Nick lay awake in bed, thinking about what Chance had told him. Wave after wave of guilt washed over him for lying to Natalie about where he had been.
He loved Nat–he believed that with all his heart–so why was so much of his relationship with her based on fear? Fear either of hurting her with his lack of control, or of telling her the truth about how he filled the need he wouldn’t let her fill. No matter how much he tried to protect her, something always happened to hurt her again. Restlessly he turned over, but the satin sheets, so like Janette’s, whispered memories to him of their night together, only increasing the debt of guilt.
It was daylight out. He should have been taking advantage of the time to sleep, but instead he was tossing about on a tempest of self-blame and fear.
What if she leaves me? Nick found himself wondering, his already slow heart going cold at the thought. What if she decides to give up on curing me. What if she decides she doesn’t want me around any longer…and leaves Toronto? What would I do without her?
Desperate to prevent those fears from coming true, he rolled out of bed and padded barefoot across the floor of his bedroom, swooping down into the living room the moment he had opened the door.
As he reached for the phone, he hesitated. What do I say to her?
Apologize, of course, you stupid fool! a voice at the back of his mind chided him.
Still numb, he picked up the receiver and automatically dialed her number. With the tense anticipation of a boy asking a girl on a first date, he waited for the phone to stop ringing.
“Hello?” Nat’s voice answered.
An incredible sense of relief washed over Nick, and for a moment he smiled, but quickly became contrite again. “Nat? It’s me…Nick.”
“Oh. What do you want?” Her voice was flat, emotionless, but he could still sense the anger behind her words.
“I…I wanted to apologize, Nat. Chance told me what happened…” There was an uncomfortable silence. “I’m so sorry. Is there any way I can make it up to you? I mean, would you like to come over and watch a video with me tonight or something?” He grimaced at himself, realizing how weak it sounded, but unable to bring himself to offer more.
On the other end of the line, Nat stared at the receiver in disbelief. A video? He wants to make up for making out with Janette by inviting me over to watch a video??
“Nat, I really am sorry,” Nick repeated, his voice almost giving away his desperation.
“Really?” she spat back at him. “Well, tell me, Nick, are you sorry about what you did, or just that you got caught?”
Stunned by the question, and guiltily unsure of how to answer, he was silent.
“That’s what I thought,” Nat replied in grim resignation, the truth of her words stinging like a physical slap across the face. “No, Nick, I’m afraid I won’t be able to come over and watch videos with you tomorrow night,” she continued in an icy tone, her voice laced heavily with sarcasm. “I’m spending the day with someone, so I’m afraid I’ll be too tired.”
With that final jibe, she slammed the phone down, leaving Nick to stare miserably at the receiver in his hand, the dial tone echoing in his sharp ears like a funeral knell.
Nat sat staring at the phone, her eyes filled with tears. Why? she demanded silently of the empty air around her. Why can’t he just once treat me as though he valued me more than for his precious cure?!?
Her anger resurfacing, the coroner now directed some of it towards herself for the way she had responded to him. Why the hell did I tell him I was going out with someone? she fumed. Now I know he’s going to want to know what happened at work tomorrow night, and I have NO intention of giving him the satisfaction of admitting I just made it up! But where am I going to find a date for the day on such short notice?
Furious, she swept her hand across the table, deliberately knocking everything on it to the floor. Her eyes came to rest on a scrap of paper that had landed on top of the pile. On it was scribbled the phone number for Chance Harper’s hotel room.
With a surprised smile, she picked it up. Chance–of course! He said he was going to be here for a little while longer, since he hadn’t expected to finish his photo shoot as quickly as he did. I bet he’d be available…
Nat smiled an almost evil grin at the poetic justice of the choice and reached again for the phone, dialing the number on the paper.
“Chance? This is Natalie Lambert. I was just wondering…how would you like to go for a picnic?”
As soon as she saw Chance standing on the curb in front of the hotel, Nat hit the horn lightly to get his attention and waved in his direction as soon as he turned his head. With a smile of recognition, the photographer waved back, signaling that he would meet her at the corner. She nodded and flicked on her turn signal to merge into the left-hand lane.
