All I Want for Christmas is You
A Nathan and Haley Fan Fic
One: Brooke Davis: Christmas Angel
It was a chilly but bright mid-December Monday morning in the small town of Tree Hill, North Carolina. Golden sunlight peeked cheerfully through the windows of a small apartment.
"Peyton!" 17-year-old Brooke Davis playfully waltzed into her best friend's bedroom and called her name in a sing-song voice. Her green eyes were bright and her long brunette hair was piled on top of her head in a messy bun.
17-year-old Peyton Sawyer groaned in protest and buried her blonde head under her pillow.
Brooke laughed and, pretending to be a ballerina, twirled to Peyton's bed, still in her pajamas. "Peeeeyyyyyttttooooonnnn!" she trilled loudly, going from a ballerina to an opera singer.
"Brooke, go away!" Peyton grumbled, keeping her head stuffed securely under her pillow.
Brooke curled up beside Peyton on the bed and wrapped her arms around her. "I can't," she said, giggling mischievously.
"Why not?" came Peyton's muffled question.
"I've done something brilliant and I need to brag to somebody," Brooke giggled again.
Peyton gave a sigh of defeat and reluctantly pulled herself into a sitting position. "I knew I would regret moving into this apartment with you sooner or later," she yawned.
"It's the first day of winter break and I was planning to sleep until at least noon. I don't know how I thought that would be possible though. I mean, I live with you!" Peyton teased.
Brooke pouted even more. "Sheesh. If you don't want to hear about the amazingly ingenious thing I did, fine. I won't tell you."
"Great," Peyton sighed, falling back against her pillow again. "Close the door on your way out."
"Peyton!" Brooke whined.
Peyton let out another groan as she slowly sat upright again. "Whhhaaaatttt?" she moaned. "Why can't you bug Haley about your- whatever it is?"
17-year-old Haley James was a close friend of Brooke and Peyton's. She was also the third tenant in the small apartment.
Brooke smiled impishly.
Peyton was instantly uneasy. "Brooke, what did you do?"
"I figured out how to save Haley and Nathan's marriage," Brooke stated proudly.
Peyton felt her eyes bulge. "Could you elaborate please?"
"Well, I talked with both of them- separately- before school got out, and asked them what they were doing for the holidays. They were both pretty Scrooge-like. They said they didn't feel like doing anything, that they just wanted to spend some time alone, away from people; and so, being the wonderful, generous person that I am, I told them that my parents have a cabin up in Boone that they hardly ever use anymore and that they were welcome to spend the whole break up there if they wanted."
Peyton's mouth dropped. "What?"
"Mmm-hmmm," Brooke nodded with a grin. "I even called some people who live up that way- they've been friends of my family forever- and asked them to decorate the cabin for Christmas. I wanted it to be festive and romantic for Nathan and Haley. And guess what?" Brooke bit her bottom lip to contain her excitement.
"What?" Peyton asked faintly. She was stunned.
"Nathan and Haley are both heading up there right now, they're going to spend the whole break there, and they haveno idea that they'll be spending it together!" Brooke laughed.
Peyton began to laugh too. "Davis, you never cease to amaze."
"You speak the truth P. Sawyer," Brooke agreed.
"They are going to beso mad at you!" Peyton cackled. She could just see the looks on Nathan and Haley's faces when they finally realized what Brooke had done!
"Yes, but in the end, they will fall down on their knees and thank me," Brooke said knowingly.
TWO: One Bedroom
17-year-old Nathan Scott pulled the silver Land Rover Range Rover he'd convinced his mother to let him borrow to a stop in front of a quaint wooden cabin. He peered at it through the SUV's front windshield as a light sprinkling of snow began to fall. He could see a little wooden sign hanging off the cabin's front porch that read "Robin's Nest".
"Perfect. Now I feel like Batman's sidekick or something," Nathan mumbled to himself.
Well, it really was a nice place, very cozy and inviting. Not to mention, it was extremely secluded, deep in the woods of North Carolina's high country. Nathan had wanted to get away and be by himself, and this place was as far away from people as was possible. It was perfect.
Nathan stepped out of the car, shivering as the frigid wind gripped him in its icy embrace. Quickly, he grabbed his bags and jogged for the cabin.
When he finally managed to dig the spare key out from under the front doormat and unlock the door, Nathan was nearly frozen. He instantly forgot the cold, however, when he beheld the utter beauty of the little cabin's front room.
A stone fireplace was adorned with pine garland. The hardwood floor was covered by a rug with a patchwork Christmas tree in the center. The little sofa and loveseat were slip-covered with red fabric that waspatterned with little white snowflakes; decorative throws were draped across the backs of them. And finally, in the corner, a gorgeous tree stood majestically, decorated to perfection.
Nathan started at the familiar and shocked voice of Haley behind him. He spun around, stunned and upset to see her.
"Haley?" was his intelligent reply.
"I thought that might be your mom's SUV out there." Haley gazed up at her husband, still confused. "What're you doing here?"
"I should ask you the same thing," Nathan said, crossing his muscular arms.
"Don't talk to me that way!" Haley shouted, angered by his condescending tone.
"What way!" Nathan shouted back.
"You know what way Nathan!"
"Look, Brooke told me I could stay here, so-!"
"No, wait, she toldme that I could stay here!" Haley interrupted.
The estranged husband and wife gaped at each other, finally understanding what Brooke had been up to.
"No, this isn't going to happen," Nathan shook his head.
"You got that right!" Haley exclaimed. "I came here to be alone, so you can just put your bags back in your mommy's SUV and go home!"
"No! I just drove five and a half hours to get here!" Nathan protested. "You go home!"
"No!" Haley shouted. "I drove five and a half hours to get here too and I'm staying!"
"I'm not leaving, so I guess I'm staying too!" Nathan yelled.
"Then it looks like we're staying here together!" Haley yelled back.
"Looks like it!"
The wind picked up, sending swirls of snow through the door. Haley, who was still standing outside, shivered.
Nathan put a hand on her shoulder, forcefully guiding her inside. He settled her down on the sofa and wrapped one of the throws around her.
"Are these all your bags?" Nathan grumbled, toting the two bags that sat on the porch inside.
"No, I still have two more in my car," Haley muttered, still mad. She made a move to get up. "I can get them myself-."
"Sit," Nathan said firmly. "You'll freeze out there."
"And you won't?" Haley scoffed. "Quit trying to act all machoNathan."
He sent her an annoyed frown before he headed out into the snow. He was back again in a minute with the rest of Haley's bags.
"Thank you," Haley said grudgingly.
"Whatever." Nathan's reply was flat. He gathered up his luggage and went to put it away in a bedroom.
Haley sat stiffly on the sofa, clutching the blanket close to her. She listened to Nathan's footsteps plodding down the small hallway.
The footsteps stopped abruptly and Nathancursed.
Concerned, Haley went to find him, still wrapped in the blanket.
"What's wrong?" she asked when she reached him.
He gestured to the tiny bedroom they were standing in front of. "There's only one."
Haley'sdark eyes widened and her mouth fell open in dismay when Nathan's words registered in her brain. She looked up into his disgruntled face and felt her shoulders droop.
"Brooke is going to pay for this," Nathan growled under his breath.
Haley, however, felt a sudden surge of courage and optimism swell up inside of her. This was what she had really wanted: a chance to spend time with Nathan. Maybe this could be her chance to finally win his heart back.
"Nathan, she was just trying to hel-."
"No, she should mind her own business! She had no right to set us up like this!" Nathan exclaimed.
Haley felt her eyebrows furrow. "Will it really be so terrible spending time with me!" she demanded tearfully. "Is this really so awful! Do you hate me that much Nathan!"
His expression became contrite. He sighed heavily and ran his hands tiredly over his face. "I don't hate you at all Haley," he said softly.
"Then why does this have to be a bad thing?" Haley pressed.
"Because I'm not ready!" Nathan exploded. "I don't trust you Haley! When are you going to get that!"
"Well, give me a chance!" Haley exploded back at him. "How will you ever be ready, how can we ever fix anything, if you don't give me a chance!"
Nathan stared at her for a minute and his jaw suddenly clenched. Tears burned in his deep blue eyes and he quickly bowed his head.
"Nathan-," she whimpered, putting a hand on his arm.
He pulled away from her. "If I do give you another chance, how do I know you won't leave again?"
"I won't, not ever again," she cried.
"I can't believe anything you say to me Haley. You hurt me worse than anybody's ever hurt me in my life- even worse than my dad- and I don't want to go through that again. I don't trust you enough to give you another chance," Nathan said quietly, hoarsely.
A silent moment passed between them as Haley cried freely and Nathan fought to hold his tears in.
"You can have the bed," Nathan coughed, finally managing to control his emotion. "I'll just sleep on the sofa or something."
"Nathan, that's ridiculous!" Haley sniffled, wiping at her wet eyes. "That sofa is tiny! You'd never be comfortable there!"
"I'd be more comfortable there than next to you!" Nathan shouted viciously.
Haley stumbled backward, almost as if he had shoved her. "What happened to us Nathan?" she whispered, wanting to cry all over again.
"Chris Keller happened," he growled.
It was then that he noticed the sprig of mistletoe hanging above the bedroom door. Haley was standing right underneath it. He desperately wanted to pull her close and feel her soft warm lips on his. Sighing in disgust at his weakness, he turned and headed back into the front room.
Mistletoe was hanging above every door in the place. No matter where they stood, mistletoe would be above their heads.
Late that night, Haley tip-toed out to the front room, shivering, even through her thick pajamas.
Nathan, who had tossed and turned all night on the lumpy sofa, heard her and shot to a sitting position.
"Nathan, please come to bed," she pleaded in a whisper. "I know you must be cold."
Even though he was wearing flannel pajama pants and his warmest sweater, he was freezing. He wouldn't let her know that though.
Haley sighed and her teeth chattered. "I'm cold and I know you are too. If you were in the bed with me, our combined body heat would keep us warm."
He sighed as well and finally looked over to meet her eyes. "Well, if you're cold, all right," he said, slowly getting to his feet.
Haley's heart fluttered blissfully as she curled up against Nathan's chest and felt him wrap his strong arms around her.
"How's this?" he asked awkwardly. "Is this okay?"
She snuggled nearer to him. "Can you hold me closer?" she asked innocently. "I'm really cold."
Nathan let out an unsteady breath and tightened his arms around her. "Okay?" The inquiry was a soft one.
"Yeah, but, could you put your feet on mine? My toes are like ice."
Obligingly, Nathan slid his big feet over her little ones. "Like that?"
"So, you're okay now?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"All right. Well, night Haley."
THREE: Get With the Togetherness
The following morning, back in Tree Hill, Brooke ran to get the door when someone knocked, holding the phone to her ear. She broke into a smile when she discovered who had come to visit.
