Watching, watching, watching.................
I watched, watched everything going on in that church. I observed Lucas at the front of the church. My brother was adjusting his collar uncomfortably, staring at his feet, then at my father beside him. I love Lucas, I really truly do, I hope he gets what I'm trying to say as I stand beside him and smile through the tears. I think he gets it.
I look passed him, spot my mother, Karen, Keith, sitting together, smiling, I play a game, try to work out whether they are true smiles or false ones, but it's too hard to tell and right now I don't really care. My eyes roam towards the back of the church, two rows from the back. There's Brooke with her latest man, a nice guy, Jeff, 2nd year medical student. He calls Brooke, 'beautiful' and he thinks about her every minute of every day. I like him a lot, he'll look after Brooke. She needs someone to do that.
As I watch them the music begins, the crowd rise to their feet, my heart begins to pound, thud thud, thud thud, thud thud. My eyes never leave the chapel door.
Peyton emerges through it, she looks beautiful and I smile at how happy she seems. Her feet glide gently and I find myself counting with her, right together , left together, right together, left together.
She loses concentration only once as she makes her way down the aisle.
When her eyes meet Jakes'. Her heart flip-flops in her chest, and she suddenly seems more radiant at the smallest of glances that passes between the pair.
Jake holds Jenny tightly on his knee, the 6 year old fidgets, wriggling wanting to see the woman she calls 'mommy'.
Catching sight of Peyton she gives a small cry, 'There she is!'
A murmur of laughter passes through the -assemble-d congregation. Jake blushes embarrassed. 'Jen, shhhh' he whispers, 'we have to be quiet now'.
I laugh with them, Jenny is a good child, she's everything to Peyton and Jake, and if anyone deserves some happiness it's these two.
As Peyton reaches the front of the aisle, task accomplished as a bridesmaid, she sends Lucas a small smile. I watch them closely, reading their expressions, there's a sense of acceptance there now. No feelings dragging them down, they're friends, people who will always remain in each others hearts but nothing more now.
They have both moved on.
The bridal march begins and my heart stops. This is what everyone is waiting for, what I am waiting for.
There she is.
My Haley, I chastise myself immediately, now is not the time for that.
She begins to walk. She is absolutely stunning. Hair loose, in waves, no make-up, so natural, so beautiful, so perfect.
She looks ahead of her to the front of the church, and I stare, that is all I can do. Nothing else seems to exist now, not Lucas, not my parents, not even Haley's father who clings to her arm, unwilling to let his daughter go as they walk forward. Everything fades to nothing, as she walks down the aisle, there is nothing and no-one else in this world to me.
She smiles, she is happy, she really is, but then she feels a twinge of sadness so sharp, it almost makes her pause and catch her breath, right there, in the aisle on her wedding day.
No Haley, I silently will her, no, not today, not now. You're happy, we are happy.
She seems to hear me though I say nothing out loud and she places the carefully masked smile back on her face, because she is happy, really she is.
Her father gently removes her arm from his as they reach the front of the church. I watch him and smile. I always liked Tom James, he's overprotective and loud, but he loves his family and he loves his youngest especially, he coughs gruffly and hopes to God no-one will notice the tear in his eye as he gently leaves his daughter at the alter.
Don't worry Tom, she'll be loved.
I watch as Haley smiles, it feels like she really sees me when she smiles like that, then she smiles at Lucas. He smiles back. I stand between them.
The priest stares ahead, what a beautiful young couple, so much love, so much life, so much time together.
I step forward, Haley and Lucas do to.
The priest begins with the typical, 'we are gathered here today....' I look around me. That's true of course, but how funny that I never really listen to that statement before.
We are all gathered here today.
I blot the priest out as he drones on, my eyes fall on the man in the second row. I smile, my heart fills a little.
Tim's hair's got a lot longer and I notice that he's attempting the rugged look, it looks all wrong, I long to tell him that, but now's not the place, instead I smile.
He looks lost, and a little hurt.
But what can I say now, how can I help him.
