CHAPTER 16 – NATE
Pulling up to my house, I’m relieved to see that Victor isn’t here. Regardless, I take the parking spot in the detached garage. I leave the windows cracked in the Ferrari and walk slowly toward the front door. Even though I just smoked my last cigarette– hopefully– I’d rather not reek of tobacco when I walk inside. Mom had stopped lecturing me, but she was still generous with the looks of disapproval.
“I apologize for my mother in advance,” I tell Emi as I sit down on the top step of the porch, giving us a little more time to air out our clothes.
“What do you mean?” Emi stands in front of me, causing me to squint to see her, with the glare of the sun peeking over her shoulder. Her hair looks like the sunlight itself.
“She likes to be involved in my life, so she may not leave us alone.”
“Donna was very nice before,” she says with assurance.
I’d wondered if Emi regretted telling her so much the last time she was here, when she was sad and distraught and emotional about her family. “You don’t feel like she was prying?”
“I feel like she was welcoming,” Emi says. “Comforting, even.” It makes me smile, hearing this.
“I like her,” Emi confirms.
“Does she not trust me?” she asks, suddenly self-conscious. “Is that why she won’t leave us alone?”
“No, it’s nothing like that. I think she said you were sweet. You’ve got her fooled,” I joke with her. She kicks my foot with hers. “See? She doesn’t know you at all,” I laugh.
She stomps quickly up the steps past me and walks straight into the house. I should have mentioned to her why I was stalling, but it’s too late. I follow her inside.
“I’m sorry,” Emi says, abruptly stopping as she meets our housekeeper in the foyer.
“Elsa,” I say, walking past them both toward the kitchen, “this is my friend, Emi.”
“Good afternoon, Emi.”
“Hi,” I hear her say softly. “Nice to meet you.” Her heavy boots clop against the hardwood floors as she follows me through the house.
“Can you keep it down?” I joke with her, nodding at her feet as I grab a glass out of the cupboard. “Want a drink?”
“Sure,” she says. “Water?”
“Sure.” I take a second glass and fill both of them, handing her one when I’m finished.
“Emily,” Mom says as she joins us, “how has your first official week been?”
“Not bad,” she answers.
“How are things at home?”
“Okay,” Emi says with a smile. “Thank you again for letting me take refuge in your house last weekend. My mother was angry, but grateful that I had a safe place to stay.”
“You’re welcome. Nathan?” Mom says, nodding in my direction.
She doesn’t say anything, but she looks at me skeptically and crinkles her nose a few times. I roll my eyes at her, hoping it’s the last time she’ll have to give me that look. As much pleasure as I’ve gotten from smoking, I don’t like disappointing her.
“What’s for dinner?” I ask. “And can Emi stay?”
Emi looks from me to my mother uncomfortably. “It’s okay, I can–”
“Pasta primavera,” Mom says, “and I insist you stay,” she says to Emi. My friend smiles and nods. “Are you a vegetarian, too?”
“No, ma’am,” she says, “although it may be awhile before I eat a chicken sandwich again.”
“Nathan, you didn’t tell her about the paste…” I shrug my shoulders and take a sip of my water. “You’ll poison yourself with tar and nicotine, but you’ll judge other people for eating perfectly fortifying meat.”
“He’s quitting,” Emi says cheerfully.
“Quitting. He just had his last cigarette–”
“I didn’t–” I don’t know why I even try to lie. I can’t cover up the smell, or the look of guilt that I’m sure is painted across my face. “Alright, I did.”
“What made you decide this?” Mom asks, her smile growing.
“I made a deal with her,” I motion toward Emi, trying to be casual. Mom had tried for months to get me to give up the habit. I’d never even told her I’d try. She clearly looks surprised.
“I like this girl,” my mother says, much to Emi’s delight. Mom puts her arm across Emi’s shoulders. “You made a deal, you say. What’s your end of the bargain?” she asks as she looks at my friend.
Emi takes a deep breath before she answers. Her eyes meet mine, keeping them there as she speaks. “I’m going to try to forgive my dad.” She exhales quickly with relief. It’s as if she needed my strength to even say the words. I smile at her encouragingly, as does my mother.
“A win-win,” Mom says, letting go and walking to the freezer. “So, Emily, I like to add shrimp to my pasta. Would you like some in yours?”
“No, thanks,” she answers. “I’ll stick with the Nate diet for today at least. I don’t want to hear what they do to shrimp.”
“Our house is a safe place,” she jokes. “Nathan learned at a young age that he could have his own beliefs. He also learned that trying to impose those beliefs on his father and me would only get him sent to bed without dessert.”
