At dinner the next evening, Amy sat on Zara’s lap, her hands full with the vegetable sticks that Susan had prepared for her dinner. She had eaten off the chunk of cheese and some crackers and only then, after a lot of coaxing on Matt’s part, agreed to eat the vegetable sticks. She sat rigid, as though punished, her tiny mouth chewing like the food was rubber, her fingers counting exactly how many of the sticks were yet to be eaten by her. Nathaniel wanted to laugh at her pitiful expression. He child was truly adorable.
He sat with his arm around them, as he tried hard not to stare at Zara like he had been for the past few hours. He couldn’t help himself. She had put on a navy blue colored low cut shirt with a pair of loose capri pants and looked so fucking beautiful he wanted to haul her away and kiss her till she was screaming with need. Her hair cascaded down her shoulders and even now, he bent low, burying his nose in her hair and inhaled. She looked up at him, a quizzical smile on her full lips.
He saw Matt roll his eyes while Susan gave a soft laugh, playing with the food on her dish.
A hint of a bush stole across Zara’s cheeks and he smiled, loving how she couldn’t hide her reaction to him.
“So you guys are serious?“, Matt asked, his tone laced with suspicion.
Nathaniel began to nod his head in affirmation but Zara beat him to it.
“We aren’t serious, Matt.”
She didn’t spare him a glance.
“We’re just seeing how things go. No promises.“, she said quietly, tucking her hair behind her ear.
He had come to understand that it was her nervous habit, something she did when she didn’t want the attention she was receiving. He wanted to argue, but didn’t. He had to go slow. He couldn’t afford to scare her off again. Never again.
His hold on her tightened just a bit and he saw her stiffen. But he gentled it by leaning down and kissing the top of her head.
Amy was looking between the two of them, her eyes narrowed on Nathaniel.
“What things are you seeing, Zara?“, she asked when she had swallowed the food in her mouth.
Zara swiped her thumb across the corner of Amy’s mouth, wiping away the remnants of the crumbs that lingered.
“Nothing, darling. What do you want for dessert?”
Amy frowned, looking at Matt for an explanation.
Susan was staring intently at Zara, looking annoyed.
Nathaniel stood up and offered his hand to Amy.
“Do you like chocolate or hazelnut?“, he asked her, giving her a grin.
She brightened up immediately.
He laughed and urged her on. Amy slid off Zara’s lap and followed him to the kitchen.
He saw Zara lean back against the back of the couch, her arms folded across her chest.
Nathaniel led Amy to the stool and went to the refrigerator, pulling out a bowl and spoon on the way. By this time, he had learned his way around the apartment.
Amy put her elbows on the counter and stuffed another vegetable stick in her mouth. Two more to go.
Nathaniel ruffled her hair, making her giggle and then took out the Ben and Jerry’s container of chocolate ice-cream with fudge brownies that he had purchased a few days ago. He scooped out a sizeable amount into the bowl and then turned to place it back. He paused midway and looked at the others.
“Do you guys want some?“, his vision focused on Zara.
She nodded and Susan got up and ran to him.
“God, I love this flavor!“, she tapped Amy’s nose making her laugh.
When they were settled down once more, Nathaniel tried to keep his distance from Zara physically. He was worried that he might overwhelm her and from her earlier statement, he might have been.
They talked about the upcoming classes and their Thanksgiving Day plans.
He wanted to spend the day with Zara, but didn’t voice his opinion, wondering how she’d take it.
“Why don’t we celebrate it together this year?“, Susan said enthusiastically, looking at the three of them.
Matt agreed, “That will be great. Mom and dad are visiting my aunt this year, so I don’t have to leave.”
They turned to Zara.
“I might have to go back home. Mom will be expecting me.”
Nathaniel swallowed down his disappointment.
“I don’t have to go home either.“, he said slowly, suddenly losing his appetite.
“Amy will have a great time, wont you?“, Matt tickled her neck, where she had resumed her position on Zara’s lap.
“Wont you stay?“, she looked up at Zara, her brown eyes pleading.
