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Author's Chapter Notes:
Alyssa's family begins to have their suspicions. Nick gives Alyssa an unexpected Christmas gift.
Chapter 34

   The first coherent thought that crossed across Alyssa's mind the next morning was something along the lines of, What the hell is poking me in the back? and Damn... My bed is definitely much more uncomfortable than I remember it being. With a groan her eyes fluttered open, and as she took in her surroundings it all made sense. She was not in her own bed in her old bedroom, but sprawled out on the lumpy sofa bed in the living room. And curled up beside her was Nick.

   She was relieved to find that at least this time they were both fully clothed. Lately you never could tell between the two of them. Still, she hadn't remembered falling asleep there. Last she remembered was the two of them curled up with a few beers and a Christmas cartoon marathon on Cartoon Network, while the rest of her family was at church. I must have dozed off somewhere in the middle of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, she realized, since that was the last thing she could remember. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of pots and pans being shuffled around coming from the kitchen. Her mother was probably starting to cook Christmas breakfast. That's when Alyssa came to a deeper realization.

   Oh, shit. Nick and I fell asleep together on the living room sofa bed. Everyone must've seen us when they returned home last night. That probably looked just a tad bit suspicious. The reality of it all was that it had actually been pretty innocent, but then why did she feel as if she was a high schooler who had fallen asleep at her boyfriend's house?

   With a sigh, she swung her legs over the side of the sofa bed and stood up. She wasn't looking forward to entering that kitchen and having to deal with the inquisition that was surely about to come from her mother. She didn't have to wait long before Patricia spotted her. "Oh, good you're up," she remarked in an undeterminable tone. She thrust a carton of eggs and a frying pan towards her. "Start scrambling."

   "Merry Christmas to you too," Alyssa mumbled, as she got herself settled at the stove and started the eggs.

   Patricia sighed. "I'm sorry. Merry Christmas. It's just that everyone's going to be waking up soon and expecting breakfast on the table."

   Alyssa just ignored her mother and went on working. She was not usually a very good morning person anyway, so she preferred it better if they didn't talk. Besides, the less they talked the less opportunity there was for her mother to pry about the compromising position she and Nick were spotted in. Instead, she let her mind drift back to the kiss they had shared last night on the patio after dinner. Talk about unexpected. It had seemingly came out of nowhere. What was most shocking about the kiss though was not that it had actually happened. During the last few months Alyssa found that she and Nick had shared a lot of unexpected kisses. This time though, it was more than just a passionate moment. This time she could've sworn there was something different although she couldn't quite put her finger on exactly what it was. It had seemed deeper; more genuine, more real. One of those cliched, "knees go weak" type kisses. Does this mean that there is potential for something more between us? she wondered. Is this what Carrie Bradshaw meant when she came up with the phrase zsa zsa zsu?

      "You missed a beautiful mass last night," her mother's voice, interrupted her thoughts. "Such a shame that you decided to stay home."

   Alyssa inwardly groaned. Thanks a lot, Mom. Way to bring up a topic I DON'T want to talk about. She just shrugged her shoulders in response. Honestly, she had a better time staying at home with Nick anyway. She'd been up front with her mother and explained quite simply that because Nick was not Catholic he really didn't feel comfortable attending mass with the family and that she was going to stay behind with him. She thought her mother had taken the news quite well, but now she was beginning to have doubts.

   "You and Nick looked like you had fun," she continued with raised eyebrows. "What did you two do?"

   We had a drunken orgy on the living room sofa bed. Alyssa had to bite her lip in order not to blurt out the sarcastic response. "Not much. We just watched some TV and then we must've fallen asleep."

   "If you don't mind me asking, what exactly is going on between the two of you?"

   There it was. The million dollar question. Now, how exactly do I answer this? Do I play dumb or do I tell the truth? "Nothing. We're just friends," she vaguely replied.

   "Oh. And do 'friends' often just fall asleep curled up next to each other?" her mother doubtfully asked.

