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Author's Chapter Notes:

Nick offers to have Alyssa over for Christmas.


Chapter 39 - I Won't be Home for Christmas


            It always seemed to Alyssa that the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas seemed to fly by especially fast. She remembered being a young child impatiently looking forward to Santa bringing her presents. Back then the weeks leading up to Christmas seemed like months to her. Now as an adult, when she had a house to decorate and a lot more Christmas gifts to be responsible for, time seemed to travel by in a flash. This year was going to be especially rough for her. Not only was Sean over in Iraq, but she'd just found out that her family hadn't been able to book a flight into LAX to make it out for Christmas. Something about the flights already being overbooked for the holidays. Alyssa had offered to see if she could get a flight into New York, since it probably would be easier for her to secure a single ticket, but they'd been insistent that she stay in California and spend the holidays with her friends instead. They didn't want her to take any chances on an overcrowded, cross country flight.


            Alyssa knew that she'd be welcome at almost any of her friend's holiday gatherings. Callie had already offered her to spend Christmas at her house with her Mother and kids, which right now was looking like her best option. She hadn't yet mentioned her plans to Nick. She was trying not to mention it until it came up because she was sure that he would then insist on inviting her to spend the holidays with him. She didn't want it to seem like she was fishing for an invitation and the idea of spending Christmas with both Nick and Shayla was not exactly a cozy one to her.


            At the moment, Alyssa was with Nick trying to squeeze in some Christmas shopping. It was a Saturday afternoon and the mall was crowded with people, just crowded enough so that they were able to blend in fairly anonymously. Just in case though, Nick was partially disguised by a hat. There were so many other shoppers who seemed so engrossed in their holiday errands that the two even felt comfortable enough to hold hands as they walked through Macy's.


            "I don't know what to get everyone this year," Alyssa sighed as she looked down at her shopping bags. There were a lot less in her hands than she had hoped to have. "So far, the easiest to shop for has been Kristina and that's only because she's too young to really care much about what she gets. The rest of my family I'm just clueless about."


            "Hmm..." Nick pressed his lips together tightly as he helped think of something for Alyssa. It had been a while since he'd last seen Alyssa's family, so he could only go off of what Alyssa had told him and his vague memories of them the few times he'd met them. "Isn't your Mom really into like décor and stuff? Maybe one of those really fancy, large vases?"


            Alyssa looked like she was considering the idea for a moment or two, but then quickly shook her head. "That's a good idea, but I don't want to risk it not getting to New York in one piece. It's not the easiest gift to ship."


            "Ship?" Nick looked confused. "Why would you need to ship it? Isn't your family coming back out here for the holidays?"


            It was only then that Alyssa realized her slip up. She froze, realizing that now she had no choice, but to tell Nick the truth. "They couldn't get a flight out. They're staying out in New York and told me that I should stay here and celebrate the holidays with my friends. Callie invited me to her place for Christmas, so that's what I'll probably end up doing," she quickly added.


            Nick shook his head. "I can't believe you didn't tell me. Why didn't you tell me sooner? You know that you're always welcome at my house for the holidays."


            "I know, but..." Alyssa looked away. "It's just probably not the best idea. I mean don't you think that it'll be weird with Shayla and all that?"


            He thought about her question for a second. "Yea... It would be, but I just can't stand to think of you spending Christmas alone."


            "I'm not spending it alone. I'll be with Callie and her kids," she pointed out.


            "It's not the same," he argued. "You barely know them. Please, why don't you spend the holidays at my place? All my siblings are coming. They'll make you feel welcome."


            "I don't know Nick... Shayla isn't going to like it and it's going to be really hard to act platonically around her."


            Nick gripped her by the shoulders, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Fuck Shayla. She doesn't like the situation, oh well. It's my house and I can choose who I want to invite to spend Christmas with. If I remember correctly there was a time when I had no one to spend the holidays with and even though I hadn't been the greatest person to you at the time, you invited me to spend Christmas with your family in New York. It was awkward for you and caused some friction between you and your family, but you went ahead with it anyway because you didn't want me to be alone. That was so generous and unselfish of you and I swore to myself that one day I'd return the favor. Well, now you have no one to spend Christmas with and I have a family that can only make room at the table for one more. Please, let me make this up to you, Lyss. What is it that you said your Mom used to say? What's one extra plate?"


            Alyssa slowly nodded and sighed. She was genuinely touched by Nick's little speech. How can I say no after that? she asked herself. She simply couldn't. "Fine," she gave in. "I'll spend Christmas at your house, but you really are going to have to keep Shayla and I apart."


