Outside my car the rain continues to batter down upon the Earth. Seeming as though it's attempting to awaken the Dead below, I count the minutes until I arrive. Three more miles up the road and this will all come to an end. Is that what I honestly want?
On the radio, men on the talk show broadcast, "-and that movie, John, will be coming out on August 22nd." Widened eyes, I pull the car over along the broken sidewalk. My chest heaves heavily up and down while it tries to allow the rest of my body to quiver. Tears fight to break through my closed eyelids. I can't let myself fall apart, not now, not again. Opening my eyes I stare and ahead of me the memory replays through a rain-covered windshield.
"Natalie! Come on! They're here!" Nathan shouted far ahead of me. I raced around the fallen trees with leaves reaching to grab me and over the trickling creek singing the forest’s lullaby, trying to keep pace with him. Nighttime clouded my vision causing me to only see within a few steps before me. Falling further behind, Nathan's slender frame was becoming mixed with the rest of the surrounding darkness.
"Wait, Nathan!" I quickened my pace, trying to catch another glimpse of his head dodging each branch trying to cause him to stumble. I myself neglecting to notice where I was stepping, I stumbled on the uneven ground. Hitting the rough, leaf-covered ground, everything around me went silent. I no longer heard his faint footsteps in the distance crackling against fallen leaves. "N-Nathan?" I asked into the black. Picking myself up, I spun, trying to strain my ears for any sound of him. As time passed, I let the silence consume me until scurrying footsteps approached.
"Natalie! Come on we're going to miss it! We- are you okay?" he asked startled.
"I'm fine... come on let's go," I answered passively. Letting him lead the way, I allowed my mind to wander. 'I hope mom doesn't realize I'm gone. She'd throw the biggest bitch fit. Tomorrow's my birthday and I really don't want to get grounded either since that’s something she’d do. Always seems like she has to draw the attention towards herself when my birthday is near. My brother never had that problem. Golden Child. Although, I'll finally be seven; however, Nathan's been seven since last November.' My mind continued to tumble from simple thought to the next until I noticed how skillfully Nathan maneuvered among the trees and bushes. It seemed as though his body was crafted purely for this condition. Though he was tall, near giant to me, his brown hair never came near skimming any branches, unlike my own, which continuously managed to get tangled among the leaves.
Disrupting my thoughts, Nathan excitedly proclaimed, "We're almost there!" Seconds after he said it, we arrived into an open clearing. Enclosed on all sides by heavily wooded forest, the field was covered in grass nearly as high as my shoulders. With disappointment I surveyed the field. I saw nothing. He must have seen the sadness on my face, because he said, "Why are you upset?"
With tears welling in my eyes and confusion in my mind, I replied, "Well, where are they? You told me there would be these-these beautiful things but I don't see them!"
Laughing, he stepped beside me, said, "They're not around you, they're above you," and lifted his finger to tilt my head upwards toward the shining moon and what lay far beyond. Above us were these sparkling lights so beautiful that they left this moment burned into my memories. Staring, I could see them slightly sparkle as if dancing and waving at one another. The longer I gazed with my feeble eyes, they appeared to glisten and shine even brighter. They seemed to be staring at us, waiting to see our next moves in amazement.
"What-," lost for words, "What are they?" I asked in amazement.
"People call them stars, but me, I call them Watchers. They always seem to follow me at night and watch every step I take. Kinda like eyes, but there’s thousands of ‘em."
"They're so pretty." When he didn't respond I assumed he was drowned deep in thought. Glancing into his deep brown eyes, I spotted the shining Watchers dazzling with inconceivable beauty into them. Without thinking I declared, "This is ours."
He looked at me puzzled and questioned, "What?"
"Whenever one of us needs the other we will always meet here. If we are sad or mad or anything we have to meet here, promise?" I turned to him with complete earnest, hoping he would understand me.
Turning the radio to a different station, I continued on down the paved road. Both lanes were empty so I slowed the car to a crawl, almost slow enough to miss everything. Part of me is begging to. Looking to my right I saw the old woods, what was left of it at least. With tears welling in my eyes I said aloud, "It's been ten years since you last saw him Natalie, what did you expect to happen? Everything changes. Why should this have remained the same?" Sliding down my cheeks, the tears finally fell onto my dress the same time the thunder shook the car. With my attention back to the road, I realized I was in the opposite lane. Swerving to get back into the right lane, I took one final glance at what was left of the once flourishing forest, leaving it behind me like a greying memory I wish it turn into.
