It had been a week. Scott’s probation period was over and he’d been nothing short of a model houseguest. He hadn’t smoked, not even cigarettes, he hadn’t sworn in front of the kids and he’d only been drunk the one time.
It had been that night of the barbecue, where Scott had been forced to meet all Pete’s grown up friends and spend a night with that idiot Ryan. Ryan had apologised, explained he’d been going through some stuff the night they’d met and asked if they could put everything behind them and move on. Scott had just nodded and quickly downed three shots of vodka before spending the rest of the night drinking beers in concession. He’d seen Ryan again a couple days later, again without Natalie and again Ryan had been polite.
Scott just hoped he could keep up his sober streak. Another dinner had been planned for tonight, and yes, Ryan would be here again. Apparently the guy was Eliza’s cousin from the city. He’d come to their small town for a weekend for some huge family reunion thing, fallen in love with Natalie and stayed forever. The stupid family ties apparently meant that stupid Ryan came around a lot. Scott would have thought Natalie would join him, but he hadn’t seen or heard from her since that morning at the school, and he didn’t dare ask Pete or Eliza about her.
No, instead he settled with listening to Jenny, who would ramble on and on about her day in great detail, hoping her teacher would come up. He was pathetic. He was also desperate to know how Natalie was reacting to him being back. Was she desperate for answers like he was, or did she really not care anymore? He would see her tonight though, and then he could read her eyes, they’d always been so expressive, maybe he’d finally figure out what she was thinking.
“Miss Natalie’s here, Miss Natalie’s here.” Jenny shouted as she rushed to the front door. “I saw her car out the window. She’s here, she’s here.”
She jumped up at the door handle, hoping to latch on and pull it open. The door was massive though, it always had been. Scott had always been slightly intimidated by the door. Hell he’d been intimidated by the whole house. Growing up, it had just been him, his brother, and parents, yet the house was the size of a small hotel, way too big for four people.
The door handle twisted and Scott tried not to be annoyed. That was another thing he’d learnt about ‘Ryan’, he never knocked. He always just waltzed in whenever he felt like it.
“Jenny get away from the door.” Eliza screeched, rushing forward and sweeping up her daughter right before the door swung open, narrowly saving the girl from being smacked in the face. “Seriously Ryan, the doorbell was invented for a reason.”
“Liz calm down, I never use the doorbell.”
That was the best idea Scott had ever heard.
Ryan only rolled his eyes and stepped into the foyer before shutting the door behind him.
“Scott.” He greeted.
“Ryan.” Scott replied ironically. Not that Ryan could tell he was making fun of him, the guy wasn’t all that smart. Or maybe Scott just hoped he wasn’t smart.
“Where’s Miss Natalie?” Jenny asked, her excitement suddenly deflated when she saw that Ryan was alone.
“She had work to do.” Ryan said, patting her back soothingly.
“But this is the third time.” Jenny complained.
“The first two times she was sick.” Ryan explained. “Now she’s catching up on all the work she’s missed.”
“But she never gets sick.” Jenny said.
“She got sick this week.” Ryan replied.
It sounded awfully convenient to Scott. Natalie, the girl that never got sick, suddenly gets sick the day they see each other again? Yeah, something was definitely going on. That or Scott just wished there was.
No, he knew Natalie. Every time she used to get sick she’d deny it. Her nose could be running, her voice could be gone and her temperature could be through the roof, and she’d still never admit she had the flu. She’d still go out, give it to everyone else, and even when it was over never admit she’d ever had it.
She was avoiding him. Natalie was avoiding him, and he was going to figure out why.
“For a Good Time Call Eliza.” He called.
“Don’t call me that.” Eliza said.
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well dinner has been cooked for you, so you’re eating.”
“If I fight you on this are you gonna kick me out?”
“I just might.”
“What time is dinner?”
“In an hour.”
“Okay.” He said, turning away from her and heading to his room. He would be there for about five seconds before going out onto the balcony and dropping down into the yard. He was going to find Natalie, and he had an hour before he needed to be back.
“Scott.” Eliza said, her voice stopping him just below the stairs. “If she wanted to see you she’d be here.”
“What?” How on earth did Eliza know where he was going?
“We used to be friends, I know how to read you.” She replied without him having to ask the question.
“So you do remember that.”
“I also remember you leaving.” She said. Then she turned her back again, clicked it into the straight, stiff position she seemed to be so fond of, and left. Scott didn’t even wait, he ran straight up those stairs and to his room.
Jenny misses you. Natalie read the text Ryan had just sent her and the guilt she already felt doubled. She was being stupid, and she was letting down Jenny, and for what? For some old high-school boyfriend she was too scared to face? She needed to get herself together. This was the third thing she’d cancelled on, her fake cold getting her out of two and her fake work getting her out of this one. That last lie hadn’t even been good. She was a preschool teacher for crying out loud, she didn’t have things to mark or real reports to write. All she really had to do was give quick year-in reviews, something she only had to start next week.
