He walked to the patio doors.
I frowned, feeling a drumbeat starting inside me. Slow but strong, it was building, and I didn’t know why. I didn’t know what was happening.
He came in, closed the door, and moved to sit next to me on the couch. He wasn’t touching me, and he wasn’t turned to face me. He was sitting there, and he leaned back. Then he spoke to the room, “I’m someone who feels emotions. I do, but they aren’t strong. And I know that’s not normal, but that’s me. It’s just how I am. I guess. Maybe I made myself numb, or this is just how I’m built. I’m telling you this because when I do feel things, I know they’re important.” He expelled a small pocket of air. “You don’t know this, or maybe you do because of Mallone’s file, but when I was younger, my parents worried about the influence Mason would have on me. He was angry, and he had reason to be. Me, I wasn’t as angry. Not then. I was more of a go-with-the-flow kind of friend, but my parents didn’t trust me. So they shipped me off. They shipped all of us off. Myself. My sister. My brother.”
I frowned. I had read about the brother in the file, but hearing it from Nate came with more context. I wanted to hear this from him.
“It wasn’t immediate, but my parents decided they wanted to get back to making movies. We got shipped to a boarding school in Canada, and I kinda lost myself for a while. I was mad at my parents because we didn’t have a lot of problems before that. Or I didn’t think we did. Maybe we did, and they never registered with me, but they created the problem. I remember thinking that and just getting so mad because they decided who I should see or talk to or who I shouldn’t. For a year there, I could only focus on getting back to my friends. It wasn’t really just to see my friends. It was more a ‘fuck you’ to my parents. Like, you tell me who you don’t want me to see? Then that’s all I’ll go and see then.” A short laugh, one that sounded bitter, came from him. “I lost sight of my own family during those years. When I was of age, I went back to Fallen Crest, and things had changed in my friend group. The dynamics were different. I was pushed out, somewhat, and yeah… that’s who I had fought my parents so hard to get back to? I don’t know. I was angry and confused, and I didn’t know who I was mad at. Mason or my parents? I think I was just mad at myself.” A pause.
A deep breath.
He said, “And then my brother died.”
My stomach twisted.
I teared up for him.
“I wasn’t there when he died. I wasn’t there when my sister was struggling. I didn’t even know about her struggles. I shut my parents out, so in essence, they shut me out. I had no idea…” His voice cracked. “I wasn’t altogether “in” with my friends, and I really wasn’t “in” with my family anymore. I was on this lost island, and I had no idea how I got myself there. It took a few years until I got things right on the friend's side. It took longer with my family, a lot longer.”
“You and Aspen seem so close now.”
“We are, but I had to work at that, too. My parents dropped the ball on a lot of things. Call it selfishness or workaholics or … I don’t know. They tried to make things better with me a few years ago, but too much damage was done. I more wanted them to shape up for Aspen. I guess I’m saying all this because there have been pockets in my life when I felt things. Hurt. Anger. Loss. Confusion. Concern. But not love.” He turned to me, his eyes so clear, so piercing. “When I saw Nova, I loved her immediately and I knew she was mine. I just knew. It was instant. I love my parents. I love my sister. I love my friends. But none of them touch what I feel for Nova.” Another pause and his eyes growing even more somber. “Or you.”
I sucked in my breath, feeling a pain in there.
“You both are different from the rest. You’re more. Nova is everything to me. Everything, but you—you are, too. I want you beside me. I want to walk with you. I want to hand Nova off to you. I want to laugh with you. I want to help fix dinners with you, for you. I want to take care of you. I want to protect you. I want to touch you. Hold you. Hug you. Fuck you hard. Fuck you slow. I want to put my claim on you so permanently that no one else will look at you. They’ll just know you’re mine. You and Nova are my family, and it’s a real type of family, more real than I’ve ever felt before.” He choked up, raking a hand over his face. “I’m not someone who knows their feelings right away or knows how to articulate them. I’m just not like that, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel it. When I got that call that you were hit by a car, the world shifted for me. Everything went clear. You. Nova. You both are mine, and that’s how it is. I need you in my life. I need you with me, and I’ve never told you that. I was waiting until you were ready, and then I think I overshot, and you were ready long before I told you. That doesn’t even make sense to me, but I feel like it does to you? Maybe?”
I reached out for him, needing to touch him.
He was giving me the world. He had taken it, wrapped a bow around it, filled it with love, and he was holding it to me with the palm of his hand.
I sat up, kneeling, and then I crawled over to him.
He caught my wine—the wineglass I forgot I had in my hand—and laughed, setting it on the stand beside him. Then he reached over, his hands went under my arms, and he lifted me onto his lap. I turned, my legs sliding down so I was straddling him, my blanket and all.
He framed my face, his thumbs rubbing over my cheeks. “I love you, Quincey Royas. I would like you to be Nova’s mother and my wife for the rest of our lives.”
A gargle came out of me.
“Are you proposing to me?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” He was scanning my face, my eyes, falling to my mouth. Lingering on my mouth, he groaned. “I just need you, and I can’t lose you. I love you. I love you so much.”
Warmth burst in me. That throbbing increased. The drumbeat needing to feel him.
“I love you, too, Nathaniel.”
He groaned, grinning. “Only you can call me that. We need to make that clear to everyone else. That’s Quincey’s name.”
I reached up, catching his wrists because he needed to hear this back from me. “You have to know that I love you, too. Everything you said, I’m the same. Nova is my life. I want you to be in there with me, beside me. I want to love you, and take care of you, and protect you. And I will. I promise. Side by side, Nate.”