I pack an overnight bag and call a cab.
Time to look after my man.
On the way to Nik’s I ask the cab to stop at multiple places.
First, I stop at the pharmacy and get day and night cold syrup and aspirin. Next stop is to the supermarket where I get sports drinks that contain electrolytes, chamomile tea, honey, noodles, and vegetables. My last stop is to a butcher. I ask him for a chicken carcass, beef osso bucco, and turkey wings. A weird combination, I know.
Max told me he’d leave the side gate open for me so when I arrive to the house I walk straight on through. I dump everything into the kitchen, take a sports drink and make my way to Nik’s room.
Opening the door slowly, I peek in. He lifts his head and groans, “You’re the worst girlfriend ever. We aren’t friends anymore.”
I chuckle and move to sit next to him on the bed. He really does look ill, the poor dear.
Using my palm to test the temperature of his forehead, I say, “Sharing is caring, honey.”
He closes his eyes in bliss as my cool palms rest on his cheek and forehead. He says, “Haha. You’re so funny you’re givin’ me a stitch. Goofball.”
I thought I was bad when I was sick. Nik is even moodier than me when he’s sick and that’s pretty darn moody. But he’s adorably moody.
I pull the covers off him and pull a sheet over him then go back to the kitchen to fetch some aspirin, cough syrup, and another sports drink then take them back to my patient.
I make him take the aspirin which he really doesn’t want and lets me know by sighing long and deep.
Smiling, I wipe his face with an ice cold wash cloth and run my fingers through his messy hair.
He whispers, “That feels nice, baby.” And then he’s asleep, snores and all.
Wow. He’s sicker than I was yesterday. But he said he never gets sick so maybe this is years of sickness being drawn out of him.
The house needs a little tidying up so I do that then spend the rest of the morning checking on Nik, making sure he takes aspirin and cough syrup every three hours and wiping his face and arms down with cold water.
Early afternoon I get to work on the soup. I luckily find a soup pot; I’m sure this is Nik’s moms doing because I can’t see Nik or Max making soup.
I throw the meat and vegetables in, cover it with cold water, and turn the heat on high. I wait til it boils, then skim the top every ten minutes. After an hour on a high simmer, it looks the way I want it to and I switch it off. I strain the soup into another pot, peel away the fat from the turkey, chop the meat into little pieces and throw it into the broth. I take two of the boiled carrot and smoosh them up with a fork and add that, too. I turn the broth on to boil again. I add water, a little tomato paste, and season to taste then I break up the noodles and throw them in. That boils together for ten minutes. And Voila!
A cure for any illness…according to my mama.
Arms close around my waist and I yelp. I feel Nik chuckle into the side of my neck.
I shriek, “Every. Freakin’. Time!”
The man is as graceful as a panther, even when he’s sick as a dog!
I’m glad to see he has some of his color back. His forehead feels cooler, too.
I ask quietly, “Feeling a little better?”
He nods and looks into the soup pot. He pats his stomach and says, “That smells good. I’m a little hungry.”
His appetite is back, too. It must’ve been a twenty four hour virus just like mine was.
I tell him to sit on the sofa and I’ll bring him some soup. He sits and I ladle two bowls of soup.
All this caretaking has made me hungry.
Carefully as I can, I bring both bowls over to him, I sit and we eat.
Nik’s reaction to my soup is funny. He makes noises when he likes something he eats. All I hear are groans of approval and mmmm. I smirk into my bowl.
He has no idea how adorable he is.
Suddenly, I straighten.
Hesitation works its way into me.
I fight it hard but its winning and just when I think it’s won, I blurt out, “So…I had a daughter.”
Nik’s body stiffens next to mine.
Avoiding his gaze, I play with my soup and continue quietly saying, “She—she would’ve been five this year. Her name was Mia. And she was beautiful, Nik.” My throat thickens with emotion. I whisper, “So damn beautiful, Nik. You would’ve loved her.” My eyes mist and my nose tingles. I’m having a tough time controlling my emotions but I do the best I can.
Why did I think this was a good idea?
The soup bowl clinks when he puts it down on the table. He places my soup on the table before he scoops me up and cradles me.
