Author's Note: I hope you all don't hate me for the last chapter…Please review and give me feedback for this one! Thank you all for being so supportive of this story. It's sad to see it finished, but it is also a huge accomplishment. The first story I finished with no loose ends, or sequels. It's close to my heart. Without further ado, the ending chapter of 'A Little Chemistry'.
Natalie sat criss-cross on the floor with a small, grey box in her lap. A film of dust covered the top and she wiped it away with a tissue. Hesitantly, she opened the lid, and found the pictures that Henry had been describing. Natalie lifted the pictures out as though they were fine china; she appraised the snapshots of memories that held the face of the love of her life in every single one. If it were up to her, these would all be at the funeral, but Henry had asked her to pick out just a small stack. Only a couple of pictures were needed for the table that would be at the entry-way, and she only needed a handful more for the slideshow. She set to work finding the perfect ones. Natalie was glad to be able to help Henry, since she knew that his heart was even more broken than her own. He had lost his only love, and his only son to cancer. How he must despise the word; disease. Natalie sure did, and she hadn't even known Sandra. She sighed as she looked through the dusty photographs.
Keith had been a rather chubby boy, with a thick brown mop of hair, and sparkling green eyes. The only thing that had changed was that he had gotten cancer- it had made him skinnier, he had lost his hair, and his eyes had dulled to a light green. The sparkle was gone. He was gone. Natalie fought back the tears that taunted her so bitterly; threatening to get out. She wouldn't let herself cry. She couldn't. She had to be strong for Henry, and she had to give him some sense of normalcy. Who was she kidding, though, truly? Normalcy? Henry would never be the same, and he would never feel normal. His world had come crashing down just like hers, and the best they could do now was try and sweep up the pieces. Natalie knew that when you swept up bits of charred, broken glass, you dumped it into the trash, but she just couldn't bring herself to let go of Keith. She didn't think she would ever be able to do that.
Natalie heard footsteps walking up the hallway and she sighed heavily, taking the clump of pictures she had chosen into her hands, and stowing the rest back neatly in the bin. Henry opened the already cracked door and came in, taking a seat on the bed silently. In the past few weeks they had learned to communicate silently. Natalie knew what he was thinking, and he simply awaited an answer. She cooked dinner, she cleaned, and she kept him alive. His sanity depended on her, and even though he was practically mute, her sanity depended on him.
"I chose the pictures," she stated quietly, offering him the pile.
He reached out hesitantly, then clamped his fingers down on the pile and pulled them into his lap, staring at them for a long while.
"You don't have to look at them, you know."
Henry simply shook his head and began flipping through the pile. To Natalie's surprise, his gruff, Keith-like voice permeated the room for the first time in weeks.
"His first birthday, his first bike, his graduation from middle school, his permit, a picture of him driving Honeybuns, a family picture, and the only one we have of you and him, huh?"
Natalie gulped. Were the ones she chose bad?
"These are wonderful choices, Natalie. I only have one to add."
Henry pulled a picture out of his pocket and now, Natalie couldn't help the fresh flow of tears. He handed her Keith's graduation picture.
"They just came in the mail," Henry said softly. "I've been staring at it all day and I figured it was your turn."
They sat in silence once more for a long while as Natalie ran her hand along the picture. How she wished she could touch his nose once more, look into his deep green eyes, or get lost in his kisses. But she couldn't. She shoved the picture back at Henry as though it caused immense pain in her hands. He nodded, acknowledging that he had experienced the same reaction. There was that silent communication once more- they were becoming quite good at it. Natalie knew that the same thought she had in that instant was flooding his mind too.
That picture had only been taken 3 weeks ago.
3 weeks ago that picture was snapped as he stood in front of the crowd, accepting his diploma. Now, he was gone. Natalie held herself together so that Henry wouldn't be so apt to fall apart once more, and took the pictures from him.
"These are great, I am sure he would love them, I-"
"-We aren't doing the funeral."
Natalie stopped dead in her tracks, eyebrows furrowed. "Henry, the pastor is already paid, and we even set the date for tomorrow. How are we not doing the funeral?" She asked carefully. Natalie didn't mean to come off sarcastic, but maybe some subtle quips would be good for him- make him remember Keith's happy times, not all the bad.
It seemed to work, because he smiled ever-so-slightly back at her; his first smile in weeks.
