The Angel,The Devil,The Nerd

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Chapter 57 - Life goes on

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CHAPTER 57 - LIFE GOES ON

FOUR YEARS LATER

NATALIE'S POV

"So how about you come over tonight?" Sam, my boss and friend, asked me as we stepped into the elevator. We were done for the day, though only because her husband called to grumble. Sam kind of silenced him with her retorting that he's a workaholic just as much as she is, but then, of course, her children injected and she couldn't say no.

It was actually already an exception that we worked on a Saturday, but the thing is, there's a big upcoming event that's been swallowing all of our energies, considering we'll be presenting our new authors and our schedule for the spring-summer season.

Since I started working for Samantha and her Dante's Friends, I've been advancing in my career quite fast, to the point that in four years I became the boss' vice. Sam and I are friends before colleagues, though. And since I arrived in New York she's welcomed me with open arms, just like my cousin, Jake's sister, Serene has.

I've had a peculiar situation in the first months, but I've received all the help necessary, even my boss gave me all the chances possible, saying that she couldn't do without me (this was something like six months after I started working, when I thought she'd get rid of me because of my peculiar situation).

It feels fulfilling, because I've contributed to the growing of Dante's Friends too, to the point that, at that same event we're hosting, Sam will announce my being her associate, so I will be in fact directing the house with her, same level, co-directors.

I said she didn't need to do that, I was just happy with the amazing career I had, considering how much I'd advanced and I was just 25, but she said I was there when everything began and it's my merit too if our house has been that successful, though I think that having such an imposing and mighty company as her husband's Grant Enterprises on our back did help much.

I mean, for her own admission, every deal she signed in the beginning, she did see that her being presented as Samantha Benedetti-Grant and not just Benedetti did give her a big push. She says she's proud and wouldn't want to owe her success to her husband and his mighty name, but, after much butting heads with Lukas himself, she came to the conclusion that accepting his help couldn't really hurt.

They were married after all, "what's mine, it's yours", he keeps repeating her, which means that yeah, also his billions are hers, and in the very impossible chance they'll ever split, he's gonna have to share half of his holdings with her, well he does that already, but as a matter of law, yes, Lukas made his wife co-owner of the Grant Enterprises as gift for their fifth anniversary, well, will be making her this summer, but I know already ... inside sources, you know.

I'll admit that it makes me smile how this Lukas, Grant I mean, is so similar to the other Lukas, the one in Boston. Though Sam's husband is a whole of a lot calmer and more posed compared to my ex neighbor. I've been keeping in touch with Tara and Lukas by the way, just as with Jake and Silvia. And after all, how couldn't I?

Even though my first months in New York were hellish and I really didn't want to see anybody, my cousin didn't want to hear reasons. Says he's seen me at my worst, that little peculiar situation wouldn't change anything. Actually, I needed their help more. Even mom moved here for a couple of months at first. Purposely. Just to help me. Because she knows how hard it is to go through such thing all alone.

It took me long to accept it, but I followed the tip. I moved on. Well, partly. I mean, I don't think of the past anymore, I don't hurt myself by re-reading messages and a specific note ... I've gone on with my life. This time for real. Though I had to, if not for me, for that someone I started coming home to after a few months.

He needed me present and not broken. He needed my everything and even if it was painful, I gave it, and I still do, thinking that it's at least a piece of that life we might have had, hadn't odds been so hostile. I only need to shut down my mind when it reminds me how similar they are.

Now, I smiled at Sam but argued that I was really tired and needed some sleep. Though she shook her head as she gave me that pouty look she always gives me when I say no to her invitations, to which she adds: "Come on ... the twins want to see you. And Arianna wants to see Noah."

I grinned at that. So typical of Arianna. Or Arya, as Noah likes to call her. As Sam tells me, the baby girl is always asking about Noah, but after all, it's pretty normal. They've always been together, because both Richie and Sophia are older, so they have their things already (even while being just 7, yes), and it's boring for them to spend their time with a "whiny 3-years-old", as Richie calls his sister.

