Chapter 19

"it's not much, but it's a start"

"hello?" I answered the house phone, dripping wet, a towel thrown carelessly over my naked body, the carpet beginning to puddle from the amount of water rolling off my body. I had just gotten out of the shower and the phone had rang. After three rings, I concluded Ryan wasn't back yet so I threw a towel over me and raced into the hall, wrenching the phone up.

"Hales. It's David."

"Oh, hey, David," I said brightly.

"Listen, hun, I'm sorry but I just can't make it tonight. I am really, really sorry and I know I said we'd do it tonight, but... there are just so many things happening and I know that you are going to get discouraged because, well, you think it's happening again, but it really isn't. I know you take top priority, but we are on the brink of some huge deals which includes a mound of paperwork which equals my whole night with my nose so far up these books's ass it isn't even funny."

I laughed, "it's fine, David. Really. Ryan and I will find something to do. Or eat. Whatever. It really is okay. I'll take you up on it some other time."

"Deal, kiddo. Well, I've got to go. I will talk to you later, alligator."

I laughed at the old-as-dirt saying, "bye, David," I hung up on the phone, walking back into the bathroom. I dried the rest of myself off, throwing a bra, panties, a cami, and a pair of jeans on, then blow-dried my hair.

I walked out of the bathroom, to Ryan's room, where he was slipping a shirt over a pair of khaki shorts, "did you talk to David?" I asked, leaning against the door.

He nodded, fixing the collar on his polo, "yeah. He said he was sorry about everything. I told him it was no big deal. And, if you want to, everybody is getting together at the café and having supper before school tomorrow. You wanna go?"

I shrugged, "that sounds fine with me."

"I'll pick you up at..." he looked at his clock, "in 30 minutes, then?"

I laughed, "whatever, Romeo," I turned around, walking back into my room to get ready.

&&&&&&&&&&&&

parking in front of the café, my heart skipping as I peeked in the window and saw everyone at the river court, just beginning to pile in. And I felt my heart skip another beat. And then another. And butterflies. And my hands were clammy. Which was nothing like me.

And I suddenly felt underdressed. To my jeans, tennis shoes, and black, lacy cami, Brooke had on a black mini and a hot pink corsette, wrapping around her so tightly her boobs were to the point of almost popping out.

"Uh, Ryan," I bit my lip and stood beside the passenger door. "I don't know about this. My hands are clammy and sweaty and I've never done this before," I laughed uneasily, trying to break the tension I felt.

"You've never met new people before?" he asked, coming over towards me. He looked curiously at me.

"No, I've met new people before," I rolled my eyes. I wanted to smile but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. "I mean, I've never gotten sweaty and clammy about it before. It's always been casual. I've never cared before. I don't know what's wrong with me."

Ryan just smiled, grabbing my clammy hands and rubbing them on his khaki shorts. I laughed and watched him. "It's alright. There's nothing to be scared about, Hales."

"But why I am being like this?" I sighed, already on the verge of tears. Damn tears.

"It's a new beginning," he answered.

Realization hit me. I was starting anew. I had never had another life to live. To start fresh, but it was now. This was it. And that scared me, I'll admit it. It scared the shit out of me. Ryan grabbed my hand and led me inside the café.

The first one I noticed was Nathan. He was in a pair of black Nike athletic pants with red stripes down the sides and a red Nike shirt. 'Man, he looked hot,' I thought to myself, but I winced and mentally beat myself for even thinking that. He was sitting with a blonde-headed girl I hadn't seen before. He said something and she laughed. She had a wide, pretty laugh that made her eyes sparkle. A pang shot through me and I looked away. Then there was Peyton who was laughing as Jake made a joke, Brooke and Lucas looked lusty enough to start getting it on right in the small, quaint, wholesome café, and Tim was sitting beside Nathan looking pissed with nobody else. Just Tim.

"Hey guys," Ryan nodded as we came over to the table.

"Hey Ryan," they all said in unison, and then there gazes turned to me.

"Hey Haley," Peyton smiled, waving. I smiled, waving back, letting out a sigh of relief. The table nodded at me then. They had saved us two seats in between Nathan and Lucas. 'Please let me sit next to Lucas' I begged repeatedly in my mind. Ryan gave me an encouraging smile and then pulled out the chair–the one next to Nathan. I obligingly sat down, avoiding Nathan's gaze, not wanting to sit in the other chair, because people would think things and I didn't want people thinking things because when people think things in small towns, they usually get around and turn into big things.

