Chapter 20: There's Always Tomorrow

Three weeks had passed since Jake had been released from jail and the four friends were back to the way it had been before the engagement that fractured their friendship and Nikki's return.


Jake had noticed Brooke's bright smile and cheery demeanour hadn't fully returned to her. He wasn't sure why. They had been doing all the same things they had been doing before; the beach, the mall, the weekend movie marathons, and hanging out by the Scott's pool. Everything was meant to be normal now.

So why was she still so sad?

Jake cornered Nathan one afternoon as the two studied for their chemistry mid-term. Brooke and Haley were shopping for dresses for the spring formal later that week, and the boys had decided to escape by telling the girls they would study and babysit Jenny instead.

Instead of studying Nathan was helping Jenny scribble on blank pages of his notebook. He had tried drawing a penguin for the girl but Jenny didn't seem impressed with his efforts.

"Is Brooke okay?" Jake asked as he watched his best friend and daughter play.

Nathan frowned slightly as if he wasn't sure what Jake was getting at. "She's fine."

"She just doesn't seem like herself."

"Ah, she's probably got a girl thing going on. She'll be back to her usual self soon."

"So you have noticed she's different." Jake countered. Nathan sighed.

"It's hard not to, Jake. She's moody at she's at home when you and Haley aren't around. I've tried talking to her but she just avoids the subject. I asked Haley if Brooke had said anything to her she said nothing."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Jake asked. He was a little offended that his best friend hadn't confided in him – especially as the three of them had been friends the longest.

"I was hoping she would just get over it or something but I don't know what to do. My mom's asked me about it but I don't want to worry her so I just told her it was because finals were coming up." Nathan patted Jenny's head when the toddler showed him her work.

Jake thought for a few moments. "You know, I think it might have something to do with Lucas." Nathan glared at his friend.

"Don't start that again."

"Come on! She liked him and he hurt her."

"No, it's because Nikki hurt her." Nathan replied. "She and Nikki were friends for a while. You know Brooke. She's always hoped Nikki would come back and be friends with all of us again – even if she said she hated her. And when Nikki did show up, she took Jenny away from us and almost took you away from her. Then Nikki died. Brooke hasn't gotten over everything."

"I don't think you can blame Nikki for everything."

Nathan raised his eyebrows. "Of all people, I would never have thought I'd hear those words come out from your mouth. Nikki did the worst of it to you."

"Yeah, but now that she's gone and can't come back, why would I want to hold onto a grudge like that? Nikki can't hurt us anymore. Besides, I think your engagement to Haley hit her first." Jake defended his ex-girlfriend. He knew Nikki had done bad things but Nathan's failed elopement had hurt Brooke more.

"At some point I'd like to stop being the scapegoat for everything." Nathan huffed. "I made a mistake, and in case you hadn't noticed, Haley and I got hurt too."

"Okay, okay, I surrender!" Jake waved a piece of paper in the air. "I'm just concerned. She was fine a few weeks ago but… I don't know, man, she just seems sad. Or mad. Or both."

"I don't get why. You're back, Haley and I are back. She's got everything back." Nathan shrugged and Jake decided to leave the matter alone for now.

"Okay," Jake began gathering his books together, "I'd better get Jenny home." He told his friend. "It's getting near her bedtime."

"I'll drive you." Nathan said as he watched Jake pack up his school books and Jenny's toys. Jenny gurgled as Nathan put on her coat for her. While Jake buckled Jenny into the car seat at the back, Nathan loaded up the car with Jake's bags for the short drive to Jake's house.

As they parked up outside Jake's house, Jake gave a small sigh. "I'm not trying to start anything, but Brooke got pretty close to Lucas while you were gone. Since I've been back, I've just seen her avoid him."

Nathan groaned at Jake's mention of the blonde.

"Not all roads lead to Lucas Scott, Jake."

"I'm just saying that Lucas was there for her while you and Haley were gone and while Nikki was around. Lucas even tried looking for Nikki."

"I'm sure he did." Nathan grumbled, remembering when he witnessed the Lucas and Nikki hook-up.

"Stop that. Lucas is a good guy. He didn't hurt any of us. I think maybe Brooke is keeping him at arm's length because she doesn't want to upset you."

"Brooke doesn't care about upsetting me." Nathan countered. "Look, I know the two of us have kind of been walking on eggshells a little. I get that she is sometimes a little worried when she sees Haley and I getting close again but we learned our lessons. She can see whoever she likes."

"That's not entirely true though, Nathan. You've always been protective of her and the whole reason you hated Lucas was because of that Nikki thing. He's a good guy and you know that. Why don't you tell Brooke that you don't care?"

"Because I do care!" Nathan gripped the steering wheel and his knuckles faded to white. "I don't like guys going after Brooke. If you decided you wanted to go after Brooke, I'd have the same reaction."

"I thought you said you didn't care what Brooke did." Jake smiled.

"Fine, I lied! I care about who Brooke sees but why shouldn't I? I'm her brother."

