Message in a Bottle
The night was like any other; he was sitting on the porch swing of his summer beach house watching the sun descend beyond the horizon. The sun disappeared under the ocean causing the young man to sigh. He stepped from the swing and walked down the stairs to the sandy path leading to the beach before him. He stuck his hands in the pockets of his light khaki pants, cuffed at the bottom, as his feet sunk lower into the sand.
The summer breeze blew his blonde hair in his face, making him remove one of his hands from the warmth of his pocket to push it aside. His thoughts returned to her, the one he thought he loved. The overwhelming feelings of loneliness and being unwanted washed over him for the second consecutive night. ‘Why did this happen to me? How could she tell me after two years the she had no love left in her heart for me? What did I do to deserve this hurt?’ All sorts of thoughts ran through his mind, leaving him unsatisfied when he could not answer his own questions.
He stopped walking to look out over the water--calm and motionless. ‘Give me a sign, any sign, that I will find someone to love me again. All I need is a sign,’ he thought, his gaze continuing over the water. No sign was sent, no sign was to be sent and he nodded his acknowledgement.
His body turned towards the house, his thoughts remaining by the water, when he saw something in the sand, glistening under the moonlight. He crept toward the object in the sand, not sure what to expect. Bending down, trying to adjust his eyes to the darkness, he pulled what he believed to be a glass bottle from the sand. He held it up in the moonlight, hearing a slight rattling inside the glass bottle.
‘Looks like a piece of paper, maybe two…maybe a note,’ he thought, standing and walking towards his home. With one foot on the stairs his thoughts turned to why he was still there. ‘This was our home, our hideaway, until she broke my heart. Why do I keep torturing myself like this?’
He bit his lip, not hard enough to draw blood but enough for his eyes to well up with tears. “I may as well just sit back and relax,” he spoke to one of his dogs. He left the others at home with his siblings, wanting a calm, relaxing two weeks off. He did not want to chase four dogs around the house cleaning up after them. “I love you, Nicky, you know that don’t you? You know Daddy loves you,” he said picking her up and rubbing her little wet nose against his. “Let’s find out what’s in this bottle, okay Nice?” Nick sat himself on the couch, resting Nicky next to him, as he popped the cork off the bottle and read the message inside.
I’m sorry for the nature of my ways before you departed this earth we live in. I was frightened. Frightened of me, of you, of losing you. Please forgive me. I loved you…I love you like I love no other. You were my sun rising in the East, my sun setting in the West. You were my one and only true love.
The emptiness I felt inside this past week after your passing is too much for me to handle. I went to your grave today, again. I have been there every day since your burial. I leave a different flower every day to symbolize my love for you. Please do not think I’m crazy, I know I am not. I am overcome with the loss of you… You are best friend, my boyfriend, my lover and finally my husband.
Vincent, my heart is calling out to you. Take me with you, come back and take me with you please.
I apologize for my outburst. My heart is incomplete without you near me.
I hope to meet you again one day. Be safe, my angel. Watch over and guide me when you can.
Forever you have my heart,
Nick handed the letter to Kevin after hearing himself read it aloud for the third time in two days. “What do you think it means?”
“Nick, It’s obvious what it means. The question is, whom does it belong to? What are you going to do?”
Nick brought his wide blue eyes up to meet Kevin’s and shrugged his shoulders.
“What do you think I should do? If you’d found this bottle and this letter, what would your conscience tell you to do?” Kevin’s emerald eyes met Nick’s, answering before he spoke. “You would search for her, wouldn’t you?” Slowly Kevin nodded his head.
“Her words are a devotion to her love that died, a love that seems to have had an enormous impact on her.” Nick agreed as the two of them leaned back in their chairs, as the ocean’s water crashed into the sand.
“Nick, whatever you choose to do, I will back you 100%. I will help you if I can as well.”
“Thanks Kev. Do you want to take a dip in the ocean? We won’t have to think about anything for a while.” Kevin nodded, standing and making his way to the bedroom to change. “I’m going to call the other guys and see if they want to come over for a bit to just hang out for a while.”
Within the hour there was a party at Nick’s house, just the five of them, the way it should be. Brian noticed something was a bit off with Nick, but didn’t say anything at first. He followed Nick into the house, quietly so Nick was not aware he was there, and watched him maneuver around his living room. Nick picked up the letter, reading it once and then once again, not noticing Brian sit beside him.
“What’re you reading, Frack?” Brian questioned. Nick handed him the letter, watching Brian’s facial features as he read it. “Where did you get this, Nick?”
“I found it in a bottle…” he started before Brian interrupted him.
“A bottle? As in someone stuck these papers in a bottle and handed them to you?” Brian laughed thinking to himself that Nick was completely insane.
“It wasn’t handed to me, Bri. It washed up on the shore sometime recently, I suppose. I saw it for the first time two nights ago and pulled it out of the sand. I read it when I got back to the house. I re-read it a few times and Kev read it before when he just stopped by.” Nick held the bottle in his hands, looking through it at Brian.
“Are you speechless?” Nick chuckled.
“Not speechless, just a little… You just found it? Those are someone’s private thoughts, private feelings about her love for another man.”
“I know, Bri. I know that very well.”
“What are you going to do with it?”
Nick shrugged and said the only thing he wanted to hear, “I think I’m going on a short trip…once I find out who this mystery lady is.”
*~* Two Days Later *~*
"We've found her. Thanks to Q's connections we found her. I'm gonna go find her." Kevin and Brian watched as Nick walked to his closet, took out his suitcase and started filling it.
"I'm leaving to find her now…I have to. I need to know the person who wrote that letter."
"Why?" Brian simply asked. Nick stopped moving, his eyes connecting with Brian's. Brian saw something deep within the blue, something he had never seen before. Nick shrugged before saying, "It's just something I have to do." Nick continued packing, ignoring the glances between the cousins.
The phone rang and the three of them froze. After the third ring, Nick moved towards the phone and picked it up, "Hello?"
"Nick it's Q, I think I found something that may be of interest to you." Nick's eyebrow raised as he inquired, "You have my attention. What have you found?"
"Another letter. Do you want me to read it to you?"
"Where did it come from?" Q took a deep breath before answering. "While we were looking into the letterhead, trying to find an area where it came from, seeing if the letterhead held any significance, which you know now that it does. That's how we found her…Mrs. Chelsea Blake. Do you want me to..."
"Q, I want you to tell me where it came from."
"A woman in Massachusetts found it while jogging on the beach. She faxed me a copy of the letter. Nick, this is similar to the one you found."
"Will you read it to me please?" Nick asked.
I apologize once again for the love that I have for you. It keeps me awake at night. I apologize that I couldn't save you…couldn’t help you in your time of need. I was lost, not sure what to do. Seeing your life slowly fade was too much for me to handle.
What am I supposed to do with myself? I live my life with the love we had, our love... Vincent... I weep as I write this knowing it will never reach you... that it will never affect you the way it is affecting me.
I love you Vincent. I will carry your sun with me at all times. When it rises and sets, I will know you are thinking of me. When the sun hides behind the gray clouds, I will know you are sad; when it rains, I know now the sky is shedding your tears. Farewell once again my love.
Forever my heart,
“That's what it said, Nick. Same format and same paper as the other one too.”
"Thank you Q, for all the help you've given me." They spoke a little longer, Nick assuring him it was not necessary for him to come along on the trip to North Carolina and that he would be fine. They hung up, giving Nick enough time to pack for his late-afternoon flight.
"Bri, can you drive me to the airport? I don't want to leave the car there; you can use it for the week I'm up there."
"Thanks Nick." Kevin walked over to Nick, placing his hand on Nick’s shoulder. "Good luck, Nick. I hope you find what you are looking for up there." Pushing aside the machismo, Kevin pulled his little brother into his arms.
"I really do wish you luck Nick. Be safe. You'll be in a strange town alone…"
"Kev, I'm 20, not 12. I'll be fine. But thank you for caring enough." Kevin
patted his back before they broke apart, walking from the house. Nick waited for Kevin to drive off before continuing his packing.
“Nick, can I help you with anything? I’d like to if you’d let me,” Brian watched as Nick pulled a few pairs of shorts and T-shirts from his dresser.
“I’m really fine, Bri.” Nick grabbed the necessities--his toothbrush, toothpaste and hairbrush--turned towards Brian and said, “My flight leaves at 4 so we should head out now. I don’t mind going alone if you don’t…”
“Nick, I want to take you. Besides, I get the Green Monster for a week, I can’t pass up an offer like that.” Nick laughed; knowing Brian referred to his Durango as the Green Monster. The drive to the airport was quiet, but it was a peaceful quiet that encompassed the car.
No words were spoken after Nick pulled his suitcase from the back of the truck, and they walked through the terminal side by side. “This is the gate, Bri. Here are the keys to the truck. Take care of her,” he smiled. They quickly hugged each other before Nick made his way towards the plane. Brian watched with his hands in his pockets as Nick disappeared down the walkway to the plane. ‘When the hell did you become a man, Nick?’ Brian asked, turning on his heels and making his way back to the Durango.
Nick sat nervously on the plane, his head back against the headrest and his eyes staring into the cloudless sky. ‘I hope I’m doing the right thing,’ he said to himself. He slowly drifted off to an uncomfortable sleep dreaming of his former love.
‘Nick, this is how it has to be. We are growing apart and it’s really hard for me.’ Nick lowered his head, looking through his entwined fingers at his feet hearing her sigh. ‘Nick, it’s for the best.’
‘The best? Are you out of your mind? For two years I gave you my love…I gave you my heart and you turn and throw it all back in my face and then have the nerve to say it was for the best. Crys I can’t…”
‘Don’t call me Crys,’ she said flatly.
‘Don’t call you Crys?’ he asked bemused. He shook his head walking towards the window to look out at the sea when Crystal’s next words shattered his heart into pieces.
‘Nick, I don’t know how to say this so I will just say it. It took me a long time to gain the courage, but it’s here now, and I’m not gonna let that pass me by. Nick, I’ve fallen out of love with you,’ she said softly. She walked to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. ‘Nick, say something, please.’
‘Leave my house…come back another time for your things. I want you out of here.’ Nick’s hands rested on either side of the window frame, his blonde hair brushing against the glass.
‘Shut up and leave. I don’t want to know how you could wrap your arms around me, share a bed with me, the things we did when the lights went out…Leave Crystal.’
Crystal walked through the door, whispering, ‘I do love you, Nick, just not like it once was.’ Nick gave himself a few minutes to compose himself before he knelt before the window and wept. He pushed away his dogs, wanting to be alone and cry his recent pain away.
“Sir, the plane has landed,” the stewardess said shaking Nick awake. He opened his eyes to the bright sunlight streaming through the window his head was against, nodded at her and closed his eyes once more. She laughed lightly, shaking him once more.
“Sir, when I say the plane has landed that normally means it’s time…you’re at your final destination.” Nick rubbed his eyes and yawned before he stood. Grabbing his things and smiling at the flight crew on his way out, Nick made his way to the airport terminal.
Within twenty minutes Nick was sitting behind the wheel of his rental car holding Chelsea’s address in his hand. He started the engine and was on his way. Nick pulled into the Victorian Bed and Breakfast where he would be staying for the next week, staring at it in awe. He was used to the fancy hotels and large bedrooms but they never gave him the feeling of being home.
The elder woman who ran the house, Mrs. Doris Kunkle, showed Nick to his room. “If you need anything…”
“Nickolas,” he offered his name.
“Nickolas. What a nice name for such a polite young man. If you need anything, Nickolas, do not hesitate to ring me.” She made her way to the door, but was stopped by the slight urgency in Nick’s voice, “Mrs. Kunkle?”
“Yes, Nickolas, can I help you?”
“Can you tell me where this street address is? How long of a drive will I have?” Mrs. Kunkle looked at the name and address and smiled.
“It’s not that far a drive, not that far at all. As a matter of fact there’s no drive at all. If you walk to the beach and turn left, Mrs. Blake’s house is third down. She’s a lovely young lady…lonely, yet lovely. Are you a friend of hers?”
“I hope to be,” Nick answered, smiling at the older woman. She smiled and nodded back as she exited the room. Nick looked around the small room, then got comfortable on the bed. He closed his eyes for a few moments, enjoying the peace and tranquility and did what he wanted least to do - fall asleep.
Four hours later Nick rolled to his side and opened his eyes slightly, seeing the room surrounded in darkness. He sighed as he sat up, realizing for the first time in over two months that he missed the sunset. He stood from the bed and made his way to his suitcase, deciding he wanted to make this home for the next week. He unpacked his things, placing them in the dresser and closet, humming softly as he did so.
After he was finished, he took out a pair of dark blue jeans and a button-down collar shirt. Nick ran his fingers through his hair, then stepped from the room. Looking around at the trees and the dark sky, Nick made his way to the beach. Breathing in the ocean air, not paying attention to the path he followed, he walked into a beautiful young woman.
“I’m…I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was headed.”
“Don’t apologize,” she said softly, bending down to pick up her belongings. Nick bent to help her, gathering her paint brushes as she held her canvas. “You’re a painter?”
She nodded, looking away from Nick. He handed her the brushes, helping her put them back in the carrying case. “Can I help you get home?” he asked. He didn’t wait for an answer, but took it upon himself to take the box from her hand.
“I guess you can help, if you don’t mind.” Nick followed her to her house, watching her short curly blonde hair bounce as she walked. “This is it, we weren’t that far from my house when we bumped into each other.”
“Cute house. I live by the water too, down in Tampa. Well, I lived by the water. I have a house in California and for the summer I stay at the beach in Tampa. I’m Nickolas, but my friends call me Nick.”
