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Milli was confused, admittedly. What was she supposed to do? How was she supposed to act? She knew what she wanted, but Julia had been her best friend from her very start in this busy city. She closed her eyes as she listened to Nathan, he was breaking her heart and ripping her in two. And it wasn’t his fault. It was her fault.
“I’m a fool.” She whispered quietly to him, a stray tear escaping her closed eye. They couldn’t do this, no matter how she wanted him.
She fluttered her eyes open to meet his eyes, his close proximity making everything somehow worse. She placed her hands on his chest, feeling his heart beat beneath his chest and she wanted nothing more than to embrace him and take him. But he wasn’t hers.
“You’re not mine to want.” She hadn’t said no, but she hadn’t said yes. She was terrified. Nathan was a good man, a beautiful man in a war torn world. She swallowed and withdrew from him. She wasn’t angry, she was lost and confused. She chewed her lip and she wanted him, she wanted him so badly but she couldn’t do this.
“Please, Nathan.” She pleaded quietly.
“Don’t make me choose this. Don’t make me feel this.” She begged as she wrapped the sheet around her form tighter, feeling horrible and self conscious of herself.
“I can’t give you what Julia can. I will never be able to. And you’re with her.” Milli said softly, being as gentle as possible.
He’d made a mistake but it honestly didn’t feel like one. Being here wasn’t a coincidence. Him and Milli meeting wasn’t terrible or fate playing a cruel trick. Things had gotten out of sorts and Nathan was desperately trying to put everything into place. Milli thought she was the only one scared of love or getting close – being attached after suffering through being ripped away and planted wherever the other person felt you belonged – and never really feeling nurtured. He questioned why things were so hard when he knew it had been him pursuing Julia instead of Milli and because of why? Because he was scared. He was terrified that she couldn’t take a chance on him and her only proven her right. He wanted to change that though, but at the risk of breaking a heart ? At the risk of ending a friendship?
For a moment she had melted into the embrace, so willingly accepted the moment and he didn’t want to break contact. Her voice was small, breaking as though a flood of words she didn’t want to be said Were near to flowing out.
“Why not now ?” He asked her, frustrated more so with himself for acting on his desires knowing the predicament they both were in. “I don’t want to go to Paris knowing I left you behind – that I didn’t take that chance with you knowing how badly I –“ Nathan raked his hands through his hair. “I wanted you the minute I saw your smile. The way you cradled a book in your hands – I care for Julia but I’ve never, I don’t feel the way I feel with you when I’m with her.” Hearing the words aloud made him twitch - he’d never admitted the though about. “Kissing you – felt like finally coming up from air after being underwater.”
The kids had done more than just that – it was like an electric shock. Kissing her had made me realize he didn’t want to go to Paris. He leaned into her, gently resting his forehead against hers. “Tell me you don’t want me.” He tested, voice low.
Milli was doing her best not to shake, keeping her cool as best she could because she was scared. Scared of being judged so openly as she did her best not to grip the sheets around her and let them flow. She heard his comment and flickered her gaze to his momentarily with a shy smile, a rare one of gratitude because he did wonders to calm her nerves. She glanced to him occasionally, watching how focused he was as he worked.
It was nice to see him work, it was soothing in a way. And he looked different when he was so focused. He looked passionate and there was a fire behind his eyes and she was almost glad to see such passion back. She didn’t expect him to stand and she eyed him, wondering if he was done already. Or maybe she didn’t inspire him and for a split second she looked disappointed in herself. She felt his touch and raised an eyebrow when he spoke.
“Wh-“ She was cut off by his lips crashing with her own and it took her breath away.
For the briefest moment she forgot who he was, who he was seeing and he was just a man, and she was just a woman. She broke the kiss after a few moments, reluctant to bring reality upon herself. She was tingling all over and then she remembered. She remembered everything. And it was terrifying and awful.
“Nathan-“ She cut off and swallowed hard.
“Nathan we can’t.” There was a choke in her voice.
“Don’t do that- not when you’re going to leave, not after everything.” She whispered, despondently.
