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The Eclectic Pen - Falling In Like

By: Nathaniel J. (nathanieljonet)  
Date Submitted: 5/6/2009
Last Updated: 5/6/2009
Genre: Literature & Fiction » Short Stories & Anthologies
Words: 3,951

  This is a short story I wrote a few months back after several years without a single story finished. It's pretty close to done, but there's always room for improvement. Let me know what you all think.

Falling In Like

Truthfully, Nate wasn't even expecting the musical to be any good. It was a high school production, one of those community affairs you mainly find yourself at to support someone you're related to. That was the exact reason Nate was there at 7:00 sharp on a Saturday evening in early March, wedged between his father and some older lady. Nate was 20 pounds lighter than 2 months before from a somewhat strenuous cycling training schedule and so he fit better than he would have before. The musical was good, surprisingly so, but the reason Nate couldn't look away from the stage for even a heartbeat was the female lead.

She played Natalie, somewhat of a social misfit who still had big dreams, a beautiful girl who hides that fact because she herself doesn't know, lightly damaged goods. Nate had always found himself attracted to this kind of girl, both because he also feels damaged and can relate on that level and also because Zooey Deschanel usually plays those roles in her movies. Nate felt a Zooey-shaped hole in his heart the first time he watched Elf and had been quietly trying to fill it on and off ever since, although he would never realize this.

From the second scene on, Nate could not take his eyes off of her, watching as her outfit changed from a coverall to a stained yellow dress to a clean peach dress to tight blue jeans, blue suede shoes, a hunting cap and a leather jacket. Even when his brother, playing a jock named John, was on stage, he could only see the character of Natalie. Every song she song seemed to be just for him, every joke made him laugh harder than either his father or the older lady and every coy glance to the audience gave him that wry smile that he made in the mirror when he looked in his own eyes each morning and only a few true friends had ever seen.

The curtain dropped and it was the intermission. Nate stayed seated and traded jokes with his neighbors out of courtesy, his being the best out of all the jokes anyone in the Al Ringling Theater in downtown Baraboo had heard all night. He had always been funny, but the jokes came by reflex that night because his mind was elsewhere. It was on page five of the program for “All Shook Up,” the first picture on the left side of the page. Natalie was being played by Madeline, known to her friends as Maddy, Hintz. She looked younger in her picture, standing next to Jed Strobel. Her blonde hair was done up in the long cylindrical curls you only see at Homecoming and Prom and it must have been cut since the picture. But the smile was the same and it wasn't leaving Nate's mind.

The second act came and went, yet Nate stayed only with Natalie. She got her man in the end and Nate felt not a twinge of jealousy, just a widening of that hidden smile of his. The curtain closed and opened and everyone cheered. Friends and families climbed up onto the stage to congratulate the actors and Nate went and found his brother, who couldn't find him because his glasses weren't period accurate and so he was as blind as lost hope. Praise was said and pictures were taken, something neither of them took seriously to their mother's moderate chagrin. The brother's friends were congratulated as well and through all of this, Nate spoke not one word about Natalie, or Maddy, since the musical had ended. Yet in each moment, he was always looking for her, ready to take a step towards her path so as to be able to innocuously congratulate her, to be one more compliment in a stream of community approval. Most likely, Nate would not have been able to bring himself to speak to her, as he was always a little wary of social interaction with anyone at all. Nate didn't see her.

While waiting to drive his brother home, Nate was exploring the upper floor of the Al Ringling Theater. He found his way into one of the old box seats from the late 1800s and discovered that the cast was taking pictures. He sat on the velvet chair with his Obama sweatshirt on and his feet propped up on the rail, listening to the next song on his iPod and watching Maddy and the rest of the actors pose for picture after picture. The song was by Say Hi and spoke about feeling better when the winter was gone. Winter was leaving, although snow was moving threateningly towards tomorrow, but Nate felt just fine.

That night, just past one, Nate lay on his brother's queen size bed, reading a book of short stories by Ray Bradbury and waiting for his brother to finish his shower. They spoke of the musical and the book of short stories and the girl his brother had predicted Nate would be attracted to. Yet Nate had barely noticed Shannon Keeling and his brother volunteered the fact that not only was Shannon 18, but Maddy had also just passed that benchmark which has become important to Nate since he exceeded it himself just under six years before.

