The next morning Nathaniel woke up to the sound of the shower running. He glanced at the bedside clock.
It was nine in the morning.
Rolling over, he settled himself on one elbow and then took his phone from the pocket of his jeans that lay on the chair. Feeling a pleasant sense of excitement, he checked his phone for any messages.
His heart sank a little. She hadn’t texted him.
Pushing himself up, he grabbed the sheet off his legs and swung them to the side. He ran a hand through his hair messing it up even more. The memory of last night had engraved itself in his brain. He trembled when he thought of the way Zara had kissed him. If he closed his eyes, he could still see how she had looked with her head thrown back against the wall as he feasted on the sweet skin of her neck. His shaft throbbed in the confines of his boxers.
Then he remembered.
She hadn’t known how to kiss.
His head snapped up at the implication. Was he her first-
That wasn’t true. She couldn’t possibly not have been with anyone. Maybe she had just been taken by surprise and had fumbled initially. That had to be the explanation.
He unlocked his phone. Once he found her contact, he began to type out a message. His fingers paused on the virtual keyboard.
He stared at the screen for a few minutes before he began.
Hey, good morning :-)
He hit Send and waited.
Seconds ticked by. He lay back down on the bed, his eyes glued to the screen.
" What are you doing?”
Matt’s surprised voice made him glance up. His friend stood at the bathroom door, a towel wrapped around his waist.
“Morning.“, he replied simply.
Matt frowned at him.
“What happened with Zara last night?”
Nathaniel looked back at the screen. After the kiss they had shared, the two of them hadn’t spoken at all. They had gone back in the club and had met Matt and Susan who had been searching for Zara. Nathaniel had told the couple that he had been passing through and had dropped by the club knowing they were there. The four of them had then hung out for
a while before they left the place. They had dropped off the girls at their dorm and then gone back home. He hadn’t got a chance to talk to Zara and she didn’t seem to want to either. Deciding to give her some space, he hadn’t pressed her and had left with Matt.
“It’s nothing.“, he assured Matt now, hoping in his heart that there was something going on between them.
Matt stared hard at him before he seemed to accept his explanation.
Nathaniel went back to staring at his phone. When a good eight minutes had passed by and he still hadn’t gotten a response, he sighed and let it go. Getting off the bed, he took a towel from the chair and stepped into the bathroom.
It was when he was in there that he heard Matt caling out to him.
Turning off the water, he pushed the curtain away.
" What is it?“, he yelled back.
He heard the muffled voice through the door.
“It’s your dad.”
Zara got out of the car and locked the door. The bag that she had packed for the day was light. Pulling it over her shoulder, she pocketed her keys and looked at the house.
It was her childhood home. The place where she had spent most of her early days.
Her face lit up in a big smile when she saw the familiar face at the window. Her mother waved at her as she turned around to go back in. Zara climbed up the stairs of the porch. She heard the screen door click open and then the scent of cookies and cake wafted toward her. It clung to the woman who stepped out and then enveloped Zara in a hug.
“Hey mom.“, she smiled as she held her favorite person in the world.
" I’ve missed you so much darling.“, her mother spoke in her ear.
Zara gulped knowing the reason behind it.
“I’ve missed you too.“, she said softly, her eyes welling up.
Blinking the tears away, she buried her face in her mother’s neck, her mere presence making all her worries seem far away.
It was a whole minute later that they finally let each other go.
“Come on in. I’ve baked your favorite ones.“, she said as she took Zara’s hand and led her inside the house.
Zara followed her, placing her bag
on the couch in the living room.
Her mom was already in the kitchen when she called out, “I’ve kept your room ready if you want to freshen up a bit.”
Zara smiled as she took off the denim jacket she had worn and slung it on the chair beside her.
“Thanks! I’ll be right back.”
She made her way to her bedroom. It was exactly the way she had left it. Her feet immediately led her to the bookcase at the end of the room where she had stored the treasures closest to her heart. Zara opened the door and then smiled. It looked clean. There was no sign of dust. Her mom must have wiped it off.
The shelves were filled with all her childhood memories. Her favorite books took up most of the space- The Famous Five, Secret Seven, Nancy Drew mysteries, The Hardy Boys, Twilight, The Archie Digests and what not. There were the medals she had won in sport events as a kid, the achievements in academics, her favorite sweater- the one her mom had knitted for her on her tenth birthday, the shells she had found on the beach during one of their trips. Everything reminded her of a time when she had been as happy as she could be.
Then she saw the photographs. The smile left her face and the repressed anger and hatred that she hadn’t let fester for more than three years, threatened to overwhelm her.
There he was.
She could never call him dad again. She picked up the delicate frame and held it.
She remembered that day like it had been yesterday. They had gone to the beach on a holiday. In the picture, her mom stood tall and beautiful, one arm around the man who had promised to love her for a lifetime, her head on his shoulder, the other around a teenage version of herself. He had grey eyes, just like she did. With broad shoulders and extremely good looks, he was perfect.
Pity that he wasn’t the same on the inside.
He had always wanted a son. One who would join the army. Something that he hadn’t been able to accomplish. Though he never said it out loud, his mockery of her and her mother didn’t go unnoticed even when she was younger. But her innocent mind refused to believe the anger in his words. He was her father. He loved her.
Her parents had had arguments. Zara knew it was normal. She heard their raised voices through her door every night as she snuggled deeper into her comforter to shut out the noise. She remembered feeling helpless. She hated the times when they fought. Those days, she envied Susan’s parents. They were so lovely. Always cordial and sweet to her and each other. They always held hands and Susan’s dad was always teasing his wife, making her blush and laugh and Zara had thought that was exactly how she wished her parents were.
When she turned sixteen was when the verbal abuse began.
He began coming home late every night with a ready excuse of work. Her mother would sit on the couch, her legs pulled up underneath her as she waited for him to turn up. Zara had often seen her wipe tears from the corners of her eyes. She never let Zara come near her during those days, scolding her to stay in bed the minute the clock struck ten. The click of the screen door would signal his arrival and then it was like hell broke loose every single time
You’re a pathetic bitch who can’t bear me a fucking son.
I don’t give a shit that you’re worried.
I don’t want to live with you anymore!
It was the last day of examinations in the twelfth grade when he walked out on them. He had been sleeping with his twenty-five year assistant and she was pregnant.
With a boy.
Zara sat down on her bed, her heart heavy.
She could still hear the way her mom had begged him to stay.
I’ll be better, I swear! I’ll visit the fertility clinic tomorrow itself!
Please Ben! Think about Zara! She needs you!
What more can I possibly give you! You have my heart! Don’t do this to us, please!
All that time, Zara had stood at the door to her bedroom, the lump in her throat threatening to choke her. She wanted to join her mom. She wanted to take her father’s arm and ask him to stay. She wanted to ask him if he loved his assistant more than them.
The moment he drove off was when she had her answer.
Her mom had stayed on the porch that night, refusing to budge, crying inconsolably.
"He’s going to come back, Zara. You’ll see. He loves us. He wouldn’t leave us like this. He’ll be back.”
She had stayed out in the cold that night, her arms around her broken mother who was weeping.
Morning came in a few hours.
Her father hadn’t come back.