Chapter 1: Home At Last
1) Home At Last: 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.
Ah! Watch me including Nic back into the main storyline of the show.
We all need SoftConic™ in our lives and I'm working through the heartache and anger by writing.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
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.
I hope you liked this chapter as a start, if you did please leave kudos and comments. There's more to come.
Chapter 2: Twist of Fate
2) Twist of Fate - This is too heartbreaking to see, all too close for Nic to detach herself completely since it could have so easily been her on that same hospital bed, entirely unaware of the last hour of her own life.
Yikes, I said this would be a story full of fluffy chapters but this one has a little angst. But bear this one with me, it has softness in the end.
This chapter was inspited by a prompt given to me by @lilybartowski on Tumblr.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Nic is static, absolutely shocked into silence, and stuck in the same place as if she had grown roots the size of the hospital building that perforate through each floor to anchor her body into the earth itself. Her eyes cannot shift away from that ICU room ahead. On this side of the glass door, where grief has not yet percolated entirely and the floor remains busy with the workflow of the other nurses, Nic watches a colleague of many years lying in bed. Her husband sits beside her while holding their baby in his lap, and they both lean into the bed for one last conversation, even if only one-sided.
This is too heartbreaking to see, all too close for Nic to detach herself completely since it could have so easily been her on that same hospital bed, entirely unaware of the last hour of her own life. If it were not for the monitors and life support equipment, her colleague might as well be peacefully asleep. Yet, the machines tell a different story, one about the absence of life.
Nic has taken that same road countless times before, always equipped with strategies for a safe drive, loud music, coffee close by, window down, and in spite of all, she knows the unexpected claws of fate can be lurking at the bend of the road, waiting to take even the most prepared, the least deserving. This time it took her friend, next time who knows?
A hand slides along her palm and its fingers interlock with hers. Conrad appears in her peripheral vision and squeezes her hand harder than normal to convey what words cannot. As he does so, her engagement and wedding rings press together into the flesh of their fingers as a reminder of their bond.
They remain silent for a long while. Over the years, Nic has learned to read the emotions hiding in the gaps between his words, but that ability is falling short this time when her mind is troubled.
“There’s no brain activity, but she is otherwise healthy. He has a tough decision to make now.”
His voice is flat, clinical, betraying no struggle to keep a firm hold on his feelings. If she turned her head only slightly, would she catch his eyes red-rimmed? That would certainly be her undoing. It is only through their joined hands the she feels the stiffness in his body.
Nic only nods straight ahead.
Not always quick to cry, despite her often transparent moods, Nic has found that her reactions have turned more visceral after becoming a mother. These heightened emotions now inhabit the surface of her skin and flow far too easily. And the pains of the heart, those are equally felt a little more deeply and linger on her mind for much longer than before. The scene inside the room blurs when her eyes inevitably fill with tears and she tries to blink them away or risk falling into an abyss and be consumed by grief on their behalf.
A long time passes before Conrad sighs, squeezes her hand one last time and sets it free. Once his hand slips away, Nic feels the gravity of his absence. Her immediate impulse is to pull him back and protect him from facing the heartache inside the room. This attachment to him was never so strong before, until recently she has managed to remain relatively independent from him, when in truth they are two halves of the same whole, great apart but better together. As foolish as it may be perceived by others, all she wants is to keep him by her side and never let go, least some random twist of fate takes one away from the other forever.
She cannot bear the stillness any longer when Conrad enters the room to talk to the husband. Finally breaking free from the invisible roots that keep her in place, she walks to the elevator with an instinctive energy that propels her towards the only other person in the world that she needs right now.
The nursery is located in a peaceful area in the heart of Chastain, tucked safely away from the struggles of life and death. The colors here are softer, the light streaming from the windows blur the sharp edges of the hospital and allude to a place entirely removed from sorrow. Marion allows Nic to pass unchallenged, certainly reading the anguish plastered on her face.
She spots her daughter immediately out of a group of many, always standing out with her happy giggles. Upon seeing her mother Gigi inevitably raises her arms, for her faith in being held by her parents never ends, and Nic does just that. She finds an empty armchair in the corner to sit with Gigi cradled in her arms.
“I will never leave you, sweetheart,” Nic whispers into the shell of Gigi’s small ear what she hopes will be true for a very long time.
A shadow looms over them not long after and when Nic raises her head it is Conrad that stares down at her. He kneels before the armchair and places both hands on her waist.
