Natalia Banks was not crazy and she certainly, without a doubt, was not stalking her ex-girlfriend. At least that was what she was telling herself. She couldn’t help it that they had ended up in the same place at the same time. Tacoma was a small town and the attractions were thin and few. Out of all of them, the library was the only public place where Natalia felt at ease, and for once, calm.
Over the past week, she had experienced an array of emotions that would have had any sane person on the verge of a panic attack. It started late Tuesday night when her older brother, Nathan called to tell her that Katie, his wife, had gone into labor. Nat had stayed on the phone with him, both crying happy tears until he had had to go. By Wednesday morning, Natalia had a niece, Hope Banks.
The joy of being an aunt lasted a good five to ten minutes when Nathan texted again. The new parents had spent a total of an hour with their daughter before deciding she needed to be shared. By the end of the day, it was decided that Nat was going to drive in for a welcome home party for the baby.
It was all downhill from there.
For the next couple of days, Natalia debated on if it would be wrong to skip the event. She could meet Hope when Nathan and Katie flew out for Christmas to see her every year. Nat quickly shut that thought down before it could take root. She doubted either of the new parents were going to be as flexible with her as she was used to.
So, here Nat was, standing in the library of a town she hadn’t stepped foot in for over five years. She had spent the whole night reassuring herself everything would be okay. Yet, as soon as she crossed the bright blue and yellow ‘Welcome to Tacoma, heaven on Earth!’ sign, her stomach twisted itself into knots. She had had to pull over on the side of the road to stop herself from throwing up.
When the nausea passed, Natalia pulled back on the road, keeping her eyes off the storefront cafés and mini-museums as it started to rain. Even that made her feel anxious. There was only one place in town that was not linked to a memory of Nat’s past. Like a moth drawn to light, Nat had taken a left on the main road and headed for the library with the intention of staying there until Hope’s party.
But it was starting to look like Natalia was never going to leave. She had been strolling through the historical fiction section when she saw a flash of blonde through the corner of her eye. On instinct, she turned to see and that’s when she saw her.
Swan Jeffords looked the same as she did in Natalia’s memories with a few subtle differences. Her hair was shorter but still the same shade of glowing, white blonde. Her skin glowed under the fluorescent lights and stood out with the white blouse she wore as well as her dark washed jeans.
The room paused, and the world went with it. Natalia’s mind was a blank slate as she tried to process what was happening. The situation felt like she was witnessing a crime. That she shouldn’t be seeing what she was and run the other way. But her body was in just as much shock as her mind. Natalia could almost feel the woman’s many stolen touches on her skin and forgot how to breathe.
Nat was so caught up in her staring that she didn’t notice the stack of books slipping out of her arms until they hit the floor. She jumped at the bang that followed, echoing around the room. Her face went hot at fifty or so pairs of eyes snapped her way.
Getting on her knees, Nat started to clean up the mess, turning into a statue when she heard a familiar, airy voice speak, “I hope you plan on putting all those back yourself.”
Natalia didn’t move, keeping her eyes on the ground, her hair covering her face. She didn’t move an inch, praying to a higher power that Swan would just leave. Of course, it didn’t really matter. Swan was going to be at the party later, after all, she was Nate’s best friend. They would have to interact sooner or later.
Just rip off the band-aid, Natalia scolded herself but still was not able to look up.
“Did you hear me?”
Natalia swallowed the lump and forced herself to do something. Inconsequently, that meant her eyes meeting Swans. Ice blue crashed on brown as they stared at each other. Dryly, Nat responded, “Loud and clear.”
“Lovely,” Swan quipped and bent over, grabbing some of the books. When she stood back upright, she gave Nat a pointed look, “Are you going to spend the rest of your life on the floor or what?”
Nat felt her face heat up as she picked up the reaming two books and got up. She set them on the shelf beside her, taking a step back from the blonde. The narrow shelves didn’t allow for much movement, however. Even with the minimal distance between them, Natalia found herself breathing in lavender perfume.
