I would suggest you read the first two chapters of Nora, to fully acquaint yourself with the characters
Although I feel this story can stand alone, you may want to read the first two chapters. If you're looking for mindless sex, you will not find it in this chapter.
She sat in the dark, looking out over her city, but seeing nothing. A chill ran through her, but it was May and it wasn’t cold. Her world had come crashing down around her and life, as she knew it, was over.
Phillip Duncan’s first day back from vacation was pure hell. God, how he hated taking time off, but after his split with Katie he had needed space. His travel agent found the perfect mid-March adventure in Brazil; Rio de Janeiro, with its white sand beaches and impressive Corcovado (statue of Christ), the historic Salvador, and the Amazon. It was just the spot to forget about California and lose himself in the incredible wildlife of the greatest rainforest on earth. Photographs didn’t do justice to the colors of the jungle flowers and their sweet, strong fragrance, the lushness of the green ceiling created by the trees, the markings on the wild birds, the screams of the playful monkeys, and the majesty of the waterfalls. It didn’t matter that he constantly felt damp from the humidity. He was overcome by the beauty of it all.
The landscape in Rio also included scantily dressed, dark-haired beauties, whose bodies were barely covered by bikinis, at the Copacabana beach. There were tanned, rounded asses, covered only by a thread that ran up the middle of their cracks that could make a strong man, weak. Phillip steered clear; he needed space, time to get his head together, and not mindless sex.
His day started with a ninety minute debriefing with his staff. If the Chief Operations Officer can’t go away and trust that his staff will carry on, then you need a new staff. His five senior vice presidents were more than capable, having been with the company longer than he. This meeting was followed by half an hour with his boss, the President and Chief Executive Officer, where he learned the forecast analysts were beginning to sound pessimistic about any business growth.
Phillip returned to his office to attack the many emails his assistant couldn’t handle in his absence. Margaret buzzed him, just as he had settled in.
“John Anderson from Martin & Dean is on line two. Are you in?”
“Absolutely,” Phillip said and smiled as he picked up the phone. “John! How are you, my friend? I haven’t spoken to you since right after New Year’s.”
John Anderson had been Phillip’s strongest supporter when he was promoted to Senior Vice President of Marketing at Martin & Dean, at the young age of thirty-two. Although he hated losing him to another company, John remained Phillip’s mentor when he accepted the C.O.O. position at the California-based firm, four years earlier.
“I’m doing well, Phillip. How’s Katie?” John inquired.
Phillip noticed this was the first time in six weeks that his stomach didn’t immediately turn over.
“Um, I’m not sure,” he said quietly. “She left me over a month ago, saying something about needing to rediscover her womanhood. I should have known, John. She was only twenty-eight and I had no business thinking she would settle for an old guy like me.”
Phillip was far from old at forty-one. He used to look like John Kennedy, Jr. in his prime, and now he had aged gracefully; looking very debonair with gray hair starting in his temples. He had creases around his chestnut brown eyes, so that he always appeared to be laughing at a secret joke.
“Be careful calling yourself old, when you’re talking to me, Phillip,” John chided. “I’m the one who’s starting to wind down. In fact, that’s why I’m calling. I’m coming out to the west coast next week. Is there any way you can put some time aside for me? It doesn’t have to be during work hours. In fact, I’d prefer to talk to you away from work.”
Phillip looked through his calendar. “I’m free Thursday night, if that’s good for you.”
“Perfect. I’ve got your address, so I’ll meet you at around seven. Okay?”
“Are you going to tell me what this is about, John?”
“All in good time, Phillip. I’ll see you next week.”
When Phillip opened the door to greet his friend, he was surprised at how John had aged. John was dressed in khakis and a golf shirt, but couldn’t have looked more out of place with his pale east coast skin. Phillip ushered him into the kitchen/great room and poured him a bourbon and water. They settled into a friendly talk about John’s family, the weather, and Phillip’s life in California. John seemed very interested in Phillip’s feelings about where the business was headed.
“What’s going on, John? Certainly you didn’t come all this way just for a chat.”
“I’m here on a mission and my goal is to report back with positive results. Phillip, I’ve had a terrific run with Martin & Dean, and even though I received countless offers to work elsewhere, I know I would never have been as happy as I have been with them, in New York.” John took a deep breath and continued, “But now, it’s time for me to go. I’m tired, and I want to be able to spend more time with my wife, kids and grandkids. That’s why I’m here.”
Phillip stayed quiet and listened to John’s proposal.
“When I talked to the board about my retirement, I told them straight-out that there was no one at the company right now, who could support them the way I do. I’m not blowing my own horn, but I know what needs to be done. We’ve got some really talented people there, but they also need younger blood. Phillip, you know the company, you know what being a C.O.O. entails. If you’re willing to listen, I’m here to make you an offer.”
“What?” Phillip asked with an astonished look on his face.
“You proved yourself when you worked for them a few years ago. You left with grace and dignity, and didn’t burn any bridges. You made a name for yourself out here, but I’m afraid that your company is going to go through a stagnant phase. I’m offering you a chance to come back to Martin & Dean as Executive Vice President and Chief Operations Officer. You’re only forty-one, Phillip, and you’ve got a lot of years left to make another mark there. Who knows where this might lead, if you accept the job?”
Phillip stood up, paced for a minute, and ran his fingers through his hair. He was surprised, pleasantly, but nonetheless, surprised at what John was asking. He sat back down, leaned forward with his arms on his knees, and looked John straight in the eye. “Talk to me,” was all he said.
John pulled a thin binder out of his briefcase. In that binder was a complete job description, organizational chart, benefits summary, corporate bonus schedule, relocation package, and a salary offer. It was literally an offer that could not be refused. John sipped his drink while he watched for any kind of reaction from his friend. Phillip took his time, studying each page intently.
“Nora’s a senior vice president in Advertising? Why did she leave Marketing?” he asked John.
“Your replacement, Sean Kavanagh, has a strict policy about personal relationships between people in the same department. I’m afraid he fell pretty hard for our lovely Nora, so he came to me and asked if I could have her reassigned. Let me tell you, she was madder than a wet hornet, but they’ve been together for three years now. They’re a wonderful couple, Phillip.”
“I’m glad she found someone, John. She’s a hell of a woman. He must be a real special man,” he said sincerely, remembering the years he and Nora had been together.
“You’ll find that out for yourself, if you accept the offer that’s on the table. It’s not bullshit, Phillip. This is it, take it or leave it. No negotiations, because what you see is the best you’re going to get.”
“I need time, John. I can’t just answer you right now. I have to think about my current job, my loyalty to them, and then this offer.”
“You’re a good man, Phillip. I wouldn’t have expected anything less from you. I’m flying out on Sunday. I’d like to take your answer with me.”
“You’re not giving me a lot of time, but I understand. We’ll have breakfast on Sunday and I’ll take you to the airport. You’ll have my answer then.”
The friends shook hands and went to dinner. After John left that night, Phillip reread the proposal. He wasn’t stupid. This was the final offer, and a lucrative one at that. He’d be an idiot if he didn’t consider it. The meeting he had with his C.E.O. had already indicated that it was going to be a tough next couple of years. Still, he liked the company. Hell, he liked Martin & Dean. He was going to call his financial advisor first thing in the morning.
John and Phillip chose a table in the garden, to have breakfast. John had to give Phillip credit; there was no indication, by looking at him, as to what he had decided. Juice and coffee was served, their order had been placed, and John sat as Phillip began to talk.
He pointed out all of the good things at his current position. He listed the advantages to living in southern California. He also listed the good things about moving back to New York.
“Oh for Christ’s sake, Phillip,” John sounded anxious. “Would you just come out with it?”
“I’ll never be able to fill your shoes, John, but I’ll make you proud. You’ll never regret going to bat for me,” Phillip said as he extended his hand. “Thank you for this opportunity. I accept.”
As Phillip shook his hand, he handed John his signed contract. “I’m handing in my resignation tomorrow. It may seem like a long time, but I’m giving them until the end of April to find a replacement. I’ll report to you the first Monday in May. Now, if I find they don’t want me to hang around, you’ll hear from me a lot earlier.”
John enthusiastically shook Phillip's hand. “I’m so pleased. I wanted to be out of there before summer. Now, I can tell my wife she’s got me full time, as of the beginning of June. My guess is she might look for a part-time job, just to keep me out from under her feet,” he said joking.
