“Well don’t you two look adorable.”
The voice brought Natasha and Nathan out of their bubble and Nathan released her as he turned to see who had spoken.
“Mum,” he acknowledged the woman smiling widely at them. “This is Natasha. Natasha, that’s my mum.”
His mother stepped forward, hugging Natasha tightly. When she released her, she held on to her hands. “I’m so pleased to meet you! Why didn’t you tell me you had such a beautiful girlfriend?”
Natasha flushed, at a loss for words as the elder woman continued to fawn over her.
“Natasha’s my…friend,” Nathan said a little hesitantly. It wasn’t exactly true but the alternative wasn’t something he would be comfortable sharing.
“It’s nice to meet you Mrs Henderson,” Natasha smiled at her, cheeks still pink from her blush.
“Call me Catherine and the pleasure is all mine,” she replied. When Catherine smiled, Natasha could see the likeness between her and her son, although Nathan didn’t smile much. They had the same shade of brown hair and matching thin lips but Catherine’s green eyes contrasted with Nathan’s blue orbs.
Natasha felt a little self-conscious as Catherine stared at her intently, still holding her hand and she fidgeted, shifting her weight from one heeled foot to another. Catherine finally realized she was making Natasha uncomfortable and squeezed her hands lightly before letting go.
“I’m sorry for staring. It’s just…for a second there you looked so much like Carey.
“Oh. Who’s that?” Natasha asked curiously, noticing how Nathan tensed at the mention of that name.
“She’s Nate’s…” Catherine began but Nathan interrupted her.
“Can we talk for a minute mum?” he said insistently tugging on her arm. Catherine frowned, looking from an upset Nathan to a confused Natasha.
“Of course. Again, it was a pleasure Natasha,” she said before turning away, arm-in-arm with Nathan.
Natasha gave her a small smile and a wave and looked on as they stood a little way away, talking. Nathan looked upset and Catherine seemed exasperated from the way she kept shaking her head and pointing at Natasha. It was obvious they were talking about her and Carey…whoever she was. Natasha assumed it was probably Nathan’s ex-girlfriend whom he clearly did not want to talk about. Or maybe he just didn’t want her to hear about it? She turned away from the two hoping to find someone at the party she could catch a ride home with. Stacey spotted her from the patio and waved her over.
“You looked a little lost back there,” Stacey said as she eyed the white jacket that Natasha was wearing. Natasha noticed and immediately shrugged it off. Stacey wisely didn’t comment on that. “Where’s your mum?”
“She left already,” Natasha shrugged. “And she took my phone with her by mistake so I have no way to get back home or call for a ride.”
“I can take you home, if you don’t mind waiting till the cake is cut?” Stacey offered.
“Oh no, that’s okay. I’m sure you still have a lot to do here. If you could please borrow me your phone so I can call Kelsey to pick me up instead.”
“It’s really no trouble though,” Stacey said, nevertheless handing Natasha her Blackberry. “Why didn’t Kelsey come to the party anyway?”
“Her mum has a night shift at the hospital so Kelsey had to babysit Keisha,” Natasha said as she dialed Kelsey’s number from memory.
Stacey nodded as Natasha held the phone to her ear, waiting for Kelsey to pick up.
“If you’re that creepy guy from my class, you should know I have mad ninja skills and I ain’t afraid to use them,” Kelsey said when she picked up.
“I thought you only skipped pleasantries on the phone with me,” Natasha laughed.
Kelsey paused. “Tasha?”
“The one and only. What creepy guy is this?” she asked.
“Urghh this guy who seriously can’t take a hint. We were partners for one assignment and suddenly he thinks I’m his soulmate. He keeps calling me with a different number every other day,” Kelsey sighed.
“Sic Liam on him,” Natasha said. “But ninja skills? Really?” And she burst out laughing again. Stacey watched her curiously, wondering what had her laughing so much.
“Yeah, yeah. So what’s up?” Kelsey asked.
