Chapter 1: Natalie
Finding “The One.” All women dream about it from the time they’re little girls all the way to adulthood. It was fundamentally coded into us. When we were children we watched cartoons about princesses being swept away by their Prince Charming. In our teenage years, it was a book about a boy realizing he was in love with the wallflower. Adulthood was littered with romance novels and chick flicks. You couldn’t blame us for dreaming.
But there wasn’t a set of criteria to tell if he was Prince Charming. We watched the symptoms of other women falling in love, and hoped we recognized the feeling when it happened to us. A checklist would be much easier than observing other women.
Heart palpitations? Check.
He was constantly on your mind? Check.
Tongue tied when you saw him? Check.
After twenty-nine years of searching, I had finally found my One. Nathan was so perfect that sometimes I thought I was dreaming. He was a top lawyer in the Bay Area. Along with being successful, he was also good looking. He clocked in at just under six feet and had eyes I could get lost in. I wasn’t sure why he picked me, but I thanked my lucky stars every day.
Nathan had to leave for a business trip and wanted to see me before he left. I knew he had been extremely busy with work, so making time to see me had butterflies stirring in my stomach. Maybe he would make some sort of grand gesture before he left. He wouldn’t propose, but a girl could dream.
Ugh, where was my mind going. While finding The One was exciting, it was also very irritating. We had been together for almost two years, and I often found myself fantasizing about weddings, which was extremely unlike me.
I took my time as I picked at each cuticle. We were supposed to meet five minutes ago, and he hadn’t arrived. Nathan wasn’t the type to be late, either. A gust of wind blew through the air, and a chill ran down my spine. God, the weather was abnormally cold for the the Bay Area.
Finally, his white Mercedes pulled into the parking lot. As he stepped out of his car, my heart did one of those cliché things where it skipped a beat. Even after working all day, he looked damn handsome in his suit. He had loosened his tie, and I wanted to tug it and crush his lips against mine. I wouldn’t, though. There was stress all over his face, presumably from the amount of overtime he had been working.
I waved at him when he saw me. While Nathan often looked stressed, he would relax when he saw me. Today, his look wasn’t serene, which was odd. The case he was working on must really have him stressed out.
“Hi.” I smiled at him as he approached me.
My arms outstretched into a hug that was half reciprocated. I couldn’t help but feel a small bit rejected at his lack of affection. “Work really has you stressed out.”
There was an awkward pause between us. Normally, Nathan would start talking about something. He was the talker, and I was the listener. That had always been how our relationship worked.
“So,” I started, “thank you for making time to see me before you go. I’m glad I could see you.”
“Yeah.” He wouldn’t meet my eyes, so his gaze fell on the dimming sky.
The butterflies in my stomach began to flutter for a different reason. Something was wrong. I knew his cousin had been ill; it was possible she died. But Nathan was callous—as was I, which was why we got along—so something like that wouldn’t bother him. This was almost certainly work related.
“Will you be gone longer than expected?”
“No, the same amount of time,” he replied.
I paused. It was going to be frustrating to ask directly, but I supposed I would have to do it. “What’s wrong?”
He shifted from one foot to another. “I just…think we should see other people.”
When he said those words, my world fell off its axis. He was The One. My Prince Charming. We were going to live happily ever after. How was it possible he felt that way?
“What?” It was all I could manage. Time was moving at half speed, and every word spoken wasn’t making sense anymore.
Nathan couldn’t even look me in the eyes. “It was great, but I don’t think we’re right for each other.”
“Don’t cry, Natalie.”
“You know I don’t cry.”
I had taken a deep breath and regained my composure. Even though we had been together for almost two years, I would not let Nathan Flanagan see me upset.
“Yeah, I do.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” I replied.
“You just barely have emotions. And—” He stopped himself.
“And what, Nathan?”
“You’re not adventurous.”
Not adventurous. That was the most moronic thing that had ever come out of his mouth. I was an accountant, for god’s sake. One of our core principles was conservatism. If he was looking for someone adventurous, he should go date a skydiving instructor.
My glare probably could have frozen hell. “Your point?”
“It’s boring. I want to do new things.”
“Then you should have asked me to do new things.” I might have sounded cold, but my insides were burning with a rage I didn’t know existed.
Not once in our relationship had he indicated he wanted to do something new. Something different for us was trying a new restaurant that opened. If he had asked, I would have done it for him.
“I don’t want to have to ask.”
“I’m not a mind reader.”
“Whatever, Natalie. I need to pack for my trip.” He started towards his car, not giving me a chance to say anything else.
