All disclaimers may be found in Chapter 1
The remainder of Christmas Eve passed quickly. Samantha made a list of everything she could think of to take on the trip, and Alex crossed half of them off. After a bit of bartering, Samantha coaxed Alex into putting a few of them back.
It was almost midnight when the women finally closed the lids on the suitcases for the final time.
"I think we did pretty darn good for such short notice," Samantha boasted.
"Yes, I'm proud of you for trimming down the cargo," Alex chuckled. "You ready for bed?"
"Absolutely! At least my body is, but I'm not sure about my mind. It's still dancing around in my head singing 'Give My Regards to Broadway.' I'm not sure it's going to let me sleep."
"You had best use your powers of persuasion to tame it then because I want you rested when we reach the big city."
"Aye, aye." Samantha gave her mate a mock salute. "I'll do my best," she promised while pulling her nightshirt over her head.
"I've asked Angel to come and check on Rainbow and the building every other day to make sure everything's okay," Alex said as they climbed into bed.
"That's great, Alex. I was going to ask about our little fur-baby. I knew you'd have it all worked out, but I still hate leaving her alone so much. Maybe we should get her a feline or canine companion. Whaddaya think?"
"I think we should go to sleep and talk about that at a much later date."
"Okay, but promise you'll think about it."
"I'll think about it Samantha, but not right now." She repositioned her body to allow the smaller woman to situate herself in the crook of her arm. "There, all snuggled in?"
"Uh huh." Samantha gave the brunette a squeeze. "Merry Christmas, Alex. Thank you for all my gifts and especially for the trip to New York."
"Merry Christmas to you, too, sweetheart." Alex hugged the smaller woman and kissed her gently on the head. "There aren't enough words to thank you, Samantha, for my ring." She dangled her left hand in front of Samantha's face, and then held it so she could better admire the elegant adornment. "Perhaps you should go into jewelry design instead of writing," she added, while turning out the bedside light.
"Yeah, right! Now I know you're exhausted. Sweet dreams, Alex."
"Sweet dreams, my Destiny."
"I know they will be. I'll be in New York long before we ever set foot on the plane."
"Easy on the dreaming, then; I don't want the real trip to pale in comparison."
"Nothing you ever plan could pale to simply dreaming," Samantha assured her lover.
"Thanks for the vote of confidence, but your dreams are anything but simple," Alex chuckled.
"It's been a wonderful evening, more than I could have ever imagined. I know it's only one day . . ."
"One day? Not on your life. Christmas isn't even near being over. I've arranged for the day to extend for the entire time we're in New York. Plus, in real time the day has only just begun."
"Wow, first the birthday that wouldn't quit and now Christmas--how lucky can one gal get?"
"I don't think anyone is luckier than I am right now," Alex said.
"I was talking about me!" Samantha countered.
"I know, honey. I think we both made out like bandits this year in more ways than one. But now it's time to get some sleep. You don't want to be groggy in the morning."
"Right you are; no more talking from me."
"I'm just so wound up, I don't . . ."
Two long fingers grazed the blonde's lips. "Hush, Samantha."
Samantha hushed and felt the tingle of her lover's fingers as they gently stroked her back, calming the thrill of the moment and allowing her to drift slowly into a more relaxed state. A few minutes later, Alex felt the steady rhythm of her mate's breathing. She softly kissed the golden crown in front of her and whispered her nightly prayer to the goddess. When she finished, she closed her eyes and joined her soulmate in sleep.
Before the first rays of the new day graced the windows of the penthouse, Alex was awake and out of bed. Goddess, it's been ages since I've felt this much excitement on Christmas day. She looked at Samantha. Just watching you sleep and anticipating what the day has in store for you intensifies my enthusiasm. Who would've thought that a golden-haired princess would enter my life and release the child in me that I thought I had lost forever? She chuckled silently and shook her head. And you call me your champion.
Even though they had an early plane to catch, Alex decided to give Samantha a few more minutes of rest. There would be no stopping once the day really began. The brunette was no stranger to holiday travel, but this trip was different; she wasn't going solo.
Not being one to waste time, she decided to take the large suitcase downstairs and put it in the car. When Alex picked up the luggage, Rainbow followed her as far as the kitchen, but when the cat realized that her owner was leaving the apartment, she scurried back to join her other human, the one in the soft warm bed.