17-year-old Lucas Scott smiled back at her, his soul-melting blue eyes shimmering. He waved a hello. He was her kind-of boyfriend. Well, because, you see, they were dating each other, just… not exclusively.
She waved back and then held up one finger, signaling him to wait a second.
"Yes," Brooke said into the phone. "Yes, this is Brooke Davis and I was just calling to make sure things were still on schedule. Perfect. Thank you so much. Yes, Merry Christmas. Bye."
"What was that?" Lucas chuckled as she returned the phone to its charger.
Lucas arched a disbelieving eyebrow at her.
Brooke shrugged innocently. "It's just a surprise I have lined up for Nathan and Haley."
"Oh, you mean there's more to this whole Christmas Cupid thing you're doing?" Lucas joked.
"Oh, my dear Lucas," Brooke purred, striding seductively up to him. "You have no idea," she whispered against his ear.
"Whoa, okay, roommate still here," Peyton kidded, coming out of her bedroom.
"Well, can the roommate get out now?" Brooke pressed.
"It's Christmas, a time for togetherness. I can't believe you'd cast me out on the streets," Peyton put on a hurt expression.
"She has a point," Lucas spoke up. "I mean, you're just being cruel Brooke."
Brooke rolled her pretty eyes at their teasing. "Fine! Let's get with the togetherness then!"
Before long, all three of them were snuggled up next to each other on the couch, watching "It's A Wonderful Life" and drinking hot cocoa.
Meanwhile, up in Boone, Haley slowly began to wake up. She could feel the warmth of the sun on her face as it shined through the bedroom's little window. She took a deep breath, burrowing deeper beneath the bed's warm patchwork quilt. Stretching a slim arm out, she reached for Nathan. Haley bolted upright, her sleepy eyes alarmed, when she realized he wasn't there.
She clamored out of the bed and was nearly overcome bythe utter cold. Wrapping her arms tightly around herself, she jogged down the hallway, searching each of the cabin's small rooms for him.
"Nathan?" she called, worried when she couldn't find him. A thump by the front door sent her flying to the living room.
Nathan stiffened, his eyes locked on her tearful hazel-brown ones, his hand clutching the doorknob; his bags were at his feet.
"What-?" Haley choked and angrily swiped at tears that had begun to fall. "Um, what're you doing?"
"I'm leaving Haley. This isn't going to work. I can't take this. I mean, we just -."
"No! No Nathan, please!" Haley ran to him, clinging tightly to his arm. She put her other hand against the door, as if that would keep him from opening it.
He turned his face away from hers. He hated to see her cry. "Haley-," he rasped.
"What did I do? What made you suddenly decide to sneak off this way? Tell me what I did Nathan! I'm sorry for whatever it was! I'm sorry! Please don't leave like this! Please! I'm sorry!" Haley sobbed, throwing her arms around him and holding on tight.
Nathan blinked rapidly to keep the tears that were burning in his eyes from falling. They came anyway though. They slid down his cheeks as he crushed Haley to him, hiding his face in her neck. She smelled amazing.
"What did I do?" she whimpered, choking on shuddering gasps as she continued to cry.
"Nothing, you didn't do anything," Nathan tried to assure her.
"Then why are you doing this?" Haley pulled back slightly and looked up into his face with miserable eyes.
His forehead furrowed as he looked back at her. He cupped her face tenderly in his hands, using his thumbs to wipe her tears away.
"I can't handle this Haley," he finally managed to say in a voice that was very unsteady. "I can't take being so close to you. It's too much. I mean, I'm still so-," his voice broke and he looked down. "I'm so angry at you," he whispered huskily.
"I'm sorry," Haley sniffled, caressing his face with gentle hands. "Nathan, I am so sorry."
Nathan backed away from her and twisted the doorknob.
"No!" Haley pushed forcefully against the door and managed to keep it closed.
"Haley, get out of the way!" Nathan begged. He took her wrist in his hand and gently pulled her away from the door. Then he yanked the door open.
"Hello!" A friendly-faced man sat in the driver's seat of a carriage that was something straight out of Cinderella; he wore a tall black top hat, a thick black coat with long tails, and knee-high black riding boots. Two sleek horses were hitched to the front of the beautiful carriage; they stood gazing at Nathan and Haley through bright coal-black eyes as the falling snow got caught in their soft manes.
"Can we help you?" Nathan asked.
"Maybe I can help you," the driver said, noticing Haley's weepy eyes and red nose. He flashed them a smile. "A friend sent me. Please come and enjoy a ride in my carriage."
"No, that's not-," Nathan tried.
"We'd love to!" Haley cut in. She bounded out into the snow in only her pajamas and slippers.
"Haley." Nathan caught the crook of her arm and turned her around so that they were eye-to-eye.
She gazed up at him beseechingly. "Please?" she whispered. "Let's just go for one quick ride. If, when we get back, you still want to leave, I won't stop you. Just please go for one ride with me."
Nathan sighed heavily. He couldn't deny her anything.
"Thank you!" Haley smiled, reading his face. She scampered through the snow and stood beside the carriage, waiting for him to catch up.
When he reached the carriage, he opened the door and offered her his hand so she could step up into it.
"This whole thing reeks of Brooke," Nathan mumbled once he was seated at Haley's side in the back of the carriage. A red and green flannel blanket had been folded and placed in the middle of the seat and he now tucked it across their laps.
"Well, you have to hand it to her, she's romantic, even if she is diabolical," Haley laughed.
"Yeah, but I didn't even want-." Nathan lost his voice when he looked over at his wife.
The cold morning air had flushed her cheeks a rosy red, she still had bed-head, and her face-which was free of any make-up- was flawless and seemed to glow in the sunlight. She was stunning.
"What is it?" Haley asked. She reached up and smoothed her hair and then looked down at her pajamas, as if just realizing she was still wearing them. She started to laugh. She tilted her head back, exposing her lovely throat, and her laughter echoed musically through the woods.
Nathan could only stare.
"Oh, I'm a mess!" Haley snickered. "I know I look hideous Nathan, you don't have to gawk at me that way!" she teased him. "I can't believe I didn't even think about getting dressed!" She reached up to smooth her disheveled hair again.
Nathan caught her hands in his. "Don't," he said quietly. "Don't. You're perfect."
Haley stared up at him, her eyes wide and astounded.
"I, uh, I like that sound." Nathan cleared his throat and tore his eyes away from hers.
"What sound?" Haley asked faintly, still riveted on him.
"The crunch of the snow under the wheels; it's nice," Nathan replied.
"I like the birds singing in the trees," Haley sighed, turning to peek up at the tall trees, as if she could find the birds who were serenading them.
"You sing better," Nathan grinned at her.
Haley flashed him a self-conscious smile. "Thanks," she mumbled.
"Would you like to keep going? Or would you rather head back now?" the driver called over his shoulder.
Nathan looked into Haley's uplifted eyes; they were anxious and sad, but full of hope at the same time. She was hoping desperately that he wouldn't want to go back yet. He sighed.
"No, let's keep going," he said.
Haley broke into an ecstatic smile. It was so cute, Nathan actually chuckled. Cautiously, Haley felt under the blanket for his hand. When she found it, she carefully threaded her fingers through his. She was thrilled when, instead of pulling away as she'd expected, he lightly squeezed.
FOUR: Trying to Get a Spark to Grow Into a Flame
"Bye!" Nathan called to the driver once he and Haley were back at the cabin.
"Thank you!" Haley added sincerely, sending the man a wave.
The kind man smiled and waved back at her. "Merry Christmas!"
"Merry Christmas!" Nathan and Haley said in unison.
"I can't believe we stayed out so long," Haley smiled, rushing into the cabin as soon as Nathan pushed the door open.
"I know. It'll be sunset any second," Nathan said, peering out the window. He turned to face the couch and found Haley, huddled under one of the blankets, shivering.
She smiled at him. "I enjoyed it so much though. Thank you for coming with me." Then her eyes fell on his bags; they were still sitting by the door. She looked back into his face, suddenly realizing that he might still decide to leave.
He was confused by her crestfallen expression. He turned to see what she had been looking at and understanding lit across his face. He walked over and gathered up his luggage. Without a word, he disappeared down the hall and Haley heard him putting things away in the bedroom.
When Nathan came back out into the living room, Haley was beaming. He gazed at her with smiling eyes for a moment before he turned to the fireplace.
"I'll get a fire started. You must be half-frozen," he said.
Haley sat watching him as he crouched down in front of the fireplace, trying to get a spark to grow into a flame….
He was so strong. His arms were sculpted with hard muscles. The crème-colored sweater he was wearing hugged him tightly, leaving hardly anything to the imagination. The muscles in his back rippled against the close-fitting fabric.
Haley let her eyes drift a little lower….
He was wearing loose dark blue jeans and somehow, they really flattered his long, muscular legs. They also showed off his incredible butt.
Haley found herself chewing longingly on her bottom lip. Then she remembered her pajamas. She looked down at herself, her face contorting in horror and disgust.
"Um, I'llberightback," she huffed out in one quick breath.
Nathan turned to reply, but she was already gone.
Haley wrestled an outfit out of one of her suitcases, along with a bottle of Warm Vanilla Sugar body spray, her hairbrush and her make-up bag. Then she sprinted to the tiny bathroom and shut herself inside.
She quickly splashed some water over her face and neck and then went to work on her hair. After finally managing to get all the tangles out, she pulled the silky brown waves up into a high ponytail. Then she changed into a pair of low-rise blue jeans, swiped at her underarms with her deodorant, and pulled a deep olive-green sweater over her head; the color really complimented her pretty skin tone and brought out the hazel tints in her big brown eyes. She went a little crazy with the body spray and choked on Warm Vanilla Sugar fumes for a few moments before she went to work on her make-up. Her skin was behaving very nicely; there wasn't a blemish in sight. She decided to go very natural. She pinched her cheeks to heighten the rosy flush that was already there, put on a little mascara and eye-liner, and covered her lips with an earthy-toned gloss.
"Haley?" Nathan called.
Haley fussed with her hair a little more and finally emerged from the bathroom. When she returned to the living room, she found Nathan still crouched in front of the fireplace. Orange and red flames crackled over the logs. The Christmas tree in the corner twinkled and she realized that he'd also plugged the lights in.
Hearing her soft footsteps, Nathan turned to say something to her. As soon as he saw her though, he could only think how beautiful she was, and everything else slipped away.
Haley gaped at him, staggered at how perfectly the firelight shone on his face. It reflected in his deep blue eyes and seemed to cast a halo over his black hair.
"I- I um," Nathan stuttered. He gestured at the fire and slowly stood up, unable to keep from staring at her.
"Oh. Oh, good," Haley nodded. She was mesmerized by his spellbinding eyes; they seemed to call out to her. She took one step toward him, then another, and another. She was aware of a sprig of mistletoe hanging above the fireplace. Well, Nathan wasn't exactly standing right under it, but it was close enough! She wrapped her arms around him and lifted her chin, seeking his lips.
