FIUR and VLAMME

 

proudly present

 

HOLLYWOOD DREAMS

 

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For Disclaimers see Episode 1

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EPISODE 29

-------------------------------

 

 

***** TWO WEEKS LATER *****

 

It was during the early morning hours as loud door-banging and other noises woke up Taylor. She got out of bed, put on a terrycloth robe and stepped into the corridor. For only a short instant, she saw somebody disappear through the door to the inner courtyard. Whoever it was had some trouble walking straight, because they collided with each and every wall in their way.

Taylor had a bad feeling and decided to follow. Once she had reached the courtyard, she saw who it was. “Sara please, come back inside! You are going to get sick in just your pajamas!” she whispered.

Sara hiccupped and let go of the empty bottle of liqueur, which she held in her hand. It fell to the paved ground and burst into tiny pieces. “I don't want to,” she muttered, drunk.

Taylor raised her hands in a calming gesture. “Please, be quiet. You are going to wake up everybody.”

Sara turned around and yelled, “I DON'T CARE!”

“But I do,” Taylor replied, reaching for her. She tried to drag her back inside the building, but Sara resisted.

Managing to free herself, she stumbled into the middle of the courtyard and fell into a small water basin. She was too upset to notice what had happened. Instead she said to Taylor, “You will fly home this evening and you will leave me behind, all alone! That always happens!”

“You are being unfair and you are not making any sense right now. I doubt you will even know what you just said once you will be sober again.”

Their discussion was interrupted as two Chinese police officers appeared.

Taylor's face darkened a bit and she said, “Everything is alright. We will take care of the problem ourselves.”

“I don't think that's possible, Miss. We got a call for disturbance of the peace and vandalism,” one of the police men explained.

“What? Who did...” Taylor was shocked as she and Sara were put in handcuffs. “Officer, really...”

Nicolette Valmy stuck her head out of the window to her room. “Typical. Americans only cause trouble,” she called out.

Taylor glared at her and hissed, “You backstabbing bitch.”

Her answer was a sneer from the French figure skater.

The police men put the girls into their car. One of them mentioned, “We will investigate the matter. In a couple of hours it will be decided what's going to happen with you.”

Taylor couldn't believe it. She thought she was in one weird kind of nightmare. “Just how could this happen to me?” she mumbled under her breath. Then her eyes fell on Sara, who had fallen asleep and was snoring softly.

 

*****

 

Evening had fallen in Los Angeles. Liz was dancing happily through the house and said, “Day after tomorrow, Taylor will finally be back and then I'm not going to let her go again.” She stopped and added, a bit fearful, “Let's just hope she'll be here on time.”

Sam looked at her, concerned. “What do you mean? Because of the party?”

“No, no,” Liz responded nervously. “The party will be good for distraction though.”

“I don't understand what you are talking about.”

“Argh, I just don't want her to have a delayed flight or to get stuck at some airport, having sad thoughts,” Liz explained quickly.

Samantha pulled the blonde into a gentle hug. Her instincts told her that something was burdening her heavily. Stroking the silky soft hair, she asked, “Why would Taylor be sad on her birthday?”

Liz' lower lip started to tremble. “Remember, I told you that our Mom died when she gave birth to Taylor...” Her throat closed up and she couldn't speak anymore. Tears stung hotly in her eyes and a moment later she couldn't hold her own sadness in anymore. Her head pressed tightly against Sam's chest and while holding on to her, Liz let go and the sobs broke free.

They stood there for a long time, until the storm had passed.

Samantha tenderly kissed her on the forehead. “I know that losing a loved one is very hard and still hurts after many many years. But you shouldn't forget what heavenly gift your Mom left for the whole family. She created a new life and you have to remember that. Taylor is a part of her and I'm sure that she too will never forget about your Mom.”

Liz looked at Sam, wiping her tears away with her palms. “You are right.”

“You are a great family. Everybody is always there for each other and you love each other unconditionally.”

“Yes, together we are strong.”

Sam smiled. “And if Taylor should have sad thoughts then we will cheer her up.”

“Sam, you really are amazing. Do you know that?”

The brunette blushed and smiled bashfully.

 

*****

 

Dejected, Taylor sat in the prison cell, observing Sara, who was slowly waking up in the cell next to her.

