Author's Note: Months of waiting and here it is. I'm sorry I'm such a slow writer these days. My muse is being a bitch. So if there is anything sucking in this chapter please send all blame her way please. Feedback and such is, as always, much appreciated. Hugs and kisses my darlings!

Chapter 14
Oh, This Sweet Misery You Cause Me

Groups of staring eyes follow Haley and Nathan as they reenter the party from the main staircase. Nathan notices several pairs directed at him and a quick chill creeps its way down his spine. He attempts to shrug it off, but his body can't seem to stay still. His hand involuntarily twitches around Haley's, begging to be inside his pocket. He resists by straightening out his arm. Haley glances at him as they traipse through the main hall, and she can tell he seems agitated.

She lets his hand go.

Nathan thinks about grabbing hers up again, but instead shoves both hands into his pants pockets and lets out a long breath. Haley gives him a slanted smile, and he forces himself to relax. Breathe in. Exhale. Loosen up. Breathe in. Exhale. Be calm.

They turn the corner to where a group of parents and other kids are standing around talking. In the middle of the group is Brooke holding a glass of juice in her hand, staring back at him. It's probably spiked, Nathan thinks, and turns away from her before his lungs begin to tighten up again. When he refocuses his attention on Haley he notices his uncle Keith has come up to them and said something to him, he can't remember what it was so he nods and says, "Yeah."

"Yeah what," his uncle asks with kind eyes, and an over eager grin. He's amused and waiting for more, more of what Nathan isn't sure.

"Umm," Nathan scrambles for words. Confused.

Haley laughs and places her hand on his back, running her fingers up and down his spine soothingly. "He asked you to introduce us Nathan."

"Actually, I asked you to introduce me to this beautiful young lady you have by your side," he interjects looking from Haley to him again.

Nathan swallows hard. His throat dry and scratchy. He hears a small almost inaudible hum from somewhere off in the distance. He ignores it even when it grows louder. Reconnecting eyes with his uncle, he extracts his right hand from his pocket and wraps a comforting arm around Haley's shoulders. She falls into his embrace, careful to lean into him but not against him. He doesn't notice this.

"Uncle Keith this is Haley James. Haley, my Uncle Keith," Nathan says smoothly, not a single crack in his voice. Haley and his Uncle shake hands cordially, and then part.

"It's a pleasure to meet you Mr. Scott. I've heard good things about you."

His uncle brightens at this and puts on a teasing grin. "Well they're all lies I'm sure. Now Nathan on the other hand neglected to mention he had such a pretty girlfriend the last time we spoke. Have you two been friends for awhile?"

"More or less," Haley answers for him when Nathan doesn't speak. He can't.

The word girlfriend rings in his ears, and the humming that sounded so distant just moments before grows heavier around him. He watches Haley smile. His uncle smile. Everyone is smiling. He feels lightheaded. He can't speak. Why can't he speak?

"So you two go to school together I take it? Or well, used to go to school together," his Uncle continues on, unaware of anything but the conversation that is happening right in front of him. "So I take it you are into the whole basketball scene as well. Do you cheer for the team?"

"Me a cheerleader? Oh God no. No, no not so much," Haley laughs taken aback by his Uncle's suggestion. Nathan makes an attempt at an amused smile, for Haley's sake.

"We had history together last year," he interjects less confident that before, but still steady.

"Well that's great," his Uncle states happily. "So are you looking forward to summer then, or are you ready to dive into college life now? I never made it past highschool myself, so I'm sure it must be exciting."

"Yeah it is," Haley agrees. "I got into my first choice school, which I never believed would happen, but it did and now the thought of waiting until August to go, seems like torture."

Keith laughs like he knows what Haley is talking about. Out of the corner of Nathan's eye he watches as his father's figure comes into the room next to them. He stills, waiting, hoping, praying that his father will just leave them all alone.

"I bet. But, the summer will go by faster than you think, trust me. I swear, yesterday I was getting ready to graduate, and then poof! I'm here. Blink and you'll miss it, that sort of thing, you know?"

Haley nods, and catches Nathan not paying attention. She softly tugs on the side of his shirt where her hand is hidden causing him to turn away from his father's entreating form.When he flickers his eyes back just for a second, he's gone.

"So I've already heard where my nephew's off to this fall," his uncles says with pride, smacking Nathan on the back, "but just out of curiosity where are you going?"

Haley is hesitant when answering this question. Carefully controlled enthusiasm."I...Well I earned a full scholarship to go to NYU, so I'll be majoring in photojournalism up there."

"Photojournalism huh? You don't hear about that one very often. What kinds of..." Nathan tunes his uncle out. He watches them talk, but he doesn't, can't, listen to what they're saying. His head hurts something fierce and his brain is stuck in a far off limbo. Haley and his uncle smile as their mouths move.

He smiles back at them, watching his father come from around the corner of the hall they were standing in.

Nathan hadn't realized he was still there.