She extended her hand, “Chelsea. The few friends I have call me Chelsea,” she smiled. Nick’s breath caught in his throat as realization hit him. He found who he was looking for.
“Chelsea,” he said, as though he was whispering. Nick’s eyes connected with Chelsea’s and he smiled.
“Nick, do you want to come in for a few minutes?” His mouth became dry as he whispered, “Yes, thank you.”
Nick followed her into the house and into the parlor, his mouth hanging open slightly, as he saw the paintings canvassed around the room. “Wow, did you paint all these?” he asked, walking from one to the next. Chelsea nodded and bit her lip, as her hazel eyes watched Nick move from painting to painting.
“You paint the ocean perfect. That’s how I see it when I look out at it. Some nights I sit on my porch and just stare for hours. The water calms me.” Chelsea stood beside him looking at the picture his eyes locked on. He brought his fingers up, as to caress it, when he heard Chelsea’s voice.
“Let’s go into the living room,” she said softly. Nick nodded and followed her once more. “Tell me about yourself.”
“Well, you know I’m from Tampa though I live in California. I love the ocean, can’t get away from it. Sometimes if I stare at it long enough the pain goes away.” Chelsea looked at him curiously but not asking any questions.
“I lived with someone for about a year…”
“You seem so young.”
“I turned 20 recently. We were together for 2 years before she decided she couldn’t love me anymore. She felt nothing for me.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Nick,” Chelsea said sincerely.
“Thank you. Sometimes it’s hard to be in that house, but I manage to do it. My friends are helping me too.”
“I’m such a horrible person. Do you want something to drink?”
Nick laughed slightly, “No, I’m okay.” Chelsea climbed from the couch and knelt before the fireplace. She lit a fire to take the chill away from the cool March night. A few hours later they were still sharing their loves and losses when Nick noticed the time. “I’m sorry, I seem to have been here forever. I’ll be on my way,” Nick said standing. Chelsea extended her arm, resting her hand on Nick’s.
“Thank you. I had a nice time tonight, just talking. I have a boat,” she smiled, noticing Nick’s blue eyes come back to life. “I’m taking her out in the morning, the water is supposed to be calm. Do you want to join me?” she asked quietly.
Nick sat back down and smiled at Chelsea. “I’d love to go out with you in the morning. What time should we meet and where?”
“Where are you staying?”
“Not too far. Mrs. Kunkle’s Bed and Breakfast.” Chelsea smiled and nodded her head to the acknowledgement of where the home was.
“There’s a diner a block south. Do you want to meet at 6:30 for a quick breakfast and then try to set sail around 7?”
“That sounds like a great plan,” Nick said as he placed his hand over hers. He gave her a soft kiss on the cheek before walking out. He followed a path he would soon become familiar with, smiling.
Within minutes of lying down on the bed, Nick closed his eyes and dreamt of the beauty of the ocean and what tomorrow would bring.
“I see you’re up early, Nickolas,” Mrs. Kunkle smiled. “I take it you met who you came to meet.”
Nick only smiled at her before he asked, “Do you have a picnic basket?” She held up her one finger and disappeared from the room. She came back holding a small basket, just the size Nick wanted.
“Thank you Mrs. Kunkle. Do you know where I can go to fill this basket?” he grinned childishly. She motioned for him to follow her into the kitchen.
“First off, young man, I insist you call me Doris. Everyone here does, so I will not be answering to Mrs. Kunkle from this moment on, is that understood?”
“Yes, Doris, it’s quite understood. No more Mrs. Kunkle.”
“Now, second thing is this,” she said opening up the refrigerator and cabinets. “You can take what you need, forget about the store.” Nick bit his lip and slowly began to fill the basket.
“You enjoy yourself with Mrs. Blake on her boat this morning.” Nick stopped packing the basket and looked over at her, his eyebrow raised. “Nickolas, she takes her boat out every morning at 7 a.m. and it’s right now 6:35.”
“6:35? Oh no, I’m late. I was supposed to meet her five minutes ago, but I don’t know how to get there.”
Doris put her hand on his shoulder, trying to calm him. “The diner is one block down. Leave the house and turn right. I can guarantee you that she’ll be sitting in a corner booth alone, like she does every morning.”
“Thank you very much, Mrs. Kunkle…Doris,” he laughed when she gave him a stern look. “I meant Doris, I really did,” he continued laughing.
“I believe you, I believe you…Go and make that young lady smile. She hasn’t done that in a long time.” Nick nodded, picnic basket full of goodies in his hand, and rushed to the diner.
Doris had been right; Chelsea sat alone in the corner booth, a piece of toast in one hand and the newspaper in another. “Hi, Chelsea. I’m sorry I was late. I was talking to Doris…she was helping me with something…”
“It’s okay. I’m glad you decided to come. Company on the boat will be nice for a change. I don’t have company much anymore.”
“It would be my honor to accompany you on your boat. I bought us some food, with Doris’ help of course,” he smiled. Although Chelsea was smiling, looking deeply into her hazel eyes Nick saw an overwhelming sadness. He looked at the clock and said, “It’s 7. I’m ready if you are.”
“You didn’t eat,” she said, finishing her toast.
“That’s what the food in here is for.” Chelsea smiled and left the booth, waving to Joe behind the counter and led Nick to the boat.
“This is my boat, what do you think?” Nick climbed aboard taking a look around.
“Wow, this is a great boat,” he said making his way down the stairs. “Did you paint these pictures down here too?”
“No, those I didn’t paint. Vincent painted those,” she answered solemnly. Nick felt his heart drop slightly at the sound of her voice.
“They are just as beautiful as yours, Chelsea.”
“Why don’t you come up here and help me with the ropes?” Sensing she didn’t want him on the lower level of the boat, he walked up the stairs and apologized.
“Don’t be sorry Nick, you didn’t know Vincent painted. His paintings of the sea were a hobby of his, mine were my career.” They were silent for a while, as Chelsea steered the boat through the canal and into the ocean. Chelsea watched the wind whip Nick’s hair, the way the silkiness just seem to flow.
Nick was at the peak of the boat, his arms resting on the railing when he felt the speed slow and then halt. He turned to see Chelsea struggling to drop the anchor and made his way towards her to help.
“You picked a great spot to drop anchor. It’s calm and peaceful here, the way it should be.” He watched as Chelsea walked to the front of the boat where he had been standing. He sat on the bench, watching her look into the water. “Chelsea?” She turned and looked at Nick.
Chelsea made her way beside him, sitting close enough for their legs to be touching. Cautiously, Nick hung his arm over her shoulder and rested his head against hers. “If you would like to talk about anything, I’ll be more than happy to listen to you.”
“You don’t mean that Nick. I come with a lot of baggage.”
“If I can handle fame, I can handle baggage. Talk to me, tell me why your eyes are sad. Tell me about Vincent,” he whispered. He heard her suck in her breath before saying, no more than a whisper, “Vincent was my husband.”
“Nick, I really don’t want to talk about that now. It still hurts to think about him, though he’s been gone for about two years.”
“I can understand that. I’m here when you need to talk though. Believe me when I say that.”
“I do believe you, Nick. You have sincerity in your voice, something I haven’t heard in quite a long time…not since Vincent died.” Nick didn’t know what to say, so they sat in silence once again.
“Chelsea, if you were out here alone, what would you be doing?”
Without hesitation Chelsea answered, “Painting the perfect picture. I have yet to do that, and each morning when I come out, I try.” She walked around the boat and gathered her things, setting it all up before the cloudless sky darkened.
“We should head back, Nick, it looks like rain.” Nick pulled the anchor up as Chelsea neatly packed her painting equipment away and started the engine. They reached the harbor as the first fat raindrop fell that morning. They quickly ran, the picnic basket dangling from Nick’s hands, to Chelsea’s home.
“I didn’t expect it to rain today,” Chelsea said, kicking off her wet sneakers. Nick stood at the door not sure if he should step inside. “I may have an extra pair of shorts for you Nick, if you want to change while I dry your clothes.”
Taking off his sneakers and walking into the house, he placed the basket on the table and followed Chelsea into her bedroom. She walked from the closet holding two pairs of shorts holding them up. “Which ones would fit you better?”
After deciding, he took one pair and went into the bathroom to change while Chelsea changed in her bedroom. They met in the living room, Nick slightly shy with no shirt to throw on, and handed her his clothes. The fire Nick started warmed the living room as he made himself comfortable on the couch. Chelsea sat next to him, resting her head against his chest, the two of them staring into the fire.
“I’ve known Vincent since grade school. We sat next to one another in Kindergarten. He was the most kind-hearted, generous man in this town until the day he died. His family thought…still thinks…that I was holding him back. They think he could’ve gone off and built the next Sistine Chapel. He was an architect. He painted and wrote in his spare time. He designed this house, designed the Bed and Breakfast you are staying in also.”
Nick looked down at her, seeing her fingers play with the hem of his shorts. His one hand held a strand of her hair playing with it while she continued. “They despise me now. They come here every other week looking for more of Vincent’s belongings. I gave them all I could bear to part with. Is it wrong for me to keep the paintings, the stories and the blue prints? I just want to keep something of his to remind me of him. Is that wrong?” she asked. Nick felt a solitary tear land on his bare stomach.
“That’s not so wrong. I would want to keep a reminder around always.” Nick was about to bring his mouth down to hers when the dryer bell rang. Chelsea sighed, climbing from the couch and making her way into the small room. She folded her clothes and carried Nick’s to him. When she arrived at the couch, she noticed Nick lying down and sleeping.
Grabbing a blanket from her bedroom, she draped it over Nick, brushed his hair to the side and walked back to her bedroom to sleep for the night.
A little while later, Nick’s eyes fluttered open momentarily, not recognizing his surroundings. He took a deep breath, smelling Chelsea’s perfume around the house confirming where he was. He sat up on the couch, removing the blanket and ran his fingers through his hair.
He stood, his eyes quickly adjusting to the darkness around him and made his way across the room to her bedroom. Leaning against the doorframe, his smile grew seeing how peaceful she looked. He walked then squatted next to the bed, pushing a piece of loose hair behind her ear. Her eyes opened and she looked into Nick’s. She held the blanket open, giving him consent to join her.
Nick eyes widened slightly as she held the blanket, allowing him to accompany her. Once in the warmth and comfort of the bed, Nick wrapped his arms around her from behind, resting his head against hers as they both drifted back off to sleep.
Sitting on the beach, Nick wrapped a blanket around him and Chelsea as they watched the sunset together. “Nick, do you want to take the boat out?”
Nick nodded saying, “The moon is always brightest away from the city lights and in the center of the ocean.” Chelsea smiled, agreeing with him completely.
“That was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, Nick.” They stood and walked towards the boat, untying a spot where only the moon knew their whereabouts and, with Nick’s help once again, dropped the anchor.
The two snuggled beneath the blanket, as they sat on the bench, counting the stars in the sky and naming constellations. Nick felt her shiver against him.
“Chelsea, are you cold?”
She shook her head and said, “No…maybe just a little.” Nick stood in front of her, pulling her with him. Nick held her in his arms, swaying lightly with the wind. He rested the top of his head against hers, his eyes closed.
Chelsea’s head rested against his chest and her hand on his lower back. “Nick, this is really nice.” He smiled to himself, feeling her shiver once more. He kissed her forehead softly before leading her to the front of the boat.
“Wait here a sec…I saw something downstairs the other day.” Chelsea watched Nick disappear down the stairs and return a few moments later with a few pillows from the bed. He laid them on the deck before them, motioning for Chelsea to join him. Chelsea sat next to him, her nervousness showing through.
Nick smiled, saying, “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna try anything tonight.” Nick laid back pulling Chelsea with him. Her head lay against his chest and she closed her eyes. Nick held her one hand, intertwining their fingers together before they both drifted off to sleep, surrounded by the coolness of the night air.
Chelsea opened her eyes when the sun began peeking over the horizon. Her chin rested on Nick’s chest as she stared at his face. She used her fingers and twirled a piece of his hair between her fingers, continuing to watch him sleep. Releasing his hair, Chelsea ran her fingers over Nick’s face. They stopped at his lips, Chelsea feeling how soft they were.
Nick’s eyes opened watching her fingers trail down the side of his face and stop on his lips. He successfully fought the urge to lick his lips as he studied her face. He saw the look in her eyes, the fright was slowly slipping from them. He wondered to himself if she was beginning to open her heart to him.
“How long were you going to let my fingers linger over your lips?” she asked.
“As long as you wanted them too,” he smiled, his hand meeting her fingers at his lips. Chelsea’s eyes closed as Nick puckered his lips and kissed the tips of her fingers.
“Your lips are as soft as your hair, Nick,” she sighed and rested her head against Nick’s chest once again.
“I hate to say this, but I’m leaving in two days. I don’t want to, but I have to.”
Chelsea nodded her head against Nick’s chest and said, “I knew you’d have to leave one day, I just wish it wasn’t so soon.”
“Do you want to do anything today, Chelsea?” Nick asked. He loved the way her name rolled off his tongue.
“Actually if we head back in a few minutes I would like to take you somewhere.” Chelsea moved from Nick’s grasp around her waist and went towards the anchor, pulling it up. Nick put the pillows downstairs and folded the blanket. Chelsea maneuvered the boat to its docking space within the hour and led Nick to a vacant lot, or so he thought.
“Nick, no one has seen this, not even Vincent’s family.” Curious at to what she wanted him to see, Nick followed her through the lot. He walked right into Chelsea, not realizing she had stopped walking.
“It doesn’t look like a lot but it’s something Vincent started before he died. One night it rained really hard, so Vincent lit a fire and made himself some hot chocolate while I pulled out my canvas and brushes and started painting. When I was finished, Vincent walked over to me, put his arms around my waist, his head on my shoulder and whispered, ‘I’m gonna build you that, Baby. That will be our dream house someday.’ He went to work on the blue prints and by morning he had the layout set. Within a week he started building this. Two months later he died and this hasn’t been touched since.”