But Noah likes being with her, they're always so affectionate with each other, I mean, every time we go to the Grant's, first of all Arianna jumps in Noah's arms, nearly toppling him too in the rush. Her father jokes about Noah having to be a gentleman with the little girl, only this way he'll be allowed to marry her one day. At first Noah would grimace at such thing, but now he gazes at his Arya and grins, which really makes me wonder if there isn't an already formed couple at such a young age.

Sam entwined her arm in mine as we got out of the building, which out of pure comfort is the same one of Grant Enterprises, of course. Our publishing house occupies the floor right beneath the big boss' office, Lukas wanted that, to always be close to his lovely wife, he says, because he was used to seeing her every day when he came to work and he doesn't want to change that.

Sam often mockingly asks him how can't he get tired, considering he sees her 24/7, but he points out that while working in the same building, they can't get to see each other as often as they once did, actually, he complains about his being able to see his wife only when they get off work and, sometimes, not even always, considering that lately he has to skip it often, during lunch break. They're such a lovely couple, you can tell how much Lukas loves his Sam just by looking at him gazing at her.

Sometimes I get sad when I think about it because I recall my having had someone that looked at me like that, but then I also recall his last words and I force myself to shrug off the memory.

Now, once out, Sam dragged me towards her Mercedes, Lewis right there waiting for her, as usual. Normally he takes both the Grants but Lukas did the houseman today and spent his whole Saturday with the kids, kind of forced by his wife because he is working really too much lately and their children barely see him, which has Sophia always whining and begging the babysitter or her mother to skip school to spend the day at her daddy's office.

So Lukas Grant the CEO didn't exist for today, today he was just the lovely father spending time with his children. It was necessary, Sam said, both because he's really overstressing himself too much, and because Arianna is just three, she needs to see her father as much as she can before she gets the memory of him never being there for her.

Which reminds me of my own biological father leaving me before I was even born, only to return 21 years later and claim to have a role in my life. I haven't heard of him since I fled that day we met, but it's perfectly fine with me, because I have a dad now, and he calls me every night to see how am I doing, visits me often with my mother ... Michael Green has been, in seven years, the best father I could ever ask for. So no, I don't need Landon Pierce. Not at all. This time for real.

I told Sam I couldn't come over because I have my mother at home with Noah and she's here just for the weekend, which had my boss frown and she scolded me for not having told her: "Why did you accept to work if your mother is here? You could have refused."

I rolled my eyes, half smiling. "No, I couldn't have and you know that. We need to be ready for the event."

She rolled her eyes as well, reminding me that I'm no more one of her employees, I'm co-director with her, so if I need the day off, I don't need to ask, I can just take it, just need to tell her so she'll be ready. We're associates. I amusedly pointed out that, technically, I am not co-director yet, I will be next Friday, and she gave me a dirty look that had me laugh. It's always like this between me and Sam, and I love it.

It's like, while having grown up as only child, now I have three sisters, two of whom are left in Boston, yes, but we still talk almost every day. Oh, and of course, Jamie. I couldn't forget about Jamie. She lives in LA with Hunter, they got married just a year ago and she's expecting their first baby. I would have thought she'd freak out, but she's beaming. After all, they're married, they love each other, financially they're perfectly fine and even if just very little roles, she's started acting for real, so it was all perfect for them.

Life seems to pass quietly. I have a great job I love and that gives me everything I need, a great circle of friends, and while my heart will never heal completely, while my heart was shattered once for all in that hotel room in Paris four years ago, I have another reason to be grateful, despite everything.

So while I let Sam convince me to at least accept a lift, I went back home, leaving Sam with the promise of coming over tomorrow after having taken my mother to the airport, so that Arianna and Noah can be reunited after three long days. So much, huh? Those two can never get enough of each other. Especially Arianna, Sam tells me every day that while Sophia whines because she wants her daddy, Arianna whines because she wants Noah to live with them.

