Chapter 8 - From the Deep

Nina was really starting to feel hopeful after about 45 minutes of shopping with Willow. She was impressed with Willow's exquisite taste. Willow seemed calm as they strolled through the main shopping area of Nantucket. Many shops were closed for the season, but the ones that remained open were well stocked and well-priced.

Nina didn't want to intrude too much on Willow's search for the few items she needed but she had already caught herself a few times inserting her opinions and praise on the different styles that appeared in the shops. Willow seemed indifferent to the comments.

Indifference is better than hatred. Nina thought. We're cordial, and this is so much more than I deserve.

Willow insisted on paying for her own clothes. Nina couldn't decide if Willow was stubborn or just so fiercely independent that any assistance was oddly insulting.

For the bulk of their time together, Nina remained quiet, trying to not look too obvious in her observation of Willow keeping her distance a few clothes racks away. She wanted to play it cool, but she wanted to know everything about Willow. How different a year could be? How insensitive and cruel Nina had been assuming the worst and not even caring to know Willow when she was Charlotte's teacher and after.

Despite this, Nina couldn't keep her eyes away from Willow…she literally couldn't help herself. Willow seemed to not notice. Nina's emotions were on a roller coaster of their own. Just being near Willow with the knowledge that she was her real daughter was thrilling in itself.

Nina was fascinated by Willow's resilience. Willow obviously was in a deep well of grief. There were physical signs of this. Willow's typically perfectly fitting clothes were loose on a clearly thinner frame. Willow's face, so sweet and kind, lacked its usual color. The dark circles under her bloodshot eyes apparent from lack of sleep and her hair, always in place was disheveled and curly from the saltwater in the air. Yet, despite all of this, Nina was blown away by Willow's resemblance to Silas and Willow's pure beauty.

Nina felt overwhelmed by her own heart. It was a miracle that her daughter was actually alive. But with that daughter came with a history of betrayal, lies, and sadness. Nina prevented herself from thinking about the loss of her own grandchild. She lingered on a thought that if fate had been different and little Wylie had survived, Nina would have been the cause of her own grandchild in harm's way from her actions at the Nurses' Ball. This was a humble kick to the gut. You don't have the right to be upset about Wylie…focus on Willow.

Nina continued to let her mind wander a bit. That Shiloh was another thing…how could he freakin' be alive? The cult leader was shot with a flare gun. He has more lives than a cat. She looked up from her rack of clothes, "Hey…Willow?" She looked around, the store seemed empty except for a man in a blue flannel and weather-beaten jeans and little girl on his shoulders talking to the cashier.

"What's your name…" The teenage cashier smiled brightly at the little girl.

"Caaal—lee," The little girl said with a cute voice that only little ones have, "and I'm four years old!"

"Four years old…wow! You are a big girl Callie." The cashier smiled and handed the gentleman a gift bag. "Here you go. Have a great day." The cashier rung the father and daughter out, and they soon left the shop smiling.

Nina smiled at the scene. Callie, what a beautiful name. Nina thought that name was familiar… Oh, my God. That was Willow's name. She had seen it in the documents that Harmony and Curtis had gone through with her. Willow was Callie before she was Willow. Nina felt a sharp pain in her gut. Something was definitely wrong. She looked around the store - Willow was nowhere to be found. Nina took a deep breath, trying to remain calm - but she had a terrible feeling.

"Miss…" She ran up to the cashier, "Did you see where the young woman I was with went?"

"Um…aren't you Nina Reeves! Oh my God. I love CRIMSON! My friends and I read it religiously ever since your last September Issue — in the Garden of Good and Ava-"

Nina cut the teen off, "That's so good to hear. Listen," she looked down at the cashier's name tag, "Listen, Louisa, so good to meet you, I need your help. I need to find my daug—" Nina caught herself, she desperately wanted to refer to Willow as her daughter, but also wanted to respect Willow's boundaries or not draw unwanted attention to her in this time of grief.

Nina began again, "I need to find my associate, the beautiful young woman I was shopping with. If you can help me, I can make sure you get an advance copy of next month's issue and the gift bags we give out at the Nurses' Ball in Port Charles every year?"

The cashier's eyes got big with excitement…" Of course, anything Miss Reeves…anything for CRIMSON." She smiled, looking star struck.

Nina really tried to hold her tongue, annoyance welling up, Nina, relax, this is just a teenager. She reminded herself that she had promised Willow to be a better person.

"Thank you for agreeing to help, again did you see where my young associate went?" Her voice was sugary sweet.

"Oh, sorry." The cashier looked embarrassed, "I think I saw her running to our restroom and changing room area." Louisa pointed to the back of the store and the sign that read "Restrooms and Changing rooms." The teen frowned a bit, "the person you were with seemed like she was in an awful hurry. I was going to check-in to see if anything was wrong, but I was with that lovely father and daughter."

