Today’s Story a Day prompt was to take a story you wrote earlier this month, and tell it from a different point of view. I took my Start at the End story, and wrote this from Natalie’s POV this time. This all started back during Text Conversations.
“Can you get that, Nat?”
Natalie looked over at her mother, who was bent over the counter, cutting up some red peppers to add into their dinner. “Who’s coming over now? You don’t usually have company over when we’re having dinner.”
“Just go get the door before he starts to worry, Nat.”
He? Her mother was inviting a ‘he’ over now. They’d just barely survived her mother’s latest episode, and now she was inviting some guy over. Who the hell was it, and what did he want with her mother? She obviously wasn’t going to get those answers from her mother right now, though, so she stalked to the front door.
The man’s hand was raised as if he planned to knock again when she jerked the door open. Her breath caught for a moment. There was something about him, with his dark hair pulled up into a knot on top of his head. It would probably reach his shoulders if he let it down. She had a moment of thinking she knew him, but that couldn’t be right.
Natalie realized her mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut. She shook her head then demanded, “Who are you?”
But a voice from just behind him piped up. “Are you Ms. Michelle’s daughter? She’s told me about you.”
Natalie dropped her gaze to where the little girl peeked around the guy’s leg, and her lips tugged up into a smile. “I wish I could say the same.” Maybe she wouldn’t feel so off balance if her mother had ever told her anything about these people. “Yes, I’m Natalie. Who are you?” She’d already asked him, but her voice was softer now.
“Rina Price,” the girl said brightly. “This is my daddy, Marshall. He and Ms. Michelle are friends. So, she invited us for dinner. Are you joining us, too?”
The girl was adorable, and probably not quite five years old yet, though she almost seemed more mature from the way she talked. She could just be small for her age. Not that it mattered. She knew what her mother was doing. With that thought, she glanced over her shoulder. But, she couldn’t see her mother from here. “Damn it, Mom,” she muttered.
When she looked back, the man, Marshall, was grinning. Damn him, too.
“You’re on Nightborne, too?” Natalie couldn’t believe it. She’d found it so easy to talk to Marshall most of the night. The only other person she’d been like with that was her online friend, MarshImp. But, it said right on her profile that she was a woman, and Marshall was obviously…not. MarshImp’s avatar was a profile shot, though most of her face was hidden by her hair, so Natalie was having trouble telling how different their features were. The hair looked close to the same color, but it was hard to tell with the way he wore it.
Natalie shook that off. They weren’t the same person. Obviously.
“I am. I’ve been playing nearly since it was released. Who are you on there? Maybe we’ve run into each other. I’m CoachMage.”
Natalie stared at him then burst out laughing. Oh, this was just too good. “NuttyHippo,” she said, still laughing.
He stared at her. “You are NuttyHippo?”
“I am. I was called both those things in school, so I took the leverage away from my tormentors and started calling myself that.”
He glanced over his shoulder toward the living room. Her mom had taken Rina in there a while ago. Natalie wasn’t sure exactly what he was thinking. Maybe if his daughter would have to go through that. Who would ever want to bully Rina? She was a precious child.
He finally looked back at her. There was something in his eyes she couldn’t quite place. “And I can still contact you?” he asked. “Through the Global Friends account.”
He hadn’t given her his username there yet. They’d gotten distracted talking about Nightborne. “Of course. We already know we get along. You know when I’m not succeeding at killing you.”
He laughed at that. “Yes, that’s the best time. I’ve got the same name there. It makes things easier.”
She almost thought she saw him wince, but she couldn’t figure out why. “So do I,” she said. “I’m NuttyHippo all around.”
The unsettling expression on his face smoothed out at that. Good. At least she’d done something good tonight.
Natalie stared into her closet. She didn’t have a clue what to wear tonight. She’d been talking to Marshall for nearly a week and a half on Global Friends and occasionally on the phone. But, this was the first chance they were going to actually get to see each other again. She just hoped it went as well as dinner at her mom’s had.