Sean sneaked up behind Nora to nuzzle the back of her neck, as she stood at the counter adding cream to her coffee, only to be greeted by a sharp elbow to his stomach.
“You mess this hair buddy, and you’re dead,” she said as she turned around, put her arms around his neck, and kissed the man she adored.
“Want to blow off work?” he asked, raising his brows and winking several times.
They probably would have made sick, any young person who saw them together. Sean was as much in love with her as he was when he told her for the first time, those few New Year’s Eve’s ago. Outside of work, he found reasons to constantly touch her; her hand, the side of her face, a kiss to her temple, his arm around her waist. This was the woman he was meant to be with for the rest of his life, and he had plans for her. He was finalizing the trip tomorrow, and then he would tell her – Scotland in September, for a honeymoon. He thought about buying her a ring and surprising her, but he decided to wait and take her with him to pick it out. He hoped she would be surprised.
Nora giggled in his arms, “And just how would it look with we both called in sick?”
“Do you really care? Come on baby, we’ve never done that.”
“Sean, begging does not become you. Now, drink your coffee and let’s get moving. I’ve got a ton of one-on-one’s today, with my staff.”
Their cab dropped them across the street from Martin & Dean when the icy, cold April rain started to fall. Sean and Nora dashed across the busy street to try and save themselves from a soaking.
“My briefcase! Damn!” Sean exclaimed as he ran back out into traffic, in an attempt to catch the cab that was starting to pull away from the curb.
It was as if the world had turned into slow motion; the sights and the sounds. Nora screamed as she saw a car trying to screech to a halt, slam into Sean’s body, throwing it high into the air, coming back down on the hood with a sickening whump, before it rolled off onto the street. She dropped everything and raced to him, knowing in her heart it was too late.
When she reached him, she pulled him into her arms, needing to comfort him. There was blood everywhere, and she begged for someone to help him. Sean opened his eyes and she could see the creases around them, as if he were trying to smile at her. Then, the look faded and she knew he saw nothing.
That’s how John Anderson found her. Cradling the man she loved in the pouring rain, in the middle of a New York City street, covered in his blood, and letting loose the most pitiful wail he had ever heard. His heart broke for her, as the ambulance crew tried to get her to let go of Sean’s body. John pulled at her, urging her to release her hold, crying with her, crying for her. He held her in his arms as Sean’s body was loaded into the ambulance, and promised her he would not leave her side. They followed, in silence, through the crowded streets to the hospital, knowing there was no hope. Sean was dead, and Nora was left alone.
During the next week, Nora proved exactly how strong she was. Sean didn’t have any immediate family, so she went through their address book and personally called his relatives. Her own family was scattered, but promised to come to New York, if they could.
She and Sean had spoken about what their wishes for burial would be, and Nora made the arrangements to his specifications. She received friends and family at the funeral home. In the center of the far wall, was a cream colored marble urn etched with leaves containing Sean’s ashes. Above it was a vase with three dozen red roses, for the three years they were together. The card read “You’ll be in my heart forever.” No one had to question that those were from Nora.
John and his wife had offered to hold a reception in their home, but Nora declined. Sean hadn’t wanted a fuss. The only reason she agreed to a single showing at the funeral home was so that other people could get closure. When the last of the visitors had gone, Nora finally sat down and just stared at the urn. John went to her and knelt next to her chair.
“Nora,” he whispered. “Come home with us. Spend the night and let us take you home tomorrow.”
She never looked at him. “I’m fine, just leave me. I’ll see you at work on Monday.”
John was taken aback. “No Nora, don’t come in. You need a few days to look after things. You’ve been running fifty miles a minute. Now it’s time to stop. Take as long as you need, then call me. Please Nora, just take care of yourself.”
John placed a kiss on top of her head and turned to leave. Nora shuddered at his touch. She needed to leave. She needed to go home. She needed Sean back, but that was never going to happen. She wanted to curl up in a ball, go to sleep, and then wake up from this nightmare.
Sean’s death had delayed the announcement of John’s retirement, and Phillip’s return to Martin & Dean, as the new C.O.O. Senior management was brought together in the board room, before an all-employee email was sent. Eyes went to the two vacant chairs that were normally taken by Sean and Nora.
Nora was not taking calls. She had not answered the emails sent to her personal email address. She had locked herself away from the world, and would only surface when she was ready. John tried to stop by once, but she wouldn’t answer his buzzer. He was worried, but knew that she needed time and they would give her what she needed. He couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever come back.
True to his word, Phillip arrived the first Monday in May. As he walked down the walnut-paneled corridor, Phillip thought back to the first time he had been to the executive wing; when John had interviewed him for the Senior Vice President position. Today, John greeted him warmly, and brought him into his office.
“I’m so glad you’re here Phillip. You and I will work together for the next month, transitioning the staff, and getting you comfortable with your position here. I’ll set up in my conference room, so that you can make this space your own. Besides, with all the files you and I need to go over, the more room the better.
“Unfortunately for you, my assistant Pat has also decided to retire. She’s interviewed quite a few candidates and has selected three for you to meet. We’ll set that up for later in the week.”
Phillip looked around the office that would be his. He already noticed that pictures had been taken down, and a couple of boxes next to the door were packed with John’s personal belongings. The room was understatedly elegant with its walnut paneling and cream colored upholstered furniture. There were touches of teal blue accents around the room that Phillip found soothing. The only thing Phillip brought with him was his briefcase. He refused to move in until John was gone. He couldn’t bring himself to take over his mentor’s space.
John took Phillip on a brief tour, before heading to the Boardroom. A breakfast had been arranged, to introduce him to the other executives. There were a couple of faces that Phillip remembered, but never really had an opportunity to come to know. He felt immediate acceptance here. He had come home.
After they left the get-together, John explained that there would be a meeting at one o’clock, so that Phillip could meet his staff. John closed the door behind them when they got back to the office. John asked Phillip to sit down so they could have a private talk.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news, Phillip. About three weeks ago, Sean Kavanagh was killed right out in front of the building.”
“Nora’s boyfriend? Marketing department, right?”
“Yes, I’m afraid so. Poor Nora was standing on the sidewalk when he was struck by a car. It was a rough couple of weeks here, and now you’re going to be down two senior vice presidents,” John said sadly, as her recounted the incident.
“Oh my God, poor Nora. How is she?” Phillip asked.
“I don’t know. When I left her at the funeral home, I told her to take as much time as she needed, but we haven’t heard a word. I tried stopping, but she never answered the bell. Her answering machine is full and no longer accepting messages. We’ve emailed and left notes with the guard at her apartment, but nothing.”
Phillip didn’t let on that this scared him. “You know how strong Nora is. I’m sure she just needs time.”
The staff meeting went well, with Phillip knowing a good share of the vice presidents. It was explained that Rita Jeffries would be acting senior vice president in the marketing department, until a permanent replacement was found for Sean Kavanagh. Nora’s second in command, Kevin Mack, would be filling in, until her return.
On the way back to his office, Phillip asked John take him to Nora’s office. A very professional young woman sat outside, almost as if on guard. John introduced Phillip to Nora’s assistant, Deb.
“Have you heard anything from her at all?” he asked.
“No. I thought of going over, because I have the key she gave me, but I don’t want to intrude. I figured that if she needed me, she’d call,” Deb said sadly.
“Well, I may call on you, yet, to help me get through to her,” said Phillip. “Don’t worry, she’ll be fine.”
The next week was a whirlwind of activity with meetings, consultations, budget concerns, and reviewing the files. Phillip began to appreciate just how much bigger this company was than the one in California. It was a huge challenge, but he felt up to it.
Unbeknownst to anyone at Martin & Dean, Phillip had tried to reach Nora by phone several times. On his way to a meeting, he stopped by Deb’s desk and asked for the key to Nora’s apartment.
“I don’t know about this,” she said, defensively. “I don’t think Nora would want me to hand it over to just anyone, even if he is her boss.”
Phillip bristled a bit, but realized Deb was just doing her job. She didn’t know him from Adam. As discretely as possible, he explained his and Nora’s relationship. Deb could tell he really cared about her boss so, reluctantly, she handed him Nora’s keys.
