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2006


When the new year rolls in, they hit the ground running. More time, higher ambitions, greater fervor. Vincent is posturing for something, but Nadine doesn't yet know what exactly that is.

True to her word, she gets dinner with Mike - or sometimes just drinks - more often. They learn more about each other; bits and pieces of their lives get weaved into every conversation, almost without them noticing.

She learns about his family. He met his wife at UVA; they were - are - college sweethearts. He's lukewarm about it when he tells her, though. There's no light when he talks about his wife, just a different kind of indifference. He's not in love, and Nadine suspects he hasn't been for a long time.

Just to be sure, she asks.

"Are you still in love with her?" She hates herself almost the minute it leaves her mouth - because what kind of question is that? It's his wife. "Wow, I apologize." They're sitting at the bar, and she shifts uncomfortably on her stool and stares straight ahead, avoiding eye contact. She's had a couple more drinks than she usually allows herself, and clearly the alcohol has loosened her tongue.

He doesn't seem to notice her mortification, because he considers the question with serious thought. "No," he says finally. "I don't think I am."

She dares to look over at him. He doesn't look surprised by his own confession, just weary. No one plans on falling out of love with the person to whom they'd promised a lifetime.

"We fight more than we don't," he admits, "And we're not... we're not the same people we used to be."

"Yeah," she offers lamely.

"We grew apart and neither of us noticed."

"It... it happens to the best of us." She smiles sympathetically, and briefly leans her shoulder against his.

They order another round of drinks - she requests just a water this time - and the conversation drifts to lighter topics for a bit. And then it becomes more personal again, swinging round to focus on her life.

"You've never married," he says to her. It's a statement, not a question.

She glances up at him. "No."

"And Roman's father?"

"A brief affair." She puts her drink down. "We weren't in love, and he wanted nothing to do with us. At first."

"At first."

She tells him the whole story; the prodigal father wanting back in after nearly a decade of silence. After nearly a decade of Nadine doing all the heavy lifting.

"He came back. I boxed him out the first time," she admits, "but Roman needed… wanted… a father figure. He never came out and told me as much, but I could put the pieces together. So I reached out to his father again." She knows she made the right choice, but she still resents that she had to make it. "And now he pops in whenever he's in town. I hate it, but then again it's not about me."

Mike doesn't say anything, but there is support in his silence. He waves over the bartender and orders her another drink.

And because she can't resist, she adds, "Roman likes me more than him, though."

It makes him chuckle. "Children always know who's really there for them." He grasps her hand in an uncharacteristic show of affection.

She smiles and turns her hand over, wrapping her fingers around his. "Thank you," she murmurs. It's innocent comfort, but when she looks up at his face, Mike is gazing at her with an expression that looks a little bit like… longing.

He gives her hand a little squeeze. "Anytime."


Her only child is dropping out of college.

She's so angry she can hardly speak. Roman is saying something on the other end of the line but Nadine is barely listening.

"How dare -" she breathes, but it's too quiet for him to hear through the phone. Her mind is whirling. He's still talking, oblivious to her mental turmoil. Something about needing to get out on his own and do things for himself; something about the oppression of institutionalized learning; something about Dad supporting him in his -

"Wait." She cuts him off sharply. "Your father is encouraging you to do this?"

"What? No, mom - this is my decision. Julliard just isn't the right place for me."

"Roman, you've wanted this all your life."

"And I've changed my mind."

"It's just three more years," she tries, "and then you can -"

"I don't want to waste anymore time."

A headache is beginning to settle behind her eyes. She pinches the bridge of her nose. "Roman…"

"It's really not a big deal, mom. I know what I'm doing. I want to be an artist - you can't grow art within the rigidity of capitalist establishments! And Dad is completely understanding of my decision to leave."

"Your father isn't paying for it!" she screeches. She takes a breath. Takes a second to gather herself.

Roman is silent on the other end. He's waiting her out.

"Look," she says finally, at a lower volume, but with no less fury, "I agreed to finance a college education. I did not agree to this… this starving-artist identity crisis that you just feel like giving a whirl!" She inhales deeply, trying to calm herself back down. "If you want to throw away your future, then you can do it on your own. With your own money. I can't… I can't talk to you about this." She hangs up. "Damn it."

When Mike meets her at the bar later that night she's already three scotches deep and working on a fourth. The bartender is eyeing her, but she is pointedly ignoring it.

Mike takes the seat next to her and regards her warily. She speaks up before he can say anything.

"My prodigal son," she says, words slurring together ever so slightly, "has decided to drop out of Julliard. Julliard." She scoffs. "He wants to be a 'free artist'." She packs that sentence with all the scorn she feels.

"Damn. I'm sorry, Nadine." He squeezes her shoulder.

"So much for being a 'good mother'," she mutters, taking another mouthful of scotch.

"Hey, hey," he says. He turns her so that she'll face him. Nadine stares at him with glassy eyes. "This isn't on you. Every kid gets a dumb move."

"Why couldn't his have been weed?" she says mournfully.

"Hey, c'mere." He pulls her close. "Let's get you home, okay?" He waves the bartender over and hands over his credit card to close out her tab. Then he snakes his arm around her waist and gets her to her feet. She stumbles slightly, so he holds her tighter, keeping her upright and supporting most of her weight. He walks her out of the bar. As he's steering her toward the passenger side of his car, she twists round to look over his shoulder.

"But my car's back there." She throws an arm up, ostensibly to point in the general direction of her vehicle.

