Joel and I have been talking about Nate almost since he came into creation. There has been talk about sending him off to a publisher and letting him make the rounds of publishing houses seeing if they would like to turn him into print. This past weekend, we went on a marriage retreat and we talked about him again. And this time we settled on what I think is best for Nate and our family. I will be publishing, here on the blog, edited chapters from The House of Eight Nates. A new chapter each Friday. And as today is Friday, here's your first installment!
Nate had Enough
“Nate! Get out of the bathroom! You are not the only one who has to get ready!” Nate’s brother, John, yelled through the door.
Nate hated mornings. It was the busiest time for the house. It seemed like he’s always in the way during the morning and that everyone was shouting his name. Sometimes he wished that he could just be invisible. And then when they treated him like he was invisible, it was the exact wrong time. He felt like his life sucked.
John pushed past Nate as he walked out of the bathroom. He headed to his room to finish getting ready. Nate felt like it did not make much difference anyway. He was always ignored, not just at home but at school, too.
Nate and his family had moved to their new home in the middle of the school year. He had not made a single friend yet. Unlike all of his brothers and sisters, all five of them had made many friends. It seemed like they were always out doing stuff after school, leaving Nate alone. Alone with his parents, which was probably worse than being completely alone.
Nate’s parents were new age hippies. They tried to be good listeners, but Nate knew that they never heard him when he spoke to them. He constantly tried to tell them how unhappy he was, and all they could say was for him to give it some time and that things would get better. It was just a stage. Maybe that was Nate’s problem. He felt sometimes like he was on a stage with a huge light shining down on him with all his faults laid bare for the world to see. Then everyone was booing him or harassing him about things he could not change. His hair, his face, you name it, they mocked him. He hated himself because of the way people picked on him all the time.
That day in school, Nate was paired up with someone new in science class. He normally worked alone or with the teacher because there was an odd number of students; but because someone was out sick, he had to have student partner. His name was Patrick. He had seen Patrick around before. He also seemed to be something of a loner. In some ways Patrick reminded Nate of his parents in that he was kind of granola.
Patrick came over and sat down next to Nate. “Hey, my name’s Patrick. And you are?”
“I’m Nate,” he mumbled under his breath.
“Do you know what you are doing with this lab stuff?”
“Yeah, it’s pretty simple.”
“I’m more comfortable hiking in the woods than playing with test tubes.”
“Really? You like to hike? Where do you go?”
“Oh, all over. There are lots of really good trails, especially with summer coming. I have
hiked the majority of the Appalachian Trail around here. Last summer I went to camp, and they just set us out in the woods to survive for a week. It was awesome!”
“Patrick! Do you have a question?” the teacher asked.
“No, sir,” Patrick said.
“Then get to work.” The teacher commanded of the two.
As Nate and Patrick worked on the science project, they continued to talk. Nate actually felt normal for once. Unfortunately, that feeling did not last long. When Nate added the two liquids together, a smoke formed and started to fill the room. Everyone groaned and said Nate’s name in disgust.
The windows were all opened, and Nate was cleaning up the mess at his station. He was certain that whatever friendship there could have been between he and Patrick was wafting out the window with the smoke. He wanted to crawl under a chair and disappear. The bell rang, and everyone left. Nate dragged his feet and was the last to leave the room.
He was surprised to hear someone calling his name as he left the room. He turned to see that it was Patrick. “Nate! Dude, that was awesome! I don’t even know how you did it, but it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.”
“Really?” Nate asked. He was suspicious of Patrick’s enthusiasm because he had been torn down so many times before.
“Oh yeah! I thought science was all boring and stupid, but you made it a lot of fun,” Patrick said
“It is actually not that boring. I kind of like it, a lot.”
“If you are not doing anything after school, maybe we can go grab a Coke and a burger.”
“I don’t know. I have got to catch the bus…” Nate trailed off as he started to walk away. He didn’t know what to think about Patrick offering to hang out with him. He was not sure if it was a trap. He decided to play it safe. Nate turned his back to Patrick and walked away.
“Okay, well maybe another time,” Patrick called out after him.
Nate took his usual seat on the bus. Everyone was talking all around him. The noise was nice. He really felt invisible on the bus. It was often his happiest time of the day. It was when he actually was himself. And what was that? Nate hated thinking about that question. He knew the answer for all his family. They were all either smart or pretty or athletic or talented with an instrument. But him; he was a nobody. Nate was not very smart or attractive, he could care less about sports, and he did not know one end of a flute from another. He was nothing.
The next day in science class Nate was torn between thankful and disappointed that the other student was back in class. It meant that he did not have a reason to talk to Patrick any more. Nate couldn’t think of any reason that Patrick would want to talk to him either. Even though he kept seeing Patrick around; he managed to avoid talking to him. The thing that bothered Nate was that Patrick seemed to show up all over the place after they were paired up in science class. Nate felt as if God were taunting him with something that Nate knew he could never achieve.
They had the same lunch period, and Patrick would just sit down in front of Nate without asking. Nate started moving where he sat. Patrick made him uncomfortable, the way he was so friendly. In some ways, Nate felt like Patrick was the reality that he wanted to live. Friendly, easy to talk to, carefree. But that was not who he was. He was a nobody. After Patrick asked him to hang out for the tenth time, Nate ran out of excuses and said yes.
The two boys went to the Sonic in town. Patrick had his own car. It was clean. Nate did not know why he noticed that, but he did. The car was immaculate inside and out. Grasping for something to say to Patrick; Nate blurted out, “Your car is really clean.” He felt stupid as soon as the words left his mouth. Why didn’t he know how to talk to people? Why was it that he said the stupidest things?
Patrick did not skip a beat. “Yeah, I like to keep it clean. I take it up to trail heads quite often; and if I leave stuff in it, something always finds a way in. Normally it's ants. One time I left a candy bar in the backseat. When I came back, they were everywhere. It took me at least a week to clean them all out.”
Nate chuckled at the idea of ants everywhere in the car.
Patrick looked over at him. “I think that is the first time I have ever heard you laugh.”
Immediately, Nate stopped and straightened in his seat. Luckily they pulled into drive-in and ordered their food. They sat and ate quietly. Nate watched Patrick out of the corner of his eye. Something deep inside of him wanted to tell Patrick about everything. He wanted to speak to him as if he was in a confessional and Patrick was a priest. Nate wanted to bare his soul to him, but he could not. The fact that he knew something would happen and Patrick would find him weird or creepy stopped him from opening his mouth. Instead he took another bite of his burger and swallowed it along with his burning desire to confess.
Lost in his own thoughts, Nate was taken by surprise to hear Patrick talking again. He was telling Nate about a hiking trip he had taken before. Nate just sat and listened. It sounded wonderful to him, just the idea of disappearing in the woods and not seeing another living soul ever again. Nate allowed himself to daydream about the idea while Patrick kept talking.
“So, what do you think? Do you think you’d like to go on a hiking trip with me this summer?” Patrick asked.
Nate pulled himself out of his dream. “Oh, uh, I think it would be cool. I’d have to ask my folks though.”
“All right! This is going to be awesome. If your parents need any information, just let me know and I can give them whatever they need. I have got a map and where we would be staying. I take the same route every summer. You are going to love it!”
Patrick rambled on about the things Nate would need for the trip as he drove to Nate’s house. Nate had him drop him off at the head of the drive. He did not want Patrick to see his family quite yet.