            "We'll work around it," he promised. "My sisters can be a buffer between the two of you."


            "Now I have to worry about five more Christmas presents. Thanks Nick," she lightly joked.


            "No, thank you," he told her. "I wanted nothing more than to spend my Christmas with you and you just made my wish come true. I couldn't be happier."


            Alyssa grinned up at him even though it sounded completely cheesy. She had this intense urge to reach up and kiss him, but knew that it was too risky with so many people around. Getting an idea, she pulled him back behind a rack of clothing where they were well concealed and pressed her lips fully against his. As Nick slowly kissed her back she couldn't help but feel as if she'd made the right decision, no matter how tense it might be.



The next afternoon Alyssa arrived at the condo to find Nick already waiting for her. Sundays had automatically begun to become an ideal day for them to meet up and the condo had now become their unofficial love nest. When she opened up the door she was surprised to find Nick bent over a large plastic storage bin pulling out various different Christmas decorations. "What's all this?" she asked sounding surprised as she looked around.


Nick dropped what was in his hands and went over to her to greet her with a light kiss. "I thought that it would be fun if we maybe put up some decorations around here for the holidays to liven it up a bit and get you in the holiday spirit. You haven't seemed too thrilled about the holidays. You haven't even put lights up on your own house."


Alyssa raised her eyebrows. "You expect me to climb up on the roof and string lights like this?" She gestured towards her large stomach. "In all honesty though, I just don't see the point of putting up decorations for just me. It's too much work."


            "I don't see why you continue to stay in that house. You should just temporarily move in here. It'll save you the trouble of having to move out once Sean gets home," he suggested. "I assume that once he does come home and you tell him your decision you'll need somewhere to stay."


            "I can't do that Nick. We already are halfway done with the nursery and besides it would look really odd to my neighbors that I'm apparently living somewhere else. All I need is to give Kim more evidence to use against me." She sighed. "It's a great idea and I probably will wind up here after I speak with Sean, but I just can't now."


            Nick realized that she did have a point. He was sorry he had brought it up to her just then because now he could tell just by the way her forehead creased that he had upset her by bringing it up. She looked like she definitely could use some cheering up. He thought for a moment about the surprise he had been planning for her. He wanted to wait until closer to Christmas to show her, but something in his gut told him to do it now. "Well, I do have an answer to the nursery problem," he quietly spoke up.


            Alyssa looked up at him confused. "What do you mean?"


            "Here... Follow me," he instructed, leading her down the hallway. He stopped in front of the closed door of what had been the smaller bedroom. "I was planning on showing you this right before Christmas, but I can't wait that long. So, consider it an early Christmas present." He ignored Alyssa's quizzical look and pushed the door open, pulling her inside the open room.


            Alyssa gasped as her eyes scanned the sight in front of her. Nick had duplicated the exact same nursery layout that she had in her and Sean's home right down to the bordering on the walls and the furniture. "How did you...?"


            "Do it?" he finished for her with a laugh. "It wasn't too hard. It's a little slow at the label right now, so I've been getting a lot done during the day while Shayla's at work. I wanted to surprise you. That way when Sean does come back and if the baby is already here you have a place for her and you don't need to worry about moving everything."


            Alyssa's eyes lit up as the sweetness of his gesture fully hit her. She reached up, threw her arms around his neck, and pressed her lips against his to thank him. "Thank you so much, Nick," she told him as she slowly pulled away. "This was incredibly thoughtful of you and very sweet." Was it just him or were her eyes actually brimming with tears? They must've been because she quickly brought her fingers up to eyelids as if to brush them away. "I can't believe you did all of this. It was a wonderful idea."


            "It was my pleasure to do it," he honestly replied. "Anyway, I have other plans for us right now. I was thinking that you and I can go out and do some tree shopping?"


            "Tree shopping? For where?"


            "For here, silly. I thought that it would be nice to go pick out a fresh Christmas tree for just the two of us."


            Alyssa laughed a little bit. Nick had always been a big kid when it came to the holidays. "Are you sure it's worth it? Besides, shouldn't you be taking Shayla Christmas tree shopping?"


            Nick shook his head. "Shayla get a real Christmas tree? No way. She's all about the artificial tree. No pine needles to vacuum up afterwards is what she says."


            Alyssa continued to laugh. Just picturing Shayla touting around a vacuum cleaner and bitching about pine needles on the carpet was enough to paint a definite smile on her face. "All right, but I might need some help cleaning up those pesky, pine needles from the floor," she finally agreed.