"Go ahead, Rainbow," Alex chuckled, "Don't let me keep you." The small cat gave the brunette a backward glance and then raced from the room. "That's right, go climb under the covers with Mommy. I should be the one still sleeping there--but you go right ahead." With a flick of her wrist and a smile, she dismissed the small animal and continued on her way downstairs, suitcase in tow.
Upon her return to the penthouse Alex smelled the aroma of toasted bagels.
"Smells like someone other than Rainbow is up," she announced as she came through the apartment door and walked toward the kitchen.
"I couldn't sleep any longer."
"You bet!" Samantha greeted her lover with a morning kiss and a fresh cup of tea. "Merry Christmas, Alex."
"Back at ya, Samantha." The tall woman took the shorter into an embrace, and then reached over Samantha's shoulder to pluck a bagel out of the toaster.
"Well, if that isn't romantic," Samantha giggled. "I'm dumped for breakfast bread."
"Not dumped," Alex corrected. "It's just that I've been up for a while and my stomach ruled over my heart."
"I guess I can understand that. What've you been doing?"
"You mean Rainbow didn't tell you?"
"No, she's been quite closed-lipped recently." Samantha looked at the kitten that was now curled in a ball on one of the kitchen chairs.
"In that case, I confess. I had an early morning rendezvous on the beach with . . ."
"Not a good way to start Christmas morning, Alex."
"No? Oh, okay, I took that overstuffed suitcase down to the car. I figured it would be one less thing to carry down on the way out."
"Much better answer, and that was sweet of you."
"Not really. It was just easier than taking everything at once."
"What everything?" Samantha looked puzzled. "We have the one large suitcase, the small carryon, the camera case, and my bag for things to do on the plane . . . hey . . .I'm talking to you. Where are you going?"
Alex had tried to keep eye contact with her lover during the conversation but had been inching slowly out of the room, toward the closet. "Oh, I have something in here that needs to go with us." She fumbled around in the top of the closet for a minute and came back into the kitchen carrying a medium-sized box. "Mom suggested this as a gift a few months back, but I was so wrapped up in trying to make your birthday a success that I completely forgot about it until a week ago." She handed the astounded blonde the brightly wrapped gift.
"Alex, no." Samantha whined. "You said the trip to New York was the last present."
"Sorry--I lied." Alex grinned. "Come on, humor me."
"Humor you? You're like the Energizer bunny, but instead of going and going, you keep giving and giving and giving."
"I resemble that analogy."
"How can I argue with that? Okay, you win." Samantha put the box on the counter and began to open it. Seconds into the unveiling she could read the label on the box. "Oh, Alex! No! This is way too . . ."
"Samantha, just open the present."
"But it's a . . . "
"I already know what it is," Alex chuckled. "Like I said, Mom was the instigator on this one. I was just a little slow on the uptake, or you would have had it for your birthday."
"Gods, Alex!" Beaming from ear to ear, the blonde took out her new laptop computer. "Wow. I don't know what to say."
"Did I hear you correctly?" Alex teased. "Did you just say you were speechless?"
"No, smart butt. I said I don't know what to say. That means besides thank you, which doesn't seem half enough." Tears obscured her vision as she searched for the right words to thank her lover.
Alex stepped closer. Placing her hand under the smaller woman's chin she gently tilted ther face toward her own. "Tears are not what I was expecting, Samantha. I was hoping for a smile."
"I am smiling. I'm just having a little difficulty focusing." Samantha threw her arms around Alex's neck and hugged her tightly. Standing on her tiptoes she whispered a "thank you" into her lover's ear.
"You're more than welcome, Samantha." Alex whispered back.
"The traveling case for it is in the closet. You can transfer what you still might need from your busy-stuff bag. We should leave for the airport within the next twenty minutes."
"I'm all packed," Samantha assured the brunette.
"Good. Then as soon as we've cleaned up here and said good-bye to Rainbow we can be on our way."
"Should I be expecting any other surprises?" Samantha asked.
All she received for an answer was a raised eyebrow and sly grin.
"Alex," she protested.
"Finish getting ready, Samantha, we need to hurry."
