A/N: This is my first foray into the world of fanfic in quite awhile, but I've written several fics for other fandoms including Alias and Veronica Mars. I thought I was through with fanfiction, but this has been sitting on my hard drive for quite some time and I figured I'd finally post. I'm a little rusty, but here goes. Typical N/H here...hopefully you still get some enjoyment out of it. This will have multiple parts and will include a few time jumps. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: I don't own anything relating to One Tree Hill--not the characters, not the stories, not the music, and not the names.

The World You Desire Can Be Won

The Mistake

"Ball! Come on, man! I'm open!" He claps his hands for emphasis as he watches his teammate dribbling the ball at the top of the key.

The ball is hurtling towards him a split-second later and he grins when he catches it firmly in his hands. One quick pivot and he's on his toes watching the ball arc towards the metal rim. It whispers its way through the net and he feels several pats of congratulations just before he turns to jog down to the other end of the court.

Taking a breath, Nathan Scott raises the hem of his practice jersey to dab at the sheen of sweat that's forming on his forehead. It's only practice, but there's never been a game that Nathan Scott hasn't wanted to win. It's been years since there's been a player of his caliber at Tree Hill and now that he's a senior, the pressure is building. There will undoubtedly be an endless flow of college scouts looking to fill their rosters with the biggest and best. There are hundreds of reasons that Nathan Scott wants--no needs--to be on one of those rosters. Of course there's the fact that he loves the game, that he's an artisan when it comes to the sport, and that some would describe him as being a total ass when he's playing because he's all business on the court. But then there's the most important reason...the one nobody else knows about.

See, Nathan Scott knows exactly how many years it's been since Tree Hill has had a player of his caliber. His father, Dan Scott, reminds him every day. So the number one reason Nathan needs to play college ball?

To get out of Tree Hill. And to get the hell away from his father.

Nathan shakes himself free of his thoughts and turns his eyes to the court. When the sounds of the bouncing ball and the telltale squeak of rubber on wood grow closer, he hunches slightly and watches for a botched pass or a clumsy dribble.

"Scott!" his name echoes through the gym.

Okay, so he wasn't ready for that.

Nathan cringes at the angry drawl of his high school basketball coach, Whitey Durham. Schooling his features into what he hopes is a look of innocence, Nathan turns to face the red-faced man.

"Yeah, Coach?" he responds nonchalantly.

Whitey narrows his eyes at his star player before jerking his thumb back toward the locker room door. "My office. Now!"

The ball is dropped by one of the other players and Nathan watches as it rolls lazily toward the bleachers. He ignores the low whistles and sympathetic grumblings of his teammates as he makes his way out of the gym and through the locker room to Whitey's office. When he arrives, the old man is already seated behind his ancient desk, a mug resting atop the scarred wood, and he's frowning before Nathan even has a chance to sit down.

"What's up, Coach?"

"What's up? I don't know what's up, Nathan." Whitey shakes his head. "What I can tell you is what's not up. Your grades! Now what the hell is going on in that oversized head of yours?!"

"It's the teachers, Coach! They..."

"Don't you try that hogwash on me!" Whitey barks. "You seem to forget," a smirk slowly begins to appear on his creased face, "I coached your father! I've heard every excuse in the book! I know you're trying to pull the wool over my eyes before you know you're trying to pull the wool over my eyes! Now how 'bout you try explaining this to me." Whitey pushes a slip of paper across the desk and then leans back, his arms crossed over his chest.

Nathan's eyes skim the document and he feels himself sinking even lower in his seat.

US History -- D+


English 11--F

Human Anatomy--C-



Weight Training--A

Nathan shrugs. "I have two As," he points out.

"Oh well, my mistake. I'm just so proud that my star basketball player can actually pass P.E. and Weight Training," Whitey grumbles dryly. "Congratulations on proving that the rumors about brain-dead athletes are true. It's just too bad your sports eligibility is based on your academic GPA! And since you're flunking both Geometry and English, allow me to translate the meaning of these words and numbers. As of right now, your GPA is too low for you to remain eligible for extra-curricular activities at Tree Hill High."

"What does that mean?" Nathan asks, dreading the answer.

"It means you're off the team, Air Jordan," Whitey remarks irritably.

Nathan frowns, "But the season starts in two months!"

Whitey nods. "Yes. And you're just lucky enough to have another report card due to come out just before the start of the official season. So if you're lucky, and I do mean incredibly lucky, I'll let you back on the team. If, and only if, your grades are up and you're in top physical condition."


"I don't want to hear it, Scott."

"But, Coach..."

"Go whine to your daddy. I'm sure I'll be hearing from him anyway. We're done here. Now scram!"

"Great," Nathan mutters. "Just great. Dad's gonna love this."

He slams his locker so hard, the entire row rattles from the force. "This is bullshit!" he announces angrily.

"So you're off the team?" Tim questions in disbelief. "That's wack, dawg."

Nathan looks at Tim strangely before shaking his head in frustration, "Whatever, Tim."

"He's really not going to let you play, Nate?" Peyton Sawyer questions with concern as she approaches Jake Jagielski with a quick kiss.

"This is so bogus! We're never going to make it to the state championships now!" Brooke Davis pouts. "I'm finally Cheer Captain, we finally raise the money for hot uniforms, and for what? To fuel the wet dreams of a bunch of washed-up former Ravens in the crowd? It's not fair!"

"What are you going to do, Nate?" asks Jake.

Nathan shrugs, "I don't know, man."

"You could get a tutor."

Nathan turns to see his half-brother Lucas approaching the group. It's been less than a year since he and Lucas stopped hating each other with a fiery passion. Although he knows that Lucas is bitter over the fact that their father made the decision not to acknowledge his existence, Nathan wonders deep down if Lucas doesn't have the better deal. A single mom who actually cares seems to be a hell of an improvement over a dad who pushes until it seems he can't push anymore. It's been a long and difficult struggle--one riddled with fights and hazing and vicious teasing--but it seems that they've finally moved beyond all of the shit. For now.

Nathan stiffens slightly at Luke's suggestion. Though they're no longer the sworn enemies they once were, Nathan isn't quite comfortable knowing that Lucas is privy to this less than flattering information about him.

As he ponders the situation, Nathan watches as Brooke suddenly lights up and then skips over to where Lucas stands slightly hunched, his backpack tossed over one shoulder. Beaming up at Luke's bewildered face, Brooke turns to Nathan.

"I think the Hot Scott is on to something, Nate," she announces.

"Hot Scott," Tim chuckles. "More like Not Scott."

The group turns to stare at Tim in total disbelief before turning back to Nathan.

"Yeah right," Nathan scoffs. "Tutoring is for losers."

