Author Note: Here are a few more secondary characters who helped make Jack and Nina's story unforgetable.
Nina had colored, played blocks, watched cartoons, changed diapers, and even washed a load of clothes while Angie was napping. Now she was exhausted. Nina was attempting to keep Justin occupied in the dining room while Angie got dinner started.
“I’m home,” Jason announced.
Justin wiggled off of Nina’s lap and speed-crawled down the hall.
“Look at my dude on the move,” Jason said.
Nina observed how he so effortlessly scooped Justin up, and sought out Angie to give her a kiss. “Hey babe, where’s my princess?”
“Watching cartoons, as usual.”
“Oh, she can’t even come give her daddy a kiss?” Jason yelled, and Alice came running to greet him.
“Daddy, Auntie Ni-Ni and me colored and played and read stories and played Barbie’s and Justin knocked down allthe blocks. And mommy took a long, long, long nap.”
“Oh really? Ang, you feeling all right?”
“I was just a little tired, but I’m good now, thanks to Nina.”
Jason turned, finally noticing Nina setting the dining table. “Thank you.”
“It’s no problem. We had a blast,” she said with a yawn.
“Well, I’m home now. I can take the kids if you two wanna go do something.”
“No, you just got home. Hang out with your family. I’m going to get a run in before dinner. There’s a trail near here right?”
“Yeah, you just take a right as soon as you’re out of the yard, you can’t miss it,” Jason said.
“Do you wanna wear my coat?” Angie asked. Nina was flattered by the offer. She’d been at least fifty pounds heavier than Angie all their lives.
“Sure,” Nina said with even more motivation to work off the animal crackers she’d had with the kids. Holidays or not, she always had to be mindful of her weight for her heart and herself. She felt stronger now that she was healthier. There was no joy compared to the day she learned she was no longer labeled as obese or overweight. Losing the pounds was far from easy and chart-wise she was still twenty pounds heavier than ideal, but as far as Nina was concerned, she was there.
Nina borrowed a pair of gloves and earmuffs from Angie and headed out. It was pretty chilly, especially with the sun setting, but the view of snow-capped mountains and Christmas decorations all over the neighborhood immediately warmed her soul. Beautiful bows and glittery signs adorned the streetlights and signs. It was a real community, something she missed about growing up in Palos Verdes.
Nina couldn’t have been prouder of her little sister. Angie had a beautiful home, a loving husband, and two adorable kids. Some people probably would’ve expected Nina to be jealous, but she was honestly so happy to see Angie’s life and to be a part of it. The weeks following her heart surgery, all she could think about was leaving her sister alone in the world; they had a few cousins sprinkled around the country, but no one they knew. As far as she and Angie were concerned, it was just the two of them. At least her sister would always have Jason.
Jack hadn’t been back to the house all day, and Nina sure didn’t miss him after how rude he was to her that morning. It went to show she had the most screwed up taste in men. Her entire dating history was comprised of one asshole after another and then she ended up marrying the guy that could’ve been their leader. If she ever did leave Michael, she’d have to make sure her man radar was rebuilt from the ground up.
By the time Nina stopped to catch her breath it was too dark to see the mountains anymore. She turned to head back, but couldn’t remember from which direction she’d come.
She reached in her pocket and realized she’d also forgotten her phone.
Her horrible sense of direction was what led Michael to hire a full-time driver, so he didn’t have to be bothered by her calls. “Come on, think, Nina.” She paced under a streetlight. It also didn’t help that she was nearly night-blind. The street names looked like Rorschach’s. “I could follow my footprints.” She jogged along the path, grinning at her genius, until she saw two sets of footprints heading in opposite directions. Why hadn’t she been paying attention to the signs? And why couldn’t she remember the name of Angie’s street? The cold started to set in as she walked block after block, looking for something familiar.
When her teeth started to chatter Nina knew it was time to ask for help, but she felt weird just walking up to someone’s door. Luckily, she spotted a worker’s van in one of the driveways. A friendly looking construction worker was on his way inside.
“Excuse me!” Nina called as she approached the portly man with salt and pepper hair.
“How can I help you?” he asked with his mouth half full.
“I’m visiting my sister. I’m a little lost, and was hoping I could use your phone to call her.”
A gust of wind felt like an icy slap to her face. “Oh my god, it’s cold.”
