Disclaimer: I do not own Family Ties or its characters. Natalie, however, is my own invention, as is the poem she wrote in the story. Neither do I own Vanessa Carlton's song 'This Time.' I created this story myself, and if it has any parallel to any other story published here, it is just coincidence. I have only seen the first season of the show, so it's possible there are inconsistencies with later episodes. I have tried, however, to be as consistent to the show and its characters as possible.
This is my first piece of fan fiction on this site, please R&R. I wrote my wrist sore on this one, so I hope you readers like it. Enjoy!
"Jennifer, I'm serious," said Mallory, glaring at her sister. "You can't be in here right now. Me and Natalie have important things to discuss." Her tone grew official, causing Jennifer to roll her eyes. "Oh, yeah, lipstick and boys, real vital discussion, Mallory."
Mallory exchanged a look with Natalie, and then firmly took Jennifer by the arm and half led; half pushed her out of the room. She shut the door and leaned on it. "Little sisters," she sighed. "I heard that!" came from the other side. Natalie and Mallory exchanged semi-exasperated looks. Natalie laughed. "She's not that bad, really," she said. "I've always wished I had a little sister . . . how about I go out and talk to her?"
"Well, all right; she'll probably listen to you. She likes you, really."
Natalie slipped out, leaving the door open. "Hurry, though!" called Mallory. "We really need to start on this stupid algebra homework." While waiting, Mallory picked up Natalie's algebra notebook and began idly flipping through it, intending to find the problems Natalie was also having trouble with. Something caught her eye—something that most definitely was not an algebra problem. She scanned it—then, disbelieving, read it again, never thinking that she was invading privacy. It was a poem—a very personal poem, judging by the words.
Poems Like This
Has never happened
The romance of my life
Is still a blank page in my book
I'm tired of being alone
Nobody has ever fallen in love with me
I want to really love
Because I'm tired of crushes
Of wishes and silly poems
And if-we-were-a-movie fantasies
I want something real—that lasts
It would be strong—sweet—wonderful
A sure, precious love
There to catch you when you fall
And keep you warm
Make you feel sure and special always
I want you
Can't you see it?
You take my breath away, baby
We could find out, you know
If all this stuff about love they tell us
Is true—is real
We could be so much together
If you would just let me in
That is, until she heard Natalie step in the door and close it, calling cheerily, "It's all right with Jennifer, she's in her room. I promised we'd play Cinderella with her tomorrow, but—" she broke off and gasped. "Oh, my gosh, Mallory, what are you doing?" she sprang across the room and snatched away the notebook.
"Um," began Mallory, wilting under Natalie's glare. "Um, well, you see," she went on miserably, backing up as Natalie walked toward her. "Nat, let me explain," she pleaded. "Sit down, and I'll explain."
"Okay," said Natalie, closing the offending book and sitting gingerly on the bed across from Mallory. Mallory took a deep breath. "Well, I was just wondering what methods you used on that set of problems that I'm having trouble with, so I started looking through the book, and, well, I ran across the poem by accident, and I was curious, so I read it." She paused. "Natalie, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean to read it. I couldn't help myself. You're my best friend, and I would never intentionally hurt you." She saw Natalie softening and finished with "I won't ever tell anyone about this, I promise. Just please forgive me."
Natalie smiled. "Okay, Mal, I forgive you. But this stays between us—the last thing I want people to know is that I'm a sappy poetry writer." Mallory shook her head and put her arm around her friend. "No, you're too hard on yourself, Nat. I think it's beautiful." Natalie smiled. "Thanks, Mal." She took a deep breath. "Okay, how about we start on that homework? Oh—one more thing, Mal—I don't want to talk about that anymore, okay?"
Mallory nodded energetically, assuring her. "Oh, absolutely, Nat, we never have to speak of it again. Now on to the dreaded algebra."
But the girls had worked—and groaned—over the problems for perhaps five minutes when Mallory, too casually, asked, "So, who is he?"
Natalie just looked at her.
"Okay, okay, never speak of it," Mallory said convincingly, waving her hand in emphasis.
A few more minutes, and "But, Natalie, who is he?"
"Mallory, I don't want to talk about it. You promised."
"Okay, okay, I promised. No more."
Mallory's next algebra problem was not even halfway done when, "Natalie! I have to know!" burst out from her.
Natalie put a warning finger to her lips. "Mallory!"