Her face contorted with pain, Sara touched her head. “Oh gee... my skull is pounding like crazy.” Then she became aware of where she was and she also noticed her friend. “Taylor? What are we doing here?... God, this is one fierce headache... I don't remember anything.”

“Oh you don't? Well, let me help your memory along,” Taylor replied sarcastically. She rose from the bed and stepped close to the bars. “It's your fault that we are in here!”

Sara's eyes widened in shock. “Oh yeah... now I remember. I didn't want that to happen. I'm sorry.”

“If you want to destroy yourself then go ahead, but leave me out of it next time,” Taylor snapped, not wanting to let her off that easy. “Just how much longer do you think can you go on living your life like that?”

Sara crossed her arms, keeping silent.

“Everything you did the past weeks was just to escape reality.”

“I'll make it up to you,” Sara responded in a small voice. “Please, you can have everything you want. I fulfill your every wish!”

“Everything?”

The photographer nodded. “Yes.”

“I only have one wish... please, get help. That is your only chance to get your life back and live normally. Believe me, you know that I'm talking from experience. I want you to be well again.”

Sara wanted to talk back, but Taylor didn't give her a chance to do that. “You have to be really well and not just act as if you are, like you did until now. At the moment you are only lying to yourself.”

She banged her head against the bars. “I've been so stupid,” Sara sighed.

Taylor nodded in agreement.

“Can you forgive me for getting us into this situation?”

Tenderly squeezing her hand, Taylor replied, “If you promise me to go to therapy and get well...”

With tears in her eyes, Sara nodded.

“Okay.”

Both were smiling at each other when Michiru entered the room. “Ms. Kasawaki!” they called out, greatly relieved.

Michiru fixed them with a stern glare, putting her hands on her hips. “You two can't be left alone for 5 minutes.”

The guards came in and opened the doors while Michiru gave them their coats that she had brought with her. “It's a good thing I didn't forget how to speak Chinese in all those years. Else you would have been stuck in here for a while since you are foreigners.”

Hesitatingly, Sara inquired, “Is... is... is something going to happen? Are we in real trouble?”

“No. The whole matter is forgotten, since it was stupid anyway.”

Taylor and Sara both exhaled sharply and then hugged Michiru. “Thank you, Ms. Kasawaki.”

 

*****

 

The glass doors opened automatically and Danielle stepped out of the grocery store. She had just bought ingredients for the dinner she wanted to cook for Elias and herself. Worried, she glanced around the parking lot. “Boy, it's gotten quite dark. I wish it wouldn't have taken me so long. Why did it have to be so crowded in there?” She quickened her steps. “At least my way home is not that long.”

She had just crossed the street as a sports car came to a halt next to her. Frightened, she looked at the driver and saw that Greg got out of the car.

He had pulled his base cap deeply over his face and he walked straight towards her.

Danielle froze in her tracks, scared to death.

“Hey Dani, are you lonely? Do you need some company?“

Her breathing increased and her heart pounded hard behind her ribs. His words raised memories in her. Yes, she could remember clearly now. She had left a party with him once, but then his name had not been Greg. Unfortunately, his real name escaped her still.

She panicked. Immediately, she let go of the paper bags she was holding and as quickly as she could, she fled in direction of Jack's beach house, running for her life. She heard how he followed her, his long legs covering ground much faster than she could.

“You can't escape me!” he called after her, confidently. “I will catch you!”

Danielle turned back now and again. Fearful, she shouted, “Leave me alone! HELP! SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME!!!”

He had caught up with her and pulled at her dress.

Danielle stumbled and both of them fell to the hard ground.

Alexander held her legs to prevent her from getting up. He crawled up her body while Danielle kept desperately calling for help, but nobody heard her cries. The area was deserted at this time.

Sneering, he began to open the front buttons of her dress. “Now let's see if you are still a good fuck, you little whore,” he snarled.

In her deadly fear, she fought him fiercely and managed to squirm free, kicking him hard right in the face. The heel of her pump hit him so hard that he let go of her, because he grew dizzy. “Owww! You fucking bitch!”

Quickly, Danielle scrambled up and ran, not looking back. She just kept on running until she had reached the safety of Jack's beach house. Trembling, she locked the door behind her.

 

*****

 

Feeling a bit depressed, Taylor and Sara sat on a bench at the big airport of Beijing. They already had gotten their tickets and now Michiru was busy checking in the luggage.

