If someone had told Haley James two years before that she would be standing on Peyton Sawyer's doorstep in defense of Brooke Davis, she'd have laughed in their face. But here she was, eighteen years old and Brooke Davis's best friend.
Peyton swung open the door and hardly concealed her glare. "Haley."
"Peyton," Haley said with a sarcastic little smile. "Nice to see you, too. We need to talk."
"If this is about Brooke, I don't get why she needs you and Lucas to fight her battles for her."
Haley shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe you even think there has to be some battle between you and Brooke. After what she went through, you still expect her to be fighting you."
Peyton gave Haley a would-be pitiful stare. "This has been the hardest year of my life, and I needed my best friend. But she wasn't there, because of a boy."
"Because of her boy," Haley said fiercely, stepping up toward Peyton. "The boy you tried to take from her over and over and over again! Brooke got shot this year, Peyton! Because she was coming in that school after you! And then you kissed her boyfriend and ripped her whole life out from under her, and now she lost her baby. I'm not trying to undermine you losing Ellie and Jake this year, Peyton, but honestly, it looks to me like Brooke has had a harder few months than you've had a year. She needed her best friend, too, but you weren't there to step up, so I did."
"And you were just oh so willing," Peyton growled.
"Yeah," Haley said with a simple shrug. "I was. Because Brooke Davis is an amazing person who had my back when everyone, especially you, turned on me. So when you turned on her, it was only natural to be there for her, too. But here's what I'm here to say, and then I never plan on saying a single word to you again. Stay away from Brooke and stay away from Lucas. He doesn't need you calling him at every minute of the day when he's trying to put Brooke back together."
"Who's putting him back together?" Peyton challenged. "That's all I want. I want to help him because I know everyone else is focusing on Brooke."
"Brooke is helping him, too," Haley hissed. "Believe it or not, she saves him back. You always wanted him to save you, but you never actually gave anything in return. She gives everything she has, and right now, it isn't much, but it's more than enough for Lucas. Stay the hell away from them both, Peyton. I mean it."
The golden blonde walked away from the skinny girl she had once considered her friend, the girl she had once wanted her best friend to end up with. She wanted to hit herself, thinking of how badly she had misjudged Brooke and Peyton. For so long, she had assumed that the curly blonde was the misunderstood one of the pair, but she could now see, plain as day, that her bubbly brunette friend had been misunderstood by absolutely everyone, including the few people she let see her heart.
She was surprised as she walked off to find Lucas leaning against a mailbox a few houses down from Peyton's. He nodded his head toward the direction Haley was coming from.
"Looks like you beat me to the punch," Lucas grinned.
Haley smiled back. "Someone had to put her in her place. Bitchy Brooke doesn't seem like she wants to come out and play, so I felt like I ought to."
"She'd be glad," Lucas smiled, putting his arm around her as they continued to walk.
"Is she by herself?"
Lucas shook his head. "Nope, she's with some friend visiting from California."
Haley blinked in surprise. It had been nearly four weeks since the miscarriage, but Brooke didn't seem like she was doing much better than she had been before. "And she was up for that?"
"I guess so," Lucas shrugged. "It is a little weird, though, I don't remember her ever mentioning making any friends when she visited her parents."
"Me either," Haley replied. "Seems like something she would have mentioned, if they were close enough for her to come all the way here to see her."
Lucas shrugged. "Who knows. You know Brooke, she's a pretty closed book. You wanna get some lunch?"
"Sure," Haley nodded. They instinctively began their walk to Karen's Café, and both stopped in surprise upon seeing Brooke inside the window with an extremely attractive guy.
"The friend is a him," Lucas said slowly.
"A very cute him," Haley commented, causing Lucas to bat at her. "Hey! I'm just saying!"
"He's not cute," Lucas grumbled, leading the way into the restaurant. Haley sighed and shook her head at her best friend's jealousy, following him inside and hoping he wouldn't do anything stupid.
"Luke! Haley!" Brooke called out as soon as they walked in. "Come over here!"
They did, and she grinned at them. She looked more spirited than she had since she lost the baby, and this made Lucas's blue eyes narrow suspiciously at the boy sitting cross from his girlfriend.
"This is Julian," Brooke smiled. "He's my friend from L.A. Julian, this is Lucas and Haley."
"Nice to meet you," he grinned. "I've heard all about you two."
"Funny, we've never heard anything about you," Lucas said impulsively, causing Haley to step on his foot.
"That doesn't surprise me," Julian said, seemingly unaffected as he sent Brooke a teasing look. "Miss Secret Friends over here."
Brooke rolled her eyes. "You're a mathlete, Julian."
"And you're a cheerleader," he said snarkily, stealing a fry off of her plate. "Trust me, princess, I'm just as embarrassed of you as you are of me."
"I'll have you know I'm really good at math," Brooke said cockily, cut off by Haley's cough of disbelief. Julian looked at Haley with raised eyebrows.
"She's failing calculus," Haley said sheepishly.
"Throw me under the bus," Brooke mumbled.