"I'm driving you," Mike says firmly. He opens the door and carefully folds her into the seat. "We'll get your car tomorrow." As he tries to close it, Nadine pushes back with her hand. She looks up at him.

"Thank you," she says. Her eyes are wide with drunken sincerity. "You're sweet to me."

"Alright, alright." He shuts the door on her gently. He goes around to the other side and gets in. When they get to her condo, he helps her to her unit, practically carrying her the whole way. When she fumbles her keys, he takes them from her and unlocks the door and then guides her inside.

Nadine kicks off her shoes and drops her purse on the foyer table, then shimmies out of her coat; Mike catches it before it can crumple on the floor. He drapes it over the back of her sofa.

"Come on, let's get you into bed," he says.

She gives him a flirtatious grin. "You wanna get me into bed?"

He rolls his eyes. He turns her around by the shoulders and marches her down the hallway. "You're a lush." When they reach her room, he pulls back the duvet and sheets.

Before he can settle her into bed, she cups his face with one hand and locks her gaze with his. She's standing very close to him.

"Nadine…"

She leans up and presses her mouth to his. It's a gentle kiss, cautious; giving him the option to pull away.

He doesn't.

Mike's hands come up to the back of her neck as he kisses her back, slow and hard. Nadine's arms wrap around and hold him against her.

He licks at the seam of her lips and she opens her mouth to him with a soft moan.

Suddenly, he breaks the kiss. "You're drunk… I shouldn't be doing this," he whispers, and strokes her cheek. "Good night, Nadine." He kisses her on the forehead and walks out of her room, leaving her standing there.

She hears the faint sound of her front door opening and closing. And then she's alone.


The next morning, Nadine nurses a faint hangover. She's sitting in her office, blinds drawn, a glass of water and an untouched packet of saltines sitting on her desk.

She looks up when she hears her door open. Mike walks in. He tentatively places a bottle of ibuprofen on her desk and gauges her face with concern. "Hey. How are you feeling?" He asks softly.

How is she feeling? Her son is a college dropout. Her head is pounding. And she did something very stupid last night.

How is she feeling.

"Not my shining hour," she rasps finally.

"Happens to the best of us," he says. "I'll take you by the bar after work so you can pick up your car."

She nods gratefully, unsure if she deserves this compassion. "Mike, I… I'm sorry. I shouldn't have kissed you like that. I was way out of line."

"You were drunk."

"That's no excuse."

He's looking at her openly, drinking her in. "I wanted it too, Nadine."

This doesn't surprise her, but the fact that he'd admit it so openly does. "Mike…" she whispers, "you're married."

He looks down at his hands. "I know."

She doesn't know where this leaves them.


They put a little distance between each other. At work, it's just work. The shift is a little clunky, but they both need the space to let the dust settle between them. A couple weeks go past in this unfamiliar holding pattern.

And then it's a Friday night and Nadine is woken up in the middle of the night by an incessant pounding on her door. She rolls over to look at her bedside clock; it ticks over to two-thirty. She groans, rolling out of bed. She grabs her robe off of the foot of the ottoman on her way out the room.

"I'm coming!" she calls, and half-stumbles through the living room as she shrugs on her robe, wrapping it tightly around her body. She flips on the lights as she goes, and when she gets to the door she raises up on her toes and peers through the peep hole.

"Oh for goodness sake," she mutters as she undoes the latch on the door. "Mike, it's two-thirty in the morning. What could be so important that you had to wake me up in the middle of the - hey, what's wrong?"

His eyes are red and he looks… well, really angry. She leads him inside, sets him down on the sofa, peering at him.

"Mike?" She places a gentle hand on his knee.

"We just had a fight, that's all," he says finally. "She kicked me out. I was hoping I could crash here." He's a little sheepish.

"Of course. I'll, um… I'll get you some sheets." She stands up, but he grabs her hand.

"Nadine…" And he's looking at her again, in that same way that she looked at him the other night, the same way he looks at her over drinks, the same way they look at each other when they share pieces of their lives... isn't this what they've been working so hard to avoid?

He rises slowly, still holding onto her hand, and brings his other hand up to caress her face. He searches her eyes.

"Mike, what are you doing?" she says softly, because she thinks he wants the same thing she wants, but someone has to take a second here.

"If you don't want this, I'll stop," he whispers, and brings his lips to hers. He kisses her deeply, grazing his teeth against her lips and licking into her mouth hungrily. It's a heady feeling, and Nadine wants nothing more than to fall into it.

But she pulls back a little, because she wants to show him the same courtesy he's shown her. "You're emotional. I don't want to take advantage," she murmurs against his lips.

He frames her face with both hands. It's not just longing in his eyes, now - it's full-on desire. "You're not."

And with that confirmation, Nadine wraps her arms around his neck, pulls him back down to her, and seals her lips to his.

She kisses him hard, and then begins to lead him blindly down the hallway, and Mike undoes the tie of her robe and pushes it off her shoulders as she works the buttons on his shirt. They leave a trail of clothing to her bedroom as they kiss each other fervently, and by the time they topple onto the bed, they're both half naked and touching everything they can reach.

Mike guides her back against the pillows and hovers on top of her. He trails a hand over her bare skin, making her shiver. "I want you so bad," he whispers, as if he can't believe his luck. "You're so beautiful, Nadine."

He stares at her for a long moment, and then she reaches up and pulls his face down to hers for a sweet kiss, wrapping her legs around his waist because she can't get close enough.

They don't talk too much after that.