Chapter 100: This Life With You
Disclaimer: After all these chapters I think this is a given. I do not own anything related to OTH. Thank you Mark Schwahn for creating two characters that I've come to know and love.
A/N: I don't know if I can express my gratitude for all of my reviewers and readers over this 27 month process. I started this story with no idea what to expect. I had no experience writing anything other than papers and essays, and I was scared to death. Now after nearly 600,000 words, I can understand what it feels like to be a writer, what it means to get feedback, and how much a simple chapter or update can mean to others. I will be forever grateful for all of my readers, my reviewers, and this site for allowing me to take an idea that came to me in economics class and turn it into a story that has had such a dedicated following. It's crazy and a bit emotional to look back on. Scratch that, very emotional. Little Moments was the beginning for me, and now it's come to an end. Cue misty eyes. So THANK YOU. Thank you for supporting me and supporting this story. The time, energy, dedication, and worn out keys on my old laptop were all worth it. ALL of it. Thank you a million times over. This chapter is heavy and thick with emotion, but not all is as it seems...or maybe it is. But it's always and forever, right? Right, so take this leap, this jump, and take it all in. This is the final moment.
Thanks for the ride, guys. Enjoy!
She'd been resting, sleeping really. Sleeping to dream about days when they were young, when the kids were young, and the days they'd sat at that old bench at the Market Street dock. Those were the memories so full of life and love that Haley couldn't help but smile.
The pitter-patter against the window had woken her up, and as Haley opened her eyes, she could tell it was raining. That gray sky morning told her it was going to be a good day, though. They'd loved days like this. The days when the trees would hang with wet branches and dance with the wind from an incoming storm. It may have sounded strange and weird to love such a dreary day, but anyone who knew Haley James Scott understood her logic. Rain had always been a good thing.
Haley closed her eyes at the sound of Charlotte's voice. It was real now.
Charlotte checked her watch. It was close to eleven, and they needed to get going. She smoothed the sides of her black dress down her waist before she walked closer. "We need to go soon."
Silently nodding, Haley sighed. The tear that fell from the corner of her eye was unstoppable. She was trying to be strong but there were some things Haley was never going to be strong enough for. Slowly getting off the bed, Haley walked over to the mirror and ran her hand over her hair. Her black pantsuit hadn't been wrinkled too badly when she'd laid down, and she straightened out her jacket as she took a deep breath.
It broke Charlotte's heart to see her mom so broken, so lonely, and so quiet. "Jamie's downstairs. You can ride with whomever you want."
Haley nodded kindly to her youngest but shrugged when she slid her keys off the dresser, "I think I'm gonna drive myself."
Her mom was eighty two years old and while Charlotte wasn't worried about Haley's driving, she was certainly worried about her emotional state. "Mom..."
"I'll be okay." The mother's warm brown eyes softened as she passed Charlotte and reached out to squeeze her arm, "I'm fine."
"You're a little high on yourself, aren't you? Going around telling people you're all fine."
His voice resonated in her head as Haley walked down the stairs hoping he might be waiting for her, but instead of his blue eyes, she saw Jamie's.
"Hey." He looked at his mom with one of his hands in his pockets. "I got your coat." Jamie held his mother's raincoat out and he helped her get it on.
"I'll meet you two there." Haley smiled at Jamie and nodded at Charlotte when she saw her daughter walk down the stairs.
Charlotte watched her mom walk to the front door and felt helpless. She'd never imagined the day when there would only be one of them. For all of Charlotte's fifty seven years, it had always been her mom and her dad, the two of them. Now it was only her mom. Charlotte's eyes started to well and there was nothing she could do about it.
"She's gonna be alright, Charlotte." Jamie looked at his sister and nodded, "We all will." He took a deep breath and guided his sister toward the door, "Come on. I'll drive."
Haley got into her car and listened to the drops of water bounce off the roof, each ping reminding her of separate occasions when rain had made things better. For such a sad day, she couldn't help but smile. He was with her because each drop told her so. She could feel him.
