-1I'm sorry this has taken me so long to get out. I can't make up any excuse worthy of the time it's been! I will say for a big portion of the time I didn't have access to my files, and I've spent so long planning out the pace of this story I felt lost without my chapter notes! I hope it is somehow worth the wait and I appreciate all your continued support. I wouldn't blame you for giving up on me by now, but I'm so glad you haven't!! Big thank you to Diane (ParadiseBlue) for beta-ing for me and making sure it's readable! Also to the girls for their much needed confidence boosts!
"I want to be able to support us, Haley." Nathan growled as he looked over at his wife who was rolling her eyes as she sat up on their kitchen side, legs crossed beneath her Indian style. They were having one of their nightly talks, the ones in which they were supposed to bare their souls to one another, although they were both aware they hadn't quite reached that stage yet. Haley had neared it tonight. Broaching a subject she'd had sitting on the back burner for a while. It was clear to her every day that her husband hated going into work. His mood soured, and his shoulders stiffened, as the end of his breakfast drew closer, and the hands of the clock ticked on towards the dreaded time he'd have to kiss her goodbye and drive across down to his father's business, and how it took him at least an hour to get rid of the layers of armour he cloaked himself in to face the day. She knew why he did it. She knew for all his modern male traits like how he spent longer on his hair than she did at times, and offering to do his fair share of work around the house, deep down he was incredibly traditional, and stubborn, and male. Meaning he felt he had to be the breadwinner, the provider, the number one of the household. He'd often talked of her quitting her job all together, even before he brought up returning to school, and she broached the subject of babies, he'd made it clear he didn't want her work to be a chore, but a choice. Although he'd never voiced it, it always lingered after that, that was why he worked for his father. A man who she couldn't remember him not spending hours coming up with excuses not to spend time with.
"There are more ways to support me than money, Nathan."
"What is that supposed to mean?" He bit back defensively. He wanted her to need nothing more than him to get through the day. He needed for to need nothing more than him, and the suggestion that maybe he wasn't sent a pain straight to his heart. He thought this was what this whole thing was about. This opening up, and sharing, and honesty. About being there for each other emotionally.
"Don't be like that." Her eyes were no longer reflecting her annoyance, but had softened and were accompanied by a similar tone of smile gracing her lips. "I'm not saying you're not here for me in other ways. I'm not playing the put upon housewife here, but I want you to be fulfilled, like you always say you want me to be, and I can't stand watching you become someone I don't know just so you can walk out of the door every morning."
"Don't be ridiculous." He knew she was right, but as was often the problem his pride spoke before he did. He didn't want to push her away, he'd been trying so hard not to. Especially because there were times outside of what Haley had jokingly referred to as their couples therapy where he did talk about these things. About the way the idea of facing Dan each day made him want to down a quart of liquor, and how seeing Dan's account be the one that sent the funds into theirs each month made him to want to tell the bank to block the transaction. The guilt came from the fact those conversations weren't with her.
"Ridiculous, really?" She sighed, raking a hand through her long blonde locks before piling them on top of her head messily and securing it with a band. She'd known he wouldn't take this well, could pretty much have told you the conversation word for word before it even happened, but she was going to persist. If only for the immature urge to not be the only one made uncomfortable by their new found sharing "Because it's just gone nine. You've been home about three hours and even as you glare at me like you want nothing more than to come over here and stitch my lips together, this is the first time I've felt like I'm looking at my husband!"
He held her gaze, searching for a clue of what to say but she stared at him harshly, but somehow softly as she demanded a honest reply without voicing so. He shook his head, pulling a chair from the table and sitting down on it, their eyes never moving from one another's. He couldn't tell her she was right, not without her rightly expecting him to follow up with an explanation for why he felt the way he did, but explanations that no matter how entitled she was to he knew he couldn't bring himself to give her. To explain how years before he'd sworn Dan Scott out of his life, only to come grovelling back to him on her behalf. He didn't want her to feel the obligation he knew she would, the guilt she'd take upon her shoulders. He did it for her because he wanted to, needed to, because she meant that much to him, and if he thought she'd understand that maybe he'd be able to tell her so, but he knew his wife. He knew she'd only see herself as the catalyst for his pain, be unable to see past the part she played, to make it bigger, and twist it into a way he didn't see it, but he could understand how she'd get there. Because no matter how perfect they each saw each other, they were both fragile, self-deprecating people who didn't understand when other people held them to high esteem, didn't understand why they were worthy of it. He'd never understood why she'd feel that way. Wished she could see herself the way he saw her, the way most people that met her saw her, but despite the things he held back from her in these conversations he really was as honest as he could bring himself to be, more so at times than he thought he could be, and that included with himself. Meaning he had to admit her faults along with his own and they laid their pains on the table. "Can't you just accept this is what our life is?"
