“Lily is very lucky to have a brother like you,” she said, conflicting with his own thoughts. “I’m sure she’ll love the house. It’s perfect for starting a family. Just one thing, though.”
Natalie looked at him and smiled. “The house is exactly the same as it was the last time I was here ten years ago, and things were dated then. You’ve got some work ahead of you, mister.”
After a few hours at the house, Colin insisted on ordering pizza and Natalie finally acquiesced. That wasn’t a dinner date, technically, and she was starving. She wasn’t sure that he had put the idea of them being more than friends to bed—honestly neither had she—but they’d get there. As with all attractions, the chemical reactions would fade, the hormones would quiet and things would be fine. With a wedding and the house to focus on, she was certain it would happen sooner rather than later.
While he dealt with ordering their food, she slipped out onto the back deck and sat down in one of the old patio chairs. The air was cold and still, but it felt good to breathe it in.
She was exhausted. They’d gone through every room, talking over pieces to keep, things to donate and what renovations were needed. It wasn’t just that, though. It was the memories and emotions tied to the place that were getting to her. Nearly every room in the house held some kind of significance to her. Even though Lily and Colin’s parents had been dead for nearly thirteen years now, Natalie understood why Colin had been so reluctant to change things. It was like messing with the past somehow.
Her parents’ marriage had dissolved when she was fourteen. The year or so leading up to it had been even more rough on her than what followed. Lily’s house had been her sanctuary from the yelling. After school, on the weekends, sleepovers...she was almost always here. Some of her happiest memories were in this place. Colin and Lily’s parents didn’t mind having her around. She suspected that they knew what was going on at her house and were happy to shelter her from the brunt of it.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t protect her from everything. There was nothing they could do to keep Natalie’s father from walking out on Christmas day. They weren’t there to hold Natalie’s hand as her parents fought it out in court for two years, then each remarried again and again, looking for something in another person they couldn’t seem to find.
Her friends joked that Natalie was jaded about relationships, but she had a right to be. She rarely saw them succeed. Why would she put herself through that just because there was this societal pressure to do it? She could see the icy water and jagged rocks below; why would she jump off the bridge with everyone else?
She heard the doorbell and a moment later, Colin called her from the kitchen. “Soup’s on!”
Reluctantly, Natalie got back up and went inside the house to face Colin and the memories there. She found a piping hot pizza sitting on the kitchen island beside a bottle of white wine. “Did they deliver the wine, too?” she asked drily. The addition of wine to the pizza made this meal feel more suspiciously like the date she’d declined earlier. “If they do, I need their number. Wine delivery is an underserved market.”
“No, it was in the wine chiller,” he said as though it was just the most convenient beverage available. “I lived here for a few weeks after I broke up with Pam. It was left over.”
The pleasant smile slipped from his face. He jerked the cork out of the wine bottle and sighed heavily. “I don’t have a son.”