One Wish: A Tale from the Dark Series
The smell of rain lingered in the air. Infamous for its precipitation, London paid no heed to the Christmas season. In the States, a white Christmas was sometimes a given, but a snow-covered landscape was too festive. The pouring rain presented a more accurate visual for the despair filling Dawn Jensen-Cassadineís heart. She never imagined a Christmas without the love of her life and their children at her side. Facing the unimaginable ripped the Christmas spirit right from her soul.
Footsteps shuffled behind her. The scent of her brother-in-lawís spicy cologne wafted gently in the evening breeze. His strong hands settled on her shoulders as he draped a blanket around her. The last few months heíd become more than family. Circumstances beyond their control thrust them together. As much as she valued his support, sheíd give anything to turn back the clock and have their relationship back on equal footing.
"The clouds are moving out," he said. "The night will be clear for a change. Want to go for a walk later?"
"Not really." She hugged herself and stepped closer to the railing. The three-story townhouse in the heart of the city afforded them with a spectacular view of the Thames River and cobblestone streets. A few times of year, she and Nikolas often visited London. Every trip presented a new discovery about the locale and each other. The moments were so romantic. She could close her eyes and conjure a memory that both gave her solace and agony. She sighed and turned her back to the street. "Iíll just stay in. You can go. Iíll be okay here."
"I donít want to leave you alone."
"You spend too much time with me as it is."
His blue eyes darkened with a flicker of sadness. "I donít mind."
"I do." She gave him a faint smile. "I should be with my family. You should be with Elizabeth. Not stuck here with me...forced to pretend a lie. Weíre miles from home at Christmas. Those sick bastards must be having a huge party at our expense."
"Weíre not alone," Lorenzo gently reminded her. "I miss Elizabeth, Nikolas and your kids, too. Iíd give anything to get things back the way they were, but we tried that. The result wasnít a happy ending."
"I know." She was thankful that he didnít go into detail. Her impulsive attempt to reclaim her family put their lives at grave risk. Having them believe the worst about her was far better than them losing their lives.
"So come walk with me." He extended his hand.
She took his hand and squeezed. "Maybe just around the block. Iím not very good company. Youíll probably be glad to be rid of me by then."
"Gimme a break, Greedy. Donít you know? Iím used to your quirks and charming nature."
"Iím holding you to that, Selfish."
~* * *~
Nikolas reclined in a tangled heap of sheets. The heavy down comforter had been kicked to the floor hours ago. The idea of a restful nightís slumber was laughable. He hadnít slept since Dawn confirmed his worst nightmare of being intimately involved with his brother and then left him. In the back of his mind, he always knew the day would come when another woman he loved would leave him for a Spencer. He just never imagined Dawn would turn her back on their children, too.
A soft knock sounded at his door. He disengaged himself from the covers, turned on the lamp and padded to the door.
"Papa, are you awake?"
"Yes, Dominic," Nikolas said as he opened the door. To his surprise, both children stood on the other side. Noelleís cheeks were tear-stained and splotched with dots of red. Water brimmed her aquamarine eyes. Her small hand tightly clutched her brotherís. She looked ready to bolt. Nikolas quickly knelt, swept them into his arms and carried them inside.
Since their motherís departure, the children shrank into sad shadows of their usual bright, confident personalities. Noelle often awoke with tears streaming down her chubby cheeks. Dominicís olive complexion paled until the boy appeared ghostly. The robust youngster who played with wild abandon and shared his fatherís love of horses rarely ventured far from his father or his sisterís side. A few times, Nikolas spotted his firstborn tracing his fingers along the lines of Dawnís piano. Once he heard the boy playing a haunting melody. When Nikolas asked him about the tune, Dominic quickly removed himself from the piano bench and hadnít touched it since. Oh, Dawnís betrayal exceeded the boundaries of their marriage and extended to damage their children, too. He wasnít sure if he could ever forgive her for it.
"What are you two doing awake and about?" he asked after settling all of them in the middle of his bed. "You should be asleep and dreaming of sugarplum fairies and generous elves."
"Noelle couldnít sleep," Dominic explained.
"I had bad dreams, Papa," the little girl said, her bottom lip trembling. "Iím scared to sleep."
"You mustnít be afraid." Nikolas gave her a smile he didnít feel. "Iíll rock you both to sleep and all will be well."
"I want Mommy to sing to us like she used to," Noelle murmured. "When is she coming back? Will Santa Claus bring her with him? Thatís what I asked him for. Iíve been a good girl. Havenít I, Papa?"
