The two girls were currently sprawled out on the bed in one of the guestrooms. They were resting and relaxing from their brief, rushed trip. Neither of them were quite ready to see the destruction of their bedroom just yet. Kerri was willing to later, so she could get an idea of how extensive the damage was. Nikki, on the other hand, wasn't sure if she ever wanted to see it, although just a tiny part of her was dying to see if she would have to keep from trying to murder someone, or hurt things. Whichever came first.
"Hey, Kerri?" asked Nikki. She rolled onto her side so she was facing her elder sister and rested her hand beneath her chin. She leaned against her elbow.
"Hmm?" Kerri glanced up from the book she was reading, at her sibling. She could tell from looking in the younger girl's eyes that she was still feeling beat, despite all the sleep she got on the plane. "What's up, sis? Is there something on your mind?"
"I wonder how Dad is doing, and how confronting the Arviso family went for him."
Kerri nodded knowingly. "Well I thought I heard a faint sound of the door slamming, angry voices, and thundering footsteps, so to say it didn't go very well would be an understatement."
"That it would." Nikki recalled hearing something not too long ago, but thought maybe it was her imagination and her insufficient rest affecting her ability to concentrate properly. "That comes of no surprise to me at all. I mean, they seem to think Dad owes them something." She massaged her temples wearily.
"Yes. Such con artists." There was so much more Kerri wanted to say about the family, but decided the stress wasn't worth it. She hoped Gavin or Star didn't somehow find her guitar, even after she had hid it in a good hiding place.
"I imagine Dad must be quite shaken. After all, he hates confrontation."
"That's true. However, he's also very strong. He'll bounce back from this in due time. I'm sure he knows in his heart of hearts that he has made the right decision. I wouldn't worry too much if I were you."
Nikki knitted her eyebrows together, not necessarily frowning, but rather absorbing what her sister just said. It had been one of her concerns that Michael would second guess himself and think maybe he was too hard on the Arvisos. ‘It certainly didn't seem that way yesterday, but now I just don't know.' "I hope so," she said wistfully. She let out a deep sigh as she sat up and wrung her hands together. "Anyway, we should go check on him, and also let Becky know we're back. I actually meant to call and see how she is holding up."
Kerri nodded in agreement. "Yes, definitely. We could ask him if it's all right if we invited her here. Maybe she could stay overnight, too. "
A tiny smile appeared on Nikki's features, her coffee coloured eyes brightening. "Oh, that idea just came to me! You've read my mind. "
Kerri chuckled softly at her sister's enthusiasm. "Well, you know what they say. Great minds think alike."
"Exactly right, sis. I'll talk to Dad and see what he says. Be right back." Nikki got up off the bed, stretched, and exited the room.
A light gust of wind blew through the opened window, brushing on the nape of Kerri's neck. She rested her book face down and sat up. She couldn't help but feel slightly anxious whilst waiting for Nikki to return. She absentmindedly ran her hand through her hair. ‘Why am I so nervous? Surely Dad will understand Becky needs a friend right now and could use some company. The worst he'll probably say is that today is not a good day.' She reached on top of the bureau for the cordless phone, pulling it off the hook. She dialed Becky's number, fidgeting as she waited for her to pick up.
The phone rang twice, and mid-way through the third ring, someone answered. Kerri could hear some rustling on the other end before a husky female's voice chirped into the phone, "Hello, this is Becky speaking." There was a touch of depression in the redhead's voice.
"Hi Becky, this is Kerri."
"Oh, hey girl! What's up? I thought you and Nikki weren't coming back until next week. Or are you calling from Florida?"
"No, we're back. We got back almost an hour ago. Our vacation was cut short," explained Kerri grimly. She hated to sound that way and risk making Becky feel worse, but it was her best attempt at masking her displeasure.
"Ohhh, that's too bad. I knew how much you and Nikki were looking forward to that trip."
Kerri let out a heavy sigh. "Yes we were. But there was an emergency Dad had to take care of urgently, so we had no choice."
"Oh, I get it. What type of emergency, if you don't mind me asking? Please don't tell me you guys had a death in the family!" Becky knew she sounded dramatic, but she couldn't help it. She didn't think she could handle any more bad news.
Kerri couldn't help but laugh at her friend being frantic before hearing the news. "Relax! It's nothing like that! But it is pretty distressing. You remember me telling you about the trouble we had with the Arviso family, right?"
"Yes," Becky responded slowly, as if she were afraid to hear more about their foolishness.
