"Hi, honey," Terra bounced into the room, reading the scowl on her cousin's face. "What are you thinking?"
"Oh, I don't know," Nichole sighed. "I'm just in a funk."
"It's about him, isn't it," Terra said softly. "You can't stop thinking about him, can you?"
"I try, but I don't think I'm ready to let go," Nichole said. She pointed towards the big bay window, its light streaming into the kitchen. "It's beautiful out and all I can do is be depressed."
Terra put her arms around her cousin, her friend. "I miss him, too, but Michael died over a year ago. It's okay to move on."
Tears formed in Nichole's eyes. "I know that. I really do. Everything but my heart says the same thing. Today would have been three years since the day."
Nichole buried her face in her hands. Sobs wracked her body. Terra pulled Nichole close and held her for a long time.
"I'm sorry," Nichole said after her tears subsided. She wiped her nose on her sleeve. "I didn't mean to ruin your day."
"Oh, it's not ruined," Terra replied tenderly. "No day with you is ruined."
"Thanks," her cousin managed a smile.
Terra absently ran her fingers through Nichole's hair. The two sat in silence for a while longer. Finally, Nichole sat up and brushed the last of her tears away. "I think I'd rather be alone today."
"Are you sure?" Terra looked worried.
"Yes, I'm sure."
Terra paused for a moment, not sure if she should leave her cousin alone when she was so distraught, so vulnerable. "Okay, but you call me if you need anything."
Nichole walked her cousin to the apartment door. Terra began to chatter incoherently. "–going to the movies later with Gabe and maybe Laurie. We might go out for sushi later. I've got my cell, so call if you feel like going out."
"I will." Nichole wasn't really listening.
Terra stopped just over the threshold and looked deep into her cousin's eyes. "You know Michael would have hated you being like this over him."
"I know. But I can't help it."
"Okay. Call me. Love you."
"Love you, too." Nichole closed the door and heard Terra get in the elevator.
She walked back through her apartment, their apartment, the home she and Michael were making for themselves before fate intervened. She poured herself a glass of wine and settled back into the couch. The afternoon sun warmed her, just as it had on their first "date".
Michael and Nichole grew up together. Their fathers were partners in a local shipping company that supplied fresh produce and groceries to local markets and restaurants throughout Manhattan. They were three years apart in age, but no one could tell by looking at them which one was older. Michael was the first child of three, Nichole was smack-dab in the middle of five.
They all grew up in the same neighbourhood on the lower west side. Their families did business together, they played together, they stuck through hard times together, and they prospered together. For all intents and purposes, the eight kids were brothers and sisters. So having grown up so close none of them ever hooked up; it just seemed incestuous. Which is why everyone was surprised at the company picnic three years ago.
Michael had moved into their parents's shoes. The old men wanted to retire while they were still young enough to enjoy life, and they saw to it that their children were ready to take over the family business, surrounded by faithful subordinates and smart advisors. Michael was not the oldest of the eight, but he had the most business sense. All of the kids worked in either the company offices or the company warehouses when they weren't in school and six of them spent their entire lives employed in the family company, but none of them devoted more time and energy to learning the business like Michael.
Nichole's two older siblings, a brother and a sister, were either too dumb or too smart to take over the company. Nathan was the oldest, and while his heart was as big as some of the skyscrapers in New York, he didn't have the chops for running a company, but he also was humble enough to know where he excelled, which was driving trucks. Emily was a month older than Michael, but instead turned her attention to mechanical engineering and the Air Force; she was literally the family rocket scientist. The other kids fell in after them, and all four held some position within the company, from distribution managers to HR to marketing to IT staff.
That left Michael who, after graduating first from Columbia and then getting his MBA from NYU, was 25 going on 40, poised and groomed to take over the day-to-day operations of the company. Growing up, Michael was a stick in the mud. He preferred the company of adults, didn't have any hobbies, nor any vices. Michael also never noticed girls. He just didn't have the time.