"So is sitting in the stands when you're supposed to be racking up full-ride scholarships," Jake snickers.

Nathan glares at Jake for a moment before looking at the earnest faces of his teammates and friends. This is supposed to be their year. The Ravens have been among the favorites to win the state championship for the past five years and with Nathan Scott as the team captain, it seemed that this year was going to be the big one. He doesn't like the idea of tutoring, but he really wants that state championship. It's the one thing Dan Scott never had.

"Tutoring?" Nathan questions uncertainly. His lip curls as though he's caught a whiff of something foul.

"I'm serious," Lucas insists. "Look, Nathan, we need you on that team. We all know we have no chance at the state championship without you."

The rest of the team nods and chimes in their agreement.

Lucas continues, "You may be an ass, but you're a damn good player. Now the question is, what are you going to do to make sure you're there for your team?"

"Yo, we've had your back for the last three years, Nate!" Skills Taylor reminds him.

"Come on, man!" Tim whines. "Maybe your tutor will be a hot blonde who'll take off her clothes every time you--"

"Not unless Peyton has started tutoring recently," Brooke Davis chimes in with a naughty wink.

"Brooke!" Peyton cries, reaching out to pinch her friend on the arm.

Lucas rolls his eyes and then shakes his head. "My best friend," he announces. "She tutors. She's amazing."

"Awww, you're best friends with a little Tutor Girl?" Brooke coos to Lucas. "That's so sweet."

Lucas gives Brooke a strange look before turning his attention back to Nathan.

"Your best friend? You mean that weird chick with the ugly sweaters?" Nathan questions sarcastically. He's only seen one girl hanging around with Lucas and she seems to be about as concerned with her appearance as Nathan is with school. The last thing he wants to do is spend an hour after school with some socially-inept geek staring at him over his math book.

Peyton frowns disapprovingly. "Shut up, Nathan. Haley's great! Jake had her as a lab partner last year. She's really smart."

"And you weren't worried?" Nathan asks Peyton. "She must be a real winner if you were willing to let your boyfriend work with her."

"Well, not everyone is as dishonest as you," Peyton replies sweetly.

Rolling his eyes, Nathan turns to Lucas, "Aren't there any tutors who are, like, hot?"

"Hey!" Lucas snaps defensively. "Watch it! Haley is probably the smartest person in our school. She's a good person."

"Which is code for Fugly Dog," Tim breaks in with a snicker.

"What'd I just say, Tim?!" Lucas gives Tim a shove. "Don't talk about her that way. You have no idea what you're saying." Annoyed, he glances at Nathan's arrogant smirk. "As a matter of fact...forget I mentioned it. She's too smart to want to have anything to do with you."

Lucas turns to walk away when suddenly Nathan feels something biting into the flesh of his arm.

"Yeow!" he jerks at his arm and turns to glare at Brooke who is innocently examining the state of the manicured nails that were just digging into Nathan's skin. "Damn it, Brooke!'

"Go after him!" she hisses. "Or so help me God..."

Nathan cringes and then, "Lucas, wait!" He heaves a reluctant sigh, "You really think she'll help me?"

Lucas shrugs, "I don't know. She's probably too smart to want to get mixed up with the likes of you. But I can talk to her. She's a sucker for a good cause."

Nathan considers his options for a moment and finally nods, "I guess I don't have much of a choice."

The ice chimes lightly against the glass in Dan's hand as he begins to shake with anger. Nathan closes his eyes as he waits for the explosion.

"What do you mean you're off the team?! You useless little shit! What the hell do you have going for you now? Huh?!" Dan Scott's face is bright red, nearly purple, with rage as he swings his arms wildly through the air, liquid sloshing over the rim of his glass and onto the spotless carpet below.

Nathan cringes and shrinks back into the couch as his father roars furiously. He knew the evening would be bad as soon as he walked through the front door and found the note saying that his mother was on yet another business trip. But this...this is even worse than he imagined.

"I'm working on it, Dad. Lucas is helping me--"

"Lucas? What does he have to do with this? He's probably glad to have you off the team. It's the only way he's going to get any playing time this season."

Nathan fights the urge to roll his eyes.

Dan sighs heavily and turns to glare at Nathan.

"Well," he mutters, "I guess I'm going to go see Whitey tomorrow. Here I am fixing yet another one of your stupid messes."

Nathan grimaces at his father's tone, but works up the courage to respond, "You can't fix this, Dad. It's district policy."

"I don't give a damn about district policy. If Tree Hill wants a winning basketball season, they'll put you back on that team."

"I'm going to take care of it, Dad. I'll take care of it myself, okay? I don't need you coming to my rescue. I'll clean up my own mess," Nathan remarks stubbornly.

Dan watches his son with narrowed eyes, something akin to disgust on his face. Finally, he gives a short nod before reaching over and smacking Nathan upside the head.

"You'd better."

"Damn! It's finally happened," she announces dramatically before popping a grape into her mouth. "You've finally lost your mind."

"Come on, Hales! Help the guy out."

Shedding her denim jacket, Haley rises from the picnic table and picks up her putter. Squaring up, she gently taps her orange golf ball across the green Astroturf and watches as it rolls into the cardboard tube they recently added to their makeshift mini-golf course. Letting her putter fall to the ground, she raises her arms in victory and turns back to Lucas. She jabs an accusatory finger at him and narrows her eyes, "You're just trying to throw me off my game, aren't you? Well, I've got news for you, Lucas Scott. It's not going to be that easy. I am the putt-putt queen!"

Lucas sits up from where he's lounging on the table's bench and raises his eyebrows at the ridiculousness of her grand proclamation.

Haley drops her arms and shrugs, "Okay, so that sounded a lot more impressive in my head."

"Yeah," Lucas chuckles. "Unfortunately, I'm one hundred percent serious, Hales. Look, I know he can be a jerk, but I've seen a different side to him. He has it bad with Dan riding him all the time. The guy could really use the help. And maybe you'll be a good influence on him."

"Right," Haley scoffs as she climbs up and perches atop the picnic table. "'The guy' being the brother who ignored you and then tortured you for years? The one who makes a regular habit of drinking, fighting, and sleeping around before sleeping in class? Yeah, he's a real class act. We'll be bosom buddies in no time."

"Please, Haley. Just do this. Think of it as a favor to the team."

Haley's arms are crossed defiantly. "He's an ass, Luke!"

"Yes. He's an ass. Believe me, I'm still not a big fan. But we really need him on the court. We'll never make it to state without him. Think of the team--Jake and Skills and Tim--"

Haley gives him a scathing look at the mention of Tim.

"Come on, buddy," Lucas pleads.

