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Chapter 2. It alternates by chapter between Nathan and Haley's perspectives; I found that I liked that best.


II.

Denial 

He’d done this before, probably more times than any person should have to. There’d been the time he’d left the hospital after collapsing on the court, when he’d made his way to Haley’s house and begged to stay. There’d been the time after his accident in the racecar, when he’d limped in on crutches. Then there had been coming back to the apartment with Haley after the limo crash, when he’d shown her the new mural.

Nathan had come out of hospitals a few times through the years. He’d always taken it for granted that he’d be able to walk out of the hospital, to get back to his normal life—walk being the operative word. Now he didn’t even have that.

He’d had to spend a few days in the hospital so that the doctors could make sure he was healing. Trauma, that was the technical term for it, the one he’d heard tossed around by all the experts who came in to talk with him, or the ones who stood in the hallway with Haley to give her the bad news. He thought trauma was a good word for it. It was definitely traumatic when you realized that everything you’d worked towards could be gone.

He had seen more than his share of injuries that ruined careers. There had been guys at Tree Hill High or in college who’d fall the wrong way and have it all be over. Hell, he’d seen Lucas have to give it up and start coaching. Though Lucas never really said it, preferred not to dwell on it, he knew it wasn’t the same for him. Nothing else could ever compare to the rush of playing, to being on that court.

Haley had tried to get him to talk over the past couple days. She tried not to be angry, but he knew she was. He knew she was trying not to ask how he’d been so stupid, how he’d let them get to him when he had so much to lose. Never mind that this had happened—there could have been other injuries. He could’ve broken his hand by punching the guy. At this point, Nathan wished that was all that had happened.

She was trying. That much he could give her. She was trying, but she’d never really understand. Singing was what she did, and that was something that really couldn’t be taken from her. And even if it was, it wouldn’t matter—she had so many other things she was good at. She was his wife, she was a good mother, she was finally on her way to becoming a teacher. But for him, this was all he had. Basketball was all he was good at, his only way to provide for his family. What now? were the only words on his mind.

Haley leaned back against the front door until it opened, wheeling him inside. A banner made of construction paper, scribbled on with crayons, was taped up in the living room. Welcome Home, Daddy! Jamie was sitting in the living room with Lucas, still coloring, when he heard the front door opening. He got up before Lucas could stop him, barreling towards them. “Momma! Daddy!”

Nathan had refused to let Haley bring him to the hospital. She’d fought him, tried to tell him that Jamie was scared and just needed to see he was okay, but he’d refused to let his soon see him the way he had been. It was bad enough to be in this goddamn wheelchair. He was supposed to be his son’s hero, was supposed to be strong. He didn’t want Jamie to see him like this.

“Daddy, I made you a picture,” Jamie said, tugging lightly at the leg of his jeans and putting the piece of paper in his lap, looking confusedly at Haley when Nathan didn’t respond. Haley crouched to his level, putting her hands on his shoulders.

“Jamie, honey, Daddy’s just really tired. You can see him in the morning, okay? Right now he just needs to sleep.”

“Yeah, Jimmy-Jam, Daddy needs to go to sleep,” Lucas said, standing on the threshold to the living room. “Just like you do. Come upstairs; I’ll tell you a story.”

That got Jamie up the stairs and into his room, talking excitedly to Lucas. Haley closed her eyes momentarily and got back to her feet, taking him into one of the guest rooms on the lower floor. She couldn’t get him up the stairs like this, so he’d be sleeping there rather than in their bedroom.

She helped him into the bed, taking Jamie’s drawing and putting it on the nightstand. She stood there for a few moments, waiting for him to say something, fumbling for a question when he didn’t. “Is there anything I can get you?”

“Do you know how to go back to last week? That would be great.”

Haley sighed, sitting on the end of the bed, reaching out to put her hand on his leg before it occurred to her that he wouldn’t feel it if she did. She pulled her hand back, setting it awkwardly in her lap. “Nathan, no one ever said this would be easy. I’m trying so hard to be here for you, but you have to give me a little here. You can’t change what happened. I can’t. No one can. Sitting here regretting it isn’t going to do you any good. You just have to get up and face the day and work to recover.”

“And what’s there gonna be when I do, Hales? Did you ever even think of that? What am I supposed to do without basketball?”

At that, Haley got up, shaking her head and sighing in frustration. “You don’t even see it. You just can’t see beyond yourself, can you? There’s more to your life than basketball, Nathan. You’d think this would’ve made you realize it.”

She walked out of the room, shutting the door behind her and leaving him in the darkness.

His mind was still addled from the painkillers and the rage he still felt whenever he thought back on the bar fight. He tried not to think of it too often, but that was all it came back to. When he tired of coming up with other scenarios, with ways he could have walked away, he found himself thinking back to his other mistakes. There were plenty of those to focus on.

He remembered bringing Haley home from the hospital in their senior year, after she’d been in the accident with Daunte—the accident that was his fault. He remembered being amazed at her strength and forbearance—her ability to want to forgive Daunte and reach out to his family, even after she’d nearly died because of him. He tried feeling that now, but he couldn’t. He couldn’t feel anything but a strong desire to believe this wasn’t happening to him.

Denying it, imagining what could have happened if he had walked away, made things seem so much better. Denying it allowed him to believe that he’d been the tenth draft pick for the Sonics just as his agent had promised. If he’d walked away, he would’ve been drafted the next day, would have gotten to live the dream he’d always had as a kid. Sure, it had been the thing Dan had pushed him towards, but in the years since he’d been emancipated and gotten married, in the years since Dan had gone to prison, he’d truly come to believe that the NBA was what he wanted. He wanted to play basketball professionally; he wanted to be the best man he could for his family.

He wanted the world for his wife and son, and now his only means of giving them that was gone.

He reached over to pick up the drawing Jamie had made. He found that it was a rough stick figure drawing of himself, Haley, Jamie, Lucas, and Chester, Jamie’s rabbit. He’d written “The Scotts” across the top of the page in his messy four-year-old scrawl. Seeing the drawing, thinking of what he’d lost, made him think of the words Haley had spoken to him just before.

“There’s more to your life than basketball, Nathan. You’d think this would’ve made you realize it.”

He had his family. He wasn’t stupid; he recognized that. He knew he was lucky to have that. But as long as he was injured, he couldn’t be there for them. He couldn’t be the father, the husband, the brother he wanted to be. Needed to be. He couldn’t be there for them, couldn’t provide for them. And that made him lower than Dan, in his own estimation, because say what you will about Dan Scott and all the things he’d done, but he’d always provided for Nathan and Deb.

There was truly nothing left.

So this had to be what they called rock bottom.

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