“Just a sheet.” Nathan murmured as he he watched her come to a stand. Nathan debates with himself whether this was a good idea, though it didn’t stop him from following her. He stood in her bedroom, a space he had not crossed into before. Almost as if waiting for an invitation, it took him a moment before he crossed and walked into the room. She had left him alone to change and Nathan took the opportunity to take in his surroundings. It was a small space, but she had made it her own and it made him think about that cottage she was saving up for. He was startled some but her voice, though he knew too it was his nerves. Milli had seemed so calm, but surely she was just as nervous as he. He had his back to her, but had made sure to close his eyes still. It wasn’t until he heard the slight break of the bed from the weight of her body that he turned. She knew direction well, positioning herself just as he imagined.
He watched her then, hair a waterfall down her back, the sheet wrapped just loose enough to show the curves of her body – draped around her like a goddess. He was mesmerized, but telling himself to push back into work mode. He walked over, his hand reaching out to gently bring out just a strand of hair – those eyes that had entrapped him plenty times before, peeking through. His touch lingered for a moment, the idea of running his finger over her lips only stopped by the small voice in his head telling him to stay on track. He’d not mentioned this to Julia – not wanting to disrupt the art. He’s ruined plenty of pieces during and after their arguments. Nathan wasn’t used to feeling such anger.
But this was different. “You’re perfect.” He said softly. He took a seat in a chair, the space was tight but the lighting just right for the colors he had in mind. He’d tried to maintain focus, already laying out the outline. Though with each stroke he found himself pausing longer than needed when looking toward her. Nathan stood in the middle of the session. He wanted a better idea of how the shadows hit her face, to look into those eyes and portray the look that had captured him that day. “I hope you don’t mind,” he said as he tipped her head up gently. It was a bad idea and he knew it, but his lips soon pressed against her own – a kiss that he’d wanted since meeting her – a kiss he hoped that she didn’t deny.
Milli watched him and sighed a little. She didn’t mean why she said, of course it would kill her to never see him again but she wasn’t sure she could go through the heartbreak again. And what if it didn’t work with him and Julia? And he was stranded in another country, alone? She gave him a small smile of reassurance and shrugged at his statement.
“Now is good a time as any.” She pointed out and eyed the picture.
“So.... I just need a sheet?” She commented and seemed oddly nervous. She hadn’t ever exposed herself in such a way and it seemed awkward. It was for art though so it was no different from a photoshoot. She eyed the front room and figured there was space enough. Or there was her room.
“I have a sheet somewhere.” She pushed herself up after draining her tea and hid a wince of pain. She would be sitting for this, she figured. She wanted to ask if Julia even knew Nathan was here but she refrained. This was awkward enough.
She gestured him to follow as she grabbed a sheet from a linen cupboard. Her place wasn’t exactly big but her bedroom had a good amount of light. She dipped into the bathroom and shed her clothes, draping the thin sheet about herself as she eyed Nathan,
“Close your eyes.” She said to him and waited before she stepped out and settled herself on the bed, the red bedsheets setting a contrast to the thin white one she draped over herself as she sat and looked over her shoulder to Nathan.
“Alright.” She murmured and fixed her hair slightly, smiling at him.
“Do you want my hair moved, or... I don’t know.” She said as she parted her lips slightly and eyed him. There was a blush over her cheeks as she got comfortable and her brunette hair fell in neat curls, loosely. Her heart was hammering in her chest but she was desperately trying to treat this like any other photoshoot. Except it wasn’t a photoshoot with a stranger. It was Nathan, painting her. No special effects, just him and his paintbrush.
Nathan could see that she had been taken aback. The sketch was a bit more intimate than anticipated, but all their small moments of interaction had felt that way. He was glad to know that Milli was willing to do the painting and come to the exhibit, but to know that could possibly be the last time he ever saw her made his decision about Paris even harder. She was resisting him and Nathan would have to be a fool to not know why. But what could he do?
