Chapter 57 - Getting to Know Me More
Nick was seldom on time for anything, but as promised he had arrived on the doorstep of the condo at eight pm sharp. Something about the eagerness in Alyssa's voice when she had called to invite him gave him the slight hunch that just maybe perhaps there was more to her dinner invitation than what it originally had appeared to be. Of course he'd gotten his hopes up with Alyssa before, only to have them crashing down on him, so he tried not to seem too excited. He looked over his appearance one last time, adjusting the collar of his green Lacoste polo shirt and smoothing out his khaki shorts as he raised his finger to ring the doorbell. Normally he'd walk right in, but tonight for some reason he figured that formality was best.
After he pressed the round button near the door, he heard its chime echoing through the other side. Quickly he ran a hand through his perfectly spiked hair just before Alyssa opened the door in front of him with a bright smile on her face. "Hey!" she enthusiastically greeted him, stepping aside so that he could enter through the doorway. "I'm glad that you're here. And you're on time too? I'm impressed!"
Nick just rolled his eyes and chuckled as his arms wrapped around her waist to hug her and he dropped a light kiss near the corner of her mouth. "I'm not always late," he defended. He took a step back from her and for the first time since he walked in the room really took in her appearance. She was wearing a pair of jeans with a red patterned lace camisole tank top and a black shrug over it. Her feet were bare and her cheeks seemed a little flushed, as if she were in an extremely pleasant mood. Nick was about to question her on it when she led him deeper into the condo. The first thing Nick noticed was that the furniture in the living room had been pushed over to the side and in the middle of the room laid out a blanket and a few pillows. He stared up at her oddly as if to ask her what was going on.
"I just thought it would be something different if we had ourselves a little indoor picnic," she explained. "I'm grilling up some steaks right now and they should be done shortly. In the meantime would you like a glass of wine?"
"Uhh... Sure," Nick agreed. Alyssa grabbed a wine glass off the counter and poured some wine out of a bottle that had been lying next to it. Her own half drank glass sat a few feet away and Nick wondered if maybe it was just the wine that was contributing to her sudden exuberant mood.
"Here you go." She handed him his wine glass and then gestured towards the living room. "Why don't you go inside and make yourself comfortable while I finish up in here?"
"Okay," Nick agreed as he accepted the glass and disappeared from the kitchen. Alyssa watched him make himself comfortable in the living room through the opening between the kitchen counter and the cupboard shelves, a wide grin spreading over her lips. Now that she seemed to have finally sorted out her feelings for Nick, seeing him right there in front of her was making it harder and harder not to just blurt out her feelings impulsively. There would be a time to tell him how she felt, but she figured that she should at least wait until after dinner for the heavy conversation.
So far her plan to recreate the first night that they had spent in the condo over four years ago seemed so subtle that she wasn't even sure if Nick had made the connection yet himself. That first night that Nick had showed her the condo and surprised her with the fact that he'd bought it with her in mind, Alyssa had insisted that they spend that very night there. Since there hadn't been any furniture in the place yet, they'd grilled some steaks for dinner, bought a bottle of a wine, and ate dinner right on the living room floor. They'd spent the rest of their night cuddling with each other, talking, and then of course they'd had to ‘christen' her new place. She couldn't guarantee that there would be any of that going on tonight, but one could never tell, especially when it came to them. Just laying her eyes on him, made a giddy feeling bubble up inside Alyssa and as stupid as it may have sounded she actually felt like she was all of nineteen again and she'd only just met Nick. That same nervous, but excited energy seemed to be flowing through her. Don't be ridiculous, she scolded herself. It's Nick. By now you shouldn't feel this nervous rush around him. You've known him too long. Still though, the feelings lingered, giving her the indication that maybe they weren't so bad after all.
A few minutes later the steaks were done grilling. Alyssa grabbed two paper plates and placed a steak on each one. She grabbed some utensils and balancing both plates, plus her glass of wine, she headed into the living room.
"Want me to help you with that?" Nick offered, already beginning to stand from his spot on the floor.
Alyssa shook her head. "No, I've got it." She kneeled down across from him and handed him his steak. "There you go. Fresh off the grill."
