“Jenny’s not buckled in properly.” Bryce commented from where he sat beside her.
“Why not do me a solid and show me how it’s done.” Scott replied.
“My dad doesn’t need to be shown how it’s done.” He retorted, his voice snarky.
“Well your dad’s been doing this for, I dunno, how old are you guys?”
“A good uncle would know that.”
“You’re a real brat you know.” Scott said to the kid. He’d been like this since last night. Scott had thought it would have blown over by now, but no, all he got from his darling nephew were snarky comments on how terrible an uncle he was.
This spaghetti has onions in it, a good uncle would know I hate onions.
You’re like 50, how can you not have a job?
Hmm, isn’t that your fourth beer, Alcoholic Scott?
Everything was said in the same high-pitched, sassy voice, all paired with the bobbing head movement as his lips pursed together. Jenny on the other hand had been a lot more accommodating. To make up for lost time, she’d caught her Uncle Scott up on literally everything that had happened to her in her first four years on Earth.
He learnt her favourite colour was emerald green, the same colour as her birthstone in May, her favourite food was ice-cream, her favourite movie was predictably Frozen, her favourite shape was a circle and a whole host of other favourite things ranging from letter of the alphabet to sleeping position. He knew how much money the tooth fairy had given her for every tooth she’d lost, what she’d eaten for breakfast a week ago and had even been given a rundown of every injury she’d ever sustained. He knew the names of her best friends Melody and Rachel, her boyfriend Chad, another kid with a terrible name, and her nemesis Brooke. Most importantly he’d learnt the name of Jenny’s preschool teacher, Miss Natalie.
He’d had every intention of ignoring Natalie, avoiding her while he stayed in town, but then Jenny had gushed about the beautiful teacher who did voices every time she read to them, helped them turn their artwork into masterpieces and made math fun. He had to know more. He had to know so much more.
“Isn’t she too big for a car seat?” Scott asked Bryce, needing a distraction from the track his mind had just gone on.
“The guidelines of…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Scott said, interrupting him before he could go on another tirade that circled back to the phrase, you really are a terrible uncle. He didn’t know why he’d bothered asking Bryce’s opinion in the first place. “What do you think Jenny? Are you a big girl? Are you too big for this carseat?”
“Yeah I’m a big girl.” Jenny agreed. “I’m the oldest out of all my friends. I’m even older than Chad.”
“Are you sure about this relationship with Chad?” Scott asked. “There’s nothing good about a guy called Chad.”
“There’s Blaine.” She replied. “He could be my boyfriend.”
“Blaine?” Scott asked, what were parents naming their kids these days? “That’s even worse than Chad.”
“Jenny you shouldn’t jump from boy to boy like this. You’ll get a reputation.” Bryce chastised.
“Chill out, she’s four.”
“It all starts somewhere.”
“Come on Jenny, out of the car seat, lets sit here next to Bryce.”
“Jenny has to sit in her car seat.”
“Today she’s taking a ride on the wild side.”
“Are you sure my dad said you could drive us to school?” He asked.
“Yep.” Scott lied. Pete was actually on the toilet right now taking his morning dump, and Scott was sneaking the kids out before Pete did one of two things, tagged along or outright refused to let Scott get anywhere near his precious Natalie.
When Pete found out Scott had taken the kids he’d be furious, but Scott would deal with that later. Right now he needed to see her. God he was pathetic. He’d thought he would have lasted longer, waited until the two were forced together. Now here he was, his second day back, already seeking her out.
“Okay everyone buckled in?” He asked.
“Jenny needs to be in her carseat.”
“And if you’d helped me buckle her in she would be. Now if we crash and she dies, it’s your fault.” Scott said with a smirk, enjoying it just a little too much as the colour drained from Bryce’s cheeks.
Natalie saw him before he saw her. He was walking with Jenny, way too tall to hold her hand properly but trying anyway, dragging her more in the air than walking beside her.
He looked the same, yet different. His chest was bigger, and even though it was hidden beneath a shirt she knew that it was solid, strong, steady, it always had been. He’d grown his hair longer too, the sandy blonde curls giving his head some shape. Stubble dotted his jaw and lip, making him look rugged, rough, sexier than he’d ever been. How was that even possible? He drank, he did drugs, he probably smoked by now, how did he still look so incredibly good?
Then he looked up, and those clear blue eyes she’d never been able to forget instantly locked with hers. It was like she’d been punched in the gut. All at once everything around her stopped. There was just Scott, walking toward her, his eyes unreadable as they bore into hers.
She hadn’t expected this. She knew he was back but it hadn’t hit her until now. Now, seeing him, it finally felt real.
Scott was back.
Oh my God.
Scott was back.
She braced herself, trying to mentally prepare for all the emotions that were about to hit her. He came closer, and closer, and she waited. But those emotions didn’t come. Even when he was standing right in front of her she still felt nothing. She was just numb. She knew she should say something, do something, anything, but she couldn’t move. She was stuck to the spot, staring up at him like an idiot.