"Well, shortly after we left, they returned and the children annihilated our bedroom. They were also extremely rude to the maid and security guards, and then attacked some fangirls."
Becky snorted into the phone. "That's no surprise. They're nothing but a bunch of good-for-nothing scoundrels and delinquents."
"That's an understatement," Kerri muttered under her breath. "They most certainly are, and that's putting it kindly. No need to worry, though. Dad decided enough was enough, and so he cancelled the remainder of the trip in order to deal with them."
"Praise the Lord! It's about time he did."
Kerri chuckled a little. "I know. "
"I imagine you guys must be pissed, though, having to cancel the trip like that."
"Oh, trust me, we are. But at least we could come to your grandmother's funeral this Friday, so that's one good thing about it."
There was a long pause on the other end. ‘Oh. She must have hung up,' thought Kerri. She was about to ask Becky whether she was still there but a long, sad sigh on the other line assured her that she was. "Hello?" she questioned.
"Yeah, I'm still here. My mind just drifted away for a second, that's all."
"Oh. All right, then."
"I suppose it is a good thing you can come to the funeral," said Becky. "Before you had called, I was just wondering how I was going to be able to keep it together then. I mean, I can barely do it now." Her voice started to crack. She exhaled a deep breath, desperately trying to remain composed.
"I know. Well Nikki and I are here if you need someone to talk to."
"It was nothing. What are friends for?" Just then Kerri heard footsteps. ‘I wonder if that's Nikki.' "Hold on for a minute." She cupped the phone and turned around to see who had come into the room, and sure enough, it was Nikki. She lowered her voice a bit."What did Dad say?"
"He said it's fine for Becky to come over as long as she stays in one of the guestrooms."
"Okay." Kerri removed her hand from the phone's mouthpiece. "Okay, here I am again. Do you want to come over? Dad said it's all right if you do, and you can spend the night, too."
"I would love to. I will be there as soon as I can."
"Great. I hope you won't mind having to stay in one of the guestrooms."
"No, that's fine."
"All right. I'll see you in a few, then."
"See you." After Kerri hung up, she and Nikki got some clean bed sheets and pillowcases, then went inside the room the Arviso children had utilized. There was not a trace of their belongings anywhere, indicating they had packed up and left. However, the state of the room was another story. The bed was unmade, the closet doors were open, dirt was all over the floor and the drawers were not closed properly.
Nikki sighed heavily. "I swear, those children are such slobs. " She shook her head. "One would think they could at least leave the room the way they met it after all the trouble they had caused."
Kerri gave her an amused look. "That shouldn't surprise you. Hello, you're talking about children who have no sense of decorum whatsoever. "
"I know that. Still, I resent the idea of having to clean up after them."
"I understand how you feel, but even if Rebecca doesn't use this room, we still shouldn't leave it for poor Tina to clean up. She already has enough on her plate."
Nikki looked thoughtful. Her sister had a point. Tina being the maid shouldn't mean she was supposed to clean up after blatantly messy people. "You're right. I guess we had better get to work, then. Becky will be here soon." She started closing all the semi-open drawers, dragging her feet and letting out soft grunts as she did. ‘Hopefully Kerri and I will be able to get this room cleaned in time. Too bad the Arviso children are no longer here or else I would have made them clean it up.'
Kerri set her mouth in a line, removing the dirty sheets from the bed and the pillowcases off the pillows. She gathered them in a pile and walked out of the room.
Nikki let out a sigh. "Might as well make myself useful," she muttered to herself. ‘Anything for Becky, though.' She left the room to retrieve the broom and dustpan, and got to work sweeping up the dirt. After tossing the debris into the trash can, she took the pillows and put the pillowcases on them, humming as she worked. She took the comforter, sloppily folded it and rested it in a chair. She removed the pillows and rested them on the chair, too. As soon as she got the bottom sheet to put on the bed, her elder sister returned.
"Here, let me help you with that," she offered. "It'll go faster."
Nikki smiled gratefully. "Thank you." She spread the sheet over the bed and got on one end, whilst Kerri got on the other end. Slowly, they made the bed together, fixing each corner of the sheets and comforter onto the bed, making sure it wasn't mussed. Nikki got the pillows and shams from off the chair and handed them to Kerri.
"Thank you." Kerri took the pillows and flattened them before neatly fixing them on the bed. Her eyes roamed around the room to see if anything else needed tidying. She gave a nod of approval when she saw that pretty much everything out of place had been taken care of. She turned back to face her sister. "I think we've done enough and it's good to go. What do you say?"
