripped off his brow onto her body. She was still wearing the wedding dress; it was hiked up around her thighs. She moaned as his tongue slipped into her mouth. Nathan was inching his way inside her, purposefully taking it slow like he knew she hated it that way.

** She opened her eyes. There was a guy, not Nathan, straddling her. He was working the clasps on her bra but she put a hand over his to stop him from going any further. She attempted to squirm out from underneath him but his hips held her firmly in place.

"I want to get up," she said, brushing her hair out of her face.

"You will," he said trying to kiss her mouth, "after we're done."

She turned her cheek to his advances.

"No now," she said forcefully.

The guy, who she remembered now as being the blonde point-guard for the other team, Austin he had said his name was, wasn't getting the hint. She kneed him in the crotch and he finally stopped.

"I told you to stop," she said angrily.

"I thought you wanted this," he said through clenched teeth.

"I changed my mind," she shot back.

"Stupid bitch," he cursed at her.

She got out of the car and started to straighten her clothing. She walked quickly away from Austin. They had driven to the beach with a six-pack and a box of condoms but at this moment Haley wanted nothing to do with either sex or getting drunk. She wanted to be home with her daughter not walking home in the dark. She fished her cell phone out of her purse and speed- dialed Brooke. She had to apologize profusely for fraternizing with the enemy but Brooke finally agreed to come pick her up. She was about to hang up with Brooke when she saw the headlights.

The SUV came into view, with a familiar driver at the wheel and pulled up along side her. He motioned for her to get in.

"I don't need a ride anymore," she said into the phone before flipping it shut. It started to vibrate a minute later as Brooke called her back but Haley ignored it.

"Hey," she said to Nathan.

He gunned the engine without returning her greeting.

"No, don't you give me shit too," she said after a moment of his silence.

He took his eyes off the road for a moment to look at her.

"You shouldn't have stopped that guy back there; you're so wound up Haley," he said.

Haley's eyes widened.

"One, where on earth do you get the nerve to talk to me like that, and two, why were you spying on me?" she asked him.

"I've been on your periphery for too long. You need to learn what makes me tick," he said cryptically.

"Look Nathan, I appreciate that you watch my back but I don't need it and I don't deserve it and I really think it would be better if after tonight we went our separate ways," she replied.

Nathan drummed his fingers on the dashboard as they sat at a red light.

"Look Haley," he copied her pattern of speech, "I want you to listen to me and I mean really listen because I'm not going to say it again. Whatever Jake told you, he was wrong. I'm not trying to bad-mouth him to you, I'm not trying to get with you just to spite him, and in fact nothing I'm doing right now has anything to do with Jake. It's about me, and the fact that you are the only girl I know who I actually want to have a conversation with."

Haley was surprised at his candid reply but she couldn't be sure of his motives.

"Yeah, okay," she said sarcastically, "I'm sure your sudden interest has nothing to do with the fact that I'm the best fuck in the county."

Nathan sighed.

"You talk to your daughter with that mouth?" he spit back.

"Hey, don't go there," she warned.

"I just want to know Haley. What are you going to tell baby Gracie when she's thirteen, fourteen maybe, and asks why she has so many uncles slipping in and out of her mommy's bedroom instead of one daddy?"

"I said shut up," Haley growled.

"You can tell her there was this one time you were with a guy in the back of his car but you kicked him in the nuts and told him to stop. I bet she'll be proud of you," Nathan baited her.

"Like you're any better?" Haley yelled. "You'll screw any girl with a pulse."

Nathan swallowed.

"But I'm not looking for love Haley."

Haley laughed then.

"That just shows you have no idea what you're talking about. It's sex I want Nathan. Nothing more, nothing less."

Nathan pulled violently off the road onto the shoulder.

"What the hell are you doing?" she asked, slight trepidation in her voice.

"Nothing more, nothing less, huh?" he repeated her last words. "Okay then, c'mon."

"I'm not going to." her voice drifted off.

"Yes, you are. You sleep with bartenders at weddings, you sleep again and again with a boy who cheated on you after you told him you were pregnant with his baby, and you are going to sleep with me right now."

Haley unbuttoned the top button of her shirt.

"That's the most action you're seeing tonight," she said coldly, "now start the car and take me home. I need to put Gracie to bed."

The way he was looking at her was the way he had looked at her in the dream, like he wanted to possess her, have his identity be wrapped up in her own. His hand inched up her thigh. She tried to swipe it away but he wouldn't let her get the upper hand and unlike with the other guy, this time she stopped fighting. She waited for him to touch her but he didn't. Instead, he removed his hand and turned on the engine.

"Then again, I think that's enough for tonight," he said with a smirk before driving her home.

