The incessant sound of buzzing woke Natalie from her peaceful sleep. For a moment she was confused, her surroundings unfamiliar to her. Then everything that had happened last night came rushing back. It was as if she were watching a highlight reel, Ryan sheepishly telling her about punching Scott, Pete lecturing her about the choices she was making, Scott apologising, her mother prying.
Oh god, her mother. She was at her mother’s house. Why had she come here? Why? She should have just slept on the street like a hobo. It really would have been less torturous. Instead she’d come here, and although she’d missed the lectures last night, there was no way she’d be able to avoid the one coming her way this morning.
The buzzing started again, coming from her phone. She picked it up to see a number of missed calls and messages from Ryan and Pete. The last message was from Eliza,
Pete and I are doing a date night. You’re babysitting. Be here by 6.
The message took Natalie by surprise. She still wasn’t used to Eliza being, well, this commanding and bossy. She’d always been flighty, non-committal, jumping from one guy to the next as she struggled to make decisions that stuck. She hadn’t been that way for a long time, she’d been the blunt, business tycoon ever since Bryce was born. Sometimes the change still hit Natalie like lightning. She and Eliza had been close once, they’d shared everything, their insecurities, fears, aspirations. Natalie just couldn’t look at Eliza and not see the girl who’d once spent a whole night crying because yet another boy had dismissed her as a hussie.
“Oh, you’re up.” Came her mom’s voice from the doorway. She’d probably been waiting at that door for hours now, peering in every few seconds to catch Natalie the moment she opened her eyes.
“Good morning.” Natalie greeted, sitting up and mentally preparing herself.
“I know you didn’t want to talk last night.” Her mom said.
“I don’t really want to talk now either.”
“Okay. Just know I’m here.”
“Thanks.” Natalie said, surprised her Mom wasn’t pushing.
Her mom had never quite grasped the concept that children eventually grew up to have their own life. As much as Natalie tried to distance herself, pave her own way, her mom was always there, trying to run her life. She never seemed happy with the choices Natalie was made and always trying to force a better one on her.
She knew why her mother did it, her life hadn’t exactly turned out the way she’d planned, divorced before Natalie had even been born, a slew of guys since then, none of which had stuck, a job as a secretary for the private hospital practise. She just didn’t want Natalie to make the same mistakes. The problem was, her idea of guiding Natalie meant constant criticism, and sometimes when she felt strongly enough about something, she’d intervene herself, meddle, go behind Natalie’s back to fix things that were never broken.
Natalie pushed the thoughts aside as she padded to her wardrobe, rummaging through her old clothes for something work appropriate. She had so many sundresses from when she was in high-school, all of which would be too short now after too many cycles in the wash. Singlets and crop tops also filled the boxes, all of them too revealing to wear to school. Then there were her pageant dresses, all sparkly, long, and over the top, most overdone with sequins and layers upon layers of tulle. Why hadn’t her mother thrown any of this stuff out?
She opened another box and there, lying on top, were her favourite pair of jeans. She’d worn them everywhere. She’d bought them the week she’d finished reading The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. Although she’d had no friends to share them with she was taken with the idea of having a magic pair of jeans, ones that would bring you luck every time you wore them. It was a bunch of crap of course, an inanimate piece of clothing couldn’t bring you fortune and success, but she’d loved those jeans and she’d worn them more than anything else in her wardrobe.
She wondered if they still fit.
Carefully she pulled them out of the box and sashayed them up her legs. The buckle clasped comfortably against her toned stomach and they hugged her body the same way it always had. The fabric was so faded the blue looked grey, there was a rip on the left knee and the ends had frayed and torn, but they looked good. They looked damn good. Maybe they were magic after all.
She raided her mother’s wardrobe for a blouse, and finished the look with the ankle boots she’d been wearing last night. It might not have been what she’d usually wear, but it would work.
