It was Friday.
Zara shut her locker and sighed. She had never dreaded the weekend this much before in all her life. She had been grouchy for the past two days and she knew it. Susan seemed to understand and had kept her distance without losing her usually short temper.
Zara picked her books higher as she rummaged in her backpack for her phone. The three of them were going out for drinks tonight. Matt and Susan had forced her to join them and as a way of making up for the shit she had most certainly put Susan through, Zara had agreed.
Since the last two days, she had avoided Nathaniel at all costs. She had begun seating herself in crowded areas of the class so that there would be no vacant seat next to her for him to occupy. She didn’t stop by for lunch in the cafeteria, preferring to go back to the apartment. That boy was beginning to mess with her head and she had to nip it in the bud. Nothing good could come out of it. He was way out of her league and besides, she had to focus on getting good grades. Dating and losing her v-card could wait.
Zara walked down the corridors, making her way out of the building. In her honest moments, she had always dreamed about spending the rest of her life with a down-to-earth kinda guy, who loved her and she knew would take care of her. All the romance novels she read gave her hopes that someday, someone would barge into her life and sweep her off her feet. But once she had gotten older, she had to face the harsh reality that stuff like that wasn’t always real. And even if it was, every single girl or guy wasn’t lucky enough to have it. They had to make do with whatever life had in store, though it wasn’t always fair.
Susan had been blessed to find Matt. Zara didn’t think she would have the same fate. Matt was, all in all, an amazing guy. And most importantly, he was head over heels in love with Susan. The way he looked at her made Zara envious of the connection they shared. They were a lovely couple and in a few years, Zara could totally see them getting married and settling down. She wondered if she would ever have someone who looked at her the same way.
As she opened the door to the apartment, the image of a pair of chocolate brown eyes flashed in her mind. She shook her head to get rid of it. The dratted boy had messed her head so much that she couldn’t read Stroud’s novel without picturing him as the Nathaniel in the printed words.
She made her way to the bedroom, grabbing her towel. Susan and Matt had arranged to meet her in the next half hour and if she wanted to look presentable, she had to begin now.
It was a few minutes later when she stepped out of the bathroom and heard her phone ringing. Expecting it to be Susan, she didn’t bother checking the number and answered the call.
There was silence on the other end for a few seconds.
Zara pulled open the door to the wardrobe, her phone held between her damp ear and shoulder.
" I didn’t think you’d answer.“, the deep voice chuckled in her ear.
Zara dropped the pair of jeans she had just pulled out. She hurriedly checked the screen of her phone.
“I thought it was Susan.“, she snapped.
Nathaniel’s laugh echoed in her ears and she felt her cheeks heat up.
" Did I say something funny?“, she hissed as she held the towel wrapped around her body, reaching down to lift her jeans.
The laughter subsided.
" You’ve been avoiding me.“, he said in a low voice.
Zara felt guilt wash through her before she convinced herself that she hadn’t done anything wrong.
" I’ve just been busy.“, she replied.
There was a pause.
" Why have you been avoiding me?“, he asked again in a calm voice.
Zara sat down at the edge of the bed and stared at her palm. She had to choose her words very carefully. Nathaniel was Matt’s friend and she didn’t want to cause any sort of problems.
But it turned out that she didn’t have to answer.
" I’m sorry about what happened in the cafeteria the other day.“, he said.
" I came on too strong and I know you didn’t like it. I promise I won’t be bothering you again.”
At his words, her shoulders slumped. He had gotten the message.
" O-okay.“, she stammered.
Why the fuck did she feel dejected? This was what she had wanted!
Nathaniel continued, ” That’s why I called. I thought it’d be better to apologize so we can make a clean start, you know?”
She nodded before realizing he couldn’t see her.
" Yeah, that’s great.“, she said.
" Okay, see you on Monday then.“, his voice was cheerful and for some stupid reason, she was hurt.
She had effectively lost her mind.
" Yeah, see you.“, she forced a smile into her voice.
She was just about to cut the call when he spoke again.
" And Zara?”
" Have a good drive tomorrow. I won’t be able to make it. Looks like you got your wish after all.“, he chuckled.
Zara felt a strange emptiness fill her chest. She struggled to find the words and fake a laugh at the same time.
" Yeah, I sure did. Thanks, anyway.”
Then she cut the call without waiting for a reply.
