Nathaniel stared at the unconscious form of the woman on the bed.
She looked frail. Like she was made of paper. He swallowed the lump in his throat.
The room was quiet. The only sound coming from the machines that beeped around him. The tubes attached to her arm contained the fluid that the doctors said was keeping her alive.
He sat down on the nearest chair, his mind feeling numb, his hands clammy and cold.
She hadn’t heard him come in.
He took a moment to compose himself. Then reaching out, he took her small hand that lay at her side, in his own.
Her eyes opened slowly.
Nathaniel shifted in his chair as she focused on his face.
"Nate?“, her voice croaked, her eyes instantly filling with tears.
He held back his own as he lifted her palm and encased it in both of his. Her skin was cold and wrinkled as if the life itself had seeped out of it.
“I’ve missed you.“, he smiled as he placed a kiss on the top of her hand.
Her fingers cupped his cheek, a bright smile forming on her thin lips, making the tears in her eyes even more visible. Nathaniel scooted closer till he was leaning over her sleeping form.
“I didn’t think I’d get to see you.“, she whispered softly, a small laugh escaping her lips.
He shook his head and gave her a look.
" You’re fine, Gran. It’s going to be alright. I promise.”
She closed her eyes, a tear escaping and making its way down her cheek. Nathaniel reached out and wiped it off with the pad of his thumb.
“Hey.“, he said softly.
“I thought you were happy to see me.“, he teased lightly, his heart anything but.
She laughed a bit louder, her fingers grasping his. He hooked his thumb through hers like he always had when he was a child. When she opened her eyes and looked at him, he felt as though he was a little kid again. He remembered the day he had come home from school, crying when one of the older kids had bullied him and taken his pants off in the school courtyard. It had been a half hour of utter humiliation for him and he had run back home only to find that his parents had left for a business trip. Again.
His grandmother had found him in the living room, his cheeks wet with tears and dirt, his backpack askew, but she had said nothing. She had just bent low and stared at him for a few seconds with her deep brown eyes, the ones that he had been lucky to inherit. Then she had taken off his backpack from his skinny shoulders and had held out her arms to him. Without any hesitation, he had run into her embrace, his heart calm and silent as she hugged him tight and kissed his head. After a bath, where he told her all that had happened, she had baked him cookies and had sat him at the dinner table.
She had heard him cry and yell bad words at the boy who had bullied him. And finally when he couldn’t take it anymore, he had slammed down the plate of cookies and asked her in a deadpan voice if she thought something was wrong with him.
Her face had broken into a big smile and she just shook her head.
And then she had told him just that once.
“You are beautiful, Nate. Inside out. Never ever forget that.”
It was a year later that she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. She had fought it all the way. Not once complaining or bickering. Her smile never dimmed and her embrace was never cold. She had been his stronghold and not once did she waver. She became his best friend and his closest confidant.
The day he had left for military school had been terrible for both of them. He had cried for an hour the previous night, begging her to plead with his father so that he could stay. There had been a million questions running through his mind. What if the kids there bullied him too? How would he survive? Who would he talk to? How would he make friends?
She had consoled him quietly, her voice full of hope and the promise of a new beginning. And he had seen it.
Her words had turned out to be true.
Now, as he sat there in the room, he felt a warmth in his chest when he remembered how she had always been there for him. And how he hadn’t really thanked her enough.
He stroked her white hair that curled around her forehead.
“I love you, Gran.“, he whispered softly, his eyes brimming with gratitude and love. He hoped she could see it.
She smiled at him, her brown eyes crinkling.
“I love you too, darling.“, she touched the side of his face.
“Can you do something for me?“, she asked, her voice sounding tired.
“Anything.“, he answered.
“Promise me you’ll never let your hair grow out like you did last year. You looked like a girl!“, she laughed.
Nathaniel joined her, his eyes watering as he shook his head.
" I promise.”
Zara shut the door as she took the bag off her shoulder. The drive back had been long and tiring.
Her muscles ached and she felt grimy and sweaty.
