Chapter Twelve

It was bothering her more than it should have. She knew she shouldn't care and yet here she was, sitting with her second best friend in the world, Peyton Jagielski, and obsessing over it. Nathan had a date.

"So what bothers you more? Your husband is gay? Or Nathan has a date?" Peyton teased as she bounced her 10-month-old daughter on her knee.

"Shut up." Brooke retorted, pulling the now heated bowl of macaroni and cheese from her microwave, "Nathan has a date. So what? That doesn't bother me at all."

"Liar." Peyton always said exactly what was on her mind, "You've been obsessing over it ever since he called and told you he wasn't gonna make Friday night dinner because of it. It's definitely bothering you."

"Only because he cancelled our plans." Brooke lied, setting out plates on the table, "The kids were counting on him being here."

"Bull." Peyton laughed, "You're a horrible liar."

"Whatever. Nathan's date is not bothering me."

Brooke hoped that Peyton would just drop the subject right there but in true Peyton fashion, she didn't and they argued over it for the next ten minutes until dinner was ready and their combined 6 children came running to the table.

While everyone around her ate, Brooke took the quiet time to think. The truth was, Nathan's date was bothering her. It was bothering her a lot.

He had never dated before. Not since high school… or maybe college, she wasn't sure. Or maybe he had and she hadn't noticed because she was so pre-occupied with Lucas and the kids. When she really thought about it, she couldn't remember Nathan ever having a serious girlfriend, but it wasn't possible that he had gone all these years without even a single date was it?

"Earth to mom, come in mom." Vaughn waved her hand lazily in front of her mother's face until Brooke returned her thoughts to the dinner at hand.

"No it's not bothering you at all." Peyton scoffed and then turned to feed the baby some food.

"Did you need something?" Brooke ignored Peyton's comment and looked at Vaughn.

"Yeah. This weekend is the Freshman Class picnic. We want to take a cake. Think you could buy one or make one for us?"

"Of course." Brooke smiled at her daughter, "I had forgotten about that. Are the Kellers going?"

"I think so. Shauna said she was bringing soda. Why?"

"Cause I need to talk to them about what happened with you and CJ. Should be as good a time as any."

"Oooh, gossip." Peyton grinned, "What happened with you and CJ?"

"Nothing." Vaughn groaned, "Thanks mom."

"I would have found out eventually anyway." Peyton said happily, "So tell me the juice."

"There's nothing to tell." Vaughn insisted loudly, "We fell asleep watching a movie. Haley woke us up in the morning from the same bed. It was an accident."

"Eeew, Vaughn slept in the same bed as a boy!" 8 year old Charlotte squealed, "That's gross!"

"Thank god you think so." Peyton smiled at her daughter happily, "So are you SURE that nothing happened? Cause your mom's cool. I think she'd be alright if you just tell us all the truth."

"I swear nothing happened." Vaughn let her head fall to the table with a bang, "Please God, shoot me now."

"I really don't think anything did happen." Brooke defended Vaughn, "She doesn't usually lie to me and besides, just like I told Nathan, the two of them can barely hold hands without freaking out."

"Oh My God!" Vaughn sat up straight, "Could we please not have this conversation? Enough about me and boys, Laney's running for Class President."

"Vaughn!" Laney snapped her head around to glare at her sister, "I told you not to SAY anything!"

"Laney…" Brooke grinned from ear to ear, "That's great honey. Why didn't you want us to know?"

"I don't think I'm gonna go through with it. I signed up awhile ago and… we're supposed to start campaigning next week but I really don't feel like it."

"She did it cause Dad wanted her to and now that he's gone, she thinks that she shouldn't do it." Vaughn said simply, "I told her to forget about that and to go for it, but she won't listen to me."

"I'm gonna kill you later. I never liked being a twin much anyway." Laney threatened her sister.

"Wait a second…" Brooke stopped the threats and stared at Vaughn, "Is what she said true? You're thinking of not going through with it just because your dad's not here to support you?"

""It's not that same." Laney mumbled pushing her food around on her plate now, "Besides, no one's gonna vote for me."

"I was planning on voting for you." 15 year old Jenny said and then quickly averted her eyes when Laney shot her death glares.

"There's one vote and I'm sure your sister is gonna vote for you."

"She's not gonna be around because I am seriously going to kill her." Laney groaned.

Vaughn just laughed.

"You love me too much to kill me."

"Laney…" Brooke sighed, "Honey, if you want to run for class president, then you should, whether or not your father is here to support you. But you know, I bet he'd still support you if you reminded him you're running. Just because he's in St. Louis…"

"Doesn't mean he doesn't care." Laney finished the sentence for her, "Yeah, I know. I've heard it all before but it doesn't change the fact that I don't want to run anymore so I'm not going to. Thanks for the pep talk. Can I be excused now?"

