Had a large case of writer's block and then got sick so that's my excuse. Anyway, here's chapter four. Enjoy!
4. Virgins and Mass Suicide by Forking
Nat sat on the bleachers and watched as a large group of teenage boys assembled nearby, wrestling and whispering to each other. Most were wearing the proper gear but some were without shin guards or cleats. Nat was not perfect either, although he was to act as their coach he was also without shin guards if only because he had lost his.
It had been a few years since the last time he played soccer but Nat was confident that he remembered everything, particularly the drills his coach had put him through. The coaching job was a godsend because of the slow period for commissions, and he had leapt for the chance only a week before. He had enough money to pull through a few months of rent but he needed a solid job for a few months to keep things that way. That counted as a reliable job, right?
"So you're our coach? What happened to Pierce?"
Nat looked up to see a tall, stocky boy with a stubborn set to his chin step forward from the group and level him with what was supposed to be an intimidating stare. It might have worked if Nat had been several inches shorter and actually gave a damn. "No idea. I'm your coach for now though so I expect you to respect me just like you respected him."
"Can you even play?"
Nat picked up the clipboard next to him and eyed the list of seventeen names. "Nick Ashton?" Another boy waved a hand and Nat put a check beside his name. "Aaron Burke?"
"Yo, I asked you a question. Why are you ignoring me?"
"Because it was a stupid question. Dan Corgan?"
Surprisingly, the boy remained quiet until his name was called – Grant Buchannan – and did not ask another question until the last name was called.
"Do you at least like soccer?"
Nat blinked at him and frowned. "Well yeah."
Grant smiled and Nat sat back against the bleachers. That was all the kid cared about? Well that was easy.
"Okay then. I hope you all have shin guards 'cause in the future you're going to need them. Cleats are obvious. If you don't come next practice with them you're sitting out until you do. If you have any injuries I need to know about it so don't try to act tough and pretend you aren't hurt."
Nat didn't know who spoke but they all seemed to want the answer. "So I don't get sued."
"You can get sued for that?"
"That depends on whether one of your parents is a lawyer or not." Nat abruptly stood and hopped off the bleachers. He stopped short before the assembled boys and tucked his hands into his pockets. "First practice will be pretty straight forward. I want you to run around the field – not just this one, all six fields put together – and when you get back to me, walk around the goal three times and tell me what position you usually play. Then run around the field again."
Nat whistled to himself as he began walking toward the goal. "That means go."
Several boys cursed as they all began running. Nat plopped down on the ground beside the goal and set the clipboard beside him as he watched the team run. Several of the boys had already pulled ahead and Nat wondered if they would be able to keep up the pace for both laps. Others fell behind but didn't seem too concerned. Only the few at the very back looked worried.
Nat hated running. He had never experienced a runner's high or a second wind so he had never seen the benefit but after conditioning his body to run in the morning for soccer practice in high school, he couldn't wake up properly without it. It had become part of his routine.
It helped that he wasn't completely conscious until halfway through the run anyway.
His cell phone buzzed and he pulled it out to see a text from Sam. Charlie's making dinner, you want anything specific?
Nat shrugged and texted back no, but something cold would be nice.
A moment later Sam replied. Charlie says she can make pasta salad.
Nat dropped his phone back into his pocket and settled back in the grass to wait for the team to reach him.
The first was Grant Buchannan and he dropped down near Nat, immediately flinging his arm over his eyes. "We're not gonna do this every practice, are we?"
"Haven't decided yet." Nat jotted down the time when another boy, Aaron, jogged up to them and lay down near Grant to take great gulps from his water bottle.
"You're brutal, man."
"Yup, a total slave driver." Nat scribbled more times on the clipboard as several other boys finished.
"A total bastard," another boy agreed.
"I also eat babies on Sunday after boiling them in holy water." Nat cocked a brow at the dropped jaws. "What?"
"You're weird, man."
"So people keep telling me."
