Chapter Twenty Four
Saturday night arrived faster than I had anticipated. One second it was Thursday evening and I was studying for my history test, the next we were leaving for Lindsey's show in an hour and Felicity was asking me what she should wear.
"Whichever," I said, glancing at the two skirts she was having me compare. Her hands dropped to her sides and she rolled her eyes.
"You're so helpful," she muttered sarcastically.
She slipped on a short, dark blue skirt over her black tights and turned to look at herself in the mirror.
"Are you going to change soon?" she asked, glancing at my outfit in the mirror.
"Actually, I was going to just wear this," I said, gesturing to my ratty sweatpants and old, gray t-shirt.
For a moment Felicity looked like her eyes were going to fall out of her head. Then I grinned at her and she narrowed her eyes.
"Very funny," she said. "But really, what are you going to wear?"
I shrugged, glancing out our bedroom window at the slowly darkening street. A bird sat on top of Nathaniel's front gate next door. After a moment it fluttered away, out of my sight.
"I haven't thought about it," I said honestly, turning to look at her. She was taking off the shirt she had put on a few minutes ago in favor of another one lying on the ground.
"Well you might want to start thinking about it. We're leaving pretty soon."
I glanced at my watch. "We have an hour," I corrected her.
Felicity appeared not to hear me as she checked her reflection again. She turned to the side and then turned around and looked at herself over her shoulder. She grimaced and stripped off that shirt as well, opening our dresser and rummaging through it to find something else to wear.
I spared one more look out the window before I stood up and stretched.
"I'm going to take a shower," I told Felicity. She nodded, but kept her eyes firmly on the dresser as she rifled through it.
Fifteen minutes later I got a shock as I stepped out of the bathroom in nothing but a towel to find Felicity leaning against the wall outside.
"About time," she grumbled, pushing past me into the bathroom, leaving the door open.
I moved to the bedroom, getting dressed slowly in the hope that by the time I was done Felicity would be out of the bathroom and I could avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, after dawdling for five minutes after my clothes were on I decided I could do nothing more.
I walked back to the bathroom, finding the door still ajar and Felicity applying makeup.
I knocked on the open door and she looked over at me, an eyeliner pencil in one hand. "Can I come in?"
She nodded, setting down the pencil and smearing the edge of her upper eyelid slightly with a finger. She leaned away from the mirror for the full effect and smiled contently.
I took out the blow-dryer and turned it on, expecting Felicity to leave now that she was done with her makeup. She hesitated however, watching as I began to dry my hair.
After a minute I glanced over at her and shut off the blow-dryer. "Yes?" I asked.
Felicity hesitated before she blew out a breath and took the dryer out of my hand. "Let me," she said.
She turned it back on and proceeded to dry my hair, getting out a round brush to style it in a way I could only envy.
She stepped back when she was done, turning off the machine and looking pleased with herself. "Very good," she said.
"Thanks," I said, running my fingers through my hair.
Felicity shrugged. "You're welcome. At least this way you won't look like you wandered into the store from your cardboard box house."
My gratitude diminished significantly as she stalked out of the bathroom and Aunt Sarah called that it was time to go from downstairs. I took a last look at myself in the mirror and turned off the light, following in Felicity's footsteps as she descended the stairs and joined Aunt Sarah and Uncle Dean at the front door.
"Are we ready to go?" Dean asked irritably as he adjusted the collar of his white dress shirt.
"Yes I think so," Sarah replied. "Let's go."
We all loaded into the minivan and pulled out of the driveway. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Felicity's head turn toward Nathaniel's house as we passed it before snapping forward again. I pretended I hadn't noticed as we drove toward the city, cruising through other neighborhoods and deserted roads until we finally headed down Main Street and Uncle Dean parked the car along the road a little ways away from Lindsey's brightly lit shop.
"Oh I'm so excited, this will be so much fun," Aunt Sarah gushed as we got out of the car. "It's too bad that we couldn't go out to dinner afterwards, though. Margaret said the new Italian restaurant was just great, but I think it will be too late by the time the exhibition ends. I mean, obviously we don't have to stay the entire time but even so…"
She trailed off as we reached the glass door to Lindsey's shop. It was a large store, with lights trained on the pictures hanging on the walls and beams. In the store window there were a few landscapes, but even more portraits.
