"I'm sorry that I didn't think to bring the others. I just wanted to get us out of there that I couldn't even think straight."
Dawn smiled at Nikolas and reached for his hand. "It's okay. Don't worry about it. Christmas isn't about gifts. It's about love and your love is the only gift I need," she said, finishing with a giggle.
"Hey! Why are you laughing?" Nikolas asked her, pulling her onto his lap. "The Tickle Monster hasn't even made an appearance!"
"And, he'd better not!" she told him, her eyes widened by his thinly disguised threat. She moved so that she straddled Nikolas and looked straight into his chocolate brown eyes. "I'm serious. Don't threaten me with a visit from the Tickle Monster."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Nikolas said, rolling his eyes. He grinned when she began to glare at him.
"You know, it's not fun when you use my own words against me," she said, laughing.
"I know," he said, joining in her laughter. Pointing to the carefully wrapped gift, which she still held in her hand, he said, "Open it, sweetheart."
"Okay." Unaware that she was driving Nikolas mad in anticipation, Dawn took her time with the wrapping paper. She pulled back each piece of tape and neatly unfolded the decorative paper from the box. Once the box could be easily opened, she placed the paper beside them on the bed. She then opened the box and was surprised by what she found inside.
Nikolas watched her eyes closely, looking for any telltale sign. Her brown eyes sparkled, but they failed to reveal the inner workings of her mind to him. He swallowed hard. Should he ask her, or should he wait? His impatience answered the question for him. "Darling, do you like it?"
She nodded. She removed the dazzling gold ring from the small, black velvet box. "It's beautiful," she whispered, holding it up to the light. "I'm surprised, though."
"Why?" he asked, taking the ring from her. "You don't like it, do you?"
"It's so expensive," she shrugged. "I wasn't expecting you to give me something like this. I thought we had agreed to keep it…well, I don't know…kinda simple."
"I know we did, but I just couldn't." He held the ring up between them. "This ring isn't for spectacle…to let everyone know how wealthy the Cassadines are. This ring is special, sweetheart, for you, me and our baby."
"Yeah?" she asked, slightly confused. "How's that?"
"Well, let me show you," he offered with a smile. As he pointed to each jewel, he spoke of its significance. "The amethyst represents you. The topaz here represents me. And, the diamond is for our child."
"These are our birthstones," she said, understanding his explanation. "Oh, baby, I love it! I should have realized it, but I-I… I'm sorry for questioning you. I love this. This is so thoughtful and sweet."
"I'm glad you like it," he replied, his voice just a little hoarse. "Allow me," he said, sliding the ring onto the middle finger of her left hand. "See look at that. A perfect fit."
"Just like you and me." She gently cupped his face and drew his face towards hers. She lightly brushed her lips against his, pulling away before he could deepen the embrace.
"Is something wrong?" he asked, puzzled by her abrupt movement. He tilted her face upwards so that their eyes locked. "You are happy with the ring, right?"
"I love it. I'll never take it off," she said, looking down at its brilliance. Biting her lower lip, she raised her eyes to his again. "Well, I have one of your gifts, but I'm not sure… I mean, if we could go back to Wyndemere to get the others I have for you…"
"I thought you said that Christmas wasn't about the gifts, but the love?" he asked, keeping his voice light as thoughts of going back to Wyndemere slightly irritated him. "I'm sure that whatever you have over there in that bag is as wonderful as anything we could have left at Wyndemere. Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll love it because you gave to me."
"Well…" she said slowly as she removed herself from his lap. As she backed away from him and left the bedroom to go into the adjoining living room, she said, "Remember that when you open it, okay?" She returned to the room carrying a beautifully wrapped box. "Remember that I love you." She handed the box to him. "Okay?"
Nikolas laughed softly as he took the box from her. "Okay. I'll remember." Unlike his methodical wife, Nikolas tore into the present and within seconds, the box lay open on his lap. He glanced up from the white tissue paper, which covered his gift to look into Dawn's anxious brown eyes. He so wanted to make a teasing comment, but the look on her face told him that it would most likely not be appreciated. She was nervous about what his reaction to his gift would be, and her nervousness intrigued him. He knew he would love it, but he couldn't help but wonder why she was nearly on pins and needles. "Sweetheart, I'm sure I'll love it," he said, softly as he reached out a hand to lightly caress her face with his fingertips.