He was surprised to see that Danny was still the night guard at Nora’s building, when he stopped by after work that night. Danny had always liked Phillip, and the two shared a real love for the Yankees and the Giants.
“Man, I can’t believe you’re back,” Danny said, slapping Phillip on the shoulder and shaking his hand. He lowered his voice and continued. “Did you hear about Mr. Sean and Miss Nora?”
“Yeah Danny, I did. That’s why I’m here – to check on her.”
“That other guy, Mr. Anderson, was by a little while ago. She didn’t answer her buzzer.”
“Danny, would you mind if I just went up? Maybe she’ll answer the door if I knock.”
Danny scratched his head and thought for a minute. “You know I’m not supposed to let anyone up there.”
Phillip pulled Nora’s keys out of his pocket. “Would I have these if I wasn’t allowed to use them?”
“Okay, Mr. Phillip, but if I get in trouble for this….”
“There won’t be any trouble, Danny. You may just be helping her.”
In the elevator, Phillip thought about what he might do. Should I knock, he thought, or should I just let myself in?
Phillip almost felt like he was coming home as he approached her door. After all, they had pretty much lived there together for almost five years. He tentatively knocked at the door. Nothing. He knocked harder the next time, but still no reply
It was possible that she was asleep, or tied up, so he decided to leave. He would come back, he thought, and he’d keep coming back until she answered.
Two more attempts that week, and Phillip decided this was enough. He’d been back for two weeks and now he was more than just a little scared. First thing Saturday morning, he picked up juice, coffee and croissants, and then headed to Nora’s loft.
With very little hassle from the weekend security guard, Phillip made his way up to Nora’s apartment. No knocking this time, he thought. He was just going to let himself in.
The apartment was dark, except for the light coming from one uncovered window. He’d never seen her place in such disarray, and there was an odor that just smacked him in the face.
“Nora?” he called out in a low, gentle voice.
He stepped further into the loft; letting his eyes adjust to the semi-darkness. He glanced into the kitchen and was shocked at the sink, piled high with dirty dishes. The trash bin was overflowing. He opened the refrigerator and was repulsed by a couple of take-out containers from the Chinese restaurant around the corner. There was green fuzz growing on the outside of them. Phillip carefully set them on the counter, saw that the milk was almost cottage cheese, and removed that, too.
He turned and continued into the room, calling a little louder, “Nora?”
He walked towards the light and noticed the oversized wing chair had been pushed to face the window. What he saw tore at his heart.
Curled up, just staring, was the shell of the vibrant woman who had been Nora Taylor. Her auburn hair was drab and matted, hanging past her shoulders. Her face was pale, her lips were swollen and chapped, and her eyes were empty, with dark circles around them. She appeared to be wearing a man’s sweat outfit, probably Sean’s. She was holding a suit coat, clutched tightly to her chest.
“Nora,” Phillip said, as he brushed the hair away from her face.
There was perhaps the briefest glimmer of recognition on her face, and then it was gone.
“Nora,” he said a little more firmly.
Again, she looked at him, but did not appear to see him. Phillip bent over and lifted her up into his arms, walked to the sofa and sat down with her. It was like he had a large doll on his lap. Phillip held Nora close, but said nothing. She didn’t fight him, she just sat. It wasn’t long before he felt her body become heavy – dead weight, as they say. Her head came to rest on his shoulder; her breathing became deep, slow, and steady. Nora had fallen asleep.
He continued to hold her, afraid to put her down for fear she would wake. Right now, he could tell she needed to sleep. He waited about fifteen minutes and then eased her onto the sofa, covering her with the suit coat, and a knitted throw from the back of the chair.
Phillip walked to the front door, so that she wouldn’t be disturbed by the telephone call he was going to make.
“Hello,” said the male voice at the other end of the phone.
“John?” Phillips voice began to crack. “Oh Jesus, John, she’s in bad shape. I can’t believe it. I don’t know what to do.”
“Phillip? Where are you? What do you mean she’s in bad shape? Are you with Nora?” John Anderson’s questions kept coming.
Phillip described Nora’s apartment and how she looked. As he went on, tears started to fall down his face. “I’m so scared. She needs help, John. I don’t know where to turn. I’m not sure if what I do is going to be right. Help me, John. Help me, help Nora. Tell me what to do; who to call. God, John….” Phillip's voice trailed off as he began to cry.
“Phillip, calm down. Do you want me to come over there?”
“No, I think if she wakes up it will be too much. John, just help me figure out how to save her,” Phillip pleaded.
“Okay, look, let me talk to my wife. She’s the one that will have the answers. I’ll call you back as soon as I can. Don’t leave her, just stay. I promise I’ll call you back.”
Phillip went into the bathroom and stuck his head under the cold, running water at the sink, trying to shock himself into calming down. He wasn’t going to be any good to Nora if he couldn’t control himself. He made sure she was still asleep, and went into the kitchen. He remembered something his grandmother used to say about idle hands, and he needed to be doing something, anything, to help her.
After a couple of hours, Phillip was satisfied that Nora’s kitchen could actually be used to prepare food. He could tell she hadn’t been to the market, and she was existing on whatever she already had in the cupboards. He made a mental list of things he needed to pick up.
Nora was still sleeping, not having moved a muscle. He settled himself down at her computer, and started surfing the net. He didn’t doubt that John and his wife would help, but he needed to do more. He typed in “dealing with grief” and hit search.
The first site dealt with the sudden death of infants. He went to the next, and the next, and the next. He finally found information that was written in language that even he could understand. He read, and took notes:
Five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Grief is natural and everyone grieves differently. There is no right way to grieve. There is no silver lining.
Not everyone cries, and it doesn’t mean they don’t feel the pain as deeply as others.
Shock, disbelief, sadness, guilt, anger, fear and physical symptoms including fatigue, nausea, lowered immunity, weight loss or gain, aches and pains, and insomnia.
Major depression – depressed mood, loss of enjoyment, changes in sleep patterns or appetite, impaired concentration, emotional lability.
When to seek professional help – feel like life isn’t worth living, wish you had died instead, blaming yourself, feeling numb and disconnected, having difficulty trusting, unable to perform your normal daily activities. Hospitalization when they are a danger to themselves.
Phillip also learned that it was important to spend time with the person, listen without judgment, be patient, and just be there for them. He probably spent an hour and a half reading all he could. He wondered if he were the right person to be with Nora. Maybe a woman friend would be better, but he knew her, probably better than most. No, he was going to stay and help this frail woman.
He looked up as he heard her mumble and then stretch in her sleep. He went over and knelt next to her, stroking her head. Almost painfully, Nora opened her eyes. This time, Phillip knew she saw him. She squinted and looked as if she were trying to understand what was happening.
“What?” she started.
“It’s me, Nora. I’m back and I’m here to help you.”
“No…no…no,” she shook her head and tried to back away from his comforting hand.
“Nora, please honey, come here. Let me take care of you. Come on.” Not giving her much of a choice, Phillip pulled her into his arms and held her. “I’m not going anywhere, Nora, not for a long time.”
Nora allowed herself to be pulled into his arms. He held on to her until he felt her arms reach around his back. Her body trembled, but she didn’t cry. She simply whispered in a child-like voice, “He’s gone.” They stayed like that, clinging to each other, until she made a move to pull away.
“Phillip? What are you doing here?” she asked in a voice he didn’t recognize.
“I came back to Martin & Dean. John told me about what happened. Nora, everyone is so concerned about you. I couldn’t take it. Deb gave me your keys and so I’m here, and I’m staying here until I know you’re okay.”
With that, Nora appeared to become angry. “I’m fine. Go away.”
“How dare you? Who do you think you are that you can come in here and intrude upon my life? Who asked you to? I can take care of myself.”
“Obviously, you can’t. Look at yourself, Nora. When was the last time you ate anything? When was the last time you bathed and slept in a bed? Nora, we’re all concerned about you. Come on, let me help you.”
Nora moved into the corner of the sofa and glared at Phillip. “I don’t need your help. I don’t need anyone’s help. Just leave me alone. You don’t know. You have no idea. I don’t want you here. I want…I want…,” she said as she scrambled off the sofa.
Her voice became shrill, and her eyes were wild. She stumbled around yelling at him, “Get out! Get out now! I don’t need you! I don’t need anyone!”
