The morning sun was out early today, so the empty streets were flooded in a warm yellow blue color as I made my regular morning jog. My head was throbbing, and my legs were tired, but I kept jogging anyway. For the past week, I’ve been overworking myself — keeping myself as busy as possible in order not to let my mind stray too far. I still saw Nathaniel around the place. In the grocery store, taking walks or talking to other people. He would wave at me when he saw me sometimes, but most times when he was with someone he wouldn’t acknowledge me. It made me upset, but that was what I wanted. I didn’t want him being too friendly with me, right?
my breathing gave way and I eventually stopped in my tracks, bending over to hold my burning knees as I tried to recover my breath. The soles of my feet were burning inside my shoe, and it felt like someone was banging two plates on my face simultaneously. Well, jogging hadn’t cleared my mind, that’s for sure.
“Are you trying to commit suicide by exhaustion?” a voice asked, making me hold my already labored breathing. I looked up to find Nathaniel looking down at me with a not too impressed look on his face. How had he gotten here? How hadn’t I noticed someone was walking up to me?
He soon looked away with a sigh, and I watched as he searched the sling bag he had on him before taking out a bottle of water.
“This was for me, but since you’re practically dying, you can have it,” he said, stretching out the plastic bottle. “Come on, take it before I change my mind,” he said, and I heaved, taking the bottle from him before muttering a small ‘thank you.’
“You’ve been avoiding me,” he said, making me choke on the water I had started to drink. I heard his laughter ring through the street as I hit my chest and tried to recover from the water in my throat. I closed the bottle with its cap before turning over to look at him. He was now smiling with a raised full brow as he stared at me. I looked away, not knowing exactly what to do. I looked up after a while like a guilty child caught coloring on the desk.
“I thought you were trying to show me the light?” he asked, putting an emphasis on the last word by making quotation marks with his fingers. I looked away again, and when I looked up he had his hands crossed, and he was looking at me with a mix of what looked like amusement and curiosity. “What happened?” he asked, making me shift on the spot.
I looked away again, scratching the back of my neck as I tried to think of what to tell him. I didn’t want to lie to him. I had managed to curb that habit that had popped out of nowhere, but I didn’t want to tell him what was really in my mind. It was too personal, and essentially not his business in any way. Plus, it was embarrassing.
A laugh came from him again, and I looked at him. He was still smiling. He shook his head, sighing as he tucked his hands into his pockets. Unlike the rest of the times I’ve seen him, he was wearing a sweater today. The weather didn’t call for it today, though. It was reasonably warm outside. Weird. That was the only way I could define the long-sleeved grey sweater. It looked out of place on him since it covered most of his tattoos.
“Aren’t you going to tell me why you’ve been playing cat and mouse with me?” he asked, making me blink before muttering an apology and scratching the back of my neck. I hadn’t even noticed I had been staring at him without saying anything.
“I...” I trailed, and he looked on as I cocked my head to the side.
“Well, if you don’t want to tell me just tell me that. Tell me that you don’t want me to know. It’s that simple,” he said, and I blinked at his words, staring straight at him with wide eyes. He smiled down at me, clicking his tongue before kicking a stray stone on the ground. “You’re too polite to say what I suggested, and you’re too afraid to lie. You’re funny,” he went on to say when I didn’t say anything in reply. I ended up looking away and turning my gaze to the brown earth. He was right in that regard, and I didn’t know what to feel about that.
“How was the party?” he asked me as he started to move. I looked on at him, thinking about it for a bit before I made to catch up to him.
“It was okay,” I said, watching as he nodded. I noticed that he had his hair in a low puff today, and he was wearing the rosary like last time. The station had hosted the movie showing in the backyard of the building a few days ago. It had been in the evening, and a handful of people had shown up. We had used the chance to talk to some of them. The party served its purpose.
“How’s the pretty lady?” he asked, referring to Olivia. I felt my mind go blank for a bit before I frowned a little. Why was he asking about her?
“Woah there, soldier. I’m just asking. What are you, her father?” he laughed, and a feeling of shame wash over me. More so because that wasn’t the reason I had been frowning. My worry was attached to jealousy, not an inert feeling to protect my friend. That was what I should have felt, not jealousy.