Jake nodded. "Maybe you're right. I don't have a sister, so you must be right." He opened the car door and climbed out, heading towards Jenny. Nathan got out from his side of the car and took out Jake's schoolbag and Jenny's baby bag. The boys walked the short distance from Nathan's car to Jake's front door.

Jake opened the front door and Nathan placed the bags by the stairs.

"I'll see you tomorrow at school." Nathan said as he made a face at Jenny and prepared to leave.

"Wait, Nate, hold on." Jake said. "I don't have a sister. Except I've been friends with you and Brooke for years and, if it's okay with you, I kind of think of her as my sister. I'm protective of her too. If I thought Lucas was a bad guy, I'd be on the Anti-Lucas bandwagon as fast as you. But from what I've seen, he's just a guy who made a mistake; he didn't know about what Nikki did to us or Brooke, and it was way before he and Brooke got close. He kept it from her because he didn't want to hurt her and, whether you agree with it or not, it happened. More things have happened since then. Worse things have happened since. So coming from Brooke's deputy-protector, I like Lucas, and she likes him."

"Jake, why are you telling me this for?" Nathan sighed. "I told you before – I don't care what she does."

"Okay, fine. You keep saying that you don't care about what Brooke does and she doesn't care what you think about Lucas. The two of you can keep dancing around this whole situation – but you know she's not going to let Lucas in because she doesn't want to upset you; and that's what is going to keep her sad."

Jake motioned to the open door. "I'll see you tomorrow," he told Nathan. Nathan opened his mouth to argue his case but decided against it. Giving a curt nod, he waved goodbye to Jenny and left Jake's house.

His best friend's words had stung. He admitted that he wasn't a fan of Lucas and he didn't want him around Brooke. But Jake was right. His primary reason for hating Lucas was because of something that happened a year ago. He had done worse things to Brooke only a few weeks previously. He didn't want Brooke with Lucas – not with any guy if he was honest – but he trusted Brooke. It had been Nikki leading Brooke down a dark road years before and Brooke had gone along with it. He knew Brooke wasn't that foolish girl anymore. They had all learned hard lessons.

Maybe he was taking advantage of Brooke's renewed relationship with him, and he figured she wouldn't want do anything to upset him for fear of losing him again. That was what angered Nathan; the fact that she would let him stop her from doing something she wanted. She hated people telling her what to do and that was what he loved most about her. While Nathan tended to want to please their father (not because he wanted to, but because he knew Dan would make his life harder if he didn't), Brooke would gladly pretend to do so then ignore whatever she was told not to do. Nathan and Brooke's fractured relationship was on the mend but he knew she was conscious not to disturb the peace by doing something he didn't want her to do.

And that was wrong of him.

With a final sigh, Nathan got into his car and headed to the Rivercourt.

Lucas sat underneath the basketball hoop with his back against the pole and his legs crossed at the ankles. He leafed carefully through the Steinbeck book but he wasn't really absorbing any of the words. He heard the sound of a car pull up behind him and he turned to see Nathan's park by the edge of the court. He got up immediately when he saw Nathan climb out.

"Hey Lucas." Nathan called out as he shut his car door.

"Nathan," Lucas replied curtly, "what are you doing here?"

"Looking for you." Nathan gestured to the book in his hands, "I figured you would be playing here. I guess I know why I kick your ass on the court. You spend all your time reading."

Lucas didn't laugh. "Look, I've not been hanging around Brooke."

"I know and that's my fault. I've been thinking lately, and by 'thinking' I really mean Jake kind of got up in my face, but I've been wrong. I've been punishing you for something that I shouldn't have and it's not been fair on you or Brooke."

"You're… apologising?" Lucas frowned in confusion.

"Don't get used to it, and if you tell anyone, I'll deny it. I'm mostly thinking about Brooke. I can't stand you but I love my sister and god knows why, but she likes you and she's much happier when you're around." Nathan sighed. "I've been an ass to you."

"I get it. I wouldn't want a guy I didn't like hanging around my sister either." Lucas admitted. "But you don't have to worry. I don't think Brooke even cares anymore. I mean, I've tried talking to her but she doesn't really give me the time of day."

"Look, the formal is coming up. Do you have a date?" Nathan winced as the words came out of his mouth. "Geez, that sounds like I'm asking you out." Lucas' eyebrows raised in amusement. He kind of wished other people were around to see Nathan awkwardly fumble through this. "Look, I guess what I'm saying is that I wouldn't totally hate it if you asked Brooke to go. If you wanted to… and if she wanted to."

"Noted," was Lucas' only reply.

"Good. But y'know, if she says 'no' or if you try anything, I have my eyes on you."

"I wouldn't expect anything less."

"And it doesn't mean I'll go easy on you at practice either. I'm just doing a good deed for my sister."

"Got it." Lucas chuckled to himself. Nathan nodded.

"Good, so we're clear. I'm heading back home. I'll see you around."

With those final words, Nathan turned back to his car leaving a very entertained Lucas on the Rivercourt.

