Zara paused at the bed, staring at the design on her comforter, sparing a glance at the window once in a while. She could hear the sound of the water running in the bathroom. Nathaniel was having a shower and they were going to go to bed.
Susan and Matt were in the kitchen, preparing to leave in a while. Susan had Amy with her, successfully distracting her with a bowl of ice-cream after dinner.
It had been a few long hours since they had first left Zara’s apartment. The officers had asked her and Susan if they had a place to stay and Matt and Nathaniel had answered for them. They had packed a bag with some essentials that they both would need. After the wait at the police office where Zara and Nathaniel had given their statements, they had headed over to the boys’ apartment.
Nathaniel’s actions had been chalked up as self-defense and Zara shuddered with dread when she remembered the events of the day. The officers yet had to inspect thoroughly, the contents of the phone and the other possessions the man had on him. It had turned out that his name was Peter. He had been unemployed for the last seven months after being fired from his job at a retail store. He was also a junkie and had no family except for a sister that lived in Virginia.
Zara ran her fingers through the wet strands of her hair.
Unfortunately, Amy had seen her crying and had been questioning Susan for the past few hours as to why they weren’t spending the evening at Zara’s apartment and why Zara wasn’t happy.
Some part of her brain felt like it had shut down, like she was in shock. She didn’t want to think about what had happened. She didn’t want to think about the absolute terror and fear that had overwhelmed her for that short duration of time where she had been afraid that she was about to die.
She had spoken to her mom an hour ago and she was already on her way over. Zara had shied away from informing her mother about what had happened, but she knew that the longer she took to tell her mother about it, the more upset her mom would be with Zara.
“Zara, are you upset with me?”
The softly voiced question accompanied a tug on her shorts.
Zara quickly turned around and her heart went into overdrive when she saw Amy standing next to her, her tiny feet bare, her adorable face scrunched up in a teary expression.
“Oh, Amy, of course I’m not,” she quickly went down on her knees and hugged the child, gathering her into her arms. Amy sniffled, wrapping her arms and legs around Zara’s body, snuggling into her.
“Susan wouldn’t let me come see you,” she complained with a hitch in her voice.
Zara felt terrible. She kissed Amy’s hair, rubbing her back, and hugging her close.
“I’m sorry, Amy. Susan was just worried that I wasn’t feeling so well.”
Amy leaned back and stared at Zara, pushing her hair away with the back of her hand. “So, you’re not upset with me?” she asked hopefully.
Zara kissed her forehead, then her cheek, smiling when she felt the pinprick of tears, “I could never be upset with you, sweetheart,” she kissed the tip of her nose and Amy smiled.
“What happened to your face? Did the bad man hurt you?” she asked again, reaching out and touching Zara’s cheek where a dark red bruise had already formed. The side of her face throbbed slightly. Zara didn’t flinch at the pain that shot through her temple when Amy lightly pressed her palm there.
“Yeah, he did try to. But it’s not that bad. It’s getting better already.” She smiled at Amy, happy when she saw the concern vanish from her face.
“Do you want me to kiss it better?” she asked her again, her brown eyes wide.
Zara nodded, smiling, “Yes, please,” she turned her cheek in her direction.
Amy leaned in and placed a kiss on her cheek, gently patting it.
Zara felt a strange sensation fill her heart. It felt good and beautiful and very overwhelming.
“I was scared when I saw you crying,” Amy said softly, her fingers wrapping around Zara’s hair. She looked at Zara very solemnly. “But I knew Nathiel would keep you safe,” she said again, leaning in and burying her face in Zara’s neck, yawning and cuddling into her body.
Zara took a deep breath and shook away the apprehension that accompanied the thought of what could have happened if Nathaniel hadn’t come back as quickly as he had.
She took a step back and sat down on the bed, holding Amy in her arms. When she looked up, she saw Susan and Matt standing at the door. Zara smiled at them and they both stepped in, coming to sit beside her.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Susan looked at her, concern and worry evident in her voice.
Zara nodded, “I’m better, thanks. Just need a bit of sleep.”
Matt gently touched her shoulder, “We’ll be in my room, if you need anything at all, okay?”
Zara smiled with gratitude and nodded, “Thanks, Matt.”
