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Nate and Anna or the First Story

This is the story of a boy who loved too much and a girl who loved too little.

Which sounds like the opposite of what it should be, because you already know the outcome; he cheats, she dies, he dies. But it is what it is, and I will do my best to tell you nothing but the cold hard facts without any lenses at all. Just the truth, I solemnly swear.

I met Nathan when I was twelve and a half years old: I met Anastasia six months later, on the eve of my thirteenth birthday. I had just moved from Nowhere, Colorado, to San Francisco, California, and the big city scared me. Suddenly, I knew nobody, and I knew myself even less. I was angry, and I was confused, and I blamed my parents for putting me through hell. I didn’t play sports, my Little League and Boy Scouts days far behind me, and I hated reading. All I ever wanted to do was ride bikes with my friends and watch quality TV (like the Rockies games). But both of those things were back in Colorado and the only baseball games on were the Giants. This was years before their winning streak, so all I got to watch was a bunch of small people – not even real giants – run around and lose all the time. In short, it sucked.

Nathan was the first friend I ever made in San Francisco. He was quirky, and he was weird, and he was funny. And he was the first guy who ever gave me a chance. I surrounded myself with a rock fortress so that nobody could penetrate my walls – I closed myself off. Nathan – Nate, really is what I always called him – Nate made it his mission to break my walls. It took him four and a half months, but it worked.

They say the first million is the hardest – the first friend is even harder. The rest follow. By the time I was about to turn thirteen, I had a sizeable group of guys who I had called friends. So I decided to have a birthday party, just a small affair before we all went to high school and parted ways. One of the guys – Dmitri – had a little sister who he was supposed to be looking after, but I said no problem, take her with us. So that was how I met Anastasia and how she met Nate.

It wasn’t love at first sight, god no. We were twelve, she was eleven, and even though girls mature faster than guys, she was eleven years old! But Nate, being the nice guy he was, took care of her all during the party – it was paintball or something – and it was adorable. She fell in love with him in the way all damsels in distress do. But it was a harmless crush and he didn’t reciprocate. 

Until the senior year of high school. Nate and I were both eighteen, Anastasia was… God, she must have been sixteen or just turned seventeen, but either way, she still had a thing for Nate. Little did I know that he felt the same way, but there was a barrier there that he didn’t feel he could cross. Until alcohol limited his and her inhibitions and they hooked up. On my bed, no less! That was how I learned to lock my bedroom door at parties, but that’s a different story.

Anyways, that was far from a one-time thing. They got together that summer and they never separated after that. Nate went to college, but he came back and saw her as often as possible. They were twenty and twenty-two when he popped the question and a year later they were married.

They moved out of San Francisco to New York – their first mistake. New York is a haven for infidelity and broken dreams. He and she both made it – not big, exactly, but sizeable, so money was never an issue. Who knows what really went wrong?

It was after work, it was Friday night, and Nate left Anna at home to go out for a drink with his buddies. Well, he didn’t leave her at home exactly because she was hanging out with her girlfriends – but either way, she wasn’t with him that evening. His companions were his still-single work buddies and Jack Daniels. So they went to a club.

That’s where he met Tricia. Tricia bought him a drink, he danced with her to “pay for it,” as he told me the day after. Jack Daniels grabbed Nate’s brain and rendered it immobile, so he had to use his other head. If you know what I mean.

To Nate’s credit, it nearly killed him, the first time. The shame he felt, the guilt. When he went home to Anna and saw her fast asleep, curled around a pillow because his body wasn’t there for her to wrap around, he called me.

I told him, to my own credit, that he should tell her, there and then.

“But she’ll leave me,” Nate said desperately.

“Maybe, but do you want to spend the rest of your life like this? She deserves better, man,” I told him.

“It was one time. Once. A mistake. I was too drunk. I’m not going to go out anymore, and she never has to know. You got that, Jace? She never has to know!”

“I’m not going to tell her, but you should,” I said.

He hung up after promising to do so. He never did. And he didn’t give up the drinking and partying either. It’s almost like the guilt made it worse. He was going out every night, drinking himself into a stupor, so of course it happened again. Any fool could have told you it would.

But this time the guilt was a little less. And then it happened again and again and again until he slept with the secretary and started an affair and Anna began to suspect.

My poor, darling Anna. She deserved a thousand times better. He loved Anna too much to leave her, and she loved him too little to confront him.

But Anna knew, and Anna was all alone in the Big Apple. Anna made her choice because she was unstable, my perfect, darling sweetheart. Because for all his flaws, she loved him. And she decided that if he didn’t love her, then what was left for her? Dmitri had gone back to Russia, and they hadn’t been in contact for years.

The week before she did it, she called me.

“Jace,” she said.

“Anna! Hey! Haven’t heard from you in forever,” I said.

“Yeah, you know, I’ve been… busy. I need a favor,” she said.

“Anything, Anna. What’s up?”

She started to sniffle slightly. “I need you to tell Nate I’m sorry.”

“For what? Anna? Anna!”

I guess she was too scared that time. Maybe somebody almost caught her, or maybe Nate came back that night in time. Maybe she said she’d give him one last chance. So she called me again, and with all the steely resolve of a German soldier.

“I’m sorry for last week. I was in a bad place, but I’m cool now. I miss you, Jace,” she said.

“I miss you too,” I said, bemused.

“Look, I want you to know that I really did like you. I know things would never have worked out between us, for obvious reasons [meaning Nate, but that is a story for another time], but I did love you.”

“Okay, Anna,” I said softly. “I loved you too. Why does this feel like good-bye?”

“It’s not,” she told me with conviction in her voice. “I just needed to say that. My therapist said so.” (She never had a therapist.)

“Okay. Okay. Can, I don’t know, is there anything I can do for you?”

“Nah. I’m good, Jace. But come out and visit me soon, all right? Love you.”

“Will do. Love you too. Talk to you soon.”

That was the day before she went to the corner store and bought herself a bottle of wine. That was the day before she took a knife and slit both her wrists. That was the day before Nate came back from Susan’s with his hair all ruffled and his shirt untucked and saw Anna in the bathtub, bleeding out from two places, with the life gone from her eyes. That was the day before Nate went to the same corner store, bought a bottle of Skyy vodka, poured out a fifth, took Anna’s sleeping pills from her dresser, and downed the motherfucking lot.

That was the day before I lost my best friend and the love of my life.

That was the day before I picked up the pen for the first time since senior year of high school, with Ms. Gilbert as my English teacher, and began to write.

That was the day before my life changed forever.

That was the day before I said goodbye.

And that was the story of Nathan and Anastasia, or Nate and Anna, two people who loved but not in the right quantity, who made mistakes in their search for the truest truth. That was the story that made me write all the other stories. That story made me meet Isabel. Made me leave her. Made her break my heart.

That was the story that I so often forget to write. 

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