Gripping the steering wheel with her arthritic hands and age spots, Haley swallowed hard. Her blank stare was silent, but the emotion painted over her face said it all as she drove into town.
Tree Hill was pretty quiet other than Mother Nature's light precipitation. The rain was the only thing Haley could hear and it was like a symphonic melody helping motivate her every move, her every breath. The roads were wet and slick but she made it to the cemetery just fine. The kids and grand kids, friends, and other family members were just a minute behind her, and Haley walked through the maze of headstones with a heavy heart.
On her way, Haley paused by two gray stones she'd visited numerous times over the years. She put her hand on top of the one on the right and closed her eyes. "Tell him I love him, Luke." She hoovered for a minute, putting all her wait on her palm. Lucas had gone first. It was hard to believe a decade had passed, and the marker on the left reminded her that Peyton had succumbed to cancer just a few years ago. Haley felt her lip quiver as her hand brushed off the top of the cold, wet stone. There were many people she could have asked to relay the message, but something about Lucas felt right. As nerves climbed up her arm, Haley held onto her umbrella with a grip that was unwavering, hoping somehow Lucas would get him the message. She knew he would.
While the rain fell from the sky, Haley approached the plot and saw the chairs that were set up. She didn't plan on sitting down, though. The rain covered the seats and if she sat down she might not have the strength to get back up. Feeling very alone, Haley stood listening to the water hit the ground and felt her heart plummet into the depths of her stomach with each drop. She tried not to cry but she couldn't be brave this time. He was the one that had made her brave.
"You make me brave. And I will love you until the end of time. This I vow today."
That bravery was now watered down as the skies poured from above, and Haley tried to keep herself together. She hadn't noticed the footsteps coming from behind her until someone stood next to her and grabbed a hold of her hand. The old and aged hand was familiar and relieving. Turning to the warm body, Haley saw crows feet, dark eyes, and then heard that raspy voice.
Her voice wasn't as strong as it had once been, but the same Brooke Davis Baker Haley had known since high school slipped out of the elderly woman's lips. Brooke hadn't changed in all the time Haley had known her, and that familiar presence made Haley's eyes soften with kindness and appreciation. "Hi."
Brooke simply nodded and stood with Haley until the crowds of people started to filter in around them.
Between the grandkids and great-grandkids, Haley saw more pairs of blue eyes than she could count and she looked to the sky with closed eyes thanking her husband that she'd get to see him in them everyday.
Jamie stepped next to his mom and Charlotte took Brooke's place on the other side. The three of them stood there for a moment not knowing what to do or say as they looked to the casket destined to be buried underground.
Jamie's wife and Charlotte's husband stood just behind Haley, and the spouses wished they could do something to make things better, but each of them knew there wasn't anything they could do. This was going to be one of those days. One of those days when words didn't matter, when everything hurt.
Charlotte had to tell herself that he was in a better place, that things were going to be okay, and that her mom was gonna be okay, but this steady rain told her it was going to be a long, hard road. Death wasn't anything that was easy or simple. It hurt. It hurt so much that she could hardly stand it.
While everyone started to fill in and gather around the grave site, Haley could only think of all the time they'd shared together. The memories and the life they had created; it had all happened so fast.
Brooke stood back from her high school friend and took a deep breath. Never the most eloquent speaker, Brooke wasn't even sure there were words to describe what her old friend was going through. But she knew all too well how it felt. Julian had died five years earlier from an unexpected illness he couldn't seem to fight, and the same wave of emotion that she had felt when she'd said her last goodbye to him was boiling in her chest, causing her breath to sting the back of her throat. She raised a hand to her mouth to calm her nerves, but she couldn't stop the pain she felt. Brooke also couldn't believe that the things around her, things she'd known for so long and so well were ending.
It had been sixty six years, and Brooke had seen Tutor-girl and Boy-toy's relationship from the beginning- from the start. She couldn't even fathom the idea that it was over. Glancing at the brown eyed woman standing with her god-son and favorite Scott girl, Brooke started to cry. She cried for Haley, for Jamie, for Charlotte, and for everyone else. It was all too much. A strong arm found her back and Brooke looked to her son.