The ride to the airport was uneventful, and soon the two women were buckled up and settled comfortably on the plane. Samantha insisted that Alex have the window seat. "I'll probably be too busy learning all about my new toy to spend much time looking out the window." She brandished the owner's manual in the air before her. "One of the first things I'm going to do is e-mail your mom a thank-you card."
"She'll love that, sweetheart."
Once they were up in the air, Alex watched the smaller woman explore all the bells and whistles her new toy had to offer. It seemed as though they had barely left the tarmac before the "fasten your seat belt" sign was back on. The pilot announced that they would be landing in a few minutes and Samantha looked up from her new obsession with a questioning expression.
"Did I hear the pilot say San Francisco?"
"We're going to New York via San Francisco?"
"I didn't hear the pilot say San Francisco when we left John Wayne."
"You weren't paying any attention to him, you were busy with your computer."
"Hmm. Don't most flights from LA to New York City go east instead of north?"
"Most do, but this one's special; this is the Christmas flight." Alex continued to keep a somber face, but Samantha was quickly catching on.
"We're going to get to see Sonny and Ray, aren't we?" Samantha squealed.
"Absolutely." Alex finally broke into a broad smile. "But we're only going to be able to spend two hours with them. I didn't get a nonstop flight because I thought you and Sonny should be able to see each other on Christmas. I had invited them to meet us in New York, but Ray's Christmas present to Sonny was a trip to Hawaii, so a stopover in San Francisco will have to do."
"Oh, Alex. You did it again." Samantha started to embrace her lover, but stopped mid-motion.
"Hey," Alex whispered. "I don't care who's staring. I deserve the hug."
Not needing a second invitation, the blonde threw her arms around the taller woman's neck. "Thank you, Alex. What a great surprise."
"I aim to please."
It wasn't difficult to spot Sonny in the crowd as they walked into the gate area. He was the man who couldn't stand still. Alex spotted him bobbing up and down trying to catch the first glimpse of his friends. She smiled and nodded when Sonny's eyes met hers. Expertly she steered Samantha in his direction, and once they spotted each other, she walked toward Ray, who was standing out of the crowd holding a large decorated bag.
"Merry Christmas, sweetness." Sonny gave Samantha with a hug and kiss.
"Merry Christmas to you," she replied.
Sonny held her close and began to babble. "I'm so glad you two arranged to stop and visit before heading off to New York City. Bet you were surprised! We're leaving for Hawaii a little after your plane takes off. We opened the presents you sent before we left for the airport this morning so we could thank you in person. Didn't you think it odd that we hadn't sent you a present?"
"Sonny, for goodness' sake, let the girl get a word in edgewise," Ray reprimanded as he neared the two friends. "And then give me a chance to say hello."
"Sorry, I'm just so . . ."
"We know," Ray smiled.
Relinquishing his hold on Samantha, Sonny turned to greet Alex while Ray gave Samantha a warm welcome.
"Let's get out of traffic," Ray suggested after his greeting. "We've got a few gifts for you two to open before we run out of time. There's a coffee shop a few gates down."
Because most people were busy catching or meeting planes, the small restaurant was almost void of customers. The four friends sat down in a booth and ordered drinks. Ray reached into the bag of presents and handed one to Samantha and one to Alex.
"You first," Samantha insisted.
Alex started to object, but Ray touched her on the shoulder. "You heard the lady," he said to his old friend.
The brunette gave in and opened the box. The first item she pulled out was a baseball cap with a large royal purple X positioned over an object that looked like an open Frisbee. "Ah, I've seen this thing before," Alex commented. "This is a picture of that weapon what's her name . . ."
"Xena," Sonny offered.
"Yeah, Xena--this looks like her weapon; what did you call it?"
"A chakram," Sonny answered.
"Right again," Alex said as she pulled the next item out of the box. "Okay, a mug with the same design. Let me guess, you've enrolled us in a fan club of some sort?"
"No." Ray answered this time. "I wouldn't do that to you, Alex. But I do have to admit that it was one of Sonny's suggestions." He smiled and pointed to the final object in the box.
Alex held up a black tee shirt with a Xena: Warrior Princess logo covering the entire front of the shirt. "And I'm supposed to wear this where?"
"When you come with us to the convention in Pasadena next year," Sonny chimed in.