The room fell silent at Laney's anger and Brooke just nodded to excuse her from the table.

It wasn't until Peyton and her three girls left twenty minutes later that Brooke found Laney crying on her bed.

"Knock knock." Brooke has always believed that the kids deserved their privacy and never entered without a knock first, "Can I come in?"

Laney nodded, sitting up and wiping away her tears quickly.

Brooke sat down on the bed and pulled Laney into her arms, just holding her in silence for awhile.

"It's ok to cry. You know that right?"

Laney nodded.

"And it's ok to miss him."

She nodded again.

"But please baby, don't give up something you want because he's not here. Your dad wouldn't want that at all."

Laney sniffled slightly.

"It's not so much because he's not here." She said softly, "It's because if I do it, then I'm giving him some sort of pride in something I do. He wanted me to run and so I signed up. And the way I feel right now, I don't want him to be able to think he has a say in anything I do."

"You're angry at him."

"More than I could even tell you."

Brooke could understand the feeling and sympathize. She herself was outraged with her husband. Especially since she had found out that his lawyer had contacted hers, and their list of demands was just getting bigger.

"All that I ask Laney, is that you don't let the anger get the best of you. I want you to do what makes you happy, regardless of how happy it would make anyone else. I want you to be able to separate your anger for your father from your anger at the rest of the world. And I want you to be able to express it, because the more you keep it bottled up inside, the more you're hurting yourself. And I only want what's best for you."

"I know."

"So next time something like this comes up, please talk to me. That way, you won't have to threaten to kill your sister when she tells me instead."

Laney let out a slight laugh and Brooke felt better about her daughter's emotional state immediately.

"While we're here… anything else you'd like to tell me?"

"Yes." Laney sat up and looked at her mother grinning, "You should know that the boy who asked me to the end of the school year dance is the last person in the world that daddy, and maybe you too, would want me to go with."

"Uh oh. Who is he?" Brooke prepared herself for the worst.

"Cameron Kennedy."

The name immediately registered in Brooke's mind.

"Your father's boss's son? That Cameron Kennedy?"

Laney nodded.

"Oh baby… daddy is definitely not going to be happy."

The thing about Laney dating Cameron was this… a few years back, when Lucas had still been a relatively small idea in a big corporation, he had a friend. And this friend, who worked with him, also had a teenage daughter. The teenage daughter had begun to date Cameron and at first, it seemed almost god sent to the family. Lucas's friend kept getting raises and he was promoted up the corporate ladder very quickly. And then one day, the teenage daughter decides she was bored with Cameron Kennedy, and she dumped him. Two weeks later, Lucas's friend was unemployed.

Cameron was known around the office as a vulture. He'd attend all the family picnics, smiling at the swooning teenage daughters of all his fathers employees, and then he'd pick a victim, swoop in, and pick at them until they cracked. Some daughters gave up personal information on their families which got their fathers fired. Others got bored with him and dumped him which got their fathers fired. And others… they clung to him, and then he dumped them, which made their fathers angry, which got them fired. All the way around, it was a bad situation.

Brooke left Laney's room and padded to her own room, checking on each of her other sleeping children on the way. She contemplated all that Laney had just told her and considered her options. She could a) forbid Laney from going out with the boy and thus anger both her daughter and Cameron, getting Lucas fired or b) let her go out with him and eventually get Lucas fired anyway. Oh the possibilities.

Brooke was still thinking about the possibilities when she awoke the next morning, Saylor sitting on her bed staring at her.

"Say? What's wrong?"

Brooke rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and started to sit up.

"Nothing." Saylor shrugged, "You're so pretty when you sleep."

Brooke grinned, wondering what would make the little girl so observant all of a sudden.

"Well thank you baby doll. But what are you doing awake already?"

"It's time for school. Laney and Vaughn already left. Tavian's eating breafast."

"What?" Brooke looked over at her clock sitting on the nightstand next to her bed and hurriedly jumped out of bed, "It's 7:15. Why didn't anyone wake me up?"

"I already told you mommy. You look so pretty when you sleep."

Brooke groaned, quickly rushing around her room to find clothing to throw on. Tavian had to be at school in fifteen minutes and she was determined to get him there on time.

"Go put your shoes on Saylor. We gotta go."

Brooke headed for the kitchen at break neck speed, Saylor fast on her heels.

"Tavian, you almost done with that cereal baby? We gotta get you to school."

"Haley's taking me." Tavian replied calmly, "She said she'd be back as soon as she dropped Laney and Vaughn off. You can go back to sleep mommy."

