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Chapters 4 - 6

October 24 2004 at 2:49 PM
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Colleen  (Premier Login Mrs.B.)
Forum Owner


Response to Forever Bright Eyes

Chapter 4:

Sunday morning, December 20, 2037

Belle woke up to the feel of Shawn's fingers lightly dancing along her arm, which she had draped across his strong chest. He moved his cheek against her soft golden hair, enjoying the feel against his face, now scruffy with heavy stubble. When he moved slightly to kiss the top of her head, she moaned softly in response.

"Good morning bright eyes," he said softly. "How did you sleep?" he asked as he pressed another kiss on her head.

She looked up at him, glowing yet still not fully awake. "Need you ask?" she asked with a growing smile.

Shawn chuckled lightly. Pushing back a few strands of her hair back he gazed into her eyes affectionately. "It never hurts to ask." He kissed her gently on the forehead, allowing his lips to linger as he continued to touch her with his soft caress.

"Well I had a lot of fun reminiscing last night," Belle smiled, giving Shawn a knowing look.

"I sure had a lot of fun, too." Like countless times before he held her closer to him, loving the feel of her body next to his. "You are so beautiful," he said lovingly. "I was lying here watching you as you slept – something I've done many, many times before. Every time I am simply amazed that I have such an incredible woman as my wife."

"Thirty years is a long time to be amazed," Belle told him. "But trust me it works both ways," she added. "I love you."

"I love you, too sweetheart." They kissed one another quickly, yet soundly. "You know what else I was thinking about?" he asked, "our first Christmas together as husband and wife."

Belle began to laugh softly as she immediately remembered that time. "The two of us in that small apartment..." Belle began.

"...With the world's biggest tree in the middle of it," Shawn added with a chuckle. "That thing was so huge. I still can't believe you talked me into getting it."

"If memory serves me correctly, we both chose that tree."

"If memory serves me correctly, it was the tree you wanted and I obliged... like a good husband," Shawn added jokingly. "But do you know what I remember most?"

"Trimming the tree?" Belle asked.

Shawn shook his head in response with a growing look of mischief on his face. "No, unwrapping my gifts," he said with a sexy smirk before capturing her lips with his once more for a series of sweet kisses.


Thirty years ago... December 15, 2007

Belle hurried to the front door of the apartment and quickly unlocked it, opening it as she saw the large Christmas tree coming toward her and her husband somewhere behind it, bringing it inside. She could here Shawn muttering some choice words under his breath, but she chose to ignore it. Looking at the gorgeous tree that had just spent hours searching for was enough to get her energized. The pine scent immediately began to fill the apartment, ushering in a wave of excitement for Belle.

"Belle where do you want this?" Shawn struggled to ask as he continued to carry the large Christmas tree. Straining to get it through the narrow hallway, he grew even more frustrated when his question didn't receive a quick answer. "Belle?" he called out once more. "Baby I'm going to need your help!"

"You're doing just fine," she assured. "Right over here." She guided him in the right direction and watched him as he placed the tree in the stand. After securing it he dropped down on the couch, exhausted from his long struggle with the big tree. He looked up at it and had to admit that they did a good job. The tree was big, much bigger than he would have ever picked out but at Belle's insistence this was the one they got – prickly pine needles and all.

Taking a breather, Shawn watched as Belle took out a box of decorations for the tree out of the closet. "You aren't planning on trimming the tree tonight, are you?" he asked, a bit skeptical of her plans.

"Of course. Why wait?"

"Because it's been a long day... heck, it's been a long week. With the two of us having finals this week, this is the most I think I've seen you in days. I want to spend some quality time," he said with a pout.

"Do my ears deceive me?" Belle teased. Placing the box down, she slowly sauntered to Shawn sitting on the couch. "My husband wants to spend quality time with little ol' me?" she asked innocently. Looking at him sitting in the corner of the sofa, one leg propped up, the other planted firmly on the ground she went to him. Her hands rested on his shoulders before lazily gliding along until her fingers gently swept through the soft hairs at the nape of his neck. Shawn didn't waste any time to place his hands on her hips, holding her as she placed her left knee on the plush sofa cushion and then brought the right down on his other side. Belle straddled him now, her eyes fixed on his while her fingers threaded through his thick locks. She smiled when she felt his strong hands wander from their nestled position on her waist down to her rear.

