Nikki slept peacefully in her bed, dreaming a blissful dream about her ideal soulmate. She stirred a bit and turned from where she was sleeping face down, onto her left side. Just as her dream was about to end, she felt droplets of cold water dripping on her face. ‘That's funny...it can't rain in here.'
Another water droplet fell onto the younger sister's angelic face. This one startled her so much that on impulse, she sat up screaming and nearly rolled out of bed. Standing over her was Kerri dressed in a bathrobe, with a towel wrapped around her head, giving her a funny look. "I see the sleepy-head is finally awake."
Nikki gave her older sister a look of mock annoyance. She hated having her beauty sleep disturbed. "So it was you who dripped water all over my face," she said, half yawning. She took her pillow and heaved it at Kerri, who looked shocked at such an action. "That's for nearly giving me a heart attack."
Kerri caught the pillow as it hit her in the chest. "You left me with no choice. I had tried to wake you up earlier, but you wouldn't wake up, so I decided to let you sleep until after I got out of the shower. It was the only way to wake up a heavy sleeper like you, and you have to remember, oversleeping is not a luxury you can afford today. We have a flight to catch in a few hours. "
"Oh! That's right!" Nikki glanced at her clock. It was six thirty. ‘Whoops, I nearly overslept.' Some of the annoyance she was feeling towards her sister faded, since she had saved her from waking up so late that she held everyone back. She kicked herself for forgetting to set her alarm clock to wake her up at six o'clock that morning, like she had meant to. ‘Oh well...I won't be making that mistake again.' There was no way she would allow her sister to scare her half to death again. ‘Perhaps taking a shower will wake me up...then again, I could always sleep on the plane...after all, the flight is well over five hours.' She rubbed the remainder of sleep out of her eyes, climbed out of bed, grabbed her robe and went into the bathroom.
Kerri was about to unwrap the towel from around her head so she could blow dry her hair when Paris entered the bedroom. "Good morning, Kerri," she said with a bright smile on her face.
Kerri smiled at how pretty the little girl looked in her silky blue dress, as well as how well-mannered she was. "Good morning, sweetie. How are you?"
"I'm fine, thank you." Paris got an earnest look on her face."I was wondering, could you help me?"
Such an innocent look made Kerri's heart melt. "Sure. What do you need?"
"Could you button up my dress for me?"
"Thank you." Paris turned around, and Kerri proceeded to button up her dress. She also noticed the ribbon in the little girl's hair was loosening, so she retied the bow. Paris held still as she did this.
"All right. There you go, darling."
"Thank you so much!" Paris threw her arms around the young woman's waist. "I love you, Kerri."
‘Aww.' Kerri smiled at how her younger adopted sister knew how to make people feel as if they were special. "I love you more, honey bun." She squeezed the little girl like a teddy bear.
Paris squeezed back. "I love you most," she answered.
Kerri playfully batted at the girl's ponytail. "No, I love you most."
Giggling, Paris skipped out of the bedroom, her ponytail swishing behind her.
‘That didn't take too long. Still, I have to hurry.' Kerri shut the door and removed the towel from around her head. She got a wide tooth comb and proceeded to comb all the tangles out of her hair, then reached for her blow drier, plugged it in and blew dry her hair. Once her hair was completely dry, she threw on a pair of jeans, a tank top and a jacket. She wound her hair around and pulled it back with a clip made of teeth. The style was very rare for her, but she felt like it. She hid her new guitar in a safe place where the Arviso children would not think of searching for it, just in case they decided to come to the ranch while the family was gone. After some last minute packing and double-checking to make sure she had everything she needed, she grabbed her purse, got her suitcase and overnight bag and put them in the living room, then went to see if Michael needed help getting ready. She had gone earlier, when she first woke up, but she noticed he was up and already in the shower. How he managed to do that on his own was beyond her, and she thought he probably could use her help right about now since he still couldn't get around much.
Michael limped over to the closet to retrieve his outfit that was hanging on the door. It wasn't quite as painful to do as before, but he could still barely walk on the leg, so his gait was very stiff. He hoped it wouldn't put too much of a damper on the trip and wondered if travelling was such a good idea after all, given the fact that he still had yet to be able to walk normally again. But his personal physician had told him he was well enough to travel and gave him a week worth supply of the antibiotic he had been using to treat the wounds. ‘I was hoping I wouldn't have to use any pain medication, but I have a feeling I may have to.' Considering all the stress he had been under during the past several weeks, this would be a well-deserved vacation...he hoped so, anyway.