"No more so than you can accept it, Nathan, and you haven't accepted it." She pointed out, no one as strong as he did accepted pain, they could live with it, fight it, resent it, but they never accepted it.
"I accepted it a long time ago, Haley." He didn't even look her in the eye as he lied.
"You don't fight something you've accepted, sweetie," She stopped, willing him silently to look up at her, to see the compassion in her eyes, to know she was saying this for him, when he continued to avoid her gaze she shook her head sadly before continuing, hoping her words would be enough, "And your way of fighting is shutting down. Is pushing everybody and everything away that has the chance to hurt you. Don't you think I know that? You're my husband, Nathan, I want you to be happy. We keep saying we have be happy ourselves to be happy together but you just seem intent on me being happy, and not worrying about yourself."
"You being happy makes me happy." He looked up at her, and her heart swelled a little at the conviction that lay deep in the sea of blue she could so easily got lost in and forget it all like she had so many times before, but she wouldn't this time. She didn't want to this time.
"It plays a part I know it does, but we need to be whole people before we can be whole together." She laughed, the tension in the room alleviating slightly as she heard her words she'd just spoken. "God, that was corny."
"Yeah," He smirked, laughing a little with her. "Just a bit."
"But you know what I mean." She continued before the safe feeling disappeared and they stopped talking and went on like nothing had happened just because the air wasn't as thick and demanding. "You need to be happy, Nathan, you not us."
She raised an eyebrow at him, before rubbing her hands over her eyes. They were going around in circles. Every night it felt like who ever was in the spotlight felt the need to repeat those two words over and over again, like if they made the other person believe it maybe it would come true.
"We're young, we've got our lives ahead of us, but don't you want those lives to be the best they can be?"
"Lives?" He questioned, a nervous swirling beginning in his stomach as he took in her use of the plural of the word. Lives, as in separate, apart from each other?
"Lives as in we're two people." She answered quickly, somehow immediately knowing where his was mind was going as his gaze snapped up towards her from where he'd returned to looking at the floor. She was coming to realise just how insecure her husband could be, how much of a mess of a little boy was left inside the man before her. "But our life together. So many more years of our life together. But for now, we are young, we're just starting that life, and these are the times we need to be selfish and do what we want for ourselves. To give us the perfect life down the line, whatever it brings, the happier we are, the happier our life together is, the stronger we can be. Make the little things count, right? Make day to day good and the years will take care of themselves?"
"Wasn't that our problem to begin with?" He asked her, they'd spent so long pretending if they just got through today, if they made it through without a fight, or saying the wrong thing that maybe tomorrow would go over the same.
She could taste the sharp taste of blood in her mouth as her tooth tore the skin on her lower lip which was wedged firmly beneath it. Shifting, she unwound her legs and hung them before her, her feet dangling mid-air as they failed to hit the tiled floor. He had a point but it wasn't exactly what she meant. "I said good, Nathan, not easy. Continuing working for Dan, that would be easy. Not putting aside this time to be open with each other, would be easy. Not talking about what the other does that makes us hurt, or mad, or sad, that would be easy. Being good is being able to talk about it, being able to understand it maybe? To comfort each other over it, to move past it, so that it isn't a problem tomorrow, or at least not as big of one."
He wiped at his mouth, unsure of what to say. She was right, as she generally was. There was a big difference between easy, and good, and he'd known that even as he questioned it. But easy was, easy, he could do easy. He wasn't as familiar with the good. The good in his life was her, being with her made him feel good. Knowing she loved him made him feel like a good person. Having her choose to spend the rest of her life with him meant that for all the bad ones he must have made some good choices in life, but besides her he didn't have a lot of good. Had never experienced a lot of good, had never really chosen to. He knew he could do easy, his whole life he'd been making the easy choices, taking the easy route, he just didn't know he could be good apart from her. He definitely couldn't be without her, and he worried his fear would lead to that happening. He wondered if that feeling would ever go away, whether they'd ever be strong enough for him to not question it, to just know she'd always be there. He wondered if that fear would ever let them get to that place. "I don't know what to say, Haley."
