PART TWO

It was early Friday afternoon at 'Best Videos' where Kelly worked, and Bobby walked up to the check out counter with a pair of movies.

"Hey Bobby" she said, greeting him with a smile, her Santa hat dutifully atop her head and constantly threatening to fall over her eyes. He kept thinking how funny it looked when Kelly was always pushing the hat back up on her forehead.

"Hey Kel, how's it going?". He placed the movies on the counter in front of her.

"Just counting the minutes before getting out of here. Going to stay home and watch movies this evening?".

"Yeah, I decided to lay low tonight and watch some movies over at Daniel's".

"Too bad, I was thinking of going out and do some dancing again" she explained, holding her hands up and snapping her fingers while shaking her hips. Bobby laughed at her display.

"So, are you going to the big party in Mt. Vernon tomorrow night?" he asked. Mt. Vernon was another municipality of Yonkers, but much bigger than Bronxville where they lived.

"Party? I haven't heard anything about it" she said, checking out his videos.

"Kel, don't tell me you've forgotten about Amy Brown's annual Christmas bash at her family's vacation house in Mt. Vernon. She's been throwing a big party there the weekend before Christmas for the last three years before she flies home to Texas for the holidays. It's gonna be a blast! You gotta be there!".

"Is Daniel going to be there?" she asked shyly, her huge dark eyes peeking up at him from beneath the sagging brim of her Santa hat.

Bobby cocked his head and looked at her coyly. "Well of course he's going to be. I told him about it at work this morning and he said he was going".

"Well sure then. If Daniel's going, I'll be there too" she answered enthusiastically, secretly looking forward to any time she might have to spend with him. Kelly gave Bobby his total and he paid her.

"Kelly, how much longer are you going to go on like this? Why don't you just 'tell' Daniel that you like him?".

She looked at him impatiently. "When I'm ready to, o.k.?".

"I just never really took you as the kind to play games Kel. If you care about him so much, 'tell' him".

"Listen Bobby, don't push me. You know why I haven't said anything to him and why I'm afraid to".

"I can understand that a little Kel, but you're making too much out of it. You know you like him, and tomorrow night at Amy Brown's party, it'll be the perfect opportunity to let him know". She looked at him pleadingly, hoping he'd change the subject, but Bobby wouldn't relent. She remained quiet for almost a full minute while he stared at her and she avoided eye contact with him.

Then, to Bobby's surprise, the defiant, steel-willed Kelly Perkins finally conceded.

"O.k., o.k.! I'll tell him... tomorrow night".

"That's my girl!" he grinned.

"I get off at five tomorrow. How about you guys just pick me up at my house around six-thirty?".

"Will do. Later Kel". She waved goodbye as Bobby left the store, wondering how she was going to tell Daniel she loved him.

Unseen in the actions movie aisle and having listened to their entire conversation, Bradley Beathancourte snickered.

"So, you like Daniel eh? I should have known better than to have wasted my time on a loser like you Kelly Perkins..." he mumbled quietly to himself. He turned and made his way out of the store without bothering to buy any videos.

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

It was a blistering cold, Saturday night at the Mt. Vernon home where Amy Brown lived while she went to college at Sarah Lawrence. Her parents had originally lived on the property ten years ago, but moved to Texas to take over the thriving oil business her grandfather left them in his will. They could never bear to part with their Mount Vernon home though, and when Amy, now twenty-one, decided to go to school at Sarah Lawrence, she stayed on the small estate.

Since returning to New York to attend college, she'd thrown a big pre-Christmas bash at the two story, Victorian-style home the last three years. This year was no different, as the party grew in scale and popularity each holiday season.

Amy's family was extremely wealthy, but that had no ill-affect on her. She was a pretty, popular girl who was very kind to everyone and didn't judge her friends by how much money they had. Everyone she knew was welcome to her Christmas party.

It was near nine-thirty when Daniel pulled his 1984, Black Mustang through the impressive front gate of the property and drove along the one hundred and fifty yard long front drive towards the house.

"Wow, Amy's parents must be totally loaded" he said to Bobby as he looked at the impressive home.

"Yeah dude, they're oil tycoons down in Texas or something like that. Lot's of money in oil y'know...".