The pop star was about to start getting dressed when all of a sudden, the phone started ringing. He rested the outfit down and hobbled over to his nightstand, picking up the phone. "Hello?" he answered. He hoped it wasn't Raymone calling to tell him about more garbage the tabloids wrote about him, for he had just done an interview to set the record straight the previous evening.
"Hi Michael, this is Mariann," said the voice on the other line.
Michael looked relieved. He was always happy to hear from the woman. "Hi! How are you?"
"I'm doing well...how about you?"
"Better, but I'm still hurting, and I am worried about how I am going to get around on this trip," admitted the singer. "I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn't take painkillers for the spider bites. "
‘Poor Michael. I wish I could have gone with him.' The middle aged woman found it extremely sad that Michael couldn't have his pain treated without being labeled as an addict. "I understand. However, if the pain is that severe, do what you must. Just be sure the medication isn't too strong, that's all."
‘She is right. I have to do what is best for me and not worry about what other people think. Perhaps Tylenol, Aleve or Advil will do.' "Thank you."
"You are very welcome," answered Mariann. "What are friends for?"
The last question brought a smile to Michael's face. He had to admit, the woman had proven to be a genuine friend over the course of the past three weeks they had known each other. Although he never had any doubts about her, after all the betrayals he faced in the past, one could never be too cautious. Especially considering that most of the traitors claimed they had thought of him as a friend.
"Anyway, I'm calling to wish you bon voyage since I won't be able to come and see you off at the airport," continued Mariann. She then got emotional. "Oh Michael, I'm going to miss you soo much." Quite frankly, it was such a bummer not being able to hug or kiss him goodbye when he would be gone for a whole week. ‘Oh I wish I could feel his warm embrace before he leaves.'
"Awww, I will miss you, too. But I will be back before you know it." Michael sincerely wished Mariann was able to come along and hoped she would be able to next time. "I will bring you back a present."
"It's all right. You don't have to do that." It wasn't that Mariann didn't think it was a nice gesture. She did appreciate the generosity, very much. It was just that although she had profound feelings for the musician, she didn't want him to think he was obligated to lavish her with gifts.
"Oh, but I want to. You have been kind and supportive towards me ever since we've met. Give me a chance to repay you."
‘Oh dear...open mouth, insert foot.' Having heard the slight hurt in Michael's voice, the middle-aged woman felt guilty about objecting. She had heard about how stubborn he could be about things, especially when certain people refused his generosity because they thought accepting it would make them a nuisance to him. And his reason for doing it did make sense. "Well, if you insist."
"I do." The pop king looked pleased with himself for managing to convince his female companion to let him do something nice for her. "Is there anything in particular you like?"
"Hmm...let's see." Mariann wasn't fussy about which gifts she received, as she was raised to believe "It's the thought that counts", but she did have a couple of weaknesses. "I love jewelry. Any type of jewelry will do. And my favorite perfume is Eau de Parfum."
"All right." Michael made a mental note of her favorites. He could tell she wasn't hard to shop for, and he liked that. He wasn't much for people having an inflated sense of entitlement. Plus, he had an idea of what pieces of jewelry to get her. "Well, I had better get going now. Take care of yourself while I'm gone. I will see you when I return."
"You too. Have a wonderful time. I love you."
"I love you more."
Mariann could feel a lump in her throat. Saying goodbye was harder than she thought it would be. ‘It's a good thing the conversation is about to end.' "Goodbye."
"Goodbye." Michael wasn't sure how much time had gone by but he was glad he ended the call when he did as time was running out. He wondered how his children's progress was so far. He got dressed as quickly as he could, which was still relatively slow under the circumstances. Just as he was putting on the jacket, he heard a knock on his door.
"Dad? It's me, Kerri. May I come in?"
"Just a moment." Walking stiffly, Michael went and opened the door for his oldest adopted daughter. He was relieved to see that she looked all ready to go.
Kerri entered the massive bedroom, threw her arms around the singer and kissed him on the cheek. "Good morning, Dad."
"Good morning, Kerri," answered Michael, smiling and giving her a hug and kiss as well. "Have you slept well?"