His lips against my forehead, he asks quietly, “What happened to Mia, baby?”
Taking a second to control the anguish that settles in my solar plexus, I clear my throat and respond, “Mom took her out for a morning walk. They did that every day. Mom had Mia in her stroller and was crossing at a crosswalk when a car careened into them.” Memories of the horrific event flash through me. Tears fill my eyes and I whisper hoarsely ,“Mom must’ve seen it coming at the last second because she threw her body in front of the stroller. But it didn’t make a difference because the kid who crashed into them was in shock and didn’t brake right away. They were dragged some while. He was texting and driving. Wasn’t even watching the road, Nik.” The sobs that threaten break free and I croak, “Even though Mom got hit first, she lived for three days before she gave up her fight. My baby died at the scene. Turns out she was also born with hemophilia. She got that from me. And she bled out. In her fucking stroller, Nik. My baby went out for her morning walk and died. The only thing that keeps me from going insane is knowing my mom is somewhere in the clouds playing peek-a-boo with Mia. The stroller was lodged under his front bumper. I had to have a closed casket for her.” My tortured memories break through. I rock myself and rasp, “The right side of her pretty face was gone, Nik. Her casket was pink and so tiny. No one should have to make caskets that tiny. Jace didn’t even show up for her funeral.”
I spent months having nightmares about Mia’s last moments. What was she thinking? Did she understand what was happening? How long did she experience horrifying pain before she died?
Anxiety held me immobile at times. Then came the panic attacks. There was a short time when I thought I’d have to be institutionalized to control my grief.
Every night for months I would go to sleep and wake hearing Mia’s cries. Desperation would leave me clawing at my ears and pulling out chunks of my hair, begging and pleading for them to stop. It was all in my head but it felt so real. Nothing would drown them out.
He asks, “Jace was Mia’s daddy?”
I nod. I breathe deeply and reply shakily, “Yeah, Jace was Mia’s daddy. I was young when we met in college. We were together for two perfect years. He was my first and I thought we’d get married someday. I saw him as perfect for me. We goofed around, enjoyed each other’s company and supported each other. When I found out I was pregnant and told Jace, he told me he needed time to think about it. He asked for some space. That should’ve been my first clue. So, I gave him three days. When I went to his apartment…it was gutted.” Nik’s body tenses hard but I continue, “Not a picture left on the wall. This was someone who told me daily he loved me. And I believed him. I called his mother trying to find him. She didn’t know where he was. Jace’s parents saw Mia a few times a year and loved her so much. Jace lost contact with his family but I still involved them in Mia’s life. They were at every Christmas and birthday. Jace was just…gone.”
Nik remains silent. I’m worried this is too much for him. But if we’re seriously involved I don’t want any secrets between us.
It was time.
Nik finally says, “This is why you don’t want any more children.” This is a statement.
Nodding, I whisper, “I can’t go through that, Nik. Never again. My heart broke in a way that the pieces just won’t fit back together.” I’m desperate for him to understand.
Nik kisses my forehead and says quietly, “I’m so sorry, baby. No one should ever have to experience what you did. Not only losing your baby, but your mom, too. That—I can’t—I can’t even begin to imagine what you were going through, sweetheart.”
The heaviness that has been resting on me has been replaced with a lighter swirling of emotions.
Relief. Fear. Love.
I don’t want to be pitied. Pity from Nik would tear me up.
Lifting my eyes to his, I plead, “Don’t pity me.”
Nik shakes his head slowly and replies, “I don’t pity you, baby. But, fuck me, I feel so much sadness for you right now. And love. And admiration.” He tucks a loose strand of hair behind my ear and goes on, “I don’t know how you got through it all. But I respect you so damn much right now. The kid thing makes sense to me, too. I don’t know how I would’ve coped if we’d lost Ceecee after her accident. I’m so sorry you lost your little girl, baby. I love you, Tina.”
His kiss fills me with hope. This is so much more than I thought I needed. I didn’t even realize it.
I love Nik so much.
A small, damaged part of my heart fixes itself.
After my confessions to Nik, I ended up spending the night there.
Ceecee and Max come home to soup for dinner and I was surprised they both seemed happy with that. Normal people wouldn’t think it was enough. But Max explained, “We only ever get soup when we’re sick so we barely ever get it.”
