Tears welled up in her eyes as she crept up to the window, carefully peeking through the gap between the curtains. Five years earlier, Nathaniel had moved to her neighborhood and worked as a contracted employee in the same company she worked for. The two of them had quickly become good friends. She'd been married at the time, and he had been engaged. And, because they both had love in their lives, they never considered themselves anything more than good friends. But even this was startling for Elizabeth, who had a difficult time trusting or caring about anyone. Years of abuse as a child had made her very hesitant about letting herself open up to others.
Three years ago, Nathaniel called her up and informed her that he was leaving - he was transferring to another company, on the opposite end of the US. Elizabeth had been hurt and angry, and had decided to cut him off from her life. Every letter he sent was tossed, unopened, into a box in the closet. Every email was pulled over into a new folder and was left unread. Every call was left unanswered; every text saved but not replied to. After a few months, Nathaniel had stopped trying to reach her. And now, here he was, in a house just 30 feet from hers.
She continued to watch out the window, wrapped up in her thoughts. Suddenly, she saw him fall, dropping the boxes he had been carrying. Part of her wanted to go help him, but there was still some bitterness. Then she saw him struggle to stand, favoring his left leg. She sighed, took a deep breath, and slipped on her shoes.
"Need some help?"
Nathaniel stilled as he heard her voice. Elizabeth watched his shoulders move up slowly, then down again, as he took a deep breath.
“Lizzy,” Nathaniel slowly turned around to face the petite woman.
Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders. “You remember.” Only a trace of bitterness could be detected as she tried to lace the statement with sarcastic surprise. She picked up the boxes from the porch and opened the door, holding it with her shoulder. “Where do you want these?”
“You don’t have to…”
“Where do you want these, Nate?”
Nathaniel glared at Elizabeth for a moment, then let his shoulders relax. Pointing towards the far wall he finally replied, “Over by the other boxes.” Elizabeth nodded in confirmation and headed into the house, letting the door swing shut just as Nathaniel was about to walk through the doorway.
“Why are you here?” Elizabeth asked him when he finally made it into the house, still limping. She pointed towards the chair closest to him, “Sit.”
Obeying, Nathaniel settled into the chair before answering. “ISSA asked me to come back. Things aren’t working out in California, so since ISSA still had this house available, and a position available, here I am.”
“I see.” Elizabeth had removed his shoe and sock and was examining his foot. “Do you have an ice pack?”
Nathaniel shook his head. “I’m sure it’ll be fine.” He pulled his foot out of Elizabeth’s hands. “I haven’t quit in Cali yet; and I haven’t accepted ISSA’s offer.” He paused, assessing the look in Elizabeth’s face. “If you have a problem with me coming back…”
“Why would I care?” Elizabeth stood up, and didn’t wait for an answer. “Do you still have boxes in the car that need to be brought in?”
Nathaniel stood as well, putting his hands on her shoulders. “Maybe you don’t care, but I do.” Elizabeth lowered her gaze, stepping back from him slightly. He dropped his hands. “And yes, there is more to be brought in, but you don’t have to concern yourself with it.”
“So, where is Kathy?” Elizabeth changed the subject, heading towards the door.
“She left me.”
Elizabeth stopped in the doorway, turning to face him again. “I’m sorry to hear that,” she offered, then walked out the door, returning a few moments later with more boxes.
Nathaniel met her at the door, opening it for her. “And what about Erik? Won’t he get upset with you being over here in the middle of the night?”
Adding the boxes to the growing pile against the wall, she turned and faced Nathaniel. “He’s dead.” She paused. “And, it’s only seven in the evening. I’d hardly call that the middle of the night.”
As she tried to go outside to bring more boxes into the house, Nathaniel grabbed her arm. She pulled away, backing away from him. “What do you mean, he’s dead?”
“I’d have thought it was self-explanatory. He’s dead. Gone. Passed on.” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “Two years ago, he had a heart attack,” she explained.
Nathaniel reached out for her again, placing both hands on her shoulders. She didn’t fight this time. “Why didn’t you call me, Lizzy?”
“Why did you leave me, Nate?”
Nathaniel considered the question for a brief moment, then instead pulled the short slender woman closer to him, one hand sliding around behind her neck. She gazed up into his eyes with surprise, and was overcome with a slow heat, and a growing attraction. He lowered his head, his eyes still trained on hers as he lightly met her lips with his own.
A tremor flowed through Elizabeth as she took a step backward, gazing up into his intense dark eyes. She brought her hand up to the scruffy cheek, letting it rest there. A few years ago she remembered telling him how much she liked the short scruffy beard he had. That had been an understatement, she now realized. He looked sexy as hell with the beard, and the dark eyes that could see straight through her soul. His gaze made her feel as if he were actually touching her.
Slipping her hand behind his head, she pulled him back down to her lips again, this time parting them slightly, darting her tongue against his lips, her soft whimper coaxing him to part his lips also, giving her tongue access to explore. A groan escaped from deep in his throat as he kissed her harder, his own tongue slipping into the heat of her mouth, dancing against hers.
His other hand slid from behind her back, moving up her side, his thumb brushing over the underside of her breast. Elizabeth reacted by pressing her hips closer to Nathaniel as she whimpered into his kiss. His kiss could almost make her forget that he’d left her – that he hadn’t been here for her when she most needed him. Almost.
Dazed, Elizabeth pulled back from his embrace, dropping her hands from around him. She brought her hand up to her lips briefly, missing the feel of his.
“I… I have to go.” Elizabeth stuttered, turning to leave.
“Why do you always have to run away?” Nathaniel grabbed her elbow roughly, trying to stop her from leaving.
Elizabeth spun around to face him again, pulling her arm from his grasp, tears threatening to spill. She couldn’t find the words she wanted to say. “I’m sorry,” she managed to mutter.
Nathaniel shook his head. “Fine. Running is what you do best. Get out.” With that, he stormed off into his bedroom.
….. to be continued….