"I just want you to tell me you love me, I want you to admit to me I'm right. That you hate going to that place everyday. To be honest and say that without being married to me you wouldn't have chosen to work for your father…"
"You know all those things are true." He stood up, walking towards her, her legs instinctively parting for him to stand between, her head tipping back so their eyes locked on each others. "I do love you, baby."
"I know." She nodded, wrapping her arms around his neck and shifting forward so their bodies touched. "But most of all, Nathan, I want you to admit you're unhappy."
He tried to pull away but she held his legs between her feet and tightened her clasp behind his neck. "Haley…"
"No, Nathan, I want you tell me you're unhappy, and that you want to change it. That you're not okay with living life like this."
The familiar feeling of discomfort spilling over into anger grew inside of him and he used his excessive weight over her to push past the embrace she'd locked around him. He paced across the room, looking back when he heard the familiar thud of her slipping down off the counter.
"Don't do this, Nathan." She begged, the distance that lay between them similar to the emotional one she'd been sure was starting to lessen but now seemed as large as ever as he closed down before her eyes.
"Don't do what?" He spat back at her, anger taking over even as told himself not to raise his voice to her, that it wasn't her fault he felt this way.
"Don't push me away."
"You literally walked away from me, Nathan." Her own voice was beginning to sound angry and she stopped herself before letting it take her over, them both reacting that way would do neither of them any favours. "It doesn't take a psychiatrist to see the metaphor there."
"Here we go again!" He raged, shaking his head and avoiding her gaze, his breath coming out in heavy agitated sighs.
"Psychiatrist," He repeated, his eyes narrowing as he at her, challenging her in some way. "I'm not going to see a shrink, Haley!"
"Where the hell did that come from?" She blinked confused, she may have used the word first but she had no idea how the conversation had gotten onto this topic.
"Well, that's what you want isn't it? You think we need to see a professional, you said it outright once, and you're always referring to this as our couples therapy."
"Oh for God's sake, I'm just trying to make things a little easier by joking about it. Yes, I did bring it up. One Time. And you said you didn't want to go so I let it be!" She threw her hands up in the air and her tongue twisted in her mouth as she tried not to say anything she'd come to regret. "You're being a little sensitive, Nathan."
"Isn't that the point?" He sneered, slamming his hand against the wall and she closed her eyes. She didn't fear him physically but she hated when his feelings took over his body like this, when she could see him practically shaking with anger and his fists balled looking for the nearest target. "To stop closing off our emotions, to share them, to feel them."
"The point," She stopped, swallowing and reminding herself that tears didn't help anything as they gathered in her eyes and she took a deep breath before continuing. "The point is to be honest, to deal with that honesty, and not avoid the feelings that stir up. You're not angry at me, you're angry at what you're feeling, and maybe you should think about why that is. Why me suggesting you might want more in life than working for your dad who you make no secret of your feelings about, makes you feel something that sends you into this rage."
"Well, clearly I don't need a shrink because apparently I have one living in my house!"
"Now who's being ridic…" Haley's words stopped short when the doorbell sounded and rang through the house, causing the young couple to look back towards the entrance before sharing a look, each daring the other to take the easy way out of answering the door instead of continuing the conversation.
Whoever was at the door persisted, this time choosing to bang their fists repeatedly against the oak.
"I'll get it." Nathan sighed, not sure if the gratitude he felt for the chance to get away from this conversation outweighed how much he didn't want to see anyone right now. Opening the door he immediately got his answer
"Hey, little brother." The blonde grinned, walking into the house without being invited. "Don't I get a hug?"
Reluctantly he let the older girl embrace him, eyes widening as he caught sight of the bright pink suitcase that lay behind her. "Hello, Taylor."
"Get out." Taylor didn't bother to knock as she entered into the room she'd been told the groom and his party were getting ready in, not sparing a glance at the other people around them as she found her target. He looked up at her from where he was sat in a chair, hunched over his wrists as he clumsily fixed his cufflinks. If she wasn't here on a mission she'd have been amused, she'd known Nathan most of her life and she'd never seen him look anything less than self-assured.
"Nate?" Cooper questioned, looking over at his nephew who nodded his consent for them to follow what the blonde had asked.