“I called my Dad and told him everything,” Sara said. “He wasn't too happy, but he did promise to get me the best psychologist in the world.” She rolled her eyes. “He always has to exaggerate everything.”

Taylor laughed and gently patted the tomcat on her friend's lap. “So Tugger, you'll be home again soon.”

“I think the little rascal will miss you.”

The teenager nodded. “I think I will miss the stubborn, little guy too.”

Silence fell and then Sara confessed, “It will be weird seeing Daddy again. Actually, I'm a little bit scared of it.”

“Ahh, there is no need for that,” Taylor tried to cheer her up. “He will be very happy to see his daughter again, I'm sure.”

“Thanks for giving me courage.”

Taylor's flight was announced over the speakers.

Sara sighed. “I'm missing you already, do you know that? We had so much fun together.”

Taylor elbowed her gently in the side. “Hey, it's just a few thousand miles, two continents and an ocean between us. That's nothing. Besides, you'll be back to L.A., right?”

Sara laughed. “I promise you, as soon as I'm ready, you are going to be the first person I would want to see and visit.”

Michiru came towards them. “Taylor, we have to go. Goodbye Sara, and please, take good care of you.” She winked at the photographer and smirked.

Sara blushed, but promised, “Yes, Ms. Kasawaki. I'll be sure to do that. Thanks again for all your help.” She looked at Taylor. “Well, I guess this is the moment.”

“I guess. Take good care of your cat or I might just keep him.”

Sara put him in his box and brought out a little wrapped package. “Here, your Birthday present. But promise, you won't open it before tomorrow. Or else you'll get trouble from me.”

Taylor snorted. “Yeah right. We are going to end up in jail again if you cause trouble.”

Both of them laughed.

“Thank you,” Taylor said, before Sara pulled her into a big bear hug.

The flight was announced a second time.

“I really have to go or I'll miss my plane. Bye.”

“Bye.” Watching Taylor leave, she remembered something and called after her, “Phones still work so we can call each other!”

The teenager waved and Sara returned it until she couldn't see her anymore for they had reached the security check point.

 

*****

 

Unable to think straight, Danielle hurried through the house, closing windows and doors and locking everything tightly. She took another frightened glance around and decided to draw all the blinds too. Shaking, she sat down on the couch in the living room, buried her face in her hands and started to cry.

Heavy sobs racked her frame as Elias raced out of the kitchen and found her like that. He knelt down in front of her. “Dani? What happened? You've got bloody scratches and bruises all over you...”

“I remembered,” she sobbed, clawing at his sweater. “I want to leave here,” she whimpered. “He attacked me!”

Eli's eyes opened wide. “Who attacked you?”

“Greg!” she wailed. “But he isn't Greg!”

He tried to calm her down. “Dani, you have to calm down. What you are saying is making no sense at the moment. Take a few deep breaths and then tell me everything from the beginning.” He took a tissue and gently wiped her tears away.

“Greg attacked me. Ever since I told him that I don't want to see him anymore, he harassed me with calls at night. But I never thought that he would attack me like that.”

“That damn bastard,” Elias cussed. “But what do you mean when you say Greg attacked you, but he is not Greg?”

New tears made their way out of Danielle's brown eyes, rolling down her heated cheeks. “He said something and I remembered. I was at a party, before the coma. He came to me and used the same words, but his name was not Greg then. His name was different, I just can't recall it!”

Elias pulled her into his arms and began to rub her back tenderly. “Danielle, we have to go to the police.”

She shook her head.

“Yes, Danielle. This has to be reported. The bastard must not get away with something like that.”

“It's of no use,” she sobbed harshly. “They are not going to believe me because of my past as a drug addict. Besides, Greg, or whatever his real name is, he is very rich. It will be so easy for him to just pay some money and he will be free again. Elias, please. Please, get me away from here!” she begged.

“You do know that it's not good to run away from one's fears, don't you?”

She nodded. “Yes, I know. But, I'm not ready to confront my fears just yet. Please, please, just get me away from here.”

Her imploring eyes and the pleading voice nearly broke his heart. “Try to get some sleep. Tomorrow morning we will come up with the best solution for this matter, okay?”

She nodded once more and Elias led her to her room.

“Would you please stay with me until I fell asleep?” she inquired, shy. “I would feel much safer if I knew you were right beside me.”

Elias smiled. “Of course.”