“Are you okay?” Conrad asks despite already knowing the answer. His voice is a soft note in the otherwise harsh scale of her thoughts.
“How is that fair?” She finally bursts. “He will be alone without the woman he loves and their daughter will never remember her mother. I know it’s irrational but I can't stop thinking that it could have been me.”
Conrad exhales soundly, rests his head on her lap and Gigi takes the opportunity to grab a fistful of his hair. Nic places her hand beside the smaller one and runs her nails over his scalp in a soothing motion.
“There’s no fairness at all, it’s a horrible kind of sorrow I cannot begin to understand and I’m so afraid to ever find myself in that place. I can’t lose you, there’s no me without you anymore, Nic.
There are terrifying thoughts rattling inside his head and they mirror hers. They had been so close to this outcome a little over a year ago that the memories still wake them in the middle of the night in a cold sweat and sense of near loss.
Right there between her daughter and husband, the knot in her heart, which had kept her strung tight to the notion that life is ephemeral, finally dissolves and she breathes easily again with his confession. Her eyes sting once more with fresh tears, but at least she is not alone in those sentiments.
“I made you a promise, remember? This is forever.”
Surprisingly, this week's episode gave me some level of closure, especially because the dumb supper that is so familiar to me. However, I'm not done grieving for Nic and will struggle with the sudden time jump.
Come back next week for a re-write of some scenes from the Halloween Episode.
Would love to hear your thoughts on the episode and this chapter.
Chapter 3: All Souls Night
3) All Souls Night - Conrad wonders how a highly skilled doctor and war veteran such as himself, can break a sweat trying to wrestle a baby that can barely walk yet into a Halloween costume.
“Mama's coming home later. Until then, it’s just you and me against the world, little chicken.”
Happy Samhain or Halloween!
In the 14 years I've been writing fanfiction, I've never done a Halloween themed story, so this was fun!
Even though I don't agree with the recent creative choices of this show, I consider episode 5x05 very important for closure. However, to me Nic will always be alive and well.
Please enjoy and let me know what you think.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Conrad rolls on top of Nic after begging for five more minutes and she yields with no objection. She feels soft and warm under him, still riding the glow of recent pleasure, and it triggers in him the desire for more. His lips collide with hers and they kiss without hurry despite being on borrowed time. In this early morning hour, when the bedroom is saturated with a golden light that softens the edges of the new day, Conrad realizes once again that he will never tire of loving her.
The five minutes are long gone when she spreads her legs, a gesture that thrills him every time, he settles in the space between and dives into her warmth all at once. Their shared motion is slow, just like Nic enjoys in the morning, and she moans softly with each thrust of his hips.
The sudden high-pitched cry of a baby ruptures the static in the air.
He removes his mouth from her neck and looks down at her in confusion. Bathed in rays of light, Nic stares back as if she hasn’t heard the odd noise. While his brain struggles to comprehend the sound, her features remain calm while waiting patiently for him to resume the movement he started. They are newlyweds, not parents yet, and as far as he can remember neither of them brought home a baby last night. That cry came from a room that remains empty since the day they moved in.
Another cry pierces the love bubble and the illusion bursts around him.
Conrad wakes up on the left side, the one Nic claimed the first time they shared a bed, and though the light is the same as before, this time he is alone. He often rolls there unconsciously seeking comfort in the traces of her presence and the scent that lingers on her pillow long after she is gone. Gigi goes on crying desperately in the room at the end of the hallway, which is now a nursery with walls painted in lavender bisque.
"Oh, that’s right..." he mutters while pinching the bridge of his nose.
Nic had left earlier for work and he vaguely recalls her leaning in to kiss his forehead before leaving.
It comes as no surprise that he was having a sex dream. Becoming parents has added a few more layers of responsibility and exhaustion to their lives. Between work, night feedings, and a baby that has acquired enough motor skills to crawl around quickly, there is little time left for themselves. Most nights they are practically asleep even before their heads reach the pillow. Nic was right back then, alone time is certainly hard to come by.
Stretching and cracking his limbs awake after a few calming breaths, Conrad moves down the hallway with the urgency of a sleepwalker and finds his daughter with arms outstretched in the crib, excited that one of her parents has finally arrived.
