The funeral took place later that day.
Zara stood with Susan at one corner of the graveyard where the body was now being lowered into the grave.
She was surprised at the number of people who turned up for the service. The place was packed.
Nathaniel’s grandmother was definitely a woman who would be remembered.
Zara let her gaze flit over the crowd. Nathaniel’s mom and dad stood near the spot where the coffin was being lowered, Nathaniel and Matt a foot away from them.
He was dressed in a black suit with a clean white shirt, his hair combed back and his face shaved.
Even in the somber moment, Zara couldn’t deny how handsome he looked.
His eyes were hooded, his gaze transfixed on the small mountain of mud that lay beside the dug up grave.
She turned to Susan when she touched her arm.
Her friend nodded towards Nathaniel.
The coffin had been lowered and she saw his dad take the first step, pick up some mud from the pile nearby and let it slip through his fingers into the grave. The rattle of the mud as it struck the wooden surface of the coffin was loud in the silent space. A second later, his wife came forward and did the same.
Then it was Nathaniel’s turn.
Zara watched as he seemed to shake himself out of the trance he seemed to be in throughout the service. Then he walked forward. But instead of reaching out to grab a fistful of mud, he paused at the edge of the grave, reached into his pocket and pulled out a single red rose. Then he lifted it to his lips, kissed the blood red petals and let it drop.
The woman beside her dabbed at her eyes as she sniffled.
Zara felt her eyes tear up when she saw his father hug his wife to his side and weep into her hair.
How exactly were they supposed to move on?
How unfair life was.
For the next few minutes, people began going toward the grave to pay their respects. Zara remained behind.
She saw Susan walk up to Nathaniel and hug him.
To her relief he gave Susan a slight smile and hugged her back. Matt had come to him and held his hand.
And then to her utter surprise and discomfort, Nathaniel looked up and straight at her.
Zara felt like she had just been caught doing something that she wasn’t supposed to be doing.
She knew that she probably should go speak to him too. But she didn’t know how to. She didn’t have a clue about what she could tell him. After the scene at her apartment, they hadn’t said a word to each other and Zara had been completely fine with it. She was still reeling from the after-effect of Finn’s absence. She had yet to get used to it. Her chest still hurt and felt empty and it was all she could do to not grab her phone and call him.
It was difficult to concentrate on what had to be done. She hadn’t been able to eat or sleep or study and she was beginning to feel like it would be a very long time before she could return to her normal self.
Finn had shown her just what it felt like to be needed and cherished and Zara desperately wanted him back. She hated the sudden vulnerability that was now present in her heart and she couldn’t imagine another day feeling the same way.
As she looked right back at him, she debated on whether she should stand her ground or go over to where they were standing.
She decided to stay put.
The crowd was slowly beginning to disperse and she could see his parents talking to some couple as his mother kept wiping at her eyes.
Just when she had had enough of the staring match and about to look away, she saw Nathaniel bend and whisper something in Susan’s ear.
Then to her horror, he began walking right toward her.
Zara’s first crazy instinct was to turn away and run.
But the option was taken away when a group of people passed her by on either side, keeping her rooted to her spot.
In those few seconds, Nathaniel had already reached her.
“Hey.“, his voice was gravelly.
He slipped his hands into the pockets of his trousers and looked down at her, his expression neutral.
“How are you feeling?”
Zara almost frowned.
How was she feeling?
He was the one who had lost his grandma. If anyone had to be asked that question, it would be him.
“I-I’m good, yeah. What about you?“, she searched his face.
There were bags under his eyes.
“I’ve been better.”
Zara looked at the ground.
“Please don’t say you’re sorry.“, he snapped suddenly.
Her head whipped up and she stepped back at the tone of his voice.
She saw his eyes widen momentarily as he began to take a step forward, his hand reaching out to her.
“I wasn’t going to.“, she said without emotion.
His hand dropped to his side.
He began to explain, “I didn’t mean to-”
Zara waved her hand.
“Don’t worry about it. I understand.”
His shoulders seemed to slump and he stepped back.
Zara let her eyes wander about for a moment before focusing back on him.
He was staring at the grave.
“I miss her a lot, you know.”
Zara tensed, not knowing how to respond.
Silently, she waited for him to continue.
“She was the only reason I became what I am today.”
He took his hand out of his pocket and ran his fingers through his hair and down his face.
“I wish it didn’t have to be like this.“, he said softly.
He looked back at her and Zara saw the tears in his eyes.
Then he turned away from her.
“Well,“, he slipped his hand back into the pocket. “At least I got the chance to say goodbye.”
Zara hugged herself.
“Yeah.“, she said softly.
The silence prolonged between them.
The graveyard was almost empty now, save for a few couples and Nathaniel’s parents.
Everyone was already making their way out through the metal gate at the entrance.
“I’m sorry for what I said to you, Zara.”
She almost jumped when she heard his voice close to her ear.
She hadn’t even noticed that he had moved.
She looked up at him and then looked back at the grave.
That’s all a person required in the end. A hole in the ground.
“It’s okay, Nathaniel.”
He didn’t answer.
After a moment, he spoke again, hesitantly.
“Can we be friends once more?”
Zara didn’t look up at him.
She thought of her parents. The desertion she had felt when her dad had walked out on them, leaving her mom, the woman he had taken vows with before God, before people. The same man who had held Zara when she was born, who had stood beside them at the beach, who had helped her pick shells for her collection. The man who had promised her mom that he would look after her in health and sickness, the one who had made her mother’s face light up each time he walked into the room. The same man whom now she tried not to think about. Who now brought tears in her eyes.
Did he think about them?
Did he think about her?
Did he ever wonder what kind of a woman she had grown into? What did she look like? What his daughter was doing with her life? Whether his former family was even alive?
Did it matter to him?
Beside her, Nathaniel was silent.
She looked away. At the sun that was now beginning to rise high in the sky.
She remembered what her mom always told her as a child.
People will hurt you, Zara. They always will. Even the ones you love the most. But what you let that do to you is what truly matters. Don’t ever let it alter your outlook, darling. Life is beautiful. It only depends on how you choose to live it.
Zara turned back to Nathaniel.
He looked scared. Like a child asking for permission to have a slumber party.
The thought bought a small smile to her lips.
She nodded her head.
“We could try.”
A/N:- I post more frequently on Instagram. Take a look at my stuff on there if you’d like to. I’d LOVE to connect with readers <3
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