"Lucas and Peyton will take care of him. Dad too." Davis looked down to his mom and nodded with a somber smile.
Brooke felt her tears slide down her cheek. She placed her hand quickly over her chest as if gathering her strength to speak. "I know they will." Feeling someone brush her shoulder as they stood on the hollow and saturated ground, Brooke turned to her right and saw another high school friend. "Mouth..."
Putting his arm around Brooke's shoulder and pulling her close, Mouth didn't say a word. If Millie had been well she would have made it too. He'd be leaning on both of them instead of the cane he clutched in his hand. Mouth wanted to speak- to say something, but he didn't need to. They were all there for the same reason, to say goodbye.
It had been a bit of a surprise, you might say. Even into his eighties, the former Bobcat had maintained pretty good health. But when genetics mixed with an aging body, his heart didn't stand a chance.
A rumble of thunder off in the distance seemed to remove Haley from her state of mind. That cold casket that was only a few feet away from her wasn't the last thing she was going to remember about her husband. It couldn't be. They'd shared too many years together for a wooden box to symbolize the man she'd spent what felt like her whole life with. Suddenly a memory from just a few days ago flew into Haley's mind.
The morning sunrise never changed. Over the course of their marriage, waking up had been one of the many routines that never seemed to alter.
Nathan had rolled over and his eighty something year old blue eyes opened to meet her brown ones. He couldn't even count the number of times they'd done this; woken up next to each other, silent, but saying more than ever.
He looked at her face and studied her wrinkles. Each line told a story he knew well. The deep set crease in between her eyebrows was the mark of a sixty-six year marriage. Sixty six years. Nathan looked at the woman next to him and smirked. Her hair may have turned a soft cream color but Haley still looked like that sixteen year old girl he'd fallen in love with. She always had. No matter the time or place, Haley was still the girl she'd always been.
While his blue eyes ran over her features, Haley couldn't help but fix her brown orbs on his face. That face belonged to the man she'd fallen for in high school. Nathan Scott had been a boy back then. A boy who had an aura that swept her off her feet and a smirk that convinced her to marry him. As her eyes roamed over his cheeks, she saw that sweet little freckle on his right side. It was amazing to her that she hadn't wiped it off yet. Over the last sixty plus years Haley had been grabbing a hold of that cheek and using her thumb to swipe that little spot countless number of times. She smiled just thinking about it and then she heard his voice.
Her smile grew and her eyes warmed, "Morning."
After looking at her for what seemed like a lifetime, Nathan pushed the covers away from him and he took a deep breath. "You want coffee?"
She gave him a simple nod and watched him gingerly get out of bed. His right knee had been replaced about seven years ago but he was still walking with a hitch in his step. The wear and tear of playing professional basketball had taken it's toll. His back was okay but there was a plethora of little things that were aggravating him. Not to mention the big ones. His shirt covered the scar from his bypass operation he'd had fifteen years ago, and each day Haley thanked her lucky stars he hadn't been taken from her then.
As the mother of two got out of bed, Haley could feel it too- age. She hadn't played basketball, but her bones were tired and the arthritis in her hands and wrists made some days unbearable. She slipped out of bed and pulled on her robe and slowly made her way downstairs passing picture after picture that chronicled their lives thus far.
It was a wonder they still had their same old house. With their age continuing to take its toll on their weakened bodies, it was surprising they were still up in that second floor bedroom too. They could have taken the easy way out and moved into one of those old folks, retirement communities, but Nathan's pride was too much for that. Last year Jamie wanted to install one of those motorized chairs that rode up and down the steps, but Nathan wouldn't have it. He said it would be a toy for the kids and reason to get lazy; both of which he didn't particularly want to try out. So there they still were; same house, same love, same everything.
Slowly shuffling into the kitchen when she made it downstairs, Haley stepped next to her husband and put her hand on the small of his back as he got out two coffee mugs.
Without thought or hesitation, Nathan leaned across to her and placed a sweet kiss on top of Haley's head.