"Hey Tavian, you ready to go kiddo. We're running a little late."

As if on cue, Haley Keller breezed into the kitchen but stopped short when she saw Brooke standing by the sink.

"Oh hey, the kids said you were still sleeping so I was gonna drop them all off. You didn't have to get up."

"Haley thank you but I didn't mean to sleep in. My alarm must have been set wrong or something. I can take Tavian and… I'll probably just keep Saylor home with me today." Having just woken up, Brooke couldn't even fathom trying to get Saylor to pre-school.

"Yay! I get to stay home!" Saylor rejoiced as she joined them in the kitchen with her shoes on.

"Well…" Haley smiled at the little girl, "How about I still take Tavian and you go ahead and spend some time with Saylor?"

"Yeah, I gotta go. I'm gonna be late." Tavian grabbed his backpack, having finished his cereal, and stood waiting as if it had suddenly occurred to him that school was waiting.

"Umm…" Brooke sighed, still caught off guard from waking up late, "Ok, yeah. Thank you Haley. And maybe later we can talk about what happened with CJ and Vaughn the other day…"

"No worries, they explained it all to me. But I will come by later. I get lonely over there when Chris is on tour."

Brooke stood back an nodded, not really sure how to reply to that. At least Haley's husband came home when all was said and done. Lucas wasn't coming back.

"Alright, I'll see you later. Tavian, come on buddy." Haley ushered Tavian from the house and waved a quick goodbye to me before shutting the door, leaving Saylor and I in complete silence.

After a few moments, Saylor finally said something.

"Mommy, can we go to the zoo today? I wanna see the monkeys."

The randomness in Saylor's words struck a funny chord with Brooke who began to laugh, scooping Saylor up into her arms and heading back towards her bedroom.

"Yes, we can go to the zoo today. Right after mommy takes a nap."

"Mommy! You just woke up!" Saylor objected as they entered Brooke's room and she was tossed onto the bed, "Please mommy, we gotta go now. Uncle Nate can go too. Call him."

Saylor crawled across the bed and grabbed the phone off the side table before Brooke could object.

"Hurry mommy. We're gonna be late."

"Late for what?" Brooke questioned, taking the phone from her daughters hands without even thinking.

"Mommy." Saylor had a look on her face that said "duh!" to Brooke, "The monkeys!"

In true dramatic Saylor style she hit the back of her hand to her forehead and went crashing back into the cushion of blankets on Brooke's bed.

Brooke couldn't help but laugh at her silly child.

"Ok, I'm gonna call Uncle Nate but he's probably working and if he is, then just you and I can go ok?"

"Ok, but hurry mommy. The monkeys are waiting."

Brooke was still laughing when Nathan's secretary answered the phone and that was when she remembered that Nathan was going on a date Friday night. It all came back to her and she groaned.

"Hey Jane, it's Brooke. Is Nathan in yet?"

"Sorry Mrs. Scott, he's not here yet. You want me to leave a message for him?"

"No thank you Jane. I'll call his cell." Brooke hung up and stuck her tongue out at Saylor who laughed before she dialed Nathan's cell phone number.

He answered on the third ring.

"Hello gorgeous, what can I do for you this morning?"

Brooke laughed loudly.

"Well good morning to you too. Are you on your way to work?"

"I am. What are you doing? Taking Tavian to school?"

"Actually, Haley took all the kids this morning. Or well… all except Saylor who has a request."

"Yeah?" Brooke could hear Nathan's smile, "What does my favorite niece want this morning?"

"She would like for you and I to take her to the zoo to see the monkeys."

There was a pause on the other end of the line.

"I told her you were probably working but that I'd ask you. Don't feel pressured."

Brooke almost felt nervous as she waited for an answer from Nathan. She wasn't sure why but she definitely couldn't deny that she wanted him to go. She wanted to spend the day with him and the fact that increasingly she wanted to spend more and more time with him bothered her. It almost bothered her as much as knowing he was starting to date bothered her.

"Let me call Jane at the office and see if I have anything important to do today. If I don't then I would love to go see the monkeys with you and Saylor. Let me call you back ok?"

"Ok, but hurry cause Saylor insists that the monkeys are waiting for us."

Saylor giggled on the bed, covering her mouth to try and be quiet while Brooke was on the phone. Nathan laughed too.

"Alright, I'll call you right back."

Brooke hung up the phone and smiled.

"What'd he say? What'd he say?" Saylor questioned immediately, "Is he coming?"

"He's making sure he doesn't have anything important to do at work and then he's calling us back. While we wait, let's get you dressed huh?"