Haley tilts her head, her eyes narrowing, "You are going to owe me until the end of time, you know that?"

"I'll be your best friend forever," Lucas vows with a smile.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Haley replies begrudgingly. She gestures impatiently towards the second putter which is leaning against the table. "Are we playing or not?"

Jumping up, Lucas snatches the putter and swaggers over to the patch of Astroturf. "You're going down, James!"

"Let's hope not," Haley murmurs under her breath.

She's working with another student when he appears in the doorway to the tutoring center. He's wearing jeans, a polo, and basketball shoes, but he's also got a tall brunette wrapped around him at the moment. He's smirking when he finally pulls away and gestures towards the door. Haley can't help but roll her eyes when the girl leans in for one more kiss and then skips away, undoubtedly off to tell her friends about the lip lock she's just shared with the infamous Nathan Scott. Disgusted, Haley resists the urge to gag and then turns her attention back to her tutee.

He walks into the Tutoring Center and glances around quickly before spotting her. He doesn't know her, but he's seen her hovering around Lucas enough times to recognize her. She's dressed in jeans and a light purple t-shirt with some kind of goofy picture on the front, nothing very feminine or flirty. Her hair is straight, a dark reddish brown dye-job--the color he usually associates with people who are trying desperately to keep from fitting in. Her hair is pinned back with two plastic barrettes and he spots a thin gold band on her pinky finger. She's petite, he notices, but her features are large. She's got wide brown eyes--the kind he supposes are probably described as doe-like--and a wide smile that she's currently directing to another student in the room. She's not ugly, he acknowledges, but she's plain, most definitely not his type, and he finds himself already looking at the clock to count down the hour.

He waits until the other student leaves before approaching. Dropping his backpack with a thud, he slumps into the chair across the table from her and scowls in her general direction.

Glancing up, Haley quickly closes the book she's reading and smiles politely.

"Hi, I'm Haley."

Nathan glances up noncommittally and nods, "Yeah, hey."

"And you are?"

Surprised, Nathan looks up and smirks, "Like you don't know who I am."

Her features harden and she tenses a bit before responding, "Yes, but I was assuming you wouldn't want me to call you That Jackass to your face."

Irritation flickers over Nathan's face and his features grow rigid.

"You tutor in your spare time and you think there's something wrong with me?" he questions in disbelief.

"Can we just get started?" Haley responds. "I have a test in AP Lit tomorrow and I really need to study tonight."

"Wow, someone really needs to get laid," he mumbles under his breath with a glare. "It might help with the rage." He gives her a quick once-over and chuckles, "Not that I'm offering."

Haley takes in a huge breath and her grip on her pencil tightens. "Look, I know asshole runs in your family, so I'm just going to ask you up front if you can try to overcome your genetic deficiencies--at least while you're here." She takes a quick breath before pasting a perky smile on her face. "So I hear you need help in Geometry and English?" she questions neutrally.

The tiniest bit taken aback by her reaction, Nathan shrugs, "I guess. Whatever gets me back on the court."

Unimpressed with his lack of enthusiasm or appreciation, Haley sighs, "Fine, let's just get started."


Haley growls to herself slightly and gives her locker a light punch before grasping the handle and giving it another tug. Once again, for what seems like the thousandth time, her locker door is stuck. Normally this wouldn't be a huge dilemma and she'd just sweet talk one of the custodians into opening it after school, but she has an open-note English test in about six minutes and her notes are inside of the locker.

"I can fake a cough with the best of them," she murmurs to herself. "I'll just go home sick."

"Talking to yourself?" a perky voice questions from somewhere behind her.

Whirling around, Haley flushes slightly with embarrassment, "Oh, uh..."

"No worries," Brooke Davis shrugs. "I've got a big mouth, but it's got better uses than gossip."

Haley's eyes widen at the implication of her words and her cheeks grow just a bit warmer.

"You're Haley, right?" Brooke asks with a friendly smile.

Haley narrows her eyes suspiciously, "Do you and Nathan have some kind of bet going on to see who can drive me to the asylum the quickest?"

Brooke lets out a husky chuckle, her dimples on full display, and shakes her head, "Nope, I just thought I'd come over and introduce myself. See, if you get to know me, you'll be more willing to do me a favor."

"Of course," Haley remarks dryly. "What? Do you need tutoring too?"

Brooke wrinkles her nose and cocks her head, "Um...no. I hate school."

Haley eyes her for a moment before responding, "What can I do for you, Brooke Davis?"

"Well," Brooke starts excitedly, "since you asked, New Bestest Pal..."

"Say what?" Haley interrupts, confusion evident in her tone.

"Well, it seems only right that you would introduce your new best friend to your old best friend," Brooke explains.

"Wait," Haley interrupts. "You want me to introduce you to Lucas? Brooke, you're one of the most popular girls in school. I'm pretty sure he knows who you are."

"You'd think, right?" Brooke's smile fades slightly. "He's not interested. I keep sending the signals, but it's like the receiver isn't on."

Haley lets out a laugh and begins moving in the direction of her next class with Brooke hot on her heels.

"Okay," Haley nods in understanding. "I get it. But, Brooke, Lucas is a really nice guy. Why don't you just talk to him yourself? You don't need me."

"He really respects you, Haley. I heard him talking about you the other day. If you mentioned something, I know he'd listen."

"Listen, Brooke. If you're really interested in Lucas, that's one thing. But if you're just looking for casual..." Haley trails off.

"There's something about him," Brooke breaks in dreamily. "I don't know what it is, I just...need to explore it."

A moment passes and then Haley nods finally.

"I'll see what I can do."

Letting out an impatient breath, Haley taps the end of her pencil against the table and watches as the second hand crawls towards the twelve for the seventeenth time. Still no sign of Nathan. Shaking her head in annoyance, Haley slams her English book shut and begins packing up her belongings.

A shrill giggle tears through the silence in the room and suddenly Nathan is standing in the doorway, the lanky brunette wrapped around him once again.

"You're late," Haley announces loudly, unconcerned with the fact that she's interrupting their make-out session.

Tearing his lips from the seeking mouth of his partner, Nathan looks up and gives Haley a grin, "Hey...Haley," he recalls. "This is Carrie." "Carrie," he gestures, "this is Haley."

Haley looks up, skepticism written in her eyes.

"Nice to meet you, Carrie."

Looking Haley up and down, Carrie glances to Nathan and then back again before snickering, "Right." Turning to face Nathan, she plants a kiss on his lips and murmurs, "I'll see you later." Then turning on her heel without a second glance at Haley, she practically skips out of the tutoring center.

