Once again, thank you all for the wonderful reviews! The enthusiasm and support for this story have been amazing. I was asked if there would be a sequel. Unfortunately, this is it. I kind of feel like part of its charm is that not everything is wrapped up perfectly. You will get some answers and closure in this chapter, but there is still a lot left up to the imagination. I wanted this fic to be short and sweet. Anyway, I hope you guys enjoy this last chapter and will leave a review. Thanks again!
It was so dark that Nathan could barely see the sidewalk in front of him. He really shouldn't be out. It was the middle of the night, and he had school tomorrow. Not that it would've mattered even if he was at home in his bed. Either way he couldn't sleep. He kept having all sorts of weird and disturbing dreams. Every night for the last week he'd wake up gasping for breath, his body slick with sweat.
Even awake he'd see the distorted images. Empty hallways, blood, the barrel of a gun, Haley unconscious…His body tensed. Nathan tried to push it all out of his mind, but it was getting harder to do. Tonight was particularly difficult. When sleep continued to elude him, Nathan decided to get out of the house. Not wanting to chance waking his parents, he'd managed to sneak out of his bedroom window and climb down the trellis.
Before leaving the yard, he'd grabbed his basketball. There was only one thing that always made him feel better. That allowed him a temporary escape no matter how bad things got. Nathan hoped he was going the right way. He wasn't all that familiar with the place he was going. He'd only been there once. Mostly he just passed it on his way to the gym. The only real time he'd spent there had been when he'd trashed it last year to get a rise out of Lucas. Nathan never actually took the time to really stop and check it out. Now he couldn't get there fast enough.
A few minutes later Nathan saw faint lights in the distance. He quickened his pace and let out a sigh of relief when the basketball hoop came into view. Already he felt the tension in his body melting away. He reached the River Court and released the ball from his hands. The sound of it hitting the pavement echoed in the night. It was the best sound Nathan had heard in a week.
Nathan continued to bounce the ball. It passed between his hands as naturally as breathing. He lifted his arms and released the ball. It sailed through the air before going in the basket. The swish of the net brought a small smile to his face.
He repeated the action over and over. Dribble, pass, shoot. Dribble, pass, shoot. Nathan was so focused on what he was doing that the world around him faded. He didn't notice the darkness surrounding the edge of the court, the cold breeze in the night, or even the figure standing in the shadows, watching him. For once Nathan's mind was quiet.
It wasn't until the ball bounced off the rim of the basket and rolled off of the court that he realized he wasn't alone. Nathan stood still, squinting into the darkness. "Who's there?"
The stranger bent down to pick up the ball and finally stepped into the light. Nathan's eyes widened. He was surprised, but probably shouldn't have been. There was a reason why he never came to the River Court, and it was standing right in front of him.
"It looks like we had the same idea." Lucas rolled the ball between his hands. "Couldn't sleep or just trying to get some extra practice in?
"Does it matter?" Nathan held his hands out for the ball.
Lucas kept it. "Well, I couldn't sleep."
"Look, I'll go. Just give me the ball."
Nathan rolled his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. "Fine. Keep it. Whatever." He was not in the mood for this right now.
"I didn't mean I'm keeping the ball. I meant don't go."
Nathan's steps faltered, and he stared at Lucas curiously. "Why?"
"We need to talk."
"About what?" he replied, playing dumb.
"I think you know," Lucas answered, holding his gaze.
Nathan folded his arms. This night was just getting weirder by the minute. He knew that this was inevitable. He might was well get it over with now. "All right, look, I know you must hate me. But I didn't know that it was Haley who was injured. I just saw the blood and went to investigate. She was in too much pain and too scared for me to leave her alone and get help right away, so we had to wait it out and—"
"Nathan," Lucas interrupted.
"I did everything I could to help her. I swear. Eventually she just lost too much blood, and I had to get her out of there. I know it was dangerous, and I honestly don't know what would've happened if you hadn't come and saved our asses but—"
"Nathan," Lucas repeated. "Shut up." He shook his head and chuckled softly. "You really did spend a lot of time with Haley in that school. I can see you picked up her habit of rambling."
Nathan folded his arms, not knowing whether to be amused or annoyed. As usual when it came to Lucas, he went with annoyed. "It's late. What did you want to say to me?"
This time it was Lucas who rolled his eyes. "Can you at least try to not be an ass for two seconds?"
"I will as soon as you get to the point." Nathan had come to the River Court to be alone and get away from everything. Lucas's presence didn't do much to calm his nerves.