With the deafening silence, the radio gladly took over, "Now the once classic Your Call by Secondhand Serenade."
"No!" I heard myself scream. Thrusting my hand toward radio, I pressed any button I could until silence would overtake my speakers. Scratching over almost every button, I finally hit the off switch. Breathing harshly, I managed to turn in to the parking lot and pulled the car into a space in the back row. There, inside the too small car, I sat; remembering.
"Stop! Just stop! I'm done. I'm fucking leaving, okay? That's what you wanted wasn't it!" I screamed as I slammed the front door behind me. Without waiting for a response, one that would only hurt more, from my mother, I took off down the cracked sidewalk. Sun beaming down onto my trembling body, I was blinded by the limitless anger inside me, pushing me further until I came to where I wanted to be; Nathan's house.
Seven blocks had never seemed so short, but right in front of me stood Nathan's grey, two-story, Victorian home. Looking at the driveway I saw only Nathan's car. I marched up onto his porch and knocked rather hard on the door several times. "Hold on!" I heard him shout from inside. Footsteps clobbered down the stairs until they reached the door. When he opened it my rage quickly subsided into relief. "Natt! Hey wh-" he stopped when he saw the dry streak the tears left on my face. "My truck, now."
I willingly let him pull me gently towards the passenger side door, which he opened for me. Shutting my door, he went around the truck and into the driver's side. He asked zero questions and I started zero explanation. After reversing his truck out of his driveway, he started down the neighborhood roads until he veered to the left and began down the back, dirt roads. We drove in silence, letting the car’s engine do all the talking. Winding on a one lane path, I waited until he carefully reached the edge of the field.
Finally, we arrived. Before getting out of the truck, he turned on the radio to our favorite station. It seemed to have the perfect song for every one of our moments. Hopping out of the truck, he went over to my side and let me out. Still in silence we walked to the center of the field where the grass was flattened from our frequent visits. Sitting down among grass and dirt, I noticed the ground becoming increasingly more comforting and how quiet the birds were as if they were ready to listen to my words. "What happened?" Nathan asked without the slightest hint of hesitation.
"Mom. She just, I don't know. She was bitching to me about my clothes then my hair and somehow started about dad. The second she brought him up I lost it. You know how much of a sensitive topic he is. I told, well yelled at, her to be quiet. She didn't listen. I screamed saying that she had no right to talk about him and that she was selfish. I brought up how she told him she wanted a divorce on my birthday for Christ’s sake. She flinched. She fucking flinched like she didn’t even remember she did that. I didn't want her to see me cry so I screamed and left. Now that I think about it, it was stupid to make a big deal about it. I better just go back . . ."
Starting to get myself up, he said, "No. No it wasn't. You always believe things that happen to you are unimportant. Now sit back down."
"No I need to go," I proclaimed as I stood up.
He quickly jumped to his feet. "Natt come here," he said softly while taking me into his arms. I hugged him back tightly, trying to hold back the tears.
"Nate, you're going to make me cry."
"Maybe you should. Sometimes you need to just let it out." He held even tighter to me as my shoulders slumped and the dam inside me faltered. It all flowed out in the way of tears, flooding my eyes into red submission.
Nearly ten minutes passed before I could restrain my shaking. I could feel my eyeliner smeared down my face and my hair a mess but that didn't stop me from looking up at him. "Thank you. I don't know what you do, but you do something that makes it better," I told him with a slight smile on my face.
"You don't need to thank me for anything," he replied while looking into my eyes, "because I'll always be here for you, no matter what. I promise you.”
In the distance the radio suddenly blared, "Waiting for your call I'm sick, call I'm angry, call I'm desperate for your voice. Listening to the song we use to sing. In the car do you remember, butterfly, early summer, it's playing on repeat just like when we would meet. Like when we would meet. Because I was born to tell you I love you."
"Do you hear that?" he asked with a soft, tender, tone.
"Yeah . . ."
"That's our song. Anytime you miss me, just listen to this song."
"What’s it called?"
"Your Call by Secondhand Serenade."
Wiping the final tears away, I reapplied my eyeliner, hoping no one would see the smudges. Letting out a deep breath I stepped out of the car. Around me there were empty cars but a full building; a building holding everything. One step, I didn't stumble. Two steps, I can do this. Three steps, keep going. I made my way to the stairs of the perfect, white building. Stepping inside I heard a man in the other room preaching to a group of silent men, crying women, and confused, innocent children.
