I was minding my own business in the kitchen when I felt his presence. It had been a long time since I’d seen him but I knew he was there without looking up. I still couldn’t believe my brother had invited him to stay but he didn’t really know our history, or more accurately, my history of crushing on him from afar. Nicholas knew though. He’d always known.
"Are you making your famous brownies?" I shivered just hearing his voice.
"Did you make enough for me?" He was right behind me and I felt my knees start to weaken.
"Nick, you’re here!" My brother. Nicholas stepped away and I turned my head to see him embrace my brother then turned back to my brownies before either of them caught my eye.
My brother and I remodeled and moved into our family home after our parents retired to Arizona. He lives primarily in the half basement and I live mostly on the second floor. We share the main floor and the tiny house out back that used to be our dad’s office. We turned it into a mini movie theatre complete with popcorn machine and full bar.
I’ve been cooking and baking since I was a kid and now have three restaurants in town and one in a resort area up in the mountains. I mostly cook at my first restaurant, Curve - the most elegant and expensive of the three, but I rotate in and out since all three are in the same block and specialize in different types of cuisine. I go to the resort a couple of times a month just to make sure things stay on track. I guess you could say I’m a local celebrity. I have my own cookbooks and was even a guest on a couple of national cooking shows. The TV world wasn’t for me though and I’ve turned down more than one request to do my own show.
Nicholas was in town for a wedding that he and my brother were both in. It was another one of their high school friends and I was thankful to not be involved. Alec and Nicholas were two years older than me so our friends were not the same. I knew who their friend was but that was as far as it went.
Alec had been married briefly right out of college but it didn’t take and when he declared he was moving back home, just as our parents decided to retire, we came upon the idea of buying the house from them and making it our own. I wasn’t even dating because I was so busy with the restaurants and he was looking for distraction so we spent a year or so remodeling and redecorating and it was a really good time for us to get to know each other again, as adults.
We’ve been sharing the house for six years now and I know it’s only a matter of time before he and Lisa make it official and set their own wedding date. They’ve been together for three years and I can’t believe she hasn’t forced his hand. I date here and there but frankly don’t have time for something serious. The restaurants keep me incredibly busy and they really are my only love. I’ve always known it would take someone very special to change that. In my younger years I always thought that someone would be Nicholas.
We had a few moments over the years, moments that to my knowledge only he and I know about. The first came when I was 10 and he was 12. He was over to see my brother but Alec had to finish some chores before they could play whatever video game they were going to play so he ended up watching TV with me in the family room. My parents were somewhere else in the house and I don’t even know how it happened but at some point he leaned over and kissed me. It was my first kiss and, I’d learn later, his too, and until this moment I’ve never told anyone that story. I don’t think he told either. After that though, we shared smiles and I fantasized about what it would be like to kiss him again.
I finally got the chance five years later at the homecoming dance. He was a senior and I was a sophomore. I was only there because the cooking club had made all the food and somehow I was in charge. I guess I knew then exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up. Anyway, I checked the food throughout the evening and watched everyone dancing, mostly juniors and seniors. I thought I might want to join them but didn’t let it bring me down. Nicholas was there with Candi, his girlfriend of the last two years, but every now and then he’d catch my eye and smile. I was certain she wasn’t worthy of him.
At some point in the evening she disappeared with her girlfriends and he made his way to the food table where I was plating my not-yet-famous brownies. “Did you put these out just for me?” He reached for one with a wink and a smile and I felt the blush rise to my forehead.
He’d been at the house when I’d been testing the recipe a month or so earlier and he and Alec had been my guinea pigs. I knew it was right when I saw their faces.
"How come you haven’t been out there dancing?" I couldn’t believe he noticed or cared.
"Because I’m here doing this. I’m not actually at the dance."
"That doesn’t even make any sense. Come on, let’s dance."
"I don’t think so." I wanted to, so badly, but I wasn’t dressed to dance. I was dressed to work, and plus, his girlfriend was bound to come back at some point.
"Haley. Come on." He came around the table and practically dragged me onto the dance floor. I threw a look at some of my cooking club classmates and they encouraged me to go and a moment later his arms were around my waist and mine were at his neck and we were dancing.
"You’re kind of pushy, Nicholas."
"You know, you’re the only person that calls me that."
"Well it’s your name, isn’t it?"
"Yeah, but most people just call me Nick." I looked in his eyes then wrinkled my nose and shook my head.
"No, you are most definitely a Nicholas."
He smiled as he pulled me closer and I couldn’t help but put my head against his shoulder. "I think so too." His whisper in my ear made me shiver and I was glad he was holding onto me or I might have fallen over.