"Must be nice..." Daniel added as he pulled his car off the drive and parked beside a temporary sign which had been put up to indicate the parking area. There were over seventy-five cars parked neatly on the grass and several more pulling in behind them. After shutting the car off Daniel looked into the back seat with his rear view mirror. There was no one there.

"Too bad that other girl called in sick this afternoon and caused Kelly to work late" he sighed, sounding slightly melancholy. Bobby noticed his tone and picked up on it instantly.

"So you're sorta down that Kelly isn't here to go to the party with you?" he insinuated politely.

"Well, yeah. I like it when Kelly hangs out with us, don't you?".

"Yeah, sure man. But she'll be here as soon as she gets off work, so let's go make our grand entrance". The two boys climbed out of the warm car into the twenty-degree, wind chilled air and quickly scampered across the lawn to the house.

They climbed the steps leading to the huge front porch where six massive pillars supported the roof almost twenty-five feet above them. The porch spanned the length of the front of the home. It was lined with large, wooden-framed windows decorated with gigantic red-bowed wreaths to each side of the oaken, front double doors positioned directly in the center. Behind the windows to the right side of the doors, Daniel and Bobby could see the party going on in the spacious, front ballroom of the house.

A huge, muscular man they judged to be in his early thirties who Amy had probably hired to be security for the party opened the door for them and pointed down the hall to the main doors of the ballroom.

The ballroom was gigantic, and there was easily over one hundred and fifty people in it as a DJ in the far corner of the room generated constant music for dancing.

Across from him in the other corner was a twelve foot high, extravagantly-decorated Christmas tree with hundreds of multi-colors lights. Garlands, holly, and wreaths lined the walls all around and several large tables with food and punch bowls were strategically placed throughout the room. Amy even had several crystal balls and strobe lights handing from the ceiling for the full effect.

They realized right then that Amy Brown 'knew' how to throw a party. When they stepped through the doorway, Amy was there to greet them.

"Bobby! I'm really glad you came out!" she said with a sweet smile. Daniel had met Amy a couple of times, but Bobby knew her better through some of his other friends. "Amy, this is a totally awesome par-tay!" Bobby replied. She patted both of them on the shoulders.

"You guys make yourselves at home!" she yelled loudly over the noisy, thumping music, and then turned to welcome more people coming through the doorway.

"You heard the lady" Bobby laughed at Daniel, and they plunged themselves into the ever-increasing throng of partiers.

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

It was a little past eleven o'clock and the party was at it's peak, and there were nearly three hundred people in the building by now. Everyone was dancing deliriously and enjoying the fun.

Kelly entered the ballroom with her friend and co-worker Trisha Plummer. She'd asked her to ride out to party with her so she wouldn't have to go by herself. Trisha, always one who enjoyed a big party, readily accepted.

Kelly was dressed in a black leather skirt with black boots. She wore a white silk blouse underneath with a dark leather jacket over it. Her dark, raven-hair was immaculately brushed out soft and straight all the way down to her shoulder blades in back. She even left her Santa hat in the car. She wanted to use every advantage she had tonight to impress Daniel if she was going to confess her true love to him.

She figured looking totally gorgeous didn't hurt either.

"Wow!" Kelly shouted at her friend above the din. "There's a lot of people here! Can you see Daniel or Bobby anywhere?".

"Nope, not right now!" Trisha answered, carefully scanning the crowd. "But they have to be in there somewhere! I guess we'll just have to go find them! C'mon!".

Kelly hesitated. "How do I look?"

"Kelly, you look fantastic! Let's go!". Trisha grabbed Kelly by the wrist and pulled her into the dancing, partying mass of humanity.

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

Even Daniel had to admit he was enjoying himself and had finally put his stressful week behind him. This party was exactly what the doctor ordered and he was glad he let Bobby talk him into coming.

Stepping up to one of the three large refreshment tables, Daniel left Bobby on the dance floor so he could find some water. There was a slight chill on the room when they first arrived, but now, it was hot inside the huge manor's ballroom.

He saw a cooler of iced down bottles of spring water beside the table and stooped down to take one out. As he leaned back up and looked into the crowd, he saw a group of people he recognized as Sarah Lawrence students.