How would she think of him as the type so willing to give one’s heart to when he was easy to bounce from her friend to her with no problem? It was different though – Milli made it easy for him to love – to be with. The only confusion that was created between the two had been a result of his own actions. “I’d like to see you that night.” He admitted, not really confirming if he had decided to leave, but Nathan didn’t have much time to figure that out.
“Well, we can do it now if you’re energy is up?” He suggested with a small smile. “I brought my supplies, guess with the hope that you wouldn’t turn me down. Besides – if I’m as good as you and Sharon think I am, maybe it’ll help in your career.” He chuckled, trying to make light of the situation though he was actually a bit anxious then knowing that he would be painting her. Nathan tried to come off as the confident artist he had been when she first met him.
“I figured where you find the most comfortable?” She didn’t have to be fully nude, but he wanted the scene to seem as though Milli were in her natural element. “I just need to get the sketch perfect, I can work on the painting at home. Another late night, nothing new.” He said with a chuckle. He wanted to take his time on the painting even though he knew he had to be quick. But finally being able to sit and study Milli would make things easier. Nathan was tired of rushed sketches from their past meetings.
He was speaking like a romantic, with that spark she had missed when he spoke of his art. She eyed the sketch he showed her in his book and looked slightly taken aback. She finally nodded to him. Was he serious? Did he not know how her heart fluttered when she saw him that night, and how it had dropped so suddenly when she had realised he was dating her best friend?
“So... Paris.” She said to him and watched him. He could leave, for a whole other country. She swallowed thickly and nodded to him.
“I’ll do your painting.” If it was all he would have to remember her by, a simple painting made beautiful by his hands then so be it. He hadn’t made a decision though, not yet. She thought for a while in the silence.
“I’ll come to your exhibition.” She said to him, it would only be right.
“But-“ She struggled for the words now,
“If you decide to go to Paris, to leave then...it’s best that’s the last night I see you.” She said to him quietly. Anything else would be heartache and too much to cope with. She couldn’t say goodbye to him, even as things were now. She looked uncomfortable for a second, looking back to his book.
“When did you want to paint?” She asked him, “I’m free all day.” She said to him. Better to get it over and done with.
He’d accepted the tea, hoping it would settle the nerves or the ways his hands would’ve been shaking had he not shoved them in his pockets. He didn’t know what to do or say – in fear she would lash out at him any second. Julia was quick to temper, but Milli seemed like a kettle simmering and ready to sound out once pushed. Had he pushed her? He knew he seemed to have pushed her away and had that been enough to cause her anger – considering how she was treating him. He accepted her apology though despite there was no need for her to validate her attitude.
“I guess I deserve it after all,” he said as he followed her. She had been reading, he tried to spy the title of the book, missing those peeks into her life when she’d talk about a new one she had gotten into. Now on the train he found himself listening to music to drunk out the [I bad] noise, focusing on sketching and trying to remember the names Sharon deemed important for the exhibit’s afterparty: people who would want to become familiar with it he expected future support. He wasn’t much of a party guy and even despite the many events attended with Julia, it seemed the only thing that had truly improved was his wardrobe. Still, in his free time from her he liked to remain as casual as possible.
“I’ve been good,” he lied. “Busy – you know with everything that’s coming up. I hope you’ll come and you now Julia had her whole Paris thing. She wants me to have a decision for her by the time the exhibit’s over.” It had been like weeks since they had discussed it initially and yet he still felt like things were moving too quickly. If things were over between him and Milli though, too hard to deal with what was he sticking around for then?
“Well I was really hoping to do something like [https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0135/5736/6884/products/IMG_20190426_112641_300x300.jpg?v=1574679194 this]”, he said as he began to rifle with his bag to bring out his sketchbook. He wanted to change the subject. “I got the idea from that day before the uh – [I stabbing].” Nathan cleared his throat then. “The way you looked over your shoulder at me – it – I guess I felt lucky to have been thought to look at, at all. For a brief moment, those eyes met mine – I felt like everyone and everything seemed to disappear”
Milli listened to him in silence as she stirred his herbal tea. She hadn’t even thought to ask him if he liked it. She set it down for him and gave a meek smile.