"It's cool." He stood up, feeling unnerved by the way Taylor's icy gaze followed him as he walked across the room and shut the door as the others left. "Did you want something, Taylor?"
When she didn't respond, and the harshness lessened in her eyes and was replaced with something he wasn't sure of but got a sense of sadness from, his blood ran cold. Could Haley have decided not to go through with it? He never should have listened to his mother when she insisted upon this grand ceremony despite the intense urge he'd had ever since she'd agreed to get married to drag her off to the justice of peace and seal the deal before she could change her mind. "Where's Haley?"
"She's in the bridal suite. Don't worry. She hasn't come to her senses." Most people would have said it as a joke, even if they felt otherwise, but Taylor James was nothing if not brutally honest and her words were laced with the disdain she clearly felt for the situation.
The soon to be in-laws stared at each other, before Nathan shook his head sadly and broke the eye contact. He wanted Haley's family to approve of him, and despite the reservations a lot of them had expressed over how quickly the young couple had gotten engaged, all but the one before him had accepted that this failed hometown hero really did love their baby girl. Normally he wouldn't let it get to him, but he knew the reason Taylor was the only one holding out boiled down to the fact she knew him better than any of them. At least the person he used to be, the one he was so desperately trying to move on from. "What did you want, Taylor."
"I warned you off Haley a long time ago," The blonde said slowly, leaning against the window ledge, her back to the man she spoke to as she stared down at the familiar faces excitedly congregating outside of the church.
Nathan had no memory of the night Taylor was speaking of, the one where he'd apparently spoken to his fiancée for the only time during high school. The night her maid of honour informed him when they'd met again after he and Haley started dating, that he'd broken the young tutor's heart even though he'd barely known her name.
"I'm not going to tell you to leave her alone again. Even if that's what I really want to tell you, because being Haley she's found a place in her huge heart for someone even as pitiful as you." The words were like a knife through Nathan's heart, and as big a part of him that wanted to call Taylor a bitch and send her out of the room, there was a big part of him cheering her on for it. She was right, he was pitiful, and only someone like Haley would be able to open their heart up to him. From one person who loved Haley and wanted to protect her to another he inwardly applauded the woman before him for her honesty, for the warnings that rang loudly behind her words and through her body language.
"I'm not going to hurt her, Taylor." He broke her off, before she continued on a laundry list of his faults, he may agree with her, but this was his wedding day, the day he got to prove to everyone that he was worthy of Haley's love, that she in all her infinite wisdom had chosen him to spend the rest of her life with, and he hoped that by doing so everyone else would be able to see some of the good she swore she saw in him everyday.
"I believe you don't want to." She turned to him, her eyes softened, and even a small smile playing at her lips. "I believe that you love her, I believe that she loves you, and I really do believe, Nathan, that you see how amazing my little sister is, but I don't think you're going to be able to not hurt her, I don't think the two of you will work. She's sweet and innocent, and delicate, and you, you're anything but."
"Taylor, you of all people should believe me when I say I'm not the same person I was back when we knew each other." He pointed out, her reputation had been as bad and as big as his own, and if anybody could understand what it meant for Haley to see past that it should be the woman before him.
"I also know better than anyone how hard it is to change. How it's a battle every day not to slip back into what comes easily. How being selfish just becomes part of who you are, and it's a struggle even at the best of times, and Haley doesn't deserve to be your guinea pig for trying to put someone else first for once, Nathan."
"She's not. I love her."
"Who doesn't." Taylor replied with just as much conviction as Nathan's reply. "The problem comes in the fact that she loves us. She doesn't hold back like we do either, so she feels the little things, she gets hurt so easily, Nathan, and I don't think you know that yet. I don't think you know her as well as you think you do."
"I'm marrying her, Taylor, of course I know her."
"I've been her sister her whole life, and it's only recently I've seen that behind that strength she seems to have, despite how easy things appear to be for her, she's not that person she projects to the world most of the time."
"I know her, Taylor." He repeated, "I know her better than you think. I love her for who she is, not for who she tries to be. I'm the one who holds her when she cries, or comforts her when she's had a bad day. I love your sister, Taylor, and she loves me, we're getting married in an hour, and nothing you say to me now is going to change that."
