This chapter is dedicated to… YOU.

Yes YOU reading this right now.

xoxo

-x-

Chapter 28 – Sixteen Shades of Black and Blue

Junior Year, Spring Semester

"A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was." –Joseph Hall

-x-

March 19th, 2007

Sunday passed by on autopilot. She woke to an empty bed but with the lingering distinct smell of Nathan Scott. She'd know that smell anywhere. Sean John Unforgivable. His side was cold but his scent was strong enough to say that he hadn't left too long ago. She couldn't lie and say that a slight tug within her didn't occur at the thought of him leaving without at least waking her first.

'And why the fuck would he wake you up?' she had chastised herself. 'You didn't even want him in the bed in the first place.'

A small voice in the back of her head had wondered if that was even her choice to make now. During the time that she and Nathan had hooked up on a semi-regular basis, he had never told her to fuck someone else. And the night before? Well, Nathan had practically chucked her off on Chase.

She hadn't had time to mull over it for long though because it was right about then that Tyler's voice boomed from the hallway, "Come out for air! At least let us know if you're alive and didn't kill each other!"

She had muttered into her pillow and rolled over to her back before slipping out of Tyler's bed to join the boys out in the hall. A group had formed outside Owen's bedroom door consisting of Tyler, Chase, Mike and Charles. Her eyes had involuntarily searched for Nathan but when she didn't see him, she had pushed the thoughts aside and joined everyone as they pounded on Owen's door.

Now, Monday morning and walking across the school parking lot with Rachel, Brooke lets the insecure thoughts float back to the front of her mind. Would there be awkwardness when she first runs into Nathan? They hadn't done anything but sleep Saturday night, she's sure of that. But a part of her wonders if something else had happened to make him disappear so quickly that morning. And then another part of her wonders why she even lets any of this bother her since she clearly remembers him being a complete asshole to her on the porch before they even ended up in Tyler's bed. Frankly, she should be–

"You're overanalyzing again, B," Rachel snorts and elbows Brooke's side. "Besides, I thought you were all lesbi-gay and whatnot now? No boys, remember?"

"Before or after I stuck my tongue down Chase's throat?" she scoffs back and rolls her eyes, hefting her bag higher on her shoulder. "And I'm not overanalyzing, I'm just." she pauses and purses her lips in deep thought, "curious," she ends with a casual shrug.

She hadn't voiced her thoughts about Nathan to Rachel, at least not in so many words, but her friend is–and has always been–a freaking mind reader when it comes to things like this. Even in the midst of Rachel's own drama with Owen, the redhead had dug up the fact that she slept in the same bed as Nate Saturday night. And maybe she had said something about how strange Nathan had been behaving about the whole Chase-thing. Not much though, and she had certainly not told the redhead about the handholding.

Yet her efforts to not spill hadn't been much use because now Rachel struggles to hold back a deep guffaw and hides a smirk behind her hand while her arm slinks around her slumped shoulders. "I know what it is, Brookie," she states matter-of-factly.

"Really?" she retorts uninterested.

Her redheaded BFF nods and puts a little pep in her step as they near campus, "Yep," she grins and throws the brunette a side glance, "it's because you thought Nathan was gonna grovel at your feet like a cute little puppy dog. But he's not, and that bothers you."

"You're way off," she pulls away with a scowl but Rachel's brow just arches in mocking perfection.

"Am I? Or have I just hit a sore spot? Come on, B –it's me!" she laughs. "I know you inside and out and you can't tell me that you didn't expect Nathan to misinterpret sleeping in the same bed as the go-ahead to start openly flirting with you again."

Brooke rolls her eyes, "You're mental."

"And you're in denial, but that's okay," she pats Brooke's shoulder, "Blondie sure did a number on you. But like I've told you before, it's totally understandable to want some attention from an old flame in order to feel some self worth. It's ridiculous but at the same time it's human nature. We all want to feel wanted."

Brooke simply stares.

"What?" Rachel pauses.

"Nothing," she shakes her head, "absolutely nothing." Then she hurries ahead towards her locker, trying unsuccessfully to hide the smile that's pulling at her lips.

"Oh no!" Rachel starts after her, "I know that look! You want to mock me, huh? Well, mock away ma chérie," she calls after her retreating friend's back. "The shit you're pulling is nothing like me and Owen!"

She bursts out laughing then, because despite everything–despite how she'd actually been worried about the fight between Rachel and the quarterback and how the shit with Charles' brother would affect them–one thing is for freakin' certain;

If there's anything that is predictable or 'textbook' when it comes to things like these then it's definitely the rollercoaster relationship between Owen and Rachel. They are the fucking king and queen of jealousy-games and drama.

"At least –" she laughs when her friend catches up with her, "at least make sure you pick a college guy next time, Raye… I mean, if you wanna make O jealous, then you really should–"

"As I said," Rachel grumbles and rolls her eyes, "mock away. The outcome is still the same. You're still going to hook up with him sooner or later and you know it."

"What—ever," she's still laughing as she flips the redhead off and starts walking towards her first class.

-x-

Later that day brings Brooke to the realization that she's approaching her 17th birthday at an alarming rate. It's only a few weeks until the big one 1-7 and she has no plans to do anything. But she's Brooke fucking Davis and a huge blow out party is expected of her.

Last year she threw a Sweet Sixteen party that pretty much blew all others right out of the water. A bash that was gushed over for the bigger part of spring. And she should want to top that this year. Yet she can't bring herself to actually plan for one. Truthfully, she just wants to curl up on the couch with Rachel and watch movies while chowing down on junk food. Something guaranteed to be drama-free.

But that's not going to happen. Especially since she's still picking up the pieces of her fractured reputation as the school's 'it' girl. Rachel is right, Peyton and Lucas really did do a number on her, enough to puncture a hole in her once solid popularity streak and she can't have that. It's not that bad, just occasional whispers when she walks past lower class freshman and giggles from the sophomores. The Seniors don't really give a shit, they're too focused on the countdown to graduation and her fellow Juniors are starting to prep for prom.

PROM.

Son of a bitch, she curses inwardly. She'd completely forgotten about the dance and all that came with it. Junior Prom court, dance committee, dresses, shoes, limos and of course – dates.

Not going was as possible an option as her not having a party to celebrate her 17th year of roaming the Earth. Her head tilts closer to her desktop and she's about to groan and bang her forehead gently against the wood when someone kicks the back of her chair and she flies upright.

"What the fuck, Nathan?" she whirls around and hisses like a feral feline with the hairs on its back sprung out.

He juts his chin towards the front where the teacher is tapping her foot and waiting for a response.

"She's putting you on the spot," Nathan leans forward and says, his breath hot against the back of her neck. "You got an answer or what?"

She shivers and turns to the front to appease the teacher who's still pointing at the scribbled question on the whiteboard.

What does the mockingbird represent in the book?