"Okay," muttered Mallory. "Who—is—he?" she stage-whispered intensely. Natalie closed her eyes. "Mal, I don't want—"
"I know, I know, you don't want to talk about it. But, suppose I just guess a little bit—how would that be?"
"What makes you think the poem is about a real guy I'm in love that goes to our school anyway?" burst from Natalie. She looked at the floor. "That didn't come out quite right."
"Aha!" said Mallory, triumphantly. "So there is a guy, you do like him, and he goes to our school. This shouldn't be too hard."
Natalie sighed, and then laughed. "All right, Mal, have it your way. You'll never guess in a million years anyway." She slid to the floor, leaning her back against the bed as she watched Mallory pace about, guessing. "Hmmm," she began thoughtfully, stroking her chin.
"Nice guess, but no," quipped Natalie. "Now can we get back to algebra?"
Mallory ignored her. "Okay," she said brightly. "I have some good guesses." Natalie closed her eyes. "All right, go ahead. What have I got to lose? Just—" she glared at Mallory—"just a good grade on the midterms next week."
Mallory waved her hand airily. "Aww, who cares about that anyway?"
Natalie motioned to herself, pointedly.
Natalie shook her head.
"Sam Henry? Um, Bill Crawford? Paul Turner?"
Three more shakes.
"John McAllister? Dave Morris?"
This went on for about a quarter of an hour, unvaried in Natalie's shaking her head. Alex was walking past Mallory's room when he heard Natalie's voice, "No, Mallory. Now, please, please let me do algebra!" He poked his head in the room, with a surprised "I never thought I'd hear a girl say that."
"Oh, hi, Alex." Natalie looked up. "I never thought I'd hear me say it either. But Mallory is driving me to it."
Alex laughed. "Good for Mallory," he said, and then added seriously, "Make sure you girls keep it down—I'll be watching Wall Street Week downstairs and I don't want to be disturbed. Mallory rolled her eyes as he closed the door. "Come on, Nat. I've named every guy at school, including every nerd, geek, and dweeb. Who is it?"
Natalie looked triumphant. "I knew you would never guess," she said. "Now we really need to do some algebra. I've got to go home pretty soon." Mallory sat on the bed in mock defeat. "Okay, I guess," she sighed. "If you don't trust me, you don't, and that's all there is to it."
Natalie sat next to her. "I'm sorry. It's just that this is really important to me," she paused, and took a deep breath. "This isn't like when we talk about what guys at school are cute, or swoon over movie stars. I really, really like this guy. It's important to me, Mal."
"You know you can trust me." Mallory paused, looking mischievous. "And you know, you really, really want to tell me." Natalie broke into a smile. "I do," she admitted. "Mal, I have kept this secret for over a year. I think—I think I can tell you now." She paused.
"Well, go on, go on," insisted Mallory.
"It's a little hard in this case," warned Natalie. "It's going to be a bit of a shock."
"I can take it, just tell me already!"
"Okay, here it is. Mallory, you are my best friend, and I trust you with my secret. I like"—she paused and thought, and the rest of the sentence came out in a rush—"okay, I really like—your brother Alex."
Mallory just stared.
"Mal, are you okay?" asked Natalie, anxiously. "Talk to me, please."
Mallory opened her mouth, not to talk, but to scream, a startling shriek that brought Alex himself running upstairs.
"What's the matter?" he demanded.
The girls looked at each other. "Uhhhh, well . . .:" tried Mallory.
Natalie broke in. "I—I just told Mallory some school gossip—um, Chad, the captain of the football team, is going out with that new girl." Her tone grew indignant, as she tried her best to make her cover believable. "I mean, who does that new girl think she is?" Mentally Natalie crossed her fingers, hoping he'd take it.
Alex looked from Natalie to Mallory, then back again. He laughed and shook his head. "You crazy girls," he said. "You had me scared for a second with that scream, Mallory. Well, make sure you don't do that again, no matter "who likes who." You know I'm responsible while Mom and Dad are out, and Jennifer is asleep, you don't want to wake her. Besides," he paused seriously, "I'm watching Wall Street Week and I don't want to be bothered," he shook his finger at Mallory, "you'd better just be glad it was at commercial break. He closed the door, and after they heard him walk down the stairs, the two girls collapsed in giggles and relief.
"Mallory, you had to scream?"
"Sorry—I was just very surprised—very surprised." Mallory shook her head. "Wow, Nat, almost a year, and you didn't tell me?"