"Right," Alex nodded, smiling as she shook her head no. "Thank you guys, these are very interesting gifts." She gave her old friends an incredulous look and then focused on Samantha. "I think it's your turn now."
"I love the color of the X." Samantha declared as she carefully unwrapped the small present in her hands. She lifted out a sterling silver pendant, a replica of the now-familiar chakram. "What did you do, buy out the Xena store?" Samantha asked her friends.
"Not exactly," Sonny answered and placed the last box in the bag on the table. "They were kind of bonuses that went along with this. This is the real present."
Alex waved her hand and insisted that Samantha have the honor of opening it. After carefully unwrapping the final present, Samantha held up a decorated box that contained 12 videotapes, which made up the entire first season of the television show.
"Wow," Samantha exclaimed. "I guess we have no excuse for not knowing all about the show now. What a great gift. Thanks." She sat the tapes on the table and gave each of her friends a hug and kiss.
"Yeah, gee guys, thanks," Alex mumbled. "You know how much I love to sit and watch television."
"Oh, don't be such a party pooper, Alex," Sonny scolded. "What we do know is how much Sammie likes movies and love stories, and that's exactly what this show is all about--love. So, stop scowling--you'll enjoy these, I promise. Xena's pretty good at kicking ass, which is right up your alley." He smiled at his friend. "Besides, the bonus gifts were more for you, and there are more at home. We figured they'd be kind of an after-Christmas present. We'll put all of this and the rest of what's left at the house in a big box and mail it to you as soon as we get back from Hawaii. That way you don't have extra stuff to mess with in New York. "
"Oh, goody," Alex retorted. Then she graced her friend with a genuine smile and thank you. "Seriously, you definitely know what Christmas is all about, my friend." She gave Sonny a big hug. "We're very lucky to have someone like you to fill us in so we don't miss some of the good things in life."
"You don't know how right you are," Sonny teased back as he gave Samantha a wink. "By the way, sweetness, like I said earlier, we opened the presents you and Alex sent. We absolutely adore the Gorham silver!"
"I have to admit that was Alex's suggestion," Samantha confessed. "She said you'd been looking quite some time for a tray like that to go with your tea service."
"Yeah, and I could never get Ray to cough up the money," Sonny added.
"Hey," Ray objected.
"Well . . ."
"Okay," Ray admitted. "He's right. I'm probably happier than Sonny that you bought the piece; now he'll stop bugging me." He looked at each of his friends. "Thanks, and merry Christmas to both of you."
"You're welcome," Alex and Samantha responded in unison.
Ray looked at his watched and frowned. "I hate to be the bearer of ill tidings, but I think it's time Sonny and I walk you two back to the departure gate."
"Come on, sweetness." Sonny grabbed Samantha's arm and pulled her up. "While they argue over who's gonna pay the bill and who's gonna leave the tip, we'll start walking and get a little more chatting in on the way."
At the gate they all gave wishes for a happy holiday and promises to get together soon, before saying their final farewells. Sonny and Ray watched down the corridor until they could no longer see their friends then turned and headed toward their car to deposit the Christmas presents and to retrieve the luggage for their own vacation.
It had been a long day of traveling by the time they reached the Millennium Broadway Hotel.
Samantha observed that the New York City taxi drivers definitely lived up to their reputations. "I almost feel like kissing the ground," she said after their bags had been transferred from the cab to the hotel luggage cart.
"Well, you'd better get used to putting your life in their hands, Samantha," Alex chuckled. "Anywhere we go for the rest of the week, if it's not within walking distance, will be in a taxi."
The subject was quickly forgotten as they approached the front of the hotel. The doorman opened the front door and bid them welcome, Samantha's face lit up and Alex couldn't help but grin. It's going to be a great week.
The blonde's eyes explored the elegant lobby, and she commented on the combination of wood and marble that stretched out before them. "This is one of the most beautiful buildings I think I've ever been in." They approached the front desk and Samantha's expression changed to one of awe when she realized that the night clerk had recognized Alex immediately.
"Good evening, Ms. Dorian." He also gave a slight nod of his head in Samantha's direction. "Welcome to the Millenium Broadway. We trust you had a good flight?"