"So, you guys are late, man. What happened?" Lucas asked, laughing.

"You guys are just early," Ryan responded.

"Sure we are," Lucas raised his eyebrows.

Brooke glared at me from across the table and I lowered my gaze immediately. "Uh, Haley," Nathan tapped me on the shoulder. I tensed up and slowly turned to look up at him. "Katie wants me to introduce you," he muttered, glaring at me so that the blonde couldn't see.

"Haley James, this is Katherine Brown. Katie for short.. Katie, this is Haley."

"Hi, it's really nice to meet you, Katie," I reached across Nathan and stuck out my hand. He smelled really good, I couldn't help but breathe in his toxic scent..

"It's nice to meet you, too, Haley. Lucas has told me..." she paused and looked at Nathan, "about you," she giggled, a sweet smile on her face. I could tell right off she wasn't a Brooke Davis. She was a Kate Bosworth-type in "Win A Date with Tad Hamilton.' The kind of wholesome, goofy, great-to-know all-around goody girl.

I laughed, nodding my head, "I've only known Nathan about two days now, but he seems like a really great guy. If you overlook his massive ego."

Katherine gave me a knowing look and I gently poked Nathan in the ribs, "I think that was a compliment, Nate," Katie laughed, her laugh girlish and petite.

"I think she was just being nice," he looked at me and mouthed the words 'thank you.' I smiled and grinned, turning back towards Ryan who was chatting it up with Lucas about the Lakers. I waited till they got done talking and then tapped Ryan on the leg.

"Hey beautiful," he smiled.

"Hey you," I laughed. "Nathan wants you to meet his girlfriend."

"Oh?" he looked past me to Nathan who was talking to Katie.

"She's really nice, which is totally surprising," I raised my eyebrows.

"Hey Nate," Ryan spoke up. Nathan stopped talking and turned towards Ryan.

"Hey man," Nathan nodded.

"So Haley tells me you found yourself a keeper? I would never have pegged Nathan Scott in my whole life as a guy who would date a 'really nice' girl, according to Haley."

"Hey, I was totally shocked when you showed up with Haley. I thought you liked yours fake, blonde and–"

"So, what's her name," Ryan interrupted him, shooting me a glance. I just smiled knowingly and looked back at Nathan.

"Katie Brown. You know Dr. Brown, right. He's been your doctor since you were two."

"Oh, yeah, Doc Brown. She's his daughter?"

"Yeah. Ryan, meet Katie. Katie, this is Ryan Wright. I was telling you about him, remember?"

Katie stuck her head past Nathan's and smiled at Ryan. "Hi, Ryan. I have heard plenty of things about you. My whole family is a really big fan of yours and... you're great. Don't worry, I'm not asking for an autograph or anything stupid like that. I actually go to Duke myself but this is actually the first time I've ever seen you, though."

"Oh really? Thanks. Well, I have to say that is a shocker. Are you sure that Nathan doesn't talk about himself during your conversations. I mean, maybe you heard wrong."

The three of us laughed, Nathan, though, just crossed his arms and glared at Ryan. "Actually, no. he is really a great guy when he's not trying to impress his friends," she put an arm around Nathan's waist and kissed him on the cheek. Inside, I rolled my eyes.

"Sure he is," Ryan muttered, looking at me and shaking his head.

"Hey guys. And ladies," a black-headed woman called from the end of the table where Lucas and Brooke were sitting.

"Hey Karen," they all called, except for Catherine and me. I had no clue who the woman was.

"Ryan, it's good to see you back here with us," she smiled. "We put your games on the TV every night your playing and have happy hour. Unless the Ravens are playing, then, sorry, but we're all over at the gym," she laughed. "Now which one of you is David's daughter?" she asked, looking from Katherine to me and then back at Katherine.

"Um, that would be me," I smiled at the middle-aged woman.

She gave me a generous smile. "It's very nice to meet you, Haley," she called me by name. "Your father and I are really good friends. I am very sorry to hear about your mother. If you every need anything, just call me up."

"Thank you," I managed to plaster a fake smile on my face. I'm sure she was a lovely woman and met every bit of it, but I'd gotten sick of everybody saying that this past week.

"What can I get for you all?" she asked, looking around the room. We placed our drink and meal orders and then Karen went off in the back to drop them off.