"She really is quite talented isn't she?" Sarah commented as she, Uncle Dean and Felicity entered the store. I paused outside the threshold, not quite able enter. Finally, after I had moved aside to let in a stern looking man and a woman with light blonde hair, I decided I couldn't delay much longer.
I entered the shop, getting a closer look at the pictures I had only gotten a glimpse of outside. Most of the pictures were of people I didn't know, yet some of them I recognized, and I realized that Felicity had been right. It seemed as if many of Ilene's friends had had there pictures taken by Lindsey.
I glanced around and noticed that the place was already pretty full, even though we had arrived relatively early. Felicity was nearby chatting with a few friends, while Uncle Dean and Aunt Sarah were talking to each other on the other side of the room, saying hi to the people they knew as they passed.
I was just heading toward a black and white picture of an older couple when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and was met with Ilene's happy face, her long red hair pulled back into a chic ponytail.
"Hey," she said, leaning forward to give me a hug.
I hugged her back halfheartedly and smiled. "Hi."
"How are you? When did you get here?" she asked.
"I'm good, and we just arrived a few minutes ago."
"Oh so you haven't had a chance to look at any of the pictures yet?" she asked.
I shook my head. "Not yet."
"Well, I guess I'll leave you to it. Mom will be so happy you could make it. I've got to go find her and tell her you're here. I think she was talking with Mrs. Reese last I saw." She stuck her tongue out and rolled her eyes back. "Bitch. But whatever. Anyway—."
I cut her off abruptly. "—wait," I said. "Mrs. Reese. Isn't that...?"
"Nathaniel's mom? Yeah. Mr. Reese is somewhere around here too."
I looked at her uncertainly. "Not to be nosy or anything, but Nathaniel's coming. Isn't that going to cause some…tension?"
Ilene shook her head, looking pleased. "Normally it would, but mom is still friends with Mrs. Reese so she told her and Mr. Reese to come earlier, when the place was less crowded. Then she talked to Nathaniel and told him to come later. There you have it. Viola. Crisis averted—."
She stopped and I saw her eyes fix on something over my shoulder. I turned around and watched as Nathaniel stepped through the door, hands deep in the pockets of his black jacket with a gray scarf around his neck. Ilene immediately brushed past me and went up to him.
I watched as she pulled him aside and spoke to him quickly. She seemed surprised, and a little confused, yet Nathaniel's face remained impassive and unconcerned.
I turned away when I saw Felicity detach herself from her friends and walk up to Nathaniel and Ilene as well. I wasn't sure how much she knew about Nathaniel and his family but something told me it wasn't much.
I was just making to head toward the photos again when, again, someone grabbed my attention. This time it was Peter.
"Hey," he said, grinning broadly. "How are you?"
"Fine. Just…enjoying the artwork."
Peter's eyes slid past me and I knew he wasn't really listening. "Yeah…yeah that's good. They're nice, aren't they?" he asked unconcernedly.
I nodded, thinking that I could probably slip away and he wouldn't even notice, despite the fact that I was standing right in front of him.
"Yeah, they're great. At least I think they are, I haven't gotten much of a chance to look around," I said.
Peter nodded, his eyes still focused on my sister. "Yeah, definitely."
I rolled my eyes. "Just go talk to her if you want to," I said.
That caught his attention. His eyes flicked back to me and one of his dark eyebrows rose. "What? You're saying that it would be OK if I went and talked to her?" He scrunched up his eyes and cupped a hand around his ear. "What's that I hear? Huh…it sounds a bit like hell is freezing over."
I rolled my eyes again but couldn't stop myself from smiling. "Maybe. Or maybe I just want you to act like a fully-functioning human being when she's in the room."
He shrugged. "Maybe later. Right now she's talking with her boyfriend."
