It was Sunday night. One week after the sit-in. Nathan sat at the bar, staring into space. All his life, he had been brought up with that mantra at the back of his head, ‘Everyone and everything had a price’. But after all that had changed in the past week. Life was real and he had lost someone close to him. Life was no game and he was a stupid moron and a jerk to have thought so all this time. So many people had problems, real life problems out there, they were actually trying to solve them but here he was, wasting away his time and making a mockery of himself.
He was the typical, spoilt rich kid who was vain and knew nothing about what life was truly about. His life was something of a mess. Just to torture his always absent father, his mother had taken him away and made sure that the man never got to see him again. The last that he had heard, the man had started a family. He had been trying to reach out to him but Nathan had been blocking all his efforts. He had always blamed the man for the way he ended up. If he had been around more, if he had fought just a little more for his custody, maybe, just maybe his life would have been better. Maybe then, he would have grown up with a little bit more love in his life and then, not have this mindset that people were toys that could be bought and discarded when you are bored of them.
He had learnt a lot in the past week, about the lives of others and he knew now that he was just one person in a world of several more important people. He was nobody. He was unloved and uncared for. His friend had done something worthwhile and meaningful. He had sacrificed himself for others. With yet another sigh, Nathan raised the glass to his lips but before it touched his lips, a hand held his down. Shocked by the brazenness of the person, he turned around. Who was it that dared did such a thing? His head turned around and he was surprised at who he saw.
She smiled at him and pushing stray strands of red hair from her face, she sat on the stool beside him. Her green eyes were sparkling as her smile widened when she noticed his surprised look. Nathan scratched his chin. He reached for the glass again but she quickly took it and pushed it out his reach.
“What are you doing here, Rachel? Here to spoil my fun?” Nathan frowned at the redhead.
“No, nothing of such, Nathan. I was actually just finishing up my shift when I noticed you here at the bar,” she explained to him. She waved the bartender over and ordered a bottle of water.
“Who’s going to drink that?’ Nathan asked as soon as the bartender returned with the water.
Rachel shrugged as she said, “You are. Who else? Open up, Nate. You don’t want to have a bad hangover when you wake up, do you?”
“I think I have every right to drink, Rachel. My best friend died a week ago. Let me be.”
“Is that why you’ve been coming here and getting yourself drunk for the past week? Would Eliot want this for you?” Rachel asked him. She handed the water to him.
Very reluctantly, Nathan took the bottle of water and opened it up. He tipped it into his mouth and took a long drink of the water. Just then, something Rachel had just said dawned on him and he started coughing. His coughing fit was finally cured after Rachel’s slapping his back at intervals for a minute.
“Are you okay, now?” she asked him. Nathan nodded.
“Yes, I am much better now, Rachel. Thanks a whole lot.” Just then, he remembered what it was that had made him to almost choke to death. “Did you just say that you just finished your shift? In this place? At this time? You are joking, right?”
“No, I’m not, Nate. I work here. I’m a waiter here, alright? This is just one of my numerous jobs,” Rachel said. As she did, she saw the look on Nathan’s face and she shook her head and stood up. “I honestly cannot believe you, Nate. You actually think that I sell myself here?”
“I never said so, Rachel,” Nathan stood up as well.
“You didn’t have to, Nate. Your face betrays exactly what you are thinking. I just can’t believe you! Who the heck do you think you are? Who are you to judge the lives of others? You are terrible and rotten to the core. Do you honestly think that if I had a choice I would be working in this bar where I am in danger of being hurt every day?! Here I am trying to help you and you are being so... oomph!” Rachel flared up and stormed out of the bar with Nathan fast on her heels. He caught her just when she was about to stop a cab and when he did, he blocked her path.
“I am so sorry I thought such a mean and cruel thing, Rachel. I have to start understanding that not everything has a price. Everyone is not for sale and I have to weed off such thoughts and that mindset. I am truly sorry that I offended you. I will understand it if you do not want to talk to me ever again but, can I at least, take you home? It’s really late right now. I do not feel right leaving you out here all alone. So, even if you hate me, please let me take you home, please?” Nathan grabbed her hand. Rachel sighed and let out a small smile.