He looked at her with a sexy smirk. His face covered in heavy stubble, the result of not shaving that morning. A few locks fell into his face, covering his forehead. "Hey Mrs. Brady," he said in a familiar low voice.

Belle tunneled her fingers through his hair. "Hey yourself Mr. Brady," she said as she continued to sweep her hand through his hair, pushing the few loose strands that insisted on hanging down in his face. "You need a haircut," she commented.

"Mm-hmm," he answered somewhat dismissively.

"Seriously Shawn. You wanted to grow it out and you did but now it's time to cut it."

"If I agree will you finally kiss me?"

She looked away and thought before smiling. "Well, just think about it. I don't want to tell you want to do."

Shawn couldn't help but laugh. "You are such a bad liar," he teased. As he expected, Belle swatted at him in response and he stopped her by sneaking in a kiss. "I'll go to the barber tomorrow," he conceded.

"Thank you."

"Now kiss me."

"Do I have to?" she pretended to whine.

"You do if you want me to help trim the tree," he told her as he continued to hold her while she straddled his lap.

"Shawn you'll really help me?" she asked wishfully.

"Of course. This is our first tree and as much of a pain as it was to get it in here, I do plan on helping you... but with one condition," he grinned. "See, I'm a little low on energy and I was hoping my beautiful wife could help me out."

Their lips came dangerously close to each other. "Let me see what I can do," Belle whispered against Shawn's mouth. Soon her lips brushed against his before turning into a full fledged lip lock.

"You sure can work miracles," Shawn muttered as their kisses deepened, turning their time together into a serious make out session to make up for lost time.

*******************************************

Nine days later..... Christmas Eve

Alice Horton's home was filled with the scent of freshly baked cookies, cider, and the sound of family gathered to enjoy the Christmas season and their yearly family tradition. Belle walked around, excited about the evening and the time to spend with the family. She had been in Salem for Christmas before, spending time with Shawn and his family and enjoying their wonderful traditions, but there was one that she had witnessed but could never participate in until tonight and she was excited.

As she made her way through the living room, nibbling on one of Gran's Christmas cookies, she practically squealed when she was attacked from behind. Her surprise turned to calm as she recognized the all too familiar feel of Shawn's arms wrapping around her waist from behind.

"Having fun?" he asked her as he kissed her cheek gently.

"Definitely. You obviously are," she smiled as she turned in his arms. "Here have some," she said as she pushed the rest of her cookie in his mouth. "It's really good, isn't it?"

"Mm-hmm," he mumbled and took her hand in his. "Come on. It's time," he grinned and led her toward the tree where the others were beginning to gather.

Belle had been apart of this before, but this would be the first time she would enjoy the Christmas celebration as an official part of the family. Just thinking about what was about to happen made her increasingly giddy. Watching as everyone gathered and the box of ornaments was placed before Alice, Belle leaned back against Shawn who stood behind her. He had his arms wrapped around her waist and enjoyed the feel of her body molded perfectly next to his.

As she did every year, Alice removed each ornament and handed them over for every family member to hang their own ornament. It was simple, but yet it always meant so much – family was important and it was the way family time was treasured that Belle always enjoyed when she was with either the Hortons or the Bradys.

Then it was time.

"Isabella," Alice called her name with a warm smile. "We've been waiting for this moment as long as you have," she assured, sensing the anxiety Belle felt.

"I don't know if that's possible," Belle smiled.

Alice laughed softly and carefully removed the tissue paper, revealing a beautiful ornament – bright, shimmering, and etched with "Belle" in glitter. Belle took the decorative item and watched as Shawn then received his. She looked up at him and smiled as he encouraged her to go first. As if making an important decision, she took a moment to pick what she felt was the perfect location – under Bo and Hope's, the source of inspiration for her own new marriage. A brief moment later, Shawn placed his ornament next to hers and put his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close to him as he pressed a gentle kiss against her temple. He had been waiting for this moment as much as she had – it just meant a lot.

Later that night....

Shawn swallowed Belle's soft moans as he kissed her deeply and continued to plunge deep inside, getting lost in her, as they loved each other slowly. Covered by a soft blanket and the glow of the white lights on the tree, Belle gasped as Shawn's lips parted from hers and traveled to her neck, nibbling and finding that spot that drove her wild.