Nick accepted his plate, but laughed when he saw that it was disposable. "Very classy," he joked.
Alyssa just rolled her eyes playfully. "Shut up... I don't feel like doing dishes tonight." Not to mention the fact that it was a throwback to the very night she was hoping to recreate. They'd been forced to eat on paper plates since Alyssa hadn't yet at any real dinnerware yet. But Alyssa kept this quiet. She wanted Nick to come to the realization on his own.
Nick cut into his piece of meat and Alyssa watched as he raised his fork to his lips to take his first bite. She searched his face for approval as he chewed. She never was exactly known for her cooking ability, so she hoped that it had came out good, but then again it was hard to really mess up steak unless you burned it. "Wow... This is really good Lyss," he commented. "Very tender and flavorful."
"Thanks," she told him, taking a bite of it herself. "I marinated it in this new steak sauce I've been wanting to try."
Conversation continued to flow between the two of them as they ate their meal. They talked about relatively light subjects. Nick asked her about how therapy was going and she proceeded to tell him a little about how Julia was helping her see things in an entirely different light, but purposely kept the details vague. Luckily, the conversation shifted to Nick recounting some humorous stories about temporarily living with Teri and Howie. Apparently the honeymoon phase had ended for the two of them and now they were beginning to already fight like an old married couple. "I know that it's out of love and all, but they fight over the stupidest shit! Like the other night Teri made cupcakes and she wanted to use this stupid cupcake holder that her parents like bought them or something. I mean like I didn't know there was even such a thing as a cupcake holder. Anyway, so she asked Howie to put it together for her and the dumbass winds up breaking it. Oh my God... It was like World War three. I don't think I've ever seen Teri so pissed in my life. And all over a goddamn cupcake holder that retails at about, $24.99."
Alyssa laughed as she tried to picture her friend getting upset over something so trivial. "That is pretty crazy," she agreed. "That doesn't sound like the Teri I know at all."
Nick just shrugged. "Marriage does weird shit to people I guess. Plus, she was PMSing, overstressed from work, and hadn't been getting any from Howie in a while apparently. Yes... I hear it all, living under the same roof as them. More than I ever wanted to know actually." He shuddered just at the thought.
Alyssa continued to laugh, the wine making her extra giggly. "Poor you, you're probably traumatized! I wouldn't want to be around Teri when she's not getting any, either."
"Oh, it's bad," he agreed. "Very bad... Then they try to pull me in the middle of their little spats and it's like I try to stay neutral, but they always trap me into saying something that causes me to stick my foot in my mouth. Let's just say that I was very happy when you called me up inviting me over tonight. I really could've used a night away from them."
"Well, I'm glad that I could help you out there," she told him with a grin. "Are you done with your steak?"
"Yea..." Nick nodded as he gathered up his plate. "Want me to take care of this?"
"Absolutely not..." she scolded him, placing her hand over his. "You're the guest here, so I'll take care of clean up. You just stay right here and I'll be back in two minutes."
Before she gave Nick a chance to react, she was up on her feet and was carrying both of their plates back into the kitchen to throw into the trash. After throwing their utensils in the sink she came back into the living room and boldly repositioned herself across from him, only this time with her legs bridged across his which were lying straight out in front of him. Nick just raised his eyebrows, but didn't say anything for a moment or two. Finally after a short period of silence he finally spoke. "So, is it just me or does this kind of feel strangely like déjà vu?"
Alyssa innocently smile and shrugged. "Possibly... Why? What does this remind you of?"
Nick rolled his eyes seeing right through Alyssa's innocent façade. "I don't know..." he played along. "Being here... A picnic on the living room floor... The steak... The wine... If I didn't know any better I'd start to think that you were trying to get me thinking about the first night we spent here together."
"Hmm..." She cocked her head to the side. "I admit that I do see the similarities."
"You can drop the coy act with me," he told her. "I know that you planned it this way on purpose."
She just shrugged. "Well, it certainly took you long enough to connect the dots. I was beginning to think that you'd never get it."
"I'm blonde, what can I say?" he joked. "But seriously, what's with the trip down memory lane?"
