A/N: First off , I'm sorry that this isn't another chapter of The World You Desire…, but I can assure you that it's on the way. This is another little something that I wrote awhile back and I figured I'd post it while I finish up with that chapter. It's kind of a silly little idea and not as polished as I'd like, but it was something that popped into my head one day and I had to go with it. I hope you enjoy!
The Country Club
The sun bears down on the Tree Hill Golf & Country Club with unbearable force. It's the kind of heat that results in a sheen of sweat after just moments spent outside--the perfect excuse for cut-offs, ice cream cones, and backyard barbecues.
Or, in the case of Haley James and Brooke Davis, the perfect excuse to spend an afternoon by the pool at the country club.
Haley shivers as a cool breeze wafts through the air and brushes across her damp skin. Her new teal one-piece bathing suit is still wet from her time in the pool and the sun seems to have dipped behind a pair of clouds for the moment. Turning over in her lounge chair, she is met with the sight of her best friend stretched out in her two-piece with a pair of plastic sunglasses perched on her nose. Haley watches as Brooke reaches over to the side table between their two loungers and picks up the glass of lemonade she'd had delivered to the pool.
Haley has been best friends with Brooke Davis since the first grade, but theirs is an unlikely friendship. While Haley is the sensible youngest child in a typical middle-class family, Brooke is the spoiled only child whose parents attempt to make up for their absentee parenting by purchasing what they believe to be a dream childhood. Haley is used to the hand-me-downs of clothes she's certain were the latest styles when they were purchased for her sister Vivian. Brooke is constantly outfitted in designer apparel--often miniatures of whatever pieces happen to be in her mother's closet. Haley is often embarrassed by the loud and sometimes outlandish antics of her family members when the entire gang shows up at school events. Brooke has long since stopped saving seats for her parents at such events--she knows to expect a dozen red roses to be delivered in their place.
Still, theirs is a true friendship, however unlikely. It's one based on loyalty, humor, and a certain amount of fascination with how 'the other half lives.
"Oh my God!" Brooke squeals suddenly, the pitch of her voice causing Haley to wince. She swings her arm blindly, soundly smacking Haley in her frenzy.
"Ouch!" Haley exclaims grouchily. "Gosh, Brooke! What?!"
"It's Nathan Scott!" Brooke exclaims in an exaggerated whisper. Suddenly she's sitting up and primping her long brown hair. She readjusts her sunglasses and turns to Haley in a manner more befitting of a girl who's sixteen than one who's twelve. "How do I look?'
Haley frowns in confusion and gives her friend a quick once-over. Brooke is wearing a black two-piece with hot pink polka dots and her long hair is still damp from their earlier swim. Despite being her best friend, Haley always feels just a bit less grown-up next to Brooke. "You look fine," she answers with a shrug.
"I can't believe he's here!" Brooke squeals hoarsely as she tries to keep her voice down.
"Who?" Haley questions cluelessly.
"Nathan Scott," Brooke repeats as though it should be obvious.
Haley watches as Brooke sits up suddenly and lowers her sunglasses to peer over the tops of the frames. "He is so cute!" she gushes.
Haley follows Brooke's gaze to the gate at the entrance to the pool area. Standing just inside is a dark-haired boy, probably about fifteen or sixteen, with what looks to be a very hard and chiseled body. And while Haley doesn't know very much about boys, she knows that this Nathan Scott is what her sister Taylor would call a hottie.
"Who's Nathan Scott?"
Brooke turns to Haley with wide eyes and a gaping mouth. "Are you serious?"
Haley wrinkles her nose and shrugs uncertainly.
"Haley, haven't you been paying attention at the Tree Hill basketball games?"
"Not really," Haley admits. "I just go because my parents make me. Usually I just read."
Sighing heavily, Brooke shakes her head. "Nathan Scott is only the star player for the Ravens," she states matter-of-factly. "And he's only a sophomore! Plus, he's so cute."
Looking back to where Nathan is standing, Haley shrugs. "I guess so."
Brooke watches him for another moment before leaning conspiratorially towards Haley. "Okay, here's what we're going to do. Let's get in line for the diving board. You tell me if he's watching when I dive."
Haley glances down at her swimsuit which is nearly dry and then spots the book that's still sitting in her tote bag. "I think I'm going to stay here and read, Brooke. But you go ahead. I'll watch."
Brooke gives a good-natured shrug and then nods. "Okay. Tell me if he watches, okay?"
Haley smiles at her friend's enthusiasm and agrees, "Okay."
She watches for a moment as Brooke heads to the end of the pool and takes her place in line for the high dive. Then she laughs when Brooke gives her an excited thumbs-up. Keeping one eye on Brooke's progress in line, she reaches into her lime green tote bag and pulls out the copy of Of Mice and Men.
She's safely ensconced in Steinbeck's Depression-era California, periodically turning her attention to Brooke of course, when suddenly she hears a voice from above.
"Is this taken?"
Squinting up into the glare of the sun, Haley is able to make out the face of the very object of Brooke's affection. He's giving her a friendly smile and pointing to the lounge chair on her left. She's momentarily stunned that this apparent Tree Hill celebrity is speaking to her.
"Oh," she finally responds shyly. "Um, no. My friend is using this one," she gestures to her right, "but that one's open."
Nathan nods before dropping his towel into the lounger.
Watching out of the corner of her eye, Haley swallows nervously when she sees Nathan stretching up to tug his t-shirt off.
"Haley!" Brooke squeals loudly, waving from her precarious perch on the end of the board.
Haley waves back gamely and gives her a thumbs-up, watching as Brooke performs a near-perfect swan dive.
"That's your friend, I take it," Nathan comments.
"Yeah," Haley answers softly. "Brooke."
Nathan gives her a polite smile before taking three huge steps and diving into the pool.
Haley turns her attention back to her book when she feels a fine spray of cool droplets. Looking up, she sees that Nathan has returned from his brief dip in the pool and is now easing himself onto the lounge chair. She glances towards the pool and sees Brooke splashing around with a few boys she recognizes from school.
"Are you reading Of Mice and Men?"
Surprised, Haley turns to Nathan and sees that he's eyeing her book curiously. "Yeah."
"How old are you?"
Haley bristles slightly. "Twelve. Why?"
Nathan chuckles, "I read that in English this year."
Haley brightens for a moment, "Really?'
Nathan nods, "Yeah. Man, I hated that book."
Haley's face falls slightly. "Oh."
"I can't believe you're reading it at twelve."
"Well, I kind of ran out of books that are on the lists for my grade-level," she explains somewhat hesitantly.
"So you're some kind of genius."
"No," she answers carefully. "I just like school."
Nathan studies her closely and then laughs. He nods towards Brooke who is happily batting a beach ball around the pool. "And does your friend 'just like school' as well?"
Haley lets out a quick giggle. "No. Brooke thinks school is a huge waste of time. She likes to have fun."
Nathan nods knowingly, "Yeah, I know what that's like." He leans in slightly. "I'll tell you a secret though."
Haley's brow crinkles curiously. "Okay."
"Stick with the school thing. It's better for you in the long run."
"Oh, I know that," Haley nods confidently. "I'm already planning for college."
A look of amusement flickers over Nathan's features. "College. Really?"
Haley nods assuredly, her shy awkwardness replaced with a glowing sense of confidence.