Then her stomach rumbled- loudly- letting Nathan and the whole freaking world know that she was hungry.
Nathan pulled his arms back. They had somehow coiled around Haley's waist. He ran a hand across the back of his neck, looking distracted.
"You, uh, you must be starving. I could eat too, I guess. Come on into the kitchen. Whoever Brooke called to decorate this place before we got here also stocked the refrigerator. There's enough food to last 'til June…." He continued talking as he disappeared into the kitchen, never once looking back at her.
Haley hid her bright red face in her hands, taking deep, steadying breaths. Could that possibly have gone anymore wrong? No, no she didn't think so. Sighing heavily, she wandered into the kitchen and found Nathan digging around in the fridge.
"So, what do you feel like?" he asked, keeping his back to her.
"Let me do it," Haley said.
"Haley, I don't mind-."
"You started the fire. Let me cook the dinner," Haley insisted.
After enjoying grilled-cheese sandwiches and chicken-noodle soup, Nathan and Haley decided to call it a night. After some discussion, they both agreed that sleeping together again was the best way to keep warm.
Maybe it was just wishful thinking, but Haley was sure that Nathan lay down beside her because he wanted to, and not just because they said they should. When she asked him to put his arms around her, it didn't seem like he was as awkward about it as he had been the night before either.
"Night Hales," he murmured, half-asleep already.
Haley slipped into slumber with a smile on her face. He'd called her Hales.
FIVE: One True Love
That same night, just as Nathan and Haley were settling into bed, three schemers sat talking animatedly in the living room of a certain small apartment back in good old Tree Hill.
"I'm serious you guys, I need your help!" Brooke begged. "I don't know what to do next! I can't think of any really good ideas!"
"Aw, Cupid's all out of arrows?" Lucas snickered. Peyton laughed heartily at his little jab.
Brooke glared at him, trying to keep her smile hidden. "If all you're going to do is be insulting, you can leave!"
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry." Lucas made his blue eyes their biggest and poked his bottom lip out; then he smiled. "I do have an idea."
"Is it a good one?" Brooke demanded with a not-so-angry scowl.
"Are you kidding? Of course it's good! In fact, it's great!Hand methe phone."
"Oh, that's genius Luke!" Peyton exclaimed, her honey-colored eyes bright with excitement once he'd ended his phone call.
"Cupid?" Lucas looked to Brooke, an expectant smile on his face.
She sighed and rolled her eyes. "All right, yes, that was good."
"I think I deserve some kind of reward for my brilliance." Lucas tapped his cheek with his pointer finger as a hint.
Brooke finally gave up a smile and pressed her lips to his cheek. Then she took his face in her hands and kissed his lips passionately.
Lucas cleared his throat and blinked his eyes, looking dazed. When he finally spoke, he sounded hoarse.
"Um, okay, if I come up with more ideas, do I get more of those?"
Brooke laughed and snuggled closer against him as he draped an arm over her shoulders.
"Peyton has an idea!" Peyton exclaimed, sticking her hand in the air like a schoolgirl waiting to be called on. "Does anybody want to hear Peyton's idea?"
"Shoot P. Sawyer, but don't expect me to kiss you!" Brooke laughed so hard she snorted.
They all shared a chuckle at Brooke's expense and then Peyton finally shared her idea.
"Oh, nice!" Brooke yipped excitedly. "They'll love that!"
"Yeah, and we can all help with that one," Lucas smiled. "I like it."
Peyton shrugged, as if to say, "Hey, I'm gifted."
"So, Luke's surprise will be ready for them tomorrow morning and then we can mail them Peyton's surprise for the day after that." Brooke talked quickly, growing more thrilled with the whole thing with every passing second.
"Sounds like a plan," Lucas said, flashing another one of his adorable smiles.
"Nathan!" Haley whisper-shouted the next morning. She sounded almost giddy with disbelief.
"Mmmm," Nathan moaned, turning over on his other side and pulling the quilt over his head.
Haley's eyebrows furrowed. She shook the quilt-covered lump that was her husband. "Nathan!"
Nathan sleepily mumbled something incoherent from underneath the blanket.
Haley pulled the blanket back and Nathan squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden brightness.
"Haley!" he groaned.
"You-have-got to see what's outside!" Haley exclaimed gleefully.
Nathan slowly opened his tired eyes to look into her face. "What?"
"Come on, come on, come on!" Haley commanded, full of impatient energy. She bounded out of the bedroom in a flash, forgetting yet again all about getting dressed.
"Haley! Haley, you're still in your pajamas! At least put a coat on or something!" he called. Muttering to himself, he ran out after her.
He caught up to her at the porch and all the scolding he had been planning to do was forgotten.
A stout man, with a trace of gray stubble on his face, smiled at them from where he stood beside a gleaming red snowmobile.
"See? See?" Haley giggled, bouncing up and down on her tip-toes.
Nathan could only blink.
"Good morning!" he called to them. "I'm George, from the snowmobile shop down in town, and some friends of yours down Tree Hill way convinced me to let you have this baby for the day." He gave the snowmobile a proud pat.
Nathan and Haley exchanged puzzled glances. Had George just said 'friends'? As in, plural?
"Oh, they asked me to give you a message. I almost forgot," he admitted sheepishly. He pulled a piece of paper out of his coat pocket, cleared his throat, and recited: "Surprise! From three meddling but well-meaning friends. Enjoy today and expect more tomorrow. P.S.—Brooke says you guys better have at least kissed already."
Nathan and Haley looked at each other again and laughed. So, they were all in on it now, huh?
George sent them another smile as he stuck the note back in his pocket. "You've got some pretty great friends, sounds like." Before Nathan and Haley could respond he continued with, "So, I'll just leave this here for you and I'll be back to pick it up tonight." With that, George turned to head for his truck.
"Thank you George!" Nathan and Haley called to him.
He waved at them and sent them a farewell honk as he drove away.
Haley and Nathan stared at each other with wide, eager eyes, and then bolted back into the cabin to quickly dress.
When they ran outside again, Nathan immediately hopped in the driver's seat of the oh-so-lovely snowmobile, sliding the helmet that had been left there over his head.
Haley was slightly miffed. How come he got to drive first? She slipped into her own helmet and settled into the small second-passenger seat behind him.
Nathan looked over his shoulder at her, his face hidden by the helmet and snow goggles.
"You look pretty darn cute in that helmet!" he said, sounding a lot like Darth Vader.
"You look like a Stormtrooper!" she shot back.
"'Ya know, those white robot-looking guys from Star Wars?"
He chuckled as he revved the engine. "You'd better hold on Hales!" he warned.
Now, that was something she didn't mind at all. Clutching him tightly around the waist, she let out a shriek as they took off, flying across the snow-covered ground.
Finally, after about an hour, Nathan pulled the snowmobile to a stop.
Haley ripped off her helmet and slapped his shoulder.
Nathan took his helmet off too and grinned unrepentantly at her.
"You are so reckless!"
"Haley, it's a snowmobile!" he laughed.
"Well, still, you drove really fast and you did little jumpy things with it when I told you not to and- and-."
"You had a blast," Nathan concluded smugly.
She tried to glare at him, but she ended up smiling instead. "All right, I did," she admitted. "But now Iwant todrive."
He kind of pouted at her. "It's still my turn."
"Nathan, it's been your turn for the past hour!" Haley protested.
"It has not been an hour."
"Yes, it has."
"No, it hasn't. It's only been-," Nathan stole a peek at his wristwatch, "forty-five minutes."
"Well, that's long enough. Let me have a turn."
The whole argument was very innocent and playful. They were like children again.
"All right, I know a way we can settle this." Nathan got up from his seat and put his helmet down in it.
Haley knew what he was thinking. Smiling, she did the same thing.
"First one hit loses," Nathan declared.
"Winner gets to drive," Haley stated the obvious.
"Go!" Nathan hollered.
They took off, slipping and sliding, as they scooped up fistfuls of snow and ducked behind clumps of giant pine trees for cover.
The sounds of snowballs smacking against bark and young laughter rang out in the winter morning, giving it even more cheer.
Haley yipped in alarm when she discovered that Nathan was dangerously close to her hiding spot. She clamped a gloved hand over her mouth and then sighed in relief when she realized that he hadn't heard her. Grinning wickedly, she pitched a snowball, and it hit him square in the back.
He froze as Haley crowed with victory.
"I got you! I win! I win!" she squealed.
He broke into a run, dashing through the snow with a strangely sexy athletic grace.
"Nathan Scott!" Haley exclaimed, racing to catch him. After a short pursuit, she managed to tackle him. "Say it!" she commanded, straddling his stomach.
"No!" he laughed breathlessly.
"Nathan!" she warned through laughter of her own, pressing her knees hard against his ribs.
"Fine! Fine! You beat me, you win!"
Haley gave his chest a that's-a-good-boy pat and then took her rightful place in the coveted driver's seat of the snowmobile.
"You do know how to work one of these things, right?" Nathan asked from the seat behind hers, back to his Darth Vader voice since his helmet was on his head again.
"It can't be that hard Nathan," Haley replied crisply. She sounded like Mrs. Darth Vader through her own helmet.
"Well, just be careful about the-," he tried.
"I don't need any help," Haley insisted. She gave it a little too much gas and they went flying.
"Haley! Haley brake! Brake!" Nathan shouted as she screamed.
Haley managed to calm down enough to remember how to stop and the two teens sat in a stunned silence; Nathan was gripping her so tightly, she almost couldn't breathe.
"Sorry," she whispered, her voice hoarse from the cold and all the screaming. This, for some reason, made them both burst into hysterical laughter. They laughed until their eyes watered and their sides ached.
"Wanna try again?" Nathan asked once he was able to catch his breath.
"Would you mind if I did?" she inquired meekly.
"No," he said, smiling. "Just- easy on the gas this time, okay?"
"Right," she giggled nervously.
Haley soon got the hang of the snowmobile and Nathan generously let her drive it 'til lunchtime.
They headed back to the cabin at about noon to eat a quick lunch. They feasted on Ham and Cheese Hot Pockets, fresh out of the microwave, warming themselves by the stove as they ate because they didn't want to bother with lighting a fire. As soon as the last morsel of Hot Pocket had been swallowed, they darted right back outside to play some more.
Hoots and hollers and the growling of a snowmobile engine tumbled through the woods until the moon and stars came out to light a dark night sky. They were flabbergasted when George's headlights flashed from down the lane. How had the day gone by so quickly?
George sent them a jovial greeting and they sent one back to him as they rode up to his truck on the snowmobile. Nathan helped George load Lucas' surprise into the truck's bed and then Haley asked Georgeif he'd like to stay for dinner.
"Well, thank you, I would," he chuckled amiably.
They all trooped inside the picturesque little cabin and Nathan went straight to work starting a fire. George tried to help, but Haley told him to sit right down on the couch and relax. Then she headed into the kitchen to scrounge up something for supper.
