Before jamaica lane, p.14
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       Before Jamaica Lane, p.14

         Part #3 of On Dublin Street series by Samantha Young
 
Page 14

  Instead I gave him a slow, cheeky grin. Cole stared at me like I was a new species. Then he shook his head and burst into low laughter. His whole body relaxed and he bit into the sandwich.

  I lifted my smiling eyes. They collided with Nate’s and the smile almost faltered at his expression. The look on his face was so tender I felt it knock the wind out of me. I felt that now familiar, pleasurable ache in my chest as he winked at me.

  I didn’t think anyone could wink without it looking stupid or corny.

  I was wrong.

  Nate could.

  Nate made winking panty-droppingly hot.

  Oh, boy, better be careful, Soda Pop.

  ‘You don’t have to walk me home, Nate,’ I said as we hit Leith Walk.

  After Jo had dealt with whatever was going on with her mom, she and Cam had returned to the flat and we’d switched the video game off to watch a comedy. Nate made a point of leaning down to kiss Jo’s forehead when he got up to go to the bathroom, and the tension between them melted away. The tattoo, however, was still on my mind because … well, I was just nosy like that. Mostly I was concerned about the reaction it had elicited in Nate. I got through the movie without bugging him about it, but when Peetie left we took that as our cue and announced we had to get going too.

  Nate lived in Marchmont, a heavily student-populated area behind the Meadows – a large public park behind the University of Edinburgh. It was southwest of Jo and Cam’s apartment on London Road, whereas I was just west. It was a good forty-minute walk from my apartment to Nate’s.

  ‘It’s after midnight,’ he replied softly. ‘I’m not letting you walk home alone. ’

  ‘I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. ’

  ‘That might be true if you ever decided to come along to judo with me. ’

  Wrinkling my nose at the thought, I said, ‘I like watching it, but I’m not up for doing it. ’

  ‘I hope that won’t be your attitude toward sex. ’ He smirked cheekily at me. ‘Then again, voyeurism is hot. ’

  I punched him on the arm. ‘You’re so immature. ’

  ‘I can’t help it if you don’t think through what you’re saying before you say it,’ he replied with an unapologetic shrug.

  ‘Dude, there was nothing sexual about what I said. You just have a way of making everything sound dirty. ’

  He grinned at me. ‘You, a grown woman of twenty-six years old, say “dude” and you call me immature?’

  ‘That’s beside the point,’ I replied haughtily, ignoring his laughter. And in ignoring his laughter I stupidly decided to ruin his mood. Clearing my throat, I nudged him with my shoulder. ‘So the uh … the, uh, tattoo?’

  Nate was quiet as we strode across the wide road to Union Street. By the time we turned down Forth Street he still hadn’t said anything. I wasn’t going to push. It wasn’t my place to. But I was worried about his reaction to this tattoo and what it meant.

  ‘It’s a small stylized “A. ” I have it tattooed at the top of my ribs, across my heart,’ he suddenly piped up.

  ‘ “A,” ’ I whispered, and I understood instantly. ‘For “Alana. ” ’

  Nate nodded, his eyes on me as if he was waiting for my reaction.

  ‘When did you get it?’

  ‘Just after she died. ’ Those deep dark eyes of his studied my face more intently. ‘Did you ever think about getting a tattoo for your mum?’

  The familiar pressure on my chest accompanied my answer. ‘I don’t need it. ’

  ‘I’m glad I got it. ’ Nate’s voice was low, even hushed. ‘There are times I can go a whole day without her flashing through my mind. Then I catch sight of the tat in the mirror. So I remember. ’

  I wanted to tell him it was okay to live his life, to have days that weren’t weighted by her loss, but I’d feel like a hypocrite if I did. Whenever I went a whole day without thinking about Mom the guilt was almost crippling. Nate knew that. He knew that and I knew his story. Remembering everything he’d told me after he’d found me in my apartment last November, I wouldn’t be the one to tell him that it was time to move on …

  Last Thanksgiving, Edinburgh

  The turkey was in the oven and so were the roasted potatoes. My potatoes for the mash were boiling and my onions were chopped, ready to be mashed in with the potatoes, just like Mom made. The cranberry sauce was done. The vegetables were steaming.

  Since I couldn’t find a store anywhere in Edinburgh that sold pumpkin pie, I had to make one from scratch. I wiped sweat from my forehead because the heat from my kitchen had filled my little apartment to the boiling point. Windows were open, but I’d still had to change into a tank top on a Scottish fall day.

  After spending an emotional morning with my dad, I’d told him I just needed some quiet time alone. I could tell he didn’t want to leave me, but I was a grown woman and he gave me my space. I was using my space to do what Mom would have been doing if life was fair.

  Finishing up with the pie, I opened the oven to see if I could make room for it. Smoke billowed out.

  ‘What the hell?’ I screamed at it, waving the smoke away to discover that the turkey was burning.

  How was it burning? Didn’t I put it in for the right time? I glanced up at the clock and felt a wave of dizziness sway me. Seven o’ clock. How did it get to be seven o’ clock? That couldn’t be right.

  I felt tears prick my eyes as I looked at the massacred bird.

  I’d ruined it.

  ‘I fucking ruined it!’ I shrieked, grabbing an oven mitt and pulling at the bird. Feeling the burning heat of the tray beneath my hand I yelled in outrage and dumped its heavy load in the sink.

  My door buzzer went off, and I stopped and sucked in a breath.

  What if it was Dad?

  I hurried to the entry phone. ‘Who is it?’ I asked tentatively.