            "I swear that I'll clean them up," Nick promised. "You won't even have to raise a pinky."


            Alyssa's eyebrows rose. She wasn't sure who would look funnier with a vacuum cleaner, Shayla or Nick? "If you say, but I will hold you to that. Come on..." She grabbed his hand.  "Let's go find the perfect Christmas tree."




            About an hour later, the two of them were walking through their third Christmas tree stand in their search for just the right Christmas tree. Alyssa sighed as Nick examined what seemed to be like the two hundredth tree, so far. "God, you're worse than my Dad when it comes to picking out a tree," she complained.


            "Finding just the right Christmas tree takes a lot of time. It needs to meet all the correct criteria," Nick pointed out.


            "A tree's a tree in my book."


            Nick shook his head in disagreement. "See, that's where you're wrong. There's lot's of things you need to take in consideration. Height... Fullness... Point.... Room at the bottom... It's not as easy as a decision as you might think."


            Alyssa just shook her head. "You're such a dork... Growing up my Dad always insisted that we have a real tree. Supposedly, he never had a real tree growing up. His family always had an artificial one. And do you know what the worst part was?" Nick shook his head. "It wasn't even green. It was one of those tacky white and silver ones."


            Nick laughed. "Who buys one of those?"


            "They were Italian," was the only explanation Alyssa gave. "They had plastic on their furniture. What more do you expect? Anyway, because of this every year for as long as I can remember, he's dragged my Mom, my sisters and I out to go tree shopping. This went on from the moment I was born up until I moved down to Florida, and continued after I moved back to New York. As far as I know he still drags my Mom out and I guess maybe Stephanie. It was such a pain in the ass because we all had to be there and we all had to agree on the same tree. You can imagine how hard it was to find a day and time where we were all available, especially when we got to be teenagers. And how often do five people ever agree on anything?"


            "Rarely," Nick answered for her, thinking about himself and his siblings. One of the reasons they fought so much was for that very reason.


            "I grew to hate Christmas tree shopping. I just didn't have much of the patience for it," she confessed. "I always swore that when I grew up and moved out I'd never get another real tree. Yet, here I am."


            "We never had a real Christmas tree growing up either," Nick shared. "At first when I was younger it was too expensive to buy a new tree every year and then later on after we finally did have the money, I was never around to help pick one out. After I moved out on my own, I've always tried to find time to pick up a real tree when I could. I was pretty bummed out when it came down for me and Shayla's first Christmas together and she told me that she'd rather get an artificial tree. Everything about her sometimes seems artificial. She didn't even cook for Thanksgiving. The only reason we're having a home cooked Christmas meal is because BJ is taking care of it."


            Alyssa stared at him sympathetically. It had been the first time he'd really verbalized his unhappiness with Shayla to her on that level. From what little she'd seen of the woman she could definitely understand where Nick was coming from. She herself might not exactly be Suzy Homemaker, but at least she tried, which was more than Shayla did. Not knowing exactly what she should say to him, she decided to change the subject. She spotted a nice, full, looking tree on her left. "What about that tree over there?" Alyssa pointed.


            As if on cue, on of the men working the stand popped out of nowhere. "Would you like a take a closer look at anything?" he asked.


            Nick nodded. "Can you hold up that tree over there?" He pointed to the same one that Alyssa had just showed him.


            "Of course." The man lifted the tree up out of its stand and held it up straight, so that Nick and Alyssa could get a better look. They both walked around it surveying it. It seemed to have all the points that Nick had mentioned earlier. It was neither too tall nor too short. Not too skinny or too fat. Its branches were not the least bit sparse and it had the perfect point at top in which to place a star.


            "What do you think?" she asked him.


            "I think you picked a pretty good one. We'll take it," he told the man holding up the tree.


            "Finally!" Alyssa melodramatically cried, trying to make him laugh.


The man dragged the tree towards the front of the stand for them to wrap it up. "I'm going to bring the car around for them to tie it up," Nick told her dropping a light kiss on her cheek. "I'll be right back."


"Okay," Alyssa smiled as she watched him disappear. She turned away and watched the man cut down the bottom of the tree and slide it through the machine that would wrap it up in netting for the time being. The man looked up at her and grinned.


"Such a nice young couple," he commented. "How long have you two been married?"


"Married? Oh..." Alyssa laughed. "Sorry, we're not married."


The man's eyes floated down to her pregnant stomach and she realized exactly what he probably had been thinking. "Sorry, my mistake," he apologized. "I should know better in this day and age."