“Please, come inside.”
Nina raised an eyebrow. He didn’t look dangerous, but she’d seen too many Lifetime movies not to be suspicious. “Oh, no thank you. If I could just use your cell phone. It’ll only be a minute.”
“I could go inside and get it, but you might be frozen by the time I get back. Please, come inside. My wife would kill me if she knew I left a young woman standing out in the cold. I’m Dale by the way.” He extended his hand.
Nina pulled off her glove to shake it, and boy was she sorry. Her whole hand numbed immediately. “Okay, maybe just for a few seconds.”
She stepped inside a lovely foyer. The rest of the rooms were taped off.
“Can I get you something to eat, a cup of coffee, my retirement fund?” Dale asked.
Nina smiled. “Just a phone, please. I really want to get back before my sister starts to worry.”
“Sure thing,” he said, openly staring at her. “I think I might have left it upstairs. You stay right here, and I’ll go grab it.” He nearly tripped three times looking back at her as he rushed up the stairs.
Jack was happy to see the leak wasn’t as bad as he’d expected and the crew had really hauled ass to get it fixed, but now there was a problem with the new rain showerhead. “It’s dented,” Jack said.
“Don’t look dented to me,” Richie, his newest project manager, said, measuring the showerhead.
“What’s that supposed to tell you?” Jack asked, whacking him with his clipboard. “Go get a damn level.”
“Boss!” Dale yelled out of breath.
Dale paused in the doorway clutching his chest. “There’s a…pretty…lady…down…Merry Christmas.”
“What are you talking about?”
Dale was too out of breath to speak so he used his hands to mime a pair of breasts before giving two thumbs up.
“Are you saying you left a strange woman alone in a client’s house?” Jack asked, rushing past him. “You have seriously lost your mind.”
Jack rushed downstairs and paused when he saw Nina standing in the foyer.
Dale crashed into his back and pushed him the rest of the way. “Told you,” Dale whispered.
Nina looked up, and immediately scowled at Jack.
“My bad, abort, abort,” Dale whispered, trying to pull Jack back upstairs.
“How did you…what are you doing here?” Jack asked as he ripped his arm free and approached her.
“I got lost and needed a phone to call Angie. What are you doing here?”
“This is one of my jobs. You didn’t see the big Spears Construction van outside?”
Nina huffed, looking embarrassed. “I have really bad night vision, all right? Now if you’ll be so kind as to point me in the direction of Angie and Jason’s, I’ll leave.”
“Are you crazy? It’s like ten blocks away and ten degrees outside. I’ll drive you. Just give me five minutes.”
“That’s all right I’d rather walk.”
“Damn, she is not into you,” Dale chimed in.
Jack turned to see him sitting on the stairs shaking his head. “Dale, go make sure the showerhead is leveled,” Jack barked. “Nina, would you please let me drive you? I can’t have you walking around here in the cold.”
She looked like she was thinking it over. “Fine,” she said as she stomped past him and sat on the stairs.
Jack didn’t even know where to begin with an apology. He hoped he had at least another hour to figure it out before he went back to the house. Angie was easy, she’d shut up as soon as she got what she wanted, but Nina didn’t look like she was in a forgiving mood at all.
“I know you’re mad about how I acted earlier. I’m really sorry. I’ve been thinking about it all day, which is sort why I’m here instead of at dinner.”
“Save your apologies for my sister. She was having a really rough morning and didn’t need your antagonizing. You would think you would’ve picked up on that, instead of making it all about you,” Nina snapped. Her nose got even redder. Combined with her puffy jacket and earmuffs, Jack thought she looked like Alice after one of her tantrums.
He fought the urge to grin. “You’re right. I was wrong for yelling at her like that, which is why I went ahead and put the order in for the skylight this afternoon, and I really didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“We’re all set, boss,” Dale said, coming back downstairs.
“Good. You and Richie lock up while I get Nina home.”
Jack extended his hand and she actually took it. “Are you ever not freezing?” he asked, blowing into her hand. “How long have you been out there?”
“I’m not sure,” Nina responded in a calmer voice.
Jack opened the passenger door and spotted Dale and Richie giving him a thumbs up as he helped Nina into his SUV.
“Joy to the world,” Dale sang as he went back inside.
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