She usually ended up ruining things as soon as she met someone in person. She really hoped that wouldn’t be the case this time. It didn’t always happen on the first date. Sometimes it was the second or third.
She’d narrowed her choices down to a sweater dress or a blouse and slacks. The dress would probably be better, but she didn’t always feel comfortable in them. Before she could make a final decision, her phone rang. She glanced at the display and saw Marshall’s name. Her heart quickened and she answered right away.
“Hey, Marshall. I’m just getting ready.”
“I’m sorry,” he said in a rush, and she snapped her mouth shut. What could he be sorry for? “I can’t make it for dinner.”
Natalie felt like she’d been hit in the chest. “What?” she practically gasped out. “Why not?”
“I just can’t.” He almost sounded defensive. “Something came up. Maybe we can get together next week. But, I can’t do it tonight.”
Maybe something had happened with Rina. But, she was supposed to be with her mother. And wouldn’t he have just told her? He’d said he didn’t like to talk about her online, but he knew her now. So, that couldn’t be it. She must have already done something to ruin this after all.
“Fine,” she said, swallowing back her disappointment. “I guess I’ll see you around the dungeons.” They should have just kept it to that anyway.
She didn’t bother waiting for his excuses and just hung up the phone. She threw the clothes back into her closet. She’d pick them up later, but she just didn’t care right now.
I walked over to my laptop, but instead of dropping into the computer chair, I unplugged the computer and carried it to my bed. I logged in and brought up Global Friends. Talking to MarshImp usually made things better. I really hoped she was online.
There was a green dot next to her name. Thank you, God.
NuttyHippo: You there? My plans changed for tonight.
Nothing. Not even any sign she was typing. Natalie slumped back against her pillows. Great. No one wanted to see her tonight. She was such a loser.
“Oh, get over yourself,” she muttered. “She doesn’t have to sit at her computer, waiting around for me.”
She opened a browser tab and went to her email. She had to find something to do to keep her mind from wandering. But, she found herself navigating back to the messenger window. Still nothing from MarshImp. She couldn’t help thinking how close that was to Marshall, but that was just a coincidence. It had to be.
Where was she? When she was online, she usually got right back to Natalie.
NuttyHippo: Marsh? It says you’re online. If you don’t want to talk, I get it.
God, could she sound any more pathetic? She needed to get a life. Tomorrow. She’d get a life tomorrow.
Then, her computer dinged, and she focused on the chat window.
MarshImp: No. I’m here. What’s going on?
Natalie blew out a long breath. Thank God. She didn’t know what to say to her question, though. Could she admit what an idiot she’d been? Like a man as nice as Marshall seemed to be would truly want a relationship with her.
NuttyHippo: Nothing, I guess. I thought this guy liked me. My mom introduced us, and we realized we already knew each other online. We couldn’t seem to get the same time off in the last couple weeks, and then we did, but he canceled on me. I don’t know. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.
Maybe she just wasn’t meant to have anything good. Her mother hadn’t been allowed to, either. Not only did she lose Natalie’s dad to war, she’d had to see her second husband killed in front of her.
Her computer dinged again.
MarshImp: Maybe it doesn’t have anything to do with you. Maybe he just got all caught up in his own head. I bet he’s regretting it now, though.
Natalie snorted then started typing again.
NuttyHippo: Ha! Yeah, sure. I doubt that. I seem to turn people off as soon as they meet me in person. It’s probably best we’ve kept our friendship online only. I wouldn’t want to lose you, too.
Great. Way to keep it cool, Nat. Now she really was going to think Natalie was a loser. She didn’t say anything else. And that blank space under the last message was driving Natalie nuts.
NuttyHippo: Shit. You went silent again. I said something wrong again. I’m sorry.
MarshImp: No. It’s fine. I just got busy. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. You don’t have to worry about that.
Yeah, right. She’d heard all that before. But everyone went away. Even if it was only into their own head, as her mom often did.