With Gigi on his hip, Conrad walks down the stairs to prepare their breakfast and spots a package on the kitchen counter with a bright pink note on top. The script is immediately recognizable. Nic writes in a legible, neat handwriting that is very different from his, and always adds small hearts in the corner of her notes.
One more chicken for you, honey
- Nic 🤍
Having gained a remarkable dexterity after becoming a father, Conrad sets the note aside and opens the package with only one hand. When he pulls the contents out, they unfold into a soft bundle of mostly white clothes that make him laugh out loud and Gigi stare at them curiously.
"Look at that, Mama ordered a chicken costume. What would we do without her, huh?”
Since he had the day off, Conrad had promised to take Gigi for trick-or-treat around the neighborhood, even though Nic was desolated for not sharing that first experience as well. And despite his assurance that there would be plenty of candy waiting for her later in the day, that prospect had not improved her mood at all.
Conrad picks up both Gigi and the costume once they finish breakfast and he has cleaned half of hers from the lemon onesie.
“Ready for your first Halloween?”
She sneezes several times on the way upstairs when the feathers come close to her face.
“I'm taking that as a yes," he says while placing her among the crumpled covers of his bed.
Once free from the constrictions of clothes, Gigi rolls on her belly and makes a quick dash on hands and knees across the mattress, and away from the yellow tights Conrad holds in his hands.
Getting her into a clean diaper had already been a challenge, even though he holds the record for quickest diaper change to date, they have timed it. He now wonders how a highly skilled doctor and war veteran such as himself, can break a sweat trying to wrestle a baby that can barely walk yet into a Halloween costume. Those two rotations in Peds have definitely not prepared him for the vibrant energy of his daughter, and Nic blames his genes for that every day.
Conrad grabs his runaway daughter by one foot, drags her back over the sheet and tickles her belly until she squeals happily.
“Please Gigi, have pity on your poor Dada.” Gigi tries once more to wriggle out of his grasp like a worm, and he pleads to her while pulling the tights up her flailing legs, followed by the white sweater down her head.
The feathery part is a struggle by itself, some of the feathers tragically succumb in the fight, but he eventually manages to zip it around her small body. He siezes the opportunity to pull the hat down her head while she is distracted by a feather floating slowly in the air, then steps back to admire the result, entirely proud of himself.
Unimpressed with his accomplishment, Gigi pulls out the wool hat and throws it to this face for good measure. Her flimsy blond hair stands up in all directions and he has a hard time being upset with her when she looks that cute.
“You look like your mother in the morning.”
“Yeah, that’s it.” He chuckles. “She’s coming home later. Until then, it’s just you and me against the world, little chicken.”
Not long after, Conrad hurries out the front door with Gigi on his hip before she has the chance to complain at the top of her lungs again and disturb the actual chickens in the backyard.
This is the first year without one of Mina’s infamous Halloween parties and even though Nic could use the distraction of that kind of party, what she misses the most is her friend. In addition, she has worked for the majority of her daughter’s first Halloween. The promise of chocolate and caramel that Conrad and Gigi would gather for her to indulge alone, since one can’t eat and the other refuses to, was not enough to ease the self-inflicted guilt for missing a first-time event in her daughter’s life.
As a result, Nic spent the entire day in a gloomy mood and the last half-hour of the shift drumming her fingers on the surface of a desk with her gaze shifting ever so often to the watch on her wrist, counting the minutes to go home.
Though the hallway is dark when she closes the front door behind her, there is a trembling glow coming from the living room, and she approaches it with curiosity. The open space is lit by candles and she finds a group of people that welcome her cheerfully.
“What's happening here?” Nic asks no one in particular.
“The Halloween party Conrad put together. He thought you would like to come home to a family dinner, so here we are,” Billie replies while pulling Nic into a hug. “Oh, and we brought your favorite food.”
Almost on the verge of tears, Nic clears her throat and averts her eyes from Billie just in time to follow the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs.
“Remember how we practiced like a chicken, sweetheart?” Conrad whispers in Gigi’s ear, entirely hopeful that a 9-month-old baby will comply with his request.
“Puk, puk, puk,” Gigi repeats happily.
Nic laughs and this time there’s no hiding the tears that fill her eyes at the sight of her daughter.
"Awww, come here my little chick."
Gigi reaches for her mother willingly, as she always does, and Nic holds her closer to indulge in the one person she missed the most all day, one that is sweeter than any candy can ever be.