"Uhm…" she mumbles and shifts in her seat. "The mockingbird…"

Shit. She has no fucking clue what the answer is. She knows what book they're discussing of course, 'To Kill A Mockingbird' has been in her locker for weeks, but since breaking up with Lucas studying hasn't been her priority. The blond Scott-brother had forced her to sit through numerous study sessions but lately she has hardly opened her books at all.

"Yes, Ms. Davis? We're waiting."

Vaguely she remembers Lucas' description of the book and its content but it's all a blur.

"Uhm…innocence?" she hesitates before clearing her throat. "Um, it represents innocence?"

Their English teacher nods her head and motions for her to continue. But she's blank once again and Nathan's presence right behind her isn't making things easier. He's still leaning in close, his foot is still right next to hers and she can feel him play nonchalantly with her hair.

"Umm…" the words die at the end of her tongue.

"Yes, Ms. Davis?" their bitch of a teacher provokes her again.

"She wants to know what happens," Nathan whispers and tugs at a stray lock of her hair. "86 the birdie and the innocence? Destroyed."

Oh.

"I, uh," she gulps the shakiness in her voice down to her stomach because now she remembers. "Which means that… um, killing the mockingbird would…" she clears her throat and sits up straighter so as to scoot away from Nathan's lingering fingertips, "would kill the innocence."

"Very good," the woman up front smiles satisfied and turns back to the whiteboard behind her.

She's a little annoyed that the teacher seems surprised that she even knew the answer and it gets worse when she spots Lucas at the front of the room, smiling gently back at her as if he's proud of her. Still, she heaves a sigh of relief and contemplates turning around to thank Nathan–who knew that he actually did the homework?–but she doesn't get the chance. As soon as the bell rings he's up and out of his seat faster than she can comprehend his absence. She frowns at his empty seat and fights to push back the thoughts of waking to an empty bed.

Shaking her thoughts clear she gets up as well and, leaving the classroom, she almost bumps into Lucas. The timid smile is back on his face and it's ironic, really. When she popped his cherry – on the night when they got drunk at Blue Post – she had been kind of worried that she was robbing him of his innocence. But instead, Lucas Scott, the backstabbing cheater, had destroyed her reputation and made her look like a fool.

Seconds go by where she just stands there breathless and unsure of what to do next. Lucas stares down at her with an open gaping mouth that he snaps shut and then opens again to say whatever pathetic excuse for an apology he can muster up. But while he hesitates, she remembers who she is and why she can't allow herself to dwell in the past.

She slips past him without a second glance and flips her hair over her shoulder carelessly. Lucas represents the past and the past is no more.

There is only the future now and she doesn't have time for more of this moping.

She has a damn reputation to fix.

-x-

March 22nd, 2007

Prom.

It's still weeks away and everyone is fucking acting like it's this fucking Friday. He'll never understand the thrill of a school dance. Maybe back in eighth grade when there was the possibility of feeling up a post-puberty female with newly developing breasts and an ass that he couldn't tell the difference between.

He knows better now.

In fact, he knows more than he wants to know about the female body. He doesn't need a dance to cop a feel. However, if he wants to caress a certain well defined ass, he has to win prom court. Usually he could care less about these types of things. They come easy to him and winning is more of an afterthought rather than a planned mission.

But whatever, Nathan has better things to think about. Like, the fact that Dan is home and creating havoc all over again. His mother is drinking more often and the fighting is keeping him up at night. The tension in the house is winding him up so tight he feels sorry for whoever breaks him. He hopes it's Lucas, he'd enjoy slamming a fist into that idiot's face.

"Natey!" a little voice chirps from somewhere behind him and his pace in the empty hallway slows down a bit. "Wait up, silly!"

"Scott train stops for no one, Lauren," he grumbles and picks up his pace once he realizes who is following him.

"But I have to ask you something," she literally propels herself forward to slam into his side, "Nathan, stop!" she whines.

It's so fucking annoying when she does that. She might be a senior and, sure, she's hot and all, but her voice sounds like nails on a chalkboard in his ears.

"What?" he spits out, causing her flinch.

Lauren Chamberlain has never been able to take a hint, however, so she continues. "Prom," she nods, "I think you and I should go together."

He almost bursts out laughing in her face but at the last moment he goes for honesty.

"No."

"Why not?" her face falls and that nasally whiney tone comes back.

"There is not enough time in one day to lists the reasons why not, Lauren," he rolls his eyes. "And shouldn't you go with another senior?"

"I don't want to go with a senior," she pouts.

"Then ask Tim? He's been stalking you for years."

The sarcasm in his suggestion flies over her head – or maybe she just chooses not to hear him. "I want to go with you, Nathan…" her fingers trickle up his chest and she obviously tries really hard to make her voice low and sultry. "You'd be so cute as my date…"

He cringes but, like with the sarcasm, the look of disgust on his face doesn't register in her mind as a brush off and he has to result to physically extracting her from his person. "Back off, Lauren, I'm not interested."

"But—"

"Seriously, Chamberlain?" a throaty laugh stop's Lauren's wandering hands cold. "I mean, it's one thing to throw yourself at someone—pathetic as that may be—but it's entirely another to force yourself on someone when they obviously don't want you," Brooke shrugs.

Lauren steps back and folds her arms over her chest, "Yeah well, you would know wouldn't you?"

Brooke blinks in shock, had this bitch just talked back? Squaring her shoulders she takes a single step forward and growls, "Watch it."

"Why should I?" Lauren challenges, "I mean, it's not like you're at the top of the totem pole anymore. My, my how the mighty have fallen. Did you know we all took bets to see how long your sham of a relationship with 'Bastard Scott' would last?" she snorts back a haughty laugh. "You didn't even last long enough to give Britney a run for her money. She and K-Fed lasted longer than you and Lucas—ouch," she stops to wince, "that's gotta hurt."

"You little bi—"

"Whoa!" Nathan slings an arm around Brooke's waist and hefts her up into the air to swing her around and away from the blonde. It's common knowledge that Brooke and Lauren mix about as well as oil and water. Especially since Brooke had snatched the Cheer-captain title last year and proceeded to kick Lauren's untalented ass off the team.

"Easy tiger," he struggles to hold Brooke back, "Lauren? Now would be a good time to take a hint and get the fuck out of here."

"Whatever," she mutters and struts away.

"Get off me," Brooke shoves him. "What the hell, Nate?"

He rubs a hand over his tired eyes, "As much as I'd love to watch a catfight? I'd rather it not involve you and some skank who is itching to climb the popularity latter. What's up with you, Davis? You're better than that."

She rolls her eyes and scoffs, "Apparently not better than Peyton."

Nathan, however, has had enough of this mopey shit and he grabs her by her arm and drags her into the nearest empty classroom. It's amazing how many teachers pick 5th period as their lounge time. If it were him he'd take the last hour of the day and head home. But that's beside the point and he shoves the struggling brunette into the room before shutting the door behind them.