She swept her fingers through his thick locks to hold him close while they traveled to the peak of sheer ecstasy together. Their lips met for a series of gentle kisses – sweet and tender. Shawn gazed into Belle's eyes lovingly. His brown orbs locked with her blue depths, expressing all the feelings he had for her. The corners of his mouth curved upward as he continued to look at her adoringly. He brought his finger to her cheek and then lazily moved it to trace along the edge of her mouth. He couldn't keep his eyes off of her.

"Hey Mrs. Brady," he whispered softly.

"Hey yourself, Mr. Brady," Belle smiled.

They kissed each other sweetly once more. Holding each other close they both looked up at the tree that stood tall before them. "I really do like this tree," Shawn muttered as he kissed her head, allowing his lips to linger against her soft hair. "Maybe it wasn't too big after all."



Chapter 5:

Sunday night, December 20, 2037

Belle placed the two cups of piping hot tea down onto the kitchen table before taking a seat next to her mother-in-law. It had become a Sunday ritual for the two. Belle had always cherished the relationship she had with Hope, it was one she had envisioned she would have been able to have with her own mother had she not passed when Belle was only a child. From Hope, Belle had learned so much about marriage and motherhood. Needless to say, she had a great respect for her.

Sunday evenings were there time together. It was the quiet after the traditional Sunday brunch, which over the years had moved from Gran's with a brief stint at a number of other relatives' homes to then Bo and Hope's and now at Shawn and Belle's home. After the crowd would leave, Hope would help Belle clear up and then the two would sit down for a cup of tea to relax before Shawn would take Hope home. Each time he would strongly encourage her to consider moving in with him and Belle, and every time she would kindly refuse. She may have been living alone now, but she couldn't bear to leave the home she had shared so many memories with her late husband Bo. Like every other female in his life, Shawn was extremely protective of his mother, and now at this stage of her life he thought it best she not be alone, but Hope was far too headstrong to give into that but she enjoyed the attention.

"You must be so excited to have everyone home for Christmas," Hope said as she raised the cup to her lips.

"I am, but not nearly as excited as Shawn. Every ten minutes he keeps asking me... when's Faith coming... when's Tommy coming? And then of course with Alison past her due date, he is going out of his mind. I tell you Mom, when it comes to his children and this grandchild he is in rare form, but you know what, I wouldn't trade it for anything... even if he is driving me up the wall," Belle added with a chuckle. She paused a moment as she inhaled the calming scent of the chamomile. "But one thing to come out of having everyone home we are reminiscing far more than we ever had. It amazes me sometimes how many wonderful memories we do have."

"You've been together quite a long time," Hope observed. "It's nice to remember the good times, especially around the holidays."

"Yes it is."

"Speaking of Shawn and his excitement about my great-granddaughter," Hope said with a growing smile. "It reminds me of when Bo and I learned you were pregnant with Alison. He showered you with attention and showered Alison with even more attention when she was born. Shawn is just like that. He's a good father, like Bo was a good father."

"Got to love those Brady men," Belle smiled.

"You have no choice but to and your boys are turning into very fine young men. Caleb told me about school and a young lady named Natalie."

"Yes he is doing well at Georgetown," Belle commented and took another slow sip from her cup of tea.

"Nothing to say about Natalie?" Hope asked with a curiously raised brow.

"I've never met her," she replied.

Hope smiled to herself, realizing Belle's uneasiness about knowing her son was in a serious relationship. "I'm sure she's a nice girl."

"I'm sure, I just hope he's careful."

"He has a good head on his shoulders. He'll be fine. And who knows, maybe she's the one," Hope teased and laughed when she noticed Belle's eyes widen in surprise. "I'm only teasing you Belle, but you do need to keep that in mind. Trust me, I understand what it is like to see your children grow up, but think of the benefits. Look at the two of us."

Belle smiled warmly in response. "You're right." They continued to enjoy their tea when they heard a car pull up outside. "Sounds like Shawn is back home."

"I hope he's not ready to go back out again. I'm not quite ready to go home. I do enjoy these moments."

"Well, we could have more of them if you..."

"I'm not leaving my home," Hope interrupted. "I appreciate the offer to live here but I am still able to get around and take care of myself."