Truth is I can't. Not now, I have to be with Haley.
I turn back to the priest. He asks to hear the vows, I blot out everything until I hear Haley. When Haley and I discussed marriage, in the later part of our relationship she had been very specific about what she wanted. She wanted us to write our own vows.
It's not real if you're reciting someone elses feelings Nathan. I want you to know what's true in my heart.
Then why does it hurt so bad that she's doing that now.
I swallow the lump in my throat that threatens to choke me.
Focus on her, focus on her Nathan and you'll be fine.
She smiles across, in front of her, I stand before her, watching, waiting, watching, it's all I can do.
Her voice is loud, clear, but I feel her heart pounding as if it is my own. Hear her willing herself to get this right to do this the way it should be done.
'When I first met you, I knew we had a special connection. Something was always there, you have always been there for me, defending me, protecting me, loving me, honouring me, and I want to do the same for you now. I want to defend you, protect you, love you, honour you. The way you deserve to be honoured.'
My heart threatens to jump right out of my chest. Her eyes well up, she is happy, so happy, but at the same time sad, so desperately sad.
You can do it Hales, I find myself thinking, you can do it, I love you and I know you're strong enough to do this.
She swallows, she can hear me, I know she can.
'I want to be that person for you. I will give you my heart, my body and my soul.'
And at the word soul I feel numb, just numb, totally and completely numb.
'And I promise to be there as a wife to you for the rest of our days.'
She smiles, she's done it. I stare into her eyes, tears threatening to overflow. She stares back and for a moment I know it's us. I know that it's us in front of that alter, in front of all those people.
She adds one last sentence.
'I love you Lucas.'
And then it's gone. Our world is gone, our life is gone, our love is gone.
And I step back.
I shouldn't be up there, I shouldn't be ruining their moment, she's looking at Lucas, of course she's looking at Lucas. It's not like she could possibly be looking at me.
My brother smiles back, tears are in his own eyes as he stares back at the woman he loves, at the woman we both love.
I watch them, I watch them smile at one another. I watch Karen dab a tissue to her tearstained cheeks, I watch Tim try and force a smile, I watch my father at Luke's side standing upright, tall, proud. I watch my mother crying different tears, more sad than happy really.
I stand back and I try to smile, really I do, I'm happy for them, of course I am, I wanted this, I honestly did.
But as I try to smile all I hear is the priest's decleration 'I now pronounce you husband and wife' and all I want to do is break into a thousand tiny pieces. No make that a million, a million tiny little pieces.
Haley steps forward, Lucas steps forward, their lips meet.
I cry then, I can't help it, I hate myself for being so selfish, but I want her so bad, I want her to kiss me like that, I want this to be our wedding, I want this to be our life together, our lifetime of happiness, not hers and Lukes.
Not hers and Lukes'.
And then I feel bad as I blink away the tears the guilt hits me, I should be happy for them, I am happy for them, but I'm also sad for me, I'm so sad for me.
Haley places her head on my brother's shoulder as she pulls back from the kiss.
Oh Nathan. She thinks, the tears of sadness, joy, sadness, falling down onto her dress, onto her beautiful, white, wedding dress.
Lucas hugs her back, Oh Nathan, he thinks, I wish you could be here.
I am here Luke.
I am here.
The moment seems to last an eternity as the three of us remain huddled together for the final time. As we'd always been. Lives intertwined, hearts intertwined, souls intertwined.
And now mine was gone.
I watch as they pull back, clasp hands and begin to walk down the aisle, people clap and hug and congratulate them.
Tim stiffly pats Luke on the back. His loyalty still with me, always with me.
My mother hugs Karen, shares happiness in her friends' son that she'll never have in her own.
I watch as everyone files out of the church. Peyton and Jake are the last to leave, Jenny sandwiched between them as she giggles and tosses the confetti.
And then there's no-one, silence, just me and the church.
And I feel lonely, so very, very lonely, for the first real time since any of this happened.
I am truly alone now, everyone has moved on.