"I didn't come here to change that, Nathan. I came here to warn you if you hurt her, I'll make damn sure you're hurting too. For Haley's sake I want us to at least be able to be civil to one another, but even if I'm laughing at your jokes, and smiling and playing happy families, I'm watching you. I'm listening to everything you say to my sister, every look you give her, and you make her cry one tear I will never forgive you for it, and I will do anything and everything in my power to make sure she doesn't cry over you again."
Nodding slowly, Nathan watched how with her last words the young woman got up and walked past him without a second glance, as her hand hit the knob he stopped her. "Taylor?"
"How does she look?" He asked, unable to stop the giddy grin that tugged at his lips at the prospect of seeing his soon to be bride in such a short amount of time.
The two shared a smile, possibly for the first time ever, as they thought of the young woman in a room just the other side of the building. "Breathtaking."
"I'm starting to think your husband is avoiding me, Hay." Taylor said, walking into the living room and placing another bottle of wine on the table, Brooke eagerly leaning over and filling her glass while Haley shook her head and held her hand over hers as the brunette tried to fill it.
"No more for me thank you. I've got the opening shift at work tomorrow, plus I don't think Nathan would be too pleased to come home to three drunken girls in his living room."
"And doesn't that just prove how times have changed." Taylor quipped, causing Haley to roll her eyes and Brooke to giggle.
"That's right, you know all the stories of the dark days of King Nathan. I heard some stuff from that Rachel girl when we all had dinner a while back, but I'm sure you can tell much juicier stories now he's not here."
"Rachel who?" The older sister didn't fail to notice the stiffness that crept back into Haley's stance, as she stood up and started busying herself clearing the little mess they'd made that evening. Nathan and Lucas had arranged to meet up with some buddies earlier in the week, and so Taylor had decided to tag along for the girls night in Brooke and Haley had already arranged. The younger James had been worried at first, given that the other times the two had been in the same room sparks seemed to fly, so much so that in the run up to the wedding the bride-to-be had suffered nightmares of the two getting into a catfight mid-ceremony.
"Gatina, and I really don't think Nathan's avoiding you, Taylor. You kind of did drop in on us unexpectedly!" When hurricane Taylor had blown into their home the night before, insisting that she stay in their guest room and not back at their childhood home because there's only so many times you can walk in on your parents fooling around when you understand what's happening before you actually go through with gouging your eyes out, it hadn't been at the best of times for the young couple to have a visitor, but ever the consummate host Haley had kissed her sister on the cheek and fixed her something to eat, while Nathan murmured that he needed to blow off some steam, kissed Haley's forehead and headed out returning home a couple of hours later only to go straight to bed, then rushed through breakfast this morning before heading to work, and then straight out with his buddies. Haley knew she wasn't even being subtle, as she skipped back in conversation topic, but she'd always had trouble lying to Taylor. Even before she'd matured into someone Haley would consider a friend, there was something in her sister's eyes that worked like a truth serum on her, and Rachel Gatina was a not a subject she felt like being honest about.
She could easily lie to Brooke when the girl hinted that Lucas had told her Nathan had been spending time with his ex-girlfriend. Had no trouble insisting she knew all about it and was fine, she was secure in her relationship and knew Nathan felt nothing for his high school girlfriend any longer, but with Taylor it was different. Taylor had been more vigilant of Haley than she liked to let on back during the small amount of time they'd attended the same school, or social gatherings, and had known all about Haley's crush on Nathan. She also knew how belittled Rachel had made her younger sister feel when they were teenagers. She'd never believe that Haley didn't remember the times Rachel mocked her for sitting home reading on a Saturday night while she and Taylor were slutting themselves up to bar hop on their fake id's. Or the slurs the redhead had made about the size of her hips, or the cut of her hair, or the perverse enjoyment that the older girl had obviously gotten by talking crudely about her and Nathan's relationship in front of the naïve younger teen.
"My Rachel's in town?" Taylor hadn't failed to notice the change in her sister's demeanor once Brooke had mentioned Rachel's name. Instead of continuing to lounge in the overstuffed arm chair, Haley was now fluttering around the living room, tidying the small mess they'd made, and clearly avoiding eye contact. "Hales?"
"Yeah, that Rachel."
"God, your Rachel, Nathan's Rachel, the girl got around, huh?" Brooke giggled, and Haley shook her head, clearly most of the wine they'd drank tonight had been consumed by the only brunette in the room.