"Wow," Haley murmurs sarcastically. "She's a real keeper. You have the practice test I assigned last time?"

Nathan shrugs as he takes a seat and begins tugging his books from his backpack. Locating a crumpled packet in the side pocket of his backpack, he hands it over.

"So how about you? You have a boyfriend?" he questions in an attempt to act interested.

"Nope," Haley replies instantly without looking up, her red pen swirling over the equations he'd half-heartedly completed.

Shrugging, he lets his eyes wander over the various posters on the walls of the Tutoring Center. "Well, don't worry. It'll happen."

"I'm really not concerned," she replies, still marking his practice test.

"I'm sure there's a guy out there for you," he continues charitably.

"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence," she responds dryly. Sighing heavily, she caps her pen and looks him in the eye.

Nathan smiles confidently, "How'd I do?"

"Did you even do the homework, Nathan?"

He shrugs, "I was busy. Besides, I knew you'd help me with my homework."

Haley heaves a frustrated sigh and shakes her head.

"What?" Nathan wonders.

"I'm not here to do you work for you," she says irritably. "And I'm not here to hold your hand through every little assignment. If you can't hold up your end of the bargain, then I can't help you."

Nathan rolls his eyes and mutters, "Don't you think you're being a little bit of a drama queen? I mean, you're acting all pouty over the fact that I didn't do a few math problems." He gives her a cutting look before he continues, "I have a lot going on! Some of us don't just hang around and do equations for fun."

"You mean the equations that you need to do in order to play basketball?" Haley argues.

"I don't need math for basketball," Nathan hisses.

"And if something happens to keep you from playing basketball someday?" she counters. "What then?"

"Not gonna happen," he returns cockily.

Haley sits for a moment, her gaze fixed on his smirking face. "No? Well, then neither is this," she says gesturing to the books scattered across the table. Then in a flash, she's packing up and walking briskly away.

Haley is so blinded by her own fury as she approaches Lucas that she scarcely notices the bubbly brunette who is leaning flirtatiously against his locker.

"Tutor Girl!" Brooke exclaims excitedly. "Long time no see."

Haley smiles wanly at the other girl before immediately turning to Lucas. "You've got to talk to your brother!" she demands immediately.

Lucas grimaces at the awkwardness of hearing Nathan referred to as his brother.

"Jeez, Haley," he complains. "Don't call him that."

"Well, you're the one who was so desperate for me to help him out!" she reminds him.

"For the team, Hales."

"Whatever," she mutters.

"Okay, what's the problem?"

"He's a jerk," she vents. "That's the problem!"

Lucas gives her a small smile and prods, "Could you be more specific? He's a jerk about 99 percent of the time."

"Well, he's rude! And he treats me like crap! And I'm not really inclined to do favors for people who act as though their mere presence is a favor to the world!"

Brooke chuckles, "You'll have to take a number and go to the back of the complaint line, Tutor Girl. That's Nathan Scott's mode of operation." She shrugs, "At least he's hot, right?"

Haley sends a glare in Brooke's direction before huffing angrily and turning on her heel. "Oh yeah," she calls back over her shoulder. "I almost forgot to tell you, Luke. I talked to Brooke and she wants to date you. Apparently there's just something about you she can't resist...God only knows what that might be."

"Haley!" Brooke calls out indignantly before turning to Lucas with a shrug and a sheepish smile. "I kind of hate her right now."

"Really? Because I find this news to be quite interesting," Lucas remarks with a grin.

Brooke quirks an eyebrow, "Like I said, I kind of love her right now."

Glancing at her watch once more, Haley sighs and begins packing up her things. It's closing in on four and there's still no sign of Nathan for his three o'clock appointment.

Suddenly the door bursts open and Nathan appears with a sheepish grin on his face.

"Sorry I'm late," he offers.

"Nathan, where have you been? Are you okay?"

Nathan nods, "Oh, I'm fine. I was just...uh...making some last minute arrangements for tonight. There's this party..." he explains.

Haley opens her mouth, about to question him some more when she spots the oddly shaped mark on his neck. And then she sees a red smudge on his collar.

"Are you kidding me, Nathan?! I waited for almost an hour so I could help you out and you're off hooking up with some skank?! Wait, let me guess...Carrie?"

"Are you jealous?" Nathan wonders in disbelief.

For a split-second, Haley feels like her head might actually explode. He truly doesn't get it.

"No, Nathan," she replies very calmly. "I'm not jealous. Not everything I say, do, think, or want has to do with you. As a matter of fact, hardly any of what I say, do, think, or want has to do with you. I know this is a foreign concept to you, but you're a very small piece of the puzzle that is my life. And quite frankly, I'm beginning to wish you weren't a piece of my life at all! I would explain this concept to you in greater detail, but you're already late and we really don't have time."

"I lost track of time," Nathan explains casually. "Things got a little heated and...well, you wouldn't understand."

"Oh, I wouldn't?" Haley questions, her hands on her hips.

"Well, you don't really strike me as the spur of the moment, passionate type, Haley."

"Right. Right," Haley nods, "because I'm a tutor. So I never have any fun or do anything spontaneous. And apparently I have no feelings and I'm not deserving of any consideration!" she yells.

"Haley, calm down," Nathan urges.

"I'm not going to calm down!" she cries. "I'm done! I'm beyond sick of this bullshit and I'm not doing it anymore!"

"Is this about...?" he gestures back towards the door.

Haley flies off the handle.

"No, this is not about your and your little fling!" she cries angrily. Raising her hands up in front of her, she makes a motion as though she's strangling someone and then bounces several times on the balls of her feet before releasing a very loud sigh. "Okay," she starts, trying to take a deep breath. "Let's see if I can make you understand. I am not jealous of Carrie or Candy or Cookie or any of the other millions of girls you hook up with on a nightly basis. I'm. Not. Interested."

Nathan takes a step back when he sees the look of absolute fury on her face. "But you told Lucas you'd..."

"That I'd tutor you? I was trying to be nice!" she erupts with a bitter laugh. "I'm a nice person. A nice person who has absolutely zero interest in dating Nathan Scott. I don't even like you! You're mean, Nathan! You're a jerk and you treat people horribly. I would never want to be friends with someone like you--let alone date someone like you."

At this point, Nathan's look of total bewilderment is replaced by a stormy expression.

"Whatever," he mutters. "I don't have to take this."

"You're right!" Haley exclaims. "So why don't you run along to your little party. I'm sure that what's on your mind anyway."

"So there's this party..." Lucas starts from where he's seated at Haley's desk.

"Oh God," Haley groans. "Not you too."

Lucas watches, confused by her reaction, before continuing, "Anyway, Brooke wants us to stop by."