It was that genuine routine, that simple gesture that could define everything Nathan and Haley had built for the last sixty something years. They didn't play for show, they played for keeps. It was how they'd been, and how they always were. Nothing could change it, nothing could break, and nothing compared to it.
Thunder rumbled off in the distance and brought Haley back to present day. Her attention was taken by the casket that started to dip below the ground, and Haley's throat felt constricted- as if someone had just taken the very air from her lungs.
Moving on and letting go wasn't going to be easy.
The weeks and months that followed had been unbearably difficult. Days lasted for what seemed like years. One hundred and sixty one days had gone by, but it felt like a second lifetime, a lifetime she wished had been with him and not alone, but Haley hadn't been alone.
Haley had an army of support around her. Charlotte made sure her mom wasn't alone for any length of time, Jamie too. Brooke made as many visits to the house as she could. Sawyer stayed in town longer than she'd planned. With both of her parents gone, she knew a thing or two about death and coping. Everyone was doing their part.
So far, Haley's family and friends had really made the last five and a half months a little bit easier.
Today was one of those days that helped Haley get through it all. Charlotte and her two girls had taken Haley out for lunch, and the four women were just getting back to the house. The youngest one, a wily twenty-six year old who had acquired the nickname Mayday, spent most of the car ride home talking about her meandering life in hotel management, which had ended up tiring out her grandmother.
As the three younger women sat down in the living room to extend their visit, Haley excused herself from the room. "I...I think I may rest a little while..." Haley glanced at two pairs of brown eyes and one set of green.
"Oh, Mom, are you sure?" Charlotte started to get up to see if Haley needed anything.
"Sit...sit. I'm fine. You three talk." Glancing down to her tired feet, the older woman smiled warmly. "I'll come out to join you later." As much as she'd love to sit and talk, some time to lay down and shut her eyes sounded even better. Lately it seemed like nap time was peace of mind time. It was a time she could sleep away reality and dream about what was and had been. It was a time she'd get to see him again.
Slowly making her way to one of the guest bedrooms downstairs they'd converted into her own room, Haley gingerly laid down and took a few deep breaths.
It wouldn't be long until she was lost in sleep.
When Haley woke up, she wasn't sure she'd quit dreaming, or if she was actually awake. Dreams were tricky like that. Her eyes were looking at a ceiling but it wasn't the one she'd last seen. When she looked to her left and right, she recognized the walls and the pictures from years ago. She started to sit up in bed and looked around the bedroom that had been hers at her parent's old house. It had to be a dream. Haley had a sudden feeling of high school nostalgia wash over her body. The Attack of the 50ft Woman poster was still hanging in its place and there was a history text book siting on her desk.
"They can watch."
Nathan's voice was in her head again, and Haley was sure she'd wake up at any moment. Taking in her surroundings, she furrowed her brow when she looked down to see the skin of a sixteen year old. She wasn't sure what was going on, but that was how dreams worked, wasn't it? They plopped you down in anytime frame without warning and could take you to another whenever they wanted. That was why she felt like an old woman dreaming through the subconscious of her younger self, right?
Before she could even answer that question in her mind, the door of her bedroom opened and her mom came prancing in with a laundry basket. "I'm doing a load of whites, so if you've got any, now's your time..."
"Mom...?" Haley's tone made it seem like she wasn't expecting her mom to be around. Then Haley remembered this was all a part of her dream. It had to be part of her dream.
Lydia stopped before she got to the hamper and looked to her daughter with a raised brow and a laugh, "What's with the question? You sound like you haven't seen me in years." Lydia laughed at Haley and shook her head. "You've been studying too hard again, haven't you?"
Flinging the covers off her body, Haley looked down to see that she was already dressed and got out the bed more confused than ever.
Putting the laundry basket on her hip, Lydia walked up to her daughter and looked hard into her eyes, "You okay? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Haley wasn't sure what to think but shook her head. This dream felt real. Something was different. "No. I'm...uh. I'm sure it's nothing." Just as she said that, Haley heard someone hammering outside of her room and she winced at the noise.
"Don't mind your father. He's just banging on that thing to bang. I told him those boards were perfectly fine."