"You don't have to convince me, it's just that Shawn is getting increasingly concerned."

"And I love my son very much for being so concerned, but I am fine and I won't hesitate to tell him," she commented after hearing the car door slam. Expecting Shawn to walk in through the kitchen door she got herself ready to have the weekly disagreement, but she instead received a great shock.

Belle looked up at the door and quickly placed her cup down on the table. Jumping up from her seat she smiled widely at seeing her older son walking through the door. "Tommy!" she exclaimed and immediately went to hug him.

"Hey Mom," he said excitedly as he hugged Belle in return. Belle released him slowly and placed her hands on his face. Staring at his face, she studied the very obvious changes. His dark hair was longer and a bit curly from the length with side burns to match. His cheeks harbored five o'clock shadow and he now had a thick goatee around his mouth. Of course, the gold loop in his ear was present – a constant for many years. She looked into his dark brown eyes and saw the playfulness that had always existed since he was a child, the same mix of mischief and intensity his father possessed. Her eyes then began to do a once over to see if he was taking care of himself. He looked like he may have lost weight but it was difficult to tell from all the layers he was wearing. Two tee shirts, one white, one gray, both collars visible under the blue and gray plaid flannel shirt he wore unbuttoned. He wore baggy jeans and heavy boots all brought together with a black leather jacket.

"Oh sweetie it is so good to see you," Belle said, beaming with motherly love.

"It's good to be home," he said with a grin identical to Shawn's and looked over at his grandmother who watched him in amazement. "Hi Grandma," he told her and bent over to give her a hug and kiss.

"My dear Tommy," she gushed. "How are you?"

"I'm great."

"Hungry?" Belle asked.

"Always," Tommy chuckled.

"Well have a seat and I'll get you some dinner," Belle told him.

"I'm going to get my stuff out of the truck first and go upstairs to clean up a bit. I'll be back in a few, ok?"

"Alright, don't take too long," Belle said and watched as he disappeared back outside. In moments he was hauling a huge duffle bag on his shoulder and making his way through the house.

Once he walked out of the kitchen, Hope looked at Belle in surprise. "I can't believe it."

Belle moved busily in the kitchen. "You can't believe what Mom?" she asked.

"When I looked up and saw Tommy walk through that door I thought someone had turned back the hands of time."

"What do you mean?"

"He looks so much like Bo," she said in awe. "Long hair, leather jacket, beard, all of it. That is exactly how Bo looked so many years ago, before we even married."

"Well, Tommy looks absolutely nothing like me, he is an exact replica of Shawn but he is very much like Dad – though there isn't much difference," Belle commented.

They continued to talk and Tommy soon joined them in the kitchen once again. Now in only his white tee shirt and his feet bare, covered only by the frayed edges of his jeans. It wasn't long before Belle placed a plate full of food in front of him and he quickly delved in.

"So where is everyone?" he asked in between chews.

"Your father and brother are out at Salem Place doing some last minute shopping. Emma is at a friends' house."

"I need to get to Salem Place myself. I've got tons of shopping to do. So how's Ali doing? I heard she's huge... like she's going to have twins."

"It is one baby, I assure you," Belle told him, "and she isn't huge. Who did you hear that from? Caleb? I don't know why you two tease your sister this way."

"Because it's fun," he chuckled and continued to shovel his mouth with food. He quickly devoured his dinner and talked quite a bit with his mother and grandmother, catching them up with his life in Chicago as a new detective.

"You look so much like your grandfather!" Hope gushed.

"I thought I looked like Dad."

"Same thing," Belle joked.

"Although, when I think about it, you've been very much like Bo since you were a toddler," Hope laughed. "I remember when you had a tricycle and you used to peddle so fast all around the backyard and wore these sunglasses," she thought back and continued to laugh. "You were so precious but you thought you were such a tough boy."

Belle looked at Tommy proudly and smiled as she touched his hand on top of the table. "Some things have never changed," she commented and paused as she heard Shawn and Caleb making their way inside.

"There he is!" Shawn said happily as he saw Tommy at the table. He stood up and hugged his father. "So this is what young detectives look like now?" he questioned, a bit teasingly but with a hint of seriousness as he surveyed his appearance.

"All the good ones do," Tommy replied.