Nina forced a smile, "Thank you. I am in your debt." Nina placed her Crimson business card on the table, "call my office tomorrow and ask for Maxie. She will take care of the advance issue and I will personally send the gift bag myself in a few months. I'm going to check on my daug-" she caught herself again, "colleague, and let you know if I need anything."

Nina turned before the cashier could say anything else. She walked quickly toward the changing restroom area. All the curtains in the changing aisle were open, but the single unisex bathroom at the end of that corridor's door was ajar.

As she got closer, she heard the terrible sounds of retching and sobbing.

"Willow," Nina poked her head into the restroom. She saw the crumpled figure of Willow hunched over the toilet bowl sobbing and sick with grief. Willow's shirt had ridden up a bit on her back, and Nina was shocked to see the faded remnants of the VIIIA tattoo from Dawn of Day.

Nina froze for a moment. She had read about how the tattoo was code for David Henry Archer aka Shiloh's name and how it was reserved for his inner circle The Trust. The woman Willow thought of as her own mother had put it there before Shiloh had drugged and slept with Willow for the first time. This was after Shiloh had murdered Willow's father.

Something clicked in Nina's brain from seeing Willow's Dawn of Day tattoo. The immensity of Willow's experience and the depths of her trauma were starting to be revealed to Nina. Nina's compassionate instincts kicked in. Closing the bathroom door, she rushed to Willow, kneeling beside her and gently pulling Willow's hair back from the mess.

Nina held Willow's hair and stroked her back as she sobbed and vomited the remainder of her breakfast.

"It's okay…let it out." Nina kept repeating in a soothing voice as she stroked Willow's back with her free hand.

Willow, at last, seemed to have nothing left in her stomach, her body convulsed in a few dry heaves before she turned from the toilet bowl sobbing. Willow tried to speak but more sobs came out.

Willow's body oddly crumpled into Nina's embrace. Skillfully Nina used her free hand to flush the toilet and grab some toilet paper to wipe up the remaining mess.

Nina felt her own heart breaking as she tried to soothe the young woman in her arms. Willow seemed even smaller than before. Nina's own heart was breaking as she held her own tears back. Nina, this isn't about you. She thought to herself. Keep it together for Willow's sake.

Nina heard her own voice, saying words of comfort, "Willow, let it out. You miss them …it's okay…" As she cradled Willow's hair. Nina wasn't sure how much time elapsed when the crying seemed to subside, and Willow put her hands up as if to be released from the embrace.

Nina instinctively backed away but faced Willow who sat up her knees to her chin. Her head seemed to peak out, sad and exhausted.

"Nina," Willow spoke softly, "I'm sorry you had to witness that. I didn't know I had any tears left…again." Willow almost sounded embarrassed.

Nina put her hand on Willow's feet, "It's okay…Emotions are healthy to get out." Nina hesitated to say what she was thinking. She decided to go for it, "I saw that father and daughter…it must have brought up some stuff for you." Nina held her breath…should I have said that?

"You could say that…I didn't realize how much I miss my dad and seeing that little girl with her dad. That guy was even dressed just like my dad. And then hearing the girl's name. It just reminded me of everything I've lost in the last few years."

Willow sniffled and wiped her face on her sleeve. She seemed to take a breath to compose herself, "Nina, I don't even know why I'm sharing this with you of all people, and why you are even here…" Willow gained her strength and looked at Nina, the fierceness was back in her bloodshot eyes.

"Now, there's the Willow I know." Nina said with a little smile, genuinely happy to see some fire back in Willow's face, "there doesn't have to be a reason, you can share as much or as little with me as you want. Whether I'm your mother or not. I'm here. Cry, yell, scream…do what you got to do."

Willow managed to smile, looking down at Nina's sweater, "Well, let's add barf to that cry, yell, scream list."

Nina noticed Willow's eyes, and she looked down at her own clothes, where Willow's head had just rested, "Girl," Nina managed to smile again, "a little vomit is the least of what I deserve after how I've treated you." Nina let out a little laugh, "you've got some too…" She looked at Willow's clothes.

Willow looked down and laughed as well, "I'd need to vomit again if I didn't have anything in my stomach."

It was so weird, but both Willow and Nina laughed together despite the grossness of their situation.

Nina got off the ground and took off her vomit laden sweater and folded it. She had an I Love NY t-shirt underneath, which made Willow smile unexpectedly.

"Don't worry, I got this, we are in a clothing store after all. Why don't you pop into the dressing room, and I'll ask Louisa to grab a few things for us?"

Before Willow could ask, "Whose Louisa?" and wash her face…Nina had exited the bathroom.

Nina found Louisa at the checkout counter. She secretly thanked God that the store was still empty.

"Louisa! Today's your lucky day…" Louisa was shocked to see Nina barreling towards her. "How would you like to help style my colleague and me like true Nantucketers…?"