Natalie checked her computer before finishing getting ready for work. She was being stupid. She knew that. He wasn’t going to send her any more messages. He’d made it clear, whether he realized it or not, that she just wasn’t important enough. But, there it was. A message from Marshall.
Coachmage: Sorry I had to cancel dinner last night. I really did want to see you.
Those words made her eyes burn. Maybe she hadn’t given him enough of a chance. She shook her head. No, she wouldn’t take that risk. It hurt too much when she got let down once again.
NuttyHippo: Maybe it’s best if we just keep our relationship to the Nightborne chats.
CoachMage: That’s not what I want. I want to see you again.
Natalie hated how her heart thumped at that. Stupid, traitorous heart.
NuttyHippo: Well, I think it’s all I can handle right now. I’m sorry.
Natalie signed off before he could send her any more messages. She really did need to finish getting ready for work. She’d check on her mom during her lunch break, she hadn’t heard from her the day before, and that always worried her. But, for now she just had to worry about getting into the office.
Natalie knocked on the door again, but there was still no answer. When her mom didn’t answer the door, Natalie always worried about what she was going to find. It usually wasn’t any good.
She tried the knob, but it was locked. Her mom didn’t lock her door. Natalie locked it whenever she left. Which meant her mom hadn’t been out of the house since the last time Natalie had been here, and she was supposed to work the day before. “Oh, Mom,” she whispered, and reached into her purse to dig out her key.
The house was dark. Nothing. Not a sound except for the whirring of the refrigerator and the ticking of a couple clocks. Natalie didn’t bother looking around. She just went straight to her mom’s room. The curtains were drawn tight, but Natalie knew her way around in here. She found the lamp and flicked it on. Her mom didn’t move. The blanket stayed drawn tight up over her shoulders, her face buried between the pillows.
Natalie sat on the edge of the bed and stroked her hand down her mom’s hair. “Mom, come on. When was the last time you got out of bed?”
“Too tired,” she muttered. “Want to go back to sleep.”
“No. You need to get up and eat something. I’ll call your therapist.”
“No! I’m fine. I’ll be fine. Once Max gets home…”
Natalie’s chest squeezed tight. Her stepfather had been dead for nearly a decade, but during these episodes, it was like her mom completely forgot about that. “Max isn’t coming home, Mom. I’ll go make you tea. Why don’t you go take a shower?”
There was no way Natalie was going to get her mom to leave the house right now. Thank goodness her therapist was available for house calls.
“I just want to go back to sleep. Tell me when Max gets home.”
Natalie squeezed her eyes shut. There was no point in trying to insist Max wasn’t alive when her mom got this bad. She should have come over the day before. Maybe they could have stopped the episode before it got to this point. But, it was too late for that. She’d just have to deal with it.
She pulled the blanket down and put an arm around her mom’s shoulders. “Come on. You don’t want to still be laying in bed when Max gets home.” It hurt to tell the lie, even if it sometimes worked better to just go along with it. She barely remembered her own father, but Max had always been there. She’d grieved just as hard when he’d been killed, but she wasn’t the one who had witnessed it.
She managed to get her mom into the shower then walked back out into the kitchen, opening curtains and blinds as she went. Natural light would help. After starting the tea, she made a call to the psychiatrist’s office. The doctor wouldn’t be able to make it here until the next day, unless she thought this was a crisis situation.
“No,” she admitted. “I don’t think we’re quite there yet. I’ll just stay with her until then.” It would mean calling off the rest of the day and at least tomorrow. Her boss was understanding about her situation, but she wondered when it would end up being too much.
The tea kettle whistled as she heard the shower shut off. She went back into the bedroom and helped her mom dress. She wouldn’t push for too much today. Just make sure her mom didn’t fall down any further. She knew it wouldn’t get better right after the psychiatrist’s visit. It would still take a couple days for her to be steady again, but this was the first step.
