It was a quiet night for the most part. The turn of a page could be heard throughout the entire café. Karen's slight panic about working alone that night eased when realization that half her customers would be at the Masquerade Ball. There were a few customers that came in for their usual late night coffees, but the silence was beginning to overwhelm the woman and she was tempted to close shop. There were steps outside of the door. She prolonged looking up from her book as she was becoming deeply engrossed. The sounding of the bell made her momentarily glance up. But it wasn't until the sight in front of her registered when she finally decided to put the book down. The man before her was towering over the counter with a look upon his face so disgusted that she shuddered and wiped her arm as though she were the scum that engraved his countenance. His blue eyes were glaring down at her small figure. She moved to speak but stopped quickly when he raised his hand before her.

"I bet you're loving every moment of this." There was an edge to his voice. Karen stared blankly at him for a moment before shaking her head.

"I would ask what the hell you're on about now, Dan, but why waste my breath. You're clearly going to yell at me for whatever's wrong now." She picked up her book and flipped back to her page. "It wouldn't be the first time." She mumbled loud enough for him to hear.

His eyes narrowed once more at her.

"Don't play dumb Karen. You and I both know what I'm talking about. We had an agreement. If Nathan every came to you, you would act like nothing but his previous babysitter. But every time he has a problem he always comes to you."

"Maybe it's 'cause I give such great advice." Karen smiled cheekily up at him. She walked over the coffee machine and poured herself some in a mug. Hoping to brace herself for whatever was coming next.

"Don't get smart."

"I wouldn't dream of it." She took a sip of her coffee and winced at the heat of it burning her throat.

"I want to know what the hell is going on. What kind of lies you have been feeding him."

Karen rolled her eyes at the man and moved her hand to pause his ranting.

"Dan I haven't been telling him anything that I don't feel he should already know."

"And what the hell is that supposed to mean?" He shouted, his volume reverberating off the walls of the café.

"It means that if he comes in here and he asks me for advice about something I tell him my opinion and what I believe is right. I don't feed him lies… like telling him that loving someone is the ultimate failure in life or whatever the hell you have been telling him!" Karen's voice now equal to his own, the man stepped back.

"You have no right to get involved…"

"I have every right to get involved. He is my son. I let you take him away once but I won't let it happen again."

"You're right, he is your son. But you're wrong in thinking that I won't steer him away from you. Unless you have forgotten Karen, I can be very persuasive." Dan smirked down at the woman. It took all of her not to break down at his words. She could not lose her son to this man once again. It was one thing letting it happen once, but to continue letting this pathetic excuse of a man control fate and take her son away once more was no option. She would not break down in front of him. And she would lose no tears to his words. Sure they were filled with hatred and venom, but she would not let him get to her again. The bells had chimed once again that night. Yet with all the harsh shouting it went unheard to the two people occupying the café. Shifting her gaze to the door, Karen stared deeply into the eyes of her son. She noticed Haley trailing behind him and a smile crept along her features. Dan watched Karen's features change and turned to see what had caused her to smile.

"What's going on here?" Nathan asked softly. The atmosphere was unrecognizable for the two teenagers. They simply gazed up at the others.

"This doesn't concern you. How was the dance?" Dan's attempt to brush off his son's appearance enraged Karen.

"The hell it doesn't!"

"This can be discussed at a later date."

"Mom, what's going on?" Nathan questioned. He needed an honest answer and she was the only one he trusted to give him the truth. Karen calmed down at the sound of her son's voice, while the other two occupants eyes widened not at his question, but on how he addressed her.

"Nathan…"

"He's calling you mom now?" He sneered. "I thought we had an agreement Karen. If he ever came to you asking questions, you were to keep quiet and deny everything." Dan was outraged. His voice was at an all time high.

"Well I told you already Dan, I don't feed him lies." She spat out. "As far as I'm concerned this discussion is over. If you have anything to say to me do so another day. For now please leave." Karen's voice was now considerably low. Dan scowled at her and without further hesitation he simply glimpsed at Nathan and Haley before storming out of the café.

….

Peyton could do nothing else but walk away. Sure she was almost positive that it was bound to happen considering the words that were exchanged sometime ago between her and the petite brunette. She should have been stronger. This wasn't supposed to affect her. She grabbed a glass off the table in front of her and nearly spit the drink out once it touched her lips.

"Perfect," She whispered, and downed the drink all together.

"You sure you want to do that?"

Peyton jumped a little at the voice above her. When she looked up she came face to face with yet another mask. He was tall and he seemed like he had to bend down just to speak to her. She eyed him cautiously. He wore all black and a full faced black mask. All that could be seen were the curly brown locks at the top of his head.