"You know, if I wasn't so grateful that you saved my best friend's life, I'd probably tell you to go screw yourself right now."
Nathan stared at him. "Are you serious?"
"What? Telling you to go screw yourself is not the worst thing I've said to you."
"No, not that," he said, shaking his head. "What you said before that. About saving Haley's life."
"Before you started giving me your usual attitude, I was actually going to thank you." At Nathan's shocked look, Lucas added, "If it wasn't for you, Haley would've been alone in that school. She might've even died if you hadn't gotten her out in time. I know we have our differences but I just wanted you to know that all that other stuff aside, I really appreciate what you did for her. You were there for her when I couldn't be."
"I wouldn't let anything happen to her. I couldn't. There wasn't even a choice."
"Well, all the same, thanks," Lucas said, his voice sincere.
"I didn't do it completely on my own. I don't know what would've happened in that hallway if you hadn't shown up," Nathan stated. He looked at the ground as he said his next words. "And believe it or not, when I heard that second gunshot, I thought that might've been it for you. I was…I was worried."
Nathan glanced up and noticed Lucas grinning. A small smile formed on his own face. "Anyway, I wanted to say thank you, too."
"When it comes to Haley, I don't have a choice either."
"How is—" Nathan paused for a moment, unsure if he should continue. In the end his curiosity and concern were too much to ignore. "How is Haley?"
"She's home now."
"I heard that. But she's okay?"
"Why don't you go over to her house and see for yourself?" Lucas suggested, not unkindly.
Nathan glanced at the basketball hoop. "I can't do that right now."
"Why not? After everything you guys went through, I thought you'd want to see her." When Nathan remained quiet, Lucas said, "I know she wants to see you."
Nathan's head whipped around at that. "She does? She said that?"
"Not directly, but that was the impression I got. Everyone's been visiting and calling her. Not to mention all of the get-well gifts she's been sent. The only one who hasn't contacted her in some way is you."
"Look, I might not have called her but I did send her something," he revealed.
"Haley didn't say anything."
"That's because I didn't leave a note. She wouldn't know it was from me."
Lucas took a seat on the picnic table, and Nathan followed suit. "Because that makes sense. What's going on?"
"I haven't been doing so well myself this past week. I've been having nightmares…about Haley," he said so quietly, Lucas had to strain to hear him. "I keep seeing her bleeding or unconscious or the moment she was shot. Every time I wake up in a panic, and it takes a moment for me to realize that it isn't real. That she's still alive."
"That still doesn't explain why you won't go and see her."
"I guess part of it is that I feel really overwhelmed by it all. I figured we could both use some time and space to adjust."
"And the other part?" Lucas prompted.
"The other part of me is avoiding her, because I'm wondering if the time we spent together is still real. And if it turns out that it wasn't, then that'll be worse than a bullet for me." Nathan couldn't believe he'd just said that—and to Lucas of all people. Oddly enough, he felt better after voicing his concerns. He'd been keeping it all in so long that it was eating him up inside. The burden he'd been carrying wasn't completely gone, but it was definitely lighter now.
Lucas stared at Nathan for a long time, his expression unreadable. Finally he said, "You really like her, don't you?"
Nathan met Lucas's gaze. "I more than like her."
"And it's not just because of her time capsule video?"
"I'll admit that I was intrigued by the video. But I noticed Haley before I saw it. I'm sure you remember that day you yelled at me."
"It's hard to keep track of all of them, but I remember that one," Lucas quipped.
"I know you're thinking that I might only like her because she said she's in love with me. But the truth is that everything she said about me in her video was true," Nathan explained. "And when we were stuck in that school and had time to really talk, I realized that there was even more to her than I thought and how stupid I was for not noticing her sooner."
"Even if you had noticed her," Lucas spoke up, "I probably wouldn't have made it easy on either of you. But now…"
"Now what?" Nathan prodded, his nerves suddenly on edge. He didn't know why he was so anxious. Lucas wasn't the boss of him. He didn't need his permission to pursue Haley.
But at the same time, Lucas was Haley's best friend. His opinion mattered to her. If Lucas was really against Haley seeing Nathan, would that be enough to finally drive her away from him? It was the main reason why Haley had kept her feelings to herself all these years.
"If I can trust you with her life, then I think I can trust you with her heart," Lucas declared.
"You can," Nathan reassured him.
"Okay. But just so we're clear, if you do end up hurting her, I'm going to kick your ass." Lucas did his best to give Nathan a menacing look.
He smirked. "Like you could. But I can respect that." He added after a moment, "I'm sorry about Jimmy. Haley told me he was your friend."