 

***** THE NEXT DAY *****

 

Sam was creating a ‘Happy Birthday' garland, while Liz was going over the list of things that needed to be done for Taylor's party.

“Hmm. Let's see if I'm finally able to reach Mr. Jack Carpenter,” Liz mumbled, grabbed the phone and dialed his cell phone number.

 

Vicky's eyes rolled back in her head as she moaned loudly, “Oh my God... yes... don't stop... yes... yes... oh Jaaaaaaack...”

A nasty, ear-piercing sound rang out and Jack's cell phone vibrated on the nightstand.

She wrapped her arms tighter around his upper body and clamped her legs around his waist. “Don't answer... let it ring... don't stop...”

“I have to,“ he gasped a bit breathless and freed himself from her grip. Sitting up, he reached for the phone and pushed a button to answer. “Hello?”

“I wish you a wonderful good morning, Mr. Carpenter.”

“Ohh, hi Liz.”

Taking possession of him, Vicky wrapped her arms around his muscled chest, pressed herself against his back and began to nibble on his earlobe.

“What can I do for you, Liz?” he asked, a bit distracted due to his lover's ministrations.

“Well, first of all I'm glad to have finally reached you. I already thought you had completely disappeared,” she told him.

“Ah no... I've just been very busy lately.”

Victoria grinned and whispered, “That's right. Busy with me.”

“What's the reason for your call, Liz?”

“Taylor is coming home tomorrow and it is her birthday. I wanted to know if you would like to come?”

‘Of course, he would like to come,' Victoria thought to herself. ‘If you wouldn't have interrupted us we would already have done that.'

“Tomorrow you say?” Jack asked again, having lost track of the conversation again.

“I know that's very short notice but I couldn't reach you sooner,” Liz explained, reproachful.

Vicky's hands wandered down and were now stroking over his jumping abs.

Squeezing his eyes shut, a sigh escaped his throat.

On the other end of the line, Liz frowned. Something was weird. “Am I calling at a bad time?” she asked.

Jack's eyes rolled back as Victoria's hand slid even deeper. “No, no. Can I bring somebody with me?”

“Sure,” Liz responded. “The more, the merrier.”

“Okay. So, which time do you want Vicky and I to come?”

“How about right now,” Victoria breathed into his ear.

“Vicky?” Liz exclaimed in shock. “Did you just say that you wanted to bring Victoria Parker?”

“Yes.”

“I don't think that's a good idea. I know that Victoria and you are together, but Taylor has a problem with her after everything that went on and it is her birthday.”

Jack was a bit mad about that. “Well fine, then I won't come either.”

Once more Vicky breathed into his ear, ”Oh yes, you will. Now hang up finally!”

“Jack, don't be so childish. Don't you think you can make it a couple of hours without Victoria?” Liz inquired. She too was getting a bit angry.

Instantly, Vicky took the cell phone from his hand and answered, “No, he sadly can't do that. Is that all, because we are busy. Bye, future sister-in-law.” She hung up and switched the cell phone off.

“You know that wasn't very polite,” Jack told her.

“So what? We have more pressing matters to attend. For example, this...” Her hand slid below the cover, finding something she really liked.

Jack closed his eyes and moaned lustfully. “Ohhh... Vicky...”

She grinned roguishly. “Hmmm... now what do we have here? Looks and feels like little Jacky boy has awakened completely...”

 

Liz was still flabbergasted and stared in disbelief at the phone in her hand. “What the hell was that?”

 

*****

 

Danielle stuffed her clothes into a big traveler bag.

“You are really sure that you don't want to go to the police to report this thing with Greg?” Elias wanted to know.

“Absolutely. I just want to get far away from Los Angeles. I want to be at a safe place where he can't find me.”

Eli nodded. “Well, I guess Australia is far away enough.”

“I think so too,” she confirmed.

“Okay. I will call Matthew Jones and tell him that I will take his job offer. I already called at the airport and checked some flights. The next one for Sydney will leave this afternoon.”

Danielle smiled. “Good, that sounds like a plan. Before we leave though, please let's drive by the Stuarts' house to deliver Taylor's birthday present. I feel a bit bad that we are not going to her party,” she admitted.

“Yeah, I'm sorry too,” Elias agreed. “I would have liked to see how she has developed. The last I remember is this quiet little girl of 7 years. She didn't talk and she didn't let anybody close but her big sister when she came to start therapy. Then it still took over a year until she trusted me.”