"Why wouldn't I?" Peyton shrugged off the boy's question and reached for another glass.

"You do know it's spiked right?" He grabbed the glass from Peyton's hand and drank it whole. Her face distorted into mixed emotions. Half pleased that he stopped her, the other half upset that he took her drink. The lean boy took a seat on the steps next to her and nudged her knee with his own. Peyton looked up at his brown eyes and unhooked the mask from behind. She smiled.

"Well then why did you drink it?" She poked his shoulder.

"What can I say?" He shrugged, "it's been a crappy night." He smiled sadly and looked down. Peyton sighed and laid a hand on his knee.

"Tell me about it." She looked up at him and noticed a small cut above his eye. "How'd that get there?"

Slowly he moved his hand to the cut. Wincing he shook his head and chuckled. "Happened right after the classic…I confronted Carrie about the whole fiasco. Let's just say she turned everything around on me and threw her mom's china at me. None the less, I got my answers and she got an earful from her mother."

The two laughed together. Peyton smiled at the turn of events the night took. She'd half thought that she would be at least buzzed by now. However, with the boy beside her she felt at ease.

"So what happened in there?" He nodded to the ball room. Peyton shrugged her shoulder.

"Moment of weakness I guess."

"How so?"

"Have you ever felt like all that is familiar to you is slipping away?" He nodded softly and waited for her to continue. She sighed and lowered her gaze. "Tonight felt like that. I mean Luke and I have been done for a while, but it was weird seeing him with Brooke."

"You still love him?" He whispered.

"That's the thing." She looked up at the boy. "I don't think I was ever in love with him. It was more of the idea that I was in love with I guess. I just wanted someone who I could talk to and connect with. And although I did like Lucas, it was never like that."

"I know what you mean; it was the same with Carrie. In some way, I always knew she was looking elsewhere. I just denied it, you know?"

"And now?"

"Now, I'm just looking out for the girl who I can have a stimulating conversation with." He smiled. "You?"

"Me too." She blushed.

"You wanna get out of here? We can go grab a burger or something." He stood up from the stairs and held out a hand. Peyton stood up and took hold of his hand.

"Definitely."

The form of an older Scott boy staring going unnoticed at the entrance of the ball room.

Karen poured the hot chocolate into the two mugs in front of her. It was oddly quiet in the café for the second time that night. Nathan stared at his mother's form trying to read any signs of weakness, but clearly she was a strong woman who could handle herself. How could she not be with all the years of pretending she was forced to do?

"Thanks Karen." Haley smiled up at the older woman. She sipped slowly from the cup and eyed the two before her.

It was much too quiet for Karen and she sighed. "So?" The two teenagers looked up at her. She rolled her eyes and smiled.

"Does the two of you sitting here mean that you are back together?" She smiled widely. Nathan shook his head at his mom and chuckled. Haley put down her mug and waved her hand lightly.

"No it doesn't," Nathan laughed.

"Why is this funny?" Karen, no longer smiling, questioned.

"Awe, Karen. It's 'cause you were so excited you seemed like a little kid who got a brand new toy." Haley giggled.

"Well sorry." Karen stepped back.

"Mom, we're just taking things slow."

"Yeah, we're friends. Just friends," Haley emphasized clearly.

"Just friends," Nathan rolled his eyes playfully.

"Okay, just friends, how was your night?" Karen moved around the counter and lowered herself on to the couch near the bookshelf. She tucked her legs in and placed her book on her lap.

"As well as can be expected," Nathan shrugged. "It sucked until I ran into Haley."

"Same here," Haley spoke from under the mug as she sipped her hot chocolate. "We talked and decided that that wasn't the place to be."

"So we came here, hoping the café would still be open." Nathan smiled. Karen returned the smile and nodded.

"Well trust me, I did think about closing up. But then Dan walked in and well you saw how that turned out." Karen flipped open her book and marked the page she had been reading previous to her interruption.

"What happen…" Nathan started, but stopped when the bell chimed once again. The three turned to the door to see a smiling Brooke. Something must have happened in her favor that night because she barely gave Nathan a glance.

"What are you doing here, Brooke? Shouldn't you be off dancing the night away?" Haley laughed at her little sister. She was dazed out and had this foolish smile on her face.

"Oh I wish!"Her happy mood was now gone. She had a scowl on her face and her eyes were full of disgust. "That masquerade ball sucked! Everyone seemed to have loved the damn thing. But it was just not my night. First you," She finally acknowledged Nathan, "get into a fight. Then Lucas walks away when I kissed him…"

"You got into a fight?"

"You kissed Lucas?"

