"Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, dear Noelle! Happy Birthday to you!"
Nikolas opened the door to the rousing rendition of the age-old song. He and Dawn joined in with the other well-wishers as their daughter blushed and giggled at the attention.
Smiling from ear to ear, Noelle's aquamarine-colored eyes twinkled as her family and friends serenaded her. She squeezed her parents' hands and feeling a little self-conscious, she pressed herself closer to her mother, half-hiding her face behind Dawn.
Dawn registered the surprise in everyone's eyes as they looked at her. She ignored the questioning glances. None of it mattered. Only her children's happiness mattered to her. Their happiness and their safety were always uppermost in Dawn's mind. And, so she turned blind eyes toward the crowd and focused her attention on her daughter, who clung to her, and on her son, who clung to his grandfather as his dark brown eyes stared at her. She wished there were a way for them to understand just how much she loved them. Then it came to her.
Holding her breath, Dawn held out her hand to Dominik. Her breath caught in her throat as she waited for him to accept her silent request.
Dominik looked at his mother's hand. He ached to run to her...to take her hand and to cling to her the way his little sister did. But he wasn't sure if she should. His grandfather squeezed his hand gently and the little boy looked into the older man's eyes. With a slight nod of his head, Dominik understood that his Grandpapa was telling him that it was okay to accept his mother's hand. Without pausing a moment further, Dominik went to his mother. Her hand squeezed around his in an iron grip. The pressure she used surprised him and he looked into her eyes. They shone with unshed tears and then he knew what he had feared to not be true anymore. She still loved him.
An hour later, Nikolas stood off to the side as he watched his little girl ooh and ahh over her gifts. A few minutes before and after a short conversation with Dom, Noelle had blown out all four candles and the one to grow on with much gusto. With a few glances at him and her mother, Nikolas didn't have to guess what his little girl wished for. She wanted her family back together again and slowly, Nikolas admitted to himself that he wanted the same.
"Hey, there." Tommy greeted his close friend with an affectionate pat on the back.
"Oh, hi," Nikolas replied. He nodded towards the table of children and parents. Ciarda and Alanna were very busy helping Noelle choose which gift to open next. "When did the twins become such little ladies?"
"Bite your tongue, Cassadine," Tommy replied with a chuckle. "My girls are still babies."
"In your dreams, Hardy," Nikolas replied with a laugh. His eyes continued to peruse the table. Dawn's laugh as Noelle claimed her lap caused his eyes to drift back to the head of the table. He immediately sobered. Swallowing hard, he found that he couldn't look away.
Nikolas bristled slightly. He pulled his eyes away from Dawn to look at Tommy. He saw wariness and concern in his friend's eyes. "She's here."
"What does that mean?" Tommy asked softly. "How do you feel abou-"
"I didn't know you were a psychologist. Wow, a Forensic Scientist and a psychologist, too."
"There's no need for sarcasm," Tommy said. He moved to stand in front of Nikolas, blocking the other man's view of the table. "I'm your friend and I'm concerned."
"I know. I apologize," Nikolas said. "It's just that... Well, you're asking me something that I don't have the answer for. She's there with Noelle and Dominik just like she said she would be."
"And, when the party's over?" Tommy asked. "Look Nik, I'm not trying to read your mind, but man, I can see that look in your eyes again-"
"What look?" Nikolas asked, frowning.
Tommy paused for a moment and then he spoke. "You're still in love with her."
Nikolas looked at his good friend, but remained quiet. After a moment, he walked away and headed towards the table.
"Papa, look!" Noelle exclaimed, as her father appeared beside the table. "See what Grandma Carrie gave me!"
Nikolas took the oversize Barbie doll from his daughter before she toppled over with it. "I can't help but see it. She's nearly as big as you are."
Noelle giggled as Nikolas swung her up in the air. Before he set her back down again, he kissed her nose. She giggled even more and then ran back to sit down on Dawn's lap again. She snuggled against her mother and waited as her Aunt Lesley Lu handed her a gift.
While Noelle was distracted with the collection of "Little House" books that was given to her by her aunt and her other grandmother, Dawn whispered to Nikolas, "Where's my mother?"
Nikolas frowned. He squatted beside her chair and spoke in hushed tones. "Father didn't tell you?"
"Tell me what?" Dawn asked. "Is she sick? Nikolas?"
"No," he said softly. He found he couldn't resist and a hand reached out to gently pat her forearm. "She's out of the country for a few days. She'll be back."
"Is Dara with her, too?" she questioned. "I have the strangest feeling that you're not telling me something that I should know."