I stopped in front of a mirror to take one last look at myself. Dark brown hair falling in heavy curls to the middle of my back, brown eyes built like dams holding back a lake full of tears, thin lips above a pointy chin, and a white dress adorning my slim figure: this is me, Natalie Irey, as I take a few more seconds to look back at my only regret.
"Where are you? I've been waiting at least an hour?" I asked Nathan impatiently who was mostly quiet on the other side of the call.
"I'm getting there, Jesus Christ!" he shouted.
"I'm leaving if you're not here in five minutes," I said and snapped my phone shut. I began to circle the field with only the moon as my light. Anger was pumped through my entire stature like an amphetamine victim except when I looked up at the stars, or as Nate used to call them, Watchers. They still are as beautiful as the day he really showed me them for the first time. He was over a year older than me but he truly believed they were, well, Watchers looking down on us, guiding us through our lives, and keeping danger away from us. Now he doesn't even glance at them, let alone embrace their existence. Did he find inspiration somewhere else? Or was there no true beauty in them anymore for him? Did I even have enough beauty for- Just then Nate's car pulled into the edge of the field.
I stood in the center, staring at him as he got out of his car. He replaced his well-aged truck a few months ago, with this new Mustang that seemed to have changed him. He walked with heavy footsteps that thundered against the ground beneath them. My anger ignited like a gasoline fire at his emotionless expression. "You told me to meet you out here at nine. It's nearly ten thirty now. What did you need?" I questioned, agitated.
"Sit," he strongly ordered.
Holding myself back from arguing with him over his forcefulness, I settled myself on the ground across from him. He refused to make eye contact with me. "What? What's wrong?" He stayed silent while staring off into the woods on his right. "Nate, if you're not going to speak I'm leav-"
"I'm done." I looked at his face trying to decipher what he might have meant, but I couldn't find the answer.
"What do you mean?" I thought to myself, 'Please don't be telling me you're leaving. Please.'
"I graduated this year. You have one more year. I can't wait around for you. With the end of summer almost here I have to move on. I'm leaving."
If it was possible for someone's heart to break, mine did at that moment. "No. Don't mess with me like that. You're not funny!"
"I'm not joking with you! God dammit I'm gone. I'm leaving Friday. I'm going away, very fucking far away. You knew this would happen all along so don't act surprised." At a loss, I wasn't sure what to do. I could beg him to stay, to wait for me, or just let him go. Maybe it's not worth it to be with him if he's going to just leave me. Standing up, he said, "I'm following my dreams. I suggest you do the same."
"But all my dreams have you in them with me. You said no matter what you'd always be there! You promised me you would be. . ." My voice began to shake as the tears continuously struggled to make their way out.
"Promises are for children. You need to grow up." He began to turn around, "Anything else you want to say? This is your last chance."
'Say it. Tell him you love him. It could save everything.' My mind raced for answers. 'He's everything to you. You just want to throw it all away? Tell him, God dammit tell him!' No. He caused this. It's his fault. He deserves to feel Hell.
He began to walk away, mumbling to himself. "Nate, wait!" Turning around to face me, I looked him in his dark brown eyes that still glisten like the day I first met him and said with everything in me, "I hate you."
"Why didn't you tell him you loved him." I asked while looking into the mirror one last time. “He was your everything and now he’s gone. You could’ve saved him . . . you should’ve saved him.” No, not here, not when there’s people behind those dark, mahogany doors. Taking the slowest steps I have ever made, I went towards the door and gripped the handle. 'This is it,' I thought to myself. Pulling the handle and swinging the door open, I strode inside. Men, women, even children, sat in pews that were built on each side of the room, leaving a small aisle way in the middle. In my white heels and knee-length dress, I started down the aisle. I felt the curiosity, pain, and sadness of every set of eyes on me. Even the man, whose voice filled the room mere seconds ago, went silent.
Keeping my eyes forward, I held myself together. Seven small steps away from him, I stopped. 'You can do it. He's the man you loved- no, love.' One step, two, five, on the seventh, Nathan was in front of me, casket closed. Lifting it open, I saw him lying there, with a peaceful expression, as if death had been his final relief.
Placing my hand on his heart, I leaned over and whispered into his ear, "I love you."