Sunday afternoon, after the late church service at Baraboo Emanuel United Methodist, Nate drove back to his apartment three and a half hours away through six inches of fresh snow. The trip took five hours and Nate spent every moment of it listening to a mix of Sufjan Stevens, Broken Social Scene and Tokyo Police Club and thinking of Maddy. It was a relaxing drive and he didn't feel as though he was leaving a part of himself back in his parents' town. He simply couldn't, and didn't particularly want to, stop thinking about her.

Back at his apartment, Nate cleaned the living room and vacuumed the whole apartment. He put away his clean clothes and wiped the rubber streaks from the rims of his Trek 520 touring cycle, checking for rips in each tire. It had not been a greatly restful weekend spent sleeping on his brother's bedroom floor and so he went to bed. Nate couldn't sleep, just lay on his back and looked up at the ceiling, listening to that same Say Hi song over and over again until almost three in the morning.

Nate did not see Madeline again for over a year.

When Nate did see Maddy again, when they met for the first time, it was because of a freak rainstorm and a UPS driver running late. Nate had moved to Baraboo to spend more time with family and save some money by living in his parents' basement. Maddy had taken a year off before college and was working at the Gem City Candy Store on the square downtown.

Nate had lost eighty pounds since he saw the musical a year before, most of it from his regimen of cycling and swimming. He pushed himself mercilessly every day, not out a duty to fitness, but partly because he wanted to know his limits and then go past them. More than that, Nate felt as though his suffering and discomfort was a sort of penance, stacking up a layer of deprivation to make up for some unnamed deficiency.

Nate loved his Trek 520 and took care to keep it properly greased. The type of chain lubricant he preferred was not sold at any store in Baraboo, so Nate had to order it online and wait for each package to arrive to prepare his bike for bad weather. On April 2nd, the UPS driver was not at Nate's house, not at 1200 Park Street, by the time he usually was, so Nate decided to set out for his afternoon ride without a new coat of grease on his chain. So long as he avoided moisture, Nate thought, his chain would be just fine.

The sky was cloudy, but only lightly so and Nate had checked the weather this morning and no one was saying it would rain. Yet rain it did and water slapped across the town of Baraboo just as Nate pedaled past The Village Cafe on the western corner of the downtown square. Getting up to thirty miles an hour, Nate sped the wrong way down the street and skidded under the outstretched green awning of The Village Booksmith, his favorite store in town.

Looking south across the river, Nate could see sunshine and knew this deluge would soon be ending. Yet it wasn't slowing down at the moment, so he locked his bike up to one of the poles holding up the awning and stepped into the bookstore to look for the Thomas Pynchon novel he's been hoping to find for over a year.

Madeline was also in the store at that same exact moment, looking through the hardcover fiction, digging for that last J.D. Salinger book to complete her collection. She was on her lunch break from the Gem City Candy Store and wasn't feeling hungry. All her close friends had left town, either for college or for larger, more exciting cities elsewhere in the Midwest. Her boyfriend, Nick, had broken up with her before they graduated high school almost one year before, leaving Madeline alone with her two parents and her slight passion for good literature.

Nate stepped into The Village Booksmith and shook the water from the sleeves of his North Face wind and waterproof jacket. He took off his cycling gloves and put them in the back pocket of his cargo shorts, running the other hand through his damp red hair, leaving patches of it sticking up pleasantly. Nate nodded his hello to the owner of the store and patted her golden retriever, Steven, on the head as he turned into the paperback fiction section. Nate was looking for the John Steinbeck novel about the Mexican pearl diver.

Madeline was not able to find the book about Franny and Zooey, but she did find a John Updike hardcover her father had recommended. Busy reading the back of the dust cover, Madeline came around the corner and ran right into Nate, who was himself busy reading the back cover of his book. Madeline let out a slight scream of surprise and dropped her book, while Nate rocked up onto his toes, cleared his throat lightly and looked generally embarrassed as he often did when he was around good looking women, let alone almost knocked them over. Steven picked his head up at the noise of Updike hitting the floor and almost looked, but decided to go back to sleep.

Nate apologized semi-coherently and bent over to pick up her book about a whole month's worth of Sundays. Madeline took a step back and brushed a stray short blonde lock back from her forehead, slightly embarrassed herself. Nate handed her the book and recognized her. Her face, Natalie's face, had been on the sides of his vision now and again since that first night and he knew it after a couple of seconds seeing her in front of him for real.

Nate didn't mention his knowledge of who she was and was about to turn to leave. Madeline spoke up, noticing the similarity between Nate and his brother, whom she already knew. Both Nate and his brother are incapable of seeing this similarity and both vehemently deny that it exists. Nate nodded and verified that yes, his brother was indeed his brother. Madeline smiled and brushed that same stray short blonde lock back and looked away from his eyes for a second.