"I don't know," she lied as she scooted her body closer to his so that she was now sitting between his legs. "I guess I just thought that it would be nice to be reminded of simpler times." This wasn't exactly how she intended things to go on, but she went with the sudden burst of confidence she was feeling and let her instincts dictate what was to happen next. She reached up and hooked her arms around his neck where they fell naturally to her even though it had been months since they'd found themselves in such an intimate position.
She could feel Nick breathe in sharply when he felt her hands clasp behind his neck. She could tell that he had all of a sudden become very aware of the sudden closeness in their bodies. His expression seemed to be etched with a bit of confusion, but in his eyes she could see a familiar desire building up behind them. Her eyes fell to his lips, so soft and inviting. Had it really been almost six months since she'd even felt them on her own? She knew that it would only delay what she was trying to tell him, but being this close to him was making her willpower begin to crumble. Maybe I can start by showing him how I feel, she reasoned to herself. Before she lost her nerve she tilted her head slightly and gently pressed her lips against his. The kiss started out softly, but within only a few short moments familiarity set in and it continued to grow more passionate. Alyssa's fingertips reached upwards to lightly play with the hair on the back of his neck and she felt Nick's hand press around the small of her back, pulling her closer to him.
Almost as quickly as it happened, Nick reluctantly broke the kiss, pulling away slightly looking almost stunned by what had just happened. They hadn't had any physical contact since December at least, so he was quite surprised by how naturally she had initiated the kiss almost as if the past few months had been nothing, but a drawn out nightmare for the two of them. He hadn't wanted to stop, but he felt like it was his responsibility to put on the brakes and make sure that Alyssa realized what she was doing. Too many times in their past had they given into moments like this and only lived to regret them. "Lyss... What are we doing?" he asked her, looking her straight in the eye.
"I'm not entirely sure myself," she honestly replied, her mouth merely inches away from his. "Just go with it." Before he could reply again her lips were back over his more forcefully than before and Alyssa knew that he wasn't about to do any further questioning based on how feverishly he returned the kiss.
The two continued to exchange kisses, their hands reacquainting themselves with each others bodies. Feeling like it was up to her to make the first move; Alyssa found her hands at the hem of his shirt. Her fingers played with the edge of the material slowly inching it up his stomach. Realizing what she was doing, Nick cooperatively raised his arms to help her rid the polo from his chest. Alyssa slid her hands back down the smoothness of his bare back while his lips zeroed in on her neck and collarbone. She moaned softly as his hands reached up to push her shrug off of her shoulders and down her arms, leaving a trail of goosebumps.
Nick pulled away just long enough to steady his gaze so that his eyes connected with hers and his hands rested on her shoulders. "Are you sure you're ready to do this again, Lyss?" he asked in a concerned voice before they continued any further.
Alyssa just nodded her head. "Yes... I'm finally ready. I want this." Her declaration was all the motivation he needed. Hearing those words from her mouth was exactly what Nick had been waiting to hear for months now. Hungrily he pressed his lips against hers and smoothed her hair back with his hand. His other hand lowered down to her shoulder, twisting the thin red strap of her camisole with his fingers. Alyssa's heart pounded a little nervously as Nick leaned his body over her, forcing her down onto the back against the blanket. His hands immediately went for the space where her shirt had already begun to ride up over her jeans. She held in a deep breath a little anxious about Nick seeing her body in it's less than perfect shape, but was relieved when after he pulled her top over her head he seemed more interested in her red, lacy bra than the slight pouch that formed in her stomach.
Her hands reached up to grip his hips and slid in between them as she unbuttoned and unzipped his shorts, pulling them down his legs. She softly sighed, feeling his lips trail a path of kisses along the tops of her breasts while his hands fumbled with buttons of her jeans. She lifted her hips up off the floor against his to help him pull them off of her. The contact between the two of their bodies made her heart race, and as long as it had been since the last time they'd had the chance to be together she found herself just wanting to feel him inside of her. Her last few months of self imposed celibacy were now beginning to catch up with her all at once. In a way it was almost a relief to feel any kind of desire. For a while there she was beginning to think she never would be able to feel that way again.
They rid each other of their remaining clothes quickly both sensing the same sort of urgency. Alyssa pulled Nick back down against her, engulfing her mouth against his as she positioned her body up against him, begging him to fill her, but for some reason Nick seemed to hesitate.