"I can't remember the last time I ate so good. Garlic chicken with baked potatoes and green beans! Mmmm!" George laughed, patting his round belly. "You've got yourself quite a wife there Nathan," he winked. "Thank you Haley," he added, smiling warmly at her.
"Oh, you're welcome." Haley smiled back at him. "You're sure you don't want more?"
"Positive," George rubbed his plump stomach again and nodded. "I am stuffed."
"All right," she laughed, taking his empty plate into the kitchen.
Nathan watched her go. Lost in his own thoughts, he pulled the chain that he kept his wedding ring on- the chain that he wore around his neck every day- out from under his sweatshirt and slid the ring back and forth along the chain.
"Trouble with the missus?" George asked quietly.
Nathan twitched. "Huh?"
George pointed at the gold band that wasn't on Nathan's finger. "Are you two having problems?"
"Yeah," Nathan sighed. "We—we're looking into a divorce." He lowered his eyes, waiting for the, 'Well, you're just too young for marriage' speech that so many adults hit him with.
"No, you don't need one," George said kindly but firmly. "You do whatever you have to do to fix what's broken, do you understand?"
Nathan looked back into George's face, slightly stunned. "What?"
"My wife's name was Susan. We were married on June 12, 1976 and divorced one-and-a-half years later. I lost the best woman I ever had because of pride and anger. I mean, she made a mistake sure, a big one. In the end though, I made the bigger mistake. I let her slip away and now I'll have to live the rest of my life without her.
"You can love lots of different people, lots of different women," he continued as Nathan gaped at him, "but when it comes right down to it, you'll never love some the way you love others. I mean, true love is a thing that's so rare; it's something that so many won't ever get to experience. When you find it, you gotta hold on tight because really, for the majority of us, all we get is one true love. And I'm tellin' you young fella, yours," George pointed toward the kitchen, "yours is right in there."
Nathan swallowed hard as George's words hit him smack between the eyes. Slowly, he slipped his ring back underneath his shirt.
"Nathan," Haley bustled into the room, eyes bright. "Are you still hungry?"
"No," he said huskily.
Haley's eyebrows drew together in confusion at his tone of voice. "Okay." She reached for his plate, but he picked it up first and got to his feet.
"I'll help you clean up," he offered.
Now Haley was really baffled. "Wha-? Um, you can't just leave George to fend for himself out here."
"Oh, that's all right, I need to get back anyway," George insisted.
"Are you sure?" Haley asked. He was such nice company.
"Oh, yeah. I've imposed on you kids long enough."
"You haven't imposed at all. We've enjoyed having you here, haven't we Nathan?" Haley pressed.
"Yeah. Your visit has been… enlightening," he replied, flashing a grin.
He chuckled his deep, merry chuckle again. "You are some of the nicest kids I've met in a long time. I've never been so glad I rented out a snowmobile. Thank you for everything. Haley, dinner was amazing. Right Nathan?"
"Really good," Nathan nodded. "You're a great cook," he added, making Haley smile.
After a few more minutes of saying goodbye, George left for home.
"That was so fun!" Haley beamed, turning to go back to the kitchen. "This whole day has just been so fun! Did you have a good time too?"
"Come on Hales, I had a great time." He reached out and caught her arm as she passed him.
She gazed up at him. For a moment, she thought he might kiss her, but his expression suddenly changed to one of perplexity.
"What is it?" she asked.
"Why-? You-. I'll-," Nathan exhaled sharply, irritated at himself. "I can clean the kitchen up if you want to go take a bath or something."
Haley blinked at him for a second and then slowly broke into a smile. "Thanks Nathan," she said softly.
As Haley headed into the bathroom, Nathan stalked to the kitchen, wrestling with his thoughts and emotions.
He loved Haley. He knew that- had always known it; he hadn't known just how much though until tonight. He felt that he was right on the cliff's edge, on the verge of taking the plunge. He wanted to be with Haley so much, but there was still that doubt; it was a lot smaller than it had been a few months ago, but it was still there, harassing him. He didn't want to run the risk of taking another chance with her and then have her rip his heart out again. There was no way he'd be made a fool of twice.
Once everything in the kitchen had been put away, Nathan stomped to the bathroom, still in turmoil. He stripped himself of his sweatshirt and T-shirt, tossing them thoughtlessly to the floor, and he pushed the door open; he just wanted to soak. Usually, he was a shower kind of guy, but the little bathroom had no shower. There was just a white porcelain claw-foot tub and he was eager for a warm bath.
Haley screeched when Nathan burst in on her. She was just stepping out of the tub. Quickly, she grabbed a towel and covered herself.
A red-faced Nathan turned his back. "Sorry! I'm sorry! I thought-. I mean, I didn't know that you were still-."
Haley giggled nervously. "Why are we acting like this? I mean it's not like we haven't seen each other-."
"Haley," Nathan pleaded, keeping his back to her.
"Fine Nathan. I- hey, what is that?"
"This, on your neck," Haley was right behind him now. Her cool fingers brushed against the skin of his neck as she ran them along the metal chain he wore.
Her light touch warmed him to his toes. Slowly, he turned to face her, trying not to think about the fact that there was nothing under the towel she had wrapped around herself.
Haley caught her breath, her dark eyes filling with tears. "Your ring," she whispered, reaching out to trace its shape. "You kept it." She'd always kept hers on her finger and when he'd taken his off, she'd assumed he'd gotten rid of it.
"Of course I kept it Haley," he whispered back, fearing his voice would crack if he spoke any louder.
She looked up into his eyes and touched his cheek. Carefully, she lifted her chin.
He pulled her close, bowing his head to find her lips.
"Nathan." She sighed out his name just as their mouths were about to meet.
That cleared his hazy mind and he quickly stepped back.
"Nathan," Haley reached for him.
"Don't," he begged, taking another step back. "I can't. Haley, I can't."
Haley's chin quivered, but she somehow managed to keep from crying in front of him. Their arms brushed when she maneuvered around him to get out the door.
Nathan tip-toed into the bedroom when he was finished with his bath so he wouldn't wake Haley. He settled down on his side of the bed and closed his eyes with a deep sigh.
"So, you're still okay sleeping with me?" Haley muttered angrily beside him. Her back was to him.
Nathan sighed again. "I'm sorry, okay? I just need time. I've told you that already."
"How much time will be enough? When are you finally going to let me in again?" Haley demanded.
"I don't know," he said softly.
"I'm sorry for what I did to you- to us," she sniffled.
"I know you are. Just- just keep being patient with me Hales. I'm getting there, I promise."
She was silent, but the mattress shook with her shivers.
"Come here," he spoke to her quietly, tenderly.
Haley curled up against him and let him envelope her in his safe arms.
SIX: The Game of Life
Nathan woke before Haley the next morning. He lay beside her for a long while, watching her sleep. She was so beautiful. Not only that, she was kind-hearted too. His thoughts drifted back to the previous night and how she'd invited George in for dinner. He also remembered George's advice to fix things. But, he wasn't sure if it could be that easy.
Haley mumbled something unintelligible in her sleep and snuggled closer to him.
On the night Haley left with Chris, Nathan had built up a wall of indifference around his heart. He couldn't stop himself from loving her, no matter how many times he swore to himself that he hated her. So, he put on a façade. He pretended not to care so he could wound her, cut her as deeply as she had cut him.
However, spending this fantastic time with her in the cabin, surrounded by the beauty of wintry woodlands, had caused his charade to become a lot less convincing. He loved lying down to sleep with her in his arms at night. He loved waking up in the morning to find her head on his shoulder—- he'd had no idea how much he'd missed that. He loved being able to play with her and joke aroundthe waythey used to. She gave him so much that he'd never had before he'd known her: joy; laughter; true companionship; unconditional love….
Tentatively, he placed a hand on the side of her face. He liked the way her soft skin felt under his palm. A light smile touched the corners of his mouth as he caressed her silky cheek with his thumb.
"Nathan." Haley's lips curled up in a sweet smile when she whispered his name from somewhere deep in her dreams.
The smile Nathan wore broadened. Then he carefully slid his arm out from underneath her and got up to walk to the kitchen.
He set bacon in a sizzling skillet and popped some bread in the toaster. Soon, scrambled eggs were cooking on the stovetop by the bacon and the aroma of coffee was wafting through every room in the cabin. Deciding to let things simmer for a while longer, Nathan grabbed the jacket he'd hung by the door the previous night and took a step out the door to enjoy the beautiful sunrise.
One step was all he managed though. His sock-clad feet tripped over a small package that sat on the welcome mat and he landed hard on the wooden-planked porch.
"OW!" He resisted screaming profanities into the wind. Somehow, he didn't like the idea of it when Christmas was only three days away. It seemed kind of… out of sync with the season.
"Nathan? Nathan!" Haley, who had been awakened by the appetizing smell of breakfast, came running. She knelt down beside him as he pushed himself up on his hands and knees. "What happened? Are you okay?" She ran a hand through his hair as she gazed anxiously at him.
"I just tripped. I'm fine," he snapped, embarrassed.
"Well, here, get up." Haley took him by the crook of the arm and helped him get on his feet. "Are you hurt?"
"No," he grumbled as her eyes searched for any sign of injury.
"Oh Nate, your hands." Haley took his big hands in her little ones, examining his scraped and bleeding palms.
"Nathan, they're bleeding. It looks like you've got some splinters in there too."
Haley rolled her eyes at him. 'Pig-headed macho man', she thought to herself.
"What?" he demanded.
"Come inside and wash with soap and water. Then let me get those splinters out." Haley slipped her arm through his and together, they turned for the front door.
"Watch out for that box," Nathan muttered. "It sneaks up on you."
Haley choked back a giggle, not wanting to bruise his pride anymore than it had already been bruised. Scooping the box up, she braced it against her hip as she walked back inside with Nathan.
Nathan went to the bathroom to wash his hands andHaley put the box down on the living room sofa. Quickly, she sprinted to the kitchen to turn the stove and coffee-maker off. Thankfully, nothing had burned.
"Wait, wait. Did you sterilize that thing?" Nathan pulled his hands back and eyed the needle Haley had hunted down warily. They were sitting next to each other at the kitchen table.
Haley rolled her eyes again. "Of course I did Nathan. Quit being such a baby." She grabbed his hands back.
He scowled at her. "I am not being a- OW! Geez Haley!" he howled when she prodded with the needle.
"Yeah, yeah. Hold still," she mumbled, concentrating on the splinter extraction.
"OW! Quit it! That's good enough! OW, OW, OWWWW!"
"There!" Haley exclaimed triumphantly when the last splinter was out. "That wasn't so bad, was it?"
He only glowered at her.
"They had to come out Nathan. I mean, I thought the big tough captain of the varsity basketball team could handle one little needle."
His only response was silence.
She sighed. "Are you hungry?"
