Nate was asleep when I staggered into the house forty minutes later, sprawled across most of the bed with wadded up tissues scattered across the duvet and piled on the floor. Eww. I left my shoes and dress in the bedroom, moved most of the tissues to the bin, and curled up on the couch in a quilt so I wouldn’t disturb him.
I woke up the next morning to the smell of frying bacon, nursing a mild hangover and steadfastly ignoring the events of the previous night. Nate, clearly feeling better, was already up and making breakfast. I nipped upstairs and pulled on trackie bottoms and an old t-shirt of Nate’s, and then went back down to the kitchen, hoping for a piece or two of bacon. I was disappointed to discover that the bacon had all been piled on Nate’s plate, beside several sausages and two fried eggs.
“None for me?” I said plaintively as I set the kettle to boil.
“Thought you were watching your weight,” he said, stabbing a piece of sausage and forking it into his mouth.
I wilted. “Oh. Right. Um…”
He looked up. “Not going well?”
The kettle clicked off and I busied myself with making a cup of tea. “Why do you say that?” I asked eventually.
“You’re wearing trackies and my top again.” He shrugged. “Figured you were hiding a roll or something.”
“They’re comfortable,” I said, startled. “And I wear them all the time. I didn’t think you minded.”
“They’re not the most attractive, but whatever you like, babe.”
Annoyed, I pinched a piece of bacon off his plate and sat down across from him, ignoring the look he gave me, and drew one leg up to my chest as I nibbled on the strip. If he got to wear trackies and eat bacon and laze around the house, then it was only fair if I got to too. “I take it you’re feeling better.”
“Yeah, loads.” He grinned at me, and for a minute I could see the Nate I’d fallen in love with. “Thanks for taking care of me. I must have been a right pain.”
“You’re not the easiest patient,” I admitted. “You get a bit grumpy. Kind of like Spock going through pon farr, except without the surge of sexual appetite and throwing of plomeek soup.”
“Geek,” he said, going back to his breakfast. He was ploughing through it like a starving man when he abruptly stopped mid-bite and looked across the table at me. “So we need to talk.”
I stared at him. Those words never bode well in a relationship. “About what?”
“I got a job.”
Immediately I sat up straight, my foot dropping to the ground. “Oh, Nate, that’s fantastic! When did you find out?”
“Earlier this week. Had an email and then the official letter in the post.”
“Oh, that’s great! It’s a permanent job?”
He fidgeted with his fork, pushing the egg whites around in the spilt yolk. “Yeah, it’s permanent. Full-time, permanent, teaching early 20th century American literature to undergrads with the potential to teach fiction classes, depending on how it goes.”
I scrambled out of my chair and ran to him, flinging my arms around his shoulders. “I’m so excited for you! That’s exactly what you wanted, isn’t it? Where is it? Will you be able to stay in this house and commute, or will we need to relocate?”
He poked at the eggs some more and avoided my gaze. “Um. It’s at UC Berkley.”
“What?” I stumbled back and stared at him. “You got a job in California?”
Now that he’d got it off his chest, he finally looked me square in the face, and he seemed more animated as he said, “Well, it’s a position exactly in my field, and they were after someone specialising in my area, so it’s really perfect all around. And it’s a great opportunity. I did some reading about Berkley and the area is great.”
I’d backed up without realising it, and found myself pressed up against the kitchen cabinets, my hands gripping the counters behind me so tightly that I was sure my knuckles must be white. “Nate,” I said, trying to keep my voice calm, “we agreed when we talked about looking for jobs that we’d only look in the UK. You know that. I mean, I remember that conversation very distinctly.”
“Yeah, I know, but — ” He stopped, his mouth twisting. “But Em, it’s such a perfect fit for me, and I hadn’t been having any luck finding anything here, and I’ve been looking into the housing market and I think we could find a house within easy driving distance of the university, and it would be so much better than what we’re doing here.”
I opened and closed my mouth like a fish for a minute, and then managed, “Did you just say we?”
He looked surprised. “Well yeah, I guess I figured you’d be going with me. We've been together five years.”
“How could you assume something like that?” I demanded. “That’s a huge decision. You can’t assume that I’ll just uproot and move all the way to California!”
Looking shocked, he said, “But I thought, you know, that it was kind of agreed… You know, that we’d buy a house together. I thought we could do that in Berkley.”
“Nate, how would I get a visa?”
He hesitated. “Well, I kind of thought that maybe we could get married…”
I gaped at him. “If that was a proposal, then that was the most asinine marriage proposal I have ever heard.”
His jaw worked. “I’d kind of intended on doing something better, but you’re kind of forcing the issue, Em!”
“I think I’ve got good reason!” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Nate, I don’t want to get married just so I can move to America with you. That’s not what I want to do. I don’t want to go to America. Besides, what about my job?”
“Em, you’ve only got the part-time job at Trent — it’s not like that’s going anywhere.” The condescending tone in his voice, from someone who’d just got his first permanent job to someone who was only working a part-time teaching position, grated. “I figured you could get work as a receptionist or something at the university until you were able to find a more permanent teaching position either at Berkley or somewhere else nearby.
“You wanted me to work as a receptionist?” The words were shrill, and as they came out I winced. I hated sound like a harpy. But — really?? I hadn’t gone through all of those years of grad school and teaching fellowships to drag my arse back down to working in secretarial work. “I don’t think so, Nate!”
“It was just a thought, Em,” he said, looking annoyed. “Just until you found a better job.”
I took a deep breath. “Nate, I have a better job.”
He laughed a little. “What, than Trent?”
I huffed, annoyed. “Yes. I hadn’t got around to telling you yet, but I found out two weeks ago that I got a year-long post as a lecturer at St Andrews, covering maternity leave.” Quickly, before he could say anything, I added, “And I’ve already accepted.”