A lump lodged in Nikolasí throat. A fresh tear ripped into his chest, breaking his heart all over again. He tried to explain many times over that they were not to blame for their motherís absence. It seemed the more he explained, the deeper guilt imbedded itself inside them. Dear God, would this agony ever end?
"You are the best I could ever hope for." He smoothed the amber curls from her café au lait cheeks. "I love you and Dominic so much. Never, ever forget that."
"We wonít." Dominic snuggled close against Nikolas. He rested his head against his fatherís arm. "Do you think Santa Claus has enough room on his sleigh for her?"
"I donít know," Nikolas said. He couldnít bear to lie to them nor did dashing their hope in the jolly old elf sit well with him either. In all honesty, if Dawn happened to claim a ride on the sleigh, heíd take her back. Without blinking an eye and in a heartbeat. Thatís how much he loved her and always would.
~* * *~
Two days before Christmas, Lorenzo handed Dawn an envelope tied with a big, fat red bow. She stared at the offering with trepidation and an unfounded dose of fear. Rearing back as if the bow and envelope would suddenly sprout fangs and attack, she tentatively accepted the envelope.
Lorenzo laughed. "It wonít bite. Go ahead. Open it."
Embarrassment brought heat to her cheeks. She shook her head and gave him a sheepish smile. "I donít know whatís wrong with me. Itís probably lack of sleep. Thanks."
He shrugged off her gratitude. "You donít have to thank me. Just open it."
She gingerly took hold of the end of the bow and pulled. The envelope fell open in her lap as did a card.
"Hold your horses, Spencer," she grumbled. "Iím getting to it."
To my dear friend,
You are cordially invited to join me in Port Charles, New York, for a joyous Christmas morning service at Saint Vincentís Cathedral. Declining this invitation is not an option. Your bags are packed and the jet is waiting. Letís go!
Always and forever,
"I canít." The card fell from her trembling hands and she began to pace. "You know I canít. Nikolas and the children are there. If I contact them... I canít put them at risk. I wonít."
"The risk comes if you make contact with them." He stopped her movement with firm hands on her shoulders. "We wonít. Weíll share Christmas with our family and weíll come back here and figure out how to end this thing."
She loved services at the Cathedral. Her sister, Dara, often sung a beautiful solo. Sometimes, their mother would join in. The thought of all their family and friends under one roof filled her with hope. The idea had some merit, but...
"If Nikolas sees us together..." She shrugged free of Lorenzoís hold and moved to the window. "Heís hurt and angry. I canít even fault him for the things he said. He hates you and what he feels for me is much worse."
"Regardless of what he said, he loves you."
"It would be so much better for him if he didnít."
"And where would that leave you?" Lorenzo asked. "You love him. If he moved on with someone else..."
"Itís wrong of me to hope otherwise. We donít even know who sent him those pictures and made us live this lie. Itís impossible to fight an invisible man whoís watching every move we all make. I donít know if I can handle seeing them and not being able to hold them."
"Whatís worse? Being here without them or having a couple of hours were youíre in the same space and breathing the same air?"
Put that way, the answer was so simple.
"My bags are already packed?"
He nodded. "And loaded on the plane. The pilot and crew are waiting for us."
~* * *~
"Merry Christmas, son." Stefan pulled Nikolas into a warm hug.
The loving embrace did little to ease the heaviness of Nikolasí heart. This was the first Christmas without his wife. When she left, he never imagined how empty the holiday would feel without her. Not to mention how strongly their children felt her absence. For as long as he lived, heíd never forget how the light in their eyes dimmed when they realized that Santa Claus hadnít honored their wish and brought her home.
"The same to you, Father."
Nikolas shrugged out of his overcoat and folded it over his arm. He and Stefan stood in the vestibule of the Cathedral. "Silent Night" wafted through the speakers. People rushed in from the snow and cold. Many welcomed his return to Port Charles and wished him happy holidays. He responded politely and moved to join his children in the sanctuary. Stefan stopped him with a hand on his arm.
"What is it? Dominic and Noelle are waiting."
"Theyíre with Carlotta," Stefan said. "Theyíll be fine." He paused before asking, "Where were you? We expected you to take the launch with us. The children were worried."
"I needed some air," Nikolas admitted. "This hasnít been easy. I have to remain strong for my children, but my strength wavers."
"You can always lean on Carlotta and me. Dara and Alex are here for you, too."
"I know, but you all love her as much as I do. There are times when I donít have loving thoughts about her...when I get confused and donít know whether to hate her or beg her to come back...on any terms."
Stefanís eyes narrowed. "You know where she is."
"Where they both are." A harsh laugh erupted from deep within. "The happy couple is sharing a flat in London, right off the Thames. The nighttime view is very romantic."
