Nate headed off stage, grateful that it was over. He’d heard a statistic once that suggested that a staggering number of people, had reported death as the thing they feared second in life, after public speaking. He got it, though death was hard to imagine, the heart pounding coupled with the nausea sent alarms to the brain telling it that death was imminent. His argument was that they didn’t fear public speaking more, it’s just that it actually felt like dying when you were standing up there breathing too quickly for the rest of the body to catch up. You think too much.
Caroline, the amazing, and adorable breath of fresh air that had walked into his life unexpectedly had actually made it easier. It would have been more likely that she’d have made him nervous but something about her was centering, calming.
His skin was still humming just from touching her, but his insides were still.
He headed for the main area to look for her, knowing that he’d find her. It wasn’t confidence, not him, not with girls. It was something else, like being lead in the right direction, by what, he didn’t know. He didn’t believe in fate or signs but knowledge was powerful and right now, he knew he had to find her, don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, just go directly to her.
It hadn’t occurred to him that she’d be in the midst of a crowd. Which was stupid because of course she was. This was the prom and she was the prom queen. She seemed to be telling a story to a small group of people, that included David, the guy that had bought him a water not an hour before. She said something that made him throw his head back with laughter and he leaned in, familiar and whispered something in her ear. He hated seeing another guy stand that close. He had no claim on her but something resembling jealousy rose up, unwanted but there none the less. Nate made his way through the crowd toward them, not sure what he’d do when he got to her. She looked around. Looking for him? David placed a hand on her hip and Nate was pleased to see her twist away from his clutches and in doing so, turned to face him. She smiled brightly and left David standing there, mouth agape mid-sentence, to come and talk to him.
“Hi,” she beamed at him.
“Hey, yourself. How’s the shoe?” he inquired.
“Good as new,” she did a little dance step as if to prove it. “I enjoyed your speech,” she said, bashful.
“Oh, you lie really well. That’s not good.” he teased.
“I did, really.” she promised.
They shared a brief and awkward lull.
“You were saying something about…” he spoke rapidly then realizing that she too had spoken.
“Tell me more about…” She stopped and they both laughed, then regaining their composure, tried again.
“You go first,” Nate insisted looking at her like a kid looks at a cookie.
Sighing, she said, “I just wanted to know more about that little boy, the one with Shone’s Disease you were talking about. How is he now?”
She had hung on his every word, at least through the last half of his talk when she’d been done with pictures and reporters.
“He’s good,” Nate was high. She was like a drug and he was going to get hooked, he could tell. “He’s doing what every five-year-old should be doing, scraping his knees, making his mother crazy… You were listening. He squinted at her.
She was pretty sure he blushed. With his deeply tan skin, it was tough to say but the tips of his ears were definitely pink.
“It just, well it, struck me how dire his situation was and that no one would have blamed you or anyone else for not trying just one more thing,” she stated, impressed.
Nate proudly declared,”It’s what I do, and it was risky but it bought us time until we found a heart.”
Nate and Carrie took each other in, the room blending in behind them. The people, the sounds, felt further and further away.
“You want to get a drink, um, with me I mean,” Nate asked her, feeling very much like the shy kid asking the prom queen to dance.
“Yes,” she said simply. She glanced back to find Legacy shooting her a knowing looking and turned to follow him through the crowd. What she’d missed was David’s sulky face watching the entire thing.