"Yes, very much so." Kerri saw the pain on the singer's face as she knew he still couldn't put very much pressure on his leg. She helped him over to the bed below his own so he could sit down. He gingerly sat on the bed. "How are you? Do you think you will make it through the flight all right?"
"I am sure I will. However, after the flight is another story."Michael held back a wince as a spasm of pain shot through his leg.
‘I was kind of wondering about that, too.' "How is your leg today?" the raven haired young woman asked, retrieving the loafers for the singer.
"A bit better, but it still hurts," responded the pop star. He slipped on the shoes. The swelling had finally gone down enough for him to wear them on both feet. "It looks like I will have to use pain meds to deal with it, even though I had made a promise to myself that I wouldn't." He felt guilty about going back on his word, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
Kerri noted the guilty look on her adopted father's face. She hoped he didn't feel guilty because of what the media always said about him. "Well you wouldn't be doing anything wrong. You fought the pain much longer than I would have."
"You're right." Michael decided it didn't matter what the media thought of his use of pain medication and felt like an idiot for caring what they thought in the first place. After all, no one would understand unless they knew what his pain felt like. "I appreciate the help you and Nikki have been giving me."
"Oh, the pleasure is all mine." ‘Now that he has mentioned Nikki, I wonder if she is out of the shower yet. There's not much time left before we have to get going.'
Meanwhile, Nikki was out of the shower and dressed. She raced around the room, making sure she had packed everything she needed. She could be such a forgetful person at times, especially when she was in a hurry.
All of a sudden, Nikki's mobile phone started ringing. ‘Oh, why now? At this rate I'm gonna get left behind.' The thing was, although she was able to hear it and saw the cord for its charger, she didn't see the actual phone. She looked on the nightstand where she had remembered resting it the night before. It was not there. ‘That's funny...I thought I put it here last night...don't tell me someone stole it or there's a ghost in here.' The phone was still ringing, but she wasn't sure how long it would. She really didn't want to make a mess of the nightstand as she had just cleaned it up the evening before.
‘Darn it, where's that stupid phone?' Nikki turned on the lamp and peeked behind the nightstand, thinking the phone only could have fallen behind it, though she couldn't imagine how it got there since she didn't recall knocking it over. Luckily, she spotted it, still attached to the charger. She pulled the cord of the charger from behind the nightstand and removed the mobile device. ‘Gee, considering how many times this phone has been dropped I am surprised it isn't ruined yet.' By then the phone had stopped ringing, but she didn't mind. She was just glad she found it and knew she could always call the person back. She checked the number of the missed caller. It was Rebecca's number.
‘I wonder what's up with Becky,' thought Nikki as she redialed the number. She hoped whatever it was that her best friend wanted, the conversation wouldn't be too long as she still had to do some last minute packing and she also wanted to see if Michael needed help with anything.
Rebecca picked up right away. "Hello, this is Rebecca speaking."
"Hey Becky, this is Nikki. You just called me, right?"
"Yup. When you hadn't answered, I assumed you guys had already left."
"Oh no, not just yet. It's just that I didn't see my phone at first, only to discover it fell behind the nightstand."
"Oh." Rebecca sounded relieved. "Well, good that you found it."
"Yeah, I'm glad, too. However, it won't be too long before we do have to leave and I still have some things to do until then, so I can't talk long."
"Okay. Well, I only want to tell you I'm coming to the airport to see you guys off."
"Oh, you don't have to do that. I would hate to inconvenience you."
Rebecca sighed. She hated it when her friend acted as if doing things for her was trouble. "Are you kidding? We won't see each other for a whole week!" A part of her wished she was the one going to Florida.
Nikki considered this. "You do have a point." She could tell her friend was pretty intent on coming, despite her objections. "Well, if you insist, we're leaving in another hour, so meet us at the airport then. "
"All right. Sounds good. See you then."
