So I’m writing a romance novel, slowly but surely. I’ll likely publish it under a different name (because…reasons) but I’ll share the first chapter of it with you here. Maybe you’ll find it on your shelves someday…
We meet our male protagonist here: Nathan. He’s got a long history of being in my head, and I’m excited to give him his own story.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m perfectly fine.” I’d be irritated at my friend’s insistence if I hadn’t already learned to tune him out.
“Man, you’re not okay! Will you just look at the way you’re living?” My best friend and usually-reluctant confidante gestured around my apartment, glaring back at me.
I looked around. “Yeah? What are you taking offense at, my TV? I mean, I know it’s a few years old, but…”
“No, Nathan.” He grabbed me by the shoulders and spun me to look into the room. Furnished a bit flashy, but all very comfortable and modern. I’d spent a good chunk of change on the apartment, making it look exactly the way I wanted it to. “This apartment. It’s barely been touched.”
Oh. So that’s what he was driving at. “I’m not here all that much, Jack.”
“That’s what I’m saying!” He threw his hands up in the air, pushing me a step away from him. “You’re never home. You go to work, you go to the bar, you go to sleep. You never have anyone over–and I’m not just talking about girls–and you never do anything! Half the time, if you don’t have to come back, you won’t and you’ll just crash with me or Alano or whoever.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, and?”
“Don’t you ‘yeah and’ me. You know what the problem is.” He made a swipe for my chest, and I backed away, hand on the chain I wore around my neck. “That. That right there.”
“What does she have anything to do with this?” I’d worn my wedding ring, as well as my wife’s, on a chain around my neck for years now. Ever since… I shook my head. “Leave Melody out of this.”
“I would, if you could actually move on!” Jackson’s voice softened and he walked back over to me, hand on my shoulder. “Dude, I get it. I mean, I don’t personally get it because it’s never happened to me, but I can’t even imagine. I know you losing Melody was a huge blow. But how long has it been, man? 4 years?”
My mouth was dry. “It’ll be six in a month or so. This summer.” My eyes found something fascinating on the far wall to watch, to distract me from what I was saying…and more so what I was still seeing in my mind’s eye. Six years didn’t make those memories fade one little bit.
“Six years, Nathan. Six years of you living out of this showroom apartment, going to school, getting a job, and acting like the world has totally closed in on you. I remember Mel. She was an amazing person, but you know what? You know what she wanted more than anything else in the world?” When I didn’t answer, he kept going. “She wanted you to be happy, man. More than anything else in the world, she wanted you to be happy. And I don’t think she’d be very impressed with how you’ve been living.”
I jerked my shoulder away from him, tense and ready to fire back at him, but I couldn’t come up with anything. He was right. I remembered the look on Melody’s face when she heard I’d been accepted to my first pick grad school. It didn’t matter that we were going to have to move halfway across the country. She was just so happy that I was going to be able to follow my dream, that she’d follow me anywhere I needed to go. Just the memory of it got my throat closing up. “I…I’m doing everything I can. I’m working, aren’t I? I’m keeping active, I’m talking to people.”
“You’re going through the motions. When was the last time you went on a date?”
I laughed. “You’re hysterical. I’m not interested in dating.”
My teeth clenched. “What do you mean why not? I was a widower at twenty-two, that’s why not. A little hard to jump back into the dating pool when your best friend, oh, who’s also your wife, gets shot in front of you.” I will not punch him I will not punch him I will not punch him…
“Six years, Nathan.” His voice hadn’t even wavered. “Mel’s been gone for six years. I get that the grieving process takes a while, and each person does it differently. But it can’t take forever, dude.”
He let me go at that point, and as I watched him walk back down to his car, I knew he was right. I’d known he was right for a while, and this wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation. I’d been letting myself live in a bubble since Melody was killed, and it wasn’t doing me or anyone else any good. But every time I’d even thought about putting myself back in the dating pool, I’d frozen. I’d been quite the presumed Casanova in college, which amused both my wife and I, but I’d never found it difficult to flirt, to charm people. Mel thought it was funny, and I never took it too far. We’d known we were going to get married for most of our lives. She never once worried about my faithfulness, and it never occurred to me to go after anyone else. So now…
My fingers found the rings under my shirt, and traced the edges through the fabric. What would you say, Mel? I could almost picture her in front of me, long chestnut hair pulled back from her face, ice blue eyes glittering back at me, the smile on her lips magnified through them…and her just laughing at me. “What have you been doing all these years, babe? You went to school to help people, and now you won’t help yourself. You know what you need to do.”
Easy for you to say, beautiful. But the Melody in my head was right; I’d gone to school to be a counselor, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. And avoiding my apartment and pretending I didn’t exist outside of work and the bar wasn’t exactly healthy. I knew better. I knew better. But where did I start? I’d never really dated before, and none of the girls I ever saw hanging around the bars were exactly the type of person I’d want to take home with me. I’m sure they were lovely people, but they’d all had one drink too many and they were all looking for a warm body and a comfortable bed. Call me old-fashioned, but I wanted more than just a drunken fling.
But where did someone go to find that nowadays?
Maybe I could ask my clients. Because that wouldn’t be weird or anything.
There was nothing I was going to be able to to about it now. A glance at the clock told me that while I had plenty of time to hit the bars, I didn’t feel like going out tonight. I kicked off my shoes and flopped onto the couch, looking for some movie to watch on TV.