"She specifically mentioned me?" Haley inquires skeptically as she seats herself indian-style on her bed.

"Actually, she did," Lucas replies smugly. "She told me she wanted to spend some more time with you."

"Great," Haley mutters. "The new girlfriend wants to get in with the old best friend."

"She's not my girlfriend," Lucas corrects quickly. "And I think that's just Brooke."

"Perky and overeager?" Haley questions cheekily.

"I was going to go with optimistic and outgoing," Lucas replies.

Haley shrugs, "Same difference."

Lucas frowns, "I thought you guys were getting along. You seemed fine the last couple of times she's hung out with us."

Haley shakes her head, "No, you're right. She's fine. She's actually kind of...sweet. In a Brooke kind of way. It's just been a long day."

"But you'll come with me?" he asks hopefully.

Haley rolls her eyes, "Yeah, right. After my blowout with Nathan? The last thing I need is to find myself face-to-face with him in his territory."

"Come on, Hales."

"No thanks, Luke."

"I really need you to have my back on this, Haley. I like Brooke. Like, I really like her. I think there's more to her than she lets on to most people, but I won't find out for sure unless I take the opportunity to spend time with her."

"So go without me," Haley argues.

"Or you could go with me," he suggests once again.

Haley sighs, "Lucas, I really don't want to go."

"Come on, Hales. It'll be fun. You never have any fun."

"Uh, correction. I never have what the basketball team considers to be fun. Fun is a relative term."

"Which means it could take on many forms. Including that of a high school party," Lucas points out slyly.

"You're really not going to give up on this, are you?" Haley questions in a defeated tone.

Lucas just shakes his head and smiles because he knows he's won.

"This is unacceptable, Nathan! It's your senior year! I don't know what you think you're going to do if you don't get an athletic scholarship. It's not like any school is going to want you for your mind." Dan smirks cruelly when he sees his son's shoulders sink just a bit.

"I'm working on it, Dad. But I can't even play until the next progress report comes out anyway!"

"Doesn't mean you can't be training," Dan remarks. "And it's not like that old coot of a coach really knows anything about preparing an elite player anyway. Hell, he's just been riding our coattails for the past several years."

"Well, I need a team, Dad. It doesn't matter how good I am if I don't have a team. So Whitey is kind of a key factor."

Dan frowns at the thought of the old man and shakes his head, "Maybe I should have thought more seriously about that Oak Lake offer."

Nathan's brow furrows, "What offer?"

Dan smiles condescendingly, "Oak Lake Academy was putting out some feelers for you over the summer. Thought you might like to finish your high school career with the Huskies."

"And you didn't tell me?!" Nathan exclaims indignantly. "Dad!"

"Come on, Nathan! Oak Lake is a college-preparatory academy. Do you really think you would have been able to keep up with your academics and basketball?" He snickers, "Although if I'd known my son was moronic enough to risk his eligibility even at a podunk public school, I probably would have been more willing to play the odds."

"I'm not a moron!" Nathan growls. "And it wasn't your decision to make. It was my playing they were interested in; it should have been my choice."

Dan takes a long, deep breath and then looks his son in the eye. "Haven't you figured it out yet, son?" he questions calmly. "I'm the reason you've made it this far. Without me, you'd be begging your Uncle Keith for a job at that ridiculous shop of his in Charlotte. I mean, let's be honest here."

Nathan returns the stare and nods, "Yeah, and if I was lucky, I'd be as happy as Uncle Keith. But we both know that's not going to happen." He smirks, "I mean, as long as we're being honest."

"I'm having a party at the beach house tonight," Nathan calls over his shoulder as he heads to the driveway. "But I know you won't wait up."

"This is a really bad idea," Haley murmurs to Lucas as they walk through the front door of Nathan Scott's beach house. "You didn't tell me the party would be at Nathan's beach house," Haley hisses accusingly.

Lucas raises his hands in defense, "Hey, it's not like I know the address by heart. Do you know how many kids from school have houses down here?"

"Whatever," Haley mutters under her breath. "Just go find Brooke. You know you want to."

Lucas glances over and gives her an appreciative grin before nodding Grinding the toe of her sneaker into the carpeting, she crosses her arms over the front of her t-shirt and begins searching for a corner to hide in for the remainder of the night. After a few moments of surveillance, she sees a small alcove near a hallway that looks promising, and she begins to move in the direction of the secluded spot.

"Tutor Girl! Join us!"

Haley winces at the cheerful tone and glances over to see Brooke sitting on the floor in the opposite direction from where Lucas had gone searching.

Haley shakes her head, "Uh, that's okay, Brooke. Really."

"Aw, don't be shy. Come sit over here," Brooke smiles, patting the area of carpet beside her. "Play with us!"

Haley glances around quickly, looking for any kind of escape from the situation, but she comes up dry. Practically dragging her feet, she makes her way over and lowers herself to the floor next to Brooke.

"What's the game?" she questions uneasily.

"Seven in Heaven!" A blonde named Bevin exclaims. "It's kind of like Spin the Bottle only..."

"Yeah, I get it," Haley mutters as she clasps her hands and waits for the next player to go.

"Ooooh! Go Theresa!" the group cheers as one of the cheerleaders emerges from the closet with a very pleased basketball player in tow.

Great, Haley thinks, I'm now trapped in my worst nightmare.

Haley is practically yawning at this point and begins looking around distractedly. Over the past half hour, the circle has grown large enough that she has very little chance of the bottle actually landing on her. But more importantly there's very little chance of anyone noticing if she just happens to sneak away. Keeping a close eye on the activities of the circle, she waits until everybody's attention is fixed on the bottle's next chosen pair before she eases away from the ring of participants and flees the room in search of her supposed best friend.

The music is raging and Haley can hear the shouts and cheers of drunken teens echoing throughout the house. She's a little baffled as to what might have happened to Lucas since he'd been so keen on finding Brooke, but she's even more concerned with finding him so she can get the hell out of dodge. Pronto.

Making her way down the main hallway, she hears a chorus of male voices and the unmistakable bellows of obnoxious teenage boys. Stopping beside one of the doors, she pushes it open slightly and finds nearly a dozen basketball players sprawled around an expensively furnished den.

"So," Tim Smith begins, his eyebrows wiggling wildly. "How about your tutor? They say you have to look out for the quiet ones."

Taking a swig of his beer, Nathan frowns at Tim, "What the hell are you talking about?"

Tim shrugs and then winks obviously, "I'm just saying I wouldn't blame you for getting some help with math and then getting some on the side."

Rolling her eyes from her place in Jake's arms, Peyton Sawyer rolls her eyes, "God, Tim. You are such a perv!"

