Authors: C. Elizabeth
The front door couldn’t be in my sight quickly enough. Forgetting about my friends, I burst through the people on the porch and ran down the sidewalk.
When I reached the front gate, that’s when it hit me...how stifling the house felt, almost like being cloaked in a blanket!
It took a minute for me to catch my breath and slow my heart, the crisp afternoon air helping calm my nerves some. A few minutes later, being a little more at ease, I pulled my collar up around my neck and started walking.
My heart skipped a beat. Turning, I came face to face with Nathanael again.
“If you don’t like us that much, then at least let me give you a ride and see if I can change your mind. Besides, it’s fairly cold.”
“I’m sorry...it’s not that I don’t...like you...”
Get your tongue in order!
“I have to work early tomorrow and...”
I just made a fool out of myself
. “Thanks for the offer, I’d rather walk.”
“Don’t you live on the other side of town?”
I lifted my eyebrows in curiosity.
His face turned a cute pale pink. “I took the liberty of asking.”
It made me feel good. He was obviously interested—a little, anyway. “Oh!” There was a bit of an uncomfortable silence, then I blurted, “I still have enough daylight left and walking is good for my butt.”
Saydi! You did not just say that!
His laugh was calm and soothing. “Would you mind if I joined you? My butt could use a little workout, too!”
Since being there, my face was permanently warm and his comment made me fairly certain it went to the next shade of crimson. However, the thought of having him
home made me giddy and that wasn’t always a good thing. I had to remind myself not to blow open the floodgates and start talking a hundred miles an hour, which I had a tendency to do when I was nervous. “That’s sweet of you to offer, but you don’t have to.”
He moved in closer. “I want to.” Then put his hand around my back and gently turned me in the direction of home.
“You’ll freeze. Shouldn’t you get your jacket?” I questioned.
“No, I’m okay.”
His laugh came from deep in his chest, a happy, buoyant sound. “Have you lived here all your life?” he asked, shoving his hands in his jean pockets.
Nodding, I answered, “Yeah. The most boring place on earth. Where are you from and what in heaven’s name would bring you here?” Stroking my hand across the air as if presenting a prize. My eyes stayed focused on the sidewalk straight ahead, but I could feel him watching me as we walked and talked.
“Father’s work takes him to many places. But I must say, this is the first time we ended up in such a small town. How many residents live here?”
“Oh I don’t know...over a thousand and under ten thousand.”
“That’s a fairly big span. I’d venture a guess that somewhere in there you’d have the right number,” he quipped.
The look on his face made me smile. “Yeah, suppose so.”
“I understand you’re in your final year of high school?”
I eyeballed him.
“Yes...again with the asking around,” he admitted.
“Whoever your source is, so far they’re two for two. Next!” I played.
“Well let’s see if I can make it three for three. You’re seventeen.”
“Bingo! Give the man a prize.”
Nathanael laughed again. I wasn’t sure if he was laughing out of nervousness or if he was just plain ol’ happy.
We walked for a little bit in silence, then I piped up, “Let’s see if my sources are correct. Are you nineteen?”
A grin went clear across his face. “They are correct. Just turned actually, a couple weeks ago.”
“Oh, happy belated birthday.”
“Thanks. So when can I sing happy birthday to you?”
“It’s a ways away yet. Not until April.”
There was a bit of a spring in his step when he said, “A spring baby.” He made it sound like my birth was so special.
“Yeah, you could say that.”
Our conversation flowed smooth and easy, unlike the way it usually was the first time talking to a boy. Normally, I’d end up praying he could see past the tongue trip and word spill. For some reason, with Nathanael it wasn’t like that; he seemed genuinely interested.
“What does your father do for a living?” he continued.
“What?” I giggled. “Your source didn’t tell you everything?”
His face turned scarlet. “Well, I thought you might think it was getting a little creepy if I knew that, too.”
Narrowing my eyes. “You know then?”
“Well, what’s the answer?”
Tilting his head to one side, he looked slightly away and almost whispered, “I understand he passed away a long time ago.”
“You’re right. He died when I was a month old.” It came out sounding so final, as if there were no emotion attached the words.
“I was very sorry to hear that.” Again, how he said it seemed to reveal to me that his feelings were genuine, not just simply something said.
I shrugged. “It may seem callous, but you can’t miss what you never had.”
“I don’t think that’s callous, I agree with you.” Then he quickly changed the subject. “What do you do around here for, well...fun?” He turned a bit, nodding once back toward his house. “Other than drink and party?”
“That’s pretty much it.” I laughed. “It’s either hang out at home, hang out at Sloppy’s, or have a party. During the summer the parties usually end up at the swimming hole. There’s a standing contest; whoever can touch the bottom gets free drinks the rest of the summer.”
“Has it ever been done?”
“No, most around here believe it’s bottomless and goes clear to the other side of the world.”
“Do you believe that?”
“No, it’s just really deep. Honestly, what difference would it make if it did? All I know is I like it there in the winter when it’s deserted and I have it all to myself. That’s when it’s peaceful and quiet.”
“So I take it you’re not much of a partier and prefer books?” he asked, bringing focus back to my earlier misconduct.
There would be no answer for him on the second half of his question. It was already embarrassing enough, and besides, if I ignored it, it didn’t happen...
“I don’t like drinking that much. I will if I’m in the mood, but to me, it’s just not worth four days of torture afterward. How ‘bout you?”
“Four days? I definitely wouldn’t like that either. I’ve been known for drinking, but Job and Joshua can drink anyone under the table.” He shrugged, yanking a red leaf from a tree as we passed.