"Keith wouldn't want a funeral. He mentioned that. It'll be hypocritical to invite anyone from school, and his cousins, aunt, and uncle called today and said they couldn't make it. It would only be you and I there."
Natalie sighed and ran a hand through her hair as they stood facing each other.
"Then we'll have a funeral ourselves," Natalie replied, walking out of the bedroom, pictures in hand.
Henry kicked the dirt as they walked along the rows of names and grey headstones. They walked for what seemed like miles, and in all honesty, Henry didn't mind. Perhaps, it was all some cruel joke. If they kept walking, that meant they had yet to see his name, and that maybe he wasn't buried. He could live in blissful ignorance believing that his son was still alive; Henry didn't want to see the grave. But then, just as quickly as that thought had entered his mind, Natalie had stopped short in front of him. Henry sucked in a deep breath of air. The world suddenly seemed to crumble away around him as he saw his son's name next to his wife's. Before Natalie knew what was happening, he had collapsed beside the tombstone and let out the desperate sobs that Natalie knew had been begging to come out for the past weeks.
She dropped beside him, and oddly enough, no tears pressed out of her eyes. Natalie held everything together, urging Henry to let go. His crying relented after awhile, but by the time it had, it was dark out. The sun was just slipping behind the horizon as Henry stood, and brushed off his grease-stained pants. He pulled out a piece of crumpled paper from his pocket and rested it on the stone. Natalie hadn't written anything. Letters seemed to be a 'family thing' for them, so she decided she'd just communicate with Keith by driving Honeybuns. Natalie often found herself driving that old truck and talking out loud, hoping he could hear her. By the way the fresh air always smelt better, though, by the way Honeybuns ran smoother than she had ever remembered her to, and by the way she felt whenever she woke up in his bed, smelling his scent and feeling his arms- she knew he heard her.
Natalie walked with Henry towards the hunk of yellow metal. Natalie had always hated trucks. Trucks were too big, messy, and boyish. But Keith had completely changed her mind. That truck was her only place of escape now, and she kind of liked it. Keith and she had many memories in the front, and back of that truck that always made her feel closer to him. In such a short period of time, they had shared so much, and at such a profound cost. Natalie never regretted and begrudged those memories with him, for she was more thankful to have had them than to be upset about missing them so dearly. Natalie knew Keith wanted her to move on, and she had internally promised him that she would try her hardest to- it was just difficult. Natalie drove down a long strip of highway as Henry stared out the window. It was becoming even more depressing, being with Henry like this, everyday. Natalie loved being able to grieve for Keith, share stories, and help Henry as best she could, but it was becoming too much for her to bare. Unlike Henry, she knew she couldn't stay like this for the rest of her life, no matter how badly she would always miss him.
When they had arrived home, Natalie made Henry and herself some dinner and gave him a subtle pep-talk, before begging him to realize that Keith wouldn't want him to be falling apart like this. Henry had stared deeply into her eyes in that moment, and she could see something click. He had retreated to his bedroom with Little Partner and she hadn't seen him the rest of the night. Natalie finished cleaning the kitchen and was drying her hands on a musty towel before she heard her phone go off. She dug around for it in her pocket and pulled it out. Flipping open the silver device, she opened the text that she had just received from Nick.
Just wanted to see how you were holding up today, star.
Nick had adopted the name 'star' for her after seeing how much of a little superstar she had been in handling all of this, and because of her above excellent grades and accomplishments. Even though she liked the pet-name, though, she missed being called partner. That's all she wanted to be. She just wanted her Chemistry partner back.
"Hey, partner." Keith said normally as he sat down next to her.
"Keith." She nodded her acknowledgement of him.
"So, finishing up this lab. Walter gave me a heads up on what chemicals to use to speed up the process, so I'm pretty psyched."
"Look, partner, you don't have to blow me off. You're the one who kissed me, remember?"
"What!" He stood violently. "Embarrassed of the freak, huh? Embarrassed to talk to him? Finally annoyed enough! Well listen, little miss Valedictorian, Tennis-playing princess, I won't embarrass you anymore!" He slid his lab book over to her, then slung his book-bag over his shoulder. "I won't come near you, Anderson."
Anderson? Not Natalie? Not...partner?
