Author's Note: Oh my God, I'm so sorry this took so long, but it was just disgustingly hard to write. These first few chapters have been difficult because of how alternate universe this story is.
I'm not sure how invested you guys are with what I'm doing here, but so far the feedback is been so amazing. Thank you so much.
The plans I have for this story are really interesting (hopefully you'll think so too) so bear with me if it can take a while to update sometimes.
Circles and Squares
Chapter Two: Indistinct Wires, Indistinct Colors
"Now, correct me if I'm wrong here, but I believe I just won. Again." With her eyebrows quirked in a way most found adorable, Brooke grinned, allowing her dimples to flash him teasingly.
Nathan frowned, looking down at his cards. After a moment, he tossed them down onto the table. "Whatever."
"Oh," she laughed. "Don't be sore, Nathan. It's not my fault I'm naturally gifted at everything I do."
"Really? So you're sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you're an insane cheater?" In fact, she really was just better than him at card games. He would not admit it to her, but playing cards was, in a sense, a brain exercise for him. Most games that required thinking were. Where as most people could think quickly and use natural logic, he needed to take the time to find natural logic.
"Nathan Scott, I have never cheated a day in my life!" She gasped, but it was playful. She leaned back in her seat, the swell of her stomach catching his eye. Brooke was just under six months pregnant, and still, he was in awe of the fact. A part of him wondered if he'd ever himself have children, or if he was destined to be alone. What kind of father would he be, anyhow?
They were sitting in Brooke's house, a small but nicely decorated two bedroom she shared with her husband and Nathan's best friend, Jake Jagielski. For her, he knew that this was a step-down from the houses she'd lived in before. She'd always been wealthy, but her parents had cut her off upon her refusal to end her relationship with Jake.
If Brooke missed being rich, she did not let on. She had painted her entire house herself, colorful and bright like she was. Every room was so Brooke-like, if you knew her, you'd know she lived there. She seemed perfectly content working as an assistant manager at a popular clothing store in Tree Hill, using her discount to get the clothes she wanted. She seemed fine clipping coupons when it was necessary. If you brought up her parents or her upbringing, it was rare you'd get much out of her. This was part of the reason Nathan only knew little about Brooke's own experience at Chapel Hill High, though she'd been only a grade below him. He had not known her then, so he figured it didn't really matter much anyway.
She rubbed her stomach. "Let's get food! I'm starving."
He liked that Brooke didn't treat him like other people did. Like he was… special. Jake treated him normally too, and Nathan found that he always liked being in their company. Brooke and Jake were everything he was not, and that was a good thing.
He sighed loudly in mock disapproval. "You're always hungry these days."
"Hey, I'm eating for two! I'm perfectly normal-sized for six months. In fact, I'm probably even a little on the slim side." She attempted in vain to suck in her stomach, to which Nathan laughed.
She rose. "Come on, let's at least go see a movie or something."
"You just want to get out of the house, huh?"
"The baby does, Nathan. The baby does." She was very pretty. He'd always noticed, but of course, he'd never done anything about it. He especially liked her dimples and her eyes, and the way her nose turned up. He liked that she didn't look like Haley, because it was too painful to be constantly reminded of her. But of course, his brain would automatically always think, 'I like that she doesn't look like Haley', which would prompt him to think of Haley, which would defeat the whole purpose of her not looking like Haley and not reminding him of her.
"Come on, buddy. There's this new movie out… Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey… unbeatable combination. As we've seen before."
He did not recognize the names. "Where have we seen them before?"
She gasped as if she was actually surprised he did not remember. Like it was not in his character to forget all the big details. Most of the time, he'd forget a movie as he was watching it. "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days?! Only the best movie ever!"
"Oh right," he lied. "Yeah, I remember."
She smiled at him in a way she knew that he did not. "Well, I hear this one's even better."
He can tell instantly from the tone of his mother's voice on the phone that he's going to be getting in trouble. For what, he doesn't know. It's not like it's unusual. He's always getting in trouble for something; ditching, coming home past curfew, having "attitude".
When he walks into the kitchen, slinging his backpack to the floor, he catches his father's uneasy gaze. His dad never likes getting him into trouble, but his mother thrives on it, it seems.
Karen is standing by the island in the kitchen, looking thoroughly pissed off.
Nathan tries to play coy. "What's up, guys?"
His mother laughs a laugh that tells him she doesn't think it's funny. "Not your grades, that's for sure."
Oh. That's what this is about.
"Sorry," he says easily, "I've been really busy with basketball so I guess I've just been slacking."
