"Did I just suddenly grow another head?" Nikolas asked with a slight frown as he looked at his companion who couldn't stop staring at him.
Emily gave him a smile and with a little laugh said, "Sorry. I can't help it..."
"Oh, really?" he asked, grinning devilishly, as she led him up the wide staircase to her bedroom.
"I didn't mean it that way," she replied, distracted as she shook her head at him. She looked at him closely as they stood in the doorway to her room. Her back was to the door and she faced him. Her arms were folded across her chest as she said, "I couldn't help but notice that there's something different with you today. Okay, I know we haven't really been around each other in a while, but I sense a change since last night. Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine," he said with a shrug, averting his eyes and shoving his hands into his black trousers as he rocked on the balls of his feet. "Nice door you have here," he added, looking past her to admire the woodwork. "I've often wondered what it looked like, as before I only used your window to enter and exit your room."
"Okay, I get the hint," she said with a smirk, poking him in the ribs.
He laughed softly as she turned around and opened the door. She went inside the room and he followed her, closing the door shut behind him. When he moved to face her, he was surprised to see her watching him again with a fierce expression. He frowned at her and asked, "Did I do something wrong?"
"Yes," she answered, leaning her back against her antique dresser. Her arms were folded and her ankles were crossed as she continued to hold his gaze.
"What did I do?" he asked, trying desperately to answer his question himself. "I apologize for not calling first, Em. I know I should have, but I just thought... Well, after seeing you again last night after so long... Would you like for me to leave and come back at a more convenient time?"
"No, Nikolas. I don't want you to go. I just want you to tell me the truth," she said.
"What do you mean?" he asked, confused.
"You said that everything was fine. I don't believe you. I think there's something going on. I'm your friend always. If something is troubling you and you need to talk, we can do that. But, you don't have to pretend like everything is all hunky-dory-"
"Hunky-dory?" he asked, chuckling softly at the odd word.
"You know what I mean," she said, arching an eyebrow, "and don't try to change the subject. You don't have to pretend with me. We're better friends than that, no matter how long we've been apart. Talk to me."
Nikolas drew a long breath as he moved to sit on her perfectly made bed. His eyes showed a mixture of a little sadness and a lot of relief as he looked at her. "Dawn and I decided to go our separate ways last night."
Emily hadn't known what to expect when she all but ordered him to talk to her, but the one thing she least expected was what he'd just said. She left the support of her dresser and moved to sit beside him on the bed. Her hand patted his strong, cashmere covered back as she softly said, "I'm so sorry."
Nikolas found comfort from her touch, her voice and her presence. The memory of the excitement he felt when he first saw her at the party and held her in his arms as they danced entered his mind. He wanted to feel that excitement again. His voice was husky and his eyes were filled with a secret longing as he said, "I'm not."
Emily became mesmerized by the sultry look she saw in his warm brown eyes. She found herself becoming lost and suddenly wondering what secrets hid there. Shaking her head, she broke the connection their eyes had formed and with a hint of disbelief, she asked, "You're not?"
"No, Em. I'm not," Nikolas replied. His voice, as well as his heart and mind, was clear and strong as he spoke to her. "What Dawn and I had was good, but it wasn't right for either of us. I'll always care about her. She's my step-sister, after all."
A small laugh escaped from Emily as she heard the humor in his voice. Her eyes again went to his and she was relieved to see that the sultry look had been replaced by sincerity. She listened closely as he continued.
"We both decided that it would be for the best that we end it. And, we did."
"I don't know what to say," she replied, slightly amazed at what he'd told her and secretly happy all the same.
"There's nothing to say, except..." He suddenly stopped speaking as a teasing light sparkled in his eyes again.
"Except...?" she asked, knowing that she was about to be set up for something, but not at all unhappy about the possibilities.
"You could say 'yes' when I ask you out to dinner or to a movie or...whatever."
"Well, okay...maybe." She laughed softly at his surprised expression and thought to herself that the New Year was off to a good start.
"Okay. Out with it." Dara ordered as she watched her younger sister rearrange the teddy bears on the shelf for the fifth time.
"Out with what?" Dawn asked, removing the teddy bears from the shelf again. Her back was to her sister and she could feel her eyes boring into her. She was certain if she turned around, Dara would immediately know everything and she wasn't sure if she was ready to face her. The more time continued to tick tock away, the more she convinced herself that a heart-to-heart with her sister might not have been a good idea.
"Out with whatever's bothering you because I'm telling you right now, if you touch one of my baby's bears again, I'm kicking you out of here!" By the time Dara finished her speech, she had waddled over to Dawn and the shelf. One by one, she moved the stuffed animals from her sister's reach and when she was done, she directed her attention to Dawn. "Come on now," she said, coaxingly when Dawn continued to remain silent. "I know you didn't leave Spoon Island just to play with your niece or nephew's toys. Now, did you?"
"No, not really," Dawn said with a long sigh.
"Well?" Dara asked, prompting her continue. When she didn't, Dara became irritated and said, "Dammit, Dawn!"
"Okay, already! Sorry," Dawn replied. She looked Dara in the eye and said, "I think you'd better sit down."