I glanced over my shoulder and saw that Ilene had departed and Felicity and Nathaniel were standing and talking together. While he had looked unconcerned before, now he was looking agitated. His hair was far messier than it had been minutes before and I got the impression that he had run his hands through it a few times. Felicity as well was looking annoyed, even verging on angry.
I looked toward Peter and saw that he had followed my gaze and was wearing a slightly smug expression. "Trouble in paradise," he said quietly.
"Maybe. Going to make a move?" I asked.
He sighed, looking far more at ease than I had seen him in a while. "Later. But for now, let's enjoy the photos."
We wandered toward the outer walls, and finally I got a chance to look at the pictures. They were all beautiful and simple. More landscapes were peppered here and there, but it was obvious that Lindsey's forte was photographing people.
There were people of all ages, shapes, genders, races, everything you could think of. They were all standing in front of neutral backgrounds, simply interacting with each other and the camera.
It wasn't until Peter and I had walked deeper into the store that I finally saw a picture of someone I knew quite well. It was one of just Nathaniel that must have been taken after we had taken photos together, or maybe even on another day after that.
He was looking right at the camera, his head cocked slightly to the side and his hands deep in his pockets in his signature pose. I couldn't help myself from looking at this photo longer than the others and this fact didn't go unnoticed by Peter.
"Seems like we both have something to gain by their loss," he said.
I glanced at him and moved on, not sparing another glance for the picture. I didn't answer him and Peter didn't ask me anything else as we moved on.
We meandered down the line a little farther, moving around other people viewing the pictures or just standing around and socializing. I was busy watching the man and woman who had entered the store just before me when Peter said something. The woman looked familiar to me yet I couldn't place where I had seen her before.
"Elsa," Peter said. I turned to him quickly.
"Sorry, what?" I asked.
He gestured to the picture in front of us and I looked up to see myself peering back at me.
"I said that this one is nice," he repeated.
I shrugged. "Thanks."
It was a picture from the first day of shooting, where it was just me by myself. I wasn't doing anything particularly interesting, though Lindsey must have found the picture moving enough to put it up along with everything else. I wasn't looking right at the camera, but somewhere to the left of it, looking a bit uncomfortable.
We kept walking farther into the large room, passing more pictures of myself and Nathaniel, mostly by ourselves but with a few of us together thrown in.
After a while Peter wandered off to talk to his brother and I was left alone to look around the shop. It was so much bigger than it appeared from the outside, and I had barely just gotten through about half the pictures when Peter left.
I wasn't expecting it when someone grabbed my arm and turned me away from a picture of an old, white, Victorian style house. I came face to face with Felicity, who was looking extremely upset.
"Where have you been?" she asked angrily. "I've been looking for you everywhere."
"I'm sorry, I've just—."
"—never mind. Just come with me."
She kept a firm grip on my arm and dragged me back, through the gallery until she finally reached a door to what I assumed to be Lindsey's office. She opened the door as surely as if she owned the place and then pulled me inside, turning on a light as she did so.
She pushed the door closed and walked farther into the room, leaning against a far wall next to an old filing cabinet.
"El…" she said.
I leaned tentatively against Lindsey's desk that was pushed against the wall across from Felicity and looked at her.
"What?" I asked.
She looked down at her shoes and crossed her arms over her chest. After a minute I saw something drop from her face and onto her arm. She looked up at me and I saw the tears starting to trail down her face.
"Fee…" I began, totally surprised. I didn't get much farther than that however, because Felicity crossed the room and put her arms around me before I could finish.
I hugged her back hesitantly, feeling her tears seep through the shoulder of my shirt.
"What's wrong?" I asked, and I heard her sniffle wetly.
"He broke up with me…." she said thickly.
I felt myself stiffen and I heard myself say "I'm sorry," even while a voice in my head was saying something completely different.
I closed my eyes and patted Felicity's back as she continued to cry into my shoulder. Finally, she pulled away and smiled sheepishly at me, wiping her eyes.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Your shirt…." She gestured to it but I just shrugged.
Felicity shook her head and then looked around at the office. She moved to the wall she had been standing against earlier and opened a door there.