Madeline then noticed the small multi-color Obama button Nate wore on the front of his North Face jacket and commented on it. Nate looked down and said that he had almost forgotten it was on there and he had worn it since Obama's campaign first began years ago. His explanation was calm and yet somewhat sheepish, sheepish not because he was ashamed of his progressive ideals but because a young, pretty girl had talked to him and wanted to continue talking.

Madeline laughed, a quiet and self-assured laugh she had seldom heard herself. She liked Nate's button, she liked his soft humor and his red hair, she liked the way he had picked up her book and the way he smelled of fresh air and hard work, she liked that he was here.

She introduced herself as Madeline, but advised Nate to simply call her Maddy. Nate told Maddy hello and said that his name was Nate. Maddy laughed again and said that she liked his Obama button, although her parents had both preferred McCain. She reached up a slender hand and touched one finger to that button, letting the other four fingers slide past to rest on his chest. Nate flinched ever so slightly, so slightly that Maddy never noticed, but instead lifted her eyes to his, the soft glint in them letting Nate know that she knew exactly what had just happened and all was as she had intended.

And Nate smiled that same wry smile which had played across his face in the dark theater over a year earlier and that warm spark in his eye he had always liked came back and glowed for her to see.

They stayed at the paperback fiction section, with both of them speaking highly of the John Steinbeck novel in which he travels across America. The rain stopped and Maddy was due back at work. She left with her new Updike book and went to the Gem City Candy Store while Nate biked away, still without the Thomas Pynchon novel he had been hoping for.

Nate biked the same route that afternoon, but when it came to the big hill just the other side of the Baraboo River next to the city dump, he didn't push himself as hard all the way to the top. Once there, Nate stepped off his bike to enjoy the view across all of town, from the Circus World Museum right up to the Community College.

Nate called Maddy up later that night and they split a calzone at the Eagle's Nest Pizzeria, where the cook had played professional soccer in Italy for years before finding his way to Baraboo to make pizza pies for the sons of Protestant farmers. Maddy told some stories and a couple of jokes, while Nate told some stories and many jokes. They both laughed easily and with a sort of hidden abandon, as though some tribulation had both passed them by.

Walking back to her parents' house, Maddy and Nate learned that Maddy had been nineteen for some months now while Nate stood on the cusp on being twenty-five, an age he freely expressed reservation towards. Nate left her at the driveway to her house and walked back to his, cutting across the high school grounds and the varsity football field, crossing Draper Street and getting back to 1200 Park Street. It was well past dark and he fell asleep almost immediately. Maddy had done the same across the few blocks between them.

Nate and Maddy met up the next day and walked the part of the Ice Age Trail which hooks around Devil's Lake south of town. They sat atop the bluff where the lake bends and threw rocks into the water below. Nate spoke of his favorite books and Maddy spoke of her parent's and they both laughed short laughs and smiled when they saw the other looking.

The day after that, Nate and Maddy went to the Jimmy Stewart festival at the Al Ringling Theater downtown and watched movies all afternoon and into the night. Walking through the night air, just as they passed the Carnegie Free Library, Nate told Maddy about first seeing her in that same theater and how much he had enjoyed that musical. Maddy laughed and, because the air gets colder after midnight, walked a little closer to Nate the rest of the way to her house.

Nate and Maddy never went to fancy restaurants or any of the true tourist attractions which constantly bubble up in the area surrounding Baraboo and Wisconsin Dells. They would go out to eat, but at local cafes and diners. Nate liked the small town feel and Maddy just liked being out and doing something. But for the most part, they spent their time together walking and talking, or biking some place and laughing about the people they saw along the way. Nate and Maddy did not miss a single art exhibition put on in the extra room of the father and son law firm on the square downtown for the rest of that summer.

As time went on, Nate spent a few evenings at Maddy's house with her and her parents. They would eat supper and then watch television or play a board game. After Nate and Maddy were allowed on the same team for a game of Trivial Pursuit, her father refused to play that particular game with them again. Yet Nate felt comfortable at their house. He got along with her parents and talked to them about serious issues, especially to Maddy's father. As far as her dad went, he had never wanted any sons, but thought that Nate would make a second cousin he wouldn't be ashamed of.

Although Nate was on good terms with Maddy's parents, Nate's parents did not know who Maddy was beyond that she was a girl who had gone to the high school there and may or may not have still lived in town. They did not know of the time Nate and Maddy spent together, although most others in town saw them together quite regularly.

