tagRomanceLike It Used To Be

Like It Used To Be

byEmeraldKitten©

Kayla Braddock stood in line at the store, juggling three gallons of paint. Her dusty blonde hair was pulled back into a low pony tail, and any make up that had been on her face earlier in the day was gone. Her jeans had holes in the knees and at the corners of the pockets. Not to mention paint smeared all over them. Kayla glanced down at her black tank top and grimaced. White paint was speckled over the entire garment, as well as her arms. She even thought there might be a smudge on her face.

"How I got to be so messy, I'll never know." She muttered to herself.

Kayla had just moved back to her home town, and bought a small house smack dab in the middle of it. She was revamping it so it was livable. At the time, she was sleeping on an air mattress in the middle of what would be the living room floor. It would be another two days before the movers got there with her things.

In the meantime, she'd busied herself with cleaning, airing the house out, painting and wallpapering. She had to go buy some more furniture; the house was quite a bit bigger than her apartment out east. A need to change her life and settle down had brought her 'home.'

The line moved, and Kayla stepped forward. She had recognized a few faces, smiled, and said hello if they acknowledged her. Glancing ahead, she realized the guy working the checkout line was one she'd went to high school with. She smiled at the memories that caught up with her. Tom was his name. He was a year older than her, and they'd been in band together.

'Here we go.' Kayla thought, suppressing a laugh. 'I've been gone for almost six years, and I'm already a townie again.'

When it was finally her turn, she and Tom exchanged surprised greetings, and pretended to catch up in those few brief minutes.

She denied help to carry the paint to her car, and took off, struggling each step of the way. Kayla wasn't tiny, but she wasn't obese either. A little bigger than average, she still had a pretty good figure. She was strong too, but the gallons were awkward to carry. She was almost to her little black sports car, when she dropped one.

"Dammit to fucking hell." She cursed, bending to retrieve the rolling can.

"Glad to hear that's still your favorite obscenity."

Kayla gasped and looked up. Right into the deep green eyes of Nicholas Steel. Her high school sweetheart.

The can rolled right up against his feet, and he stooped to pick it up. Kayla straightened at the same time, not liking to be at a height disadvantage.

"Of course it is. I wouldn't trade it for the world." Kayla smiled, trying to control her roiling emotions.

"You look well." Nick's eyes flickered up and down her frame.

"No, I look like hell." Kayla laughed, suddenly self-conscious.

"I always said you never needed make up. Even that paint on your face is cute."

Kayla groaned. She should have at least looked in the mirror before she left.

"I've been painting." Kayla's eyes fluttered shut. 'Well no shit, genius. I don't think he noticed.'

Nick arched an eyebrow. "I assumed."

'I might as well have been Baby from Dirty Dancing. I should have just said, "I carried a watermelon.'' Kayla laughed and brushed her bangs out of her eyes.

"Well, I've got to run. Here ya go....Have fun." Nick flashed a brief smile, handed her the paint, and headed towards the entrance.

Kayla slumped against her car. 'Great. Fantastic. The first time you see Nick you're ugly as hell, and you're covered in paint from head to toe. How perfect.' Kayla's face reflected her disgust as she loaded her car up and got behind the wheel.

"He's still gorgeous." Kayla mused aloud as she backed out of the parking spot. "In fact, he might even be cuter than he used to be."

She got home and finished her painting. Around three in the morning she finally got to bed, and fell into an exhausted slumber. Funny, how the last image that floated across her consciousness was Nick.

~*~*~

After that, Kayla ran into Nick absolutely everywhere. The gas station, grocery store, local fast food restaurant, even places in the next town over. They'd say hello and exchange pleasantries. But every time, Kayla felt that tug. The tug that said she wanted him to hold her close. The one that said she wanted him to kiss her. The one that said she wanted him to be in her life. Every day.

One day, it all changed.

"Kayla."

She heard her name, and she stopped inspecting which brand of bagels to buy. Turning, she almost ran into Nick's chest.

"Yes?" She tilted her head back and look up into his eyes.

"I think you're stalking me."

"I don't think so." Kayla licked her lips out of nervousness. Nick took it was an inviting gesture.

"It's taken me six years to get you out of my head. But I couldn't. And now you're back." Nick stepped in a little closer.

"Yeah. I've thought about you too." Kayla felt herself sway towards him, and Nick's hands reached out, steadying her by her hips.

"Why are you here?" Nick's left eyebrow rose questioningly.