The only light in the room is from the windows behind Brooke's rigid shoulders. She looks pissed and unadmittedly… it makes him kinda hot for her. Damn her and those endless depths of hazel.

"We are so not fucking," she scowls.

He laughs, he can't help it. "Chill, if I wanted that from you I'd have gone for it before lunch when you kept checking out my ass in gym class."

Her eyes widen as her mouth drops open, "I did not!"

Nathan holds back another chortle, "Whatever you say, B," he shakes his head in amusement. "But that's not the point. I think it's about time for your second ass-kick back into reality. What happened, happened. Sucky as it was, it's over now. It's not about him and it's not about her," he motions outside the door, indicating Peyton or Lauren she has no clue but both are one and the same. "It's about you, Brooke," he continues and leans casually back towards a desk, "Lauren had you with one thing - your status as queen bee. You're pissed off because she pointed out that it's a little shaky in the eyes of your peers right now, no?"

"Like I give a shit," she snaps, "everyone can go and fuck themselves for all I care."

His lips twitch to form a smirk, "You're so full of it. It may not be in your top 3 interests of priority but it's on your list nonetheless. If a bimbo like Lauren can make you go fifty shades of psycho? Then I'd say you're still damn attached to that social status of yours."

"Yeah? Bitch had it coming," she stubbornly presses on because she's still angry, but

Nathan is not amused.

"Stop moping," he mutters, "I was an ass about it the first time I approached you, I admit that, but now I'm here as your friend."

She rolls her eyes which only results in him repeating himself. "Yes, I said friend. Don't think I can't see where you're coming from, Davis. You're me, I'm you. We deal with the same shit because we're rich and popular."

"I'm not a horny jock with a God-complex," she quips back lamely, simply to be met with Nathan's smugly raised brow.

"What's the matter, princess? Don't like my point well made?"

Like? She fucking hates that he even has a point. Most of all she hates to admit that he actually is just like her in a lot of ways. He's the flipside of her coin. And maybe that's their problem? They're too alike. Always fighting to be in control because they can't stand to be vulnerable.

Then again, she sighs and slinks down into one of the stools behind an empty lab desk, being friends is an agreeable alternative. It would be nice to talk to someone who understands, because she can only bother Rachel so many times. Sex complicates shit anyway, no need to bring back that mess.

"Friends," she tries the word out, already feeling like a part of her might miss the 'benefits'.

"Sounds weird, doesn't it?" he chuckles and joins her at the desk, pulling a stool out and settling down easily beside her.

She hides a smile by turning her face away to the windows, "Sounds impossible."

"Don't be difficult," he snorts and reaches over to tug on a lock of her hair, "I'm over here by the way. I know you have that fake glass eye that tends to roll all over but—"

"Jerk!" she laughs and punches his shoulder.

Another content chuckle escapes him, "See? We can do this. It doesn't have to be complicated and it doesn't have to mean anything. It's really quite simple, Brooke. I got your back and you got mine. Just like out there in the hall a few minutes ago. You saved my ass when Lauren was crawling all over me and then I did the same to you when you were ready to attack the bitch."

Her raspy giggle does things to him that it shouldn't.

"Fine," she rolls her eyes, "call it a temporary trial period. If you can keep your hands to yourself I'll consider calling you my friend."

He snorts, "Sure, Davis. But only if you can keep your eyes off my ass."

She laughs out loud openly and fuck if it doesn't make him smile along with her.

-x-

"You sound tired, mi hijo."

His mother's voice is soft over the phone and Owen squeezes the device between his chin and shoulder while grabbing some stuff from the refrigerator to make a sandwich. He's running late and he has practice in thirty minutes, but he hasn't talked to his mom in over a week and he can't keep ducking her calls. Call him unmanly or whatever, but he actually misses her.

"I'm fine," he assures her and slaps turkey and mayo on a couple of bread slices, "I'm just juggling a lot of classes and Coach Roper's been on my ass lately."

It's the truth, but he still feels guilty for not having been home to visit since early January. Usually he goes home every other weekend or so, just to make sure that his younger sisters stay in line. But then there had been midterms and now lately, Rachel and the stuff with Elle has taken up most of his time.

Then again, it's as if he'd never left home. Women ruled and dominated his time there and they still do now all the way in Durham, NC.

"Well, school should always come first. I don't want to hear about you dropping classes for the sake of football. I have no problem with calling your Head Coach, Mr. Cutcliffe, and–"

"That won't be necessary, mom. I'm very aware that I have a scholarship to uphold."

He smiles while adding slices of cheese and tomato to the halves of his sandwich and slaps them together. She reminds him of this every time they talk and if he protests and tells her that the scholarship was actually gained because he plays football, then he'll receive the full guilt-trip version about how he'll be the first in his family to graduate college. Especially since Adrianne, his older sister, dropped out of law school last fall.

"Tu sabes que quiero lo major para ti," her motherly tone made him smile and nod.

"Sí, mami, lo sé." He takes a big bite out of the sandwich and changes the subject. "Cómo está mis hermanas? I haven't talked to any of them in like two weeks. Just briefly with Jacquie but she hung up on me after five minutes."

"They're all okay, cariño. Actually–" there's the sound of a door slamming followed by loud giggling and he has to press the phone to his ear to even hear what his mother is saying.

"What is that noise, mom?" he complains and licks mayo from his finger before he gets it on his t-shirt.

"It's just Danielle. She has some friends with her." There's more laughter and a range of girlish and high-pitched voices chatter away on the other end. "Hola, mi amor," his mother greets his youngest sister, "There are cookies in the kitchen for you girls."

"How the hell can a bunch of thirteen year-olds sound like a flock of fuckin' hyenas?" he asks exasperated but he bites his tongue when he's instantly scolded.

"Language, Owen! You better not use words like that around that young lady you're seeing."

The comment makes him laugh, because honestly? 'Seeing' is an understatement. And Rachel – the young lady in question – has the vocabulary of a truck driver suffering from road-rage. But he still apologizes to his mom of course because when Sonia Morello says jump, he asks how high without further questions.

"Sorry, mom. But my language is usually not my biggest problem when it comes to Raye." He devours the rest of the sandwich in one bite while walking up the stairs for his gear. "She was so pissed off at me last weekend that I thought we'd be over for sure."

"Hijo, what did you do?" Sonia's tone is stern and it's funny how the sound makes him cringe even though he's two states over.

"Rachel thought I was cheating on her but it was a misunderstanding."

There's no need to tell his mother that Raye had been the one to do the actual cheating. He plans on bringing his redheaded girlfriend home to meet his family at some point–as soon as he's sure that Rachel is ready for it and that his four sisters won't scare her off–and he wants his mother's view of Rachel to stay at least somewhat pristine for that occasion. Plus, she'd had some reason to be all over Charlie's loser brother.