----------------

A half an hour later, he and Haley sit on the set of swings that sits adjacent to his backyard. The breeze blows through Haley's hair, as she uses her tip-toes for leverage to lightly push herself back and forth.

Nathan's not been able to think of anything remotely interesting to say since they joined the public eye little less than an hour ago. All coherent thought has escaped him, and so he numbly sits on the swing beside Haley trying to muster up something, anything to talk about. His head is facing forward, but after a long silence in the one-sided conversation she was having with him her swing slows to a stop. He feels her hand light on his neck. He doesn't want to back off, and it's time to just spell it out: he's so hooked there's no way out of this. He straightens up and Haley's hand slides over his back and then up to his face, a reminder of her existence. Hooked all the way, tied up like a roped steer.

"You're uncle's nice," she breaks the silence, waiting for him to speak. He remains quiet. "Why doesn't he come around more often?"

"Him and my dad don't really get along," Nathan offers.

"I'm sorry," Haley adds, never knowing quite what to say to the issue of Nathan's father.

"Don't be," he says trying to sound sincere. "It's not your fault."

Faint sounds from the crowd outside can be heard from their position on swings, but other than that it has become quiet between them again.

Haley worries her bottom lip between her teeth, and gazes at Nathan's hands wrapped around the swings chain. "Are you ok," she asks. "You've been so quiet ever since we walked back downstairs."

"I'm fine," he lies and tries to stop thinking. If he stops thinking about his headache--which comes and goes like the tide, briefly staved off by the cool spring breeze rushing over his face, then swelling again–maybe he could give her a better answer.

Haley doesn't look like she believes anything he says. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," he turns his head and stares at the street behind his house through a group of trees. The tree branches sway with the wind, back and forth, back and forth. No responsibility other than to just be. Sounds nice.

"Are you really sure," she prods, and he hears the urgency in her voice. She wants to know he's ok, so that if he's not she can fix it.

Fix what?

His voice has an edge, but it's low and sing-song and seductive. "Haley. Yes. I'm, O-K."

"I don't believe you. Just tell me what's wrong," she pleads in the that stern tone of hers. The one that's supposed to let him know that she's being serious now. In most cases he usually thinks it more cute than threatening, but now he just feels indifferent. His temple throbs, and the humming has now grown into a buzzing that is slowly eating it's way through his brain. But she's still looking at him, waiting for an answer. A better answer.

"Nothing," he shrugs. "...nothing much."

Haley folds her arms over her chest, and purses her lips together. She's pretending to be mad. But she's worried. She doesn't fool him. "Well that's vague. Care to expand a little more?"

Nathan turns his head up and looks at her, staring into her brown chestnut eyes. He doesn't even know where to start. He has no idea. None at all. It feels like minutes pass, maybe hours or even an eternity before he opens his mouth to speak again. Haley's waiting for him patiently because that's what she does, and he takes it. He takes everything she gives him. He takes it all.

"There's something that I've been wanting to talk about. But I don't really..."

"Don't what," she reaches her hand over and laces it with his. Her skin warm and velvety smooth. He encases her tiny hand with all of his finger and holds on tight. He takes a deep breath in and briefly closes his eyes, calming himself.

From back in the crowd the sound of glass shattering, breaks through their conversation and the entire party. A certain few loud, upset voices can be heard over all others, and it's when Haley recognizes one of those voices as familiar to her, that her eyes widen. For a split second she looks to Nathan for what to do, but he stays motionless. Something else shatters against the pavement, and Haley moves with a kind of speed he's only seen in his own teammates during a game. He gets up, taking chase after her. It's almost completely silent as he moves, and Nathan wonders how that can be.

Up by his house there's a huge crowd just right outside, bunched together in some sort of tribal circle. He loses sight of Haley and everything else, because he's too stunned to move and the rest of the people are quicker on their feet, closing in like a pack of wolves while he snaps for air. Nathan looks around, trying to get a glimpse of what is going on, but there's no help in the faces there. It's creepy the way everyone moved together and now starts to move apart, all of them silent.

He attempts to look over people and yet he can see nothing, only hear a few voices, that sound so far away. "What's going on," he yells, stupidly and grabs the nearest arm, but his fingers slide lewdly over the fabric of their shirt due to the wet, slick skin of his hand and he doesn't even know who he's touching. He tries to push them aside, to get a better view, and when he does, he wishes he could look away.

Now in the center of the crowd, Haley scrambles amongst the shards of broken glass upon his stone patio, her mother belligerent, and shrieking. I didn't knock anything over. Haley! Where's Haley? I didn't do anything. Don't touch me. I want my husband. Where's my daughter? Where's Haley? Leave me alone. I said don't touch me. And then there's Haley right by her side, comforting her as her father and everyone else watches on in horror. It's ok mom. I'm here. I'm here. It's Haley, I'm here.

Nathan moves forward and back, forward and back, as if he's still on the swing. The buzzing in his head has turned everything hollow. He's in a cave, watching what's happening from far away.

He can't seem to stop himself from walking off into the other direction.