“’Night,” I mumble.
I feel his laughter against my cheek, making me smile before I drift off to sleep, completely forgetting to tell him about my strange reaction to David.
“You’re here!” a woman yells, running outside and down the front steps to where I’m exiting Nico’s car. I stumble back as she embraces me in a tight hug. “Welcome,” she says breathlessly before her hands go to my face, her eyes soft as she looks at me.
“Hi.” I can’t help but smile as she pulls me back in for another hug. She doesn’t seem so scary anymore. I almost laugh at my own fear.
“Hey,” Nico says, walking towards us. The smile he’s wearing is one I haven’t seen before, but I have to say—it’s probably one of my favorites.
“Hey, honey.” She lets me go and walks to where he’s standing, her hands going to his face this time. I hear her whisper something to him, but I can’t make out what it is. His face goes soft, looking a lot like his mom as he nods before kissing her cheek. “So, I hope you two are hungry.” She smiles, linking her arm with mine as we make our way into the house.
“Where’s Dad?” Nico asks.
She turns to look over her shoulder to answer him. “He’ll be here soon. He called to tell me he would be late,” she says as we make our way inside.
The house is a beautiful two-story farmhouse. The outside is painted a pale yellow with white trim, and a large front porch sporting two rocking chairs completes the picture. As we walk inside, all I can think is how welcoming their home feels. The warm wood floors and country-style decor make me feel like I should be drinking a glass of lemonade while putting my feet up.
“I love your house,” I tell Susan as we make our way into the kitchen.
“Thank you, honey. Nico’s grandparents bought this house when they moved into the area. When they told James they were going to sell it, he bought the house from them.”
“I would love to live in an area like this. The drive out here was beautiful. When I moved to Tennessee, I wanted to buy a house in the country on a couple acres, but I just couldn’t afford it,” I explain with a smile.
“I thought you liked living in a neighborhood close to the city?” Nico states as a question, wrapping his arms around my waist from behind.
“I don’t mind it.” I turn my head and look back at him. “But when I was little, I read all of the Little House on the Prairie books and dreamed of living in a house in the middle of nowhere with my husband and filling it up with tons of kids.”
“We can definitely have tons of kids,” he says, his eyes going dark.
He is on a baby-making mission. Since he got back from Vegas—unless I’m working—we’ve been in bed, and he’s been doing everything in his power to put a baby in me. Not that I have been putting up much of a fight about it. After opening up to him about everything, I know that he is everything I want and need. I know that, deep down, even the night I ran away, I would have gone back to him; I wouldn’t have been able to stay away.
“Nico, you wanna come help me out?” a guy yells into the house, my heart rate automatically kicking up.
We talked about this. This morning, he told me that everyone was meeting at his parents’ for dinner. Like it told him last night, I am excited but still nervous. I know that I put this off for as long as I could. And honestly, it wasn’t fair to Nico to keep pushing him away even if it was unintentional. When I told Maggie what was going on, I could hear her clapping and jumping up and down while we were on the phone. She loves that Nico is forcing me to step outside of my bubble. She is happy for me and excited to meet Nico.
“Yeah!” he yells back before kissing my neck and whispering into my ear, “You’ll be okay. I’m here with you.”
“Okay,” I agree nervously. I just don’t want to have some kind of breakdown in front of his family. Once, in Job Corps, I passed out when I was with a group of people at lunch. After that, I tried to just stick to myself.
“So, Nico said you work as a librarian?” Susan asks, smiling at me.
“Yes. Well, I do that part time. My real job is as a private insurance specialist.” I watch as she goes to the stove and pulls out a giant ham, the kind you would have at Thanksgiving, with the pineapple and cherries on top of it.
“Wow, that sounds fun,” she says sarcastically and giggles, making me laugh.
“Yeah, it’s no fun, but it pays the bills.” I shrug.
“That’s always important.”
“Well, really, the thing is—my shoe addiction isn’t going to pay for itself,” I say with a smile.
“You too, huh? I had to take a job working for my boys when their dad told me he wasn’t going to give me any more money for shoes unless I got rid of some first. I told him fine, I didn’t need his money, and bribed my boys with cookies and started working for them. Needless to say, James had to build me a bigger closet.” She laughs and shakes her head, and I burst out laughing too. I can’t help it; she’s so sweet and totally puts me at ease. “Can you help me out with the rolls and put them in the oven?” she asks.
“Sure,” I say, going to the counter and putting a pan of Hawaiian rolls into the oven.
“You’re welcome.” I smile, feeling warm inside. I wonder if my mom would have been like her if she were alive. All of the memories of my mom are happy; she was always laughing and smiling.
“What’s wrong?” Nico’s arms wrap around me. I hug him back, breathing him in before bringing my hands to my face, wiping my eyes. “Talk to me,” he says against my ear before kissing it.
“Nothing. Just thinking about my mom and wondering if she would be like yours,” I tell him.
He tilts my head back with a finger under my chin. “You gonna be okay being here? If not, we can go,” he says quietly, searching my face. Hearing him say that only makes me love him that much more. I know how much his family means to him. I know how much he wants me to get to know them, so his asking if I need to leave says more than words ever could.
“You love me,” I whisper. It isn’t a question; I know he does because I can see it in his eyes. I don’t know how I missed it before.
“I do.” He smiles, his mouth touching mine. “I love you, Sophie,” he says softly for only me to hear.
“I love you too,” I whisper, closing my eyes. I feel him smile against my lips before he kisses me again.