Phillip rushed to her and grabbed her flailing arms so that she wouldn’t hurt him, or herself. He held her hands tightly behind her back, and spoke to her in a calm voice.
“Scream at me all you want, Nora, but I’m not leaving. “
She struggled against him, mumbling unintelligible words, shaking her head, trying to pull away, and almost falling. Phillip held her and protected her. He had no idea if what he was doing would help, but he knew this woman needed care.
They moved like this for several minutes, until Nora’s actions slowed. Phillip could see she was starting to give up her attempts at escape. Soon she slumped against him. He could feel her chest heaving. He could tell she was still upset, but just didn’t have the energy to fight him.
“Nora, let me tell you what you’re going to do. I’m going to run you a bath and you’re going to get clean. Wash your hair, lotion yourself, and put on some clean clothes. I brought juice, coffee and croissants this morning. You’re going to eat something and when you’re up to it, we’re going to talk. Okay?” Phillip asked.
While her face was buried in his chest, he saw her nod her head. Cautiously, he let go of her arms and stepped back. Nora raised her head, turned and moved towards the dressing area.
Phillip ran her bath, adding some bath salts to the water. He brought the shower attachment down off the holder, so she could easily use it to wash her hair. While he waited for her, he tidied the bathroom and set the trash outside the door. When Nora entered the bathroom, he left her to her privacy. He did, however, wait outside the door for a minute or two, listening to the sounds of her washing.
He stripped the sheets off her bed and found clean ones in the linen closet. He had just finished up when his cell phone rang. It was John Anderson.
“Hi John, I hope you have some news for me.”
“Phillip, its Peggy Anderson. I told John I wanted to talk to you myself. How is she?”
Phillip quickly went through the happenings since Nora had wakened. He told Peggy of his concern that he was doing things the right way. She reaffirmed everything he had learned online. She agreed with him that Nora should find a psychologist.
“I have the name of someone who has helped a very good friend of mine. His name is Dr. Rosenberg. You do understand that you can’t force her into anything, Phillip, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do. Let me grab a pen and write down his number. I’m going to try and get her to eat, and talk to me if she wants. I’ll have this number if it comes up in conversation. I know it makes me feel better know there is somewhere else to turn. Thank you, Peggy,” Phillip said, sincerely.
“Do you think we could come see her, Phillip?”
He could hear the concern in her voice, but knew better than to push Nora. “Look, as soon as I can get her to agree to seeing anyone else, or to getting out of the apartment, I’ll let you know. Right now, she’s had a hard enough time having me in here.”
He could hear the water stop and Nora moving around the bathroom. He ended the call before Nora came into the bedroom. Her eyes quickly scanned the room. He could see that she wasn’t happy about the bed linens being changed, but never said a word.
Nora simply nodded as he said, “I’ll be in the kitchen, when you’re ready. I want you to eat something.”
Phillip organized the mail that had been sitting on the dining room table, and placed it on her desk. It didn’t take long to straighten up her living area. He heard the last burps of the coffee maker and went to get the tray with the few things he had brought over. It was just after noon, when Nora came out of her bedroom.
She looked almost like she did the weekend they worked to revamp an important presentation. The years had been good to the fifty-one year old beauty. She looked pale and tired, but he could still see the features that grabbed him nine years earlier.
Her damp hair was tied into a pony-tail. She wore white exercise pants, and an over-sized sweater, that he guessed was Sean’s. She came right over to the table and sat down, not looking at Phillip. After he poured her coffee, he added some powdered creamer, and set it down near her orange juice. He placed a croissant on her plate, and pushed a jar of raspberry jam closer to her. Phillip was pleased to see her drink her juice, and take a few nibbles from the croissant. They sat in silence for quite a while before she spoke.
She was calm as she said, “I suppose you think I should thank you for this intrusion. I’m not, you know. I didn’t ask you to come here, and I certainly didn’t ask you to move the things in my home.”
Phillip listened as Nora went on, and did not interrupt her. She complained about his moving her things, taking out the trash, making the bed and just about everything he had done. Maybe he did think she would be grateful, but he also understood. Someday, he thought, someday. The whole time she complained, she also ate. When she finished the last bite, she finished talking.
Nora sat back in her chair, staring at her empty plate. She took a breath and finally said, “Thank you.”
It was a start, thought Phillip, and a chance he was not going to miss.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Nora. John, well, and everyone at the company, told me what a special man Sean was. I wish you never had to go through anything like that.”
He saw her temples throb before she spoke. “I never loved anyone the way I loved him, Phillip. I don’t know what I’m going to do without him,” she said softly, still not looking at him.
Phillip moved, kneeling next to her chair, with his arm around the back of it. “Nora, everything is so raw right now. Give yourself some time. You’re feeling a million different things right now and no one expects you not to be affected by this. What I do know about you is that you will get through this. Not today, and certainly not tomorrow, but you will come through this. I’m not going to let you go through this alone.”
“Don’t you see you can’t help me? You don’t know me anymore. You have no idea what it’s like to lose someone like this. Damn it, Phillip, what the hell are you doing here? Do you think you can ride up on your white horse and make everything better?” Nora pulled away from the table and walked into the living room, standing in the middle with her arms out to either side. “This was our home, our life. You’re not a part of it, and I resent you for thinking you can make everything better. Go away, Phillip. Go back to California and just leave me alone.”
“Good, get pissed at me, yell at me Nora. At least it’s better than sitting in a chair for days, staring out a window. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay. John Anderson is retiring, and I’ve accepted his position. And I’m not leaving you until I’m sure you’re going to function somewhat normally. You want to call 911 and report me for being a friend? Go right ahead lady, but if I leave I’m calling John and Peggy to come over here in my place. You’re in rough shape right now and maybe you don’t believe it, but you need help. Now if you want to calm down and talk to me like an adult, I’ll listen, but if not, you’ll at least listen to me and let me help you find the help you need.”
He was surprised when she sat down, looked at him, and waited. As traumatic as this was, as devastated as she felt, Phillip knew a part of her would still listen to logic. No, she wouldn’t get over this for a long, long time, but part of her would see that she was going to need help dealing with everything that had happened. He spoke to her as the intelligent woman that she was. He didn’t candy-coat things, he was honest, as he knew she would expect. Slowly, she would respond with one word answers.
He wasn’t sure, but he suspected that she comprehended everything he said. He talked to her about her grief. No, he had no idea what she had gone through, and told her so, but he wanted her to understand that everything she felt was normal. Every way she reacted was normal. He also wanted her to understand that at some point she might need to talk to someone.
When he had finished, she leaned back against the chair, looking exhausted. “I’m not going to hurt myself, you know,” she said, staring at nothing. “I’m not like that. But I also know that I feel empty inside, and I don’t give a damn about anyone or anything, including myself. I’m just so tired. I just want to sleep forever.”
“Nora,” Phillip started.
“No Phillip, not like that. I’ve just never known tiredness like this. It’s an effort to raise my head.”
“You know, fresh air might help. Why don’t I plan on ordering some food in tonight, and tomorrow, if you’re up to it, we’ll walk over to the market and get a few things. Sweetie, I had to throw out almost everything in your fridge. It’ll do you good to smell the air, and feel the sun on your face. God, I think I sound like my mother.”
Nora didn’t answer, because she was once again asleep. He lifted her and carried her to the bed. He loosened her hair and it fanned out over the white pillowcase. He covered her with Sean’s coat, and left her. He prayed she that each time she woke, she would be a little stronger. She would need all her strength for her journey to recovery.
Nora woke when she heard the buzzer announcing their meal delivery. She went to the bathroom to wash her face and was shocked at the woman looking back at her in the mirror. She was a ghost of her former self. I’m in trouble, she thought. I’m not so stupid as to not realize that.
Phillip was placing bowls and plates on the table when she joined him. He had ordered chicken soup and sandwiches from the deli at the end of the street. He poured fresh coffee as she sat down. Their talk was minimal, speaking about John’s retirement, and the weather.
“Thank you for dinner, Phillip. I think I’m going to go back to bed, so you can leave. I’ll be fine.”
“Would you mind terribly if I slept here on the sofa tonight? I need to know for sure that you’re okay. For my own peace of mind, please?” he asked, afraid of her answer.
“You know I’m too weary to fight you. Do as you wish, but I’m not looking for a roommate, just so you know.”
