Hey- this chapter is a follow-up to the last one, and I decided to just make "White Cheddar Popcorn," a two-shot about Nat's and Henry's engagement- my series of one shots will be coming up soon, though, under a different title. I figured a series of one-shots doesn't work with multiple chapters about the same storyline...
Anyways thanks to all who reviewed! Please send some more!
I only wish I owned Next to Normal....
Natalie rolled over in bed, waking herself up. It took her a moment to remember she was in Henry's tiny bedroom instead of her own, but with that came the memories of last night. Extracting her left hand from the covers, she smiled to herself and gazed at her newly adorned hand. She liked the sight of the ring on her finger, and imagined saying to other people that she was someone's fiancée- that she'd chosen someone. No matter how much her feminist instincts disagreed, she still loved it.
Carefully so as not to disturb Henry, she climbed out of bed and tucked the covers back around him- not that it mattered. Henry slept so deeply that a little draft of air couldn't wake him. In the kitchen, she made a cup of tea and then left the pot of hot water on the stove for later. Drinking her tea, she was reviewing the list of things she had to do that day, trying to ignore the thought that was nagging in the back of her head.
It was only seven-thirty, but she had a meeting with a professor at two and had to get some serious work done on her thesis, and so she couldn't stay much longer. However, she wanted to wait for Henry to wake up so she could say goodbye to him before she went back home and worked. Pouring mug of hot water and mixing in the tea bag, she made a conscious effort not to add something else to that list of things to do.
Padding back into the bedroom, she set the mugs down on the dresser and sat back down on the bed, resting a hand on Henry's back, seeing the glint of the ring again. She whispered his name as she rubbed his back, trying to wake him gently.
"Henry," she whispered. "Henry..."
He groaned a little before opening one eye.
"You shouldn't be up yet. I don't know what time it is, but I know it's too early- go back to sleep, Nat."
She smiled. "I have lots of work to do today. I can't stay much longer." She knew he wouldn't want to hear this, so she leaned down and kissed him, trying to make it better. He tried to pull her down into the bed with him, but she resisted and sat back up. "Here, I made you tea. But you have to sit up first."
He groaned again, but sat up and stretched, his cotton shirt soft and wrinkled and his hair disheveled. He caught Natalie's eye, and noticed she was staring at him.
"Sorry- you just look very... appealing right now. Warm and comfortable."
"I am very appealing," he joked. "And very comfortable right now, in this wonderful thing called a bed. It's where people go to sleep, you see. Because most people tend to do that, Nat- we're not all super humans like you. Maybe if you joined me, you would understand."
She rolled her eyes, but handed him his mug, took her own in her hands, and leaned back against the headboard. "Just for a minute or two."
"Mm-hmm," he said, drinking his tea in silence. When she looked at him, he had a concentrated expression on his face. Something was on his mind... hopefully it wasn't what she was trying to keep off of hers.
"When's the last time you talked to your dad?"
"Um, a couple weeks ago. Why?"
"Just wondering. When are we going to tell him about this?" he reached for her hand and kissed the finger than now held the engagement ring she had been admiring earlier.
This was exactly what she wanted to avoid. "Soon, Henry. Soon."
"Nat..." he said, and she looked away. She hated this subject with Henry- her parents. It was always a sore spot, something that could start a fight. And the last thing she wanted right now was to fight with Henry. "Don't you want to tell him? I know he'd want to know. You said you were talking!"
"We are, Henry! It's just... I kind of wanted to keep it to ourselves for awhile."
"Why?" he asked, scowling. "Are you ashamed or something, because we're so young?"
"What-? No." She moved in closer to him and took his hand again. "No. I want to keep it to myself so I can enjoy it... And, well," she looked away, embarrassed. "If I tell my dad, then I'll have to tell my mom, too. Things are better with my dad, but everything with mom's still... strained."
Henry nodded. "I know, Nat- I get that. But you even said she's been doing better, and she's been healthy for some time now. Maybe we could see her in person- I'll go with you and everything."
She thought about it, but didn't answer.
"Nat, I can't tell my parents until you tell your, or else that's not fair to your dad. But it's not fair to keep this news from my poor mom," he said, and she knew he was trying to guilt her. They both knew how much his mom loved Natalie.
She was silent for a long time before she sighed. "We're telling my dad first," she said.
"Hello?" his familiar voice came over the phone lines.
"Hey, dad!" she said, feeling nervous for no good reason. She'd just gotten home from Henry's after promising to call her dad- honestly it was like she was a kid or something- and then call Henry back with updates.
"Nat!" her dad said, sounding happy. "I'm so glad to hear from you! How are you? What's new?"
It was obvious he was glad to hear from her- so obvious, in fact, that she felt guilty for not wanting to tell him before.
"Well, kind of a lot, actually."
"Really? Do tell, sweetie."
"Um... I was actually wondering if we could meet in person? Tomorrow, maybe? I haven't seen you in a while."
"Of course! I'm off work tomorrow, come whenever you want. You want to take the train here, or what?"
"Yes, I do- and Henry's coming with me."
"Great! Can't wait to see him- and you too, Nat. It's been too long."
"I know. I've gotta go now, dad- gotta work on my thesis- but I'll call you tomorrow when we get nearby. Can you pick us up?"
"Of course- thanks for calling. Can't wait to see you!"
"You too, dad. Love you."
"Love you too, Natalie."
She pushed the little red button, and then the line was dead. Ok, so that was done, and it wasn't so hard.