Conrad urges all of them to the table and pulls the chair at the head for Nic to sit down with Gigi on her lap. Before sitting on the next chair, he leans down and places a kiss on her lips, murmuring a quiet ‘I love you’ against them, which she returns wholeheartedly.
The room rapidly fills with their combined voices, laughter and joy weave between the scent of burning candles, spices and wine. From that side of the table, Nic is struck by the sudden realization of how much her concept of family has expanded over the years. There was once a time when she belonged to a family of four bound by blood, but after that core was shattered, she spent the majority of her life with only a sister to call family. Nowadays, that definition goes beyond kinship ties, each and every single person around the table is more than just a friend, they are all part of a family that starts with the small person on her lap.
She looks down and finds Gigi staring at her with her chubby hand reaching up, and when Nic presses her lips against one rosy cheek, the feathers tickle her nose and she sneezes soundly. Conrad bursts out laughing and refuses to offer an explanation when Nic regards him with a quizzical look, instead he extends his hand to hold hers tightly.
Long after everyone leaves and the house is quiet once again, Nic sits in the nursery cuddling Gigi on her lap with a warm bottle of milk. Conrad is close by, perched on the arm of the chair watching his daughter fight valiantly against sleep in favor of food.
Nic removes a lonesome feather behind Gigi’s ear, which didn’t come off in the bath, and turns to Conrad with a joke on the tip of her tongue. Her intention staggers when she notices his attention had turned to the shelf on the wall. In the dim light, while only the glowing stars revolve around them, she is unable to read his expression. His gaze is solely focused on the group of frames containing the photographs of three women that left far too soon.
“Do you think they are here with us tonight?” Nic asks softly.
“Because it’s Halloween? You know I don't believe in ghosts.”
“Yeah, but you have no scientific evidence to support or deny their existence.”
He turns to her with no judgment in his tone. “How about you?”
“I’m not so sure about ghosts either, but it gives me great comfort to think your mother, mine, and my sister might be watching Gigi grow up. Sometimes I feel like they are still with us.”
Conrad nods slowly when his eyes shift back to the photos and they linger there in contemplation. Then he leans down, wraps an arm around her shoulders and kisses her head. “That’s a wonderful thought.”
In the comfort of his embrace, and with Gigi already sound asleep in her arms, Nic closes her eyes and says a silent prayer of gratitude, hoping it reaches those that are no longer here but are missed every day.
I don't know where this story is going now that the show is jumping 3 years into the future, but I will try to write more chapters to fit Nic into whatever family scenes might be in Season 5.
Chapter 4: Domestic Dinner Date
4) Domestic Dinner Date - Nic still has the same mesmerizing effect on him since that night at the 404 Tavern when she stole the ball from the pool game along with his heart, and Conrad is now entirely content to sit back on a small chair, watching the two girls he loves the most dancing and laughing around the room while he drinks child-appropriate grape juice from a tiny cup.
I'm enjoying picking bits and pieces of Season 5 and write them into Conic family scenes! I'm incredibly proud of this chapter. Please enjoy and let me know what you think.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
On her way to the kitchen, balancing a basket of laundry on her hip, Nic notices her daughter standing at the front door watching the world go by through its window.
“What are you doing, sweetheart?”
“Waiting for daddy,” Gigi replies without shifting her eyes away from the street.
The heels of Gigi’s shoes hang a few inches above the floor as she stretches her body as tall as she can to peek beyond the yard and over the fence. Her intent gaze follows each sudden movement outside and her body tenses in anticipation every time a car drives by the house. The sun is already setting and night approaches fast, traffic around the neighborhood has slowed down to an occasional rush of tires over the pavement, people, cars and bikes only pass in a hurry without stopping.
Nic checks her wrist watch for the third time in the last half hour, sighs deeply. She cannot find the courage yet to tell her daughter they will miss their restaurant reservation.
A few days ago, Conrad announced he had made a reservation for them to one of the fanciest restaurants in town. ‘Let’s make it a date’, he had said then with his usual broad smile, surprising mother and daughter alike, and Gigi’s excitement had been contagious ever since. Now on the verge of realizing that it might not happen, she looks increasingly desolated. Nic recognizes that look of disappointment in her daughter’s face, after all, she remembers very well how deeply a father's broken promise hurts.
Though Conrad is not entirely at fault, they both know how demanding their jobs are and always make family time a priority, but sometimes the best laid plans fall short regardless of their intentions. The hardest part is to explain that to their daughter, who is currently learning that promises might not always be fulfilled.