"Bathroom," she explained to me. "I'm just going to freshen up."
I nodded and she closed the door behind her. I leaned back against the desk and put my head in my hands. "What a mess," I said to myself.
I don't know how long Felicity was in the bathroom before I heard a door open. I looked up, but I found the door to the restroom still firmly closed. Before I had a chance to look around, something blocked my line of sight.
I tried to step back but I was already leaning against the desk as it was. I looked up and felt my eyebrows rise at the sight of Nathaniel's face. He was closer to me than he had been in months and I wasn't sure how I felt about it.
"I've been looking for you," he said.
"Well…here I am."
He licked his lips and closed his eyes briefly. "Elsa…I have to know…." He stopped, took a breath and then opened his eyes. "But I can't keep doing this."
I just looked at him, confused.
"Tell me the truth," he said. The deep brown of his eyes seemed different than normal—more faceted, with more depths of shades. "Tell me the answer to what I asked you on Thursday."
"What?" I asked.
He took a step back, away from me. "What do you want? Tell me. Right now. And tell me the truth. Just tell me and I promise I'll never ask again."
He didn't look nervous or even angry. He seemed calm really, and almost defiant, like he didn't care either way what my answer was.
"I want…a lot of things," I said, but Nathaniel just shook his head.
I sighed. "I want…my sister to be happy; I want to make my parents proud, I want my aunt and uncle to be able to look at me and not be worried about how I'm holding up." Again Nathaniel shook his head and I felt myself grow angry.
"What do you want for yourself?" he asked.
"What do you want from me?" I asked instead. "Or better still, what do you want for yourself, Nathaniel?"
Despite my irritation, he still seemed completely at ease. "What do I want?" he asked casually. "I want my family back, I want my brother to be alive, and I want my grandmother to make amends with her son. And then you already know about the last thing."
"Really? And what's that?"
"You," he said. "I can't put it more plainly and I won't try to."
I looked away, rubbing my eyes. I didn't know what I was feeling, let alone what to say. Luckily—or unluckily as the case may be—the door to Lindsey's bathroom opened and Felicity stepped out slowly.
Nathaniel turned at the creak of the door and I think he was nearly as surprised as I was. I had forgotten about her, totally and completely, since Nathaniel had entered the room, and it was clear by the look on her face that she had heard everything.
After a moment I took a step forward. "Felicity…"
She held up a hand and I stopped moving and talking immediately.
"I can't believe this," she said. "How long has this been going on?"
Nathaniel sighed. "Nothing has been going on," he said.
Felicity just shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe this!" she said angrily. "Especially from you, Elsa. God you're my sister…you're my family, my only family! And this is what you do to me? You're not just my sister—you're my twin."
"Felicity. You're overreacting," I said. "Nothing happened while you two were dating."
"While we were dating?" she said.
I looked down, realizing a second later that this move probably confirmed my guilt to her, especially when I glanced back up and saw her staring at me with wide eyes.
"Oh God…." She put her hands in her hair and Nathaniel stepped forward, but Felicity just backed up a step, pressing her back against the wall.
"Listen, let me—." I broke off when I heard a door open yet again.
All three of us looked up as Lindsey entered her office along with the man I had seen earlier.
"No of course," Lindsey was saying. "You'll have to remind me which ones you wanted to buy but…" she trailed off when she saw the people already standing in her office.
"Elsa, Felicity, N…Nathaniel." She stumbled over his name a bit and I glanced at him, seeing that his face, which had been so serene earlier, looked distraught and more like a frightened child than I'd ever seen it before.
I looked at the man Lindsey was with and something clicked in my brain. I glanced between the two men, noting the similarities in height, the same straight, strong nose, same stature.
"Lindsey, I think I'll just buy those pictures later, all right?" Mr. Reese said coolly.
Lindsey looked hesitant and her eyes flicked to Nathaniel for the barest moment before settling again on Mr. Reese.
"Well, Ben, you know I can't really hold pictures and if you try to buy them later I might not be able to sell them to you," she said slowly. "Besides, there's no reason you shouldn't buy them now. It'll just take a minute."