"And what does your plan involve?"
Haley ticks the steps off on her fingertips, "When I'm a freshman I'll join student government and Honor Society, my sophomore year I'll volunteer as a tutor and start taking honors classes, my junior year I'll take AP classes and start my SAT Prep, and then my senior year I'll focus on classes as well as scholarships. Hopefully I'll graduate at the top of my class and get a full scholarship to college."
Nathan's eyes are wide and his jaw is dropped. When she finishes, he clears his throat and tries to form a response. "Well, that's…quite a plan."
Haley shrugs nonchalantly. "I've been thinking about college ever since my oldest brother Brian moved into his dorm. Sometimes my house is kind of…crazy. There's just a lot going on and it's tiring to try and keep up. At college I'll be on my own. I won't have to yell to be heard or lock the door to be left alone."
"Big family, huh?" Nathan guesses.
"I have two brothers and three sisters."
"Wow!" Nathan exclaims. "And you're the youngest."
She nods. "Brian, Vivian, Adam, Quinn, Taylor, and then me. My parents were trying to even the score--three boys and three girls. Instead of a boy they got me."
"I'm sure they're very happy with how things turned out," Nathan remarks lightly.
Haley's face clouds over for a moment and she shrugs. "I guess. Maybe. I'm not really like my brothers and sisters. They're all…loud. And they don't get embarrassed or shy about things. They all play sports and go to parties and have lots of friends."
Nathan looks out at the pool and shakes his head, "Sports and popularity aren't everything. You'll see that when you get older. The people who seem like their lives are perfect are usually the ones trying the hardest to hide their problems. I speak from experience."
"Brooke is really popular," Haley explains. "Everyone wants to be her friend."
"But she's friends with you," Nathan points out. "There's a reason for that."
"Hales!" Brooke shouts as she hurries over. "My parents sent a driver to pick us up! We've gotta go! Oh…" Brooke pauses when she sees Nathan. "Hi Nathan," she smiles brightly. "I'm Brooke."
"I've heard," Nathan replies easily. "Nice to meet you, Brooke."
"Yeah," she agrees. "But we've gotta go. Come on, Haley!" she urges.
Haley quickly yanks her shorts and t-shirt out of her bag and pulls them on over her swimsuit. Jamming her towel into her bag, she links arms with Brooke and they both start to rush away.
"It was nice talking to you, Haley James!" Nathan calls after them.
As Brooke drags her along the deck of the pool, Haley looks back over her shoulder and tosses Nathan a shy smile before dissolving into giggles.
For the first time, all of Brooke's nonsensical talk about boys makes sense.
The usual cacophony erupts from the kitchen as soon as the door swings open. Pots and pans clang as the hurried cries of the kitchen staff fill the gaps in noise.
"Maurice, I need another vegetarian plate," she informs her favorite cook.
"Did they request vegetarian before the wedding?" he questions in accented English.
"What do you think?" she asks him with raised eyebrows. She smothers a laugh at the string of expletives that escape his mouth, and then she watches as he quickly prepares a plate. He tosses a bit of garnish onto the edge of the platter and places it into her waiting hands. "Only because I adore you, Haley."
"And you don't know what you'd do without me!" she singsongs as she makes her way back out to the dining room.
As she passes back through the swinging door, the sounds of the kitchen fade while the volume of the in-progress wedding increases. A bad cover band has taken the stage and she cringes when she hears an unpleasant rendition of Journey's much overplayed "Don't Stop Believin".
Haley blows out a puff of breath in an effort to get a stubborn strand of her golden hair out of her eyes, and expertly navigates the maze of round tables as she goes in search of the last-minute vegetarian. "Because it's so hard to check the box that says vegetarian on the RSVP card," she mutters under her breath.
Finally she spots her target, who happens to be a slender redhead with an upturned nose, and lowers the plate to the table. "Here you go," she announces pleasantly.
The haughty young woman looks up and eyes Haley with disdain. "Oh good, now I can enjoy my dinner after the rest of my group has already finished. I hope you weren't really expecting my gratitude."
Taking a deep breath, Haley fights the urge to respond in kind and instead comments sweetly, "Enjoy!"
Having completed that rewarding task, Haley grits her teeth and makes a beeline for the kitchen. The country club enforces a strict dress code for its employees during formal events and the heels she's wearing, while very stylish, are probably the worst shoes she could have possibly worn to wait tables. Heaving a tired sigh, she brushes a hand over her black skirt and tugs at the collar of her crisp white blouse. If she makes it back to the kitchen without issue, she might be able to convince her boss to let her go early. And if she gets home early enough, she might actually have the chance to study for the AP Bio test she's supposed to be taking the next day.
The kitchen door is well within sight and she's almost home-free when she hears it.
"Excuse me, Miss! Excuse me!"
Haley pauses, her eyes closed and her fists clenched. Pasting a perky smile across her face, she circles back and stops in front of a table full of several college-aged guests.
"What can I get you?"
"Actually, I just have a quick question for you." The guy has got shaggy blond hair and a tan which reminds Haley of the stereotypical surfers she's seen in movies.
She sighs impatiently and forces her smile to widen. "Yes?"
"I'm curious…just where do those legs of yours actually end? "
Haley's brow furrows and she feels herself tense slightly. Even after all of the offensive things she's been asked over the years, she's still totally disgusted. "Excuse me?" she grits out.
"By the way," he continues with a grin, "my name is Dylan."
Haley narrows her eyes as she responds tightly, "Gee, thanks so much for sharing."
Dylan shrugs, his grin widening. "I just figured you'd want to know what name you'll be screaming tonight."
Ignoring is pathetic attempt at charm, Haley sighs impatiently and tries again, "Unfortunately, I'm not on your menu. Now did you want something or not?"
Dylan chuckles slightly and glances around at his buddies who look either disinterested or embarrassed. "Oh, so you've got a mouth to go with that ass, huh? I'm okay with that. In fact, I'll give you something to do with--"
"Cut it out, man," interjects one of the others halfheartedly, barely looking away from his date.
Haley glances up to identify her reluctant defender and her eyes widen in surprise.
She's seen Nathan Scott several times over the past several years--a few times when she was Brooke's guest at the club, and then another handful of times since she's been an employee. These Nathan-spottings have always been from a distance though, and she hasn't spoken to him since that memorable day by the pool five years ago.
He looks the same. Well, no. Not quite the same. He has the same dark hair and blue eyes, but he's become even more handsome. His cheekbones are more defined, his shoulders are broader, and the smile he's wearing is still ever-so-slightly crooked. His arm is draped across the shoulders of a beautiful girl and his nose is pressed into her blond curls as he whispers something in her ear.
"Hey Nate," Dylan announces suddenly, "I think our waitress has a thing for you. Maybe you should allow her to demonstrate some of this southern hospitality I keep hearing about."
"Shut up, Dylan!" Nathan's date finally erupts. "God, could you be any more obnoxious?"
Dylan glares, "You sure are a bitch tonight, Peyton. What's wrong? Lover Boy fuck some other cheerleader again?"
The pretty blonde rolls her eyes and turns her attention to Haley. "I'm really sorry for…well…him, I guess. And for the fact that the rest of these guys are too moronic to stop him from running his mouth." She look at Nathan pointedly.
Nathan tosses his hands in the air. "It's Dylan, Peyt. He always gets his ass kicked when he's gone too far. And he's got a point. You are being kind of a bitch tonight."