“BlackBerry.” She said to him and shrugged a little. Nathan looked tired, maybe not physically but certainly emotionally. Milli would ever admit it but she was worried about him. She bit her lip as he finally finished up speaking. Part of her wanted to throw him out and tell him that he had toyed too often with his emotions. But she couldn’t.
“Uh, sure.” She said to him quietly, about the modelling part. He’d missed her? Sure, not enough to text. She was supposed to be over him, supposed to be okay with him and Julia and yet here she was, like a frightened child.
“What do you need me to do?” She asked him. He shouldn’t have come, because seeing his face was somehow so much worse and it brought back everything that couldn’t be.
She realised she was being short with him, treating him like a photographer who was asking her to pose or trying to book her a gig. She breathed out and finally she looked at him, properly.
“Sorry.” She murmured as she sank into her chair by the window and eyed him over.
“How have you been? You look like a man on the edge.” Milli remarked.
Nathan blushed then at the sound of her voice, turning over his shoulder to see her. He hung up the phone, he wasn’t sure where there re – friendship lied and felt maybe it would be best if he just called ahead of time to see if he was someone she even had any interest in seeing. She was doing much better and it seemed that the physical therapy was working in her favor as she was standing much easier now. Though, he supposed she still had to take it slow and he hoped that she wasn’t pushing herself too much. He tried to keep his eyes at eyelevel, though admittedly they did travel from bottom up,
“Sorry,” he said as he rubbed the back of his neck and entered the apartment. “I would’ve called earlier, but I got a bit backed up.” He was lying of course, knowing that he had in fact chickened out on calling her because he was insecure and not sure she would answer. He’d yet to receive news of her accepting the invitation he sent out for the show.
She was avoiding him, eyes swimming all over like a fish pulled from a pond into a small bowl – and yet much like the bowl the fish couldn’t escape what it did not want to see or understand. He followed her without direction, watching as she began to prepare a refreshment. “I didn’t mean to disturb I just – I thought it’d been a while and wanted to make sure you were doing fine.” He’d dropped the ball, knowing he had offered his help earlier so willingly and at a point stopped dropping by. He didn’t want to admit that Julia had been somewhat of the reason – he’d been trying to take the relationship with her more seriously and to her that meant giving up any of his free time to her. Though, he was taking Milli’s advice – trying to be more open and not shutting Julia out. Still, he was unsure not if he loved her, but if he loved or cared enough about her to move away, knowing some piece of him still had been imprinted with the presence of Milli since they first met. It was that damn [I what if and why not?]
Julia and him had good days. But there were days it seemed the pills and the booze turned her to someone else and it reminded him of Charlotte – struggling to love someone so volatile and yet hating the idea of leaving them to fall into destruction if you turned away.
“And you know – I was thinking about that day at the museum and hoping, you’d still model for my final piece? I mean Sharon thinks we’re all set, but it still feels like its missing and I’ve wanted to paint you. And I just – I know I’ve been away, but just . . . want you to be there. I’ve missed you” He sighed out, he was nervous and speaking so fast. “I shouldn’t have come,” he said with deflation, not sure she was even willing to agree or even want to and he’d slipped in admitting that he had thought about her.
Things had moved slowly, Milli had barely heard from Julia or Nathan and she figured it was almost for the best no matter how much it saddened her. This was why she never fell in love, this whole process of heartbreak and grief. She couldn’t help it. Her days were filled up with therapy and the odd visit here and there. She had received the invitation to the art exhibition but she was still unsure if she would go.
She could walk now, albeit slowly and stiffly and needed numerous breaks to regain the strength it sapped from her. That morning had consisted of a rather tough therapy session, one that had really pushed her muscles. She figured she had earned a lazy afternoon. She was not expecting the phone call at all, she figured that was the final curtain on her and Nathan’s little show. She pulled herself up from her spot and answered the phone call,
“Hey.” She wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or not. She felt awkward, out of place. She did however hear his voice from the front door and she raised an eyebrow. Drop by, huh?