“Okay, fine. You can take me home, just so that you will feel better,” Rachel nodded. She followed him to his car and he helped her in. The drive to the apartment complex was very quiet. When Nathan arrived at the apartment complex, he alighted and helped Rachel out of the car. He walked her to her door and smiled at her. He kissed her lightly on the cheek.
“Good night, Rachel and once again, I am truly sorry for everything.” Rachel smiled her good night, unlocked her apartment and went in. Nathan sighed and walked back to his car. He could not understand why he felt so sad just because of what Rachel had told him. No one had ever spoken to him like that and he really felt bad about it all. He should not have thought such cruel things about her. He had to do what he could to make sure that Rachel forgave him. They were good friends and he really did not want that to be destroyed.
He walked out to his car and turned on the engine. Instead of going back to the bar, he chose to drive home. As he did, he could not help but beat himself up about the fact that he had acted so badly towards the one person that had actually cared about him.
Paul knocked on the door and waited. He got no response and he knocked again. Finally, he heard footsteps approaching. The door was swung open and there was Kate.
Paul’s lips turned up into a smile.
“Hi Kate,” he raised up the packet of muffins he held in his hands. “I brought muffins.”
“Thanks, Paul and please, do come in.” She opened the door wider. Paul walked into the apartment and handed the packet of muffins to her. She accepted them gratefully. “How are you, Paul? We haven’t seen each other since the funeral.”
“I’m fine. Trying to hold together. Eliot’s gone, it’s sad, painful but he wouldn’t want us depressed.”
“I’m happy to hear that. Muffins are actually just perfect. I just brewed some coffee. I’ll pour us some.” Kate walked to the kitchen and returned with a tray containing two coffee mugs, a coffeepot and the muffins in a platter.
“You know full well that Rachel hates this flavor,” Kate reproached Paul as she set the tray on the coffee table.
“I know.” Paul grinned. “I actually brought them just for you. I know that they are your favorite.”
“Ahh… very sneaky of you,” Kate grinned as she took a bite from a muffin. Her smile became wider as she munched on it. “This is incredible. So, Paul, what’s this for?”
Paul grinned at her. “Well… I just want to apologize to you. I have been an ass for a long time now, especially when it came to cases involving the paranormal. I truly am sincerely sorry.”
Kate smiled at him, “That’s okay, Paul. Really, you do not have to apologize for anything.”
“I do. I have always been a realist, a skeptic, I have never believed in such things like ghosts or afterlife and the like. I never believed in things that I could not prove. But even with all that, I should never have tried to impose my beliefs and opinions on you. It was completely wrong of me, I should have respected your opinions as well. The opinion of others is as much important as my opinion. Believe me when I say that I am truly sorry. I need to learn how to respect the opinions of others as well as keep an open mind. I have to be less skeptical about things. I really hope that I can do that.”
Kate smiled at him and said, “I am pretty sure that you can achieve that, Paul. And really, you have got to stop apologizing, okay?”
“Okay.” Paul nodded with a smile. He picked up his cup of coffee and took in a long sip. “Well, you make a mean cup of coffee.”
“Thank you, Paul,” Kate grinned.
“I am truly sorry about your family, Kate. No one deserves to go through that much pain and sorrow.”
“It’s okay, Paul.” Kate forced a smile.
“Does it still hurt when you think of them?”
“Oh yes, plenty. I don’t know, I would like to say that over the years, it has gotten better but the truth is over the years, as I’ve grown up, the pain has actually worsened.” Tears clouded Kate’s eyes and she took in a deep breath to calm herself down. “I am sorry, Paul. I just get really sad and misty eyed when I think of them.”
“That’s okay, Kate. You should not apologize for the way you feel, never.” Paul wiped her tears away with his thumbs. Then he said, “I know the pain of loss all too well now, you know.”
