The sky grew darker as the sun faded away, and Lizzie finally turned to face Nate. Her expression by now was unreadable, and she scrutinized him through her wire-rimmed glasses.
Halyn having disappeared behind a building long ago, Nate found that he did not have anything to look at. He could not bring himself to look at Liz, and so he gazed down at the softly flowing water under the bridge.
The blonde twenty-one-year-old jumped at Liz’s words. What did she mean? “How long what?”
“How long have you loved her?” was the matter-of-fact answer.
Nate looked startled. Loved her? Even he did not know the answer to that. Was it when they had all gone to Florida together last year? Or when they had all ridden horseback down the lonely Montana trails and Halyn’s horse had dashed off with her and they all thought she was going to die? Or maybe when she, Liz, Adam, and Shiara had all introduced themselves to him three years ago? Suddenly he remembered Shi.
“Oh, dang it all,” he muttered. He had not meant to leave her hanging like that; to make her believe that he liked her. In a way, he had liked her – as a friend, though. And all this time she had thought…
Nate sighed. And Adam had seemed upset as well, he remembered. Did he like Halyn, too? No, it was not a matter of simply “liking.” Nate had liked Halyn for a very long time, true enough, but that was not what Liz had asked. How long have you loved her? The words ran through his head, and it was quite a few minutes before he remembered that she expected him to answer.
“To be honest,” he replied, scratching the back of his head, “I don’t really know. It just kind of happened, you know?” He looked up at her, and actually blushed when she stared back it him, unmoving.
Finally she said, “No, Nate, I don’t know. I’ve never been ‘in love’ before – whatever your definition for that is. The only people I’ve ever loved have been my friends and family and Christ.” She paused, the thoughtful look taking over her face once again.
Nate licked his lips, remembering Halyn’s stunned expression after the kiss. Had it really been a mistake? It was just a dare, just a stupid dare. One he should never have taken. But maybe I wanted to, his own words rang through his head, but he tried to shake them out. Now what did his friends think of him? Or more yet, what did Halyn think of him?
“So I screwed up.” The statement could easily have been mistaken for a question.
Liz snorted. “I should say so! You’ve made Halyn unsure of herself and her relationship with you now; you’ve made Shiara extremely upset; and I wouldn’t doubt it if Adam hated you.”
He glanced over at the philosopher of the group, unsure if she had added some sarcasm into the last part, but her face gave nothing away.
“Does he like her then?”
Liz shrugged. “It’s not really my business, Nate. But if you want my opinion, I think you should at least go and try to fix things up.”
That was not what he wanted to hear. “How?” His Australian accent made him sound croaky, suddenly desperate. But Liz did not answer right away; he watched as she looked out over the horizon. The sky looked like it had been boldly scribbled over with maroon and purple crayons, and the three dimensional clouds looked like they had been pulled straight out of a fairytale.
“Nate, I can’t give you an answer for that,” said Liz, shaking her head and throwing a sympathetic look his way. “Only you know. But for starters I guess you could apologize to Halyn.”
He jerked his head around to face her. “What? Apologize? Why?”
Liz arched her eyebrow and her face took on a skeptical look. “I should think you would know. You’ve basically just told an eighteen-year-old girl who happens to be very emotional that you care at least a little for her, and in a way she’s not used to. She’ll be confused – about herself, about you.” She paused, licking her lips. “Not to mention Shiara will be more than a little upset, angry, and feeling like punching your lights out. And Adam…” she sighed. “There’s no telling what he’ll be thinking right about now.”
Nate rubbed his face. “Great, now I’ve just lost all my best friends and…” he glanced at Liz and continued in a mumble. “…and the only girl I’ve loved since moving from Sydney.”
Exhaling with teeth clamped shut, Nate stuffed his hands into his jeans pockets and started walking away backwards. “Well, I guess I’d better… get… going then,” he muttered, wondering how exactly he was going to apologize to someone for something he was not quite sorry for.