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4.03 - The Essentials. And then some.

October 2017

It's a lot of things, really, that convince her that retirement is the right decision.

That Libyan girl was one. Nadine won't hesitate to admit that seeing that tiny body comatose had broken her heart into pieces. She used to be better at inuring herself against those kinds of things, though — enough to do her job, at least. The fact that she couldn't this time bothered her more than she liked. The Secretary didn't begrudge Nadine that moment of humanity, but that was beside the point. It had interfered with Nadine's performance, and that set off alarms in Nadine's head.

Lara Cramer was another. Nadine had cried herself to sleep three nights in a row.

And now all this mucking knee-deep in Morejon's dirty laundry. And standing back and pretending that President Andrada, man-child and sexual assailant extrordinaire, is fit to lead a country. And Jay getting kidnapped in Nice, of all places. Jesus Christ Almighty. What happened to politics?

And now, with this shutdown looming on the horizon, having to prepare potential furlough arrangements while dealing with everyone's hurt feelings and their combined fear and resentment of her (even though none of this is her fault!) is exhausting. Nadine has lost count of the number of times the word "bitch" has been muttered not-so-discreetly in her general vicinity. They all conveniently seem to forget that she isn't half-deaf.

And then in the middle of all of this, just as she's wishing she could be anyone else with any other job, Roman is having a baby. She couldn't imagine a happier piece of news. And he extends her an olive branch that she once thought she would never receive.

I wish you lived on the West Coast. Then you could hang out with us all the time.

It's not as easy as packing up her whole life and shipping it off to California, of course. That would be foolish. But maybe it's as easy as freeing up her time to visit, traveling for pleasure a little more often. She thinks she's earned it.

Nadine can't even remember the last time she used her vacation days. She racks them up but hardly ever takes them. She's pretty sure she's donated more of them to her employees than she's ever used herself. (She gives them to new mothers; the suddenly, severely ill; the freak accidents. Because she had been a working mother, young and alone, and she remembers how much she could have used that kind of generosity. She may be tough, but she isn't cold.) Maybe she can start using those days for herself. Maybe she has reason to.

It niggles in the back of her mind, though, the dangerously hopeful, insidious, ridiculous thought: she could just retire. She could do it. She could leave and not come back. (God, the decadence. It's almost too rich for Nadine to even dream about.)

Because here's the thing. When she tells Elizabeth McCord, I'd like to take some time off, what Elizabeth hears is, I'm ready to step down.

So maybe it isn't horribly, terribly wrong. Maybe stepping down is the right thing to do. Because professionally, Elizabeth knows her better than perhaps anyone else in Nadine's network, and Elizabeth gives her blessing. And that is worth everything.

So Nadine is going to see her son. She's going to watch her grandchild grow. She's going to resign.

The goodbyes are hard. Leaving them is hard. She had personally onboarded both Daisy and Jay to Vincent's roster. And Matt, whom she hadn't wanted at the outset, she's warmed to with time. She likes his heart. And she likes Jay's passion, Daisy's ambition. She likes Blake's eye for detail. She's always had a soft spot for Blake, though she'd never admit it. He's going to change the world they all live in.

They promise to take her out for drinks, once the dust around them settles a little more — "I'll have a shit ton of free time on my hands with the shutdown," Matt points out, "though drinks will not be on me."

"Take up yoga," Nadine advises.

"I was thinking more along the lines of watching all of the Godfather movies in a row, and then catching up on American Horror Story."

Blake offers up his own retort, and then they devolve into lighthearted quibbling, with Jay adding input and Daisy taking Blake's side. Nadine's chest tightens as she tries not to think about how strange it will be not to be part of this anymore.

Her chest stays tight all the way through their last round of office scotch, a last round of hugs, the last goodbyes. It stays tight as she slips back into her office for a last sweep of the space. Movers have already come in to pack up her things. They'll deliver them to her condo in the coming days; she barely even had to lift a finger. The perks of rank.

Nadine takes one last look around at the strange, bare space. It should seem cold, but the emptiness just reminds her of the excitement of her first days in the department; Vincent sweeping in with staff in tow, staking claim over their newly-won territory. The promise of a new beginning.

When Nadine unclips her badge from her hip and leaves it on the clean, bare desk, that promise still feels the same.