A knock sounded through the house and the unexpected sound made her jump. Who could that be? She wasn’t expecting anyone. What if it was a serial killer? What if she ignored the knock and then he played a tape of some babies crying to lure her outside. She really needed to lay off the Criminal Minds for a while, it always sent her imagination into psychotic overdrive.
The knock came again and she slowly eased her way to her door, wishing she’d installed a peep hole or something.
“Who is it?” She called. No way was she taking any chances.
Scott? Why couldn’t it be a serial killer? Why Scott? She couldn’t see him. This whole ‘flu’ conspiracy was so she could avoid him. Now he was at her door. Why was he at her door? Why couldn’t he leave her alone and stay out of her head?
“Please open the door.” He said.
Okay, she could do this. She would stop acting like the cowardly lion and face her fears. It was Scott for crying out loud. Why was she so scared of him?
“Hi.” She said opening the door. She instantly wished she hadn’t. His blonde hair was even messier than it had been the other day and his shirt clung to his muscles as if he’d been sweating, making his already huge chest look even bigger. To make matters worse he still hadn’t shaved. Why the hell was it so hard for this guy to shave off that stupid, sexy, stubble.
No, what was she saying? He wasn’t sexy. He was Scott, the asshole who’d smashed her heart to pieces. Yep, the asshole who’d smashed her heart to pieces. She was supposed to be angry with him. That was her role here. That’s how she was supposed to act. Well okay, if she was supposed to be angry she’d be angry.
“What are you doing here?” She demanded.
“Why are you avoiding me?” He asked.
“I’m not avoiding you.”
“You’ve been pretending to be sick.”
“I was really sick.”
“Come on Natalie I know you.”
“No you don’t. You did know me, eight years ago, but a lot has changed since then.”
“So everyone keeps telling me.”
“Why are here?” She asked, nodding at her door.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because I’m a curious person. You know that.”
“You just said I don’t know you anymore. It’s been eight years. A lot has changed.”
“Some things haven’t.”
“Yeah like your whole sick charade.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to stop avoiding me.”
“I’m not avoiding you.”
“Great, so you’ll come to dinner tonight.”
“I have work to do.”
“I have to plan out my whole day.”
“How hard can that be, finger-painting, nap time, lunch.”
“Oh yeah, it’s soooo easy, that’s why you need a college degree. I have to teach them to read, write, basic math skills, there’s more to being a preschool teacher than finger-painting and nap time.”
“I feel like we’ve gotten off track here.” He yelled.
“I haven’t been avoiding you.”
“Then why haven’t you been around?” He asked, his voice gentle this time.
“I’ve been sick and busy.” She lied, still yelling, no way was she backing down just because he sounded a tiny bit hurt. “I see your ego is still very much in check.” She added for good measure.
His face fell and she instantly regretted her words. She was a bitch. She was a cold-hearted bitch. No, wait, she wasn’t, he deserved this.
“I know you think you’re special.” She continued. “But let me make something clear. I’m not still hung up on you, I don’t still have leftover feelings for you, and I’m not avoiding you. I will be at Pete’s and Eliza’s when it suits me. Now I think you should go.”
He only nodded before turning and walking away. For a split second she stood there and watched, her stomach dropping as she took in his retreating form, the way he bowed his head slightly, slumped his shoulders, walked with his hands in his pockets, all gestures one used to appear small.
Frustrated, she slammed her door shut, and before she knew what was happening she was sliding down the wall, pulling her legs into the fetal position, and resenting the tears that had started falling down her cheeks.
Why did she feel guilty? He was an asshole. When he’d broken up with her it had been ugly, hurtful and heartbreaking. He’d broken her heart. He’d hurt her more than she ever thought someone could hurt her. He’d completely destroyed her.
She shouldn’t feel guilty for saying one little nasty thing to him now. Yet that’s exactly how she felt. She could imagine just how he felt coming back here after eight years, how terrifying, how hard it would be to look at her after what he’d done.
Ahhhh, why did she care? He was the one who’d hurt her, who’d thrown everything they had away. She was trying so hard to be angry, but the guilt was too strong. She hated that he’d hurt her the way he had, but she also knew why he’d done it. Scott acted like this tough guy who didn’t give a damn about anyone but himself, but when he loved someone he loved them with everything he had. And all those people he loved, his brother, his parents, they were always telling him he wasn’t good enough. They said it to him so often he sometimes believed it.
He’d been in a dark place when he’d pushed her away. He should have pulled her closer, let her help him get through it, instead he’d listened to all the people telling him he wasn’t good enough. He’d got it in his head she deserved better than what he could offer, not realising that his love was all she ever really wanted. He’d pushed her away so she could live this happy life he thought she couldn’t have with him.
She should have been angry. Even after all these years she should still be angry. Instead she just felt sad for the boy who’d thought so little of himself he couldn’t fathom being enough for her. She used to wish he’d wake up one day, see the wonderful person she saw in him and come back to her. He never came back though. Until now. And even now, whatever his reasons, it wasn’t for her. She was ashamed to admit it, but that thought disappointed her.