"To be honest, I don't have the full details, but I'm sure it's not anything serious," he said warmly. Their eyes held and suddenly, the back terrace felt too closed in. Nikolas stood up and took a deep breath. He focused his attention on his squealing little girl again and smiled as she delighted in her gifts.
"Unbelievable," Lark muttered her breath. She had risen from the table to stand beside Emily. Their husbands were closer to the head of table, near the topic of the women's close scrutiny.
"Lark, please," Emily said quietly. "Don't start now."
"I can't help it," the other woman said. She gestured towards the Webber sisters. "Look at poor Sarah and Liz. Sarah has cared for those kids like they were her own."
Emily looked Lark and shook her head. "You can't believe she did it out of the goodness of her heart. She did it for Nikolas."
"And, so?" Lark said with a shrug.
"So, she did it to make a good impression on him. I liked Sarah when we were kids, but she's not the girl I knew back then. She's changed."
"I remember her from then, and I didn't like her," Lark said with conviction. "I like her now. She's grown up."
"If you say so," Emily said, laughing softly.
"What are you two over here whispering about?" Lizzie asked as she approached her friends.
"Take a wild guess," Lark mumbled.
"Cut it out!" Emily scolded. "Give it a rest."
"Hmm... Let me guess. You're talking about my buddy, Dawn?" Lizzie asked.
"Your buddy?" Lark snorted. "With buddies like her, who needs enemies. You're a better woman than I am. There's no way I'd be here if I were you. And, if I were here, I would have scratched her eyes out by now."
"And, in your condition, too, no doubt," Emily murmured. She patted Lark's swollen abdomen.
"Well, yeah! I may be pregnant, but I'm not dead!" Lark told her friends. "No one gets away with doing one over on me."
"Lark, please," Emily said. She glanced at Lizzie's drawn face and then back at Lark again. "Lizzie is here. Don't make her feel bad for showing up."
"That's okay, Em," Lizzie said with a tight smile. "I'm fine. Lark has a point and if my godchildren weren't here, I'd probably share a word or two with her, but... Well, on second thought..."
"What?" Emily asked, concerned.
"Would it really be worth it?" Lizzie asked softly. "He made his choice."
"Yes, he sure did!" Lark admitted. "He had chosen you. You and he were engaged. I think that says a lot."
Lizzie nodded. "Yeah, it says that he was willing to settle. I won't be anyone's second choice, Lark. Not even Lorenzo's."
Lorenzo walked the length of the sofa for the tenth time in as many minutes. He had finished unpacking his and Dawn's things. For all intent and purposes, the hotel suite was now their home. A glance at his watch told him that she had been at Wyndemere for over three hours. He drew a long breath as he wondered how she fared.
He moved down the length of the sofa again. His footsteps stopped when his eyes rested on the telephone. Calling her could be risky. She'd be pissed. Of that, he had no doubt. But, he was worried. Nikolas was angry and hurt. Lorenzo didn't fault his older brother for his feelings—the man was more than entitled to them—but wondering what was going on was killing him.
Acting on his decision, he reached for the telephone. After he heard her voice, he'd be okay, he told himself. He just needed to hear her voice.
Nikolas stood off to the side and waited for his moment to arrive. The moment when he and Dawn could be alone. The moment where he would find out if the glimpse he saw in her eyes was real...that she was still in love with him.
"Well, we're leaving now."
Nikolas frowned as Tommy interrupted his thoughts. He looked at his friend and gave him a faint smile. "Okay. Thanks for coming."
Tommy shook his head and laughed. "Now, that was sincere."
Nikolas chuckled softly in reply. With a slight nod of his head, he began again. "I apologize to you again, my friend. I really do thank you and your family for coming. Noelle loved the science kit you gave her. I'm not sure if the rest of us is ready for her to experiment with it so don't be surprised if she doesn't mention it for a few years."
Tommy waved Nikolas' concerns away with his hand. "It's okay. I read the fine print and Gina double-checked it. It's safe for someone her age. The twins had one like it when they were her age."
"All of two years ago?" Nikolas asked with a straight face.
"Hey, man," Tommy said with a grin. "I told you before....my girls are still babies."
"In your dreams, Hardy." Nikolas said, patting his friend hard on the back.
"Well, I'll see you around. If you need anything, call."
"Will do." Nikolas watched as Tommy caught up with Gina and their daughters at the gate. Ciarda and Alanna pulled themselves away from Dominik to grab their father's hands. Dominik waved at them, one of the last of the attendees, before he backed away from the gate. Nikolas wondered which little girl had so thoroughly captured his son's attention. "Dominik!"
"Yes, Papa?" The boy turned and ran to his father. "I was saying good-bye to everyone."
"I noticed," Nikolas said. He placed his arm around his son's shoulders and together, they took the narrow walkway back to Wyndemere. "Did your grandfather tell you to do that?"
