It was around ten in the morning, and I was in a pair of sweatpants and a loose shirt. I smiled as the lady behind the counter helped me check out. Her coworker had gone in to see if they had a brand of corned beef that wasn’t on the shelves, and the lady was taking her time to talk to me as we waited.
“How’s Nathaniel?” she asked, smiling as she pursed her lips and let out a low whistle. She was a woman with greying hair, and it seemed like her eyesight was failing since she kept squinting at the objects she would pick up and take a look at. “He hasn’t been here in a while,” she added, dropping the can of peas on the counter before looking straight at me. Her definition of ‘in a while’ was probably a few days. Nath came here quite often.
The store was empty apart from me, which was typical on a weekday morning since people had gone out to work, and the kids in town were in school.
“He’s doing fine,” I muttered, resting my hands on the counter as I looked over at the clock hanging on the wall behind her. How long does it take to check a supply room? I wondered.
“Glad to hear,” the lady said. “Please take care of him. I’ve known the boy since he was a twig,” she said, emphasizing how skinny he had been by putting her two pointing fingers together. “He’d come here and cry for hours at a time. A woman with children doesn’t forget that.”
My eyes went wide with sudden investment. I was interested in what she had to say now. Did she know Nath since he was seventeen? I knew he came over to the store quite often, and he seemed to be in better terms with the lady than he was with most people in the town.
“He’s a good kid, can’t really imagine why his mother would drive him out because of who he is,” the lady said, smiling as she leaned in a bit over the counter. “Well, she missed out on meeting the nice boy her son snagged up.”
I wasn’t really interested in the compliment she was tossing my way. It seemed even though Nath spoke to her, she didn’t exactly know why he had been thrown out. Her thinking that it was because he was gay was probably an assumption. I would have made that assumption too. I guess I was the only one that knew what really went on with his mum.
The woman continued talking, but I really wasn’t listening to what she was saying. My mind was on Nath, and how I felt kind of hopeless about the whole situation. I could pretend that nothing was wrong, and just let him bottle things up like he had always done, but what would be the point? It would be a recipe for disaster.
After a while, the lady that went in to check if they still had corned beef came back with a can in her hand. I thanked her, and the older lady helped me check out. She slipped some cigarettes into the plastic bag, telling me they were on the house for Nath. I thanked her before I picked the plastic bag with groceries off the counter and left the little store. It was warm outside, and silent since most people had headed out to work or school.
I wondered what Sam and the others would be doing at this time. They were probably having a group prayer and walking from house to house to spread the word. I felt a little queasy at the memory of walking around in the missionary uniform morning after morning in my first few weeks here. Things have changed so much since then.
When I got back to the flat I dropped off the groceries in the kitchen before heading to the study to read. It was something I loved to do now.
Read, read, and read.
I think I understood why Nathaniel loved theology. It was a way of participating in religion from the outside. It did give me less anxiety than prayers. Praying often left me wondering if I was allowed to pray. Asking God for things felt a bit foolish now because I always thought of someone scoffing down at me.
Why would he answer me if I was basically a walking sinner at this point?
“Are you awake?” The sound of Nath’s voice made me raise my head. Sometime in the day, I had wandered out of the study to eat, then moved to the bedroom to take a nap. I sat up on the bed, rubbing my eyes with the back of my hands as I heard Nath’s movements in the background.
When I opened my eyes and found Nath in just a pair of shorts standing by the window. I wrinkled my nose at the smell of smoke, before bringing my knees to my chest.
“How are you? Were you sleeping all day?” he asked, turning to me, the butt of the cigarette in his hand still burning bright red.
“I’m fine, and no,” I answered as he approached me. He put off the cigarette by smashing its butt on the ashtray on the bedside table before sitting next to me. He moved to kiss my cheek, and then my forehead. A small smile formed on my lips before my lips parted to let out a small yawn. How long have I been asleep? I felt numb.
“You were in the study?”
The room went quiet for a bit as we stared at each other. Nath eventually laid down on the bed, moving his body in a way that he was still able to look up at me with ease. I smiled down at him, letting my fingers run up and down his torso. he had a nice body, and I couldn’t help looking at him, and touching him sometimes.
