Two years, five months, seventeen days, four hours and thirty-six minutes.
That was exactly how long it had been since she had seen him. There was something about knowing someone your entire life. For so long, the bond Peyton Sawyer shared with Nathan Scott had been the glue that held her together. The idea that this man was out there somewhere, made just to be this guy to her. She had always said that he was this cocky athlete who'd said sorry one too many times, but she had always secretly loved that very thing about him. She liked being the one that he would always come back to.
But things had changed as they had grown older. They had drifted into adulthood and away from each other. He had grown into someone who loved another woman, and she had the mixed blessing of falling in love with another man. From time to time, she still heard him mentioned in conversation with people from back home. In a small town like Tree Hill, it was inevitable that she not hear about the prodigal son. No one knew how hard it was to hear about the life that he was living without her; the mere mention of his name had been known to bring tears to the surface more than once. Yet, somehow, she always managed to hold them back.
When she had broken up with him at sixteen, she had no way of knowing the ripple effect it would invariably have on her life. She had truly believed at the time that he would never be anything else other than he was at that age, and that alone was what made her believe that she could be okay with her decision. With the success of her career in Los Angeles and his playing professional basketball in Charlotte, she had managed to put enough time and distance between them that their lives were as entwined as they once where. However, when her best friend called for the weekly update in New York, she always managed to find a way to ask about him or his wife. That conversation was often the highlight of her week because it was the only time she let herself think about him. She would find herself counting the minutes until she could hear Brooke's voice on the other end of the line. It was only then that she didn't want to forget.
At first, when she had left North Carolina for the golden dreams of the West Coast, Lucas had tried to be apart of it. However, in time, they had both come to understand that it was something that she had to do alone. When he left her in the hotel that day after the failed proposal attempt, Lucas shut a door on something that she would never open again. They hadn't spoken since that fateful day, and she never asked Brooke any questions about him. She cared of course, she always would. She had just finally come to understand that she couldn't use him to replace another.
Then, they had both gotten their dreams. Well, their second dreams, at least. She remembered the very night Brooke called to tell her that he had signed with a professional basketball team. Peyton had cried at the cruel irony of Nathan finally getting everything that he had ever dreamed about. He had the devoted wife, the beautiful son and the hopeful future. She only had memories of him. No one would ever see that sad side of her. Apart of her still believed that she was a missing part in his entire dream equation.
Nathan had tried to call her that same day that he signed his contract. As soon as the press conference was over, he dialed her number on the car ride back to their shared hometown. She had stared at the screen as she clutched the phone, afraid to let herself hear his voice. He had left her a long, rambling voicemail, his voice dripping with excitement. He had talked about the players he had met, the coach he would play for, the dream that was finally coming true. And then, he said something that would change her life forever, the one thing that could convince her to set foot back in the tiny town she had left behind two years ago.
"You were the first one who believed that I could do this on my own terms, Peyt," he had said quietly on the message. "I'm coming out to Los Angeles for a few days for preseason training next week. I would really like to see you."
Peyton finally gathered the courage to call him two hours later. She could remember the sound of his voice, thoroughly content and excited to know that she was on the other end. Without saying hello, she finally admitted to herself and to him that she really wanted to see him. "I'd love that, Nate," she told him. "I would love to see you."
Exactly one week later, Nate was on the plane headed back to Tree Hill. One conversation gone awry, and he had left without a word. As she sat with her face buried in her knees, Peyton stared at the sun's reflection on the cool cement of the bridge she and Brooke would come to when they were kids. So many times as a kid, she had run here. Whenever things at home got too hard or she had needed to escape from reality, she would seek solace in this place.
She had started coming there again in high school when she would have a fight with Nathan. More than once, he had followed her there. They would sit side by side in quiet until she was ready to talk. She had believed then that things couldn't get more complex. How naïve she was, she realized now. Things had gotten harder as she aged, and yet, she had somehow always managed to find a way to deal with it. This time, however, she wasn't as sure that she would be able to rebound. This time, she had lost Nathan forever.