"That's my boy," Shawn laughed and watched as his two sons greeted each other. He took a seat at the table, excited that now only one of his children wasn't back home and she would be home in only a matter of days. He truly loved the holidays, for this reason more than anything else. Soon after Emma arrived and Shawn was truly in his element.

They all continued to talk, laughing and enjoying each other's company. As they all talked about a variety of things, it wasn't long before Shawn began to reminisce.

"Dad, we don't have to hear this story again," Tommy warned.

"No, it's a good one," Shawn insisted.

Christmas Morning, 2017

Shawn and Belle tried desperately to get as much sleep as possible after a night of wrapping gifts and placing Santa's gifts under the tree after making sure none of the kids were trying to stay up to see the mythical character. The morning sun was beginning to fill their room when Belle felt a tapping on her shoulder. It continued until she woke up, startled by the incessant action, her eyes immediately landed on a six year old Faith looking at her in concern.

"What's wrong sweetie?" Belle asked as she started to sit up in Belle.

"The presents," she pouted.

"You can open your Christmas presents soon. Once Daddy wakes up and your sister and brother we'll all open our gifts," Belle explained.

"But Daddy is still sleeping," she told Belle seriously.

"I know, but he'll be up soon. Why don't you check on your brother and sister," Belle suggested.

"Lee is still sleeping," she explained, using the nickname she has for Alison. When she was a baby she was never able to fully say Alison or Ali, so Lee became the name that stuck.

"Well check Tommy," Belle suggested.

"He's downstairs," Faith told her. "I just saw him. He's opening his presents."

"He's WHAT?" Belle exclaimed, causing Shawn to suddenly wake up from the outburst.

"What's going on?" Shawn asked with concern. He looked to see Faith with a worried look on her face and he tried not to panic. "Faith? What's wrong princess?" he asked as he moved to the other side of the bed. Sitting on the edge he pulled her up on his lap and brought his arms around her.

"Your son is downstairs opening his gifts," Belle told him and quickly got out of bed. Grabbing her robe, she slipped it on and glanced over to see Shawn unable to hide the grin on his face. "Shawn this isn't funny."

"No, it's not funny, but... well... actually it is," he chuckled.

"Daddy?" Faith complained. "But Tommy's not supposed to yet," she argued.

"I know. Let's go check on him, ok?" Shawn told his daughter. After his suggestion, he could hear the faint cries of Caleb from the baby monitor. He looked at Belle who was taking this more seriously than he was. "Honey, why don't you check on Caleb, I'll handle Tommy."

Belle gave her husband a warning look before agreeing to his suggestion. "I'll be down in a moment," she told him and went into the nursery.

"Alright princess, let's check on your brother," Shawn told Faith and stood, holding her in his arms. Walking down the stairs he could hear the ripping of wrapping paper and quite a commotion for only one child to make, but as he approached and saw the little person busily searching through gifts, he knew it was possible for Tommy to make such a ruckus. "Tommy!" Shawn called out to him, startling the four year old at the seriousness of his father's tone.

Immediately he jumped up from his seat and turned around to see Shawn approaching. He scurried off behind a chair, peeking his head from the side, knowing he was in deep trouble.

Shawn put Faith down and looked around to see every present that was under the tree unwrapped. None completely unwrapped, but ripped enough to see what each gift was. Tommy was on a mission to find a toy fire truck he really wanted, and Shawn knew he hadn't found it because it wasn't there.

"Thomas Brady, come here," Shawn commanded.

"I didn't do it Daddy!"

"Then who?"

"Um... I dunno," Tommy shrugged.

"What have I told you about telling the truth at all times?" Shawn stated, more than questioned to serve as a reminder to the little version of him.

"Uhh...."

"Tommy, come here," Shawn ordered and was beginning to get through into his son, until he heard Belle gasp loudly causing Tommy to stay hidden. He looked over at Belle. "I've got it under control," he said to her as he watched come down the stairs with Caleb in her hold and Alison walking close behind her. Turning back around he saw Tommy still peeking his head out from behind the chair. In two long strides he reached the chair and looked down at Tommy. "Come here."