The next ten minutes were spent in relative quiet as the rest of the boys finally made it back to the goal. Nat tried not to grin as he watched several of the boys drop to the ground panting and squirting water on their faces. "No conditioning this summer, huh."
"Stuff it man, you didn't run with us," Aaron said, taking a long swig from his water bottle.
"All right, then tomorrow I run with you."
"You're fucking brutal, coach," Jordan muttered from beneath his arm.
Even the boys that had led the others in the run were struggling to regain their breath, sweat dripping down their faces. At least they had all remembered to bring water bottles. Otherwise Nat might have had to worry about heat stroke.
"Mhmm. Start stretching and catch your breath."
"What? There's more?"
Nat waved a hand as he began kicking soccer balls out of the net bag he had hauled them onto the field in. "Sure. You guys have practice until one and it's a little after twelve. We'll do a couple drills."
Aaron shook his head. "Just brutal, man."
Nat shuffled through his sketchbook and paused, studying it a moment and then ripped the page out and set it on his bed. Another sketch soon followed the growing pile until Nat was satisfied for the moment. Several pins stuck in his teeth, Nat tacked the sketches up in a haphazard collage next to the windows. Most were of his family, a quick rendering of Cass laughing with Joley on her lap and Abby leaning against her shoulders, another of Nessie looking particularly mischievous, a quick scribble of Mark Wheaton sitting on the grass as he watched his daughters play, a half-finished drawing of Vlad trying to write a paper at two in the morning, more drawings – mostly cartoons – of Abby and Joley in various colors and mediums. There were several more of Cass and Nessie, most simply sketches but a few finished pieces for when he had gotten them to sit still long enough.
After a moment of consideration Nat added a new drawing to the collection. The laughing figures of Max, Sam and Charlie as they sat at the table playing cards after Max's shift at Daisy Duke's Saturday night. Max was gesturing with a beer in hand while Sam looked at her in barely stifled amusement. Charlie was biting her lip and trying not to laugh but a few minutes after he had finished drawing her mouth she had lost her composure and fallen onto the floor laughing. That particular moment was also quickly sketched at the bottom of the paper. He had quickly etched out in pencil the way her eyes crinkled almost to slits when she laughed, her mouth stretched wide and lips a vibrant pink against her tan skin. Her hair was in complete disarray and Nat remembered swirling the pencil on the paper to capture the tangled mess that surrounded her face like a corona on the hardwood floor. Both hands were loosely curled into fists, held close to her chest and he frowned, leaning closer to study the lines. It was a hasty job because she hadn't stayed on the floor long but he could remember her hands. Long, graceful fingers with short, square nails and slender wrists. He wondered if he should ask her to model for him just so he could get her to sit still and let him draw her hands. Probably not, she didn't seem to like him very much.
He waved a hand distractedly, still studying the picture. There was nothing wrong with it, really, but the fact that it wasn't finished bothered him. He wanted a completed picture. Could he get them to sit for him? Max had a seductive expression most of the time, which a lot of his models had when he thought about it, but hers had a glimmer of mischief that he wasn't used to seeing and wanted to try to capture. Sam reminded him of Cass and he wanted to see if he could draw them together. Or just Sam and Max together to capture the differences. And Charlie… He wanted to draw Charlie's hands the most. They were so expressive in the way they caught the hem of her shirt or brushed hair from her brow or toyed with an earring. He had never seen such graceful hands and his own fingers itched to capture them on paper. He just wasn't sure if she would let him. But if he asked…
Nat started, not realizing that Sam had been standing beside him. He eyed her warily as she studied the drawings on the wall and finally came to stop at the one he had just tacked up.
"Hey, you drew us. Was that Saturday?"
He nodded and realized belatedly that his roommates might not appreciate being studied and drawn like that. "Uhh, yeah, but I forgot to ask first so…"
Sam laughed. "I don't have a problem with it and I don't think Max would either. If you ask Charlie I'm sure she wouldn't mind either." She turned her head to look at him and smiled. "You're really good, Nat."