But I am still here.
And it's the first time that it really sucks to be dead.
I find myself at the reception in seconds, don't ask me how I can do this, I just can. First rule of heaven, you don't dish the dirt on the whys and wherefores or you end up in the other place and lord knows I was lucky enough to get here so I sure as hell aint gonna risk that.
I sit in a chair, waiting for everyone to arrive.
So I guess you're all wondering what happened to me huh? Well this isn't one of those stories where I say, 'I guess this is where I go back to the beginning', no I've never been a lover of those cheesy chick flick stories. Nope, you'll be either relieved or saddened to know that when I died there was no great white light, no flippin tunnel that you hear about and I most certainly did not see the face of God.
No, frankly that would scare the bejeesus out of me.
Nope that day, I merely left my body and ended up where I am now, some higher plain of existence.
I was at the café, I'd like to say my death was kind of comical you know, death by runaway milk float or something. But to be honest, it wasn't really funny at all.
I had stopped by to pick up Haley when the café closed, I had wandered in casually, as I usually did on a Friday night. But this wasn't your usual Friday night.
As soon as I entered I knew something was wrong, don't ask me how, but I felt those little hairs on the back of my neck stand up before I'd even registered what was going on.
It was a robbery, a hold-up, one look at Haley's white face and Luke's shaking hands told me how serious it was.
And I with my usual, impeccable timing, walked right into the middle of it.
One of the three guys had a gun, he forced me to stand with Lucas and Haley.
Anybody makes a move and I'll blow them away..
How true that was.
It would have been your usual, successful hold-up, if the thugs hadn't got stupid.
They turned their backs and Luke triggered Karen's silent under-counter alarm.
A police cruiser was outside in minutes. The thugs were freaked.
We need to get out of here man, we have to take the girl, it's the only way they won't shoot at us.
I remember vividly the way my stomach dropped at that statement. I don't know how but in that second all I knew was that there was no way in hell they were leaving with Haley.
Take me, take me, I won't put up a fight.
They hadn't listened. They thought that a girl would be their safest option.
Lucas was talking, trying to reason with them, but all I remember is the blood pounding through my veins and the knowledge that I was not going to let them take her.
Everything seems to take place in slow motion then. As I look back, and remember, each time I notice something different that I could have done in order to save all of us, to save myself. But no matter how many times I see it, one thing never changes.
I never regret doing what I did.
I can see it now, I can see myself, watching as they moved towards Haley. They were going to kill her after they took her, I knew that without a doubt, and as I watch myself feel the cold immobilising fear take over my body, I see my right foot shoot out, and I watch myself lunge towards them.
Sometimes I watch Lucas and Haley when I'm not watching myself, I watch their reaction as I try to take the gun.
Lucas is shouting, his mouth is moving really fast even though I'm watching everything at such a slower speed. The more times I watch it the more I realise, he is screaming my name. He steps forward, but not soon enough, he steps forward at the same instant the bullet rips through me.
Haley reaches in horror for my arm, she yells 'No!' She clings to my arm, and she's still clinging to it as she feels my body shake with the force of the bullet lodging itself in my chest.
As for me, well, I remember feeling invincible, I was so sure they weren't going to get me. I was so sure I could save Haley, I could save Lucas, I could save us all, oh well, two out of three aint bad.
I remember the feeling of total surprise as I felt myself fall. Never panic really, never real pain, just total and utter surprise.
Then Haley and Lucas next to me, around me, as I lie on the ground looking up.
Nathan, oh my god, talk to me.
You're going to be alright bro, I promise, you're going to be ok.
But I wasn't ok, not really. I died.
It wasn't the worst way to go, I mean I got to die saving people I loved, but I wish I'd had longer. I remember thinking as I lay on that café floor that the lighting was really bright in there and that everything was starting to lose focus. But I didn't really think I was dying.
I was confused when I saw the blood all over my brother's hands and I was shocked to see the tears pouring down Haley's face, but I wasn't really in pain.