"Ok." Saylor jumped off the bed and ran for her room. Brooke laughed quietly and followed her.

"It's hot outside. Why are you putting on a sweater?" Brooke questioned as she watched Saylor fight to get into a pink sweatshirt.

"I like it." Saylor said simply, finally getting it over her head.

"Here crazy girl, take that sweater off and put this on." I tossed her a pair of pink cotton Capri's and matching pink cotton t-shirt, both of which had embroidered flowers on them. While she changed into those I went in search of the matching hat I knew went with the outfit. She also had pink flip flops somewhere, I just wasn't sure where. While I searched, the phone rang which made Saylor very excited.

"Answer it, answer it!"

Brooke was laughing as she answered.

"So, did we get out of work today or do I have to tell your niece you're choosing boring paperwork over her?"

Nathan laughed on the other end.

"I got out of work. I'm on my way over now."

"Awesome. Say, Uncle Nate's coming."

"Yay!" Saylor yelled, tossing her shirt into the air and then having to go find it to actually put it on.

Brooke just smiled and gave up on finding the hat, leaving the room to go get herself dressed.

"So what's the damage? What are we taking you away from today?" Brooke asked as she went through her closet, "Anything important?"

"Nah." Nathan replied, "Stupid stuff. Nothing that can't wait until tomorrow. Besides, how often do I get to hang out with my favorite sister-in-law and my favorite niece?"

"You know, considering you have no other sister-in-law's, it's fine to call me your favorite, but you do have two other nieces and if they ever heard you say that Saylor is your favorite…"

"They'd tell me that Jake is their favorite uncle." Nathan laughed, "I said it to Vaughn once and she said that she liked Jake better anyway. I, of course, had to point out that Jake is not actually her uncle but she said it didn't matter. She liked him more. It's kind of a running joke we have now."

Brooke rolled her eyes.

"Whatever you say loser. I'm gonna hang up because I have to get dressed. See you soon?"

"Yeah, five minutes."

"Ok."

Brooke hung up and tossed the phone on her bed while she picked out her clothes for the day. It usually wasn't hard for her to just find something and toss it on, knowing that the only people who would usually see her were the people at her kids schools. Today, she found that she wanted to look nice, which wasn't usually a factor. With four kids, looking nice was something she only tried for on special occasions. Today though… she didn't even want to think about why she suddenly wanted to look good. The only possible explanation was her newfound feelings for Nathan and those she was trying to deny as much as possible.

She finally settled on a floral tank top and jeans. It was nice without seeming like she was trying too hard. The last thing she needed was for Nathan to realize she was trying to impress him.

"Ooh, mommy. You look really pretty." Saylor commented while Brooke was in the bathroom brushing her teeth.

"Great." Brooke thought to herself, "Even the kid noticed."

"Honey I'm home!" Nathan called from the other end of the house when he got there, "Where are you guys?"

"We're in mommy's room!" Saylor yelled back and Brooke felt herself getting nervous.

It was ridiculous, she told herself, to get nervous about seeing Nathan. She had known Nathan forever. He was her best friend. Why was she freaking out?

"Wow, you look great." Nathan commented when he entered the bathroom, "You get all dressed up just for me?"

"Yes." Brooke wanted to say but she refrained and instead just kinda laughed it off, "No, I got all dressed up for the monkeys."

They shared a look and for a second Brooke thought he was gonna make another comment but Saylor launched herself into his arms before he could say another word.

"Uncle Nate! We get to see monkeys today."

"Yes we do." Nathan replied, picking her up and hugging her, "You look just as gorgeous as your mommy today. There must be something in the water huh?"

"No silly. We're just naturally beautiful." Saylor flipped her hair playfully which made Nathan crack up.

"She's definitely got your confidence Brooke."

Brooke grinned.

"I'm ready if you two are." Brooke said as she smiled up at the two of them, "Let's go huh?"

Nathan just nodded and followed her out of the bathroom, into the kitchen where she grabbed her purse and car keys.

"I'll drive." Nathan offered, "My car's nicer."

Brooke made a face but let him drive, following him and Saylor out.

"And I even have the car seat set up for Ms. Saylor." Nathan opened the back door and dropped Saylor into the back seat, reaching in and buckling her up once she was settled in her car seat.

It was very weird but Brooke once again found herself feeling the attraction to Nathan. It was like they were a family, which they were family, but it felt like he was the father in this situation, not the uncle. She wasn't sure that she should be feeling that way, but she definitely was.

"Everyone in?" Nathan asked as he took his seat and closed his door.

"Yep." Saylor announced very happily, "Let's see the monkeys!"

Brooke and Nathan exchanged a look that said it all as he turned on the car. It was going to be a long day.