Natalie shook herself free of that memory as guilt flooded over her. What she wouldn't give to kiss him again. Had he really thought he was a freak in her eyes? She doubted it. Keith didn't tell her much, but he did come around to telling her he loved her, and in some way, (even the weird ones), he made her feel special everyday they were together. Natalie hugged herself tightly as she thought about him. She wanted to see him again so desperately, but she just had to keep living. The night he died, she had driven to the cliff. She had laid immobile in his truck bed, and waited to go over. But suddenly, those flashbacks had penetrated her inner being, and she had jumped in, saving the car and herself from destruction. She knew it pained Keith to watch her almost destroy two of the things he had held most dear in life, but she hadn't been able to help herself. She felt so lost, and lonely.
Natalie remembered that she hadn't replied to Nick, and she sent him back a quick message telling him that she was holding up just fine, and that she appreciated his attempts at comfort so often. She went to Keith's room to change into one of his shirts for pajamas like she had been doing for the past week, and then walked to the bathroom to brush her teeth. She thought of a time that she had slept over on one of Keith's particularly 'good' nights. He hadn't felt sick, and he didn't appear to be. For that night, they were completely normal. She had decided to stay over when her car wouldn't start, with the promise that he would fix it in the morning. She had went to the bathroom to change and brush her teeth, then, when he had walked in on her. Her hair was up in a high bun, and her face was covered with soap suds as make-up dripped down her cheeks.
"Ugh, this is what you have to do to look beautiful?"
Natalie glared at him.
"I mean, um, you always look ravishing."
He pulled her close to him and she wiped the mask off with a towel before throwing it to the floor and wrapping her arms around his neck.
"Are you sure you didn't break my car on purpose, Mr. Big-Shot Mechanic?"
Keith smiled. "Tempting as that offer is, I would never mess with your car just to get you to stay here for a night. Mechanics are hard work, and I would never risk something going wrong. You're precious cargo, partner."
Tears stung at Natalie's eyes as she finished brushing her teeth and gargling. She spat the paste and water out of her mouth, dabbed her lips with a towel, and then retreated to Keith's bedroom. To her surprise, Nick was sitting on his bed. Natalie smiled and pulled her hair down from the tight bun it was in, not alike the one it had been that night with Keith. She blushed.
"Hi, um, what are you doing here?" She asked, not meaning to sound rude.
Nick chuckled and stood. "Your texts didn't sound normal, so I decided to come check on you. Mr. Zetterstrom let me in."
Natalie smiled slightly and hugged Nick.
"I appreciate everything you've been doing, Nick. I really do. I'm sorry if I've acted like a royal pain lately."
"Hey," he patted her cheek with the back of his hand gently. "You deserve a couple weeks of that- You just lost him, Natalie. Don't try and bounce back so quickly."
Natalie nodded and sat on his bed, and Nick followed in suit.
"I'm really sorry for your loss, Natalie. I'm not trying to come off clingy, but I'm really worried about you. You've been doing so much for Mr. Zetterstrom that I think your own grieving process is being put on hold, and well, you need someone to take care of you if Keith can't."
Natalie couldn't stop the tears that were rushing freely down her face. She buried her head in Nick's chest and smelled a familiar scent. He didn't wear Keith's cologne; she would have noticed that sooner. No, this was something much deeper. He smelled like…Truck. The smell made Natalie feel like she was at home. She felt at peace as she rested against his chest, breathing in the scent of his truck. Ocean Eyes was beautiful, but she had joked with him that she would never compete with HoneyBuns. Natalie continued to cry against his shirt, and he rubbed her back n soothing circles. Nick had been fond of Keith, and wished more than anything to be able to help Natalie through this even if nothing came of them ever having a relationship together.
"Natalie," he lifted her face by placing his hand under her chin. "You're going to be okay."
Natalie stared into his eyes as she absorbed his words. Henry hadn't told her that, nor had her parents. Keith had tried to assure her that she would be alright, but that was before he died. Now, he was gone, and she had had nobody to assure her that she would make it out of this. She stared at Nick for awhile, and he smiled down at her. He backed up slightly, not wanting her to lean any closer. Natalie was so beautiful, but he couldn't let her fall into him as a rebound. She would regret it. She needed time to get over Keith. She needed time to learn how to live with him being only in her heart, and memory.
"It's just hard not being able to call him anymore. I can't go out with him like we used to. We did such crazy things. I can't just hug him, or look into his eyes."