She's determined to figure him out and it is while Haley is putting Gracie down for her nap that she makes this decision. She will rack her brain all day if it takes that long but she is going to put all the pieces together and she is going to figure out what Nathan's end game is. He has to have one; that she is more than sure of. Nathan Scott is calculative. He plays basketball after all, he needs to be strategic on the court and his cocky attitude assures her that he treats every other aspect of his life with the same approach.

So she's going to find out what it is he could want from her. It can't be about sex. He has Brooke and a million other girls for that. It would be a lot easier to just conclude that he wants to sleep with her, if only to have ammunition to throw back in Jake's face whenever he might need it, but she knows that's not it. He doesn't treat her like he treats Brooke. He pretty much ignores Brooke unless he wants to get off, while with Haley he is ever present. Omniscient she would say.

What does he want from her and why does he want it all of a sudden? They had revolved around each other in the same circle now for a while, ever since the start of high school, and like he said he had always been on her periphery but that was because he never acted like he wanted to be anything else. Sure once in a while they had a conversation but whenever they spoke it was just a reminder of how he was always a little too egotistical for her taste. He knew he was the best, everyone else knew he was the best, and everyone had to treat him like he was the best. That was definitely not Haley's taste.

Then again, maybe she had been too wrapped up in Jake to notice if Nathan ever acted any other way. He certainly could be self-less when he was helping her take care of Gracie. Her mind was screaming at her that it was just an act. Her body was screaming at her mind that she shouldn't care if it was an act if he was going to keep touching her like he did in the car. Her heart was screaming at both to shut up.

She'll watch him, Haley concluded. She'll watch him like he watches her and then she'll know for sure what his game is. That would have to do.

**

There was another party. It was becoming all too clear to Haley how ridiculous it was to live like this: from one basketball party to the next and then consequently from party to the next. There seemed to always be another party, and this week Nathan was hosting.

Haley was still on the outs with Jake and for that reason alone she wasn't sure if she would even be invited to the party. Brooke swore that Nathan wasn't talking to Jake either, though, so it would be fine. Haley dressed up in tight jeans and a halter-top, left Gracie with her mother and got a ride with Lucas and Peyton to the Scott mansion.

The Ravens had actually won this weeks game so the party was in celebration of their success. Her first instinct as she walked in the door was to look for Jake, but she blew that off immediately as she saw him with his arms around some girl. He would never change and she really needed to let it go if they would ever be able to have a civil relationship in the future, if only for their daughter's sake.

Remembering her earlier plan, she took a quick glance around the room with her mind set on finding Nathan. He wasn't there it seemed.

"Nathan go on a beer run?" she asked Brooke nonchalantly, who had just walked over to them.

Brooke was bright red from all the alcohol she had just consumed.

"No, he's out back," she said a wide smile erupting on her face, "and he's heating up the hot tub."

It was obvious now why Brooke was so excited. Haley felt herself smile as she thought about all the mostly illegal things that happened in that hot tub over the past few years.

"Is he putting the bubbles in it? I love those bubbles," she couldn't help but exclaim.

She was getting giddy at the idea of soaking in the relaxing soapy warm water, and she was sure she could find someone to go in with her if it turned out she wanted that as well.

"It should be good to go in a few minutes. Want to christen it?" Brooke asked.

Haley nodded her head. The two moved towards the back of the house. Theresa was out there with Nathan and Haley saw Brooke visibly clench her jaw when she saw the way Theresa had her arm suggestively thrown around him.

Brooke didn't even wait to find out if the water was warm enough before she stripped down to a lacy bra and the tiniest thong Haley had ever seen. She sauntered into the tub as Nathan watched with an amused look on his face.

Haley didn't think he expected her to follow but she did. She slipped off her jeans and her top, throwing them on to a nearby chair. The sight of her seemed to startle Nathan more than Brooke's did, as he visibly turned away from her as she stepped over the side of the tub and sat down in the warm water.

Brooke may have had her own agenda but as the water jets propelled themselves into Haley's body she ceased to care about anything other than how relaxed she felt. She barely noticed when the water level went down a little indicating that there was another person in the tub. She looked at the person and couldn't help but sigh as Brooke shook her head.

"Not now Jake," she whined, "I was actually starting to relax and enjoy myself."

"I noticed," he responded, "so I thought that made this the perfect time to apologize. I miss her and I miss you, you know."

"I know you do Jake," Haley started to say, "but I feel like I'm being irresponsible every time I leave her with you. What do you want me to do?"

"Haley, let me prove myself," he said, "I don't know who I am without her."

Haley sighed again. She knew she would give in and she knew why she would. She never wanted to have to tell her daughter years down the road that she had been the one to kick her father out of their lives. She never wanted to have to see the resentment in her daughter's face. Haley just hated the inconsistency, how it could be over with him and then in the next heartbeat its back on because it left her never really knowing her own mind.

"Fine, but if you screw up again I swear I'm going to castrate you," she said.

