Before jamaica lane, p.32
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       Before Jamaica Lane, p.32
 

         Part #3 of On Dublin Street series by Samantha Young
Page 32

  ‘Nope. ’ Nathan shook his head. ‘Once Andy realized what had happened, he went back to find them but they were gone. I went looking every weekend for a while, but I never found the group of surfers again. ’

  I tutted. ‘That’s cold, Nate. ’

  ‘Hey –’ He pointed his finger at me. ‘I’m not a complete shit. I realized later that night that it was a stupid bloody idea and I felt awful. ’

  ‘Felt awful?’ Nathan harrumphed. ‘You cried your eyes out. ’

  I pinched my lips together to keep from laughing.

  Nate scowled. ‘Manly tears. Manly tears of regret. ’

  ‘I take it getting another dog was out of the question?’ I teased.

  Sylvie chuckled. ‘We were afraid what he’d trade it in for. ’

  Slapping his hands on his knees, Nate ignored our laughing and stood up. ‘Right, if you’re done torturing me, I’m going to show Liv the prison you guys kept me in for eighteen years. ’ He tugged on my hand, pulling me out of my seat and I grinned conspiratorially at his parents as I let him lead me back into the house.

  The prison was in fact his bedroom. And it wasn’t a prison. It was just a typical teenager’s room. Posters of indie bands on the wall, books and comics still scattered here and there. My eyes looked past the dark blue walls and dark blue comforter on the queen bed and shot straight to the photographs. It was clear that from an early age Nate liked to take photos. There were some beautiful shots of Longniddry and the beach, but mostly shots of his parents and lots of his friends. I grinned, seeing younger versions of him, Cam, and Peetie fooling around … at the beach mostly.

  As I moved from one picture to the next, a girl started to appear in most of them and my heart pounded as Nate leaned quietly against the doorway and let me look my fill. Finally my eyes dropped to the one photograph that he’d actually framed. It sat on his bedside table. I sat down on the bed and reached for it, a crack of pain lancing through my chest.

  It was the same girl.

  She was sitting on a low brick wall, and her long strawberry blond hair blew out behind her as she squinted against the sun, smiling into the camera. She was small, pale and slender with fine, delicate features and a beautiful smile. Wearing a white summer dress, she looked like the angel Nate had described.

  Somehow I found my voice. ‘Alana?’

  When Nate didn’t answer, I glanced up from the picture in my hands and he nodded, taking a step inside the room. ‘Alana. ’

  I put the photograph back where I’d found it and whispered sincerely, ‘She was beautiful, Nate. ’

  ‘I took that picture just a few weeks before we found out about the lymphoma. ’

  Struggling to find something to say, I asked, my voice quiet, ‘Does her family still live here?’

  ‘Yes. ’ He walked toward me. Sitting down beside me, he stared at the wall opposite us, where lots of pictures of her were pinned. My own gaze fell on one that someone else had taken. A gangly-limbed teen version of Nate, boyish but no less handsome, was standing behind the young Alana, his arms wrapped around her waist. She leaned back against him, her hands clutching at his arms, holding them to her. They both were smiling. Seeming so happy. So innocent.

  They had no idea what was coming for them.

  Choking back tears, I hurriedly glanced away from the picture, unable to rid myself of the burn in my chest.

  ‘Aye, her family still lives here. I don’t have anything to do with them. ’

  ‘Why?’

  Nate shrugged moodily, his eyes narrowing in thought. ‘I spent most of Alana’s childhood providing her with a safe place away from her stepdad. ’

  ‘Did he hit her?’

  ‘No. We could have done something about that. No, it was emotional and verbal abuse. All the time. He did the same to her mum, and her mum just let it happen. When Alana was diagnosed, it stopped. He distanced himself. But the damage was done. Alana was quiet and unsure, and she could never stand up for herself. I was always fighting her battles. He did that to her. And her mum let him. I’d say Alana was meek, but the courage she showed when she was dying … She was brave in the way that matters. When she died, I washed my hands of her parents. ’

  I rubbed his shoulder in comfort. ‘Alana was lucky to have you. ’

  He smiled softly, his expression far away. ‘We had this spot on the beach, near the golf club, where we’d meet when she was having a bad day because of him. We’d just sit. ’ He shrugged. ‘Just sit in this perfect silence. She didn’t need me to say anything to her. She just needed me beside her. It made me feel like I had purpose. ’

  The tears were choking me again so I couldn’t say anything.

  When he looked up at me, his expression softened at the shimmer of unshed tears in my eyes. ‘I never slept with her,’ he told me gruffly.

  Surprise slackened my features and Nate laughed humorlessly. ‘We were both virgins. Can you believe it?’

  ‘You? No,’ I answered honestly.

  ‘Alana’s mother was devoutly Catholic. Alana didn’t believe in sex before marriage. ’

  ‘That’s such a rare principle these days. ’

  His mouth quirked up at the corner. ‘She was a rare girl. ’

  ‘An angel. ’

  ‘Aye, an angel. ’ His grin got a little cocky now. ‘Not an angel all the way through. We messed around a lot, but I didn’t push her for more. I only wanted what she wanted to give me. Then she got sick. It wasn’t until about three months after she died that Peetie and Cam decided I’d been wallowing enough. They took me into the city, got me shit-faced, and I went back to a flat with this French exchange student and got laid. It was so easy. It was free of feeling. It was free of everything. ’ His gaze turned intense now, his eyes searching my face. ‘And that works for me, Liv. ’

  I felt like he was making a point and with his point the crack in my chest split open until there was a gaping hole over my heart. Attempting to hide how much he’d unintentionally hurt me, I smirked and said, ‘As does having clueless friends who recruit you for help that involves free and easy sex. ’

  No sex is free, Soda Pop.

