NINTEEN: For Better or Worse, Always and Forever
"Oh, that is the coolest, most hilarious thing I've ever seen," Nathan laughed. It was Halloween night, and he'd opened his door to find a miniature werewolf standing on his front porch. "Haley!" he turned half-way around to shout his wife's name over his shoulder. "You've got to come see this!" Then he focused his attention on his visitor again. "Let me guess, Ky. You're the monster from Michael Jackson's Thriller video, right?"
Kyan removed his werewolf head and flashed a bright smile. "Yeah!" he laughed. "Good guessin', Mr. Scott!"
"Whoa, you look awesome, dude!" James appeared beside his father in the doorway and looked over his friend's costume admiringly.
"I know this," Kyan replied, being playfully arrogant. "Your costume came out all right," he went on, examining his friend's get-up with a critical eye.
A layer of white make-up had been smoothed over James's face, which gave him a deathly pallor; his lips were lined in red and when he pulled them back, a pair of plastic fangs was revealed. His dark hair had been slicked back with gel, and he was dressed in a formal white, button-down shirt, black dress slacks, and a black cape with a red, satiny underside.
"I still think you could have come up with somethin' a little more original," Kyan shrugged.
"Don't be jealous just because I look cooler than you," James teased with a good-natured smirk.
"Uh-uh," Kyan snickered, shaking his head. "'Aint nothin' cooler than Thriller."
"Ky!" Brenna skipped down the stairs two at a time. She was dressed all in black, and Haley had also lined in the child's eyes and lips in black. Brenna's raven-colored hair fell down around her shoulders in loose waves, and a cone-shaped witch hat sat atop her head.
"Uh-oh," Kyan grinned. "I better watch out for you, Baby B. You might put some kind of crazy spell on me."
"No, I'll only put spells on James," Brenna promised, shooting her brother a sinister smile.
"Not if I suck all your blood first." James bared his fangs with a threatening hiss, playing along with his younger sister.
"No evil spells and no sucking blood," Haley instructed with a wry smile as she descended the stairs. "Wow, Ky," she said in a complimentary tone when she caught sight of him.
"I know," Kyan grinned. "I look good."
The sound of a car pulling up to the house shifted everyone's attention to the street outside.
"Is it Jake and Peyton?" James asked breathlessly, squinting to see through the night's darkness.
Jake and Peyton were expected to arrive any minute to drop little Anna off. As was the case every year, Peyton was in charge of Tric's annual Halloween party, and Jake was going to accompany her. Nathan and Haley had offered to take Anna trick-or-treating with them and their kids.
"So what if it is?" Kyan rolled his eyes. "You know Jenny's not gonna be with them. She's going to that dance at her school."
Jenny decided to go to a Halloween dance at her middle school at the last minute, because she found out Travis was going to be there. She'd begun to panic because she didn't have a costume, but Peyton saved the day in typical super-mom fashion. She told Jenny (who was on her junior high school's cheer squad) to change into her cheer uniform, then she used make-up to give Jenny's face a pallid, deathlike appearance. The young girl went to her dance dressed as an undead cheerleader.
"I know," James mumbled, blushing under his make-up. "I was just-."
"You loooooovvvvveeee her!" Brenna crowed, giggling hysterically.
James shot a dark look his sister's way and turned to charge at her.
Brenna stood her ground, looking only a little bit frightened as she prepared to do battle with her brother.
"Stop it. James, just let it go," Nathan scolded with a frown as he grabbed James by the shoulder and held him in place. "You're the oldest by five years. Could you act like it, please?"
James shrugged out from underneath his father's hand with a scowl and didn't say anything.
"Ma?" Kyan was surprised when his mother, Abby- who was dressed in her work clothes- sprinted up the front porch steps. "What you doin' back here? You just dropped me off."
"You left this in the car," Abby huffed; she was a little out of breath. She held up his plastic trick-or-treat bucket, which was shaped like a jack-o-lantern.
"Ooops," Kyan smiled sheepishly. "My bad."
Abby tried to look annoyed, but she ended up rolling her eyes and laughing. She greeted Nathan, Haley, James and Brenna warmly before she returned her focus to her young son.
"Did you show them your dance?" she smiled.
