Some weeks later…
Brooke checked her make-up in the mirror one last time before she decided she was satisfied. It looked icky, but for once that was a good thing since it was stage make-up and therefore supposed to be super heavy in order for the audience to be able to see her under all the lights.
Around her, the other girls in the dressing room were busy preparing to go on stage; it was their opening night and everyone had at least a small case of butterflies, even Brooke, despite her long experience with acting. So, when there was a small rap on the door there was an immediate rush of panic.
"It can't be time already!"
"I've not even finished dressing!"
"I can't find the pins for my hair!"
"Ahem," the girl from the backstage crew who had knocked on the door cleared her throat. "You've still got lots of time before we go on." After the collective sigh of relief had sounded, she looked over at Brooke, "Someone's here to see you."
Brooke raised an eyebrow at her curiously, but the girl just shrugged as if she didn't know who it was. Brooke got up and went out of the room, after which she closed the door behind them.
"He's standing behind the main door over there," she told Brooke and pointed out the direction.
"Okay, thanks. Wait, did you say 'he'?" Brooke asked.
"Yeah." The girl nodded before leaving Brooke alone to figure out it was Lucas.
She knew she should have realized it was him immediately – who else would it be? Her parents certainly weren't going to turn up, they hadn't been to see any of her performances since primary school – but it just hadn't clicked at first. Besides, he hadn't said he was going to come to see her before the play started.
She raised a hand to make sure her hair was perfect as she walked towards the door, but in doing so felt the thick make-up that covered her face. She instantly stopped walking, cringing at the thought of Lucas seeing her with all this cake over her face. Still, she couldn't exactly leave him standing out there…
When Brooke reached the door she pushed it open just enough for her to peek out of it. Sure enough, Lucas was right outside the door and unfortunately for Brooke managed to spot her as soon as she had opened it.
"Brooke, what are you doing?"
"I was just looking for you. I thought you were only coming when the play started and that we'd meet up after the play."
"I just told you that because I wanted to surprise you."
"Now will you come outside so I can show you the second part of the surprise?"
"Um, well, I think we're not supposed to go outside of here so people don't see our costumes-"
"Your costume is just a dress, Brooke. Come on," Lucas encouraged.
"Okay, but you can't laugh," she warned him as she finally stepped out into the area where Lucas was standing.
"What would I be laughing at?"
"My stage make-up! It makes me look yucky under normal light."
"You could never look anything but pretty, Brooke," he assured her, bringing a smile to her face.
"Thanks. So what's the second part of my surprise?" she asked excitedly.
Lucas laughed at her sudden enthusiasm and brought his right hand out from where it had been hiding behind his back, revealing the bouquet he had bought her.
Brooke's mouth formed an "O" as she took the bouquet of wildflowers from him with both hands, but before she could start to thank him he started talking.
"Now, I know they aren't roses but I was in the shop and I saw roses and I was thinking about getting them, but then I saw these and they made me think of you so I got these instead, but then I came here and I saw some other guy had brought roses and I realized I probably should have just got the roses-"
"Lucas!" Brooke exclaimed, effectively cutting off his ramble. "You didn't have to get me roses – you didn't have to get me anything – but thank you for these. I love these flowers and if you thought of me when you saw them, then I love them even more and I love you for getting them for me," she finished, smiling sweetly at him.
Once the words were out of her mouth Brooke realized she'd let slip the four letter word she'd carefully side-stepped since Lucas had seemed somewhat freaked out by her accidentally saying them. Although, having had time to reflect on it afterwards, Brooke had realized she really did mean them; maybe Lucas just wasn't in that place yet. Or maybe, since Lucas wasn't really like most guys in that respect, he thought he was supposed to have said it first.
Feeling a bit guilty for bringing it up out of nowhere once again, Brooke started to backtrack, and began, "Er, I mean-"
"No, it's okay," Lucas interrupted. "It's okay. I-I love you too," he finished, smiling in that rare way that reached his eyes. Sometimes when he smiled like that, Brooke would remember having read in a magazine that it increases the likelihood of getting those 'crow's feet' lines around your eyes as you got older. However, just then, she was too busy smiling back.