Not that she's not deeply in love with her father too, but Noah makes her laugh and since the twins are always sending her away because she's too little, she feels better with Noah around. Seriously, I'm starting to agree with Lukas when he says we might have formed a couple already. Well, things can always change, but for now that's it, Arianna and Noah are inseparable, just like Sam and Lukas are.

You know, when I thought about the future, I'd have never imagined it like this. Even though I thought I'd work my butt off to advance so much in my career by the age of 30, I never thought I'd be so lucky. When I met Sam for the first time she gave me the impression of being really in neck-deep, but as soon as she noticed my empty look, she stopped babbling about work and everything and asked if there was anything she could do for me, whatever the trouble. I simply shook my head, pushing her to tell me everything, I needed to dip myself into work before gliding into the abyss of that pain spiral once more.

Facing Chase after that night was awful. I had to spoil our holiday and tell him the truth: I had cheated on him with my ex boyfriend that had now disappeared once again. Chase knew the general lines about that said ex leaving all of a sudden, the awful part was watching disappointment and hurt swim in his chocolate brown eyes that seemed to blame me for having been so heartless.

At first I tried to keep it inside, just not to spoil the vacancy, but with him being always so adorable and lovely with me, especially as he saw me so depressed, I couldn't keep lying, I had to tell him. It was a huge blow for him, that was the first time ever I saw him so hurt, not even when I first confessed I cared but didn't love him back was he so hurt. I betrayed his trust, played with his heart without even considering the consequences.

Thinking back, I know I was really awful to him, it was really selfish of me, I didn't think of my boyfriend, I only thought of that last night with my one and only love. I would have traded my own soul for that, the idea of hurting Chase didn't even pass through my mind, which still has me feel guilty.

Especially because Chase, every day for two years, has looked straight at the proof of my betrayal. Sometimes I could see the hurt reverberating in his chocolate brown eyes and I didn't know how to fix it for him. It took him a few weeks to get over my cheating, better said, to accept it, but when he did, I had to give him the news and it was even worse. It felt like watching him bleed as I stabbed him to death.

Because Chase trusted me and I broke that trust, but he could accept if there wasn't the proof of it ... Chase resisted two years, everything seemed to be perfectly fine, or at least on the surface it was, but in truth, he was hurting, I was hurting, we weren't communicating anymore ... in the end, he admitted it was too much even for him: he'd resisted, thinking that I was with him and maybe things could work, but he knew I didn't pick.

He said he knew I only stayed with him because I felt guilty and because he was insistent. He said he knew that it was possibly mean to say it, but he was sure that, had I had the chance to choose, I wouldn't have picked him, I would never pick him if the chance came and he couldn't live with the anxiety that sooner or later I'd dump him because that someone came back.

Part of me wanted to point out that the chance to pick would never come, another one wanted to also point out that I wasn't a dog that runs back to her owner at his whistle, but I kept it, both because, even if my pride didn't want to admit it, I knew all too well that I'd do just that if there was the chance, but mostly I kept it because it wasn't fair to chain him to me after all.

I really cared for Chase and I still do, but love? No, there isn't a single bit of me that can love another man and he deserves the best life can offer, he couldn't make do with me, he'd forget me soon enough, I told him, he kept saying no, but agreed that it was the only possible solution.

So Chase and I broke up two years ago, at first he'd still see Noah, there was a bond between them after all, even if not of the kind I'd have preferred, but in the end he moved to San Francisco for a great job opportunity he got. We've been strangers to each other since.

It's sad, but it was necessary. Staying with me would have only hurt him more and more. I'm sure he's found a nice girl that loves him like I couldn't. As for me, my life's pretty full anyway, between the publishing house and Noah, I don't have much time left and neither I want to think of dating. My mother sacrificed her best years for me, I have nothing to complain about: I've got a great job, great friends, and ... well, Noah. Despite everything, I couldn't imagine a different life. Just like my mother.

