I asked Meems to pick up Lola and Nat because I had cupcakes to finish and thought I’d be late. Better only one person being late than two.
I park my Dung Beetle, grab my containers of baked delights and head over to the front door. It’s a classy timber double door. It’s nicely carved around the edges. My father would appreciate this door. I ring the bell and the sounds of soft bells chimes in the background.
God, even the doorbell is nice. Mental note; change the batteries on the sensor at Safira.
The front door opens and Nik beams, “Hey, I was beginning to think you weren’t coming.”
He looks fine in jeans, white long sleeved t-shirt and sneakers.
I beam right back at him. I move forward and give him an awkward one armed hug because of the precious loot in hefting.
I tell him, “I wouldn’t stand you up, Niki.”
He takes the containers from my hands, and says, “Good. That would suck if you did.”
Now that he holds the containers, I put both my arms around his waist and squeeze. I look up and smile, “Never.”
His face changes. I’ve never seen that face on him before. It’s almost…lust? I’m not sure.
He clears his throat, straightens up and lifts the containers, “Let’s get these babies inside.”
He moves back and lets me in. We’re in a small hallway. And it’s amazing.
Both walls of the hallway are packed full of framed photos. Not neat or straight or all in a row. It’s like a collage. It looks like it was all randomly thrown there, yet fit together perfectly. Photos of his Dad, Mom, brother and sisters, Ghost and Trick, eating together, playing, candid, formal, old and recent. Ceecee has her own section of wall all to herself. One of the photos at her end made my heart wrench. Max is holding an infant. The baby has tubes coming out of its tiny body at all ends. Max looks a mess, looking down at this baby with a fierce love. Like he would do anything to protect it or die trying. My eyes are misting and my throat closes.
I hadn’t noticed Nik stopped behind me til he speaks, “Ceecee after her first surgery. They only gave her a twenty percent chance. Max held her til the nurses had to force him away from her. Never left the hospital, not for an entire month. Mom brought him food. I brought him clothes. He slept on a chair for a month.” He breathes deep, brow furrowed, he continues softly. “When Ceecee cried, Max cried. All the doctors and nurses knew us personally. Mom made cakes for ‘em every Friday. When Cricket was given the all clear to come home, I moved them in with me so I could help out and keep an eye on Max. He wasn’t coping well. I hired a nurse and got him back to work. Mom cared for Ceecee til she was five.” He voice is steady but thick. “We love that little angel more than anything. She’s our miracle.”
My heart breaks for my new friends.
I look away and wipe away tears I hadn’t realized I shed. Nik squeezes my arm and we continue down the hallway. I can hear the voices of the other guys and gals, laughing and talking.
When we enter the main area, I’m stumped. His house is not at all what I’m expecting.
Let me tell you what I was expecting. I was thinking I’d see dark colors, bleak and basic furniture, and absolutely no warmth.
How wrong was I?
Way off. This house had to be decorated by a female. Or multiple females. I’m guessing his mother and sisters had a part to play in decorating and furnishing this house. It’s stunning.
The room we’ve just entered is enormous and open plan. The walls are a soft peach color. The ceiling is bright white and high up. There are down lights all over the place. All the furniture is wooden, apart from the sofas. And they are three three-seater light brown, soft leather sofas placed in a semi-circle around huge LCD TV which is mounted on the right hand wall. There is a large square coffee table in between those sofas; it looks mahogany. The left hand side of the room holds a large hand-carved dining room table and nice chairs, also mahogany. The guys have set up a Poker table in the middle of the room, with cards and chips at the ready. In the back left hand corner of the room is a closed off area which I assume is the kitchen because there are stools sitting at a breakfast bar. There are bookcases, a china hutch, and a DVD cabinet strategically placed around the room. It’s breathtaking.
“I love your house,” I say in awe.
Nik smirks, “Thanks. We like it, too.” And leads me into the closed off area in the left hand corner which confirms is the kitchen.
On the way, I greet everyone and kiss Max on the cheek. I admire him and his ability to be so happy regardless of the misfortune he’s had.
