Perfect Illusion

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Chapter 20: It's Our Thing

I don’t know why I just tell Daniel that I’m hanging out with Nate. After all, isn’t it just an innocent outing with Nate? Why do I have to keep it from Daniel? It’s not like it’s a date or something.

But I sort of feel guilty as I enter the coffee shop.

I probably shouldn’t feel that way.

“Hey,” Nate beams at me when I take my seat opposite from him. Caffeinated is the cutest little coffee shop near campus that sells the best fraps ever. I make a mental note to bring my caffeine-addict best friend here someday.

I glance over at Nate as I place my bag down. He has his laptop plugged in, and when he finally catches my attention, he closes it and pushes it aside.

“Oh don’t stop doing... whatever it was you’re doing... on my account.” I gesture to the laptop. “I’m just here for coffee.”

“And I’m just here for the company,” Nate winks at me.

“What were you working on?” I ask as I take a sip.

“It’s an assignment I have to do weekly.” He shrugs. “I really have no chill. Studying medicine is hard.”

I laugh. “Trust me. You don’t want to see what assignments my creative writing teacher gives us. We’re practically up to our eyeballs doing them.”

“At least your course is fun. I have to do surgical procedures,” he tells me, “Maybe I shouldn’t have taken medicine due to my surprising lack of tolerance on the sight of blood.”

I burst out laughing. “You’re joking, right? A doctor who’s afraid of seeing blood?

That’s new.”

“A doctor-in-training,” He corrects me. “And I’m not exactly afraid of blood. It’s just looking at it for long periods of time would make me sick. But.. let’s not go into that, shall we?”

“Okay.” My eyes twinkle with amusement.

“So what have you been up to, lately?” Nate cross his arms and lay back against the chair.

“Nothing much, the usual. Engagement party stuff.”

“Oh right. It’s today. I almost forgot.” He shakes his head. “God, I’m being rude. I shouldn’t have invited you over if I’d known you had your hands full with all the party stuff-”

“No, it’s fine!” I say, “I needed to have some time off anyway.” He smiles.

“I haven’t gotten your RSVP yet. Are you coming to the party?” I ask him, wideeyed.

“I can’t.” His response is not what I expected. I thought he was definitely coming. “I’m going home to visit my grandma.”

This is almost the first time I ever heard about his family. I lean in, my interest piqued. I want to know about his grandma.

“Oh. Something happened?” I frown.

“No- I mean yes, but nothing you have to worry about,” He informs me, “Ever since my parents died, she was the one who swooped in and took care of me. Now, she’s... hitting her nineties, and there are some complications to her health. I’m going to lose her soon. And I think I need to spend more time with her, you know. Visit her more often. I’m the only family she has left.”

I was not expecting that at all. I didn’t know Nate’s parents had died. Was it because of some accident? How was he after they died? There are so many questions about him swimming in my mind, and I want to ask him about them.

“That’s... horrible. I’m sorry.” I reach forward and take his hand. It fits nicely against mine. He looks down and stares at out entwined hands. He smiles reassuringly at me.

“It’s... fine. I learn to live with it,” His thumb brushes against the back of my hand, and I shiver in delight. “My grandma is amazing. You should meet her sometime. She’d really like you. Her sense of humour... is a bit off, but other than that, I have no doubt the both of you would be fast friends.”

“I would like that, very much.” I return his smile. “I’m sure she’s very proud of you for getting this far in life. Getting a degree in medicine? That’s going to be a huge accomplishment when you graduate.”

“Yeah, she’s really proud of me.” He drinks his coffee. “Speaking of accomplishments, I realized I haven’t read any of your works yet.”

I blush. “I told you that you wouldn’t want to see them. They’re not that good.”

He grins. “And I told you that I don’t care. I still want to see them. I know you’re a good writer.”

“How do you know I’m a good writer if you haven’t seen any of my works?” I tease.

“How will I ever see any of your works if you refuse to let me read them?” He counters back.

Goddammit.

“Fine, you win.” I put up my hands in a mock surrender. “Maybe I’ll show you what I’ve been working on...”

“Awesome,” He clasp his hands.

I fish out my tablet and open one the document in my files. I start to regret the decision of showing him when I hand the tablet for him to see.

He casts me a mysterious look. ”Blankets.”

