Nathaniel turned the key in the lock and stepped in the room.
Behind him Danielle cooed about how wonderful the dinner at the restaurant had been.
They had spent the evening walking around the campus area for a while before they went over to the cozy cafe-like restaurant that Danielle had apparently booked them for.
Now, they were headed for a movie where Finn had said he’d join them.
“I just need to get my jacket.“, Nathaniel said as he made his way inside the room.
He turned around.
In blue jeans and a halter top that left a strip of white skin visible just below her belly button, Danielle looked like she should have been on the cover page of Playboy and not here with him.
“I’ve been menaing to ask you something.“, she said softly, stepping closer to him.
Nathaniel gave her a quizzical smile.
“Go ahead. What is it?”
She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the ring of Nathaniel’s phone.
He gave her a sheepish look.
“Sorry, just a sec.”
She smiled back at him and nodded her head.
Nathaniel got his phone out of the pocket of his jeans.
It was Matt.
He pressed the answer button and turned around, walking into his bedroom to get his jacket.
“Hey. What’s going on?”
“What the fuck did you say to Zara?“, Matt growled into his ear.
Nathaniel froze midway through reaching for the handle of his wardrobe. Matt’s tone made him bristle. So she had gone and complained by now.
“I didn’t say anything wrong.“, he hissed back, checking the door to see if Danielle had followed him inside. Then deciding to shut it for some privacy, he walked there, poked his head out and gestured to her, where she stood in the middle of the living room, his phone held behind his back.
“I’ll be right there. My jeans have to go after all.“, he joked lightly.
She gave him a small laugh.
“Sure, I’ll be waiting here.”
Nathaniel smiled and then went in, shutting the door behind him.
“What’s wrong with you, man? How could you say such shit to Zara?“, Matt growled as soon as he was back.
“I was just being honest, goddammit! She was the one who went and fucked around with Danielle. Danielle said that Zara
told her that she was the reason I wasn’t hanging out with you guys for a while now.”
Matt’s bark of laughter surprised him.
“And you fucking believed her? Are you crazy? That girl looks like she wants to eat you up the very second you both are in proximity! Don’t be a fucking retard, asshole.”
Nathaniel felt incapable to speak for a few seconds.
Matt had never, not once in their many years of friendship used so many abusive words in a single breath.
He continued, “You hurt her. I had warned you already about getting into this shit. I told you not to go leading her on like that if you didn’t plan to fucking catching her when she fell!“, he shouted into his ear.
Nathaniel froze in surprise. A sliver of anger and regret crept up his spine.
“I know Zara for almost two years now. She would never, never, talk to anyone the way Danielle claims she did. Don’t you fucking get it?! Damn, I wasn’t told about her dad till just a few months ago! She’s as loyal as they can get and you don’t have the motherfucking brains to see it.“, he hissed.
Nathaniel felt full blown guilt slam through him.
Had Danielle lied?
“What about her dad?“, he asked immediately.
Cold silence greeted him from the other end.
“You don’t deserve to know.“, Matt said in a low voice. “If we hadn’t been friends, I swear I wouldn’t have hesitated to break your jaw the second I heard about what you did. And yeah, get your shit together. Zara is not a punching bag for your emotions.”
Matt ended the call.
For a few moments, Nathaniel just stood there, his mind reeling with shame.
Fuck. He had totally messed up.
When he remembered Danielle, he hurriedly changed into a new pair of jeans and made his way out of the room.
“Sorry I kept you waiting.“, he said as he made his way to the door and opened it, turning around to let her go before him.
He was taken aback when instead of moving ahead, she came closer to him, a flirtatious smile on her face.
“That thing I’ve been meaning to ask you about-“, she whispered softly, her mouth mere inches away from him.
Nathaniel froze when he felt her body press up against him, her curves brushing him as she slid her arms around his neck.
In an involuntary movement, he caught hold of her forearms to move her away from him.
“Danielle-“, he began but was cut off when she placed a single finger on his lips.
“Shhh.. don’t speak.“, she looked at him from beneath her eyelashes.
Nathaniel was overwhelmed by the scent of her excessively expensive and cloying perfume.
He needed to move away.
Like right fucking now.
“I’ve wanted you to fuck me again since the last time we did it in that garage when we were nineteen.“, she said in a low husky voice.
Nathaniel stilled completely.
“You were naked when I came in to repair the damaged hood of the car that you made up, Danielle.“, he said in a flat voice. “I was sex-starved and you hardly gave me a choice.“, he began pulling her away.
She merely laughed, the sound suddenly grating on his ears.
“Yeah well, you took it didn’t you?“, she said in a sly tone, her breasts rubbing against his chest.
Nathaniel stiffened in response.
He almost jerked her away when she kissed his neck, but she changed her tactic.
Her arms wrapped themselves around his neck and she hooked her leg at his waist with no help from him. Her tongue licked his skin. Nathaniel pushed against her stomach with a force that didn’t hurt her.
“Playing hard to get, are we?“, she laughed against his throat.
“Danielle, stop. You aren’t thinking straight-”
“Oh I am, Nate.“, she lifted her head and looked right at him. “I’ve been thinking about this since the very moment I saw you in the nightclub.“, she whispered at the end, her fingers stroking his cheek.