Dara frowned, but didn't object. Without another word, she allowed Dawn to help her into her rocking chair. She adjusted herself and the chair as she watched Dawn take a seat in the window seat. She was quiet as her sister collected her thoughts, instinctively knowing that whatever her sister had to tell her wouldn't be easy.
"Well, before I begin, I want your word that whatever I say will stay between us. I don't want Mama butting in, or Heaven forbid, your husband. Are we clear?" Dawn asked, her voice steady and her eyes direct.
"Crystal," Dara replied, rested her hands on her bundle-of-joy-to-be.
Dawn paused for a moment before she continued. She was uncertain as of how to begin and she wanted everything to be worded just right. She'd had enough problems just thinking about it, and the thought of actually saying aloud what was on her mind, intimidated her a little.
Taking a deep breath, she looked Dara in the eye as she said, "Nikolas and I broke up last night."
Dara's mouth opened and she had to fight herself from saying what immediately came to her mind. From Dawn's hesitant expression, she knew that the break-up was just the tip of the iceberg. More was sure to follow. She'd wait until Dawn was done and then, she'd offer her two cents. She did, however, allow herself two words. "Go on."
Dawn took her time answering. She readjusted her position on the window seat and pulled her legs underneath her. She picked up the Tigger doll which was on the seat beside her and placed him on her lap. Her arms hugged him to her chest as she lower her eyes to one of his paws and said softly, "We slept together last night, too. It was innocent really. I didn't want to be alone and neither did he, so we decided to just sleep together. No sex. Just sleep."
Dawn released a long sigh and with confused eyes, she looked her sister and said, "I'm not sure if that's all we did."
"Why aren't you sure? You didn't take anything...?" Dara asked, concerned.
"No, of course not! I haven't done anything stupid like that in years. You know that. Why would you even ask that?!" Dawn asked, her feelings hurt.
"I'm sorry, Dawn, but when you said you weren't sure... What was I supposed to think? Why wouldn't you be sure if you had sex or not? Unless, you were intoxicated or something..."
"Well, I wasn't drunk or high if that's what you're asking!" Dawn replied, indignantly as she rose from the window seat. She carried Tigger in her arms as she moved to stand beside the crib.
Dara took in the rigid back and heaving shoulders. She wasn't surprised to see her sister react so strongly to her questions. She'd come a long way in accepting responsibility for her actions and Dara was proud of her. But even so, she still didn't understand how Dawn wouldn't know what happened to her the night before unless she was out of it.
"Again, I'm sorry, but I don't understand. Make me understand, okay? I'm your big sis. I wanna be here for you. Let me," Dara said.
Dawn turned to face her and said, "No, I apologize. I shouldn't have bitten your head off. It doesn't make any sense to me and I'm sure it doesn't to you either. Well, when I woke up in his bed this morning, I noticed that he wasn't wearing his pajama bottoms. When I fell asleep, he was wearing them, but when I woke up, he wasn't."
"Do you think he took advantage you in your sleep?" Dara asked, becoming angry at the thought.
Dawn shook her head and shrugged. "I don't think so. He's never... I wouldn't... I can't believe he'd do something like that. He's not like that."
"What?" Dawn asked.
"Well, I'm sure this is a lame question, but did you ask him?"
Dawn shook her head and said, "No. I just grabbed my stuff and went back to my room."
"What? You haven't spoken to him about it? Didn't he drive you over here?" Dara asked, perplexed.
"Well, yeah." Dawn released another sigh and said, "I didn't mention it to him because I was afraid."
"Afraid? Afraid of what? He'd better not lay a hand on you, or else I'll-"
"Calm down, why don't ya?!" Dawn said with a laugh. She handed Dara Tigger and then moved behind her to give Dara's tense shoulders a gentle massage. "He's never hit me and he never would. I didn't mean that kind of afraid. I meant that I was afraid that he'd want to get back together."
"But you and he were perfect together. You know, that's another thing I wanted to talk about! You guys shouldn't have broken up over some stupid little fight! Fights happen. Ned and I go back and forth all of the time, but that doesn't mean we don't love each other. Disagreements keep the fire alive," Dara replied with a small nod of her head.
"Number one, please don't tell me about yours and Ned's fires. I don't want to think about 'em, not to mention hear about 'em. Eww!" Dawn said with a small chuckle, her hands moving lower to massage her sister's back.
"Oh, hush!" Dara said, moving a little to give Dawn better access. "That's good right there. You should give Ned a few tips. He's great at foot massages, but you give a mean backrub, baby sister."
"Number two, I don't want to hear about his foot massages, either. Double eww!" Dawn said with a laugh. "And, now for number three, Nikolas and I weren't perfect together. Well, maybe we were in the beginning, but we haven't been for a very long time. We didn't argue or disagree or ever really fight. We just were, and to be honest, it was kinda boring. Sure, he's a great kisser, and he's an incredible lov- Um, never mind!
"Ah-ha! I knew it! You were about to talk about his skills in bed. That means you have feelings for him."
"No, such thing! It means just what it means! I need more than that, Dara. I love Nikolas and I always will, but I'm not in love with him. Furthermore, he's not in love with me, either. The end of our relationship was a good thing for both of us. Now, we can start over."