Haley is surprised by Nathan's vicious tone. He looks totally detached from the rest of the group, and it would appear that he would rather be anywhere else. Haley watches for a moment as the scowl on his face grows even more pronounced and then she smiles tightly and clears her throat awkwardly, "Well, if you guys don't need anything else. I'm just going to…" she points toward the kitchen door and begins to step away. As she's about to enter the kitchen, she takes a quick glance back and sees Nathan Scott's blue eyes locked on her, a hint of recognition in his eyes.
He disappears from view as the kitchen door swings to a close behind her and she lets out a puff of air. "Is this God awful night over yet?" she mumbles under her breath.
She spins around to see a smiling Maurice waving to catch her attention. "I just saw Madeline and she told me to tell you that you can go."
"Really?" Haley gasps. "Thank God!"
Maurice nods, "So get your things and you go study! You know I want to see you back here someday with your big fancy degree driving your big fancy car with your hotshot husband.
Haley laughs out loud and shakes her head. "I don't know about that."
"I do," Maurice replies with a smile. "So go! Before Madeline changes her mind!"
After gathering her coat and purse from the small storage room off the kitchen, Haley takes out her cell phone to call Brooke for a ride. Her parents have been spending a huge portion of their time traveling and they're currently somewhere in South Dakota. Although she's had her driver's license for over a year, her parents have been unable to buy her a car and she's been unwilling to spend her college money to buy one for herself. Brooke, on the other hand, was given a brand new Mercedes convertible on the morning of her sixteenth birthday--her parents' way of making up for the fact that they were in Greece on her birthday.
When Brooke doesn't pick up her phone, Haley opts to leave a voicemail. "Hey Brooke, I'm finished here. My parents still aren't back so call me or just come by the club. See you in a little while."
Stepping out onto the patio to wait for Brooke to call back, Haley reaches up and tugs a few bobby pins from the twist she'd created earlier in the evening. Her golden hair tumbles down her back and she runs her fingers through it before finally giving up on removing the tangles. She leans against the railing and rests her face in the cradle of her palms. She's been working at the country club for more than two years--since she turned fifteen--and she's been dealing with the same crap since her first day. She'd gotten the job after Brooke had called in a favor. Haley had been excited for her first day, but she'd been shocked at the way she'd been treated by the members of the club. She'd always been extremely polite to the club's employees during her many visits as Brooke's guest, so it had never occurred to her that others would treat the employees any different.
She'd been wrong.
During her first night alone, she'd been called an idiot five times, been hit on three times, had her ass grabbed twice, and had one particularly memorable glass of wine thrown at her. She'd cried the whole way home and she'd told Brooke over the phone that she would never go back. In response, Brooke had told her that she wasn't allowed to give in and then had promised to teach her how to defend herself around country club snoots. Now she has just a few months to go and college will be the only thing on her mind.
She's jerked from her thoughts of college and tuition money and life outside of Tree Hill when a door opens, allowing the music from the reception to pour out onto the terrace.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize anyone was out here."
Turning around, Haley is startled to see Nathan Scott standing in the doorway, a frown on his face and a glass in his hand. She shakes her head and starts to walk away. "I was just leaving."
"You don't have to," he offers politely.
Haley looks up at him and then quickly away before pressing her lips into a tight line. "That's okay," she murmurs and starts to walk away.
"Do I know you?" he asks suddenly. "Inside, I thought maybe…you look familiar."
"I don't think so," she answers skeptically. She's no Brooke, but she's heard more than her fair share of pick-up lines over the past few years.
It's as though he's read her mind. "No, I mean it. That wasn't a line."
"Well, I've worked here for two years now," she points out somewhat impatiently. "I'm sure you've seen me around."
He shakes his head, "No, that's not it." Finally, he snaps his fingers, "I remember you! Genius girl! From the pool! What was it? Like...three years ago?"
Haley sighs, "Five actually."
"That's right," Nathan nods at the recollection. "I must have been like fifteen or sixteen."
"I was twelve," Haley adds.
"You've grown," Nathan remarks.
"That happens," Haley shoots back.
"Things...came in nicely," Nathan comments appreciatively as he takes in her petite frame and her pretty face.
Haley grimaces and takes a step backward, "Okay, um...gross."
Nathan rolls his eyes and offers her a smile--the first she's seen on his face all evening. "So how's your five-year plan coming? I think you're the only twelve year-old to ever have a five-year plan by the way."
"It's coming along," Haley responds vaguely.
"As in...top five percent of your class? Top ten percent?"
Haley lets her eyes flit towards him as she decides whether or not to respond. Finally, she caves. "Valedictorian," she admits softly.
Nathan's eyebrows raise and his eyes widen slightly. "Really? And where are you headed in the fall?"
Nathan lets out a low whistle. "Damn! I'm impressed. Well, I'm glad I ran into you. I always kind of wondered whatever happened to the genius I met at the club."
At that precise moment, Haley's phone lights up and chimes loudly. Glancing down at the display, she lets out a heavy sigh and rolls her eyes. Tossing her hands in the air, she mutters, "This is just great."
"What's wrong?" Nathan asks with a concerned frown.
Ducking her head slightly, Haley shrugs awkwardly and then holds up her phone to show him the illuminated screen which reads, "Sry TtrGrl, w/hot Duke guy. Call Bev."
"Hot Duke guy?" he questions curiously.
Haley nods, "Yeah, that's pretty much par for the course with Brooke. She's my best friend in the world and she's always there when I really need her, but she can be a bit of a flake for the day to day stuff."
"Well, you need her now, don't you?" Nathan points out skeptically. "Doesn't this qualify as really needing her?"
Haley smiles and shrugs, "Nah, she knows I'll just get Bevin or one of our other friends to pick me up."
"Or I could…" Nathan starts to offer.
"It's okay," Haley interrupts immediately. "Your friends are inside. I wouldn't want you to have to leave."
"My friends are probably too busy drinking and dancing to notice I'm even gone."
"And your girlfriend?" Haley inquires pointedly. "I'm pretty sure she'd notice."
"Yeah, she probably has," Nathan agrees. "And she's probably as relieved to be getting a break from me as I am to be getting one from her."
Haley watches him in silence.
"Well? Do you want a ride?"
"Um…" she stalls awkwardly, her eyes fixed on the glass in his hand.
He follows her gaze and raises the glass. "It's Sprite," he reveals. "Cross my heart. I found out my mom was an alcoholic my freshman year of college. I figured I probably shouldn't tempt fate, you know?"
Haley nods silently, unsure of the proper response.
"So…your friends seem interesting."
"I guess," Nathan replies vaguely as he swirls the liquid in his glass. "They can be assholes."
"Your girlfriend is nice though. Have you two been dating long?"
"Probably too long," Nathan scoffs as he takes a drink.
Haley frowns, "What's that mean?"
"It means that relationships are complicated."
"Well, if it's that complicated, why are you still together?"
Nathan gives her a look. "You're young, but I know you're not that innocent."
Crossing her arms over her chest, Haley eyes him disapprovingly. "Innocence has nothing to do with it. Either you like her or you don't. Same goes for your friends actually."
Nathan lets out a loud guffaw and shakes his head. "You wouldn't understand. What about you?" he questions, trying to change the subject. "Any boyfriends?"
