Bring on the Wonder Ch. 03byMugsyB©
Their time in Atlanta was like a dream. Nate couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so content. They were able to walk hand-in-hand, kiss and flirt with each other in public and never once worry about being spotted.
They arrived on a Monday and originally planned to stay until Thursday. After being there only one day, they decided they wanted to stay later. Since Lizzie's publisher had paid for her portion of the trip, she had to make a call and arrange to stay through the weekend. Then they picked a somewhat nicer hotel and indulged in room service a couple of times. In between the romance and solitude, they checked out neighborhoods and some of the surrounding communities.
"I like this area," Lizzie commented as they cruised in their rented vehicle down a street lined with enormous trees.
It was an older neighborhood with medium to larger sized homes. The lot sizes were generous with a lot more mature foliage than some of the other places they'd visited.
"You don't think the houses might be too large for just the two of us?"
Nate nodded. "I suppose they are. I was thinking that any one of these places would have a big enough space for your art studio."
He glanced over in time to see Lizzie's surprised expression. "What?"
"Aren't you going to look for anything that you want?" she asked.
He chuckled. "What do I need?" He shrugged and looked around. "A room for a gym, maybe. An office and roads to jog on. I can get that anywhere. Just like finding work as an accountant."
"I don't want you only thinking of me as we try to find a home here."
"Lizzie, I always think of you and anything I can do to make you happy." He reached over and squeezed her hand where it rested on her thigh. "It's all I want."
"You're something else, you know that?"
He nodded and winked at her. "I know. And I have to live with that knowledge every day."
She laughed and squeezed his hand back.
It was Saturday and they rounded the block to find an open house another half mile up the road. It was a nice bungalow, unusual for this area but the lot size allowed for the larger footprint of the house. They wandered through the rooms, not saying much but never letting go of each other's hand.
When they got to the master bedroom, on the northwest side of the house, they both stopped and stared.
Lizzie pointed out the window. "That is the most amazing view we've seen here."
Nate had to agree. He hadn't realized this house was so close to the neighborhood green space with the little lake and walking paths. The lot on this end of the house sloped down and away, leaving a beautiful panoramic view of the surrounding parkland over the line of the trees at the back of the property. There was even a small private patio outside the bedroom, with wrought-iron railings twisted in artistic lengths.
Nate could already see their chairs on the deck, Lizzie sitting in one with her sketchpad on her lap, he in the other, cup of coffee and newspaper in his hands. He could imagine watching the sun set every night too, holding Lizzie in his arms and whispering all the things he wanted to do to her in bed after dark.
"I think we should make an offer." The words were out before he'd had a chance to think beyond his daydream.
Lizzie laughed and jiggled his hand. "Maybe we should check out the rest of the house first."
Nate turned to her with a smile and nodded. They walked through the rest of the house, finding and admiring the other two bedrooms, the large, state-of-the-art kitchen, and the back deck with the beautiful, elaborate gardens. Downstairs, they found a wide-open living space complete with a wet bar and wine cellar.
"This is a nice house, Nate." Lizzie let go of his hand to walk over and look out a window. For a basement, it wasn't very basement-like. The windows were high but large, letting in an inordinate amount of light. "But neither of those spare bedrooms upstairs were big enough for an art studio for me."
Nate nodded. "You're right. I guess we'll just have to renovate part of the basement into a studio for you."
Lizzie turned from the window to look at him. Nate met her gaze and neither of them spoke for a long moment. She dropped her hands from the windowsill and twisted her fingers together. Nate walked towards her and pulled her hands apart to bring her fingers to his lips.
"Boy, you just have an answer for everything, don't you?" Lizzie smiled over his bent head. "Quite a change from just a few weeks ago when neither of us had answers for anything."
Nate nodded. "It's not that we didn't have answers. I think it's that we didn't want to face what the answers meant."
Lizzie looked back and forth between his eyes. "You're right. And now you're ready to face the answers?"
"I don't know about that but I know I don't want to keep going on the way we have been. I'm ready for a change." He leaned closer, their noses almost touching. "Aren't you?"
She stared at him for a moment longer then nodded. "You're right. We should go make an offer."
Nate kissed her and they walked back upstairs to find the realtor.