Nik takes out cake platters and I load up my surprise cupcakes onto them. Then I take the platters out to the dining table.
I haven’t even done anything and I’m already having fun.
Stop being a turd.
Tina looks gorgeous in tight jeans, a sweater, and sandals. Her hair is in one of those cute messy buns at the very top of her head. Her lips are glossed.
I want to lick that gloss off and find out what flavor it is.
I don’t know what she’s doing to me! The woman must have the voodoo.
Tina has just finished placing the cupcakes on the dining table when Ghost approaches and reaches for a cupcake. She puts her hand out to stop him.
“No, Ghost, honey, yours are here.” She says as she points to another platter of cupcakes.
Ghost narrows his eyes at her and questions, “Why are these mine? You spit in em or some shit?”
Tina looks shocked that he would think that but responds, “Um, no. You said you preferred crunchy peanut butter so I made you your own batch.”
Ghost looks stunned. His brows are raised and his mouth hangs open a little. He straightens his face and asks quietly, “You made these special?”
Tina looks uncomfortable and slightly flushed. She straightens things on the table that don’t need straightening. “Uh…” She shrugs and looks to the floor. “You gotta eat, right?”
She walks back into the kitchen leaving a shocked Ghost staring at his personal batch of cupcakes.
Max walks up behind him and scolds, “You’re such an ass. I bet you don’t even like crunchy PB.”
Ghost answers in a small voice still frowning, “No. I do. A lot.”
Max gets a load of Ghost’s confused expression and smirks.
Ghost picks up a cupcake and confirms, “So, she’s genuinely nice, huh?”
Max smirks harder, “Yep.” He pops the p.
Ghost shakes his head and mutters, “Fuck me.”
I’ve hidden out in the kitchen long enough. I straighten my back and move to walk out of the kitchen when Ceecee rolls her way in. My god, but this child is beautiful. She looks up at me and smiles big with her crooked teeth.
Smiling, I reply, “Hi Ceecee. How are you, angel?”
She looks up in thought, “I’m okay.”
Okay? Just okay?
I don’t like that. Children should be happy. They should at least be good.
I walk toward her, stroke her cheek and ask, “Everything okay?”
She sighs, “Yeah, I guess.”
I can see she doesn’t really want to talk about it. There is hesitance written all over her sweet face.
“Well, if you ever want to talk to me about anything,” I say as I walk back to my purse, pull out paper and a pen and start writing, “here is my phone number.”
She looks at the paper in wonder, eyes wide and whispers, “I can call you anytime?”
Without hesitating I answer, “Anytime at all. If you ever feel like you want to talk or need some advice, I’ll be available on that number, sweetie.”
Her face transitions from shock to happiness and she beams at me, “Thanks Tina.” She folds the paper and puts it in her pocket.
We both move out of the kitchen to find the pizza has arrived. I make a plate for Ceecee, bring it over to her and kiss her forehead.
Mia would be five if she were alive.
I can’t stop the pain from clutching my heart. I think about her every day and I wonder what my life would be like if she were still here. It’s a moot point. She’s not here. I miss her, though.
Max tells Ceecee to get ready for bed and she makes her way to a hallway on the top right corner of the room. I want to see the rest of the house and am already scheming to sneak off later on and explore.
I feel someone behind me. An arm moves across the top of my chest and I’m pulled back into a hard body. I look up and Nik is looking at me apprehensively.
My eyes widen and I ask, “What?”
He shakes his head and rests his cheek on my temple. “I dunno. You just looked sad for a minute. I thought maybe you were thinkin’ about Ceecee. You looked like you needed a hug.”
I turn in to face him and hug his waist tight. I respond, “I always need a hug. Thanks.”
He doesn’t say anything for a long time and then, “Peaches.”
I don’t say anything. He leans down closer to my neck, he puts his nose under my ear and I feel his lips at my neck. “You smell like peaches.”
My stomach has the butterflies and I squeeze him tighter. And I feel something hard on my upper hip. Warmth spreads through my belly.
Oh my lord. Is that a…? Does he have a…?
The thought of Nik getting a hard on from my scent makes my legs shake and my core moistens.