Nick’s arms were crossed over her chest while she spoke, his chin resting on the top of her head. “Would you ever have the desire to have it built?”
“To live in it?” She felt Nick nod against her head. “I would love to see it built and have my vision come to life, but I could never bring myself to live in it. The house would symbolize Vincent and I. I would expect him to come home at any moment, but know deep down that he’d never enter the door after a hard day at work.”
“I’m sorry I asked. That was a stupid question for me to ask you. If you wanted it built you would have had it done.”
Chelsea shifted her head so she could look up at Nick and softly said, “It’s okay. I’ve thought about it but didn’t want anyone to waste his or her time building it. I wouldn’t be able to sell it, and I’d feel lonely living it knowing how the prints came about.”
Nick sighed and looked at the half-built house, his grip on Chelsea a little tighter. “It’s almost noon, do you want to go for something to eat?”
“Sure, I’d love too. I have to go back to my room for a bit though. I need to shower,” he smiled shyly.
“I’ll walk with you and wait, if you don’t mind.”
“No, I don’t mind. I’d like to have someone waiting for me once I’m finished.” They wrapped their arms around each other’s waists and made their way to the Bed and Breakfast. Nick opened the door and let them in, noticing Chelsea’s demeanor change.
“You okay Chelsea? Are you looking for someone?”
Chelsea smiled and nodded, answering, “My mother. I haven’t seen her for a few days.”
Doris walked out of the kitchen and towards Nick and Chelsea. “Hey Doris, how…” Nick stopped speaking, noticing the embrace Chelsea and Doris were locked in.
A few minutes went by before they realized Nick had been watching them. “Nick, I guess I should explain. Doris is my mother,” she smiled, the two women resting their heads against each other’s. Nick’s mouth hung open slightly before letting a smile play on his lips. He chuckled lightly as he made his way up to his room for his shower.
After his shower, Nick sat on the edge of his bed wrapped in towel, his body still slightly wet from the water when he heard the phone ring on his night stand. He crawled across the bed to answer it, “Hello.”
“Nick, why haven’t you called? She could have been a psychotic killer and you could be dead.”
“Hello to you too Brian.”
“Nick, I only love you and want you to be safe. Why haven’t you called?”
“We’ve been having too much fun. Bri, she’s great. She downstairs waiting for me now, so I have to get dressed and ready. I’ll be back in two days and we can talk then, is that okay?”
“Yeah it’s fine. I just wanted to make sure you were alive.”
“I’m alive and well, Bri. By the way, how is the truck?”
“The Monster is fine, absolutely fine. I’d be picking up chicks left and right if I weren’t with Leighanne.” Nick laughed at his older brother and after a few more words they hung up the phone.
Nick thumbed through the closet choosing his favorite green striped Hilfiger shirt and a pair of dark blue jeans to wear. Walking down the stairs slowly, he expected to see Doris and Chelsea still hugging each other, but instead found the living room vacant.
“Doris?” She walked from another room smiling at Nick. “Where did Chelsea go, Doris? We were supposed to have lunch.”
“She ran home for a few minutes; she said she’d be right back. Join me,” she said holding out a warm cup of hot cocoa to Nick. “Has she told you anything about Vincent?” Nick shook his head taking a cautious sip of the cocoa.
“She told me very little, but the impression I got from her tells me that she loved him very much and still does. That feeling is one that won’t leave her anytime soon.”
Doris agreed. “She’s never gotten over him, Nickolas. She loved him deeply, has since she was five years old. Her heart broke in pieces when he passed on. Chelsea hasn’t been the same since. You’re a very kind young man and she’s taken a liking to you, Nickolas. I’m going to tell you this because I trust you with the information--I know Chelsea could not bring herself to tell you, and I feel you should know.”
Nick rested the mug against his lips, not taking a sip, and waited for Doris to explain. “You see, she blames herself. His family blames her and will continue to blame her until the day she dies.”
“She did mention to me about his family. She said they want to take some more of the things that are still at her house - his paintings and his blue prints. I told her she was right to keep them.”
“I agree fully. His death was very sudden and she took it very hard.”
“Doris, what happened?”
“Chelsea was hungry…she had a craving. Actually, she had been pregnant, three months and had one of those strange cravings. They didn’t have what she wanted in the house so Vincent went out to get it. Before he left he gave her a kiss and said, ‘I love you.’ That’s the last thing he ever said to her.”
Nick placed the mug on the table as he bit his lip trying to fend off the tears he knew would soon follow. “He went to the store a few blocks down. Now mind you, Nickolas, this is a fairly quiet town. Nothing happens here; nothing should happen here.”
“What did happen that night?”
“He was at the register paying for the groceries when a man walked in. Vincent was ready to leave, and this man grabbed him and held a gun to his head. He demanded the money from the register or he’d shoot Vincent. After he got the money, he tossed Vincent to the ground and left the store. When he thought it was safe, he stood. He was clearly shaken. The cashier walked from behind the counter to him, kneeling down. When he was sure Vincent was okay, they both stood.”
Doris stopped speaking so she could take a deep breath before she continued. “The man walked back into the grocery store, his gun aimed at the cashier. Vincent saw this before the man did and tried pushing him to safety. Unfortunately for Vincent, while doing that he was shot. He didn’t know anything that had happened--he was killed instantly”
“Doris, would you mind if I asked you where he was shot?”
“Nickolas, of course you can ask. Trying to save that man,” she started, her tears beginning to fall, “he was shot in the head. It was very devastating. The police knocked on Chelsea’s door that night, close to midnight. After learning about Vincent, she passed out. By the time I got there she was lying in a pool of her own blood from her miscarriage.”
The two sat there quietly, both of them releasing tears from their eyes. “Nickolas, she swore off love after that. She’s afraid to love again, she doesn’t want to be hurt.”
“I can’t guarantee that for her.”
“No one can, Nickolas.” Nick wiped his face of any remnants of his tears. He handed the box of tissues to Doris and she cleaned herself up.
“Doris, thank you for explaining that. Some things make much more sense now.” Nick and Doris quietly waited for Chelsea to return, Nick taking the quiet time to allow everything Doris divulged to sink in.
“Mom…Nick, I’m here,” Chelsea called walking through the door.
“We’re in here, Chelsea.” She followed her mother’s voice and found them sitting there. “Nick, are you ready for lunch?”
He nodded, thanking Doris for their talk and followed Chelsea out of the door. “What did you and my Mom talk about?” Chelsea inquired, wrapping her arm around Nick’s waist.
His arm returned the favor, wrapping and resting at her waist. “We were just talking. Your mother is a very sweet woman, you know. She made me hot cocoa while I waited for you.”
“My mother has always been a sweet woman. Here we are.” They entered the restaurant, both deciding they wanted an early dinner so they could go back to Chelsea’s home and relax by the fire.
Nick’s hand covered hers as they ordered their food and spoke more about their lives. “Well, well, well, if it isn’t Chelsea Blake…with another man.”
Nick watched Chelsea’s demeanor and body language change as she withdrew her hand from his and looked up at the man at the foot of the table. “Jonathan, what do you want?” she asked coldly.
“I want my brother’s things, especially now that you’ve taken up with another man.” Chelsea’s hurt-filled eyes met Nick’s as she slowly said, “Nick, this is Jonathan, Vincent’s brother.”
Jonathan pulled a chair from a near-by table and sat himself down, joining Nick and Chelsea. “Jonathan, please don’t.”
“Don’t what? I want the blue prints, Chels. Vince would have wanted us to have them. They are rightfully ours.”
“Vincent wanted me to have them, Jonathan. Please don’t fight me right now,” she asked, her voice pleading with him.
“We want his paintings too. Why don’t you just give them to us, Chels? Vince was more a part of our lives than yours. He was my brother for 23 years.”
“He was my husband for five of those years, Jonathan. Don’t you dare say I never loved him, you know damned well how much I loved him…how much he’s meant to me our entire lives. Those paintings, blue prints and the stories are rightfully mine.”
“Woah, back up baby. Stories? My baby brother was a writer? We want those too,” Jonathan said.’
“Jonathan, you are not getting anything that belongs to Vincent that is in our home.” Chelsea threw a twenty-dollar bill on the table and stood, Nick following her lead.
“My brother would be turning in his grave if he saw you with that pretty-boy you’re with.” Chelsea’s speed quickened, as she made her way to the door. She wanted to run and hide, burying herself under the rock she was familiar with since the day of Vincent’s burial.
“Chelsea,” Nick yelled as she began running. “Chelsea, please wait.” He ran after her, only reaching her as they made it to her house.
“Chelsea, don’t run from me. I want to help you,” he said, pulling her into his arms.
“No, Nick. You can’t help me. No one can help me. The only thing that would work is if Vincent came back. Nick, please…” she sobbed, trying to push away from Nick.
“Chelsea, don’t do this. I’m here for you right now, I want to help you,” he said with an urgency in his voice. The skies opened and matched Chelsea’s emotions, rain slowly beginning to fall.
“Nick, I need to be alone, please leave,” she cried, still struggling in his arms. His tears mixed with the rain as he cried with her, not letting her out of his hold.
“Chelsea, I’m not letting you go. I’m gonna stay here with you until I know you’ll be all right, even if that means staying here past the time my flight leaves. Chelsea, I want to help you, I want to be here for you.” He felt Chelsea’s struggles begin to cease and held her tighter.
The rain fell hard around them as they stood in the yard, Nick whispering in her ear, “It’s okay, Chelsea, I’m here for you. Let’s get inside and out of these wet clothes.” Chelsea remained standing, not ready to enter the house. Nick kissed her forehead, his hands rubbing up and down her back.
“Nick, I’m ready to go inside. I’m sure I have something of Vincent’s you can wear,” she told him through her sniffles.
Nick walked her in the house and into the bedroom, helping her choose dry clothes for her then him. Nick slipped into the bathroom, changing his clothes then sitting on the edge of the bathtub. Running his fingers through his hair, he found it hard to fight back the tears. One by one, they slowly fell down his cheeks landing on his thighs.
“Nick, are you almost done in there?” Wiping his eyes and coughing, he said, “Yeah, I’ll be out in one second.” Checking himself out in the mirror, he opened the door, mumbling, “I’ll start a fire while you’re in there.”
He heard the bathroom door close and made his way to the fireplace. Once the fire was started, he moved a few pillows from the bed in her room, and two blankets, creating a makeshift bed for the two to lay on. Chelsea exited the bathroom wearing a dark-blue nightgown, her eyes puffy from crying. “Nick, what did you do?”
“Well, I started a fire and figured that we should lay near it. I’d like to hold you for a while and try to take away the pain. I know I can’t do that overnight, but I’d certainly like to try.”
Nick’s heart lightened softly as he saw a slight smile appear on her face. She mouthed the words, “Thank you,” to him before making herself comfortable. Chelsea’s hands hugged the pillow as she lay on her side, Nick hesitated momentarily before lying beside her. He covered their bodies with the blanket he brought from her room, his hand rubbing softly over her arm.
When he was sure Chelsea had drifted off to sleep, he whispered, “I’ll be here for you, as long as you need me to be. And when you’re ready for more, I’ll be still be here.” Nick closed his eyes, breathing in the sweat scent of her hair. His arms interlocked around her waist, holding her close to him. “Sleep well, Chelsea,” he sighed before kissing her cheek.
During the night, Chelsea rolled in Nick’s arms, bring her hand to rest on his side and her head against his chest. Waking with each of her movements, Nick kept his eyes closed as she settled back to sleep. Once he was sure she was sleeping again, he opened his eyes and looked down at her sleeping form. His fingers grazed her cheek, causing her to stir again. Yawning, she opened her eyes and looked up at Nick. “Good-morning beautiful,” Nick said, his voice full of energy.
“Good-morning handsome. How did you sleep?”
Nick shrugged. “Well, the floor isn’t as comfortable as a bed, I’ll tell you that, but I had you in my arms so that made up for it.” She smiled at his words, biting her lip and resting her head back on his chest.
“Would it be a crime if we stay like this all day?”
“I don’t think that’s such a bad idea. I leave tomorrow, and I want to spend my last 24 hours with you. Can I make you breakfast in bed?”
Chelsea smiled, asking, “Don’t I have to be in bed to get the breakfast then?” Nick grinned and said, “That could be taken care of quickly.” He rolled out from under her arms, grabbing a pillow and lifting her as well.
“Nick, what are you doing?” He carried her into her bedroom, tossing the pillow towards the top of the bed and gently resting her in the center.
“Now I can serve you breakfast in bed.” Nick walked out of the bedroom hearing a sound he enjoyed hearing – Chelsea’s laughter.
He made the perfect breakfast – two scrambled eggs, hot chocolate, two pieces of toast and a large glass of orange juice. Placing it on the tray, Nick carried it into the bedroom and rested it over her lap. “Here is your breakfast, I hope it’s edible,” he laughed.
She took one bite of his eggs and made a face before drinking half the glass of orange juice. “Not bad…” she choked out.
Nick frowned, looking from her face, to the plate and back to her face. “Nick, I was just joking, your eggs are great. Thank you very much for making me breakfast.”
“You are very welcome, Chelsea.” Nick made himself comfortable at the top of the bed, watching her eat. Chelsea put the tray on the floor once her breakfast was finished and snuggled closer to Nick. “I wish there was more to do in this town than walk on the beach or take my boat out. This must be boring for you compared to California and Florida.”
“Actually,” he whispered, “these past few days have been the most relaxing and peaceful I have experienced in as long as I can remember, and it’s all thanks to you.”