Karen and Haley spoke together. Nathan looked away from his mother, while Brooke looked between the other two women in the room. She nodded and continued her story.

"He went after blondie. I don't get what's so freaking special about her!"

"Brooke, Peyton is special." Haley interrupted her rant.

"Yeah yeah yeah," Brooke waved her hand.

"So wait, why were you all happy just now. You looked like a love struck school girl. That's not the Brooke I'm used to seeing." Haley smiled knowingly.

"Oh right! You will not believe what happened to me later on." Brooke's huge smile was back. "I had to stay and help clean up, but everyone bailed on me. So there I was thinking that the night had been a total bust when he showed up."

"This is ridiculous." Brooke fumed. She grabbed the table cloths and threw them into the box in the middle of the room. What was the use of folding them? They were ruined. Food and drink stains were seeping through the fabric. She wiped at her brow and sighed in frustration. Sighing, she roughly sat down on a seat of the nearest table. Her hand moved to the back of her head and she tugged lightly at the ribbon keeping her mask to her face. She looked around the room. The once beautifully decorated hall was now in shambles. Tables were covered in used silverware and different colorful masks. The floors were scuffed and some of the chairs were tilted over on the floor. She sighed and closed her eyes briefly. There was shuffling coming from the entrance of the hall. And Brooke raised her gaze once it stopped right in front of her. The boy was medium height with a usual tux and white mask. His hair was pushed back and he smiled down at Brooke.

"Party's over." She mumbled before getting up from her seat. She moved to the other tables and yanked the cloths off of them.

"Um, yeah I see that."

"Then why are you still here?" Brooke asked roughly.

"Well I noticed you here by yourself and I thought maybe you could use some help." He answered honestly. Brooke stopped briefly to look at him more closely. She couldn't recognize his voice. Her anger faltered after seeing his genuine smile. She felt a little ashamed for taking her anger out on him.

"Oh, um its fine. I can finish." She smiled softly. Once again, she continued to go around the tables. She felt the cloth tug from the other side and she looked up. The boy was pulling from the opposite side.

"I insist. You pulled this whole ball thing off yourself. You should at least accept a helping hand to clean the place up." He gestured all around the room. Brooke gazed at the boy shortly before nodding her head. She blushed at his praise and continued to clean up the room.

An hour later the two sat at one of the tables.

"Thanks again for sticking around." Brooke offered him a water bottle. He grinned and accepted the water. "I would have been here all night."

"It was no problem." He whispered. "I have to get going though. Have a good night Brooke." He smiled before leaving the room.

Brooke stared after him.

"He was so mysterious." Brooke gushed. Haley laughed at her younger sister's faraway look.

"So who was he?" Nathan asked. Brooke's expression suddenly stopped and her head fell. The color in her cheeks reddened a bit.

"I don't know," she mumbled. She glared at Nathan when he let out a laugh that carried throughout the entire café. She swung her arm and hit Nathan in the stomach. He choked and stopped laughing. Rubbing his stomach he glared at the small girl.

"Ow," his hand still rubbing the spot she hit. Haley rolled her eyes at the two and unconsciously rubbed Nathan's stomach while questioning her sister. Karen caught the motion and smiled at the how oblivious the two were. Everything was so natural to them that even the smallest touch went unrecognized.

"Brooke, how could you not know who it was? You were with him for a whole hour. Didn't you even think of asking for his name or something?"

Brooke sighed and threw herself next to a smiling Karen. She rested her head on Karen's shoulder and closed her eyes. "I don't know. I was just so glad I had company and we talked a bit but names didn't really come up until the end when he said goodbye to me."

"Well at least he knows who you are." Nathan laughed, but stopped once again when a hand hit him in the stomach this time it belonged to the older James sister.

"I'm sure you'll find him at school, you did see his face after all." Haley stared at her sister as she buried her head further into Karen. "Brooke, you did see his face right?"

"Ugh, I'm such an idiot!" Brooke squealed and slapped her forehead. Karen laughed lightly and rubbed the girls arm. "He had his mask on the whole time." Brooke sighed.

Nathan laughed, but stopped when he received icy glares from all three women. Raising his hands he got up from his seat next to Haley and walked around to the back of the counter.

"What am I gonna do Hales? He was so nice. It was so easy to talk to him. It was like natural…I didn't even feel self-conscious around him. I didn't have to put up an act." Brooke sighed.

"I'm sure you'll find him Brooke. I mean our school isn't that big. He'll be lurking around somewhere I'm sure. Plus he knew who you were; maybe he's in your grade."

"I hope you're right." She whispered. Something vibrated in her purse and she pulled her phone out after rummaging through it. Opening it she read a text.