She was just about to say goodbye to her mom when a knock at the door interrupted her. A huge, satisfied smile lit up her mom’s face as she hurried to the door, practically skipping she was so pleased with herself. Natalie instantly knew something was up. No wonder her mom had caved so easily when she’d said she didn’t want to talk, she’d been planning something else.
When her mom returned Ryan was following behind her. Fantastic, her mom had called her boyfriend. Why couldn’t she just leave it alone? Why couldn’t she just sit down and listen? Why did she always have to meddle?
“I figured you two should talk.” Her mom said. How had her mother even figured out she’d been fighting with Ryan? Natalie sure hadn’t said a word. “I’ll give you two some privacy.” She said before leaving them alone in the kitchen.
“Did you call her?” Natalie demanded the moment she’d left.
“No, she called me.” Ryan said, offended by the accusation. “Last night after you arrived she called and told me you were here, asked if we’d had a fight.”
“What did you tell her?”
“The truth.” He said. “That I was an idiot who overreacted. I’m sorry Natalie. It was just a tattoo but I saw it and I was already mad about him showing up and trying to talk to you that I just snapped.”
“I didn’t even know he had it.”
“I believe you.” He said. It was supposed to reassure her, but it only annoyed her more. She wasn’t trying to convince him of anything, she didn’t need him to ‘believe’ her recount of events. She just needed him to be comfortable with what they had, to trust what they had. She didn’t want him overreacting to every tiny thing that Scott said or did and she didn’t need him second guessing her actions either.
“I’m sorry Natalie. I promise, I’m not going to be this guy anymore.”
“I don’t want you to be someone else.” She said. “I just want you to stop being jealous of Scott.”
“I’m not jealous of that loser.”
“He’s not a loser.” She said instinctively, regretting them immediately. Crap. This wasn’t going to help things at all, if anything it would make it worse. “I just mean, Scott and I are over, we’re done, but there’s always going to be history between us. That’s all it is though. It’s just history.”
“I know, I just hear stories about the two of you and, your relationship just sounded, intense I guess.”
“We were teenagers. Everything was intense back then.” She hated dismissing her relationship with Scott like this. They hadn’t been hormonal teenagers getting carried away, they’d been real, strong, solid, right up until he’d hurt his knee and plummeted into a downward, self-destructive spiral. “Look I’m babysitting Jenny and Bryce tonight, we can talk when I get home, but I’ve got get to work now.”
“Okay.” He agreed. “We’re good though right?”
“Yeah.” She said. “We’re good.” She gave him a quick reassuring kiss before heading to the door. “Bye Mom.” She yelled through the small flat, making a quick dash for freedom.
“You’re leaving?” Her mom asked, appearing from out of nowhere and ruining Natalie’s great escape.
“Yeah I have to get to work.”
“But I thought we were going to talk about this whole Ryan mess.”
“I’m gonna be late.” She said rushing out the door before anyone could say another word. Natalie knew her mom would corner Ryan and try get the scoop from him, she just hoped he had the good sense not to say anything. If Natalie wanted her mother to know something she’d tell her, if she kept something to herself, then there was a good reason why.
She didn’t want her mom to know Scott was back, and here in Fall Creek she was safe from ever finding out. That’s if Ryan kept his mouth shut. And he better keep his mouth shut. Otherwise she just might leave him out of spite. Okay, no, she wouldn’t do that, but she’d be very, very angry.
Scott was back at the retirement village. He didn’t know why he’d come back. He knew perfectly well his mother wouldn’t suddenly change her mind and welcome him in. For some reason though he wanted to try.
“Name?” The security guard asked, the same one from the other day.
“Scott Garrison.” He replied. There was a brief pause while the guard checked the system, then,
“You’re still not on the list.”
“Pete’s with me.” He lied.
“Just like last time I can see he’s not.”
“Come on man.” Scott pleaded. “She’s my mother, what do you think’s gonna happen?”
“We’ve had instances of our residents with dementia getting worse because visitors they’re not comfortable with have been sprung on them.”
“She doesn’t have dementia.” Scott said. “And she’s not even that old. She’s 60 for crying out loud, she shouldn’t even be in here yet.”