Mr. Reese turned to Lindsey. "That's all right. Thank you, but I think I'll be going now."
He turned toward the door, but before he could open it, Nathaniel had moved and pressed himself against it. Lindsey seemed frozen in place and I wasn't sure what would come next, but I knew it wouldn't be anything good.
Mr. Reese's lips pursed and his jaw tightened. "Move, boy," he said.
Nathaniel's eyes grew a little wider, and I wondered when the last time he talked to his father was. He shook his head. "No."
"Move out of my way or I'll force you," he said coolly.
Lindsey stepped forward.
"Ben, don't be ridiculous," she said. "Just hear him out."
"This is none of your concern, Lindsey," Mr. Reese said. He took a step toward Nathaniel and put his hand on the doorknob, trying to open the door.
Nathaniel pressed against the door however and Mr. Reese couldn't open it.
"This is the last time I'll ask you to move," Mr. Reese said.
"Dad," Nathaniel said, yet this one word seemed to send his father over the edge. He grabbed Nathaniel by the front of his shirt, causing Lindsey to gasp and say "Ben," reproachfully, and moved him forcefully to the center of the room before releasing him.
"Don't you call me that," he said. "You are no son of mine."
Something in Nathaniel seemed to harden, and his back straightened. "Fine. But disowning me will never bring Jason back."
Mr. Reese sneered. "At least I don't have to spend every day looking at the boy who killed him."
"I didn't know…" Nathaniel said quietly. "I didn't…mean for him…"
Mr. Reese made to leave but Nathaniel grabbed his arm.
"No," he said. "Don't leave. Dad, just listen to me. Tell me what I did wrong. Just tell me so I can fix it and things can go back to how they were. I can't bring Jason back, no one can. But I loved him just as much as you did. Please, tell me what to do. Tell me how—."
Mr. Reese's hand came out of nowhere. The back of it smacked against Nathaniel's cheek so hard the force sent him staggering against the wall.
"Ben!" Lindsey said again, but Mr. Reese was already out the door.
After a moment of stunned silence, Nathaniel shook his head slightly and then shot out the door after his father.
"Wait!" Lindsey called after him. She tried to grab his coat as he passed by but he slipped out of her grasp.
I didn't give much thought to following after him. It was just something I knew I should do. Felicity was broken and crying and Lindsey was confused but at the moment all I could think about was Nathaniel and how he must be feeling or thinking.
I darted through the crowds of people, passing Peter and Uncle Dean and Aunt Sarah, all of whom asked what I was doing and what was going on. I didn't answer them though as I saw the hem of Nathaniel's jacket whip out of sight out the front door and then caught him streak past the store window.
I tore after him, finally catching him as he paused agitatedly to stop for crossing light to change.
"Nathaniel," I said, completely out of breath.
He didn't even look at me, just jabbed at the button a few more times in a misguided attempt to try and get the light to change faster.
"Nathaniel," I said again, this time putting a hand on his arm. He stopped his edgy pacing and finally turned toward me.
"What?" he asked.
"Where are you going?"
He looked around himself, and I knew that he had no idea where his father went. He had set out in order to find him but didn't know where to look.
"I have to talk to him," he said. "I have to explain. I have to make him listen." His cheek was bright red from the blow he had been dealt and I reached out a hand to touch it. He pushed my hand away, exactly as he had done just two nights ago.
I shook my head. "No," I said quietly. "He won't listen."
"He will!" he said determinedly. "He will listen. I'll make him. It'll be OK. It will. He'll listen. It'll be fine."
He was babbling and had pulled out of my grip to begin pacing again. The crossing light had turned to a white walk signal but both of us ignored it.
"Nathaniel there's nothing left for you to do," I said.
"Yes there is!" he yelled. "There is! I can talk to him! I can find him! He'll understand, Elsa! It'll be OK!"
"No," I said again. I reached both hands up this time, cupping them around his face so he would look at me.
"I'm sorry," I said.