   "Mom..." Alyssa groaned, rolling her eyes. "It's totally not what you're thinking. We were watching television and we got tired. We stretched out to relax and we must've fallen asleep. That's all there is to it. I didn't know that I had to explain myself to you when I don't even live here anymore."

   Patricia's eyes seemed to soften. "I'm just curious Alyssa. It just seems rather odd that you and Nick go from not talking at all, to him now coming home with you for Christmas? You were awfully close at one time. And you did seem like you two were cuddled up pretty close on that couch when we walked in. Gave us all a bit of a shock."

   Her mother's nagging was beginning to push Alyssa to her boiling point. What business of hers was her and Nick's relationship anyway? "Look, Mom. Nick and I are friends. That's it. Nothing more. And if you are that pissed about finding us on the couch together and you want to make a big issue of all of this Nick and I can easily pack our bags and head right back to the city."

   Judging from the way that her mother's face seemed to crumble after her outburst, Alyssa immediately felt bad. Her mother was being nosy, yes, but that was no reason for her to threaten to storm back to New York City. Besides almost everything she had just said had been a lie. She herself was just as clueless as to what was going on between the two of them. Alyssa sighed. "Mom, I'm sorry. I didn't really mean that. It's just that a lot of people are just assuming that because Nick and I once dated, that we're dating again and we're not. I didn't mean to jump down your throat." There. A half lie was better than a full one.

   "I'm just looking out for you Alyssa. I don't want to see you hurt," Patricia explained.

   "I know Mom, but I'm 25 years old. I can take care of myself. Please let's just change the subject. I don't want to spend my Christmas fighting with you."

   "What's going on?" a sleepy voice interrupted.

   Alyssa spun around and saw Stephanie's disheveled figure before them, looking concerned. "Nothing," both she and her mother quickly responded at the same time.

   "Uhmm... Okay," Stephanie responded, looking a little lost.

   It was obvious that Stephanie sensed that there was more going on than what met the eye, but neither Alyssa or her mother wanted to dish up the details of the fight. There was a tense moment until Patricia broke it. "Steph, why don't you start setting the table."

   "Do I have to?" she whined, but grudgingly got to work. A few minutes later, the confrontation seemed almost completely forgotten.

   Half an hour later, the table was set and breakfast was finally ready. Everyone else had woken up at that point, except Nick. Alyssa could tell by the anxious looks on everyone else's faces that they were all starving. "I'll go wake Nick up, so we can eat," she offered.

Disappearing into the living room, she paused for a moment as she watched him sleep for a moment. She could only imagine how tired he must be. He'd been touring practically non stop for the past few months, in several different countries. Then he'd been back and forth between New York, LA, and now back to New York within less than two weeks. I dunno how he does it, she realized. If I were him I'd probably just collapse out of exhaustion.

He looked so peaceful that Alyssa almost felt guilty about having to wake him, but she had to do what she had to do. With all her might, she sprang forward and pounced onto the sofa bed, landing right on top of him. "Merry Christmas Nick! Time to wake up for breakfast!"

Nick seemed to jump a mile. "Alyssa? What the fuck?" he groaned. "What time is it?"

"Time for breakfast. And if I were you I'd get my ass in motion because my family is getting very hungry. My Mom doesn't make breakfast very often, so if you wait any longer they may just decide to start without you and eat everything," she replied, a little to cheerfully.

"Ugh... Just tell me one thing. Do I have to get dressed up for breakfast too?"

Alyssa laughed. Even half asleep Nick had a great sense of humor. "That won't be necessary. Breakfast is a casual event. Sweats are perfectly acceptable, in fact they might even be considered 'dressy' since mostly everyone is still in their pajamas. And no... We don't have to say grace this time either," she assured him.

Nick looked relieved. "Thank God... No pun intended." He yawned and leaned up on his elbows. "Is that pancakes I smell?"

His question fell to deaf ears. At that moment, Alyssa finally seemed to realize the intimacy of the moment. Their playful banter, her position on top of him, the way their lips seemed to hover only inches apart... It felt so incredibly comfortable to her and somehow she sensed that if someone else were to walk in the room she'd have a lot of explaining to do.

