Stephanie smiled as she watched her friends and family open their gifts. The squeals of delight from her grandchildren made her laugh, the bug eyed looks from her children made her proud that she and Eric had been able to surprise them.
“Mom.” Thorne whispered. “Really?”
Eric smiled at Stephanie then looked at their family. “Yes, really. We decided that a family vacation was what we need. I know that Steffy’s company is just starting, and that several of you are involved with that, but after the holidays, we’d like to just take off on the yacht and go wherever everyone decides on.”
“A yacht.” Felicia shook her head. “Is it the family’s?”
Stephanie chuckled, “No, Honey. We found one that will be available for us to use whenever we decide to take our trip.”
“And it’s big enough for all of us?” Kristen asked as she held Tony’s hand.
“All of us.” Eric nodded, smiling over at Nick and Jackie. “Even Nick and Jackie. They’re family now. Dino can’t go traipsing around the world with one grandma and leave the other one behind. And he sure can’t leave behind his daddy.”
Nick smiled down at the little boy snuggled in his lap who was looking at up him with a big grin. “What do you think, little man?”
“Dino thinks is a good idea.”
“Dad?” Thorne asked as he looked to his mother.
Stephanie narrowed her eyes. “What are you looking at me like that for?”
Eric nodded. “We all have a surprise for you, Sweetheart. But first,” he said as he got up and walked to where he’d stashed the present he had for her. “I have this for you.”
Stephanie’s eyes widened as she looked at the size of the gift. “Eric, what in the world?”
Sitting down beside her, he held the gift out for her to tear the paper off. “Open it and see.”
Giving him a look, she shook her head then reached out and tore away the paper, her breath catching at what was revealed. “Oh my god. I,” she started then stopped, unable to find the words.
Eric never took his eyes from her face but saw his family out of the corner of his eye moving to get a look at the painting Stephanie sat staring at. “I couldn’t get this image out of my mind. I’d like for it to hang by the fireplace.”
“My god, Eric.” Jackie breathed. “That’s breathtaking.”
“Stephanie, you’re beautiful.” Nick smiled down at her when she looked up at him with a quirked eyebrow.
“It’s Eric. He makes me that way,” she whispered as she looked back at the painting. “Is this from our honeymoon?” she asked as she studied the scene.
“Yes, it is.” Eric answered as he reached out to caress the hair from her cheek. “I’d gone inside to fix us something to eat. When I came back out, I found you standing out staring at the sunset. You took my breath away.” Using his finger under her chin, he gently turned her face to his. “You are beautiful, Stephanie. I didn’t do anything except paint what I saw.”
Thorne wiped his eyes then knelt in front of his mother. “We have something for you, too, Mom. It’s from all of us.” He handed her the box they’d put the magazine in.
Stephanie let Eric take the painting as she looked down at the box her son had placed on her lap. “What in the world?” she whispered then looked up at her son when she saw the magazine cover. “I don’t understand.”
Aly smiled. “It was Jackie’s idea. That is the first issue of a special edition of that magazine. It hits stands tomorrow.”
“It’s you.” Stephanie smiled as she looked at the picture of her granddaughter.
Aly nodded. “Posed just like you were on the cover of the first edition.”
Stephanie opened the magazine, amazed at the pictures of herself side by side with those of her granddaughters and then daughters. The pictures of all of the family, even Dino, made her eyes water as she looked up and around at all of her family. “This is wonderful. Thank you. You girls look much better in these outfits than I ever did.”
“Now, Stephanie.” Jackie scolded. “The pictures of you beside them, prove otherwise.”
Nick nodded. “If I were older,” he started then stopped when Felicia elbowed him.
Eric laughed, “You’d better watch it, Nick.”
Nick shrugged. “What? I was simply going to say, if I were older and had met her before Eric, he would have had to fight me for her.”
Stephanie laughed and shook her head. “While you are a very handsome man, Nick. Once I laid eyes on Eric, no other man stood a chance.”
Nick smiled at her. “Ah well. I have my own woman. And she’s every bit as beautiful as her mother.” He smiled down at Felicia. “Do you think maybe you should tell them now?” he asked her quietly.
Stephanie narrowed her eyes. “Tell us what?”
Felicia smiled. “Well,” she started then took Nick’s hand. “Daddy, how do you feel about designing a wedding dress?”
Eric smiled and stood up, his arms stretched out for his baby. “Oh, Baby! That’s wonderful. You know I’ll be happy to design your dress.”
Stephanie smiled when Felicia sat down beside her and wrapped her arms around her. Cradling her head, she gently rocked her. “You don’t have to hope now, Baby. He’s the one,” she whispered then kissed her ear, caressing a tear from Felicia’s cheek when she pulled back. “Happy tears?”