If only he was just my boyfriend who just happened to knock me up, Alyssa thought with a sigh. She wished the truth was that simple, but of course she'd let this man go on believing whatever he thought. She shot him a weak smile. "It's okay. Happens all the time," she lied.


By that time Nick had arrived back with the car. She hopped into the passenger seat of his Escalade while Nick got out and helped the man secure the tree onto the luggage rack of the SUV. Within a few minutes the tree was all ready to go and Nick was handing the man a few crisp looking bills. "Merry Christmas!" she heard the man wish Nick. Before she knew it Nick was getting into the car and starting out again towards the street.


"That guy asked me how long we've been married," Alyssa reported with a snicker as they began their drive back to the condo.


"What?" Nick asked. "Why would he think that?"


"I don't know... Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were all holding hands and then of course me looking like a human blob... I guess it's not that hard to get the wrong impression," she sarcastically replied.


"Shush... You don't look like a blob. You're beautiful."


She rolled her eyes. "You're just saying that because you have too."


"No, I'm not," he insisted. "I mean it."


Alyssa still gave him a yea sure look, but let the subject drop. The rest of the ride back to the condo was overall quiet between the two of them.




            By the time Nick walked back into his house that evening it was nearly nine pm. He hadn't anticipated spending that much time with Alyssa, but he'd lost track of the time. They hadn't gotten back with the tree until almost five and then it had taken time to get it down from his car and set up in the living room. They'd spent most of the evening working alongside each other to trim the tree and decorate the rest of the house with the bin of decorations Nick had brought over. They'd ordered a pizza for dinner while they worked. Afterwards when the tree was all completed, they'd spent some time cuddling underneath the glow of its lights, which of course had led to other things... Nick had been shocked when he finally realized how late it really was and had scrambled to throw his clothes back on and rush home. He already knew that Shayla would not be pleased and he still needed to tell her that Alyssa would be joining them for the holidays.


            "Nick is that you?" he heard Shayla's voice call as he walked in the door.


            ‘Yea I'm home. Sorry I'm late I just had a lot of Christmas shopping to do and-"


            Shayla frowned as he entered the living room where she was sitting watching TV. "You've been doing a lot of Christmas shopping lately," she remarked.


            "Yea, well I want to make sure I get only the best," he quickly replied, hoping his eyes weren't darting from side to side as he spoke. He knew that he needed to tell Shayla about his invitation to Alyssa, but now didn't seem like the best time. Then again she was already pissed at him. What more did he have to lose? He took a deep breath. "There's something I need to tell you."


            "What?" The word flew sharply off of Shayla's tongue and it was obvious that she was expecting to hear something that she wouldn't like.


            Nick licked his lips. "Well, you remember Alyssa, right?"


            Shayla rolled her eyes. "How could I forget?"


            "Well, you know how her husband is in Iraq right now?" He didn't wait for an answer. "She just found out that the rest of her family can't get out here for the holidays and she has no one to spend Christmas with, so I sort of offered her to spend the holidays with us."


            The room was so silent for a moment that Nick was sure that he could hear the sound of his own heartbeat. "You're inviting your ex-girlfriend over to spend Christmas with us and you expect me to be okay with this?" Shayla finally asked, breaking the silence. "Are you serious?"


            "No, I'm not asking you if you're okay with this," Nick firmly stood his ground. "I'm telling you that I invited her and she's coming. End of story."


            "That's bullshit Nick! You're not going to ruin my Christmas by inviting her into this house. I'm not having it!"


            Nick shrugged his shoulders. "Then that's just too bad then. I can't turn around and tell her no now."


            "I can't believe that you did this without even consulting me, first! Don't I have any say so in the matter? What about my feelings? You know I don't like her Nick, but you keep on trying to throw us together," she continued to rant.


            "I don't see why you dislike her so much. Outside of date me, has she ever done anything to cause you not like her?"


            "Honestly Nick?" Her blue eyes flashed in anger. "You want to know why I don't like her?  Let me give you the reasons. Number one I don't trust her as far as I can throw a stick. She's always been wayyy flirty with you, even in front of my face. Two, you spend more time with her than you do with me -"


            "That's not true," Nick cut in.


            "It so is true! You sneak over to see her almost everyday. Sometimes to bring her cookies or other times to take her shopping," she pointed out in condescending voice. "You do everything for her! I've never met a more helpless woman in my life!"