She made her way slowly over to the door and opened it,
“You could have knocked, would’ve worked just as easy.” She said to him as she gestured for him to come in. The wheelchair sat in the corner of the room, thankfully she didn’t need it in the house as she could do her best to get by. It was for emergencies only nowadays. She was only wearing some cotton shorts and a loose T-shirt.
“Sorry, wasn’t expecting company.” She murmured. Her favourite spot by the window had a couple of chairs, some herbal fruit tea and a book where the light filtered in. Nathan looked as good as ever.
This was awkward, she decided. She sighed out and put the kettle on. She didn’t know what to say to him. Her mismatched eyes looked everywhere but Nathan, setting out an extra mug to do a cup for him. What was she supposed to say? Part of her was upset and angry he had dropped off the face of the planet for her, she had done gruelling therapies and sessions on her own, come home alone save for the odd visit. Even Julia had stopped coming by.
“I uh, didn’t expect to see you again.” She said to him, her hair loose around her face. She didn’t want this, she told herself. She had given up and so had Nathan, he was with Julia and she should have expected that their communications would drop. And she knew it was the right thing. But it didn’t stop the hurt.
Nathan knew that there was nothing that would stop Julia from following her dreams. Though he was curious to know whether or not she would deny herself of the opportunity. A small part of him wanted so badly for her not to accept giving up Paris and a deal. He wanted her to be happy and successful and if things weren’t working out now, would Paris change that? Paris could definitely benefit his career as an artist, especially if the exhibit went well.Though he knew that ultimately, some part of him wanted to stay for Milli. It wasn’t right and he didn’t want to actually vocalize it, knowing the possibility that this could have an effect on Milli and Julia’s friendship.Speaking to her made him feel nervous, but Milli was right, it was unfair of him to not actually face these issues with Julia.
Lunch was soon over and Nathan knew that he couldn’t stay with Milli forever. “Today was definitely interesting. I had fun,” he said with a smile. He walked alongside her out of the eatery, staying with her until sure she was safe in the cab. His stomach still turned some at the thought of what had put Milli in the wheelchair. He just hoped she recovered well.
Weeks had gone by, Julia wasn’t talking to Nathan for a while considering the blowout fight they had and especially when admitting he had spent that afternoon with Milli. Though telling her he was just trying to not have Milli locked away and become depressive had been his motive. That was the least of their problems as Julia had admitted that she loved Nathan and wanted him to come with to Paris. It was a big pill to swallow and his hesitation didn’t help. Things had smoothed over some as his exhibit date was coming up in less than a week. Though, at request of Julia and with the hopes to keep their relationship in tact, Nathan had drawn away from Milli. Though, his mind had been plagued with a burning idea that had come to him in a dream and he knew he wanted Milli to be a part of this piece.
He was nervous, calling her for the first time as most of their correspondence had been through texting and had eventually dwindled to nothing.
“Hey Milli,” he said into the phone. He was already standing outside of her apartment in the middle of the afternoon, pacing in front of the door. It was a rough area. “I was hoping to drop by? You know if, it’s not too much trouble.” As though he hadnt taken a whole train ride and long cab ride out of the way just to see her.
Milli watched him and she could tell this was eating Nathan up inside. She pushed aside her own feelings and tried to be diplomatic because Julian deserved happiness just as much as Milli did.
“Well...” she looked thoughtful, “From what I do know of love, you have to ask if it’s worth it?” She murmured as she looked out the window, watching as people shifted by and talked and laughed together.
“Look.” She said and looked back at Nathan.
“I’m not an expert, Nathan. I won’t ever be. But if Julia wants to go to Paris, she’s going to go. She’s always been ambitious. Maybe take some time and ask yourself if it’s worth it for you. If your feelings for Julia are worth moving country for.” She said to him and she knew he would likely have to speak with Julia about it all.
“You have to talk with Julia. If you don’t want to go then... she has to know. I mean, maybe she would give it up for you.” She didn’t know, maybe Julia would give it up.