“About that day I yelled at you...” he trailed, moving upwards so that he could reach out and wrap his hands around y torso. “I’m sorry. I guess I haven’t gotten over things like I thought I have.”
I didn’t say anything in response I just reached out and ran a hand through his hair. I wanted to be there for him, but I didn’t want to be a pest.
“I was the one that was being nosy. I’m sorry,” I muttered. “It’s just...” I trailed, turning my gaze over to the window. “You do a lot for me. A lot. I’m in your house, and you do most things. I can’t even cook to save my life. The least I can do is try to help you, but it seems I suck at that too.”
“It’s the least I can do as your boyfriend.” I paused, frowning a bit when I realized this was the first time I was saying it out loud. I was his boyfriend, right? We’ve never actually talked about that before. I bit my bottom lip as I tried to think back to if there was a time we specifically mentioned we were dating or even implied it. Now my stupid brain was busy worrying.
The room had gone silent, and I’m not sure what I was waiting for, but it definitely wasn’t Nath’s laugh.
“Your face is so red,” he chuckled, moving closer so that he could rest his head on my lap. I adjusted a bit so that he wasn’t snapping his neck in half to do it before I let my fingers play with his hair twists.
“It’s just — I don’t know. We’ve never actually thought about dating, I just assumed—”
“We’re dating,” Nath said, cutting me off. “Don’t worry. I’m just as bad as this romance thing as you are. I’ve never actually had a proper boyfriend,” he confessed as he let his hand move under my shirt. For some reason, his admission made my stomach churn with delight.
“About my mum,” Nath started, making me look down at his face again. His eyes had gone a bit dull, and his lips were in a thin line now. “I’ll be going back to my hometown for something sooner or later. I guess I might drop by to meet her, but I don’t expect anything exceptional to come out of that,” he said, and I did my best to undo the crease on his forehead but rubbing it with the base of my thumb.
“I don’t have a grudge against her. I just don’t want to be a bother,” he continued. “I just want to see how she’s doing, and if my mind could just stop worrying over the tiny details and making me feel like I’m a terrible person to want to see my mother, that would be great.” His voice was shaky now, and I just continued to rub the base of my thumb on his forehead.
“You’re not terrible for wanting to see her.”
“I wish I could believe that,” he sighed before closing his eyes.
I didn’t say anything about that. I just let out a sigh as I moved my fingers to play with his hair that was in single twists today. “I could go with you,” I suggested, and Nath turned a bit so that he was looking up at me with a surprised look on his face.
“Yeah, it’s not like I have anything doing,” I said, and Nath smiled, muttering a small ‘okay’ before turning on my lap again so that I had access to his hair.
“About that, are you going to take the job at the library?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I answered, remembering that I had been offered a part-time job there. Sorting books? I could do that for sure. The other workers there were nice, and for the most part, the place wasn’t crowded. It was mostly old people and school-aged children that came in to use the computer that visited the library. It seemed Nath was a regular there as well since the lady behind the desk immediately noticed him when I walked in with him to talk about the job.
Nath suddenly pulled away from me and sat up. “It’s already late. It’s around eight in the evening,” Nath said. My eyes went wide, and I looked over at the window, noticing how dim it had gotten. I had slept for a long time, hadn’t I?
“Do you feel like going to bed? Or do you want to have dinner first?” Nath asked, making me look over at him. I gave it a little thought. I’ve been asleep for half of the day, so going to bed wasn’t the first thing on my mind.
“I don’t feel sleepy,” I mumbled, and he nodded at my reply before leaning in to peck my nose, then my cheek, then my neck, and then he pulled away.
“Dinner it is then,” he said, getting up from the bed before making his way to the room’s door. I watched him walk away, and soon the door had shut close behind him. I wasn’t sure my chest and face felt warm. Maybe I had been expecting him to do more than peck me? A groan escaped my lips when I noticed that my mind was in the gutter. We hadn’t gone all the way yet. I was happy he was trying to ease me into things, but I guess I’m getting a bit impatient.
My lips parted a bit, letting me yawn again before I got up from the bed and left the bedroom for the kitchen as well.