Haley shakes her head. "No, I'm too busy with school. Besides," she remarks pointedly, "I don't bother unless I really care about someone."
"Well, I'm pretty sure you're a better person than me." Nathan grumbles. "Better than most people I know. I figured that out the first time I met you."
"And I thought you were a good person the first time I met you."
Nathan laughs bitterly. "Yeah? And what the hell ever gave you that idea?"
"The fact that you would spend your time talking to a twelve year-old girl who'd rather read a book than swim," she says wryly. "The fact that you advised me to be myself and not get caught up in high school drama."
"Should've taken my own advice," Nathan mumbles under his breath.
"You don't seem very happy," Haley observes solemnly. "I mean, I saw the way you acted with your friends tonight. And the way you talked to your girlfriend…"
"Is anyone really happy?" Nathan asks irritably. But then he turns to her with wondering eyes and she can see that his question is a genuine one.
"Yes," she says firmly.
"Are you happy?"
Haley considers his words for a moment before responding, "Things aren't perfect. My family still drives me crazy and I absolutely hate having to wait on the assholes in there," she jerks a thumb towards the ballroom. "But I think things always work out for the best. So I'm happy for now."
"Well, obviously the things that make me happy are going to change with time." She grits her teeth with annoyance as she continues, "Like right now I'd be really happy to have a car and not have to wait for Brooke to pick me up." She relaxes slightly, "But I know as I get older I'll want different things."
As the next couple of hours pass, Haley and Nathan discuss everything from politics to food to parties to love. The next time Haley glances at her cell phone, she realizes it's nearly two in the morning.
"Oh my God!" she exclaims just as Nathan finishes describing a particularly embarrassing incident involving a broken bed in his freshman dorm room.
"It wasn't that embarrassing," he remarks after her outburst.
"No," Haley shakes her head furiously. "It's almost two in the morning. We've been out here talking for hours!"
"Seriously?" Nathan wonders. They're both silent for a moment and they can hear the faintest strains of a Cyndi Lauper song coming from the ballroom. "Guess they're still at it," he remarks. Glancing back at Haley, he nods towards the parking lot, "Come on, my car's this way."
They're relatively quiet as they make the short drive to Haley's house, but when Nathan brings his SUV to a stop, Haley turns to face him.
"Thanks for the ride. I really appreciate it."
Nathan nods, "No problem. It was good talking to you. Hey, if I don't see you…have fun in college, okay?"
Haley gives him a small smile and nods as she moves to open the passenger door. Pausing for a moment, she turns back to face him. "You're still a good person, Nathan." She moves to open the door once again.
She turns around, a questioning look on her face. "Yeah?"
"You've turned into a beautiful woman, Haley James," he smiles. "I have a feeling you might be breaking a few hearts in the future.
The corners of her mouth lift the slightest bit and she raises her hand in a casual wave. She's taken by surprise when he catches her hand and pulls her close enough to press a chaste kiss against her cheek. Haley sits stunned for just a moment before she begins fumbling with the door handle. With wide eyes, she climbs out of his car and slams the door closed.
She stands on the curb, her hair still tousled, her blouse rumpled, and her cheek still burning from his kiss as she watches the glow of his taillights disappear around the corner.
"This is really weird, Brooke."
"Why is it weird?"
Haley looks around the ballroom and then down at her strapless black gown. It's elegant in its simplicity and it displays her body's assets to their best advantage. Her long hair has been swept up and away from her face to leave her dark eyes looking smoky and dramatic thanks to Brooke's handiwork. She feels like a queen, but she also feels like an imposter.
"Because this is my former place of employment. I spent years serving all of these people. It's just really bizarre to be sitting here as one of them."
"Well, get over it. You're not in high school anymore. You look incredibly hot. You're about to graduate from Yale and you're headed to law school. That's enough to get you in with these snobby assholes. Speaking of snobby assholes, where's Captain Ivy League?"
"He's not a snobby asshole! He's just driven. And his name is Charles!"
"Seriously, Haley. You're so worried about being here and fitting in, but you're dating the quintessential country-clubber. He's more at home here than either of us."
"He can't help his upbringing! Charles is a good guy. He's a law student."
Brooke rolls her eyes. "And all lawyers are real gems."
"Brooke," Haley sighs. "Don't start."
Brooke raises her hands in defeat, "Alright! I give up. Anyway, he's over there. Apparently he's found a friend." She sips some champagne from the glass she's holding. "Or a captive audience," she mutters under her breath.
Haley glares at her friend for a moment before snagging a glass of champagne from one of the server's trays. She makes her way across the impeccably decorated ballroom and smiles when she sees Charles's handsome profile against the dark background of the night through the window. Charles Hunter is everything she's ever hoped to find in a man: intelligent, honest, motivated, and very much in love with her. Sure, he's not terribly impulsive or passionate (as Brooke loves to point out at every possible opportunity) but he's very stable and he treats Haley well. She knows she could certainly do a lot worse.
"Charles," she addresses him smoothly, offering a small smile as he turns and reaches for her. Her smile falters, however, when she gets a clear look at Charles's companion.
"Speaking of," he announces, "here she is. Nathan, I'd like you to meet Haley James. Haley, this is Nathan Scott."
Haley has to choke back her gasp when she looks up to see Nathan's blue eyes staring so intensely in her direction.
"Actually we've met," Haley corrects politely. "It's good to see you again, Nathan."
Nathan nods and offers a smile when he sees the look of discomfort flicker in Haley's dark eyes. "You look great, Haley," he comments neutrally. Attempting to be subtle, he lets his eyes rove from the elegance of her honey-blonde hair down the tempting curves of her body and all the way to her painted toenails. She looks strikingly beautiful.
"You two know each other?" Charles questions, his surprise evident in his tone.
"Yes," Nathan confirms.
"You could say that," Haley responds.
Charles looks between the two of them, a strange look on his face. "What?" he chuckles at the awkwardness in the air. "Old flames or something?"
Haley and Nathan turn to face each other and burst out laughing.
Turning back to Charles, Haley shakes her head, "No, we didn't date. Aside from the age difference, I wasn't really Nathan's type."
"And why is that?" Charles asks, a look of amusement flickering over his features.
"I didn't date nice girls," Nathan supplies with a grin. "And Haley was…is…definitely a nice girl."
"You didn't date nice girls?" Haley breaks in curiously.
"A few years ago someone reminded me that I'm actually a nice guy somewhere deep down. I decided to go with that," Nathan responds with a pointed look in her direction.
Haley feels a slight flutter in her stomach and she looks up at Nathan, something like pride shining on her face. "I'm glad to hear that," she says softly.
"Nathan's in business school at Duke," Charles suddenly informs her with a smile.
"I didn't know that," Haley replies, her eyes lighting up. "That's wonderful, Nathan. So no basketball, huh?"
Nathan shakes his head, "I was injured my senior year and had to call it quits."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Haley responds sympathetically. "I know how much you love the game."
Nathan can see the genuine sympathy in her eyes and he nods silently.
Charles smiles proudly as he pulls Haley into his side. "Haley's going to be joining me at Yale Law next fall."
"We don't know that yet--" Haley breaks in.
"Nonsense," Charles protests. He turns back to Nathan, "She's too modest. She'll get in. She's top of her class and her LSAT scores are off the charts."