Her mind went back to the events at her mom’s place. She smiled when she remembered.
Her mother had begun dating again. From the way she had been flustered when she finally told Zara about it had been worth watching.
She had been thrilled to hear it and had told her so. Only then did she realize how worried her mother had been about her knowing. Zara had allayed her fears, hugging her and discussing every single detail about the new man in her life.
He was a dentist. A very cute one too from the picture that Zara had seen of the two of them together at a photo booth. Her mom looked radiant, smiling like she hadn’t in a long while. They had met at the supermarket a week ago and the next day when he spotted her at the local church, he had asked her out. His wife had walked out on him six years ago and they didn’t have children. Her mother had told her that he had been really nice throughout the evening and that they were meeting up for dinner on Sunday.
Zara stepped into the shower, her heart feeling light after a long time. Her mother was happy and she couldn’t be happier about it.
Susan had left her a note saying that she would be spending the night at Matt’s place and that dinner had been cooked for her already. She hoped it was lasagna and not some vegetable that Susan favored.
After dressing into a pair of shorts and a loose tshirt, she went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator.
She smiled when she saw the chicken lasagna in the microwave container. Taking it out, she put it in the microwave placed nearby and set the timer. Then she pulled out a plate for herself along with a spoon and fork. She went to the counter top and placed the cutlery there.
The ringing of the doorbell interrupted the silence of the apartment.
She frowned and glanced at the clock.
It was almost nine.
Expecting to see Susan, she strode to the door, not bothering to look through the peephole.
“Hey, did you forget-”
The words died in her throat.
Nathaniel stood before her, a haggard expression on his face.
For a moment, neither of them spoke.
Then she tentatively explained, “I thought you were Susan.”
Her voice sounded hoarse to her own ears.
He was wearing dark jeans and a long sleeved olive green shirt that made his eyes stand out. His hair was combed back but still looked as unruly as it would if it wasn’t. The stubble on his cheeks was grown and highlighted his high cheekbones.
“Did you now?“, he asked softly, his chocolate brown eyes that had always laughed at her now looked sombre.
Zara felt unease wrap itself around her.
“Can I come in?“, he asked.
She quickly nodded and held the door open as he stepped inside, his scent invading the air around her. Looking down at herself, she mentally cursed for not covering up more.
He had his back turned to her as he took off his shoes, placing them near the door before turning to her. Zara shut the door and walked in, her skin literally humming with awareness.
“Are you hungry?“, she asked as she busied herself, taking the container of food out of the microwave.
He didn’t answer for a second.
When he did, she almost dropped the plate she had been holding.
His deep voice coursed through her, startling in its proximity. He was right behind her.
Zara paused for just a second before she continued as if she hadn’t noticed.
“Not even for lasagna?“, she tried hard to sound casual, her body screaming at her to turn around and bury her face in the front of his shirt and have him hold her like he had last night.
This time his hand reached out and helped her arrange the dishes on the marble counter.
She gave him a small smile, noting how his eyebrows were furrowed.
She had just turned away to get the spoons when he caught her wrist. A jolt went through her and she prayed that he didn’t notice the movement.
The next moment, he had gently pulled her closer to him as he leaned against the counter.
She didn’t fight him or ask any questions. She didn’t want to.
He pulled her into the circle of his arms, his head bent down to look at her.
“You didn’t text me back.“, he murmured, running one hand up her arm to cup her neck.
Zara blinked in confusion.
Shaking her head, she answered, “I forgot to take my phone with me and I haven’t checked my messages yet.”
He stared at her, his eyes searching hers as if trying to get inside her head. Then he shocked her by lifting her by the waist and placing her on the counter. He pushed her legs apart and came to stand between them. Before Zara could react, he did the last thing she was expecting.
Wrapping his arms around her, he buried his face in her neck, his lips pressed to the skin of her shoulder.
The action made her stiffen for a moment. It seemed so foreign and yet so familiar as though they had been in that position a million times before.
He must have sensed her hesitation because he lifted his head slightly only to murmur a single feverish word.