Jake chuckles, "Yeah, Haley's got more class than that."

"It's not really her class I'd be concerned about," Nathan remarks snidely.

"What?!" Tim exclaims innocently. "She could be hot. Maybe."

Groaning loudly, Nathan punches Tim solidly in the arm and shakes his head at the small crowd of guys. "No way," Nathan denies adamantly. "There's no way anything will ever happen there. I mean...look at her." He curls his features distastefully. "Does she really look like somebody I'd put time and energy into? The girl's never even heard of a good time."

Tim shrugs skeptically, "Whatever you say, man."

"She's my tutor!" he argues. "It would be like being forced to kiss a librarian or...or a teacher! Besides," he continues, "she's a total prude."

"Whereas you are a total whore," Peyton states dryly. "And maybe the world's biggest jerk."

"Whatever, Peyton," Nathan starts in, backing off when he sees the protective look in Jake's eyes. "I'm just saying...she's a total bitch. It's no wonder no guy has ever wanted to go there. I mean, who knows what you'd find underneath all those...sweaters."

Haley stands frozen in place, totally unable to remove herself from the situation. She feels a familiar ache in her throat and the stinging blur of tears in her eyes, but she's unprepared for the throb she feels in her heart. She isn't quite sure why his words hurt her so badly. She really doesn't like him. Actually she can't imagine anyone she dislikes more than Nathan Scott. But she can't believe that anyone could think...let alone say...such horrible things about her. She's always been the nice girl. The one that's always gotten along with everyone. The one who's always been above the pettiness of high school gossip.

As the guys are laughing it up at her expense, it's Peyton who spots Haley in the doorway.

"Haley..." Peyton starts, obviously trying to find the words to make the situation okay.

Nathan scowls, "What's she doing here?"

"I...I was just looking for Lucas. I'm sorry," she mumbles awkwardly before tearing herself away from the mortifying scene. She stops just a few steps down the hallway in an attempt to collect herself, and she turns when she hears footsteps approaching.

"Haley," Peyton says gently. "He's an asshole. A total prick. Don't listen to a word he says."

Haley shakes her head and gives Peyton a small smile, "It's okay. I've...I've gotta go. Tell Luke I walked home?"

Peyton starts to argue, but Haley whirls around and is halfway to the front door before she has a chance to try and change her mind. Returning to face the group of somber and guilt-stricken boys, she hisses, "You guys are all a bunch of assholes!"

Hurrying out of the room, Peyton goes in search of a certain brunette. If there's anyone who can get a point across, it's Brooke.

"Nathan Scott, I'm going to kick your ass!" Brooke snarls when she finds him just ten minutes later, hooting and hollering over a game of NBA Live with his buddies.

Nathan looks up and grins, "Um, okay. But can we take it to the bedroom?"

Lunging forward, Brooke starts swinging her hands wildly, striking him with little slaps on his face and his arms. "You are such an asshole!"

The group of guys begin whistling and yelling in amusement as they watch Nathan ducking and raising his arms in an attempt to shield himself from Brooke's wrath. Finally, she ceases with the slaps and reaches out to grab him by the ear. Ignoring his yells, Brooke gives his ear a tug and begins dragging him away from the crowd that's formed.

Finally wrenching himself free from her grasp, he turns around with a look of disbelief, "What the fuck was that?! Jesus, Brooke! What's your problem?"

"My problem is you, you bastard!" she yells. "God, you really don't get it, do you? You just humiliated Haley James! You ruined her night--possibly more--and you didn't even know it."

"What are you talking about, Brooke? And why are you so concerned with little goody two-shoes Haley?"

"Because she's a nice person, Nathan. Something we don't have enough of in Tree Hill."

"Look, I haven't done anything wrong tonight," Nathan defends himself. "I was just being honest and--"

"And you had to explain why she's just so undesirable?" Brooke interrupts. "You know, something along the lines of how Haley is so much better than you and you wouldn't want her to stoop to the low of ever being with a moron like you would have worked just fine." She snorts, "It would have been true too."

"I'm not a moron!" he roars. "And since when are you a part of the Haley James fan club?"

"She's a good person, Nate. A really good person. Not like most of the people we hang out with."

"So I keep hearing," Nathan slurs drunkenly. "I have yet to see this legendary goodness for myself. I just really don't understand why everyone has such a hard-on for her."

"She's still tutoring you, isn't she?" Brooke yells. "Most sane people would have run for the hills and claimed the excuse of self-preservation by now."

Nathan stares at her, baffled.

"God," Brooke groans. "I really think I might actually throw up right this moment." She shakes her head in disbelief before continuing, "You really don't get how horrible you can be, do you?"

"There are about a dozen girls inside that would disagree with you on that one," Nathan responds arrogantly.

"Yeah," Brooke replies. "I'm sure they want to be with you because you're just such a nice guy."

Nathan watches her blankly.

Brooke shakes her head sympathetically, "You just don't see the bigger picture yet. But you'll figure it out, Nate. Eventually." She smiles bittersweetly, "I know I did."

Nathan doesn't know what he expects when he walks into the hallway on Monday morning, but he definitely doesn't expect to feel the pang of discomfort that he has when he sees Haley looking so sad and forlorn in front of her locker.

He stops for a moment and weighs his options. Then he fumbles with the straps of his backpack as he approaches, his head ducked low as he readies himself to do something he's never done before.

"Hey, uh, I'm sorry about the other night, Haley. My dad was really grinding me and I, uh, had too much to drink, but I didn't mean to--"

Haley flushes and shakes her head fervently, "Please, let's just forget it."

"But really, Haley--"

"Forget it, Nathan!" she commands sharply. "I don't want to talk about it. Really."

"Okay," he concedes quietly. "So I guess I'll see you this afternoon?"

With a quick glance into his eyes, she slams her locker shut and turns away without responding, her eyes low as she walks through the hallway.

Nathan is left nodding to himself.

Nathan glances down at his watch and moves just a little bit faster. He really has no desire to see Haley go postal again and he's already one minute late. Hurrying through the hallway, he fights against the flow of students who are headed for the exit until he arrives breathlessly in the doorway of the tutoring center. Glancing around at each of the various tables, he feels a small sense of triumph when he realizes he's earlier than Haley for their appointment.

"Uh, Nathan?"

Nathan turns at the sound of his name and comes face to face with the bespectacled face of an overweight guy he doesn't recognize.

"Hi, I'm Robbie. Uh, I guess I'll be taking over your tutoring from now on. So...uh...you're working on English and Geometry, right?"

Nathan stares for a moment before finding the words to respond, "Where's Haley?"