“If I had a hand in that, you are more than welcome.”
“Do you want to have a picnic by the beach and sleep out there tonight? On the beach and under the stars?”
“Sure, we can do that for dinner. That is in about another 7 hours. What are we gonna do until then, Nick?”
Smiling widely, he said, “Just lay here and listen to each other breathe, maybe take a nap. Whatever the day brings us will be great as long as we spend it together.” Chelsea smiled as Nick sank further into the bed and rested his head against the pillow. His eyes closed and his breathing regulated, Chelsea did the one thing she loved doing most – she painted Nick’s angelic figure.
Nick moaned lightly in his sleep, rolling to his left side. Chelsea had just finished putting her canvas and brushes away when she heard a noise coming from the bedroom. She walked quietly in, expecting Nick to be sleeping, but found him lying in the bed, his arm draped over his forehead and his eyes staring up at the ceiling.
“And he lives,” she laughed. Nick turned his head towards Chelsea and smiled. “And he smiles too. Is today my lucky day or something?”
“Come here,” he said, a hint of sleepiness still etched in his voice. She walked towards the bed, sitting down gently and held his hand. “No, come closer,” he said. When she was within his grasp, he pulled her down on the bed causing her to scream then laugh.
“Nick, you’re crazy.”
“No, I’m not. I’m just me. So how long was I sleeping for and is it time for our picnic on the beach?” She nodded, biting her lip. “What did you do? You did something, you look guilty.”
“I made us dinner, that’s all I did.”
“Sure, and that look on your face means nothing else.”
“Nick, it really doesn’t. I just made us a few burgers and a salad, we’ll have water to drink and I set up the living room so we can stay in there tonight.”
“Living room? I thought we would sleep on the beach…ya know, under the stars and in each other’s arms.”
Hearing the disappointment in Nick’s voice, she said softly, “I just want to spend your last night here together, in the privacy of my home. Out there anyone can wander along and see us and sometimes they are not polite at all. You met Jonathan. They’re all like him.”
Nick looked up into her sad hazel eyes, and frowned. He pulled her into his arms; she felt comforted by the warmth of his arms and the silence of the house. “Nick, thank you for being here with me.”
“I don’t mind being here,” he said, his eyes closing once more. The food remained on the table, the couch in the living room cold and the candles blown out by a breeze flowing in through the open window while Nick and Chelsea spent his last night in North Carolina in each other’s arms.
Chelsea woke before Nick, brushing his blonde hair from his face. Their eyes met after he opened his, a smile forming on both of their lips. “Good morning, Nick.”
“Morning Chelsea.” His hand rubbed her back lightly bringing her head to rest on the pillow next to his.
“I hate to say this because I know you have to, but I don’t want you to leave today. I actually feel safe and not alone when you’re here. Not even my mother can make me feel like that.”
“Would you want to visit me in Tampa? I’ll be down there for a while; I have to do some rehearsing. I’d like for you to come and stay for a week maybe,” he whispered in her ear.
“I don’t know. I haven’t left this town in years. I don’t know, Nick.”
“Chelsea, you don’t have to visit, it was just a suggestion.”
“I’ll consider it,” she said softly. Nick sat up in the bed and threw his legs over the side. “I should get back to the Bed and Breakfast and pack my clothes. Will you have time to stop by later and say good-bye?”
“Yeah, I’ll stop by later,” she said solemnly, not moving from the bed to see Nick out after he dressed.
Nick stuck his hands in his pockets as he made his way to the Bed and Breakfast. Doris called out after hearing the front door open.
“It’s only me, Doris. I have to pack my things up, I’m leaving in a little while.” Doris watched him walk up the stairs, his head hung low and his left hand running through his hair. She chose not to speak, reading his emotions in his stance.
Nick opened the door and walked to the phone, dialing a familiar number. “Hello?”
“You didn’t forget about me did you?”
“Who is this? I don’t know you, who is this?”
“Funny, Bri, that’s really funny. You’re gonna pick me up at airport tonight at 5 right?"
“Yeah, I’ll be there. How is everything?”
“I have to go, sorry Bri. We’ll talk about it when I get back, okay?”
“Whatever you want, Nick. I’ll be there at five and ready to turn over the Green Monster. He’s been really good to me,” he said, mock crying.
Nick laughed despite the way he was feeling. “I’ll let you borrow him again, don’t worry. I have to pack, so I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“You got it little brother,” Brian said before they hung up. Nick sighed as he threw his clothes clumsily into the suitcase. Within the hour he was packed and threw his suitcase into the trunk of the car. Leaning his elbows on the hood of the car, and his fingers locking around his hair, he jumped a little when he heard Chelsea say, “I thought I missed you.”
“I was just about to leave, Chelsea,” he said turning and leaning back on the car. Her lower lip trembled as she stepped closer to Nick, her legs stopping between his and her arms hesitantly wrapping around his waist.
“I’m sorry I didn’t see you out before, and I’m sorry if I sounded rude. I’d like to visit you in Tampa…one day.” Nick extended his right arm, opening the car door with his hand.
“I should be going, Chelsea. It’s about an hour to the airport,” he said quietly. Chelsea took a step back and looked into his eyes, the pain in his mirroring hers.
Chelsea pulled Nick down to her height, her arms wrapping around his neck, hugging him. “Nick, I don’t want you to leave.”
“If I had a choice I would stay, but I can’t.” He pulled slowly away from Chelsea, staring at her, memorizing every feature on her face. Before he knew what he was doing, his lips met hers, kissing her tenderly. Nick broke the kiss, feeling no response from her.
Nick was about to apologize but was interrupted when Chelsea’s finger ran over his lips before they shared another kiss. Her arms rested against his back and her hands on his shoulders as his hands held her waist. Their kiss deepened, both of them wanting to make the moment last.
Chelsea pulled back from Nick, searching his face for some kind of meaning to their kiss. “That just makes it much more harder to leave, Chelsea. You have my number, right?” She nodded, biting her lip, trying to keep her emotions hidden.
“You have mine?” He nodded as well as he started to climb into the car.
“Wait, Nick,” she whispered, pulling him away from the car and giving him one last kiss. He looked away, climbing into the car and starting the engine. Nick drove away from the Bed and Breakfast, one by one the tears falling down his face. He looked in the rearview mirror before turning the corner, seeing Chelsea wrap her arms around herself.
Doris came out from the house, seeing the car make the turn and walked to her daughter. She took Chelsea in her arms, their heads resting against each other’s before whispering, “It’ll be okay, Chelsea. I’m sure things will work out.” Chelsea only nodded along with her mother’s comforting words, not believing them.
*~* Three Weeks Later *~*
Nick stared at the papers scattered in front of him, ignoring the fun that Brian and Kevin were having. “Hey, Nick?”
“Is that your cell ringing? I can’t tell if it’s yours or Howie’s.” Nick looked down, fishing around in his bag, when he realized it was his. Finally finding it, he flipped the bottom and said, “This is Nick.”
“Nick, it’s Chelsea.” He brought his eyes to AJ’s, wondering if he’d heard her right.
“Chelsea? Chelsea Blake from North Carolina?”
“Yeah, Nick, it’s me. I’ve missed you.” He stood, leaving the room and wandering to find a more secluded spot. “Hold on a minute, Chelsea.”
“Nick, I have people working on the house.”
Stopping in his tracks, he said, “What? The house Vincent started?” He could also see the smile on her face as she said, “Yeah. I thought a lot the week after you left. You sparked something in me, ya know. I haven’t felt this alive in a long time. I’ve been overseeing the job and doing more paintings as well. I wish you were here to see them.”
“I’d like to be there to see them.” Nick heard her sigh on the other end. “Chelsea, what are you doing the rest of the week? For the next seven days?”
“I…I don’t know. I probably won’t know until those days are here and…”
“Come here for the next seven days. Leave tomorrow, I’ll pick you up at the airport…what do you say?”
“I want to see you, but I don’t have the time to visit you. Will you please say yes?”
“Nick, I’ve never flown before,” she said quietly. “But I will. I want to call my mother first and make sure she’s okay and that she won’t need me for the next week. I’ll get back to you.”
“Thank you Chelsea.” They said their good-byes and Nick walked back into the studio and towards Kevin and Brian. “I got winners,” Nick said, sitting on the bench next to the basketball hoop. He noticed the glances between Brian and Kevin, and the expression AJ held on his face. “What? I can’t be happy and want to play?”
“When is she coming?”
“Who?” he asked innocently, looking away.
“What do you mean, ‘who?’” Brian said, mocking him. “North Carolina. When does she get here?”
“North Carolina has a name and she gets here tomorrow. Hurry and finish your game, I’m ready to kick some ass,” he laughed.
Half-way during the game, Nick was up on Brian by 15 points when his cell phone rang again. “Nick, it’s yours.”
“Can you get it, Kev? Find out who it is.”
Kevin sighed and nodded, answering his phone. “Oh, I think I have the wrong number, I was looking for Nick, and you’re obviously not him. I’m sorry.”
“No, no, no…wait. Are you…I’m sorry, your name is escaping me right now.”
“Yeah, I’m a friend of Nick’s, I’ll get him for you.”
“Brian, I’m sorry. I’ll finish the game when I hang up. Besides, don’t you want to quit? You’re losing pretty bad, ya know.”
“Ha ha, very funny. No, I don’t want to quit, I’m gonna come back and kick your ass.”
“Hello,” Nick said, rolling his eyes towards Brian and smiling at the person on the other end.
“Well? Are you going to be gracing me with your presence for the next seven wonderful days?” he asked, his spirits higher than they were the past few weeks.
“If you’d love some company, I can be on the next plane out of here. My mother told me if I didn’t go she would never speak to me again, so I have no choice. I love my mom.”
“I love your mom too,” he said softly. “You pack and I’ll make the arrangements. I’ll call you in a half hour with your flight information, okay?”
“Yeah. Nick, I can’t wait to be in your arms again.”
“I can’t wait for you to be there, Chelsea. I’ll see you in a little while.” After saying their good-byes for the second time that afternoon, Nick grabbed his things and ran from the studio. “Nick…our game? We have to finish.”
“I owe you a game, Bri. I’ll give you a 15 point lead, too,” he laughed, running from the door.
On the drive down to his Tampa home, Nick called the airlines for the earliest flight in, not caring how much it would cost. He booked a flight and called Chelsea, letting her know she had three hours to get to the airport.
Nick drove quickly to his house - he had a million things on his mind before Chelsea’s arrival. Pulling into the driveway, he stopped short, just missing the car already parked there. He saw his little brother playing on the lawn and two of his sisters sitting on the stairs.
“Nick,” BJ said, walking towards her brother. “We need a favor, a big favor.”
“Why aren’t you guys in California?”
“You have to watch Aaron for us. We’re on our way to the Islands and Aaron doesn’t want to come. Do you mind him staying?”
He looked over at his brother, the joy on his face was obvious as he was being chased by the dogs. That simple fact answered his question.
“Yeah, he can stay. How long are you guys going to be there?”
“For a week. Me and Leslie just relaxing on the beach, meeting guys…”
“Stop! I don’t want to know what you two are going to be doing with guys, okay. I’m your older brother, I don’t need to know those things.”
They laughed at Nick before walking over to Aaron and kissing him good-bye. Nick moved his truck allowing them to pull out of the driveway before driving off to the airport. Nick parked once again, and after he climbed from the car he walked over to Aaron.
“So, Nick, what do you wanna do tonight?”
“Well, we’re going to the airport…”
“NO. I’M NOT GOING TO THE AIRPORT. YOU ARE NOT SHIPPING ME BACK HOME. I’M STAYING HERE WITH YOU UNTIL BJ AND LESLIE COME BACK FOR ME,” he yelled at Nick.
“Fine, Aaron. I’m not taking you to the airport to send you home. I have a friend from North Carolina coming in. Her name is Chelsea.”
“Oh…I’m sorry I yelled Nick. I just don’t want to go home. I never get to spend time with you anymore, and I didn’t want to go to whatever island they were going to, so I figured if I told mom and dad that I was going with them I can stay here for a week.”
‘What timing he’s got…Chelsea and I are finally seeing each other once again and we won’t have anytime alone.’
“Nick, you look like you’re in outer space, where are you?”
“Nowhere. Since I only have one guest room, do you want to stay with me in my bed and my friend will stay in that room?” Nick silently prayed Aaron would refuse, but he jumped at the chance to spend time with his older brother.
Chelsea sat on the plane nervously. Her hands clenched the armrests and she kept her eyes closed. She heard the announcement that the plane would be landing within the next twenty minutes. There was a bit of turbulence, which made Chelsea uneasier than she already was. She released her breath, gasping for air, not realizing she had been holding her breath.
“Are you okay?” the flight attendant asked. Chelsea nodded, responding, “I’ll be fine once I’m off the plane.”
“You don’t have to wait any longer, Ma’am. The flight has landed and the passengers are starting to depart.” Chelsea sat forward, looking around at the people passing her, their bags in their hands. She stood, slightly nervous about seeing Nick again and made her way to the front of the plane.
Once in the terminal, she searched for Nick and smiled when their eyes locked. “Oh, Nick, I’ve missed you so much,” she whispered, tears of joy on the verge of falling, as she felt Nick’s arms wrap around her.
“I’ve missed you too,” he whispered back. “My little brother is with me. He’s staying with me for the week. I didn’t know before we made the arrangements. We did talk in the car though. He’s gonna stay at his friend Andy’s house tomorrow so we will have some time together.”
“Nick?” Aaron stood by their side, waiting to be introduced. Chelsea stared at the younger boy, amazed at his likeness to Nick. “Hi, I’m Aaron. Nick, can we eat now? I’m sorry I’m hungry, BJ and Leslie didn’t let me eat when we got off the plane.”
