When Natalie met Dan Parker he was a student at the school she would be attending in the fall. Art was their common interest. It strengthened the casual bond between them and the day they went to the Milwaukee Art Musuem together was the day they found out that there’s nothing like doing something you love with someone who loves it just as much as you do. Dan had two free passes to get into the museum but Natalie was the one who paid for him to see the Edward Hopper exhibit. Dan was reluctant to show Natalie his apartment but after listening to him talk about art and what he was doing in school she insisted on seeing his portfolio. Natalie didn’t have any real power at the ad agency where she was an intern but she told Dan that she could talk to some of the people she worked with to see if there was a way for him to get a graphic design position where she worked.
Dan and Natalie spent the rest of the night sitting in the living room and talking about art. She kissed him goodnight when he walked her down to her car. Dan asked if she wanted to go miniature golfing and when Natalie came to pick him up for their second date she saw that he had used sidewalk chalk on the front of the building to create a picture for her. His picture survived the rain but the stormy weather ruined their plans for miniature golf. The movie they wanted to see had been sold out. Dan asked Natalie if she liked foreign films. She asked him if he liked Chinese Take-out. He carried the food, she carried the film. They took both items back to his apartment and for Dan Parker part of being in love was having Natalie pick up all the food that fell from his chopsticks.
Foreign films, making love, and cold Chinese food became a habit of theirs. Sometimes she would cook for him. The contents of his refrigerator embarrassed him so he called her a food snob. Natalie responded by teasing him about his beer. Dan wasn’t Irish but he always drank Guinness and as time went by Natalie acquired a taste for the dark pungent brew. Dan and Natalie loved each other for years before he proposed. He wanted her engagement ring to be just as lovely and as special as she was and when conventional jewelers failed him he went elsewhere to shop. Antique stores had interesting jewelry. Boutiques had the quality he was looking for and he came very close to buying a ring an artist in Madison had on display but it wasn’t exactly what he was looking for. The ring he was looking for had to capture what he felt for Natalie.
The agency Natalie worked at had offered Dan a job. She kissed him when he got home from work and when they were naked between the sheets Natalie told Dan that she wanted to take him to Chicago for the weekend. The plan was to explore the Art Institute of Chicago with her brother and his girlfriend. They would stay at a really nice hotel and there were always interesting places to eat near the museum. After supper that night Dan and Natalie went for a walk. There was a heavy mist in the air. It wasn’t raining but it felt like it might start any second. They were standing on a bridge when Dan put the ring he had designed on Natalie’s hand. He asked if she would marry him. Not long after she accepted his proposal she came home to a sketch of two lovers. One of them was kneeling before the other.
Autumn was Natalie's favorite season. She married Dan Parker on the very last day of September. They went to Napa Valley for their honeymoon trip and when they came back Dan quit his job. Working in advertising was a drag. It killed his creativity and he was sick of the corporate bullshit. Natalie was now an upper level account executive at the ad agency. She worried about the money they would lose now that Dan was no longer working but she wanted him to be happy and right now he wasn't. Dan's sister Mary did freelance photography. Dan worked with her for a while but what he really wanted to do was paint. Oils were his love and with Christmas on the horizon Dan indulged himself. Canvas after completed canvas hung around their home. Natalie tolerated it because she knew the people in her family would like the paintings, the people in his family expected them and since she had recently been promoted to a middle management position their financial situation was less of a concern for her.
Christmas that year was a flop. Dan got into a fight with one of her brothers. Natalie was in no mood to play peacemaker and now that she was pregnant the smell of paint nauseated her. Dan’s father-in-law had given the newlyweds a Toyota Camry for Christmas. The car was really for Natalie but Dan drove it because she couldn’t handle the new car smell. Cooking was a chore Dan took over because the sight of food revolted his wife. Often he would wake up to the sound of her retching instead of the shrill of her alarm clock. Going back to work wasn’t something Dan wanted to do but he felt as if he didn’t have a choice since Natalie was sick and they had a baby on the way. Natalie was at work when she started losing the baby. A co-worker of hers called Dan to let him know what was going on. Dan was in the shower when his friend and former co-worker called so he missed hearing the news in person but when he heard the message he left the large letter N he had been working on near the phone and grabbed his car keys.
Jim Summerville was sitting in his office when the call came in that his daughter was going to the emergency room. There was a good sized portrait of Natalie hanging on the wall behind his desk. He turned his chair but he wasn't looking at the picture. He was seeing the hospital across the street. All three of his children had been born there. It had been twenty-three and a half years ago but he could still remember getting the news that his wife had gone into labor early. His mother had been watching Natalie the day her brothers had been born eleven weeks early. It was a day he would never forget and an experience he fervently hoped no one else would have to go through. There was a small black and white sketch hanging up over his desk. It was Dan Parker's rendition of Natalie's second ultrasound.
Jim had always wanted more children. The idea that he was getting a granddaughter was one that found him whistling when he walked down the hall. He reached up to pull the small drawing down. He couldn't throw the picture in the garbage but he didn't really want it hanging around his office either. He imagined his daughter in pain and a part of him knew that if there was something wrong with the baby this was God and Nature's way of eliminating future suffering but why did it have to be his daughter going through this? Jim Summerville had always appreciated art. He admired Dan Parker's ability to convey emotions using different mediums and if he was honest with himself he had to admit that Dan had a talent his daughter didn't possess. Dan was the one who had given him the portrait of Natalie. It was a picture that Jim liked. He would always cherish it but as he looked at the scrap of paper in his hand he thought that there were some days when art was too much to bear.