"What Could Have Been" is the twenty-first episode of the second season of One Tree Hill and the 43rd produced episode of the series. It was broadcasted on May 17, 2005. Nathan is released from the hospital and returns home to a pile of unpaid bills and an eviction notice. Lucas, Peyton and Brooke throw a fundraiser at the River Court to raise money, but Dan is the one that comes to Nathan's rescue. However, his gift comes with strings - he wants Nathan to ask Haley for an annulment.
SynopsisOut of the hospital, Nathan gets home to find he is in a load of debt. For the apartment bills, other household bills and then his hopsital bills. Lucas assures him his friends will help, but Nathan knows it isn't enough. Lucas tells him it would have just been easier to brake and asks what happened out there. As he does, Nathan relives the crash but asks him to tell him. Lucas asks if he was trying to kill himself as if so he needs to see someone. Receiving a negative reply, Lucas yells at him asking how long he is going to dodge the situation, but Nathan asks how long he was going to dodge telling him his mom was a 'pill head.' Giving in to Lucas' questions, he tells him he screwed up and hit the wall, nothing more to it. After seeing Nathan, Lucas goes to the dealership where Brooke visits him. She tells him she sorted the shredded paper out as she got bored and asks if Lucas is mad. He replies only if she doesn't give him the finished result. As Brooke is about to take out the paper, Lucas stops her and brings her into a room with no security cameras. The papers revealed a bill of sale for a purchased car by Christine Guercio. Lucas tells her that he thinks Dan is running a scam as Brooke leaves.
Lucas then goes to see Peyton at Tric and finds Peyton isn't really into the all ages night anymore. To try and cheer Peyton up, Lucas tries to distract her and offers for her and him to do a fund raiser to pay for Nathan's bills. As he is about to leave, he apologizes for being a crappy friend in the past and wants Peyton to know he is always there for her. At the cafe, the friends all think of ways to raise money for Nathan. As Tim suggests a brothel, as it worked in Risky Business, Peyton has the idea to throw a movies night at the river court and donations can be made for Nathan. As it is supposed to rain, Peyton offers to do it at Tric. Nathan is on the phone as he finds out his hospital bills have been paid. As he hangs up, Dan walks in and asks to move home. He says he just wants to move on, as Dan says he can help and gives him annulment papers. He tells his son not to drag Haley down or to hold on. As Nathan kicks him out, Dan leaves the papers and tells him it is time to move on. Lucas and Brooke are walking together when he reveals that he checked the details and Dan took $12,000 of the woman who the receipt belonged to when he recorded it as taking $9000. Brooke thinks it doesn't seem like a big scam, but Lucas doesn't know how many times it has been done. Lucas then tells Nathan and Nathan encourages him to take down Dan. He also apologizes about not telling him about Deb, but Nathan doesn't mind, as long as Nathan is kept updated. He then reveals to Lucas that his insurance paid for the hospital so he doesn't need a fundraiser anymore but Lucas encourages him to still do it and Nathan agrees.Out shopping, Brooke is going mad at the store. As Brooke talks to Peyton about Lucas, Peyton asks if she is 'vibing' on him but Brooke denies it saying they are just friends. As Peyton says she would be ok with it if they did get back together, Brooke begins to admit she has started liking Lucas again, but Peyton assures her it is fine by her. At the Wrecker's tour, Haley asks the tour manager for some time off. The manager says she can but she will have to be replaced, he tells her to make a decision, how much does she want the big time? Haley is left alone in doubt. In Tree Hill, Lucas is showing Andy the car receipts, Andy tells him to let him find out where he is hiding the money and then they have Dan.
As movie night is being set up, Nathan tells Brooke about his dream where they were showering, and Brooke takes it as a big compliment saying everyone has that dream about her. Nathan then goes to see Peyton and asks if dreams are a warning, and Peyton says she knows how he feels as if her mom had set off 5 minutes later, she would still be alive. Peyton then asks if his accident, was an accident. Nathan admits that he doesn't know if it was an accident but he was thinking about Haley before. Peyton asks about Haley and Nathan says he doesn't know if their marriage was a wasted energy. He then tells Peyton to follow her dreams of music or else she will end up bitter.
