The continuation of my Nothing Ever Happens short story. Just to let you know there are eight parts.
Andrew shivered and wrapped his blanket firmly around his shoulders as the chill morning air penetrated to his bones. Andrew loved sitting here at this time of year, watching the mist rising off the lake, despite the cold. He saw movement out of the corner of his eye and was unsurprised when Nathan flopped down beside him.
He waited but when Nathan didn’t speak, Andrew said “Are you mad at me?”
“I don’t want to be,” Nathan said slowly.
“But you are.”
“Because I hid the fact I knew she was alive?”
“Because you sat with us as we celebrated her birthday lying through your teeth,” Nathan said, his voice cracking at the end. “What would have happened if she’d never turned up today?”
“I’d have gone to Alabama and begged and begged, but I’d never have told you she was alive.”
“You’re my husband.”
Andrew drew his knees up and hugged them to his chest. “Not being able to tell you almost killed me.”
“You hiding something this important is killing me!”
“I’m sorry. I wish I could make it better, but I had to keep it secret until Nancy—”
“Until she was ready to face up to her past.”
“When did you find her?”
“Last May. You were in London. I told you I had a shoot in Alabama.”
“I remember.” Nathan stayed silent for a few minutes, then he said, “How did you find her?”
“Do you want to hear the whole story?”
Nathan nodded even though Andrew could see the conflicted expression in his eyes.
“Three years ago you celebrated her thirtieth birthday and I realized I couldn’t go through with this year after year.”
“Go through with what?”
Nathan sat up straight. “I’m sorry my family’s grief annoyed you so much.”
Andrew reached over to hold Nathan’s hand, not letting go when Nathan tried to snatch it away. “Don’t do that. Just listen to what I’m saying.”
Nathan subsided but he glared at Andrew.
“I employed a private investigator to find Nan—Amy.”
“We did the same thing,” Nathan pointed out.
Andrew nodded. “Yes, you did. But there were two differences this time. I could afford a bigger firm,” he looked apologetically at Nathan, “and you and I were looking for different people.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were looking for your teenage sister, and they looked in the hospitals, morgues and graveyards.”
Nathan twisted his lips. “You’re probably right. So what were you looking for?”
“None of them looked for a normal woman, with kids and a life.”
“She was a junkie.”
“I was desperate,” Nancy corrected.
Andrew looked up to see her looking at her brother with a sorrowful expression.
“When you caught me in that bathroom I thought I was at my lowest point.”
“You were on your knees giving head to an old guy so you could buy smack. How much lower could you go?”
Andrew elbowed Nathan in the ribs. “Don’t be such a judgmental prick, Nathan. That’s how you found me, remember?” He still remembered the disgusted look on Nathan’s face as he stared down at Andrew, and the way his expression changed as the man came over Andrew’s face. Disgusted, but something else as well. Andrew had seen want in Nathan’s eyes.
“That was different,” Nathan muttered, looking away from them.
“No, it wasn’t. Go on, Nancy.” Andrew scowled at Nathan as he opened his mouth.
She sat down beside her brother and smiled across at Andrew. “He always was a judgmental prick.”
“Hey, I’m sitting right here,” Nathan said.
“Then shut up and listen,” Andrew said. “What do you want to hear first? What happened to your sister, or how I found her?”
“Tell me how you found me first?” Nancy suggested.
Andrew took a deep breath and looked them both in the eye. The same eyes he realized with a shock. “Sitting at that birthday party, it occurred to me that no one had looked for you for a very long time. They were celebrating your thirtieth, but in their heads they were mourning a young teenager.”
Nathan looked startled. “I never thought of it like that. Is that really how you see us?”
“I asked the PI to look for a young woman with a family.”
“Well, that narrows it down,” Nathan said sarcastically.
“You don’t know when to shut up, do you?” Nancy said. “Go on, Andrew.”
“Thanks. Nice to know one of you has manners.” Andrew ducked as Nathan went to grab him. “As I said, the other detectives were looking for who you were. I got Harry to look for who you might have become."
Nancy’s face softened. “Thank you for thinking of me as a decent person.”
Andrew leaned over and squeezed Nancy’s hand. “One day we’ll tell you the story of our relationship, all of it, including Nathan’s reaction to finding me on my knees blowing a dude in a club rest room. It isn’t pretty listening and Nathan and I don’t always come out as the good guys. But the fact is, that’s not who we are now.” He caught Nathan’s gaze. “Is it?”
Nathan looked ashamed as he shook his head. “I never thought of you as anything other than my pretty kid sister, then the junkie whoring herself for smack. God, that’s so stupid of me.”
“You were always the eighteen year old asshole jock in my mind,” she admitted.
“I always think of Nathan as the man I first met,” Andrew said.
Nathan looked at him in surprise. “You never told me that.”
“It’s not surprising. I fell in love with you at first sight.”
“That’s something I’m going to have to get used to,” Nancy admitted. “I never thought of my girl-loving brother as being gay.”
Andrew groaned and thunked his head on his knees as Nathan said, “I’m not gay.”
“Did you have to say that?” Andrew said. “He’ll be talking about it for hours.”
Nancy looked confused. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize it was a sore point. So if you’re not gay, what are you?”
Andrew answered before Nathan could kick off. “He’s not gay, never will be gay, he just happens to like me.”
“I love you,” Nathan corrected.
