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|Before Jamaica Lane(On Dublin Street #3)(70) by Samantha Young|
My eyes narrowed. ‘I thought you didn’t like Nate.’
‘I didn’t. Until you told me all those things about him.’
‘He was very young when he lost that girl,’ Dad interrupted, pushing his plate away and leaning toward me conspiratorially. ‘I can’t imagine how difficult it is to go through the loss of a woman you love at such a young age. But I can understand how it might paralyze you. Nate never got a chance to experience enough of life to learn how to put loss into perspective. Or the fear of loss even. He might just need time.’
Not surprised by my dad’s understanding and empathy, I placed my hand over his, my heart hurting. ‘Dad, even if Nate turned around tomorrow and told me that he wanted to give us a chance … I’d say no.’
‘I thought you loved him.’
‘I do. I’m very much in love with him. But he won’t ever allow himself to love me the way he loved Alana. She was his big love. I want to be someone’s big love, Dad. I think I deserve to have the man I love love me back just as much.’
Saturday afternoon I met Ben and his adorable niece outside the Omni Centre. Zoe was a bundle of excited energy and Ben looked more than a little relieved to see me. He had this permanent crease in his forehead, which I would soon learn had come from listening to Zoe talk on and on about her painful decision to demote a certain world-famous boy band to the status of her second-favorite band, in favor of this new, cooler band that had just hit the charts.
I could speak boy band, since I went through my own boy-band phase until I hit thirteen, so I listened attentively to Zoe as we walked into the cinema together. As she hemmed and hawed over what kind of candy she wanted, Ben squeezed my shoulders and murmured, ‘Thank you,’ in my ear in a way that I felt across my skin.
I smiled, feeling relief that maybe, just maybe, I could get over Nate after all.
The movie was as bad as Ben and I thought it would be, but Zoe loved it and was giggling and singing as we walked out of the theater. With the innocence of the young, Zoe took my hand and her uncle’s hand too, walking between us so we made a picture of the perfect family.
It was more than awkward for me, since Ben and I still didn’t know each other that well, but when I caught his mischievous grin I knew he didn’t feel awkward at all. In fact, I got the feeling he was enjoying himself. My suspicious side wondered if this had been a ploy from the beginning. Had good old boy Ben gotten a little sick of waiting on me to call him for a date and decided to move things along faster?
I squeezed Zoe’s hand but shook my head at Ben as we strolled up the street toward McDonald’s, where we’d promised to take Zoe for lunch.
‘Using your niece to turn this into a date?’ I semi-whispered over Zoe’s singing.
Ben laughed at me. ‘I did no such thing.’
‘Oh, you did too.’ I rolled my eyes. ‘You knew the adorableness of this situation would tug at me.’
Ben threw his head back in laughter, causing Zoe to stare up at us and ask, ‘What’s going on?’
Before I could explain in a bumbling fashion, a very familiar voice froze me to the spot.
The three of us stopped, our hands still clasped, and stared at Nate, who’d come to a halt on the sidewalk in front of us. People pushed past us in irritation, swerving around us as we just stared at one another. I took in his unshaven face, his messy hair squashed under a beanie, and the dark circles that were still under his eyes since last we’d seen each other. My heart flipped over painfully in my chest.
It flipped even harder when the color leached from Nate’s cheeks as he processed the sight of me with Benjamin and Zoe.
‘Ben, this is Nate. Nate, this is Ben and his niece, Zoe.’
‘Hi!’ Zoe chirped.
Nate, the inherent charmer, would usually have flashed his dimples at her adorableness and responded to her. But something was happening to him as he looked from me to Ben to Zoe to our hands clasped tightly together. There was something akin to horror in his expression.
‘Nate?’ I whispered, taking a step toward him.
‘I, eh, I …’ His eyes caught mine now, his chest rising and falling in shallow breaths. ‘I …’ He lifted a shaking hand.
‘Excuse me.’ He pushed past us and strode down the sidewalk as if the hounds of hell were nipping at his heels.
I stared after him, hating that I was worried for him as I wondered what the heck had just happened to him.
‘Well, I’m guessing there’s a story there,’ Ben said softly.
‘Do you fancy telling me about it?’
I glanced down at Zoe, whose head swung from one to the other of us in confusion. ‘Not really.’
‘Okay, that’s fair enough. But how about we put whatever that was behind us and go to McDonald’s, eat some processed food, and then I’ll persuade you to accompany me to my cousin’s wedding. As a date.’
Reeling, I could only stare at him.
Zoe’s excited laughter and jerk on my hand pulled me out of my daze. ‘Say yes! I’m Flower Girl. I want you to see my dress.’
I threw Ben a dirty look as his mouth twitched in amusement. ‘You are an evil genius.’
I didn’t understand what had gone through Nate’s head when he saw me with Ben and Zoe, but what I did know was that he wanted to talk about it. I knew this because he started calling me. Now I felt like I was continually icing the injury he’d left me with.
That very night he called me. When I didn’t answer he sent me a text, asking me to call him back. The next day he called me. He left a voice mail, which I refused to listen to. He called me the day after that. And thus began a daily dose of Nate.
So many times I had to catch myself. I wanted to pick up. I wanted to pick up because he was obviously sorry he’d hurt me. I got it. I understood. However, it didn’t change anything. It didn’t change the fact that being around him was too hard.
So I decided to go to the wedding with Ben that next Saturday.
Seemingly a staple of every Scottish wedding, the Proclaimers filled the wedding tent with their promises while I sat huddled beside Ben at our table. I’d told him countless times to go off and mingle with his family, but he’d told me that the whole point of bringing a stranger to the wedding was to have an excuse not to have to do that.