Moments later Shawn was in the kitchen having a serious talk with his son. Serious enough to let him know he didn't do a nice thing, but light enough to not dampen the Christmas spirit. After making sure Tommy understood that what he did was wrong, Shawn scooped up his son in his arms and began to tickle him. As his laughter began to fill the air, Shawn looked at the miniature version of him and smiled. "Merry Christmas Tommy."

"Merry Christmas Daddy. Am I still in trouble?"

"No, but you need to tell your sisters and mother that you are sorry for opening their presents. They won't get a chance to get all excited like you did when finding out what they got. So once you do that you will no longer be in trouble."

"Daddy?" Tommy said with a more somber expression on his face. With his brow furrowed, he looked at Shawn as if he had a burning question on his mind.

"Yeah buddy," Shawn smiled while ruffling the already mussed hair.

"Where's my truck?"



Chapter 6:

Monday morning, December 21, 2037

The law offices of Straus and Hawthorne, Chicago


Faith Brady walked briskly into the prestigious downtown Chicago law firm, with a cup of coffee in one hand, the day's paper tucked under her arm and her leather briefcase in the other. With a sense of purpose she passed through the reception area, saying hello to everyone she saw but never breaking her stride. She soon reached her office and placed the items down on the desk. In moments, she began to remove her black coat, which had previously protected her from the brutal Chicago wind, to reveal her designer heather gray suit. She picked up the messages left on her desk and sorted through them while beginning to play her voicemails. As she listened and sorted through, she managed to turn on her computer in order to check her emails. This was her morning routine but one part was missing... and soon Rose, the secretary walked inside to complete the ritual.

Rose placed a few more messages on her desk and a number of files, as Faith finished listening to her voicemails. After jotting down a few notes, Faith placed the receiver down and looked up at Rose with a bright smile. "Good morning!"

"Good morning Faith," the older woman smiled in return, and took a seat across from the desk with steno pad in hand. "Still planning on only working a half day today?" she asked.

"I have to or Justin is going to kill me," Faith said. "He called me before I walked into the building to tell me he just rented a car. He is all set and ready to go."

"I see he has no problem spending Christmas with the future in-laws."

"Not at all," Faith said with a slight roll of the eyes. "He absolutely loves my parents and since he only has a younger sister, he loves hanging out with my brothers and is really close to Mark, my sister Alison's husband. I think he's more excited to see my family then I am."

"Well, I won't take up much of your time. Is there anything you need from me?"

"Can you give Keith the files on the Newport case and Charlene the update on both the Sullivan Brothers and Woodlake? They're expecting them."

"Mr. Ferraro would like to see you before you leave for the day."

Faith instantly frowned at the news. "Does he know I'm on vacation this week?"

"Yes, I reminded him."

"Great," Faith grumbled. "I might as well go face the music," she said. "Is there anything else Rose?"

"No, I'm letting everyone know you are on vacation. I'm trying to get you out of here as quick as I can. I don't want Justin to come up here and drag you out," Rose teased. "Now scoot."

"Ok," Faith laughed and made her way to her boss' office. With a quick knock, she peeked inside and saw Mr. Ferraro looking over some papers. He looked up, donning a pair of reading glasses his eyes glanced above the rim. She walked in when signaled to enter. "Hello Mr. Ferraro, Rose told me you were looking for me."

"Yes, come in, have a seat Faith. Now, I know you're going home this week but all I need for you to do is make one phone call and you can pick up on the case next week when you are back. It's Christmas so most people won't be in this week anyway."

"Who do I need to call?"

"Nina Gallagher at the Peterson Network called me this morning in need of our help once more. They apparently were so impressed with the work you did last month that they want to have you as their legal counsel... on retainer."

"Nice Christmas gift," Faith said under her breath. "That's amazing," she said in surprise.

"Yes it is, so make sure you make that phone call and set up a meeting for when you are back in town. Good work and have a happy holiday."

"Thank you Mr. Ferraro, and try to take it easy this Christmas," she said with a charming smile.

He chuckled to himself at her comment. "I'll try."

Faith walked out of the senior partner's office beaming with excitement and eager to tell her family the great news.

*********************************************

That afternoon...... Salem Place

Caleb watched on as his older brother Tommy endlessly flirted with the clerk at the Java Well. It was always the one downside to hanging out with him. It was like a habit he couldn't curb, every woman he met he had to flirt, like it was a game. Eventually, Tommy brought an end to his conversation as he picked up his coffee and a small piece of paper with her name and number – he was in town a few days, he might as well have fun he rationalized.