"Excellent, thank you," Alex replied as she stepped closer to take a better look at the man's nametag, "Ronald."
"Curt will take you to your suite, and if you find yourselves in need of anything, please don't hesitate to call. We hope you have a memorable stay with us." He handed their keys to the bellboy and gave Alex and Samantha a final smile before resuming his duties.
Samantha nudged Alex in the side, "He knew who you were before you reached the desk."
Alex bent down and whispered in Samantha's ear, "I've been here before."
"Yes. A few times with Uncle Al, a couple of times with my parents, and once or twice all on my own--sort of." She winked and gave Samantha a mischievous smile.
"Ah, I see. I don't suppose I'd like to know who the people you came with 'sort of' on your own were?"
"Actually, honey, it was business. You're the first person, other than family, that I've come here with for pleasure."
They reached the suite, and after the bellboy opened the door he placed the luggage on a rack and opened the curtains.
Samantha gasped at the splendor of the view.
While Alex thanked and tipped Curt, Samantha surveyed the room. On the dresser, at the foot of the bed, was a vase filled with red and white roses, and on the table by the window was a large basket of fruit, a box of candy, and two wine goblets. An iced bottle of champagne was in a bucket on a stand beside the table. Samantha turned to face her just as Alex reached the edge of the bed. "I feel like a princess in a fairytale. My first visit to New York is still a marvelous memory, but this . . ." she spread her arms out and spun around. " . . . this is . . ."
"Something you need to get used to," Alex finished her sentence and then took the blonde into her arms. "One day you will take what seems like extravagance for granted."
"I can't imagine that," Samantha said. "But I certainly will have a fun time getting used to it." She gave her lover a squeeze and a peck on the cheek.
Looking over Samantha's shoulder, Alex spotted a large red-and-green envelope situated between the pillows on the bed. Loosening her embrace on the smaller woman, she held Samantha's hand as she walked to the edge of the bed. "Wonder what that is?"
"Something out of the ordinary, Alex?"
"Absolutely." Upon further examination, she recognized the elaborate script, and she smiled as she retrieved the envelope from the bed.
"Oh, I see--flowers, candy, fruit, and champagne, those are all ordinary items to be found in a hotel suite, but a plain red-and-green envelope, that's something strange."
"Everything but this," she waved the paper in front of Samantha, "is definitely common for a suite of this magnitude. But this is something special, and I think perhaps you should be the one to open it." She handed the still-unopened envelope to Samantha.
It was addressed To My Girls.
Samantha read the inscription. "If it was from your moms it would say our girls, so my guess would be that this is from Uncle Al."
From the smile on Alex's face, Samantha knew she was correct.
She carefully opened the envelope and pulled out the enclosed card. "Oh look, Alex." She turned the card so her lover could see the front. "He added an s to daughter."
"Read it out loud, Samantha."
"Okay." She cleared her throat. "'Merry Christmas to my daughters. Christmas is the time of year to remember those we hold most dear. It wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't say how much you are thought of every day.' Is that sweet or what?"
"It's a very pretty card, but what did he write inside? I know he wrote something inside."
"I'm getting there," Samantha said. "Let's see--'Dear Alex and Sam, Kelley told me you were planning a trip to New York City, and I asked if she knew what nights you were show-bound. If your itinerary hasn't changed since the last time you talked with her, then you should still have Wednesday night open. Please consider it filled. You're invited to join me for dinner that evening, and it just so happens I have three tickets to go see . . .'" Samantha squealed with delight and waved the card at Alex.
"Slow down . . . " Alex laughed and took the card from her lover's waving hand.
"Liza! We're going to go see Liza!" Samantha exclaimed with glee.
Alex glanced at the card and began reading where Samantha had stopped. '" . . . Minnelli on Minnelli. I would love the pleasure of your company. Merry Christmas, my lovelies. All my love, Uncle Al.'"
"We're going to go see Liza," Samantha repeated as she spun around the room.
"I guess the answer to the invitation is yes?"
"Yes? You think? Absolutely! Oh, Alex, we are going to have such fun this week."
"That was the idea behind coming here."
"But now we don't just get to see one show, we're going to see two!"
"Well . . . that's almost correct," Alex said.
"Uh huh." The brunette nodded.
"Alex . . ."