“Yep. That’s the name of the story I’ve been working on.”

Nate nods his head and then starts to read. I half expect him to shove the tablet back to me and say that my story sucks, but he doesn’t do that. He seems really engrossed in my story, his finger swiping over the tablet, his eyes dancing over every word I have written. I count the number of swipes. Thirteen... Fourteen...

Sixteen... Twenty...

And he’s done.

Shit.

When he passes back the tablet to me, he has this huge grin on his face. “That’s... amazing, Alex. That story was really really good. And I mean, publish-worthy good. I love it.”

“Thanks.” I say with a daze. “It’s not finished yet so...”

“I don’t need to finish it to know that that story could be the real deal.” He says. “Are you going to publish it once you’re done?”

“I’m not sure.” I place my tablet back into my bag. “It seems like a long shot for me. I mean, your opinion is practically biased because you’re my friend-”

“That’s not true!” He defends, “Not the friend part. I mean the whole biased thing. I’m speaking the actual truth, Alex. Your story is really good. I think you should finish it and send it to a publisher.”

“I don’t know...”

“Alex,” He calls my name again, and my heart flips, “Do it. You wouldn’t lose anything, right? Even if your manuscript gets rejected- and I don’t think that will ever happen because it’s that good- at least it would be an experience and you can try harder. But I know nobody’s going to reject that story. It’s too good. You’re an amazing writer.”

Nate just complimented me. A whole lot.

“Thanks, Nate.” I smile, “I’ll... take your advice and finish ‘Blankets’. Then, I’ll see where it leads me.”

“Awesome.” He says. Then, he glances out of the window. “We should go.” He slaps a twenty-dollar bill on the table and then grabs my hand.

I laugh. “Where are we going? I have to leave soon! Engagement party, remember?”

“Yeah, I know,” He starts to pull me away from the table. “Don’t worry. I’ll have you back on time. I want to go somewhere.”

“Where?”

“The bookstore, of course.” He casts me a toothy grin. “I’ve been in the reading mood these few days, and I recall you have a killer collection of books. So, you must be a real expert on them. You’re going to recommend me some books.”

“We’re really going book shopping? Right now?” I grab my bag and we exit the coffee shop.

“Why not? You have about...,” Nate checks his watch for the time, “an hour or so to spare and I got some time to kill before my road trip back to grandma’s. I’d figured if there’s any place you would love to go, it’s the bookstore. Well, you’re in luck because I intend on heading there.”

“Alright,” I follow him, “Okay. I’ll help you get some books. It’s my thing.” It’s our thing.


“Tell me about your parents,” I say to Nate as we scour through the bookshelves. I thought we should start out simple, so we’re at the ‘What’s Hot?’ section. I don’t know why but as I look at the books with Nate, one thing suddenly pops into my mind. His parents.

I want to know all about his childhood and his family. Nate has always been the nice guy; he always allowed me to talk about my own life, never sharing about his. He doesn’t quite seem to open up about his own life- his grandma is the only thing I know exists in his life right now and I know there’s more.

I want him to know that he can share anything with me. I’m his friend... right?

Nate arches an eyebrow at me. I shrug. “I mean, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t feel comfortable talking about it. But I’m curious. I want to know more about you.”

His face lights up when I say that. “Where do I start?”

“How were they like?” I ask him as I pick out another book for him.

“My parents... they were good people.” He starts off, “They loved me a lot. Always wanted the very best for me. My mum was a dentist, and my dad was a surgeon, so it was natural I ended up in the same field as them.” I nod my head.

“We lived in this really huge townhouse and I loved it there. When I was small, I would always get lost in it because it was so big. Mum, dad and I would play hide and seek just for the fun of it,” Nate tells me.

“That’s nice.” I smile.

“Yeah. My parents and I were really close. We were this perfect family that everyone wanted to be like, you know? I always thought I was really lucky to have them as my parents, because they were perfect, and I wanted to be perfect too.”

I wasn’t picking out books anymore. My attention was focused on Nate.

“Everything just went sour after I turned ten. My dad had decided to pick my mom up from the dentist after work. They were going on one of their ‘monthly dates’- that’s what they used to call it. It was raining heavily that night so my grandma stayed in with me and we watched some horror shows. A little after midnight, we got the call. They said that my parents had drove the car off the road and their car was found in a ditch. Neither of them made it.”