"I'm sure," Nathan murmurs without taking his eyes off of Haley. "She's always been brilliant."
Charles continues, "So it's Yale Law, I'll get established at one of the big firms in Connecticut while Haley's finishing up. Eventually we can move to the suburbs--wherever we choose--and start our own practice."
Haley starts to squirm uncomfortably as Charles continues discussing the future he has planned for them, right down to the type of house and the number of kids.
"Charles…" she starts to protest.
"She always gets uncomfortable when I talk like this," Charles remarks to Nathan with a chuckle. "She's a bit of a commitment-phobe. You should have seen how long it took me to get her to sit down and have a cup of coffee with me."
"How interesting," Nathan notes with a sidelong glance at Haley, who's now staring at her feet. "Playing hard to get, Hales?"
Haley feels her face heat up and she feels her heart flutter slightly at the nickname he uses. "Oh, you know me…" she smiles.
Charles pulls Haley closer and presses a kiss to her forehead. "It was all worth it. We've got a great future ahead of us."
"So it's like a five-year plan," Nathan reasons as he gives Haley a teasing wink.
"You could say that. After all, a good plan is the best kind of insurance," Charles responds sensibly.
"Well, you know what some people say about planning…" Nathan turns to Haley. "You know, Haley."
Haley shakes her head, "No, I don't think I do."
"Sure you do," Nathan insists. "The best-laid plans of ..what is it?" he trails off.
"Of mice and men," Haley finishes softly.
"Right! The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry," Nathan finishes.
"Robert Burns," Charles notes triumphantly. "Although I'm not sure the phrase applies in this case."
"Maybe not," Nathan replies mildly. "If I know Haley, things will happen just the way she wants them to." Raising his glass at the couple, Nathan nods, "It's been a pleasure, Charles. Haley," he pins her with probing stare, "I hope to see you again soon."
"Nice guy," Charles observes as they both watch him walk away.
Haley nods silently. Then grasping his hand, she tugs him toward the dance floor. "Let's dance."
After washing her hands and touching up her make-up, Haley leaves the restroom and heads back down the hallway towards the ball room. She fumbles slightly with her compact, attempting to get it back into the small clutch she's carrying and doesn't even see him until she runs right into him.
"Oh!" she exclaims, startled. Brushing a strand of hair from her eyes, she looks up and feels her stomach clench at the sight of his blue eyes. "Nathan," she whispers.
He smiles. "Hey."
Haley clears her throat nervously and struggles to zip her clutch. When she finally gets it closed, she looks back up at him and wills herself to resist the look he's giving her.
"You look amazing," he says in a low voice.
He's looking at her with lust, admiration, and a hint of wistfulness in his eyes.
"Really, Haley," he continues, "you're stunning." Slowly and purposefully, he reaches out to brush his fingertips against her cheek.
Haley's eyes flutter to a momentary close. She catches her bottom lip between her teeth and watches him for a moment. "What are you doing?" she asks finally.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean…this, tonight, inside. What are you trying to pull?"
"I'm not trying to pull anything."
"So you just happened to strike up a conversation with my boyfriend? Out of all the people in that ball room?"
Nathan crosses his arms and grins. "Haley, I didn't know he was your boyfriend. And even if I did, why would it matter? You and I are just old friends, right?"
Haley looks up into his teasing blue eyes and swallows nervously. "Right," she answers shakily. "I mean, of course."
"Right," Nathan confirms with a smirk, his eyes darkening with desire.
Haley shudders slightly under his probing gaze and then snaps out of it. "Well, if we're just friends, why are you acting like this?"
Haley stammers, "Like you're…jealous…or something!"
"Maybe I am." His eyes darken further and he seems to be leaning closer with each passing moment.
"And why would you be jealous?"
"Because I see something that I want. Something that I've wanted for awhile now. And somebody else has got it."
"That sounds a little prehistoric," Haley comments dryly.
He shrugs, "It's the truth. And you asked."
Haley is flabbergasted and she fumbles inelegantly with her clutch. "But…why?"
With three large steps, he's at her side, and then his lips are on hers. Her first instinct is to push him away and berate him for taking such liberties. But then she feels his thumb brushing gently against her cheekbone while his free hand is stroking the exposed skin of her back. Slowly, she raises her own arms to wrap them around his neck, and then she rises onto her tiptoes to meet his lips with even more vigor. When she finally pulls away to catch her breath, she feels his lips fluttering across her face--over her forehead, across her eyelids, down her chin, and then one especially sweet peck is placed on the tip of her nose.
She looks up fully expecting to see him with his eyes closed, caught up in the passion of the moment. She's surprised to see his blue eyes widen open, urgently searching her own dark eyes for some sort of hint as to how she's feeling in the moment. He's touching her so carefully, so reverently, and she feels herself choke up at what she sees when she looks him in the eye.
"What the hell was that?" she asks breathlessly.
He gives her a small smile and shrugs. "I can't help it. I can't help myself. I came here tonight because I was hoping you would show up with Brooke or be working for some extra spending money. Hell, I've been showing up to every event at this godforsaken club just hoping you were be here."
"Because you're brilliant and beautiful. Because you're the first woman I've ever wanted to talk to. Because I can't stop thinking about you," he answers honestly. "The last time I saw you here, all I wanted to do was kiss you, but you were seventeen and I'd just turned twenty-one and…"
"There's a big difference between seventeen and twenty-one," Haley finishes for him.
Nathan nods. "But now you're twenty-one and I'm twenty-four and--"
"And I'm with Charles," Haley says gently.
Nathan shakes his head instantly. "You might be with Charles, but you're not with him, Haley. I could see that much from the few minutes I spent with the two of you. You should have seen the look on your face when he was talking about the plans he has for you. You looked trapped. You looked terrified."
"You're wrong," Haley retorts. "I love Charles. He's a wonderful man."
"I'm sure he is," Nathan concedes. "I'm sure he loves you and tries to make you happy, but you don't sparkle when you're with him."
"What are you talking about?" Haley demands indignantly.
"I'm talking about the Haley I've gotten to know over the past several years. I'm talking about the reason you've been on my mind since the night of that wedding. It was like you came alive when we were talking. You were so lively and beautiful and glowing. I couldn't take my eyes off you. Didn't you notice?"
Haley shakes her head, disbelieving of his words.
"I watched you tonight. I felt it as soon as you walked into the room. You don't sparkle when you're with him."
Haley gapes at him for several moments. Her whole body is trembling, her chest is heaving, and she can feel her heart racing. Before she can think or even begin to weigh her options, she leaps forward.
Her arms wrap around his neck and she feels him gently lift her into his embrace. His lips are gentle but hurried as they brush over her skin, and she feels his hands drop to the back of her thighs, tugging her legs up to wrap around his middle. Arching her back, she moans softly as he peppers her breastbone with nips and kisses. For a split-second, she thinks the world might actually be spinning, but then she realizes that they're moving clumsily through the hallway.
"We can't do this here," he reminds her before pressing yet another kiss to her neck.
"This way!" she exclaims breathlessly. She gestures around the corner and guides him through a particular door which leads into a private banquet room that's often used for intimate family gatherings. There's a narrow couch and several generic paintings lining the far wall, and Haley continues to press heated kisses along Nathan's strong jaw line as he gently lowers them onto the cushions of the couch. She welcomes the feel of his body against hers; the weight of him pressing her into the soft cushions. His arms are around her, his lips are on hers, and she's surprised by his tenderness as he touches her so reverently.