Natalie could hear her mom crying in the bedroom. That was still better than what it had been like the last couple days. But, Natalie was exhausted. The psychiatrist had made two visits to the house this week. It hadn’t been this bad in a long time. But, her doctor seemed to think they’d finally made a breakthrough. Hopefully that meant they were finally on the opposite side of this episode.
She opened her computer and logged in to Nightborne. She’d been avoiding it, using dealing with her mom as an excuse. Really she just didn’t want to see Marshall on there. She wasn’t sure she could handle it with everything else going on.
He wasn’t there, though. Thank God for that. She started playing, mowing her way through enemy knights and mages and anything that stood in her way. It felt good to just lose herself in that. Until a message in the private chat popped up.
CoachMage: I’m seriously sorry if I screwed everything up.
She had to blink away tears. What was he doing to her? She glanced at her game screen, saw his character just standing there, losing experience points every time he got hit. She started typing.
NuttyHippo: The only thing you’re screwing up is your character’s experience points. You better start actually playing.
She went back to slashing her way through a horde of trolls. Was it called a horde? What did it matter? She took all of them out. But another message pulled her away.
CoachMage: Hard to play when my head is all screwed up.
And that was her problem? Like she didn’t have enough burdens to bear at the moment.
NuttyHippo: Then I guess you’d better get it straightened out. I’m no help with that.
Natalie logged off before he could say anything else. Even Nightborne was no longer a refuge for her. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do now.
Natalie stumbled into her house. She just wanted to lay down and sleep for a week. Not that she could do that, of course. She’d promised her boss she’d be in to the office in the morning. She’d been off for just over a week. She was thankful he didn’t just let her go without a word.
She needed to check her email, make sure there weren’t any work messages she’d missed. Then, she could shower and maybe actually get some sleep. But, it was the Global Friends window that popped up first. She groaned at how pathetic she was. Especially when she noted with disappointment Marshall wasn’t on. She’d told him she didn’t want to talk to him on here, that they should stick to the game. And she’d basically gated him off there, too.
But, MarshImp was on. That eased some of the disappointment. Natalie hadn’t chatted with her since the night Marshall had canceled their plans. She brought up a new message window and started typing.
NuttyHippo: I am so tired. Tired of everything. I don’t think there’s enough sleep in the world to make up for this tired.
She shouldn’t have said that. Why had she said that? She’d made other comments after dealing with one of her mom’s episodes. But not like this. Not something so blatantly honest. She was tired of it. But, she knew she wouldn’t let that keep her from helping the next time her mom fell into this pit.
Natalie walked away from her computer, getting a drink while she calmed herself down. She hoped MarshImp wouldn’t read too much into what she’d said. When she returned to the computer, she had three new messages.
MarshImp: Are you okay?
MarshImp: Talk to me.
Shit. Natalie had worried her. She hadn’t meant to do that. The words had just seemed to fall out of her fingers.
NuttyHippo: I’m fine. Sorry. My head’s just a mess. Dealing with…family. Stuff. It’s complicated.
She always hated having to explain her mom’s issues. Most people didn’t see her during the episodes, and they would probably never understand it.
MarshImp: I know dealing with your mom can get difficult. But, she’s handling things the best she can.
Natalie stopped breathing. What. The. Hell. She had never told MarshImp about her mother. She knew she hadn’t. She didn’t talk about this to anyone online.
NuttyHippo: I never told you about my mom. I don’t discuss it with people I’ve never met.
MarshImp: I’m sure you have.
Natalie narrowed her eyes. No, she hadn’t. Very few people, even offline, knew about her mom’s issues. She’d told her boss so he knew why she sometimes had to take several days off in a row. A couple friends, though they didn’t even know the full extent.
NuttyHippo: No, I’ve only ever discussed it with…Marshall. Damn it.
She still hadn’t quite worked it out in her head when she saw MarshImp had gone offline. Her heart was hammering hard. What the hell did this mean? Did the two of them know each other? Had he told someone else what was wrong with her mom? Or…No. That couldn’t be it. She’d already convinced herself that was only a coincidence.
God. How could she have been so wrong?