“I promise you, if I feel good about tomorrow, I’ll leave without argument. I’m not saying I won’t be back every day, but I’ll give you the space you need. Good night, Nora,” Phillip said, as she left the room.
Nora had almost forgotten the events of the previous day, when she came out that morning and saw Phillip sitting with a cup of coffee. Part of her was angry to see him in the home that was hers and Sean’s, but part of her was also grateful that there was someone else around. She was so lonely, so afraid, and if she were honest with herself, she wasn’t sure where to turn.
Phillip had started a list of things he knew she needed, and asked Nora to add to it. He waited, pleased that she had agreed to go outside with him. Even without make-up and her hair done up, he thought she was beautiful when she came out wearing khaki’s and a pale green sweater. There was still a chill in the air, as they hit the street. Phillip was thankful the guard was busy, so that Nora didn’t have to deal with his condolences.
The market was a couple blocks away. Spring in New York was always beautiful, but Sundays, with the sound of church bells, made it special. The trees were covered with the fresh green of new leaves. There were spring flowers blooming in people's small courtyards, and they filled the air with a heavy fragrance. As they rounded the corner Phillip noticed that Nora seemed a little more alive. The color was returning to her face, and although she was quiet, she was attentive to her surroundings.
He never could have predicted what would happen. A car rounded the corner a little too fast, and had to hit its brakes to avoid traffic that had come to a standstill. The screech of the brakes cut through the quiet morning.
Nora turned white and screamed. Phillip caught her in his arms as her knees began to buckle. She clawed at him to have him hold her closer, tears started to fall, and hysteria began to consume her.
“Oh God, oh God, oh God,” she cried. Her body was trembling uncontrollably and she buried her face in his chest and screamed.
Phillip got her to the side of a building and sheltered her with his body. He let her cry and scream, ignoring curious onlookers. One look from him, told any well-meaning observer to stay away.
“He’s gone, oh God he’s gone. Seannnnnnn.... Oh God Sean, why did you have to die? Why did you have to leave me alone? I loved you, please come back.”
Phillip’s heart broke for her. If he could, he would have brought Sean back, but no one could. When her crying started to slow, he inched her towards her building. He had to get her inside, and see if they needed to call someone to help.
By the time he got her back to her apartment, Nora’s sobs had subsided, but she was still trembling at the memory of the terror of Sean’s accident. Just that innocent city sound sent her into a tailspin, and Phillip wondered if she would ever recover.
He led her to the sofa to sit down, and then turned to get her a glass of water.
When Phillip sat down, she moved into his arms and began to cry. It wasn’t the hysterical sobbing of the street scene, but more like weeping. He held her, running his hands over her back, trying to think of any way to comfort her, and wishing John and Peggy were here to help. They sat like that for a while, until Nora was all cried out. She didn’t move away from him, and eventually slipped into a deep sleep. Phillip leaned back bringing her with him, and continued to hold her as they both lay on the sofa.
“Phillip?” her shaky voice woke him. “Phillip, I think I need help. I don’t think I can do this by myself.”
She stayed curled up in his arms while he talked to her about his conversation with Peggy. Nora didn’t fight him this time. She had no fight left, and agreed to call Dr. Rosenberg in the morning. With that, she also asked to talk to Peggy. When he finally got Peggy on the phone, he let Nora go into the bedroom to speak to her in private. He told her he would run to the market and be right back.
The apartment was quiet when he returned, except for the sound of running water. He didn’t know why, but that sound scared him. He rushed to the bathroom, and opened the door. He was greeted by a great cloud of steam and Nora yelling at him.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing? Haven’t you ever heard of knocking?”
Surrounded by bubbles, Nora sat in the tub while the water filled it. Her pale breasts bobbed on the surface. Phillip stammered, apologized, and beat a hasty retreat. When she emerged a while later, one look from her made him turn bright red.
“Enjoy the view?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking, but I was imagining the worst,” Phillip apologized.
A brief smile crossed Nora’s face as she looked at the embarrassed man. “It’s okay, I understand,” she said while she went into the kitchen. “I had a good talk with Peggy. She’s going to come over here tomorrow and if I can get in to see Dr. Rosenberg, she’ll take me. It was good for me to talk to her. It’s been good for me having you around. You saved me, Phillip. From what, I’m not exactly sure, but if you hadn’t come here….well….”
Phillip finally felt relief. She got it. She knew she needed help and was now turning to others to get her through. It was going to be a long, hard road, but she would be back. He got up and joined her in the kitchen, to start dinner.
The team of Anderson, Anderson, and Duncan took turns seeing that Nora’s road to recovery was as smooth as possible. Peggy was a godsend, being able to devote daytime hours to Nora. The first meeting with Dr. Rosenberg went well, and Nora seemed to have an immediate like and respect for him. Peggy made sure that Nora got to her appointments, and then filled in that same day with something special. Sometimes it would just be lunch out, sometimes a pedicure, but always just a little something to keep Nora in touch with the real world. In the evening, if Phillip was tied up with meetings, John would make a point of stopping in on his way home, just to say hello
Phillip and Nora began a new phase in their relationship. When they first met, even though he was her boss, he was immediately attracted to her. Theirs was a very sexual relationship, the five years they were together. Now, there was no physicality, only true friendship. He had been in love with her, when he left for California, now he loved her as a person. They shared many meals, spent evenings walking through her neighborhood, and talking about work.
Nora had started asking more and more about the office, and how her advertising department was doing, under the direction of Kevin Mack. One night as they were walking and talking, Phillip guided her into a lower west side cafe, for her favorite cappuccino with amaretto. Nora was startled when the owner, Tony, spoke to her.
“Hey, you haven’t been in here for a long time. How’s the mister doin’? I haven’t seen him either. You wanna take some cantucci biscotti home for him?” Tony’s big Italian voice boomed through the small room.
Nora’s face took on an ashen color, and her eyes quickly filled with tears. Phillip stepped forward, but she held him back by taking his arm.
“Hi, Tony, you’re right, it’s been a long time. You don’t know this, but my boyfriend was killed earlier this year,” Nora said in a surprisingly steady voice. “He really liked you, you know, so yes, wrap up four biscotti and I’ll take them home.”
Tony was shocked and couldn’t apologize enough, stumbling in the way he did. Nora assured him that what he said was perfectly normal, and accepted his apology and hug, with grace and dignity.
They settled in the corner table near the window. Phillip looked at Nora with such pride.
“You’re really something, you know?”
“What?” Nora asked.
“You’ve come a long way, lady. You’re probably the strongest woman I know. When I first found you, I thought for sure you would never make it through. I should never have underestimated Nora Taylor. She’s a tough cookie, and someone I’m proud to know.”
“If that’s true, then you’ll do me a favor and be honest, okay? It’s been nine weeks since Sean’s death. Nine weeks since I’ve been to work. I’m not hurting, don’t get me wrong. Sean left me enough where I could retire tomorrow, but I’m not ready. How is Kevin doing running the department, and do you have plans to place him permanently in my position?”
The question took Phillip by surprise. “Of course not, Nora. Why would you even think I would consider that?”
“I’ve been gone a long time. You’d be within your rights if you decided to give my job to someone who can actually do it.”
Phillip leaned forward, took her hands in his, and looked into her beautiful blue sapphire eyes, where he could see just a touch of fear lurking. “Nora, I’m not letting you go. When you’re ready, your job will be waiting. From the way you’ve been talking lately, I get the feeling you’re thinking of coming back.”
“Well, I’ve been talking this over with Dr. Rosenberg. He seems to think I could start back whenever I feel up to it. I was wondering if maybe I could come into the office to check on things; meet with Kevin and be brought up to speed. I’m not ready to come back full time, but I would like to test the water,” Nora looked at Phillip, searching his eyes for an answer.
“That’s great news! If you’re ready, just say the word and I’ll get things in motion. You have no idea how much everyone misses you. You do realize though, it won’t be easy. There are a lot of people that will want to tell you how they feel about Sean’s death. Are you going to be able to handle that?”
“Yeah, I think I can. And you know what? If I cry, I cry. It’s okay, because tears are going to come and go for a long time,” Nora told Phillip.
“Um, there are also some personal items from Sean’s office. I have them in a couple of boxes. His assistant and Deb went through everything. You can collect them yourself, or I can bring them home.”