"No," his mother says firmly. "You've been slacking since you entered middle school. This is not slacking. You're failing all of your classes, Nathan. All of them!"
"I've got a D in some of my classes. That's passing." He argues.
"Not in my book. You're getting these grades up, Nathaniel Scott. Or so help me God, no more basketball."
"What?" He turns to look at his dad for support, and sure enough, dear old dad is shaking his head at Karen.
"Karen, with his basketball talent, he doesn't need to be a straight-A student. I don't understand why you're pushing this." Dan looks almost disgusted.
"I'm not saying that he needs to be a straight-A student. I'm saying he needs to be passing his classes. If Lucas can play basketball and have a perfect grade point average, there's no reason why Nathan can't at least be getting some C's."
"Fine, mom. I'll try harder." He rolls his eyes and reaches for his backpack.
"Oh, you think I'm leaving it up to you?" She laughs again. It's beginning to really annoy him.
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm not doing anything. You're getting a tutor."
"What? No, I'm not." He's not going to waste the only free time he has with some annoying geek he's probably just going to end up paying to do his homework anyway.
"Okay. It's up to you. You get a tutor, or I call Coach Durham up right now and inform him about our little situation."
She smiles and he sighs loudly, a frown creasing between his brows.
Jake Jagielski was a cop. A good one; the kind that didn't just stop people to be a jackass, but really got into the field to help people. From the first day Nathan had ever met him, he'd admired and idolized him. Jake Jagielski was that guy, the one you wanted your kid to grow up to be like, the one you wanted to be best friends with, the one you'd never want to bring around your girlfriend.
He worked hard to support himself and Brooke. Night shifts and sometimes even day shifts. They'd married only months after meeting, and he'd vowed from the second he'd met her that he'd take care of her, even if he had to kill himself doing it.
Now, as they sat in the food court of the mall, Brooke and Jake linked hands and giggled and flirted like they'd just met. Occasionally, Jake's hand would drop to Brooke's stomach, and she would glow. Nathan found he was insanely jealous of their relationship.
After the movie, which Nathan could actually remember, Jake had called Brooke to inform her he was off work, so they'd all met up in the food court. Of course, after just minutes, the two were grabbing at each other like teenagers, and Nathan felt like a third wheel.
"So this guy," Jake was saying, pausing to kiss Brooke's cheek. "He's like, completely wasted. I mean, he could barely talk, and his car was just all over the road. So I stop him and I say, 'sir, have you been drinking?--"
Brooke interrupted. "Oh, I love when you talk cop-talk!"
He grinned. "So anyway," he shot Brooke a look. "He says, 'Bad cop! No donut!' like I'm some four hundred pound mall security dog. And it was two-thirty in the afternoon. People these days." He shook his head, laughing lightly.
Nathan chuckled, but could not help but feel uncomfortable. As much as he loved Jake, and as much as he loved Brooke, he felt like he was imposing.
"You know," he cleared his throat. "I think I'm going to go. I've got work in a couple hours."
Brooke frowned. "No, stay. We'll take you."
"Yeah, I'll drive you." Jake said.
"I think I'd just rather walk. Don't worry, guys. Have a good night. Brooke, maybe you can drag Jake to one of your lame movies this time." He joked.
Jake shook his head. "No way."
"Hey! No fair! I'm pregnant." She leaned back in her seat with a pout, and both men laughed.
"Alright, Nate. Call me if you need anything, okay?" Jake said to Nathan in a way that made Nathan feel as if they were brothers.
Nathan nodded and stood, and as he was walking away, he heard Jake saying, "You know, you can't just always use that as an excuse.."
And Brooke replied, "Of course I can!"
A talk in the car on the way to school with his father just reassures him that his mother is serious. His father keeps repeating, 'she is so unreasonable sometimes. She just doesn't understand, son.' and Nathan would kind of like to tell his father that he gets it. He doesn't want to lose basketball either, he'll do the tutoring.
After the day is over, and he is worn out from practice, he remembers the dreaded lesson and he shuffles over to the tutoring center, ducking his head whenever he sees someone he recognizes.
It is nearly six-thirty, but several people are still inside, and he curses inwardly. In a way, he'd like to be the only person that needs help, just so he doesn't have to deal with all these other people knowing.
He stands awkwardly by the door, hands stuffed into his pockets. If none of these tutors claim him within the next few minutes, he thinks, he'll leave and tell his mother the tutor flaked.
Nathan waits a few seconds, before turning to leave. A voice interrupts him just as he is making his escape.
"Are you Nathan Scott?" His shoulders sag as he faces the voice; a teenage boy with bad skin and a slight lisp.