Walking out of her room, Haley saw her father on his hands and knees banging the hammer against the floorboards.
"Oh. You're still here?" Jimmy checked his watch and furrowed his brow when he saw his youngest in the doorway. "I thought you'd be outta here by now. Aren't you meeting that horny cat burglar before class?"
Haley laughed out loud and shook her head still not sure how this dream was supposed to work. "Daddy, hi."
"Morning to you, too." Jimmy smiled at Haley and set his hammer down. "I'd get going if I were you. It's not like you to be late for school."
"Right." Haley nodded and headed down the stairs. She checked her watch and saw that she didn't have long to get to school on time.
"Oh, and Haley...?" Her mother's voice echoed down the stairs and the sixteen year old feeling Haley turned around to meet her mother's eyes. "Don't forget about dinner tonight." She laughed and shook her head, "Somehow we've harangued all your brothers and sisters back to town. Haven't heard from Tay...but everyone else will be here."
"Oh, okay." Haley nodded and walked out of the front door thinking things were really strange. Was it some holiday? Her entire family was hardly anywhere at once.
As the cool breeze of fall met her cheek, Haley looked outside and started to head for school. Tree Hill looked the same, but different at the same time. It was as if the best of the past decades filled the streets of her hometown. This dream wasn't set in any one particular time or date; it seemed to be a smattering of sorts.
The high school looked just as it did when she was a student. Her sixteen year old self seemed to be a bit different though. Somewhere between home and school it seemed her style and age had changed as she walked towards school. Haley looked down and realized the tacky poncho somehow morphed into that blue and black Ravens uniform she'd worn so many times before.
Haley's first thought was to head to the Tutor Center. Since her dad said she was supposed to be meeting Nathan, that seemed like the obvious place to turn. Wondering which subject it was he needed help with this time, Haley stopped shy of the library when she heard a steady bounce come from the gym. Of course Nathan would skip their tutoring session to play basketball.
Opening the doors to the basketball court, Haley didn't immediately recognize the place. It wasn't the usual high school gym, it was the rundown one the team had played in during their senior year. And it wasn't Nathan bouncing a ball, it was Whitey.
Hearing someone approaching, Coach Durham turned around with that old man smile. "What brings you here, Mrs. Scott?"
Mrs. Scott? Wait a second, did time jump again? This dream was going to be hard to catch up with if it kept jumping ages on her.
Haley smiled at her husband's high school coach. "I thought Nathan might be here."
Chuckling, Whitey shook his head and scratched the spot just above his brow. "You know Nathan. He won't come to school on a weekend. Hell, I can hardly get him in here on a weekday."
Now it was the weekend? "Oh..." Haley slowly nodded and looked to the ball in Whitey's hands. "I thought you were him. I mean not that you're him, but that since you were bouncing the ball and..." Haley shook her head because she knew she wasn't making sense.
Her rambling made the older man laugh. Holding that round, leather ball between his two hands, Whitey looked down at it with a grin. "Well he's not here, but you might try the Rivercourt."
"Right." Haley nodded and started to turn away. "Thanks Co..." Haley looked over her shoulder to say goodbye but didn't see Whitey anymore.
Now even more confused about the format and setup of this dream, Haley walked outside and saw the scenery change completely. She didn't end up outside of the gym. It was as if Haley blinked and was right where she needed to be. She was at the River Court. The murky Cape sped towards the ocean and Haley admired the Coast Guard cutter, the Diligence, that was tied up across the way. Downtown seemed as quaint as ever, and Haley looked to her feet and smiled at the cracked and aged pavement.
The sun was shining on the Rivercourt, and she shaded her eyes to see a guy shooting a free throw. Sliding her hand away from her forehead, Haley felt her shorter hair with her fingers. It was now dark brown and cut above her shoulders.
The shadowy figure was hidden by the sun's glare, and Haley approached the court with a squint.
"I see you checking me out. Mrs. H.J.S. Don't play now." Quentin ran over to get his rebound and then walked towards his English teacher with a sarcastic grin. "I promise I'm reading. I got through twenty pages of Les Mis last night." The basketball star spun the ball on his finger and arched his brow. "That's really why you came to see me, right? To make sure I'm keeping up?"