"Yeah, I guess," he mumbled.
She smiled and went to get plates for him and herself.
"This looks good Nate," she said as she piled the plates with food. "Thanks for making it."
A crooked grin fell across his lips. "You're welcome. Thanks for taking such good care of me."
She flashed him a smile that made his chest ache. "You're welcome. You big baby."
Only after breakfast was eaten and everything was cleaned up did Haley and Nathan remember the package. They hurried to the living room to open it.
"It's postmarked Tree Hill," Haley smirked.
"Figures," Nathan chuckled. He plopped down next to her on the sofa and said, "Well, open it up Hales."
Haley tore open the little brown box and sighed out a delighted, "Oh!" when she saw what was inside.
"What is it?" Nathan asked, peeking over her shoulder. "Oh," he smiled. "This one was Peyton's idea. I know it."
"Mmm-hmm," Haley agreed. "And the snowmobile yesterday was so Luke."
Inside the little box were six Christmas CDs still in their wrappers. The Tree Hill crew had taken a trip to the local record store the day before and picked out their favorite holiday albums to send to the cabin in Boone.
Haley and Nathan took out one CD at a time, giving their best guess about who had picked out what.
"Oh, these are Lucas!" Haley exclaimed with certainty.
"Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole?" Nathan asked skeptically. "He doesn't listen to that."
"When I was growing up, this is what my mom would play when December came around; they're still her favorites. Lucas knows how much I love these," Haley smiled.
"I think these must be Peyton's picks," Nathan snickered, holding up two Christmas compilation CDs- lots of different songs sung by lots of different artists.
"Oh, that must have been tough," Haley laughed. "Christmas music isn't exactly her favorite."
"I'll bet she tried to pick out some kind of hard rock Christmas thing and Brooke made her put it back," Nathan chuckled.
"That's probably exactly what happened," Haley nodded with another laugh.
Nathan reached into the box for the last two. He held up a Mariah Carey holiday album with arched eyebrows.
"Brooke!" he and Haley snorted in unison.
Instead of another CD, Nathan pulled a festively wrapped gift from the box. A Hallmark envelope was taped to the top and read: Haley! The writing was bold and irrefutably Brooke's.
"I guess this is for you," he grinned, handing it to her.
Haley took it and held it in her lap. "Is that everything?"
"I think so. Oh, wait no." Nathan reached back into the box one last time and pulled out a pretty picture frame. Inside the frame was one of Peyton's drawings. She'd sketched Nathan and Haley locked in a passionate kiss, mistletoe above their heads. Behind them, a fire burned in a fireplace that looked amazingly real. Beside them, a magnificent Christmas tree stood, its lights shining. At the top of the paper, she'd scrawled out "'Tis the Season" in intricate calligraphy lettering.
Nathan and Haley exchanged a shy look.
"So, uh, what's in there?" Nathan asked, pointing at the present in Haley's arms.
"Oh, well, let's find out," Haley giggled. She opened the card first. "Haley," she began. "Stop reading this out loud if Nathan is with you." She glanced at Nathan apologetically and continued reading in silence.
"What's it say?" Nathan wanted to know when Haley slapped the card shut and hastily shoved it back into the envelope, her cheeks bright red.
"Um, I can't open it 'til tonight," she mumbled, rushing to hide the present in the bedroom, flushing an even darker shade of crimson.
"That's it?" Nathan called after her. "That can't be all Haley. What's wrong? What did she do now?"
"Nothing, nothing. Just forget it," Haley rambled, coming back out into the living room.
"Haley-," Nathan tried. Now he was curious.
"Iwant todance," Haley cut in. "Do you feel like dancing?"
"Haley, I suck at dancing," he reminded her.
Ignoring him, she snatched up one of Peyton's compilation CDs and stuck it in the stereo that sat in a little niche by the fireplace.
The toe-tapping, finger-snapping, head-bobbing music of Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means to Me" soon filled the air….
"Candles burning low
Lots of mistletoe
Lots of snow and ice
Everywhere we go…"
She walked up and took his hands, tugging to get him up off the couch.
"So what?" she said. "It's just you and me."
"I still don't want to," he shook his head. "You'd have to get me totally drunk first."
"All these things and more
All these things and more
That's what Christmas means to me, my love
Christmas means to me, my love…"
"Come on Nathan," she urged. "I can't dance either."
"You can dance better than me."
"Fine," she sighed, making a crazy but cute face at him. "I'll just dance by myself then."
And she did. Well, kind of. She hopped and twirled and shook for all she was worth, singing loudly along with the music.
"I see your smiling face
Like I've never seen before
Though I love you lately
It seems I love you more…"
Nathan sat on the couch and watched her, greatly entertained.
"Please dance with me?" Haley begged, kneeling at his feet to catch her breath.
Nathan looked at her, sitting there in her pjs, pink-cheeked and breathless, and he smiled.
"No, I'm having fun just watching you."
"You're the only one I'll do this for," she smiled back at him.
He narrowed his eyes in confusion.
"You bring out so many things in me, so many things I'm embarrassed to let anybody else see. I mean, you were the first person I sang for. Do you remember that, in the café?"
"I'll always remember that," he said softly.
Her smile grew bigger. "You loosen me up. You bring out the silly, goofy side of me; and I don't mind showing it to you because- well, because-."
He got to his feet, pulling her up with him and twirled with her all over the living room floor.
"I feel like running wild
Lord's angels and a little child
I'll get you 'neath the mistletoe
I'll kiss you once, and then some more…"
"Sing!" Haley implored. She was lightheaded with sheer delight, loving waltzing crazily around the room in his arms.
"You're doing fine with that all by yourself," Nathan laughed, giving her a spin.
"Nope, sorry; I have my limits."
Before too long though, he was singing just as loudly and energetically as Haley. You see, she brought out his silly, goofy side too.
"Let's deck the halls with holly
Singing 'Silent Night'
Fill the tree with angels
And pretty, pretty lights
Go to sleep and wake up
Just before daylight
All these things and more
All these things and more
That's what Christmas means to me, my love…"
"So, it's nighttime," Nathan mentioned casually later that evening, once the last of the dinner dishes was put away.
Haley sent him a suspicious stare. "Uh-huh," she said.
"Brooke's present?" he prompted. He hadn't forgotten about Haley's reaction to it and he wanted to know what it was.
She flushed scarlet again. "All right," she gulped. Taking him by the hand, she led him into the living room and sat him down on the couch. "Close your eyes."
Nathan obeyed and listened to her footsteps disappear down the hallway. Before too long, she was back, slipping something soft over his hair.
"Keep your eyes closed. Don't open them until I tell you. Are they closed?" Haley's voice shook nervously.
"Yes." Nathan listened as Haley put a CD in the stereo. A familiar Eartha Kittsong began to play….
"Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree, For me…"
"Okay, open," Haley said.
Nathan opened his eyes and they tripled in size.
"…Been an awful good girl, Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight…."
Haley stood before him in a sexy red satin Mrs. Claus costume. The top was a skin-tight bodice with white faux fur lining the ends of the sleeves and the plunging neckline. The bottom was a very short skirt that showed off her incredible legs. A Santa hat crowned her head. A matching Santa hat sat a little crookedly on his head.
"…Santa Baby, a '54 convertible too, light blue. I'll wait up for you dear, Santa Baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight…"
He tried to say something, but he couldn't get his mouth to work right. He wanted her to stop. This wasn't something she would usually do; she wasn't being Haley, she was being Brooke's puppet. And it was obvious that she felt extremely uncomfortable.
Haley spun around in three quick circles, the skirt flaring with the movement. On the third twirl, she lost her balance and toppled over.
Nathan shot to his feet. "Haley-."
"I'm okay," she promised, getting back up. Her face was as red as her costume. She strode up to him, trying to walk like the supermodels did on the fashion runways. She was wearing red strappy high-heeled shoes though, and just as she got to him, she stumbled and fell against his chest.
"Whoa—Haley!" Nathan steadied her, holding her close to him.
She stood frozen in his arms, burrowing her face into his sweater.
"Are you okay?" he murmured, rubbing her back.
"No," she whimpered. "I'm mortified! I feel like an idiot!"
Nathan let go of her for a second and went to turn the music off.
Haley plopped down on the couch and hid her face in one of the throw pillows.
Nathan came back over and sat down next to her. "Haley, take the pillow away from your face," he smiled.
"No," she sniffled, her refusal muffled.
"What happened to the whole you not minding if I see your silly, goofy side thing?" he chuckled.
"Don't laugh!" she cried, smacking him with the pillow. "There's a difference between being goofy and being absolutely, outrageously ridiculous, all right?"
"Is this what Brooke sent you?" Nathan tried very hard to keep his smile from coming back.
"Haley, did you learn nothing from the Halloween party at Tric?"
"Oh, please don't remind me of that right now," she moaned.
"Don't you remember what I said?"
"You said the skanky Sandra Dee costume wasn't me," she mumbled covering her face with her hands. "Brooke was behind that one too."
"Exactly. Why are you doing the same thing over again?"
"Excuse me for trying to be sexy for you!" Haley snapped. Then she blushed for actually saying that out loud to him.
"Haley, you're sexy without trying, trust me. You just being yourself-dancing around in your pajamas and being stupid, inviting a complete stranger in for dinner, nearly killing us by getting gas-happy with the snowmobile- that's the sexiest thing in the world."
She looked over at him wide-eyed.
"Yeah, well, being myself hasn't gotten me any closer to being with you again," she mumbled after a long moment. She lowered her eyes to her hands and picked at a fingernail.
"That's not entirely true," Nathan murmured.
Haley inhaled sharply and looked up into his face again.
"Go change out of that thing. Oh, and take this too," Nathan ripped the Santa hat off his head and held it out to her.
"Better?" Haley stood in front of Nathan and let him inspect her new outfit. She wore a comfortable pair of faded blue jeans and a maroon-colored sweatshirt that said something about Tree Hill. The lettering had gotten slightly chewed up from numerous trips through the washer.
His dark blue eyes shined with approval. "Nowthat is sexy!"
Haley bowed her head, a pleased grin on her lips and flush in her cheeks. She turned to the trunk-like coffee table that was made out of sturdy, lustrous wood, looking for the Bing Crosby CD. Then her sharp brown eyes noticed something interesting. Kneeling down, she carefully lifted the top of the table- it opened like a giant treasure chest-and found a deep space inside for storage.
"Ooo! Nathan, Nathan!" she exclaimed, reaching to get something that was apparently pretty incredible.
"What, what?" he mimicked her, smiling affectionately.
She plunked a long rectangular cardboard box down in his lap and commanded, "Look it!"
"The Game of Life," he read. A board game. Holy cow, it was the eighth wonder of the world…Not.
"Wanna play?" she asked, bouncing on her knees.
"Sure," he grinned. "But first, we need a few things."
"Like…?" Haley wanted to know.