"She was my friend." Taylor rolled her eyes, picking up a few things and following Haley out into the kitchen, leaving Brooke to flick through the TV alone. "She drank a lot, didn't she?"
"Please, Taylor, don't start anything. She's just annoyed that Luke went out tonight. He's been away a lot lately so she's just upset he went out with the guys instead of spending time with her."
"You don't seem upset Nathan's gone out?" Taylor wasn't blind, or stupid, especially not for signs she was looking for. She'd told Nathan she'd be watching him and she meant it, and the two people she walked in on the night before were not a happily married young couple. The tension was rife in the small home, and she had a feeling it wasn't just her Nathan was avoiding in not being home much over the past 24 hours.
"Nathan doesn't travel for work, I see him every night." Dropping some bottles into the recycling Haley turned back to look at her sister, seeing a question in her eyes she chose to ignore. "Plus it's nice to spend some time with my sister. I've missed you, Tay, you should come home more often."
"I might have to seeing as it seems you're so poor on spreading the gossip. Why didn't you tell me Rachel was back in town?"
"Must have slipped my mind." She knew she wasn't being very convincing. If she could remember to tell her that Mrs. Morgan two doors down from their parents had bought a new dog, she could of course remember the fact she'd had dinner with her sister's best friend from high school, and if the obviousness of her statement hadn't given away the fact she'd purposely held back the piece of information, once again not being able to make eye contact would have done it for her.
"Yeah, I'm sure. Look, Haley, is there something you need to talk…" Taylor was broken off by Brooke walking into the room and handing Haley her glass.
"Luke just called." Under Haley's raised eyebrow Brooke grinned and relented, "Okay I called Luke, but the point is he's going to come pick me up, Nathan's getting a ride with someone else, so he'll be a while yet, but I'm really ready to go home and I knew Luke was driving so I hope you don't mind if I cut out early."
"Of course." Haley walked over and gave the tipsy girl a hug. "I had fun."
"Yeah, me too. Who knew we could get along huh, Taylor?"
"Yeah," The blonde smirked. "Who knew we had more in common than our taste in men."
Brooke's happy face soured, the sore point of the evening had come in Taylor's relishing in the fact that Brooke now knew she'd taken Lucas' virginity. Haley had sworn her to secrecy on the topic before, and she found it highly amusing that Haley had been the one to let it slip herself.
"Okay, let's just move on from this subject, shall we?" Haley interjected, not wanting to have to step back into the role of peacemaker. They were two of the most important people in her life and now they'd proved to her they could get along, she wasn't going to suffer through their bitching any longer. "Do you want some water for the ride, Brooke?"
"Please." The brunette nodded, sitting down at the kitchen counter, the prospect of home had sobered her a little bit but the room was still swaying somewhat.
"Look at you, Hay, such a mom. You know I thought you and Nathan would have a baby on the way now."
"Are you kidding?" Brooke laughed, "I thought that was how she got him to marry her."
Taking a deep breath, her head still in the refrigerator, Haley exhaled slowly and willed the alcohol she'd consumed not to let her cry. This was her sister, and one of her best friends in the world, she knew she should just be able to turn around and tell them that although she would like a child it really wasn't the best time, but she couldn't do it. For all the strides she and Nathan had made, for the very real conclusion she'd come to, and was slowly but surely coming to terms with, that it just wasn't the right time for them to start a family, the ache in her heart was still there, and so the fact that she wasn't having a child still seemed like a failure to her, and she wasn't willing to admit failure, especially not after the ribbing she'd been receiving all evening about being the perfect one, as good natured as it might have been it definitely struck a nerve in the young woman.
"Okay, girls, calm down, I'm only 24 you know and we've barely been a married a year. Besides, if I had an actual baby to mother, who would take care of drunk Brooke." She gave a dazzling smile as she hugged the girl in question, placing the water bottle down next to her.
"So very true. No rush for you to have babies yet!" Brooke turned up to Haley and smiled, climbing down off the seat as a horn sounded outside. "Woah, that was quick."
"Very quick, are you sure he was still at the bar?"
"That's what he said."
"Oh, wait a minute." Watching as the other woman gathered her things Haley had remembered something, ignoring the way Taylor wiggled her fingers at Luke's through the pulled back blinds and Brooke's glaring at the act she slipped out and pulled the jacket out of the hall closet. "Don't forget this."