"I think now I finally understand how you felt when Laura left us on the island and came back to Luke. I never appreciated the depth of your wound. Iím sorry. I was too selfish to understand, too consumed by my own abandonment."
"It gets better." Stefan patted his cheek. "The pain lessens. When you release it, you learn how to love again."
"Youíre referring to you and Carrie. Like her daughter, sheís a rare find. Right now, I canít imagine loving anyone else."
"Perhaps you will never have to."
"Thatís a fairy tale I canít afford to indulge," Nikolas said quietly. "She made her choice when she joined Lorenzo, and even Santa Claus isnít capable of changing her mind. But if I had one wish..."
"What would it be?"
"To share Christmas with her."
~* * *~
"Are you sure we lost them?"
Dawn pulled Lorenzo further into the shadows with her. They stood only a few feet from the churchís doors. Snow and ice crunched as parishioners continued to file inside the century old cathedral. The church brought back warm memories. She wanted nothing more than to walk inside and reclaim her past, but fear held her back.
"I know I saw a car trailing us from the airport."
"We lost them," Lorenzo assured her. "Look at us. No one will recognize either of us. Not even our families."
Dawn gently tugged the goatee glued to her face. A curly afro wig hid her wavy dark brown locks from view. A black pin-striped Armani suit completed her disguise as a man in search of Christmas tidings of joy.
"Do I look man enough?"
He laughed. "Man enough for what?"
"This is ridiculous. It wonít work. Nikolas and my mother will take one look at me and know."
"No they wonít. We passed Sly and Jordan on the way in. They barely gave us a second look."
"Thatís because your disguise makes sense!" She took in the get-up that aged him forty years. Leaning heavily on a cane, Lorenzo reminded her of a crotchety Edward Quartermaine. No one looking at him will be reminded of Lucky Spencer. She wasnít so sure of her new identity.
"Everyone will have their eyes on Father Alden. No one will notice us. Weíll keep a low profile. Duck in and duck out." He grabbed her arm. "Come on."
As they moved inside the sanctuary, a strong sensation of peace settled over Dawn. A couple of pews remained empty in the back. She edged toward them, but Tommy Hardy stopped her. Her breath caught in her throat when their eyes connected. For a split second, she feared recognition in his emerald orbs. Then, he smiled and jutted his chin toward the front of the church.
"There are plenty of seats toward the front. Please join us."
Lorenzoís grip on her arm tightened, but she ignored him. They crossed the Atlantic to spend Christmas with their family. They might as well enjoy it to the fullest.
"Thank you," she said in a deep, husky voice.
"No thanks necessary," Tommy said.
She and Lorenzo followed him up the aisle. Tommy led them to a row of Cassadines. Dawnís heart skipped a beat when Nikolas smiled down at her and handed her a hymnal.
"Page two twenty-three," he said.
Terrified of betraying herself through speech, she simply accepted the book and nodded. She quickly found "O, Come All Ye Faithful." With Nikolas right beside her, she didnít dare sing. Instead, she whispered the lyrics of the inspiring Christmas carol.
"Okay?" Lorenzo asked.
Soon after, Father Alden instructed them to sit. After they were settled, Nikolas smiled at her and Lorenzo again. She returned the gesture and glanced past him to their children. For a moment, her gaze lingered on Stefan and her mother. Then, she looked at Dominic and Noelle again. They had grown so much. Her arms ached to hold them close. Lorenzo nudged her arm. She quickly discovered that Nikolas was staring at her.
"Your children are beautiful," she replied in a masculine tone.
During the rest of the service, she tried not to stare. The priest spoke about the Saviorís miraculous birth. Although she had the details memorized, she enjoyed hearing them again. At the end, Father Alden requested that everyone join hands and bow their heads.
Lorenzo took one hand and Nikolas claimed the other one. The touch of his warm flesh jolted her from head to toe. She clinched her eyes closed for fear of betraying herself. When the priest finished with "Amen," she hesitated in releasing Nikolasís hand and he did the same.
"Do I know you?" he whispered. "You seem familiar."
"Iím new here," she said. "Just passing through."
He squeezed her hand once and let go. His brown eyes glittered with emotion. "Welcome to Port Charles and merry Christmas."
"Merry Christmas to you, too."
Dawn and Lorenzo remained in the sanctuary long after everyone left. She couldnít move. Neither of them wanted to leave. They were home. There had to be a way for them to stay and reclaim everything they lost. One wish had been granted. Maybe more would follow.
(Well, actually, itís continued in "Darkest Before the Dawn." Thanks for reading!)174