I love you Bro, you're going to be fine ok, don't give up.
I wasn't even that scared, the only moment I began to panic was when Haley took my face in her palms and kissed me on the lips, her eyes wide, horrified,
I love you, I love you, why did you do that, why didn't you let them take me?
I couldn't let them do that Haley, I could never let them do that.
I really panicked when I could no longer make out her features. This was the woman I loved and I couldn't see that silky hair or those beautiful eyes anymore. I died listening with her voice in my head. I couldn't see her, but I could sure as hell hear her and I clung to that voice as a life- line.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
And then I was gone.
My body was anyway.
I found myself drifting out of my body, that much of the myth is true. I was looking down on myself. I watched Haley screaming, Lucas sobbing uncontrollably, paramedics arriving swooping down on my blood-stained form.
But they were too late.
And then I drifted, from that moment I went wherever I wanted to go. But more often than not, I found myself with the people I loved.
Watching, watching, watching.
I went home with Haley that night. She was in such a bad state she had to be sedated. She thinks she dreamt that I came and stroked her hair, told her everything was going to be ok.
She didn't dream that.
I sat with Haley a lot that night, just trying to ease her suffering a little. I watched her parents too.
Anna James, Haley's mom, cried.
Such a lovely boy, such a brave kid.
Tom James, tried to be strong.
He saved our girl, he really did save her.
I was touched, I sat at the table with Haley's parents and thought about what could have been. I thought of all the times we would have arrived with our kids on thanksgiving, I thought of a crazy dinner with all of her siblings and nieces and nephews.
Haley, Nathan, kids, you're here, come in, come in, Haley, your mother's got the turkey in the oven, but she's forgotten the cake, she's going crazy.
I thought about the two siblings of Haley's six brothers and sisters that I had never got to meet. Would they have liked me, would they have wondered if I was good enough for their little sister. I guess I'd never know.
When Haley seemed to be resting as comfortably as she could, I found myself at Lukes'.
He didn't sleep at all.
He sat all night in a big chair in his living room, staring into space and crying. Karen had tried to comfort him, she had eventually fallen asleep on the couch next to him, unwilling to leave her son, even for a moment.
Lucas thought I couldn't hear him, but I could. He blamed himself.
If I had just moved sooner, I could have got you out of the way.
You couldn't have Lucas.
It's my place, as your big brother, I should have protected you.
No Lucas, you couldn't have. No one could have stopped me, so stop blaming yourself.
I sat with him for a long time, I sat with him as a million thoughts ran through his head. He remembered when we hated each other,
What a waste.
He remembered when he taught me the fade-away.
You were such a fast learner.
He remembered me defending him to my father after the Playoff game.
Man I loved you so much at that moment.
He remembered when we went paint-balling and he whooped my ass.
Come back Nate, come back, I'll let you win, just come back please.
I wished I could. For just that one moment when I watched my brother cry himself to sleep I wanted to go back, just to hold him in my arms, to let him know it wasn't his fault.
But I couldn't, I couldn't watch much more. I found myself at my mothers.
I was surprised to see my father at our old house. My parents were sitting on the floor in tears, holding one another. I spent a lot of time in my life mad at my mom or my dad, or both, but even I knew how much it would hurt them to lose me. Their only child, well my mom's only child.
My dad was drunk, his breath stunk of whiskey as he held my mother's sobbing head to his chest. But he couldn't get rid of the pain.
He couldn't forget.
Not about me.
Not this time.
I want you back Nate, please son, I don't care if you become a garbage man, whatever, I don't care son, I just want you back.
But he didn't get me back.
My mom wanted to wake up, she kept replaying Karen's words at the hospital, after Luke's accident, over and over in her head.
I watched him all night but I couldn't help thinking, I'm the one that can't wake up. I'm the one that can't wake up, I'm the one that can't wake up........
And I wanted so desperately to see my mom, just one last time, to have a real conversation. The last time we'd spoken, I had told her that Haley and I were thinking of getting our own place. I had had to go in a hurry, Tim had been at the door. And I had said 'gotta go mom'.
