Friday came right around the corner and with it brought a cloud of sorrow and grief that hung over my head. It wasn't just any ordinary Friday. It was September 28th- Nick's birthday.
He would've turned twenty-three, and if it weren't for that drunk driver, I could only imagine the success that would continue on to the next chapter of his life.
It killed me to just think of him buried in a grave when he should be spending today with all his loved ones. There was no feeling worse than the hurt and pain that engulfed me at that moment.
More than once, I would have the sudden desire to avenge Nick's death by hunting down the man that'd taken his life and killing him myself. I was aware of the consequences, but I just couldn't stand the fact that he got to survive while Nick's corpse was rotting away.
Once I was able to hold myself together, I took out my phone and dialed Mrs. Schneider's number. After a couple rings, she picked up.
"Claire? Is that you?"
"Yes, it's me, Mrs. Schneider. How are you?"
"Oh sweetie, I thought I'd never hear from you again. I'm doing fine. How about you?", she asked warmly.
"I'm doing good, too."
"That's nice to hear. Wow, I can't believe how long it's been since we've last spoken."
"I know. I miss you and your husband so much," I said with remorse.
"We miss you too, darling. You stopped visiting us ever since your father passed away and never called. Why?" She sounded hurt and my heart ached for her.
The truth was, I didn't want a single person to know about my arranged marriage to Derek, especially Nick's parents. They were aware of how much I loved their son and getting married to another man after his death just seemed so awful.
"Mrs. Schneider, there's something I have to tell you," I spoke, letting out a long sigh.
"What is it, dear?"
And so, I told her everything. From the day my father had passed away to my current life in California as Derek's wife.
"Mrs. Schneider, if your son were still alive, I would've married him in a heartbeat," I said with a soft laugh to lighten up the conversation.
"Claire, Andrew and I had always wanted you as our daughter-in-law. And as for Nick, I couldn't imagine him marrying any other girl but you. He loved you a lot, you know. He might not have told you, but there was no denying it."
"He did tell me...t-the day he passed away."
My bottom lip began to tremble, and I bit it to stop myself from crying, but it was too late. As the tears came, so did my emotions that I'd been trying to contain while talking to Mrs. Schneider.
"E-excuse me," I apologized, my voice shaking.
"Oh, sweetheart." By the sound of it, she was crying as well.
"I-I just wanted to wish your son a happy birthday. I promise I'll come visit soon."
"You have no idea how much your call means to me. We thought you'd forgotten us."
"I could never forget you. You guys were like family to me."
"We love you, dear. Well, I'll let you go now. Good bye, Claire."
"Take care, Mrs. Schneider."
As soon as she disconnected the call, I threw my phone onto the ground and completely broke down.
"Why did you have to leave me, Nick?", I wailed into the pillow.
I was angry at the drunk driver, the world, and a complete emotional wreck.
I spent the entire morning and afternoon in bed with sweatpants and a tank top on, not even bothering to shower or eat. I just felt so dead inside.
Around two, the home phone began to ring as I was on the verge of falling asleep. I groaned and reached for it on the nightstand.
"Hello?", I croaked.
Holy crap, my voice...
"Whoa, are you ok? You sound like you've been struck by the flu." Derek's tone was laced with concern.
"I'm perfectly fine," I lied, clearing my throat.
"Alright then." However, he didn't sound convinced.
"You busy right now?"
"Yes, actually, so I can't talk much right now. Just wanted to check up on you. I'll see you tonight?"
"Yeah, I'll be home."
"Sounds good. Later, baby."
Just a simple call from Derek made me feel that much better. I could always depend on him to reassure me that things would be ok. I anticipated his return home more than ever. I'd had enough of being alone in this huge house the past few days.
Without him, it just didn't feel like a home.
I forced myself to get out of bed and took a shower. I didn't want my husband to come back from a business trip to see me looking like someone out of a horror movie.
A couple hours later, I'd fallen asleep on the living room couch while reading a book. I had a dream about none other than Nick, and in it, he and I were up in Duluth watching the sun set on Lake Superior.
I never wanted it to end, but unfortunately was woken up by the touch of a hand on my shoulder. My eyes slowly fluttered open to see my husband staring down at me.
"You're home!", I said happily, throwing my arms around his neck.
"Hi, Claire-Bear." He smiled, pulling me into a hug.
"I missed you so much," I mumbled into his chest, breathing in the familiar scent of his cologne and aftershave.
"I missed you, too."
He kissed my hair then pulled back to look at me. His blue eyes were full of worry as a hand reached out to cup my cheek.
"Have you been crying?", he asked.
I slowly nodded my head and hugged my knees to my chest, staring down at my bare feet.
"It was Nick's birthday today," I spoke in a barely audible tone.
Derek let out a deep breath and when I glanced up at him, sympathy was written all over his face. And there was something else too; I just couldn't pinpoint what it was.
"Oh, Claire, I should've been here with you," he said, wrapping his arms around my body and pulling me into his chest.
"It's alright. I'm fine now," I reassured.
"You look thinner," he remarked, raising a brow.
"I haven't eaten yet today," I admitted.
"And what about yesterday and the day before?"
"I ate, but not that much."
He sighed and shook his head, standing up with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
"You see why I wanted you to come with me? When you're home alone, you spend all your time grieving about Nick and you don't eat." His face was serious.
"That's not true. It was just today," I quickly objected. "And I guess when you're not home to eat with me, I just don't have as big an appetite."
A smile began to tug at Derek's lips as he shoved his hands into his pockets. He looked so handsome in his suit right now, I just wanted to kiss him over and over again.
"Is that true?", he asked teasingly.
"Yes," I confessed shyly.
"Well, if that's the case, let's go eat dinner right now. You and me," he said with a wink.
"Oh my god, I forgot to make dinner," I blurted, quickly jumping off the couch and about to run to the kitchen when I felt Derek's strong grip on my arm.
"How about I make dinner tonight? You've had a pretty rough day," he offered, giving me a sad smile.
"But what about you? Aren't you tired?"
"I'm perfectly fine. So, what do you want to eat?"
"Something basic. We both know your cooking has its limits."
"I can do basic." He grinned.
For the first time, I was the one getting the wine as Derek prepared a Caesar salad and some grilled chicken. Surprisingly, they both tasted quite good. Maybe one day, he could even outdo my chef skills.
While we ate, he brought me up to date on his current hotel project, and I listened in admiration. I loved how he was so passionate about his work.
When I asked if he'd done anything exciting in LA, he said that he'd gone surfing at Malibu. No wonder he looked tanner than usual.
Neither of us mentioned Ashley, which put my mind at ease. My relationship with my husband was going so well, and I did not need her to bring trouble to it. I doubted that she'd do anything, though. He kept a firm ground when it came to her.
That night, I lay in bed in the comfort of Derek's arms. It felt so good to have him by my side again. Three days without him had seemed like weeks.
It was then that I vowed to never decline another invitation of his to go on a business trip with him. I couldn't stand being alone.
He'd been right. When I was by myself, Nick would consume most of my thoughts. And I didn't want that. I wanted to move on and be happy.
"Good night, Derek," I said, turning my head to give him a peck on the lips.
"Good night, baby."
My back was pressed against his front, the heat from his body warming mine. His fingers lazily drew circles on my hip, and I slowly closed my eyes.
"Happy birthday, Nick," I mumbled to myself before drifting off to sleep.
A/N- Sorry if this chapter was kind of brief. I'll try to update again next weekend. And yes, I also uploaded a picture of Claire and Derek for your viewing pleasure(: Remember to like and comment!