Nikki did a quick scrutiny of the room as well. "I agree. Now let's go. Becky will be here any minute."
"Agreed." Kerri got out the sympathy card and bouquet of flowers, rested them on the bed, and then left the room with Nikki. They went to the living room area and sat in the couch to wait for their friend. Not too long after they had made themselves comfortable, there was a ‘Ding-Dong' sound, followed by a knock on the door.
Nikki lazily stretched her legs out as she was alerted to the knocking. She looked up. "Kerri? You think that's Becky now?"
Kerri looked at her watch and saw that half an hour had passed since she called Becky. "It should be. Let's go check to make sure. " She and Nikki got up and trotted to the door. They peeked outside and saw that it was indeed Becky, standing there waiting with her arms folded. Bill entered the living room and approached the girls at the same time.
"Who's that?" the security guard asked in his deep voice. He wanted to be sure it wasn't someone who wasn't allowed at the ranch. His boss had given him and the other guards strict orders not to allow the Arviso family onto the property ever again or else they would be fired.
"Don't worry, Mr. Bray, that's just my best friend Becky," Nikki assured him.
Bill's stern facial expression relaxed a bit. He always found the red-head to be an impeccably behaved young lady. "Is Mr. Jackson expecting her?"
Nikki nodded. "He said it was ok for her to come."
"All right, then." Bill went and opened the door for Becky. Nikki and Kerri stepped back so she could come in.
"Hi," Becky greeted as she entered the house, wiping her feet. She was carrying her purse and an overnight bag. Bill closed the door behind her.
"Hi," Nikki and Kerri answered at once. They took a look at their friend and noticed she was walking sluggishly. They also saw sadness in her blotchy red eyes. ‘I hope we could cheer her up,' thought Nikki.
Becky looked away from the girls, averting her eyes toward the paintings and picture frames on the walls. Although she had seen them dozens and dozens of times, she needed a distraction. With how her demeanor had changed, anyone who didn't know any better would attribute her behavior to nervousness about being at the Jackson's home for the first time. She slowly turned to face her friends. "Thank you for inviting me here," she managed to say.
"Not a problem at all," said Kerri.
Becky looked around again and frowned. There was something different she noticed, and couldn't quite pinpoint what it was before. ‘Now I know. It is unusually quiet.' She felt a tap on her shoulder, which brought her back to reality. She looked up to see Kerri giving her a worried look. "Are you all right?" the raven-haired young woman asked. "You seem lost."
Becky rubbed her abdomen a bit, trying to rid it of the discomfort that ensued from not eating anything since the previous day. It was killing her, but she didn't want the girls to worry. Plus she was sure there was food nearby which would do the trick. "It's-it's nothing," she stuttered.
"Hmm." Kerri wasn't sure whether she should believe her, but didn't want to push her into talking about what was on her mind if she didn't want to." If you're sure."
Becky nodded firmly. "Yes, I'm sure."
"Hey, maybe we should show her to her room," Nikki whispered to her sister.
Kerri glanced at Becky and then nodded in agreement. "Good idea," she whispered back.
"Come, Becky, we'll take you to the room you'll be staying in," said Nikki. "Right this way."
Becky let out a sigh before running a hand over her face. "Okay," she agreed. She followed her friends as they led her to the guestroom, dragging her feet a bit. ‘I could so use a nap right about now.'
"Here we are," said Nikki, coming to a room that was right down the hall on the left.
Becky entered the room. Instead of spending time admiring it like she usually did, she rested her overnight bag down in front of the closet door. She collapsed onto the bed and sat cross-legged, narrowly avoiding the bouquet of flowers and the card. Kerri moved them out of the way so she would have more space. "Here you go," she said, handing Becky the card and placing the flowers on her lap. "The flowers are from Dad. The card is from Nikki and me. Dad also bought you a basket. It's on the dining room table. "
Becky examined the bouquet of flowers, her eyes brightening up a bit. "Gosh, thank you! The flowers are beautiful!" She placed them aside and clutched the envelope that contained the card. She hummed as she carefully peeled open the envelope. She pulled out the card, opening it to see all the handwritten messages and signatures on it. Her jaw dropped open slightly at the amount of signatures. Not only had Kerri, Nikki, Michael and his two oldest children signed it, but there were signatures from the security guards and Grace, too. She read each note of encouragement, her eyes filling with tears at how heartfelt they were. She wiped the tears away with the back of her hand before looking up and saying, "Once again, thank you so much. You don't know how much I appreciate the kind words."