What he saw next was the one thing he never wanted to see again; Bradley Beathancourte with Larisa Oleynik! She was dressed in jeans and a heavy, thick, light blue sweater, and her hair was done up in the back, pulled away from her face.

"Oh no, not again" he whispered to himself.

As if Bradley could read Daniel's mind, he turned his head and looked in his direction, beaming his patented pompous grin straight at him.

It was like a slap in Daniel's face, and was enough to choke every bit of enjoyment he'd had so far tonight right back out of him. A devil standing beside an angel was the vision that kept popping into his mind.

"Daniel!" rang out Kelly's voice from behind him. Surprised, Daniel turned towards her, and she instantly saw that 'look' on his face again.

"Something wrong?" she asked, her heart starting to sag. She and Trish had just found Bobby on the dance floor and he told them where to find Daniel. Trish decided to dance with Bobby while Kelly went to talk to him.

He pointed towards Bradley's group and Kelly saw them. When their group turned to delve deeper into the crowd, Bradley couldn't resist looking back at Daniel and cocking his head back to offer him another silent, victorious laugh when Larisa wasn't looking.

Then, his dream girl was gone, gone somewhere into the crowd with the one person he detested most in the world; his tormentor, Bradley Beathancourte.

Kelly watched them disappear into the crowd, furious with Bradley's unbridled display, but after speaking with Bobby yesterday, she didn't intend to let this stop her from talking with Daniel. It was now or never; Larisa Oleynik or 'no' Larisa Oleynik.

"Daniel..." she began, talking loudly and trying to be heard over the loud music, only to find herself looking into the face of a short, heavy set boy who was eating out of a small tray of nachos.

"Daniel?!" she called out, looking all around her. She tossed her arms in the air in complete exasperation.

"I don't think so! Not again!" she roared angrily, startling the heavy set boy with her outburst. She was determined not to let another round of Bradley Beathancourte's hateful antics once again prevent her from telling Daniel how she felt about him.

She bolted into the crowd looking for him, turning and twisting through the small crevices the crowd allowed her, but Daniel was nowhere to be seen. She brushed by Trisha and Bobby dancing, but she never heard them when they called out her name. Then she decided to check the front and see if Daniel had gone outside. She spun on her heel in the direction of the entrance to the ballroom.

She pushed her way past several more people and then suddenly found herself face to face with Bradley Beathancourte. During her desperate journey through the crowd, she never realized the actual course she had been taking.

Standing beside him, was Larisa Oleynik, staring at her with complete surprise at Kelly's sudden appearance.

"Hey, slow down there Kelly! Why are you in such a hurry?" he laughed mockingly.

Kelly couldn't believe he would say something like that to her after what he did to Daniel just moments ago. For a few seconds, she stared at him with absolute contempt, and Bradley's smirk started to disappear as he felt the searing force of her stare. Larisa took a step to her left, distancing herself from Bradley.

"This is all your fault Bradley Beathancourte!" she accused him angrily, poking her finger in his chest. Bradley held his hands up with a look of mock confusion on his face.

"What in the world are you talking about Kelly?!" he demanded, acting appalled.

Kelly took a threatening step towards him and Bradley shuffled backwards.

"You know damn well what I mean Bradley! You're obsession with tormenting Daniel, that's what! Why do you get such pleasure out of harassing him?!".

"I don't know what you're ...."

"Save it!" she snarled, poking him in the chest again.

"You know you got your sick jollies out of humiliating Daniel Wednesday night at 'The Nightlife', just like the way you did a few minutes ago, and both times using 'her' to do it!" she accused, motioning with one hand towards Larisa. Larisa's eyes opened wide and her mouth gaped partially open at the girl's assertion, but she remained quiet. She seemed oblivious to what was going on.

Bradley, now completely on the defensive, was embarrassed by the spotlight Kelly was forcing on him. He didn't like this, not one bit, so in a desperate attempt to defend himself, he said the only thing that came to his mind.

"Hey, now don't be like that Kelly, I was just having a little fun with him, that's all" he laughed half-heartedly.

"Oh, I realize you were just 'having some fun' Bradley, but your idea of 'fun' is pretty sick if you ask me. What happened to you Bradley?".