"Owen Joseph Morello!" his mom barks in her thick Mexican accent, "This has to stop! I thought that you had finally grown out of that horrible behavior. When Kellan transferred to Michigan, you told me that you–"

"Mamá! It was a misunderstanding." He's in his room now and he haphazardly throws some clean clothes into a duffelbag so that he can go straight from practice to Tree Hill. "I didn't cheat. I'm just saying that she thought I did."

A loud sigh comes through the phone, "Dios mió, Owen! Hizo algo, claro. Why else would the poor girl think that?"

"Because my big brother is a manwhore, that's why," Jacquie's voice singsongs in the background. "Your precious babyboy, and Kellan for that matter, will never change, mom, and you know it."

Oh, that little brat!

He can almost picture Jacquie's devilish wink–sometimes she and Brooke are so alike that it's scary–and he's about to demand that the phone be handed over to his snickering second-to-youngest sister so that he can tell at her to shut up, but his mother is faster.

"Jacquline Olivia! ¡Ten cuidado con lo que dices! Ay, Jesus, what did I do to deserve this?"

Jacquie yelps and starts laughing and he bets that his mother has attempted to slap her with the dishtowel or something handy like that. Then his little nephew starts crying and his mother tiredly tells Jacquline to attend to her son.

"Owen," she then sighs, "I'm going to step outside, away from your sisters, and you are going to tell me exactly what happened."

Great

Suddenly feeling exhausted, Owen shoulders the duffel bag and manages a better grip on his cell phone. He really doesn't have time to retell the events of that night to his mother but he doesn't want her to think badly of him either. He has changed, after all. He doesn't screw every girl he sees and he always treats women with respect, just like his mother has taught him to. So he decides to start from a different angle. He values his mom's opinion and certainly she'll understand if he just starts from the beginning?

"I met this girl named Elle," he mutters and starts down the stairs again, "and she just reminded me so much of Jacquline. She needed someone to look out for her, and I just… Hold on a sec, mom."

He frowns and stops talking as Tyler walks into the house with a little blonde that looks freakishly much like the girl he's talking about, and he nods his head at his teammate in greeting.

"Practice starts in fifteen minutes Ty," he says, "you better make that a fast 'social call.'"

Tyler just grins and a shrugs. "I'll be there, O. No worries."

And Owen doesn't worry, at least not about Tyler and the blonde. But as he heads towards his car, back to the task of explaining the situation to his mother, he makes a mental note to call and check up on Elle. After he's done with practice, of course.

Because, as of now, he's officially late.

-x-

March 26th, 2007

"So how is the convent?" Rachel teases when they jog across the gymnasium, "Fun for you? Or at least refreshing, no? This must be your longest dry-spell ever…"

Its fourth period and they're in the middle of doing fitness-tests in gym. For most of the girls in the Junior PE class this means loud whining about exhaustion and pain but for the star cheerleader and her co-captain, it's merely a chance to get some extra exercise. The only cloud on an otherwise blue sky is the fact that for the last three days, Rachel has been driving her insane. She's convinced that Brooke is going to hook up with Nathan soon—very soon. Especially since her birthday is around the damn corner.

"I've told you a million times—I have no idea what you're talking about," she retorts dryly and touches the far away wall with her palm before turning to run back the length of the court like Mrs. Mallory, their gym teacher, has instructed them to. And Rachel follows right behind her while letting out a chuckle.

"You know exactly what I talking about, B. Other than the quick hit and run with Nathan," the name comes out a whisper, "weeks ago and the make-out session with Chase, you haven't gone within three feet of a boy. What's with that? You must be going insane."

"Yeah?" she responds and motions to the redhead to pick up her pace, "Well, we can't all be sluts twenty-four seven. It's a full time job it seems." She raises her eyebrow and looks back to smirk at her friend while they run. "Tell me, how is Owen by the way? Did he wear you out last night? Is that why you're running slower than my freaking grandmother?"

Actually she doesn't need to ask how Owen is. The sounds coming from upstairs while she spent last night in the Gatina guestroom had pretty much been self-explanatory and she doesn't need a recap of the late night events, but it's an easy way to turn the conversation away from herself and to get a rise out of Rachel, because honestly? The girl is kinda slow today. Plus, she knows what the redhead is trying to do.

"Don't be jealous," Rachel laughs and pats her ass while running past her, just to prove a point. "It's not my fault that I'm too hot and that Owen can't stay away from me."

She rolls her eyes in response even though she had been a little jealous. It's true that this is her longest dry-spell in a while and the way Rachel keeps reminding her fifty times a day is not making things easier. But more importantly, she's also very relieved that her favorite couple is back at it. It's been over a week since the party where Rachel and Owen had come close to breaking up and the relationship between the redhead and the quarterback had been a little rocky.

During the first two days she had actually questioned if they would be okay at all, even though they seemed to have sorted out the basics of the alleged 'cheating'. Tyler had assured her that 'since they were fucking, they were fine' but she knew better. Sex was the easy part of the Gatina/Morello combo and just she'd expected Rachel take a huge step back when it came to everything else. Rachel was Rachel after all and, because of that, trust needed to be reestablished. But Owen did what Owen does best and she should have known. His persistence and constant efforts had finally won Rachel over.

Now, nine days after the party, it's apparent to Brooke that Rachel must have been trusting Owen way more than she was letting on, because even though he still hasn't come clean about what it was that he had been 'helping' that chick Elle with, her redheaded friend had let her boyfriend back in, and not just into her bed.

While running another lap, a part of Brooke wonders how this can be–since she feels like she won't ever trust a guy again after what Lucas did—but still; she's glad. She loves Owen almost like a brother and she knows that if anything Nathan had ever said was the truth, then it was his words about the older guy that night out on the porch.

"Not O, Brooke. He's not like that. I know he didn't cheat because Owen is nothing like your loser ex-boyfriend…"

"I'm not jealous, Raye," she laughs back and pushes her body to run faster so that she can take back the lead. "Why would I ever be jealous of yours and Owens one minute trysts? Hah! You guys are amateurs."

"One minute? Wha–"

Rachel doesn't get any further because a loud piercing whistle sounds through the gym.

"Ms. Davis and Ms. Gatina! Less chatting and more running, if you please!"

Mrs. Mallory glares at them, ready to blow her bright yellow whistle again just for emphasis, and they both muffle their laughter as they slam their hands against the opposite wall to start over in an even quicker pace.

"If anyone needs to get laid, it's that old hag," Bevin mumbles out of breath to their right and Rachel high five's their teammate in passing.

Brooke suppresses new laughter and it feels good. Feels normal. As if life and school and everything is finally getting back to how it's supposed to be. In the corner of her eye she sees the boys on the basketball team start spilling into the gym for their practice and Vegas lets out an appreciative catcall, followed by a loud, "That's right. Work those legs! I love my girls in great shape!"

Ignoring that it'll get her in trouble with Mrs. Mallory, Brooke pulls her 'Ravens Cheerleader' T-shirt over her head and keeps running in nothing but her sports-bra and tiny gym-shorts.