"Yeah," she said, trying to put up a nonchalant front. She knew that Nikolas saw right through her façade. She shook her head at herself. "I'm being a little nutty. It must be hormones." She laughed softly. "Open it, baby. I can handle it."
"Nikky, just open it. I'm fine. A little anxious, but fine." She smiled at him to reassure him and took a seat close beside him on the bed.
Nikolas folded back the tissue paper to reveal a neatly folded navy blue sweater. His hands ran across the garment as he looked at Dawn in confusion. "It's beautiful. Why were you so nervous?"
Dawn shrugged as she said quietly, "Because I made it." She lifted the sweater from the box and held it up to Nikolas. To her eyes, there was something amiss with the sweater, but she wasn't sure what. She looked past the sweater to Nikolas. "I've never made one before. If it doesn't fit or feels funny-"
"It feels amazing," he interrupted as he took the sweater from her. He carefully placed the sweater back on the box, and he then pulled the sweater he had been wearing off. He put the sweater Dawn had made him on, and with a grin on his face, said, "And, the fit is perfect. I love it! No one's ever made anything for me before. I think it's wonderful, love. Thank you."
"Are you sure? You're not just say-"
The rest of Dawn's doubts were lost as Nikolas kissed them into oblivion.
"Jack Frost nipping at your nose," Lucky sung the lyrics to the old holiday favorite as he playfully tapped his baby sister's nose.
"Lucky!" Lesley Lu squealed in delight.
Lesley smiled as she watched her grandchildren at play. "Now, this is what this old house has been missing. Your sweet, melodious voice, Lucky Spencer, and your baby sister's screams. Don't you miss us?"
"Grandma, please, don't start. You know I miss you guys, but…being here? I can't live in this house," Lucky told her. He smiled at Lesley Lu as she crawled into his lap.
"You can live in this house, Lucky," Lesley replied, "but you're choosing not to. Your place is with your family. Not some stranger."
"What's going on here?" he asked, keeping his voice soft as his baby sister listened with eager ears. "Did Mom put you up to this? Carrie isn't a stranger. She's my friend."
"But, she's not your mother," Lesley said, refusing to back down.
"No, she's not," he agreed. "But she offered me a home when mine was nowhere to be found."
"That's not true, Lucky," Laura said, quietly as she entered with a plateful of cookies. Lesley Lu leapt from Lucky's lap to go to her mother. Laura gave her daughter a tentative smile as she placed the plate into her child's outstretched hands. As Lesley Lu walked slowly back to the sofa, Laura's eyes met Lucky's. "You knew where I was the entire time. You could have come to me."
"Unbelievable," Lucky muttered. Shaking his head, he rose. He gave Lesley Lu an affectionate pat on her head as he left her and moved to Laura. Quietly, so that only she could hear, he said, "I shouldn't have had to come to you. You should have been here." He walked away from Laura to go the closet. He grabbed his coat and turned back to face his family. "Merry Christmas," he said, softly with a wave of his hand. Then he was gone.
"Mama, please tell me that you're not planning to stay cooped in here all day. It's Christmas!"
"I know what day it is, Dara," Carrie grumbled. When Dara's face fell, Carrie's expression became apologetic. She went to her daughter and hugged her. "I'm sorry, baby. See, this is why I should be by myself today. I'm not very good company."
"No one should be alone at Christmas, Mama," Dara told her, returning the hug. "Maybe if you told me what happened, you'd feel better."
Carrie pulled away from the embrace, and as she gathered the torn wrapping paper and discarded boxes, she said, "It's not something I'm ready to discuss."
"It has something to do with Stefan Cassadine, doesn't it?"
"Dara…" Carrie warned her with an edge to her voice. "Don't go there."
"But, Mama, didn't I warn you about him?" she continued, refusing to remain quiet. "I told you he was strange and that sooner or later, he would hurt you-"
"Dara!" Alex exclaimed as he joined mother and daughter in the den. "Come on. Ease up on her."