His breath was hot on her neck and the sensation felt like heaven.
Involuntarily, her arms came up around him, her fingers splayed on the hard muscles of his back. She felt his response to her touch through his shirt. The corded muscles flexed, as he tightened his grip on her, almost bruising her ribs in the process.
And yet she wanted more.
When her fingers brushed the skin of his neck above the collar of his shirt, she felt him suck in a harsh breath.
That was all it took.
Zara turned her head, brushing her lips across his rough cheek. His lips met hers halfway, in a slow, lingering kiss. She tasted the coffee on his breath as he moved his lips back and forth on hers. His hand gripped her thigh as he hooked it tighter around his hip.
Her breath hitched when he ran his fingers down her calf leaving a trail of fire on her skin.
She kissed him passionately, her body feeling electrified with every single touch. She wanted to comfort him. To wipe away whatever had stolen the joy from his brown orbs. Her fingers gripped his shoulders before they delved into his hair, clutching at the thick strands as she pressed her torso into his, loving and needing the friction that made her breasts ache with need.
His lips were soft. A contradiction to the rough stubble that abraded her skin. She hardly noticed it.
When he still didn’t make any attempt to take her tongue, she grabbed his head and invaded his mouth with her own. The groan that erupted from his chest told her he liked it.
She felt the tug in her scalp when he tilted her head as she licked his tongue lazily, one hand slipping inside his shirt to steady herself against his rock hard abs.
He broke away first, his breath coming in hot pants.
Zara didn’t stop.
She kissed the corner of his mouth and licked the laugh lines on his skin, the sharp stubble rubbing against her tongue. But as he began to turn to claim her lips again, she bent and kissed his neck, sucking and licking every spot she could find. He tasted salty and yet so fucking good.
His hand moved to the top of her thigh, dangerously close to the vee between her legs.
“Zara, stop.“, his voice was husky and she felt the tremor go through him.
Ignoring him, she continued kissing him, till he cursed and caught her neck, jerking her face up before he slammed his lips down on hers.
This time Zara moaned.
He kissed her deeply, his tongue loving hers, his thumb stroking the top of the spot between her legs that was throbbing with the need to let him have her.
It was a while before he pulled back completely, leaving her dazed and in a state of sexual frustration.
His hands cradled her face, while her legs had his hips in a death grip, her palms resting on his waist, her breaths coming in gasps.
“I didn’t come back to do this.“, he said in a harsh voice when her head dropped to his chest, the effort to stay upright becoming too much for her.
“Do you understand, Zara?“, he hissed as he held her in his arms. She felt the bulge in his pants press into her and she blushed.
She nodded her head slightly so that he understood.
Pushing away from him, she looked up at his sombre expression.
“Why are you unhappy?“, she whispered, her hand reaching up between them to trace the frown in the center of his forehead.
Her words seemed to surprise him.
She pressed down lightly on the frown line with her forefinger.
Nathaniel smiled slightly.
“I had a bad day.“, he said softly, his hand taking hers. He placed a kiss on the tip of her finger.
Zara felt her heart clench.
He stilled. Then he shook his head.
“My grandmother is sick.”
He sounded pained.
Her chest hurt when she saw the worry in his eyes.
“How bad is it?”
“She has stomach cancer.“, he replied in a quiet voice.
His hand on her back that was meant to be soothing made her feel guilty. She should have asked him about this the moment he came over. But here she was, selfishly making out with him to ease her own hormones.
She gently cupped his face.
“I’m so sorry, Nathaniel. Is she going to be okay?”
He shook his head in resignation.
“They can’t say. It depends on how she responds to the further treatment.”
Zara watched the eyes that had sparkled just last night look down at her with uncertainty and the need to be comforted.
Knowing what she had to do, she slipped her arms around his waist and pulled him closer to her, placing her head in the crook of his shoulder.
“Stay with me tonight.”
She felt him freeze.
Then he breathed out slightly and placed his cheek on the top of her head, his arms encircling her. He hugged her tight.