"Make sure to get a good look, Vegas!" she yells back at the boy, "It's as close as you'll ever come, loser!"

The sound of Nathan's masculine chuckle reaches her and when she runs past him on her way up court, she forces herself not to look his way. Normally she'd assume that he'd be smirking and checking out her ass in that cocky way of his. But nowadays she can't quite figure him out. Rachel can tease her all she wants but the truth is that she's hardly seen Nathan during the four days since they decided to be 'friends.'

"Hey, B? Catch!" he calls and she turns so that she can grab whatever it is that he throws her. And she keeps running backwards for a bit while squeezing ice cold Gatorade from the water-bottle marked 23. It's exactly what she needs after twenty minutes of constant running and she gulps it down gratefully before throwing it back to him on her way back down.

"Thanks, Nate," she smiles, silently wondering what normal really is nowadays. The 'normal' actions of one Nathan Royal Scott would never include thoughtful gestures like this. Normal would be him gulping down his cold drink while she panted thirstily, and rather pouring the leftovers out than sharing it with her. Normal would be his hungry eyes in her direction before he went to piss off Peyton enough so that the blonde would dump him. Normal would be him discretely giving her 'the nod' in an effort to get her into the sports-storage for a quickie. And normally that quickie would be very satisfying too. The only situation in which Nathan usually 'gives' is after all in bed.

But this is, of course, 'normal' situations in life pre-Lucas. Life post-Lucas seems to be a totally different story.

She shakes her head, feeling confused, and when the whistle sounds to signal that gym is over she stops over by the benches to regain her breath. Rachel jogs up behind her and chuckles silently. "If you ever decide to be sexually active again," the redhead offers teasingly, "I can think of someone that seems more than willing."

Knowing exactly who Rachel is talking about, she makes sure not to glance at Nathan. "No thanks," she mumbles and wipes the sweat off her forehead with her discarded tank, "I'm checking into the convent, remember?"

But then everything is ruined when a familiar voice mutters right behind them, "You? In a convent? That'd be the fucking day…"

Peyton Sawyer.

And at that exact moment, Lucas walks out from the locker room and his puppy-dog eyes dart between herself and her curly blonde ex-friend while she gathers her things.

She shakes her head tiredly and she plans to walk straight passed Lucas and on towards the girls' locker room. But then she finds herself stopping right in front of him instead.

"Wow," she deadpans, her hands unconsciously ending up on her hips while she gives a look-over, "You know, I actually didn't think that you'd last this long on the team. It's nice of Whitey to take pity on you."

He looks hurt and it feels good. He's not really a bad ballplayer but who cares? Hit'em where it hurts – isn't that what people usually told you?

"Just don't fuck it up, Lucas," she drawls, pushing back the insecurities that just standing next to him evokes. "It's what you do best, isn't it?"

Arching her brow she then she turns away from him. In the corner of her eye she can see that he opens his mouth as if he's going to respond but nothing comes out.

She snorts and starts walking, past Rachel who smirks and raises her hand in a high five and then past the dark haired Scott.

"Good for you," Nathan mutters close behind her and his hot breath fans over her neck. For a fraction of a second she feels his fingertips feather over the naked skin on her lower back before he adds, "Bitch is a much better look for you than sappy victim."

She shrugs and throws her towel over her shoulder.

Nothing is different. Everything is normal, for sure.

-x-

He's on his way back to class from a bathroom break when he hears it. A small sniffle followed by a cough. He pauses in the middle of the hallway and tilts his head slightly and waits a couple seconds… sniff, sniff—cough.

Fuck. It's Peyton. Like clockwork the girl sniffles twice then coughs, something about nasal breathing or mucus or some shit. Bottom line is that he knows is from her. He knows because as much as she drives him mad crazy he also knows her better than anyone else. Sadly, even better than her once best friend does—did.

Now Nathan has two choices: 1.) keep on walking and pretend he heard nothing or 2.) round the corner and check on her. Option one is what Dan Scott would do, option two is what Lucas Scott would do.

But what would Nathan do?

He clears his throat and crosses his arms over his chest, "Marco," he calls out and the sniffling stops. He waits a beat or two then calls out again, "Mar-co."

He waits for her, because never in all the time he's known her or Brooke has either of them resisted the accompanying reply to his call. Sure enough, her head peaks around the wall with a look of confusion mixed with annoyance and a hint of sadness. She doesn't like to be interrupted in her moments of self pity, he knows this and it's why he's grinning at her now.

"Marc—"

"Polo, you annoying dipshit," she snaps.

He rolls his eyes, drops his arms to his sides and stands taller, "What's with you?" his eyes look her over, "I must say, Peyt… it's a bit unnerving to see you show your human side in public. You must really be off your game, huh?"

Her hand flies up to wipe at her eyes as a scowl creeps it's way over her face, "What do you want?"

He pauses in shock, "No snippy come back?"

"What. Do. You. Want?" she hisses through gritted teeth.

Instead of answering he stares. She fidgets under his gaze, her eyes darting to the floor. This type of behavior is completely out of character for the blonde. In fact it's downright frightening to see a beaten Peyton Sawyer. He wonders just what exactly has brought her to this level of insecurity. She's always such a stone wall when it comes to owning up to her bitchy antics.

An annoyed sigh pushes past his lips before he reaches forward and grabs her arm to pull her down the hall. She hisses and scratches like a feral cat but she's not trying too hard to break free. That in itself is cause for exactly what he's about to do. Which is something he should have done a long time ago.

Unfortunately Nathan still sees this as part of a game he's playing. The chess board is still active and it's still just as important now as it was when it first started. It's about ownership of the board, in this case… Tree Hill. Even with his checkmate he still sees everything around him as part of a new game. This time it's more than about what's his.

Basketball is his. Popularity is his. Tree hill is his. Peyton is his. Brooke is… well, she's certainly not one to be categorized as an object to 'own.' She's more like a time share unit. He had her last summer and shared her during the fall. Once winter is over he's fully prepared to grab the keys and move in once again. Spring he'll lay low, get shit in order and by summer they'll be back on. Come fall who knows, perhaps she'll find another conquest and hopefully this time it will be more worthy.

Nathan doesn't like to share. Ever. Sharing Peyton had never been an issue because she was his and everybody knew it. He never worried about her seeing anyone behind his back because he knew no one would dare cross him. Nathan Scott induced fear into the faintest of heart and intimidation to anyone else brave enough to hesitate.

When he cheated, which was often because let's face it… he's Nathan Scott, he chose girls who were easy and less likely to become clingy. He chose girls who would at the drop of a hat dump their plans for his, keeps secrets for him, and do whatever he asked—whenever he asked.

Then Brooke happened.

As unexpected and spontaneous an occurrence, nevertheless it had its advantages. She was someone who could keep secrets, rile him up and properly bring him back down in pure satisfaction. But not once would she do as he asked without getting something in return. She was the perfect hook up because she was just as in control as he was.