"What's wrong?" she groaned, as her hands pulled his waist closer to hers impatiently.
Nick looked a little sheepish as if he wasn't sure how to bring up his concern without opening fresh wounds and completely ruining the moment. "I should probably go grab a condom real quickly."
Alyssa grabbed his arm to stop him. "It's okay," she assured him. "We're good. I've been back on my birth control since like March."
Relief seemed to sweep over Nick's face. Neither one of them really wanted to contemplate the idea of another child so soon after the loss of Zoey, which they still were struggling to work through. Alyssa impatiently squirmed beneath him, her eyes pleading with his to just get on with it already. This time Nick gave in to her, hovering himself over her and finally sliding himself inside. Alyssa sighed in contentment when she felt him, but quickly grew frustrated once he started to move at an almost painfully slow pace. Her hips rolled up against his begging him to move faster, but he ignored her subtle hint and continued to thrust in and out of her slowly and purposely which was already beginning to drive her crazy. To make matters worse they were so close that his forehead pressed lightly against hers making it everything seem that much more intense to her. Their breathing increased and the intimacy of their position almost became too much for her. Her back arched and she tried to adjust her body, begging to feel him deeper within her. Getting an idea, Alyssa reached back to grab a pillow to lean up against and wrapped her legs tightly around his waist. The slight change in angle made all the difference. She cried out as she finally felt Nick begin to speed things up, digging her nails roughly against his back. Her head buried into his shoulder as her release hit her full force. A few more thrusts from Nick and he too finally came behind her. The two of them collapsed back against the blankets both breathing heavily.
Alyssa grabbed an extra blanket and pulled it over the two of them as she laid back trying to calm herself down from the high that she'd just come off of. Just as she'd expected Nick broke the silence a minute or two later by asking the inevitable follow up question. "So, does this mean what I think it means?"
Alyssa just playfully smiled. "Depends on what you think it means."
"That you're ready to do this? You're finally ready to be with me?" he hopefully asked.
Alyssa hesitated slightly before answering his question. She felt as if she owed him a larger explanation than just a simple yes or no reply. She quickly scrambled to collect her thoughts as she rolled over onto her side so that she was facing him. Something about the intimacy of the moment made it all seem like it was the perfect opportunity to finally confess to him her feelings. Now that the moment that she had been waiting for was here she was almost unsure of how to say it. Just go with your heart, a voice inside her head urged.
"Nick, there's something that I need to tell you," she began. "You know how I've been going to therapy and stuff since we uhh lost Zoey, and it has helped me out so unbelievably much. Not only has it helped make dealing with Zoey easier, but it's taught me a lot about myself and the kind of woman that I am."
Nick appeared to be hanging on to her every word, but she couldn't help, but notice the slightly worried expression on his face that seemed to read where is she going with this?
She took a deep breath and continued on with her speech. "In therapy Julia and I have been discussing my past especially concerning relationships and such. Obviously I told her the whole story about what's been going on with us. I kind of had to. Anyway it really was eye opening to have someone help me analyze just how much I've changed from when I first met you up until now. A lot has happened in that amount of time; a lot of big events and big changes. It's kind of hard to believe that we've known each other over ten years now. It's frightening actually in a way. When I first met you I was a completely different person. I was just this naïve nineteen year old girl who was both excited and terrified to be getting into her first real ‘relationship.' I'd spent all these years of my life prior to that trying to prepare myself to fall in love someday, but ironically when it actually happened I don't think I really was all that ready. Going into that relationship I had no idea of who I was. I guess I hadn't really figured myself out yet. As a result I think that was part of the reason things didn't work out with us at first. At the time I was devastated. I blamed myself completely for the breakup. I constantly told myself ‘if only I'd done this' or ‘if only I'd said that.' It really took a long time for me to realize that our breakup was just a part of my growth as a person and our first relationship was trying to teach me about who I was on the inside."