He added some more wood to the fire and plugged the Christmas tree lights in.
"A festive ambiance, first of all," he winked at her over his shoulder.
"Oh, of course," Haley snickered. She loved this. She loved how they were able to joke around like this again. "What else?"
"Ah," he held up a finger and crossed to the stereo. He put a CD in and in an instant, Bing Crosby's smooth voice was serenading them with "Silver Bells".
"Music," Haley nodded. "Very important. What else are we missing?"
"Get the game set up and I'll show you," Nathan promised, heading into the kitchen.
"Junk food!" Haley laughed when Nathan returned carrying a tray laden with two mugs of steaming hot chocolate and a plate of cookies. A bag of mini marshmallows sat beside the cookies and Haley beamed at her husband.
"Yes, I remembered your marshmallows Miss Haley. I know you can't drink hot chocolate without them." Nathan could read his wife's face as easily as he could read a book.
"All right," Haley said once they were both settled around the game board, "let's play!"
Nathan picked the green car and Haley picked the red one. Then, they squabbled over who would be the banker (Haley won), and they set off in The Game of Life.
Both of them decided to go to college. After Nathan "graduated", he drew "Athlete" out of the career card deck. He showed Haley his job with a smirk. Oh, he also got the highest-paying salary card.
"Wow. You're a rich NBA star," Haley flashed a jokingly impressed smile. "Go Nate."
Haley drew the "Musician" career card and laughed hard. She got the second highest-paying salary card.
"No way!" Nathan hooted when she showed him. "Man, that's hilarious!"
Marriage came next. They both arrived at that space at the same time.
"Who's your husband?" Nathan asked quietly. He watched as Haley concentrated on sticking a little blue peg man beside the little pink peg woman in her red car.
"You," she said simply, putting her car back on the board. "Who's your wife?"
"Can't you see the resemblance?" Nathan held up the little pink peg he'd chosen to be his significant other. "It's you."
Following the double wedding involving the same couple, houses were chosen.
"Oh, Nathan! I don't want the split-level!" Haley whined.
"Hey, you picked it," Nathan shrugged. He laughed when she pouted. "All right, fine. Here." He gave her the Tudor mansion card.
"Now that is more like it," Haley nodded.
"Only the best for my wife," Nathan smiled at her. He'd meant it to be playful, but it came out sounding sincere.
Haley looked up at him, the Christmas tree lights reflecting in her dazzling eyes. She sent him an adoring smile.
"You haven't looked at me like that in a long time," she whispered.
"Like what?" he whispered back, gazing deeply into her eyes.
"Like you love me."
His heart clenched in his chest. "Haley, I told you that I loved you-."
"That was the night I came back home," she remembered. "You said you loved me, but you couldn't trust me."
"I don't feel like talking about this right now," he said, fiddling with the game's spinner.
"Me either, I'm sorry," she quickly apologized. "Will you pass me the marshmallows, please? I need some more."
Nathan took a handful and then shoved the bag in Haley's direction. He tossed one of his marshmallows in the air and caught it in his mouth.
"Nice!" Haley laughed. "Do it again!"
He chuckled and did her bidding. He caught the second marshmallow as expertly as the first.
"Let me see if I can get one in your mouth if I throw it!" Haley suggested eagerly.
Nathan shook his head at her, smiling slightly. "Aaaaahhhh!" he said, opening his mouth wide.
Haley took careful aim and chucked the marshmallow.
"Oh! Real nice Hales! Right in the eye!" Nathan laughed, rubbing at the eye the marshmallow had impaired. He picked up that same marshmallow and pitched it back at her.
"Nathan!" she exclaimed when the marshmallow connected with her forehead. A small marshmallow war ensued.
"Just admit defeat already!" Haley shouted. She steadily pelted him with the white squishy weapons.
"You don't fight fair! You've got all the ammo!" Nathan exclaimed, pointing to the bag of marshmallows she had clutched in her hand.
"So get creative and come up with a plan of action, then!"
"How about we just get back to the game you begged me to play!" Nathan dodged the barrage of marshmallows.
"Is that a surrender?" Haley wanted to know.
"No, it's a ceasefire. Enough childishness now Hales. Hand over the marshmallows."
Haley reluctantly obeyed.
"FOOL!" Nathan cackled evilly. He showered her with the remainder of the marshmallows and tossed the empty bag aside. "Shall we?" he smiled pleasantly at her.
"By all means," she said, sending him a smile that was a little less gracious.
Nathan ended up getting the beach house card and the game progressed from there.
"Oh, this idea is going to get them together for sure!" Brooke exclaimed with certainty. She pushed a shopping cart down the snack aisle of the Tree Hill grocery store.
"How do you know they're not together already?" Peyton asked with a smile as she picked up a box of Graham crackers and dropped it into the cart. "My surprise could have done the trick today."
"No way! My snowmobile yesterday had to have worked magic!" Lucas spoke up.
"Well, if they are together already, this will bring them even closer." Brooke intervened before Peyton and Lucas started a real argument. "We are just way too smart! We should write a book about this! I bet we'd make a fortune!" she squealed with glee.
"Recycle, get a Life Card," Nathan read from the space he'd landed on. He took the little cardboard tab Haley held out to him. He turned it over to read the back of it when she focused her attention on straightening the piles of colorful play money. "Wouldn't it be sweet if we got a million dollars for recycling in real life?" he joked.
"Nathan!" Haley scolded. "You're not supposed to look at your Life Cards until you reach retirement!"
He rolled his eyes at her. "Just spin."
She frowned at him and gave the spinner a vicious twist.
"One, two, three, four," she counted quietly to herself, moving her little red car along the board. She looked up at Nathan and smiled. "We just had a baby girl."
On Nathan's next turn, they also adopted twins.
"Oh! Our baby won a beautiful baby contest and the reward is $10,000!" Haley exclaimed delightedly after her next spin.
"Which one won?" Nathan wanted to know.
"Which one won?" Haley repeated, snickering. One won. It was funny.
"Well, we have three dear," Nathan reminded her with a deadpan expression.
"Lucy, Braden, and Becca," Haley nodded. She'd named her little peg babies. The hot chocolate was starting to get to her.
"Right. So, which one's the $10,000 kid?"
"I dunno. They're all beautiful," Haley insisted.
"If you're their mother, I'm sure they are." Nathan stretched his muscular arms over his head and stifled a yawn.
"Right. So, they all win," Haley concluded.
"So, we get $30,000?" Nathan sounded hopeful.
"Well, I am the banker," Haley considered. "Oh, sure. Why not?"
When the red and green cars were finally parked in front of a lavish white plastic retirement community, Nathan and Haley stood up, stretching their stiff limbs.
"We had a great life," Nathan smiled.
"A really great life," Haley agreed through a yawn. She wrapped an arm around his waist as Nathan draped an arm across her shoulders. "We can leave this stuff 'til morning, right?" she asked sleepily.
Nathan looked around the living room. The fire was out and the tree was un-plugged, but the game was still spread over the floor, the dishes were still sitting on the coffee table, and marshmallows were all over the place.
"Mmm-hmm," he replied, turning off Bing for the night and rubbing his tired eyes. "It's fine."
"Oh, good," Haley yawned again. "Let's go to bed then."
"Mmm-hmm, bed," Nathan concurred half-consciously.
With arms still wrapped tightly around each other, the couple wandered down the hall and into the bedroom.
"Oh and Haley?" Nathan spoke up as they changed into their pajamas.
"I love you. Just so you know."
"It's nice to hear you say it," she sighed, snuggling close to him under the bed's quilt for warmth. "But I want you to show me Nathan."
He let out a weary breath. "Can't you just say you love me too?"
"I do love you," she said. "And I miss you Nate."
He didn't have to ask what she meant. He already knew. He missed her too, and he was so close to just letting go of everything but her. Every day that went by, his resolve weakened. Every day that went by, he remembered everything he loved about her and forgot about why he'd tried so hard to hate her.
As great as reconnecting with her was though, he still wasn't sure she was trustworthy. He tightened his arm around her with another long sigh.
"Goodnight Nathan," she mumbled, understanding his silence.
SEVEN: You + Mistletoe Kiss
"Nathan! We got another box from home!" Haley called to her husband the next morning.
"Did you trip over it?" Nathan plodded into the living room, blinking sleepy blue eyes.
"No. You're the one with that problem," she smiled at him. She reached up to smooth his sleep-tousled hair.
He grinned and moved his shoulders up and down in a slight shrug. "So, you wanna open it?"
Haley surveyed the mess that had been left the night before. Then she turned her eyes back to his face and pursed her lips.
He looked around him. "All right, fine," he sighed.
They knelt down together and put the Life game away. Then Haley carried the dirty dishes into the kitchen to wash them as Nathan set to work picking up all the marshmallows. It didn't take Haley long to clean the dishes and put them away though, so she was soon back in the living room with a broom and dustpan.
"What are you doing?" she laughed.
He was crawling around on his hands and knees gathering marshmallows. When she spoke, he looked over his shoulder at her. He laughed too when he saw what she was carrying.
"The broom would probably work better than what I'm doing, huh?"
"Yeah, it probably would!" Haley clutched at her stomach as she laughed even harder. "Oh, Nathan, you're hilarious!"
Once all the marshmallows had been swept up, they took turns in the bathroom and got dressed.
"So, open it," Nathan said, holding the box out to her. He and Haley were sitting side-by-side on the couch.
"No, I opened the one that came yesterday," she reminded him. "It's your turn."
Nathan smiled and eagerly ripped into the package. He'd never admit it to anybody, especially Brooke, but he was really beginning to enjoy this whole thing.
"How cuuuute!" Haley cooed when she saw what the box contained.
"Candy!" Nathan exclaimed jubilantly, completely overlooking the store-bought pre-baked gingerbread house.
"That's to decorate the house with!" Haley nudged him.
Haley put Brooke's Mariah Carey Christmas CD in the stereo. Then she cocked her head to listen. There was quite a bit of rustling going on in the kitchen. She bit back a smile, knowing exactly what Nathan was up to in there.
Hearing Haley's approaching footsteps, Nathan hastily shoved a handful of red and green M&Ms in his mouth.
Haley narrowed her eyes suspiciously at her husband's bulging cheeks. "Nathan," she said accusingly.
"Hmmm?" he replied. His blue eyes were wide and innocent. He couldn't help but think that she looked amazing this morning. Well, no matter what, she always looked amazing. Today though, she was staggering.
She stood in front of him in a long-sleeved light green shirt and a pair of blue jeans that did mind-boggling things with her figure. Across the chest of the shirt was a picture of a man's profile with the word you underneath it in parenthesis, followed by a plus sign, a picture of mistletoe, an equal sign, and a big kiss mark.
It took him a second to figure out that the message read, "You+ Mistletoe Kiss." He chuckled quietly to himself. Well, then. Bring on the mistletoe!