It never occurred to Nora that she would have to go through Sean’s office. “If you don’t mind, I would like you to bring them to me. I’m not sure I can handle seeing those things, in front of everyone.”
“I’ll bring them home tomorrow, and then how about we set things up for Monday?”
Monday it was. Phillip swung by Nora’s apartment that morning and picked her up. She looked striking with her auburn hair pulled back in her signature chignon, a lemon yellow suit, ocean blue blouse, and taupe stilettos. She walked with authority as she approached the cab. Phillip scrambled to get her door.
“Okay, half the battle was actually getting out the door. I’ll be honest with you, I almost backed out. But I need to do this. I need to prove something to myself,” she told him, in the back of the cab.
Phillip admired her determination and said, “You don’t need to prove anything to anyone else. When you’re ready, I’ll make sure you get home. If at any time it turns out to be too much for you, just say the word.”
“No, if I can get through last night, I can get through today.”
Her statement confused him. “What do you mean? What happened?”
“I went through the boxes you brought me. Most of the stuff was just stuff, but I was going through his calendar. Phillip, he was planning a trip to Scotland for us. I called his travel agent, to make sure she knew why he had never gotten back to her. He….he was going to take me there on a honeymoon. I never knew, Phillip. I never knew he was going to ask me to marry him,” her voice dropped to a whisper. “I loved him so much.”
Phillip didn’t know what to say, so he simply covered her hands and held them. They rode in silence to the office. As they exited the taxi, Nora threw back her shoulders and raised her chin. It was show time for her.
The day couldn’t have been better, and most of the credit went to Kevin Mack. He found out just how difficult Nora’s job was and was relieved that she was planning to come back. Together they decided on a transition schedule. Nora would start working from home, with trips to the office every few days. Her plan was to be back at work, full time, by mid July.
The Independence Day holiday made for a three-day weekend. Phillip convinced Nora to take a drive upstate, to escape the madness of the city. One of the other executives had a cottage in the Adirondacks but his wife decided she wanted to visit relatives out on Long Island. Phillip jumped at the chance to use the modest, two-bedroom house on a small lake.
The two friends left the city late Thursday afternoon, getting a jump on the weekend traffic. It was dark when they finally reached the lake, but true to his word, Ed made sure lights were on to greet them. Nora unpacked sandwiches for dinner and put the few groceries away. Phillip called to her from the deck that overlooked the lake.
“Listen,” he whispered.
Off in the distance, you could hear the call of the loons. Some moving lights caught their eyes, and they realized they were seeing fireflies. And the smell, Phillip thought. He wanted to bottle it and make candles to burn. There seemed to be a million stars in the sky. They didn’t get to see a show like this at home, because of the city lights. They stayed outside until it felt like the mosquitoes were going to eat them alive.
Phillip woke up to the smell of bacon and coffee. He pulled on some gym shorts and stumbled out into the main room of the cottage.
“Owww,” Nora yelled, quickly stepping back away from the stove and rubbing her bare belly.
“Who in their right mind fries bacon in shorts and a bikini top?” Phillip asked, admiring Nora’s flat abs and full breasts. Even at fifty-one, she had the body that inspired wet dreams in men of any age.
“Bite my ass, ingrate. Here I am, slaving over a hot stove, and that’s the best you can do? Start making toast, big boy.”
The morning was already warm and breezy. They took their breakfast out on the deck and looked out over the mirrored-surface of the lake. They could hear the motor of a boat, off in the distance. With the turquoise sky spotted with fluffy white clouds, it was the perfect summer morning.
“How do you feel about fishing?” Phillip asked. “There are some poles on the wall near the back door. What do you say about spending some time down on the dock? If you don’t want to fish, you can just work on your tan.”
“God, I haven’t been fishing since I was a kid,” Nora said with a far-off look in her eyes.
Phillip let out a laugh, “You fished? Did you have your hair up and wear your stilettos?”
“You can be a real jack-ass sometimes,” Nora teased, tossing her napkin at him. “Want to make a wager? The person who catches the most fish wins. The loser cleans and cooks the fish for the winner.”
“You’re on,” said Phillip and they stood to shake hands.
Nora surprised him, gracefully casting her line into the lake. They were quiet on the dock, concentrating on reeling in and casting out again. Nora deftly placed her lure near a fallen tree that jutted out from the shore. It was just moments before her line screamed and her pole bent. Phillip watched as she reeled in the first catch of the day, a nice sized large-mouth bass.
“Ha,” she said as she removed the hook and dropped her catch in the bucket of lake water they placed between them. “Number one.”
And so the contest began. It wasn’t really much of a contest, though. It seemed that every few times Nora threw out her line another fish was waiting to jump on her hook. When she saw Phillip starting to pout, she even suggested they switch sides on the dock, but it didn’t do any good. After a couple of hours, they bucket was filled, and the count was Nora – 7, Phillip – 2.
Phillip put down his pole and pretended to stomp is feet in a tantrum. “It’s not fair! You never told me you could really fish!”
He wasn’t paying attention and one step too far he realized that there wasn’t dock under his foot. His arms spun around like a windmill, trying to balance himself and get his body back over the dock. All you could hear was him yelling “Oh, oh, oh.…”
Nora grabbed for his hand to pull him back to safety, but it was too late. He held her hand tightly, as his body gave in and headed towards the water. The two of them hit the cool water of the lake and resurfaced, sputtering, shocked at what had transpired in a matter of seconds.
When Nora saw Phillip with seaweed in his hair she started to laugh. Not a polite giggle, but a good old-fashioned belly-laugh, as she pulled the weed from his hair and waved it in his face. He reached for her and dunked her under the water, and still she was laughing when she came up for air. They swam and then waded ashore, and Nora continued to laugh. She plopped down on the grass and lay back in the sun, holding her stomach as she tried to calm down.
“Shit, Phillip, I almost wet myself with that one. If you could have seen yourself with the weeds in your hair, looking like some kind of sea monster.”
Phillip lay on his side, next to her, propped up on one arm. “It’s good to hear your laugh, Nora.”
She rolled onto her side and looked back at him. “You know, that’s the first time I’ve really laughed since Sean died,” she said smiling at him. “And it’s because of you. You’re a great friend, and I love you for it.”
They each rolled on their backs and studied the clouds in the sky. pointing out what they looked like. The two chatted mindlessly about nothing in particular, until Nora reminded Phillip of their bet.
“Tell you what, you get the fish cleaned, I’ll get some lunch and I’ll even cook tonight.”
“If you think I’m going to fight you on that you’re nuts. Get to the kitchen, woman, and find me sustenance.”
They spent the rest of the day exploring woodland paths, swimming, talking, teasing, and even taking a nap in a double hammock they found in the storage shed.
Phillip had a blazing fire going in the pit when Nora joined him after dark. The temperatures had dropped sufficiently to warrant jeans and long sleeves, which also helped to ward off mosquitoes. Nora brought out a bottle of wine and handed it and the opener to Phillip. They sat, just listening to the crack of the fire.
Joining the spray of sparks in the sky was the first set of fireworks launched over the water, from the other side of the lake. Nora startled at the site of the colored rockets.
“Hey, relax – it’s the Fourth of July. Remember why we’re here?”
Nora looked at Phillip with sadness in her eyes. “Fireworks – the first time Sean told me he loved me was during fireworks.”
“Oh sweetie,” Phillip said as he pulled her in for a hug. “Do you want to go inside?”
Nora relaxed against his strong chest. “No, I’m fine. They just brought back such a beautiful memory.”
They just sat there, holding each other, one friend offering support to another.
“You know, I never could have come through this without you, don’t you?” Nora asked, looking up into his face. “You turned out to be my lifesaver.”
“Aw shucks, ma’am, weren’t nothin’,” Phillip grinned and then kissed the top of her head. “You’re my girl. Of course I’d take care of you. I’ve got your back and you’ve got mine. We’ve always been a great team.”
During the ride home the next day, the two chatted about their wonderfully relaxing weekend. Phillip helped Nora up to her apartment with her bags and turned to leave. Nora stopped him, threw her arms around his neck, and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you my friend. I love you for taking me away this weekend. I owe you, big time.”
“Yeah,” Phillip said, giving her a quick kiss on the lips, “just wait till I collect.”
A flash of his sexy smile, and he was gone.