"I don't think I really reached the point of understanding who I was until only very recently. I'd say maybe like up until the last two years of my life I was constantly struggling to be comfortable with who I was. When I was living in New York and we were hooking up? Looking back at it now I realized that I handled that completely wrong. I was pushing for a relationship back then that you weren't ready for and neither was I probably. I guess it was inevitable that it wouldn't work out because we were just in two different places in life at the time. If it hadn't happened in Australia it would've happened at another point in time. After that period in our lives, I guess we both finally started to really grow up. You did the reality show with your siblings, stopped smoking, and lost all that weight... I moved down to North Carolina, finally got my career stated, and met Sean... I think somewhere during that break was when we both kind of came into our own and finally realized who we were."
"Of course though as fate would have it, we were apparently destined to cross paths again which in a way almost sucked, because I think that we could immediately see the differences in each other, but at that point we were too tied down with other people to really explore those differences. I have to admit though that I was very curious and kept asking myself ‘What if we were to say hook up again? What would it be like?'" Her face flushed a little at this admission, but she continued on. "And well throughout circumstances that maybe we self consciously created on our own, we got that opportunity. It was amazing now that I think we were both so much more aware of ourselves and I know for me personally it was like a whole new experience now that I was no longer worrying about impressing you so much. It definitely took a lot of the pressure off and it was liberating in a way to finally be with you without anything standing in the way."
"But of course there were things standing in the way, only this time it wasn't ourselves, it was other people. We had Sean and Shayla to consider and it just really seemed like some cruel, ironic, joke that was being played on us. Julia has told me time and time again that she doesn't think that it was karma that played into me getting pregnant that night or us ultimately losing the baby. She doesn't think that we were being punished or anything like that, it just happened. That's been a hard thing for me to accept especially under the circumstances. I felt guilty enough for what I was doing to Sean. I knew it was wrong and selfish and completely against my own morals, but this whole time I realized that my heart still belonged to you. It always had. After losing Zoey I thought that I didn't deserve to be with you. That losing her was a sign that we shouldn't be together. I of course was going through a lot of other confusing, emotional things at the time. Depression, grief, my hormones were still out of control, body issues... It bought a lot of old feelings back to the surface of my younger days and I regressed a bit. All this time though you never gave up on me. You pulled me out of bed, urged me to get the help I so desperately needed, and gave me space to work out my issues. You've been nothing but patient with me and I'd been almost completely oblivious to that until now. I was sitting in therapy today talking to Julia about you and then it just hit me like a ton of bricks. I finally realized how ridiculous I was being. So many people go through life never finding someone who cares about them as much as you care about me, and I was completely pushing you away. I got so used to you automatically being there that I guess I began to take you for granted." She sniffled as it hit her just how close that she could've came to losing him. "I don't know what I'd do if it wasn't for you. Who knows where I'd be now if you hadn't been there to knock some sense into me." Her emotions were beginning to finally catch up with her and she buried her head into his shoulder as she started to cry.
"You certainly didn't make it easy," Nick confessed as he consolingly stroked her hair. "Do you realize how stubborn you can be?" Alyssa just looked up and laughed a little through her tears. "But seriously, I will admit there were definitely times where I considered walking away. I tried to be as understanding as I could be, but some days you really made it difficult, especially in the beginning. You seemed to forget that Zoey was my daughter too. You acted as if you were the only person affected by her death which was almost like a slap in the face to me. Then after you were released from the hospital, seeing you so low scared me. I'd never seen you that lifeless before and I was definitely afraid that I was going to lose you too. Everyone around you was so concerned about you, but you refused to listen to anyone, so they begged me to give it a try because they knew that I was the only one able to get through to you. That day when I pulled the covers off of you and you broke down was the day that I decided that maybe I could stick around a little longer. I knew from that point on that it would be a painfully slow process and one that I couldn't really rush you through, but you would need my support to keep you going. It wasn't easy, but I gave you your space you needed and every time I saw you getting a little bit stronger was a reminder to me that someday I'd be rewarded for my patience. You never quite answered my question though. Is this it? Are you really ready to do this and finally give things another try?"
Alyssa nodded her head confidently. "I'm ready. I know it's going to be hard in the beginning. I've made an immense amount of progress in the last few months and I've really discovered a lot about who I am on the inside. I know that we still have to deal with the backlash from the media once all this stuff about Shayla hits and I'm aware that it's going to pretty much turn my world upside down, but there's no use hiding from it anymore. It's going to happen eventually, we might as well just brace ourselves and face it down together. We'll be much stronger together than we would be apart anyway."