Dominik shook his head. "No. I just did. Noelle should have, but she's too little to know that."
"That's true," Nikolas acknowledged. "Did you enjoy yourself today? You didn't mind that your sister received so much attention, did you?"
"Of course not." Dominik paused as they reached the terrace doors. "I had fun today. The squirts are fun to play with and Michael... Papa, can I ride on a motorcycle?"
"What?" Nikolas asked. "A motorcycle? Listen, Dom, just because Michael's uncle rides him around on a motorcycle doesn't mean that I'll allow you to do the same."
"Well, maybe I'll ask Mama," Dominik mumbled as he moved to enter the house.
"Wait just a second there, young man," Nikolas said, following his son.
"Mama would let me-"
"Oh, would I?" Dawn asked. Having heard their voices, she had waited in the hallway to speak with them before leaving. She wrapped her arms around Dominik and asked again, "What would I let you do?"
Dominik bit his lip and didn't answer. He looked at his father and then quickly looked down at the floor again.
"Go ahead. Tell her," Nikolas prompted his son.
Dawn looked from one to the other. Dominik held his tongue and didn't answer. She released her hold on him and gently turned him around to face her. "Dom, you can tell me. You know that. What is it?"
Dominik slowly raised his head until his brown eyes rested on hers. "I want to...um... Well, Jason gave Michael a ride on his Harley. Jason said I could ride, too, but I need Papa...or you...to say that it's okay. Is it, Mama? Please!"
Dawn drew a long breath. Although her eyes were on her son, she saw Nikolas fold his arms across his chest. She saw him open his mouth to speak. She was surprised when he changed his mind and didn't say a word. She was glad that he changed his mind. "Dominik," she said, slowly. "What did your father say?"
Dominik swallowed hard before he answered. "He said no, but he didn't wait for all the facts, Mama. Jason has a helmet that I can wear, and Michael would let me borrow his leather jacket. Jason knows what he's doing. He's been riding motorcycles forever!"
"So, he has a helmet and it would fit you?" she asked.
The boy emphatically nodded his head. "May I, Mama? Please!"
"Sweetheart," Dawn said, interrupting Nikolas. She gave him a hard look over their son's head. He asked me! Her eyes told him, daring him to interrupt again.
Nikolas shrugged, but the look in his eyes belied the casual gesture. There was no way he'd allow his son on the back of a Harley even if the boy was wearing a helmet!
"Dominik," Dawn began again, "I agree with you. Jason knows a motorcycle, and a helmet is a necessary protection when riding one, but...I agree with your Papa. I can't give you permission to ride one. Not yet. Maybe when you're a little older."
"Fine," Dominik mumbled. He stared straight ahead and refused to look at her. "May I be excused now?"
"I wanted to sit down and talk with you for a while before I leave..."
"You're leaving again?" he asked, the tone of his voice accusatory.
"But it's not like before," Dawn quickly said. "I'm not leaving the country. I'm here in Port Charles now, too. I have a suite at the Port Charles Hotel. You, Noelle and I can spend more time together."
"But it won't be the same," Dominik said, sadly. "I'm tired. May I please be excused?"
"Sure," Dawn softly permitted. "May I have a hug and a kiss?"
Dawn opened her arms and Dominik went to her. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her cheek when she bent forward. When the hug was over, he slowly went upstairs.
"He missed you. They both did," Nikolas said after a few moments of silence.
"I missed them, too," she told them. "I meant what I said. I intend to spend time with them. They need me and I need them."
"You'll get no argument from me," Nikolas said, raising his hands in defense. "Noelle hasn't laughed and smiled so much since... Well, she needs you. Dominik does, too. I won't prevent you from visiting them."
"Good." Dominik disappeared from the staircase and Dawn slowly turned her eyes to Nikolas. His stare was unwavering and left her breathless. She stammered as she spoke to him. "I-I'd better go now."
"Wait," Nikolas said. The moment had arrived and he wasn't about to let her go so easily. He gestured towards the main floor's library. "I have something I need to say to you first."
"I think you said enough when I first got here, don't you?" Dawn asked. She couldn't be alone with him again. She backed away from the library door.
"Dawn, please," he said, warmly. "I won't need more than a few minutes." He could still read her and he saw the hesitation...and the fear. He intended to rid her of both as soon as the doors closed behind them. He nodded towards the door again. She took a step forward and he had to ignore the urge to breathe a sigh of relief.
Dawn felt Nikolas' body heat as she walked past him. She sucked in her breath and kept walking. She could listen to him and then she'd leave. She wouldn't give herself away, she promised. She'd resist him. Somehow.
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