“Do you want some more iced tea to have with your food baby?” Ava asked Jade gently as she finished making her plate and putting it on the table where hers and Nick’s plates already were. She had gone as far as lighting a single candle in the middle of the table, as well as a few other ones around the suite, wanting to go above and beyond in surprising Nick.
“Yes please mommy,” Jade answered gently as she watched her nervous mommy get out the pitcher of green tea and proceed to fill her glass. When she finished she placed it next to her plate and looked at Stefan, Drake, and Q.
“We will be out of your way as soon as he walks in,” Stefan reassured. “But we will be right out in the hall the whole time if you need us.”
“Kay,” Ava responded and Ava’s phone vibrated. She looked down at her phone and there was a text message from Brian that read coming up in the elevator now. Ava felt the butterflies in her stomach worsen upon reading this news.
“He’s coming….hit the light switch for me please?” She asked and Q who was standing next to it did as she said, sending the place into darkness except for the glow of the fireplace and various candles everywhere. Ava picked up Jade and leaned up against the counter. They only had to wait a few moments until suddenly Nick appeared in the already open doorway.
“Hey, how come the door is open and the lights are off?” He asked curiously, only to suddenly stop short as he took in the scene in front of him. The dining room table was set beautifully with three plates of chicken parmesan with pasta and a side of broccoli, wine glasses by two of the plates, the silverware placed formally on napkins, and complete with a single candle in the center.
The suite itself was illuminated in Ava’s favorite scented candles and a warm fire in the fireplace, effectively making the whole place smell like her and the home cooked meal she made, creating the most perfect warm and loving welcome home he has ever had in his life. After taking in the room, his eyes landed on her as she stood leaning against the counter holding their pride and joy on her hip and waiting for his reaction.
Despite the apparent fear in her eyes, she looks breathtaking and innocent standing there in the glow of the candles, wearing his favorite tee shirt and her own pair of sweatpants. It was a long moment before he could speak as he stood there gazing at her and dealing with the sudden overwhelming emotions this simple, yet familiar gesture brought on. He felt a lump in his throat as he tried so desperately not to tear up.
“I thought I would welcome you home after a successful first night of the tour with your favorite meal,” she explained softly when he didn’t say anything.
“Baby, it’s beautiful…I can’t believe you went through so much trouble,” he told her when he managed to find his voice to speak and was sure he wasn’t going to cry. He crossed the room to get to her and when he stood just in front of her, she looked up at him and he placed his hand to her cheek and looked into her chocolate brown eyes with so much love in his own.
“Thank you,” he told her before leaning down and brushing his lips lightly over hers before bringing his arms down and around her waist and pulling her near. “This is the best welcome home ever. Life can’t get any better than this…I feel like the luckiest man in the world right now,” he told her softly in her ear before burying his face in the crook of her neck.
Ava slid her arm around him in return and rested her head against his shoulder, trying very hard not to cry herself. Q, Stefan, Drake, and Brian who had come in behind Nick exchanged small grins before quietly walking out into the hall and closing the door behind them so the family could finally have their alone time. When Nick managed to gather his emotions he pulled back slightly and looked at his daughter who still sat comfortably on Ava’s hip with a small smile on her face. With one arm still gently holding Ava to him, he placed his other hand to Jade’s cheek and looked into her blue eyes.
“Hey baby, did you help mommy cook dinner for daddy?” He asked gently and she smiled even bigger.
“Yes,” she answered happily and he smiled at her and kissed her cheek affectionately.
“Come sit down and eat before it gets cold,” Ava insisted and she walked over to the table with Jade and gently placed her in her chair before sitting in her own. Nick followed her lead and took his spot between his two girls. As soon as he did he eyed the wine bottle that was sitting there opened and waiting to be poured.
“You even got wine? You went all out baby…”
“I wanted to really wine and dine you tonight. I got the sweet stuff, I hope you don’t mind but you know I can’t stand anything but.”
“Of course I don’t mind, it’s perfect” Nick insisted gently and he grabbed up the bottle and proceeded to pour them both some. He looked over at Jade when he finished pouring and chuckled in amusement when he saw her drinking iced tea out of her own plastic version of a wine glass.
“I bet you’re feeling pretty fancy drinking your tea tonight, huh princess?” he asked and she giggled, making Ava smile too.
“I didn’t want her to feel left out.” Nick grinned and gently took Ava’s hand into his lacing their fingers together and he turned his attention on his meal. She quietly watched him as he picked up his fork and felt her stomach tighten in knots and her whole body tense up in nervous anticipation as he gathered up some chicken and took a bite. As soon as he did she watched as genuine pleasure formed on his face.
“Mm…baby this is delicious,” he told her as soon as he swallowed and he lightly rubbed his finger over her tense hand as he went for more. “I missed this…I love your cooking, it’s the best thing in the whole world,” he insisted, looking into her eyes so she will see the sincerity in his own and she felt her eyes well up with tears. She was able to hold them back and control her emotions until he looked at her with such obvious love in his eyes. It’s been so long since she’s gotten that kind of reaction from her cooking, that the feeling is so foreign to her.