"He was. That's why I knew Jimmy wouldn't shoot me."
"Then why were there two gunshots?" There was some speculation about what had happened in the school, but Nathan hadn't heard the real story. It seemed as if Lucas wasn't talking about it to anyone either.
Lucas's eyes glazed, as if he was seeing something beyond the court. "Jimmy had pointed the gun at himself. I was trying to reason with him. Then this other kid seemed to come out of nowhere. I guess he was trying to be a hero, but it just made things worse. The gun went off when he tackled Jimmy. I went to get the kid off of him and calm the situation down, but it was too late. When Jimmy got his hands on the gun again, he pulled the trigger and that was it. He was gone."
"It sucks that you had to see that."
The pair sat in silence, both wrapped up in their own thoughts and memories of that tragic day. It seemed like so much had been lost because of the shooting. So many lives had been altered.
Nathan glanced over at Lucas and then back at the River Court, his mind reeling. Taking a closer look, maybe in some strange way nothing was truly lost. Maybe everything that was important in life, that had previously been overlooked, had finally been found.
It felt good to be back in the Tutoring Center. It was a medium-sized room with scattered tables and chairs. Large filing cabinets and bookcases were lined up against the walls. There were even a few computer stations. To most students, this was just a place to get help on an assignment. To Haley, it was like a second home.
It was Haley's first day back at school. She'd finally convinced her parents that she was rested enough after a week of lying in bed. She was starting to go stir crazy. As long as she kept off of her leg and used her crutches, she would be fine. There was too much time to think when she was at home. At least at school she could keep busy.
Although she'd managed to get away from her parents, there was no getting around Lucas. They'd had a long talk about their friendship, and things between them were finally back to normal. Well, almost back to normal. He'd picked her up for school this morning and had been fussing over her ever since. They'd gotten in kind of early. Most of the students hadn't arrived yet. Haley had wanted to avoid the crowd, and Lucas had agreed. He thought it was because of her leg. Truthfully, she just needed some time to herself.
Haley had thought that the moment they pulled up in front of the school would be the hardest. When they went inside, a shiver had run up her spine. The building was so quiet—just like it had been that awful day. Her instincts were to keep her guard up. Haley's eyes would search the halls, her body tense. It wasn't until Lucas had put his arm around her that she relaxed a little bit.
Haley checked her watch. She had at least fifteen more minutes before the rest of the students started showing up. Her stomach was in knots just thinking about facing them. Haley was sure that the whole school had been talking about what had happened to her. Her friends wouldn't tell her anything. They were trying to protect her, and in some way Haley could appreciate that.
Unzipping her backpack, Haley made sure that she'd brought all of her homework with her. She was still Tutor Girl—despite everything that had happened to her. Haley had just put the last of her books back when she heard the sound of the door opening. Her head snapped up and her body went rigid. It was hard to breathe for a second as she stared at the handsome boy before her.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." Nathan walked a little farther into the room. He shoved his hands into his pockets to keep them from fidgeting. He'd been up all night thinking about what he was going to say to Haley. Too bad it had all flown out of his head the second he'd seen her.
Haley's heart was beating a mile a minute. She had so much to say, but all that seemed to come out of her mouth was, "What are you doing in here?"
"Lucas told me you were in here."
"You talked to Lucas?" Her eyes were wide.
"Do you mind if I…?" He took a few steps forward and placed his hand on the chair next to hers.
Haley shook her head, still a little stunned, and motioned for him to sit down. They were both quiet for a few minutes.
Finally Nathan spoke up, "How's your leg?"
"Slowly but surely it's healing. I'll have to go to physical therapy afterward."
"And what about you? How are you feeling?"
Haley played with the zipper on her backpack, unable to meet his gaze. Everything about this conversation was awkward. "I'm fine." More silence followed. Not being able to take it, Haley reached for her crutches. "Thanks for checking on me. You didn't have to. I should go."
Nathan's hand reached out to her. "Yes, I did."
Haley paused and felt her whole body tingling where he touched her. It felt like an electric current running just beneath her skin. She cleared her throat. "I heard the mayor is going to give you an award for saving my life. Congratulations."
He shrugged. "I'm sure my father had something to do with it. The two of them are friends. He thinks it'll impress the scouts."
"Still, it's an honor."
"I didn't save your life for an award, Haley." There was an edge to his voice. She wasn't sure if it was intended for her or Dan.
"I should go," she repeated.
A second later, Nathan's hand was under her chin, lifting it.