There's a clicking noise coming from Robbie's mouth before he answers and Nathan realizes he's playing with the retainer in his mouth. Gross.

"Oh, uh, Haley won't be available to tutor you anymore. You've been reassigned."

"But why?"

There's the clicking sound again. Robbie shrugs.

"Do you think we could get started?" Robbie questions. "I have to leave in less than an hour."

Nathan glances around the room before shrugging defeatedly, "Yeah, okay."

Her neighborhood is older and the houses are smaller than what he's used to. The street is narrow and the trees tower on either side, creating a canopy over the road. He pulls over when he spots a mailbox marked with the number he'd gotten from Lucas. Leaning over, he looks out through the passenger side window of his car. Her house is one of the larger ones on the street, but the blue paint is faded and the front porch looks rickety.

He's slow in making his way to the front door of the house, but when the front door opens and she appears, he feels his anger rekindle.

Haley looks startled to see Nathan standing on her front step, but she quickly recovers and crosses her arms over her chest.

"Can I help you?" she questions coldly.

"What's your problem?"

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about the fact that I just finished a tutoring session with a tutor who is most definitely a guy. With a loud retainer."

Haley grimaces slightly, "So they assigned you to Robbie."

"Yeah. And I found that interesting since I thought I already had a tutor."

Haley shrugs, "I didn't think you'd care."

"Well," Nathan pauses, "I just don't think it's very responsible for you to bail on me halfway through the semester."

"I'm sorry, Nathan," Haley says calmly. "I honestly wasn't under the impression that it would be a big deal if I quit."

"Well, it is!" Nathan exclaims. "I don't like change."

"I'm sorry, Nathan. I already told you I'm sorry."

"Well, will you come back?"

Haley lets out a wry laugh and shakes her head, "No, I won't."

"Haley, I can't handle listening to Robbie clicking his retainer for another session."

"Well, you're going to have to," Haley remarks. "Or no basketball."

"Why are you being so difficult about this?" he demands. "What do you have to do that's so important?"

"Oh, I don't have anything to do."

Nathan is silent for a moment, surprised by this admission. "Then why won't you tutor me?"

"Because, Nathan, I don't like tutoring you. You're rude and inconsiderate and arrogant. You act as though I should feel privileged to be spending time around you, but you've never once said thank you to me for all of the time I've spent trying to help you."

"That's not true," Nathan argues.

"Okay, Nathan. It's not true," Haley sighs.

Before Nathan knows it, his rage has kicked in.

"Well, maybe if you weren't such a bitch always looking down your nose at everyone else. You just act like you're so above everyone else. You're not special! You're just a tutor! You act like you're above worrying about social status or nice clothes or make-up. You know, maybe if you worried a little more about fitting in, you'd have more friends. Or a date now and then!"

Haley rears back and looks up at him in surprise. "Maybe I don't worry about those things because I'm not in a position to be concerned about the latest brand of jeans or purses. Has it ever occurred to you that I have bigger problems? And that's always been okay with me because nobody has ever made me feel like I was any less just for being who I am." She pauses for a moment to collect her thoughts and then gives him a meaningful look. "This is why I can't tutor you anymore, Nathan. Because nothing is ever your fault. You're never responsible for anything. You destroy everything in your path and then look back and wonder what happened. I just...I can't deal with that. I won't."

And for the first time in his life, Nathan Scott has a door slammed in his face.

Lucas doesn't hear the SUV pull up on the lawn adjacent to the court. Huffing slightly, he continues his task of shooting three-pointers from every point across the arc of the three-point line. The jangle of the ball sliding through the chain-net is satisfying and he grins to himself as he jogs over to retrieve the ball.

"What's up with your friend, man?"

Lucas looks up abruptly and pauses when he sees Nathan standing next to the hoop with his arms crossed over his chest.

"What do you mean?" Lucas questions cluelessly.

"She didn't show today. And when I went to talk to her she slammed the door in my face. After I apologized."

Lucas shakes his head. "Oh boy. What'd you do?"

Nathan looks indignant. "What do you mean what did I do? How do you know I did anything?"

"Because Haley loves tutoring," Lucas replies. "If she removed herself from the schedule and she's slamming doors it's because she's royally pissed."

"Well, she has a lot to be pissed about," Nathan replies cockily. "It's not my fault she's such a shrew. I don't know how you could ever be best friends with that. She's on my ass about every little thing. If I miss one homework problem, she bitches about it. If I bomb a practice test, she bitches about it. Like it's my fault I haven't learned."

Lucas stares in disbelief as he gets just a small taste of what Haley has been dealing with. Damn, the girl really is a saint.

"Do you hear yourself?" Lucas asks. "You're saying you don't do your homework and then you don't do well on exams. Do you suppose there might be a connection there? You have to do the work, Nathan. Haley's just there to help."

"Well, it's not like she's got much else going on," Nathan replies carelessly.

"Actually," Lucas starts in angrily. "She's got a hell of a lot going on. Did you know that Haley volunteers her time at the tutoring center?" He pauses for effect. "Volunteering is when you do something without getting--"

"I know what it means, asshole." Nathan interrupts.

"Well, she volunteers there. And she works close to full time at my mom's cafe. She also started a Big Brothers/Big Sisters program here on campus and she's president of Tree Hill High's Honor Society. Did you know that her mom was sick last year?"

Nathan looks confused and shakes his head.

"Yeah," Lucas continues. "Her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. Haley's dad had to keep working to keep their health insurance and to offset some of the medical bills, so Haley had to take care of her mom. She had to be the one in the waiting room when her mom went in for surgery, and she had to be the one to take her mom to and from chemo sessions. And after all of this? She's still number one in our class. She's going to be valedictorian."

"Oh." Nathan clears his throat awkwardly at having learned such an enormous amount of personal information about his tutor.

"In case you can't tell, Haley doesn't make excuses. She gets the job done. So you'll have to pardon me if I don't feel bad that she refuses to accept any less from you. Look, Nathan, I'm glad that you and I...don't hate each other anymore. And I know we're technically brothers," he fumbles awkwardly over the word, "but Haley has been like a sister to me for the past ten years. If you mistreat her, you and I are going to have a problem. So from now on, I think it's best if we just steer clear of the subject of Haley altogether. Cool?"

Nathan nods gruffly, "Fine."

"Hales?" Lucas calls as he steps out onto the rooftop of his mom's cafe. The sun has just dipped behind the horizon and Lucas can see that the strands of twinkling lights are already illuminating the makeshift golf course. After a moment, he finally sees Haley stretched out atop the picnic table, her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes fixed on the stars overhead.

"Hey, buddy. You okay?" he inquires gently, nudging her side as he lowers himself onto the bench next to her.