Somewhere deep inside, she knows that it's wrong and that she should put a stop to things before they get any further. But then she closes her eyes and allows herself to be completely absorbed by the moment; the feel of Nathan surrounding her is all consuming and it's something she cannot fight. She allows herself to be taken over by a passion that she's never once felt with Charles or with any other man. Before she knows it, she's plucking at Nathan's shirt buttons and arching her back to let him tug the zipper of her dress.
"Are you sure?" he gasps breathlessly.
"More sure than I've ever been about anything else," she responds certainly.
She can't help the bashful smile that appears on her face when he sheds his clothes down to his boxers. She still remembers the first time she saw him and correctly identified him as a 'hottie', but she never in a million years would have guessed that she'd be here with him like this. She's still smiling up at him when he reaches around her to pull her dress down her slender frame.
Haley is taken aback by the mixture of lust and fascination on his face when he first sees her in her lacy lingerie. Biting her lip anxiously as his eyes rove her figure, she lets her gaze drop from his.
"You're so gorgeous," he murmurs huskily. "So beautiful." His fingertip brushes gently along her cheek and then hooks beneath her chin to bring her eyes back up to his. "Look at me," he urges gruffly, and he peels away the remaining barriers between them.
She looks up then, and from that moment on is unable to look away. Their eyes remain fixed as their hands clasp and twine, and as their bodies meld together. They're soft, almost peaceful, in their joining. Their breathless gasps and soft moans are barely discernible from the quiet hum of the room.
Nathan collapses on top of her, his head immediately dropping into the cradle of her shoulder where his lips graze softly against her neck. "You're amazing," he whispers, his lips tickling her tender flesh.
A small smile appears on her face as she stares at the ceiling, the repercussions of their actions seeming light years away. Her eyelids feel heavy after their extreme exertions, so she allows them to fall to a close as she rests in the warmth of Nathan's embrace.
She dozes for twenty minutes or so, reveling in the soft ministrations of Nathan's fingertips against her scalp when Charles's face suddenly appears in her head.
"Oh my God," she whispers, her eyes wide with panic. "Oh my God." Tears begin to flood her vision and she feels an overwhelming flood of shame and humiliation for her behavior. Blindly pushing at Nathan's chest, she scrambles out from underneath him and begins collecting her clothes. "Nathan, I'm…this was a mistake. I'm sorry. I have to go."
He watches with sorrow in his eyes as she hurriedly dresses herself and tries in vain to repair the damage that's been done to her hair and make-up. Snatching her clutch from the floor, she scurries away from the couch without so much as a glance in his direction.
"Haley," Nathan chokes out, surprised by the desperation that laces his voice. "Haley!"
His heart nearly breaks at the sight of her tear-filled eyes when she turns to face him. "I'm sorry," she whispers once more, and then she's gone.
Once his shock has worn off, Nathan emerges from the isolated room just in time to hear the crowds of people chanting along with the countdown to midnight.
"Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!"
He approaches the main entrance to the ball room.
"Six! Five! Four!"
His gaze is almost immediately drawn to the far end of the room where he sees her standing in Charles's arms, her lips curved in a smile that doesn't quiet meet her eyes.
"Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!"
The clock strikes midnight and he watches as Haley kisses Charles. Nathan wonders if Charles notices Haley's kiss-swollen lips or if he sees the slight smudging of her eye make-up. He doesn't miss the guilt on her face when she catches his eye, her chin perched on Charles's shoulder as they embrace.
Haley can feel Charles's arms around her and can't help but notice the difference in the way he holds her. Charles holds her like she's something delicate. When Nathan held her, it was as though he was trying to breathe her in, savor her, as though he never wanted to let her go. She can see him watching her, wearing a somber look of betrayal. She squeezes her eyes shut to protect herself from the image.
When she opens them, he's already gone.
"So how do I look?" Haley questions as she smoothes the airy fabric of her vivid green gown.
Brooke gives her a quick once over and then rolls her eyes good naturedly. "You look hot! Green is definitely your color. Charles won't know what hit him."
Cocking her head, Haley gives her best friend a curious look. "He's a good guy, Brooke. He'll take care of me."
Shrugging her shoulders, Brooke offers a cheery smile. "Of course he will." She sobers slightly. "But that's not what I'm worried about, Tutor Girl."
Haley fights the urge to groan. Here she is, standing outside of the country club ball room as she prepares to celebrate her engagement, and Brooke is about to launch into another tirade on all things wrong with Charles.
"Can't you just be happy for me?" Haley pleads a bit desperately. "He's waiting inside. All of our friends and family are waiting inside."
Brooke nods, "Oh, I'll be happy for you."
Heaving a sigh of relief, Haley reaches out to give Brooke's hand a squeeze. "Thank you, Brooke."
Brooke shakes her head, "Oh no. I'm not finished. I was going to say that I'll be happy for you when you've proven to me that Charles will be the one to make you truly happy. You deserve that, Haley. And I'm not convinced that he does that for you."
Haley can feel the tension rise through her body, and she forces her eyes closed as she attempts to collect herself. "Brooke," she pleads. "Please. Just…please."
Brooke's stubborn frown softens at Haley's tone and she finally relents. "I just want what's best for you," she murmurs softly. "That's all."
Haley nods with a small smile. "I know that. Of course I know that."
"You're sure he's the one?" Brooke questions one more time.
"He loves me," Haley responds firmly. "He loves me."
Brooke watches her closely for another moment and then gestures grandly toward the ball room. "Well then, you'd better get in there."
The two squeeze hands and then enter the massive room which is bathed in light from the chandeliers overhead. A small string quartet is playing in the corner and a roving mass of colorful silk and dapper tuxedoes color the room. It's all much more formal than Haley would have chosen, but Charles is a Hunter, and the Hunters have an obligation to fill the society pages with glittering tales of waltzes and champagne.
"Uh-oh. Hottie by the bar," Brooke whispers suddenly. "Catch you on the flip side."
Before Haley even has the chance to respond, Brooke is halfway to the bar where her identified hottie is obviously anticipating her arrival.
"There you are, darling! Let me introduce you to someone."
Haley turns immediately and offers a prim smile to the dark-haired woman in the golden ball gown. "Hello, Mrs. Hunter," she greets. "It's so wonderful to see you again." Leaning in, they exchange kisses on each cheek--something Haley has become accustomed to since spending time with the Hunter family.
"Haley dear, I want you to meet Sydney Wittenberg."
Haley's eyes widen when she sees the tall and very elegant young woman standing at Amelia Hunter's side. Obviously a blue-blood herself, she appears to be completely at ease as she offers Haley a hand and a gracious smile. Sydney towers over Haley, her fair complexion contrasting sharply with Haley's golden tan.
"I've heard so much about you," Sydney gushes genuinely. "Congratulations on your engagement."
"Thank you so much," Haley answers politely.
"Sydney was Charles's high school sweetheart. She attended the sister school of Charlie's prep academy." Amelia explains with a wicked gleam.
Amelia Hunter has never been cruel to Haley, but she's made it more than clear that she would much prefer a more appropriate match for her son. As Haley watches the easy relationship between Amelia and Sydney, she feels anxiety starting to grip her heart.