After they ate Nik and I excused ourselves and went to bed. We held each other close all night, kissed and cuddled. It was perfect. Just what I needed.
This morning we’re both back at work. Nat has opened the store and it’s empty.
I tell her, “I told Nik about Mia.”
Her body locks, her eyes widen and she gasps, “No! Really?”
I nod, “Yeah, it was time.”
A soft smile forms on her lips and she hugs me. She tells me, “I’m so proud of you. Mia isn’t a dirty secret, honey, she’s a beautiful memory.”
Yeah, she is.
I love the new bell!
“Sorry, I’ll come back.”
Nat and I part from our hug to see Ghost standing in the doorway looking uncomfortably at us.
Smiling at him, I say, “It was just a hug, Ghost. We weren’t doing it!”
He shifts from his left foot to his right foot looking indecisive then stalks over to me. He hands me a small box. I look up at him through narrowed eyes and ask, “Is this from Nik?”
Ghost shakes his head and blurts, “I don’t know—I just thought—It seemed important to you and I—Fuck, would you just open it?”
Ghost bought me something? Has the world gone mad?!
I moved back a few steps to the counter and place the box in the top. I carefully open it and gasp.
My hands cover my gaping mouth and tears stream down my face.
Ghost pales and quickly says, “Oh Fuck, Tina. I’m sorry. I thought you might like it. I’ll throw it out. Nik is gonna have my balls.”
He reaches for the box and I shriek, “No!” I wipe tears from my cheeks and whisper hoarsely, “I love it. Thank you.” I walk over to him, wrap my arms around his waist, and hug him tight. I feel his arm wrap around my shoulder and squeeze. Ghost hugged me. I can die in peace now.
Smiling, I release him from my clutches and walk back to the box. I take out the small ceramic urn and place it on the counter. I run my fingers across the engraved plaque.
My favorite little guy is back with his mama. I suddenly feel lighter. I hadn’t noticed Ghost behind me til he says, “He was a good cat, huh?”
I nod and whisper, “He was my daughter’s cat. He was all I had left of her.”
A long silence follows then I feel his hand squeeze my shoulder.
I don’t have to look back to know he’s gone. Nat sidles up next to me and hugs me round the waist and we both pay our silent respects to Bear.
After a while I ask Nat, “Still think Ghost doesn’t have a heart?”
She answers quietly, “I’m not sure of anything anymore.”
I smile, kiss my fingertips and place them on the urn.
Love you, Bear.
Ghost storms into the conference room and slams the door behind him.
Max, Trick, and I are already in there, we look at him like he’s lost his mind. And what he says next confirms he has.
“Tina had a fucking kid?!” he shouts.
I stand and blurt the first thing that comes to mind, “How did you find out?”
Ghost paces and stammers his answer ,“She just told me! I—I just wanted to give her the cat. And then Bam! She mentions her daughter. I just—I just brought her the cat for Christ sakes!” He sounds hysterical. I’ve never seen Ghost lose his mind like this. He doesn’t do feelings. I think this is why.
Thinking about what he said, I’m confused.
I ask carefully, “You bought Tina a new cat?”
He immediately replies with, “No, I had the cat cremated for her. I took it to her this morning and she lost it. Crying and shit. Why do they always cry!?”
Max and Trick are staring open mouthed at me. I know I have some explaining to do. It worries me because Tina didn’t give me permission to discuss this with my boys. But then again, she told Ghost. Although that could’ve been due to the fact she was overwhelmed by what he did for her. I’m overwhelmed by what he did for her. I guess he does like her after all.
I point to him and say, “Sit down. Relax before you have a heart-attack, you putz.”
Ghost sits and I begin, “Tina told me yesterday that she had a child. She got pregnant in college by her boyfriend and the asshole upped and left her without a trace. Mia was two when she died. Tina’s mom took the baby for a walk and they were knocked down by a car and dragged at a crosswalk. Tina’s mom threw herself in front of the stroller but they both died. So, yes, Tina had a daughter named Mia. Tina lost her mom and daughter in the same accident. That’s the reason she came to New York. End of story.”
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