CHAPTER 4 – NATE
I miss the turn to my neighborhood on purpose, flooring the gas pedal and moving to the innermost lane to try to avoid the people driving too fucking slow on the narrow drive. I didn’t get this car for its looks, although it’s a beautiful car. I wanted it for the engine, and for its ability to get me anywhere I want to go as quickly as possible. If Mom hadn’t been feeling guilty about starting to date earlier in the year, I’d never have been able to convince her to buy me a convertible for my sixteenth birthday.
“Come on!” I yell loudly as I approach two cars going the same speed as one another, spreading across both lanes of the highway. I just want to get the hell out of Basking Ridge, on to an open road. Looking for a way past them, I glance to my left, wondering if it’s safe to cross the double striped line to pass these idiots. I don’t see any cars, and push my Ferrari to its limits as I steer into the empty lanes of oncoming traffic to get past the slower vehicles. One of the cars honks as I blow past it. I wave in response, cranking up the volume to the radio as I move my hand back to downshift.
I hear the siren before I see the police car. Fuck. I could outrun him, I’m sure, but being the son of Donna Wilson makes me pretty recognizable in this county. That, and I’ve already gotten two tickets in my car that’s not even two months old yet. And there aren’t a whole lot of Ferrari convertibles around here. With everything working against me, I waste no time pulling over to the shoulder. The passengers of one of the cars I’d passed laugh at me out of the window. I fight the urge to flip them off with the officer parking his squad car behind me.
The wind whips harshly against my skin after I roll the window down. Denying myself the cigarette I need, I steady my breathing, trying to figure out a story to tell the cop.
“Step out of the car, sir.” The officer is still ten feet from my convertible when he yells this at me. This isn’t good. I turn off the engine and pocket my keys in my leather jacket.
“Is there a problem, officer?” I ask him, not realizing how cliché the question sounds until it’s too late.
“You joking with me, son?” he asks, not at all humored by me. His accent is strange. His voice has Jersey nuances, but some words sound elongated, as if spoken with a southern drawl. His pace is slower than that of most local cops, and I notice he’s wearing black cowboy boots.
“License and registration,” he says as he encroaches on my personal space. I’d back up if I wasn’t already leaning against my car. As soon as I touch my wallet, I feel a tiny sliver of hope. My motions obvious, I search my wallet for the identification forms he requested. “You’re not trying to bribe me, kid, are you?” he asks quickly, seeing all the bills folded beneath the money clip.
“What? No,” I answer, my hope immediately dashed as I tuck the billfold back into my pocket.
“Didn’t think so. Stay here,” he says in a commanding tone as he returns to his squad car. I wonder how many laws I broke. Speeding. Crossing the solid line. If he finds my cigarettes, I’m sure he’ll find a way to tack that on. They’re sitting on the passenger seat. Panicked, I take one step toward my door before the cop jumps out of his own car, yelling at me to stop. When I turn around, he’s got his hand on his gun.
I raise my hands up, scared out of my mind. “I was just–” I stutter.
“You’re Nathaniel Wilson?” he calls out to me, taking his hand off his gun and walking toward me.
“Son of Charles and Donna Wilson?”
I narrow my eyes at him, wondering what info they have in that database. Do they know about my parents? My dad? “Yeah.”
“Charles Wilson, who died after driving his car into a tree?”
My nostrils flare. How the fuck does he know that? “Yeah,” I say softly. He’s returned to my car, once again standing a mere foot away from me. He’s a few inches shorter, but that doesn’t make him any less intimidating.
“You remember what your daddy looked like in the casket that day, kid?”
“No, sir. It was a closed casket service–”
“Damn right it was. Know why?”
“Because my mom didn’t want to remember him that way,” I tell him, suddenly feeling ten years old again, feeling every ounce of loss that I felt that day.
“That may be what she told you to protect you, son, but I was the first officer on the scene that night. To this date, it’s one of the worst accidents I’ve seen and I will never forget what he looked like when we found him. You’re old enough to know that your dad didn’t make it out of that car in one piece. Those Jaws of Life retrieved pieces of a dead man, Nathaniel.”
I stop breathing briefly before the urge to throw up strikes me. I’ve had nothing to eat all day, so I dry heave, finally falling to my knees in weakness, spitting out saliva and bile. When my stomach finally stops convulsing, I pant, trying to get air back into my lungs. I feel a hand on my back, but I don’t look at the policeman. “Why would you tell me something like that?” I mumble to him angrily.
“Stand up,” he says, now patting me on the back three times. I push against the concrete, forcing myself into an upright position, but I still feel light-headed and empty. I glare at the officer, waiting for him to answer me. “My records tell me that this is the third time you’ve been stopped for a traffic violation in a little over a month. Is that correct, Nathaniel?”
“It’s Nate,” I tell him, “and yeah.”
“This time, I got you for speeding, crossing into oncoming traffic, rolling that stop sign back there, and… do I smell smoke?”
“My records also say that you got off with warnings both of those other times, is that correct?”
“It is.” Both of the other cops had asked to see my car up close. One even got in the drivers seat and checked out the instrumentation panel.
“I’m gonna do you a favor today.” I breathe a sigh of relief. “I’m gonna write you up a ticket for all of your offenses. How’s that sound?”