“Do you think you could pick me up from the party? I don’t have a ride home.”
“Oh. I’m so sorry but I’m still home alone and Keisha has a tummy ache so I probably shouldn’t drive around with her. I can call Liam or Chad and ask either of them to pick you up?”
Natasha’s heart sank. “No, that’s alright. I’ll just catch a ride with someone here.”
“Wait, isn’t Detective McHottie there?”
“Uhhm, yeah,” Natasha answered glancing up at Stacey and praying she couldn’t overhear Kelsey.
“Ask him for a ride. Oh and squeeze out a dance from him before you leave,” Kelsey giggled.
“Goodbye Kelsey. Give Keisha a kiss from me,” Natasha rolled her eyes and hung up.
“Guess that means you’re stuck with me?” Stacey asked as Natasha handed her phone back.
“I’m sorry,” Natasha said sheepishly.
“Seriously, don’t worry about it. It’ll give us a chance to catch up.”
Natasha didn’t see Nathan again as she waited while Stacey helped with the cake cutting and sharing. The crowd gave her a round of applause when Stacey announced that she was the one who had made the cake.
“Let’s get you home,” Stacey said a while later as she put on her jacket.
“Okay. I just need to give Nathan back his jacket. Do you know where he is?”
“I’ll help you find him,” Stacey said. They spotted him close to the house, standing with another man.
“Hie Michael,” Stacey greeted the other man. Natasha shrunk back when she realized that it was Detective Carter, Nathan’s partner.
“Natasha was looking for you Nate,” Stacey said oblivious to the tension around her and wondering why Natasha was standing awkwardly.
“Uhh yeah. Thanks for the jacket,” Natasha said timidly eyeing Detective Carter. He looked back at Nathan, eyebrow raised. Nathan ignored him, focusing on Natasha alone.
“It’s still cold. You can keep it,” he said.
“That’s okay. I’m going home now.” Natasha said, holding the jacket out to him.
“How are you getting home?” Nathan still didn’t take the jacket from her.
“Stacey’s taking me,” Natasha replied.
“Actually. I just remembered there’s something I should be doing right now,” Stacey said, ignoring Natasha’s pleading look. “Michael, I need your help with it. Let’s go. Nathan, you’ll make sure Natasha gets home right?”
Stacey didn’t wait for Nathan’s response before dragging Michael away towards the house.
“I guess I’m taking you home,” Nathan said frowning slightly. He led the way to his car and held the passenger door open for her.
“I’m sorry about Stacey,” he apologized as they drove off. Natasha nodded her consent and went back to staring out the window, not really seeing anything in the dark.
“Did you enjoy the party?”
“Yeah,” Natasha said, quietly.
“Doesn’t sound like it.”
“It’s a long story,” Natasha sighed.
“Is it because of your mum leaving?”
“Can we talk about something else?” Natasha said. “Like, why you became a cop.”
“It’s a long story,” Nathan said.
“We have twenty minutes of travel time left,” Natasha said turning to him.
“I don’t like to talk about it.” Nathan gripped the steering wheel harder.
“Why? I’m sure it’s something inspirational and amazing,” Natasha pressed on.
“I said I don’t like to talk about it,” Nathan said through gritted teeth.
“Sorry,” Natasha apologized, shrinking back against the car seat. That was the second time someone had snapped at her tonight and she was getting really tired of it. She’d come to expect that much from her mum but Nathan’s on and off moods were really confusing. Looking at him now, mouth set in a grim line, eyes narrowed; it was hard to picture him as the person who had held her while they danced or listened to her deepest, darkest secrets and promised to help her. She turned away from him, settling back for the long ride home.
As they were driving through the West Acre Woods, Nathan’s radio crackled to life.
“We have a 1031 in the West Acre residential area. All units in the vicinity, report. I repeat, we have a 1031 in the West Acre residential area.”