"It's about time," Caleb muttered as Tommy walked toward them. They began to walk together through Salem Place. "So where do you want to go first?"

"Might as well get the hard part over with first," Tommy said.

"Mom," they both said in unison.

"I have no idea what to get her," Caleb confessed. "Emma was supposed to help, but she bailed out on us. I wonder where she went. She was so secretive when she left home."

"Yeah, well we'll figure it out," Tommy said as they passed by a jewelry store. Looking through the window he noticed a pair of gold earrings and bracelet. "I think I just found my gift."

Twenty minutes later both brothers walked out of the store with bags in hand and ready to go to the next store to continue their Christmas shopping. As they continued to walk, Tommy noticed Caleb continuously peek into the bag he held.

"She's going to like it man," Tommy assured.

"I hope so. I want to give her something special on New Years."

"How does Mom and Dad feel about you going back early to be with Natalie?"

"You know Dad is cool with it, Mom on the other hand isn't exactly showing her excitement, but I know she is happy for me, and wants to meet Natalie. Although I don't know when that will happen."

"I'm sure Mom will find a way. So you and Natalie are pretty serious?"

"More serious than you and the coffee girl," Caleb joked.

"Not every Brady was meant to meet their soul mate right away. I'm doing a little search and having some fun first living the single life. But you seem to have a good thing going with Natalie... am I right?"

Caleb paused a moment and couldn't help but give a sly smirk in response. "You're right."

Noticing the mischievous expression on his brother's face, Tommy looked at Caleb curiously. "Exactly how right am I?" he asked curiously. He watched his smirk turn into a playful grin that looked all too familiar to him. "You dog!" he exclaimed as he smacked him on the arm.

"Ok, ok," he laughed. "The thing is, I love her but we're not trying to rush anything and we're having a lot of fun. She's great. I really can't wait for you all to meet her. The only one in the family she's met is Grandpa because he's in DC... and well, you know, Grandpa is Grandpa," he shrugged.

"Yeah, I know," Tommy muttered, "raised eye brow and all. Anyway, what do you say we check out what movies are playing? I'm getting tired of this shopping stuff."

"We've only been out for half an hour."

"Exactly."

"Sounds cool to me."

They walked toward the Cineplex about to look at the marquee when a number of people walked out.

"A movie must have just gotten out," Tommy said as he noticed the huge crowd of people rush out. Many appeared to be teenagers. "Nothing like being on winter break," he commented at the sight of all the high school kids. The two continued to look at the marquee and picked one of the holiday blockbusters that would be starting in about fifteen minutes. They stood in line for tickets and Tommy looked around, somehow drawn to the large crowd and felt like people watching. His dark eyes surveyed the crowd until he noticed a teenage couple sitting on a nearby bench in a deep lip lock, he kept staring realizing the girl looked familiar and as the boy moved his hand from her cheek, Tommy's eyes popped open when he instantly recognized his baby sister. "Get the tickets, I'll be back," he muttered to Caleb and walked away before Caleb could question him.

Emma giggled as she sat next to her boyfriend on the bench and he tickled her sides playfully as they spent the afternoon together. They leaned in towards one another again for a kiss, but were immediately interrupted when they both sensed someone standing in front of them, casting a shadow over them from the hovering position.

"What's your deal?" the young man asked in annoyance as he looked up at Tommy.

Emma glanced up and took a double take before gasping in horror. She quickly stood up. "Tommy what are you doing here?" she asked in tremendous embarrassment.

"Babe, you know this weirdo?"

"Scott!" Emma admonished. "He's my brother."

"Yeah, Scott... I'm Tommy, Emma's older brother... the cop."

"Sorry about that. I just thought..." Scott tried to explain. He scratched his curly reddish brown hair and looked at Tommy with apologetic eyes.

"I know what you thought. At least it seems as though you have the sense to try to protect my little sister," he commented with a steely expression. He was protective. He was a Brady. Plain and simple, there was no other reason. "But what I don't understand is why you sneaked out without telling us you'd be with Scott?" Tommy questioned his sister.

"I didn't sneak out," Emma defended. "I said I was going out with a friend."

"Dad hasn't met him has he?" Tommy immediately concluded.