He gave her a gentle smile in return. Susan patted Amy’s back, “Come on, darling, let’s get Zara into bed.”
To Zara’s surprise, Amy tightened her hold on Zara and shook her head, leaning back quickly to look at her, “Can I sleep with you?” she asked with a slight frown. Before Zara could answer, she continued, lightly kicking her feet and trying to stand on the bed, “I promise I’ll be quiet and won’t wake up for water in the night, please please please, Zara?”
Zara didn’t have the heart to refuse her, although she had been hoping to be able to sleep wrapped in Nathaniel’s arms that night.
She laughed and kissed Amy’s cheek, “You can sleep with me, Jellybean. I’ll tickle you till you can’t sleep,” she teased, baring her teeth lightly and making Amy giggle with laughter, happily enfolding herself into Zara’s lap once again.
Susan shook her head and touched Zara’s cheek, examining the bruise, “Are you sure about it?”
“I’m positive,” she said, patting Susan’s thigh, “you two should go get some sleep.”
They both looked at her again, worry visible in their eyes.
Zara smiled at them and promised that she was okay. The sound of water running had now stopped and Nathaniel would be out any moment. She and Amy, both wished Susan and Matt good night. Then Zara let Amy down on the bed, tucking her underneath the comforter before she went into the living room and double checked to see if the door had been locked. It had.
Matt had also placed the heavy table and a chair right against it and it made Zara smile that he had been thinking about what she might be afraid of given what had happened that day.
She went back into Nathaniel’s room and shut the door behind her. Slipping into bed next to Amy, she turned on her side, facing her.
Amy crawled up the sheets a bit so she was closer to Zara. She smiled at her, although a bit sleepy, yawning wide. The action made Zara smile. Amy was so cute, she melted her heart sometimes.
The sound of the bathroom door opening made them both turn to look there. Nathaniel stepped out, wearing a shirt and sweatpants, drying off his hair with his towel. He stopped when he saw both of them in bed, looking at him.
He smiled at Zara first and then flashed a grin at Amy, “Hey beautiful, you’re sleeping with us, tonight?”
Amy giggled at being called beautiful and then curled into Zara, resting her head right below hers. “Yes, every night.” She said with a smile, gazing up at Zara for confirmation.
Zara laughed, going for Amy’s sides, beginning to tickle her right after growling out a yes, in answer to her question.
It was a while before Amy settled down, kissing Zara good night. When Nathaniel exclaimed that it was unfair he didn’t get a kiss, she jumped up from her spot and rushed to kiss his cheek. She returned to Zara, kissing her other cheek for good measure. Then she slipped back underneath the comforter and curled herself into Zara’s side, closing her eyes.
She was asleep within minutes.
Careful not to disturb her, Zara slid in more when Nathaniel settled down next to her.
The next moment, he had her wrapped in his arms, taking care not to extricate her from Amy’s hold.
“Hey,” he said softly, kissing her hair.
Zara felt as though her heart was finally at rest. She turned her face into his chest. “Hey,” she responded, the slight discomfort of pain in her face making her pause.
She felt it when he leaned in and kissed the bruised cheek, lightly touching his lips to her skin, being very careful and gentle with her.
“I know we didn’t get a chance to talk today,” he whispered, bringing her closer to him. Nathaniel hugged her, kissing the top of her head and rubbing his palm over her shoulder and down her arm.
“That’s alright, I’d rather not talk about it for a while,” she confessed in a rush, settling herself against him, the steady thump of his heartbeat in her ear.
“Anything for you, Zara,” he kissed her hair, “I’ll be here when you wake up tomorrow,” he whispered again, turning on his side to wrap his arm around her and placing the other over Amy’s sleeping form.
Zara stayed still for a long moment, her eyes open in the darkness of the room.
He stirred, his hold on her tightening just a bit, “Yeah?”
Zara swallowed past the lump that threatened to form in her throat and the uncertainty that crawled up her spine.
“I love you.”
He stopped breathing and she heard his heartbeat stall for a second before increasing in tempo. Without warning, he crushed her to him, hugging her tight.
“I love you too, Zara.”
Relief swept through her and she slept a dreamless sleep.
Amy was right. Nathaniel would always keep her safe.