"Don't," she said when he started to stroke her cheek.
"B-because…" her voice faltered as she searched for the right words. "It'll only make this harder."
He frowned. "I don't understand."
"You can't just come in and out of my life like this. I know that you feel like you have some sort of obligation to me after what we went through. But you already saved me. That day has passed. It's done." She pulled back, out of his grasp. "I think it'd be best if—"
"You think I'm here out of obligation?" he interrupted, not knowing whether to be more hurt or angry.
"Aren't you?" Haley challenged. "I know that I was injured and vulnerable that day, but I'm fine now. You don't have to worry about the poor little tutor girl. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."
"Haley, what the hell are you talking about?" Nathan demanded, shaking his head. "Where is this coming from?" Lucas had said that Haley wanted to see him. Nathan had thought that Haley would be happy to see him. What he didn't understand was why her attitude suggested the opposite.
She reached for her crutches once more. "Hey!" she exclaimed when Nathan got to them first and tossed them aside, out of her reach. "I need those."
"I'm here because I care about you, Haley. You're not the poor little tutor girl to me."
Haley was going to argue that she didn't have time for this. She needed to get to her locker and sort things out before the school got crowded and classes began. Her mouth, however, seemed to have a mind of its own. "If that's true, then where were you?" she exploded. "Where were you after the shooting? When I was in the hospital and then stuck at home. You didn't visit, and you didn't call. So you tell me how I'm supposed to know that you care about me." Haley couldn't hold the tears in any longer. Turning away from Nathan, she placed her head in her hands.
Nathan watched as the sobs wracked her body. He'd always hated seeing girls cry, and it was even worse with Haley. Nathan knew that avoiding her had been wrong. And he felt like an idiot now for doing that to her. She'd suffered enough.
"Haley," he said in a tentative voice. "Haley, please listen to me. I wasn't trying to hurt you. I know this is going to sound stupid and selfish, but I was protecting myself."
She looked up at that. "What?"
"The truth is I was afraid to see you after we got out of that school. I was afraid that everything that happened between us—that could happen between us—only existed in those hours inside this school. It's stupid, but I guess I avoided you because I wanted to hold on to what we had. Even if it was just for a little while."
Haley wiped at her tear-stained cheeks. "Nathan, you've seen my time capsule video. I told you I loved you. Why would you think that would suddenly change?"
"We were in the middle of a crisis. Emotions always get heightened, and you hear of people doing things they wouldn't normally do when they think they're about to die."
"Like you kissing me." She bit her lip and stared at her hands.
"Haley, look at me," he ordered and waited for her to meet his gaze. "I don't regret kissing you for a second. I don't regret anything about the time we spent together. Nothing in my life has ever felt more real to me."
"Me either," she murmured, unable to look away. His blue eyes were intense; she could feel them drawing her in.
He put his hand on her face once again. This time she didn't pull away. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for you like I should've been. I kept having these nightmares where you—" He shook his head and sighed. "I just was scared of losing you."
Haley moved closer to him and placed her hands tentatively on his shoulders, rubbing them. "I've been having nightmares, too. They're awful."
"I don't like feeling vulnerable. The closest I've ever come to it was the day of the shooting, in Whitey's office with you. I wanted you to know me. The real me. And it meant a lot that someone like you could see past all of the mistakes I've made. That someone like you could actually see something good in me."
"Someone like me or me?" she questioned, teasing him a little.
Nathan smiled. "You."
Haley smiled back and brought her own hand up to stroke his face. "God, this is so surreal. I never thought this would happen."
"You never thought what would happen? The shooting or me falling in love with you?" She froze and stared at him in astonishment. "Because I am in love with you, Haley."
Haley felt her insides melt at his words. It took a moment for her mind to catch up with her body as she flung her arms around his neck. Her lips were on his a second later. He loved her. Nathan Scott had actually said that he loved her. Goose bumps formed on her skin when she felt him envelop her in his strong, muscular arms.
Nathan ran his hand through Haley's hair and groaned, tightening his hold on her. Aside from worrying about her, he hadn't been able to stop thinking about their first kiss this past week. The real thing was even better than he remembered. The kiss was full of passion and there was definitely chemistry between them, but there was something much deeper. Nathan's heart ached and felt like it would burst out of his chest, he was so happy, all at the same time. He'd never felt that connection with anyone before.
They were both breathless by the time they broke apart. Nathan gave Haley a few more quick, gentle kisses before leaning his forehead against hers.