"What do you mean 'what happened to me'?", he croaked, as Larisa and his other friends were now looking suspiciously at him under the girl's relentless assault. His face was covered by a deep, crimson blush and a knot began to form in his stomach.

"You heard me! We all grew up together, remember? You were different then; someone that had 'real' friends who cared about him; friends he treated with respect because wealth didn't make him feel more important than them! Now, the only Bradley I see is one who can't have friends unless he buys them with his father's money! I still can't believe you treat Daniel the way you do even after he saved your life on that ski slope when you were fourteen, or have you forgotten about that too?! For all your money Bradley Beathancourte, you're just a pathetic loser!".

If the music wasn't as loud as it was, one could have heard the collective gasp that came from the surrounding Sarah Lawrence students who were enthralled by Kelly's assault.

"Ooooh!" she growled and stormed away towards the exit to look for Daniel, leaving Bradley in a defeated heap.

Kelly ran out on the front porch just in time to see Daniel's car backing out of it's parking place. She leaped off the steps and chased him after him, calling out his name several times, but he never heard. Within seconds, his taillights disappeared into the cold, misty, New York night.

Tears of frustration began rolling down her cheeks.

"C'mon" said Trisha from behind her, who'd been following Kelly since she brushed by them on the dance floor. "Let's get inside and find the ladies' room".

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

Trisha escorted Kelly into the spacious bathroom, offering her several tissues to wipe her eyes. It was nearing midnight and the party was still going full force in the main ballroom. Kelly turned towards the long, single-piece mirror which stretched over the pair of sinks and began to check her make-up and hair. Trisha did the same.

"I gotta hand it to you Kelly, I don't think I've ever seen anyone turn Bradley Beathancourte into a quivering mass of jelly before. My hat's off to you".

"He's such a jerk..." Kelly scowled, remembering every word she said to him.

"So, what's the deal with Daniel? When we first got here, Bobby said he was having a good time, and then suddenly he takes off?".

"It's a long story" Kelly replied with a loud sigh. "He's had sort of a rough week and Bradley didn't make it any better a little while ago". Kelly shivered in revulsion at the mere mention of Bradley's name.

"Bradley has a gift for ruining 'anyone's' day, but Daniel is a pretty easy-going guy. How did he upset him that bad?".

"It's kind of a touchy subject..." Kelly said gingerly, hoping to avoid saying anything else.

"C'mon Kel, you can tell me". Kelly spied a group of three younger girls in the mirror behind them and waited until they walked out, leaving them alone in the bathroom. She turned to look at Trisha.

"It's all about Daniel's favorite actress, Larisa Oleynik".

"Larisa Oleynik? Wasn't she 'Alex Mack'? I loved her in that show!" Trisha squealed. Kelly rolled her eyes.

"Yeah, well, she's like Daniel's dream girl y'know, and Wednesday, he saw her shopping at the grocery store where he worked. Well, when he went over to meet her and get her autograph, Daniel sort of... well, passed out right in front of her".

"Passed out?!".

"Yeah, Daniel is mildly diabetic and forgot to take his medicine that morning and fainted right in front of her. He was totally humiliated afterwards".

"Oh wow, that's bad. So what's Bradley Beathancourte have to do with this?" Trisha pressed, sincerely intrigued.

"He came to our table later that night when we were at 'The Nightlife' and laid into Daniel about fainting in front of his dream girl. I mean, it's bad enough he tormented Daniel about it, but to top everything off, Bradley actually had a date with Larisa Oleynik that night up in the "Tier Three" with the Julia Stiles party. He didn't hesitate to rub that in too. Now tonight, Bradley was here with her again and pulled his same garbage. Daniel just had enough of being humiliated and left".

"But that's not quite all there is to it, is it?" suggested Trisha.

"What do you mean?" Kelly asked sheepishly, finishing her primping.

"You know what I mean Kel. You love Daniel don't you? You haven't admitted that to me openly, but I've heard you talk enough about him at work to know".

"Yes, I do..." she confessed softly.

"And I was thinking of telling him Wednesday night until Bradley interfered. Then Bradley did it again tonight when I was ready to tell him".

"So, are you going to go after Daniel?".