It’s while we were dancing that he told me the kiss he gave me was his first too and somehow that gave us a bond no one could break. For some reason I told him it had been my only kiss and he thought I was kidding. When I assured him I was not he smiled. “Well, we’ll just have to do something about that, won’t we?” My mouth dropped open and he winked then pulled me back in to finish the dance. When I saw Candi reenter the gym I said a quick thank you then scurried back to my place behind the food and watched the two of them drift back into the crowd.
When I got home much later that night he was sitting in his truck in front of our house. I waved to my friend who had dropped me off then knocked on his passenger window. I startled him but his smile told me that it was okay. He unlocked the door and I slid in, unsure of what was going on.
"What are you doing here?"
"I was waiting for you."
"Why? And where’s Candi?"
"I took her home after the dance. She’s got an early flight tomorrow so…"
He just stared at me for a few seconds and I sat there wondering what was happening. “So what are you doing here? Waiting for Alec?”
"I told you." He moved toward me and put his hand on my cheek then brushed my hair from my face with his other hand. "I was waiting for you." He started to lean in and I took a breath that sounded more like a gasp, which caused him to stop and smile. "Are you okay?" I nodded but it was a complete lie. I was filled with panic. "I just couldn’t let that kiss on your couch be your only kiss. You deserve much better than that." I nodded slowly then closed my eyes as he placed his lips on mine and yeah, the kiss was much, much better.
He pulled back and smiled and I just sat there and blushed. “I should probably get inside.”
He pulled his hands away and I reached behind me for the door handle then slid out of the truck. Before I closed the door I turned back and reached for his hand. “Thank you, Nicholas. You definitely made my night.”
He squeezed my hand and winked then we pulled away and he drove off as I walked to the door. I lived on that kiss until I was in college and went on my first real dates. Still, none of the other kisses were like that one and I knew that if one ever was, then that would be who I was supposed to be with forever. It’s now been more than 15 years and I still haven’t found it.
Nicholas and Candi got married right out of high school and that lasted approximately 15 months before they both realized how stupid they were being. He disappeared for a while after that, feeling embarrassed about things, then showed up for the first wedding of a high school buddy about five years later. I was home from college and filled with much more confidence than I’d had in high school. I’d already started culinary school, in addition to college, and was well on my way to fulfilling my dream of becoming a chef. I had, for all intents and purposes, sworn off dating because I just simply didn’t have the time. In fact, I was only home for two weeks that summer so that I could take some summer classes to get me through college faster. Naturally the wedding was during that time so naturally Nicholas was at our house.
"You look great, Haley."
"So do you, Nicholas. How are you?"
From there we drifted into the normal conversations people who haven’t seen each other in years have. He told me about college, I told him about college and culinary school; he told me about the failed marriage and I told him I still hadn’t found anyone that kissed me as perfectly as he did that night in high school. It was bold but I just felt like he should know. He might have kissed me again if Alec hadn’t interrupted and swept him away to some pre-wedding event. There was definitely some chemistry between us but I didn’t see much of him after that and I left the night of the wedding so that was that.
I stood over my brownies trying to catch my breath as Alec and Nicholas wandered off. I honestly couldn’t understand how so many years later he still did something to me. I guess the crush I’d had for so many years just never went away. I wondered if it ever would.
I sat in the kitchen and read while the brownies were baking then let them cool for a few minutes before putting them on two different plates. I covered one with plastic wrap and left them on the table then, after yelling down the stairs that the brownies were ready, took the other plate, and a large glass of milk, to my room.
I was deep into my book about an hour later when there was a knock on my door. It wasn’t closed and it certainly wasn’t like Alec to knock so I knew before I even looked up that it was Nicholas.
"You still make the best brownies around."
"Thanks." I made sure there were no chocolate remnants in my teeth or any crumbs on my chin then put my book down and sat up on my couch. "Come in, come in." He did, then sat down next to me. "Where’s Alec?"
"I don’t know. He said he had some things to do for Chip and I told him I was tired and didn’t want to run around town all afternoon." Alec was Chip’s best man and he’d been doing so many things for the wedding that it almost seemed like he was the one getting married.
"Not too tired to come up here though." I grinned as I teased him then saw some pink appear on his cheeks. "Are you blushing? Have I embarrassed the great Nicholas Wilson?"
"You’re still the only person that calls me Nicholas."
"It still suits you better than Nick."
"So tell me how you are? And not just about the restaurants because I know about those. How are you?"