"To settle down. To make a life, not just a living." Kayla spoke softly, her hands lifting, laying to rest on Nick's broad chest.

"You've been listening to country music again." Nick smirked, his eyes flickering to her mouth.

"Yep. I'm really a country gal, through and through." She tried to joke. Kayla's fingers shifted over his muscles, and she felt them tighten. He'd bulked up a bit since she last saw him, and wonderfully so.

"I wish I knew." Nick took one last step, closing the distance between them.

Kayla felt her world tilt. She had his lithe, muscular body pressing against her from knee to chest.

"I'll bet." Her answer was breathy. Kayla's eyes slid from his down to his lips. His lips had always been so soft, so gently seeking.

"I thought you weren't a betting kind of gal?" Nick spoke, rephrasing a long ago sentence.

Kayla's head spun at the memory. Nick had asked her if she ever thought about marrying him. She had laughed, thinking he was joking, and said she wouldn't bet on it.

"I didn't think I was. But... things change. So do people." Kayla leaned in a little closer, her eyes flickering from Nick's eyes to his lips. She wasn't sure what she wanted. A conversation, or a kiss.

"Come over tonight. I'll make dinner."

"Okay." Kayla's breathless reply surprised her.

"Good." Nick's hands tightened on her hips, and he pulled her tighter against him.

"Mmhmm." It was all Kayla could muster. She was too busy controlling her breathing. He was so close, and she could feel him hardening against her.

"I'm going to kiss you." Nick's head dipped slightly.

"I want you to." Kayla's head tilted back.

"Are you sure?"

Kayla swallowed hard. "Yes."

"Positive?"

"Dammit, just kiss-ophm!"

Her sentence was cut off by Nick's lips slanting over hers. Kayla moaned deep in her throat, and her hands slid up. One sifted through his hair, the other ended up on his jaw. Kayla felt Nick's tongue immediately seeking entrance deeper. She parted her lips, and shuddered as his tongue stroked against hers.

Nick's arms wrapped around her waist, and he pulled her tighter still. Her hips were plastered against him. His leg moved, and he put his thigh between her legs. He felt her gasp against his mouth at the same time she wriggled against him.

Kayla felt him pressing against her, hot and hard against her belly. And she wanted it. Her tongue snaked out, rubbing suggestively against his. Nick moaned his encouragement, and her tongue delved deeper.

Nick's left hand moved up, entangling itself in her hair, holding her tight, while his right slide up her side, landing against the side of her breast. Kayla whimpered into his mouth, leaning closer still, wanting more.

Nick suddenly jerked back, leaving her mouth open, her eyes confused.

"We're at the grocery store." He panted.

"Yeah. We are."

"I'm stopping." Nick's gaze didn't leave her mouth.

"I don't want you to."

Nick groaned and his head dipped down again. Kayla's lips took his eagerly. She had dreamt of the day that Nick showed the slightest inkling he had any interest in her again. Even as they kissed, she had the urge to pinch herself to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

Kayla broke away first. "We're in public."

"I'm not done with you yet."

Nick swallowed her protest with his tongue, melting her like a stick of useless butter.

"Evidentially not." Kayla spoke when he finally lifted his head.

"You're dangerous. I've got to go. I'll see you at eight?"

"Yes. Same place?"

"Yep."

"See you then." Kayla smirked, and pushed her cart on down the aisle.

~*~*~

Kayla hurried home, unloading her groceries in record time. Running upstairs, she decided on a pair of black dress pants, and a red, button down blouse.

She turned on the radio and listened to country music as she took her bubble bath. She stepped out of the fragrant water, and wrapped herself in a fluffy towel.

Looking at her reflection, she asked, "What are you doing?"

Finding no answer, she answered herself. "I'm going to have a lovely evening with a wonderful man."

"You're a fool!" Her reflection answered back.

"I am not." She said out loud.

Kayla threw some gel in her hair, and went into her 'bedroom' to get dressed. She placed light eye shadow on her eyelids, and eyeliner and mascara completed her look. Returning to the bathroom, she turned on the blow dryer, flipping her head upside down.

The doorbell rang, and Kayla started. Going towards the door, she wondered who would be calling upon her at this hour.

"Good evening." Nick greeted her, grabbing her hand and placing a light kiss upon the back of it.

"What are you doing? I'm coming to your house!" Kayla stepped back, surprised.

