Nathaniel dumped the empty cartons into the wastebasket. They had just finished dinner and the girls were clearing the dishes while Matt fooled around with Susan. He closed the lid of the wastebasket and then turned to look at Zara who stood at the sink, placing the dishes in it.
She wore a black tshirt that depicted Bob Marley on its front and a pair of pale blue pants that came up to mid-calf. His eyes settled on the tiny tattoo that stood highlighted against the pale skin of her ankle. He had been surprised when he first laid eyes on it. He had been meaning to ask her about it during the meal but had been sidetracked by Susan who seemed oddly excited to know whatever possible about him. At first he had been enjoying the attention since it gave him the opportunity to talk without having to look away from Zara for too long but as the time passed by, he had noticed that she was hardly paying attention to what the three of them were babbling about. And yet he couldn’t be sure, because if somehow she was included in the conversation at some point, she answered as though she had heard every word they had been saying. With every passing second, he found himself getting more and more curious about this grey-eyed girl who was the first woman he had ever met who didn’t fawn over him. He watched the way she tucked her hair behind her ear almost every twenty seconds as if it was a nervous habit she had developed.
Her jet black hair had been tied at the back of her head in a high ponytail and a few strands had already escaped the knot. When she had passed him the sauce, he had been surprised to find the fingernails of her left hand all chewed up. Throughout the meal, she spoke little, and yet she didn’t come across as unfriendly.
But not unfriendly.
He wondered what she looked like when she laughed.
His eyes snapped wide when he saw Susan staring up at him where she stood to his side.
“Yeah? Sorry I wasn’t paying attention.”
He knew he should have kept his mouth shut the moment he saw the smile light up her face.
“Oh, I’m pretty sure I know what had your attention.“, she teased as she shot a discrete glance at Zara who still had her back turned to them.
Nathaniel rubbed the back of his neck and gave her one of his irresistible grins.
To his misfortune, Susan seemed unfazed.
He laughed lightly, “You were saying?”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“Will you be coming to the party at Matt’s parents’ place next weekend?”
From the corner of his eyes, he saw Zara go still.
His curiosity piqued and he focused on Susan.
“Yeah, I am. You guys are coming too, right?“, he gestured between her and Zara.
He watched with growing interest as Zara’s head snapped up and she shot a look at Susan, who just outright ignored her and shook her head.
“I am. She isn’t. “, she frowned as she turned back to where Matt was sitting.
“Convince her!“, she softly hissed as she moved past him and strode to the vacant seat on the couch.
When Nathaniel looked back at Zara, he almost laughed at the look on her face. She looked like a deer caught in a pair of headlights. He picked up the towel that lay on the marble surface and walked toward the sink where she was standing, her hands covered with soap water.
“Why aren’t you coming?“, he asked softly, noticing that Susan was already on her feet, dragging Matt along with her toward the bedroom.
Zara instantly lowered the gaze to the dish she held in her hand, as she shrugged, “I have go to visit my mom that day.”
Nathaniel ran his eyes over her profile. When she was done washing, she handed it over to him, careful to keep her fingers away from his. He took the plate and wiped it, taking the silence as an opportunity to help her feel more comfortable around him.
When she handed him the second plate, he took it. But this time, he deliberately placed his fingers closer to hers, somehow feeling the urge to make physical contact with this girl who managed to get him more interested than he had ever been in any member of the complimentary sex.
“That tattoo on your ankle is really beautiful.“, he ventured, watching her carefully.
She paused midway through the washing and stared up at him.
Nathaniel felt his breath catch when she finally gave him a full blown smile. Her eyes sparkled and it was as if she turned into a whole new person.
“Thank you.“, she said, her lips curved up, displaying a set off slightly uneven teeth.
Nathaniel felt himself smile back at her as though they were long lost friends.
“I have no idea what it is, though.“, he said sheepishly, taking the plate from her.
The smile not leaving her face, Zara shook her head slightly and gave a small laugh.
“It’s a Viking symbol which quotes the famous line - If there is a will, there is a way.”
Nathaniel nodded his head as he wiped the dish carefully, stacking it on top of the pile.
“That’s nice. Do you have more tattoos?”
She paused before answering.
“Yeah. I have a total of five till now.”
He stared at her.
“Woah, that’s awesome. So you plan on getting more done?”
She nodded vigorously.
“Of course. I think they’re beautiful.”
He agreed, “Yeah, they do look beautiful on you.”
She glanced up at him before she continued with the washing.
“Do your parents live in California too?“, he asked again, eyeing the top of her head.
He noticed it the moment she stiffened.
“Yeah, they do.“, she answered after a moment.
Wondering what he had said, Nathaniel decided to change the topic.
“Do you think you could come to the party after you visit your mom?“, he asked carefully, choosing his words.
She paused as if mulling it over.
“I could try.”
“Where does she live?”
“Silicon Valley. I go back home to visit her once a month.”
Nathaniel calculated the time it would take in his head, “That’s a pretty long drive. You’ll probably be tired when you get back.”
She shrugged, ’Yeah, probably. I’ll come by Matt’s place if I can make it.”
“I hope you can.“, he said softly.
He was puzzled when he realized he truly meant that.
The sound of a door opening made them both turn around. He saw Susan leaning on Matt as they eyed him and Zara like hawks. The look on Susan’s face made him laugh. She looked so smug. Zara just shook her head and said something about her being a manipulator which made Susan roll her eyes.
Leaving Matt against the door, she walked up to where they were standing and took the clean dishes, placing them in the shelf.
“Did you know, Nathaniel, that I tried for a day and a half to get Zara to merely agree to try to come to the party? And here you are, convincing her in like two freaking seconds.“, she crossed her arms across her chest and teased her friend.
Zara merely rolled her eyes and wiped her hands off on the towel.
“Matt please take your girlfriend away. She’s getting on my nerves.”
Nathaniel laughed as that got another comeback from Susan. He could very well imagine spending many more evenings in this manner.