Kerri smiled slightly. She had to admit Becky looked slightly better than she did when she first arrived. The usual spark in her eyes had begun to return. ‘That's a relief. It killed me to see them looking so dead.' "Anything to show we care." She sat on the opposite side of the redhead. Nikki's legs were beginning to become tired, so she also took a seat, on Becky's other side.
Becky managed a weak smile before lowering her head a bit to look down at her hands, her red curls partially covering her face. "I know."
Nikki crossed her leg on top of her knee and looked over at her friend. She frowned slightly, sensing the change in her mood. She placed a comforting arm around the small of her back. "It's all right. Let it out if you have to."
At first, Becky didn't answer. She sighed, brushing her hair out of her face. All she wanted to do was cry, but to her surprise, the tears would not come, and she was honestly lacking the energy it required. ‘Then again, I've shed enough tears for the past day. It would be wise to save some for the funeral. I'm surprised I didn't turn into a prune.' A giggle at her joke threatened to escape. It felt good for her to be able to laugh under the circumstances. She sat upright, digging in her jeans pocket for a ponytail holder and pulled her hair back into a messy ponytail.
Kerri had sensed Becky's mood change as well, and wracked her brain for a way to distract her. "Hopefully the next time you're here to stay overnight we'll be hanging out in Nikki's and my bedroom, like always. But trust me, you wouldn't want to see it now."
"I understand, really. I am sure we will be able to make the most of being in here, no problem. "
"Good. I just want to make sure you're comfortable."
"Of course I am, don't worry." Becky stretched her arms out in front of her, and then her stomach made a loud rumbling sound.
Kerri heard it and chuckled slightly. "Sounds like someone is hungry. Do you want something to eat? We have plenty of food Natasha made, so you can't go wrong. "
Becky's face turned bright red and she looked sheepish. It always embarrassed her when her stomach growled out of nowhere. She had not planned to eat again this soon as she still didn't have an appetite, but her abdominal pain had gotten worse. It took everything she had not to twist her face in agony. ‘I'd better eat something though, or else I'll never get rid of this stomach pain. I just hope I can keep the food down.' She nodded to show she was all right with the suggestion.
Kerri got up from the bed. "Okay, come on, let's go."
"Okay." Becky rested the flowers and card on the bed and lazily stood up, stretching again.
Kerri looked over at her sister, who had not moved from her spot on the bed. "What about you, Nikki? Are you coming?" She placed a hand on her shoulder to get her attention.
"What?" Nikki questioned, looking like she was in a daze. She glanced up when she felt the hand on her shoulder. She opened her mouth to let out a yelp at being startled but relaxed when she saw it was only her sister standing over her. ‘Yeesh, I really need to stop spacing out so much.' "Yes, of course. I'm starving."
"Well, that's no surprise. You're always hungry."
Nikki looked shocked and gaped at her sister. "That's not true."
"Oh yes it is," said Kerri teasingly.
The two sisters proceeded to have a staring contest.
Becky let out a sigh. ‘Oh no, here they go again.' She tiredly rubbed her forehead. "Guys, could you please pipe down a little? I'm starting to get a headache."
Both girls broke their stare and turned to face the redhead. She was generally amused by their playful banter, unless they were doing it at an inappropriate time and place. Aside from that, her asking them to stop meant she was either not in the mood or didn't feel well. They mumbled, "Sorry" in unison.
"It's fine." Becky rubbed the bridge of her nose. "By the way, where's your dad? "
Nikki tapped her chin in thought before sluggishly standing up. "Um, least I checked, he was in the music studio. He is working on a new album. "
Becky's face lit up. "A new album? I look forward to hearing it."
"I do, too. Why do you ask where he is?"
"I wanna thank him for the flowers and basket, as well as his message on the card."
Nikki nodded. "Oh. Yes, you definitely should. Well, let's go. I feel like I'm gonna pass out from hunger." She and Becky started towards the door, looking over their shoulders to see if Kerri was coming.
Kerri rolled her eyes, resisting the urge to make a snide comment. ‘I swear, that girl is so dramatic.' She followed her sister and friend as they left the room, to the music studio. The door was cracked open. Becky lightly tapped on it.