His lips are still at my neck and he breathes me in, “Goddamn, you smell good, Tina. Good enough to eat.”
He nips my neck with his teeth, I shudder and almost moan. I loosen my hold on him and turn my half-lidded eyes up to his. My voice hoarse, I respond, “Maybe you should try a cupcake instead. I’m sure they’d taste better than me.”
Nik closes his eyes, looking pained and says, “I don’t think anything would taste as good as you.”
He turns and walks away. I’m left thinking in my own thoughts.
What just happened?
Max puts Ceecee to bed and turns on the baby monitor we keep on the mantel. Her bedroom is the last at the end of the hallway and a bit far away so if she calls out we can’t hear her unless the monitor is on. It works out well, this way we don’t have to be quiet for her to sleep.
I’m still painfully hard.
I want Tina in my bed. Not just for sex. I want to do all the stuff you do with people you care about. I want to kiss her and taste every inch of her gorgeous body. I want to hold her while she sleeps. I want to protect her from everything that’s bad in the world. I want her to need me. But we’re friends. And friends don’t do shit like that.
You need to snap out of it.
Yeah, I do. Tina asked for my friendship and that’s what I’m going to give her. If I can’t have her in my bed, I’ll take her any way I can get her.
I don’t know how to explain it without sounding like a pussy. I’ve never felt this way about a woman before. She makes my day brighter. I’m happier when I’m with her. I’ve never been good with it but I want to give her my affections. She’s my little goofball. I love that she wears her heart on her sleeve. She gives everyone she meets a small piece of her big heart.
I feel my body become lax.
It would suck if I spent the entire evening hard.
We all sit at the poker table, eating and drinking, then it’s time to play.
Tina looks around the table and smiles big, “So, how do you play?”
Only Tina would come to a Poker night not knowing how to play Poker.
Nik spends an hour trying to teach me to play Poker. It all sounds a bit like this “this card is the blah, you use it to blah and blah. Then you blah the blah-dee blah and that’s Poker!”
Let me tell you, it’s not so simple.
I give up with a pout and coax the girls to play Uno with me at the dining table.
After three games of me winning, Nat takes the deck and throws it in the air. Cards fly in every direction. Nat is somewhat of a sore loser. Lola, Mimi, and I burst into laughter at her dramatics; Nat pouts like a little kid.
We move back to the Poker table with the guys who are loud and boisterous. They tease each other, laugh loudly, and whoop when they win a hand. They are so much fun to be around.
Trick has eaten six of my special cupcakes and is currently devouring a seventh. He leans over to me a smacks my cheek with a sloppy chocolaty kiss. He asks, “What are in those cakes, girl?! They are heaven.”
I wipe my cheek and laugh, “Ewww Trick! Well, the red velvet cupcakes have a chocolate sauce in the middle and the chocolate mud cupcakes have a peanut butter cup in the middle.”
His eyes roll in bliss; he leans over close and puts his lips to my cheek, “Run away with me.”
I laugh at his theatrical scene. Nik takes my hand in his, pulls me over to him and says, “Sorry Trick, she already promised me.”
Trick glowers at him, “You always have to get the girl. Save some for us, buddy.”
Nik smirks, “Never.” He pulls me sideways on to his lap and without thinking I put my arms around his neck and settle in, placing my forehead at the side of his chin. I love hugging this man. He’s my teddy bear.
I can feel everyone stare at us but I could care less. I’m so comfortable and don’t want to move.
The girl’s watch the other guys play this round and cheer them on. Nik plays his hands and then strokes my back. We’re all having an awesome time.
“Daddy?” This is slightly distorted and coming from the baby monitor. Max goes to stand but I put a hand on his arm and state, “Let me get it.”
He looks amazed at my offer. “Uh, okay, if you’re sure. She’s normally thirsty so take a glass of water. It’s the last room down the hall.”
I smile at him, go to the kitchen for a glass of water and make my way to Ceecee’s room.
She smiles a little smile when she sees me enter her room. I keep the light off but leave the door open slightly for some illumination and sit next to her on the bed. Low and behold, she’s thirsty.