"I love you, too," Haley said. She bit her lip and looked at him shyly. "So does this mean that…I mean, are we…"
"You're asking what we are now?" Haley nodded, and he kissed her softly once more. "Well, I was thinking girlfriend would be the most appropriate title. If that's okay with you."
A beaming smile formed on her face. "Really?"
"I want to be with you, Haley," Nathan stated, his expression genuine. "I want that more than anything."
She pulled him back toward her. "I want to be with you, too."
"Good," Nathan mumbled against her lips. "And maybe you could be my tutor? I am failing English."
Haley broke the kiss and playfully whacked his arm, causing him to laugh.
He grinned innocently. "What? I heard you were the best."
"So you were just trying to butter me up. Is that it?"
"Maybe. But I do love you." He took one of her hands and squeezed it.
"Do you think it's really possible? We only spent a few hours together." This was crazy, Haley knew. It felt like everything between them was happening so fast. But at the same time, nothing in her life had ever felt so right.
"You fell in love with me, and we'd never even talked before," Nathan pointed out. "I don't think it's ever too soon to feel that way."
Haley couldn't hide her blush. "Touché, Scott."
"I know it may not have been the best of circumstances, but I kind of like to think of that day as our first date. We probably learned more about each other in those few hours than other couples do in a few months."
"That's true," Haley agreed. They'd been so open and honest with each other. Some of the stuff Haley had shared with Nathan she'd never told anyone else—and that included Lucas. There was just something about Nathan that made her feel like she could trust him.
"But if you're up to it, I'd like to officially take you out this weekend." They'd been through so much already. They deserved a nice, normal night out together. Nathan didn't want to waste any more time.
Haley was practically glowing. "That sounds perfect."
Nathan pulled her in close as his lips claimed hers once more. It felt so good to be holding her in his arms. It was the only way to reassure himself that she was all right. This week apart had felt like pure torture. He just couldn't seem to get enough of her now. If it had been anyone else, he probably would've been scared at just how hard he'd fallen for her in such a short amount of time. But this was Haley. She was unlike anyone Nathan had ever met before. She was beautiful, kind, and genuine. She knew the real him and loved him for both his strengths and weaknesses. Nathan couldn't ask for anything more.
A bell rang and Haley heard the other students in the hallway. The first period of the day would start in fifteen minutes.
She broke their kiss reluctantly. "We should probably get going."
Nathan went to retrieve Haley's crutches and helped her stand up.
"So did you really ask Lucas where I was?" she questioned, unable to stifle her curiosity any longer.
"We've had a talk actually. I'm sure you'll be glad to know that we've called a truce."
"Really?" Haley was excited. "So does this mean you guys are like friends now?"
"Easy, matchmaker. Baby steps." Nathan snatched Haley's backpack before she could pick it up. "I'll carry that."
Haley stared at him intently.
"What?" he asked when she was silent.
Haley stroked his face. "You saved my life. I never did say thank you."
Nathan pressed his lips to hers gently before she deepened the kiss. He then smiled and murmured, "You just did."
They headed for the door. Nathan was patient as Haley hobbled along on her crutches.
"By the way, I actually did send you something while you were home recuperating."
"Yeah. I sent you a bouquet of purple flowers. I was just too chicken to include a card or anything."
Haley's smile widened further, if that was even possible at this point. "Oh my God, those were from you? They were my favorite. I loved them!"
"Really?" Nathan chuckled.
"Yes. I have them next to my bed."
"Good. I'm glad you liked them." At least he'd done something right, he thought.
They had finally reached the door and walked out into the hall. Within seconds people were staring in their direction. Haley had anticipated this. However, she was sure that Nathan's presence next to her was garnering even more attention toward them than usual.
Haley watched the hallway full of students looking at them and whispering. Suddenly she was feeling anxious and overwhelmed. "Nathan," she said, just low enough for him to hear. She could just imagine what they were all thinking.
Nathan put his hand on her lower back and gave her an encouraging smile. Just as suddenly as the anxiety had come, it disappeared. All of Haley's focus was on Nathan. She could feel the strength and confidence emanating from him. Just like the day of the shooting, he actually somehow managed to make her feel safe.
Leaning down, Nathan gave Haley a quick kiss on the lips. He didn't care if the entire school was watching or what they were saying. Nathan wanted them all to know that he loved Haley as much as she loved him. He was never going to try to hide that. If he'd learned anything from all of this, it was that life was too short to take anything for granted.
"Let's go to class, Hales," Nathan said and led her down the hall, through the crowd, with his head held high.
No matter what came next, they would face it together.