Michael had just got done recording a portion of his new track for the upcoming number one's album. Letting out a sigh of satisfaction at the progress made thus far, he was about to head into the control room when he heard a knock on the door. "Who is it?" he asked.
"It's me, Becky. Kerri and Nikki are with me, too."
Michael smiled softly to himself, happy that Becky had arrived safely. "Come in."
"Thank you." Becky pushed the door open and walked in with Nikki and Kerri following her. She looked around shyly before her eyes finally focused on the pop star. "Hi..." She was about to call him Mr. Jackson, but remembered how insistent he was that she referred to him by his first name. "Michael." She cutely placed her hand on her forehead as if to say, Phew! ‘That was tough, but maybe it'll get easier over time.'
He smiled at her awkwardness displayed at calling him by his first name, finding it endearing. ‘She'll get used to it with time,' he reassured himself. "Hello there, Becky. How are you doing?"
"I've been better, but I am trying to cope the best way I know how."
"I understand. All you can do in this situation is take it one day at a time."
"I know. " Becky remembered the beautiful words written by him on the sympathy card. Just thinking of them made her feel choked up. ‘Whatever I do, I mustn't cry in front of Michael.' She inhaled a deep breath and let it out. "I just want to thank you for your words on the card, the flowers and basket. "
Michael gave her a warm smile before responding, "Of course. The pleasure is all mine. "
Becky could feel her heart melting. ‘He has always been so good to me, ever since I've known Kerri and Nikki. I have to find a way to repay him.' "You know something? You're like a second father to me."
"Awww, it's very sweet of you to say so." He opened his arms to her. Wasting no time at all, she stepped into his welcoming arms and he enveloped her in them into a strong hug and gave her a light peck on her forehead. Feeling extremely warm inside, she lightly wrapped her arms around his back. ‘Mmmm, he smells soo good. It's too bad he's old enough to be my dad and he's taken otherwise he would have made a great catch.'
Kerri and Nikki smiled as they watched this. It was so touching seeing their dad show his fatherly side to their friends and children all over the world. ‘Awwww,' thought Nikki as she wiped away pretend tears.
"God bless you," Michael told Becky before ending the embrace.
"Thank you. Same to you."
"Dad?" asked Nikki.
"Hmm?" Michael turned away from Becky to face his daughter.
"Kerri, Becky and I are about to go eat some of the food Natasha made for us. Are you coming?"
He hesitated for a bit. He knew he should have something, but he wasn't in the mood. "No, you girls go ahead. I'm not hungry right now."
Nikki frowned a bit as she knew he hadn't had anything since the meals he picked at on their flight home. ‘The Arviso family isn't worth having a lack of appetite over.' "Okay. Do you want me to put up some for you to have later?"
There was a rather lengthy silence. Michael wasn't sure if he would be in the mood later, either, but he knew how nurturing Nikki could be and it was hard to refuse when she was like that. "Yes, please."
"Okay. We'll see you later. " After giving Michael hugs and kisses, Nikki and Kerri left the studio with Becky, the latter turning back to mouth the words thank you so much to him.
Michael smiled as he watched the girls leave. He went into the control room to mix the recorded portion of the new single while waiting for Mariann to arrive later on. He had spoken to her awhile ago and hearing her voice helped to free his mind from the Arviso family situation. He was sure her presence would be able to calm his nerves even more. It would be a perfect ending to an otherwise trying day.
Michael was sitting on a sofa in the den with Prince and Paris snuggled against him as he read them a story. Grace was holding Blanket in her lap and feeding him while he did this. After the story was over, the pop star told his children about the different Biblical characters and he answered any questions they had in the simplest way he could. It made his heart soar that they were such enthusiastic learners at their ages.
He was answering a question Paris had about why King Saul wanted to kill David when Nikki entered the den. The young woman smiled as she watched her two younger siblings and father interact.
"Excuse me, Dad," she said, keeping her voice just above a whisper.
"Hang on a moment, okay, Tinkerbell?" he said to Paris. The little girl giggled at the nickname before solemnly nodding. "Okay."
Michael looked up at Nikki. "Hi there. Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong. I just came to tell you Mariann just got here and she's waiting for you in the living room."
His face lit up, and then he caught himself and fought to keep his expression neutral. "Okay. Thank you for telling me. "
"Would.... you mind keeping an eye on Prince and Paris for awhile?" He sounded hesitant, as if he were afraid he was messing up her plans with Becky.