Lizzie knew it wouldn't last, their elation over making a decision and moving forward with their lives. They got home and reality sank back in. As Lizzie moved forward with her transition, Nate made arrangements to close out his accounts. Somewhere in the midst of moving arrangements, packing and unwinding together, they knew they had to make time to tell their parents.
Lance made a suggestion as to how they should handle it. He came over one evening and they all dined on Chinese takeout over boxes draped with old checkered tablecloths.
"You need to invite them over for coffee, they'll see the boxes and there's your conversation starter." Lance gestured with his chopsticks as he spoke. "The rest will just come."
Lizzie and Nate exchanged a look. They battled their guilt daily already for not having even mentioned the move to their parents up to this point. There was a good chance they might not even be forgiven for that, never mind their relationship.
"Thanks, Lance, but it's going to take more than that, I'm afraid." Lizzie smiled and lifted a dumpling from her plate.
"Well, the longer you leave it, the worse it'll be." Lance dug around his vegetables until he found a piece of water chestnut. "Don't think you can just move and then call them from Atlanta."
Lizzie shook her head with a laugh. "No. We wouldn't do that. But how do you tell your parents you're in love with your brother?"
"I'd start by assuring them that it doesn't have anything to do with them."
Nate nodded in agreement. Lance's words made sense. Lizzie agreed as well but she knew that no matter how they put it, their parents were going to be hurt and confused, maybe disgusted and angry. Maybe even angry enough to decide never to see them again.
"All I know is it'll be easier for them once we're in Atlanta." Lizzie pushed the remaining food around on her plate. "The distance will help."
"Easier for them? Or for you two?"
Lizzie glanced up at Lance before looking to her brother. Nate met her eyes with his own steady gaze and she felt calmness settle over her. The hardest part of all this was still to come but in the past several weeks, she'd come to realize that with Nate, she knew she could face anything. To Lance's question, she had no firm answer except that it was a little of both.
The three of them finished their meals and cleaned up. Lance offered to come back the next weekend to help them pack but they declined.
"I think we'll go have lunch with them on Saturday." Nate reached for Lizzie's hand.
She squeezed his fingers and he looked down at her with a smile. She stepped closer and he tucked her against his side with one arm. They looked up at Lance, who stood near the front door.
"So when do you guys move?"
"Three weeks tomorrow," Lizzie said.
"Wow. Coming up fast." Lance narrowed his eyes. "Don't wait to tell your parents. Go for dinner tomorrow night."
Lizzie and Nate exchanged another look but didn't say anything about it one way or another. They hugged Lance goodnight and watched him head down the front walk towards his waiting vehicle.
"He really is a good guy, isn't he?"
Lizzie smiled at Nate's perplexed tone. "I think he is."
"He doesn't care at all about us being together. I mean, he cares, but only as a friend looking out for other friends."
"I know what you mean."
Nate nodded and they backed into the house, shutting the door behind them. They made their way upstairs to the last two rooms in the house that hadn't been packed up, their bedroom and their shared office. Nate went to his computer to make sure everything was shut down for the night and Lizzie flipped her sketchbook open.
The page it opened to was her sketch from several weeks ago, following a restless night. She'd dreamt of the isolated cabin by the lake and drawn it after waking up in the middle of the night. Later that night, Nate had found her and offered her comfort as only he could. She smiled as she traced the outline of the chimney with one finger. So much had changed since that lost and hopeless night.
"What are you working on?" Nate asked after a few minutes of silence.
"Nothing yet." She walked over to his desk and he pushed his chair back so she could settle in his lap. "I was just looking at this."
He nodded as he looked down at the drawing. "I remember. It's very good."
Lizzie smiled and relaxed against his chest. She kissed his cheek and put her fingers to the cabin in the drawing. "I'll have to do another one once we've moved."
"Good idea, sweetie." He kissed her and held her close while they stared at the drawing for another few minutes.
Nate yawned. "I'm beat."
"Me too." Lizzie closed the sketchbook, any urge to draw now gone. She set it on his desk and cuddled up to his chest.
For a little while, they sat there, arms around each other, hearts beating in time. It was quiet in the house, no artificial noise or light beyond Nate's desk lamp. Noise from the street out front was almost nonexistent. They could almost pretend they were alone in the world. A few weeks ago, plagued with bleak dreams, Lizzie would have been afraid of that very thing. Now, she realized she only needed one thing: Nate.