Amelia turns to Sydney and continues, "Haley also attended Yale. She's a…legal aid attorney." Amelia's lips purse and her nostrils flares as though she's forcing herself to choke out the last part.
"How noble," Sydney comments graciously.
"Yes," Amelia cuts in, "well, Charles is still hoping to convince Haley to join him at his firm."
"I'm perfectly happy where I am," Haley replies evenly. "We're both working in Charlotte. We've got no complaints."
"Haley?" Charles's voice breaks the tension that's building and Haley rushes into his arms out of relief. "I can hardly believe that this is our engagement party considering the fact that this is the first time I've seen you all evening."
"Haley has social responsibilities now, Charlie," Amelia points out rather stoutly.
"Yes, but couldn't you have allowed her to say hello to me first?" Charles retorts mildly. He nods in Sydney's direction. "Hello, Syd. It's good to see you."
"Congratulations, Charlie," Sydney offers sweetly. "I'm…very happy for you."
"That means a lot, Syd. Thank you."
"I hope I'll be seeing more of you now that you're back in Charlotte for good," Sydney comments.
A faint smile flickers across Charles's face. "Maybe."
The champagne is wonderful. She knows that much.
After just two hours at her own engagement party, she's had more than enough society to last her a lifetime. Amelia has been ushering her through the room all evening, leaving her no more than a few minutes to spend with Charles. She'd finally managed to escape to the bathroom just a few minutes before, but she knows it's only a matter of time until Amelia rounds her up once again. Sighing heavily, she sets her empty glass on the tray of a passing waiter and takes another fresh glass.
Scanning the room, she smiles when she sees her parents swaying to the soft strains of the expensive string quartet. She knows this party has been a huge expense for them, and a big part of her feels a tremendous amount of guilt for the fact that they felt obligated to throw a party worthy of the Hunters. The sight of them so obviously enjoying themselves gives her a small bit of comfort in the face of that guilt.
Her continued scan of the room and its guests leads her to the opposite corner where she spies her fiancé looking so handsome in his tuxedo. No one can say that Charles Hunter is anything less than aristocratic. His polished manner and his chiseled features are evidence of his privileged background, and she knows that a lot of women would do almost anything to be with a man like him.
One in particular.
Haley frowns when she recognizes the woman standing with Charles. Sydney Wittenberg isn't any less statuesque or impressive from far away. In fact, she might even be more stunning from afar. Haley can feel her own eyebrow quirk when she watches the two laugh so easily in their secluded little corner. She's not sure what's more disturbing: the fact that her fiancé is currently spending time with his former love, or the fact that she can't muster more than a tingle of irritation at the sight of them.
"You can't be serious."
Haley cringes when she hears his voice, and then immediately fights the urge to preen before turning around. "Nathan," she greets in a controlled voice. "What are you doing here?"
Nathan chuckles and gives her a glassy-eyed shrug. "I'm a member here, remember? I'm supposed to be here. What's your excuse?"
"You know why I'm here, Nathan."
"I know you're getting married. Not sure why you felt the need to come off your high-horse in Charlotte to celebrate in Tree Hill."
"My parents are throwing the engagement party," Haley answers quietly. "They just wanted it to be nice since Charles's family prefers formal events. Brooke made the arrangements to have it here." She's rambling nervously, as though she's defending her presence here, and she curses the fact that he is able to do this to her.
"So how is Captain Impulsive?" Nathan inquires dryly. "Still planning your life for you?"
"Charles is wonderful," Haley replies curtly. "And I make my own plans in life. As I'm sure you already know."
Nathan is silent. He watches her curiously, his head cocked to one side, his glass tipped slightly in his hand.
Haley watches him as he sways in place. He's clearly been drinking for quite awhile. His eyes are bloodshot and watering, and his expression is one of defeat. Raising a clumsy hand, he swipes it down his face and then rakes it up through his mussed hair.
"I thought you didn't drink," Haley remarks quietly.
Nathan stares at her for another moment and then ignores her question to ask one of his own.
"What are you doing with that guy, Haley?" he finally asks with a shrugs. "He's not the guy for you."
"And who is the guy for me then, Nathan? Can you narrow it down for me?"
"We both know the answer to that question, Haley."
"I think I'm going to need you to enlighten me."
"Well, then here we go! There's something between us. God, Haley! There's been something between us since the first time we met. Even when you were a gangly twelve year-old, I was able to talk to you more easily than I could talk to any of my friends or family. And, God, I've never had anyone put me in my place the way you did the night of that wedding. You told me exactly what my problem was and that should have pissed me the hell off, but damn if you weren't right."
"You're making a big deal of out nothing, Nathan." Haley comments neutrally. "We've had a couple of interesting conversations over the years. Nothing more."
Shaking his head, Nathan gives her a wry smile. Glancing around the room, he reaches out to grab her hand and pull her back onto the terrace where they'd stood so many years before. "You're lying. You're lying to me and you're lying to yourself. We both know they were more than just a few normal conversations. We sat on that terrace practically all night long. And we made love the night of the New Year's Eve party."
"We did not make love," Haley insists. "We had sex. And it was a mistake."
"You don't make mistakes like that, Haley." Nathan insists earnestly. "I know you well enough to know that you wouldn't let yourself do something like that unless it was exactly what you wanted to be doing."
"You're wrong," Haley answers shakily, her throat tightening and her eyes tearing.
"No," Nathan replies firmly, "I'm not."
Haley has to choke back a gasp when Nathan steps into the moonlight. The silvery beams make for a haunting image when cast across his features. There is a desperation, a fervent hope, in his eyes, and Haley chokes back a sob as she realizes she can't stand to hurt him.
"Nathan," she whimpers. "Please, don't make this any worse than it has to be."
"You don't want him, Haley. I can see it in your eyes. And I saw you watching him with that other woman."
Haley narrows her eyes and says firmly, "He's not cheating on me."
"I know," he admits. "I didn't say the guy was stupid. But I also know that you didn't rush over there to be with him."
"I just needed a break," she whispers softly, guiltily.
Nathan softens at this. Reaching out, he tentatively brushes a finger down her cheek and then raises her eyes to meet his. "You're going to be married. You shouldn't need a break yet."
His eyes catch hers and he holds her gaze for what seems like a never-ending moment. Finally, she tears her eyes away from his and fixes her stare on the safe view of the ground beneath her. After a few seconds of trying to collect herself, she bravely dares to look back up. Shrugging her shoulders in defeat, she whispers hoarsely, "I've got to go, Nathan. It's my engagement party. And you should leave."
Nathan searches her face earnestly, as though he's convinced he's going to find some sign of her wish to stay with him. He finds nothing.
Nodding, he takes a step back and leaves the path into the ball room wide open. "I told you one time that I had a feeling you would be breaking hearts in the future. I think I always knew deep down that one of those hearts would be mine."
"I never wanted to hurt you--" she starts, her voice wavering.
Nathan is calm and gives her an easy smile, "All I know is someday we're going to be dancing our first dance and I'm going to look you in the eye and say 'I told you so'."
She looks at him through a veil of tears and shakes her head. "Just go."
"I don't know, Haley."
Startled by Brooke's doubtful tone, Haley turns away from the full-length mirror in a panic. "What?! Does it not look right?" Leaning over, she tugs lightly at the hem of her dress. "Brooke!" she exclaims shrilly. "What's wrong?"