“Hi.” He said, his voice still that low, husky drawl, the kind that had always made her skin tingle.
“Hi.” She replied. Her body was on autopilot. It was like she wasn’t connected to her brain anymore. It felt like this wasn’t even happening to her, like she was just an observer, watching this happen to someone else.
“Miss Natalie, Miss Natalie.” Jenny exclaimed, releasing her hold on Scott’s hand and jumping to Natalie. She quickly shook herself out of her reverie and bent down so Jenny could hug her.
“Hi Jenny.” She greeted, forcing the words out. “You’re early today.”
“My Uncle Scott drove me.” Jenny said, releasing Natalie and bouncing back to Scott. “This is him Miss Natalie. This is my Uncle Scott.”
She opened her mouth to reply, to say anything really, but all that came out were a bunch of sounds she’d never made before.
“Jenny why don’t you go inside.” Scott suggested. “Chad might be in there.”
“Is he Miss Natalie?” She asked, her eyes beaming with happiness.
“Not yet, but Melody is.”
“Melody said she was bringing her brand new robot puppy today.” She bounced on her feet, barely able to contain her excitement. Natalie had never seen a girl with more energy than Jenny. “Goodbye Uncle Scott.” She wrapped her arms around his legs one last time before rushing inside.
And then Scott and Natalie were alone. She met his eyes again, and was instantly trapped by the brightness of them. For a while they didn’t say anything, they both just stared at the other, noting all the things that were different and all the things that were the same.
“You cut your hair.” He said, breaking the silence and commenting on her collarbone length cut, something she’d sworn up and down she’d never do.
“One of the kids had gum the other day.” She explained. “Accidentally got in my hair. I had to cut it.”
“It looks good.” He said. “You look good. Really good. Sundresses.”
Goosebumps prickled the back of her neck and a small throbbing began between her legs as his eyes quickly trailed down her body. Memories flashed through her mind, memories of sundresses and the detailed words Scott had once used to describe just how sexy he found her in them.
“You look the same.” She commented, trying to get her mind away from the path it was starting down.
“I’m taking that as compliment.” He said. “I drink too much, smoke too much, drugs occasionally, if I look the same I’m doing well.”
“I wouldn’t say drinking, smoking and drugs is doing well.”
“But at least I look good.” He joked.
“Not that good.”
The laugh escaped before she could stop it and Scott’s mouth curled into a small smirk, only the left side of his lips turning up into a smile. He always used to do that whenever he found something funny but was trying to hide it. Like now, happy he’d made her laugh, but trying to hide it because he didn’t want to scare her off.
Well he was too late. She was scared. Not scared-scared, just freaked out. This was just too much. They’d just had one pathetic conversation and yet it had felt so natural, so much like it once had. It was too familiar, too dangerous. Their time had come and gone. They’d both moved on. What was he doing back here?
“I should get inside.” She said, hating the way her voice cracked slightly as she spoke.
“I should get back anyway. My brother’s probably wondering where his kids are.”
“Nothing, I’ll uh, see you around.” He nodded goodbye and then he was gone. Natalie knew she watched Scott leave, knew she probably stood there for minutes after he’d gone, but all the time seemed to just disappear, merge into the one second.
Oh she was being a bloody idiot. Time seemed to disappear and merge into the one second? That was probably the dumbest thing she’d ever thought.
“Miss Natalie are you okay?” She looked down to see Parker, another student, standing at her feet, the backpack that was way too big for him making him wobble.
“Yeah I’m fine.” She said.
“You look pale.” He commented. “Have you and Ryan broken up?” A big smile lit up his face, like the idea of Natalie and Ryan breaking up was the best thing that could ever happen to him.
“No we haven’t.”
“Okay.” The smile vanished from his lips and he dropped his head sadly, staring at his feet rather than at her. “I want you to be happy Miss Natalie. I’m sorry for wishing you and Ryan broke up.”
“Don’t feel bad Parker.” She said, crouching down so she could face him. That was the one thing she hated about working with four year olds, all the crouching she had to do. Everyone was just so short.
“But I love you Miss Natalie. It kills me to see you with someone else.”
“The timing is just not right for us.” She said. “If only you were 24 years older.”
“My Dad says age is just a number.”
Parker’s dad also had a wife half his age so that particular life view didn’t exactly surprise Natalie. She just wished he wouldn’t pass that down to his son. It may be adorable now, but if he were just a few years older this thing would be all kinds of inappropriate.
“Okay, I’ll tell you what. If Ryan and I ever break up, you’ll be the first man I call.”
“Oh Miss Natalie, I hope he breaks up with you today.” Parker said before giving her a quick hug and running inside. He didn’t know it, but the whole breaking up thing might not be too far off.