"I decided to pick you up." Nick grinned, stepping through the entranceway.

"B-but..."

"Shh. It's okay. I'm early to get you. Go finish what you were doing. I just decided it wasn't polite for a lady to drive to a mans house."

"Oh. Okay. Hang on." Kayla practically ran for the other room, and threw on a pair of black boots.

When she arrived in the hall, Nick had his back facing her, and he was looking over the house.

"What do ya think?" Kayla asked, shifting her hand through her hair.

"I think you look beautiful." Nick smiled approvingly.

"I meant the house." Kayla smirked, but was suddenly self-conscious.

"Oh. Right. It's nice. It'll be even better when you're done with it, I'm sure." Nick cleared his throat.

"Thanks. It's already been a lot of work. I'm not done on the inside, and I still have an outside to worry with." Kayla sighed, glancing around at the seemingly endless task.

"If you need any help, let me know. I'm pretty handy."

"Oh, thanks for the offer, but I-"

"Hey," Nick cut in, "Just take the offer for help. I'm not just blowing smoke up your ass. I mean it. I'll help if you need it, so don't hesitate to ask."

"All right then." Kayla smiled at him.

"Well, lets get going. I'm starving to death. Wasting away to nothing." Nick offered her his arm.

"Yes, you are. I see a gauntness in your cheeks that wasn't there before." Kayla giggle and slipped her hand in the crook of his elbow.

Together they walked to his car.

The evening passed nicely, each one filling the other in on events in their lives. People, careers, jokes, and funny stories. Nick was a delightful cook, and once they finished eating, they retired to the living room with cups of coffee. The conversation continued. and before Kayla knew it, they'd emptied a pot of coffee, and she ended up right next to Nick.

His arm was causally draped across the back of the couch, then he dropped it so it was resting across her shoulders. His thumb moved, gently rubbing her upper arm. Kayla suppressed a shiver. She leaned in closer to him, and rested a hand on his chest.

Kayla's eyes fluttered shut as they shared companionable silence. Nick suddenly spoke.

"Remember when we dated? We were always way too busy pawing each other to have a civilized conversation." He laughed.

"Yeah, I know. Tonight has been nice. I feel like I'm getting to know you to begin with, let alone getting to know you all over again." Kayla snuggled deeper against his side.

"I know what you mean." Nick turned his head, and reached for her chin. Tilting her face up to his, he spoke again.

"I'm glad you came back." The sincerity in his eyes brought tears to Kayla's.

"I am too."

They looked at each other for long moments. Kayla blinked, keeping the tears at bay. Nick gave her one of his crooked grins, and leaned in.

"Nick." Was all she could say. His name whispered from her lips an instant before his tongue prodded her mouth.

He kissed her deeply, letting six years of frustration, of want, pour into her mouth. The tears she strived to keep away spilled over, and Nick tasted them. He groaned and pulled her tightly against him.

"Why? Why Kayla?" Nick tore his mouth from hers, and set her back enough so he could look into her eyes.

"Because. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted or where I was going. Marrying you didn't seem like the right thing. But I've regretted that ever since. I was lying to myself, and to you. Please. I hope you forgive me. I know I've hurt you. And I've hurt myself in turn. Please, just please tell me you don't hate me-"

Nick cut her off with a harsh, "No!"

Kayla gasped, leaned back even further. She fully expected him to reject her, and her apology, as weak as it was.

"No?" Kayla squeaked, swallowing convulsively.

"No. I don't hate you. Dammit, I tried. But I couldn't. I'll never be able to." Nick turned his face away, setting his jaw.

"I... I'm sorry.." Kayla was at a loss.

"Don't." Nick spoke the word harshly.

"Nick.. I cant imagine how you've felt, what you've gone through since I left. But I need you to know that I felt awful. No, it was worse than awful. I was alone, miserable, and I missed you so much it hurt. I can't tell you how many times I picked up the phone and almost called, or how many time I almost came back with nothing to offer other than my heart. But we were so young, I was afraid we'd be getting married because that was 'naturally' the next step. I didn't want it to be like that." Kayla paused, looking up at Nick. His gaze was still averted.

She reached out and cupped his jaw, tipping his head up so she could meet his eyes.

"I've dated, as I'm sure you have, but none of them meant half as much to me as you did. I have to admit, my coming back here was to prove to myself, to you, and to everyone else that we belonged together. I just didn't want it to be because it was the next stage of our friendship, then of our relationship."

