Chapter 7:

The Past

"Nekofurenzu" (Feline Friends)

“I haven’t been to a movie in a long time.”
I nodded as I walked down the street, the night already bringing the cold as Natalie and I walked to the movie theater. Turns out Mewsy wasn’t suggesting that Natalie and I go out sometime in the near future; both cats wanted us gone tonight. Natalie and I looked at this as two friends seeing a movie anyways; no unnecessary depth attached. I was fine with that, and I guess Natalie was too. Both our hands were safely tucked away in our jacket pockets, only to emerge when paying for the film with cash, receiving our tickets, or buying snacks.
In the darkness of the theater, we chatted about work and where our past living spaces were. Natalie was actually back east, having worked for a film company that eventually tanked. Someone on the west coast heard about her and offered her a job, which caused her to travel. She’s been working in the movie and photography business ever since, having minor roles in some films as well as directing the photography.
“Will we be seeing you in this film tonight?” I asked with a smirk as the lights dimmed.
Natalie laughed. “I hope not. I’m tired of seeing all the mistakes in films I’m in. I liked it better when every film is almost perfect.”
“I hear you.” I said with a nod, and then we quieted as the film started.
It was an urban thriller about a man who realized he had an amazing ability to spot hidden details at a glance. He immediately joins up with the police to use his newfound gift, but soon becomes a target himself from the very entities that gave him his gift in the first place. I gave it an eight out of ten. Natalie seemed to enjoy it. After we finished the movie, I suggested we eat at a place nearby, which Natalie agreed to. Over a platter of chicken tenders and shakes, we discussed our favorite parts of the movie and/or parts we didn’t like.
“I could have pictured you as one of the detectives.” I said jokingly.
“And you could have been one of the security guards.” Natalie joked back.
“Ooh,” I replied, faking intrigue, “because I get all the cool guns?”
“No,” Natalie answered, “because you could do such a good job standing there doing nothing.”
“Oh! I could huh? Well why don’t you play the supporting protagonist then, Ms. Super-Actress! You could be right alongside the main character through the thick and thin, because you’re already above and beyond good!”
I looked at Natalie, chuckling, then paused quickly as I noticed something seemed out of place. Natalie’s lower lip was quivering, and her eyes looked turned downward.
“I’m, I’m sorry.” Natalie said, rising. “Can we go?”
I stood up, concerned. “Sure. We can go. Are you ok?”
Natalie nodded, wiping her eyes as inconspicuously as possible. “Y-yeah, I’m fine. Let’s go.”
I dropped some money on the counter, I’m sure I paid way over, then followed Natalie out the door.Bookmark here

Natalie walked as fast as she could to the car, all the while it was fruitless for me to try and find out what was troubling her. There was a little drizzle of rain coming down as the streets turned dark, and I turned on my headlights as we drove to the apartment. But as I drove, something troubled me. I was dying to know why Natalie was hurting. I wanted to help her. It didn’t seem like a physical ailment either. With a sigh, my fingers tingling with nerves, I pulled over and stopped the car, turning off the engine and the headlights. Natalie didn’t even budge. She simply looked at the glove compartment, sniffing every so often.
“Ok,” I said, “tell me what I need to know.”
Natalie said nothing. She simply unbuckled her seatbelt, opened her door, and got out of the car.Bookmark here

“Ok then…” I said, jumping out of the car. I followed Natalie, who mutely continued walking, and finally caught up to her.
“Hey!” I said, speaking more bluntly than loudly, and grabbed her shoulder, stopping her. Natalie’s shoulder flexed, then relaxed as she bowed her head, crying.
I didn’t even know why I was going this far for an acquaintance. Looking back, I guess I would have done the same for anyone. I took a moment to think about Natalie’s habitual sadness, then chose my words carefully before continuing.
“Do I scare you?”
Natalie shook her head, not turning to even look at me.
“Did a man hurt you?”
Natalie quivered. I’d hit the right button.
“Who was it?” I asked, keeping a hold on Natalie’s shoulder.
“Some guy. He lived in another apartment across town.”
I paused, thinking. Inside I was torn up, but I saved face for Natalie’s sake.
“That’s why I moved across town. When I met you, I wasn’t sure. I just wasn’t.”
Natalie gave it a moment before turning around. “I’m sorry. You’ve been really nice and been a good friend; I didn’t mean to impose on you.” With that, she stood there, acting like everything was alright and wiping her eyes. I’m sure she wanted to get going; it was getting late. But I didn’t move.
“Hey.” I said seriously as I looked over at Natalie. “That was a brave thing to do. To start again the way you did; a lot of girls would have a hard time doing that. If I make you remember those times, though, then I won’t remind you.” I dropped my hand from her shoulder.
Natalie looked up, tears in her eyes.
Soon I passed her in my car, Natalie deciding she’d walk home. It was only a few blocks anyway and in this part of the neighborhood it was safe. I hit the steering wheel in anger as I sat in the parking garage before I got out and marched up the stairs to apartment door. I walked down the hallway, making a beeline for my door, which I opened unceremoniously and quietly changed my clothes for the night. Mewsy ran up to me, blissfully unaware of everything that transpired.
“So, how was it? Had a nice time with Natalie?”
I only turned and looked at her, and she knew.Bookmark here

I never understood what it meant to really care about someone, in the most friendly and pure way possible, even outside a romantic relationship. I thought I had a glimpse of what that was like, but now I’m not so sure. It was different from a pet, who, in a lot of ways was there to bring you joy. You can only say ‘I love you’ back.
When we parted ways that night, Natalie and I, we decided it was best to not see each other anymore. Our night ended in wordlessly going our separate ways once we left the curb. Natalie was working through a very hard time in her life and needed her space. I told her that, as always, my door was open if she needed anything. It was more of a sentimental gesture; I knew she’d never take it.
“I just hate feeling like I was that man.” I said, staring at the floor that night. Mewsy didn’t reply. She didn’t have to. She just walked up and held my hand, wordlessly comforting me.
“He’s not that man, though.” Midnight said imploringly to Natalie, who was busying herself in front of the mirror before going to bed.
“I know Midnight. I was feeling happy, I really was. He was my first guy friend after everything that had happened. I just stopped when I realized,” Natalie paused, her eyes dropping as they welled with tears, “I realized I was happy. After all that had happened, why was I so cheerful?”
Midnight spoke imploringly to her owner. “Natalie, Natalie, please! You can move past this; it doesn’t have to weight you down anymore. We can help you. Let Matthew help you.”
“But I’m fine now.” Natalie replied, eerily calm, “So is Matthew. We made due on our own and we can do it again.” Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.