  ‘Nate. Let me up. ’

  ‘Uh, now’s not a good time. ’

  ‘I just heard you screaming from your open window. You don’t let me up, I’ll break the fuck in. ’

  Pushing a hand through my hair, I winced at the wetness in my hairline. I was a sweaty mess.

  I buzzed him in and pulled my front door open with belligerent annoyance, then stomped into the kitchen to check my roasted potatoes.

  ‘Fucking ruined too,’ I whimpered, my eyes filling with more tears.

  ‘Liv?’

  I whirled around to face Nate, and whatever he saw in my eyes made him stop in his tracks.

  ‘Liv, are you okay?’ he asked gently, taking a slow step toward me.

  ‘I ruined it!’ I yelled, flinging an arm out toward the turkey. ‘It’s fucked! What’s the point in me baking the fucking pie if the bird is fucked? I wasted my time chopping onions for the mash but there’s no point because the roasted potatoes are burnt. You can’t have Thanksgiving with just one kind of potato, Nate. ’

  ‘Babe, come here. ’ He approached me as though I was a wounded animal. I was so confused by his behavior that I let him curl a strong hand around my arm and pull me toward the sitting room. Realization that he was taking me out of the kitchen sank in and a misdirected rage tore out of me.

  ‘No!’ I screamed, trying to pull away from him.

  ‘Jesus, Liv, calm down,’ he ordered through gritted teeth, grabbing hold of my other arm for better purchase. ‘Calm down and tell me what’s going on. ’

  ‘Don’t!’ I tugged my arms, and when that didn’t work, I tried to force him away from me, tried to knock him off balance. ‘Get off! I have to fix it! I have to fix it!’

  ‘Liv,’ he whispered, fear in his voice now. He shook me hard, so hard I stopped, wide-eyed, as his hands gentled and cupped my face. I stared into his dark eyes and what I saw in them frightened me.

  I was acting like a crazy person.

  My face crumpled as the familiar agony ripped through my chest. My body shuddered, hard, while I sobb
ed. ‘She’s not here to fix it. ’ I fell against him, trying to catch my breath.

  His arms slid around me as I cried and in that moment I felt like his arms were the only thing keeping my insides from falling out.

  ‘She struggled,’ I whispered, taking a deep breath, trying to find calm through the tears, ‘but she fought through it. Every Thanksgiving. ’ I relaxed at his murmuring words of comfort, my head moving with the rise and fall of his smooth breathing. I let the rhythm take hold of me, and slowly my own breathing returned to normal.

  When I finally became aware of my surroundings again, I discovered I was lying on the couch with Nate. He’d settled down on it and taken me with him so I was tucked into his side, my head still resting on his chest and my right hand clutched in his left.

  ‘I’m sorry,’ I croaked out, my eyes swollen, my cheeks burning with embarrassment at my meltdown. Truth be told, I’d been going into a meltdown for the last few weeks as Thanksgiving approached. Much of the tension I was carrying had been coiled up tight as I tried to keep my meltdown from my father.

  ‘Don’t be. ’ Nate reassured me. ‘Why today, Liv?’

  ‘It’s Thanksgiving back home,’ I told him in a hushed voice, afraid somehow that if I spoke any louder I’d become hysterical again. ‘No matter how sick Mom was, she always fought through it for Thanksgiving, trying to make everything normal when it wasn’t. ’ My mouth trembled as fresh tears spilled down my cheeks. ‘She was my best friend. My soul mate. ’

  ‘Babe. ’ I heard the pained empathy in his voice and took comfort from it.

  ‘She died five years ago today, on Thanksgiving. It’s the first year since her death that I haven’t visited her grave. ’ I cried harder. ‘I don’t want her to think I’ve forgotten her. ’

  He held me tighter as I continued to cry, soaking the already wet fabric of his shirt.

  ‘Liv …’ Nate squeezed his arm around me. ‘Babe, she wouldn’t think that for a second. ’

  ‘I was with her through it all, Nate. ’ I wiped a hand across my snotty nose. ‘I missed out on being a kid, I left school, I did it all to help her fight. And we didn’t win. Her life … gone. My teen years … gone. It should have meant something. It should mean something. ’

  ‘It does mean something. She taught you to fight no matter how hopeless things look. That’s a lesson not many people can impart to their kids, but she did. She taught you to be brave, Liv, and she taught you life is fragile. People say that all the time, but they never really understand until one minute they’re laughing with someone they love and the next they’re crying over their grave. I get it. I get it because Alana taught me about it. I think about her every day, and she knows that I think about her every day. I don’t have to visit her grave for her to know that. ’

  Confused and concerned, my heart pounding harder than before, I wiped at my cheeks as I lifted my head from Nate’s chest to look into his eyes. ‘Alana?’

  Grief I’d never seen in his eyes before, telling of a loss so deep I felt it seep from him to me, darkened them to pure black. How he’d managed to hide it all these months I would never know. ‘Did Cam tell you we’re from Longniddry?’

  I nodded.

  ‘It’s just a wee place outside of Edinburgh. A pretty place on the coast. Cam, Peetie, Alana, and I grew up together. We were all best friends until we turned thirteen and a kid I didn’t like asked Alana out. I got really mad at her and we got into a fight. ’ He smiled softly, remembering. ‘I hated fighting with her. She was the gentlest girl. If you fought with her, she’d cry, and that just made you feel like shit. So we fought and she cried and I kissed her to say I was sorry. ’ He shrugged, then laughed hollowly. ‘That was it. We were together. Childhood sweethearts. ’

 

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