“I've seen her. She is doing great and she is a very happy teenager.” Danielle closed the zippers and sat down on the bed to look at him. “What kinda job is it that you have in Australia?”

Eli shrugged his shoulders. “For right now, I don't know much. It's about Mr. Jones' daughter, Sara. She was somehow traumatized, which is having a very negative effect on her life. She has big problems to get over whatever happened. I don't know more. In fact, I shouldn't even talk about it. You know, doctor's secret.”

Danielle nodded. “I didn't want for you to break any oaths you had to take,” she told him. “But, I hope you know that all your secrets would be safe with me. I would never betray your trust.”

He believed her. “Yes, Danielle. I do know that. Also, I promise that one day the bastard will pay for what he did to you. We will see him behind bars, I swear to you.”

Tears welled up in her eyes at his heartfelt speech. She went to him and hugged him tightly. “You are such a wonderful person. I will forever be grateful to God that you entered my life.”

 

*****

 

Samantha and Liz were still wrapped up in their preparations for Taylor's birthday party as the phone rang.

Nerve-wrecked, Liz rolled her eyes. “I hope it's not another cancellation.” She picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

“Hey sweetheart, it's Uncle Will.”

A huge smile spread across her features. She was sure that her Uncle wouldn't disappoint her like other people had already done today. “Hey, Uncle Will. I've been waiting for you to call. Are you at the airport?”

“Uh... no. I'm still in Scotland.”

Liz wrinkled her forehead. “Was your flight canceled?”

“No. Sadly, I'm calling with bad news.”

“What's wrong? Are you sick?” she inquired, greatly concerned.

“If it would be that I would be happy, but that's not it. The problem is I can't get away from here. I don't have anybody to look over the bar.”

Liz was crestfallen. “Oh... too bad. Will we see you at Christmas?”

“Unfortunately, no. Please, believe me, Liz. I would like nothing more, but this year I just can't. I promise, I'll make it up to you all.”

She sighed and tiredly rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Okay, Uncle William. Would you please call again tomorrow so that Taylor won't be too disappointed?”

“Yes, I'll do that.”

“Okay. So, until soon. Bye.”

“Bye.”

Liz hung up and lowered herself dejectedly to the couch.

Samantha sat down beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “Bad news?” she asked, softly.

The other woman sighed. “Yes. Uncle William won't be able to make it either. Slowly I'm getting the impression that the idea with the party was a very stupid thing.”

“Why?”

“Well, what kind of a party is that going to be without any guests? First Jack, then Dani and Elias and now Uncle Will. The only thing missing would be Karen marching through the door, announcing that she can't come either.”

As if on cue, the entrance door opened and a mere moment later, Karen stood widely grinning in the living room. “Hello, my two cuties.”

Liz looked at her with imploring green eyes. “Please, don't say it,” she pleaded.

Karen frowned. “Please don't say what?”

“Please don't tell me that you can't make it to Taylor's party tomorrow.”

“What gives you the idea that I would do that?” Karen inquired, raising her eyebrows in surprise.

“Because everybody else has canceled.” Liz whined.

“I'll be there, don't you worry.”

A small smile flickered over Liz' face as she heard that. “Thank goodness.”

“So, how many people will be there tomorrow?” Karen wanted to know.

“The birthday girl, Chris, Sam, you, Tasilo, the little cat and myself.”

“A small party, huh?”

Liz sighed again. “Looks like it.”

“Ah, don't worry, we will make it a great one,” Karen promised.

“Yes. Hey Karen, do you already have plans for Christmas?”

“Nothing special. Why?”

“How about if you would come with us to the log cabin?”

Karen's eyes widened. “Are you serious?”

“Would I have asked you if I wouldn't be?”

“Phew... uh... I don't know...”

“Awww, come on,” Liz begged shamelessly. “Please, please, please, pleeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaase. Pretty please with sugar on top.”

Karen gave in. “Alright, alright. Who would be able to say no to such puppy dog eyes.”

“Oh yeah. This is going to be so cool!” Liz exclaimed in happiness.

“If you say so. I hope I won't regret it.”

 

***** THE DAY OF TAYLOR'S BIRTHDAY *****

 

Matthew and Rose were waiting for the arrival of Sara's plane.

“Isn't it just great?” the housekeeper gushed. “Now the family will be reunited for Christmas.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Who would have thought.”