"What dance?" All of the Scotts spoke in unison and focused their attention on Kyan.
"Ma," Kyan mumbled, hanging his head with embarrassment. "I don't wanna do it right now."
"Oh, come on," Abby begged. "You look so cute."
"Ma," Kyan scowled now. "Nothin' about Thriller should ever be cute."
"Just do the dance," Abby continued to plead with the child. "Come on, please? I've got to get to the hospital, Ky, come on."
"Fine," Kyan grumbled. He set his feet, like he was preparing to begin his dance, but then he froze. "Oh, hold up a second. I gotta put my head back on." He slipped his werewolf head on, held up his hands- which were covered in giant glove-like werewolf claws- and flexed his fingers. "Grrr," he growled; the sound was muffled.
"Ky," Abby spoke her son's name with eager impatience.
"I'm doin' it, Ma! Dang." Ten-year-old Kyan proceeded to do a perfect imitation of the infamous dance routine from Michael Jackson's Thriller video. Everyone applauded; they were all thoroughly impressed with him.
Abby hugged her son goodbye and left for her job at the hospital. Just minutes later, Peyton and Jake dropped Anna off. She looked as cute as a button in her pink princess gown.
Brooke and Lucas showed up with the twins just as Jake and Peyton were driving away.
Ashley was wearing his Batman costume proudly. Ethan moped in his Robin costume.
Brooke and Lucas were going to team-up with Haley and help supervise the kids because Nathan was going to stay home to hand out candy to neighborhood trick-or-treaters.
"All right, who's ready to go trick-or-treating?" Haley asked, shrugging into her jacket and picking up a flashlight that she kept in the drawer of the front hall table.
"Me!" the children cheered enthusiastically.
"Everybody's going to behave themselves, right?" Nathan glanced at each of the kids with raised eyebrows. The children nodded mutely, seeing the seriousness in his expression. "Good." Nathan wrapped his arms around Haley and kissed her.
"Yuck!" the kids exclaimed.
"Have fun," Nathan grinned, knowing full-well that Haley would have absolutely no fun at all chasing after six hyper kids.
Haley snorted and kissed her husband back.
"Yuck!" the kids shouted again.
"Next year, we switch," Haley whispered against Nathan's ear.
"Okay, deal," Nathan chuckled. "Love you." He and Haley shared one more kiss and then she, Lucas, Brooke and the kids departed.
About fifteen minutes into the trick-or-treating trek, James and Kyan met up with some other boys from their class and they asked Haley if they could all go off together.
Haley recognized the other boys, even through their costumes, and she knew they were relatively good kids, so she agreed. "Hey, hey," she caught James and Kyan by their shoulders before they could take off. "Stay in our neighborhood, behave yourselves, and don't eat any of your candy until it has been inspected by an adult. Got it?"
"Got it," James and Kyan nodded in unison.
"Home by nine," Haley said in her this-is-non-negotiable tone of voice.
The boys scowled to show their displeasure, but they had no choice but to grudgingly agree. They turned and ran as soon as Haley let go of their shoulders.
"James!" Kyan shouted his friend's name.
James tore his eyes away from Jenny's second-story bedroom window; he was standing in the street in front of her house.
"Come on, man," Kyan urged. "So what if her light's on? That doesn't mean she's home. She probably just forgot to turn it off before she left."
"Go ahead without me, Ky," James said quietly, turning his eyes back to the window. He could've sworn he saw a shadow moving behind the closed curtains.
"We shouldn't get separated," Kyan frowned.
"I'll only stay a minute. Besides, you guys are all just going to stay in our neighborhood. I'll find you again," James promised.
"A'ight," Kyan finally replied. He seemed hesitant to leave. He glanced back at least twice before he rejoined his other friends.
When the others were gone, James stepped up onto Jenny's front porch and twisted the doorknob. It was unlocked. He entered the house and moved quietly up the stairs to Jenny's room. He found her bedroom door half-open and he heard the unmistakable sounds of someone crying.
"Jen?" James softly called her name and tapped on the door with his fingertips. He thought he'd probably startled her, because it took her a minute to answer.
"What're you doing here, James?" she sniffled.