"I'm not so sure now Trisha..." Kelly exhaled futilely. "...Especially after tonight. That's twice Daniel's gone into total depression mode when he saw Larisa Oleynik with Bradley. Now, I suppose I'm glad I've held off all this time telling Daniel that I love him. I thought I was just protecting our friendship all these years, but I've come to realize that I just can't compete with his beautiful, famous actress either".

"C'mon Kelly, you can't mean that. Guys get crushes on women celebrities all the time; women do the same with men celebrities. It's a perfectly natural process. You can't possibly believe Daniel's crush on Larisa Oleynik could ruin something special between you two?".

"Maybe not Trisha, but do you know what he told me Wednesday night before he went inside? I asked him 'if he had one wish about Larisa, what would it be?'"

"And what did he say?".

"He said he'd wish to have Christmas dinner with her. Not with me, someone who he's known most of life, but a total stranger who doesn't even know him. How can I possibly compete with that, Trisha?".

"I think you're overreacting because you're upset right now. It's not like Daniel said he wanted her to have his baby or something. 'You' asked him the question and he gave you an answer. It was just a simple Christmas dinner wish. What's the harm in that?".

"Maybe there isn't any, but this week has been as rough on me as it has on Daniel. I know all the good in Daniel, he's one of the kindest, sweetest, most considerate people I've ever known, but he seems to want Larisa to know that more than me. She'll never know what I know about Daniel, and what's scary, if she ever found out, I'd lose him to her forever".

Kelly moved for the door and Trisha followed without saying anything else. Once they exited the bathroom, one of the doors on the stalls quietly opened, and out stepped Larisa Oleynik.

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

It was Monday night, Christmas Eve, one minute before midnight, and Kelly sat in her car half a block down from Daniel's house. His bedroom light was still on, it's illumination gently lulling her. She hadn't seen or spoke to Daniel since those few seconds Saturday night at Amy Brown's party, deciding that leaving him alone was the best thing to do.

They have exchanged presents with each other on Christmas Day since they were ten, and her present to Daniel's was on the seat beside her, but she had already come to the conclusion that she would leave him alone until he contacted her first. It was just... better that way. She wasn't going to try to make him love her, he'd have to do it on his own, of his own free will.

The digital clock on her car radio now said two minutes past twelve; it was Christmas morning. Kelly looked up and couldn't help but start to cry when Daniel's bedroom light went out.

"Merry Christmas Daniel... I love you..." she cried softly, then drove home.

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

Christmas morning had come and gone without very much excitement. Daniel wondered about Kelly all morning, and was totally embarrassed about the way he cut out on her Saturday night. He had been afraid to call her because of what he did. He supposed she'd never forgive him. Bobby called earlier, but didn't have any news to tell him on Kelly, just that he'd 'seen her around' and that was it. Bobby wanted desperately to tell his friend Kelly loved him, but he was sworn to secrecy not to.

The ham his mother was cooking was almost done and it's aroma filled the downstairs of the two story wood frame house.

Daniel sat by the telephone in the front foyer wondering if he should call Kelly. Since he'd known her when they were five years old, he couldn't recall a time when he'd gone this long without speaking to her at least once.

Memories filled his mind, and the one that seemed to please him the most was Kelly in her Santa cap. He laughed out loud to himself when he remembered her flopping the hat back and forth on her head at 'The Nightlife' last Wednesday night.

Then he realized something else; he missed her. Just after a couple of days, and he missed her... a lot.

'Ching!' went the front door chime, and he got up to answer it. It was probably Bobby to mooch some of his mom's Christmas ham. Daniel swung the door open and was caught by surprise like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming car.

"Oh my God... Larisa?" he stumbled, not believing his eyes were beholding the beautiful young actress on his front porch.

She looked at him and smiled.

"Merry Christmas Daniel!" she said sweetly. "So, what's for dinner?".

Her smile grew broader with a hint of slyness.

His wish. THAT was his wish! It had come true! Wait a sec, how'd the hell did Larisa know?

"Ham?" he answered shakily.

She laughed.

"It's o.k. Daniel, I don't bite or anything. I'm just a normal, ordinary person like anyone else" she told him, trying to make him feel more comfortable. Of course, it wasn't as if Larisa hadn't seen this before.

"So, are you going to invite me in?" she asked.

"Oh man. I was staring, wasn't I?".