Nick laughed at his brother, Chelsea soon joining in, as they headed towards the car and the restaurant.
“So when do we get to meet North Carolina?”
“How many times do I have to say it? Her name is Chelsea, not North Carolina and you guys aren’t going to meet her for another few days. Aaron is showing her around town.”
“You’re trusting her with Aaron? I can just see Aaron dragging her to every Toys R Us store in Florida looking for that new game he’s been wanting to get.”
“I will not, AJ,” Aaron said, dragging a laughing Chelsea in behind him. “For your information I took Chelsea to Sea World. She likes the water, and she had a good time.”
“Really Aaron? Is that true?”
“I have to agree, Nick. I had a great time with your brother.”
“So there, AJ. We’re gonna go shopping when we leave here. Chelsea just wanted to see where you worked, Nick.” Nick walked over to Chelsea, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Aaron’s friend’s mother will be at the house around six to get him.”
Chelsea nodded once, whispering, “It’s four now. I’ll have him home by five, don’t worry.”
Nick stole a kiss from her before Aaron started whining. “Can we go now? PLEASE?”
"Aaron, wait a minute," Nick said, turning his attention back to Chelsea.
'Aaron, wait a minute,' he mocked under his breath. He plopped himself on the chair, folding his arms over his chest and glared at Nick. Nick made a face at his brother before turning Chelsea to the other guys.
"These are my friends. Chelsea, this is Kevin, Howie, AJ and Brian. Guys, this is Chelsea.” She shook each of their hands, smiling as she moved down the line.
“Nick, she’s met them, can we go now?” Aaron whined again.
“What’s your problem?”
“I need to buy some games to take to Andy’s with me tonight, okay?” Chelsea bit her lip to hide the laughter that would soon follow.
“It’s okay Nick. I’ll see you later.” Chelsea kissed him before hearing Nick whisper, “I’ll see you later.” She kissed the base of his neck before turning and walking towards Aaron.
Nick laughed, hearing Aaron mock him again, “I’ll see you later,” making kissing noises. Nick looked at the other guys and shook his head, a slight smile playing on his lips when he turned his back.
After the rehearsals Nick drove home, wanting to go faster but not wanting a ticket. The time in the car read 6:25. ‘Aaron should already be gone,’ he thought, pulling into his driveway. Chelsea met him at the door, holding it open for him and letting him enter.
“Hey, Chelsea. How was shopping with Aaron?” Nick stretched as he walked into his bedroom, Chelsea following him.
“It was fun. Aaron found a few games he wanted and he bought me new paintbrushes. Did you tell him I painted?” she asked as she stood at the door, watching Nick slip into something more comfortable. Biting her lip and taking a chance, she made her way towards him. He had his back to her as his hands hooked on his shirt and removed it from his body.
Hesitating momentarily, Chelsea placed her hands on Nick’s upper arms. He sucked in his breath at her touch, knowing what would follow between the two that night. He dropped his shirt on the bed and waited a few moments before turning around. Their faces were mere inches apart when Nick smiled and said, “I should take a shower. This should be perfect.”
Chelsea’s eyes roamed Nick’s chest as he brought his hands to her shoulders, squeezing lightly. Her finger softly ran over his chest, marking the spot her lips would connect with. Nick closed his eyes, savoring the touch of her lips on him. He sat on the bed, bringing her body closer to his. He looked up at her and smiled before whispering, “I really should take a shower. We did a lot of rehearsing today and I’m…” He was interrupted when Chelsea’s mouth rested against his lips.
She pushed him back on the bed, her lips not leaving his, and smiled when they finally broke apart. “No shower, you can shower later.” Nick rolled to his side facing Chelsea, his hands resting on her stomach. She rolled to her side, her upper body pressed against Nick’s. “You smell great Nick,” she said, trying to ease the tension between them.
Nick’s hand repeatedly placed the same piece of hair behind her ear. “Nick?”
Clearing his throat before answering, he said, “Yeah, Chelsea.”
“Will you make love to me?”
“Are you sure this is what you want?” he asked, his nose nuzzled against her cheek.
“Yes, I’m sure, Nick. I’m not one to tease, you should know that.”
“I do know that. Would you like me to undress you, or do you want that job for yourself?” he asked.
“Can you do it? I’d like for you to do it and see my body,” she smiled. Nick returned the smile and sat up on the bed. One by one, he unbuttoned the sweater she wore revealing her bra. Chelsea studied his face intently, the seriousness never faltering as he pushed the sweater away from her skin.
Chelsea bit her lip as she felt his fingers slide over her stomach to the button on her jeans. He slid the zipper down till it couldn’t slide anymore. She lifted herself off the bed, allowing him to slide her jeans down her body. “You can lay back down now,” he whispered.
Nick moved down the bed, bringing her jeans with him until they were no longer on her body. He tossed them on the floor, his hands massaging her lower leg. She sat up, bringing herself level with Nick, and resting her hand on his. “Lay down Nick,” she said softly, yet demanding.
He did what she wanted him to do, his eyes locked on her hands as he waited for her next move. She brought her fingers to the elastic of his sweatpants, maneuvering them from his waist and down his body. She put them on the floor with her pants and discarded her sweater before she lay down next to Nick.
Nick’s hand was resting on her back, rubbing lightly from her panties to the strap of her bra. Chelsea’s fingers were dancing over Nick’s chest, her eyes watching it rise and fall, waiting in anticipation for Nick to make the first move.
Nick’s thumb and forefinger stopped at her bra strap momentarily before they opened it. He sat up on the bed, motioning for Chelsea to sit with him. Their eyes never let each other’s faces as Chelsea sighed and Nick fingers pulled her bra from her body.
Not knowing what to say or what to do first, Nick rested his hand on her stomach and gently guided her back to the bed. His thumb massaged a small section of her soft skin as he lowered his mouth to hers. Their lips and tongues connected slowly, not wanting to rush into anything.
Chelsea’s fingers gingerly danced along Nick’s arm, their elbows resting against each others’ as Nick broke their kiss. He tasted the skin on her neck as his hand explored her body, massaging her leg with his fingers. Nick found her the edge of her panties and slowly began lowering them. Chelsea’s hands searched his back, learning every inch, as they wandered lower down his body.
Nick smiled at feeling her hands enter under the elastic of his briefs. After helping Nick remove them from his body, Chelsea watched Nick sit up on the bed and remove her panties. “You’re absolutely beautiful, Chelsea. More beautiful than I imagined.”
Their eyes connected, both of them knowing the moment was right. His warm lips met her neck as their bodies became one. A layer of sweat covered their bodies as their slightly parted lips rested each other’s. Nick’s mouth gently attached to her breast, taking her nipple fully inside his mouth. Chelsea showed her appreciation vocally, Nick’s name flowing from her mouth freely.
Chelsea’s left breast eagerly awaited Nick’s mouth while he teased and suckled her right. “Chelsea,” was the only word he managed to say. He took her hands, which were caressing his upper back, and extended them above her head, interlocking their fingers.
Nick’s mouth turned its attention to her right breast, kissing around her areola. His tongue teased her hardening bud, flicking lightly. Chelsea freed one hand from Nick’s, moving it to the back of his head, guiding him to what would please her. Nick smiled to himself, hearing the slight moans of satisfaction from her lips. His free hand opened her legs and wrapped one around his waist; Chelsea’s other leg followed suit and did the same.
Chelsea sighed, her mouth hanging open slightly as Nick continued his oral attack on her breasts. Careful not to hurt her, his teeth grazed her sensitive skin. A gasp escaped her mouth…the feeling of Nick inside her overwhelming. Nick released her hand feeling it instantly grab hold of his lower back.
Breathing heavily, Nick’s mouth reclaimed hers stifling any loud pleasure-filled moans Chelsea would have. His pace slowed to a teasing manner, driving her insane. “Nick, what are you doing?”
Between kisses he sighed, “Pleasing you. I only want to please you, Chelsea. Is it working?” Nodding, Chelsea’s leaned her head back giving Nick full access to her neck. A low choked groan came from Chelsea’s throat as he brushed his lips across her neck.
They shared a passionate kiss, the heat of their bodies almost too much for the other to handle. Chelsea’s body shook and her velvety walls clenched around Nick, drawing them both closer to their orgasms. Nick buried his face against her neck, lightly kissing her neck and shoulder, while the warmth of Chelsea brought him to his peak.
Nick felt Chelsea’s chest rise and fall under his as they each regained consciousness from their blinding orgasm. Nick slowly withdrew himself from the confines of her body, resting himself next to her. Nick wrapped his arms around her waist, both of them staring out the rain-streaked window, listening to the thunder roll.
He kissed the nape of her neck before whispering, “I’m going to take that shower now. Keep my place warm for when I come back, okay?” She answered him with a kiss and watched him roll off of the bed and walk naked into the bathroom.
Chelsea sighed happily, grabbing the blankets in her arms and cuddling them close to her body. She heard the shower water turn on and she sat up looking around his bedroom. Wanting to be close to him while he was in another room, she opened the top drawer to his bedside dresser, looking for one of his shirts…what she found were two familiar notes and a light green bottle rolling around.
Nick walked out of the bathroom, towel-drying his hair, with a towel wrapped around his waist. He looked up to find Chelsea standing at the side of his bed, her suitcase opened and fully dressed. “Chelsea, what are you doing?”
“How could you Nick? How could you look into my eyes pretending not to know my pain, what I’ve been through for the past two years? How could you keep something this important from me?” she asked, holding the two notes in her hand, the bottle sitting on the top of the dresser. “How could you?”
“Chelsea, I can explain.’
“Well then start explaining. How did you get these?”
“One of them washed up on the beach out there. I found it and read it. I wanted to find you, to get to know you…”
“Get to know me?”
“Yeah. There’s a passion in your words…an indescribable passion that made me fall in love with you before I met you.” Chelsea hurt-filled eyes stared at Nick as she shook her head. “Nick?”
“I can’t help what I’m feeling. Yes, I did go to North Carolina with the intention of meeting you. I wanted to get to know you. I didn’t think I’d fall this hard. Chelsea, believe me when I say I didn’t want you to find out about the letters this way.”
“What way then? When were you going to tell me? No one was supposed to read them, no one was supposed to know what was inside the bottle but Vincent and I. Nick, you should’ve told me.”
Nick brought his sad eyes up to meet hers as he asked, “Where does that leave us?”
“It leaves us no where. I’m going home.” Nick’s mouth hung open waiting for an explanation.
“Don’t you think we can work through this? Talk this through? Chelsea, please don’t go. I want you to stay…I need you to stay.”
“You don’t want me Nick. What you want is someone you thought I was and someone you thought I could be.” Not able to take the look in his eyes, the sadness and the betrayal, Chelsea ran from the house into the night…into the rain.
“Chelsea, wait. Please wait.” Nick ran from the house after her. The rain chilled his body the moment it touched his skin, his one hand holding onto the towel as he ran. He watched as Chelsea collapsed onto the sand burying her face in her hands. Breathlessly Nick stood beside her waiting for her to look up at him.
“I can’t leave. You don’t know your way around. Come back to my house. You’re wet and it’s raining. Please, Chelsea. We can talk this over, and I’ll explain myself better once we get back inside the house where it’s warm…and not raining. Chelsea, please.”
A few moments passed between them before she said, “I’ll go inside, but not because you asked me to. It’s because I want to pack. I want to leave. If you can keep something like this from me, I don’t know what else you could keep from me. Those letters were private. You knew who I was all along and that didn’t matter to you. You knew I was feeling a loss inside that was deep…a loss deep enough that not even Vincent himself could cure. Nick, I feel deceived and that’s not a feeling I enjoy having. Will you drive me to the airport Nick?”
Nick’s heart dropped hearing those words. Bending down and lifting her from the sand, still holding his towel with one hand, his other arm wrapped around her waist. “Why do you want to go to the airport?”
“I want to go home. I can’t stay here anymore. I don’t want to stay here anymore.”
“It’s the letters? I didn’t want to spoil the moment, Chelsea, when we met. I literally ran into you that night on the beach. That wasn’t planned. Finding those three letters weren’t planned either.”
“Three? What do you mean three? I only wrote two.”
“I have three up in my room…Chelsea, wait…” he yelled after her. Nick stood there momentarily waiting to see her every move. Nick walked quickly towards the house, his eyes squinting to block the rain from hitting them. He ran up the stairs, not caring that his wet towel finally fell from his body. When he arrived in his room, he saw Chelsea rummaging through his dresser.
“Nick, where is the third one? Why did you think I wrote it? Why can’t I find it?”
“What’s wrong? Give me a second and I’ll get it, okay?” he said, as he pulled on a dry pair of boxers, his voice full of concern.
“Why did you think it was mine Nick?”
“Same letterhead and the typing style is the same as the others.” Finding it on his desktop, he handed it to her. “That is the letterhead I used. Where did you get this? I didn’t write this one.”
“My bodyguard, Q, found it while I was in North Carolina. A few days after we got back he came over to just chill out. That was the reason he came here and he almost forgot to give it to me. Chelsea, listen to me,” he said walking towards her.
He placed his hands on her shoulders, trying to get her to look at him. “I didn’t mean to deceive you. I know that’s what you’re feeling right now and that was not my intention. I didn’t know how to tell you I found them. I genuinely enjoy spending time with you. I’m not deceiving you about that.”
He watched Chelsea walk away from him over towards the window looking out. Holding the letter in her hand, she read it line by line.
I'll be loving you always
with a love that's true, always
When the thing you've planned
needs my helping hand,
I will understand, always, always
Days may not be fair, always
Yeah but that's when I'll be there, always
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year, but always.