"Why are you giving me this?" Standing in the entrance way, Brooke studied the leather in her hands. "It's really nice, but it's not mine."
"Sure it's yours. Who else's would it be?"
"I don't know, Hales, but it's not mine. I can take if off your hands if you like but…"
Taking the jacket back, Haley felt an ominous feeling settle in her stomach, the jacket had turned up in her house the weekend she'd been away in New York. When Nathan had insisted he hadn't done anything but hang out with his brother and watch TV, and the clean freak she was she knew she wouldn't have left it just lounging around the house if she'd seen it before then. If it wasn't Brooke's who else's could it be? The answer came easily to her, no matter how hard she tried to resist it. She knew Nathan had spent some time with Rachel lately, he'd been honest with her about that, but if he'd lied about seeing her that weekend had he been lying before? She worried thinking back over what Brooke had said earlier, about Lucas coming to pick her up but Nathan staying and having another ride, and found herself becoming paranoid about the fact that Lucas had turned up so quickly.
"Don't worry, I think I know who it belongs to. Go home and I'll call you tomorrow." Giving Brooke a quick hug she shuffled her out of the door, waving at Lucas, and watching them drive away before shutting the door, leaning against it and holding the jacket in her hands. "Maybe I'm wrong."
"Wrong about what?" Taylor asked, watching carefully at the way Haley seemed to be trying to squeeze the life out of the garment in her small grasp. "Who's jacket is it, Haley?"
"Oh, um no ones." Haley forced a smile and walked back towards the closet, hanging the jacket up neatly.
"No ones? 'Cause you've got that look you used to get when you realised Mom and Dad were going out for the evening and JJ was going to be in charge."
"God, you used to be horrible to me when Mom and Dad weren't around."
"Stop avoiding the subject, bub. Who's jacket is it."
"Um, I think it might be your friend Rachel's." Haley said, trying to appear flippant as she headed into the kitchen, Taylor hot on her heels. Hoping that if she avoided eye contact she wouldn't blurt out that she was pretty sure it was Rachel's, and she was certain the woman hadn't been wearing it the only night she'd known her to be in her home.
"Why do you keep saying her name like that, Hay?"
"Like what?" Haley said, walking back out of the kitchen and into the living room, training her eyes on the infomercial Brooke had left playing.
"Like it hurts you to say it." Nervously Taylor broached a subject she'd been wanting to ever since she came home. Before really if you counted those times she'd heard sadness in her sister's voice. Albeit up until now she hadn't had a specific question to ask, more of a general wondering. "Is there something going between Rachel and Nathan?"
Unable to worry any longer about avoiding eye contact Haley's head snapped over to where Taylor was stood in the doorway. "Why do you say that?"
"Because Nathan's avoiding you, and every time Rachel's name has come up in conversation you've practically turned into a mannequin you've gotten so stiff. You're my baby-sis. I know when you're hiding something."
"I told you, Nathan's not avoiding anybody. You or me, and there's nothing going on between Nathan and Rachel. They're old friends they've been hanging out." Turning once again back to the TV, Haley's thumb made its way to her mouth and she began to gnaw at it lightly. The time Nathan and Rachel had been spending together was something she kept trying to push to the back of her mind, they had enough problems she didn't need to add insecure and jealous to the list but it was hard not to be affected when they were supposed to be entering a new honest and open stage in their relationship, and her husband had gotten extra pal-ey with the anti-Haley.
"You've been letting Nathan hang around with his ex-girlfriend?" Taylor raised an eyebrow in suspicion as sat down on the coffee table in front of Haley, forcing her to look at her.
"Well, why wouldn't I." Haley defended, protesting as much to herself as to her sister. "We're adults, Taylor, men and women can be friends."
"People who spent as much time in bed as those two did can't be just friends, Haley."
Haley cringed and swallowed the bile that rose in her throat. "Thanks for that, Tay."
"I'm sorry," She reached over and stroked Haley's hair the way she had all her life when she felt the urge to comfort her. "I shouldn't have said, I just can't see you being cool with the two of them spending time together, Haley."
"I'm not." Haley's voice was barely above a whisper, and tears filled her eyes, unable to lie any longer as her sister's touch took her back to her childhood. "I'm not okay with it. I don't want him spending so much time with her, with any ex but especially her. I know people change, I mean, you and Nathan are just prime examples of people not being who they were when they were teenagers, but she just walks into a room and I feel like I'm fourteen, and madly crushing on her boyfriend, who doesn't see me, only her."