Nathaniel smiled when he saw Zara soften immediately.
“I don’t know, Amy. But I’ll try okay? Let me see what I can do.“, she said, her grey eyes somber.
Amy smiled, “Okay.”
Matt stood up and stretched.
“I think I’m going to go take a walk outside.“, he declared, taking his dishes to the sink.
“I’ll join you.“, Susan said as she got up and dusted herself.
Then she turned to Amy, “Do you wanna come out for a while, Amy?”
She nodded her head eagerly, almost jumping off Zara’s lap.
“I’ll come back soon, Zara.“, she gave her a dimpled smile and then kissed her, leaving a smudge of chocolate on Zara’s cheek.
Nathaniel froze, remembering the day when she had come to his rescue. The sparkle in her eyes was the same. It hadn’t dimmed at all.
God, he loved her.
He almost expected Zara to say that she was going too. He was relieved when she made no move to get up.
The others made their way out the door and shut it.
Nathaniel got up and picked the dishes off the table. Then he went to the sink and kept them there, filling them with water. He was in the middle of putting the empty food cartons in the wastebasket when he felt her behind him.
“I can do that.“, she said quietly, taking the cartons from him.
As she bent forward to crush the carton, he glimpsed the full curve of her cleavage and he stiffened, turning around instantly, repressing the urge to grab her and kiss that softness.
Needing to keep his hands busy, he went to the refrigerator and took out a cold bottle of water, uncapping it and taking a long drink.
“Why didn’t you go with Matt?”
Nathaniel turned around at the abrupt question.
She was staring at him, her eyes slightly narrowed, her arms folded underneath her breasts, making the perfect mounds even more visible.
He tore his gaze away from the alluring sight and tried to speak. Deciding to go for the truth, he stepped toward her and placed the bottle on the counter.
“Because I want to spend time with you.“, he said.
He saw her eyes widen and then she stepped back.
“What if I said that I don’t want that?”
Nathaniel felt like he had been slapped in the face.
“Is that true?“, he asked softly, his ears refusing to believe her words.
Zara looked away and unfolded her hands, pulling at the hem of her shirt.
“I don’t know.“, she admitted slowly, her grey eyes confused and wary.
He heaved a sigh of relief.
“You confuse me.“, she said again, grabbing the dish towel and tracing the pattern with her forefinger.
“Why?“, he was itching to go to her.
Zara huffed out a breath, “You hurt me once and then say you want me.“, she accused.
He bit the inside of his cheek.
Why the fuck had he screwed up with her?
“That day at your room,“, she continued, “you were kissing Danielle.”
Nathaniel shook his head, “I wasn’t kissing her. She kissed me.”
She didn’t appear to believe him.
Nathaniel took one step forward, “I swear it’s the truth, Zara.”
She negated it, shaking her head and refusing to look at him.
“The day we met at the club, I had just visited my grandmother and had been informed by her doctor that she wasn’t going to survive. I shouldn’t have behaved the way I did with you, I’m really sorry.“, he pleaded, knowing there was no excuse for the shit he had put her through.
He continued, “The day I saw you with Finn, it killed me.”
She looked back at him, her expression unreadable.
“I have feelings for you, Zara.“, he said firmly, raking his fingers through his hair.
“What happens when they fade away?“, she interrupted sharply.
He ran his gaze over her face.
“They never will.“, he confirmed.
She looked at the floor and then back at him.
“I don’t know what to say.“, her voice was soft, unsure.
Nathaniel went to her, stopping just a foot away.
Zara looked up at him.
“Tell me that you’ll give me a chance.“, he placed his palm on her cheek. His heartbeat picked pace when she turned, just slightly, into his touch, a soft sigh leaving her lips.
She was silent for a long moment.
“Okay.“, she agreed softly.
Nathaniel dropped his forehead to hers.
Then she spoke, “Promise me you won’t hurt me again, atleast, not intentionally.”
He heard the vulnerability in her voice.
“I promise.” I love you.
Then he put his lips on hers and sealed it with a kiss.