Andrew’s heart did that flip-flop that it always did when Nathan said those words.
“I love you,” Nathan said again, “and only you.”
Andrew’s attention was disturbed by Nancy chuckling.
“That’s so sweet. Kind of sickly but still sweet.”
Nathan gave a resigned sigh. “I don’t know why I put up with you two.” Then he sobered. “Is my relationship with Andrew going to be a problem?”
Nancy hesitated. “Aaron’s having a problem with it, especially around the kids. He grew up in a Southern Baptist home. It’s not that he can’t see you’re good people, and it helps seeing the rest of your family, Andrew.”
“It’s just that we’re abominations?” Andrew said cynically. “Yeah, we’ve heard it all before.” From his mother and her pastor, their lectures usually reinforced with a leather belt.
“He’s a proud man.” Nancy leapt to the defense of her husband.
“Andrew’s mom is the same,” Nathan explained. “And he’s got the scars and ex-marriage to prove it.” At Nancy’s furrowed brow, he continued, “Andrew was forced into marriage when he got a girl pregnant.”
“So you’re not gay?”
“I was, but they tried to beat it out of me. I went with a girl to get Momma off my back, only I was too stupid to use a condom. The next thing I know she’s pregnant, I’m married and my whole life is mapped out for me.
“So what happened?”
Andrew gave her a smile. “I thought this conversation was supposed to be about me finding you?”
“And what happened to you after you ran away,” Nathan said.
Nancy shook her head. “Do you really want to know all the bad things that happened to me after I ran away? I ran from you and Karl.” Drew heard the anguish in her voice as she talked about the photographer who got her hooked on smack. “Because I can tell you about who I lay with, and what drugs I injected, and the weeks that went past without me remembering any of them. But that’s not who I am today, any more than you’re still the man who cheated on his wife and kids.”
Andrew winced. “Ouch. I like your sister, Nathan, she’s not afraid to say what she thinks.”
“So how did you become Nancy?” Nathan asked. “Are you clean?”
Nancy nodded. “I’ve been clean for over a decade. I hitched a ride with a truck driver and ending up OD’ing in his cab. He dumped me at a hospital just in time to save my life but he didn’t know my real name. I’d told him it was Nancy. When I came around I thought that’s it. I had to sort myself out.”
“So why didn’t you come home?”
She looked at him sorrowfully. “All I could remember was the way you looked at me. You were so disgusted with me. I couldn’t bear for you to look at me like that again.”
“You’re saying it’s my fault?” Nathan asked harshly.
“I was a mess, Nathan, you know that.”
“We could have helped you through it.
Nancy turned so that she faced her brother. “You know that’s not true. I was beyond your help, and I didn’t want your charity or pity. Your disgust was the first honest emotion I’d seen in weeks. I can’t describe what it was like in my head back then.”
“You got straightened out?” Andrew said.
“The hospital found me a rehab place run by a church. I stayed there until I was clean, then I found a waitressing job.”
“Why didn’t you come home?”
“I was scared.”
“What the fuck were you scared of?” Nathan’s voice rose in anger. Andrew laid a hand on his arm to comfort him but Nathan shook it off angrily.
Nancy’s eyes flashed with her own anger. “I don’t know, Nathan. Perhaps it’s because you thought I was a junkie whore.”
“You were a junkie whore.”
“I was afraid you’d never think of me as anything else.”
Nathan rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. “The whole of my adult life has been shaped by that moment, by losing my little sister. Every decision I made, every action, all the times it was going really bad for me, I thought about what would happen if I vanished like you had.”
“You really hate me, don’t you?” she whispered.
“I could never hate you. You’re my sister. But I don’t understand how you could have walked out and never come back. In the beginning, maybe, but later when you were better….” He shook his head. “I don’t get it.”
“The longer it was, the harder it was to take that first step. I knew you were better off without me. I was broken and defective. You didn’t need that in your lives.”
Nathan’s eyes brimmed with tears. “And Aaron, and Nate and Tessa—do they make you whole again?”
She nodded. “It’s the only time I don’t feel the poison that’s in me hurting someone else."
Andrew had to look away from the pain in her eyes, her pain too reminiscent of his own teenage years. He’d felt like that about being gay, being sinful in the eyes of the Lord. His late husband, Rich, was the first person, the only person, that had made it okay to be what he was, a gay man, and without a mask to shield him from the outside world. Even Nathan, whom he loved with a passion, couldn’t make him feel like that, because he didn’t feel like that.
Nathan took a long time to answer his sister. “We celebrated your birthday and prayed for your safe return every year. I’m thrilled that you’re here, but understanding and forgiving you might take a little longer.
Tears spilled onto Nancy’s cheeks. “I understand. We can go if you want.”
Nathan grasped her hand. “You’re not going anywhere. You’ve got a lot of making up to do and stepping one foot out of this house will make me very unhappy. Besides, I want to get to know your family. They must be very special people if they can love some of the pain away inside you.”
“They are,” Nancy agreed shakily.
“Tell me about them.”
Before Nancy could respond, Andrew got to his feet, shaking off the blanket and putting it around their shoulders. “You talk. I’m going back to the house to get us hot drinks and blankets before we freeze to death.
Andrew picked his way back to the house, leaving Nathan and Nancy trying to piece together the bones of half a lifetime’s separation.
Part V tomorrow