With her hand still held gingerly in his, he brought them up and brushed her tears away, before bringing her hand to his mouth and kissing it softly. “It makes me feel loved and taken care of every time you spoil me with your home cooked meals.”
“Well good,” She told him softly. “Because you make me feel that way every time you take care of me, it’s only right that I return the favor.” She watched him enjoy his meal for a few moments in silence until the realization that he is not going to break into a rage any minute and start breaking things and beating her over a sudden mistake he’s found, fully sunk in. She felt her body ease up and she too finally grabbed up her fork and started eating. The moment Nick felt the tension in her hand relax in his, his heart warmed, because it was a sure sign that she is finally beginning to feel fully safe with him. He looked at Jade and smiled at her, making her smile happily in return. Four years old or not, she knows how big of a deal this is. She was a witness to most of David’s vicious bullying at dinner time after all.
“It’s good, huh princess?”
“Yeah mommy, it’s great” She agreed, smiling at her and Ava managed a smile of her own.
“Thank you baby,” She told her softly. “You did great work helping me make it as always” She added and Jade beamed in pride.
“I learn from the best.”
“Demyan gave me very interesting information just now, Kathryn Elizabeth…” Howie informed when she had let him into her room and she looked at him with narrowed eyes for a brief moment, before returning to her packing for tomorrow.
“You told me you were coming back with Ava, not by yourself.”
“I didn’t realize they had already left without me, it was an honest mistake” Kathryn insisted innocently. “If you hadn’t insisted on arguing with me, maybe I would’ve made it out there on time.”
“And when you did realize they left without you, the smart thing to do would be to come in and get security to go back with you! You know how important it is to be safe, especially right now with David after Ava. He could decide to use any of us to torture her and you know it.” Kathryn rolled her eyes slightly.
“I can handle myself, Howie, I’m fine. I called a cab, it’s not like I walked back to the hotel.” Howie gently grabbed Kathryn’s chin and made her look at him.
“And what if that cab driver had been working for David?” She opened her mouth to respond and he cut her off. “Or worse?”
“Don’t you think you’re being a little paranoid?”
“No, I think I am being perfectly logical here, Kat. I don’t trust anybody with you but my security…you’re my best friend and I want you safe. Is that too much to ask?” Kathryn felt her heart turn over in her chest as she heard the genuine love in his voice. She didn’t have that until Howie entered her life.
“No,” She told him, heaving a sigh and she buried her face in his chest. He slid his arms around her and pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead the way a big brother would do. “It’s not…”
“Please humor me and make sure a security guard is with you at all times…”
“A security guard,” she repeated. “Okay, got it.” She told him and he could hear the small amused smile, even with her face buried in his chest.
“My security guards, Kat…”
“Ava says he’s probably one of the safest security guards around, Howie. That nobody in their right mind would mess with you if he’s around, and I have to agree. You are being a bit ridiculous in not trusting him.”
“I haven’t seen the man smile once since he’s been on the road with us, Kat. He’s all dark and mysterious, It gives me the creeps. I don’t want you around him.”
“So what, I’m just supposed to stay away from my best friend the rest of the tour?” Kathryn asked, leaning against the bathroom door amidst coming out of it and she gave him an incredulous look. “That’s not going to happen, I need her.”
“You have me,” Howie told her, even though he knows it’s useless. He could never keep her away from Ava even if he had the heart to.
“Of course I do, I’ve always had you and I love and appreciate you so much. But she provides the girl support in the best friend package. That’s important stuff.” Howie sighed softly.
“Just…make sure one of my guys is with you at all times too, then. Please?”
“Like that is going to be a problem…besides the fact that Q is with Ava as much as he possibly can be, he’s also formed an obvious friendship with Officer Drake too. He’s not going anywhere.”
“Yeah, well…finish that packing tomorrow okay? You’ll have plenty of time. It’s late and I’m tired…are you coming and getting in bed with me? You were having nightmares again last night.” Kathryn nodded quietly, not bothering to ask him how he knows that. He always does.
“Just let me get a few things…”
“Oh no you don’t, Ava Marie, we have a system” Nick lectured gently when they were finished eating and she had immediately went right into getting started on the dishes. He got up and walked over to her, slid his arms around her waist from behind and kissed the back of her neck softly before turning the sink she had just turned on off. “The person who cooked never has to do the dishes.”
“You’ve been working all night Nicky, let me treat you tonight” Ava pleaded, looking into his eyes.
“It’s an entirely different story when I actually enjoy my job,” Nick protested, resting his forehead against hers. “It’s not work for me.”
“Well, I’m doing the dishes tonight no matter how much you protest.” Nick continued to look into her eyes and when he saw that this is genuinely important to her, he kissed her forehead softly.