Jake was seemingly satisfied with a threat to his manhood as a response, and he started talking with Brooke about other things then so Haley turned her attention to Nathan. It looked like Theresa was trying to get him to go into the hot tub but he was adamantly refusing. She must have changed her M.O. to the bedroom because he suddenly decided to agree with whatever she said.

"Slut," Brooke hissed when the screen door slid shut, "she knows that after last week he's sort of mine."

Haley laughed.

"You need to realize this right now Brooke that you have no claims on Nathan Scott," she said hoping her honesty would make Brooke realize she was right.

"I kind of do," Brooke answered weakly.

"Honey, no you don't," Haley said again.

"Why are you being like this Haley? I thought you would back me up," Brooke responded, getting angrier by the minute.

"If backing you up means feeding your delusions then I'm sorry Brooke but I can't do that," Haley said, hoisting herself up out of the tub and reaching for one of the towels that Nathan had left there.

Nathan was in the kitchen standing over a blender when Haley walked in. Theresa was nowhere in sight.

"That must have been one quick quickie," Haley joked.

"I'm not in the mood for Haley humor," he said back to her.

"It was that bad huh?" she slid next to him, "couldn't get it up?"

She was chiding him and he was not in the mood to play along. He grabbed her arms and spoke to her almost icily.

"If you keep this up I'm going to say or do something I'll regret later so could you please just not," he said.

"Yeah," Haley conceded after a dazed moment, "I'm sorry. Do you want to talk about it?"

"No," he replied, "but thanks."

"C'mon," she coaxed, "you've been helping me out so why don't you let me repay the favor?"

He sighed.

"It's stupid," Nathan finally said as he relented.

"Nothing about you is stupid," Haley replied.

"This is," he asserted. "I mean, I don't see my parents at all as is it so I don't know why this would even affect me."

It suddenly dawned on Haley what he was referring to. Lucas had mentioned a while back that his father and his stepmother were having major problems.

"Are they getting divorced?" she asked slowly.

He nodded.

"Apparently it's a done deal. Papers went through last week and no one even told me about it. I found them on my dad's desk this morning."

She absentmindedly touched his arm and without warning her pulled her into a hug. He sighed into her body and tightened the hold he had on her. Her senses kicked into overdrive and even though it was supposed to be a sullen moment she felt overly stimulated by his close proximity. It was even better than the way they had touched in the car because he actually seemed to need her this time, he wasn't just being crass. It would have been highly inappropriate to extend her tongue and lick his skin but that was what the brain synapses firing away in her head most definitely wanted her to do. Instead, she coolly patted his shoulders and pushed him off her, remembering just then how very little clothing she was wearing at the moment and how very easy it would be to reach up and kiss him.

"Um, you know," she began with a clearing of her throat, "it might make you feel better if you talk to them about it," Haley said, thinking maybe that would console him.

"What are you, my shrink?" he asked then and Haley recoiled away from him completely then.

"No, I'm not Nathan. I'm not your shrink, I'm not your friend, so let's just not do this," she said before turning her back.

He wanted to reach out to stop her but he didn't. He let her walk away, and spent the rest of the night with Brooke.

**

"You wouldn't believe it Gracie," Haley said to the little girl in the backseat.

She was driving the baby home from her six-month doctor's visit, and talking to the child as she drove along.

"He was in pain so I tried to be nice and offer some supportive advice and what does he do? He jumps down my throat," she groaned, remembering her talk with Nathan in the kitchen at the party the night before.

"I was supposed to figure out what he wants from me but I think that's the kicker baby, I don't think he wants anything from me at all. I was just his amusement for the week, like some charity project slash kicking post," she said angrily.

Her foot pressed the accelerator with more force the more she thought about it.

"He said it himself. He's stupid. He's a stupid, stupid [I]boy[/I] who.who.is really stupid," she could have chuckled at how crazy she was sounding, incoherently bitching at her daughter about Nathan Scott and his mixed-up attitude.

The light ahead of her was changing from yellow to red.

"I need to re-group Gracie. I need to focus on you and your daddy and make sure he buckles down and treats you right because that is the most important thing. I need to not think about Nathan and his stupid stupid- ness. I need to not think about him.about his hands.about his hands on my."

The light ahead changed to red but Haley was accelerating too fast to brake completely and she sped through the intersection. She missed a car turning left by an inch. Horns blew at her and the baby started to wail, frightened by the loud noises and her mother's cursing in the front seat.

Haley pulled over immediately. She turned around to make sure the baby was okay. Gracie was screaming but she was only afraid, not physically hurt.

She took a deep breath.

"I need to breathe, I need to breathe," she repeated a few times, trying to calm down. She parked and opened the back door and unbuckled Gracie from the car seat. She held the baby tightly. She didn't hear as Nathan approached her from behind.