Crossing her arms in front of her chest, Haley's mouth hung open for a while as she tried to remember what it was she was even doing there. This was bizarre. The last time she saw Quentin was when Jamie was five. "Well...I'm happy you've read so much, Quentin, but I was actually looking for Nathan."
"Phfft...don't you worry about him. He's getting ready to hand over that scoring title." His contagious laugh echoed over the court.
Smiling in defense of her husband, Haley laughed. "We'll see about that..."
"Oh you wait. I'll get him. And if it's not me, my money's on Jamie." Quentin grinned as he shot the ball and hurried to get his rebound. "But nah, I haven't seen Nathan."
Wondering where he could have run off to, Haley glanced across the Cape Fear and knew he must have been in town somewhere. "See you later, Q."
"I hope you'll be ready to read one fine ass report on Monday. Me and Les Mis are getting tight!"
Laughing as she walked back to the Mazda that was parked under the tree, Haley found herself driving back to town. She crossed over the bridge and glanced at her reflection in the mirror, seeing another version of her younger self. This time her hair was still brown but it had grown out a little bit. Her outfit had changed for the billionth time, and Haley laughed out loud when she thought about Brooke. Brooke would love to dream in multiple outfits.
As she drove further into town, Haley thought a quick visit to Tric might help with her search. Haley spotted that familiar Comet and pulled into the gravel parking lot. Nathan may not be there, but Peyton might know where he is.
Once inside, Haley walked into the studio like she'd done so many times. Peyton was listening to The Cure and working on something behind her desk. She was wearing a white t-shirt and black vest. Her hair was strait and fell loosely passed her shoulders. Lanky and sarcastic, Peyton was glowing, reminiscent of the early days she had been pregnant with Sawyer. The music lover looked up and smiled with a hint of surprise. "Haley...you're here."
Taking a seat across from her sister-in-law, Haley laughed. "You say that like it's a bad thing."
"No...it's just... I thought you were coming later." Peyton put down the drawing she was working on and slid it to the side of her desk.
"To be honest...I don't know what I'm doing here." Haley laughed and widened her eyes, "Maybe I'm supposed to come by later? I don't know what's going on. Is there an itinerary I'm supposed to follow?" Sitting back in the chair, Haley looked at Peyton and realized the blonde seemed just as normal as ever. "Wait...is this still part of the dream? I'm so confused. One minute I'm with my parents and I feel sixteen. The next I'm older and with Whitey..."
Smiling, Peyton clasped her hands together and wheeled her chair closer to her desk. "It takes some getting used to."
Haley scrunched her brow. "Wait, what?" Laughing at herself, the brunette Mrs. Scott looked around. "This is the part where Brooke comes over to me and says, for being so smart, your acting like an idiot, right?"
Taking a deep breath, Peyton shook her head slowly. "Brooke's not here... not yet."
"And I can't find Nathan either."
Haley wasn't getting it, so Peyton talked slower. "No...Nathan's here." The blonde pointed down, "Not in Tric, but he's here. But...Brooke won't be here for a while."
Letting the information sink in, Haley was starting to piece things together. Everyone she'd come across so far in this dream were people she hadn't spent time with in years. Speaking out loud, Haley thought about the people she hadn't seen. "Mouth...Brooke...our kids..." All of those people had one distinct thing in common. As Haley began to comprehend her surroundings, her eyes widened. "This isn't a dream...is it?", Haley said as her confusion turned into clarity.
Peyton smile and shook her head. It wasn't a dream at all.
Haley glanced around and took a good look at her hands. No wonder she felt so young. "So, I'm not dreaming." This time is wasn't a question, simply a statement of truth Haley conjured up as the pieces fell together. Haley looked from her hands to her sister-in-law and the reality of where she was really hit her. "Where's Julian?"
Peyton looked towards the Atlantic. "At the beach...waiting for Brooke."
Haley took a sharp breath in as her airway constricted. How sweet. If Julian was waiting for Brooke, did that mean Nathan was waiting for her? And, what about Lucas? "Where's Luke?"
