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       The Emi Lost & Found Series, p.1

           Lori L. Otto
 
The Emi Lost & Found Series


  The Emi Lost & Found Series

  Title Page

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  CHAPTER 14

  CHAPTER 15

  CHAPTER 1

  CHAPTER 2

  CHAPTER 3

  CHAPTER 4

  CHAPTER 5

  CHAPTER 6

  CHAPTER 7

  CHAPTER 8

  CHAPTER 9

  CHAPTER 10

  CHAPTER 11

  CHAPTER 12

  CHAPTER 13

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  EMI LOST & FOUND series

  Lost and Found – Book One

  Time Stands Still – Book Two

  Never Look Back – Book Three

  Lori L. Otto

  Smashwords Edition

  Copyright 2012 Lori L. Otto

  Cover Illustration and Lettering Created by Summer Ortiz

  Smashwords Edition, Second Edition, License Notes

  This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  LOST AND FOUND

  NATE

  ~ * ~

  DEDICATION

  to “em”

  for befriending me, for believing in me,

  for encouraging me, for pushing me,

  and for bringing “anna” to life

  EMI

  CHAPTER 1

  Nine years is a long time to hold on to a feeling– one that I felt for only ten seconds of my life. Logically, I know it was twenty seconds at most, but the impact it left made it seem like forever. If I allow myself to think about that night– and I never do– I can remember how the air in my lungs felt completely effervescent, how my chest tightened around my racing heart, how my skin seemed to feel everything around me. Hands. Lips. A cool, fall breeze. I even thought I could feel the stars sparkling above, prickly and scintillating in their luminescence.

  Nine years is a long time, but with a feeling like that, I doubt I’ll ever let it go completely. It’s a shame I don’t have a good sense of what actually caused that feeling, but my imagination has filled in the blanks left by the drunken oblivion of that night.

  I chose stupid ways to rebel in college. Of course, drinking was the norm for most students at school, but my actions back then lingered more toward self-centered and inconsiderate. Had I known I’d see Nate at any time that evening, I never would have consumed as much as I had. To this day, I mostly drink in moderation when we’re around one another. A better friend may give up drinking entirely, but even he has a little alcohol every now and then. And he doesn’t have any friends better than me, nor do I have any that rank above him.

  As I wait for Nate, hurriedly getting ready for a night out with his current love interest, I wonder if he makes all women feel the way I felt for those ten glorious seconds. That would explain the long string of girlfriends. But maybe that feeling was fleeting. Maybe it was only meant to happen once, to stir up those emotions and questions for those brief seconds. Maybe other women acted on that fleeting feeling... and then maybe it just resulted in fleeting relationships. After all, they’re just emotions. By nature, emotions are not stable, nor are they reliable. They come and go. Just as his girlfriends do. In quick succession. They come and they go...

  Does it make any sense at all to continue to search for that feeling? I shrug my shoulders as if I’m answering my own question, having my own conversation with myself. Whether it makes sense or not, I’m on a mission to find it again someday, with someone. I just hope that my pursuit doesn’t keep me from seeing things in the periphery. From seeing that what I’m looking for is actually right in front of me.

  “Well?” he asks, my eyes focusing on what I would call a blouse on any day. It almost doesn’t compute. Men don’t wear blouses. Nate does not wear blouses.

  “You’re not wearing that.” I can’t contain my laugh.

  “What?” he asks, lingering in the doorway to his bathroom.

  “That... that... is it a shirt?” I ask, cringing at the light pink button down with... are those ruffles? I take a few steps closer to confirm the strange quarter-inch of fabric peeking out from under the center hem.

  “Yes, it’s a shirt,” Nate argues, his voice not as confident as it was only seconds before.

  “Who picked that out?”

  “My personal shopper,” he defends his clothing choice. “It’s Italian... or French, I don’t remember.”

  “Wait, your personal shopper. Is she a jilted lover?” I ask him.

  “She wasn’t at the time,” he confesses as he takes a long, hard look at himself in the mirror.

  “Well, I think it’s safe to say she didn’t want any other women hitting on her man. You can’t wear that. Seriously. I don’t know what kind of man would wear that sort of thing. Gay men have much better taste. And straight men would run screaming. Wait, why aren’t you running, or screaming?”

  “Damn it, Emi,” he says, frustrated, practically tearing the monstrosity of a shirt off of his body. “I don’t have time for this.” He walks quickly back to his closet and takes a look inside, stretching his back subtly. I hate it when he walks around without his shirt, and decide to tell him so.

  “I hate it when you walk around without your shirt on. It... bothers me.” And yet, I can’t tear my eyes away.

  “I know you do. But did you not just tell me ten seconds ago that I couldn’t wear that shirt? You asked for it.” He throws the pink thing at me playfully. “What should I wear then?”

  “A regular American dress shirt, Nate. Don’t you have anything like that?” I push aside t-shirt after t-shirt in his closet until I find a pressed white button-down shirt, still in the plastic bag from the cleaners. “Here.”