"Are you okay? I saw you run the red light," he asked.

Haley rolled her eyes.

"You're here. Why am I not surprised? You're freaking everywhere," she mumbled.

Nathan scoffed.

"Get over yourself. The only reason I'm here is you're two blocks from Tim's house and I was on my way home from conditioning. Why would you say I'm everywhere?"

"Uh, maybe because you seem to show up wherever I am," Haley said, regretting it the minutes the words came out of her mouth.

"I think someone is a little paranoid. I promise next time you're almost in a car accident I won't be a good Samaritan and stop to see if your okay," he said.

"Nathan I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. I'm just really shaken up right now," she admitted.

"Well what were you thinking about that made you so distracted you ran a light," he asked.

She looked up at him, and couldn't help it that her gaze landed on his mouth for a little too long, finally erupting in a full-blown smile.

"Oh," he said, raising his eyebrow. "Was it something I did to distract you?"

She continued to look into his eyes.

"Yeah. I was thinking about how much I hate you and I forgot to pay attention," she said, skewing the truth but not completely.

Gracie had stopped crying and Haley was more than ready to get out of there. She strapped Gracie back in her seat then faced Nathan again.

"We should go," she said then, "I really need to get home."

"Yeah alright. Get her there safe," he said before leaving.

Haley climbed into the drivers seat and shivered. She made eye contact with Gracie in the rearview mirror.

"He is still stupid Gracie," she said with a nod, "really, really stupid and you better not try to convince me otherwise."

**

Her wedding dreams vary. She's been pregnant in them, white dress constricting around her expanding belly until the pain starts and she starts losing the baby. She's been submerged in water, wet veil wrapping itself around her mouth so she can't scream out for help. She's been entrapped in a fire ridden chapel, soot and ash blackening dress and body alike. In these, she's always alone, and she always dies.

**

"Tell me again why you haven't gotten laid in a month?" Brooke asked incredulously as she and Haley waited on line for tickets to the movies.

Jake agreed to watch Gracie so Haley could spend some much needed time by herself, or rather with Brooke but with no baby for the afternoon.

"I just haven't," Haley offered up lamely.

She had tried with a few other guys so it wasn't that she decided to go all born-again virgin on everyone. She didn't know exactly what it was that was stopping her, and she probably wouldn't admit the truth even if she did figure it out.

"Well, you definitely missed out with Jimmy Evers, girl. That guy is hung like." she was pushed up to the ticket window then and said rather embarrassed, "oh, uh one ticket for what are we seeing?"

"Cold Mountain," Haley tells the guy.

Brooke hands him money.

"The title sounds so boring. Why are we going to see this again?"

"Because I want to and because you think Jude Law is so hot it's worth sitting through a period piece about the Civil War," she reminds Brooke.

"Oh, yeah. Well, the sacrifices I make."

Brooke gets her change and Haley buys her ticket and the two head into the theater. They bypass the too-expensive and too-fattening candy and popcorn stands and go to find seats. It's opening day for the movie so the theater is pretty packed even in the middle of the afternoon.

The movie starts and after a half hour Haley realizes she probably should have eaten something before they left because her stomach starts to growl.

"You're being loud and it's distracting me from the yummy boy on screen," Brooke whispered, "go get something to eat."

The movie was another two and a half hours long and Haley knew she wouldn't be able to last that long without eating or at least without really annoying the people sitting around her so she got up slowly and tried to leave the theater without disturbing anyone. She walked up the aisle and was almost to the doors when she felt a strong arm pull her over towards the seats. They were all the way in the back and there weren't any people in the few surrounding seats. The only one sitting there was Nathan Scott.

"What are you doing?" she hissed at him.

He pulled her onto his lap.

"You're been ignoring me for weeks and I don't like it," he whispered into her ear.

"I don't care what you like or don't like," she said, struggling to get up.

"Haley, we both know that's not true," he never raised his voice above a whisper and it was driving her crazy.

He slipped his hands under her shirt. She started to moan a little, even though she tried to suppress it.

"No, don't do this," she pleaded with him as he unclasped her bra and felt him cup her with his soft hands, "c'mon don't do.do that."

**

"Haley, shut up!" Brooke nudged her friend who had fallen asleep next to her.

She couldn't help but giggle though as it seemed like Haley was having a pretty good sex dream about someone.

Haley opened her eyes completely discombobulated.

There was no Nathan. She was still wearing her bra. She was sitting next to Brooke not on Nathan's lap in the back of the theater.

Haley yawned, and her stomach growled again. She never had gotten that food. She stood up again, or rather for the first time, and headed towards the doors. She was stunned to see Nathan sitting in the same spot he had been in her dream. He smiled at her and for a moment she thought he was going to grab her but then Tim swung open the door and sat down next to Nathan, and Haley exited as quickly as her feet would carry her.

**