"Alyssa? Earth to Alyssa?" Nick's voice interrupted her thoughts. "Uhmm... You're going to have to move a little if yo want me to get up because you kind of have me pinned down here."

"Oh right." She could already feel her cheeks starting to flame in embarrassment as she rolled off of him. "Sorry about that. I guess I just sort of zoned out there for a minute."

"Are you feeling all right?" he asked, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"Yea, I'm fine," she assured him as she stood up. "And I can definitely smell my Mom's pancakes, so we better get in there before there's nothing left." Before Nick even had a chance to reply, she was heading off into the kitchen.

Weird... Nick noted to himself. It wasn't like Alyssa to run hot and cold like that. If he wasn't so tempted by the promise of a homecooked breakfast, he might have gave the matter more thought, but instead he got up and followed her.

As promised, Alyssa's mother's pancakes were just as delicious as Alyssa had described them. Of course, it didn't take much to impress Nick. His idea of breakfast usually consisted of a cup of coffee and an Egg McMuffin. Very rarely did he get the chance to enjoy anything more than that, and certainly never anything homemade. It's too bad Alyssa never inherited her mother's cooking gene, he decided.

Once breakfast was finished, it was time to finally open Christmas gifts. After everyone piled into the living room, Alyssa's father started to distribute the presents. Nick sat restlessly on the couch next to Alyssa, hoping that Alyssa's family would be impressed by the gifts he had bought them. Not that he had spent an insane amount of money on them, but he had wanted to show them that he was grateful for letting him spend the holiday with them. He'd dragged Melanie out for last minute Christmas shopping, being as he really needed a female's perspective. With her help, he'd picked out matching silver and turquoise bracelets for Alyssa's two sisters and a cashmere sweater for her mother. He'd had problems finding something for Alyssa's father (because he knew that the man didn't exactly like him) and Scott (because he had never meant the guy). Melanie had suggested something pretty standard for Scott like a nice leather wallet, so that's what Nick had bought. But for Alyssa's father he was at a loss... That was until he remembered the fact that Alyssa had mentioned her father was a huge Yankees fan. He wound up getting him an A-Rod jersey, hoping for the best.

Then there had been the matter of what to get Alyssa. He didn't want to spend a lot of money on her either, because it wasn't like they were dating anymore. Besides, it would look a little suspicious in front of her family. But, she'd been such an important part of his life in the last few months that he felt she warranted something special. The old Nick would've picked out some piece of fancy jewelry for her, but he'd learned the hard way that dropping 40 grand on a necklace didn't exactly ensure a steady relationship. Or he would pull some strings and surprise her with the newest Louis Vuitton purse. Somehow he got the feeling that this time around, extravagant gifts would not work on Alyssa. So, he'd settled on something simpler, but hopefully more meaningful.

Alyssa's family seemed to enjoy their gifts much to Nick's relief. He was also pleasantly surprised to see that Alyssa's parents had attempted to pick him up a few gifts, although Alyssa's mother had confessed that she wasn't exactly sure what to buy him, since he seemed to have everything. She'd finally settled on a sweater, an itunes gift card, and a Simon gift card, so that he could get something he'd like.

From Alyssa he'd received cologne, which surprised him a bit. Cologne was such a typical "boyfriend" gift, not that he was disappointed. Perhaps, she had had the same problems in deciding something to get him for Christmas. He must've looked confused because she immediately began to ramble. "I wasn't sure what to get you and I figured, hey cologne always works. And besides I seriously think that you're probably using the same bottle of Cool Water that you had back when we were dating, and I like Armani Code a lot better. If you don't like it we can return it or something."

"I'm sure I'll love it," he assured her. "You always smell good, so I trust your nose. Guess I should give you your gifts now, huh?" He had purposely been holding them off to the side to give them to her after she had opened everything else.