"I… um… I saw your light on and… the door was unlocked, so…. Are… are you okay?" he responded, stumbling over his words.
"No," Jenny sobbed the word.
James's forehead creased with worry. "Well, can I… can I come in?" He had his hand on the knob, ready to push the door all the way open; he was just waiting for permission.
"Yeah," she whimpered at last.
James stepped through the doorway and slowly took a seat at the foot of her bed. She was propped up against the bed's headboard, hugging a pillow to her chest. She was still in her cheer uniform, but her tears had ruined her make-up.
"What… happened?" James asked; his brown eyes were wide with sympathy and concern.
"Oh, James!" Jenny sobbed. She crawled down the length of the bed threw her arms around his neck.
James froze, surprised by her actions and unsure how to respond to them. Slowly, carefully, he wrapped his arms around her.
"He's dating one of my friends! They walked into the dance together!"
"Who? That guy from the photo booth?" James was confused.
"Yes!" Jenny wailed.
James's brown eyes darkened with rage. He automatically hated anybody who made Jenny cry. "I'll beat him up for you the next time I see him," he promised.
Jenny released him from her arms and sat back to look into his eyes. She laughed at his threatening words.
He didn't know why she thought it was funny; he was serious. The sound of her laughter made him smile, though. When he did, his plastic fangs fell out of his mouth and landed on the bed in a pool of spit.
"Eeeww!" Jenny shrieked through peals of hysterical laughter.
"Sorry," James chuckled. His cheeks flamed red with embarrassment.
"Pick them up! Get them off my blanket!" Jenny commanded, clutching her stomach as she continued to laugh.
James did as she told him. Then he waved the saliva-soaked teeth in her face, acting like he was going to touch her with them.
"Gross! Gross!" Jenny cackled, flinching away from him. She smacked his hand, which caused him to lose his grip on the fangs. They flew across the room and collided with the wall before they landed on the carpet with a soft thud!
When they both finally managed to stop laughing Jenny said, "Hey, could you stay here with-?"
"Yes," James gave his answer while she was still asking the question.
James felt himself blush again. He was always too eager to please her. "So… what do you want to do?" he mumbled, pretending to be fascinated by the pattern on her bedspread.
"Let's go downstairs and watch scary monster movies!" Jenny suggested with wide-eyed enthusiasm.
"Okay," James grinned and moved his shoulders in a casual shrug.
They bounded down to the living room, turned out all the lights, and found a television station that was having a horror movie marathon.
They didn't last thirty minutes.
"Eeeeekkkk!" Jenny screeched. She coiled her arms around James and pressed her face against his shoulder.
"Oh, no! Don't go in there! Don't! The ugly-looking zombie thing is going to eat you, dude!" James clung to Jenny while he pleaded with the character on the television screen.
After a long moment of suspenseful music, Jenny heard the character in the movie scream. She felt James stiffen in her arms.
"Oh, man," he said in a choked voice. "I think I'm going to puke. Don't look, Jen."
"What happened?" Jenny asked, keeping her face hidden against his shoulder.
"He died. That's all you need to know."
"Gross," Jenny moaned. "James, let's turn it off," she begged.
"Good idea." James grabbed the remote and hit the power button.
The entire room was now blanketed in darkness.
James and Jenny tightened their arms around each other.
"Who's going to turn the lights on?" Jenny whispered.
"Not me," James refused.
"James!" Jenny exclaimed in a harsh whisper, scowling in the dark.
"I'm not going by myself," James continued to whisper, speaking adamantly. He would never admit it out loud, but he was afraid that the ugly human-eating zombie from the movie would appear from out of nowhere and gobble him up.
"Fine," Jenny huffed, rolling her eyes. She shared James's secret fears about the zombie. "We'll go together."
"Okay," James nodded.
"Ready?" Jenny was barely able to make out the profile of James's face in the blackness.
"Yeah," he said uncertainly.
Jenny felt for his hand in the dark and slipped her fingers through his when she finally found it. "Let's go," she gulped.
They ran frantically through the darkness together, holding tightly to each other's hands. When they finally reached the far wall, James slapped the light switch with his free hand, and the room was instantly illuminated.
They looked into each other's eyes and shared a laugh over the silliness of the whole situation.