Not 'I love you', not 'goodbye mom', just 'gotta go'. And as I watched my parents cry in one anothers arms, it hit me how pointless and trivial that comment was. 'Gotta go mom', there was so much more I could have said, would have said, if only I had known.
But I said it then, as I watched them, I spoke to my mom, and I told her everything would be ok and that I'd always be with her. I don't know if on any level she heard me, but I like to think she did, because she did fall into a restless sleep after that.
The following day I visited Tim.
For some reason I just knew I needed to see him.
What I saw made me cry.
He was attacking a tree in his garden with a chainsaw. All he felt was anger, white hot fury at the guys who killed me, they were caught later on, but they managed to escape from the scene of my murder.
My best friend hacked at the tree ferociously, and as he watched the last shard of wood fall onto his lawn, I stood beside him as he surveyed the wreckage that was our old tree house.
Being the precocious 7 year olds that we were we had insisted on Tim's dad building it for us as our den when we were kids. Andy Smith spent an entire summer with us helping us painfully build each panel of wood until we had the perfect secret fort. For just Tim and I, nobody else.
It was our hideaway from the world.
It was where we sat and talked when Tim's mom left him and his father the following summer.
She'll come back.
No she won't Nate, stop saying it, it's not going to happen, my dad says she's gone for good.
I think I was bad.
It's where Tim found me when I ran away from home the day my dad told me I couldn't talk to Lucas.
But he's your brother.
I know, but my dad says I can't talk to him again Tim. I hate my daddy, I really hate him. It would be nice to have a big brother don't you think?
Don't know, I haven't got one.
Well neither have I now.
Well, you could be my little brother Nate, you're a month younger than me, we could be brothers to each other.
It was where we tried our first cigarettes when we were 13. And where we were collared by Andy for smoking them.
That had better not be what I think it is boys.
Dad, come on everyone tries them.
Yeah well you boys aren't everyone Timothy, I'm disappointed in you. Nate, you too, I'm going to have to tell your parents about this.
My mom's not home, she's on a business trip.
Well your dad then.
No, oh please Andy, don't tell him, you don't know what he's like, I promise we'll never do it again.
Oh alright then, but you'd better stay good on that promise.
And we had.
It was in that tree house that Tim told me that his dad wanted to marry a younger woman named Sherri who neither of us liked. It was that tree house where we brought girls for the first time when we were 13 ½.
And now it was destroyed.
I watched my best friend stare down at the wreckage and it hit me for the first time, I wasn't coming back. I was gone, and it was destroying people.
I watched as Tim's anger began to turn to complete heartbreak. He stood for a few seconds before collapsing onto the grass. Sobbing, falling apart.
Why did you have to die man, why did you have to leave me?
I didn't have any answers I sat next to him and cried with him until Andy Smith came out and took his son in his arms, both of them crying for the boy they had lost, and the tree house that existed now only in their memories.
My funeral wasn't as bad as I'd feared, I assumed the worst, you know everyone in black, sombre music, people I barely knew saying how great I was. But really it was good, I was touched.
Somehow, my mom and Haley, they knew what I would have wanted.
No-one was allowed to wear black, and when I watched my brother inform the school of that prior to the service, I let out a halleluiah, because black is not me at all. And the service was to be held in the gym as well.
The school was very sombre, because not being arrogant, alright maybe just a little arrogant, but I was popular you know. People liked me.
Girls cried, boys moped and they even tried to cancel the B-Ball game, but I've never been more proud of my brother than when he announced that I would have wanted it to go ahead.
Tim backed him up.
The guys were all pretty torn up, but Tim and Lucas started to form a close bond, they both knew how the other felt. I can't say I didn't give them a little shove in the right direction, but all for the cause right.
I watched Whitey hand Lucas my jersey after the game. And I didn't miss the tears shared between my coach and my brother. Whitey had felt my death hard.