"I wanted to. But I thought you might think I only was your best friend because of your brother. And that would never be true."
"Thanks, Nat." Mallory thought a moment. "Okay, I'm over the shock now,"—Natalie smiled at this—"we need a plan." Natalie's smile disappeared. "Oh, no, Mallory. No plans. I like Alex, you keep it a secret, done. No more. No plan, Mal."
"Okay, no plans. But Nat, I want you to promise to think about thinking about if you should maybe kinda tell him—in a subtle way—how you feel about him."
"Uhhh, Mal? I have no idea what you just said."
Mallory looked at her intently. "You like this guy, right? Try it, Natalie. Tell him."
"But he's your brother."
"I know, but that's not important right now. What's important is that my best friend cares a lot about a guy, but she may never have the guts to go for it."
"It's not that I'm afraid—"
"Oh, yeah? Then why?"
The two girls looked at each other for a moment. Natalie wavered; smiled. "Okay, I'll try it. But it'll be my way, Mal. No plans, no schemes. Everything up front."
(Phone conversation between Mallory and Natalie)
M: "Hi, Natalie?"
M: "Okay, it's all set. He is in the living room, reading some boring pamphlet thing. I'm about to go over to the drugstore. Mom and Dad are both gone for work. It'll be great, Nat."
N: "Is that everything?"
M: "Well . . ."
N: "Mallory, what is it?"
M: "Jennifer's here, that's what-is-it."
Jennifer (who has been eavesdropping all along): "I have a right to be here in the kitchen of my own home."
M (whirls around): "Jennifer! How long have you been listening?"
J (calmly): Oh, I heard the whole thing."
M (in a whisper): "Nat, I'm sorry, I have to go. Give me five minutes—I'll work it out, I promise. Good luck. Bye."
Mallory hung up the phone. "What was that about, Mallory?" asked Jennifer. "None of your business," retorted Mallory.
"Oh, yeah? Well, what's 'all set' and why were you talking about Alex?"
"Jennifer, it's something you're too young to understand."
Jennifer looked wise. "Oh, I understand. It's about Natalie liking—"
Mallory flew over and clapped her hand over Jennifer's mouth. Jennifer glared at her. "Promise not say that, okay, Jennifer? I'll let you help me, okay?"
Jennifer nodded. "How did you know?" asked Mallory. Jennifer replied matter-of-factly, "Your scream last night woke me up, and I listened at your door for a while." Jennifer grinned. "I heard enough to know what you were talking about just now."
"You just wait till I tell Mom," threatened Mallory.
"Tell Mom what? That I overheard your devious plans to get Alex and Natalie together while they're gone?"
"I hate to admit it, but, you have a point there. I'll make a deal with you. Come along with me to the drugstore, and tomorrow afternoon, we'll do what you want."
"You're not getting off that easy."
Mallory sighed. "Okay, whatever, we'll bargain on the way there, but we have to go now; she'll be here any minute."
Jennifer thought for a moment. "Okay, I'll come now, but, if Mom and Dad ever find out, I was not involved."
"All right, all right," said Mallory hurriedly, grabbing her hand. The two slipped out the back door just moments before the front doorbell rang.
Alex answered the door. It was Natalie, of course. "Hi, Alex," she said, trying to be casual. "Is Mallory here?"
"No, she's not. She's over at the drugstore—buying some new pencil lipstick that's out. I swear, that girl keeps the cosmetic industry in business."
"Um, well, since Mallory's not here, could I talk to you about something? I need some advice. Like, brother advice."
Alex thought a moment. "Well, all right," he glanced at his watch, "I think I have a fifteen minute opening." He let her in, motioned her to the couch, then sat down on a chair, all business.
"So, what is the trouble, Natalie?"
Natalie folded her hands together and looked at the ground. "Like I said, I need some brotherly advice. There's this guy—" at this point Natalie stood up and walked slowly about the living room—"a really great guy. And I'm totally in love with him. He has absolutely no idea. He treats me like a kid sister—when he sees me at all."
Alex nodded professionally and shook his head. "Old story, huh?" he said sympathetically.
Natalie opened her eyes wide and nodded. "You have no idea." She sighed and went on. "So, what should I do? This guy is really important to me. Do I tell him how I feel? Should I ask him out?" She sat down at the table next to him. "Tell me, what do you think?"