"Did you eat some of the candy?"
Nathan sent her a wounded look. "Mmm-mmm," he shook his head vehemently.
"Telling a lie two days before Christmas? Santa Claus is not going to be pleased Nathan Scott." Haley shook a scolding finger at him. He was mouth-wateringly handsome today, she thought. Well, he was that everyday, but today he was chin-on-the-floor-good-looking.
He stood leaning against a counter in a maroon-and-white stripped polo shirt over a long-sleeved gray shirt; he was like a giant candy cane and she just wanted to… lick him all over. His dark blue jeans sagged just slightly and looked absolutelymarvelous on him.
He flashed a boyish grin and crunched unrepentantly on his M&Ms.
"Fine. But if all you get on Christmas morning is a lump of coal, don't you cry to me about it." Haley gave him a warning before she focused her attention on the little gingerbread house that sat in the middle of the kitchen's island counter.
For a while, they worked very nicely together; and their gingerbread house began to look awfully cute.
Then Nathan caught her sneaking some sweets of her own- those little peppermint candies to be specific.
"Haley, are you eating the gingerbread house candy?"
She flashed him a deer-in-the-headlights look.
At that instant, the beginning strains of the second track on the Mariah Carey album floated in from the living room.
"I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need…"
"Ummm," she swirled the peppermint around in her mouth. "No?" she tried.
"Oh Haley," he shook his head disappointedly. "I think you just told a falsehood."
"I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true…
All I want for Christmas
"What are you-?" Before Haley could get the rest of her question out, Nathan smeared vanilla frosting all across her cheeks.
Haley screeched. Snatching up a can of whipped cream, she doused him with the white foam.
Gumdrops, M&Ms, peppermints, and sprinkles flew through the air; and globs of frosting splattered against the walls and cabinets as Haley and Nathan chased each other around the kitchen.
"I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree
I don't need to hang my stocking
There upon the fireplace
Santa Claus won't make me happy
With a toy on Christmas day
I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know…"
Haley slipped in frosting and slammed into Nathan, pinning him against a counter.
"Ow!" they laughed breathlessly.
"Why, when we have food, do we always end up throwing it at each other?" Haley giggled.
"We're completely uncivilized?" Nathan suggested.
"I'm not!" Haley protested. "But maybe you are," she allowed.
He smiled and reached to wipe a blotch of frosting from her cheek.
When his gentle fingers softly brushed against her skin, unexpected tears began to burn in Haley's eyes. She stared up at him, swallowing hard against the lump in her throat.
"I won't ask for much this Christmas
I won't even wish for snow
I'm just gonna keep on waiting
Underneath the mistletoe…"
"Are you crying?" Nathan was confused when one hot tear escaped and trailed down his wife's cheek. He swiped his thumb over it, wiping it away. "What's wrong?" He wanted to know.
"Nothing," she bowed her head and ran her hands over her face. She tried to move away, but Nathan held her in place.
"Haley," he said quietly. "Why are you crying?"
She looked up into his face, nearly blinded by tears. Her shoulders moved up and down in a pitiful little shrug. "I just love you," she whispered unsteadily.
His worried eyes lightened with a slight smile. "I love you too," he said in that friendly, casual way that made her fighting mad. He ran a hand over her hair before he took a step back.
"'Cause I just want you here tonight
Holding on to me so tight
What more can I do?
Baby, all I want for Christmas is you…"
"No, Nathan!" she yelled fiercely. She grabbed his arm and yanked until he was looking at her again. Furious, pent-up tears flooded her cheeks and for a moment, she couldn't find her voice.
"No," she said again when she could manage it. "Ireally love you! I want to share my life with you, like we promised we would when we said our vows! I want to have a home with you, I want to have babies with you! I want- I want…." Her voice trailed away to nothing and she stood, tightly hugging herself, looking down at her feet as she sniffled and hiccupped on shaky sobs.
"All the lights are shining
So brightly everywhere
And the sound of children's
Laughter fills the air…"
She found courage to look up at him and she cradled his face in her hands. "Just- spending this time here with you has been… kind of a miracle. I mean, I've always loved you, but spending time alone with you here has made me love you more deeply than I ever thought I could. I need you Nathan. I need you; and I want you; and I love you; and nobody else will ever be what you are to me."
"Oh I don't want a lot for Christmas
This is all I'm asking for
I just want to see my baby
Standing right outside my door…"
Bits of George's advice, which Nathan had thought deeply about every night since it had been given to him, resurfaced at that moment…
'Fix what's broken… She made a mistake sure, a big one. In the end though, I made the bigger mistake. I let her slip away and now I'll have to live the rest of my life without her… All we get is one true love… Yours is right… there….'
Nathan was still scared of taking another chance with Haley. But as he stood there, staring at her downcast head, he realized that he was more scared- terrified- of not taking another chance with her and losing her forever.
'Fix what's broken… fix what's broken….'
"I'm sorry. I know, you don't feel like talking about it," Haley mumbled, trying to move past him.
He gripped her upper arms in his hands and pressed her up against the counter again. Slowly, softly, he touched his lips to her forehead, her cheeks, and then her lips.
That first gentle kiss reawakened them both. It was as if they were coming out of a long sleep, finding brilliant color after living so long in black-and-white.
"Oh, I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
Baby all I want for Christmas is you…"
"Haley," Nathan sighed his wife's name against her mouth. He felt her lips part beneath his, inviting him to give her more.
Haley whimpered with quiet pleasure when their tongues met in an eager greeting. She grabbed fistfuls of his shirt in her hands as he coiled his arms around her hips, pulling her against his body.
He groaned as she slowly drove him wonderfully out of his mind. Then she was tracing electrifying kisses down his neck.
All right, that was it…
He lifted her off her feet, impatiently capturing her lips again as he staggered toward the door, intent on getting to the bedroom as quickly as possible. In his haste however, he bumped against the island counter and sent a big metal mixing bowl crashing to the floor.
They both jolted at the loud clang. Gaping at each other, open-mouthed, they began to laugh in utter astonishment.
"You okay?" he asked breathlessly.
Haley, who was still tangled around him, nodded. "Could you put me down though?"
"Oh, sure. Sorry." He flashed a bright-eyed smile at her, a smile she hadn't seen for a very long time.
Haley felt him take her hand and thread his fingers through hers. She hastily pulled away, red-faced.
"Oh, I'm such a mess." She tried to sound light-hearted, but she sounded nervous and embarrassed instead. Rubbing her hands over her frosting-stained cheeks, she sprinted out of the kitchen.
Nathan heard the slam of the bathroom door and slid down the wall until he hit the floor. He sat, knees drawn up to his chest, extremely confused as he tried to slow his thundering heart.
"Don't Nathan," Haley said a little curtly when they were in bed that night. She was keeping her back to him.
Nathan, who had been trying to wrap his arms around her, obediently pulled back.
"Are you okay?" he asked after a moment's silence.
"I'm fine." Even more curtly.
He blinked in the darkness, totally bewildered. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, Nathan!" she exclaimed. Then, sighing, she said, "Please go to sleep, all right?"
"Well, I want to make sure you're warm enough-," he tried.
"I'm warm enough," she snapped.
"Haley, I can feel you shivering!" he shouted.
"I'll be fine! Don't touch me!" she shouted back at him.
"All right, do you want to tell me what I did? Because I'm a little lost right now Haley! What's up with this ice princess thing?" he demanded.
She sighed again and it shuddered in her lungs. "You didn't do anything. Please just go to sleep."
"I won't until you tell me what's wrong."
"Nothing's wrong and that's the last thing I'll say about this. I'm going to sleep now, so goodnight Nathan."
"No, there is something wrong. I know you. Tell me what it is."
Nathan exhaled in defeat. "Fine," he mumbled, turning his back to her. "I love you Haley," he said over his shoulder.
"I love you too."
"No, I really love you."
"I really love you too Nate." When she spoke, he could hear the smile in her voice. That was something at least.
He let out another long breath as he closed his eyes. Women, he thought. They always ran hot, cold, hot, cold…. And they never said why or how they'd gone from hot to cold. What was a guy supposed to do? Figure it out himself? All he knew was that he wanted Haley. Forever. George was right, she was his one true love. And he'd do anything to help her see that.
"Okay you guys, tomorrow's Christmas Eve. This is the clincher!" Brooke declared, pacing in front of Peyton and Lucas in her living room back in Tree Hill. "We have to do something huge! Any ideas?"
Lucas stared up at the ceiling while Peyton nibbled on a thumbnail.
"I'm not hearing anything people!" Brooke exclaimed.
Lucas leaped to his feet so suddenly, Peyton and Brooke both shrieked.
"I've got it!" he hollered, doing a really sexy little celebration dance thing.
"You've got what?" Brooke wanted to know. 'Besides an extremely cute rear-end', she thought with a crooked grin.
"I've got," he said, coming up and bumping hips with her as he continued dancing, "the perfect surprise!"
"So—Luke, just stop, you look ridiculous- tell us," Peyton said.
"Well, it's kind of a tradition Haley has," he explained, settling down on the couch again. "She told me about it a long time ago. She's been doing it since she was a little kid."
"Oh!" Brooke sighed, putting her hands over her heart when Lucas had shared Haley's tradition and his idea. "That is so sweet! Lucas, if you keep this up, I'll just have to reconsider the whole non-exclusive thing."
His bright blue eyes shined. "Then I promise I'll keep it up."
EIGHT: Really, Really, Really
Nathan woke before the sun the next morning- which was Christmas Eve. He lay in bed, staring into the darkness, as that spectacular kiss played out over and over again in his mind.
Beside him, Haley mumbled something and her teeth chattered.
He smiled and moved over so he could be close to her. Wrapping his arms around her, he nestled his chin against her shoulder and listened to her steady breathing. He held her until her shivers subsided and then he got up to clean the kitchen, which still bore the scars of their food fight.
Nathan was sitting on the couch in the living room when Haley got up about four hours later.
"Hey," she yawned.
"Feel like breakfast?" she yawned again, heading for the kitchen.
"I already ate. I left you a plate; you can warm it up if you're hungry."
"Did you clean up the mess in there too?"
"You didn't need to do that," she said. She came around the couch and sat on the end farthest from him.
"Or you could just say, 'Thank you Nathan. I appreciate it'," he grinned. It seemed to him that the other end of the couch was a world away. He wanted her close; he wanted her in his arms.
She laughed a little. "Okay, thank you Nathan. I appreciate it."
An awkward silence hung between them, as Nathan stared at Haley, and Haley stared out the window.
"Oh, hey, did we get another package today?" Haley finally spoke.
Nathan looked down at his hands, frowning slightly, and shook his head.
"Oh." Haley slumped with disappointment.
"Are you… okay this morning?" Nathan asked carefully.
She smiled at him, but it looked so sad and worried somehow. "Yeah, I'm okay. I'm sorry about last night. I was just… I don't know. I guess I was just overtired."