I'd barely entered my apartment that I was immediately tackled by a little boy claiming he'd won hide and seek. I grinned, ruffling his dark blonde hair that so much mimicked his father's, just as much as his eyes, especially as I spotted my mother coming from the bedroom, hands on her hips, a reprimanding look on her face as she scolded Noah for having run off. She explained that they weren't playing hide and seek, she was about to wash him, but he escaped as soon as he heard the front door opening, knowing it was me.

Smiling as I seized him in my arms, I placed a kiss on his puffy rosy cheeks, which had him giggle and wrap his little arms around my shoulders, repeating those words he always tells me every time I come back home from work, after having left him all day with our neighbor: "Missed mama!"

I better hugged him and kissed the tip of his nose, as I always do, and while nuzzling it, I repeated the same: "Mama missed you too, Po."

He giggled, hiding his face in the crevasses of my neck, which had me smile. I know I'm biased, but he's just so cute! The nickname Po comes from his having loved Kung Fu Panda when we watched it together that he was still a toddler, he'd just started talking, his first word being, of course, mama, but after we watched that movie he's had a period of always repeating the name Po. Po here, Po there ... he always wanted to watch the movies and when the cartoon came out ... oh, I kind of got that panda even in my dreams, for how much I was seeing him!

My mother looked at us, hands still on her hips as she wanted to pretend to still be mad at Noah, but in truth, I could see her smiling as she beheld us hugging so tightly. When I broke out the news to her, she was more worried than disappointed, and she made it clear: she still expected me to achieve my goals, no matter what. She didn't voice it, but I read between the lines that she wanted to add that she'd given up on her dreams for me, I couldn't do the same. That was also an indirect scolding me for having let myself go that much because of my loss.

You see, the first weeks were unbearable, it felt worse than the first time, especially because now I had the definite confirm he wouldn't come back, and when I found out about Noah ... eh, I cried even more. Just as much as I cried the first time I saw my baby boy.

Why? Because, of course, my Noah couldn't be anything but the exact photocopy of his father. Why do children have to resemble their parents so much? I was lucky I took everything from my mother, but Noah, unlucky for me, took only the nose from me, as mom pointed out, the rest was all his father ...

I know because Charles, the last time we saw each other, seven years ago, gave me a photo of his son right before he left him, so by the age of 4-5. If you look at Noah and then at that picture, you'll have no doubts about who his father is.

It's positive in a way, because I have a reminder to never forget, even if he wanted me to, but on the other hand it's sometimes painful because that reminder breaks my heart every time. Yet, just as mom, I couldn't do without my Po. He's in my life now and I couldn't imagine otherwise.

I put down Noah and scolded him for having run off, he needed the bath if he didn't want to stink, I pointed out, hiding my smile when he wrinkled his nose at the idea, which is a habit he took from me, mom says, considering I always do that when it's about something I don't like.

I'll admit that being 25 and having a little boy calling me mama was never in my plans and neither did I ever expect it, but as soon as he was born, once the pain of the memory was replaced by joy, I realized my life had a whole new sense all of a sudden.

I might have let myself go if I was alone, but with Noah with me, I needed to be at my best. It took me superhuman strength to start over, but I did. For Noah.

Now, when he didn't want to listen, I poked his weak point: "What do you think Arianna will say if you stink?" I chuckled when he gave me a dirty look, crossing his little arms around his chest as he pouted, pointing out that his Arya didn't mind such things.

"Oh, but ... she's the daughter of a very important man, Noah, she'll be a fine lady. Can't mingle with a dirty little boy since the beginning, what would people say?" My mother injected and I couldn't hold back my laugh, especially as his eyes widened, even more when my mother rubbed salt in the wound: "You know what Mr. Grant said, he won't let you marry her if you don't behave as a gentleman."

That had him run off to the bathroom while claiming he'd be the most perfect gentleman, so that Mr. Grant allowed him to have his Arya, which was followed by my and mom's laughs. Seriously, we already have an established couple here. And judging by how Richie and Leanne get along, there might be another one too. Apparently we'll be one of those groups where couples are formed among the circle since birth.