Wordlessly, she transferred the flowers to her left hand and reached towards him with her right, pulling him into a tight hug that they stayed in for a few minutes.
"I'd kiss you, but I'd get make up over your face – in fact I'm probably getting it on your shirt now; plus, I'd have to redo mine and since it's curtain time in-"
"It's okay," Lucas told her and placed a soft kiss on her hair. "I'll see you after the show, pretty girl," he added, eliciting a grin from Brooke.
She said, "Bye," before heading to the door.
"Good luck!" Lucas called out, which had the effect of stopping Brooke in her tracks and turning around to stare at him open-mouthed. "Not that you need it," he added hastily.
"It's bad luck to say good luck! You say-"
"Break a leg! I know, I forgot, I'm sorry," Lucas said quickly. "Break a leg," he repeated.
Still frowning, Brooke shook her head. "You should be in serious trouble right now. It's a good thing I love you."
Lucas grinned "Yeah. It's a really a good thing."
As soon as the performance was over everyone began celebrating. However, there was still another night to go so Peyton soon began making sure everyone didn't forget to put back the props that they had used and that no harm came unto the sets. Luckily she managed to get the props organized relatively quickly and once she had them all, Peyton took them to the cupboard for safekeeping. As she was putting them away, one of the books slipped out of her hand and she was about to bend down to pick it up when she heard a voice behind her.
"Need some help?"
Peyton swiveled round on the heel of her converse and stared open mouthed at the sight of her boyfriend standing in front of her. "Jake!"
"Hi. Happy to see me?" he asked, grinning.
"Of course!" she exclaimed, her curls bouncing as she moved to hug him. "But I thought you said you were coming tomorrow."
"I was, but the case I was working on wrapped up sooner than I thought it would and in the end I was able to get out of work this afternoon. My choices were either to stay alone in my – soon to be our – apartment," he explained eliciting a grin from Peyton, "or come early and surprise you. Clearly you can tell which choice was more appealing."
"Do you have to go back early?"
"Nope, I can stay until Sunday just like I was going to."
"That's great," Peyton told him, and to emphasize she kissed him.
Jake smiled into the kiss as he tightened his grip on Peyton's waist to line her body up against his. He was about to change the angle of his head so he could deepen the kiss when he heard something that sounded like a knock on the door.
Peyton and Jake broke apart to discover that in fact it had been someone about to enter but had then tried to leave without them noticing; only the boy, who Peyton recognized as Mouth, one of the backstage helpers, had accidentally bumped into the door on his way out.
"H-hi, Miss Sawyer," he said, more to the ground than to her.
"I was just coming to tell you that I made sure all the mikes were put away properly so if there isn't anything else I was going to go home."
"That's fine, thank you Mouth. I'll see you tomorrow evening."
"Bye!" he told them, before rushing away.
Jake chuckled after he had gone. "I guess we should save the hanky panky until we're back at your apartment," he joked.
"I wouldn't speak to soon if I were you," Peyton warned, finally bending down to get the book she had dropped. "I'm pretty sure Haley and Nathan already have plans for the apartment."
Jake raised an eyebrow. "Your room as well?"
"Of course not! But don't you think it'd be a bit weird for us to be having sex in my room, while they're doing it right in the next room?"
"Well, I can see how it might be a bit noisy for your neighbours but-" Peyton cut him off by slapping his shoulder. "I'm just kidding, Peyton!" he said, laughing. "And speaking of Haley, I should thank her later for not ruining the surprise."
"What?" Peyton wondered as she locked up the cupboard containing the props. "Haley knew you were coming today instead of tomorrow?"
"After getting into town, I came here with Nathan and when he called her before the play started he accidentally told her that I was in the car with him. But, don't be mad at Haley," Jake said, when Peyton started to pout. "It was Nathan's fault for telling her initially and then I made her promise not to."
"Okay," Peyton relented, picking up her purse with one hand as she took Jake's hand in the other. "But in order to make up for it, she and Nathan have to give us the apartment for tonight."
"Now that's a deal I like very much."