Before Louisa could answer, Nina had pulled out another business card. "I need one complete casual or sporty outfit for my associate who wears these sizes" Nina wrote down what she thought to Willow's sizes were and continued speaking, "And I also need new sweater or sweatshirt for myself. Once we're dressed, you and I can take a selfie in front of your store and feature it on my Instagram account and Crimson's social media? I'd invite my associate to join but she's strictly behind the camera for now. What do you say?"

Louisa seemed a little shocked…but excited. "Of course, Miss Reeves."

"Time is money Louisa, so you have 5 minutes to pick these items out… Here's my credit card for collateral. Make a list of what you picked for us. I'll also pay for whatever you choose. Meet my associate and me by the dressing room. Oh and bring a large plastic bag too!" As swiftly as she came to the cashier, Nina Reeves was running back toward the dressing room and restroom area.

When Nina returned to the dressing room area, she noticed Willow had cleaned up the remaining mess in the restroom and seemed to be waiting patiently in her own vomit stained clothes in one of the curtained dressing rooms. The two women made awkward side chatter between the curtain as they waited.

Louisa was quick with her selections and came with a stack of clothes for Willow and Nina and a plastic bag. Louisa had sweat coming down from her forward, "Here…you go Miss Reeves." The teen was considerably shorter than Nina. Louisa's starstruck feeling had turned into panic.

Nina smiled at Louisa, "these will do PERFECTLY. You have excellent taste!" Nina took the pile from the girl and the plastic bag, "I'll meet you at the checkout counter in a few." Louisa quickly scurried back to her post at the checkout counter.

Nina stood on the other side of the curtain, "Willow, can I poke my head in?"

Willow was a little bewildered by how quickly Nina's demeanor could change from the take-charge Editor and Chief to the woman who had let her cry and vomit. This Nina, Willow thought, This Nina is who Sasha loved.

"You can come in, Nina." Willow's eyes lit up when she saw the pile of neatly folded clothes.

"These are for you..." Nina put the pile of clothes on bench in the dressing room. "I'll just wait right outside, you can hand me your soiled clothes, and we can put them in this bag."

Both women quickly changed. Nina folded and placed the dirty clothes, including her own sweater in the plastic bag, and sealed it. She laughed at the sweater young Louisa picked out for her. It was a vibrant blue with white whales on it. A bit more preppy than what was Nina's style but when in Nantucket, one should look the part. Charlotte would love this. She thought. It was so different from her typical blazers and designer suites. Nina felt more hope in her heart. Charlotte loves Willow. She thought that there was a foundation for a relationship to build upon.

When Willow stepped out of the dressing room, Nina was blown away by the transformation. Willow looked like a model, complete with new duck boots, jeans, a sweater, and winter vest. "Wow, Louisa did a nice job! You look amazing!"

Willow's face turned red, "I wouldn't pick these clothes out for myself, but since we all know what happened to my last set of clothes."

"Well, Willow, you look beautiful." Nina wanted to hug Willow, but she hesitated, instead, she told Willow what had transpired and what she had told Louisa to do. Nina didn't want to presume Willow's involvement with Crimson. Willow, however, seemed happy to play along and at least take the photos of Nina and her new friend.

The next few minutes were entertaining. Willow was surprised at herself and how much she enjoyed seeing Nina in her element and in professional mode. Nina was a natural at making conversation with this complete stranger/fangirl Louisa. Nina seemed genuinely interested in letting Louisa ask her fashion questions and for feedback on her selections. Willow saw Nina build this young woman's confidence and was left confused about how Nina could be the same person that had been so mean to her.

Willow was also grateful that the cashier continued to be so star struck with Nina that she didn't pay her much attention. This was a good distraction for Willow. For the first time in days she wasn't thinking about her grief but utterly enthralled with the weird spectacle of a teen's selfies with a fashion editor idol.

When the two women finally left the store, Nina let her professional persona drop once again, "Willow, thank you for playing along. I didn't want to presume anything, but I also didn't want to draw unwanted attention your way. I hope that was okay."

Willow was quiet for a little bit as they walked to the car. When they reached the car, she put her hand on Nina's arm, "Nina, I can't believe I'm saying this, but thank you."

Nina looked a little shocked and was speechless.

Willow continued, "Thank you. This took my mind off my own grief for a little bit and it was fun to see you in your element. You made that girl's year."

Nina smiled, "Oh Louisa, she was awesome and super helpful. That was nothing."

"No…it didn't seem like nothing to me." Willow walked to the other side of the car and got in the driver's seat.

Nina followed suit, not speaking.

"Oh crap, Chase must be worried!" Willow pointed to time. They had been out for a full three hours. "We got to go. Other shopping can wait."

"Do what you got to do." Nina smiled to herself again.