"But, sweetie, that boyfriend, he married you."
"I know, and I know he loves me, I do, but there's always going to be this part of me that feels like he settled with me, Tay."
"What? Haley, you're crazy. If anyone settled it's him not you - you're amazing!"
"Thank you, but you saying that doesn't change how I feel. I feel like he's going to realise that she's the head cheerleader and I'm still the tutor girl whose name he doesn't remember, and I know it sounds stupid, and I meant it when I said I know he loves me, but, God, something about the woman just brings out all these insecurities."
"Oh, Hales." Sitting down next to her on the couch she brought Haley over to her, the younger girl's feet folding up beside her as she sunk into the embrace.
"We've been having problems."
Sniffling, Haley shook her head. "No, other stuff."
"I asked him to have a baby with me."
"Have you not been able to get pregnant? 'Cause, honey, you know remember how long it took JJ and Erica and now they have three."
"He doesn't want one."
Haley shrugged, unable to quite believe she was actually talking about this with someone, the closest she'd ever come to it was with Peyton, and opening up with her had meant a huge fight she wasn't sure they'd be coming back from anytime soon. "I don't know. He says he's just not ready now, but, I don't know.."
"Is it a deal breaker for you?"
"I'm not sure anything is a deal breaker for me where Nathan's concerned, Taylor."
"Haley, that's not healthy."
"I know that. You think I don't know that? Taylor, c'mon I know that, but I love him so much, and the whole baby thing, he's right it's not the right time, I know that now. We're not in the right place as a couple, as people… I thought we were moving on though, that we were accepting that we had our troubles and dealing with them, and that's why I've been trying really hard not to let the Rachel get to me, most of my close friends over the years have been male so it's ridiculous of me to act jealous, or worried because he has a friend who just so happens to be female, but then I realised this jacket belonged to her, and it's not the jacket she wore when she came over, and she's never been to our house again as far as I know. But if she's never been here how did her jacket get here? And how do I ask him without making it seem like I'm accusing him of something?"
"Am I what?"
"No." She said emphatically, shaking her head. "No, I'm not, he wouldn't. He loves me."
"I know he loves you." Taylor nodded, she'd known it all along but it hadn't meant she trusted him anymore with Haley than she had before he loved her.
"I really don't think he's cheating on me."
"You don't think?"
"I know, I know he's not cheating on me, but it's Nathan, and it's Rachel, and I'm insecure, and jealous, and a mess, and I want a baby, and I want to go school, and I want my husband to talk to me, to tell me everything, to not push me away when things get hard, or messy, or uncomfortable."
"Hales." Taylor didn't really know what to say, her sister was painting the most heartbroken picture of her marriage, and despite the raging need in her to go and find Nathan and demand to know what was going on, and why he was letting Haley work herself into such a state, she was scared to break this moment. Haley wasn't one to break down, but when she did she went into a trance, one that if you broke she'd pretend never happened, as she wiped away the tears and found something to busy herself with.
"You can't tell anybody." Haley shifted so she could stare into her sister's eyes, grabbing her hands and holding onto them. "Please, Taylor. About the Rachel stuff, about the baby thing, nothing. Please. Not Mom, not Vivian, not even Nathan."
"Haley, you have nothing to be ashamed of, all marriages go through hard times, and if you say you're trying to sort things out you really should be talking to Nathan."
"I will, but he'd hate me if he knew I was telling you this, Taylor. Please, as my sister, promise me."
"I…" She didn't know if she could, she didn't know if she could stop herself from confronting Nathan about all the things he was doing to make Haley cry, but she knew she couldn't break a promise to Haley either.
"Please, Taylor, I promise I'm going to ask Nathan about the jacket, but in my own time, when I'm ready, and you, you'll get angry, and you'll make accusations, and he's my husband, and I trust him, and I'll ask when I'm ready to okay, please?"
Unable to face the prospect of making Haley cry even harder, Taylor nodded, sighing. "I promise I won't say anything to Nathan."
"Thanks, Tay. I love you."
"I love you too, bub." Holding onto Haley, Taylor felt bad, knowing her sister trusted her so much she didn't see the difference in the promise she'd made to the one she asked, but strangely enough it was that blind trust of the ones she loved that made Taylor feel right in her decision.