Haley turned around once more, searching through the crowd. There were times when being short was a good thing; like when Nathan held her and her head fit just right in the crook of his neck. This, however, wasn't one of those times.
She almost felt like standing on tiptoes in order to find him; the only thing that kept her from doing so was the fact that the crowd was made up of students and parents of people in the play. Haley didn't exactly want those parents to think her somewhat ridiculous on parent's day.
She took a few steps forward before swiveling round once more, until finally she heard someone call, "Haley!"
Turning in order to follow the male voice, the smile on her face froze in place when she saw that its owner wasn't alone; her boyfriend was waiting for her by the steps, but he was also accompanied by her parents.
It wasn't that Haley didn't like her parents; the truth was she liked them a lot. They could just be a bit…shocking to anyone who didn't know them well. Since they had said they were going to be there she knew beforehand a meeting would be inevitable but Haley had been hoping she could find Nathan first and then introduce him to them as they were usually on better behaviour when she was around. Well, that wasn't strictly true, but at least if she was around then she would know what they were saying. Now, she had no idea what they had told him.
Haley quickly went over to them and her Dad wrapped her up in a hug. "The play was amazing sweetheart! Congratulations."
Lydia James then gave her a daughter a kiss on the cheek. "You did wonderfully, Haley-bop."
Haley had been smiling up to the point where her mother mentioned her childhood nickname. Nathan, however, pretended he hadn't heard as it was his turn to hug her and she immediately relaxed as she always did when he had his arms around her. Well, not if he had his arms around her and was kissing her at the same time – but that really wasn't something she should be thinking about in front of her parents.
"So," Haley began after she stepped out of Nathan's arms but stayed next to him, "how did you find each other?"
"Well, Haley dear," Lydia told her, "since, in all this time, you hadn't introduced us to your new boyfriend, I simply went around the auditorium asking every handsome man if he was my daughter's new beau."
The colour drained out of Haley's face at her mother's words since it was the kind of thing that only Lydia James was capable of. However, her father's laughter soon clued Haley in. "Very funny, Mom," Haley deadpanned.
"Well, it would have served you right if I had."
"We were entering the auditorium at the same time and I recognized your parents from the photos you have," Nathan explained.
"Oh," Haley said, realizing that that meant Nathan would have introduced himself first.
Lydia smiled before informing her daughter, "Well, your father and I should be going."
"Us old people need our rest."
"Who are you calling old?" Jimmy wondered.
Ignoring her husband Lydia continued, "We'll see you after tomorrow's performance, Haley-bop."
"I told you, you don't have to come to both-"
"And I told you that this is my daughter's directorial debut. Besides, Nathan told us that he's coming for tomorrow's performance and since now I already know what happens, tomorrow I can pay attention to Nathan instead of the stage."
Two things came to Haley's mind at once. One was that Nathan was going to be in for a full interrogation, but the second was the one she said aloud; "You're going to talk while they play's going on?"
All three of her companions smiled at her obvious dismay.
Jimmy James took a step forward to kiss the top of her head, "Try not to lose sleep over it, kiddo. We'll see you tomorrow."
Lydia and Jimmy bid their goodbyes to Haley and Nathan before disappearing to the slowly thinning crowd.
"They were joking right?" Haley asked Nathan, only half hopefully. "They're not really going to talk in the audience are they? Oh!" she added, horrified. "One of the teachers I met during the interval said there was a couple near the front of the downstairs audience who kept talking. That wasn't my parents was it, Nathan? Did you see them talking?"
"No, Haley-" Nathan began, trying to calm her down.
"You mean no, they weren't talking or no, you couldn't see them?"
"No, they weren't talking. I could see them, they were sitting a few rows in front of me and whenever I noticed them they seemed to be paying full attention to the play although I have to admit I wasn't watching them the entire time."
"No? Why not?"
"Shocking as it may sound, I was actually watching the play," Nathan told her with a smile.
"Oh. Right. What did you think?" Haley asked nervously.
"It was good."
"Really? Because I know this isn't exactly your thing and you don't have to say that just because you're my boyfriend."
"Really," Nathan stressed. "The language was a bit over my head sometimes – well, most of the time – but I did enjoy it. I definitely learnt The Importance of Being Earnest."