“It doesn’t sound like much of a favor,” I tell him honestly.
“No?” he asks. “Because I could take you down to the station. I could have your mom come bail you out of jail. How do you think she’d like that?”
“No, she wouldn’t. You know what else she wouldn’t like, Nate?” he says, punctuating the end of my name with a little spittle. I wipe my cheek. “She wouldn’t like me coming to her house and telling her that her only son’s remains are down at the morgue. She wouldn’t like having to come identify your body. Would she?”
“No, she wouldn’t.” I try not to think about what he’s said. It would kill my mother. I can’t imagine her that way. My body feels suddenly leaden, and I lean against the car for support.
“You better watch yourself, Nate,” he says as he starts to write down my violations on a slip of paper. “Next time, we’re taking you in, do you understand?”
“And impounding that one-hundred-thousand-dollar car.” One-hundred-thirty-thousand-dollar-car. I don’t correct him. “And that will be the lucky outcome, right? Jail or the morgue. It’ll be one or the other.”
I swallow hard and take my license and insurance card back from him. He walks up to my door and opens it, leaning across the seat and grabbing the pack of cigarettes. “I love the smell of new cars,” he says, handing me the ticket. “Don’t make me visit your mom, Nate,” he says, his cockiness suddenly gone. “Don’t do that to her.”
“Yes, sir,” I whisper. I wait until he drives off to get back in my car. I reach under my seat and pull out another pack of cigarettes, my hands shaking as I open it. I depress the cigarette lighter and realize I’m sweating, despite the below-freezing temperatures outside. I shrug out of my jacket and light my cigarette as soon as the lighter’s hot. I inhale slowly, in hopes of regulating my breathing.
I imagine my dad’s mangled body and close my eyes. That won’t make the image go away. I don’t want to know this. I never needed to hear it, and yet I’m curious– and ashamed that I am, too. I wonder if my mom knew what he looked like. I could never ask her. She didn’t identify the body, though. Grandma and Grandpa did… and they’re not around anymore to ask.
Think of something else! Mom, answering the door, greeting the insensitive cop who’s only there to deliver the devastating news of my death. I try to shake that thought away, too. Misty. Fuck! I don’t want to think about her, either. Finally, I start the car and pull into the nearest parking lot to turn around. I need to go home. I need to clear my mind. I need to paint. I need to get it all out, and that’s my outlet. I think about the piece of art I’d sketched. Why’d I throw that away? It was good.
For her. I threw it away to make a point to her. To impress her. Emi. With her clear, calming honeydew eyes. Before I know it, I’m half way home, the cigarette is out, my heart rate is finally back to normal, and there’s a smile spread across my lips.
As was predicted earlier in the day, snow starts falling steadily just as I pull into private road leading to our house. I park in the attached two-car garage so I won’t have to walk in the snow, even though Victor normally takes that spot. He can get his shiny patent leather shoes wet with snow and mud.
My mother opens the garage door as I step out of my car. “I thought that was you,” she says. “You can tell by the sound of that engine,” she says.
“It is fairly distinctive,” I agree. “Sounds very different from the Mercedes sedan we paid for.”
“Nathan,” she says, her tone warning. “Victor has been a huge help to us. He’s not just my business partner– he contributes to this household, too,” she says of her co-worker who spends much more time at my house than I think is normal. He’s closer to my age than hers, and the thought of them together makes me cringe. She denies there’s anything personal going on between them, but I still don’t believe it. “He cares about us,” she reminds me. He sticks his nose into my business… that’s all he’s ever done for me.
I smile warmly at her, the image of my dad’s body still prevalent in my mind. I wish I’d never known, and I hope Mom never finds out. The thought of something like that would destroy her, reliving that day, imagining what he went through, alone. I can only hope it happened quickly; that he didn’t feel any pain. The morgue or jail. His words still haunt me. I couldn’t do that to her, not with all she’s already lost. “Hi, Mom,” I tell her with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “I love you.”
“Oh, Nathan, that’s so sweet,” she says, squeezing my arm. “I love you, too. I don’t tell you that enough.”
“You say it all the time,” I laugh.
“Oh, maybe it’s you that doesn’t say it enough,” she teases me. I’m sure she’s right, though. “I love you, Mom,” I tell her again. She reaches up to ruffle my hair, her smile bright and genuine.
“Anything exciting happen today?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I answer. “But I need to get to the art room.” She doesn’t ask any more questions, always understanding that I need to paint when I get the inspiration. Painting is my therapy. I’d been dabbling in art since I was a toddler, but I didn’t use it as a healing device until my father died. In the end, it was the only way I could get over the lingering anger and betrayal I’d felt.
She’s always encouraged me, for as long as I can remember. She built the art room for me. It’s probably my favorite place in the world. It’s not just the room I learned to become an artist in. It’s the room that taught me how to feel. It’s the room where I discovered who I was.
“Can I come see what you’re working on?” she asks.
“Yeah, but give me an hour.” I’ve never denied her entrance into the room whenever she likes, but she always asks first anyway. Her creativity and support has been something that’s motivated me; it’s something that drives me to better myself. I do love my mom.
I’d never want to hurt her.
©2012 Lori L. Otto
Do you like what you’ve read so far? This is a prequel to my Emi Lost & Found series. On June 8, download the first book, Lost and Found, for free!