I said that I'll be loving you, always
with a love that's true, always.
When the thing you've planned
needs my helping hand,
I will, I will understand, always, always
(Oh that's pretty ... that's pretty too ... Oh darling)
The days may not be fair, always
Yeah but that's when I'll be there, always
Not for just a second, or a minute, or an hour,
Not for just a weekend and a shake down in the shower,
Not for just the summer and the winter going sour,
But always, always, always
(Ok if you don't want to quit, let's try it one more time)
I'll be loving you, always
with a love that's true, always.
When the thing you've planned
needs my helping hand,
I will understand, I will, I will understand, always, always
The days may not be fair, always
(Don't worry, baby)
That's when I'll be there, always
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year, but always. ¶
Between short breaths and wiping her own tears away, Chelsea managed to say, “Vincent.”
“What?” Nick asked, his eyes searching the back of her head.
“I didn’t write this, Vincent did. I only wrote two letters. Vincent sang this to me the day we got married. The two of us were alone in the limousine after the ceremony and he pulled me against him. He started singing this. He called me Sea…that was his nickname for me. He said, ‘Sea, this is one of my favorite songs and I’m going to sing it to you.’ Then he sang it to me.”
Chelsea let out a low groan, remembering her wedding as though it were yesterday, before dropping the letter to the floor and holding her head in her hands. Nick stood behind her, slightly hesitant to hold her but her sobs grew louder. Nick wrapped his arms around her chest, pulling her against him. “Chelsea, let it out. Let me be here for you.”
She slowly withdrew her head from her hands and leaned against Nick. They stood at the window, in each other’s arms, for a few moments. “Nick, would you mind if I kept this? I want to have something to remember him by.”
“Of course you can keep the letter. I wouldn’t want to hold anything back from you, Chelsea.” Quietly they swayed to the music in their heads, Chelsea keeping her eyes closed, focusing on the words of the song Vincent put in the bottle.
“Chelsea, are you gonna stay here for a while? I don’t want to see you go, not over the letters. You can take them with you, I just want you to stay here in my arms. Please, Chelsea,” he whispered his plea.
“I won’t leave now, but I won’t stay for the rest of the week. I’ll go home in two days,” she answered, her right hand holding Vincent’s letter in her hand and her left hand caressing Nick’s. She shied away from his lips for a split second before relaxing in his arms.
“Let’s lay down. We can go get the letter laminated tomorrow if you’d like. That way it won’t get ruined.” Chelsea allowed Nick to guide her to his bed and didn’t resist when he helped her climb into it. She accepted his warm and comforting embrace, resting her head against his chest. Before drifting off to sleep, Chelsea heard Nick softly say, “I really am sorry Chelsea. I hope you’ll find it in your heart to forgive me.”
Her last waking thought that night was, ‘I already do forgive you.’
A few hours later Chelsea rolled to her side, stretching in Nick’s arms. The sun had not yet begun rising when Chelsea rolled from her bed and walked out of the bedroom, smiling then biting her lip at the peaceful aura that glowed from Nick while he slept. After almost stumbling over one of the puppies, she picked her up and carried her into the living room, sitting on the couch.
“What’s your name, girl? Can you tell me?” she asked, not surprised there was no answer. “Well, since you’re not talking, let’s take a look at your collar, okay?” Holding the dog eye-level, she found her name to be Nicky. “Well, Nicky, what do you do for fun around here when Nick is sleeping?”
The puppy yapped her jaw and proudly licked Chelsea’s face when she held Nicky closer. “Now, aren’t you the cutest thing…next to your daddy, of course,” she whispered the latter part. She lay on the couch, resting her head against the armrest and her free hand against the dog’s back. “It’s a bit cooler in here than in the bedroom Nicky. Why don’t we both take a nap?” Nicky buried her head under Chelsea’s arm and the two of them slept soundly on the couch.
The morning sun streamed into the bedroom, forcing Nick to wake prematurely. He wasn’t too surprised to find his bed half-empty. Nick figured Chelsea would leave his home during the night and find her way to the airport so she could go back to her safe haven.
A tear of joy slid down his cheek as he witnessed Chelsea asleep on the couch. The sight of her with his pup overjoyed him enough to walk back into his room, grab his sketchbook and pencil and walk back into the living room. He sat in the recliner, his knees drawn up and resting his pad on his thighs. He began to draw the lines and contours of her body, not leaving out any details, and before he knew it, he had sketched her to perfection.
Nick watched Chelsea sleep, the way her chest moved rhythmically with her breathing, the way her fingers lightly stroked his puppy, they way her big hazel eyes met his when he looked into her face. “Good morning, Chelsea.”
“Mmm… good morning, Nick,” she said smiling as she sat up on the couch.
“I really wish you’d reconsider Chelsea. You’re more than welcome to stay. I’d like for you to stay. Aaron too. He loves you already,” Nick smiled as he carried one of her bags towards her gate.
“Nick, I should go. I love spending time with you, but things are different now. I know you don’t understand why I’m feeling like this, it’s hard to explain myself, but I am.” Nick set her bags on one of the empty seats as they stood in front of it.
Nick held his arms open to her, wanting to feel her step inside his embrace. He sighed when she did, wrapping her arms around his waist and resting her head against his chest. “Will you promise to call me Chelsea?”
“Yeah, I’ll call you,” the words rolled off her tongue sweetly. Nick nodded wondering if she was going to keep her end of the bargain.
“I’ll call you too, Chelsea. Maybe tonight before I go to bed so the last thing I hear is your voice. Is that okay?”
“I’d like that. Thank you, Nick, for being such a great guy. It means a lot that you’re letting me keep the letters.”
“They’re yours, Chelsea. You wrote them, and one was written with you in mind. I would in no way keep them from you any longer,” he told her, once again regretting not telling her right away.
He felt a slight dampness on his shirt from her fresh tears. “Don’t cry, Chelsea, please don’t. My weakness is crying, especially if it’s someone I care about deeply. Let me dry those tears for you, okay?”
He held her face within his hands, his thumbs clearing the wetness on her face. His heart fluttered with a slight sense of loss when the attendant announced her gate number. He lowered his mouth to hers, pressing his lips softly against hers. Nick felt her tongue against his lips, and he opened his mouth. Their kiss deepened, as the seconds ticked away, neither of them wanting to break apart.
She tried to block the tears in her eyes from falling, but it was useless. “I’m sorry, Nick. I really should go or the plane will leave without me.”
“Please don’t forget to call me tonight. I want to know you got home all right.”
“I will Nick.” She kissed him once more before walking away from him. She turned only once to look at him, seeing his head hung and his fingers up to his eyes. Biting her lip, she walked down the ramp and onto the plane. Nick missed the chance to get another glimpse of her beauty before she disappeared onto the plane.
Nick walked to the window, resting his arm against it and his head against his arm. The tears trickled down his face, as he watched the plane move away from the gate and begin taxiing towards the runway. Using his right hand, he wiped away his tears. He walked swiftly back to his car in order to ignore anyone recognizing him – he did not want that right now.
Chelsea’s eyes stared out at the cloudless sky as the plane began its descent into the airport in North Carolina. She had not called ahead and told her mother she would be coming home early – she wanted to surprise her.
She took a cab from the airport to her house and looked around once she was inside. She walked towards Vincent’s room, where she kept all his things organized. She walked towards his small paintings, running her fingers over each one. She grabbed a few of the smaller paintings and put them in a box. Looking around the room and spotting the blueprints, she walked to them and read the labels.
Grabbing only two, she placed them in the box and went to the one thing she treasured the most - his writings. Chelsea read through only one of the stories and decided that was the one she would part with. She added that to the rest of the items in the box and took them out to her car. Taking a deep breath, she started the engine and drove twenty minutes to her destination.
When she put the car in park, she hesitated momentarily before stepping from it. Taking the box from the back seat, she walked towards the front of the house calling a name she never thought she would voluntarily call.
“Jonathan?” She paused with one foot resting on the bottom stair and the box resting on her thigh. “Jonathan? Mr. and Mrs. Blake, it’s Chelsea. Please come to the door. I have something for you.” She walked up a few more stairs, resting the box on the porch.
She wrapped her knuckles on the door, getting no answer. She knelt down next to the box, sure she was making the right decision. She held her fingers to her lips, kissed them softly and placed her fingers on one of the paintings - her favorite painting.
Jonathan stood behind the closed door, watching till her car disappeared up the drive, before he walked onto the porch and looked through the box with mixed emotions.
Chelsea drove along, looking at the blueprints on the seat beside her and knew what she had to do in honor of Vincent. Pulling into the empty lot where the house she painted was being built, Chelsea unrolled the blueprints and looked them over. Knowing what she was reading – Vincent taught her how to read blueprints – she made her final decision. Getting back into her car, she drove along happy with what she was going to do.
Nick walked into his house, hesitantly at first, not wanting to be reminded of Chelsea. Walking further into his house, he smelled her scent and turned, expecting her to be standing behind him. He lowered and shook his head, the emptiness already overtaking his heart.
He followed the familiar path to his bedroom and walked inside. His two dogs were curled together on the bed, bringing out his world class smile. He lay on the bed trying not to breathe in Chelsea’s perfume that lingered on his pillows. Not able to stand her presence in his home, he jumped out of the bed and walked out the back door, leading to the ocean. Choosing a nice, quiet spot he sat in the sand, bringing his legs up, wrapping his arms around them and resting his chin on his knee. He looked out into the ocean and prayed it would do what it usually did – bring him piece of mind.
Three weeks had gone by and neither of them had phoned each other. Chelsea had been working on new paintings, photographing everything she saw in her memory and saving them for an upcoming painting.
Two weeks after she had left, the house Vincent began building was relatively complete. The last step she had to face was painting the second coat. Wearing her overalls and a white T-shirt, Chelsea walked the twelve blocks to the house, carrying the large paintbrushes and a can of paint. She stood there in awe of the house, when she arrived, seeing the other paint cans, most of them empty, and decided to get to work.
She started on the side of the house and slowly finished. She began singing lightly as the brush in her hand moved softly, yet swiftly, over the house. As she made her way towards the front of a house a shadow befell her. She looked up and her eyes connected with the least likely person – Jonathan.
No words were spoken between them as Chelsea looked away and continued painting. Jonathan grabbed a paintbrush and a bucket of paint and began painting the front of the house. Chelsea walked from her post on the side of the house and looked to where Jonathan was. She watched as he climbed a small ladder and began moving the paintbrush over the house. Their eyes locked once again and Chelsea smiled as she made her way to her side of the house and began painting one more.
One week following the unspoken truce between Chelsea and Jonathan, she stood before the house smiling. Her vision was complete and exactly how she drew it. "Very nice, Chelsea. Vincent would be proud of you,” Doris told her, standing by her side.
“Thanks, mom.” The two of them stood side-by-side, their arms around each other looking at the house. Chelsea’s mind drifted off to another place, wondering what Nick was doing at this very moment.
Nick and Brian were sitting together in the living room of Nick’s house, watching a video Nick had picked up. Kevin was late in joining them so they started the movie without him. Nick smiled at the jokes, but didn’t laugh like he once did. “You still haven’t heard from her?”
Picking up Nicky and resting her on his lap, he said, “No. She must really be angry for me not telling her about the letters. How could I have possibly started that conversation?”
Brian looked at him and shrugged, about to say something, but Nick interrupted him. “I mean, could I have said, “Wow, you’re Chelsea. Wouldn’t you know I traveled all this way to see what you looked like because a letter you wrote washed up on shore? Or how about this one, Bri?”
Brian watched as Nick started speaking again, ‘Chelsea? As in the Chelsea that wrote the letters? It’s so good to finally meet you.’ Or better yet this one, ‘Chelsea, I found the letters you wrote to your dead husband. Want to go out for lunch?’” Nick’s eyes instantly fell with the last words he spoke.
“I know, Bri. I shouldn’t have said that one.” Their eyes wandered back to the movie, an uncomfortable silence overcoming then. Brian stood and walked into the kitchen, grabbing a couple of cold bottles of water and bringing them back into the room. He threw one at Nick and they both went back to watching the movie.
“Bri, do you know what the sad part is? She’s not gonna know just how much she means to me. I never had the chance to tell her while she was here.”
“Didn’t you show her?”
“Show her?” Nick asked.
“Did you guys…”
“Yes, we did, but that’s not the same. Saying the words and doing that are different.” Kevin let himself into the house, sitting between the two close friends. “I brought your mail in, Nick. It was hanging out of the mail box.” Nick thumbed through the mail, tossing the bills to the side and stopping on a familiar handwriting and a familiar North Carolina return address.
Nick stood and left the cousins sitting in the living room and went to his room. He opened the envelope, finding two pictures inside. The first one was a house. He recognized the land surrounding it and smiled proudly at the finished house. Whispering softly to himself, he said, “Chelsea, it looks fantastic.” He flipped the photo to see a small note attached.
I’ve been thinking about you and everything you’ve taught me. Here is my new home. I’d like for you to come see it. I’m using one of the upstairs rooms as part of my home studio for painting. See the next picture for more good news.
His smile broadened as he looked at the next photo. It was a photo of an art gallery. He flipped that photo and read the note.
Saturday, April 8 at 2:30 p.m. I have a showing at this art gallery. The director fell in love with my recent work.
I hope you can come to share in this great day, Nick. I’ve missed you more than you know.
‘Today is Tuesday, April 4. I have three days to prepare for this.’ He walked out of his bedroom sitting with Kevin and Brian, smiling widely. “What’s with the grin, Nick? Spill, what did you get in the mail?”
Nick handed each of them a photo and watched their expressions mirror his own of a few minutes ago. Kevin and Brian exchanged pictures and read the back of them as well.