For the next few hours, she went on and on, and Nick listened to every word. He hung on her every sentence. He wiped away every tear when she shed one. Eventually, at around 9:30, she had been all cried out, and she had finally rested her head on Keith's pillow. She snuggled herself on the side of the bed he always called when they slept next to each other. Nick moved to sit on the floor so that he was eye-level with her, and smoothed her hair back as she closed her eyes. Soon, her breathing became even, and he pulled his hand away once he was content that she was asleep. He didn't stay much longer after that, and informed Henry that he was leaving before exiting the home.
Natalie's head ran a mile a minute as she dreamed. Her thoughts of Keith swam past her in her subconscious land of thought. But they were all memories. She could recall them all, and they were so close she could feel them. That's when she felt him. She felt his hands embrace her from behind. She turned in his hold, and faced him for the first time since she stared down on him in that hospital bed. His eyes were the brightest shade of a sparkling, emerald green. He had on jeans, and a bright, white shirt. He was barefoot, and he looked as though he had gained a good ten to fifteen pounds.
"Hey, partner," he said softly.
Her heart melted at that name. "Say it again," she urged.
Keith smiled, as though he had been expecting this reaction. "Partner."
He pushed a strand of her hair behind her ear and kissed that spot. Butterflies erupted in the pit of her stomach. She didn't realize that nothing but whiteness surrounded them, for she only had eyes for him.
"-You aren't dead. You're just dreaming."
Fear took root in her heart now. Dreaming meant she would wake up soon. Keith took her hand and placed a kiss atop it.
"I have something to tell you, Natalie. I need you to hear it."
Natalie nodded and remained silent, waiting for his words. He adopted the same expression he usually had of tucking his lips behind his teeth and rocking on the balls of his feet nervously. He shrugged his shoulders in an attempt to speak, but nothing came out. She urged him softly to reply, and finally, he did.
"I'm so proud of you, Natalie. I'm so thankful for what you've done for my Dad."
She was about to tell him it was nothing, but he silenced her with a gentle finger to her lips.
"Thank-you," he whispered, lowering his hand.
"I love you, Keith," she said, already feeling herself waking up.
Keith smiled and kissed her lips lovingly. "I love you too, partner," he said, kissing her until she awoke.
The next morning, Natalie opened her eyes to nothing but the white ceiling of Keith's room. The walls were barren, and so were the floors since they had cleaned up most everything. But this morning was different than the others. Despite the sanitary feel of his room; the evidence of his being gone, Natalie had a smile on her face. The ceiling prevented her view of the sky. The walls confined her from the world. This isn't all there was. The world didn't consist of only a French test, graduating, Duke, the perfect boyfriend and life…It didn't even consist of only Keith.
That's what he had been trying to show her all along.
He had been trying to prove to her that when you looked outside of all this junk, there was simply the sky.
It had all started in Chemistry class, when Natalie met Keith.
He showed her that the sky was the limit, and she knew deep in her heart that she had yet to even make it beyond the clouds. She stood and the past few months fell off her body as though they had been chaining her down all of this time. She opened his bedroom window and stared up at the glowing sun. She had spent too much time letting her worry about him imprison her, and it was time to feel what he had wanted her to feel this whole time: Free.
Author's Note: It is really over. I truly can't believe how quickly this all went by. This story is one of my favorites I have ever written, and it is so close to my heart. I can't begin to thank all of you for the reviews, long nights of reading, and helping me Beta. You all know who you are. Without any of you, I couldn't have made this story to its full potential. Thank you all SO very much. I hope you are all content with the ending- I know when it finally began flowing, I ended up being immensely happy with it. I don't think there was a better way to have ended it. I didn't want Natalie and Nick to be an immediate couple in some epilogue.
I felt that she needed closure before she could move on with any of her life, so that's what I wish to leave her with. Please review, and look out for my new Keith story which I will be beginning soon, and enjoy the others until they are complete as well. Thank you all once again! Also, as a last note, the first chapter ended up in the 4,000 word range, and I didn't write anything close to that in any of the other chapters until this ending one here. 3, 800 and some-odd words! I worked so hard on this chapter! Anyway, I can't wait to see what you guys all think, so I will stop typing now.
And remember to live like your dying, and dream like you'll live forever.