"Around. Writing, maybe?" Peyton shrugged. "When I first got here, I was driving around wondering where the heck everyone was and almost hit him with my car." The blonde laughed, "Some things never change."
Slowly getting up, Haley started to think about the reality of this place a little more. Walking towards the door, she turned back to Peyton again. She seemed to know all the answers. "Does everyone...know?" How did she ask a question that might not have an answer? Did everyone know where they were? It certainly seemed like her parents, Whitey, and Q were in their roles from the past. It was as if this place had helped them find their way, helped them find what they wanted and needed. "How does it work," Haley asked unsure of it all.
"It depends. It's what you make it," Peyton said with a smile. "Sometimes we act like kids, like we're in high school. Other days we're older. We remember what brought us here."
Haley sighed, "So, does Lucas remember?" She thought about the disease that made him forget. She wondered if this place brought it all back.
Peyton held out the picture she was working on. When he'd gotten sick, she drew their life in pictures so he could remember, and she continued to do it here. The one she was doing now was from a wedding. Small and outside, the bride wasn't pregnant so it wasn't Lucas and Peyton's, but it was someone they knew; a wedding worth remembering.
Peyton put the unfinished drawing on top of another one and nodded. "He remembers everything." Alzheimer's had no effect on him here, but she continued to draw anyway. He put their life in words and she put them in images.
Smiling and turning away at that, Haley quickly waved goodbye. "I'll see you later." She headed out to see if she could find her husband. She drove through the quiet streets and realized it had gotten dark. Front Street was almost empty. Haley saw the building that was Clothes over Bro's and realized it wasn't a clothing store anymore.
Pulling up to the curb, Haley got out of the car and walked to the door. There were a few lights on, but the closed sign was displayed. Peeking through the windows, the counter looked the same, the decorations; it was back to the Karen's Cafe from their high school days. Haley's hand pushed open the door, and she was surprised to see that it was unlocked. She was even more surprised to see someone walk out from the kitchen.
"Haley, what a nice surprise. Are you joining us for dinner? We have plenty." Karen looked under the counter and pulled out another bowl, setting it next to the other four.
"Karen...Hi." Slowly walking to the counter, Haley found a stool to sit on. "I probably won't stay. I was just..."
"Oh, don't be silly. Stay. We'd love the extra company." Karen tilted her head to the kitchen. "Let me get the chili."
So they were having chili? Somehow that seemed rather appropriate. The bell on the door made a noise when someone came in, and Haley turned to see her best friend in a gray hoodie and a basketball by his hip.
"Hi." Haley got off her stool and looked over her best friend's appearance. He seemed so young, but more than that, it nearly brought a tear to her eye when he addressed her by her name. She couldn't remember the last time he'd done that. The last time they'd been together, his illness had erased her from his memory. HCM and Alzheimer's had been a terrible combination.
Lucas walked closer to Haley and put the ball down, pulling his friend into his side. "I'm glad your'e here." The two old friends shared a look that said it all.
"Sorry I'm late." A voice came from the door as another regular walked inside the cafe.
Haley had turned to watch the man walk further inside and her voice left her throat. A silent name slipped from her lips. Her eyes began to well with tears because she hadn't seen Keith since she was in high school, sixty five years ago.
Having seen this reaction before, Keith walked over to Haley and hugged her. "Nice to see you, Haley."
Karen smiled at the interaction, and then looked to the love of her life. "And you're not late. We're still waiting on Peyton."
Smudging a tear away from her cheek, Haley pointed over her shoulder with her thumb. "I just saw her at Tric. I'm sure she'll be here soon."
"You never know with her, though. She could stay in there listening to a record all night." Lucas smiled and sipped a glass of water with a shake of his head.
"Oh and Haley, you can tell Nathan he's just about the worst mechanic I have on staff." Keith laughed and took a seat at one of the tables Karen had set up. "I found a wrench he left in a car today. I'd been wondering what he'd done to make the engine rattle so loudly."
"Oh be easy on him, Keith." Karen walked over to the table with a smile and took a seat as they waited on Peyton.
