When my palm hits Nathan’s back, his muscles bunch tighter under his T-shirt as if he is anticipating a blow. Remorseful, I lean into him, resting my cheek in the middle of his spine and slip my arms around his waist. I’m not sure why I’m pushing him tonight. I think it’s because I’m scared of what is going to happen to us when I go away but my claim on Nathan has never been one of girlfriend/boyfriend. We’re family and no matter what he gives to the other girls in his life, I’ll always mean something to him. I should be satisfied with that.
I should be but I’m not.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper against the worn cotton. I rub my face tenderly against his back as if I am his old dog Hobo, seeking forgiveness from my owner.
I feel him exhale and then he grabs each of my hands in his to pull me tighter and we sit like that for some time, his head bowed and mine nestled in the curve of his back.
“You’re going no matter what, right?” he finally says.
I’m not able to explain to Nate why I feel compelled to go and how I really believe that this is the right thing for all of us, but especially me. I’ll never get better here because it will be too easy to rely on Nate and Nick to do things for me. Nick will cover for me in classes and Nate will glare all my detractors away and I’ll be smothered in sympathy and pity. It would be easy to stay and that tells me more than anything I should go.
If I tell this to Nathan, he won’t get it. His response will be that he can take care of me but that’s not what I want. If I’m ever to mean something more to Nathan than little Charlotte, the girl he remembers crying because her cupcake was smashed, then I’ve got to learn to stand on my own two feet.
My illness has only accelerated this problem. I suspect that if I let Nathan he’d still be cutting my food ten years from now. But while his hands would be feeding me from his fork, his attention would be wandering. I’d be a needy invalid and he’d want someone who could walk beside him.
“You’re breaking up the three Amigos.” He says lightly but I can hear a faint accusation there. I dread facing Nick tomorrow. He is never as careful with my feelings as Nate.
“You’re just mad because you don’t get to leave first. And because you like to tell Nick and I what to do.”
“I resemble that remark,” he quips. Gently he unwinds himself from my embrace and rises. My heart catches as I fear he’s going to leave. I’m not ready for him to go. I push up on my knees and reach out for him. He towers over me on the side of the bed, a fierce look on his face. Cupping my cheek and chin in one hand, Nathan pinches my chin with the other. “I can’t figure this one out but I’m not going to argue tonight.”
He pulls me to my feet and then reaches over to pull down the covers. “I’m going to hold you tonight, even though your Dad or Mom may kill me in the morning but that’s all we’re going to do.” Was this a warning for me or him?
We lie down together, our sides barely touching in the large bed. He reaches over and links his fingers through mine.
“How long,” he whispers.
His fingers tighten almost painfully on mine for a moment but I don’t move at all.
“We’ll figure this out,” he says.
I’m not sure what we have left to figure out but I’m too tired to ask. He’s beside me and we’re lying together, our hands entwined. It’s enough for now.
Note: I know. This was really short but the next one is about 50% longer so that’s a positive, right? You can get the next installment tomorrow by signing up for the newsletter in the sidebar. Don’t forget, Unraveled comes on in 11 days!