As the movie night begins, the film is all being set up by Mouth. Peyton gets on stage to prepare people for the movies. Starting with cartoons, the movie starts, but it ends up adocumentary about car accidents. Mouth tries to switch it off as the movies are all mislabeled. Lucas goes and apologizes as Nathan says it's great. As the night continues, Peyton and Nathan are going through bills as Tim snatches the bill for pay-per-view porn as he was lonely when Nathan was away. Lucas and Brooke go over to offer them any help they need and are over protective of Peyton and Nathan due to their current situations. They then reveal they are driving each other crazy. Peyton finds a letter in the mail and Nathan discovers it is from his mom and walks off. Lucas and Brooke are watching the film as Lucas says he doesn't know what he would do without Brooke as she has been there for him over the last few days. Out of Tric, Karen is looking at old photos of Keith, smiling at their good times. Nathan opens his letter as Haley looks at the picture of their wedding and cries over her current situation.
As Nathan goes back into the club, he sees everybody kissing and having fun together as he stands alone. As he continues to scan the room, he sees Peyton alone too. Lucas also sees Peyton upset and goes over to see her. He tells her not to give up on Jake as he will let her back in and hugs her as Brooke sees him from a distance and watches in worry. Nathan has gone home and Peyton walks in as he left after reading the letter. In the letter she said she was ok and apologizes for all the excuses she used to avoid home problems. She also wants them to be a family again but Nathan thinks it sounds crazy, he asks Peyton's opinion and she says she would believe his dad can change and she'd give everything to spend one more day with her mom and dad. She then gives Nathan a letter saying it wasn't the insurance that paid and Nathan wonders who it was.
After calling the hospital, Nathan storms round to see Dan furious that he paid for his medical bills and now his rent too. He asks what he is after and whatever it is, he won't get it. Dan tells Nathan he is not after anything and knows that it is his fault he got emancipated and Deb is in rehab and he wants to change. He says that Lucas moving in made him think it would make him a better man, but then he found out that Lucas was already a better man and is better off without him in his life. He then cries which follows by Nathan's applause saying it's a nice act, but he isn't falling for it. Dan then snaps out of his sincere behavior and tells Nathan that his future starts right now, without Haley and that he shouldn't become him. Nathan says he won't, but Dan says if he makes the wrong decisions, it will happen.Karen emails Keith and tells him that even though she doesn't want to, she will back off from him as she knows it is what Keith wants. She sends the email saying she will not write anymore. Brooke goes to see Lucas as he cleans up at the club who thanks her for donating all her allowance to Nathan. Lucas asks how she is without Felix and Brooke says she realized that he isn't right for her and is scared to open her heart again and even though she gets lonely, it's the price she has to pay to figure out what she really wants. At the tour, Haley goes to see the manager who tells her that he is interested in her performing solo. But Haley reveals that this is the last night she will perform as it was a mistake to leave Nathan in the first place. In Tree Hill, Nathan calls his mom and apologizes for shutting her out and he was wrong to do it. He tells her things will be different when she gets home as he is going to make sure she will get the life she wanted. As Haley gets offstage, a backstage worker tells her a tall, dark, hottie is waiting for her. Assuming it's Nathan she runs into her dressing room to find Dan waiting for her. He gives her the annulment papers and as Haley says that Nathan won't be happy when he finds out, Dan turns the page to show his son's signature. She is shocked as Dan reveals Nathan asked him to go. Back at the apartment, Lucas tells Nathan that he can nearly get Dan after Andy has checked out all the deals. As he walks into the bedroom, he finds that Nathan is moving back home . Nathan has been convinced that him and Haley were a mistake as he doesn't want to punish her for something he could have been. He tells Lucas it has made both their lives harder and he wants to focus on basketball and his mom. Lucas tells him that he will do anything to not let Dan win and to keep him away, but Nathan asks him to back off as he owes his mom. Lucas has no option but to agree. Brooke is on the phone to Peyton and asks her if it was worth giving her heart to Jake even though she's hurting. Peyton says it was as being in love is how you know you're alive. She tells her to call Lucas and tell him how she feels. As she does, Lucas picks up and is about to ask him something when she knocks a box over. She picks up the box from the floor and finds a bunch of his old stuff, all relating to Peyton, including pictures and letters. In tears, she tells him she doesn't want to screw things up with him as friends and hangs up, breaking down crying. Andy meets Lucas after the call and shows Lucas the money he has been getting is going into a college fund, for Lucas. Andy asks if he wants to call off the search, but Lucas, disobeying Nathan's request, tells him to keep digging, until they know everything.