"Yeah..." she giggled.

"Oh geez! I'm so sorry!" he said, slapping his palm against his forehead.

"Come in, please!". Larisa stepped through the doorway, examining the house's interior.

"I love these old country houses. They're so beautiful" she complimented, taking off her heavy, light blue winter coat and handing it to him. She wore her light brown hair long today, flowing just below her shoulders, brushed back from her face. Her nose and cheeks were red from the cold, and she sniffled just a little as if she might have recently had a cold. She wore a tan, snug-fitting, knit turtle neck sweater, designer jeans, and sneakers. Nothing elaborate or fancy, just a normal looking twenty year old college girl.

Once Daniel placed her coat on the rack by the door, Larisa spun to face him, extending her hand.

"So, it's nice to finally meet you!" she said, extending her hand out.

Still in a state of utter joy 'and' shock, he gently shook her hand, but didn't know how to let go!

She laughed at his little dilemma.

"Uh, hi!" he stuttered. "I... I can't tell you how much I've always wanted to meet you". He was still holding onto her hand and knew he must look like a total idiot not letting it go by now, but she didn't make any effort to pull it away, allowing him to let go first. He finally did, and she smiled sweetly back at him.

Larisa stood there in front of him, her hands together as if she was waiting patiently for him to compose himself. Finally, he did.

"I don't understand... how, I mean, 'why' are you here, and how'd you know about my wish to have you here for Christmas dinner? And how'd you know where I lived?".

"Can we sit down somewhere?" she asked politely.

"Uh, sure! Come in here to the den". He showed her to the couch in the den, and he sat down at the other end from her.

"Can I get you anything? Something to drink?" he offered.

"Oh no, I'm fine for now. Thanks. So, I guess you're wanting answers to all those questions, huh?". He chuckled nervously and nodded.

"Well, first of all, I got your address from Bradley Beathancourte at Amy Brown's party, and secondly, no, I 'don't' date him. Personally, I think he's obnoxious. When I met him at 'The Nightlife' when I was with Julia, that was just a chance meeting, nothing more. But I 'do' remember seeing 'you' there. I was really worried about your fainting spell earlier that day. That is so sweet that you went through all that at the store just to get my autograph".

Daniel instantly blushed, but was still confused how Larisa seemed to know so much. He also released a silent sigh of relief that she was not dating Bradley and that she felt the same way him that he did.

"I'm still confused about all of this though..." he confessed.

Larisa then went into complete detail, explaining how she only knew Bradley from a couple of classes at school but never really met him personally before last Wednesday night. She told him how she was not with Bradley at Amy's party either, but with other friends when Bradley sort of just 'showed up'.

He was amazed with her story of how Kelly came to his defense and humiliated Bradley in front of everyone at the party. Larisa swore to Daniel that she had no idea Bradley was using her as a means to hurt him. Daniel believed her without question. She finally explained how she found out so much about Daniel's crush on her and the wish he made when she overheard Kelly and Trisha talking about it in the ladies' bathroom at Amy's.

Daniel soaked all it in, and during the time he listened to her relay her story, he began to realize something else about her; she wasn't "Larisa Oleynik the famous actress" right now, she was just Larisa the ordinary college student. Somehow, he liked her that way a lot better; just a normal, everyday person like he was.

She seemed a little hyper at times, but her personality portrayed a strong will, a powerful, but kind character, and a formidable intelligence. Her voice was soft and soothing even though she tended to giggle sometimes, but he could tell she was someone who only wanted others to feel at ease around her and accept her.

To his surprise, she seemed to be a little nervous around 'him'!

And after all this, she reminded him of Kelly. He couldn't believe it, but why was Kelly popping into his mind when the girl of his dreams was sitting right here in his den with him?

"Daniel?" came his mother's voice from the kitchen down the hall. "Did one of your friends drop in?".

"Yeah mom, something like that!" he answered with a chuckle.

"Well, dinner's ready. How about you come into the dining room and let's eat?".

He looked at Larisa and smiled.

"Shall we?" he offered, extending his elbow which she immediately stood and hooked her arm into.

"I'd love to".

They made their way into the living room where Daniel's mother was preparing the table for dinner. Already knowing Daniel was a huge fan of Larisa's, his mother overcame the initial shock of her visit when she offered to help her set the table.

