I woke up early the following morning to go on my daily jog and then after that, I went grocery shopping at Ralphs since we were currently running low on vegetables.
Now that September was nearing, the temperatures had gotten cooler, but nonetheless, it was still sunny most days.
What I missed the most about Minnesota apart from my family was the weather. There were four distinct seasons, unlike here in San Diego where it felt like summer year-long.
I hadn't been home in years to see the brilliant fall leaves change color because by the time they did, I'd already be away at Stanford for college. I remembered my first winter there and how weird it had felt not having any snow.
Back in Minnesota, we'd get so much snow to the point where schools and businesses had to close until they could shovel it all. Along with that, our temperatures would occasionally drop to -50 degrees fahrenheit and on those days, nobody dared to venture outside.
I'd always loved summer the best. My friends and I would spend the weekends at our cabins up in Northern Minnesota. There were plenty of things to do at the lakes there- such as motorboating, tubing or swimming.
And when we were home, we'd throw these huge bonfires in our backyards at night and invite a bunch of people over.
I longed to go back to those carefree days in the past when I hadn't known what grief and pain felt like. But it was tragedies like Nick and my father's deaths that had shaped me into the person I was today.
When I returned home, Derek was nowhere to be found. I put away the groceries then went looking for him. His cars were still parked in the garage, so he had to be here somewhere.
After doing a thorough search of our giant house, I headed out to the backyard and there he was, cleaning up the storage shed where he normally kept the lawn mower, garden tools, and other outdoor equipment.
"Good morning," I greeted cheerfully. Derek spun around at the sound of my voice.
"Oh hey, Claire." He grinned, his eyes lighting up.
"Does your head still hurt?"
"Nope, I'm fine now. Where were you?", he asked, wiping a bead of sweat on his brow.
"I went grocery shopping. What are you doing?"
"I'm just moving some of these things to the garage," he replied.
"I see. I'll go make you some breakfast."
"That's ok, I already ate."
"Oh. Well then you know what, I think I'm gonna swim for a bit," I remarked, glancing over at our magnificent pool that was just beckoning for me to go in.
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea. The weather's really nice today. I'll join you once I finish," he said with a wide smile.
I went back inside and headed upstairs to my bedroom. I dug in my closet for my hot pink bikini then put it on after changing out of my running clothes.
It was also a perfect day to tan so I decided to do that first once I got outside. I put my sunglasses on then applied some tanning lotion onto my body.
After kicking my flip flops off, I lay down on the poolside chaise lounge underneath the glaring sun, listening to my favorite playlist that I put on shuffle.
Ah, this was so nice.
I closed my eyes and relaxed, soaking up the sun as the cool breeze ruffled my hair. I completely lost track of time when I felt a light tap on my shoulder.
I took one earbud out and pulled my sunglasses down, looking up to see a shirtless Derek standing over me with his glorious six-pack on display.
He was wearing a pair of navy-white swim trunks that hung deliciously low on his hips, exposing his v-lines that I couldn't seem to stop staring at. His eyes were gleaming in amusement as a crooked smile began to form on his lips.
Was it even possible for him to be this jaw-droppingly gorgeous?
"I didn't know you were a fan of The Script," he remarked.
"Wait, what?", I spluttered, completely baffled.
"I heard you singing, For the First Time."
"Crap, I was?" My cheeks were flushed with embarrassment. Derek chuckled.
"Yeah, you were. I love The Script, too, especially that song. It's old but still good," he said.
"I know right? I'd die to go to their concert."
"Same. You've got a nice voice, by the way," he commented with a wink.
"Yup," he replied before diving into the water.
Huh, I never knew I could sing, I thought to myself.
I sat up then got into the pool with Derek. We stayed outside for what felt like hours, simply enjoying each other's company.
We swam and talked about our likes and dislikes, and I found out that along with our similar tastes in music, he and I had a lot more in common than I'd originally thought.
Maybe there was hope left for our relationship after all...
It was Friday night and Charlotte and I were at Petco Park, watching the Padres baseball game. Our seats were behind the dugout close to home plate, giving us a clear view of the players when they went up to bat.
I wore my white jersey with a pair of dark blue jean shorts. Charlotte- being the huge baseball fan that she was- completely went all out. She had a jersey and cap on, and her socks were dark blue and white- the team colors. She even had the Padres' logo temporarily tattooed on her cheek.
Unfortunately, we were currently losing to the New York Yankees by a score of 4-2. However, it was only the fifth inning, so we still had time to turn the game around.