  I flinched inwardly.

  Nate gave me an unfathomable look. It slowly turned into an answering smirk.

  ‘Speaking of –’ I bit my lip nervously. ‘I think Cole knows what we’re up to, thanks to you feeling me up last night. ’

  Confusion clouded his features. ‘When?’

  ‘You touched my ass in the kitchen when you came through for snacks. Cole caught the whole thing. ’

  Nate’s brow cleared. ‘Och, I’m sure Cole doesn’t think anything of it. He knows I’m a flirt. ’

  I had actually thought the same thing myself, but hearing him say it – the suggestion that I was no more special than a random woman he’d meet at a bar – was a lash across the wound he’d opened in my chest. The angry pain it elicited caused me to speak without thinking. More like use ‘a tone’ without thinking: ‘Does he see you flirting with other women a lot?’

  I was rewarded with a blank look. ‘That sounds suspiciously like the accusation of a jealous girlfriend. ’ He got up off the bed and headed toward the door.

  The blank look, the casual way he blew me off, lit an angry fire under my ass.

  ‘Don’t flatter yourself,’ I snapped, hurrying past him. I took the stairs two at a time.

  Sylvie caught me making my way to the bathroom, where I was hoping to take a minute to collect myself. Openly concerned by the thunderous expression on my face, she asked me if I was all right and I reassured her quickly, hearing Nate’s footsteps coming down the stairs.

  For the rest of the day there was a strain between us. While I laughed and joked with his parents, I avoided his eyes and spoke to him only when the conversation forced me to do so.

  We’d finished up dinner and spent hours chatting into the evening when things took an even more awkward turn.
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  Nathan smiled at me, relaxed and seemingly content. ‘It’s so good to see Nate with such a lovely girl, Olivia. ’

  ‘Dad, Liv’s just a friend,’ Nate replied, a warning note in his tone that hurt me, and clearly made his parents uncomfortable.

  His dad shot him a dirty look. I thought he was going to reprimand him for being rude, but instead his expression softened and he reached for his beer. That seemed to be the end of it, until he took a sip and then quietly said, ‘I’m not blind. ’

  Awkward.

  Nate got us the hell out of there.

  I hugged his parents good-bye, wishing I could stay with them while Nate hoofed it back to the rental by himself. He had such a good family, such a happy family, and I knew he appreciated it. This, unfortunately, was a catalyst for my growing lack of understanding. When he had two parents who loved him and each other, when he could see what was possible … why didn’t he want the same things for himself? Alana was haunting him, preventing him from moving on, but he was letting her. He was actively holding her specter up as a shield against …

  Well …

  Me.

  The car pulled away from Nathan and Sylvie’s, and I stubbornly faced away from Nate, my cheek pressed against the cool glass of the passenger window. My eyes followed the smattering of stars in the dark sky and I did my best to control my breathing so I didn’t sound as nervous as I felt. Nate and I had never argued before. Not seriously, anyway.

  To my surprise we didn’t take the route back to the rental. Instead Nate kept driving, taking roads I didn’t recognize, until finally he pulled off into a dark, empty parking lot surrounded by the tall yellow grass of the sand dunes. I could hear the waves crashing ashore beyond the dunes.

  Reluctantly, I turned to him as he pulled to a stop. ‘What are you doing?’

  He eyed me warily. ‘Earlier you said you wanted to go to the beach. ’

  ‘But won’t the tide be in?’

  ‘Low tide at this time of night. ’ He abruptly got out of the car, not waiting for my answer.

  I got out too, shivering in the cool salt air. My eyes followed him as he made his way toward the sand dunes, but I didn’t move. The slumped line of his shoulders got to me, and when he turned, the moonlight caught something in his eyes that looked like defeat. And I hated that he felt that way. No matter how mad I was at him.

  ‘Nate, what is it?’

  Sucking in a huge breath, he shook his head, stuffing his hands in his jeans pockets as he stared off into the distance.

  ‘Nate?’

  My heart was pounding so hard.

  ‘I feel like I’m disappointing him. ’

  I tensed. ‘Who?’

  His eyes came back to me. ‘Dad. ’

  ‘Why?’

  ‘He’s not a man who fucks around with people, Liv. He’s always been steadfast. Loyal. He knows how I treat women, and he doesn’t like it. ’

  ‘ “Treat women”? Nate, it’s not like you’re awful to women. You just go through a lot of them. And you …’ I squeezed my hands behind my back in an effort to curb the pain. ‘You never make them any promises. ’

  ‘Don’t,’ he whispered hoarsely. ‘I’ve hurt women by not giving a shit what happens after I’ve fucked them. Let’s not pretend I’m something I’m not. ’

  My blood heated. ‘If you don’t like what you’re doing, then stop it. Your dad isn’t disappointed in you, Nate. He loves you and he’s proud of you. That’s plain to anyone who spends time with the two of you. He just wants you to move on. And you know what?’ I threw my hands up. ‘Maybe he’s right. Maybe it’s time to move on from Alana. Find a nice girl. Settle down. ’

  It was the wrong thing to say.

  Nate’s lip curled as he eyed me disdainfully. ‘And what? I find a nice girl and you finally fuck the unwitting Benjamin – Library Boy?’

 
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