"You're right. We did need to grow up a little. As much as I hate to admit it, we might not have grown old together and been happy. I just wish you wouldn't have moved away. That's a lot of years I had to miss you, ya know." Nick flashed a smile, and pulled her close again.

"I'm just glad you were willing to talk to me. I'm glad I didn't jade you and harden your heart. I'm glad you don't hate me." Kayla sighed, snuggling closer.

"Kayla, you did harden my heart."

"I never meant to-" Nick cut her off.

"You hardened my heart to anyone but you."

Kayla felt tears spring to her eyes again, and she tilted her head up to look at him.

"Thank you." She cleared her throat, and tried not to cry.

"You're precious to me. You always will be. Even if things don't work out between us, when I'm ninety years old, I'll have fond, loving memories of you. There's nothing you could do to make me feel otherwise." Nick lifted his hand and cupped her jaw, his thumb sliding across her skin.

"I feel the same." Kayla shuddered. "To think, this could have turned out so differently."

"Don't think. It could have, but didn't." Nick dipped his head and kissed her briefly.

"Deal. I won't think about it again." Kayla smiled and kissed him back.

"Well lady, I'd say its time to get you home." Nick hesitantly removed his arm from around her shoulders.

"Yes, I suppose you're right." She glanced at the clock. "Dear God! Its past midnight!"

Nick laughed. "The exact reason I oughta get you home." He winked and helped her up from the couch.

They drove the short distance in silence, casting each other fond glances every couple minutes. Finally pulling up in front of her house, Kayla turned in the seat and opened her mouth to thank Nick for the wonderful evening.

Her lips were met by his, and she never got the sentence out. Just as she recovered from the shock and started to kiss him back, Nick pulled away and shooed her from his car.

~*~*~*~*~*~

The next few weeks passed by in lazy happiness. Kayla and Nick worked, played, enjoyed each other and got her house in tip top shape.

The couple spent their time getting to know each other again, and were both delighted by what they learned. They were, for the time being, content to keep their relationship on a platonic level, with a few stolen kisses and embraces thrown into the mix.

However, the sexual tension was increasing by the hour, and had them both a little on edge.

The townspeople congratulated them on their newfound love. They also patted themselves on the backs, saying how they always knew Kayla and Nick would find each other at last. The general public made the reunion of two wonderful friends into a picture perfect romance novel. A virginal couple that loved each other so fiercely that even time couldn't weaken their bond to one another. A love so innocent, that the whitest silk couldn't come close to being as pure.

One day, Kayla's frustration mounted. She and Nick were at the park for a local celebration, and she swore that if one more well-wishing know-it-all came up to them, she was going to cause a scene. She told Nick as much.

"Honey, they're just congratulating themselves on knowing it all along." Nick's arm wrapped around her waist, and he pulled her against his side.

"It's driving me crazy! I can't take one more blue-haired old biddy saying another word! So help me god, I'm going to make inappropriate comments." Kayla's eyes narrowed as she scanned the crowd.

"What good will it do? They'll still talk. It'll just backlash on you."

"It'll make me feel better, that's what it'll do!" Kayla crossed her arms over her chest.

"Sweetie, you don't look very loving, standing there in my embrace with a scowl on your face and your arms crossed." Nick's hand moved over her hip, shuffling the fabric on her skirt.

"I'm not feeling very loving." Kayla tipped her head up, and whispered, "Towards them.... Please, cooperate.. Here comes my prey!"

"Well.. I'd still rather you look more loving, Miss Braddock."

Kayla again spotted her prey, another nosy old biddy, and she was headed right towards them. "Say it louder!" She whispered fiercely.

"I'd still rather you look more loving, Miss Braddock." Nick dutifully replied, wondering what his lovely girlfriend was up to.

"Well, Mister Steel- if you want me to look more loving, then maybe you ought to start making the bed and cleaning up after your breakfast before you go, or you can spend the night at your own house!" Kayla practically yelled by the end of the sentence, and for dramatic effect, flung his arm from her waist and stomped away.

Nick's eyes widened, having no idea she was going to do that, and he yelled her name as he broke into a jog to go after her.

The old biddy heard the exchange and abruptly changed direction. She and her ample bosom trotted right up to her hairdresser to share what she'd heard. Then the two women parted ways, and told more of their friends. So was the way of small towns.

Meanwhile, Nick caught up with Kayla right outside of the park. She was hiding in a small cluster of trees.

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