She walks out to the lobby and calls the elevator, head held high. At this hour, it opens for her immediately and she steps inside. When the doors slide closed between her and the seventh floor, the tightness in her chest releases all at once.

And she feels like she can breathe again.

Roman calls to tell her that he's had all their stuff shipped to their new place in Cali. He and Shindy will be flying in one week from today.

Nadine will fly out there in three, and stay for two weeks. She'd wanted to get a hotel, but Roman refused to hear of it.

"I'm not going to make my own mother stay in a hotel," he'd said. "We'll have the extra bedroom and it'll be ready for you when you get here. No ifs, ands, or buts."

He insists that she won't be crowding them if she stays (that had been Nadine's fear) and Shindy insists it even harder, so that's the plan now. Nadine will try very hard not to mother them to death during her stay. If she even remembers how.

She discusses everything carefully with Roman before booking her flight. He'd wanted her to stay longer, but she's worried that anything more will be too long. They would surely get into some knock-down, drag-out fight that results in both of them refusing to speak to each other for another decade, and before she knows it Nadine's grandchild will be an adult, and then Nadine will be dead.

She doesn't explain it to Roman quite like that. She knows she's being dramatic. But the point is still the same, and the fear is still valid. She's going to tread lightly.

"We'll see how it goes," is what she says. Perhaps one day she will move out there for good, but for now she is just very excited to spend a couple weeks in their company.

Blake asks to meet her for drinks a week after she resigns. Nadine has no reason to turn him down and, miraculously, Blake finds no reason to cancel or reschedule them. The one good thing about the federal shutdown is that it seems to have freed up his timetable into something resembling a more humane work schedule. He might even be sleeping more than four hours a night.

Probably not, though.

"I've been trying to find your replacement," he informs her as he sucks on the lime from his gin and tonic. "It's very hard." There's accusation in his voice.

Nadine merely smiles. She isn't irreplaceable. "You'll figure it out," she says unconcernedly. "I have faith in you."

And she gets a text from him a week later: Jay is the new her. It's a good choice.

She wants to congratulate Jay personally, but doesn't want to seem like she's keeping tabs. It isn't her department any longer. She has to commit to that; commit to the break-up. The last thing Jay needs is for his predecessor to start comparing his adjustment period to her track record, so she hesitates over the blurb of his contact information in her phone before ultimately deciding not to call. She settles on a simple text instead. Congratulations, and well-deserved, she writes. I couldn't think of a better person for the job than you. And sends it.

Jay responds not ten minutes later. Thanks Nadine, that means a lot. I'll try to make you proud.

There are three pulsing bubbles underneath it. And then a second message comes through. We miss you.

She sets her phone aside, deciding not to reply. She commits to letting go.

November 2017

This is retirement. It is more free time than Nadine has ever had in her life.

She takes a pilates class three mornings a week, leaving the condo in skintight leggings and a zip-up hoodie. She goes to yoga the other days. She makes time for the farmer's market on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and catches some of the new art exhibits she hasn't had a chance to see. She procures a ticket to the African American History Museum (after pulling some strings), and goes to the symphony with Gail. She cooks dinner for herself, indulges in expensive wine, watches movies. She makes plans with half a dozen people she hasn't seen in far too long, and doesn't have to break a single date.

Roman calls to inform her that he and Shindy have made it to California safely. They're settling into their new home with the excitement and anticipation of all new, young families. The area, the house, is everything they wanted it to be.

Nadine FaceTimes them often. And when Shindy asks her pregnancy questions and baby questions, Nadine omits the "Saving Private Ryan" comparison from her advice repertoire. Shindy's situation isn't anything like Daisy's, anyway — or Nadine's. Shindy isn't a single mother. Shindy isn't alone.

Nadine makes her way out to Berkeley in the middle of the month and she exchanges sharp chill and dry winds for balmy warmth and endless sunshine. She swears she can feel the warmth in her bones, even from inside the cabin of the plane.

Roman and Shindy meet her at SFO, and when he spots her, Roman wraps his arms around her in a tight hug, lifting her off her feet. "I'm so glad you're here," he says by her shoulder.

Shindy is more careful, pressing a kiss to Nadine's cheek and turning to the side before folding her into an embrace. Shindy's belly is big. "Hi, Nadine."

"Hi, Shindy," Nadine says, then pulls back to hold the other woman at arm's length. "My goodness, look at you!"