Felicia nodded. “There’s something else, Mom,” she whispered for her mother’s ears only.
“I know.” Stephanie whispered back, a light in her eyes as she saw the happiness in her daughter’s.
“Oh Momma.” Felicia murmured as she wrapped her arms around Stephanie’s neck. “You have to keep fighting. This baby needs her grandma.”
“Her?” Stephanie questioned as she stared at her daughter.
“Uh hum. Her.” Felicia clasped Stephanie’s hand. “Stephanie Elizabeth Marone.”
“Baby,” Stephanie started, her eyes watering. “Don’t you think we have enough Stephanies?”
Felicia chuckled, “We’re going to call her Liz or Anie, we haven’t decided.”
Eric frowned as he picked up the last part of the quiet conversation. “Liz? Anie? Who are we talking about?”
Felicia giggled as she got up and moved into Nick’s arms. “You tell them.”
“He won’t shoot me?” Nick asked.
Felicia laughed and shook her head. “No.”
Nick winked and kissed her nose then looked up at the rest of the family. “We’re going to be adding to the family.”
Jackie’s eyes widened and she smiled as she threw her arms around her son. “Oh, Nickie!”
Nick held his mother just a bit tighter, his eyes drifting to Stephanie who sat smiling at him, seeming to know what he was thinking. “I take it you’re excited to be Nana again?”
Jackie pulled back and laughed as she caressed her son’s cheek. “Very happy.” Turning her attention to Felicia, she pulled her soon to be daughter-in-law into a hug and held tight. “Thank you so very much, Felicia. It’s been such a hard year for him. This means,” she choked up. “This means so much.”
Felicia smiled as she pulled back from the hug. “I know and I promise we’re going to be happy.”
Eric clasped Nick’s hand. “Congratulations, Son.”
“Thank you.” Nick smiled at the man his father had always hated. “Dad said to apologize for not making it. He said he’d be here by New Year’s day.”
Eric nodded. “I understand business. He didn’t have to apologize.”
“I know, but I think he just wanted to make sure you understood he wasn’t backing out.”
“It never crossed my mind. Not when it involves Stephanie.” Eric whispered then turned to look at his daughter and held out his arms. Holding her tight, he kissed her head. “Congratulations, Baby. I know how afraid you were this would never happen again.” Smiling down at her when she pulled back, he caressed her cheek. “So, how soon do I need to start work on the dress?”
Felicia chuckled, “Well, soon if I want to look good in it. How fast can you get it done?”
“If you just want me to design it, I can have that done in a day. If you want me to design it and make it myself,” he thought for a moment. “Maybe two weeks.”
“It’ll be less if I help him. And he will be making it himself.” Stephanie piped up.
Felicia nodded. “No question. I definitely want Daddy to make my dress.”
“We can all work together to get everything ready in two weeks.” Kristen smiled at her sister as she pulled her into a hug. “I’m so happy for you, Sis.”
“Thanks.” Felicia smiled as they pulled back. “I want you as my matron of honor.” She looked at her nieces all standing and waiting to hug her. “And I want all of you as bride’s maids.”
Nick looked around at the young men that would soon be his nephews. “And I want all of you as my groom’s men.” Looking at Thorne, he smiled. “I’d be honored if you’d be my best man.”
Thorne shook his hand. “You bet. Anything for the man that’s made my sister so happy.” He pulled Felicia into a hug. “I’m so happy for you, Fifi. He’s a good guy and he’ll take care of you just like you should be without cramping your style.”
Felicia laughed and elbowed him in the stomach. “Hey!”
Thorne laughed, “Just stating facts, little sister.”
“What’s going on here?” Ridge asked as he came into the room.
Felicia stared at her brother, still cool toward him even though he’d made semi-peace with their mother. “Christmas is what’s going on here. Where have you been?”
“Don’t start with me, Felicia. I do have a wife and child to have Christmas with.”
“A child that should be here with his grandmother.” Felicia growled.
“Fifi.” Thorne whispered.
Dino moved to where Ridge stood facing off with his mother. Staring up at his uncle, he frowned. “You made Mommy grumpy.”
Nick bit his lip to keep from chuckling as he moved to pick up his son. “It’s alright, Son. Mommy’s okay. She’s just a little upset with your uncle Ridge for being late and not bringing RJ.”
“He didn’t bring me, I brought myself.” RJ told them as he came in. “Dad forgot that I can drive.”
“Enough!” Eric hissed at them. “I won’t have Christmas ruined by this petty bickering. Ridge, we’re glad you here. RJ, why don’t you come give your grandma a hug. She’s missed you.”
RJ smiled at his grandfather as he nodded and moved to Stephanie’s side. Sitting down by her, he hugged her and kissed her cheek. “Did you like the magazine, Grandma?”