At my funeral, Luke put my jersey into the ground as my body was buried. He also gave a pretty Lukesque speech about how I was a bit of an ass, but there was no one like me. I had to laugh at that. And I had to cry a little when he struggled to hold it together towards the end.
He was the best little brother a guy could ask for.
But if I found tears and humour in Luke's speech, I found no laughter in Haleys'.
She looked so awful and so sad, but she was so brave and strong as she stood on that podium, in that gym, where I had played and won and lost, so many games.
She told everyone about how much she loved me and how we were supposed to spend the rest of our lives together.
We're soul-mates, I know he'll always be with me.
And I as I watched her, as I watched everyone stare into that grave, I knew I would be, and so here I am.
Watching, watching like I've done the past 5 years. But this time it's different, I'm watching her get married. To my brother.
I can't say I didn't have something to do with that. The two of them more than anyone mourned me. I know they did.
And I finally got so sick of the sadness, and I filled them both with feelings that went a little beyond friendship, that went to love. If I was selfish, which I admit I can be sometimes, I'd keep Haley mine forever, because I know without my intervention she would have lived with my memory and no-one else forever.
But if there's one thing I've learned up here, it's not to be selfish.
I wanted Haley to be happy, I wanted her to find someone who would love her the way she deserved to be, the way I would have loved her if I'd been given the chance.
And one day I realised, where she would get that love.
He too hadn't moved on, they both thought about me so often that they were overcome by sadness.
And I had to put a stop to it, so I did.
The day they finally kissed, 4 years, 2 months, 18 days and 2 hours after my death, I cheered. I felt no sadness, no jealousy, only peace that they were finally moving on.
The wedding day is different. I'm not sad because I begrudge them both happiness, I honest to God don't. I'm just sad that everyone's moved on now, except me, and I'm sad that I don't get to have Haley as my wife, and I don't get to see our kids grow up.
But I feel lucky to have had the time I've had to watch them all, the people I love, the woman I love and to still have on some level been a part of their lives.
And as I watch Haley and Lucas share their first dance, I smile, I have been a part of their lives. I got them together. I made them happy.
And as I watch my mother and father hug, I know that my helping hand, brought them back together too and I feel a little better.
And then I see my father reach over and hug Lucas, and I know that without my death they'd never have gotten closer.
And later on I see Tim, who is still broken up about me, pining after a bridesmaid and I smile and focus really hard on her, and my smile broadens as she moves over and asks him to dance.
And even later on that lovely evening I watch Brooke and Jeff and Peyton and Jake chatting and laughing between themselves and I see my mom and Dad, and Karen and Keith and Whitey discussing the new team coming up at Tree Hill High.
And as Haley and Lucas smile at one another and begin their speeches I already know what's coming. Haley smiles through her tears.
I think that everybody knows that someone couldn't be here tonight, and I think everybody here loves him and misses him more than anything. Nathan, you'll always be a part of us, we love you so much. To Nathan.
As everyone raises their glasses, I feel an odd sensation and images start to flood my mind.
Tim at the alter with the attractive bridesmaid.
Brooke and Jeff kissing as he's officially named a doctor.
Peyton and Jake at Jenny's graduation.
My mom ,Dad, Karen and Keith on a cruise ship.
And finally Haley and Lucas rocking a small baby in their arms as they stand at my graveside.
We wanted to introduce you to your namesake Nathan
They tell the baby.
And I smile, because I know this is it now.
Everyone's going to be ok.
I can go now.
Back at the wedding Haley's still talking.
And I'm free.
Haley sat down as she finished her toast and Lucas stood up to say a few words, but she was suddenly overcome with an odd sensation. Her eyes drifted towards the gardens out of the beautiful manor where their reception was taking place.
And there at the very far end of the garden, was Nathan.
Her breath caught in her throat as she stared, afraid to blink, for fear she'd miss him.
He smiled, in that y way that only Nathan Scott could, and then he waved at her, and disappeared.
Haley squeezed her eyes shut and then opened them again.
But he was gone.