Author's Note: Set pre-series.
She fashioned the doll in middle school art class, a generic mass of tan fabric with flecks of gray mixed in. The stuffing bulged out in a spot or two, and it was hard to tell what was a head and what was an arm – Peyton Sawyer's doll, on the other hand, looked perfect – but she was oddly proud of it.
The doll gradually, over the course of the next few months, found its way to a rarely-used desk drawer, condemned to gather dust until the day it would be thrown out with old report cards and the model of Plymouth Town from history class.
It was a fit of desperation and boredom that commuted the doll's sentence from death, to being her new special project.
First, she cleaned it up, stitched new stitches with a pilfered needle and thread – the head and arm issue would remain unresolved, but the stuffing was no longer sticking out haphazardly. It was actually somewhat presentable now.
Cutting away at one of her old favorite t-shirts, the one she had outgrown the summer that a training bra had become a necessity, she fashioned a small dress of red and white – more like a toga, or a sheet secured in place by a thinner piece of fabric from the same shirt.
A bracelet, one she had "won" from a machine at a grocery store, served as a necklace, the cheap plastic charms resting against the shreds of fabric, and it looked good. Actually, it kind of looked like a facsimile of herself, if she didn't have a face and was made of fabric instead of skin and bone. She took this as some sort of sign.
Over the next couple of years, locks of her hair, clipped during haircuts, found their way to be pasted on the back of the doll's head. Shiny black pebbles, saved from the beach, created the illusion of eyes. To cap it off, the whisk of a friend's lip gloss brush created obscenely pink lips – lips that would speak words no one would ever hear.
She found herself late one autumn night standing on a bridge, overlooking a rain-swollen creek. Cradled in one hand was her doll, resplendent as ever. She bit back a tear or two as she launched the doll in a perfect arc, spiraling out over the moon-lit water.
As she turned away, she didn't even look to see where it landed.
She was letting go.
The sun rose the next morning, hues of gold stretching across the morning sky. And as Lucas walked downstream from where Haley had stood only hours before, he found a muddy doll, a doll he recognized – it was Haley's.
Scooping it up and placing it inside his shirt, he walked back home and closed himself in his room.
He ran water from the faucet onto a washcloth; he washed away the mud, clearing away the mess and grime, revealing a water-logged, but still recognizable, form underneath.
It had been battered against the rocks, its stuffing spilling from makeshift seams, and he fashioned makeshift bandages to seal the wounds shut.
It'd never be as good as new again, but perhaps, it could appear to be.
She came by later that afternoon, as she usually did, just to hang out, and out of the corner of her eye, she spotted it drying by his window. "How – what – where did you –" she asked, unable to get out any of her full sentences, as she felt the air sucked from the room.
"I found it this morning," he said, looking at her. "What was it doing in the creek?"
She averted his gaze. "I was," she paused, seeking some form of inner strength, perhaps the same strength that had allowed her to throw it over the bridge not even a day before, "letting go."
There was no response, only the slight, involuntary shudder of her shoulders.
"I caught you, Hales," he said, turning to her – so close that they barely needed to reach out to touch – and twisting a lock of her hair in one finger, "and I'm not letting you fall again." He leaned in and kissed her, and he could hear a faint "oh!" of surprise as his lips grazed hers.
She stepped back and folded her arms over her chest. "I was never yours to catch, Luke," she said, just above a whisper. As she turned to walk out, she said, almost as an afterthought, "You can keep it. I don't have any need for it anymore."
The shadowy remains of the crooked lip gloss smile smiled at him, almost tauntingly; as he heard her walk away from him.
He ran after her. "Haley!"
Her hair whipped around her, and he thought she had never looked more beautiful than in that moment, what with how the waning afternoon light hit her hair in all the right spots. "Luke," she said with her voice low and angry, almost a hiss, "I can't. Not now."
"Because," she said, as though it was the simplest concept in the world, "we're both changing, and this isn't –"
The end of the sentence was cut off, along with any thoughts that could have followed it, by a swift and silencing kiss, taking her off guard a second time. She tipped her head up to look at him after it was over, and he couldn't tell if she was happy or angry, if she was about to initiate another kiss or kick him.
A ghost of a smile spread across her face, and she whispered something, almost indecipherable, but sounded to him as though she was saying, "thank you."
As they walked back into his room, her hand curled in his, he could have sworn the doll's lopsided smile had shifted from a menacing one to one much more serene and calming.
Almost as though it was absurdly pleased with itself.
Maybe it was all in the perception, though, and he had other things to be concerning himself with now.