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2005


In the fall, she sends Roman off to college.

She takes a long weekend so that she can drive him up to New York, with his new life neatly packed into the back half of her sedan. She's already feeling like an empty nester.

She helps him move his things into his cramped dorm room, meets his roommate and his roommate's parents. Two parents.

Not for the first time, she feels a pang for denying that to her own son. He may know his father now, but that doesn't give him back all those fatherless years that he's missed out on before.

She and Roman have lunch at a pizza parlor in Lincoln Square and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the more touristy parts of the city. She still prefers Ithaca to this, but Roman wouldn't even consider applying to Cornell. He'll be happier here, anyway.

They have dinner, she spends the night at a hotel nearby, and then they have breakfast the next morning before she leaves. She feels grateful that he's giving her all of this time when he must be itching to meet new friends.

She doesn't want to embarrass him, so when she hugs him goodbye, she doesn't tear up. She folds some spending cash into his hands, and tells him to limit his ramen intake, keep a somewhat-regular sleep schedule, and refrain from mixing alcohols. She reminds him to call her sometimes.

"I love you," she says, and hugs him even tighter.

"I love you too," he says. "Drive safe. Call when you get home."

She doesn't look back as she pulls away from the curb, trying to keep it together at least until she's out of his sight. Just before she reaches the highway, she pulls off to the side of the road and bursts into tears.

It's going to be a long drive home.


When Nadine finally gets back to her condo it's late in the afternoon, and she's physically and emotionally exhausted.

She passes by Roman's empty room on the way to her own bedroom, and the dull weight in her chest settles a little heavier. She sends him a text to let him know that she's made it back to DC safely - she knows he insisted that she call, but she doesn't want him to hear that she's been crying. It's silly, anyhow.

A few minutes later, she gets a text back - just one word: Good.

Nadine pulls off her travel-worn clothes and takes a very long shower, changing into something old and comfortable when the water runs cold and she finally gets out. She's wrapping her hair up in a towel when she hears a rapping on the door.

"Who the…" It's a Sunday afternoon, and she's not expecting anyone. She pads to the front and peers through the peephole. Then she undoes the deadbolt and opens the door. "Mike, what are you doing here?"

Mike Barnow holds up a tall paper bag. "I brought you wine."

She steps aside to let him in, not knowing what else to do. She feels a little self-conscious - her hair is piled into a towel, her face is bare of makeup, and her clothes feel uncomfortably thin. She crosses her arms over her chest awkwardly. She's braless.

"Figured you could use the company, what with you empty nesting now and everything," he says, stepping inside. He moves into her kitchen, sets the bottle down on the counter, and starts opening all of the drawers like he owns the place. "Where do you keep your corkscrew?"

She's not opposed to him being here, but she is so confused as to what is going on in her home right now. "How do you know where I live?"

"Lucky guess," he quips.

She feels like she at least has to put her hair down (as if that will make everything else better), so she unravels the towel and clutches it in two uncomfortable hands instead. Her hair falls onto her shoulders in wet ringlets, saturating the fabric of her shirt. She just stands there.

"Corkscrew?" he prompts again. But before she can answer he slides open another drawer and seizes on a winged corkscrew. "Ah, here we go." He sets to work on the bottle. As he's twisting the worm into the cork, he gives her a pointed look. "You are a terrible hostess, you know."

She rolls her eyes, not deigning to respond. "I'm going to go change," she says instead, and walks back to her room. "Wine glasses are in the top right cabinet," she calls over her shoulder.

When she emerges again, towel discarded, bra in place, and more appropriate clothing on her body, Mike is lounging on the couch in the living area. Two glasses of wine sit on the coffee table in front of him.

He looks up at her when she comes out, and pats the spot next to him on the couch. "Long drive?"

Nadine drops into the cushions with a bone-weary sigh. "Long," she confirms, "and lonely."

He lifts both wine glasses and puts one into her hands. He clinks their glasses together, and she takes a long drink.

"Roman is all grown up," she says softly, sadly. It breaks her heart. "I miss him already." She knows she's being all sappy and emotional, but it's all so new and strange and she can't help herself.

But Mike doesn't seem to mind. He wraps an arm around her shoulders and pulls her into his side. "You did good, Nadine. He's a good kid. You're a good mother." She sinks into the comfort he offers her.