“God, I’m so sorry.” I take his hand. “I didn’t... you don’t have to tell me anymore. I understand.”

“No, I want to tell you.” He tightens his grip around my hand. “After my parents died, my grandma took custody of me and I lived in her tiny little apartment. It wasn’t much but we got along just fine. I was torn up over my parents’ death and she helped me get through it, making sure I was loved and cared for. Then, when I turned eighteen, she sent me here. Told me I had to get my ass out of the apartment and get a degree. I wanted to stay with her and take care of her, but she didn’t want to have any of it. She basically told me to fuck off in the nicest grandma-ish way.”

I laugh. “She sounds very cool.”

“Yeah she is.” He leans against the bookshelf and crosses his arms. “Okay, now it’s your turn.”

“Huh?” I cast him a puzzled look.

“Tell me about your family.” He grins.

“We’re supposed to be looking for books!”

Nate starts to look around and plucks up a random book from a shelf. “Here. Got one already.”

“Bad Boy Stole My Bra?” I snort.

His eyes widen and he actually looks at the title of the book. “Okay, not this.”

“You think?” I roll my eyes. Then I move to the next bookshelf. I take a book out for him. “This one’s better.”

“All The Light We Cannot See,” He glances at the book, “What’s it about?”

“It’s very complicated to sum it all up,” I frown, “But trust me on this. It’s amazing. Absolutely amazing.”

“Okay.” Then he throws the book into the basket with the other books we had picked out. “Done. Now tell me about your family.” “You can’t just let it go, can you?” I smirk.

“Nope.” He shakes his head, smiling.

“Alright, then.” I say, “My parents are the co-founders of Woods and Co.” “I’ve heard of their company,” He nods his head.

“Yeah. The company’s kind of famous. Anyways, my parents are not the typical parents you would normally have. They used to be, but after business had bloomed, they became workaholics. Sometimes, I barely see them for days. So I’m mostly alone all the time.” I say.

“That’s... unfortunate.” He pouts his lips.

“It’s okay. I had Cara with me. She was the one who had taken care of me throughout my last few years of high school. She’s my family.”

“It’s nice how you have her to look out for you.” He says, “She’s really cool. Now that you’re not... living with her anymore, I sometimes find myself at her apartment, making light conversation with her. You guys are really tight, huh? She talks about you all the time.”

Maybe because she just wants you to get involved with me, I think silently.

Oh, Cara.

I laugh. “She’s cool. I love her. She can be crazy at times, but I love her.”

We go around the bookshop for a little longer, looking at books and picking out the best ones. Our basket is already full from the piles of books we currently have. I ask Nate if he’s okay buying this much, and he says it’s fine.

“You know, I notice you don’t talk about Daniel a lot,” He looks down. “He is your fiancé, after all. Are you guys... okay?”

I am a little bit taken aback by his question. Daniel and I... are we ever okay?

“He’s fine. We’re fine.” I force a smile on my face. “No really. We’re cool. It’s just... engagement stuff, you know? Gets the both of us... you know, stressed out.” At least that’s half the truth.

“Alex, I know I haven’t been supportive of you and your engagement, but I want you to know that I’m okay with it.” He says, in low honeyed tones, “I’ve seen the both of you together on campus. You guys look good together. He really has... changed after he met you.”

“Really?” Now I’m confused. “How can you tell?”

“The way his gaze sort of lingers on you when you aren’t looking. Or that smirk he has on the pick up girls, but he now only does it to you. It’s nice how you bring out the better side of him. The one that I never saw before.” I don’t know if Nate is bullshitting or not.

“Sure, he probably hasn’t changed a lot, but it’s... progress.” Nate says, “He’s lucky to have someone like you.”

I don’t know what to say. I only nod.

After we pay for the books, the both of us leave the bookstore. We head towards Nate car, and before we get in, he takes my hand and pulls me to him. I gasp at the suddenness of his action.

He merely grins. “Thank you for accompanying me today.”

“No problem,” I reply, breathless.

“See?” He says, “We can totally do platonic. It’s no big deal.”

“Yeap. No big deal.” I echo his words, but somehow, I know it isn’t the truth. It’s far from it.

And I think Nate knows it too.

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