“Niki! Whoa!” Brie yelled. Niki had just turned left instead of right. “Aren’t we going to the lake?”
“I’ve got something to show you first, baby. I’m so excited I can’t wait another day.” Niki revved the powerful red BMW convertible up a notch and cut a corner very close. Brie grabbed the armrest and braced herself against the dashboard.
“Damn! Slow down. Please?”
Niki gave her a wild, high-flying grin and slowed the car. “I’m sorry, I’m just so hyped I can barely stand it.” She pulled over to the curb in an area close to the center of Milwaukee. “Look, Brie.” She sat on the top of the seat and held her arms out. “This is it.”
Brie ran her hands through her windblown hair and looked around. “What?” she said. They were in one of the most run-down sections of the city. Almost all of the houses on her side of the street were deserted and in terrible shape: Windows were either broken out or boarded up. One was partially burned. A house across the street still had crime scene tape wrapped across the porch.
Niki didn’t seem to notice, and her energy never faltered. “This is it. Century! The next project I’m taking on for the Willis Foundation!”
Brie took another look around. “You’re going to be.here? You know about the crime rate here?” She was more than flabbergasted. She was a little frightened.
Niki slid back into her seat and turned toward Brie. “Baby, you know the story. Grandad started the Willis Foundation right after the Second World War. This was the first land he bought in Milwaukee. Fifteen acres.” She gestured in the air. “Brie, our house is done. I’ve finished the design of the sports complex on the lake. This”-she gestured again-“will be the next project. I get to finish Grandad’s and Dad’s dream.”
“You and what army of bodyguards, Niki Willis?” Brie exclaimed. “Listen, I’ll quit teaching and learn to shoot. I’ll come out here every day with you.” She turned for another look at the burned house and then swiveled back to Niki. “I’ll be-” She stopped when she saw the pure happiness and love on Niki’s face. Niki started the car and this time drove toward Lake Michigan.
“Where are your shoes, honey?” Brie said. “It’s against the law to drive barefoot.”
“At home, by the back door.” Niki grinned as she turned the car off the pavement and onto the beach. She downshifted as they moved onto the sand. She navigated the car carefully around several dunes and rolled to a stop close to the water’s edge. The sand crunched under the wheels as she backed the car to a safer spot. Brie adjusted the volume of the music while Niki stretched for the small bucket in the backseat, humming off key.
Brie shook her head at the murdered tune. “Don’t give up your day job, honey.” Their laughter mixed with the music from the car and drifted out over Lake Michigan. The air still held the sharpness of a cool morning as it faded to afternoon summer warmth. Niki handed Brie a glass.
“To us and life. Our life,” Niki said and stood on the driver’s seat. One hand gripped the steering wheel and the other held the glass. “This is the best day of my life. Happy anniversary, Brie.”
Brie looked up at Niki’s small, lithe frame, backlit by the sun. Curly black hair almost touched the white T-shirt. The well-worn jeans were clean. Brie grabbed the windshield for balance, holding her glass to Niki’s, and laughed. “We’re going to fall over, you know.” The sound of crystal clinking blended into the music as they drank and leaned in for a long kiss.
Brie took a quick breath as Niki’s fingers slipped inside her braless dress. Her breasts hardened against the touch. It had been like this from the first. “Niki! God, yes.”
“Thirteen years, Brie. I’ve loved you from the moment I saw you.”
Brie’s stomach muscles twitched as Niki caressed the skin, then moved lower.
She gasped. “Put the top up and seats down, now.”
“Here,” Niki said and handed her the glass. She jumped over the car door onto the sand. “Set the glasses down, honey.”
The desire Brie saw on Niki’s face made her heart race as she sat down and secured the glasses in the cup holders. “That noise? Is that the waves?” Brie said over her shoulder.
A dirt bike roared from behind a dune and the smell of hot exhaust flooded the air. Niki started to turn as a gunshot echoed and she fell. The next shots hit Brie. The sharp crack of the shattered windshield and her screams echoed together across the water. Seagulls, startled into flight, wheeled between Brie’s eyes and the sun.