"Now what should we do?" James asked when they had caught their breaths.
"I don't know," Jenny said with a contemplative frown. "Something… safer," she grinned. "I know! Let's play 'Go Fish'!"
"Okay," James agreed. While Jenny went to find the playing cards, James sprinted up the stairs and into her bedroom. When he came back down to the living room, he was carrying his trick-or-treat bucket; it was full of candy.
"You're going to share with me, right?" Jenny made her blue eyes their biggest and batted her eyelashes at him. She was lying on her stomach on the living room floor and the cards were spread out in front of her.
"Yes," James snickered at her expression as he lay down across from her. "That's why I brought it down here." He tossed her a fun-sized Snickers bar, because he knew Snickers were her favorites.
"Thank you," Jenny smiled as she tore into the candy bar.
"You're welcome, Jen," he shrugged.
"No, I don't just mean for the candy. I mean for everything," Jenny explained, suddenly very serious now. "I don't deserve you, James. You're a better friend to me than I am to you."
"That's not true," James disagreed, frowning. "You're an awesome friend, one of my best," he grinned.
Jenny smiled briefly before she became serious again. "But I'm so mean to you sometimes," she said, sounding disgusted with herself.
"You're nice to me most of the time," James comforted her.
"But you're nice to me all the time," Jenny pointed out. "I need to be that way for you, and I will," she promised. "And thank you again for staying with me tonight, James. You really helped me feel better."
"Good," James smiled. "Now," he said, glaring at her playfully as he picked up his playing cards. "Do you have any sevens?"
"Go fish," Jenny grinned.
Someone pushed the Jagelskis' front door open forty-five minutes later.
"James Lucas Scott."
James's head snapped up and he stared fearfully into Jenny's wide eyes. He scrambled to his feet and spun to face his mother. Kyan was standing beside Haley and he was glowering at James, but James focused his attention on his mother and flashed her one of his sweetest, most charming smiles.
"Hi, Mom," he said.
"Don't you 'hi, Mom' me," Haley frowned.
"That's right," Kyan spoke up; he was frowning as well. "You in trouble, J. Big trouble. You had me worried sick, man! You said you were only gonna stay a few minutes and you ended up bein' gone the whole night! And how was I supposed to know you'd still be here, huh?" he demanded when James opened his mouth to speak. "You could have been kidnapped for all I knew! You could have picked up a phone at least! You knew your mom had her cell phone with her!"
"Ky," Haley put her hand on the young boy's shoulder. "May I?"
"Oh, yeah, sure. Sorry. I'm just a little fired up right now, 'ya know?" He rolled his shoulders in an attempt to ease his agitation.
Haley turned her eyes back to James's red face and asked, "What part of 'home by nine' did you not understand?"
"What time is it right now?" James seemed genuinely surprised. He always lost track of time when he was with Jenny.
"It's after ten," Haley replied, crossing her arms over her chest.
"This was my fault, Haley," Jenny spoke up, pushing herself into a standing position. "I asked him to stay. I'm sorry."
Haley took in the sight of the young girl's smudged make-up with observant, sympathetic brown eyes; it was obvious the child had been crying. A soft smile touched the corners of the woman's mouth and she sighed. "Well, I'm just glad everyone's safe. Come on," she said, beckoning the children to come to her. "Let's go. You, too, Jen. I'd feel much better if you were with me. I don't want you home by yourself while your parents aren't here."
Meanwhile, Brooke and Lucas were back at their own house. The twins were ready for bed and they were waiting for their parents to come in and kiss them goodnight.
Lucas was the first to come into the bedroom the boys shared.
"Hey, guys," he whispered.
"Hi, Daddy," the boys whispered back, speaking in unison.
"I have something for you, but you can't tell Mommy, okay?" He pulled two pieces of candy out from behind his back and smiled when the twins gasped with delight.
After the food-fight at Peter Piper, Brooke and Lucas had decided that the boys would be punished by being forbidden to eat any of their trick-or-treat candy until four days after Halloween. But Lucas caved. His kids were so cute… and they looked so sad… so he gave in.
"Thank you, Daddy!" they shouted in whispers, tearing into their candy.