I began to grow bored during the seventh inning and pulled out my phone to see if there was any news regarding the NHL. It was still off-season, but occasionally, something interesting would come up.
I also liked reading about what my favorite teams were doing to boost their performance for the upcoming season. And it was then that I realized how much I missed going to hockey games.
The last time I went to one was back when Nick was still alive. And it hadn't been just any ordinary game, but in fact the Stanley Cup Final. I'd never forget that day. It had been the greatest experience of my life.
"Claire? Are you there?" I was brought back to reality at the sound of Charlotte's voice.
"Sorry, I was just looking at stuff on my phone. So, what's the score?"
"5-4. We're winning," she said happily, clapping her hands together.
"Ok, I gotta watch this."
I focused my attention back on the game for the remaining two innings. At the end, the Padres swept the crowd, defeating the Yankees by a score of 8-5. Everyone was up on their feet, whistling and cheering.
It'd been a great way to end the night.
I got home at around ten and headed upstairs to my bedroom. Derek was probably still at work. I would wait for him, but I was just so sleepy right now.
After changing into a tank top and shorts, I brushed my teeth then climbed into bed, letting my dreams take me.
"Hey, Claire, do you know where we're going?", Nick asked me.
We were driving around at night in his car somewhere out in the open. There weren't any trees or houses, just empty land.
"Hold on, let me check the map again," I replied, turning the flashlight back on.
"I'm pretty sure your aunt doesn't live anywhere near here."
"I know. Ugh, we're so lost," I groaned in frustration.
Nick continued to drive as I inspected the map, trying to locate an exit so we could get back on the main road.
Suddenly, the car jerked violently as we passed a giant pothole, and I accidentally dropped my flashlight.
It rolled underneath Nick's seat, and he took his eyes off the road to reach down and grab it...just as another car was approaching us at seventy miles an hour.
"Nick!", I screamed in horror, immediately grabbing the steering wheel.
But it was too late.
I heard the sound of tires screeching as we viciously collided head-on with the car in front of us. I tried calling out Nick's name, but nothing came out of my mouth. Slowly, everything began to turn black...
My eyes shot open and I immediately sat up in bed. My heart was beating rapidly in my chest as I reached up to touch my tear-stained face.
I'd never had a dream about Nick that was this real and vivid before. I could still even imagine what it'd felt like driving past the pothole. I struggled to catch my breath then lay back down.
Nick's face had looked just like I'd remembered, his hazel eyes soft and kind. Before I knew it, I began to sob uncontrollably into my pillow. My heart longed for him, and there was nothing more I wanted than to see his face again, even if it was just for a moment.
I didn't even know how long I lay there crying when I heard the sound of my door opening. I glanced up to see my husband standing at the edge of my bed wearing a plain white tshirt and boxers. His face was contorted with worry.
"Claire, what's wrong?", he asked urgently, placing a hand on my shoulder.
"I-I can't tell you," I spoke quietly, my voice trembling.
"You know you can tell me anything. Was it a bad dream?"
I slowly nodded my head in response.
Derek lifted the blanket up, and to my utter surprise, crawled in next to me, holding me tight against his warm body as I continued to cry.
"Shh, it's ok. I'm right here," he comforted, wiping away my tears with his thumb.
"Do you remember that time you stood outside my room because you thought I was crying?", I mumbled into his chest.
"I do. You said that you had allergies or something, right?"
"I was lying to you," I confessed.
"What do you mean?", he asked, looking into my eyes.
"I was crying that night."
Derek's face was masked in deep concern as he stroked my cheek with the backs of his knuckles.
"If only I could tell you," I whispered as more tears spilled from my eyes.
"Claire, you need to tell me. Is there something going on that I don't know about?", he asked in a serious tone.
The fact was, I'd been carrying the weight of Nick's death in my heart for so long. Sooner or later, I'd have to tell someone to lessen the pain, and now was probably the time.
"My best friend passed away three years ago," I said quietly.
"Who was it?", Derek asked gently.
"His name was Nick Schneider. We were best friends ever since preschool, and h-he died in a car crash."
"Oh my god...Claire, I'm so sorry," he murmured, pulling my body closer to him as his muscular arms wrapped around me. His tshirt was stained with my tears, but he didn't seem to care.
"I loved him," I whispered in a barely audible tone.
"Say that again?"
"I loved him, Derek. More than you'll ever know."
I heard his sharp intake of breath, and he tilted my chin up so that I was staring into his eyes, his expression unreadable.