Stephanie patted his cheek. “I did, very much. Did you have fun taking all those pictures?”
RJ laughed and nodded. “I did.”
“Good.” She kissed his cheek then looked around at the rest of her family. “Who’s hungry? Everything should be ready by now.”
Eric nodded and held out his hand to her when she stood up. “May I escort you to the table, Madame?”
Shaking her head at him, she took his hand. “You silly man. Yes you may.”
RJ chuckled with his cousins. “They’re great.”
Thomas nodded. “Yeah, they are, little brother. Where’s Hope?”
RJ sighed and shook his head. “Decided she’d better not come, at least not yet.”
Steffy rolled her eyes. “RJ, I love you, but your mother,” she growled.
“Don’t get me started. I’m seriously considering moving out and living here with Grandma and Grandpa.”
Steffy shook her head. “No, don’t do that. Grandma wouldn’t want you to. I know your mother is probably bad mouthing Grandma a lot, and Dad is probably letting her, but you have to just ignore it. Listen to your iPod a lot, or something, but don’t move out. It would only make Brooke madder at Grandma, and might even make Dad mad at her again, and she doesn’t need that.”
RJ nodded. “You’re right, but dang. It’s not just Mom. Grandpa Stephen has been doing a lot of ranting, too.”
Thomas and Steffy looked at each other then back at their half brother. “What’s he been saying, RJ?”
“I don’t know. He rambles a lot and I can’t make it out.”
“You have to pay closer attention to him, RJ. You know how he feels about Grandma.” Thomas told him.
“I know, and I will. Let’s go before they send someone after us. You know that Grandma will suspect us of going into the den to watch tv.”
Thomas laughed and patted his brother on the back. “Yes she will.”
Stephanie cooed at the baby in her arms, laughing when he cooed back. “That’s my little man. It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you the last couple of weeks.”
Bridget smiled as she watched Stephanie with the baby. “I didn’t want to bother you, and I knew you’d want to hold him, something that you couldn’t do so soon after your surgery. That’s why we waited. I hope you know I wasn’t keeping him from you. I wouldn’t do that.”
“Oh, Honey, I never thought any such thing. I know you were doing it for me. It’s alright. You brought him to see us for Christmas, I’m happy.”
“I brought someone else too.” Bridget whispered then tapped the send button on her phone to signal her surprise.
Eric felt his heart nearly burst when he saw his youngest son walk into the room. Looking at Stephanie to see if she’d noticed, he smiled as he watched the scene unfold.
“Stephanie.” Rick whispered as he moved to kneel in front of her. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve acted in the past. I should never have forgotten who it was that took such good care of Budge and me.” He swallowed past the lump in his throat as he looked down at his hands. “I’m so sorry for Phoebe, for what I did to Steffy, to…to everyone.”
Stephanie handed the baby back to Bridget and cupped Rick’s face in her hands, lifting it so that the young man was looking at her. “I loved you the first time I saw you because you were Eric’s. And then I loved you because you were such a sweet baby,” she winked. “Well, most of the time.”
Rick chuckled and sniffed back his tears. “You loved me all the way back then?”
“I did. I told Eric once, that I felt that you were partly mine because you were a part of him. It’s how I’ve always felt about you and your sister.” She reached over and gripped Bridget’s hand. “I may not have given birth to the two of you, but I have loved you as much as I’ve loved my own.”
Rick nodded. “But I forgot.” He snarled. “I sort of let the Logan in me out.”
Stephanie laughed and pulled him to her for a hug. “You did, but that’s in the past with everything else.”
“I have some news of my own to share.”
“You’re back with Amber.” Stephanie winked at him.
Rick frowned. “Now how did,” he started then shook his head. “You know, you could have made a fortune being a psychic.”
Stephanie grinned and winked at him. “No. It only works when it involves my family.”
Rick nodded and smiled. “Yeah, you’re right, I am with Amber again. It feels good and right.”
“You’ll have to bring Amber over to see me.”
Eric smiled at his son when he stood up and turned to look at him. “Thank you, very much. You don’t know what you’ve done,” he whispered as he pulled Rick into a hug.
Rick hugged his father, happy to have him back in his life. “I think I do.”
“It’s just us now, Sweet girl.” Eric whispered as he snuggled Stephanie close, the fire in the fireplace making the room cozy.
“Mmm hmm. It was so nice having everyone here all day. Well, almost everyone,” she sighed.
“Shh. At least he came, Sweetheart. He could have let her use her wiles to keep him away completely, but he didn’t. He’s slowly coming back to us, just don’t get discouraged.”
She nodded. “Just keep telling me that.”