  He takes it from me and walks back into the bathroom. “You need a belt, too,” I remind him, catching a glimpse of the waistband of his light blue boxers underneath his loose-fitting jeans. “And you’ll probably want to wear an undershirt with that,” I yell to him.

  “What else, Mom?” he teases me, crossing the room to his dresser and pulling out a thin, white t-shirt. “And I’m not wearing jeans, don’t worry. I’m wearing that.” He points to a hanger holding a pair of black pants and a matching jacket.

  “Wow, slacks and a coat. Looks suspiciously like a suit... This must be getting serious. Did you get her a corsage, too?”

  “Shut it,” he warns me with a smile. “Well at least my wardrobe choices are keeping your mind off of... what’s his name?”

  “David,” I remind him for the twentieth time, watching him pull on the tight undershirt as he goes back into the bathroom. I examine the pink blouse and put my arms through the sleeves. “Hey, can I wear this?” I cinch the ends at my waist and push my way into the room next to him, looking at myself in the mir
ror. I flop the cuffs around, trying to find my hands.

  He laughs and turns to me, folding up the sleeves until my limbs are revealed. “I thought you wanted him to like you... not run, screaming.”

  I roll my eyes at him as I lean up against the doorjamb. After a few seconds, the worry from earlier comes back. “Do you think he will?”

  “Will what?”

  “Run.” I sigh heavily, turning to walk back into his guest bedroom. “And scream,” I mumble loudly enough for him to hear.

  “Why would he do that?” he asks, standing in the doorway. “I mean, aside from the shirt.” The sunlight dancing through the large windows makes his brown eyes sparkle. I involuntarily smile.

  “What if he doesn’t like me?” I ask him.

  Nate throws his hands in the air and scoffs at me. “Emi, we’ve been over this,” he says, going into the bathroom. I hear him brushing his teeth a short while later. I collapse back on his guest bed, where I had spent the earlier part of the day watching him paint, rambling on about the date I had tonight. I had intended to do my freelance work, but I couldn’t concentrate. Because of my nervous chatter, he hadn’t gotten much accomplished, either. He preferred quiet and was always very focused– never very social– when he was painting.

  “But we broke up, like, seven years ago. I haven’t even seen him in three,” I yell to him. “And he was married then. And, like, what if he’s fat and bald?”

  “You’re not that shallow, Emi. You liked him once... enough to give it up to him,” he laughs under his breath.

  “I wanted to get it over with,” I relate to my friend. “He was cute and nice and he wanted me.”

  “You liked him,” he reminds me. “A lot.”

  “I know I did,” I sigh, standing up and walking toward the bathroom. I lean against his hallway wall, watching him get ready. “What if he thinks I’m ugly?”

  “Seriously, Em? Look at yourself,” he says, pulling me back into the bathroom and holding my shoulders, pointing me in the direction of the mirror. “You’re not ugly. There is no way any man, woman or child would think you were ugly.” He glares at me before letting me go, tousling his unruly, wet hair with his fingers.

  “Mousey, then?”

  “Nope.”

  “Average...” I murmur.

  “You’re not even that. And, Emi, remember. He sought you out.”

  “I know...” I linger. “But what if he takes one look at me tonight and pretends he doesn’t know me?”

  “Again with this,” he sighs, rolling his eyes.

  “I never sent him a recent picture. What if he expects me to look just like I did back then? I mean, he doesn’t know what I look like these days.”

  “And he apparently doesn’t care. You’re just as cute as you were back then, Em. Cuter, even. Trust me.” He always knows just what to say.

  I did like David, a lot, many years ago. I was surprised to reconnect with him online a few months ago. He found my email through the NYU alumni network. His first few messages were friendly, but distant. Eventually, he told me that he had divorced his wife earlier in the year. I had to admit, I hated to see marriages fail, but I was a little excited that I might get another chance with him.

  We were cordial and flirty through messages and phone calls, but he hadn’t asked to see me. I was beginning to think he wouldn’t until he casually brought up New Year’s Eve one day last week. I told him my roommate and I were having a party, so I invited him to come. He accepted the invitation with no hesitation.

  “Why are you feeling so insecure tonight?”

  “He didn’t like me enough back then,” I remind Nate.

  “The timing was wrong,” he mimics my voice. “It wasn’t that he didn’t like you.”

  “I know,” I pout. “The timing was all wrong.” David was an over-achiever, like me, very busy with school. His dream was to go to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter, and he focused all of his free-time trying to realize that dream. Eventually, I relented, not wanting to get in the way of his life goals– and selfishly needing more attention than he could give me. I never harbored any resentment. It was a nice relationship while it lasted.

  “Well, I’m sure tonight will be fine.” He touches my chin briefly on his way to the closet. “Go drink a glass of wine while I finish getting dressed. You didn’t even open that bottle from last week.”