"Why didn't you tell me that before when I asked if you'd ever been in love?"
"I've never told anyone about Nick. You're the first person to know about him besides my family," I admitted.
"I'm guessing that he was in the dream you just had?"
"Yes," I replied, my voice cracking.
"Would it feel better if we talk about him for a while?", Derek suggested, brushing my hair away from my face.
"What do you wanna know?"
"Everything," he said eagerly.
I sighed heavily and composed myself before beginning to speak.
"Nick had always been my other half growing up. In fact, I spent most of my childhood over at his house. He was the sweetest guy you'd ever meet, with a heart as big as the ocean.
"We both played hockey all the way through high school, but for him, it was a passion, not just a sport. Ever since he was little, everyone had always said that he was born to play."
"Did he play in college, too?", Derek asked.
"Yes. He played his freshmen year at the University of Minnesota while I was at Stanford. His dream, though, was to play in the NHL. And guess what? At the draft three years ago, the Blackhawks selected him as their third overall pick."
"Wow, that's amazing. He must've been incredible," Derek remarked in awe. I nodded.
"I was so proud of him. Chicago had always been our favorite hockey team too, so that made it even better," I said.
"Oh, so you're a Hawks fan?", he asked.
"Yup. The first NHL game I'd ever been to was in Chicago with Nick, and so from that day on, they became my favorite team," I replied.
"I see. So, what happened to Nick then?"
My heart immediately sank as I remembered the tragic events following that draft. I'd hoped that I'd never have to relive them ever again, but I couldn't just leave Derek hanging. He deserved to know.
"The night that he was drafted, he went out with some close guy friends to celebrate. And on their way home, they were hit by a drunk driver," I said gravely with a traumatized look in my eyes.
"Oh my god...," Derek mumbled apologetically.
"Nick was the only one who didn't make it. He died in the hospital that night after we had confessed our love for each other just a few hours prior to the accident.
"He was only nineteen and had finally reached his dream....But it all got taken away from him," I finished, my voice barely above a whisper.
"Oh, Claire," Derek breathed, cradling me in his strong arms. I buried my face in his chest and completely broke down. The grief was just too unbearable, and I ended up crying my heart out.
My biggest fear of all was losing the people I cared about, and I prayed that I'd never have to go through it ever again. Now, I only had my mother and brother left back home and here, I had my husband. And I sure as hell didn't want to lose any of them.
"Pl-please don't ever leave me," I choked through my tears as I held onto Derek.
"Sweetheart, I'm never going anywhere. I can promise you that," he spoke with certainty, his eyes reflecting his tone.
I tried to control my breathing and wiped away my tears with the palm of my hand. Derek reached for the box of tissues on my nightstand and handed it to me.
"Thank you," I said quietly, sitting up to blow my nose.
"I can't believe you've kept this to yourself all these years."
"Me neither," I sighed heavily.
"Nick sure sounded like an amazing guy," Derek remarked with a sad smile.
"He was. You know, the night he passed away, one of the last things he had said was that he wanted me to keep his draft jersey. So I'd never forget him."
"Do you still have it?", he asked with a look of interest.
"Yeah. It's in a box under the bed," I replied.
"Wow. He meant a lot to you, huh?"
"He was my world." My lip began to quiver, and I forced myself to not cry again.
I lay back down on the bed, and Derek offered to go throw my tissues away. When he came back, I automatically scooted over to make room for him.
"Do you want me to stay here with you tonight?", he asked.
"Please," I whispered, nearly pleading. There was no way I could stand to be alone right now.
I felt the bed dip as Derek climbed in next to me, draping the covers over both of us.
"Are you ok now?" Concern etched on his face as his eyes searched mine to see if he could determine how I was feeling.
"Yes," I responded quietly, attempting to smile.
Derek pulled me close to him and I rested my head on his chest, hearing the steady sound of his heartbeat as I draped my arm around his stomach. He tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear then looked down at me.
"Good night, Claire," he said, his beautiful blue eyes twinkling as a smile formed on his perfectly structured lips.
"Good night, Derek," I whispered.
And for the first time ever, I fell asleep in the comfort of my husband's arms.
A/N- Aww, I'm seriously gushing over the two of them right now. Well, there was the moment we've all been waiting for. Claire finally told her husband about Nick. Is it going to affect their relationship at all? Btw, if you guys haven't heard For the First Time before, have a listen to it. I personally love that song a lot(: Like always, remember to favorite and comment!