Nora’s transition back to Martin & Dean was seamless. Kevin Mack worked hard to make that happen.
“You kept my ship from sinking, Kevin. You’ve been loyal and diligent, and I need you to know how much I appreciate everything you’ve done.” Nora handed Kevin an envelope. “And official recommendation for promotion has been submitted to the powers that be. This is not from Martin & Dean, this is from me.”
Kevin’s jaw dropped when he looked inside. “You’re kidding me.”
Nora smiled at him, “In my opinion, you gave more than 100%. You performed well under fire, putting in longer hours than you’re used to. You have a beautiful family, who deserves some of your time.”
“Disney? And a cruise? Nora, I don’t know what to say, “Kevin stammered.
“I’m the one who has something to say. Thank you, Kevin. Now, go call your wife and plan your two weeks away.”
The hot, sticky summer was coming to an end. Phillip had been in and out of meetings for weeks, having a lot less time to spend with Nora. She was pulling some long hours of her own, burying herself in her work, but also making a point to take some time for herself, outside of work – something Dr. Rosenberg helped her to see the importance of.
Nora took a final step – boxing up Sean’s clothing. Except for one sport coat, she donated everything to a men’s homeless shelter that provides suits for interviews. She could even finally look at her favorite picture of the two of them and smile.
The mid-September morning had a golden glow to it, as Nora met Phillip for brunch at a Central Park cafe. Some students were playing a friendly game of football on the green. The cool breeze blew leaves all around Nora as she approached him, and she had a bounce in her step and roses in her cheeks. It was the first time they spent any quality time together in a long time.
They didn’t take very long to catch up, each attempting to steer clear of work related topics. That was next to impossible, though. Nora was excited about an advertising award being given to one of her teams, at the upcoming fall conference. Phillip felt good to see her so animated.
“But how are you?” Phillip asked. “Not Nora the executive, but Nora my friend.”
“I’m doing okay, honest. I won’t tell you there aren’t times when I’m lonely and I cry, but I’m okay. I’ve been able to cut down on my visits to Dr. Rosenberg and I’ve started to attend a Grief Support group. I’ve also made a conscious effort to do things that aren’t work related. Peggy and I are even thinking of taking an art class at NYU.”
“What, drawing bowls of fruit?” Phillip smirked.
“Or nudes,” Nora winked. “I may even ask you to pose.”
Phillip laughed and then got serious. “I’m glad you’re doing well, because I’ve got news, too. I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn, but I thought maybe I would tell you one-on-one, and not have you hear about this in the conference room tomorrow morning.”
A look of concern crossed Nora’s face. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, oh Nora, don’t look like that. Its good news; Martin & Dean bought out my old company. I’ve got to go back to California and oversee things. I’m going to be gone for a few months.”
“Wow! The rumors were true.”
Phillips eyes opened wide, “You heard about this?”
“Oh come on, Phillip, you certainly can’t be surprised that someone figured it out. That’s great for Martin & Dean. When do you leave?”
“By the end of the month. Ed and I will be heading up the Acquisition & Transition team. It’s going to seem really strange meeting with my old bosses and possibly letting some people I worked with, go.”
“I’ll miss you. Promise me we’ll keep in touch, at least on line? Hopefully a phone call every now and then?” she asked, genuinely happy for her friend.
“You know, if you need me, Nora, I’m on the next plane. I don’t care…”
“Stop, just stop; I love you, but I’ll be fine. God lord, Phillip, I can get on without you by my side every day. I’m okay.”
Phillip reached across the table and took Nora’s hands in his. “You’re my girl, Nora. I’m just watching out for you. And think about it – maybe a long weekend out west sometime around your birthday?”
“I’m going to hold you to that,” Nora smiled.
True to his word, not a day went by that there wasn’t at least a four-line email from Phillip. The different time zones made it difficult to speak on the phone, but at least one day on the weekend they made a point of having a heart-to-heart talk.
Nora picked up the phone on Halloween night and heard his rich baritone voice, “Huuuaahhhhh, Happy Halloween sweet witch.”
“You putz, is that your best imitation of a Dracula?”
She could just picture Phillip’s fake pouty face. “Hey, I’m crushed. I pulled out my best stuff for you.”
They laughed and joked, and talked about their week, until Phillip asked, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving? In fact, what are you doing that whole weekend?”
“Uh, no plans, why? It’s four weeks away.”
Phillip sounded amazed, “What do you mean why? It’s your birthday. What did I promise you? I’ve got an incredible idea – skiing in Aspen. The slopes open that week and I’ve got a line on a condo that’s ski-in and ski-out, outdoor hot tub and fire pit, full kitchen, indoor fireplace, and a view not to be believed. What do you say? Come celebrate your birthday with me.”
“What? Are you out of your mind? Aspen? Phillip, how can I do that?”
“How can you not? You hate the city on Thanksgiving weekend. Fly out on Wednesday morning and meet me in Aspen. We’ll go out for dinner on Thursday and spend all day on the slopes. Come on, Nora. This is your birthday present.”
It took a lot of convincing, well, a lot of begging on Phillip’s part, but at last he convinced Nora to come to the mountains. Her plane arrived around two in the afternoon and Phillip was there waiting. When she came out of the arrival area, he rushed forward to give her a huge hug and kiss.
“God, I missed you,” he said into her sweet smelling hair. He cupped her face and gave her a sweet, tender kiss. “Happy birthday, baby.”
Nora couldn’t stop smiling all the way to the condo. Once inside, she realized just how much she needed this vacation. She could feel the stress from work melt away. The gourmet kitchen had wonderful granite countertops and a six-burner stove. There were antler chandeliers, cozy oversized furniture, and stone bathrooms with waterfall showerheads. Nora’s bedroom was done in blues and greens, with a feminine feel, while Phillip’s reeked of masculinity. They each had French doors which opened onto the massive deck that held the hot tub. Down a couple of steps to the patio, was a round fire pit.
After a quick tour, the couple changed and headed out for an early dinner. Wine flowed, and the conversation turned from work, to life. Phillip was pleased to see Nora comfortable with new surroundings, and with him. Looking at her across the candlelit table, he was taken back to the years when they were together. His heart swelled when she smiled at him. Oh no, he thought. Be careful.
It was a short walk back to the condo. Nora was already yawning, probably from the difference in altitude, and partly from the time difference. Phillip let her beg off and head to bed early, with a promise of a full day on the mountain tomorrow.
On the slopes by nine o’clock, briefly stopping for lunch, Phillip and Nora spent the day in the sun and snow. They skied and Nora even let Phillip try to teach her to snowboard. No one would have guessed her age. She looked like a snow bunny in her white ski pants and jacket, trimmed in lavender. When Phillip told her it was time to get ready for their Thanksgiving dinner reservations, Nora looked disappointed.
“Are you up for the hot-tub?” Phillip asked when they got back that night.
“God, I’m so full,” Nora said holding her stomach. “I don’t know if I’ll even fit in my bathing suit.”
“Who said you need a suit?” Phillip asked, half joking, but half serious, too.
He waited, already in the steaming water, when Nora joined him. His masculinity was stirred when she dropped her robe to reveal a very small black bikini. He was glad for the rushing water of the tub, so she wouldn’t see his cock hardening. He handed her a snifter of cognac and leaned his head back to look up.
She sat right next to him, keeping her voice to a whisper. They could look up and see snowflakes mixed with stars in the sky. The fluffy flakes melted as they hit the steam of the tub. Off in the distance, they could see skiers with torches, traveling down the mountain. Nora was blissfully happy.
Phillip turned to look at her and ask, “What do you want for your birthday, tomorrow, Nora?”
“I couldn’t ask for anything more than this,” she said and sipped the amber liquid. She felt the warmth run through her. “Phillip, this is perfect, and you are a dear, sweet man for doing this for me.”
She didn’t move as his arm went around her shoulders. They sat talking and enjoying each other.
The next day, Phillip and Nora stayed on the mountain till late. They had a casual dinner in the lodge and started back to the condo. Phillip started getting silly, and when Nora told him to cut it out, he threatened to pick her up and drop her in a snow bank. He never noticed she slowed up and dropped a few paces behind him, not until he felt the snowball hit the back of his head, and drop down into the back of his jacket.
“Why you….” Phillip growled and turned to go after her.