Shindy takes one of Nadine's hands and presses it to her belly. "She's kicking up a storm. She's so excited to meet her grandma."

Nadine's heart skips several beats as she feels the tiny pulses against her palm. She looks from Shindy to Roman and back again, eyes bright. "She?"

Shindy nods emphatically, absolutely glowing. Roman is smiling so widely his face could crack in two. "It's a girl," he says.

Shindy and Roman's home is a small bungalow-style house with wooden beams and big windows that look out onto the porch. It's got charm. It'll be a wonderful little house in which to raise a child.

They've made a lot of headway inside; there are no moving boxes in sight, nothing left that looks as yet to be unpacked. Not that Nadine imagines they would have brought a great deal with them halfway across the globe. Much of the space is still bare, though the rooms are all furnished with the basics. Roman carries her things into the guest bedroom, which has all been made up for her and looks crisp and blank.

"You get settled; I'm going to start on dinner," Roman says, and sets her bags down at the foot of the bed as she trails in behind him. He heads toward the door. "Shindy and I will be downstairs if you need anything, so..." he pauses in the open doorway and Nadine looks up. "I'm really glad you're here, mom," he says.

"I am too, Roman." She never thought they'd get to this point.

They sit on the front porch after dinner, watching the sun slowly sink below the treeline. Nadine feels happy and warm and full. She swirls a glass of merlot in lazy circles, curled up on one half of the porch swing with Roman sprawled out next to her. Shindy had begged off, pleading exhaustion, and had turned in early. Nadine remembers that kind of tiredness acutely, doesn't doubt that Shindy is feeling it. But she suspects that Shindy leaving them alone has more to do with the girl's grace in giving Nadine a moment to be with her son, than it is about a need to turn in early.

"She's a good girl," Nadine says. She turns to look at Roman. "You got lucky with her."

"I know. And she likes you too, you know. She thinks you're nice." He wrinkles his nose as he says it, like he can't understand how someone else could possibly find his mother nice.

Nadine shoves him playfully. "Shut up. I am nice, thank you very much."

"Yeah, you're alright, I guess," he says, grinning. He clasps a hand on her knee. Suddenly serious, he says, "All those years we didn't talk…"


"I never hated you, mom. I hope you know that. I just need you to know that."

She feels a lump in her throat. "Yeah, I know," she says, even though it isn't entirely true.

"I just thought I'd disappointed you too much."

Somehow, that hurts her more. "No, baby," she murmurs. She covers his hand with hers. "You could never. I... I was angry, but I was never disappointed with who you are."

"Well. Hopefully my kid will be better to me than I was to you."

Nadine pats his hand. "You'll probably be better to your kid than I was to mine."

"You were fine; you did everything. You were a good mom," he says, like he can recognize that now, and it makes her smile. "I'm kind of terrified," he admits. "Shindy will be a great mother; the best. I already know that. She's so good with little kids and babies, but I… I don't know if I will be."

Nadine remembers this brand of twisting apprehension well; how the fear settled deep in the gut like a block of cement and didn't ever really leave. A parents' fear. "You're gonna be okay, Roman. I know it. You have always been good at anything you were determined to be good at." She smiles. "You get that from your father, I think."

He shakes his head. "No," he says, with conviction. "Every good part of who I am, you've given me."

Her two weeks pass by like a whip. Nadine's visit is over before she knows it, and Roman and Shindy see her off at the airport. They make her promise to fly in for Christmas, and she agrees. They'll iron out the details later. They leave Nadine at the TSA line, and she tries not to miss them too much. Not so soon.

She impulsively calls her sister while she waits at the gate. She's still feeling the spirit of family and she makes plans with Cecilia, agrees to drive up to Newark to join her sister's family for Thanksgiving next week. Nadine can't remember the last time she got to do that.

Her flight lands at Reagan National sometime in the early evening, and she waits an hour at the carousel for her luggage before ubering home. She spends the next day puttering around the condo, unpacking and cleaning and running the wash and trying to kick the jet-lag.

Nadine is pulling clothes out of the dryer when she hears the knock on the door. When she walks over, she raises up on her toes first to check the visitor through the peephole. And hesitates.

Finally, she unlocks and opens it.

Her visitor speaks before she gets to. "So you were gonna resign and just not tell me?"

She sighs. "Mike. Come on in, I guess."