"That would be nice," Alyssa replied, curious as to what he had gotten for her. She could tell by the way that the rest of her family seemed to sit up a little straighter that they were curious as well.

The first package Nick handed her was a long rectangular package that looked as if it were the shape of a necklace box. He wouldn't get me something like an expensive piece of jewelry, would he? she wondered as she tore open the package. Sure enough the box in her hands appeared to be the same type of box that you would put a necklace or pendent in. Her eyes looked up to meet his. "You didn't..."

Nick grinned, amused by the way that he had thrown her off. "Just open it."

Very carefully, as if she was scared to see what was inside, she removed the cover from the box. Surprisingly there wasn't any jewelry in the box at all, but two pieces of paper that appeared to be tickets of some sort. Flipping them over, a smile spread out over her face. "Two tickets to see the Radio City Christmas Spectacular tomorrow night?"

"Uh huh... Unfortunately, it probably won't be the same after Christmas, but it'll have to do. I remember you saying that even though you've lived n New York all your life, you've never went to see the Christmas show and you've always wanted to," he explained.

Alyssa nodded. "I've always wanted to go, but some people," she paused to glare at her parents, "aren't city people and didn't want to take me, so I was a deprived child. Not like my dreams weren't crushed enough when I found out that I was too short to become a Rockette."

"There's a height limit to become a Rockette?" Nick asked. "No way!"

"Yepp. You have to be like at least 5'4 I think. I felt very discriminated against when I heard that," she confessed. "So, you mentioned the word gifts and I only got one, so is there more?" She craned her neck to try to look around Nick to see if there was anything else for her.

"Didn't anyone tell you that Christmas is supposed to be about giving and being with your loved ones, not about receiving presents?" he playfully joked. "Besides I don't even know if you'd consider this one a gift exactly."

"I'll be the judge of that," she informed him. "So what is this mysterious 'non' gift of mine?"

Nick handed her a flat looking envelope. "Here it is." Was it just her or did he look a little nervous? What could possibly in an envelope that could cause this much fuss? The only things she could think of that came in envelopes was usually money and gift cards.

She wasted no time in opening it up and inside she found a ticket of a different sort. Pulling it out, her face immediately looked puzzled. "Continental Airlines flight 3152 from New York to LA?" she read.

Nick looked a little embarrassed. "It's round trip tickets to come back out to LA with me for a few days. I thought that maybe you'd like to spend the New Year out there. And since you're last trip to California wasn't the greatest, I wanted to make it up to you," he explained.

"Spend New Years out in LA? With you?" she repeated, sounding a little shocked. She was definitely not expecting this! Her eyes scanned over the tickets again. According to them, they'd be flying out the day after tomorrow and then Alyssa would fly back to New York on Jan 2nd.

"Yea... I thought it would be fun. And I have plenty of room at my place for you to stay. I figured it would be our last time that we have to hang out for a while until I head off to Asia and Australia to wrap up the tour. "

Wow... This was a lot to digest all at once. As of lately, all her encounters with Nick had been on her own turf. The idea of going out to LA with him seemed scary. And what exactly was he expecting? She knew that staying with him at his home in LA would be awkward, not only because of their unique friendship, but also because it would almost be like they were living together again. Still, she couldn't exactly turn him down either. It would be really rude and bitchy and besides she'd always wanted to visit LA.

"Thanks Nick," she told him, as she reached out to hug him. "Thank you for both gifts. I can't wait. I probably could use a vacation."

"So you'll come?" he asked, his eyes lighting up in the most adorable way.

How can I say no to that? she tried to justify to herself. She glanced back over at her parents sensing that they weren't too thrilled with the invitation. Her Dad especially put a lot of emphasis on the family ringing in the New Year together. If she went out to LA, she wouldn't even be in their time zone.

It sounded pretty good to her actually. Her mind was made up. "Of course I will," she told him.

Now, she only had to have a talk with him later about exactly what this little trip meant. Was it just one friend visiting another? Or was it something more?

She just needed to wait for the right opportunity. Which she had a feeling wouldn't be until much later tonight...