“Are you going to answer my question?”
From the corner of my eyes I could see him raise an eyebrow. “Which question?”
“You told me you moved here because of your dad’s work, but neglected to tell me where you moved from.”
“Wow! My apologies, how rude. We’re from British Columbia.”
“British Columbia is a pretty big place.”
“Yes it is.” He chuckled. “Victoria on the Island.”
I looked at him. “I think your dad should have a chat with his bosses about what is an acceptable transfer, because you guys just traded down.”
He busted out laughing. “I’ll let him know.”
Bending down a little, he pointed while his breath warmed my ear and heart. “That house would be so beautiful if it were done up,” he whispered, then straightened up and rubbed his chin, taking a good look around. “Actually, the majority of these houses could use some updating.”
I sighed. “I told you...you traded down. But in all seriousness, this town isn’t a town you would see in those magazines, with gingerbread houses and quaint train stations. Most of it’s rundown, but there’s hope. For the past few years people have started taking better care and it’s not as bad as it was before.” I smiled. “The one good thing is, we’re surrounded by the clearest and most beautiful lakes in Canada. Town Hall finally decided to revitalize Main Street to attract the summer tourists from the lakes. It’s been a slow process, but it’s getting there.”
As we crossed the street, I pointed. “I’m going that way.”
“Where? Through the park?” he inquired.
“Mm-hm.” There was only one light on by the swings and dusk was upon us. “Over there, on the edge of the park, are the woods. A few hundred meters in, the path takes me one of two ways; the left path takes me through and out, to home; the right path leads to the swimming hole.”
The way he suddenly stopped had me thinking he didn’t want to go any farther. So to let him off the hook I said, “I’m okay from here. Maybe you should head back, you might get lost going home.”
A snort came from under his breath.
Uh oh, I’d insulted him!
“I don’t offer to walk a lady home, then dump her halfway there. I was simply wondering why you would cut through the woods like that, and especially if you were by yourself?”
Such a gentleman
. I shrugged. “It cuts about twenty minutes off my way home, and I’m used to it.”
Animatedly he pointed and with a crazy accent said, “Okay, then lead on, my fair lady, through the woods.”
Heading toward the path, he stayed close to my side, allowing me to take in the wonderful aroma that emanated from him, and also leaving me wanting, very much, for him to hold my hand. He was, well...yummy!
When we reached the edge of the path, the trees began to sway in the wind, giving the air an eerie feel. I pulled my jacket tighter and much to my excitement, Nathanael obliged me with more than just a hand hold. He immediately wrapped his arm around my shoulder, drawing me against him. “You look frozen. You should have let me drive you.”
We were so close, I could feel his heartbeat pulse with mine, and the warmth radiating from him cuddled me up all snug and warm, like a protective shield from the wind and cold. “Thank you,” I said, meaning it.
He chuckled. “Don’t mention it.”
The trees got thicker and a couple twigs snapped from unknown sources just to the left of us. Nathanael jerked to a stop, holding me tighter, yet shielding me back a bit behind him.
“Nathanael, I thin...”
He put his index finger to his puckered lips, making me freeze in place. A heavier rustling, low to the ground came from just in front of us. Nathanael’s muscles flexed and our bodies melded together as my fear vanished, because where I was...it was completely safe.
A nervous chuckle jumped from his throat when a deer stepped out from the brush. It turned its head and looked directly at us, then curled up on the path, blocking our way. “Looks like someone doesn’t want us to go any farther.” He smiled down at me, and even though there was no danger, he didn’t let me go.
“Shoo!” I waved the backs of my hand at it—a small gust of wind picked up a handful of leaves, rolling them toward the deer, and eventually resting under its neck. It didn’t even so much as blink. “Go away!” I shouted out a little louder. The deer cranked its neck and looked at me, like it was asking, “What are you doing, you nut?”
Nathanael laughed, then shot a quick nod off to the side. The deer looked behind it, turned back, then stood and continued on its way. Nathanael, rubbed the top of my arm. “Shall we continue? Are you warm?”
“Yes,” I answered to both questions.
“Come on, let’s get you home.”
~ * ~
The front porch light was on when we came up the walk, but the rest of the house was dark. Digging in my knapsack to find my keys, I said, “Mom went out for dinner.” Of course my keys wouldn’t co-operate. “Darn it!”
Taking it gently from my hand, he held it up. “Is it okay?”
He reached in my bag without any scouring and yanked out my keys, then smiled, all proud of himself. “May I?” he asked, holding them toward the door.
I stepped aside, allowing him to be as gentlemanly as he wanted.
The key slid easily into the lock and the dead bolt let go—normally it groaned and resisted, taking me three or four tries. The boy had the touch. After pushing the door open, he stepped back and presented my things to me with a bow.
“Thank you.” I took my belongings from him.
Nathanael was a boy who held a lot of secrets and mystery, yet it felt like I had known him my whole life and felt if he wasn’t part of it, it wouldn’t be complete. It was a whole new feeling, unlike anything before—Nathanael managed to cuddle up into my heart.
Nathanael insisted he wasn’t leaving until he heard the deadbolt lock, making me close the door on him. When it was secure, I stood on my tippy toes, peeking out the window and watched him as he stepped out onto the main sidewalk. Then, with no warning, he turned around right under the street light, and before I could duck, smiled and winked.
Pitching my back against the door, I threw my hand up to my mouth to stifle my giggle. My legs floated me down the hallway to the kitchen. He was very much with me—his scent, his voice, his heartbeat—everything about him infiltrated my mind, making it difficult to focus on anything but him.