The entire company was closed for only four days every year: Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving and the last Saturday in April for the company picnic. Nichole's father Ernie liked to throw big parties, and that year was no exception. In addition to their families, every retiree and employee of the company and their families were invited. After almost 40 years in business, that added up to a lot of people.
Some beancounters say that company picnics are bad for business. They cost money and for a seven-day a week business, cost productivity. Ernie had other ideas. He believed that anything that brought family together was worthwhile. They had the best insurance a small business could afford. They had more family sick time than any other shipping company in New York. He personally sent birthday cards to all of his employee's spouses and children. As a result, company absenteeism was near zero and each of the employees would have taken a bullet for their boss.
Each year, the picnic got bigger and bigger. That year the picnic took over a huge chunk of Central Park's Sheep Meadow. There was the finest food, a band and fun and games for everyone. Ernie had only one rule at the company picnic, which stood for 40 years, and still stands today: no talking about business. He and Michael's father John wanted the picnic to be about family and fun, not about money or shop talk.
So everyone had fun except Michael, who was bored out of his skull. That is, until Nichole showed up. They hadn't seen each other for two years. While Michael had been studying economics, Nichole was busy working and going to school herself, only instead of concentrating just on business, she dual-majored in business and Chinese. She did her senior year at Wellesley from China, teaching English part time and helping local missionaries build churches and schools.
She was tanned from working outside and her face radiated warmth and friendliness. Everyone liked her. Nichole had always been tomboyish; she played nearly every sport imaginable in high school and her mission work in China kept her fit. She was also a late-bloomer, which was the first thing Michael noticed when she arrived that the picnic; the small bumps on her chest had become larger bumps, and her muscular soccer legs had become long, slim and shapely.
Michael couldn't take his eyes off her. Maybe it was because she had been gone for two years. Maybe it was because she had become a woman without him even noticing. Maybe it was because on the one day a year he couldn't talk or think about the company, she walked back into his life.
"Hi, stranger," she said, giving him a big hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. He put his arms around her and found that he didn't want to let go.
"Hi, yourself," Michael replied. "What have you been up to?"
"I just got back—," she started and the two picked up right where they left off, as old friends.
For her part, Nichole noticed Michael immediately. He had always been tall, but lanky. Aging had filled him out nicely, and despite the long hours he put in at work, he still managed to find the time to work out and stay in shape. The two really were like brother and sister, but now that they were all grown up, their touches lasted a little longer and were a little more intimate than they had been the last time they met.
Of course, neither Nichole nor Michael noticed how close they were, but everyone else did.
The two unconsciously spent almost all of the afternoon together. It was a warm April day in New York. Between the softball game and the food and the other company contests, there was a lot to do, but Michael and Nichole spent most of their time talking and catching up. Their brothers and sisters watched in mute disbelief. No one said a word to either and left them in their oblivious world of bliss.
By late afternoon, the picnic was winding down. Most folks had left and the clean up crew was taking care of the last little messes. The family patriarchs, John and Ernie sat together with their wives and some of the stragglers. They watched as Nichole and Michael left arm in arm.
"How long?" Ernie asked aloud.
"How long what?" his wife asked.
"Eh? Eight months," John said.
His partner snorted softly. "Six."
" 'Til they're married or engaged?" John's wife asked.
"Married," the two men said simultaneously.
"Loser pays for the reception," Ernie extended his hand.
Not quite six months later, on a cool Autumn day in October, John wrote the check, and the company closed down for five days that year.
Nichole basked in the memories of that afternoon.
The sun was up and her apartment looked out over Central Park West. Her windows were open and a cool city breeze swept through the halls. She picked herself up off the couch and walked to the kitchen and poured herself another glass of wine. There was a picture next to the fridge, taken the night of the picnic. Nichole smiled wistfully and fell back into her reverie.
After leaving the picnic, Nichole and Michael took a long stroll through the Park, a quiet haven among the bustle that was New York. They came out near the Guggenheim. Michael hailed a cab.
"Let's get something to eat."
"That would be great." Nichole got in as Michael held the door.
"Where would you like to go?"