Nathan knew there was more to it than just that. He could hear it in her voice; something was still not right. He held an arm out for her, praying she'd come over and curl up inside it. Cautiously, she did.
"Please tell me what's wrong," he softly pleaded, resting his cheek on the top of her head.
She hid her face in his chest and offered no answer.
The sunny morning gave way to an overcast afternoon, and the overcast afternoon gave way to a snowy night….
Nathan wandered out of the bathroom, hair wet, teeth brushed, and pjs on. He took a step toward the bedroom, but stopped when the distinctive crooning of Nat King Cole drifted down the hallway….
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire
Jack Frost nipping at your nose
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
And folks dressed up like Eskimos…"
He followed it into the living room and found Haley curled up on the couch-also all dressed for bed- wrapped in a blanket. She was staring at the Christmas tree, lost in thought.
She heard him walk up behind her and craned her neck to look up into his face.
"Hi," she smiled.
"What are you doing out here? Don't you want to go to bed?" he smiled back.
"I can't yet."
"Why not?" His smile broadened.
She hung her head, a flush coloring her cheeks.
"Oh, now I really have to know why not!" he laughed. "Come on Hales, tell me."
"Promise not to laugh?"
"Yes, yes, I promise not to laugh."
She hesitated and then shrugged. "I'm waiting for Santa Claus."
He choked back a laugh, remembering his promise just in time.
"It's something I've done every Christmas Eve that I can remember," she went on, turning her eyes back to the tree. "I know it probably seems kind of childish, but I can't help it. It's like a tradition now."
"Santa doesn't come if you're awake though," he reminded her, unable to keep from smiling.
"I was always sure that he would come to me if I was awake," she said. "Because he knew I wouldn't tell anybody I'd seen him."
Nathan's chest ached with all the love he felt for his wife at that moment. Everything about her was everything he'd ever wanted and so much more.
"Could I wait up with you?" he asked.
She pulled the blanket back, patting the space beside her invitingly.
Smiling all over again, he snuggled down next to her and tucked the blanket back into place around them.
"They know that Santa's on his way
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh
And every mother's child is going to spy
To see if reindeer really know how to fly…"
"I love you."
Haley twitched at the soft but sudden whisper against her ear. Then she smiled.
"I love you too," she murmured a reply.
He wanted to ask her what was bothering her. He'd asked her several times over the course of the day, but she never answered him. He decided to just accept the "I love you" and not ruin the moment with questions.
"And so I'm offering this simple phrase
To kids from one to ninety-two
Although it's been said many times, many ways
Merry Christmas to you."
Nathan bolted awake when Haley nudged him, startled. He blinked at the clock on the fireplace's mantle and saw that it was just after eleven.
"What is it?" he yawned.
"Ssshhh!" She waved at him to be quiet and cocked her head. "Do you hear that?"
Nathan mimicked her head-cocking actions, trying to tease her. Then he heard it.
Sleigh bells jingled magically out in the snow.
Haley shot to her feet and stumbled to the window, peering out at the night.
"What? What's out there?" Nathan wanted to know when Haley squealed.
"It's Santa!" she laughed, bright-eyed as a six-year-old.
"Huh? Wait, wait, wait. Haley, hold on." He caught her before she could pull the door open and made her put her coat on. Then he wrapped her scarf around her neck and slid her gloves over her hands.
She hastily did the same thing for him and then led him outside, pulling him by the wrist.
A beautiful red and gold painted sleigh, hitched to two white horses, sat in the yard. A stout man in the customary red suit had his back to them, pulling a big sack out of the back of the sleigh. When he turned to face them, his twinkling eyes crinkled in a jolly smile.
"Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!" he greeted them.
"Merry Christmas," they smiled.
"Three of my elves say hello from Tree Hill," he chuckled, pulling two brightly-wrapped presents out of the velvety red bag he had slung over his shoulder.
Nathan and Haley took the gifts with thanks and exchanged wry smiles with each other. Tree Hill. Of course.
"Well, I'd better head on my way. It's a long way back to the North Pole," Santa smirked.
Nathan and Haley snickered. The North Pole. Right.
"Oh, wait just a second before you go!" Haley suddenly exclaimed, running back toward the cabin.
Nathan stared after her for a moment, puzzled. Then he turned back to Santa with an awkward grin.
They struck up a conversation. Nathan found out that Santa's real name was Pete Williamson and that he was from Tree Hill originally and had played for the Ravens waaaay back in the day.
They were in the midst of an animated discussion about basketball when Haley returned to them. She held out a plate of cookies with a smile.
"Hey, thanks," Pete returned her smile as he accepted the cookies.
"Well, I couldn't let Santa leave without making sure he had some cookies first." Haley flashed him another one of her winning smiles.
"You just earned yourself a permanent spot on the Nice List," Pete laughed.
"Cool!" Haley sent Nathan an aren't-you-so-jealous-of-me sort of look.
"Bye kids!" Pete called once he was seated in his sleigh again. He hee-yawed at his horses; and slowly but steadily, he disappeared down the lane.
"Bye Santa Pete!" they shouted after him. Once he was out of sight, they rushed inside to get warm and open their presents. They hung up their coats and things by the door andsettled down together in front of the fireplace. Nathan let Haley open the gift she was holding first.
"Oh!" Haley cried out once she'd torn all the wrapping away. "Look Nathan."
"That's really nice," he nodded, taking the snow-globe from her. Inside it was a jolly-looking Santa Claus flying in his sleigh. He twisted the little key in the bottom and "Here Comes Santa Claus" tinkled forth.
They both smiled at it, and then Haley asked Nathan to open the second present. He did and they exchanged puzzled glances when they found what looked to be a photo album. Their faces paled when, upon looking inside it, they found pictures of themselves. Pictures from their courtship and wedding reception (which Peyton, Lucas, and Brooke had organized for them at Tric), filled the small book. Beneath each picture, written in each of their friends' different handwriting, were quotes—- some famous, some not so famous- about love.
Haley smiled through tears at the first photo- a sweet one of her and Nathan from one of those photo booths at the mall. She could remember the day they'd taken it; they'd just started dating.
"Did my heart love 'til now?
Forswear it sight
For I ne'er saw true beauty 'til this night." She softly read the quote underneath the picture, recognizing Lucas' chicken scratch instantly.
"Shakespeare," Nathan said, gazing fondly at the photo. "Lucas does know what happened at the end of that play, right?"
"Nathan!" Haley chided. "Don't ruin it!"
"I'm sorry," he apologized. He focused on the second picture, one of him and Haley kissing at one of the school cafeteria tables; for some reason, he remembered that it had been raining that day
"Soul meets soul on lover's lips," he murmured. "Percy Bysshe Shelly."
"Brooke?" Haley sniffled.
Before long, they reached the wedding reception pictures….
"Other men said they have seen angels,
But I have seen thee
And thou art enough. G. Moore," Haley read. She looked up at the picture and felt fresh tears spring to her eyes...
They were standing side-by-side, hand-in-hand at Tric. She was looking at something off to the left, laughing, and he was gazing at her like she'd hung the moon.
"That's Lucas again," Nathan said hoarsely, staring intensely into the picture.
"Yep," Haley sniffled.
They continued turning pages, taking turns softly reading the poetic quotes, getting lost in happy memories.
The last page was classically Peyton.
The apartment Brooke, Peyton, and Haley now shared had originally been where Nathan and Haley had lived as newlyweds. When Haley decided to leave for the tour, Nathan- in a brokenhearted rage- had taken bright pink paint to a portrait of his wife that hung on the wall in the living room.
When Brooke rented the place after Nathan moved out, Peyton insisted on leaving the pink mess be. She'd even encased it in a giant frame that bore the word "love" in intricate lettering.
A Polaroid of that portrait, which Peyton had taken, was centered perfectly in the middle of the page.
"What lies behind us, and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." They quietly read the quote Peyton had penned beneath the picture in unison. "Ralph Waldo Emerson."
Haley, weeping lovesick tears, pushed the photo album aside and crawled into her husband's lap, clinging tightly to his neck.
He embraced her, hiding his face in the crook of her neck.
"I'm scared," she whimpered, just as he was about to plead with her again to tell him what was wrong.
"Of what?" He looked into her face, affectionately stroking her drenched cheeks.
She gulped on shuddering breaths. "I'm afraid that when this is all over, when we get back home, you'll change your mind."
"What are you talking about Haley?" he asked gently.
Haley gazed down into his face, smiling slightly when his forehead crinkled- something she thought was the cutest thing ever. Lightly, she ran her fingers along that crinkle.
"It's easy to love each other here. I mean, we're all alone, with nothing to do but be together. Once we get back home, we'll get right back into the gossip that everybody at school believes-."
"That's just talk Haley," Nathan cut in.
"And Chris is there," she finished, watching his face for his reaction to the name. "I'm scared of going home, getting back into the same old stuff, and having you remember all the reasons you have to hate me. I'm scared things will go back to the way they used to be and that you'll decide you want a divorce after all. After everything that's happened here, after all the progress we've made, I don't know if I could take that. I wouldn't be able to handle losing you all over again Nathan. That's what's been bothering me."
"Haley," he whispered, stroking her soft hair. He wrapped a hand around the back of her neck, guiding her face to his. He kissed her slowly, deeply. "I love you," he whispered against her trembling lips. "People can talk, Chris… can be Chris, I don't care. It doesn't matter. I love you Haley. Always and forever. Do you understand me?"
"Yes," she whimpered, nodding her head. Then his lips were touching hers again, drinking, savoring, and talking was needless.
"Wait, hold on," Nathan gulped, breaking the intense kiss and nuzzling his forehead against Haley's.
Haley cradled his face in her hands, smiling while he fought to catch his breath.
"There's something I want you to do for me," he smiled into her eyes. Standing on his feet, he reached to slip the chain he kept his ring on over his head.
"Nathan," Haley cried when he held it out to her.
"I want you to put it back where it belongs," he said, extending his left hand.
Sniffling and smiling all at once, she pulled the ring off the chain and slid it smoothly onto his ring finger. Then, standing on her tiptoes to reach, she threw her arms around him and held on tight.
He wrapped her up in a warm, safe embrace, kissing her cheek over and over again.
Behind them, the little clock on the mantle chimed midnight. It was Christmas Day.
"I'll never take it off again," he promised. "You're everything to me Haley. You're the one I want with me. I love you so much."
"I love you too," she said, looking up at him with adoring eyes.
"No, youreally love me, remember?" he smiled.
"Oh, right, yes. Ireally love you," she laughed. She gently kissed him, whispering, "Really, really, really," against his mouth as he chuckled. Taking his hand and lacing her fingers easily through his, she led him down the hallway.
As soon as they entered the bedroom, Nathan crushed her lips with a heated passion that made her knees tremble; he slammed the door shut behind them as they stumbled toward the bed.