Emma looked up at Scott, her bright blue eyes telling him how sorry she was he was being put through this. "No," she mumbled.

"Well I suggest if you don't want Dad to find out from someone other than you, then you better stop making out for all of Salem to see."

"Tommy," she sighed. "Would you stop being a pain?"

"I can't help but be concerned when I see my baby sister..."

"I'm not a baby!" Emma protested. "So stop treating me like I am!"

"Hey," Tommy said softly, caught off guard by his sister's attitude but not too surprised. He put his arm around her and pulled her aside. "Excuse us for a sec Scott," he said as he walked away with Emma. "Look, Em... what's going on here?"

"You know what," she grumbled. "You're embarrassing me in front of a guy I really like," she complained through clenched teeth. "Don't you have someone else to annoy?"

Tommy chuckled at her question. "Look, I'm sorry I embarrassed you but I freaked out. You're my little sister and well seeing you making out with some guy doesn't exactly make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside," he said causing Emma to laugh softly, though she was trying not to do so. "What? What... is that a laugh I hear?" he teased her. "Did I actually get a laugh out of my 'I'm not a baby' little sister?"

"Quit it Tommy," she said with uncharacteristic bashfulness.

"Alright, I'll quit and I also promise I won't mention this to Dad, because I know he'll freak but if you really like Scott then bring him by the house so Dad can sufficiently grill him... he lives for that you know."

"Trust me, I know. Anyway, I'll see you at home, now go... you're cramping my style," she joked.

"Alright, see you later." He turned around to see Scott looking on with a concerned expression. "Ok, kid... you hurt my sister I'm coming after you," he warned seriously and walked away toward Caleb who was waiting by the door to the theater.

"What was that all about?" Caleb asked.

"Just playing big bad brother... that's all," Tommy explained with a mischievous grin. "Let's go. I'm craving some popcorn with extra butter."

*******************************************

Later that night...

"But he didn't have to embarrass me!" Emma argued in a whine. Sitting in the family room with her brothers and sisters, she still continued to hold a grudge over what Tommy did hours ago. She sat on the floor next to Faith, her head resting on her older sister's shoulder as she continued to lament.

"As far as I'm concerned, your horror stories don't hold a candle to mine or Faith's," Alison told Emma. "See when Faith and I were your age, not only did we have to deal with Dad but both Tommy and Caleb were home so the guy's we dated had a triple threat."

"They were all losers anyway," Caleb said as a matter of fact.

"That's a great answer," Justin chimed in. "They obviously didn't have what it takes."

"And besides Emma," Mark added while he slowly ran his hand up and down Alison's back soothingly as they sat next to each other on the sofa. "Putting up with your father shouldn't be that big of a deal if the guy seriously wants to take you out."

"I agree with that," Justin concurred.

All of them continued to talk, laughing and catching up on life when Shawn and Belle arrived home from a Christmas dinner with Shawn's colleagues at the country club. The two walked into the house, hearing the sound of a full house – something they hadn't had the pleasure to enjoy for a while. They went into the family room to see all seven lounging on the floor, pillows, sofas or chairs with the television on but no one watching it. Shawn looked around at everyone and his eyes widened with surprise when Faith jumped up from her seat on the floor.

"Faith what are you doing here?" he questioned as he gathered her into his arms. "I thought you weren't coming in for another couple of days."

"Surprise!" she exclaimed, while smiling brightly.

Justin was soon by her side and shook Shawn's hand. "We thought it would be nice to come in a few days earlier," he explained. "Hope you don't mind."

"Of course not," Belle added happily. With outstretched arms, she greeted both Faith and Justin with a hug at the same time. "It is so good to have you home!"

"This is great!" Shawn claimed. "Everyone's home. I can't ask for anything more than this."

"Well, I certainly can," Alison muttered while rubbing her belly slowly. "This little one better come soon. I'm beyond impatient."

"When she's ready she'll come," Belle said. "And we'll all be waiting."

"That's right," Shawn agreed. "Try not to think about it angel," he encouraged.

"It won't be easy," Alison complained then suddenly smiled. "But I think I know how. Emma, care to tell Dad your news?" She laughed as her youngest sister gave her a hard glare, knowing she had been set up and now had to face her father's overprotective behavior.

 
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