"I think you should ask him," Dara said, referring to Nikolas as she offered her solution to end the mystery of the disappearing pajama bottoms.
"I'll think about it-"
"Ssh! Did you hear that?" Dara asked, sitting still in her comfortable rocking chair.
"Hear what?" Dawn asked with a frown.
The sound of scampering feet was distant, yet distinct to the two women in the nursery. Then, they heard a soft high-pitched voice sing, "Jeremy had a frog and he was my friend..."
Then, they also heard a soft, but firm, "Ssh!"
"Brook Lynn and Michael, get in here," Dara said immediately recognizing the voices.
"Dary!" Michael said, running into the room. He stopped as soon as he saw Dawn squat down and open her arms to him. He ran straight to her and screamed, "Dawnie!!"
Dawn laughed and hugged him to her. She planted a kiss on his little forehead and picked him up as she waited for his second cousin to enter.
Brook Lynn's pace was much slower than Michael's had been. She shuffled in and ignored Dara as she made a bee-line for Dawn. She held onto her hand as she mumbled, "Hi, Dawn."
"Hi, Brook Lynn," Dawn said, trying her best not to laugh at the five-year-old's contrite expression.
"Brook Lynn, come here," Dara said in her no nonsense tone. She repeated herself when the child took longer than necessary to follow Dara's bidding.
"Hi, Dara," Brook Lynn said, her eyes glued to the bulge which she had been informed was the present home of her future brother or sister.
"Look at me," Dara said. When Brook Lynn raised her blue eyes to Dara's brown ones, Dara continued, "What did your Daddy and I say to you about running in the house?"
"I don't remember," the little girl said with a small shrug.
"Hmm...okay," Dara said. "Maybe you can answer this one. What is Michael doing here?"
"I didn't get him," Brook Lynn said, emphatically shaking her head. "Honest!"
"Well, how did he get here?" Dara asked.
"I dunno," Brook Lynn replied with another small shrug. "I saw him outside and I went out there and made him come in. Right, Michael?"
"Right!" he affirmed with a giggle.
Dawn frowned as she asked, "Was he by himself?"
"Yeah," Brook Lynn said, pulling on her pigtails.
"I'm taking him back up to the main house," Dawn said, lowering Michael to the floor. "What happened to his coat and mittens?"
"He didn't have any," Brook Lynn said. As she watched Dawn and Michael prepare to leave, she decided that she wanted to join them. She moved to follow them, but Dara took her hand.
"You're staying here," Dara told her step-daughter. To Dawn, she said, "Brook has a coat you can use. It's in the hall closet."
"That's okay. I'll just zip us up in my jacket. We'll be okay, won't we, Mikey?" Dawn asked, playfully tugging on the little boy's hand.
"Yep!" he agreed. He wasn't sure what he was answering, but it didn't matter as long as he was able to play with Dawn.
"Do you remember this?" Emily asked with a grin as she pushed the play button on her stereo.
"Boy, I been watching you like a hawk in the sky
That flies, cause you were my prey (my prey)
Boy, I promise you if we keep bumpin heads
I know that one of these days (days)
We gon hook it up..."
Nikolas frowned as he listened to the beat and the lyrics. "Is that what I think it is?"
"I don't know!" she said, laughing. "What do you think it is?"
"It's that song, right? That song we danced to. The hip hop song!" he said, proud of himself for remembering.
"Yep, it sure is. Think you remember the steps?" she asked, challenging him with her tone of voice and her stance.
"No," Nikolas said, resisting the urge to challenge her dare.
"Come on, I bet you do," Emily said, grabbing his hand to pull him into a standing position. His hand was nice and warm as it squeezed hers gently. Emily returned the pressure and then quickly released his hand. "This is the starting position."
Nikolas watched her and shook his head. "I'm not sure about this, Em. It's been a while."
"Aw, don't be a chicken," she said. "You can do it."
She moved into position again and slowly went through the moves. Nikolas watched her closely. His eyes feasted on her as she moved her body to the music. She was breathtaking, dressed in a short, black corduroy skirt, matching black tights and a form-fitting forest green turtleneck sweater, as she danced, completely unaware of how beautiful she was.
"Got it?" she asked as the song ended and she moved back to the stereo to repeat the song.
"Yeah, I think so," he said, mentally scolding himself for staring at her. His one consolation was that she didn't seem to notice. He smiled at her as she joined him and as the intro started, they began to dance.
They danced to a few more tracks on the CD before they tired themselves out. Breathing hard and wiping the perspiration from their brows, they decided to take a break. Nikolas sat at the foot of the bed and rested his back against the bedpost as Emily rested herself against the headboard.
"You're really good," Nikolas said, his voice filled with admiration.
"Thanks," she said. With a grin, she added, "You're not so bad yourself."
"I do okay," he said with a shrug.
"Oh, okay. You can be modest if you want to be," she said, teasing him.
He kicked her foot which was just inches from his as he said, "I'm not being modest. I'm a fairly decent hip hop dancer. My expertise lies with waltzes and ballroom dances."
"I remember," she said, her voice wistful as she remembered the dance they shared at the Bacchnalia a few short years ago.
"Yeah?" she asked, returning to the present.
"Why did you change your mind about the modeling? I feel bad asking you about it now, when I should have asked you a long time ago."
"Don't worry about it," she said with a toss of her head. "The modeling was fun. I liked the make-believe aspect of it, you know? I could pretend to be whoever I wanted to which I enjoyed, but it began to feel hollow. I felt empty. I've never felt empty from singing, so after my modeling contract ended, I went to Ned and asked him if he'd help me with my singing instead."
"I'm sure your family couldn't have been too pleased with that," he said, concerned.
"They weren't, but they got over it," she said with a laugh. "I started out slowly, which gave them and me time to adjust. Grandfather still grumbles about it, but he doesn't mean it. He's a big softy deep down."
"Yeah, way deep," Nikolas replied, laughing. Emily joined in and soon they were both laughing uncontrollably. A buzz sounded and Nikolas stopped laughing to ask, "What was that?"
"That's the intercom," Emily said, rising from her bed to stand before the wall unit. She pushed the talk button and said, "Yes, Reginald?"
"You have a visitor," came Reginald's voice, loud and clear as a bell.
"Who is it?" Emily asked, already deciding to ask Reginald to lie for her if it was someone she didn't want to see.
"Tommy. He says it's urgent."
"Okay. Tell him I'll be right down." Emily turned to Nikolas and was about to speak, but changed her mind when he raised a hand.
"I heard. I guess I'll leave now," Nikolas said, rising from the bed as he tried to mask his jealousy and disappointment.
"You don't have to leave. I'll be right back. If you can, stay. Okay?" Emily asked, her hand on the doorknob as she looked at him. She smiled at him to reassure him of the sincerity of her offer. He smiled back at her and nodded as he sat back down.
[Song credits: "Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night (the song Michael was *trying* to sing lol!) "Are You That Somebody?" by Aaliyah.]