When I returned to work on Monday, my body was still going through the motions of the miscarriage, but my luck was twofold. The office was closed on Thursday, Christmas Eve, and didn’t reopen until Monday, and I was able to schedule an appointment to get in and see my OB/GYN on the following Tuesday, snatching up a cancelled appointment.
While I was at work, I didn’t allow myself to think about what my body was going through. I focused on the errands I had to run and the renovation proposal for the recently acquired facility in West Virginia. Perhaps the whole avoiding what had happened routine wasn’t the smartest, but it was what helped get me through each day, and I think that it was important to take it day by day.
But I wasn’t alone.
On Sunday, I had packed some clothes and personal items and followed Nick back to his grandfather’s house. When he asked me to come home with him, I hadn’t hesitated. Sunday night we had spent time with his grandfather and then I’d fallen asleep in his arms. His presence and his understanding of the pain kept the worst moments—the ones where guilt and doubt started to creep up—from overwhelming me. Waking up with him wrapped around me went a long way, probably more than he realized.
Then again, I think Nick did know. I think that was why he insisted I stay with him until my mom whirled into town for Christmas. He was there in those moments when I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Those moments when the heavy malaise twisted in discontent. I knew my body was going through a lot and it had my mood swinging all over the place, but it was also just . . . just hard as hell to deal with.
Part of me felt like I needed to spring back immediately. To move the hell along, because these things happened. They happened every day, and I was lucky that there hadn’t been any major complications so far, like an infection, or that I hadn’t been further along. In those dark moments in the middle of the night, it was hard to give voice to what I was feeling exactly, but I didn’t have to.
Nick seemed to sense just when I needed him. Even if he was asleep, his arms would tighten around me, and sometimes, when my restlessness woke him, he would talk to me until I fell back asleep, distracting me with some of the crazy things he’d seen while working at Mona’s. He was simply there for me, and I let him in completely.
And there was no denying how much I loved this man.
Mom arrived Christmas Eve morning, and after checking in at a nearby hotel, she came straight to my apartment. When she knocked on the front door, I glanced over at Nick as he rose from the couch. “You ready for this?” I asked.
A lopsided grin formed. “Of course.”
I wasn’t so sure as I opened the door. My mom could be . . . a lot to handle, and she all but tackled me as she rushed through the open doorway, wrapping her arms around me. I was enveloped in her warmth and vanilla-scented perfume.
Her hand smoothed over the back of my head. “Oh, my sweet girl . . .” She held me tight, and I was suddenly the little girl who just . . . just needed her mom, because now everything would be okay.
Loki’s muffled bark drew us apart. Looking over her shoulder, I spotted the little dog eyeing us from inside the carrier. I lowered my arms as I stepped back. “I better get the dog before it chews its way through the metal bars.”
Mom rolled her eyes, but she knew it could happen. When Loki wanted out of something, Loki got out of it. The dog could scale fences. As I picked up the carrier, I brought it into the apartment with me, closing the door behind us. I wasn’t surprised that she had Loki with her instead of leaving the dog at the hotel.
She didn’t leave Loki anywhere.
Nick stepped forward, extending a hand as his one-sided grin grew. “Hello, Ms. Keith.”
“And this must be Nick. Now I can see why you are so distracted when you’re on the phone with me and he’s around.” Mom eyed him as she took his hand.
He smiled as his gaze found mine. “I like her.”
“Of course you do,” I muttered as Mom checked him out.
“Wow. Stephanie, wow.” She glanced over her shoulder at me. “I’m very proud of you.”
“Oh my gosh.” My cheeks burned. “Mom.”
She chuckled as she turned back to Nick. “It is a pleasure to finally meet you.” Then she dropped his hand and folded him into one of her mom hugs. I could see that Nick was surprised, but he returned the gesture without awkwardness, and I loved him even more for that. “I’m so sorry about what has happened,” she said, her voice low as I bent down, unlocking Loki’s carrier. “These things are never easy, but you look like you have the shoulders to carry that weight.”
“I’m going to do everything I can to do just that,” he replied, earning a smile of approval from my mom.
Loki scrambled out, commencing the marathon sniffing event as Nick offered my mom something to drink. Nervously, I watched them move into the kitchen as I folded my arms across my waist. They were talking about her drive up here, how long she was staying, and just general chitchat as he made her coffee. I stayed back, pretending to keep an eye on Loki as the dog darted across the couch and then jumped to the floor, racing back toward the bedroom. When Mom looked over at me and winked, my lips curved up at the corners. She didn’t have to say it, but I knew she was already starting to fall for Nick herself.
Taking a deep breath, I walked over to the kitchen and my stomach twisted pleasantly as Nick drifted to my side, curving his arm around my shoulder. As my mom tinkered with the sugar and creamer, Nick leaned down and brushed his lips over my cheek.
I swallowed hard as I glanced up at him. “You doing okay?” he whispered.
“Yeah.” I smiled. “Yeah, I am.”
After my mom went back to the hotel with the little hooligan known as Loki, I packed a bag and rode back to Nick’s house to spend the rest of Christmas Eve there so Kira, the in-home nurse, could be home for the night. Mom would be joining us at Nick’s house in the morning, and it seemed like an awful big step, but Nick was chill about her coming over.
While Nick was upstairs checking in on his grandfather, I pulled the gift I’d gotten him for Christmas and carried it into the living room. With the TV off and only the flickering white light from the Christmas tree, a very mellow feeling settled over me as I sat on the couch.
It wasn’t long before Nick joined me on the couch. “How’s your granddad?” I asked.
“He’s sleeping.” He glanced down at my hands. “What’s that?”
I held up the small wrapped box. “It’s a Christmas present. I wanted to give it to you now.”
“You don’t want to wait?”
“I’m impatient. Plus it’s really not that awesome a gift.” I grinned when he laughed. “I mean, I suck at getting gifts. I’m not the most creative person when it comes to those things, but yeah, I just want to give it to you now.”
Nick grinned as he took the present from me, slipping his finger under the edges of the wrapping paper. He peeled the paper back and made quick work of it. When he flipped open the box, I pressed my lips together. “Whoa.” He reached in, lifting the watch out of the box. “This is nice, Stephanie.”
The smile reached his eyes. “Hell yeah. I’ve been saying for months I need to get a watch. It’s good to have one when I’m working.”