“It’s also water resistant,” I pointed out, feeling goofy, “and . . . yeah. I’m glad you like it.”
“I do.” Stretching over, he placed the watch on the coffee table, and as he straightened cupped my cheek. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” I whispered.
Nick kissed me slow and sweet, his lips and fingers lingering as he drew back. “Stay right here, okay?”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
His eyes held mine for a moment and then he stood, disappearing around the corner of the couch. It sounded like he was heading into the bedroom. He returned quickly, taking his seat beside me. A square, unwrapped dark velvet box was in his hand. “Since you gave me your gift, I want to give you mine.”
I glanced up at him as I quietly took the box that was a little smaller than my palm. I had no idea what to expect when I popped it open, but when I saw what was in it, my breath caught.
Nestled in the box was a pair of silver dog tags. “Oh gosh,” I whispered as I smoothed my thumb over one of them. My throat clogged.
“It’s two of them.” Reaching over, he turned one around. His name was carved into it. “The other has your name. I know it sounds kind of cheesy. Dog tags. But I saw them in the store and they made me think of your dad and how your mom wears his tags. It was kind of spur-of-the-moment thing. You don’t have to wear them—”
I looped my arm around his neck and pulled him over, kissing him. “I will wear it. Every day.”
Sniffling, I nodded as I sat back and looked down at them. I pressed my lips together. The gift was so incredibly thoughtful. “Will . . . will you wear the other?”
I laughed and my breath hitched again. Carefully pulling the tag with his name on it free, I slipped it over my neck, letting the cool metal slide under my sweater. I took the one with my name on it and lifted it. Grinning, Nick lowered his head and I slipped it over his head. He pulled his shirt loose, letting the tag with my name on it fall against his chest.
And then I smiled for what felt like the first time in days. The words came right out, requiring no effort. “I love you.”
Nick froze and his shirt floated back against his skin. He started as if he was about to say something and his head swung toward mine. His lips parted. “What?”
“I love you,” I repeated, holding his wide gaze. The pupils had dilated and the green seemed brighter. I couldn’t believe how easy the words were to speak. “I’m in love with you. I fell for you weeks ago—months ago—and I just wanted to tell you that.”
He stared at me.
“And you don’t have to say it back. I don’t—”
Nick’s large hands clasped my cheeks and within a stuttered heartbeat his mouth was on mine. The silky soft kiss stole my breath. “Let me hear it again,” he asked, his breath rough, but then he kissed me again, his tongue gently parting my lips. “Tell me.”
I wrapped my hands around his wrists. “I love you, Nick.”
“Christ.” He rested his forehead against mine, his large hands trembling as he held my cheeks. “I never thought I’d hear you say that.”
“What?” I whispered.
He slid one hand around, his fingers delving deep in my hair. “Because I never thought I would be lucky enough to hear it—to know that what I felt for you was the same thing you felt for me.”
I stilled. There was a good chance I wasn’t breathing. A flutter started deep in my chest. “What are you saying?”
“I don’t just love you. I’m in love with you. Hell, I have been for a while, and I wanted to tell you that so many times over, but I . . . fuck, I couldn’t get it out of me. I don’t even feel like I deserve this.”
My heart was racing so incredibly fast. Tears blurred my eyes, and the sweetest yearning blossomed in the pit of my belly, chasing away everything else. “You deserve that.”
“I’m going to prove it to you, Stephanie. You have no idea.” His lips met mine again, and the kiss was deeper, rawer. “And you’re going to get tired of hearing me saying this. I love you. I’m so fucking in love with you, Stephanie.”
“I’ll never get tired of hearing that.” I slid my hands down his strong arms. “There’s no way.” I squeezed my eyes shut. “This is what I’ve been waiting for. You’re what I’ve been looking for.”
Nick’s hand flexed in my hair. “You don’t have to wait anymore. We don’t have to wait anymore.”
Job Blanco, the kind and hardworking man who held his family together through the worst kind of tragedies, passed away peacefully, while asleep, on April eighteenth. When he slipped away early that morning, he hadn’t lost his battle with Alzheimer’s. No. Job had fought too long, too hard, and too bravely for him to have lost any fight.
He was simply done.
The timing of his death was not entirely unexpected. For several days Nick knew it was coming. He was still shocked when it happened, but the writing was on the wall, and while anyone would wish that was a message no one ever had to see, it enabled Nick to take the time off to be there with his grandfather.
For about a week, I spent the nights at his house, and I was so thankful that I was there with Nick, my arms wrapped around his waist, as he sat by his grandfather’s bed and said good-bye for the final time.
Saying good-bye was never easy, but I think there was a relief mixed in with the grief Nick was feeling. His grandfather was no longer suffering.
In his grandfather’s will, he had requested certain customs to be carried out based on his heritage, and Nick had honored those wishes, which weren’t very different than the processes I was familiar with. The funeral was less than a week after his death, and he was laid to rest beside his wife and the rest of his family, which had left long before him.
The following weekend I helped Nick at the house. We cleared out his grandfather’s bedroom, setting aside items that he wanted donated into one pile and little personal effects that Nick wanted to keep in another.
With spring in the air, there was something refreshing about the whole process, not just for Nick, but also for me. Windows were open. Breezy air floated through the rooms. Everything felt open and new. With each load of clothing I packed, it was like I was folding up the lingering guilt and the hurt, storing it away, because each day it got a little easier to deal with the loss of the baby. It got a little easier to accept that no one had done anything wrong, and each day both of us moved a little closer to moving on. It was a process, though, just like clearing out his grandfather’s room. One where some days it felt like one step forward was actually five steps backward. Some days it was hard not to try to hide from the pain, to not give in to the what-ifs of the past and of the future.
As expected, when I met with the doctor after the miscarriage, there were no answers as to why it happened and no way to guarantee that it wouldn’t happen again. We simply would not know until the next time I got pregnant. And not knowing was hard to process. It wasn’t like I dwelled on it every day, but there were moments when a near paralyzing uncertainty would seize me. Could I have kids? I didn’t know, but I kept telling myself that if I couldn’t, it would be okay.