The butterflies resting in my stomach suddenly awoke and started fluttering around. I was nervous, unsure of myself, something I rarely ever was. Few people talk to me about more than the restaurants and those that do have known me my whole life. I have one good girlfriend who I speak to every few days on the phone - she lives in another state - and there is, of course, my brother who actually does care about more than my businesses. Still, I’m not used to talking about myself and certainly not used to doing it with a guy.
"Sorry, I’m, uh…well I guess I’m nervous."
"With me? Why?"
"You really have to ask?"
He knew about my years-long crush. It was obvious to everyone. And I really thought it was long over but there he was, on my couch, smiling and asking me thoughtful questions and I was reduced to my 10-year-old, zero confidence self.
"Come on, Haley. It’s just me. You’ve known me forever."
"You’ve never been just anyone, Nicholas."
"Haley!" Alec was yelling as he ran up the stairs. "Haley, are you up here? He burst into my room and looked like a wild man. "Oh thank god! I need your help, fast!"
"Alec, calm down. What is it?"
"The rehearsal dinner and the caterer for the wedding…" I could see where he was about to go and there was no way I wasn’t going to help. I jumped up and grabbed my laptop then started asking questions. The moment with Nicholas was long gone as I dove deep into work mode.
As it turned out, the restaurant where the rehearsal dinner was being held had been shut down due to a kitchen fire. I’d heard about the fire - restaurant grapevine - but didn’t realize that’s where the dinner was supposed to be. In addition, the caterer for the wedding, a friend of the bride’s, had somehow completely screwed up the weekend and was not even going to be in town. Thankfully, the best pastry chef in town was taking care of the wedding cake so I didn’t have to get involved with that.
The next few days were a blur, as I called in favors and found a place where I could just do a catered dinner for the rehearsal. There was no room in any of my restaurants but one of my chef colleagues offered up his backyard and on Friday night I served a simple but delicious meal to the wedding party and their families.
I was grateful that the wedding was in the morning and did not involve a sit-down meal, only appetizers and finger foods. Still, it was work and I stayed up most of the night putting it together. I paid a lot of my own staff overtime to help and even hired people from other restaurants to assist in order to get it done on time. Thankfully I was able to hire serving staff from a local company and none of my own staff had to be involved beyond the food preparation. I had planned to run home to take a shower and change into something a bit more appropriate for a wedding reception but there just simply wasn’t time. I didn’t look horrible but I would have felt better if I could have changed. Instead I just slipped on a fresh apron, made sure my hair was pulled back, and got ready for people to enter.
After the bridal party had been introduced and the first dances were done, I made a tour around the room to make sure everything was still in good shape. I was rearranging the brownies when I felt Nicholas approach. “It’s always the brownies with us, isn’t it?”
"Apparently so." I handed him one and he popped it in his mouth like candy.
"Now come on, you’ve been working hard all week. Let’s dance."
"I’m not exactly dressed for a wedding reception."
"I don’t exactly care." He held out his hand and I slipped off the apron then followed him to the dance floor.
"You’re still quite pushy."
"And you still haven’t answered my question." I looked up at him with confused eyes. "How are you?"
"I seem to be pretty good at the moment."
Ah, there was my confidence that I’d lost the other day.
He got pulled away for groomsman duties after we finished our dance and I handed over the management of the food to one of my assistant managers who had offered her services up when she saw how exhausted I was earlier that morning. I didn’t hesitate to take her up on it and planned to pay her and give her a nice bonus. I wanted to say goodbye to Nicholas but he was busy with the bride and groom so I slipped out unnoticed, drove home, took a long shower then crawled into bed.
In all my rearranging of things during the week I made sure that I didn’t have to go into work Saturday night like I usually did. I knew I might have some disappointed diners but there was no way I was going in after the last few days. I’d already worked the three nights prior to the rehearsal and was more worn out than I’d ever been. It was a good worn out though, the kind that lets you know how hard you’ve been working.
Sleep came quickly and I don’t even think I moved in my bed for a good six hours. When I woke up the sun was starting to set and I stretched my arms over my head and pushed myself up. That’s when I saw the figure on my couch. “Nicholas?”
"Hey." He stood and walked toward the bed then sat down on the edge.
"What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you."
"For how long?"
"I don’t know, an hour or so I guess. I dozed a little so I’m not sure. Did you have a good nap?"
"I did. I just hope I can sleep tonight otherwise I’ll be messed up for days."
My stomach growled then and I put my hand over it as my cheeks warmed with a blush. He laughed. “Didn’t you eat any of your own food?”