Though Richie seems to be quite taken by Nicky too, who's apparently taken her father's charms and rogue attitude, as Tara points out, so, who knows. Maybe they'll grow up being the best of friends or maybe Leanne and Nicky will fight for Richie's attentions while Mike and Gloria, respectively my cousin's and Tara's second-born, have their moments as well. They were born two years ago, so it's pretty early to say if they'll be a couple too.

It's obvious that my friends from Boston have come in contact with the ones in New York, considering they all came to see me often in the beginning, as support, just as Jamie did. So we're a big group, even if geographically apart. You can't imagine what a mess Thanksgiving is.

Silvia and Sam are both Italian so they don't celebrate it, but they like to participate, especially because it's one rare moment when they can speak Italian with someone that understands not just the language (both their husbands have been learning it) but the culture, and it's a way of getting together, which doesn't happen often, considering Christmas is spent with the original families, so Jake and Silvia often travel to Italy, while Sam and Lukas alternate Italy to Chicago, where his mother lives.

As for Tara and Lukas ... well, neither of them has a really great relationship with their parents, so we normally get together every Christmas with my mom and Michael, sometimes Jamie joins with Hunter, though they normally go back to our old town and mingle their families, as usual.

Mom followed Noah calling to be bathed immediately, so I let myself take a deep breath and leave out all the pressures due to work. It's wonderful working with/for Sam, but with the way our publishing house has been growing, there's always so much to do, to the point that we're considering hiring more people.

Only last week we widened our kids section, which has been having much success due to, modestly, the series of stories I've been publishing since last year.

You see, I was always inventing new stories for Noah and he loved them, and when that one time that we had a sleepover here, the little Grants recounted to their mother of what stories I told them before they went to sleep, she pushed me to take the chance and publish them. It would even be low cost, since it was entirely financed from the inside, she said.

Although, there's always to consider that our Dante's Friends still belongs to the Grant Enterprises, so technically, it wasn't totally like she said, it was more like her husband paying for my book to get published, but those are just details.

Though since my cousin became CEO of the Watson Enterprises the alliance with Lukas' company has been growing and growing, to the point that they're lately thinking of just merging the two companies together, but I bet they never will, because Jake ought to keep the name and the integrity for respect to his grandpa, who's always wanted the family business to be exactly that, a family business, so that both Leanne and Mike are bound to take over the company at some point, unless, Jake points out and is dead set on this one, unless they dream of something else. He doesn't want to force his children as much as his own uncle forced him. Though he doesn't really regret, he was made for that environment.

Now, while mom bathed Noah, I headed to the kitchen, only to find that dinner was ready. That's so typical of mom. Every time she comes here she's always leaving me meals in advance, just because, she says, I'm a career woman and don't have time to cook. Though I've learnt. Thanks to my ex neighbor, Lukas. He's an amazing cook, really.

So, since dinner was ready, I simply set the table for all three of us and once they were done in the bathroom, we ate quietly, well, kind of, I had Noah telling me all that he'd done with granny during the day, he kept talking till the landline rang and he dashed to it, knowing it was Arianna, considering she usually begs her mother to let her call Noah before going to sleep, so that they can say goodnight to each other. Ah, I'm almost afraid things will get spoiled between them, I swear.

Mom and I took advantage of Noah spending his five (counted) minutes to talk to his Arya before going to sleep, to chat a little about silly things, just for the sake of it, and when Noah came back she put him to sleep while I washed the dishes and headed to the bathroom to take a shower.

This is my usual routine, only apart from mom usually not being here. Usually, I leave in the morning to go to work while Noah remains with our neighbor, the lovely Mrs. Potts that's also renting me the apartment, by the way. Noah and I have been living here since always, so even if now I might be able to afford something bigger, I don't really care, we both like the place and he loves Mrs. Potts, so why should I divide them? Besides, this place is enough close to the Grant Enterprises building, well, kind of, it still takes me half an hour to get there, traffic jam permitting, but it's fine.