“What do you mean ‘Well?’ She invited me to be there and I’m going. I’ll leave Saturday morning and book a room at her mother’s bed and breakfast.” Nick smiled and began to make the arrangements.
Saturday morning, Brian drove Nick to the airport once again, after gaining custody of ‘The Green Monster’ for the weekend. “I’ll be back to pick you up tomorrow night, at around 7.”
“Thanks, Bri. Take care of the car, okay?” Brian nodded and watched Nick leave his sight, happy for him.
On the flight Nick nervously shook his leg, not sure how Chelsea would react to seeing him. He gazed out the window as the plane rose above the clouds. He closed his eyes, remembering the night of passion him and Chelsea shared, hoping to relive it. He smiled as he saw Chelsea lying in wait on the bed for him, and he slowly drifted off.
He felt the plane land, which woke him from his sleep. Rubbing his eyes, he looked at his watch, seeing he had about an hour and a half before Chelsea’s showing started. Once the plane came to a complete stop, he stood and grabbed his carry on luggage and made his way to the car rental stand.
He sang lightly once on the road, letting his own voice calm his nerves. When he finally reached the Bed and Breakfast, with a few minutes to spare, Doris met him at the door. “Nickolas, Chelsea is going to be really surprised to see you here. I’ve kept my end of the deal and she doesn’t know you are here. I’m on my way to the gallery -- do you know how to get there?”
Nick nodded gratefully and watched Doris leave the home. He sat around waiting for the right time to leave. Two-thirty came and passed. He waited a few more minutes before he left; he didn’t want to make Chelsea more nervous than what she must have been.
At two-forty he threw his light jacket on, grabbed the gifts he bought Chelsea and headed out the door. He arrived at the gallery just in time to hear Chelsea’s speech. “I want to thank each of you for coming. As most of you know, having my paintings viewed in a way like this has always been my dream. I want to thank Mike, the director of the gallery for giving me the opportunity. My mom – you’ve been there for me through everything, especially the hardships, and you never stopped believing in me. Last, but certainly not least, I have to thank Vincent. His love has inspired me to start painting and, though he has passed on to a better place, his love has inspired me to continue. Thank you all for coming.”
Nick didn’t make inside the gallery. He heard Chelsea speak of Vincent and his heart dropped. Looking around, making eye contact with Doris, he shook his head and lowered it, slowly walking from the building. Taking his time, he walked to Chelsea’s new home and waited on the porch for her to come home. He waited no more than two hours before she came home, one of her paintings under her arms.
“Hey, Chelsea.” She stood there watching him, waiting for him to say something. She sat next to him, looking at her hands.
“Chelsea, I can’t keep doing this to myself. I care very deeply about you but you’re in love with another. I can’t compete with a love as strong as what you had with Vincent. I came here to wish you luck and to hold you in my arms.”
“What more can there be? I can’t compete with Vincent’s memory and I don’t know if I can handle only being friends with you. You have touched my heart the way no one else has. I will be forever grateful for the time we spent together, I want you to understand that.”
Very softly she said, “I do understand that. Is there anything that can be done to salvage what we had? I’m falling in love with you, Nick. Can that be enough?”
“I wish it could be, but Vincent will always be between us.” Tears flew from Chelsea’s eyes as she said, “Nick, we can work this out. Things won’t always be this way.”
“I don’t want to hurt you. I know that’s what I’m doing, believe me I’m hurting myself Chelsea. But if we stay together I’m afraid I’m setting myself up for a greater hurt. I’m really sorry.” He lowered his mouth to Chelsea’s, giving her one long, final kiss goodbye.
“Good luck with your paintings. I know you’ll do great and go far.” With that said, he squeezed her hand and walked swiftly up the walkway and slowly out of her life. Nick picked up his pace, running back to the Bed and Breakfast to collect his things.
“Nick,” Doris called as he was coming down the stairs. Nick kissed her cheek and said, “I’m sorry Doris. It was very nice meeting you, but I’m sorry. I can’t do this to myself anymore, no matter how much I love her.” He walked from the door, down the stairs and to the car, throwing his stuff inside and driving back to the airport.
His flight was dull – he kept his headphones on listening to the same song repeatedly. When the plane finally landed, he walked off and to the nearest payphone. The phone rang three times before Brian picked up.
“Brian, I need a favor from you?”
“Sure thing, do you want me to keep the car? That’s no problem, I’m just driving around aimlessly with nothing to do so now I can feel free to crash it.”
“I need you to pick me up. I’m at the airport; I just got in. Can you get me?”
“You’re back? Nick, what happened? Why did you come back so soon?”
“Just get me, okay? I’ll talk to you about it in the car coming home. I’ll meet outside the terminal and we can go back to my house and just talk okay?” Brian agreed and told him he’d be there within 30 minutes.
Doris took the slow walk to Chelsea’s home only to find her sitting on the porch swing where Nick had left her. “Chelsea? Chelsea, what happened? Nick left the house and headed to his own.”
“He left me, Momma. He told me that we can’t have a relationship because Vincent will always come between us.”
“He was at the gallery, Chelsea. He heard you thank Vincent in your speech and it hurt him. It was apparent on his face. He feels he could never live up to Vincent.” Chelsea stood and walked through towards the door, her anger growing.
“How could you, of all people, side with him? Mother, he deserted me…he deserted what we could’ve been. If you can’t understand that, you don’t understand me at all. Mind your business. What I do and what has been done is of no concern to you anymore.”
Doris felt the tears well in her eyes. “How could I? How dare you speak to me that way! I’ve raised you to be the person you are, to make the decisions you make and to love like you love. For you to tell me you are of no concern to me is a slap in the face. I’ve loved you every day of your life and I comforted you after Vincent’s death. That boy loves you, Chelsea, and you’re living in the past.” Doris stood and began her descent down the front porch.
“I’ve never felt this hurt in my lifetime, and I never thought my own daughter would make me feel as such. Once you can open your heart and you know what you want in your life, you give me a call. Until then I will be at my home.” Doris followed the same path Nick had followed and once she reached her final destination she wept for her daughter.
Chelsea opened the door to the front of her home and made her way to her bedroom. On the center of the bed were wrapped items with a note. She sat on the edge of the bed and read the note.
May all your hopes, dreams and aspirations come true. I know in my heart you will succeed.
She opened the smaller box first to find two paintbrushes with her name engraved on the side. She smiled reading the note inside the box.
With each new painting you’ll think of me.
Chelsea bit her lip, knowing that no matter what she would be doing she would be thinking of Nick anyway. She looked at the larger thin wrapped item, which when held felt like a frame of some sort. She gasped when she opened it, remembering when she fell asleep on the couch with one of Nick’s dogs.
The drawing looked like her and featured her with an almost angelic glow. She flipped the frame Nick put it in and read what he wrote on the back in a silver marker.
When I think of you, this is how I picture you. A peaceful, kind and gentle soul. You’re an angel Chelsea.
Love always, Nickolas
Sighing, she lay on her bed, holding the large frame over her stomach and looking at the drawing. She closed her eyes, knowing how she wanted to solve her dilemma first thing in the morning.
Nick looked up at the clock hanging on the wall. He and Brian sat up talking all night about Chelsea and what Nick could possibly do to change what had happened. Seven-forty five and they still hadn’t come up with anything.
“Bri, I give up. She will never get over him.”
“There has to be something that you can do. Nick, don’t give up, okay? You fell for her and you fell hard. Give her time and when she’s ready to move to that next level she’ll call you.”
“I left some gifts on her bed. I wonder if she liked them.”
“What did you leave her?” Brian moaned, clutching his stomach lightly. “Nick, I think we drank too much.”
“Pansy. You only had two beers.”
“How many do I usually have?”
“Good point.” Nick moved to a different couch letting Brian lay down and relax. “Well, I know painting is her passion, so I bought her two paintbrushes and had her name engraved on them. I also gave her a sketching I drew of her. She was laying where you are, with Nicky, and she just looked…” he sighed thinking back to her appearance that day.
“How did she look, Nick?”
“She looked incredible. The sun hit her at just the right angle and her fingers rested against the pug. Bri, am I stupid to tell you it killed me to just walk away from what I could’ve had with her?”
“No, you’re not stupid. I understand what you’re saying. Things will be good soon for you Nick. I think I’m gonna sleep now before I throw up on myself.” Nick laughed and left Brian alone to sleep while he took his dogs out for a short walk.
Chelsea woke up extra early this same day, staring at the ceiling. She felt guilty with what happened between her and her mother yesterday. She got dressed after sitting at her typewriter for a half hour and headed towards her mother’s house. She walked in and headed straight for the kitchen, knowing her mom would be cooking breakfast for her guests.
Chelsea opened the door and saw her mother’s back was to her. “Mom, I’m so sorry about yesterday. I love you, and I didn’t mean what I said. I was hurting with what Nick had said to me and to hear you almost agree with him…you know what I’ve been through with Vincent’s murder and you also know how much I love him. I can’t just shut my feelings for him off like that. I care about Nick, but I’m still mourning Vincent. You and Nick do not understand that.”
Chelsea waited for her mother to respond, but she didn’t say anything. “Okay, Mother. I’m taking the boat out for a while. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me by the time I get back. I love you Mom,” she said softly before she walked out the front door.
She prepared the boat and turned the radio on before setting sail. She steered her way to a quiet place away from Nick, away from her mother and away from the world. She took her light jacket off, tossing it on the bench on the top deck of the boat. She heard the rattling inside one of the pockets but decided to deal with that in a little bit. She pulled out a new canvas and one of the brushes Nick gave her and began painting.
She noted a chill in the air and went to retrieve her jacket when the wind picked up. The water rocked the boat, spilling onto the deck. She felt her heart beat rapidly, not knowing what to do. The storms approached quickly, bringing about rain and high-speed winds.
She ran to the higher side of boat, where the flare gun was stored and tried her hardest to access it. The handle was slippery and the rain did nothing to help. She stood out of frustration, seeing the swinging sail coming towards her at the last moment. She tried ducking to avoid being hit, but she was too slow. The sail hit her against the side of her head, causing a searing pain throughout her body.
With her hand resting against her temple, Chelsea tried making it to the other side of the boat. She had her back to the sail and didn’t see it swing back towards her. The blow from the second hit knocked her unconscious, sending her over the railing and into the water. Her final thoughts were of her love for Nick and how she would not ever be able to tell him how he felt.
*~ The Next Morning ~*
“Hi, can I speak to Nickolas please?” Aaron looked around the room and saw his older sister sitting on the couch watching television.
“Hey, Leslie, where is Nick? He has a phone call.”
“Out back somewhere.”
Aaron nodded at his sister and returned to the call. “He’s not in the house, can he call you back later?”
“This is incredibly important. Is there any way you could find him for me?”
Even at a young age, Aaron sensed urgency in her voice. “Sure, hold on.” He walked from the house and to the beach knowing he’d find Nick there. Nick was playing Frisbee with Aaron’s German Shepherd, this time waiting for the puppy to come obediently back with the Frisbee in her mouth.
“Nick, phone. She said it’s important.”
‘She? Maybe it’s Chelsea,’ he said jogging over to Aaron. “Who is it?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t catch her name, but she said it was incredibly important.” Aaron handed her the phone and bent to pet his puppy, Brooklyn.
“Hello? Who is this?” Nick asked.
“Nick, its Doris. I’m sorry to have to deliver news like this over the phone, but there has been an accident.” When Doris uttered the word ‘accident’ Nick groaned to himself. “Yesterday morning she took her boat out and the weather was clear.”
Nick heard Doris’ voice begin to crack. “A storm came. Nick she wasn’t prepared for it. Nick, they think she was knocked overboard by the sail. The wind was strong yesterday, it could’ve happened. I’m sorry, Nickolas, but she passed on.”
Through his own settling tears, Nick said, “How are you holding up Doris?”
“I’m okay. Do you think you’ll be able to come for her memorial? I’d love for you to be here. You were a big part of her life these past few months.”
Trying to keep his emotions stable for Doris, he choked back his tears and said, “Of course I’ll be there Doris. I’ll call the airlines and make arrangements this afternoon.” After a few more pleasantries, they hung up. The phone fell from Nick’s hand, Nick soon following behind. He landed on his knees, his arms resting in the sand. A long, low cry finally escaped his throat and the tears fell freely.
Nick’s emotional state scared Aaron, but it didn’t stop him from being his brother. He knelt beside Nick, his hand on his back and his mouth closer to his ear. His voice full of concern, he said, “Nick, what’s wrong? What happened?”
Nick picked up his red, tear-stained face and looked at Aaron. “She’s gone, Aaron. She left me. She’s not coming back.” Aaron moved closer to Nick, not knowing what to say and wrapped his arms around his brother’s neck. Nick hugged him tightly, the two of them rocking in the sand, trying to find comfort.
“Nick, what happened? Why are you crying? Is it mom and dad?”
His sobbing uncontrollable, he said, “No, it’s not mom or dad. It’s Chelsea. Remember my friend?” Aaron nodded and said, “Yeah, I remember her.”
“She died yesterday morning when she was on her boat. Aaron, I know you won’t understand this right now, but I love her and we’ll never have that chance together.” The thought of not being with her or seeing her face one last time became too much for Nick to handle.
His sobs grew louder and he held Aaron tighter in his arms. Hearing the pain from his brother, Aaron began sobbing as well. His hand stroked the back of Nick’s neck lightly as he whispered, “Please don’t cry, Nick. I don’t like seeing you like this. You’re making me cry too,” he said.
“Aaron, she shouldn’t have died.” The two brothers held each other in the sand, each crying for their own reasons, as the rain began to fall around them. “Do you want me to help you pack, Nick?”