Talking about Nathan made Haley think about him. She glanced to the chili, bowls, and waters, but knew she needed to be somewhere else. Haley wasn't entirely sure where that was, but she knew who she was supposed to be with. Addressing the three people in the cafe, Haley started to walk for the door. "Thanks for asking me to stay, but I think I'm gonna go. I need to find Nathan."
"Come back whenever you want, Haley, the door's always open." Karen waved at Haley and watched the girl walk out of the cafe.
Haley didn't bother with the car, she was taking to the sidewalks. There was a slight chill in the air, and she tugged the jean jacket she had on tighter across her back. Her outfit had changed again. A yellow headband secured her hair that was already pulled back and she knew that she was sixteen again. A black convertible was coming her way, and she and Peyton waved at each other as they crossed paths. Peyton looked different than she had earlier. This time her hair was a curly mess and she looked younger than she had when they'd met in Tric.
Taking a deep breath, Haley found her feet guiding her way, and she tucked her hands across her chest as she headed further into town. But feeling something against her wrist made Haley stop in her tracks. Looking down at the colorful bracelet, Haley traced the childish looking charms and then looked to Market Street. That had to be where he was.
Haley wasn't a runner, she was hardly an athlete, but this wasn't technically reality, right? If she wanted to run, she could probably run as fast as the Olympians, so that's what she started to do. But instead of some epic running scene, she closed her eyes and opened them to find herself a few blocks down the road where she needed to be. Her heart was racing, her cheeks were radiating a soft pink shade, and she could hardly breathe. There he was. Or there someone was. Sitting at one of the tables that lined the Cape Fear, a tall guy was sitting by himself as daybreak started to spread across the horizon.
Haley slowly walked towards him and felt her throat close up as she neared. It was Nathan. He was wearing his blue and white letterman jacket and was watching the river flow by.
She took a seat, and when he knew she was sitting across from him, Nathan turned to lock his blue eyes with her brown ones. A cute smirk fell across his face, "You're late."
Laughing a little as a tear formed in the corner of her eye, Haley stared at the man she'd spent a lifetime with. "I'm sorry." She wasn't really even sure what she was apologizing for, but she thought she may have known.
He'd spent one hundred and sixty one days waiting for this moment, waiting for her. It had been twenty-three weeks since he'd seen her last, but now they were together again.
Haley swallowed hard, "I got worried when I didn't see you...when I couldn't find you."
Nathan's could hear their past in her words. His tone softened and he smiled. "I'm right here." He reached out for her and took Haley's hands in his own.
His hands were soft and familiar, and she was reminded of their time together. She closed her eyes and memories started to flash through her mind; high school, Jamie, college, the NBA, and Charlotte. It was all running through her mind like a movie reel. Fast images of the good, the bad, and everything in between. When Haley opened her eyes again, she saw her husband sitting across from her, but he looked different than he had before. Nathan wasn't as young and instead of the letterman jacket, he was wearing that old black leather one.
Raising one of her hands towards his mouth, Nathan kissed the inside of her wrist. "I missed you."
Haley felt her heart pound with furious motivation, its rhythm in sync with his. She got up, pulling him to his feet. Standing chest to chest, when brown met blue again, Haley lifted up on her tip-toes and kissed him softly. "I love you, Nathan Scott." As the sun lit the early morning sky, golden hues beamed off of the water and reflected in their eyes. "I'm not going anywhere."
And they weren't. Neither of them were. Spending an eternity by each other's side had been part of the plan. In sickness and in health, till death do they part... And yet, 'Till death do they part' was simply a formality. The traditional saying wasn't grounded in truth because that traditional saying never knew a love like theirs. Nathan and Haley weren't like everyone else; they weren't normal. They never had been and never would be. True love, the kind that they shared, was everlasting and unbreakable. Nothing could keep it at bay. Not even death.
They had a love that inspired others. They had a life of a million little moments that would last forever.
You can't separate something like that, not for long, anyway. So they were keeping their word and following through with their vows. Always truly meant forever, so forever it would be.