Nat took a moment to reach beside her with one hand and lift the picnic basket into the back seat. A smile played at the corners of her mouth as she remembered the fun she’d had filling the basket. There was so much that she missed out on with Nick, and she had almost forgotten how much fun picnicking could be. Well, she planned to make every effort to remind herself of all those things today. She had promised herself that she wouldn’t think about Nick at all, at least not until the sun went down and she had to deal with him at work.
Pulling her car up to the curb, the coroner reached over to unlock the passenger door for Chance, who opened it and climbed in.
“I’m glad you called,” he told her with a grin as he closed the door and fastened his seat belt. “I was afraid I wasn’t going to have anything to do today, and if I’d stayed in the hotel, it probably would have burned down or something.”
Nat laughed. “You know, if I hadn’t seen what I have, I’d think you were crazy, but at this point, I am sorely tempted to believe you do have weird luck.”
“I’m almost wondering if you have it too,” Chance admitted, still smiling. “I mean, even *I’d* never met a vampire until the other day!”
Nat wrinkled her nose, ruefully. “Well, if you think about it, that wasn’t such a strange thing to happen. I mean, I am a pathologist, so meeting Nick wasn’t purely happenstance. And anything weird that’s happened to me since then has been largely because of him…” Her voice trailed off into a frown. “Why don’t we talk about something else?”
Chance looked sheepish, realizing the can of live bait he’d just re-opened. “Sounds good to me. Where are we going, anyway?”
Nat smiled secretively. “It’s a surprise. Just a little spot I found a few years ago, when I moved to Toronto, and haven’t been back to very often. I’ll tell you this much, though–it’s beautiful.”
“If you say so, it must be. I should warn you, though: nothing has happened to me yet today.”
She eyed him curiously. “Is that supposed to mean something?” she teased.
He nodded, still wearing that enchanting grin, so full of mischief. “Expect the unexpected,” he intoned in a somber but teasing voice.
Nat smiled in return. “Sounds like fun,” she murmured.
“Here it is!” Natalie exclaimed as she straightened up again after passing through the low gap in the trees. Chance followed her, his eyes widening in appreciation as he took in the small clearing, which was secluded enough to be private but not completely cut off from the rest of the park. The sun seemed to reflect off the bright green of the new grass, despite the dwarfing shadows of the surrounding trees. A little ways away, on the edge of the clearing, a tiny wooden gazebo could be seen, facing away from them towards the center of the park.
Nat chose a spot both in the shade and the sun to spread the blanket out, a finely stitched plaid patchwork that her grandmother had given her for her sixteenth birthday. Standing, she fluffed it out a little in the breeze before letting it float down gently to rest on the ground. Once she had seated herself on the blanket, Chance handed her the basket.
“You were right–this site is beautiful. How did you find it?”
Nat blushed. “When I first starting at the coroner’s office, the precinct had their picnic in this park. I was new and I guess a little shy, because I didn’t really feel comfortable joining in the activities. So, I went exploring.”
Her eyes scanned the tree line circling their little hideaway. “You know, I hadn’t realized before just how long it has been since I was here last,” she mused. “Almost seven years…”
Shaking herself out of the memories that threatened to encroach, Nat turned her attention to the picnic basket. “Well, Chance, I hope you’re hungry.”
“Famished. What’ve you got?”
She opened the basket to produce a virtual smorgasbord of sandwiches, two apples, two bananas, two oranges, a bag of potato chips, a foil-covered plate of home-baked sugar and oatmeal-raisin cookies, and at the very bottom–produced from the basket with a triumphant flourish–two cold bottles of IBC Root Beer!
She handed one of the bottles to Chance and, once she had uncapped her own, held it towards him in a toasting posture. “To new friends.”
“To new friends,” he repeated, clinking his root beer with hers and taking a long swig.
They began to eat, talking animatedly between mouthfuls about anything and everything *not* related to vampires, or especially, Nick. Chance regaled Nat with stories about his luck, and she retaliated with gleefully ghoulish autopsy accounts, told in such a manner that they were still funny, despite the morbid subject matter.