"Nathan, get the door!" Brooke grumbled when the doorbell rang.

She had returned less than thirty minutes before from her trip to the mall with Haley. They had been hunting for prom dresses, but all it had done was drive home the fact Brooke had nobody to go with. She usually didn't mind. The four of them would go to prom as a group but with Nathan and Haley together and Jake deciding not to go, she would be the awkward third-wheel. She could hang out with the other cheerleaders but she wasn't in the mood and the majority of them already had dates anyway. She sighed. Maybe she would save the dress for something else and spend the evening watching TV.

The doorbell rang again.

"Nathan, are you kidding me?" she yelled in frustration as she stomped to the front door. "If it's a girl scout, I'm keeping all the cookies to myself." She warned as she pulled open the door.

Lucas smiled back at her from her doorstep. "Hi. I don't have any cookies." He said.

She blinked a few times and glanced behind her to look for Nathan.

"Go away." She hissed as she shut the door on him and retreated back into the house. Nathan appeared behind her.

"Who was that?" he asked as the doorbell rang again and he went towards the door.

"Nathan, no!" Brooke warned but Nathan had already opened the door. Brooke cringed, waiting for Nathan to blow up at Lucas for coming around.

"Oh hey, Lucas. You want to come in?" Brooke frowned. What did Nathan say? She watched in confusion as Nathan let Lucas in. Lucas didn't look particularly comfortable but came in and stood beside Nathan.

Nathan looked between Brooke and Lucas and shrugged. "I'll be in the kitchen."

Brooke watched Nathan walk down the hallway into the kitchen and then turned back to Lucas.

"Hi." He tried again.

"Hi, Lucas." She said nervously. "I don't know what's gotten into him but I don't think he's planning an attack."

Lucas smiled and she felt her stomach flutter. "That's okay. I think it's safe."

"Um… what are you doing here?" She asked.

"I haven't seen you around much," he told her, "I just wanted to stop by and tell you I miss you."

Brooke seemed to flinch a little at his words, as if she wasn't quite sure what to say or do.

"I- uh, I miss you too." She ran a hand through her hair. "I've just been busy, y'know? Jake just got back out and-"

"Yeah, I figured." He replied. "I was hoping that we could hang out soon."

"That would be nice." She nodded cautiously. She wasn't quite sure what prompted his visit since she had been ignoring him for weeks and he had stopped trying to talk to her.

"What about Friday?" he asked with a small smile.

"Friday is the formal." She informed him.

"I know," his smile grew wider, "I was hoping you'd come with me." Brooke glanced behind her in case Nathan was listening in. What would he think?

She spied him leaning against the wall outside the kitchen, clearly listening in to their conversation but pretending to be eating an apple. She was about to shoo Lucas away when she saw Nathan smile at her. She frowned, not quite sure what he was getting at, but his smile remained and he gave a little nod.

"So? What do you say?" Lucas prompted her attention again.

"I'd love to." She grinned as the butterfly feeling in her stomach began to get stronger.

Lucas sighed in relief. "Great! That's… that's awesome." His cellphone began ringing in his pocket. "Um, I've got to run home. My dad's going to call in like five minutes, but… I'll see you tomorrow at school? We'll work out the details?" He asked. She nodded.

"Haley and I are leaving at seven," Nathan said as he came up behind Brooke. "We'll all go together."

"Sure, that sounds good." Lucas said as Brooke nodded in agreement. "I'll see you tomorrow then." He said as he walked towards the front door. Brooke opened the door for him and he gave them both a brief wave as he left and jogged to the end of their drive. She and Nathan watched as he crossed the road and disappeared out of view before Brooke closed the front door.

"Looks like you've got a date." Nathan said as he calmly bit into his apple like nothing had happened. "You'd better tell the Kardashians that you can't hang out with them anymore." He joked.

Brooke stared at her brother and shook her head in disbelief. "What did you do?" she asked.

"Me? Nothing. I was over there eating an apple." He said innocently. "I certainly didn't realise how much of a jerk I was being."

"I never said you were a jerk, Nate." She teased. "I thought you were being an ass."

"Oh of course. At least I had a date to prom. I wasn't going to sit here all by myself and watch reality TV."

"Hey! I was going to hang out with Jake." She defended. "Now he'll be all alone."

"He'll be pleased. He told me how much he hated you hanging around all the time!" Nathan chuckled as Brooke pouted back at him.

"Jerk!" She play-punched him and stole his apple.

"Ass!" he reaffirmed and grabbed his apple back. As he bit into it, he felt Brooke's arms wrap around him and give him a hug.

"I love you." She said quietly. He placed a quick kiss on the top of her head.

"Love you too." He said with a bite of an apple in his mouth. "I guess we'd better find Jake a girlfriend now."

The End.

A/N: I know, I totally suck. I kept meaning to finish this but things got in the way. I can't believe I started this five years ago so thanks to everyone who stuck by it since the beginning and recently. Finishing it was the least I could do. I should also be updating/finishing We Start Again From Zero soon xxx.