Lucas simply stood in silent shock. It had been weeks since he had seen this cheerful, teasing side of Brooke that he loved so much. Despite his best efforts, it had been nearly impossible to draw even a genuine smile from her, let alone a laugh. She had been extremely sensitive to his teasing and never teased him back, but here she was with some guy he had never even heard of before, acting like everything was fine.
It was nearly stifling, being near them, and Brooke seemed to notice his sudden panic.
"What's wrong, Broody?"
"Oh god, she's nailed you with a bad nickname, too," Julian sighed mock-mournfully.
"I'm the nickname master!" Brooke protested, tossing a fry at him. He caught it and ate it. "I'm like, a nickname engineer."
"Sure, Molly Ringwald."
"Whatever, Anthony Michael Hall."
Lucas couldn't take it anymore. Brooke was being…Brooke. Flirty and sunny and bright. And he hadn't been able to get her to even smile.
Without a word, he walked away from Brooke, Haley, and Julian, ignoring Brooke's confused calling out.
"Luke? Where are you going?"
He found himself storming out of his mother's café, agitated and annoyed, mostly with himself. What could this Julian do that he seemed so incapable of? Sure, he had hurt Brooke a lot in the past, which was something he was not at all proud of. But lately, he had been so good to her. Ever since he got her back after the shooting, he hadn't had one slip up. Everything between them had been great until the miscarriage, but he understood why she wasn't necessarily happy. He wasn't happy either. He had just assumed that nothing could make her truly happy in the wake of their tragedy, but he supposed he had assumed wrong.
He turned in the parking lot to find Brooke jogging after him, and despite his urge to keep walking, he stopped, concerned for her health. She was still fragile from the miscarriage and had recently been put on antianxiety medication. The side effects were still hitting her, so he stopped and crossed his arms.
"What is up with you?" she asked, her head cocked to the side in apparent hurt and confusion.
"I could ask you the same thing," he bit out. "I've never even heard of this guy, Brooke, and all of a sudden he's in Tree Hill, and you're all fucking cheery again, when nothing I say or do can put even the smallest smile on your face these days."
"Forgive me for being heartbroken that I lost my child!" Brooke hissed.
"I do understand that, Brooke," Lucas said vehemently. "Trust me, I do. I am absolutely heartbroken, too. I am glad that you can be happy, I just don't understand why it can't be with me."
"Because everytime I look at you, I imagine what could have been!" Brooke burst out. "I see your eyes and I imagine what they would have looked like on our child's face, and I can't take it, Lucas! I can't even stand looking at you because all you do is remind me of my pain."
He stepped back, physically thrown back by her words. Her mouth opened to explain herself, her eyes closing as she realized the implications of what she had said. He shook his head as a strangled sound came out of his mouth. He turned around and started to walk away.
"Lucas!" Brooke called out. "Lucas!"
He turned again, stopping, cursing himself for being so weak to the pain in her voice.
"I didn't mean that," she said weakly.
"Yeah, you did," he replied softly. "I need to go, Brooke. I can't be around you right now."
"I need you, Lucas."
"No, you don't," he murmured. "Obviously I'm…I'm no good for you, anymore, Brooke."
"What does that mean?"
"I don't know," he said. "But I think we both need to figure it out."
She finally forced herself to look up into his eyes and felt her heart stop at the look in the them. Not only was he tearing up, which Lucas very rarely ever did, but he looked at her as if it was the last time he was ever going to.
"I love you, Brooke. Just remember that, okay?"
And with those words, he started his walk once again, this time shutting his eyes and ears to her calls of his name.
Haley and Julian rushed out as soon as Lucas was out of sight, Brooke falling to her knees in the parking lot with her head on her knees.
"Brooke, sweetie, get up," Haley soothed, rubbing her back. "Let's get you home, okay?"
Brooke nodded weakly, simply accepting the help. She was in no state to drive her car, so she surrendered her keys to Haley.
"I'm sorry, Julian. I wanted your visit to be fun, and I'm just a mess."
"You called me here because you needed me," Julian said softly, raising a hand to touch her cheek. "I didn't expect to be having a particularly good time, Brooke."
She nodded and hugged him goodbye, promising to call him the next day before getting in her bug with Haley.
"Brooke, what happened?" the blonde asked softly as they pulled up to the apartment.
"Lucas was upset that he doesn't seem to make me happy anymore," Brooke mumbled, her head against the window. "He saw how I was acting with Julian and that's when it really started to bother him, cause it seemed like other people can make me happy. And I guess he's right. I have a hard time being around him because he reminds me of what I lost."
"I get that," Haley said understandingly. "But doesn't he also remind you of what you could have again?"
Brooke shrugged. "I can't even see that far into the future anymore."
"I just want you to see it from his perspective," Haley said gently. "Imagine if you saw him acting that way with another girl right now, after what you two have been through."
Brooke tried her best to picture it and found that her heart was constricting. "It would hurt. Really badly."
Haley nodded. "You wanna swing by the Rivercourt or what?"
Brooke scrunched up her face in thought before smirking a little bit. "I have a better idea."