“I’m really sorry about Eliot.”
Paul grinned at her. They were both staring at each other and were completely unaware of the fact that Rachel had entered the room. She cleared her throat and they turned to see her smiling down at them.
“Uh, hey there Rachel.” Paul stood up to kiss her cheek but she patted him on the shoulder, preventing him from doing so.
Teasingly, she asked, “Did I come at a bad time? I could just leave you know.”
“Stop being so silly, Rachel. Paul’s your boyfriend. I’m going to leave you guys alone now and…” Kate made to stand up but Rachel placed her hand on her friend’s shoulder.
“Don’t be silly, Katie. I just came to get some notes I need for my next class. Please, ignore my presence.” Rachel hurried into the room and came out a few seconds later with some books. “Have fun guys.”
“Okay,” Kate replied, surprised at what had just happened.
“So, where were we?” Paul’s voice snapped her back to reality.
“Oh, uh, right…” she smiled at him.
“Are you sure about this, Rachel? Don’t you think that it is too sudden a decision and…” Rachel’s chuckle interrupted Paul’s spree of words. She pulled at his cheek and laughed
“Oh, you are such a gentleman, Paul. Paul, a romance between you and Kate has been in the making for a while. Admit it, we were more friends than a couple. With Kate, you yourself know that things are different, you feel for her what we have never felt for each other. We have just been friends trying to force something that should not even exist in the first place.” Rachel patted his hand.
“I don’t want to hurt you, Rachel.”
“You are not hurting me, dear friend. We are setting each other free, better now than later in the future when we must have lived miserable lives together. You love Kate and I care about the both of you. I realized a long time ago I do not love you, Paul. I was just waiting for you to realize it yourself and realize who it is that you truly love.”
Paul chuckled as he said, “You always knew how I felt even before I ever pronounced it or understood it myself.”
“You got that right. Please, so take care of Kate, okay? And make sure to give her a family, a new family that would love and cherish her.”
“You do not have to say that. I will. Cassie, mother and everyone else will be so thrilled to have her,” Paul said with a smile.
“That’s perfect.” Rachel stood up. “I have to get going now, I have a morning shift. Feel free to wait for Kate.”
“Sure, thanks, Rachel. Oh, and by the way, Rachel?”
Rachel stopped at the door and turned.
“How about you and Nate?” Paul asked with a grin.
Rachel fumbled for words to say. Finally, she settled for, “What are you talking about? We are just friends, I’m not even so sure about that anymore.”
“Rachel, all the times you have gotten mad at me, it has never lasted for up to one week let alone two weeks,” Paul told her.
“Your point, Paul?”
“My point being that whatever happened between you both, it hurt you so deeply because you have feelings for him.”
“I don’t have feel…” Rachel started saying.
“And he does have feelings for you as well. I know my friend well enough and the Nate I know has never looked so sad, distressed and desperate. He has never acted the way he is acting now. You both are two crazy people who are being too stubborn and don’t want to admit your feelings.”
“Are you done, love doctor? Can I go?” Rachel smiled at him.
“Sure, but you know I’m right,” Paul said with a smile.
Rachel nodded and left the building. As he was about to hail a cab, she heard honking.
She looked around and saw Nathan’s car. She rolled her eyes and got into the cab that had stopped beside her. He was not getting off so easily. Nathan Shore had to learn how not to treat people like crap.
She arrived at the diner and as she alighted the cab and paid her fare, she saw his car pull up along the curb. She shook her head and walked into the small building. As soon as she did, she went to the backroom, pulled off her coat and pulled on her apron. The diner was a small one; the owner had not had the extra cash to have uniforms made for the wait staff. She had had just enough to make customized aprons with Becky’s Diner written on them. Rachel walked out to the diner and went straight to a table to take an order.