Nathaniel gripped her leg and began pushing it down.
“You’re lying-“, he said, his heart hammering at an unusual rate.
She had held on to him more tightly and the next thing he knew was that her lips had descended on his, her tongue in his mouth while her fingers clutched his hair in a firm grip.
And all he could think about was how badly he wanted to hold Zara just this way.
Saturday dawned bright and sunny for Zara.
The pleasant weather had lifted her spirits.
It had always been that way with her. Her mood would change, subjective to the weather. Dull, cloudy days made her surly and impatient and on those occasions all she wanted was to curl up in a comfortable spot and read a book.
Zara spent the better half of the day catching up on all her weekend homework and papers that were due sometime during the next few weeks.
Her copy of Ptolemy’s Gate lay in a corner of the shelf in her wardrobe. She had finished reading the book last night and was now suffering from an inevitable book hangover. She loathed Jonathan Stroud for killing of the Nathaniel in the book. He and Kitty would have been a perfect pair, however unsuited.
She had always been a sucker for happy endings.
Now, a copy of Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling was placed on her bedside table. She had purchased it from a bookstore that had been selling secondhand and donated books. The novel was in excellent condition, except for a few dog-eared pages and some scratches on the cover page. Zara loved reading on the e-reader. But holding a paperback in your hands was a lovely feeling altogether and something she liked more than reading on electronic gadgets.
Susan and she had spent the last two days holed up in the apartment with Matt joining them right after classes. They had studied, laughed and had meals together like a family of three and Zara had been glad for the company.
She had told Susan about Nathaniel’s accusations the other day. The blonde haired girl had been livid and had spent almost three fourth of an hour abusing him with all the possible invective language she knew. Zara had made her promise not to involve Matt in it, because she didn’t want any problems between the guys. They were best friends after all.
Susan had grudgingly agreed. But the look in her eyes had told Zara that she wouldn’t be keeping the promise. She had probably told Matt about it by now.
It was late evening when Susan told her that they’d be going over for dinner at Matt’s place, since Nathaniel wouldn’t be there at the apartment.
Zara had agreed, but not without a fuss.
Matt had been feeling a bit unwell since yesterday and Susan wanted to spend more time with him. Zara had insisted that she’d be fine alone but the girl had refused and ordered her to stop arguing and come along if she wished for her friend’s good state of mind.
Zara smiled as she thought of it now.
They were walking across campus. Zara had changed into a pair of loose jeans and a short sleeved purple tshirt that had a spanish quotation in italics on its front. It was a gift from her mom and one of her favorites. Susan was wearing shorts and one of Matt’s tshirts. They had pampered themselves with a pedicure at home, spending the evening painting their nails and bitching about Penny, the character from The Big Bang Theory for breaking Lenard’s heart in the latest episode.
They had just reached the entrance of the building when Susan got a call.
It was one of her classmates inquiring about the presentation their group had to work on.
Susan told her to go on while she finished with the call.
“Matt will be waiting for us and we’re already late. I’ll be there in a few minutes.“, she told her as she moved to one side and began speaking animatedly into her phone.
Zara made her way up the stairs.
They had decided on Pizza as the main course and chocolate brownies for dessert.
She had just walked past the corridor to get to Matt’s apartment when she saw them.
Pain was a weird thing. It made you want to cry sometimes and then there were the times when you wanted to scream and yell at the injustice.
Zara did neither.
Instead, she took in the scene.
The door to the apartment was open. And just beyond the threshold stood the entwined couple. They looked like a photgraph of an erotic scene.
Danielle, in a revealing and clingy halter top, had her leg hooked at his waist, her fingers tangled in his hair, as they kissed with wide open mouths. Nathaniel had his eyes closed and his hand was clenched in the denim clad flesh of her thigh. She heard Danielle moan at the same time that a hand touched her shoulder and a voice hissed loudly.
“Get the fuck out of the apartment!”
Matt yelled at them, his face contorted in what Zara was surprised to note as rage.
She turned back to the door and saw them jump apart.
The four of them just stared at each other for a few seconds, Zara keeping her eyes riveted on Danielle, before Matt took Zara’s hand and pulled her with him. She stumbled on a step as he walked toward the apartment, his body tense.
Zara kept her eyes focused on him as he pushed past the two and led her inside.
As soon as she halted, he shoved a bag full of food cartons in her hand.
“Could you go keep this in the kitchen?“, he said in a mild tone, his face tinged with red.
Zara nodded her head quickly, grateful for the diversion. She didn’t want to see their faces right then.
She hurried into the kitchen without sparing a glance at the couple who stood right behind Matt.
When she had deposited the bag on the counter, she went to the sink and poured out a glass of water for herself.
She heard the low rumble of voices in the other room and then the familiar sound of Susan’s voice as she spoke something softly, no doubt calming Matt down.
Then the sound of the door being shut reached her ears.
Only then did Zara place her palms on the counter, her head bent low between her shoulders, and let herself cry. Sobs that made her wish she couldn’t feel. That made her regret letting those hands that had just clutched Danielle, touch her body.
That’s how Susan found her.