His mouth gaped open for a minute before he bit his lip and looked down, his brow furrowing. I dropped my hands, but before they could reach my sides, Nathaniel caught them in his hands and pulled me to him. His lips met mine and for a second I could just stand there, shocked, before I took my hands out of his and wrapped them around his neck, pulling his face toward me.
God this felt so good…so right. After so long of denying what should have been, it felt so good to finally give in and do what I wanted. Felicity was crying and heartbroken but giving up my happiness for hers wasn't protecting her from anything, not the truth, or the real world or from being hurt in the long run.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, Nathaniel broke away. "So, this is the part where you say it's not going to work out, right?" he asked.
I shook my head, unable to meet his eyes. "Not this time."
His lips curved into a small smile, though I could tell his mind was still preoccupied with his family. He took a step away from me.
"Are you OK?" I asked.
"Yes…and no," he said uncertainly.
I nodded. "Do you…do you want to go back?"
He glanced over my shoulder, down the street and nodded. "Yeah, let's go."
We made our way toward the back of the shop when we entered it, heading to Lindsey's office. However, we didn't have to go that far to find Felicity. She was standing, looking up at a picture that up until then I hadn't even thought about her seeing.
It was of Nathaniel and me when we had done our shoot together. We were standing close, with my arms around his neck and his lips at my ear. It was so odd to see that moment caught on camera, like a bystander's look of what was going on. It was elegant, in a way, the way my hands were draped or the way our eyes were closed.
It was obvious that Felicity felt the same way, since her attention was focused completely on it. I walked up to her hesitantly and said what I had been thinking for so long.
She didn't even look at me, just kept her gaze focused on the photo. "I know," she said.
"Fee…" I said, and I felt Nathaniel wander away from me, far enough to give us privacy but close enough that I could still see him out of the corner of my eye.
"Please," I said. "Don't take this away from me."
She turned to look at me then, looking incredulous.
"Why did you hide this from me, El?" she asked. "I love you. You know that I love you. This…doesn't matter. He's just a boy. You're my sister. My family. I'll get over it. I just wish you would've told me."
I stared at her, dumbfounded. "You would have hated me," I said. Felicity looked away.
"I would have been angry, El. Of course I would have. But I would have gotten over it. And you would have been happy."
We were silent for a minute and after a while, Felicity glanced at me. "I think I'll find Aunt Sarah and Uncle Dean and ask to go home," she said. "…you coming?"
Out of my peripheral vision I saw Nathaniel looking at a portrait of an old woman and I shook my head.
"I don't think so," I said. Felicity nodded and after a moment she walked away.
I watched her go, feeling relieved and like I could talk to her openly in the first time in months. She turned around a pillar in the center of the room and suddenly I saw her stopping to talk to Peter. Even from the distance I could see the genuine smile that wreathed his face.
I looked away, turning around to find myself looking at Nathaniel's chest. I looked up at him and he smiled slightly.
"Well, it seems like that went better than my confrontation," he said, massaging his cheek.
He tried to smile at his joke but it didn't come off quite right.
"I'm really sorry," I said. But Nathaniel just shrugged it off, slipping his hands in his pockets.
"It's OK. It'll get…"
"Different?" I supplied.
He shook his head and took my arm. "Better."
I smiled as he led me deeper into the gallery, looking at the pictures of other people, occasionally stopping to look at the ones of ourselves. Things weren't perfect, yet I finally realized that they never would be. For the first time in months however, that fact didn't bother me—not one bit.
A/N: All right children. I do believe this is it. And by I believe I mean this is definitely it, haha. More than Words has finally ended and right now I'm still uncertain as to whether or not I will be posting something more on Fictionpress. I have plenty of ideas that I'm itching to get started on—one of the reasons I wanted to wrap up this story as soon as possible—but I'm unsure whether or not I will be posting them here. I'm still extremely leery of plagiarism and seriously, the internet is sketchy, haha. Anyway, hopefully I can talk myself into posting something else, but it might not be for a while. So, thank you, thank you THANK YOU readers and reviewers alike. You are all amazing. Until next time,