“Now, see here, William. Your dad isn’t the type to play favoritism. You mean to tell me that if you messed up at your job, he would still let you work there?”
“Well, no, but—”
“See? I’m right!”
Will’s laugh was a bit strained. He cast a worried glance at me. “That’s all well and good, but Natalie is really one of the best graphic designers I’ve seen. She really has an instinct for—”
“Isn’t he so nice?” Mom’s face was brighter than the sun. “Natalie doesn’t get a lot of compliments about her work.”
“Oh, shut up.”
The sounds of knives and forks clattering against the plates stopped as my parents’ angry faces turned towards me. My hot eyes stared back. Will beamed at me.
“Natalie! How dare you?”
“Shut up!” I exploded, shoving the plate away from me. “Both of you make me sick the way you fawn over him.”
I couldn’t stand hearing them talk about how he was so much better than me, but listening to Will try to lift me up was even worse.
Dad turned to William in a desperate attempt to salvage Thanksgiving dinner. “She doesn’t mean that.”
He gave him a dry laugh. “Oh, I think she does.”
I stood up and Will bolted upright. My parents’ anguished faces stared back at me. There were so many things I wanted to say to them. “All you do is make me feel bad about myself. I don’t need you anymore.”
Dad’s face went beet-red and Mom looked like she was on the verge of tears.
“I don’t understand why you’re so hateful,” Mom choked.
“I’m not the hateful one, Mom. You are. Goodbye.” I grabbed my purse and they didn’t try to stop me as I slid open the kitchen door. I’m done.
“Good Lord,” Will ejaculated when the kitchen door slammed shut. “I’m surprised you lasted that long without flipping out. What a disaster.”
“Thanks for coming,” I said in a sarcastic voice as he jogged next to me. “It was really great of you. Thanks.” I quickened my pace, eager to get away from him.
“Natalie, wait! We need to talk.”
“About what?” I muttered as I fiddled with my keys to the car. I just wanted to drive home and collapse in bed without anyone bothering me. I didn’t want to hear his voice because I was so close to exploding.
“What do you mean, ‘about what’? Dammit, Natalie!”
He seized my shoulders and turned me around so that I could look at his perfect face and suit, his super expensive car behind him.
“You shouldn’t have come,” I said, lip quivering.
“I’m sorry! I tried to call you—Natalie?”
His mouth gaped as I suddenly burst into tears.
“H—how did you do it?” I demanded through my sobs.
“They love you! They love you and they hate me!” I shoved his chest and Will fell back with an extremely wounded look on his face. “They only saw you for five seconds. I’m their daughter and they could care less about me.”
I stood there crying and watched him feel bad for something he couldn’t control. “They don’t—they don’t hate you. It’s like I said before. You’ll never be able to please them.”
His heart broke for me, but I searched his face and tried to find some reason that this was his fault. They’ll never love me. It has nothing to do with him.
“Natalie, it’s their problem if they can’t see what a wonderful person you are. You’re an extremely talented artist and what’s more, you’ve repaired my family. I don’t know how the fuck you did it, but Luke’s in Chicago with my dad right now, eating dinner.” He shook his head, emotion thickening his voice.
“That’s great,” I said hollowly. “I’m so glad I could do all of that for you.”
“Jesus, Natalie. Why are you doing this?” Tears slipped down his face.
“Because while you were off getting better, I was drowning. You just threw me out like I was nothing to you!” All the energy left me. It was just—everything was too much. My parents, the whole mess with Ben and the horrible day we visited those families.
Will’s crossed his arms almost as if he wanted to hug himself.
“Do you know what it’s like to be so down that you can’t even see the light outside? That’s what it was like. I’m not making excuses for my behavior, but I was really fucked up at the time and I didn’t know what I was doing. I’m a fucking idiot, Natalie. I always do this—I sabotage myself.”
I could see him kicking himself for what he did to me.
“I’m so sorry, Natalie. I didn’t know how bad it was. When Luke told me how—how you were, I hung up the phone and cried. I didn’t want this to happen to you. You weren’t answering my calls; I thought that you didn’t want to see me again.” He shrugged miserably. “Can’t blame you.”
I tossed my head and laughed, although my laughter was punctuated by a small sob. “Why did you come here?”
Will pushed himself off the car, his eyes still shining. I couldn’t help but feel moved. My breath caught as he took my arms. There was no denying the electric current running through my skin the moment he touched me.
“Because I would have hated myself if I didn’t try to get you back. Because you saved me.” He took a deep breath. “And because I love you.”
What? I tried to remember what the word, “love,” meant. It couldn’t be possible. “You love me?”
His dark eyes were like bright gems as he looked at me, a smile spreading across his face. “Yeah, I do.”
“It’s all I ever wanted from them.” I looked at him through my tears. “Why don’t they love me?”
He held my shaking shoulders. “Natalie, I don’t know. No offense, but your parents are jerks. They really are.”
It sounded like an insult and for a moment I was deeply offended, but I looked at his unyielding gaze and another wall inside me collapsed.
“Your parents may not love you, but I do. I don’t even think you realize how much you’ve done for me—when I saw that website—I just—I’ve never met someone with so much capacity to give. I’ll always be there for you, no matter what happens. You’re the best thing in my life and I fucking love you.”