"Okay. Later." Nikki hung up and placed the phone on her bed. ‘Have to remember to put that and the charger in my purse. Now where was I?' She looked on the dresser to see if there was anything she had neglected to pack. She grabbed her sunscreen lotion (in case they went to Disney World and it was hot during that time), compact mirror, make-up kit, a bottle of perfume, slipped them into her pouch and placed it into her overnight bag. She saw that her bathrobe was still on the bed. ‘What? I thought I had packed the robe already...my brain must be all over the place today...really need to get it together.' Grabbing the bathrobe, she rolled it up and stuffed it in her open suitcase, then zipped it closed. ‘I'd better check the bathroom and make sure I didn't leave anything in there by mistake.' Considering how distracted the young lady was that day, she decided she probably did. She went inside and checked. Surprisingly, there was nothing important left behind. She was pleased to see that she remembered something. ‘This reminds me. I had better pack the cell phone and charger while I still remember.' She grabbed the cell phone and charger and slipped them into her purse. ‘There. All set.' She gave a satisfied sigh, grabbed her purse, took her luggage and laptop case to the living room, placing it near Kerri's luggage and the children's , then headed for Michael's bedroom.
Michael was sitting on a chair whilst Kerri packed certain little knick-knacks for him. He smiled as he watched her help him. He was especially appreciative of the fact that she did it without complaining. Even so, he couldn't wait until he was able to walk normally again because he felt a little like a burden, and he didn't like that.
Just then, Nikki entered the massive bedroom. Kerri had gotten Michael's pain pills for him and was about to put them in his pouch when she noticed her sister come in. She gave the younger teen an amused look. "Well, well, well, look who's finally ready."
"Ha ha, very funny." Nikki walked over to where the pop singer was sitting, leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. "Good morning, Dad."
"Good morning, Nikki," answered Michael, cautiously standing up long enough to give his younger adopted daughter a quick hug.
Kerri put the bottle of Ibuprofen in the pouch and all of a sudden, she heard crying nearby.
Michael and Nikki heard the crying as well. "It's Blanket," stated Nikki. She knew Michael usually would be the first one to check up on him even when in quite a bit of pain, but she didn't want him to be on his leg more than he had to, and she didn't want to leave his side. So she was relieved when Kerri said, "I'll go check on him."
"All right. I'll finish off the packing for Dad," offered Nikki.
"Thank you. I owe you one." Kerri left the bedroom.
Nikki stood next to Michael and rested one of her hands on his left shoulder. "How are you feeling today?"
Michael gave a sigh as he answered, "I have felt better."
"Oooh..." Nikki bent over and gave the superstar another hug. It always upset her whenever he was ill or in pain, which he had been for the past four weeks. "You'll be all well soon."
"I hope so. I am hoping the pain medication makes a difference."
‘So he finally decided he would take some medication for the pain...very good.' Nikki tried not to show how happy she was to hear that Michael was finally going to do something for the pain...she had thoughts about advising him to take the meds as it would be the only way he would be able to endure the trip...now she didn't have to. "I'm sure it will." She looked around the room, noticing her sister had done quite a bit of the packing for him already. "Do you need me to get anything for you?"
"Yes, please." Michael rattled off a list of other things he needed: his hat, sunglasses, silk mask, cane, wallet, umbrella, the passports, and his wheelchair.
"Got it." Nikki got the items Michael requested. She packed the passports, handed him the silk mask, cane, sunglasses, hat and wallet and rested the umbrella on the ground, leaning it against the head of the bed. She wheeled the still folded wheelchair next to the bed.
"Thank you." Michael stuck the wallet in his jeans pocket, put the mask, sunglasses and hat on, and held the cane in his lap.
"You're most welcome." Nikki glanced at her watch. It was nearly time to get going. "I think we should go see if the children are ready," she said, packing the pouch inside the duffle bag and zipping it.
"Yes. We should leave soon if we are to remain on schedule. " Although the flight would not be leaving for another two hours, Michael wanted to get an early start, and his adopted daughters did not blame him.
"I told Rebecca to meet us at the airport. She insisted on coming to see us off," Nikki told the singer, rolling the wheelchair away from the bed and unfolding it.
"Oh really?" Inwardly Michael was smiling. He didn't know too many people who would bend over backwards to be kind to him. "How very sweet of her." He felt he had to repay her somehow...he couldn't allow her good deeds to go unrewarded. ‘I think I know how I can.'
"Yes," agreed the ebony-haired young woman. She wasn't going to tell him about how she was trying to discourage Becky from coming. She didn't think he would be too happy with her for that.
"Maybe she can accompany us during our next family vacation," said Michael.