Carrie waved Alex's suggestion away with a wave. She gave him a tight smile before she turned to glare at her daughter. "It's okay. She obviously has something that's been on her mind. Come on, Dara. Go ahead. Tell me I told you so, and when you're done, please feel free to spread your Christmas joy elsewhere."
Dara's throat constricted as she choked by a sob. She had gone too far. She hadn't meant to, but the words just came out. She went to her mother and took her hand. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I didn’t mean to make it worse. It's just that… Well, I never trusted him…"
"As you've told me countless times," Carrie said, refusing to be placated. "I've known what your stance is when it comes to Stefan. You don't have to repeat yourself. What happened between him and me is really none of your business. I know that you think it is because you're my daughter, but this… You'll find it all out sooner than later, but for now, I don't want to talk about it. Capisce?"
"Capisco," Dara nodded. "I won't say another word about it."
Alex released an audible sigh of relief. "Good!"
Mother and daughter laughed softly at his exclamation. "Alex and I are going over to GH in a little bit. We're playing Santa's helpers for the sick children. Would you like to go with us? It would help take your mind off things, and maybe we'd see your youngest since she doesn't feel inclined to come over today."
"You don't know when to quit, do you?" Carrie laughed softly. "My youngest called long before you even came over. She told me that she and Nikolas had decided to spend their first Christmas together. Alone."
"Oh," Dara said.
"Yeah, 'oh'," Alex said, unable to resist the urge to mock her. Smiling, he pulled Dara into the circle of his arms as he looked at Carrie. "What do you say, Carrie? Please, join us. It wouldn't be right if you were here all alone."
Carrie looked from Alex's smiling face to Dara's expectant one. When she had pulled herself off the sofa and discovered that Lucky had left and she was all alone, she had wanted nothing more than to stay that way. But now… Now as she looked at her family, she knew that being alone on Christmas with a broken heart was not the best way to go. She smiled at the happy couple and said, "Okay. I'll go."
"…so I'm offering this simple phrase…"
Dawn laughed softly to herself as she closed the bathroom door behind her. She wondered if she would regret teaching 'The Christmas Song' to her husband. But remembering the smile on his face as he began to get the lyrics right, she knew that she wouldn't. If something as simple as teaching him a song would brighten his face with a song, then so be it. She could ignore the slightly off-key notes and instead, focus on her love for the man who sung so heartily.
After she had pulled on a pair of sweats, her hands lightly rubbed her back. Her turn under the hot shower had eased the slight ache at the small of her back. She hadn't mentioned it to Nikolas, but the pregnancy had begun to speak to her many different ways. By now, she and he had become accustomed to her mood swings, which lay prisoner to her hormones. And, now as her body began to change with every passing day, she knew that they would have to become accustomed to so much more.
"One day at a time," she murmured to herself. She grabbed a pair of socks from their partially unpacked duffel bag and went into the living area. She was just about to sit when a knock at the door startled her. Dropping the socks on the sofa, she padded to the door. To be on the safe side, she peeked through the peephole. A smile brightened her face when she saw who was on the other side. She quickly opened the door.
"Mrs. Cassadine-" Arman began, but wasn't allowed to finish.
"It's okay, Arman. Thanks!" Dawn dismissed the bodyguard with a wave of her hand as she smiled at Liz. "Hi, come in!"
"Merry Christmas, Dawn," Lizzie said, opening her arms to her friend. "You look amazing."
"So do you," Dawn said, as their embrace ended. "Have a seat," she said, waving her hand towards the sofa. "I have to admit that I'm surprised to see you here, but I am happy. How did you know we were here?"
"Tracking you two down was no easy task. I called Wyndemere and Mrs. Landsbury told me that you had left. I then called in a favor and had Tommy call your mom. She told him where you were and here I am," Liz said with a shrug. She held out the gift she had been holding to Dawn and said, "I come bearing a gift and requesting forgiveness. I'm sorry that we haven't spent much time together. I've missed you."
"I've missed you so much. I'm sorry about…everything, Liz. If I could go back and not have made that stupid video or kissed Lu-"
"Stop." Liz raised her hand to silence her friend. "You don't have to apologize. Just accept mine, okay? The video wasn't your fault, and what happened between me and Lucky didn't really have anything to do with you."