Brooke is standing just a few feet away, an admiring half-smile on her face. "Nothing's wrong," she insists softly. "I'm just afraid the future Mr. James is going to be unable to contain himself when you show up at the end of the aisle."
Rolling her eyes, Haley lets out a giddy laugh and a rosy blush fills her cheeks. "Thanks, Brooke. And you have to stop calling him that. You know he hates it."
"Psssh…he loves it," Brooke responds with a nonchalant wave. "I mean it, Haley. You look beautiful."
Haley looks down at the simple strapless gown and then reaches up to touch the loose waves of her golden hair. Glancing up at Brooke in her elegant jade-green gown, she nods, "So do you." Closing the distance between them, she reaches out to grasp Brooke's hand and then tugs her in for a hug. "Thanks for being a great friend. And thanks for being my maid of honor."
Brooke pulls back and gives Haley a cheeky grin, "Like anybody else could do the job justice! Especially the second time around," she teases.
Haley groans, "I thought we agreed that you weren't ever going to rub that in my face."
"Couldn't resist," Brooke shrugs unapologetically.
"Well, at least this engagement and wedding have been on my terms."
"You mean you never wanted the stuffy cathedral wedding Amelia was planning for you and Charles?" Brooke questions innocently.
Glaring playfully, Haley shakes her head. "Um, no."
"But hey, at least that kind of wedding will be right up Sydney's alley," Brooke points out.
Facing the mirror once again, Haley examines her make-up and nods, "Yeah, I'm sure their wedding is going to be an international event. I still think Amelia probably threw some sort of gala when Charles told her that we'd broken our engagement."
"Okay, so now that we're actually here, do you want to tell me how exactly we went from you nearly becoming Mrs. Charles Hunter to becoming Mrs. Nathan Scott?"
"You already know the answer to that," Haley replies distractedly. "We ran into each other shortly after I broke things off with Charles. We started dating and here we are."
Brooke lets out a sharp laugh, "Oh no, no, no. I may not be on your level of genius, but I'm not stupid either. Something's been going on between you two for longer than that. Come on, spill."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Haley responds, her face heating up as she lies through her teeth.
"And I don't know why you insist on lying when I can see right through you," Brooke fires back smugly.
Haley is blushing furiously as she finally turns to face Brooke. "Okay, but you have to understand something. I didn't tell you because I couldn't tell anyone. It's not that I didn't trust you…I was just in denial."
"Go on," Brooke encourages.
"I slept with Nathan."
Brooke rolls her eyes. "Well, yeah, I kind of figured that out already."
"No," Haley interrupts. "I slept with Nathan while I was still dating Charles."
"WHAT?! When?! Where?!"
"At the New Year's Eve party," Haley answers. "In one of the private banquet rooms."
"So that's where you disappeared to that night. I've gotta say I'm a little bit surprised, Hales. It's really unlike you to do the random hook-up. "
"It wasn't really a random hook-up. We'd…talked before. We just connected from the first time we met."
"Haley James!" Brooke exclaims shrilly. "I can't believe you kept this from me! We're supposed to be best friends!'
"It wasn't exactly something I was proud of at the time."
"But I would have been proud!" Brooke exclaims excitedly. "And it would have given me more evidence in my case against Charles."
"Charles is a good guy," Haley scolds. "You know how understanding he was when I broke up with him."
"He wasn't right for you," Brooke insists. "But I'm pretty sure you've got someone who is. And I think he's probably waiting for you. Ready?"
Taking a deep breath, Haley smiles excitedly and nods. Snatching her bouquet from a nearby table, she links arms with Brooke and heads for the door.
The ceremony is small and intimate--exactly what she and Nathan wanted.
The private courtyard at the Tree Hill Golf & Country Club is a veritable explosion of color as the garden is in full bloom. Several rows of white chairs are filled with those who are closest to the couple, and a minister is waiting beneath the elegant, wrought-iron gazebo.
At the familiar sounds of the Wedding March, the small crowd rises to their feet and all eyes are on her. She can feel a warm flush creep up into her cheeks, but then she sees him standing at the other end of the aisle. Beginning her steady march forward, her smile just grows as she gets closer and closer to him. She practically floats on her father's arm and basks in the feel of Nathan's adoring gaze when she's finally standing in front of him.
Their vows are simple and heartfelt, as they stand together with joined hands.
There's an eruption of applause when they are finally declared husband and wife. Rising to her tiptoes, Haley allows Nathan to sweep her up into a soft kiss that is both passionate and intimate.
Finally, she's Mrs. Scott.
"You're stunning, baby." Nathan whispers in her ear before leaving the softest of kisses on her neck.
With the setting of the sun, the courtyard has transformed and is now twinkling thanks to the thousands of tiny white lights arranged for the occasion. The soft murmurs of their guests combine with the softly playing music, and the newlyweds are swaying comfortably on the dance floor. The clear night sky makes for a romantic setting, and the moon overhead is casting a familiar silvery glow over both of their faces.
Nathan lets out a relaxed sigh and Haley can feel the rumble of his voice where her cheek rests against his chest.
"I don't know what you were thinking, but I'm sure as hell glad that I convinced you to marry me."
"I know," Haley teases playfully. "How many drinks did you pour down my throat that night?"
"Not enough," Nathan surmises. "Or we'd have gotten married that night and we'd already be working on making a little Haley."
"And if you end up with a little Nathan instead?"
"Then I guess we'll just have to try again," Nathan answers cheerfully. Leaning closer, he takes a deep breath and tries to commit the moment to memory: the soft vanilla scent of her skin, the tendrils of her hair brushing against his forehead, the feel of her arms around him.
Letting out a breath, Haley presses herself closer to Nathan and smiles dreamily. "I never would have guessed this."
"This!" Haley exclaims. "That I'd be here with you…married."
"Oh, I knew."
Pulling back, Haley eyes him skeptically. "So when I was a scrawny twelve year-old who could barely fill out a one-piece swimsuit, you knew you were going to marry me?"
Nathan thinks for a moment and then grimaces, "I don't think there's a right way for me to answer that, so I'm just going to say that you were adorable."
Haley nods knowingly and burrows into his chest once again. "Good answer."
"So..." Nathan starts.
"Yes?" Haley says expectantly.
"Are you saying that you, Little Miss Five-Year-Plan, never planned on this? I thought you had your whole life planned," he teases.
Playing along, Haley shrugs, "You know the saying."
"What saying is that?" Nathan questions, his brow furrowed.
Haley smiles up at him, her eyes absolutely shining with love. "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
Nathan chuckles and pulls her even closer. "So, what do the next five years of your life look like, Mrs. Scott?"
Haley pauses and pretends to think about it before responding, "Busy. And I foresee many, many hours spent in bed."
"See, now that's a plan I can get behind," Nathan remarks encouragingly.
"I thought you might like that one."
Nathan chuckles, "I love you, Hales."
"I love you too," she smiles.
Leaning down, he drops a soft kiss against her hair. "There's just one thing I've got to get off my chest."
Haley looks up, alarmed by his serious tone. "What is it?"
Nathan smiles happily and lifts her hand to his lips before wrapping his arms around her waist to bring her closer. Leaning down, he lets his lips caress the edge of her ear before he whispers four simple words.
"I told you so."