They went to Umberto's, a well-known Italian restaurant in Little Italy. It could have been Fazoli's and it would not have made a difference to these two. They just wanted to share each other's company. They continued to talk and laugh and reminisce. Then, sometime between the biscotti and the salad, or maybe it wasn't until the veal arrived, Michael and Nichole fell in love.
At the end of the meal, the owner of Umberto's, a long-time customer and family friend took their picture, had it framed and sent it to them later. They were sitting in a corner booth, shoulder-to-shoulder. Michael had a big, goofy grin. Nichole was smiling nervously. They were holding hands.
After dinner they walked around some more, which usually isn't a bright idea in New York at night, but they didn't care. Neither wanted the night to end.
A little after midnight, their feet tired from walking, Michael and Nichole stood in Times Square, which bustled even in the middle of the night. Illuminated by the neon lights and surrounded by the sounds of their hometown, the two stood silently as the world passed around them. Michael had his arm around her; Nichole rested her head on his shoulder.
"I guess we need to get you home." Michael said finally.
Nichole smiled mischievously. "I don't think I'm ready to go home yet."
"We could go see what's showing over at AMC. I've heard good things about—"
"Michael," she snickered. "Shut up. Mom said you were living over on Central Park West. Let's go to your place."
He blushed and hurriedly flagged down a cab.
Michael's apartment was on the fourth floor of a seven floor building. It encompassed almost half of the entire floor and had a wonderful view of Columbus Circle and the southwest corner of Central Park. It was spartan, but familiar, even for Nichole, who had never seen the place before. There were pictures of their families on the walls and a beat up couch that they used to play on in the brownstone where Michael grew up.
"This place is wonderful," Nichole said. Michael went to check the messages on his answering machine but she stopped him. "Not now."
He looked deep into her eyes and saw something that hadn't been there when they were reunited earlier. Hunger. Desire.
Michael took Nichole in his arms and held her close. She returned his embrace. Their foreheads came to rest together and stayed like that for a long time. All Michael could hear was his heart pounding. He felt her warm breath against his lips.
She brushed her fingertips against his neck and they kissed. It was awkward at first, but that faded quickly as their passion overtook them. It was wet and sloppy. Delicious.
Michael's hands ran over her back and waist. Her hands grasped his hair and shoulders. She let out a low purr as he kissed his way to her ear, nibbling softly on her lobe. Nichole gasped as Michael kissed his way down her neck, and she dug her fingernails into his back when he got to her collarbone.
Nichole pulled at his shirt and started to unbuckle his belt, but he stopped her.
"Not here." Michael picked her up and nuzzled against her neck. "Bedroom or couch?"
"That sounds good." Nichole pulled him closer.
He took a couple of steps. "Where do you want to wake up?"
Michael carried her into his bedroom. She kissed his face and held him close. Starlight shone through the windows that dominated the apartment.
Michael lay her gently down on the massive oak bed. Nichole pulled him towards her. She pulled his shirt over his head and threw it across the room. Her hands explored his bare shoulders and chest.
Their lips locked together as each undressed the other. Michael's shorts and boxers fell to the floor. Nichole's blouse came unbuttoned and her breasts heaved with each laboured breath. Michael's hands brushed against her erect nipples before coming back to pinch them gently.
Nichole's hands went to Michael's bare ass as he unzipped her shorts and pushed them down along with her panties. He lay atop her, bared physically and emotionally. He could feel her breasts pressed flat against his chest.
She pushed him back and sat up, shedding the rest of her clothes. Nichole took an admiring gaze at her childhood friend, standing there naked in the darkness. The moon illuminated his figure, basking him in a deep blue light. Her eyes settled on his face, almost angelic in its compassion and wisdom.
Michael stared back, lost in Nichole's beauty. She propped herself up on her elbows and pushed herself back on the bed, resting against his pillows. Her hand was extended. Inviting.
With a quickness bourne of lust and desire, Michael lunged at her and she pulled him close, their naked forms melting together. Nichole kissed him deeply, her tongue wrapping around his. Her hands brushed against his back before settling on his buttocks, pulling him close.
