The clock said there were less than two seconds left. They were past half court. Nathan was being double teamed, no triple teamed. Where the hell were his guys? There was nowhere to go and the distinct tick of the clock matched the even, pounding rhythm of his heart.
"Shoot the ball, Nathan!"
It was Lucas. Nathan could hear his brother yelling from the stands. So he bent his knees and went for it. Nearly 30 feet away and it would have taken a miracle for that ball to make it into the hoop. It seemed to travel in slow motion and Nathan, drained, the weight of the world on his shoulders as millions watched with bated breath, sank to his knees. The ball sailed through the air seemingly directed right at the net and then in the cruelest twist of fate, it bounced against the rim and backboard before landing with a thud on the floor. The crowd gasped. The opposing players cheered. His teammates looked crushed.
So close yet so far. Almost didn't count. It was a game made of dreams. Nathan Scott, the golden boy and heavily praised rookie NBA superstar, first round draft pick out of Duke University, had the chance to win the game. It was up to him to secure a win for the underdog baby Charlotte Bobcats franchise. He had the opportunity to be the hero. But he had failed.
The arena was going nuts. Champagne flowed and sports reporters from ESPN and TNT clamored to get interviews with the newly crowned NBA champs. No one wanted to talk to Nathan Scott. It was funny how no one ever wanted to interview the losers.
Nathan looked up in the stands. Poor Lucas whose championship run with The Philadelphia 76ers had been thwarted by the very little brother he had spent the night cheering for, looked on the verge of tears. He had wanted that win for Nathan badly. He wanted it for his little brother more than he wanted it for himself. He didn't want Nathan to have to endure another disappointment. Lucas had been the overprotective older brother for years now. Ever since "it" had happened at the end of junior year at Tree Hill High School. Ever since the unfortunate event that had nearly destroyed Nathan Scott's life.
His father. Boy did Dan looked pissed. But what else was new? Whether it was Little League baseball, the State championships of high school basketball or the NBA title, to Dan Scott, losing was losing. There never was second place. Runners up were just a polite term for losers. And Dan had no time for losers. And even in victory, the win was never enough. Dan would always be there to challenge, to critique. To gloat and pick away. To express how he could have done it better.
Deb. The mother he had shared a tumultuous relationship with over the years. At times it had been bitter and distant. At best it was cordial. But she loved him with all her heart. Nathan knew that and he loved her, too. He always had, still a part of him loved her a lot less because of what she had done to him junior year. He had needed her support after Dan's heart attack. They had needed Deb. They expected it. But her rage and disappointment turned out to reign most prevalent. In the end, his mother had been right. Still Nathan resented her for not seeing what he saw in the beginning.
And then he saw her. He looked up right into a pair of blue eyes that seemed to know exactly what he was thinking and feeling. Megan Powell was her name. They had met in college at a bar. He was on his way to wild frat party where the brothers had promised him a night of a neverending booze supply and all the girls he could imagine. White girls, Black girls, Mixed girls, Latin girls, Asian girls, Middle Eastern girls…it didn't matter. They'd all be there and Nathan Scott would have his pick. Hell, he could have two or three at once if his heart so desired. It was every college kid's dream and right up Nathan's alley. He was on his way to all that but first he had stopped off for a beer at his favorite hole in the wall bar. And she had been there.
They talked. He flirted. But she didn't buy into that star athlete charm. But she was funny and nice and very pretty. He dug blondes anyway and Megan was a knockout. He liked her. He actually liked talking to her. The thought of getting her in bed had never crossed his mind. He just enjoyed her company. He enjoyed it so much that they spent the entire night just talking until they had closed the place down. Nathan Scott had missed his wild, drunken orgy and he didn't even care.
It was funny how quickly she got to him. He couldn't believe that he let her in. He had only let one other female in like that and it had cost him dearly. He had been burned. Even years later it was hard to speak her name or say what she had done. So in memory she had remained nameless and her actions were referred to as "it" or the "incident". She had hurt him bad. Worse than anything he had ever imagined. She came into his life unexpectedly. She changed him. She made him fall in love. She married him when they were both only 16. She promised to love him forever. Forever turned out to last only eight months. It was then that she left him behind. She left him for a fresh start in New York. She left him to pursue a musical career. She left him for another man.
Overnight the bad boy of Tree Hill, North Carolina had returned. Nathan Scott, evil and selfish who cared about no one or nothing. He was on a dangerous downward spiral, destination rock bottom. His friends and family had tired to help but they couldn't. No one could reach him except for the one he had given his heart and last name to. And she was gone. If it hadn't been for his brother and the love of basketball, Nathan might have died. Lucas saved him. The game had saved him.
Nathan remained on his knees in that spot for hours. Past the other team's victory celebration, past the trophy ceremony, past the janitors who swept and mopped around him. He couldn't move. He was like a tree planted by the water.
"Hey", he said quietly.
"Tough night, huh?"
"I fucked up, Meg."
She rubbed his aching shoulder.
"No you didn't. It just happened, Nate. That's life. It just wasn't meant to be. Tonight wasn't your night. But you have nothing to be ashamed of. You played your ass off in high school and college. You have all these titles and decorations and trophies. You're respected. And you're an NBA star. Charlotte, a team who last season didn't have a prayer of even reaching the bottom seed of the playoffs, recruited you. And you saved them, baby. You and you alone brought them within an inch of a championship ring."
"But I didn't. I couldn't pull it off."
"There's always next year but you have nothing to be ashamed of. You should be proud. You gave everything. The fans and your team and your coaches and your family love and respect you. And so do I. Come on, Nathan", she offered her hand. "Let's go home."
He just looked at her for a moment before finally moving. God, she was like a real life angel. Always there for him no matter what. He loved her and he needed her…more than he needed to breathe. That was just another reminder. One more reason why he had swallowed his pride and confronted his fears. He had asked her to marry him. Megan was worthy to wear his ring. She loved him. She would never hurt him and more importantly, she would never leave him.
"I love you", he whispered, taking her tiny hand and pulling up.
"Let's go home, eat lots of raw cookie dough, turn off all the phones so we won't have to deal with your dad, make lots of love and just hang out."
"That doesn't sound too bad. It is my off season now."
"From basketball but don't forget, you have a wedding to plan."
"I'd never forget that", he smiled.
He leaned down and kissed her. Her love, her support, her helping hands is what had seen him through. The darkest days were over. Megan had helped him learn to love again. She saved his soul when lost love had nearly destroyed it.
"I love you, Nate. I mean that. Always remember that, baby", she said, looking deep in his eyes.
Nathan smiled as he held her tight. Of course he knew she meant it.
"I love you, too."
And so did he.