My mind told me to run after him and beg him to stay with me. If he wanted me to be more adventurous, I would. I needed to tell him everything I never had during our relationship—that I saw us spending the rest of our lives together. But I would never do something like that.
So, I watched him walk away, his suit rippling in the wind.
* * *
“I just don’t get it. I’m plenty adventurous!” I clucked into the phone.
“When it comes to looking at a company’s financial statements, sure,” Michaela’s voice came from the other end.
Michaela had been my best friend since undergrad. Logically, our friendship shouldn’t have happened. Most of my peers spent their time at frat parties getting trashed—Michaela included. I enjoyed having my nose buried in a textbook all weekend. Getting into Stanford had been hard, and I wasn’t about to screw it up by letting my grades slip.
I had picked up all of this dude’s slack in a group project, so he’d decided to “thank” me by inviting me to his frat’s party. He swore it would be the biggest party of the year and said I couldn’t miss out. Obviously, I wanted to miss out. Big groups of people weren’t my style.
My aunt had called the night of the party. Every time she called, our conversations were always generic. But that night, she surprised me. She said, “I just wanted to say that I really hope that you’re attending fun activities on campus. I raised you by the book, and it worries me sometimes.”
With her words echoing through my thoughts, I decided to go to the party. I walked up to the frat house, and the first person I saw was Michaela. Our friendship started with a keg, a shoe, and a broken lip gloss. But that was a story for another day.
“You’re supposed to be on my side here!”
“I am on your side! I’m also telling you that’s not a personality trait you have,” she replied.
“It’s not like he’s super adventurous! He’s a lawyer for god’s sake. That’s the epitome of a boring job.”
“I mean, you’re an accountant,” she offered.
“Michaela!” That had run through my head many times. I didn’t need her bringing it up.
“You don’t get this angry very often. It’s like all of the logic leaves your brain. It’s a bit weird, to be honest.”
“That’s because I’ve only gotten this angry twice before.”
I could only recall two times when I had been mad. The first was during my sophomore year in college, and I could only half-remember it. Michaela had thought it would be hysterical to get me drunk, so she fed me jungle juice all night. Apparently, I had tried to fight the biggest guy at the frat house. I cringed at the memory, but Michaela loved it. She said it was when Greek culture accepted me. The second time I was angry gave me bad memories, so I didn’t really talk about it.
“Exactly. Please revert back to the smart, logical Natalie I know.”
“She’s out right now.”
Michaela snorted. “Okay. Well, let’s work on the predictable thing. Right now, are you staring out your living room window? You probably also have rocky road ice cream.”
Shit. Maybe I was that predictable. I didn’t have the ice cream yet, but I was going to buy it when I hung up the phone.
“I’m only looking out the window.” I turned away from it in a silent act of defiance.
“Mhm. You’re probably thinking about the ice cream.”
God damn it. I tried to pivot our conversation. “Well it doesn’t mean I’m incapable of being adventurous.”
“Oh yeah? Prove it.”
“Fine. I will.”
“Good. Mark and I are going to a club on Friday. It’s a bit,” she paused, “different.”
“Different as in?”
“If you’re trying to be adventurous, shouldn’t it be a surprise?” she mused.
I thought for a moment. “Fine.”
My journey to become adventurous had started a few minutes ago, but it was already proving to be difficult. I was a planner. I loved how practical having a schedule was. It kept me on track and made sure I accomplished my goals. Every other person I’d talked to who followed a schedule agreed, but I might have had a biased sample.
“So, we’ll meet up at 9:30ish?” Michaela said.
“Alrighty, see you then!”
The beep of the ending phone call echoed in my ears. I sighed as I returned to looking out the window. Grey clouds had covered the California sunshine. Maybe even the weather felt my mood. I laughed at myself for being so ridiculous. As if that could even happen.
I wondered why I was so analytical. I approached everything I did from a logical perspective. Answers were black or white, yes or no, or answered by a real number. There were no “grey” areas. Laws, formulas, and principles existed for a reason. And by principles I meant the accounting type, not an unofficial rulebook a person followed.
Sometimes, I couldn’t help but feel I was missing out. “Goofy” humor went right over my head. I never engaged in water cooler chat.
I shuffled over to the two degrees hanging on my wall.
Natalie Lane, Bachelor of Science in Accounting
Natalie Lane, Master of Business Administration in Accounting
I also had a Certified Public Accounting license, but that was displayed in my office. The reason I worked so hard was to get a well-paying job and secure my future. I just sacrificed having friends and fun on the way.