Nora darted around him and took off in a full run back towards their condo. Laughter echoed as they acted like children. Phillip caught her by grabbing the back of her jacket. He spun her around, but they slipped and ended up, him on top of her, lying in the snow.
“Get off of me you beast,” Nora said, laughing to the point of almost not getting the words out.
“Make me, “Phillip threatened, and picked up some snow, sprinkling it on her face.
Nora squealed and pushed at him, but he was too big for her. As she pushed him, he rolled off her, but brought her with him. They rolled one more time and he was on top again. A passerby would not have been able to keep a straight face, if they could have heard the two laughing.
“Please, Phillip,” Nora begged. “Let me catch my breath.”
He continued to lie on top of her, but stopped dropping snow on her. Both of them were panting with exhaustion from their child-like play. As she lay underneath him, looking deep into his eyes, a huge smile on her face, Phillip was overtaken by emotion. He bent, and kissed her.
It was soft, gentle, but not short. It was the sensual, sexual kiss a man gives the woman he wants. When he lifted his head, he realized what he had done, and immediately got off of her.
“Nora, I’m sorry,” he was stricken. “I’m so sorry. That was uncalled for.”
Nora sat up and looked at him. “I’m not sorry, Phillip, not at all.”
Phillip stood up and held out his hand, to help Nora up out of the snow. They walked hand-in-hand, back to the condo. They never spoke, all the way back. While taking off their ski clothes, Nora noticed a big wet spot on the back of Phillip’s shirt, where the snow had melted.
“You’re going to catch cold if you don’t change, “she said softly.
Phillip all of a sudden felt very shy. “I’m going to grab a shower. Um, I’ll see you in a while,” he said, then turned and left.
What were you thinking, Phillip chastised himself. She’s in mourning. She lost the man she loved, and you fucking kissed her? Jesus Phillip, grow up and stop thinking with your cock.
But he wasn’t. Phillip knew there was more to his kiss than a physical attraction. He had done something for the second time, with Nora. He’d fallen in love with her. In his mind, it was a no-win situation. It was too soon for her, he thought. He also thought there was no way he could ever take Sean’s place. No, he had better just ignore what happened. He’d just keep things light and friendly.
Nora wandered into her bathroom and stripped off her clothes. While the water warmed, she looked at herself in the mirror. She had never had a weight problem, and her belly was perfectly flat. Her ass was still round and firm. And her breasts, she thought proudly, after all these years, they were still good. They sagged just a bit, but hell at age fifty-two, they should. She ran her hands over them and her puffy pink nipples hardened. She rolled her nipples between her fingers and a soft moan escaped her lips. God, she thought, it has been so long.
Phillip dressed in boxers and a robe before joining Nora. He found her in the living room. The lights had been turned down low, and Nora had started a fire in the stone fireplace. His breath caught as she turned to him.
Her hair lay softly on her shoulders. She had on a black silk robe, and nothing else. As she walked over to him, she pulled the belt loose so that her robe opened. Her hips and breasts swayed seductively, calling him. Phillip had no control over his body as it answered her.
Nora stood right in front of him now, looking into the eyes of the man she had loved a long time ago, the eyes of the man who was her best friend, and she wanted him. She reached up to his face, cupped it in her hands and drew it down to hers. Her lips were soft against his; soft, warm, moist, and inviting. When her kiss came to an end, her tongue flicked out to quickly run along his lower lip. He looked at her with a silent question. Nora kissed him once more, giving him the answer he hoped for.
Phillip moved his hands to her shoulders and pushed her robe aside. It slid off her body, landing in a black puddle at her feet. He trailed his fingers down her arms to her small hands. He lifted them to his lips, kissing first the backs, and then the palms. Nora stepped closer, allowing him to take her into his arms.
He dropped his head to meet her raised face. Their mouths met with a passion that had long been denied. Nora’s arms went around Phillip’s neck and she clung to him, molding her body against his. There was no mistaking the heat that was growing against her belly. Nora backed away and gave Phillip a smile, with a smoldering side-long look. He shivered when he felt her hands untie his robe and pull it off of him. She then moved her hand inside his boxers.
Nora stroked his rock-hard cock, while she leaned forward to take his nipple in her teeth. It was a gentle nip, followed by a quick suck that drove him wild. He pulled away from her and quickly stepped out of his shorts, standing before her proudly displaying his manhood.
Phillip put his hands on Nora’s bare hips and dropped to his knees. He pulled her to him, pressing his tongue into her navel, and then kissing his way down to her smooth shaven pussy. Nora’s hands were in his hair and tightened as he kissed lower. She opened her legs, and she moved her hips closer to his face. He was greeted by the delicious aroma of her sex, mixed with lavender.
He moaned when that first sweet taste of womanhood hit his tongue. The memories of days long ago came flooding back. He pulled at her body, bringing her down to the floor and then laying her back, in front of the fireplace.
Phillip could see the reflection of the flames in her eyes as he bent to kiss her. Her mouth opened expectantly and invited his tongue to play with hers. Their bodies seemed to be one.
They took their time, enjoying their kisses and the feel of one another’s skin. Phillip kissed her eyes, her nose, her mouth, and began to move down her throat. He could feel her pulse with his lips, and was determined to make her heart beat faster.
Nora ran her nails lightly up and down Phillip’s back, stopping once to reach lower and grab his ass and pull it closer. As badly as he wanted her, he forced himself to back off and slow down. He moved his hips away from her body, not trusting himself to stop before he had satisfied her.
His mouth went back to her throat, around the side of her neck to just under her ear. Nora inhaled sharply and purred as she exhaled, and still he kept moving, covering her with kisses, licks and nibbles. He raised her arm and the moved his mouth to her armpit, down the side of her body and approaching her breast. His hand massaged her globe while he lowered his mouth and sucked her nipple inside. He took turns sucking and chewing on both her nipples until she was panting. Nothing had changed; he could still play her. He sucked her nipples, all around them, and underneath her full breasts, continuing down her body.
Nora arched her back as he once more headed to her valley. “Oh God, Phillip, don’t toy with me. I need you,” she moaned.
“All in good time, my love,” he said. “I want this to last forever.”
Phillip moved between her legs and licked her outer lips from ass to clit. He opened her with his thumbs and ran his tongue inside, moving it up and down, but not touching her clit or her now glistening hole.
“Ohhhhhhhh,” he heard Nora exhale, as he again avoided her two pleasure spots. “Pleeeeeease,” she whispered.
He pushed his tongue deep inside her, moving it in and out, in a sensual fucking motion. Her hips came alive and moved against his face. He ground his tongue in as deep as it would go, savoring her nectar.
Nora was fast approaching the edge, and she was waiting to be pushed off. Phillip withdrew from her hole and slid up to her clit, capturing it in his lips and sucking it, sending electric shocks through Nora’s body. As she rocked against his mouth, he gently pushed two fingers into her and started moving them in and out, massaging her g-spot, until she tensed and released a sound so wonderful, he smiled while keeping his head buried between her legs.
“No, no, no, Phillip, no, please...please…my God…now, now….” Nora began to beg.
He came up off her, leaving her panting, and ran his dripping cock up and down her slit. Her arms opened and beckoned him to come to her. Slowly, he pushed inside, coming to a place he had called home all those years ago. Nora’s legs wrapped around his waist, holding him so that he couldn’t escape. She pushed her hips up towards his, meeting him with an urgency she hadn’t felt in months. They moved together in a ballet of passion, love and sensuality.
Faster, slower, harder, then more gentle; they kept moving. Once more, Nora tensed, dug her nails into Phillip’s back, and her legs became rigid around him. Her orgasm triggered his own, and he fired his hot seed deep inside her. He rocked to release every drop.
Phillip eased his body off Nora’s and lay down next to her. He reached for her, and she came into his arms, their legs intertwining and their arms clinging to each other. Their kisses were soft and gentle, and their hands moved over each other’s bodies.
As Nora lay with her head on Phillip’s chest, he felt as if she were holding her breath. “Sweetie, are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine. I’m more than fine. Phillip, I feel better than I have in a long time. You made me feel like a woman again. After all these months, I finally feel whole.”
“Let’s not talk anymore,” Phillip said as he stroked her soft hair. Let’s not plan. Let’s just be us and together we’ll choose which path to take and when to take it.”
Their lips came together once more, but not for the last time.