In the silence of the empty room, she counted the beats of her heart as she stared at the screen of her phone. She had gotten what she wanted. And yet it didn’t feel right.
Nathaniel picked up his phone and checked it for the umpteenth time. It felt like forever since he had spoken to Zara. After their conversation, he had gone to the gym to work out his frustration.
He was angry. When he had spoken to her she sounded as though she really was happy about him dropping out for the trip the next day. He had known for sure that she wouldn’t ask him why. If it had been any other person, he might have thought that it was not quite cordial. But he knew that Zara was just being defensive. He had to learn to be patient with her. If not, he would run the risk of scaring her and that wouldn’t do. He still hadn’t figured out what he wanted with her. He was sure of just one thing though, he had to have her.
And he was willing to do anything.
He had just finished with his shower. Matt was meeting up with the girls to go to one of the clubs and thinking that Zara probably needed her space, he had opted out. Now the decision didn’t seem so wise.
What if she thought he wasn’t interested?
His stomach churned.
Abandoning all thoughts, he grabbed the first shirt he found and pulled on some pants. Grabbing his phone, he left the apartment.
Zara stirred the cocktail that sat before her on the counter of the bar. They were at a club that they usually frequented. It was far from classy but worked quite well for them. Students from USC hung out there most weekends and the place was crowded like always.
They had arrived an hour ago. Matt and Susan were already on the dance floor, grinding away and Zara had had to avert her eyes. Those two could be really too much sometimes. The last time she had spotted them, Matt had his mouth and hands on Susan and he was already guiding her away from the crowd. Zara gave an involuntary shudder at the thought of what they were up to right now.
She looked around at the customers at the bar. They were some really cute guys around. She looked down at her outfit. She had chosen a pair of jeans and a sequin patterned top that reflected the dim light of the space. She was conscious about her appearance and couldn’t wait to get back home.
On the way there, Susan had alluded to setting her up with one of the guys she had met at class that day. Zara had laughed it off and told her to forget it. Even though she couldn’t remember the last time she had been on a date, she didn’t want that now. She refused to think about the real reason why she didn’t want it.
Turning on the barstool, she ran her gaze across the dance floor. Matt and Susan were not to be seen. Zara glanced down at the watch on the left wrist. It was almost nine. They would have to leave soon. She downed the rest of her cocktail and stepped down intending to go the ladies’ room to relieve herself.
She had hardly turned around when she bumped into a hard chest.
She stumbled back, hitting her hip on the edge of the barstool. A pair of arms caught her at her waist, steadying her.
“Are you alright?“, a deep voice spoke in her ear.
Zara placed her hand on the stool and looked up. The guy staring down at her looked puzzled. Grey eyes focused on the top of her head, he had a handsome face and was wearing a plain black tshirt with a pair of light blue jeans.
" Yeah.“, she said shortly, unconsciously pressing her fingers to the spot on her hip that smarted.
" Have we met before?“, he asked again, his eyes shining in the light.
Zara narrowed her eyes, trying to remember. Nothing clicked. His hands were still on her waist. His touch felt warm and he smelled really nice.
She shook her head.
He grinned slowly, extending his palm to her, ” I’m Lucas Price.”
Zara managed a smile and extended her hand, noting that he still hadn’t let go of her.
"None of your fucking business.“, a voice hissed right behind him.
Zara froze when she saw Nathaniel’s face appear behind Lucas’ shoulder.
He looked furious and he was glaring at her.
Lucas had turned around and had instantly let go of her waist.
" I didn’t know you were with someone”, he apologized as he looked between the two of them, a friendly smile on his face that was now directed to Nathaniel.
Before Zara could correct him, Nathaniel had stepped forward and had grabbed her arm.
" Come on, we’re leaving.“, he barked over the music.
Without sparing a glance at Lucas, he pulled Zara behind him as he made his way toward the exit of the club. Zara caught Lucas’ stare as she was yanked ahead. She didn’t even have time to apologize to him.
She wanted to scream at Nathaniel for his idiotic behavior but that had to wait. She was finding it difficult to concentrate on navigating her way through the throng of bodies on the dance floor with her arm being almost pulled out from its socket.
When they finally reached the door, Nathaniel jerked it open. The cool night air hit her square in the face and for a moment Zara felt relieved.
It was gone as soon as Nathaniel pulled her to the side of the building and pushed her against the wall. Zara didn’t have time to react before he grabbed her face and slammed his mouth down on hers.