A slight movement on the table catches my eye. Did Lea’s bag just move?
I look at Nat sitting beside me, and from her expression, I gather that she also saw the movement.
Natalie Taylor has been my best friend and roommate for the past four years. We met while studying for our nursing degree and just clicked.
I cannot believe she is leaving, not by choice though. Her father has called her back home to help him in his practice. He is a doctor in their hometown, Willowcreek.
That is the reason why we are here now. I need a new roommate to help with the rent when she leaves, and Lea needs a place closer to the hospital where we all work.
From the corner of my eye I catch the movement again, and this time both Nat and I focus our attention on Lea’s bag.
There, peeking out of the bag, is the culprit.
My breath catches in my throat when I look into the beady, black eyes of the scaled demon.
Beside me, I can hear Nat’s shocked intake of breath, but it is almost lost to me because of the sound of my rapidly beating heart thundering in my chest.
I am deathly afraid of reptiles. Just the thought of them makes me break out in a cold sweat, and that is happening right now.
Nat, sensing my panic, tries to focus an oblivious Lea on the problem by asking her about the sneaky devil wrangling his way out of her bag.
“Oh, this is Oliver, my bearded dragon. He was feeling a bit down this morning, so I brought him with me. This way he can also have a look at the new apartment and see if he likes it.” Lea says with a huge grin on her face.
She clearly loves the little spiky demon, but for me, this will be an enormous problem. I do not share my living space with the cold-blooded.
Hastily getting up from my seat, I move to our kitchen to get a glass of water.
I consider adding a little sugar to the water to help with the shock, but decide against it.
The creepy critter did not even touch me, he just peeked at me. I know that I am overreacting, but I cannot help myself.
In a desperate attempt to calm my still pounding heart, I take a deep breath and focus on Nat and Lea’s voices coming from the living room.
Lea is still animatedly talking about all her scaled children and I cannot stop the shudder that runs through my body.
Without a doubt, I know that this will not work, but I do not know how to tell Lea without hurting her feelings.
I decide to put on my big girl panties and go and grab the proverbial bull by the horns, or in this case, the lizard by the spikes.
Entering our living room, I keep my gaze locked on the lizard now sitting on Lea’s shoulder and sit down next to Nat on the couch opposite Lea.
She gives my shoulder a nudge and whispers in my ear, “Are you okay?”
I just look at her and nod, but she knows that I am struggling and gives me a reassuring smile.
What am I going to do without her? Nobody knows me the way that she does and sharing a home with someone else scares me.
Looking at Lea who is stroking the dragon on her shoulder lovingly, I concentrate on leveling my voice while I talk. “Lea, I still have two other people who already scheduled appointments to come and look at the apartment. I need to meet with them and let them check out the place, but I will let you know before the end of the month. I hope that you have a couple of other places in mind if this doesn’t work out.”
“Yes, of course. Nat told me that you are afraid of reptiles. I know that they are not everyone’s cup of tea and I will not hold that against you. I really hope that you will be willing to let me help you face your fear and get acquainted with them, but I will not push you.” She says all of this with an understanding look in her eyes and a soft smile on her mouth.
She is a wonderful person and I know that we would get along very well, but the reptiles… that would be a challenge.
After Lea left, I helped Nat with the last of her packing. She is leaving tomorrow, and we are both feeling the strain.
“I can’t believe that this is our last night together in our apartment.” I huff out while piling the last box onto the others beside the front door.
“I know, right? Do you want to spend our last night in our little piece of paradise eating take out till we burst and watching Netflix till our eyes burn?” She asks with a huge grin on her face, but I can see the sadness in her eyes.
“Why not? My next shift isn’t until Monday and your brother is picking you up, so you can sleep in the car.” I say while fanning my sweaty face.
“Chinese or pizza?” She asks while grabbing the phone.
“I could go for Chinese and you?” I ask while flopping down on the couch with the remote in my hand.
“Great, nothing like watching scary movies while eating with chopsticks.” She laughs out loud.
Gosh, I am going to miss this.
“I don’t want to say goodbye,” I say with tears in my eyes.
“Then don’t, just say see you later instead,” Nat says with an equally squeaky voice. “I am just 18 hours away and you can come and visit any time you want.”
“I know, but it will not be the same.” The tears I have been fighting back sins this morning we woke up snuggled against each other, streaks down my cheeks and I do not even try to wipe them away.
“We have to get going, Nat,” Luca calls from the truck where he just finished loading the last of Nat’s stuff. “It is getting late and we still have a long drive ahead of us.”
Luca is Nat’s older brother. He and Nat share the same black hair and dark blue eyes. They are both tall and athletically build, but Luca takes the cake.
He is one of the tallest people I have ever seen. My head only reaches his pecks, but he gives the best hugs in the world.
Even though he is built like a bouncer, he has a heart of gold and has always treated me like a little sister.
Four years ago, when I first visited Nat’s parents for the holidays, Luca was the one that came to fetch us.
I was speechless when I first saw him. Nat only laughed and joked that her brother had a way of knocking the wind out of women’s sails.
Willowcreek, their hometown, was just as breathtaking as the people that lived there.
Nat’s parents and Luca and his family lived in a gated community surrounded by woods just on the outskirts of town.
Nat and I used to go on long walks through the forest and swim in the lake every time we visited.
Even though there were wolves in the forest it never bothered us. We avoided them and they avoided us. The people of Willowcreek lived in unison with the wild, and I thought that was amazing.
Luca clearing his throat brings me back to the present. “Are you going to be okay Sam?” He is looking at me with a worried expression in his beautiful blue eyes.
“Yea, I’ll be fine,” I say while dropping my eyes to look at my feet.
Suddenly I am being wrapped up in an enormous pair of arms and my head pressed against his muscled chest.
His voice vibrates against my cheek when he says, “Any time you need us, night or day, you just give us a call and we will come, okay.”
I let out a muffled “okay” against his chest and feel him press a kiss against my forehead.
This has been my safe place ever since my parents died in a tragic car accident shortly after I met Nat and we started college.
The accident was also the reason I visited her parents for the first time. Nat, Luca, and their parents were my safety net that first month after my parent’s death. Without them, I would have fallen apart.
They became my family, and I love them with my entire heart.
That is the reason why Nat leaving has been so hard on me.
I guess it is equally hard on her too because we became sisters and not just best friends.
She even suggested that I move to Willowcreek with her, but I love my job at the hospital’s neonatal ward. I am still working my way towards becoming a neonatal nurse and I do not want to jeopardize that by leaving.
Luca lets me go and Nat takes his place with our arms tightly wrapped around each other.
She gives me a bone-crushing hug and then runs towards the truck and gets in.
I move towards the open window and take her outstretched hand in mine. Through her tears, she says, “See you later alligator.”
I reply with a sad smile and tears running in a silent river down my face, “In a while crocodile.”
Luca gives me a soft “Bye Sammy.” He pulls away from the curb, and Nat’s and my intertwined fingers slowly start pulling apart.
I stand there next to the street until I cannot see the truck through my hazy eyes anymore, and then I turn and start walking back to my now lonely apartment.