“That never truly goes away,” she said. “Helping people take care of their minds is a serious business as well as a delicate one.”
I nodded. “And there are so many people who need it. Who need to understand that there shouldn’t be a stigma on it.”
“Yes,” she sighed. “I agree. Which is why I think you’ll do great things in the future. Even if you merely stay here and continue to help patients as they come in, you’re changing their lives.”
I flushed a little. “It’s an honor,” I said. “All I’ve ever wanted to do.” Beyond provide care abroad, helping people feel mentally healthy had always been my dream. Ever since I’d been ten years old and met a child in Croatia with severe depression and anxiety. He was outcast from his tribe because of his condition, not because he couldn’t be helped, but because they didn’t have access or education when it came to mental health.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, drawing me back to the present.
“Good,” I said, patting my stomach. “Except for the body aches, constant hunger, and heartburn.” I laughed, and she joined in. “Well, you can count on us for maternity leave and plenty of support. We know how hard it is to be a working mother.”
“I appreciate that,” I said, and gathered my things. “I’ll see you soon,” I said, waving to her as I exited her office.
I settled into the easy drive home, my muscles uncoiling the closer I got to Nixon’s house. Taking on my own clients was a new and exciting process, but it was also an exhausting one. I’d been gone all day, and it was already past dinner. The bathtub and bed were practically screaming my name by the time I pulled into the driveway.
The memories of Nixon’s confession hit me in the center of my chest—both a warmth and a weight. The way he carried the responsibility for his brother’s death made my heart heavy, but the fact that he’d let me see that vulnerable side of him filled me with hope. His admission had helped me understand how he used controlling his environment and his intense need to protect those he cared about as tools to cope with the loss of his brother. I could only hope with time he’d come to terms with the fact that he was not responsible and that he was worthy of happiness free of that guilt.
I locked the door behind me, doubling back to drop my bag and keys into the designated drop-station Nixon had in his entryway. Now that I knew how important order and organization were to his well-being, I made a triple effort to follow it.
“Babe?” Nixon called from down the hallway. “That you?”
“No,” I laughed. “It’s a ghost come to haunt your sexy ass.”
I heard him laugh, but the sound didn’t come from the bedroom.
“Where are you?” I asked, setting my shoes in the slot beneath the drop-station and padding barefoot down the hall.
“In the spare bedroom,” he said. “Would you come here a minute?”
I had been heading toward the kitchen, the need for food a real, visceral thing in my soul. But I couldn’t resist the hope in his voice, so I headed that direction.
“What’s up?” I asked as I turned into the spare bedroom—
And instantly gasped.
Nixon stood in the middle of the room—the one right across from his bedroom—but it no longer looked as it had when I’d moved in.
Gone were the bare walls, the simple yet elegant queen bed, and the wooden nightstand and dresser. Those pieces had been removed and replaced with a large, white-cushioned rocking chair in the corner, a white wooden crib nestled against the wall next to it. A dresser was tucked in the corner across the room, each drawer decorated with a different section of a world map. A changing pad and guard rested atop it, wicker baskets full of diapers and burp cloths next to it. A large wooden propeller hung on the wall to the left of the changing station, accented by framed photos of a propeller plane, a steam engine, and a steel-liner ship. The other wall near the closet boasted pictures of goalposts and the Raleigh field.
Tears filled my eyes as I walked deeper into the room, and I had to cover my gaping mouth as I saw what hung above the crib.
“You went back?” I asked, my voice cracking as I gaped at the vintage map of Brazil I’d fallen for at the flea market.
“I saw how much you loved it,” he said, his hands smacking against his thighs as he remained frozen in place near the rocking chair. “I thought a travel-themed nursery would be pretty fitting,” he said, a slight strain in his tone. “And it’s not all pink, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t matter, right?” He grimaced slightly at my silence. “I know I should’ve probably waited for you, but I wanted to surprise you. You’ve been working so hard in the city and finishing up your degree, not to mention the hot yoga and baby growing stuff.”