Alex stroked his chin and looked wise. "Hmmmm . . . well, guys don't like it when a girl is too aggressive. But at the same time, they like attention. So I would say to go slow—pay him some compliments, have him help you with your homework, ask him out on a casual date. You're a nice—you're a—well, you're a girl. It should work out okay."
"When do I try?"
"Oh, I would say as soon as you can, the next time you and the guy are alone."
Natalie smiled to herself. "Okay," she began slowly, "Alex, I think you're a great person, and I'd like to get to know you better. You want to go out for milkshakes tomorrow?"
Alex replied excitedly, "That sounds great! Now you go, Nat—and try it out on the guy." He stood up to leave.
Natalie looked at him. How could he not see? "Wait, Alex. Don't you get it?"
Now Alex looked at her, puzzled. "Get what, Nat?"
Natalie stood up. "Alex, it's you. Don't you see?" She leaned over, and oh-so-softly kissed him right beside his mouth. Alex backed away, shocked. "It was me?"
"Yeah, Alex. It's you. So, what do you say?"
Alex shook his head firmly. "There is no way, Natalie. We have nothing in common." He paused thoughtfully to say, "Except Mallory—and that's a very good reason to not date."
"You're saying no, Alex? I mean, couldn't we try it, take it slow, like you said?"
"Oh, no, no, you don't," he shook his head again. "It wouldn't work, Nat. I'm sorry." He went on awkwardly, "I—I have to go. Your fifteen minutes are up anyway."
Natalie went to the door. "All right. We can just forget about this whole conversation. We'll pretend like it never happened." The tears in her eyes denied her words—Natalie would never forget this. She turned at the doorway. "Bye, Alex," she said regretfully.
Alex nodded, then added, "Oh, since it turned out to be me, I'll waive the fee."
Natalie left with a frustrated sigh, and shut the door.
After she left Alex thought over the conversation. He laughed a little, touched the place where she had kissed him. "Natalie. Of all people." He walked halfway up the stairs, and stopped. He thought again. "A great guy, huh?" he said to himself, then waved his hand. "No, not Natalie."
Natalie went home. Once in her room, she pulled out her diary.
(excerpt from Natalie's diary)
"I told Alex how I feel. It won't work out between us, but I still care about him so much. I wish he had at least given me a chance. But I'm not sorry for loving him, not sorry for telling him. What I have for him is real. It doesn't come along every day. I couldn't walk away—I had to say what I felt—I couldn't walk away—not this time."
Then Natalie lay on her bed and cried. Close on an hour went by, before she could bring herself to call Mallory. She went to the kitchen, which was fortunately empty, and called. "Please, please, don't let it be Alex who picks up the phone . . . " she thought.
"Oh, damn," thought poor Natalie. Aloud, "Hi, Alex, this is Natalie—can I—"
"I'll go get Mallory," said Alex, almost dropping the phone. Mallory was up in her room. Alex came in and said, "Mallory, Natalie on the phone." Mallory jumped up, not even bothering to scold him for not knocking. She ran down to the kitchen.
"Hi, Nat, how's it going?" Her innocent question pricked with curiosity.
"Not the greatest afternoon of my life."
"Oh, Nat, I'm so sorry. He didn't—you know—"
"No, he didn't."
"You poor girl. I'll come over if you want me to."
"Thanks, Mal, you're the best—but I think I want to be alone right now."
"I understand. At least you tried . . ."
"Yes. But, Mallory, how will I ever face him again?"
"Just act like you always have. Alex will understand—he'll prefer that to you acting different. And I'm sure he'll never speak of it to anybody."
Relief was in Natalie's voice as she replied, "Thank goodness for that. Well, I think I'll go, Mal. Thanks for everything."
Nearly every story ever written or lived out has had two sides. This one is no exception. As yet you have seen Natalie's side. Now I will try to describe Alex's.
Alex was beyond surprised at Natalie's confession. Never had he thought that quiet Natalie had so much to her. He still could feel her lips beside his mouth. He had never thought of loving her, never considered her that way. But weeks went by after the incident and he still could not get her out of his head.
He began watching her closely, but she never suspected. The more he saw of her, the more he realized how much of her had escaped his notice before. How had he not seen how much there was to her? How had he not seen how much she meant to him?
It was almost two months after that he realized this. He wondered if she still cared for him, if it was too late. It was sweet torture when she came over to see Mallory, for her to be so near yet so distant. She never spoke to him unless required by courtesy. Was it too late? He wrested with his pride—suppose he told her, and this time, she said no? Or was it better really, to know, rather than deal daily with this long drawn-out pain?