Time passes without the front gate opening, only one car remains in the driveway. Gigi sighs one final time and the heels of her shoes fall flat on the floor with a soft thud.
“We’re not going out anymore, are we Mommy?”
“No, I’m sorry. Daddy is going to be late. You know sometimes he gets held up at the hospital, right?”
Gigi nods though her little chin trembles with the effort to stop the tears forming in her eyes.
Nic lowers down to her daughter’s level, brushes the hair away from her eyes, tucks a tendril behind an ear and descends around one cheek to lift her chin up until their eyes meet.
“I have an idea, why don't we bring the restaurant here?”
Nic whispers the plan in Gigi’s ear and despite being the only ones in the house they both enjoy the secrecy of it. Gigi’s blue eyes widen with excitement again, just enough to catch the light of the overhead lamp, the clouds of sadness in them dissipate quickly until they become clear as a summer day.
“I'll set the table!” Gigi yells while running down the hall, her blond hair bouncing loosely on her back.
Conrad climbs the front steps of the house dragging the weight of guilt on his feet. When the door opens, he is surprised to see Gigi in a pink dress speeding down the hall towards him with the sweet innocence of age and a genuine happiness to see him.
On her feet are the sparkly socks she selected from the pile he sorted out that morning when Nic put him on sock-folding duty as punishment for remaining unable to take care of his own.
He catches her light weight in his arms, but the momentum she carries nearly knocks him off his feet.
“I’m sorry for being late and missing our date, bubble.”
Gigi places both hands on his face and her smile presses into round cheeks that resemble her mother's.
“It's okay, we have a surprise for you.”
As if on cue, Nic emerges from the living room, her high heels click on the hardwood floor as she walks deliberately slow towards him. A sly smirk drawn in red lipstick is playing on her lips.
Even after all these years, Nic still has the same mesmerizing effect on him, her ability to capture his full attention has not diminished one bit since that night at the 404 Tavern when she stole a ball from the pool game along with his heart. She also remains fully aware of her power over him and wields it expertly.
With her hair held up in a tight bun and wearing a short blue dress with sleeves, her presence seems to consume the surrounding air. All of a sudden, he feels lightheaded and only vaguely aware that his mouth has gone slack in wonder. At least he has the presence of mind to lower Gigi down to the ground safely, though his gaze never shifts away from Nic.
To him she seems to move in slow motion, but he is soon enveloped in a cloud of her perfume, her arms wrap around his neck while she kisses him soundly. Conrad returns the kiss with equal fervor once his love-induced stupor fades enough to allow a less blurry sense of the surroundings.
“Hello? I’m hungry!” There is a tug on the sleeve of his jacket and Conrad looks down to catch his daughter looking up at him expectantly.
Gigi doesn’t seem too disgusted with their display of affection, being quite used to that by now, but she is not patient enough to wait for what she wants. Not unlike her mother, Gigi knows what she wants and how to get it.
Nic chuckles lightly and slips her hand into his, the cool metal of her rings brush along his palm until their fingers entwine. On the other side, Conrad feels a much smaller hand holding on tight to his. There is a strong sense of belonging and trust in their hold on him and he follows them willingly as they lead him to the next room.
“Bienvenue dans Le Petit Gigi! Prenez vos place à la table, s’il vous plait. Le dîner sera bientôt servi.” Nic says in perfect French, which she seldom uses, though he loves to hear nonetheless.
A low table occupies the very center of the room, the restaurant is provided with a welcoming sign and rhino drawings hanging on the walls, an interesting choice of decoration for a made-up restaurant, but he’s glad Gigi has finally moved on from giraffes.
Gigi sits on a small armchair and Conrad inspects the two other chairs available, suspicious of their ability to resists under his weight. He lowers himself awkwardly into one with a stifled grunt, his joints are not quite used to bend that low anymore without a certain amount of pain, time and the mindless acts of youth are catching up to him fast regardless if he wants it or not.
Mr. Giraffe is already propped on the table and ready to feast on grapes.
Nic returns with plates filled with pasta, including one for Conrad. His aversion to carbs has reduced somewhat in recent years and sometimes he indulges with the rest of the family, much to their satisfaction and occasional teasing.