Haley grinned. "Thanks. And, hey, you just made a pun."
Nathan laughed. "I guess there's hope for me yet, then."
"I'm glad you think so, Miss James."
Haley blushed like she always did when he called her that, and she was starting to think that he did for that exact purpose. It was a good thing the crowd had thinned out while they were talking as most people went home, or it would have been more embarrassing if any of her real students had overheard.
"Well, what you like to go do to celebrate?" Nathan asked.
"It's too early to celebrate!" Haley protested. "We still have tomorrow to get through."
"That was the very first performance of the very first play you directed and it went off without a hitch," Nathan reminded her. "Of course that's reason to celebrate. And it's going to be my treat too."
Haley sighed. "Well, if you insist."
"I do. So, what would you like to do? Go out? It's kind of late for a proper meal but I'm sure we can find somewhere to eat if you want to. Or we could have our own private celebration…" Nathan wiggled his eyebrows playfully.
Haley giggled, but before she could respond, Nathan's eyes widened and he blurted out, "Mom!"
Haley quickly turned around and saw Karen approaching them. She smiled at them, and although she was too far away to have heard Nathan's suggestive comment, Haley blushed anyway.
Once Karen had reached them she addressed Haley, "Haley, the play was fantastic! I really enjoyed it."
"Thank you so much, Karen," Haley replied smiling back.
"I just came over to see what you two were doing tonight. I thought you probably have plans already but just in case you don't, would you like to come back to the house?" Karen wondered. Technically, it wasn't her house, but now that she spent half her time in Tree Hill to supervise the opening of her second café, she and Keith were spending more time together, like they had before he had married Deb, and since her own son was currently staying there as well, it felt like her home away from home. "I was going to whip up something for dinner for Keith and myself, and Lucas and Brooke will be joining us as well. Of course, if you've already made plans-"
"No, we haven't. And a home dinner sounds lovely," Haley admitted. "If that's okay," she added, turning to Nathan.
"Yeah, that's fine with me."
"Alright, that's settled then," Karen said with a smile.
"Okay, but you must let me help you in the kitchen," Haley told Karen as the older woman started leading them through the crowd. "You can't be cooking for six people by yourself at this hour."
"Oh don't be silly," Karen dismissed her. "You've done all this work; you should relax and save your strength for tomorrow. I'll get Keith to help me in the kitchen."
On their way out, just as they were about to exit the building, they bumped into Peyton and Jake who Karen immediately invited to join them as well. They accepted and soon found Lucas, Brooke and Keith waiting for them at the front of the car park.
At first, Nathan was worried that Lucas might make it uncomfortable since he hadn't completely gotten over problem with his cousin dating his teacher, but he smiled at Haley normally and was content to stay silent while they walked up to the car park.
Keith and Karen led the way with Brooke and Lucas behind them, followed by Jake and Peyton and then Nathan and Haley bringing up the rear. As Haley leaned into his side searching for warmth against the chill December air, Nathan couldn't help but think how different his life was than it had been a year ago. Last year he had celebrated Christmas with Karen and Jake, but in the past few months he had grown closer to both his uncle and Lucas and now that he was with Haley he felt like, for once, he had a real family.
"Hey you," Haley whispered, making Nathan realized they had reached the cars. He watched Lucas and Brooke get into Keith's car while they waited for Jake to unlock his. "What were you thinking?" Haley wondered as Nathan opened the car door for her.
Nathan paused for a moment then shook his head. "Just that…it's nice to go home," he said finally before sliding into the backseat next to Haley while Jake and Peyton sat up front.
Haley smiled at him before leaning her head on his shoulder. "Yeah. Yeah it is."
A/N: I know I said that there were two more chapters to go, but when I finally sat down to write them they felt better as one. So, yes, that really is the end of this story! A big thank you goes to Tiffany who's been beta'ing this story from about chapter 20 onwards and without whom this final chapter would have taken even longer for me to write than it did! Thank you so much to those of you who have been reading and reviewing from the beginning. I've loved reading all your reviews and I hope you've enjoyed the journey. :)