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon when Alex made his move. Everything was falling into place. Natalie had called for Mallory, and Alex had answered, promising to tell Mallory she was coming over. He didn't deliver the message, and Mallory had plans to go out with Jeff. Jennifer was spending the weekend at a friend's house, and his parents would be at a political rally during the afternoon. Natalie would come over, unsuspecting. Everything was perfect.
Everything—except what he would say to her. He thought on it, played out the scene in his mind over and over and over. "What do I tell her?" he thought aloud in his room that morning. "I can't just go up and say 'Natalie, I've changed my mind. I want you.' No way." He groaned. "I just want to tell her—this waiting is killing me."
It was the afternoon at last, and Alex sat nervously on the couch, trying to read the Wall Street Journal. Somehow the stock market had never made less sense. At long last the doorbell rang.
Alex stood up, adjusted his tie, swallowed, ran his fingers over his hair. He walked to the door, his heart beating strangely. He opened it—to see, not Natalie, but Skippy, of all people, on all days!
He sighed. "Look, Skippy, I'm kinda busy right now. What do you want?"
"Oh, I was just in the neighborhood. Is Mallory here?" His eagerness was almost pathetic. Alex had to smile. "Sorry, but no, Mallory's out on a date."
Skippy became downcast. "My beloved, out with another guy," he murmured. Alex tried not to roll his eyes. "Okay, Skippy, now you know. I think you better go now."
"Well, Alex, I thought maybe we could hang out for a while."
Alex was getting frustrated. If Natalie showed up now, he wouldn't have a prayer with Skippy around.
"Skippy, I'm sorry, but really have to go now. I'm expecting someone."
Skippy looked interested. "A girl?" he inquired.
"It's—personal. Maybe later—"
"Ohhh, it is a girl. Well I guess I better go—"
"Okay, bye." Alex shut the door and leaned on it in relief. He took a deep breath and looked at his watch. About five seconds had passed when the doorbell rang again. Expecting Skippy again, Alex opened it with a "Now, look, you need to stop bothering people" while shaking his finger for emphasis.
"Well, I'll go away then," replied poor Natalie, quite puzzled. Alex froze for a second, and then apologized. "I am so sorry, Nat, I just thought it was, uh, Skippy, coming around again. Come on in." He motioned her in, and closed the door.
"Is Mallory upstairs?" asked Natalie, not looking at him.
"Where is she?"
"Actually, Mallory's not here."
Then Natalie looked at him. "What do you mean? Didn't you give her my message?" she asked, her eyes two querulous stars. Alex swallowed. "Natalie, sit down." She obeyed. "Alex, is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. I just," he paused, and sat next to her, "I just needed to talk to you. I'm sorry for tricking you, but I didn't give Mallory your message—because I wanted you to come here when no one else was, so we could be alone."
Natalie's eyes grew huge. She stood up. "We're the only people in the house?"
Alex nodded, a little sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Nat, it was the only—"
"I don't even know what to say to you, Alex Keaton," snapped Natalie. "What kind of girl do you think I am? You think that just because I'm still in love with you—you can—can whatever you want with me?"
Alex looked astonished. "Oh, Natalie, no, no," he protested, trying to take her hand. She slapped it away from him. "I would never try anything like that. That's not why I wanted you here, I swear—" he broke off. "Wait—what was that last sentence?"
Natalie was somewhat appeased by this speech, but still distrustful. "I said, that, even though—"
"I heard," said Alex, smiling blissfully. "You mean it, Nat—you still love me?"
Natalie sat down, and put her hand over her face. She sighed, took it away, and said "Of course, Alex. I never stopped. But why are you asking me? I already know how you feel—done. I don't want to talk about it."
"But I do, Natalie." He took her hands and squeezed them gently. "Look, a couple of months ago, when you told me, I didn't know I cared. But, well, things—things have changed. I've looked at you differently ever since. I couldn't get you out of my head, Nat." He stopped, put out his hand to stroke her dark hair. "What I'm trying to say is this—I'm in love with you. I don't know just when it happened, but—there it is."
Natalie just stared for a moment. Her eyes grew soft, wondrous. She smiled. "Alex, if you really mean it—do you? Is this real?"
Alex didn't answer, just took her face in his hands and kissed her.