            You're pretty helpless yourself there. Nick had to force himself not to verbalize his thoughts out loud. "She's not helpless. She's pregnant and all alone. I'm just being a good friend."


            "What about being a good husband?" she shot back. "I mean I find it hysterical that you refuse to have children, yet you're so willing to dote over Alyssa like you're the fucking father! What about me?"


            Nick froze a little when he heard just how close she was to the truth. "I can't believe that you're jealous of her Shayla. But I forgot. What would you know about friendship?"


            "What's that supposed to mean?" she angrily asked.


            "Come  on! You don't even have any true friends. That group of bitches you hang out are even more two-faced than you are, if that's actually possible."


            Shayla's features twisted up in fury. "That was uncalled for! I think that I'm perfectly justifiable in being suspicious of the two of you. You were with her all day today, weren't you?"


            Nick's face totally gave it away and he knew that he couldn't completely lie. "I was helping her do some Christmas shopping and then some decorating around her house. She can't exactly put lights up or anything, so I was doing that for her."


            "I'm sure," Shayla said in a disgusted voice. "All I know is that I want you to uninvite her for Christmas. I don't care what you have to tell her. Make something up, you're good at that! I refuse to have her here."


            That's when Nick snapped and he crossed his arms over his chest, playing the one card that he knew would give him the win. "I'm not doing that! She's coming, whether you like it or not. If it's such a problem for you then you can get the fuck out and spend your Christmas alone on some beach on Tahiti for all I care!" He angrily huffed for another moment or two knowing that he had her now. As much as Shayla hated the situation and as tough as she tried to make herself sound, Nick knew that she was too weak to stand her ground. She wouldn't leave. She'd stay around and suck it up. She'd be a bitch to Alyssa of course, but that would be the extent of her damage. "Now I'm going to go take a shower," he announced as he pounded up the stairs leaving her standing there her mouth gaping open.


            Shayla watched him go and then angrily grabbed a pillow off the couch and hurled it across the room in fury. She couldn't believe that he actually chose Alyssa over her, his own wife. Her cool demeanor quickly melted away and she transformed into a sobbing, blubbering mess, her head in her hands.


            Oh sure, the signs had been right in front of her for a long time now. She should've nipped this in the bud that very first night she'd seen Alyssa come up from the basement with him with her lipstick smeared. Instead, she'd kept denying the possibility that her husband could be cheating on her. Yea, she'd kept Alyssa at a distance, but she refused to believe that Nick would do this to her. These types of things weren't supposed to happen to women like her. She and Nick were supposed to be indestructible. The perfect Hollywood couple. Yea, she'd known all about his past with cheating, but she convinced herself that he was over all that.


            She'd turned her back to a lot of the signs. She'd thrown herself into her work to get her mind off of the possibility that her perfect marriage very well could be falling apart. She'd been so happy when Nick had made the decision to return home after their separation earlier that year. At first, it had been great. Things seemed back to normal. Maybe even better than normal. It was almost like a second honeymoon again. Then all of a sudden it just stopped. It had been months since Nick had taken any kind of sexual interest in her. Her friends had tried to tell her that all signs pointed to him having an affair, but still she defended him. Now, she was beginning to really fear that they were right all along.


            She stood up from the couch and went over to her pocket book lying on the table. She opened up her wallet and pulled out the stiff white business card her friend, Sandra had given her. She needed to know the truth and there was only way for her to find out what she needed to know for sure. Ronald Harris- Private Investigator, it read on the front in red lettering. Sandra had used this guy when she'd suspected that her boyfriend of five years had been cheating on her. Not only had she found out that he was cheating on her, but he had also been seeing three different women at the same time. According to Sandra he also had experience working with high profile couples before. "He's good. He'll get to the bottom of things no matter what," she had told Shayla. Maybe it is about time I gave Detective Harris a call, she tearfully thought.


            She took a deep breath trying to control her emotions. Once she was confident that she could speak calmly and confidently, she grabbed her cell phone and dialed the number. As expected she got a voicemail message that instructed her to leave her name and number and Detective Harris would get back to her as soon as possible. The machine beeped and Shayla fumbled a little bit before she began to speak. "Hi... My name is..." She thought for a second about giving a fake name, but the guy was a detective. Giving him a fake name would not help the investigation. Clearing her throat, she tried again. "My name is Shayla Carter... And I think my husband might be having an affair."



Chapter End Notes:
Thanks you Darby for your awesome idea!!! Also I'm having a REALLY hard time thinking about what Alyssa should get Sean for Christmas. Any suggestions?