"Haley, what do you do for fun back in Charlotte?" Brooke asked. "I mean, there must be millions of hotties and parties. I mean, I've gone up there a few times and there are parties everywhere. But I've never seen you. But you would definitely go, right? Oh, unless, of course, you weren't very popular."

"Yeah, there are plenty of parties in Charlotte. Trent Malone, my ex-boyfriend," I put an emphasis on ex, again, "was a complete jock and we went to about three different parties after every game. Most parties are just drugs, sex, and alcohol, though. Hell, every party is like that. But, that is pretty much what we did."

"Trent? As in Trent Malone?" she asked, looking at me. A twinge shot through me and for a fleeting second I thought that Brooke Davis had probably slept with him.

"Um, yeah. That's the one," I nodded in a small voice. "But we aren't together anymore."

"You went out with Trent Malone?"

"On and off since I was in the sixth grade, but why? Do you know him some way?" 'Just please don't let her say she's slept with him' I begged. I couldn't stand another girl coming up to say that she'd been with Trent. I'm not saying that I'd ever had that happen, because it really had never happened. But I didn't want here to be the first time.

Brooke just gaped at me. "Trent Malone is like..." she looked at Lucas. "Besides you, Luke," she smiled. "Well, I've heard..." her sentence trailed off.

"Did you sleep with him, too?" I blurted out, not able to contain it anymore.

"What? Noཀ" she shot quickly. "Hell, no. I've never met him before, I've just seen him at parties. My friend, Aimee, from Charlotte is–"

"Aimee Ivy?" I asked. "Please don't say Aimee Ivy.l

She looked at me weirdly again. "Uh, yeah."

I laughed. "Aimee was, like, one of my best friend's in Charlotte. She was actually dating my best friend, Dexter, and then she cheated on Dexter with Trent while I was still dating Trent and she didn't inform me of this till about a couple days ago when I found out what was happening."

"Your best friend is Dexter Lawrence?"

I laughed, nodding. "Yeah, we've been best friends since we were a year old."

"Your boyfriend is the god of Charlotte, North Carolina High School and your best friend is, like, the second god. Even though Dexter doesn't play any sports, he is, like, so hot. Just the way he.." he sentence trailed off as she caught Lucas's eye.

"My ex-boyfriend," I corrected her. "Our relationship was built on non-fundamental things anyway, so I guess it was a good thing that this happened," I glanced at Ryan who caught my eye and then looked away.

"Whatever. I can't believe this. You are like, the center circle of Charlotte, North Carolina's in crowd. I just... didn't expect you to be that girl. I've actually heard about you, I believe."

"Do I say 'thank you' now?" I asked, laughing.

"I can't believe this. So, what is Trent doing now?"

"Brookeཀ" Lucas whirled around to face her.

"I'm just asking."

"Getting busy with Aimee, probably. That reminds me... I have to call Dexter, alright. I'll just be a second you guys," I smiled and waved at the small group.

"See you, Haley," they all called.

Peyton was cool, Jake was cool, Brooke thought of me as the 'in-crowd' of Charlotte, Nathan thanked me, Lucas was talking about me, and not in a bad way, and Ryan liked me. Maybe starting over wasn't so bad after all. And even though this wasn't much, it was a start. and everyone and everything has to start somewhere, right? Even if that is starting over with a new life.

I opened the café door, the little jingling going off, as I got out my cell phone and pressed the speed dial number. I let it ring about 10 times before hanging it up. I re-dialed the number by hand and held it back up to ear. Still, I waited, this time until it cut to his voice mail.

"Hey, this is Dex. I can't answer the phone right now for some fucked up reason, or either I just don't want to talk to your bitch ass right now. Anyways, leave me a message, biotch, and I'll holler at you later." BEEP. he was stoned when he had recorded that message. I remembered it. I had told him all about setting up stuff like that on his cell and he'd liked the idea, so he probably recorded about 50 messages, finally deciding on that one. He claimed it was 'the best one of them all' and loved to repeat it constantly. To everyone. Whenever he the chance. He'd answer the phone and say that like it was the answering machine.

"Hey Dex, it's Haley. I was just checking up on you. I actually called because I just had to get out of this place and away from these people for a second. I'll talk to you later. Anyways, I'm gonna let you go. Call me back when you get this. Um... bye." I hung up the phone and tucked it back into my pocket. I sighed and headed back inside the door to the café.