"Dad's outside. I asked him to pick me up here." Brooke spoke up. She hugged Karen and nodded toward Nathan.

"I'll be going to then," Haley hopped off the seat and went to hug Karen. Nathan came around the counter and opened his arms. Haley hesitated and Brooke rolled her eyes while she waited at the door.

"Hey you promised me hugs," Nathan nudged her. And she laughed as she walked into his embrace. The hug was just right. Not too short in that awkward kind of way and not too long so that it felt as if they were being clingy. She was just about to follow Brooke out of the café when Nathan grabbed a hold of her arm.

"Um, do you want to hang out tomorrow? We can like catch up and grab something to eat…if you want," his gaze drifting to the floor as he spoke nervously. Haley grinned softly before nodding her head.

"Yeah, I'd like that. See you tomorrow." She answered.

"Okay great, I'll text you." He smiled after her. He watched her get in the car and locked the door. He turned around to see his mother smiling.

"Just friends," she scoffed.

"We are just friends."

"What happened to winning her back?" Karen raised her brow.

"I'm getting to that; it's just going to take some time." Karen nodded her head. She got up from the sofa and returned the book to its place on the shelf. "Hey ma?" Nathan spoke up.

"Yes?" She answered walking back to the counter and cleaning up the cups.

"What happened? Before when my dad was here," His tone was soft. Almost afraid of how she would react to the question. Karen sighed and put down the cups before grabbing hold of his hand over the counter.

"Nathan, I need you to know one thing. I never meant for any of this to happen. And if it wasn't in your absolute best interest I wouldn't have put you through this. But at the time, it seemed like the best thing to do." Nathan nodded and waited for her to continue.

"Back in high school, your father and I were together. It wasn't like an ultimate love story or anything. There were no troubles in our way. We were happy together and that was all that mattered. That is until your grandpa sent your dad away to an out-of-state college; that was when we had ended our relationship. He went off to play basketball and I stood here. I opened up my own café and all was well for a while." Karen sighed.

"It wasn't until about a year and half later. Your dad came back and decided to finish school at some nearby college. He started to come around the café often and we were back to where we left off. I was happy and anything seemed possible. It wasn't until I found out that I was pregnant with you that I found out that he had a wife at home along with a new born baby."

"Mom…" Nathan squeezed her hand. Karen shook her head and continued.

"After that I swore to never look in your father's direction ever again. But he kept coming around. And after you were born your grandfather started to get suspicious. When Dan finally told his parents the truth they came after me and threatened to take you away from me. I wouldn't let them though."

"One day I was cleaning up the café and I made the mistake of leaving the door open. By the time I looked up at the people who came in, they had you in their arms. Dan and Deb. She came in with Lucas. She wasn't vicious or anything. She looked more betrayed than anything. She held Lucas close, afraid that if she let go that Dan would do the same to her. But Dan had you in his arms. And he made a bargain with me. He threatened to take you away at that moment if I didn't agree."

"He told me that he was willing to raise you with Deb and say that you were their son. And that I could look after you all I wanted, but everyone else had to think that I was just the babysitter and that they were your parents. Because…it wouldn't look good if he had gotten two women pregnant."

"At first I screamed and yelled and told him to go to hell. But then he said that it would be no use. He had you and said he could be on the next flight out of the country if he wanted."

"So without thinking, I agreed. The thought of losing you was too much. And I would do anything to keep you. So he took you. But he kept his promise. Every day you ..and eventually Lucas were brought to me. And I took care of you. It pained me for all of these years not to call you my own, but at least I got to see you grow up and be proud to say that you turned out more like me than your dad." Karen smiled and wiped away a stray tear. Nathan's face was red with anger.

"How could…"

"Nathan it's all over now. No need to dwell on the past." Karen shrugged. "The question now is what will you do?"

"What do you mean?" Nathan looked up at her.

"Well, now you know what happened. I don't want you going home and getting into a fight with your dad. Honestly it is best if you act like you know nothing."

"Mom.."

"But I know that's kind of hard now. Think before you act, okay?" She placed her hand on his cheek. Nathan nodded and looked at his mother's retreating figure as she picked up the mugs and walked into the kitchen.

"Think before you act…God I hope I don't end up decking him in the face." Nathan thought out loud before following his mother.

...

A/N: Sorry for the long wait. I hit a major block and ended up changing some things around. I have everything pretty much planned out from here. So if I don't update fast enough it's because of school or procrastination. If it comes to that you can PM me or bother me to update on tumblr (PM me for it), since I happen to be on that all the time too. Thanks to everyone who's sticking with the story. I hope to finish it soon. So with your feedback I'll be sure to continue. Thanks for reading!