Nic slides the key into the lock and turns it twice before the front door resists the efforts. She releases a sigh of frustration along with a curse, making a small dent on the relaxed mood she acquired at the Spa retreat. The lock is jammed, again. Conrad had been postponing the call to the locksmith for weeks now, and ever the clever one while avoiding that responsibility, he had somehow figured the right angle to apply pressure until the lock slides open smoothly. She has not mastered that trick quite yet, her patience with the lock always runs out faster than her ability to struggle against an inanimate object. One of these days she will be locked out of the house and will have to climb one of the windows in an ungraceful manner. Nothing that she hasn’t done before as a teenager, anyway.
Giving up on the lock, Nic rings the doorbell instead. There is a temporary delay in response where she hears movement inside the house, a voice becoming gradually clear, and as soon as the door opens her arms are full of her daughter.
“Mama!” Gigi squeals in delight after having quickly abandoned Conrad’s arms without regard for her own safety, and she clings to Nic with the eager hands of a child desperate for the comfort of her mother.
“Hi, my darling,” Nic says enthusiastically and gives one flushed round cheek a stream of kisses.
Gigi babbles happily in response in that unknown language neither of her parents have deciphered yet, as if trying to tell Nic about all the adventures she lived while she was gone.
Nic’s heart settles on a steady beat at last and everything else is altogether forgotten, her immediate attention is only on the softness of the small person in her arms radiating the comforting smell of baby shampoo, which she inhales deeply after missing it for two whole days. Nic glances over Gigi, her gaze becomes sharp to any signs of harm, but there are none to be found. She then places a hand on Gigi’s chest and watches it rise and fall in a regular cadence. Breathing, beating, alive, and all hers.
While Nic is busy reassuring herself of her daughter’s well-being, Gigi watches with surprisingly clear eyes considering the late hour. They are a sort of soft, dark blue, akin to a cloudy morning sky, holding inside an intelligence that she cannot yet express in words. Oh, how Nic had missed those eyes that constantly seek love from those at the center of her brand-new universe.
Gigi rests her head on Nic’s shoulder, her favorite spot, and presses her face into her mother’s neck. In turn, Nic lays her head on that mop of soft blond hair and cradles Gigi closer.
“We've missed you, Nic.” Conrad offers when their eyes finally meet.
She has yet to move away from the door, which Conrad had closed behind her in the meantime, and he smiles warmly at her a few feet away. Unlike Gigi, his brown eyes are nearly closed into slits and the wrinkles in their corners are deepened by the looming shadows of the night. He looks tired, almost bone-weary, and Nic has to refrain from reaching out and place a hand on his chest to reassure herself he is also alright. Instead, she brings an arm around his shoulders and urges him closer.
Without resistance, Conrad falls into her embrace. Their lips collide softly, the kiss lingers until it quenches the mutual need for each other that builds up when they are apart. Conrad locks his arms around her waist, confining Gigi snuggly between their bodies, and just like his daughter, he buries his face on the curve of her one shoulder that is free.
“Did you enjoy it?” He murmurs into her neck and his beard tickles the skin there.
Her fingers brush the short hairs at the nape of his neck in a rhythmic motion that allows to release the tension gathered in his body, and wonders briefly how she could have spent even one night away from him. Nic had once firmly stated that they required time apart in favor of a healthy relationship, a few handful of nights she had said back then, though after the last two days she is not so certain anymore.
“As it turns out, Spa retreats are overrated. I just realized that no Spa is worth being away from both of you.”
“Are you sure?” Conrad asks and she feels his lips turn into a grin against her skin. “You would trade a place with all those massages and aromatic candles for feedings, waking up to cries in the middle of the night and diaper changes?”
“In a heartbeat. Besides, I rather have your massages.”
He only chuckles in reply, a sound that lacks its usual energy. Nic pushes slightly away from Conrad to cradle his face in the palm of her right hand. Her thumb glides over the smooth skin of his cheek and her tone is all concern, “How bad was it? You look tired.”
“To tell you the truth, it was harder than I anticipated. Between taking care of Gigi, the chickens and Devon, I’m exhausted.” He falls silent momentarily, holds her a little tighter and eventually adds, “I wouldn’t be able to do this without you.”
There is a forlorn inflection in the tone of his voice that catches her attention and settles heavily inside her in an unexpected way. It is a note of loneliness she cannot completely understand, though she can imagine the convoluted feelings he experienced in this short time alone with their daughter, after all he had been very close to lose her not too long ago, and those memories still haunt him after all this time, regardless of his willingness to express them out loud or not.
“You won’t have to, Conrad.” Nic assures him as best as she rationally can despite the many lessons they have learned over the years, those that taught fate is often cruel, unavoidable and always uncontrollable.
“And I wouldn't have gone if I wasn’t completely sure you were able to handle everything by yourself. You’re a wonderful father and Gigi adores you.” She adds.
“She said Dada last night.” Conrad tells her proudly. His smile is so contagious that Nic cannot avoid smiling back.
Somewhat more at ease now that she is finally home, Conrad rests his forehead against hers and time passes without them moving in spite of the gentle sway of their bodies in the warm light of the hallway.
Oblivious to her parent’s conversation in hushed tones, Gigi sighs deeply once and her body softens slowly into a warm bundle, her breathing evens as she falls asleep with her fist closed tightly around a strand of Nic’s hair, as a sort of reassurance that her mother will not stray far away from her ever again.