Nat ducked his head and rubbed his temple. "So it doesn't make you weirded out?"
"Nah. It's flattering, actually." She grinned when she saw Nat's mouth quirk into a smile. "Do you always draw the people you know?"
"Yeah." Nat tapped the sketchbook. "I never had a camera but if I had a sketchbook I could just draw what I wanted to remember."
"Well it's done you a favor, you're a great artist, Nat." Sam nudged his shoulder and walked back to the door. "Come on, dinner's ready."
Nat followed her out and almost turned back to grab his sketchbook. Max was setting the table while Charlie stood at the counter stirring a bowl of pasta salad with a large wooden spoon. Charlie was humming to herself, one hand stirring the pasta while the other deftly turned the bowl. She wore a loose tank top, exposing the shifting of sculpted muscle as she worked. She wore no jewelry but somehow it suited her. He wondered how long it would take to sketch the scene. Probably a few hours and he would use a whole lot of paper.
"Well since Nat isn't asking, I might as well." Sam settled into her spot at the table and scooted over to make room for Max beside her. "He likes drawing people so is it okay with you guys if he sketches us on occasion? I already said I didn't mind."
Nat frowned. He had planned on asking on his own time. Probably. Maybe. Okay, probably not but still.
"I don't mind," Max said breezily, snagging a carrot from the bowl on the table. She winked and added, "Just let me know when you need to start doing nudes."
"Perv." Charlie elbowed the back of Max's head as she set the large bowl she had been stirring on the table.
Nat shrugged and grabbed the milk from the fridge to pour himself a glass. Max waved him over to the table and he took his seat, setting the milk down where anyone could reach it.
"So is it okay, Charlie?" Nat asked finally. He looked at her from the corner of his eye as she served herself a helping of pasta salad and saw her pause.
"Why?" Charlie stabbed a piece of pasta and chewed, tilting her head to watch him.
"Why do you draw people?"
Nat shrugged again. "It's how I remember them." He took a bite of pasta and blinked. Was that shrimp? Yumm.
Charlie nodded absently, nibbling on a carrot stick. "Okay. Just don't go all paparazzi on us, okay? That's just creepy."
Nat snickered. "I won't."
"Oh, I dunno, Charlie," Max said, pointing with her fork. "Living in a house with three gorgeous women is awfully tempting to try to catch us after a shower or doing something potentially scandalous and then he can draw… Ooh prime porn material!"
Nat had the urge to plug his ears and decided it was immature so he stuffed his face instead.
"You would set up those situations on purpose, you slut," Charlie said.
"Oh please, give me some credit." Max grinned. "I'd at least make it artful for the guy."
Hitting his head on the table also sounded like a good idea. Or just taking his plate and running. At least then he could finish his dinner.
"Are you blushing, Nat? That's so cute!"
Oh God. Nat studiously looked away from the three women and drank his milk. "I don't draw pornography."
"So you haven't drawn nudes before?" Max sounded genuinely surprised.
"Nudes and pornography are completely different things."
Max rolled her eyes. "Oh please, both involve naked bodies often glistening with sweat under strategic lighting."
"Glistening? Sweat doesn't glisten," Charlie told her.
"Women don't sweat, we glisten."
"Right." Charlie didn't look convinced and frankly, Nat wasn't either. Sweat was sweat as far as he could tell.
Nat gestured with his fork. "Drawing a nude is not the same as pornography. It's a study of the human body and how it's affected by pose, lighting and contrasts between different textures like on the skin, hair, and whatever is around the subject."
"Oh my God, Nat, please tell me you're not a virgin."
Nat momentarily forgot what he had been trying to explain and stared outright at Max's wide-eyed stare. "What?"
"I mean it'd be cute and all. Sad, but…you can't be a virgin, that's just…" Max shook her head as if she couldn't fathom the possibility. "Please tell me you're not."