Michael's lips left a wet trail again across Nichole's cheek and down her neck to her collarbone, but he didn't stop there. Cupping a breast in each hand, Michael kissed down her chest before settling on one of her nipples. She cried out and pushed her bosom forward into Michael's eager mouth.
He continued to explore her body with his hands and with his mouth. Biting. Nibbling. Caressing. He could feel the warmth of her sex against him. Inviting.
Michael pulled her close and lifted her off the bed. With one hand he brushed some of the pillows to the floor and pulled the comforter and sheets down. He lay her back on the bed, kneeling above her. His cock was fully erect and she took it in one hand, pulling him down with the other.
She guided him towards her, kissing his cheek, breathing in his ear. Nichole rubbed his cockhead against her clit and labia, sending a shiver up her spine.
Michael kissed her deeply again. She continued to rub him against her steaming sex. He was tumescent.
"I need you inside me," Nichole whispered.
"Condom," Michael managed to grunt.
"I'm on the pill," she replied desperately. He pushed his cock forward into her.
She arched her back and moaned with pleasure. Nichole bit her lip as Michael's cock filled her up. Slowly. Deliberately.
When he was all the way inside her, Michael looked down at his lover. Her body glistened with sweat and desire. Her eyes were closed. He pulled back and thrust in again. Her mouth fell open.
Michael built a rhythm, alternating a few hard thrusts with a few soft strokes. Nichole spread her legs so she could take all of Michael's erection inside her. Her hands gripped his muscular shoulders. He held himself up with one arm and cupped one of her breasts with the other hand.
"You . . . feel . . . so . . . good," Nichole managed between strokes. Michael smiled and pulled back so only the tip of his head was inside her. Then, without warning, he thrust deep and hard. Nichole bit his shoulder and dug her nails into his back, not for the last time.
She bucked against him, matching his stride, grinding her clit against the top of his cock. Michael grunted with a primal pleasure on every stroke. Faster and faster. Nichole absorbed each thrust and felt her own orgasm building.
Michael felt his cock tightly in the grip of Nichole's velvety sex. He could feel it contracting around his swollen head. He knew she was close. So was he. Michael pumped her pussy hard. Faster and faster.
Nichole arched her back one last time as the waves of her orgasm overtook her. Michael saw her eyes roll back into her head and then he started to cum with her.
She bucked against him and pulled him deeper inside.
Michael felt her warm juices around his throbbing cock, flooding her tight sex. Then his head exploded inside her. The room started to spin.
They each let out one final gasp, consumed by their passion. He could still feel her pussy squeezing his cock, even as her orgasm subsided. There was a ringing in his ears and he could hear his cock pumping the last of his thick cum into her.
Exhausted, he collapsed on top of her. The room continued to spin and then went dark.
"I love you," she whispered.
Michael didn't know how long he was out. It may have been a few seconds. I may have been a minute or two. He was still inside her. She was absently running her fingertips along his back, top to bottom, then in small circles around his shoulder blades. Her gentle touch gave him goosebumps.
Michael blinked himself back to consciousness. He started to pull himself up, but she held him close.
"Don't leave me."
"Am I squishing you?" he asked.
"No. You feel wonderful right where you are." Nichole's eyes were closed. A slight smile only hinted at the depth of the pleasure she felt from her head to her toes.
Michael stared at her beautiful face, glowing in the soft moonlight. He kissed her gently. Their bodies were covered in perspiration. The room reeked of sex.
She kissed him back before opening her eyes and staring back at him. Neither spoke for a long time.
"What have we done?" he finally asked.
She closed her eyes. A sad look flashed across her face. Then she smiled. "After tonight, we can never be friends again."
"I know. What do—?"
Nichole put her finger over Michael's lips. "Shhhhhhh . . . let's talk about that later."
"I'm planning on sleeping through breakfast," she replied. "How about over lunch?"
"Now, come here." She pulled him close again. He felt his cock stir with a renewed passion. She felt it, too. "You must really like me; I know you haven't taken any ED pills today and you're already to go again."