Nathaniel started to hum as we came towards a narrow path. I would often see him disappear at this point anytime I saw him while taking my walks, but now I was following him. The road had a very narrow clearing which pointed to the fact that it was caused by the treading of feet and not a conscious effort to clear a road.
“Do you...” I found myself trailing, not exactly sure of what I was trying to ask. Nath turned to me with a raised brown on his face. I just shook my head, and we continued to walk. Maybe the silence that was only tinted by the sound of birds singing in the distance made me nervous. Being close to the man that was at the center of my worries also made me a bit agitated. It was confusing. I was both happy to see him and terrified that my feelings would taunt me in full force even after we separated. He had a way of lingering in my mind.
“Do I what?” he ended up asking after some time passed. I kept my eyes on the road, not turning to look at him. The path had become a bit rocky — filled with small rocks and peddles, and I could hear some frogs which meant that there was probably water nearby.
With a shrug, I let out a sigh. I had wanted to ask him something, but it had been a fog of a question in my head at that moment, but now that I knew what I had wanted to ask him I felt embarrassed by it. Would I be prying too much if I asked him about his relationship status? Why did I even want to know his relationship status?
“Nothing’s off bounds,” he said, making me turn my head to him. He sounded like he was tempting me, giving me a little push. “You can ask me anything, church boy.”
Okay. he just likes bad nicknames. I concluded in my mind, laughing as he rose a brow at me. I shook my head before muttering an apology for laughing under my breath. “I wanted to ask if you were seeing someone. You know…” I shrugged hoping that he understood. He chuckled, looking on at me with amusement. His smile seemed to widen, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on in his head.
“No.” His answer was blunt and straight to the point, and I just nodded, hugging myself as I bit my bottom lip. Why do I feel relieved? I knew why. I just didn’t want to admit it to myself. Pretending to be oblivious felt safer.
“You?” I was caught off guard by that, but I still answered with a shake of my head. I wasn’t dating anyone, and to be honest, I hadn’t ever really thought about it. Most people just assumed Olivia was my girlfriend. The walk soon went silent, and the only noise filling the air was the sound of moving trees, our shoes treading on the ground and the irritating croaking, chirps and stridulating coming from frogs, birds, and bugs.
“Why do you wear a rosary?” I found myself asking as Nathaniel came to a stop by the small stream. It wasn’t a stream exactly. It was more of an artificial lake caused by the nearby damn. I watched as he shrugged, moving his fingers to the wooden rosary around his neck.
“For keep’s sake,” he said, bending down to pick a small peddle before tossing it into the lake. It hopped across the green-blue water for a while before sinking with a plop sound. “My ma was very religious,” he said, and I looked over at him with a questioning gaze.
“Not was as in dead. Was as in she’s no longer religious,” he laughed, and I felt a bit bad for assuming the worst.
“Oh,” I said running a hand through my dark hair. Nath chuckled again, looking away from me and towards the water. We stood there, side by side not saying anything to each other for a while. Nathaniel started whistling, and soon he was humming a song under his breath. I looked at him from the side of my eye. He looked at peace, and it was strangely satisfying to just stare at him.
“You look at me a lot,” he said, making my eyes go wide before I looked away. My cheeks warmed up at being caught, and soon his laughter filled the air in the area.
“I’m sorry about that,” I said, covering my face. “Gosh, I’m so sorry.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he laughed, and I heard his footsteps approached me. “Maybe I even like it,” he said, startling me. When I took down my hands away from my face I looked up to find him towering over me. Just staring down at me with a small smile on his face.
“You’re odd,” he said as his smile widened a bit.
Is that a good thing? I wondered as a frown took form on my face. He looked like he was about to say something, but he stepped away, turning before walking away from me. He walked over to the water, staring into it as he bit his bottom lip.
“You should be going, it’s almost eight thirty,” he said, looking down at his watch on his wrist. I blinked, looking down at mine and panicked when I confirmed that that was the case.
“Just walk up the path and you should be fine from there!” His voice was raised, and loud. So much so that I could still hear it echo as I ran as fast as I could, leaving him behind in the small almost surreal pocket of land he had brought me to.