“That was when I cared about dessert,” I pipe up. “It’s no fun anymore. She’s heard all the facts and still continues to eat the fl–”
“Nathaniel James Wilson!” Mom speaks over my statement. I smile, noticing that Emi’s covering her ears. I wasn’t going to actually say anything.
“Just kidding,” I say as I hold my hands up defensively. “We’re going to go rehearse,” I tell my mother.
“In the theater?”
“I’ll bring up some snacks,” Mom says. “No chocolate,” she adds.
“Thank you,” Emi says with a slight blush in her cheeks. She follows me upstairs to the third floor. “Can I see what you’ve been up to?” she asks.
“Later,” I assure her. “We’ll take a break and go over there… but we’re here for serious business.”
“I’m here to hang out with you,” she says. “Do you really need to rehearse this?”
“Uhhh…” I stutter, having not realized this was more social than scholarly to her. “A little?”
“Okay,” she shrugs as she reaches the entrance to the theater. I stand behind her when she stops, staring at the room in front of her. “This is an actual movie theater,” she says.
“A small one,” I admit. “It only seats twenty-four.”
“What in the… who has a theater in their house?”
“We do,” I laugh as I slip past her and descend the steps to the front of the room. “My dad loved films. And he had a lot of friends and associates, so this was his guilty pleasure.”
“Incredible,” she says, finally following me to the floor up front. Dad actually had a small stage built under the screen, but as far as I knew, no one had ever used it for a performance. Emi unzips her bag and pulls our her copy of the Canterbury Tales. I grab mine from the bar in the corner where I had left it this morning with my sword. “So, let’s talk characters,” Emi says, taking control. “Who… is… the squire?”
“You didn’t read the whole thing?” I ask her.
“Was I supposed to?” she asks, shocked.
“I don’t guess so, no.”
“I’ve had a lot on my mind,” she says quickly.
“I know you have,” I laugh. “The squire is, as you already know, the knight’s young son,” I start.
“He’s lusty and lively,” Emi says dramatically.
“So you’ve read that much.”
“It seems fitting. And I think it’s funny our English teacher thinks this role suits you.”
“You don’t think it does?” I challenge her playfully.
“No, I definitely think it does. It just seems weird for a teacher to think a student is ‘lusty.’”
“Passionate,” I correct her. “She’s friends with our art teacher. I can’t hide my passion all the time, you know.”
“I know,” she says. “No apologies needed here. I like that about you.”
“Good,” she repeats.
“Anyway, so I’m lusty and lively and virile, apparently–”
“And you’re in love with some lady we don’t know.”
“Right. So in love that I can’t sleep, apparently. And I write songs and draw, as well as joust and dance.”
“Do a dance.”
“Come on!” she urges me.
“I’ll play a song, but I will not dance.”
“Fine,” she says, clapping giddily. “Go ahead!”
“Of course. We’re rehearsing. When else?”
“Wait, I’m not going to sing on Friday,” I tell her warily. “Not in front of your class.”
“I, uh… I don’t think I can.”
“Go get your guitar,” she encourages me. “That would be awesome.”
“You’ve never heard me.”
“And I never will if you don’t go get your guitar…”
“Alright, alright,” I tell her, going back up the stairs to retrieve my acoustic from my bedroom. It occurs to me that I’ve never played for anyone other than my mother, and even then, she’s really only overheard me in my bedroom. My stomach falls, nerves getting the best of me. Am I really going to perform for this English class on Friday?
Am I really going to perform, right now, for her?
When I get to my room, I take the guitar and sit on the bed, strumming a few chords of a Nirvana song I’d been practicing ever since I got the album a couple months ago. I’d taught myself the song by ear, not that it was difficult. Eight chords. Simple lyrics. A guy looking for a friend… possibly more…
Shit, I can’t sing that song to her.
I mentally go through my personal repertoire and realize every song I know is a love song. “About a Girl” is probably my safest bet, so I decide to go ahead and play my original choice. I can’t believe I’m about to do this.
“Do you take requests?” she asks as soon as I step back into the theater.
“I don’t know a whole lot of songs,” I tell her. “What would you want to hear?”
“Fall Down,” she answers. “Toad the Wet Sprocket?”
“I can’t play that,” I laugh, thinking of the guitar riff in my head. If that didn’t play such a prominent part in the song, I know I could get through the rest of it. “Think rhythm guitar. Not lead.”
“I don’t know what you’re saying,” she says, looking confused.
“Chords, not solos,” I try to clarify.
“So… no Jerry Cantrell,” she states.
“You knew what I was saying,” I challenge her, surprised that she knew what I meant. “Right. I was thinking a Nirvana song.”