“Too bad though that Richard is gone,” she added matter-of-factly.

“Please, Rose, don't start with that again. I tried to reach him and apologize to him, but I don't know where he is. Not even Sara knows where he is.”

She crossed her arms. “It didn't have to get that far.”

“Sure. But now it's too late and I can't change it. But I won't let this matter spoil my wonderful Christmas,” Matthew said firmly.

Rose changed the subject. “So, did this Dr. Lunaris get in contact with you?”

“Yes, he called me. He is on his way. I hope he will be able to help my little girl.”

“I hope so too. God, the poor kid. She went through so much all by herself.” Then she shouted for joy as she discovered Sara. “Oh! There she is!”

Sara hurried towards them as quickly as she could. She let go of her traveler bag, but kept Tugger's transport box tightly in her hand.

“Oh, my little Angel. How I have missed you!” Rose exclaimed. “Let me have a look at you.” She held her away from her body and scrutinized her up and down. “Oh sweetheart, you are so thin. Did you lose weight? Awww, we have got to take care of that. My cooking will help, I'm sure.” Then she embraced Sara tightly, not bothering to hide her tears of happiness. “It's so good to have you back home.”

Matthew cleared his throat. “Hey, may I welcome my daughter too?”

Sara dove into his arms. “Daddy!”

He kissed her on the forehead and held her tight. “Welcome home, my precious.”

From the transport box came loud meowing as Tugger protested about his neglect.

Rose opened the box and took the cat into her arms. He immediately started to purr. “Why are you kicking up such a row, huh? Do you need some loving?”

Sara snorted. “I don't know what's up with him. He got so much attention that it will be enough for the next 20 years.”

Matthew laughed. “Well, he is a man. They can never get enough of loving and cuddling.”

Involuntary, Sara had to think about Jack and she felt a painful tug at her heart. The smile disappeared from her face.

“Precious? Are you alright?” her father asked concerned.

“Yes. I am just exhausted from the long flight and the food sucked.”

“Yeah. You are looking very tired and hungry. Let's go home and do something about that.”

 

*****

 

At the airport of Los Angeles, Elizabeth stood on the tip of her toes. “God, I wish I was a giraffe. With a long neck I could see much better,” she muttered, contorting her body to have a better view. “Can you see her anywhere?”

“No.” Samantha replied.

“I hope the plane will arrive on time.”

“Why are you so nervous?” Sam inquired. Ever since the day had started, Liz had been somewhat beside herself.

“I just want everything to be perfect.”

Sam placed her hands upon Liz' shoulders. “You have to calm down though. I don't think Taylor will like it if you have another breakdown. Please, believe me, everything will be just fine.”

Liz sighed and tried to calm down. “I hope you are right.”

 

After they had gone through the customs area and stepped through the exit doors, Michiru recognized Samantha and Liz in the crowd that was waiting for the passengers. The Asian woman smiled and said, “Hey, your reception committee is waiting for you.”

“What? Where?” Taylor asked, scanning her surroundings.

“Look straight ahead,” Michiru answered and pointed forward.

Taylor's eyes finally found them and she raced off with her heavy bag, forcing her way through the gathered crowd to get to her family. “LIZ!” she exclaimed, beaming happily. She barely managed to let go of her bag as the blonde pulled her into her arms and held her tight.

“Oh sweetie! Finally I have you back. You can't imagine how bad we all missed you.”

“I missed you all horribly too,” the teenager confessed. Getting out of the tight embrace, she looked at her sister's face. “Awww, come on Liz. Please, no tears.”

Liz stroked her cheek tenderly and sobbed, “I'm sorry. I can't help it. I missed you so much and I'm so happy to have you back.”

“Awww Liz.” Now she pulled her big sister into a warm hug and held on until the sobs lessened.

Liz placed a gently kiss on her forehead. “Oh, and, happy birthday, sweetie.”

“Thank you.” Taylor turned to Samantha, offering her a hand in greeting. “Hi Sammy.”

With a broad grin, Sam picked Taylor up and wrapped her into a bear hug.

The teenager was so surprised, she didn't know what happened to her.

“Welcome home, little rascal.” She put Taylor back to the floor, who had to get her composure back after that unexpected greeting. “Rascal? Who do you mean with rascal, huh? Besides... hey, wait a minute... you are talking?!” Taylor's mouth fell open in surprise.