Reaching up to swipe at a solitary tear, Haley sniffles and lets out a laugh, "It's fine, Luke. I'm fine. Just let it be known that I officially despise Nathan Scott. From this moment forward he doesn't exist. I don't want to hear you talk about him and I definitely don't ever want to spend time around him."

"You got it."

Haley turns over to her side and eyes him skeptically. "You're just giving in that easily?" she asks.

He shrugs, "Consider it a gesture of apology."

"Apology?" Haley echoes in confusion.

"For making you work with him."

Haley shakes her head and brushes off the thought with a wave of her hand. "It's not your fault he's the root of all evil and the cause of all that's wrong in the world," she remarks innocently.

Lucas lets out an amused chuckle, "Whatever you say, Hales."

"You don't believe me?"

"I've just never seen you allow someone to get you quite this worked up. Usually you just fire back with all you've got."

"I've never had someone act like such a complete and total jackass before."

"Fine," Lucas responds with a teasing smile. "But I'm telling you right now, if it comes down to being his best man or your...man of honor at your wedding, I'm definitely on your side of the church."

Haley freezes for a moment before giving him a look of complete repulsion. "That's the most horrifying thing you have ever said to me, Lucas Scott!" she cries out before giving him a punch in the shoulder. "Bite your tongue!"

"I'm just calling 'em as I see 'em, Hales. Nothing more."

Giving her a stern look, she shakes her head before looking skyward once again.

"Hey, Hales?"


"Promise me something."

Haley rises onto her elbows and looks at him oddly. "Promise you what?"

"Promise me that you'll only ever be with someone who loves you. I mean, really loves you. Because that's what you deserve."

Haley colors slightly at the sincerity behind his words. Sure, they talk about things all the time, but this is personal--even for them. She nods, "Sure. Okay, Luke."

"I mean it, Hales."

"And how am I supposed to know if he truly loves me?" she questions with a dramatic flourish of the hand. "Because we both know that in a few years there's going to be a long line of amazingly handsome and intelligent men wanting to sweep me off my feet."

Haley giggles at the ridiculousness of the image she's just described, but Lucas only smiles faintly. He has a feeling that her prediction, however tongue-in-cheek, won't be far from the truth. "Well, Hales. There's actually an exact science to figuring out whether a guy truly loves you. And because you're my best friend, I'm going to let you in on the secret."

Haley rises on her elbows once again and raises a hand to her heart, "Oh, please do fill me in, Oh Great Master of Romance!"

Lucas smiles, "Well, he'll always make sure you're warm when you're sleeping, no matter where you're sleeping. And he'll really try to remember to put the toilet seat down so you don't fall in."

Haley laughs.

"He'll let you pick the movie even if it means watching Sleepless in Seattle for the millionth time. And he'll tell you you're beautiful even when you know you look like shit...but he'll really mean it."

"Gee thanks," Haley mutters.

Lucas holds up his hand to indicate he's not finished. "But the most important sign, the one that absolutely proves that a guy is really in love with you is when he lets you eat off his plate."

"What?!" Haley exclaims, laughing at the absurdity of the statement.

Lucas shrugs, "Laugh if you want, but there isn't much a guy loves more than food. If he's willing to let you eat off his plate, you've got him hook, line, and sinker."

"And how did you become so wise?'

Climbing onto the picnic table, Lucas stretches out beside her and shrugs, "I'm a writer, Hales. I know these things."

Several moments pass and the two stare silently at the clear night sky, relishing in the companionable silence that exists between them. Finally, Haley breaks through the quiet.

"Hey, Luke?"


"I still hate your brother."

He smiles to himself, "Whatever you say, buddy."

"Congratulations, Haley!"

Haley smiles and waves in the general direction of the cheer and continues wading through the the sea of blue caps and gowns in an effort to locate Lucas.

"There's the beautiful valedictorian! Haley! Over here!"

Haley smiles when she sees Karen waving her over to the small crowd that's formed around Lucas. She's dismayed, however, when she sees that Nathan and Lucas are currently posing for a photo together. Although Lucas has kept his promise and has managed to keep his relationships with Haley and Nathan completely separate, it hasn't always been easy for the trio.

"Oh, that's wonderful!" Deb Scott exclaims as she snaps the photo.

Dan Scott is standing just at the edge of the group, a stormy look on his face as he watches his sons acting almost as if they are brothers. "I don't know why you're all celebrating like this," he announces spitefully. "The kid barely graduated. He's just lucky my connections at Duke were willing to overlook his terrible grades."

And with that simple comment, Nathan feels the joy of the occasion being sucked right out of the atmosphere. His mom smiles tightly as she adjusts the settings on her camera, and Karen glances over disapprovingly--probably relieved that she escaped Dan Scott when she had the chance. Nathan can feel the tension building and spreading throughout his body, but then Lucas claps him on the back.

"Let it go, man," Lucas mumbles. "He's trying to take this away from you. Don't let him."

Nathan nods tersely and turns when he sees Haley passing by out of the corner of his eye.

"Hales!" Lucas exclaims. "Hey Mom, can you get one of Haley and me?" he asks Karen.

Haley allows herself to be ushered forward and suddenly finds herself in the center of the group with her arms around Lucas. After several shots have been taken, Haley hears Deb break in.

"Nathan, let's get one of you with Haley!"

Panicked, Haley turns to see Nathan step forward, prepared to placate his mother. He gives Haley a quick once-over, surprised by what he sees. In honor of the occasion, it seems she's somehow added a bit of curl to her hair. Her eyes look bigger--wider somehow--and her lips have just the tiniest bit of gloss. She looks...well, really pretty.

Almost immediately after Deb speaks, Haley takes a step back and shakes her head.

"That's okay, Mrs. Scott. I'm sure Nathan would rather have a photo with his friends. And I promised Brooke and Peyton I would submit to their brand of camera torture on this momentous occasion." She turns to Lucas, "Luke, we'd better get over there before your girlfriend has a conniption fit."

"Haley--" Nathan starts off, slightly embarrassed by her obvious unwillingness to be anywhere near him. "It's just a stupid photo."

"No thanks," she says firmly. Then, offering a faint smile to Deb and giving a small wave to Karen and Lucas, she turns on her heel and walks away.

"I don't know what I'm going to do without her at the cafe next year." Karen remarks conversationally as she watches Haley go. "One thing I do know...that girl is going to have the world in the palm of her hand someday."

Nathan stands, a bit shocked at being so obviously shunned. As he watches her go, he can't ignore the nagging feeling that Karen is right. He doubts this is the last he'll see or hear of Haley James. And suddenly he can't help but think that he's made some kind of huge mistake.