Sam coughed. "Max, that's hardly polite dinner conversation. Or polite conversation period."
"Oh come on, like you're not curious." Sam glared at her and Max smirked. "Thought so. Spill it, Nat. Virgin or no."
Nat opened his mouth to tell her it wasn't her business and then realized that would only make it worse. He sighed. "Not that it matters, but no. I'm not."
Max visibly relaxed and fanned herself with a napkin. "Oh thank God, that would have been so awkward finding out you didn't know what to do with a woman after I seduced you."
Nat dropped his fork and Charlie snorted from beside him, muttering, "Figures."
"So!" Sam said loudly, trying in vain to cover her smile with a forkful of pasta. "Nat, how was coaching?"
Charlie lay back on her bed, feet on the wall as she stared at the ceiling and listened to the music coming from her headphones. She was satisfied with how dinner had turned out considering she had never added shrimp to pasta salad before and everyone seemed to like it. Nat could have just been being polite when he said it was good when he put his dishes in the washer but he had had two helpings so she thought he had been telling the truth. Considering she had no idea what sort of food he liked to eat, she was glad that he had liked this experiment.
The pudding for dessert had been lame and a last-ditch attempt because she couldn't think of anything else that would take only a few minutes to prepare. No one had complained but it still felt like a failure.
It didn't help that the boiling pudding had bubbled a little too hard while she had been stirring and splashed onto her hand. At least she could lick it off, but the spot still hurt.
After dinner Max had taken off for work and Sam soon after to go on a date with Caleb. Nat had disappeared back into his room to escape Max's passing comments on the benefits of forking as opposed to spooning – which made no sense to Charlie so she kept her questions to herself.
Charlie started and her eyes snapped open to see Nat standing in the doorway, one hand tucked in his pocket. She paused the music, pulling the headphones from her ears as she sat up. "Hi."
She watched nervously as his eyes trailed over her room and she suddenly felt like a kid again under his gaze. Her room wasn't much, just a bunch of bookshelves full of books, candles and knickknacks she had picked up over the years. Her dresser was a mess and her closet was open, old uniforms and gym clothes spilling out onto the floor.
"Did you want something?" she asked and almost winced at the bite in her voice.
"Yeah, uhh, I wanted to ask you something." Nat fidgeted and tugged absently at a strand of hair at his temple.
Charlie frowned. Was he nervous? "Okay… Then ask."
He hunched his shoulders and kept his gaze on the floor. "Would you mind modeling for me?"
It took a moment for Charlie to realize her tongue was dry because her mouth had dropped open. "What?"
Nat coughed and chanced to look at her, catching her gaze before he looked away again. "I know it's probably really weird but I was sketching when you guys were playing cards and I couldn't get a good look at your hands and I want to. Draw your hands I mean. Umm…"
He blinked and finally looked straight at her. "Why what?"
"Why my hands?" Charlie was proud of herself for saying three words instead of the monosyllables she had been giving.
"They're so expressive and it doesn't matter what you're doing they hold more… I dunno how to explain it."
Charlie chewed her lip, fiddling with the hem of her shirt as she thought. "What would I have to do?"
Nat brightened and he smiled, hands leaving his pockets to motion animatedly as he talked. "Anything you want. You could hold something or just rest your hands on something or whatever is comfortable."
Charlie dropped her gaze to her hands in her lap. She couldn't see anything particularly remarkable about them, they were just hands but Nat wanted to draw them. It was a little weird, she had never modeled for anyone before but Nat seemed genuinely excited about it. It couldn't hurt to sit still for him, could it? Would he think it rude if she refused, or would he be hurt? As weird as it was, she didn't want to hurt his feelings more than she already might have.
It was like watching a kid at Christmas. His eyes widened and almost sparkled – courtesy of Disney animators, Charlie thought – and his smile turned into a brilliant grin. Charlie stared, dazed by the sudden delight she saw on his face and she felt her cheeks start to heat. Nat looked so young and happy and so incredibly adorable that some tiny part of her – probably her inner Sam – wanted to squeal and cuddle him into eternity.