Unable to help herself, Nat’s eyes ran over the blonde once more. This time around, her eyes stopped on the nametag pinned to her white blouse. Her mouth was dry as she asked, “You work here?”
Swan nodded once, “For three years now.”
“Why?” Nat asked, not concealing the venom in her voice. They both knew Swan didn’t need the job. The blonde had inherited a large sum of money after her grandmother passed away. It was enough to keep someone set for life. But that wasn’t the reason Natalia was mad. Her jaw clenched as heat filled her belly, “Out of all the places in town, why here?”
“Why not?” Swan countered, crossing her arms over her chest. Her eyes narrowed, “It’s quiet, and the people are nice.”
“I know because this is my spot,” Nat gritted, resisting the urge to stomp her foot. The library had been her favorite place to be during rainy, Tacoma afternoons. The sound of the drops hitting the windows while reading a good book had a calming effect unlike anything else.
Swan’s lips twitched and she remained unaffected at the heat behind Natalia’s words, “Last time I checked, I was the one who still lived in town. You gave up your ‘spot’ when you ditched town.”
“I left for college,” Nat out, her eyes traveling around the room to make sure no one was watching them. The last thing she wanted was to be public entertainment for a bunch of nosey strangers. “And, for your information, a lot of people move out of their hometown and don’t come back.”
Swan leaned a shoulder against the bookshelf, looking amused. One of her brows raised, “Until their brother has a baby and they have to, right, Natie?”
At the sound of Swan’s nickname for her, a shocking jolt went through Natalia’s body, but the surprise didn’t remain. A new kind of anger, like a fire, filled her to the brim. Nat held up her finger, jabbing the air in the blonde’s direction, “Don’t fucking call me that.”
“Keep pointing at me Natalia and I’ll teach you some manners.”
Nat’s hand dropped to her side and she swallowed the lump in her throat at Swan’s raspy words. Like a movie, image after image of light nights spent with the blonde flashed through Natalia’s mind. Before they could get a good grip on her, Nat forced them away.
“That’s what I thought,” Swan said, her eyes unapologetically running over Natalia’s frame.
Suddenly, she wished she had taken more time on her appearance at the motel this morning. At the moment, all Nat could think about was the last five hours of the driving she had to do and threw on sweats and a faded t-shirt that used to be Nathan’s. The most Natalia had done was run a hairbrush through her long, brown hair.
Without meaning too, Nat quietly asked, “What do you want from me, Swan? How many times do we have to torture one another before it ends for good?”
“Right now? Nothing,” Swan said, quickly adding, in a heated voice, “As for the second question, infinity. I will never be done with you, Natalia Banks. It doesn’t matter where you go or how long you stay away, I know what I want.”
“What about what I want?” Natalia countered, her heart feeling like a boulder in her chest. Her voice was barely above a whisper she said, “Just leave me alone, please. I’ll be gone after this weekend and we can resume our normal lives.”
“Normal? Are you kidding? We both know the reality we currently live in is utter bullshit, Natie,” Swan bit out, shaking her head, she sighed, “I have to get back to work. See you at the party.”
Nat watched her leave the aisle. She didn’t move until Swan was gone and then fled from the library and out into the rain. The water felt like ice on her skin as she raced to her car, her tennis shoes filling with water.
Inside, safe from the water, Nat slammed the palm of her hand on the steering wheel in anger. For five years, just like the rain in Tacoma, Swan Jeffords had been a permanent fixture in her mind. Still, Natalia had been sure that their five-year separation would’ve changed something…at least a little bit. Natalia had been sure that the emotions were long gone. She was so positive that she had packed a bag and drove all the way out here.
But now, before her, that thought went to shit. All it took was one look, one single look from her ex-girlfriend had Nat’s knees shaking and her heart racing. One look was all it took for Natalia to know that this was going to be a long, long, weekend.