He misses that. It's not often a guy can find a girl who doesn't want anything serious and can hold her own against the world. She's not an emotional mess like most and even when she is she rarely shows it in public. Brooke was Nathan's best kept secret and then Lucas came and fucked it up.

Now if he wants to hook up he's gonna have to work for it and then pray to God she doesn't want to turn it into something serious. Label it. Nathan fucking hates labels, they're useless. Nobody ever sticks to one scene anyways. They're always two faced and double crossing.

"Talk," he releases Peyton's arm and stares down at her closely with arms crossed over his chest. It's his signature intimidation stance, one that he's perfected over the years. Only a select few can withstand it and they don't live in Tree Hill.

Her red rimmed eyes blink away a fresh set of tears and just when he thinks he sees her bottom lip tremble she bites down onto it and hugs her arms around herself. "What?" she mumbles with eyes downcast.

"Stop acting like a victim!" he snaps and hates that she flinches. "You're the one who proved that pony boy can't stay golden. I'd applaud you if I wasn't so sickenly disappointed. I mean, you haven't even tried to explain yourself."

"Fuck you, Nathan. I don't owe you a damn thing," she spits.

"So…" he squints, "fucking my brother isn't cause for an apology of any sort?"

"Please," she snorts, "like you actually care."

For a moment she actually looks at him as if searching for… for what? Jealousy? No fucking way. Say it isn't so Peyton Elizabeth Sawyer. Say you didn't stage this entire stunt to get a rise out of me. He inwardly prays.

He shakes his head at her shocked, "I thought it was just about you messing with Brooke?"

Her jaw tenses, "It's not always about Brooke," she spits the name out like a bad taste. "You know, out of everyone who praises and kisses her ass I thought you for one would be immune to it. So what? She get to you too?"

He doesn't flinch at the accusation because as stated before, he knows her. And this is a test. One that he is going to pass with flying colors. "The only thing she got out of me was an 'I told you so,'" he shorts.

"And me?" she gulps and straightens her posture to stand taller, "What do I get from you, Nathan Scott?"

He pauses to raise a hand and touch her cheek, she leans into it and closes her eyes. Her lip trembles and her closed lashes form tiny droplets that gather into streams that run down her face. She starts crying and when her fingers graze his palm on her cheek he backs away and her eyes fly open to stare right back at him.

"You're so sad when you're desperate, Peyton. It's completely unbecoming."

A sharp intake of air that sounds more like a gasp comes from her and the hand that had touched him flies to her chest. "You really are an asshole," she whispers painfully, "you know that?"

"I won't play this game with you," he shakes his head, "I'm not Lucas. And don't you ever forget that," he snaps with a sneer. "Suck in the water works, because I don't give a fuck about how you feel. What's done is done and no one made you do shit."

"Didn't you?" she whimpers. "All of you? Brooke ignores me to hang out with Rachel. You ignore me to do God knows what, and Lucas?" she shrugs, "He listened to me. No one ever fucking listens to me—ever. Not you, not Brooke, not my dad or anyone else. I feel like I'm screaming for someone to hear me and no one ever turns around to even look at me. I didn't want Lucas, Nathan. I never wanted Lucas. I wanted you to listen to me. I wanted Brooke to listen to me. But neither of you cared enough to see that."

The tears stream down her face like tiny rivers as she sobs word after word. He's never in his life seen her this worked up before. The sick part is that he's not sure if he can believe her or not. She plays games, it's what she does. It's what hedoes. It's what they do best.

"So…" he clears his throat and rubs the back of his head, "you're saying that you fucked Lucas to get us to listen to you?" he snorts. The very idea is fucking ridiculous.

"Yes!" she screams into his face, her small fists slapping against his chest. "I just want you to acknowledge that I'm here! I want you to stop for one fucking second and think about me! I fucked Lucas because it's the only damn thing I could do to get your attention, Nathan. So tell me," she coughs and struggles to regain her control, "do I have you attention now?"

He glares at her, unable to speak due the shockwaves of guilt currently gunning through his nervous system. How the fuck does one respond to something like that? She's right, he ignored her. Kept her at his disposal for whenever he needed or wanted her. But he was so sure that she didn't care and had used him in much the same way. Any other guy she messed with he was positive was outside of town and that was fine with him.

Because as long as he couldn't see it, it wasn't there. It didn't happen.

He gulps down the shame and regret and takes a deep breath, "And Brooke?" he mumbles to her, "I'm pretty sure she didn't downright ignore you. In fact I'm pretty sure you were the one who pushed her away."

Her head shakes side to side, "She left me a long time ago," she whispers and wipes the back of a hand across her nose, "I am—was nothing but an obligation to her. She spoke with me because she felt that she had to, but never because she wanted to. She never cared enough to see that I was hurting inside because of you and because of her and because I'm probably the most fucked up person in this school…" she shrugs, "She didn't think about me then, but I can guarantee you that she sure as hell is thinking about me now."

He palms her cheek again and leans in close to whisper, "Aren't we all, Peyton Sawyer? You have our attention now," he snorts softly, "I just hope what you have to say is worth it."

-x-

March 30th, 2007

Sometimes it annoys the crap out of Rachel, the way that Brooke's metabolism just seems to work on overdrive. Most of the girl's diet consists of fries, pizza and ice cream and yet she still doesn't gain a single ounce – not even when she broke up with Lucas and ate her freaking weight in Ben & Jerry's. For her, it would take just one day of binging like that and it'd tip the scale.

Sure, Brooke has cheer-practice four times a week, but before Rachel moved to Tree Hill, her brunette friend had never worked out just to stay in shape. That seems to happen almost naturally even though Brooke is probably the laziest person she knows.

And it's just not like that for Rachel. No, she religiously does her forty-five minutes on the treadmill, four days a week. Works through crunches and lunges and all that other shit that keeps her waist slim and thighs firm. Owen says she doesn't need it – that she could even benefit from a little more 'cushion for the pushing' – but she never waivers from her routine. Being the chunky kid is not something she wants to go back to. Ever again.

That's why she makes damn sure to eat at least semi-healthy, and why her father turned one of the rooms in the house into a fully equipped gym. And a big reason to why she can't be mad at Brooke for effortlessly having that kind of abs and ass is because on every occasion that her friend is in the Gatina house when its 'gym time', she always gets changed and joins Rachel for the daily one-hour workout – even though Brooke doesn't get much done.

It's Brooke's way of showing support, knowing that Rachel was the fat kid once. They don't talk about it though and she'd never tell Owen. She understands that it's a closed chapter in the life of Rachel Gatina.

All in the same way that she would never mentions how Brooke's parents don't seem to care jack shit about their only daughter. Or about how obvious it is that Brooke still adores her father despite of his absence and sometimes blatant nonchalance. Rachel knows that Mr. Davis cares in his own way and even though he doesn't check on Brooke as often as her own father does, it's still there.

Mrs. Davis – Victoria – is a completely different story though.