"Oh, I'd like that. I am sure she would love to as well." Nikki recalled the hint of jealousy her friend had shown when she told her about the trip. ‘I can't wait to see the look on her face when I tell her this.' "Let's get going now, shall we?" She helped Michael out of the chair he was sitting in and held his hand as he used his cane to limp over to the wheelchair and sat. His limping had still been very noticeable, which Nikki found hard to watch. ‘He can't keep going on like this.' She retrieved the umbrella and placed it in his lap along with the cane, then pushed the chair out of the large bedroom. She wheeled Michael past his children's rooms. Their rooms were spotless, but there was not a trace of them inside. ‘Hmm. Maybe they're watching cartoons or something.' She pushed the wheelchair down the hall, towards the TV room and took a peek inside. They were not there either.
‘Hmm...strange.' Nikki pondered where Paris and Prince would be, seeing that they were not in their rooms or watching any TV. She knew Blanket was with Kerri, so she wasn't worried about him. If she didn't know any better, she would have thought Prince and Paris were playing hide and seek as a joke, but she knew they would not do such a thing on that day. ‘There's only one more possible place they could be.' Although Michael was silent, she was sure he was at least mildly concerned, and he had every right to be. The ranch was so large, it could take practically all day to look for someone, and there wasn't that much time to waste. She didn't want him to be too worried, so she said, "I know. Let's check the den. Something tells me they may be in there playing while they wait for us."
"It is possible."
"Oh I am sure of it." Nikki wheeled Michael away from the TV room, towards the den. As she was pushing the chair close to the den so she could check and see if anyone was there, she heard talking, as well as some giggling, which indeed sounded like Prince and Paris. ‘I knew it. I just hope they're ready.' She knew there was only one way to find out. She peeked inside the den and spotted Kerri sitting on one of the sofas holding Blanket in her lap. Prince and Paris were sitting on the floor besides Blanket's stroller, looking at a book together. Nikki set the brake on Michael's wheelchair and carefully pushed it over the step, inside the den. There was a space big enough for the chair on the right side of Blanket's stroller, so that was where she rolled the chair over to.
Michael felt a sense of relief when he saw his children. He turned his head slightly and told Nikki, "It seems you are right."
"Yes. I'll go get your luggage for you. I'll be right back." She exited the den. She thought this would also give him and his children a chance to bond with each other.
Paris and Prince looked up from where they were reading and saw that their father sitting in the wheelchair. Prince folded the tip of the page, and he and his sister got up off the floor. "Daddy!" They ran over to Michael, hugged him around his ankles and knelt down, lightly pressing against his knees. He patted them on their heads a few times, then leaned over and kissed their foreheads. He truly regretted he wasn't able to show them his affection standing up, but at this point his leg was really hurting, so he was resting it. Although he hadn't gone into details when explaining his condition to his children, they eventually picked up on the fact that something was wrong and learned to cope with it. Although he thought they were doing a good job, he was sure there were times they felt sad.
"We love you very much!" Prince and Paris chorused.
"I love you more," said Michael, smiling. Just as he said that, Nikki re-entered the den.
Prince and Paris noticed Nikki had come in. They got back on their feet and ran over to the eighteen year old, throwing their arms around her waist. "Hi big sister!"
"Hi!" Nikki gave both of her younger adopted siblings a gentle squeeze. "Are you ready for a fun trip?" she asked them.
Nikki held the two youngsters away from her and took a good look at them. They definitely appeared to be ready. "Well, don't you two look great today."
"Thank you." Prince pretended to look shy, as if to hide how much he liked being told he looked good.
Nikki good-naturedly ruffled Prince's hair and played with Paris' ponytail. Both of them giggled.
Kerri started to play Pat-A-Cake with Blanket. It was his favorite game. He was all smiles the entire time, which she liked to see. When she was done, he looked at her with big brown eyes. "See? Daddy's here," she cooed to the toddler.
"Dadda," repeated Blanket.
Just then, Bill entered the den. He and two other bodyguards, Grace, the personal assistant as well as an entourage of security guards were also coming along. "Excuse me, Mr. Jackson, would you like me to start loading up the car now?"
"Yes. Please do."
"You got it. By the way, I put the list of things you left for the employees who are staying behind to do on the refrigerator, just as you requested."
"Thank you." Michael had a very bad feeling that something would happen while he and his family were away, so he felt better having the door to his room locked, and something told him to change the codes on his rides, too. He also trusted the employees to notify him if the Arviso family acted out of line, should they come to the ranch whilst he was out of town.