Haley is asked by her tour manager if she is going to see her husband, and Haley asks him what husband. Karen gets a message from Keith. She excitedly opens a message that says thank you. Nathan moves back in Dan's house who thinks it's great for the two sons to live together. As he celebrates, Lucas reveals he is moving out. Brooke and Karen are setting the table as Lucas walks in. As Karen sits them down to sit some new ground rules, Brooke assures Lucas' mom they are just friends as Lucas walks away and silently cries as his heart is broken by Brooke.
- "Total hypothetical here, say you had a friend, living in your room, and she was going through your closet looking for her favorite pair of Jimmy Choos, but all she found was this freaky bag of shredded paper that you said was a puzzle and, let's say she got bored, you know, or nosey, so she kind of put the pieces back together. Would you be ticked off?"
- "I bet he'd be down with a brothel. What? It worked for Tom Cruise in Risky Business."
- "That's it"
- "Peyton! Don't encourage Dim!"
"No, we throw a movie night"
- "Honestly, if Lucas and I couldn't make it as a couple before, what makes you think we can now?"
- Well for one thing, I wouldn't make out with him this time and another, he's not the same guy and you are definitely not the same girl"
- "What's wrong with you?"
- "Nothing. I just, you were in this weird dream I had during surgery"
- "Yeah, and?"
- "And, we were kind of showering together"
- "Don't be embarrassed, everyone has that dream about me...Don't have the dream now Tim!"
- "Brooke's been really great since Jake's been gone"
- "Yeah, Luke's really had my back since the accident"
- "She's driving me crazy"
- "I hear you, Luke's this close to tucking me in and signing me a lullaby"
- "If you want, I could..."
- "Tim, stop it"
- "She seems to think that if she can change, maybe we all can. I don't know if I can do it Peyton."
- "I've been trying to believe the best in people lately, you know? Like hoping Nicki will just back off or that Jake's lawyers will find a way to get him out. So I'd like to believe that even somebody as assy as your dad could be different if he really wanted to"
- "I'm scared to open up my heart like that again"
- "Isn't the alternative even scarier?"
- "Sure, I get lonely sometimes. That's hard. But I guess that's the price you pay for figuring out what you really want, right?"
- "I'm sorry, tonight's my last show"
- "No, no Haley. You gotta think about this"
- "I have thought about this. I'm going home to my husband"
- "What if you're making a mistake?"
- "Well, the mistake was leaving him in the first place"
- Haley James Scott tells the tour manager she is leaving the tour
- "Cats In Heat" - The Honorary Title
- "Something's Wrong" - Walkie Talkie
- "I Feel Naked Without My Cellphone" - Two Hours Traffic
- "Scar" - Missy Higgins
- "White Light" - Two Hours Traffic
- "Mixtape" - Butch Walker
- "Sunny Road" - Emiliana Torrini
- "Lottery" - Damien Jurado
- "On The 54" - The Dandelions
- "Walking With A Ghost" - Tegan & Sara
- "Overcome" - Better Than Ezra
This episode's title originated from the song What Could Have Been, originally sung by Callenish Circle.