“That works,” she says, taking a seat on the front row. She sits cross-legged, tucking her boots beneath her legs, and leans forward, her eyes expectant. I grab a barstool and put it on the raised platform and take a seat.
When I look at her, my anxiety disappears. She smiles as I strum the first few chords and starts mouthing the words with me when I start singing.
“Sing with me,” I encourage her, skipping a line of the song to talk to her.
“I can’t sing,” she says. “Plus, I want to hear you.” I roll my eyes but continue. A few times, she lifts her eyebrows, looking surprised at my performance. She sways with the music, and is so into it that she doesn’t notice when my mom comes into the room quietly and takes a seat behind her.
Through the entire song, Emi’s lips move with my lips. I can’t stop looking at her, and her eyes don’t leave mine, either. She gives me confidence. She makes me feel like I can do anything.
As I play the final chord, sing the final words, Emi stands up and claps, giving me my first standing ovation. I can feel the heat rush to my cheeks, but I stand up and bow for my audience.
“That… was fucking amazing!” Emi exclaims. “Holy shit, do it again!!”
I nod at my friend, then look behind her at my mother, who looks moderately startled. “Hey, Mom,” I say to her. Mom waves at me, as Emi stills, her face ashen.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” she says. “Please tell me Donna’s not in here…”
“Do you like strawberries, honey?” my mother asks.
“I am so sorry,” Emi says, turning around quickly and covering her mouth.
“No, it was… amazing,” Mom says, avoiding Emi’s adjective. “Don’t worry about it, sweetie.”
“I would be so grounded at my house.”
“So would Nathan,” she says, “but this isn’t your house.”
“Which means I should be on my best behavior,” Emi says. “I’m so embarrassed.”
“I never would have said that if I had known–”
“Emi, it’s fine,” I try to assure her. “You can’t help what my music does to you,” I tease her.
“Right, we’ll blame the music.”
“I’m happy you liked it,” I tell her, carefully setting my guitar aside.
“I thought you two had to rehearse for your English class,” Mom says as she finally hands Emi a bowl of strawberries. She takes one and carries the bowl to the edge of the stage, offering me one. We both sit down on the platform.
“The squire is a poet and a musician,” I explain to her.
“And what role do you play, Emily?”
“Well,” Emi starts, looking at me.
“She’s the knight.”
“That’s progressive…” Mom says thoughtfully. “A female knight.”
“Actually,” Emi says, “I will be telling my story as the heroine of the Knight’s Tale.”
“Really?” I ask her, surprised. “You’re going to be Emily?”
“I am,” she says.
“So no armor?”
“Not even a sword,” she says.
“I was looking forward to a duel,” I say, nudging her shoulder with mine.
“There was never going to be a duel,” she says. “The knight and his son are both good men. Respectable. They fight for honor. They fight for what’s right.”
“Not over the strawberries?” I ask her as I watch her devouring the fruit my mom had brought us.
“You ruined my lunch,” she says. “We might be fighting over these.” She pulls the bowl to her right side, as far away from me as she can get them. I reach around her, struggling with her to get a berry or two. We’re both laughing in our struggle.
“I’ll leave you two to your homework,” my mother says, “if that’s what you call this.” I finally get the bowl away from Emi and take off across the room, popping a few pieces of fruit in my mouth. “Bye, Mom,” I tell her with my mouth full.
“Bye, Donna!” Emi says, heading straight for my guitar.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa…” I set the strawberries down in a chair and rush over to her. “What are you doing, Emi?”
“I wanna play,” she says. I take a deep breath as she picks the guitar up by the neck.
“Careful,” I say as I balance the body of the guitar in my hands. “It’s not a toy.”
“Excuse me?” she asks, letting go of the instrument and looking offended.
“It’s vintage, Emi,” I tell her softly, trying to smooth things over. “It’s irreplaceable.”
“I’m not a child,” she says to me. “I can hold a guitar without breaking it, you know? I picked it up by it’s arm. That couldn’t hurt anything.”
“It’s not an arm, it’s a neck,” I try to explain, “and that’s exactly how you could hurt it.”
“So sorry,” she mumbles, stepping off the stage and sitting back down in her chair. She opens up her book and starts flipping through pages.
“Emi, don’t be mad.” I put the guitar on its stand and walk over to her.
“I’m not mad,” she says quickly. “At least I know where I stand in a battle with your stupid guitar.”
I scoff at her and pick up my own book, opening it up to the Knight’s Tale. “Where do you want to start?” I ask her, feeling the escalating tension.
“I don’t care.”
“I don’t either.”
After a few more minutes of silence, she drops her book on the floor and gets up, walking across the room to the bowl of fruit. She sits down in the chair the strawberries were occupying and stares at each one intently before eating it.