She tipped her head back and he looked down into her face. "Let's go to bed."
He chuckled and pressed a brief kiss to her lips. "It's only nine. You're that tired?"
Lizzie grinned. "No. I'm not tired at all, but you just said you're beat." She shivered as she watched Nate's eyes darken and his grasp around her tightened.
"Well then. I'm sure I can figure out a way to get us both a good night's rest."
And he did just that.
Next weekend, they took the long drive out to their childhood home in Winnetka. Just as they'd done last time, they held hands and spoke little. Lizzie's leg twitched and Nate's fingers tightened more than a few times on the steering wheel.
"Should we eat first?" Lizzie asked.
Nate glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "As opposed to...?"
"Telling them before we eat?"
"Is that something you want to do on a full stomach?" Nate gave her a weak smile.
She looked out the windshield and Nate saw the muscles of her throat work as she swallowed. "I think they might not want to hear it on a full stomach."
Nate's insides clenched at the thought of how their parents would react. They'd agreed to lay it all out for them, be honest and clear, answer any questions they might have. Above all, they wouldn't fight with them. If the worst happened, they'd just leave and go back home. In a short while, they'd be moving and they'd be out of their parents' hair for good, if they wanted it that way.
Drawing in a deep breath, all Nate could do was squeeze Lizzie's fingers. They'd be at their mother and father's house in a few more miles. There was no going back.
"I love you," Lizzie whispered as they pulled into the driveway.
"I love you, too." He brought her hand to his lips for a kiss.
He parked the car and they got out. At the front door, their mother answered after the first knock.
"I'm amazed!" Clara exclaimed and drew them inside for hugs. "You're on time for once."
They laughed and Nate knew their mother wouldn't hear the strain in their laughter.
"Where's Dad?" Lizzie asked.
"He's in his den, watching the game." Clara turned and urged them towards the kitchen. "God, you're both too skinny. Come eat something."
"Mom, we're here for lunch." Nate laughed but followed his mother into the kitchen. "The whole point is eating."
"Yes, well, lunch won't be ready for a bit yet. Come have a snack and then you can go tear your father away from the television."
Lizzie and Nate exchanged a look as their mother moved across the kitchen. It didn't matter what they looked like, if they were chubby or skeletal. Clara liked to feed her kids. They submitted to her snack-administering and sat together at the kitchen table.
"How is work, Elizabeth?" Clara asked as she set a bowl of mixed fruit on the table between them.
"It's great." Lizzie smiled, happy to discuss her work. Ever since accepting the new position, she'd been taking on new and different duties as training for her eventual transfer. She told her mother about the new job and left out the part about the transfer to Atlanta for the moment.
"That's wonderful, my dear." Clara bent to kiss her daughter on the cheek. "I knew you'd make a name for yourself there, but I had no idea it'd be so fast."
"Me either, Mom." Lizzie agreed with a nod before glancing at Nate again.
He couldn't help it. He beamed with pride at the way her cheeks turned pink with pleasure at the discussion. He knew she'd been working her ass off for months now and more recently, since accepting the new position. She came home fit to bursting with tales of her day at work and all the new things she'd been learning. Between that and the move, she'd changed. She was more relaxed and playful. Nate would have loved her forever, no matter what, but he'd be lying if he said the change to her demeanor didn't please him.
"Maybe now you can get your own place and let Nate have his house back," Clara said as she turned back to the counter where she was finishing up with lunch prep.
At that, Lizzie straightened up in her chair, the cheerful color fading from her face. Nate met her look and gave a slight nod.
"Uh, I'll go get Dad." He stood up and hurried down the hall to find his father. He heard Lizzie speaking to their mother.
"Mom, there's something about the job that I have to tell you..."
Nate swallowed the lump in his throat. It was here, the time they'd have to come clean with their parents. He paused in the doorway to the den and knocked on the open door.
"Hi, Nathaniel. How are you, son?" Davis stood up and walked over to give his son a hug. "Where's your sister?"
"In the kitchen with Mom." Nate swallowed again and gave his father a weak smile. "Would you come into the kitchen? Lizzie has some news to share."