"Awesome! I'll go set up!"
Ten minutes later Charlie was propped up on the floor of the living room – she had chosen to sit in a well-lit neutral area because having him in her room had been weird enough but sitting for an hour or so in his room would have been too much. Nat had graciously helped her gather pillows and cushions to make herself comfortable as she stretched out on her side, one arm outstretched and the other folded beside her cheek, a fine chain dangling between her fingers. Nat settled himself several feet away, a sketchpad in his lap and an array of pencils beside him as he immediately set to work.
Charlie was thankful of the fact that her hair had fallen to partially shadow her face because otherwise her blush would have been far too obvious in the lighting. She felt completely exposed under Nat's gaze as he shifted from the paper to her hands. Where his face had been so open and happy a few minutes before, they were now closed and full of an intensity that was both frightening and made heat pool in her belly. With every stroke of the pencil it felt like he was brushing his fingertips over her skin. The thought alone made her shiver and she bit her lip when his gaze traced her arm before committing it to paper.
Gooseflesh rose on her arms and she closed her eyes. He was affecting her like this and she wasn't even naked!
"Am I doing okay?" she asked, embarrassed by how her voice was barely above a whisper.
"Perfect," Nat said gently, making long, broad sweeps with his pencil.
"Is this what your other models do?"
"Sort of. I used to have a studio so I could set everything up there and then they would just come in to sit for awhile."
"Do you just draw girls?"
"Nah, I draw guys too. I have a portfolio of cats somewhere."
Charlie tried not to laugh in surprise. "Cats?"
"Yeah. Damn things wouldn't sit still though so it's just a bunch of sketches."
Despite herself Charlie felt herself relaxing slightly into the pillows. "Can I see it?"
He paused in drawing a moment, probably to see if she was being sincere, and smiled briefly in surprised pleasure. "Sure, when I find it I'll show you."
Somehow the image of Nat sitting in a studio and trying to draw cats made her giggle and she pursed her lips in an attempt to keep it in. She could just imagine him going from one paper to another as the cat continued to move and finally give up and just keep flipping pages. She wondered how complete the sketches were if they were barely a bunch of lines that had a hint of what the subject really was. She had not yet seen any of his drawings but Sam had said after dinner that he was far better than she had thought. Sam might have been a polite person but she wouldn't exaggerate someone's talent that much.
Charlie closed her eyes as silence lapsed between them and somehow it wasn't as scary as she had thought. It was still intense having his eyes studying every detail of her body to replicate it on paper and trace with his pencil, which was far more personal than she ever would have thought but… Nat's gaze was not stripping her but simply observing. Even the sound of his pencil scratching on the paper was gentle, non-threatening.
Charlie mentally shook herself and opened her eyes to see Nat had lowered the pad for a moment. "Yeah?"
"Can you look at me for a little bit?" He tapped his pencil against the bridge of his nose. "Right here."
Uncertain, she locked her gaze on his and suppressed a shiver as his gaze instantly intensified. "Like this?"
"Yes, good." Already his hand was flying over the paper and she ached to know just what he was drawing. What did he see when he drew her face? She wet her lips just as his eyes flicked to them and locked. Her cheeks colored as she felt his eyes trace over the line of her lips and she had the urge to wet them again but Nat had told her stay still.
If he had been closer it would have felt as though he would simply lean in and… Her lips tingled as she heard his pencil trace their contours, careful, dark lines and then smudged lightly by his finger, tracing her full bottom lip and—oh God. She was overwhelmed by phantom sensations with Nat sitting several feet away and he had not touched her all night but she could almost feel his fingers on her skin.
Two hours later she was back in her room sitting on her bed with her fingers on her lips, her stomach doing flips and heart thundering as though she had just been given a smoldering kiss instead of Nat's smile and soft thank you.