That certainly is not to say that Maddy never spent time at Nate's house.

Nate's basement bedroom had two large windows, both looking out into the backyard and vegetable garden beyond at ground level. Back when he had first moved in, Nate had taken out the storm window and screen from one of them, allowing him a quick exit to the outside when he felt the need to use it. Nate used it to leave for his early morning bike rides when he didn't want the rest of his family to know he was gone or when he got back late from a walk with Maddy.

Once a week at first, and then nearly every day, Maddy walked over to Nate's house after dark. He left the window unlocked and she would crouch down and slip in from the outside and jump down onto the floor, careful to avoid making any noise which would alert Nate's brother in the next room or his parents upstairs.

Next to the window Maddy came in each night sat Nate's large bookshelf he had bought when he had his own apartment. It was filled with books, from Richard Dawkins and Donald Miller to Kurt Vonnegut and John Steinbeck, along with picture frames and an empty flowerpot. Most of the frames were without pictures and there were gaps in some of the stacks of books where another book used to fit but now left the collection incomplete.

Maddy would carefully jump to the floor each night, remove her sandals and crawl into Nate's twin bed. Nate would lock his door and set his alarm and they would both lay down beneath the single blue comforter. Maddy would sleep in her underwear and a tank top and Nate would wear a pair of running shorts he had found behind the high school. With Nate's arms around Maddy, they would fall asleep watching the rain or the clouds or the stars. Then Nate's alarm would go off in the early morning and he would walk her back to her parent's house where she would sneak in and he would go off for his morning bike ride.

Except for several rare nights, that was their routine.

Although they slept together, they never had sex. Maddy had brought the topic up a couple of times but Nate never expressed any interest. It bothered Maddy for a couple of weeks until Nate took the time to explain that he was still a virgin and liked being that way. He felt it was important to have one thing that no woman could lay claim on and leave with a part of when she inevitably did leave. Nate liked keeping a piece of his life for himself. Maddy agreed far more than she had anticipated and so they just enjoyed staying warm and waking up no longer lonely.

One night, Nate forgot to lock his door when Maddy was over. Both were tired from a normal day and soon fell asleep. Then Nate's parents, eager to have a conversation with a son they seldom saw, both entered the room.

Nate and Maddy sat up and Nate grabbed a sweatshirt for himself and pair of sweatpants for Maddy. Everyone was surprised and no one made a move when Maddy whispered good bye to Nate and ran all the way back to her own parents' house.

No one yelled and the room was quiet as Nate stood up to shut the window and explained that he and Maddy had been sleeping together all summer but had done nothing physical. Something about the way Nate said that or the look on his face or the way he sat back down opened a door and his parents seemed to come unfrozen.

Nate's mother asked if Nate loved Maddy. Nate said that no, he did not love her. These kinds of things happen when you get lonely.

The next day, Nate and Maddy took a stroll down the riverwalk at Oschner Park, enjoying the late summer sun and laughing with the children playing in the wood chips. They held hands and both of them smiled.

Maddy left for college in a different state that fall. Nate stayed in town for another year or so before moving on himself. They didn't keep in touch, but both felt as though that was okay. The songs that had played on the radio as they drove places weren't tainted, the intersections on the way to Maddy's house didn't feel foreign or foreboding to Nate, the books they picked out together remained just as compelling and important before to each of them.

Years later, Nate was leaving a suburban Wal-Mart late on a rainy night with a plastic bag in each hand. Maddy walked right past him in the fog, on the way in to pick up some vital items before work the next day. They didn't recognize each other and Maddy walked into the store as Nate placed each bag into his car. Then Nate got into his Subaru and, with a backseat full of salsa and compact fluorescent light bulbs, flicked on his headlights and drove away with the local public radio station quietly playing a different Say Hi song though his car speakers.

The Eclectic Pen » All Stories by Nathaniel J. (nathanieljonet)

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Comments 1 to 2 of 2
Abby M. (smileyabby1800) - 5/13/2009 6:21 PM ET
Hi! Very nice story, but why can't they find eachother years later?
Lauren W. - 5/25/2009 8:01 PM ET
I feel as though this story is....lacking. THe writing could possibly be salvagable, but the story itself? Is there a point in the story? It seems as though you are recounting your own story in 3rd person. Stories are real life, but....stories. You know? Real life isn't simple, so stories shouldn't be either. Also, they weren't in a sexual relationship and yet they were naked? I don't get it. Otherwise, the characters were likable (though Nate was not easily connected with), and the writing was decent as prospective.
Comments 1 to 2 of 2