"I have another set of tickets that I didn't give you at home. I thought it might be appropriate to give them to you after we arrived in the city. It looks like Uncle Al had the same idea." She walked over to the carryon luggage, opened it, pulled out an envelope and handed it to Samantha.
Not even trying to contain her excitement, the blonde opened the card and burst into song when she saw the title of the musical they were going to attend on Thursday evening. "Be our guest. Be our guest. Put our service to the test. Tie your napkin . . ."
"Okay, okay. I get the message. You like my choice of shows."
"Like it?" Samantha threw her arms around Alex's neck. "Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorites. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!" She showered her lover's face with baby kisses.
"If I do say so myself, this vacation is off to an extremely good start. I think this celebration calls for a glass of bubbly."
"Oh, yes, please."
While Alex uncorked the champagne, Samantha switched back and forth between Uncle Al's card and the set of show tickets she held in her hand.
Alex dimmed the lights, placed the now-filled glasses on the table by the window, and motioned for Samantha to join her.
"Right," Samantha said, as she strolled toward her lover. "There's been so much excitement from the moment we walked into the room that I haven't even had a chance to take a good look out the window."
Far beneath the suite the lights of Broadway flickered on the Great White Way. Neon advertisements flashed chaotic orchestrations of colored lights, while cars left blazing trails of white and red on the streets below. The buildings surrounding the hotel were trimmed in a variety of Christmas decorations, including angels, Santa, elves, and reindeer. The New York skyline was magnificently outlined in red, green, blue, white, and gold. Sparkling lights twinkled rapidly to a multitude of unheard melodies. Signs were abundant that the holiday season was on hand.
Alex put her left arm around the smaller woman's shoulders, and with her right hand pointed in the direction of Times Square. She informed Samantha that they had an excellent view from the room to watch the huge crystal ball drop from the sky on New Year's Eve. She added that if Samantha preferred, they could be at crowd level and mingle among the thousands of people who made the trek to New York City to be part of the celebration.
Continuing to stare out the window Samantha slowly shook her head. "No, Alex. I'd much rather be alone with you at midnight on New Year's Eve, standing here, on top of the world, and watching the ball make its descent. I really don't want to share that special time with a bunch of strangers. Not only will we be experiencing our first New Year's Eve together, we're welcoming in a new millenium. Definitely a moment I want to share with you alone." She leaned back, put her head on the taller woman's chest and sighed.
Alex put her arms around Samantha. "You know, honey, being among the New Year's Eve throng on Times Square is a dream come true for thousands of people and a wish that will never come true for thousands of others. You don't know how much it means to me to hear you say that you would rather be up here with me." She swallowed the lump in her throat and tenderly kissed the golden head before her.
They stood in silence for a few minutes, drinking in the spectacle in front of them.
Alex was the first to break the reverie. "You know, Samantha, the other side of the building has a fantastic view of the theatre district, but I figured for New Year's Eve these rooms were the better choice. Oh, and before I forget to mention it, Rockefeller Center is only about five or six blocks away. So, if you're up to it in the morning, and if you don't mind the cold, viewing the Christmas tree alone is worth the walk. The illuminated trumpeting angels that lead to the plaza, the gigantic toy soldiers, the golden Prometheus that looks down upon the skaters at the rink, and of course, the rink itself are all must-see attractions during the Christmas season. But we can always take a taxi anywhere you want to go."
"You expect me to sleep tonight after talking about all this?" Samantha's eyes were wide with excitement. "This suite is perfect, Alex. I couldn't imagine a better place to spend a New York holiday. And as far as a morning walk is concerned, I don't mind the cold." Samantha chuckled. "Remember, I'm not the one who grew up in southern California." She nuzzled her head into Alex's chest. "Do you think we might have time to go ice skating?"
"Your wish is my command," Alex answered. "Theater times are the only restrictions on the agenda. We have no control over them. Well, those and the time Uncle Al sets for dinner on Wednesday."
Samantha started to speak when the clock on the wall began to softly chime. Alex reached down and lifted the glasses from the table just as the final tone announced the end of December 24th. She handed a glass of champagne to Samantha, who joined the brunette in a toast. "Once again," Alex began, "Merry Christmas, Samantha. Welcome to the Big Apple!"