|32| - "You made me want to be a better person." -
Strange didn't begin to cover how it felt being back in the flat without Nathan knowing. For the first hour, I crept around like an intruder trespassing, which was ridiculous considering that I normally lived here, too.
I kept expecting him to arrive home from work early despite not having any real logic behind that fear. Louisa had sworn her secrecy, and while some people might be awarded an early finish on a Friday, Nathan usually stayed later so that he could enjoy his weekend without work hanging over him.
At five o'clock, with the food simmering away on the hob, I sent him a message to see how his day had been, just like I usually would. He replied almost immediately, confirming my assumptions and reassuring me that he wasn't about to walk through the door any second.
- Okay thanks. Still here now. Will probably leave in the next half an hour if you want to skype at 8pm your time?
After replying, I flicked onto Instagram and took a five-minute breather. At the top of my feed, a photo of Jess and Jack jumped out at me through the screen. Jess had mentioned it becoming more serious, and now it looked like they'd made it Insta-official. Good for them.
Reclining on the sofa and closing my eyes, the prospect of double-dating with my two best friends brought a smile to my face. As time had gone on, they'd both seemed to feel less awkward about keeping me in the loop.
It had started with the occasional Snapchat from Jess, asking for my opinion on an outfit for one of their dates. Then I'd receive a Whatsapp from Jack, begging for inside knowledge on her favourite type of flower. Message by message, I began to feel increasingly included in their relationship, less like they were hiding it, and more like they wanted to share it with me.
If you stripped the whole thing back, my two best friends were happy, and that was the most important thing.
When I opened my eyes, the room had noticeably darkened. Fumbling for my phone down the side of the sofa, I dragged myself upright.
I yelped and grabbed onto the arm of the sofa as I spun towards the voice. Nathan sat at the dining table, his fingers resting on the base of a wine glass.
Allowing my eyes to drift around the room, I noticed his jacket by the door, the bubbling saucepan now still and the previously unlit candles glowing bright.
"Oh, no," I moaned, realisation striking me. "I was meant to surprise you!"
Nathan chuckled and stood up. He'd even changed from his suit into more casual jeans and a v-neck.
"You did surprise me," he said, bending to peck me on the lips. "I was very surprised to get home and see that your unattended saucepan hadn't managed to set the flat on fire."
I glared and folded my arms. "I think the smoke detector would have woken me up before that happened."
"Only teasing, Bella. I was genuinely surprised to see you. Even a little worried at first, actually, before I noticed the food."
I swept past him and charged towards the saucepan, peering inside. To my surprise, it still looked edible.
"Don't worry. I minded it while you were sleeping. Didn't want your efforts going to waste."
Wrapping his arms around me from behind, Nathan pulled me back against his chest.
"Relax," he murmured in my ear. "It was a lovely surprise. It's only made me more excited for when you return to England permanently, and I can get back from work to see you in our home every day..."