"You have no idea how long I've been waiting to hear you say those words," Nick told her with a grin as he pressed his forehead against hers and slowly found his way to her lips. The newly defined couple lost themselves in their first official kiss and Alyssa couldn't help but to feel like this truly was a new beginning for them.
There was just one thing missing from the moment and Alyssa actually felt a little foolish once she realized what it was. She'd just poured out her heart and soul to him yet she'd almost completely forgotten the most important words that she knew he needed to hear. After all of that it almost seemed dumb to sum everything up in just three tiny words, but it needed to be said out loud. Reluctantly, she pulled herself away from his lips and laid the side of her head back down against the pillow so that she was at about eye level with him. "I love you." The words were simple, stripped down, but completely to the point.
She watched Nick's face for his reaction as his face lit up, overjoyed to finally hear those words come from her mouth. "Can you say that again for me?" he asked, his mouth forming into a wide smile.
Alyssa looked up at him surprised by his need for her to repeat the phrase, but did so anyway. "I love you."
This only made Nick's smile grow if that was even possible. "I could never get tired of hearing you say those words." He brushed back a piece of her hair. "I love you too." His lips pressed against hers for a second time and Alyssa slowly savored the kiss wishing that it could last forever. Unfortunately, it ended all too quickly as Nick pulled away with an impish smirk on his face. "So, how soon can I move in here with you?"
Alyssa just laughed at his impatience raising an eyebrow. "We move fast, don't we?"
"Well, if you want the truth I just can't stand another minute living under the same roof as The Cleaver's..." Alyssa shot him a questioning look, so he clarified. "Howie and Teri."
The comparison left Alyssa in a fit of giggles. "I'd never think to compare Howie and Teri to The Cleaver's. Maybe Brian and Leighanne, but not Howie and Teri."
"Point is they are driving me nuts and I kind of have nowhere else to go, so you kind of have to take me in." Nick jutted out his bottom lip in a puppy dog face. "Please? Don't make me beg here."
"Well, I guess I have no choice in the matter especially since this is technically your place," she played along.
"That's true! If you don't allow me to move in I'll just evict you," he joked.
"Fine," she dramatically sighed. "I guess I have to let you move in. What a sacrifice that's going to be."
"If it's going to be such a sacrifice for you I can always just sleep on the couch or something," he snarkily suggested. "I wouldn't want to impose on you or anything..."
"No!" Alyssa interrupted with a little more passion in her voice than she had originally intended. Looking a little embarrassed she quickly composed herself. "I mean that's really not necessary. I'm sure that I can make some room for you in my bed."
"Oh, how generous of you." Nick's eyebrows rose up devilishly. "Maybe we should go test that out. You know, make sure there's definitely room for the two of us." He'd already sat up and was pushing the blanket off of him.
Alyssa just laughed and rolled her eyes, but followed him down the hall towards the direction of the bedroom. The two of them definitely weren't completely out of the woods yet. There were still plenty of obstacles they'd still have to face in the upcoming weeks and months as far as the media and dealing with the fallout of their affair, but tonight was not a time to worry about any of that. Tonight was all about celebrating their new beginning. They could worry about the rest of the world in the morning.
Well, I put so much thought into getting ready
Now I know that was the best part
It's so easy to get caught up in what I'm regretting
Forget what I got from a wounded heart
I'm the one who likes Gardenia
I'm the one who likes to make love on the floor
I don't want to hang up the phone yet
It's been good
Getting to know me more
I've been seeing all my old friends in the city
Walking alone in Central Park
Doing all the things that I've neglected
Traded 'em all in
To be in your arms
I'm the one who likes Gardenia
I'm the one who likes to make love on the floor
I don't want to hang up the phone yet
It's been good
Getting to know me more
Well, I hear my own voice
Sounds so silly
Keep on telling my story all around
Everything I lost seems so different
Well, this is how everybody gets found
I'm the one who likes Gardenia
I'm the one who likes to make love on the floor
I don't want to hang up the phone yet
It's been good
Getting to know me more
~ Gardenia by Mandy Moore