One that Brooke doesn't want aired to their friends.

It's like a silent agreement between them. They don't talk about the fact that Victoria probably wishes that Brooke was never born and they don't talk about fatcamp. Instead Brooke works out with her even though she doesn't need it and Rachel never asks why Brooke spends six out of the week's seven nights at the Gatina house.

Hoe's over Bro's and all that jazz. Easy – but still incredibly complicated.

She's thirty-nine minutes into her run when her iPod runs out of battery. As the music stops she suddenly hears Brooke talking. Apparently she's given up on her weird yoga exercises and is now busy yapping away on the phone.

"Seriously, Bev, it's over a month left."

She instantly frowns because something is off with the tone of Brooke's voice. She sounds really annoyed – usually she has an almost angelic patience with Bevin's weirdness – and a moment ago, Brooke's mood had been fine. Now it sounds as if her brunette friend rather slit her wrists than have this conversation.

She slows the tempo of her run to a fast walk and pulls the iPod from her ears.

"I know that people are expecting a party, Bevin!" Brooke snaps and squirms on her yoga mat as if feeling cornered. "And I always throw one, don't I? So why are you being such a spaz?"

From what Rachel can gather, the conversation is about Brooke's upcoming birthday – a day that Brooke normally is annoyingly excited about. The annual Brooke Davis birthday-bash is the most eagerly awaited party of the year. This year however, it's a party that the dimpled brunette hasn't even wanted to acknowledge up until this moment. Sure, like Brooke said, there's still over a month left, but normally Brooke starts planning this event months prior to it actually occurring.

"What do you mean 'drifting'?" Brooke questions with a frown and Rachel keeps walking, face turned forward not to clue Brooke in on the fact that she's eavesdropping, but she keeps glancing at the younger girl through the corner of her eye. And when the brunette's eyes narrow and she hisses, "Who said that?", then she ignores that there's still two minutes left of her running-time and stops the treadmill to a complete halt.

"Well, you shouldn't listen to bitches like Lauren, okay?" Brooke snaps, now with the last of her patience gone and the anger and frustration evident on her face. "I don't give a flying fuck what the sophomores in your French class are saying, Bev. I'm not drifting and I'm not losing my touch."

"Hang up the phone, B," she says and wipes her forehead, but Brooke doesn't seem to even hear her.

"No, Bevin! I wasn't drifting when I was with Lucas and I'm not drifting now! Just because I don–"

She reaches out and snatches the cell phone out of Brooke's hand, offers a quick "We'll call you back Bev," to the stuttering girl on the other end, and glares at her favorite brunette who's still in lotus-position.

"May I ask why the fuck you're being a bitch to Bevin? Why do you sounds so pissed about your own birthday party?"

Brooke glares back, looking upset but also guilty and a little embarrassed. "Bevin has been nagging about the party all week," she mutters in response, "and I haven't had the heart to tell her that I didn't plan for one…"

"And now you want to have one?" she asks and sits down on the treadmill. "Is that it?"

"No, not really. I thought that I could just skip it but I have to have one now, at least if I want to keep my social status. Bevin says that according to the girls on the squad 'I'm drifting'." Brooke highlights the last two words with air-quotes and she suddenly looks tired. As if it's dawning on her that she can't stay anti-social forever and that she has to step back up to the plate. And Rachel feels for her, really she does. But the way that Brooke words the entire thing still makes her itch.

"What do you mean 'have to'?" she squats next to Brooke on the mat. "If you want, we can just stay in and get piss-drunk and watch chick-flicks. No one's is forcing you to have a party. It's your birthday, sweetie."

Brooke's bottom lip juts out–unconsciously–to create the infamous B. Davis pout–and Rachel knows that there's more to this. "So what was that stuff about Lauren?" she questions.

"Nothing… I just kind of bumped into that bitch yesterday. She was clinging on to Nate, begging him to go to prom with her, and before you say anything–", her chin raises a couple of inches, making her look even more stubborn, "–I'm not jealous!"

Okay, that statement is so untrue that its almost funny! But as a good friend she agrees good-naturedly, "Whatever you say, B. You're not jealous."

"I'm not. But I told her to stop being such a desperate skank and she flipped out and basically told me that I was evicted from the 'inner circle'. And now Bevin says that she's going around school talking about how I'm losing my touch."

Rachel listens more or less patiently while Brooke retells what happened in the corridor and she's pretty sure that her friend is leaving out some juicy Nathan-related information. But at the moment she lets it slide because she's much too busy being pissed off at Lauren Chamberlain. Actually, she's a little disappointed at Brooke as well.

"Okay," she mutters when the brunette finishes, "you know that you're being ridiculous, right?"

"Why would you say that?"

"Because you're making it sound as if Lucas, or even Lauren, could somehow ruin your social status and that's just utter bullshit. You made Lucas and Lauren is just a stupid hick-town chick who's jealous that a younger girl took a spot that she wanted. She couldn't touch you with a six foot pole."

By now Brooke hangs her head and she hates that her friend doesn't seem to believe her. "B, come on," she presses, "Please tell me that you're not taking this shit seriously? It's Lauren! We laugh at Lauren daily!"

"But she's right," Brooke mutters and picks a loose thread from her tank top. "Lucas cheated on me, Peyton fucking backstabbed me, and I did nothing about it. I just stuck my head in the sand like a freaking coward and moped for what? A month?" A hint of anger sparks from the brunette, "I don't feel like throwing a stupid birthday party but if I don't, then what? Everybody is going to think that Luke broke me and that bitches like Lauren are right."

Rachel snorts. "Oh, shut up. No one is going to think anything unless you want them to." She reaches out her hand, palm up, "Give me your phone, bitch."

"Why?"

Brooke looks suspicious and she almost laughs. Actually she just had a great idea – one that she can't wait to get started on – but for it to work, she's going to have to get Brooke out of this funk and fast.

"I'm just going to hold on to it until you're done being a martyr. If you don't want to plan a party, you don't have to plan a party," she smirks and beckons for the cell phone a second time. "As a matter of fact, it's probably a much better statement if you don't throw a party at all."

"Huh?"

"Think about it, Brookie. What better way to say 'fuck you' to your snickering little peers than to rob them of the season's greatest party? People have waited for your birthday bash since the day after your sweet sixteen." She transforms her smirk to a more evil grin. "Imagine how they'll feel when you tell them that you're not giving them the opportunity to worship you this year."

Brooke doesn't even look close to sure about this but at least she hands her iphone over.

"So what do we do instead?" she questions as Rachel gets back onto the treadmill. "You think we can just hang out at your house on my birthday?"

There's a slight hint of disappointment in Brooke's voice and Rachel knows that deep inside her friend still wants to celebrate the day in question. And of course they're going to celebrate, but pretending like they won't will be good for two reasons.