"Yes, but that was hours ago. I was just thinking about going downstairs and making some dinner."
"No. You’ve cooked enough this week. I’m taking you out."
"That’s really not necessary, Nicholas. There’s plenty of food here."
"I wasn’t really giving you a choice." He winked then stood up. "Now get dressed and let’s go."
He smiled then walked away and left me sitting on my bed in stunned silence and awe. A moment later he walked back in and I jumped at the sight of him. “You’re not moving fast enough.”
"Get out!" I tossed a pillow in his direction then watched him leave again.
I did get up that time and took a few minutes to get dressed then met him downstairs. I didn’t get too dressed up but didn’t just slip on jeans and a t-shirt either. I wasn’t sure where he was taking me so decided on a more middle-of-the-road skirt and silky sleeveless top that matched. I put on heels for about eight seconds then ditched them for some flats and felt much better.
He seemed pleased when I reached the bottom of the stairs and put his elbow out so he could escort me to his rental car, which was actually a truck. It brought back all the memories of the last time I was in a truck with him and I blushed as I remembered the kiss we’d shared all those years earlier.
"What?" He looked at my face before he started the engine and I just shook my head. "Tell me."
"Just thinking about the last time we were in a truck together." He blushed then started the engine and pulled away from the curb.
He pulled into the parking lot of a small Italian restaurant just a few minutes later, one I’d been wanting to try since someone I went to culinary school with had just been hired as the chef. I have no idea how he knew that but he definitely knew. He turned off the engine and I started to get out but he reached for my hand and stopped me.
"That night in my truck all those years ago…"
"That wasn’t very cool of me. I mean I had a girlfriend and I don’t know what I was thinking. It wasn’t fair to you."
"Nicholas." I smiled and inched my way toward him. "You never have to apologize for giving me the kiss I compare all other kisses to."
"You heard me." I inched closer and put my free hand on his cheek. "That night was perfect. You were perfect. You’re still pretty damn perfect." I leaned in and kissed the corner of his lips then pulled back and smiled.
"Why didn’t you ever say anything?"
"You were with Candi, and I was young, and then you know, life…"
"I wish I’d known. I could have stopped wasting my time with anyone else and come back to you because that night in the truck…that kiss…I think I knew then."
"Knew what exactly?"
"Haley." He sighed and pressed his lips against mine. He pulled me closer as he opened his mouth slightly and it was so much better than it had been in my fantasies. It was better than the night in high school, better than it had ever been with anyone else. He was the one. "It’s been you since before I even remember thinking about things like that."
We kissed a little more than forced ourselves to get out of the truck because my stomach’s growling was starting to interfere. He took my hand as we walked and I couldn’t believe what was happening.
We talked about everything that night; work, outside of work, all of it. He told me a lot more about what happened with Candi - she cheated, which is something no one knew - and how he’d struggled with relationships ever since. I told him I just never had the time but admitted that I’d always thought if someone could kiss me like he did that night in high school that he’d be the one. We both knew how much that meant now.
I took time to say hi to the chef and he chastised me about not coming in sooner but was mostly kidding. He sent us out a dessert and by the time we finished they were starting to clean. It was a perfect evening that I hoped wasn’t quite over.
"Thanks for this, Nicholas. I had a great time."
We got back in the truck and I held his hand the whole way back to the house. We didn’t kiss again until we were in my bedroom and in the whole time Alec and I had been roommates it was the first time I’d actually locked the door.
"And just what do you plan on doing with me now that your door is locked?"
I hadn’t really thought that far ahead, I just knew that I didn’t want Alec to barge in. I shrugged as he walked toward me then smiled when he reached for my hand. “Dance?”
"You are forever wanting me to dance with you."
"And you are forever making it harder than it has to be."
"Let me at least put some music on." I pulled away, opened my laptop and scrolled to a playlist that contained music suitable for dancing close.
I stepped to him and we wrapped our arms around each other then danced through several songs before he led me to the couch. We kissed for a while, a long while to be perfectly honest, and then I tucked myself against his shoulder and closed my eyes.
"I hate that I’m leaving tomorrow."
"I could change my flight…maybe stay a few more days…"
"Really?" I lifted my head and smiled.
"I don’t have a job until Thursday so…"
"Stay." I kissed him again then stood and held my hand out. He stood as he took it then followed me to the bed where I stopped and took his other hand in mine. "I just want you to be here with me, to hold me, to wake up next to me in the morning. I think it’s too early in whatever this is to do anything more than that. I just want you to stay."
"Then I’ll stay."
© Carrie M. Medders