He's never actually met Roman before, so Nadine knows he's only saying these things because he wants to make her feel better, not because he actually knows them to be true. Still, she'll take it.

A good mother. She takes another sip of wine as she mulls that over. Well. She couldn't have hoped for much more than that.


Nadine is sitting in her office when she hears a clamoring out in the bullpen.

"This is Gordon," Mike is saying. She can hear it even through the closed door of her office, even if she can't see what exactly is taking place. A tiny little bark accompanies his words, followed by the squealing of very excited interns. He's derailing the entire floor.

Nadine rolls her eyes, knowing that no one can see her. A dog. What does he think he's doing? The interns don't have time for this.

Then he walks into her office - without knocking, which he knows she hates - and immediately drops said dog in her arms.

"What are you - " she sputters, but the puppy, tiny, fluffy, and extremely excited, squirms happily against her chest. It licks her blouse and nips at her fingers, and whatever it was she meant to say evaporates from her mouth.

"This is Gordon," he says again, and she's sure that he's never looked and sounded this affectionate when talking about his human son. "You needed a puppy break."

He lifts a stack of reports off the corner of her desk - the ones that need his go-ahead - and settles himself in one of the seats in front of her to start working through them.

Outside her door, she can hear the excited voices of congregating interns, trying to catch another glimpse of Gordon. "Back to work," Nadine calls; she has to tilt her chin up to speak as Gordon tries to kiss her into silence. They disperse immediately, but she can hear their excited chatter all the way down the hall.

"You know you've killed any possibility of them being productive today," she murmurs to Mike. She scratches Gordon behind the ears. Gordon's eyes close, and his little face nuzzles further into her neck affectionately.

"They always find reasons not to be productive." He waves away her accusation dismissively. He nods toward her and comments, "Gordon likes you." The pup has calmed down somewhat, all the excitement of the morning having already worn him down. He's curled against her chest contentedly, and gives a tiny little puppy yawn.

"Mike, I can't get work done like this, either!" She exclaims helplessly, because she's falling in love with the little thing with each passing second. Honestly, what Mike thought he was doing -

"You're still all down about being an empty nester; it's depressing." Mike says. "I figured if Gordon couldn't cheer you up, nothing could."

It's been a few months since she dropped Roman off at Julliard, and she'd mostly gotten over it. But then she'd spoken to him on the phone earlier this week; he'd said that he planned to spend Thanksgiving with his father, and Christmas break with his roommate's family. Apparently, they have a timeshare in Killington, and there's no way she can compete with a ski resort vacation. So the empty-nest blues are hitting her all over again - she just didn't realize that anyone had noticed.

She cuddles the puppy even closer. "This is only a temporary fix, you know." Gordon presses tiny little kisses against her neck.

Mike grins. "Temporary is better than nothing. Drinks tonight? I'll buy," he offers.

She can do that, now. She lives alone, and she can get drinks every night of the week if she wants to. "Sure." She says. Gordon licks her face, agreeable with her agreement.

It's already growing dark when Nadine is leaving her office for the evening. Mike had left earlier to drop Gordon off at home, but he promises to meet her at the bar.

When Nadine gets there, she snags a secluded booth in the corner and orders for them. By the time Mike arrives, their drinks are sitting on the table along with a platter of loaded fries.

He stops in front of the table, raising an eyebrow as he watches her lick salt off of her fingers.

She gestures for him to sit, and then waves her arm over the spread with a flourish. "Dinner. Did you eat today?" She grabs another piece.

Mike slides into the booth across from her. "I agreed to buy you a drink, not dinner. You're taking advantage of my generosity."

"But I'm sad, remember?"

He watches her pull away a couple of cheese-coated fries. "Clearly."

"Come on, I can't eat all this by myself," she coaxes, pushing the plate toward him.

Mike relents. "Fine, but don't make a habit of this." He takes a few pieces for himself.

"I am now child-free, so expect me to make a habit of this," she shoots back, and he quirks a tiny smile.

"Fair enough."

It's been a long time since she's lived alone, but Nadine is allowed to miss her son and still find a way to revel in the freedom of his absence.

She's earned it. She may as well allow herself to enjoy it.