She slides into the chair across from him, graceful as ever, and folds both legs to the side with the hem of the dress falling elegantly across her knees. Although struggling for a moment to find a comfortable position without falling, she only looks slightly less uncomfortable than he does without showing any sign of displeasure for Gigi’s benefit.
“Yeah, I shouldn't have trusted our daughter to set the table.” Nic mutters behind a smile.
“Daddy, can I have ice cream on top of my pasta, please?” Gigi asks in that sweet tone that always bends him to her will.
Conrad muses for a while as if he really has the ability to say no, stares at Gigi when she titles her head to the side, smile firmly in place, then turns to Nic and grins.
Nic narrows her eyes daring him silently not to move, but before she can say anything he is already on the way to the freezer. He returns with a cup of vanilla ice cream along with a terribly exaggerated French accent that makes Gigi giggle loudly, and drops a scoop on the pasta with a splatter.
Nic shakes her head. “You really can't say no to your daughter, can you?”
“Like it's easier for you?”
With no valid arguments, Nic makes a neat roll of pasta with her fork instead and brings it to her mouth while her eyes dance with mirth knowing perfectly well that she caves just as easily.
“What's that?” She points with her fork in the direction of his hand.
Conrad smiles for the second time that day because of an insignificant cut on his finger. Both Nic and Gigi are highly observant and caring by nature, especially about him, and it never fails to spark a sense of mattering inside him.
“Just a scratch, nothing bad, our little nurse here took care of it.”
“I did it all by myself, Mommy,” Gigi comments proudly, “just like you showed me.”
Reaching forward, Nic takes his hand in hers to inspect it closer. Her fingers are warm, soft to the touch, and she places a kiss on his knuckles before letting go. She doesn’t comment on the fact that he went to work wearing a band aid with unicorns in it, though a smirk tugs at the corner of her mouth.
Evidently proud of her daughter’s handiwork, Nic smiles broadly and leans down to place a kiss on Gigi’s cheek. “You did a great job, darling.”
Later, when dinner is finished and the cup of ice cream lays empty between them, Conrad reaches over and places his hand over Gigi’s head to stroke her smooth hair.
“Did you enjoy our date, bubble?”
“Yes, but it's not over yet, we still need to dance! Can you play our song?”
“You two have a song?” Nic asks with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, we have many songs my love.” Conrad laughs while scrolling through his phone to find the right one.
“You and mommy first.” Gigi says.
“May I have this dance?” Conrad extends his hand cross the table, which Nic takes without hesitation, and he pulls her effortlessly from the cramped position in the chair.
Their bodies are flush against each other moving around the room to the slow cadence of the song.
Resting his cheek against hers, he takes the opportunity to murmur in her ear, “Thank you for saving our date, Nic. I really tried to be home on time.”
“Don’t worry about it, this one is a lot better.”
After she brushes her lips against his cheek in a tender kiss, he pulls away, though only slightly, and allows his eyes to roam freely over her body. “I’m a lucky man to have such a beautiful and understanding wife.”
“You're not so bad yourself...” Her hand travels along the lapel of his jacket, but when it pauses on his chest her eyebrows knit together in confusion. “Wait, this shirt isn't yours.”
“It was one of those days at work. I'll tell you later, right now I just want to dance with my girls.”
“You have to spin mommy around like in the movies, Daddy.”
Following Gigi's instructions, he spins and pulls Nic back against his body and her cheeks flush a deep shade of red. Her laughter fills the room, the sound is clear and alive over the strings of a guitar, she seems not one bit upset that he blew their dinner plan. Conrad avoids making promises he cannot keep, he learned the consequences of failed promises to Nic years ago, but nowadays she is quicker to forgive the rare occasions when he fails, giving him only that kindness that is so wholly her.
Gigi taps gently on his arm. “It’s my turn now.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Conrad steps away from Nic and reaches towards his daughter, but as soon as he does so, Gigi turns around and takes her mother’s hands instead. He is suddenly left alone, arms hanging limp beside his body while Nic laughs hysterically.
Though there is a hint of jealousy that his own daughter did not choose him first, Conrad already knows he will always be a close second next to Nic, the connection they share runs deeper than mere genetic traits, it is one soul binding bond he will never be able to emulate or replace.
Conrad is entirely content to sit back on a small chair, watching the two girls he loves the most dancing and laughing around the room while he drinks child-appropriate grape juice from a tiny cup.
I have a "Conrad and Gigi" song in my mind for this chapter. But what do you think their song should be?