I like it. It's enough just for me and Noah anyway and the neighbors are kind of friendly, though we mostly spend our free time with the Grants, always for that thing about Noah and Arianna being so unite. Only when my cousin visits he's willing to stay at home, only because he loves playing with his cousins (is fourth grade still considered cousin?) and in any case because normally Jake and Silvia come over with the kids in the weekend, which means that Arianna pesters her parents to come over as well.

Though the same does Richie when he wants to see Leanne actually. In a word, we're all a big family. And I like it. It's ... less lonely this way. It's harder to let the mind wander. It's easier to convince myself I've forgotten.

I'd just come out of the shower, mom was packing her things, since tomorrow she'll leave, Noah was sleeping, when I was startled to hear my phone ringing from the my bag in the living room. I rushed to it even while having only my bathrobe on, because the music was loud and I didn't want it to wake Noah.

It was a call from a number I didn't recognize and my heart immediately dropped at the thought that it could be ... I have, in these years, pictured the utopian moment when we'd see each other and I'd have to tell him about Noah, but, like the word says, it was pure utopia. Already hearing my baby boy grumbling in his sleep from his room, I hurriedly took the call, because he's a real pain in the ass when he's been woken.

"Hello?" I greeted hesitantly, my voice maybe shaking just as my hands, because while it was utopia, I still couldn't delete the idea that maybe it was ... the voice I heard was familiar, but it took me a moment to recognize it: "Nat, hey. It's been a long time." It sounded worn out and pretty depressed, also aged, after seven years, but after a few puzzled moments I was able to connect the voice to the person ...

"Kyle?" I called, bewildered. We haven't been talking since seven years, since I left our town once for all. It was too painful to look at him while seeing his brother, remember? So we completely lost contact, to the point that I don't even know if between him and Aisha it worked out or not.

He sighed, so I leaned against the back of the sofa, instinctively knowing it was something big. Why would he call me out of the blue, after seven years? And how did he even get my number? Oh, wait, possibly Jamie gave him that. But still ...

When Kyle sighed once more, my heart started racing like a fool. My old friend sounded too distraught and depressed for it to be just a casual call. He needed to tell me something big, and I wouldn't like it, I knew that.

Which means it might have to do with someone specific, which had me catch my breaths in my throat at the idea that this might be the classical call wives receive when their husbands are dispatched in war region. Though I'm not the wife of a soldier. I'm the ex girlfriend of someone whose job keeps him away from me but I don't even know what that job is.

"Listen, Nat, I ... I'd like to say I called just to hear from you, but ..." Oh, no. No. Please no. I barely saw my mother coming to me, looking at me worried as she beheld my eyes so wide, my face possibly pale, my breaths erratic, as my mind gave me the worst scenarios before Kyle even talked.

My voice was barely a frantic whisper when I prevented him: "I-It's ... i-it's not about ..." I sucked in a breath, better said, I gave myself strength to breathe again for a moment. "K-Kyle, please ... t-tell me it's not about him ..."

But he sighed and I dropped to the floor, mom kneeling with me as she gazed at me trying to understand what was wrong and if she could help. I was barely able to breathe, every possible horrible scenario creating in my mind already causing tears to come to my eyes as I pleaded my old friend once more, voice shaky and broken by tears already: "Kyle ... please ... tell me he's ..."

I sucked in a breath once more. Moving on doesn't mean forgetting. Moving on, for me, meant pretending to have forgotten while always hoping for that someone to pop up out of nowhere. I guess that's what Chase saw too, so he left.

Mom came closer and placed her hands on my shoulder as she tried to calm me down. That sight, sadly, wasn't new to her. She's seen me so distraught more than a mother could bear, and she always hugged me, saying I would get over it, it would pass, because even the worst pain passes and life goes on.

Life goes on. Funny. I've convinced myself of that too. And now here I was, crouched behind my sofa while waiting for my old friend to broke out the most horrible news possible to me.

Kyle sighed once more, his voice unsure as he spoke: "He got shot badly, Nat. Barely made it out of it. Now it's ... profound coma. Thought you should know."

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