Davis grinned. "Yeah? Of course." He turned and picked up the remote to flick the TV off. Then he followed Nate back to the kitchen.
"Hi, Dad." Lizzie stood up to give her father a hug.
"Hi, sweetie." He kissed her forehead and held her at arm's length. "You look different. Are you eating enough?"
Lizzie rolled her eyes. "Why is that the first question from both of you? Yes, I eat enough."
"We just want to make sure you're taking care of yourselves." Clara smiled over her shoulder. "Davis, get them some drinks and sit down so Elizabeth can tell us her news."
"Sure. Nate, you want a beer?"
"No thanks. Just iced tea is good."
"Same for me."
Davis pulled the pitcher from the fridge and poured four glasses. He set Clara's on the counter, giving her a quick kiss and squeeze around her waist with one hand. Then he sat across the table from Lizzie and Nate, setting their glasses down as well.
"So what's the big news, Elizabeth?" Davis asked.
"I was telling Mom about my new position with the publisher." Lizzie quickly recounted what she'd already told Clara about the job. Davis grinned, patted her hand and gave her a hearty congratulations.
"Thanks, Dad." Lizzie smiled and looked down at the table. She fidgeted for a minute until Nate touched her leg under the table. Her eyes lifted, flicked over his face briefly before turning to their father again. Clara had moved over to sit beside Davis as well.
"What is it?" Their mother cocked her head to one side.
"This new job came with... conditions." Lizzie swallowed. "Well, one condition, really."
Lizzie glanced sideways at Nate once more. "Um. I have to move. To Atlanta. The new position is there."
For a second, no one spoke. Davis cleared his throat and reached for his wife's hand. "Elizabeth, this job is an amazing opportunity for you. If it was in Anchorage, we'd still say you should take it."
"Oh, I've accepted the job, Dad. I've already been down there to look for a place to live."
"That's wonderful, my dear." Clara blinked a few times and Nate knew she was holding back tears.
He looked down. He had a sinking feeling that the rest of this conversation wasn't going to go well at all.
"Of course, we'll miss you, but it's only a plane ride away," Davis said, still holding Clara's hand. "When do you move?"
"In a little less than three weeks."
"My goodness, that's soon." Clara looked up and gave her daughter a watery smile. "Do you need help packing?"
"No, Nate... um, Nate's done a lot."
Nate could hear the catch in her voice and knew he'd have to do the rest. She was on the verge of breaking down.
"Well, at least Nate will get his house back." Clara gave a little laugh. "You can start doing your own thing again."
"Mom, Dad. There's something else we need to tell you." Nate cleared his throat, the words churning over and over in his head. He needed to say it, just say it once, out loud for them and then they could deal with whatever came. The were stuck though, lodged in his throat and he struggled.
Their father frowned. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"I'm moving. To Atlanta, as well."
Davis frowned. "I don't understand. Did your office offer you a new position there?"
"No. I've signed off most of my accounts here and tendered my resignation with the firm."
Clara shook her head. "Why would you do that? What's in Atlanta?"
Nate looked at Lizzie. Her eyes were wide and she was pale as snow. Now. He needed to say it now. All of it, all at once.
"Lizzie will be there. We're moving to Atlanta together."
Silence dropped over them like a shockwave. Lizzie reached down to clutch Nate's fingers where they still rested on her thigh. He returned the gesture, more than aware of the desperate worry in her grasp. Drawing in a deep breath, he lifted their joined hands, overpowering Lizzie's panicked resistance, and set their hands on the table.
Their parents' eyes fell to their hands and Clara sucked in a sharp breath. "No." Her voice was barely a whisper, her face drawn taut.
"I don't understand." This from Davis, his expression one of confusion.
"I'm moving... we're moving to Atlanta together." Nate drew a deep breath. "I'm moving because Lizzie took that job in Atlanta and we didn't want to be apart from each other. It's what... it's what couples do."
"Couples?" Davis' eyes snapped to Nate's face. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Davis..." Clara's voice was weak and her husband turned to her immediately. "Don't."
"Don't what? Ask questions? Did you hear what he just said?"
Clara stared at her husband, her eyes pleading. Nate and Lizzie watched the exchange, their fingers tightening their hold.