The raven haired teen smiled inwardly. She always loved a chance to spend time with her younger siblings whenever she could. "Of course I will. It's no problem at all."
Michael looked relieved. "Thank you." He closed the Bible and turned to Prince and Paris, who were now sitting up straight. "I'll read more to you at bedtime. You two be good for Nikki, all right?"
"Yes, Daddy," the two children chorused. "We love you very very much!"
"Good. I love you more." He leaned over to kiss both of them on their foreheads and left the den to go to the living room.
Mariann was sitting on the couch, patiently waiting. She let out a sigh of content and smoothed out her floral skirt. She hadn't expected to hear from the King of Pop until the following week so to hear his voice earlier brightened up her day. Although she found it to be so unfortunate that he had to end the vacation on such short notice under less than pleasant circumstances, the selfish part of her was just glad she wouldn't have to wait as long. ‘What's the matter with me? I should be angry that wretched family threw a wrench in his plan, but I can't help it,' she mused, running a hand through her long chocolate colored hair. She was able to keep her mind off of missing him, but just barely. She was grateful to Jamie for letting her spend the night, otherwise she would have driven herself insane thinking of him. ‘I am especially eager to see this surprise he has for me. I'm glad he was able to shop for it.'
A bright smile crept onto her face when she saw Michael entering the living room and walking towards her. Her smile wavered a bit and turned into a slight frown when she noticed he was limping. ‘I take it his leg still hasn't completely healed. Well, at least he will be able to better tend to it.´ "Michael!" she cried out. She got up and strode towards him, throwing her arms around him."I've missed you."
He snaked his arms around her and gave her a gentle squeeze. "I missed you, too." He held her close and stroked her hair. She let out a soft sigh at the touch of his soft hands, enjoying his warmth. She looked up to gaze into his deep coffee colored eyes. He gazed back into hers.
Everything about him was intoxicating. She almost told him her hidden feelings right then and there, but she was still worried about scaring him off. She knew she had to take the chance and tell him eventually, but felt it was too soon. ‘Come on! Say something!' a voice inside Mariann's head chided her. "Well, it's a pity you and your family didn't get to enjoy the vacation. On the other hand, I am thankful that you have arrived home safely. By the way, I noticed you were limping, although I am happy to see you on your feet again. Is your leg still bothering you?"
Michael pulled away from the embrace before answering the question. "A little. But never mind that now. Come with me." Before Mariann could say anything, he offered her his hand to hold. Nodding lightly, she took his hand and on impulse intertwined her fingers with his own. Smiling, he led her out of the living room and up the stairs. She was curious about where he was taking her and was about to ask until they came to a massive bedroom that was about the size of a house. "I should have guessed, considering I have been up here several times already.' Giving her a charming smile, he led her inside his room, over to the lower bunk bed. "Have a seat," he instructed her.
Mariann did as she was told, wondering what he could possibly have brought her into his room for this time. ‘Could he have something important to tell me? Maybe he has fallen for me, too!' Despite her forty-two years, she felt like a young teenager in love again. She hugged herself and giggled softly. Reality hit her when she saw him remove a small gift bag from the bureau. He came over to her and placed the bag on the bed next to her. "Close your eyes," he told her.
"All right..." she closed her eyes, making sure they were shut tight enough so she wouldn't peep on impulse.
"Make sure you keep them closed until I say to open them again. No peeking."
Mariann let out a huff. "Si senor!"
Michael ignored her sarcastic tone and reached into the bag, pulling out the package with the pendant chain in it. He removed the chain from the package and placed it around her neck before securely latching it. Next he took out the ring box, pulled out the ring and held her left hand, sliding it on her ring finger. "Now open your eyes. "
‘Finally.' Her eyes slowly fluttered open. She felt something around her neck and looked down. She gasped when she saw the pendant necklace. She fingered it a bit and then took a look at the sapphire and diamond studded ring on her left hand. "Wow," she whispered. "These are beautiful! And they match so perfectly!"
Michael smiled. "Do you like them?"
"Yes, I do. Thank you so much!" She stood up to hug Michael.
He hugged her back, chuckling. "You're welcome, although you should be thanking Nikki. She picked them out."
Mariann raised an eyebrow. "Is that right? Well she certainly knows my favorites."
"That she does. The sapphire ring is a promise ring. It's my promise to you that no matter where fate leads us, we will remain friends."
"I would like that." She looked serious. ‘Oh Michael, if you only knew. I feel for you as more than a friend.'