"You're welcome," Lucas smiled affectionately. He kissed Ethan first before he moved to Ashley's bed and gave him a kiss. "I love you guys. Have sweet dreams."
"Love you, Daddy," the twins said, still speaking in whispers as they smacked on their candy and watched their father leave the room. They had swallowed their secret treats by the time Brooke came in a few minutes later.
"Hi, babies," she murmured, smiling at them tenderly. "Don't tell Daddy, but I brought you something." She pulled two more candies out of the pockets of her pajama pants.
"Thanks, Mama!" The twins smiled gleefully.
Nathan grinned with fatherly affection when he poked his head into Brenna's bedroom and found her curled up beside Anna; both girls were out cold. He quietly pulled the door closed and moved on to James's room. He frowned when he opened the door and saw that James and Jenny were asleep in each other's arms.
Kyan's father had picked him up about half-an-hour ago.
"Crap," Nathan grumbled under his breath. He stomped to the master suite and propped himself up in the doorway.
Haley was sitting in bed, rubbing lotion over her arms. "What's wrong?" she asked when she looked up and saw her husband scowling at her.
"Come see," Nathan frowned. He took Haley's hand when she was close enough to him and led her down the hallway to their son's room.
"Oh, Nathan," she chastised with a quiet giggle. She gave his shoulder a soft, playful swat. "So what? They're little children."
"No," Nathan disagreed. "They were little when they were five, Haley. They're getting too old to be falling asleep together like that. If we're not careful, we're going to have a Dawson's Creek situation on our hands."
"Nathan!" Haley covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her laughter. When she'd regained her composure, she wrapped her arms around her husband's waist and gazed smilingly into his eyes. "Just let them sleep," she urged, speaking quietly. She tugged at his hand, pulling him into a walk. He grudgingly followed her downstairs to the living room.
They snuggled up together on the couch and looked through an old photo album that Brooke had made for them years ago.
Haley raised smiling eyes from a picture of James when he was a baby to look at Nathan. She was surprised to see a faraway look on his face.
"Whatchya thinkin' about?" she murmured, putting the photo album aside and laying her head on his chest.
"The fire. It happened six years ago tonight," he mumbled absently, slipping his arms around her. "Can you believe it's been that long?"
"No," Haley shook her head as memories came back to her. "That night was the start of a really hard time for us. Sometimes I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it through, but I did, because I had you." She raised her eyes to Nathan's face and smiled.
"And I had you," Nathan murmured, nestling his cheek against the top of her head. "I love you so much, Hales," he whispered. "Sometimes I think about what my life would be like right now if I'd never met you, and…"
"Well, you did meet me," Haley interrupted. She didn't like the sadness that was darkening his eyes.
"I don't know how I got so lucky." Nathan seemed to be truly amazed. "What did you ever see in me?"
"I saw everything in you," Haley rasped, suddenly extremely emotional. "You've always sold yourself short. Don't you know yet how wonderful you are? You've made my life better, too, Nathan. Everyday you make my life better. I love you," she said, stretching her neck to kiss his lips. "For better or worse…" she trailed off, knowing Nathan would complete her sentence.
"Always and forever," he smiled. He pulled her closer to his body and cradled her in his arms; with just the touch of his hands he let her know how much he cherished her.
So there it is… the last chapter. I hope it was enjoyable for you guys. I hope you know how much I appreciate all of you for investing yourselves in this series. I'm grateful to each one of you. The hit count for this story is over sixty-seven thousand, which is something I just cannot even believe. That's thanks to you! Thank you, thank you, thank you! Gah! You're all amazing!
Keep your eyes peeled for the sequel, which is going to be called "Carolina In My Mind." I should have the first chapter up by the end of the weekend, or Monday at the latest. Some of you asked if the parents were going to be in it and the answer is yes, but they're going to have some major struggles, especially Jeyton and Naley. The story will focus a lot on James and Jenny (they have quite a ride ahead of them… Hehe…) but I want to make sure and keep the parents in it, too. And if some of you have forgotten which actors I chose for the teenage characters, don't worry, I'll post a "cast list" at the beginning of the first chapter of the sequel.
Okay, so I think that's it… Oh, but don't forget to review! Let me know what you think. And again, thank you a million billion times! Haha… -Sarah