1, It will be good for the little brats in school to remember that popular people like herself and Brooke are Gods in the way that they can both 'giveth' and 'taketh' and 2, it can be beneficial for Brooke to remember that moping makes for really crappy parties. If Brooke thinks that she won't get a birthday bash, then she might actually have fun when the event miraculously occurs.

"We can do whatever you want, slutface," she says winking, and starts to jog again. "Now if you're not gonna workout, can you at least go get me some water?"

She needs the brunette to leave so that she can call Bevin and do some serious damage control. It's probably stupid to inform Bevin –everyone knows that Bevin and Tim are the last people you should tell if you want to keep something a secret–but it can't be helped.

Otherwise Bevin's worries might ruin the entire surprise party she's planning.

-x-

The sun has already laid to rest and the moon hangs high in the sky amongst somber clouds of dark grey. They match his mood. He's been home for about an hour now and already he wants to leave. Why does he want to leave exactly?

"I am so sick of having the same damn argument over and over, Deb! I'm going to your pointless therapy sessions. You've dragged my son from basketball to go as well and—"

"He is my son too!" his mother's voice grows shaky as their argument continues and Dan soon dominates the fight with his aggressive words.

Therapy is a waste of time and money. His parents will always share irreconcilable differences. There was no fixing that.

"Now you see, that is where you are wrong. Nathan is and will always be my son. I raised him, I coached him, I put food in his mouth and a roof over his head. What the hell do you do, Deb? Other than make a mockery of this family? I should have never chose you over Karen," he starts with the final blows that always manage to finally derail his mother into a sobbing drunk mess.

"You have no right to talk to me like that!" Deb screams.

"I own you! I can talk to you however I see—"

The sound of Nathan's phone buzzing draws his attention elsewhere. He checks his new text message to see yet another prom offer. This now makes offer number six—this week. Usually Nathan prides himself on his ability to keep the ladies wanting more, but lately it's gotten ridiculous.

He immediately deletes the message without replying and he knows that's a pretty douche thing to do but fuck. These girls just don't take no for an answer. It's the senior girls that are the worst. Not only do they not understand the concept of no, they act as if he'd declined Megan Fox or something. Just because they were seniors did not guarantee they were hot and/or willing to put out.

Take Lauren Chamberlin for example, the girl not only thought she was the second coming, she also thought she was the hottest girl in school. Newsflash, she wasn't. She wasn't even the second or third. In fact, she wasn't even in the top five.

But it was funny to watch her ruffle Brooke's feathers. It's rare to see her lose her cool (with anyone but himself that is) and even rarer for her to expose her weak side. Yes, he'd heard the rumors about her 'drifting' or whatever for weeks now. He'd just never thought it'd have such an effect on the brunette.

Beep! Beep!

Hey Nate, you got a date to your Jr. Prom yet? –Michelle

He sighs. Another senior. At least Michelle's hotter than the others, she's definitely top five on the hotness scale. He actually finds it hard to believe that he doesn't jump at the chance to get senior ass, but he feels bored with everything that is Tree Hill. Everyone is so predictable. There is no mystery when it came to dating anymore, no expectations , no fresh starts or lust filled periods of ecstasy…

Beep! Beep!

I'm supposed to ask if you have a date yet to prom. Theresa wants to know. –Bevin

Beep! Beep!

Whoops! I wasn't supposed to tell you it was for her! –Bevin

He laughs softly to himself and presses the buttons to tells her he's got a full plate and hasn't made any definite decisions yet. He doesn't tell her that he'd rather go alone than with Theresa, it's tempting, but he resists. No need to stir up trouble, especially if Bevin would be the mouth that carried the message along. Lord knows what story she'd come up with that had nothing to do with what he'd said. She'd done it before—many times, until he'd finally learned to just keep his trap shut when around her.

Glass breaking downstairs tears through his ears and he pulls his earplugs out to sit up in bed and contemplate if he should interfere or not. He rarely leaves his room when his parents are smack dab in the middle of a fight, but sometimes it was necessary. Like the time his mom was ready to stab Dan with a kitchen knife. Or the time Dan had his hands around her throat and was threatening to end her right there in the living room. That was a wonderful way to wake up on his birthday last year—the sound of choking.

"I swear to God I will divorce you!" his mother's shrill cry makes him cringe.

"Do it! I dare you! Go on, for once in your pathetic life follow through on a threat!" Dan taunted her like he always did.

"I hate you," his mother's defeated sob caused him to inch closer to the edge of the bed as he prepared himself to go downstairs.

"Please don't cry. My respect for you plummets when you do."

"Respect?" she shouted, all traces of sorrow now gone. "You wouldn't understand the concept of respect if I threw a fucking dictionary at your head!" another glass was thrown and Nathan fell back onto his pillows.

He plugs his ears in again, scroll through his playlists and selects the one titled, 'DJ Nobody' and presses play. The sounds from artists like Kanye West, Nas and Jay-Z fill his ears and he closes his eyes and relaxes. It's been a long week, an even longer day and as he looks through his phone idly, he wonders if she should even bother with Prom at all.

There is no one he can think of that he even wants to go with. Everyone is boring and those who are tolerable are either taken or not an option. He doesn't dare entertain the idea of asking Brooke. They're too new in their 'friendship' or whatever, no matter how easy her company is he knows they can't go together. He also knows that it doesn't bother him all too much that they can't go together.

Because lately, even Brooke is predictable. Why does he feel like he's suffocating in Tree Hill? Everything is too familiar, so solid and unchanging. He even knows Peyton will boycott prom this year like she does every other dance. She definitely won't attend this year because the only reasons she ever went before were because Brooke dragged her. He chuckles at the memory.

Beep! Beep!

WTF Nathan? Are we going or not? –Lauren

He responds immediately with: No.

He really needs to find a damn date so he get all these annoying chicks off his back. There's still a month to go before the formal but it's a good idea to lock his date down now. He just wants someone low maintenance and with even lower expectations of him. He wants someone who knows not to expect romance and flowers and hugs and kisses. Is that too damn much to ask?

Beep! Beep!

What uppers Prep? –Tyler

He responds with: Bored.

Then he sees a text he must have overlooked earlier. It was sent over an hour ago when he was knee deep in the sounds of his parents loudest shouts. It's from Peyton and it says one word, but it's that one word that shocks the hell out of him.

Prom? –Peyton

He responds with an equally baffling—yet sensible: Sure.

Who the fuck else knows him more and expects less then Peyton Sawyer?

"I wanna act ballerific, like it's all terrific…" a line from one of Kanye's songs off his College Dropout album makes him smirk. That's exactly what he'll do.

Even if he has to fake it.

-x-

AN: What can we say that hasn't been said? What can we do that hasn't already been done? Life got crazy—it's STILL crazy—but we still managed to spit this out for you guys. We wish we could name you all individually and send you sweet love, but alas, we barely have time to sleep. Just know that we love you and we appreciate you.

We promise to finish this fic, no matter how long it takes. If you're still around, shit… you're awesome.

xoxo