Liz grinned widely. “Yeah, she does. Isn't that great?”

“That's absolutely cool!”

“Happy Birthday, Taylor,” Sam said smiling.

“Thank you. Man, how many more surprises will this day bring?”

Meanwhile, Michiru had reached them.

“Hello, Ms.Kasawaki,” Liz greeted her and shook her hand.

“Hello Ms. Stuart, Samantha.”

“Can we give you a lift home?”

“Thank you very much but that's not necessary. Billy should arrive here anytime soon to get me.”

Liz nodded. “Okay. It was nice seeing you. Come on then, gang, let's go home.”

Michiru rummaged in her bag, pulled out a package and gave it to Taylor. “Here you go. Happy Birthday.”

Taylor blushed. “Uh... thank you. You shouldn't have done that.”

Michiru just smiled. “I do believe I had to. You will see what I mean once you opened it. I wish you a great birthday and a wonderful Christmas. And, I'll see you next year for more training, okay?”

“You can bet on that!” the teenager promised. She waved once more at her coach and then went with Liz and Sam to the waiting car.

 

*****

Jack came home in a bad mood. He had driven by the Stuarts' house in the morning to deliver Taylor's birthday present. It had ended with a very bad fight between him and Liz. Nasty and not so nice words were exchanged between them, until it became too stupid for Liz and she just closed the entrance door right in front of his nose.

Actually, he hated fights. The whole day at work he couldn't concentrate on anything else. By now his mood had reached the lowest level.

As he opened the door, he heard Shania Twain singing ‘I'm gonna get you good' and Vicky was crowing along at the top of her lungs.

He put down his briefcase, hugged her from behind, while his hands started to discover the sensual curves of her upper body. “Oh Jack... do you have a huge keychain in your pants' pocket or are you happy to see me?” she asked, giggling.

“Why don't you see for yourself and find out.”

She turned around, looking at him completely surprised. “What? Now? Dinner will get cold.”

He raised an eyebrow. “So what? We do have a microwave, right?” Lifting her up before she could say something, he carried her to the bedroom. ‘To forget is all that I want,' he thought by himself. ‘I want to forget Sara... that stupid fight with Liz... everything.'

 

*****

 

“Hello! We are back!” Liz hollered, once she had unlocked the front door.

A brown and black whirlwind on 4 legs came racing out, jumped at Taylor and buried her underneath him. Wagging his tail furiously, Tasilo dragged his tongue across the girl's face, whimpering in his excitement.

“Alright, alright, my sweet. I missed you too,” Taylor giggled, trying in vain to free herself from the big dog.

Liz helped her sister to get back on her feet and the girl stroked Tasilo's head. “He really did miss you,” Liz said.

“Yeah, I noticed.”

They entered the house and went to the living room.

Taylor was speechless as she saw the decorations. There were garlands and balloons everywhere, as well as many colorful Happy Birthday placards.

Christopher and Karen jumped out from behind the couch, blew into their paper trumpets that made the most ridiculous sound, threw confetti and screamed, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY TAYLOR!!!”

After many exchanged hugs, smoochies and nice words, Taylor said, “You really are the greatest family one could wish for.”

“Awww, everybody come here for a group hug,” Chris called out.

A soft “meow” rang out and Taylor looked at the floor. There sat a little black and white cat. “We have a new pet?” the girl inquired, raising her eyebrows questioningly.

“Tasilo rescued her from the pool,” Samantha explained helpfully.

“She is cute.” Taylor squatted and rubbed the cat with her index-finger underneath the chin.

The little cat purred and placed a small paw tenderly against the caressing finger. “What is her name?”

“She doesn't have one yet,” Liz responded. “We wanted to wait until you would be back.”

Taylor grinned. “Remember that I watched this musical about cats with Ms. Kasawaki? I think I know the perfect name for her.”

“Well then, let's hear it,” Liz said.

“Jemima.”

The cat jumped and climbed her way upward until she sat on Taylor's shoulder. She rubbed her head against Taylor's neck and purred even louder than before.

Sam smiled. “I guess this means she likes it.”

“That calls for a picture!” Karen exclaimed and stormed off to get the camera.

 

*****

 

Armed with vacuum cleaner and other cleaning equipment, Billy was whirling through Michiru's loft, wanting to make everything look perfect for when his best friend came back from Beijing.