“Can you at least ask her?”
“Fine, give me a minute.” So Scott waited, he waited and waited and waited, playing with the bell on the bicycle he’d ridden here. That was what he’d been reduced to, riding old bicycles because he’d had his license suspended after being caught driving under the influence.
“Sorry.” The security guard said, his voice crackling over the intercom. Disappointment crushed his stomach, and only then did he realise how much he’d actually wanted to see her.
“Come on man.” He said. “Just press that little button that opens the gate and let me in.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Can I bribe you?”
“You came here on a bicycle. I doubt you have enough money.”
“I will, at the end of spring.”
“Bribes don’t work on IOU’s.”
“Whatever.” Scott exclaimed getting back on his bike and angrily peddling away. He regretted getting his license suspended now, he looked damn ridiculous on the bike. At least he’d kind of kept in shape, wasn’t stopping every five seconds to rest. He still didn’t understand why the hell security was so tight at that place. What would really go wrong if they just let him in for a few minutes? Why did he even care?
Screw it. She didn’t want to see him. Fine. He was okay with that. He just wouldn’t go back. He’d tried to talk to her. He’d tried to make amends like his father had asked him to, she knew he’d come, the ball was now officially in her court. Let her do with it what she wanted.
Furiously he peddled all the way back to the manor, getting back in record time. He threw the bike onto the grass, and stormed to the pool, needing to cool down. Once there he threw his shirt off, just as angrily as he’d thrown the bike, removed his pants and dived in, the cold water immediately shocking his body.
It knocked the air from his lungs, and he broke the surface panting, his body slowly growing used to the change in temperature. He got comfortable and then began swimming laps, holding his breath as long as he could, making his head thump from lack of oxygen. The pain was the good kind, and when he was done his body hummed with exhaustion, focused on repairing itself rather then his mother’s rejection.
“You ever gonna leave the house?” Pete asked as Scott entered the living room. Typical Pete, always assuming he knew the answer without ever actually trying to get his facts straight. Scott had left the bloody house multiple times now. He’d dropped Jenny and Bryce off at school, gone to his mother’s twice, been to Natalie’s perfect little house, partied all night long and woken up in bed with a stranger. He’d probably been out more than Pete had. Did Pete notice this? No, he noticed the burnout who wasted his days swimming laps in the pool. Screw him.
“This house is pretty great.” Scott said, playing along. “And it has everything, you don’t really have to leave.”
“Well you do.” Pete replied. “Tonight. Eliza and I are doing a date night and Natalie’s babysitting.”
“There’s bad blood between you and Natalie. Eliza and I don’t want Bryce and Jenny caught in the middle.”
“There’s no bad blood between us.” Scott said, frustration clear in his tone. “There’s nothing.”
“Just go out tonight okay? Go to a bar or something. Catch up with some old friends. I don’t care, just don’t be here.”
“What do you think’s gonna happen?” He asked.
“I don’t know. That’s the problem. You never know with you two. Now are you gonna clear out or not? Because if you’re gonna stay I’ll organise another babysitter.”
“Whatever.” Scott said leaving the room. “I’ll leave.”
“Thanks.” Pete called after him.
This whole thing was being made way more complicated than it needed to be. Natalie and Scott weren’t the problem. They were fine. They’d mended fences, they’d put it behind them. It was everyone else, making a huge deal out of nothing. Nothing. There was absolutely nothing for them all to worry about.
Scott hated it. He hated how non-existent his relationship with Natalie was, but what the hell had he expected? He’d done this. Whatever, he’d ‘clear out’ as Pete put it, because he wasn’t allowed to be around Natalie while she babysat. Why Pete and Eliza hadn’t just asked him to watch the kids was an even bigger mystery. He would have done it.
Ha, the thought had him laughing out loud. As if Pete and Eliza would ever leave him alone with their kids. Burnouts like him, who could barely take care of themselves, weren’t allowed to watch over children.