"Alright," the kid is chewing gum, smacking it between his teeth. For just a moment, Nathan believes he hates his mom. "You're with Haley. The brunette over there in the green."
He can't help but breathe a sigh of relief when he sees that she looks relatively normal. She looks like what he'd probably picture a girl tutor looking like. Not over the top pretty, but more cute.
She looks over on instinct, and he gives a small wave as he makes his way over to her.
Haley wears a green cardigan and her hair is a cinnamon brown and her eyes are probably the biggest eyes he's ever seen, and he can't help but smile as he takes a seat across from her.
She grabs a pair of glasses off the table and puts them on, which somehow makes her look even cuter. "Hi, I'm Haley," she says briefly before looking down at what he guesses is his transcript. "And you must be Nathan."
"That'd be me." He vaguely wonders if she already knows who he is, if she's gone to any basketball games.
"Look," she says, "I just want to be sure that you're really going to try. Because if you're not going to try, then you're wasting my time. My guess is your grades aren't good because of your lack of effort. Am I right?"
He swallows. "Um, yeah. I guess."
She continues. "And now you're so far behind that even if you wanted to try, you wouldn't know what was going on?"
A sigh. "Okay. So are you going to try?"
"If I don't, I'm off the basketball team. If I'm off the basketball team, I have no future. There's your answer."
She takes off her glasses and for the first time, makes complete eye contact with him. He wonders what she thinks of him.
"Well, this should be interesting."
The bell rang as he closed the door behind him. No one looked up, and he found that he was glad. He liked being invisible sometimes, especially when he was sad.
Nathan pulled a stool back at the bar, and took a seat, clearing his throat to notify the bartender of his existence.
"What do you want?"
"I'll have a beer." He said.
"It's on me." He looked to his left, where a man about his age - possibly a few years older - had taken a seat. "You're Nathan Scott, right?"
He swallowed. "Um, yeah."
"You probably don't remember me," the guy laughed. "We went to high school together. Actually, I was a year older than you. Graduated the year you took us to the state championships for the first time."
He nodded, slightly embarrassed. Did this guy know what had happened the next year? What he'd done? Probably. He braced himself for the question.
"My name's Felix."
"Oh yeah," A sudden image of this guy starting a fight at school popped into his head. "I remember you."
"I've reformed a bit since high school," he chuckled as if he was reading Nathan's thoughts. "What about you? What are you up to?"
Nathan chugged his beer. "You know, man. Same stuff as usual."
"I heard about your accident," Felix said slowly and Nathan winced. "I'm really sorry, man. I still remember when my mom told me. I was so surprised. Must have changed everything for you."
"I don't really feel like talking about it."
"I knew your brother. Cool guy. It's a shame, what happened."
Nathan laughed bitterly. "You think? It's a little more than a shame. Nothing is the way it's supposed to be, and it's all my fault."
"What happened to you?" Felix pried. "In the accident, I mean."
"Does it look like anything happened to me?" He growled, turning to look Felix in the eye.
"Something happened," Felix nodded. "You're different. You're…"
"Slower?" Nathan shook his head. "I'm out of here."
"Hey, man." Felix called after him as he started to get up, "I didn't mean to offend you, I was just curious!"
Nathan clenched his fists at his sides as he left.
"Why did you want to meet here?" Haley asks him as he takes a seat. They are by the docks near the river, his favorite place in town. Often times, he goes running here. Sometimes he just sits by himself and looks at the river.
He shrugs. "I like it here. Plus, I like it way better than the tutoring center. That place is so stifling."
"Are you sure you won't get distracted here?" She asks unsurely, obviously having noted his interest in the atmosphere.
He frowns. "I don't have problems focusing."
"Your grades disagree." She says.
"You know," he is suddenly frustrated with her. She thinks he's an idiot. He understands that now. "I just don't care. I don't pay attention in class because I know it doesn't matter. I'm not smart. My brother is. My brother is essentially perfect. He doesn't have to lift a finger and he gets great grades and still plays basketball probably as good as I do. Me? Look, even if I tried, it wouldn't matter. I'm not smart, and I never will be. So you're probably right… I'm wasting your time."
"Wait," she bites her lip. "I'm sorry for how I've been treating you. I guess," she looks around at the river, at how it gleams in the morning, somehow always managing to look appealing, even on the coldest of days. "there's sort of an accepted idea of you, and I bought into it. But I don't think you're stupid. I think if you tried, you could be really educated. You're already smart, but you need to learn to care."
He sighs, feeling slightly embarrassed at his little outburst.
"You really think you can help me?"
She smiles brightly. "I'm sure, now."