“This is Detective Henderson. I’m a couple of yards away from the West Acre residents,” Nathan said. Natasha sat up in her seat, bristling with excitement.
“What’s a 1031?” Natasha asked after Nathan got the address.
“Crime in progress. In this case, an armed robbery,” Nathan replied turning the car away from the West Acre woods.
“What are you doing? The robbery is the other way” Natasha asked confused.
“I’m not taking you to a crime scene. I have to get you somewhere safe first.”
“What? By the time you get back there it’ll be too late!” Natasha shouted.
“I’ll make it,” Nathan argued, stepping on the gas.
“No! You won’t! There are miles of woods between here and a safe place.”
Nathan ignored her protests and kept driving faster.
“If you don’t turn this car around I’m going to open this door and jump out,” Natasha threatened. Nathan briefly glanced at her before turning back to the road. “I mean it Henderson! I’m not going to be the reason some family ends up shot or worse.”
Nathan brought the car to an abrupt stop. “Fine! Just get in the back and stay down. The robber is armed and I don’t want you getting caught in the cross fire.”
Natasha did as he asked and he turned the car back around and hurtled back to the West Acre area. He parked a little way away from the address he’d been given and took out his gun from the glove compartment before he ran out.
A few minutes later, Natasha heard sirens drawing closer and she raised her head a little to see what was going on. She saw Nathan leave the house with a masked man in handcuffs. The other police cars had reached the house and some minutes later, Nathan entered the car.
“Now can I take you home?” he said looking over at her through the rear-view mirror.
“Don’t you have to take the suspect to the station or something?” Natasha asked, straightening out her hair.
“I handed him over to the other cops and gave a statement. They’ll take care of him for now,” Nathan said starting the car. He didn’t say anything else as he drove and Natasha, sensing he was not in a mood to talk, sat quietly in the back seat. She finally got the courage to speak when they were just around the corner from her house.
“Are you okay?” Natasha asked.
“I’m fine. I just want to get you home and get this over with.”
Natasha felt like he had yelled at her even though he spoke in a perfectly calm voice.
“Please stop the car,” she said.
“Why?” Nathan asked, but he obliged. Natasha opened the door and stepped out, closing the door behind her.
“Where are you going?” Nathan called after her. When she ignored him and kept walking, he got out and followed her. “Natasha.”
Natasha swiveled around angrily. “I’m getting as far away from you as possible!”
Nathan stopped, taken aback by her shouting.
“I have been nothing but civil to you but you keep giving me mood swings. One minute you’re all kind and helpful and then the next minute you’re treating me like I’m a burden or you can’t stand to be around me. I didn’t ask for your help, you offered! And if you didn’t really want to help me then you shouldn’t have offered at all,” Natasha continued.
Nathan looked around at the dark, empty street. “I’m sorry. I just…”
“Save it,” Natasha sighed. “Thanks for the ride. I can make it home on foot from here.” She turned back and he watched her walk away before he followed her again till her caught up to her. He didn’t say anything, just walked next to her, deep in thought.
They reached Natasha’s house and she was still debating whether she should just walk into the house or be the bigger person and say goodnight to him when he pressed something into her palm. She knew even before she looked down that it was his badge and that meant secrets were about to be revealed. Her heat beat faster in anticipation.
“You’re right,” he began in a quiet voice, looking down at the ground. “Sometimes I can’t stand being around you.”
Natasha was about to give him a piece of her mind and throw the badge in his face when he spoke again. “It’s not because you’re not a good person or anything. It’s just hard because you remind me of someone.”
He looked up then, meeting her confused gaze. “Someone?”
“Carey. She was my sister,” he replied sadly.
“Was?” Natasha asked in a small voice, already dreading the answer. “What happened to her?”
Nathan shut his eyes and she could see his shoulders were tense through his white shirt. He ran a hand through his hair, blowing out a breath as he opened his eyes and looked straight into hers again.
“I killed her.”