  “Good idea.” I keep my back to him, giving him some privacy to dress, as I pour a glass of my favorite red. My curiosity was piqued, but Nate and I were never going to be anything more than friends. He was attractive– no, scratch that, he was hot– but we had an arrangement. I liked our arrangement. He was the best friend I’d ever had.

  To tonight, I think to myself, lifting the glass and sipping my drink.

  He grabs a bottle of water from the refrigerator after pulling on the rest of his suit. The ends of his black tie hang loosely around his neck.

  He takes a long drink of water and points to his necktie.

  “Are you ever going to learn to do this yourself? I won’t always be here.” I set my wine down and begin to arrange the ends into a knot. “And where’s the step stool?” He begins to walk backwards to another corner of the kitchen, pulling me along when I don’t let go of his neckwear, slowly kicking the stool out to me. I stand on the second step, finding it easier to do this particular task when he isn’t towering a foot above me.

  “I can,” he says. “It just never turns out right... and I’d rather it be crooked than lose my patience over something that’s going to be undone in a matter of hours.” He smugly raises one eyebrow.

  “Right,” I say, tightening the knot– tight– against his neck. He coughs dramatically and pulls it a little looser.

  His hand draws up to my face, stopping abruptly, his finger lingering inches from my mouth. “Um, you have a little wine on your top lip.” He stares at it while I stare back at him. I lick it from my lips and smile with a slight blush.

  “Thanks.”

  “Thank you, Emi,” he says after clearing his throat, clutching the knot once more. “How do I look?”

  “Your hair’s a mess.”

  “You always say that’s a good thing,” he says, confused.

  “Yeah it is,” I sigh. I’d never met another man who could pull off that look in any setting, amongst any crowd. Women everywhere he went would fall at his feet... hence the fact that he was never without one. “You look fine.”

  “Just fine?”

  “Good. Great. Amazing. All of the above,” I say nonchalantly. He was the epitome of handsome, and I know every detail of him like I know my own– after all, he was often my subject in portraiture class in both high school and college. I know the perfect mix of brown and yellow and white paints that would recreate that messy hair that often covers his light brown eyes. I can haphazardly paint brushstrokes in every direction and it would still look like the perfect head of hair on him. His brows are just a shade darker, his lashes long, outlining a stare so intense at times that it can go right through me. His natural tan coloring always makes me look even paler when we walk side by side. He has a strong jawline with angular cheekbones that exhibit their own natural blush. His nose is well-proportioned to his face, and turned up ever-so-slightly at the tip.

  And his lips... I won’t even go there. “What were we talking about?” I ask him.

  “You were telling me I look amazing.”

  “Right, so... um, are you going back to her place tonight?” I ask.

  “I’m not sure,” he answers. “I haven’t planned that far. Why?”

  “This place is a wreck.”

  “Well, that’s why you need to get your crap and leave,” he jokes with me. “The cleaning lady will be here any minute to do her thing.”

  “Nothing like waiting until the last minute, huh?”

  “Well, if she had come this morning, you would have still come over and spread your mess out and made it look like this,” he gestures to the room. “My mess
is all confined to the guest room.” I peek in and see his paint supplies strewn about the small bedroom.

  “Wait, you’re making her come in on New Year’s Eve?”

  “It’s her job. I pay her well,” he reasons.

  “I’ll pick up my things,” I mumble, rolling my eyes at him.

  “I know you will. But seriously, I’ve got to get going if I’m going to make these reservations.”

  “Were they hard to get?”

  “Not for me,” he smiles arrogantly.

  “Of course not.” He starts to pick up my design books, stacking them neatly and putting them in my tote bag. “To-go cup for my drink?” I ask, holding my newly-poured glass of wine.

  “You can finish your drink.”

  “Thank you.” I lean against his kitchen island while he takes a seat on the sofa closest to the door, typing something on his phone.

  “Hey, are you sure you two can’t just stop by tonight? I might need a confidence boost,” I plead, knowing he won’t bring his girlfriend by, but wanting to ask anyway. I’d never met Laney, and likely never would.

  “No, Em, we’ve got plans.” He smiles.

  “I know.”

  “You are going to be just fine,” he asserts again, walking over to me as I take the last drink of the wine. “If he’s as smart as you say he is, he will fall in love with you and give you a heart-stopping kiss as the clock strikes midnight. No repeat of last year.”

  “Don’t remind me.”

  I spent last New Year’s Eve, snowed in, with my brother. Wallowing in each other’s self-pity, we got completely hammered and both of us passed out as the miserable, previous year exited and the new one flitted in with no fanfare whatsoever.

  “Speaking of last year, what’s Chris doing tonight?”

  “My brother will be entertaining Clara tonight.”

  “Well, that should be fun for her.” It would be. My niece loves my brother and his ability to build giant fortresses in his living room out of couch cushions and sheets. She would pretend to be a princess in her castle and bark orders at him. “We’ve got to find a girl for him, for next year,” Nate says.

 

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