But dad's never been the one I have to worry about, she told herself. A bit clueless and inattentive, maybe, but he was never the crazy one.
She shook the thought from her mind.
Dad first. I'll deal with Mom later.
She spent the train ride the next day typing away on her laptop, eagerly trying to finish up a particularly meaty paragraph before having to finish up, and trying to ignore the overflowing music coming from Henry's headphones, who always set his ipod too loud.
When they reached the station, she took a deep breath and looked out the window, but couldn't see her father. When she and Henry stepped off the train, there he was, waving excitedly at them. When they got over to him, Dan enveloped Natalie in a hug, and then reached over to give Henry a slap on the back, before deciding that that would be awkward and hugging him instead.
"So great to see you," he said to the two of them.
"You too, Mr. Goodman."
"For the last time, Henry, you can call me Dan!"
"Ok," Henry said, knowing that he wouldn't.
On the ride home, her dad was extra talkative and wanted to know everything they'd been up to, and was asking all kinds of questions about Natalie's recital and both of their last years of school. After a few minutes, Henry was talked out, and he sensed Natalie would be soon. Nat's dad always asked this many questions, though- it occurred to Henry that he might be trying to make up for time lost when Nat was younger.
They reached Dan's apartment- he had sold the house after Natalie went to college, it had held too many memories for him to live in alone- and went inside.
"Do you want anything to drink?" he asked.
"No, dad, I'm fine. Henry?"
Henry shook his head.
"So," Dan said, sitting in a chair opposite the couch Natalie and Henry were sitting in. "I understand there's some news."
Natalie and Henry nodded, looking at each other, unsure who would proceed.
"Well," Henry began. "We do. Last night, I asked Natalie to marry me."
"And I said yes," Natalie finished.
For a moment Dan sat there staring at them, but then he broke out into a proud grin and stood up, hugging both Natalie and Henry.
"I'm so happy for the two of you," he said. But then he looked at them sternly. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," they both said.
"Then I couldn't be happier."
After about an hour, Natalie understood that her father really was happy for them. She wanted to talk to him alone for a few minutes- it was weird, she knew. She'd never had the desire to have a heart-to-heart with her dad, but if she was scared about something like this, who better to ask?
When her dad suggested picking up a pizza from somewhere, she jumped at the chance. "Henry hasn't driven in months, right Henry? Do you want to go?"
"Sure, if I could use your car," he said to Dan.
"Not a problem," Dan said, tossing him the keys.
When Henry left, Natalie shifted awkwardly in her seat, unsure how to begin. "Dad?"
"I'm... feeling a little weird about this."
"Marrying Henry? You don't have to, Natalie. Don't go into something like that when you're not sure- just say the word, we can make it go away-"
"No, it's not Henry. It's... Mom."
Dan raised an eyebrow. "What about her? She's doing better, Natalie."
She shook her head. "I just don't want to end up like her. I don't know if I can... trust myself to marry Henry- what if I end up just like her?" her voice broke on the last word, and Dan knew she was more frightened than she let on.
"Natalie- you won't. Your mom was sick, Nat- it had been coming on a long time. Sometimes you remind me so much of her," he said, and Natalie looked at him, shocked. "But then other times I see that you're totally different. You're stronger than your mom, Nat- it's true. And so many things contributed to her depression, but I don't know that getting married was one of them. I really believe you'll be alright- and I know you'll never let what happened to Mom happen to you."
Natalie nodded, a feeling a little better. "I just don't want to mess this up."
"You've got a lot of help. And I don't think Henry would let you mess this up," he said, smiling.
"Yeah- I get the feeling he's sorta been planning this since junior year." The thought made her laugh.
"You'll be ok, Natalie."
Henry and Natalie stayed for a few hours, actually relaxing and laughing and talking. It had been a good visit- a better one than past visits- and Natalie had hugged her dad tightly when she left. Dan hated to see them go. Seeing Natalie again had been a rare treat- she was so busy lately. And for the past years, he had barely seen Natalie without Henry, and had really taken a liking to the kid. Now, the two of them getting married- he couldn't have asked for anything better.
But when they left, he felt horribly lonely. Seeing them together just made him miss Di even more. He had been telling the truth when he told Nat she was different from her mother, but he had also been telling the truth when he said she reminded him of Di. It was nights like this when Natalie's tongue was sharp as a whip and her mind was burning like fire when she seemed like a young Diana. She carried with her the sense that she could do anything she willed and make a person feel alive again.
When he dropped them off at the train station, he regretted going home to a lonely home. He knew he would see them again soon, but he couldn't shake the feeling of being left. Seeing the two of them together just made him long for companionship again.
He and Diana had never divorced- they were still just separated. He told himself it was because he thought that something as permanent as an ended marriage could send Di off the deep end again- and that was partially true. But it also allowed for him to cling to that tiny fiber of hope that maybe one day they could make it through and find each other again. One day she'd be healthy enough to come back to him- he could feel it inside, and he knew that they loved each other enough to make it through this. For now, though, he had to make due with weekly phone calls and updates. She was doing much better- so much better, in fact, that she'd stopped seeing Gabe, and was dealing with the crushing grief finally, twenty-four years after the fact.
But she wasn't ready yet. He hoped hearing about Natalie and Henry would make her feel better instead of making her feel lonely, like it did for him.
The apartment was dark and unwelcoming. He knew Natalie had planned on calling Diana tonight and making arrangements to see her, so maybe the line was busy, but still he couldn't resist. He picked up the phone and dialed the number that he had memorized in the past few years.
"Hey, Di. It's me."