All day, she walked back and forth attending to several customers and there, Nathan sat, in his car alongside the curb. She had actually thought that he would come in but surprisingly he had not. She had asked a colleague who was a friend to give him some water and he had refused it. He had said that all he wanted was her forgiveness. Rachel rolled her eyes. Did he honestly think that hounding her was going to get her to forgive him? By noon, her shift was over. She stepped out of the diner to find him still seated in his car. She turned her face away and hailed another cab. It took her to her next job, her afternoon shift as a department store clerk. Yet again, she saw his car pull up outside. She just had to try to ignore him, yes, that was exactly what she was going to do.
It was already two weeks since that night he offended her and she honestly could not believe that Nathan had been persistent at this for so long. Every day since then, she had been seeing him hovering around her except probably when he had classes. Other than that, he was always around. Maybe it was time for her to forgive him. It was very wrong of her to withhold her forgiveness from him for so long. She looked at her wristwatch. Her afternoon shift was over. As she put her things together, she knew that Paul had been spot on. She did have feelings for Nathan and that was why his actions had hurt her so much. She smiled. It was time for a new beginning.
Rachel bade farewell to the other sales clerk and headed out of the store. She knocked on the window of the car on the passenger’s side and Nathan quickly took it down.
“I’m sorry. I am truly very sorry, Rachel. I...”
Rachel interrupted his apology “Can you please open the door? My feet hurt,” she told him.
“Oh right, I’m sorry.”
She stepped aside and he opened the door for her. She stepped in and closed it after her. “Go down the road and take a turn to your left,” Rachel dished out instructions. Quietly, they moved in silence till they got to a diner. Nathan looked at Rachel in surprise. “Go on, park your car.”
“Do you have another shift? Did you just get a job here or something?” he had been following her about for two weeks already so he knew her routine.
Rachel pulled at his hand and he followed her. They stepped into the diner and she led him to a side booth.
“What are we doing here, Rachel?” he asked.
“We are getting some food into your stomach.” As he opened his mouth to complain, she shook her head, “Don’t you dare complain, Nate. You are eating. You have not had anything since morning. All you do is follow me around.”
Nathan smiled at her, “I don’t mind.”
Rachel tilted her head to the side and rolled her eyes, “Even that smile is weak, Nate. Go on, make your order.”
With a reluctant sigh, Nate looked through the menu. He held it close to him and it was obvious he has no plan of making a selection anytime soon. With a sigh, Rachel made their orders.
“What was that for? I had not chosen,” he complained.
“I work as a waitress, Nate. I understand how annoying it can be when customers like you spend years perusing the menu. Such times, I just want to scream, ‘Just pick one already!’” Nathan chuckled as she said so. “But, don’t worry. I made a great choice for you. I trust that you will enjoy it. The food here is great.”
“You brought us here, so I do not doubt that,” Nathan smiled at her.
“Nate, I actually want to apologize. I have been completely cruel and inhumane this past couple of weeks. Yes, you did hurt me with your insinuations but you apologized and I should have forgiven you instead of letting it consume me. I am sincerely sorry, Nate. I truly am sorry for all the stress that I have put you through. I was so wrong and I should have had a more accommodating and forgiving heart. Forgive me, will you?”
Nathan smiled at Rachel and he placed his hand over hers.
“You honestly don’t have to apologize, Rachel. I was also in the wrong here. You know, just being around you, this past couple of weeks, even if I could not approach you, I was able to learn a lot. You are an incredible and strong girl and you seem to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. I have learnt truly that no one is less important than the other.” He paused and took a drink of water. “The fact that you are more privileged than someone else does not make that person less human. I truly admire how strong and brave you are. I mean, all I have are mummy and daddy issues but I have become something of a terror, you have worse off than me and yet you handle it so well.”
“Oh, Nate. You are not a terror, you are so much more.”
“Yes, I have always thought that I would always amount to nothing but you have truly inspired me, Rachel. I believe that I truly can achieve greater heights. And if you will please let me, I would absolutely love to share your burden with you. You should not carry it all alone.”
They held hands across the table and they smiled at each other. Rachel nodded and Nathan took her hand and kissed it. Just then, their food arrived.
“Let’s eat,” Rachel said and they dug in.