“Why are you pissed?” I ask her, setting my book aside.
“It’s a thing, Nate. It’s a guitar.”
“I know exactly what it is. It’s a 1961 Martin. A special edition. There were fifty of these made. This is the first of the series,” I tell her.
“I’m the only one in the series of me,” she says. I have to bite my lip to keep from laughing. “Are you really that materialistic, that things are more important than people in your life?”
This rubs me the wrong way. “What do you want from me, Emi?”
“I want to be important to you.”
“You are,” I tell her. Frustrated, I grasp at my hair, pulling it hard. I want to tell her how important she is, but I can’t. I won’t scare her away, and I know that one improper advance could do just that. I decide not to delve into my feelings, and stick with the object– the thing– at the center of our current fight. “You can play the god damned guitar, I don’t care.”
“I don’t even want to play it,” she says. “I just want you to trust me.”
I turn to her slowly. “You want me to trust you?”
“You think I don’t trust you?”
“It doesn’t seem like you do.”
“How many days have I known you, Emi?”
I watch her swallow hard before she answers me. “Five days.”
“Five days,” I repeat. “Less than a week!”
“Who cares how long, Nate? I knew I could trust you after five minutes.” I can’t hold her gaze, feeling suddenly overcome with guilt.
I think back to Monday night, to Lauren. I remember with perfect clarity the lie I told Emi last night. “Maybe you can’t.”
“Why do you say that?” she asks. “Why can’t I trust you?” Her voice is shaking when she speaks.
“I think you need someone so badly right now, Em, that you’re overlooking a lot of things.”
“Like?” she asks, clearly offended. When I don’t look back at her, she comes and sits on the stage in front of me, facing me. “Why can’t I trust you?” she repeats.
“I lied to you,” I tell her.
I stare hard at my shoes, willing my feet to take me out of this room and far away from this conversation. I walked into it, though. I walked right into it, and I have a feeling my subconscious mind knew exactly what it was doing. I can’t lie to her. Not to her. Not if I want her in my life in any capacity. She won’t tolerate it. I shouldn’t either.
“About what, Nate?” I see her feet hit the floor about eighteen inches in front of me. Her fingers touch my chin, tilting my head to see her face. Already she looks hurt, and I haven’t even confessed anything yet. Looking up at her, I feel I’m already in a position to beg for her forgiveness. I will.
“I slept with Lauren.” I catch her hand when it falls from my face, closing my fingers around hers.
“When?” she asks softly.
I shake my head, not wanting to answer. I look away to murmur my response. “Monday night.” When I look up, she’s crinkling her nose and squinting her eyes at me.
“Two days ago, Monday night?”
“Yeah,” I sigh.
“It’s none of my business,” she says, shrugging. I stand up, with her hand still in mine. “Why did you lie?”
“I don’t know,” I tell her honestly. “I didn’t… I didn’t want to disappoint you.”
“Well, you did.”
“I know, Emi. I shouldn’t have done it. I got nothin–”
“I’m talking about the lie, Nate,” she says flatly. “I don’t want to hear about what happened between you two. Like I said, that’s none of my business. But it’s not okay for you to lie to me.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’ve regretted it since I said it.”
“Don’t do it again,” she says. “If we’re going to be friends, I expect you to be honest with me.”
“I will be,” I vow to her.
“Would I prefer that you’re not a man-whore?” she asks. “Probably, but that part of you has nothing to do with me.”
“Oh, good God, you idiot,” she says, finally pulling her hand away. She’s smiling at me. “You know what I mean.”
I laugh a little to myself. “Yeah, I know what you mean. And trust me, that part of me probably needs some time away from everyone right now. Sex… the idea of it… doing it… it messes with me. I feel… insecure. I don’t know,” I tell her, unable to explain how dissatisfied I felt and how disgusted I was with my own actions.
I walk over to the nearly-empty bowl and bring it back to the center of the stage. We sit on either side of it, finishing off the fruit.
“That guitar was your dad’s, wasn’t it?” she asks softly, breaking the silence and putting her hand on mine.
I look into her eyes, nodding my head. “It was the last gift he ever gave me. We’d had one lesson together, the weekend before he died.”
I’m not sure what happened first, but it all felt simultaneous. I blinked my eyes, exposing two tears, and she enveloped me in a tight hug that elicited a few more. I never made a sound, but I’m sure she knew I was crying. She held me for minutes, and she let me be the one to break away. By the time she saw my face, the tears were gone, and the look of strength I knew she needed replaced my sadness.
©2012 Lori L. Otto
Do you like what you’ve read so far? This is a prequel to my Emi Lost & Found series. You can download the first book, Lost and Found, for only $.99!