Nick pulled away from this brother momentarily and just looked into his large brown eyes. “You’d help me, Aaron?”
Hugging him once again, Aaron said, “Sure, Nick. You’re my brother and I love you.” Nick kissed his cheek and thanked him as the two of them stood and made their way to the bedroom to pack Nick’s clothing.
Nick sat next to Aaron on the edge of the bed and looked over at him. “Aaron, I don’t know what I would’ve done if you weren’t here. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Nick. I called Brian so he can take you to the airport. I want to go too.” Aaron shifted closer to him and wrapped Nick’s arm around his shoulder. They waited that way until Brian came to pick Nick up.
Every chance he got, Brian glanced sideways at Nick. Nick had a pair of dark sunglasses and a baseball hat on, but the redness of his nose and the balled up tissues in his hand gave away his sadness. “Nick?”
“Hmm?” was his only answer.
“Do you want someone to come with you? I’d be willing to go for a few days, make sure you are okay,” Brian answered, hoping in his heart he’d answer yes.
“This is something I have to do alone, but thank you Bri. I’m grateful you offered to do this.” Aaron sat quietly in the backseat of the car, staring at the top of Nick’s hat-covered head. At the airport, Nick checked in and the three of them walked solemnly to the gate. Aaron held Nick’s hand as they walked towards the gate.
“Nick,” Aaron said, questioningly as he pulled on his hand.
“Yeah, Aaron?” They reached the gate and Aaron sat on one of the chairs. Nick squatted before him.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you? I can wear the same clothes over and over and I won’t be a pain. I just want to make sure you’ll be okay.” Nick’s eyes glazed with tears and he smiled, allowing a few of those tears to fall.
Taking a deep breath before wrapping his arms around Aaron, Nick said, “I’m sure, Air. Thank you for the offer, but this is really something I need to do alone. Will you be okay here with Leslie?”
“We’ll be fine.” They each looked up to the ceiling as the flight number was called and Nick stood straight.
“I have to go guys. I’ll be back in a few days. I’ll call you, Bri, before I leave North Carolina. Aaron, if you need anything, or if Leslie needs anything, please call Brian or Kevin. I’m sure either one will help okay?” Brian nodded in agreement and watched as Nick and his younger brother embraced.
Nick then turned to Brian and hugged him as well. “Nick, if you need me while you’re there, do not hesitate to call. I’ll be there as fast as I can.”
“I know you will, Bri. Thanks.” He walked quickly towards the plane and boarded before changing his mind about Brian and Aaron not accompanying him. The sunglasses hid his swollen and puffy eyes for the duration of the flight and for the remainder of the morning. After renting his car, he followed a path he was well acquainted with before arriving at Doris’ doorstep.
Nick noticed how her eyes mirrored his own, sad and full of loss. He held Doris in his arms, trying to comfort the older woman with the loss of her daughter. “Doris, if you need me for anything, I’ll be there for you. You are one of the most kind-hearted women I know.”
“Nickolas, she passed on thinking I didn’t care for her. We had an argument the day before last. She came to apologize yesterday but I didn’t respond. Her last words to me were, ‘I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me by the time I get back. I love you mom’ and I said nothing in return. I was selfish, Nickolas. It hurts me very deeply to know that she is in another place unsure of her own mother’s love.”
Nick walked her to the couch, sat her down and handed her a box of tissues. “Doris, you are her mother, she knew how much you loved her, said or unsaid. I’m hoping she knew the same about me.”
“I’m sure she did, Nickolas.” Doris looked up at the antique clock mounted perfectly on the wall. “It’s time we must get going, Nickolas. Did you know that Chelsea bought me that clock? It was a gift for Christmas a few years back. Isn’t it beautiful?”
“Yeah, it is,” he answered, slightly distracted. Taking Doris’ hand and allowing her to lead him, Nick followed behind for the memorial.
After the memorial, Doris and Nick headed for Chelsea’s home. Nick was going to help Doris sort through some of Chelsea’s belongings and donate some to various charities. “I’ve never seen this,” Doris said, holding up Nick’s sketching.
“I drew that while she was sleeping on my couch. She looked so close to perfection…I wanted to capture the moment. I like to draw--it’s my hobby. I enjoyed drawing Chelsea.”
“She looks peaceful. Is that one of your dogs? She told me you had a few.”
He smiled and nodded simultaneously. “That’s my youngest one. She always takes a liking to new people, and Chelsea was no exception.”
“Do you want a drink? I’ll run down to the kitchen to get something, Doris. I’m a bit thirsty.”
“Thanks, Nickolas. There is something on the kitchen table I think you should see. I found it in Chelsea’s jacket that was left on the boat. She must have taken it off and threw it downstairs. It was untouched…completely dry. She told me about the letters, though I haven’t read any of them.”
“Thank you Doris.” Nick walked from Chelsea’s room and made his way down the stairs. He walked into the kitchen to find at the center of the table a familiar clear, green bottle with a note sticking from the top and her wedding band around the note.
He sat at the table, reaching slowly for the bottle. He slipped the wedding band away from the note and looked it over. He smiled at the inscription, “Always, Vincent’ and slipped it on his pinky finger until it reached his knuckle. He pulled the note from the bottle, slowly opening it, not sure if his emotions would allow him to read through the entire note.
I write to you this last letter at 5:30 am. I’m hoping today will be the first day of the rest of my new life. In your life you have taught me to love others as I loved myself. Not until recently did I realize the love I had for myself was non-existent and because of that I could not love another.
Vincent, I’ve fallen in love with another. Writing to you, putting my thoughts onto paper and sending it to you through the ocean is cleansing my heart of the love with shared in order to make room for the love in the future.
I know in my heart Mother is right. I blame myself for your untimely death. Had I not been having cravings you would not left the house. I also blame you for bringing me together with another. Through my words, words I thought only you would see, he found me. He encouraged me to start rebuilding my life, so I started with the house. It’s completed now, Vincent.
I am going to see my mother this morning to apologize for my behavior yesterday. You know how stubborn she can be, so I hope she listens. She knows I love her with all my heart and I can’t bear to see her hurting at my expense.
The hardest thing I will do this morning, the first morning of the rest of my life, is sail my boat. I will take it to the middle of the ocean and release the bottle, with this note and my wedding band tightly inside. I’m sending you this final message in a bottle as my way of saying goodbye. Our love was strong, Vincent, and I thank you for protecting and caring for me during our time together. It is now my time to move on.
You’d like him, Vincent. He’s a strong-willed young man full of life and energy. He reminds me of you when you were still in your teens. His face shines with innocence. After I release the bottle from my hand and send it into the sea - its final resting place - I will turn the boat back and set sail for home. Once I set foot on dry land I’m going to see him, Vincent. I’m going to tell him that I made my decision and you will not come between what he and I will have.
I do love you, Vincent, I always have and always will, but I have a strong connection with Nick…a connection that I can not just turn away from. I’ve fallen in love with him Vincent, and I will do what it takes from this moment on to make him realize this.
Do not forget the love we shared.
Nick held the letter up to his nose, breathing in any remnants of Chelsea’s perfume before throwing the bottle across the room. The realization that she was going to come to him and tell him she loved him became too much. Clutching the letter in his hand, he rested his head against the table and let the tears flow freely from his eyes. The sound of his sobs reverberated throughout the house.
Very slowly he cried, “She can’t be gone. Oh God, she can’t be gone, she was coming for me. She wanted to spend her life with me. How could you let this happen?” Nick sat up, still holding the letter tightly in his hand, and wiped his eyes with his arm. He felt Doris’ presence behind him and he wept harder.
Doris walked to Nick and wrapped her arms around his neck. “It’s okay Nick, let it out. Just let your tears flow.” Doris made her way to stand before Nick and allowed him to wrap his arms around her while he wept. She smoothed his silky hair before bending to kiss the top of his head.
“I can see why she loved you Nickolas. You’re not afraid to show your emotions. You have a big heart, Nick. You are more than welcome to stay here tonight if you wish. While you were reading what she left, I finished going through her things. I’ve separated them into boxes…one has your name on it. I must be going…being in this house is too painful for me right now. Please stop by before you leave.”
“I will,” he choked out, feeling Doris slowly slip away from him and walk out of the house. Nick sat in the quiet kitchen until he heard his own sobbing begin to slowly cease. Standing on shaky legs he walked around the kitchen until he found the phone.
“Hello.” Hearing Brian’s cheery voice answered the phone proved to be too much for Nick once again and he broke down. “Nick, is that you? Nick? Nick, answer me…”
Trying to catch his breath, Nick said, “Yeah, it’s me.”
“I’ll be there as fast as I can. I’ll leave Leighanne to take care of Aaron.” Before Nick could disagree, Brian hung up the phone and made the necessary arrangements. Brian made a few phone calls of his own, found the proper directions to where he needed to go, gave Leighanne a kiss goodbye and made his way to the airport.
Nick wandered the house, going from room to room, looking at all the things Chelsea left behind. Slowly he made his way to her bedroom, finding a small box on the bed labeled “Nick”.
He opened it, going through a few of her smaller items, but stopped when he came across a photo of Chelsea. The photo seemed as though it was taken fairly recently, making Nick smile wider. A few stray tears fell as his thumbs caressed the photo. Pushing the box aside he laid in the center of the bed, wrapping his arms around her pillow and silently cried himself to sleep.
Nick must have been sleeping for over an hour when Brian finally arrived, calling his name through the house. “Nick…where are you?… Nick, answer me!” He ran up the stairs, two at a time, before finding Chelsea’s bedroom. He sighed in relief finding Nick curled up on the bed, holding a picture of Chelsea. Brian sat on the bed, frowning at the unhappy state his dearest friend was in.
Nick rolled over, seeing Brian sitting at his side. “Bri, she loved me,” he managed to say before his tears overwhelmed him once more.
“I know Nick…”
“No, you don’t know Bri. She left a note. She never got to throw it in the water. It was her last one to Vincent. She pretty much told him she loved him but she needed to move on. She was going to move on…to me. Bri, she loved me…it’s all in her words.” Nick sat up on the bed and faced Brian not sure what to say. He handed Brian the note Chelsea had written and scanned it over. A few of his own tears fell to the bed as he brought his eyes up to meet Nick’s. “You have all of us to lean on, you know. I’ll be there for you every step of the way.”
Sniffling and breathing deeply, Nick closed his eyes, trying not to let any other tears fall, and said softly, “Thanks Bri. I’m sure as hell gonna need you for the next few weeks.” Brian moved closer to Nick and hugged him, the two sitting on the bed in their embrace until their combined tears faded.
Chapter Eighteen (Epilogue)
It’s been two weeks since I found the letter you left behind. It breaks my heart that I never got the chance to hear you say those words to me. Over the past couple of months, you became a big part of my life. I can’t get you out of my head.
You’ve changed my life greatly. I look ahead into the future and can see only you, but I know now that is only a vision. I’m convinced in my heart that I loved you. In the short time I got to know you -got to know the real you – you captivated my heart.
My brother loved you, too. He was with me when I got the phone call from Doris. I scared him. I don’t think he has ever been that scared before. I think he’s called me every day since he went back to California. “I’m just checking on you Nick. It’s only because I love you.” He knows how distraught I’ve been these past two weeks.
The guys loved you as well. They’ve supported me in so many ways since your death. AJ and Howie are constantly running over to make sure I’m okay. Kevin calls after I hang up with Aaron. I feel as though I’m under a 24-hour watch. Brian and Leighanne have been my foundation. If they did not move themselves in with me, I would have gone completely insane with grief. They are both sleeping in my room now, giving me this chance to write you. They take their turns watching me because they know how distraught I’ve been. Leighanne has been very generous with me. She mothers me, Chelsea. She’ll sit with me until I fall asleep, and when I’m sleeping she brushes my hair behind my ears.
Brian doesn’t let me leave his sight when he’s awake. He’ll follow me all over the house and, if for one second I look like I’m gonna break, he cracks a joke. Only Brian can do that. I can’t begin to count the number of basketball games Brian and I have played since they moved in with me.
My heart aches to hold you in my arms…to run my fingers over your soft skin…to brush my lips against yours…to just be in your presence. Fifteen days ago you were only a phone call away; now you are a lifetime of loneliness away from me.
I can feel your spirit here with me as I write you this. I can see you as though you were sitting across from me. If you were here, you’d have a big smile on your face as we held each other’s hands and gazed into each other’s eyes. Chelsea, I miss looking into your eyes. They were so beautiful and full of life, even in our last meeting. When I left your house they were full of sadness. That was my fault and I apologize.
I blame myself for your death. If it had not been for me, you would not have sat down and wrote that letter, and you would not have taken your boat out to throw it into the ocean. I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me. I know I do not forgive myself.
How can a person change another’s life is the question going through my mind. I’ve changed since I’ve met you, all the guys have told me that. Even Leighanne mentioned it the other day. She said I’ve become stronger in my will and in my attitude. I don’t know what that means, but coming from her it sounds good enough.
I miss you. I have a photo of you on my bedside table so you are the first person I see when I wake up.
Nicky misses you too. She’s sitting at my feet right now looking up with really sad eyes. Every time the door opens she runs for it thinking it’s you…or so I’d like to think.
With you in it, my life seemed complete. Now that you are gone, I have this empty hole in my chest where my heart once was.
Promise me one thing, Chelsea. Promise me you will look down upon me and guide me to making the correct decisions. Also watch upon my family, especially the ones who loved you - Aaron, Brian, Leighanne, Kevin, AJ and Howie.
I should be going now, Chelsea. Leighanne just called me…her and Brian are awake and I think I can only hold them off for another two minutes before they check up on me. I love you, Chelsea.