Bombalurina and Demeter lay cuddled up on the couch in feline grace, watching him.

“Everything has to be perfect. When Michiru comes back, I want her to feel comfortable.” He jumped as the door opened suddenly. “Michiru? What are you doing here?” he asked, utterly astonished.

“Well, I waited over an hour at the airport for you to make an appearance. Then I got a cab.”

Billy looked at his watch and saw that time had gone by much quicker than he had expected. “Oh sweetheart, I'm sorry. I wanted to make everything pretty and forgot about the time. Can you please forgive me?” he asked, looked at her with big eyes and poked out his lower lip a bit.

Michiru had to laugh as she saw his pitiful face. Then she reached for him. “Come here and let me hug you.”

Billy grinned broadly, “Ooooh, I love cuddling.” Hugging her, he confessed, “I missed you so much.”

“I missed you too.” She let go of him and looked smiling at her cats. “So, tell me. Did Bombi and Demi behave?”

“Beside the one time where they stole my tuna, they were the nicest little fur balls ever.”

“Good. I'm glad to hear that.” She turned and inspected the rest of the living room. “Great, all my plants are still alive too.”

“Yes. I took great care of everything.”

She grinned and hugged him again. “Wonderful. I guess I know now, who I will call when I have to go away for a few weeks.”

Billy's eyes widened. “No, no, no. No more traipsing around the world while leaving me here with all the work...” He stopped as he felt something. “Hey, there is someone moving inside you.” He knelt down in front of her and placed a hand on her swollen tummy. “Hello, little baby. My, you are quite active.” He looked up at Michiru as he felt another move against his hand. “Does it hurt?”

Michiru shook her head. “No. I think it's amazing to feel how it moves.”

Billy leaned his cheek against her belly and wrapped his arms around her waist. “Wow. It's really fascinating. Now, tell me. What did you do in Beijing?”

 

*****

 

Taylor dipped her finger into a glass of water and then rubbed the water drop on the little cat's head. “So, little fur ball, with that I'll name you Jemima. Welcome to the Stuart family.”

The others that stood around her started clapping and Jemima cuddled up to Sam, purring.

“Okay,” Liz announced. “Now we can go on with celebrating. Taylor, I think it's time that you unwrap your presents.”

The teenager bounced excitedly and rubbed her hands. “Yeah, give them to me!”

“Why don't you start with the ones that are in your bag?” Liz remarked, laughing at her sister's antics.

“Okay, I'll do that. First the one from Sara.” Taylor ripped off the colorful paper and opened the box that was revealed. In there was a necklace with a part of a pendant, a beautiful signed autograph of Shakira and a letter.

“What is she writing?” Liz wanted to know.

Taylor read, “Dear Taylor, I found the pendant in a small antique store in Beijing and knew that it would be the right one for us. If you fit both pieces together the inscription will say ‘Friends are part of the same heart.' And so it will be forever. I wish you a wonderful birthday and an even greater Christmas with your family. Sara.”

The teenager put on the necklace and rose from where she had been sitting. “Wow, that's nice. I gotta call her!”

While the birthday girl was on the phone, Liz brought the cream layer cake with 19 burning candles into the living room.

Karen's eyes widened. “Boy, that thing is huge!”

Liz smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “Everybody in the family has a sweet tooth so I hope that this one will be enough.”

Once Taylor was back, they sang for her the Happy Birthday song.

“Okay sweetie. Now blow out the candles and make a wish,” Liz said.

Taylor thought about it for a moment, inhaled deeply and blew whatever her lungs could offer. ‘Please, please, please, this wish has to come true.'

“Okay, can we finally eat now?” the teenager asked. “My mouth is watering like crazy.”

“You don't want to unwrap your gifts first?” Liz asked.

“Later. I'm really hungry. Look at Sammy. The poor girl already looks starved too,” Taylor responded. “And Chris also.”

“Yeah. Give me some cake before I faint from weakness,” the artist chimed in.

Liz pointed a finger at her siblings. “Okay, but I'm warning you. Don't you dare have another ‘cake battle' like last year. Nobody will throw food around, am I clear?”

“Hey, that wasn't our fault,” Taylor defended herself and her brother. “Uncle William started it!”

“That's right!” Christopher exclaimed.

Liz rolled her eyes. “How wonderful that you agree with each other. Alright, let's eat.”

 

*****

 

STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT EPISODE...

 

 

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