Milli looked back to Nathan and gave him a smile,
“Speak to her, Nathan. What is the worst that can happen? You deserve to be happy too and maybe you guys will reach a compromise.” She pointed out and reached over to give his hand a gentle and assuring squeeze. His skin was electric on hers and she withdrew after a moment.
“Speak to her, when she tells you. Be honest with her.” Milli said as she handed him half for the lunch.
“I should get going.” She said as she called a cab and looked to Nathan.
“Thank you, for today. And if anything gets too much just call me.”’she said to him, knowing full well how Julia could get. She didn’t like to be told but Nathan would probably find out soon enough. She saw her cab pull up outside and sighed out quietly. She hoped Nathan would be honest with Julia, she deserved at least that.
Once home, she had a doctor call by and help her through some small things she could do at home to build strength up again. It was still painful to even try but she was managing, barely. She watched out the window and smiled a little as she finally got herself settled.
He recalled their conversation about Jacob. He wondered what would have happened if he made the jump to actually be with her. Milli had made it clear that she was not the average girl who had any thoughts on finding the one or marriage. It seemed like a lonely life to live and he wondered if there would ever be someone who could change her mind. He certainly hadn’t, as he was dating her best friend and yet – she was pushing so hard for them to be together. Nathan figured she was forcing herself to be happy for them – or was he being cocky in thinking that Milli had any interest in him at all? She was much of an empathic and selfless person, he suspected that she had every intention of never getting in between his relationship with Julia. She was much too good of a friend, of a person to do so – yet, Nathan was sad to know that she had been denying herself of that sense of intimacy.
Was he any better? To suggest breaking another heart to fix hers. He washed his sandwich down with water, watching her, eyes drawing to her lips which gave a small smile. She smiled, but he figured it was nothing to really smile about. Why was she ignoring her feelings? He wanted her to be angry – to be upset – and yet he knew how damaging that could be to a relationship or friendship. Still, he shared with her allowing diminishing your own feelings to make everyone else comfortable. “Well two halves make a whole,” he lamely responded.
“A fresh start?” He asked with a raised brow. This was supposed to be his fresh start – moving again was terrifying to him to be honest. He thought of how resistant he had been in the first place when Sharon had given him the offer, but reminded himself that this could be his last chance at getting his art out in the world. “I’d have to think about it. I mean – what if things don’t work out? I guess you would know her better than me, we just seem so different and not in a way I expected. Am I just not giving it a chance?” He asked her. His stomach turned then. Paris would become just another place to Julia, something to cross of her list – but this would be a memory for Milli. He didn’t want to run through life, he wanted to take his time.
“Ah, sorry.” Milli said when Nathan mentioned it could have been a planned surprise and she sighed a little. Then again she was sure it would be a surprise none the less. She picked at her food and looked over to him as he spoke.
“Me?” She was a little shocked he asked her because she was hardly the poster girl for love. She looked him over, trying to think. Every time she tried to think of love or the possibilities for her, he just came to mind.
“I guess...” she had to be careful.
“Right now, when I think of it, it means loss and a replay of what happened all that time ago, with Jacob.” It wasn’t a lie. History was just replaying itself before her very eyes and Milli just hoped Julia realised what kind of man she had at her side.
“I guess it’s not meant to be like that. I think sometimes it’s just about finding someone who’s as broken as the other.” She shrugged a little and took some of her milkshake. She hated discussing love,
“I’ve given up on it.” She said with a small, accepting smile. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth the heartache and the sleepless nights. She didn’t ever want to hear anyone say they loved her because that was a promise and she knew it wasn’t a promise she deserved or they could fulfil to her. Especially now, bound to a wheelchair with weeks of therapy to learn to walk again. No man needed that stress or commitment.
“You should go with her, to Paris. Maybe that’s what you both need, a fresh start in a fresh place.” She changed the topic slightly.
“As long as you send me a postcard or some photographs or something. I’ve always wanted to see Paris and I’d like invites to future exhibits.” She pointed out as she grinned a bit. She was looking forwards to his art exhibition and she knew there would no doubt be many more in the future for him, especially with Julia doing so well.
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