“I’ve been asking you for a lot of promises lately.”
“That’s alright, Sweetheart. You’re entitled,” he told her as he rubbed her arm and kissed her head. “I haven’t had a chance to get the truth out of you about your breathing exercises, so I’m asking for the truth now – how are your breathing exercises really going?”
Stephanie sighed, “They’re okay. It’s hard to get used to. When I,” she paused and studied his hand.
“What, Sweet girl? When you,” he prompted her.
“When I breathe too deep, I start coughing, and,” she started but he finished for her.
“And that scares you and you start to panic.”
She nodded. “It feels like I’m being strangled.”
“Would it help if I were there?”
Tilting her head back, Stephanie gave him an upside down smile as she nodded. “I think so. You always helped me stay calm when I’d have a coughing fit before the surgery.”
“Then I’ll be there for your breathing exercises from now on.” He wrinkled his nose at her and winked. “Grouchy Nurse Ratchet aside.”
Stephanie bit her lip and giggled. She couldn’t believe he’d heard her mumble that. “Oh my god. I can’t believe you heard me.”
He nodded. “I did. And I have to agree. If she’s like that this next time, we’ll be finding a new nurse. I won’t have anyone talking to or treating my sweet girl that way.”
“I can take care of myself,” she reminded him, a smile on her face at his protectiveness.
“I know that you are more than capable of taking care of yourself, but it’s my turn to take care of you. You’ve always been the one who took care of our children and me, now it’s time to let someone else be the caregiver for a while.”
She nodded. “I love you.”
Eric smiled and kissed her gently. “I love you.”
Yawning, she moved her head back and forth against his shoulder trying to get comfortable. Feeling her eyes grow heavy, she sighed, “I think bed is calling my name.”
Eric chuckled, “It’s been a long day. Come on, Sweet girl. Let me bank the fire and secure everything down here then I’ll be right up.”
“Okay. Don’t be too long. I don’t want to fall asleep without you.”
“I promise. Go on now.” Eric patted her bottom as she walked passed him, winking when she turned and gave him a raised eyebrow.
“Hey, watch it. That’s private property,” she told him, her eyes twinkling.
“I know,” he nodded. “because it’s mine.”
“Oh!” she laughed carefully as she slowly made her way up the stairs.
Eric watched her go, happy to see her eyes shining with mirth and happiness for the first time since her surgery. Christmas had always been her favorite holiday, and the family had gone all out this year to make sure it was a happy one for her. Although the ruckus with Ridge and Felicia had nearly messed the day up, he was sure that he’d stepped in soon enough to keep it from totally ruining her day.
Hurrying with the fire and then the lights and doors, he headed up the stairs to the woman he knew would be waiting in their bed, his pajama shirt her night shirt, the pants waiting for him to climb into after starting the fire in their bedroom’s hearth. He smiled knowing that she’d be waiting for him to slip beneath the covers and hold her.
“And sing her to sleep,” he breathed as he neared their bedroom, his mind going to what song she might ask him to sing to her. This had been a ritual they’d started early in their marriage, one that had fallen by the wayside when their marriage had started falling apart, one that they’d started again when he’d married her in the hospital after her stroke. One that was always there when they were together, even when they’d only been married in name only. He’d still sang her to sleep that Christmas because it had been one of the hardest Christmases they’d faced as a family…their baby had been dying.
Stephanie smiled at Eric when he entered their bedroom. “Hurry, I’m cold,” she told him, chuckling when he moved a little faster.
“I’ll start a fire to help you get warm.”
She shook her head. “The fire isn’t what I want to warm me up.”
Eric smiled at her just before he bent to light the fire. “I’ll be right there, Sweet girl. Just have to change clothes.”
She yawned and nodded as she settled down onto her pillows. “This Christmas is ending so much better than the last one,” she whispered sleepily as she waited for him.
Eric sighed as he pulled off the last of his clothing, stepping into the pajama bottoms he had known would be waiting for him. “Why is that, Sweetheart?” he asked softly.
“Because,” her voice slurred. “Because I’m not going to cry myself to sleep, missing you.”
Sliding into bed behind her, he spooned his body to hers and held her close. “No, Stephanie, you won’t ever have to cry yourself to sleep on Christmas again. I’m never going to be anywhere by right here.”
“Mmm,” she hummed. “Sing to me.”
Eric shook his head, half asleep and she still asked to be sung to. “Sing what?” he asked.
“Merry Little Christmas,” she murmured.
Pressing a kiss to her head, Eric did as she asked, quietly singing the words to the song that fit them so well. “Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light, from now on our troubles will be out of sight,” he paused as he decided to skip to the end of the song, the words of the last verse choking him up. “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow, hang a shining star upon the highest bough. And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.”