"I wish I could believe that," Dawn said as she eased herself down onto the sofa and placed the gift on the coffee table, "but I'm not sure if I can. Since then, you and I haven't spoken more than five words to each other. You were angry with me. I know you were."
Liz gave a slight nod of her head as she too sat down. "I was upset with you, but not angry. After Lucky and I broke up, I heard a lot of things about…you and him… At first, I wasn't sure what to believe, but then I saw you…with Nikolas. You were at Wyndhams in the baby section. You looked so happy as you looked at all the baby stuff, and then I saw something that made it so clear for me."
"What did you see?" Dawn asked quietly.
Liz took a deep breath and as she spoke, a bright smile appeared on her face. "I saw you take Nikolas' hand and place it on your tummy. The way you looked at him… I knew that whatever your reasons were for not telling me about the kiss didn't have anything to do with you and Lucky having a thing-"
"Lucky and I don't have a thing," Dawn quickly interjected.
"I know." Liz nodded. "You two are close, but I know that you love Nikolas."
"Lucky loves you, too," Dawn said, half-heartedly. Silently, she added, I hope he does.
"Maybe," Liz said with a shrug. "Now, that we've gotten all of that old crap out of the way, let's start over fresh. Okay? And, that gift that's laying there…accept it as a peace offering and hurry up and open it already!"
"Hey!" Nikolas said, entering the room. Smiling, he said, "I thought I heard voices out here. Merry Christmas, Liz. How did you know we were here?'
"I have my ways," she said, rising to give him a quick hug. "I'm glad you're here. I wanted you two to open this together. I hope you like it and if you don't, lie!"
"Liz!" Dawn laughed. "I'm sure we'll love it."
Dawn reached for the package and Nikolas took it from her. "It takes you too long," he told her.
"Whatever," Dawn muttered, with a grin.
Nikolas sat down beside her and once settled, he ripped into the package. He encountered a box and he quickly opened it. Peering inside, he said, "It looks like a painting. Is it?"
"Don't ask! Find out for yourself," Liz told him.
"Okay, I will!" he laughed. He reached inside the box and pulled the frame out. He held the portrait with both hands as he looked at it. "This is incredible, Liz," he whispered. "Sweetheart, look at this."
"I am," Dawn whispered back. She looked up at Liz and said, "I can't believe you did this for us. Thank you so much."
"Yeah, Liz," Nikolas said, "Thanks. How did you do this? When?"
Liz rose from her chair to stand behind Nikolas and look over his shoulder at the portrait. The images of Nikolas and Dawn as their hands rested on top of her swelling abdomen caused her to smile. In the portrait, the couples' eyes were downcast, but the love they shared leapt from the canvas. Liz was proud that she was able to capture it.
"I was telling Dawn that I saw you guys at Wyndhams a while back. You both looked so happy that the image stuck. I did a small sketch, and then decided to paint it for you."
"Thanks, girl," Dawn rose from the sofa and stepped over Nikolas to hug her friend. "We have something for you, but unfortunately, it's at Wyndemere. I can give it to you tomorrow."
"Don't worry about it," Liz said with a shrug as she and Dawn ended their embrace. "Hey, are you guys going to GH for the program? I have to head on over there and I thought that maybe we could all go together."
"We're staying here today," Nikolas said. Still holding the portrait, he stood and looked around the room for a suitable place for the painting.
"Oh?" Liz asked, looking from Nikolas to Dawn. "I thought DJLS were scheduled to sing a few carols. It was canceled?"
"Um…no, not exactly," Dawn began. "The guys are singing, but I'm not. Nikky and I are…" Dawn stopped her explanation to look at Nikolas. "Nikky, let's go with Liz to the hospital. Just for a little while. We won't have to stay long."
Nikolas stiffened slightly. He wanted to answer in the negative and leave it at that, but one look into Dawn's face and he couldn't do it. He released a long sigh and said, "Okay, but we're not staying long."
"We won't," Dawn reassured him with a smile. She smiled at Liz and said, "We're coming with you."