“Then we will do them together…but later all right? Come spend time with me and Jade before we put her down for the night.”
“Which will need to be soon, she’s had a very late night” Ava responded while rubbing her nose lightly over Jade’s as Nick held her and she smiled and rested her head against Nick’s shoulder, showing signs of sleepiness.
“I want her to stay awake just a little bit longer. She’ll have plenty of time to sleep in tomorrow, we aren’t leaving the next town till the afternoon” Nick told her while taking her hand into his and bringing her into the living room and over to the fireplace, before sitting down and gently pulling Ava down beside him.
“Why, what are you up to?” Ava asked curiously when she noticed he seemed to be up to something and he grinned a little. “I have a few little surprises of my own tonight,” he admitted. “I was going to reveal them earlier, but it didn’t seem like the right time” he told her before looking down at Jade who was looking up at him curiously.
“Baby, will you go get daddy’s backpack for me please? It’s right over there” He requested while pointing over to the couch where he had placed his backpack earlier when he came in the door.
“Okay daddy,” She replied and while she got up and walked over to get it he gently pulled Ava into his lap, wrapped his arms around her from behind and rested his chin lightly on her shoulder, before hugging her close to him affectionately. She snuggled back against him, resting the back of her head against his shoulder, though she watched curiously as their daughter returned with the backpack. He took it from her and opened it up before reaching in and pulling out a white box with pink ribbon tied around it in such a fanciful way that a woman had to have done it. He handed it over to an even more curious Jade and gave her a small smile.
“Go ahead and open it princess.” Jade sat down and proceeded to do just that, untying the ribbon and opening the box and as soon as she did, she discovered three tickets sitting inside on top of white paper that was hiding the rest of the gift. She pulled them out and looked up at her daddy curiously, seeing as how she’s not fully able to read yet.
“They’re tickets to see the Aladdin Ballet performance in New York tomorrow night. I thought it would be a fun thing to do for you, your mommy, and I since daddy’s concert is not till the next day.” Jade gasped.
“Oh daddy, I would really like that lots!” she exclaimed excitedly and she looked at her mommy who was smiling at seeing her daughter’s happiness. She got up and threw her arms about her daddy and hugged him tightly and he chuckled softly and kissed her forehead.
“I knew you would…there’s more to the surprise princess, keep looking.” She sat down again and pulled out the pink tissue wrapping paper next that was hiding something somewhat small inside. She unwrapped it to find pink ballet slippers and her mouth gaped open. She stole a peek at her daddy, and then pulled out the next gift wrapped up in pink tissue paper. She excitedly opened it up revealing a pink leotard, pink tutu, and white tights.
“Oh daddy, I love them!” she gasped, hugging the slippers, leotard, and tutu to her excitedly.
“Remember when Daddy promised he would talk his manager into letting us do a new photo shoot together?” he asked gently and she nodded. “Well, she agreed and daddy thought you could be a beautiful ballerina for some of the photos,” he explained. “We will be doing an entire article about you and me that will be published in magazines all over as soon as it’s safe to do so.”
“Wow Jade that will be exciting won’t it?” Ava asked, managing to swallow the lump in her throat and hold her emotions together.
“Yeah!” Jade exclaimed enthusiastically and Nick grinned. “And there’s more…” He added, causing Ava to look up at him. What more could he possibly give, he’s already done so much. “My manager is also looking into ballet classes for me too that will start as soon as the tour is over. I want to wait until then because I want my entire focus to be on all of your recitals.” Jade got up from the floor, tears suddenly in her eyes, and still managing to hold her new ballet outfit in one arm, she threw her other one around Nick and buried her face in his shoulder and with his arms still wrapped around Ava, he hugged them both, gently pulling her into Ava’s lap.
“Thank you daddy, I love you so much…”
“I love you too princess; you’re going to make a beautiful ballerina” he told her while kissing her forehead. Ava wrapped her arms around her daughter and hugged her too, before shifting so that she was straddling Nick and placing their daughter between them and while Jade once again wrapped her arm around her daddy’s waist and hugged him, Ava wrapped hers around his neck and he rested his forehead against hers and looked into her watery eyes.
“Are you crying baby?” He asked gently, and he brushed her tears away with his finger.
“It’s a constant thing I do these days, I can’t seem to stop” she laughed softly. “Especially when you do wonderful things like this completely out of nowhere...” Nick tightened his arms around them both and rained loving kisses over her closed eyelids. “It’s just that I was going to work up the courage to ask you if we could finally make our daughter’s dream come true. I silently made my plans to do so this afternoon, and out of nowhere you already have it done.”
“Well, first of all…you don’t ever have to work up the courage to ask me for things…if something is important to you, the answer yes, no questions asked. Second of all…you don’t even have to ask me for things in the first place when you are with me, because I just know you. I know what you and my daughter need and you are always going to get it” He told her while rubbing his nose lightly over hers.