Daniel had a wonderful time at dinner with Larisa as their guest, and they talked about everything from California, the New York weather, and even to the unfortunate recent terrorist attacks on the world trade centers.

Larisa was the perfect guest, even helping to clear the table and wash up some of the dishes.

Daniel's mother finally chased them out of the kitchen so they could spend a little more time to themselves. They put their coats on and walked out on the porch and sat on the swing at the far end.

While the old chains creaked as they gently swung Daniel asked why Larisa wasn't at home in California for Christmas, and she explained how her parents came to New York this year to see her. She'd already opened presents with them earlier in the morning, but she also wanted to meet Daniel, just for the fact that he was such a devoted fan and made a wish for her to have Christmas dinner with him.

"Now how could I pass up an invitation to a good, old fashioned, home-cooked Christmas dinner?" she kidded him.

They went quiet for a moment as the conversation lagged, and then, to Daniel's surprise, Larisa began humming a tune. His face went red as he recognized it as Elton John's 'Nikita'.

"Oh no!" he moaned in half-amusement and half-shame.

"Uh huh Daniel, I listened to your tape. I remember when, too. I was filming my third season of 'Alex Mack'".

"I sounded like a total an complete dork on it, didn't I?".

"I wouldn't say that. Even Meredith thought it was totally sweet just like I did" she assured him, referring to actress Meredith Bishop, who Daniel knew portrayed "Annie", the older sister of Larisa's character on 'Alex Mack'.

She sang softly with an angel's voice as Daniel listened:

"Do you ever dream of me?
"Do you ever see the letters that I write?
"When you look up to the sky,
"'Larisa' do you count the stars at night?
"And if there comes a time,
"When stage and screen no longer hold you in,
"And if you're free to make a choice,
"Just look towards the East and find a friend.

"Oh Larisa you will never know,
"Anything about my home,
"I'll never know how good it feels to hold you,
"Larisa I need you so.
"Oh Larisa is the other side,
"All make believe and camera light?
"Memorizing your lines in a row,
"Larisa you'll never know.

Daniel didn't know what to say. After five years, Larisa still remembered his version of Elton John's 'Nikita' he'd re-written just for her.

"I can't believe you still remembered it".

"Well, I sort of have a 'knack' for memorizing stuff" she joked, nudging his elbow with her's. "I 'am' an actress after all".

They laughed.

"I'm really happy that you came and spent Christmas dinner with me Larisa. I realize you're probably really busy and all, but it meant a lot to me".

"Oh, I'm not as 'busy' as you may think" she shared, half-giggling. "Right now, all I do is go to school, do homework, and occasionally get out with some friends. I kind of like it that way too. It let's me be more... you know ... normal".

She reached over and placed her hand on Daniel's, and he gazed at her with a confused expression. Kelly always touched his hand like that.

"But, even though I came over to have Christmas dinner with you, there's something else I need to tell you Daniel, something very, very important".

"What?" he asked seriously.

"I wanted to wait until after dinner when I told you this. It was something else I overheard your friend Kelly say in the ladies' room at Amy's party Saturday night, something I don't think you realize".

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

"Kelly?!" shouted Daniel as he knocked loudly on the front door of her small apartment above the Hendersons' garage. It was just two blocks away from her parents' house, but she'd moved into it a year and a half ago to get some privacy from her two younger brothers.

"Kelly? Are you in there?! Open up! It's me, Daniel!".

Daniel knew she was home because her car was parked in the garage below.

He heard the familiar creak of that one baseboard in the front room of her apartment that acted as the den. Someone was approaching the door. There was a click, a sliding bolt sound, and then Kelly opened the door.

She was wearing a gray sweatshirt and baggy black sweatpants. Her hair was long and slightly jumbled too, but what Daniel noticed the most was her eyes. They were red and slightly puffy from crying.

"Daniel?" she sniffed. "What... what are you doing here?".

He bent down and fumbled with something down by his feet, hidden just around the corner of the door out of sight. He retrieved a beautifully-wrapped gift.

"Well, we always exchange gifts on Christmas. It's our tradition, isn't it?" he asked sincerely, handing the gift to her. She took it as a tear welled up in her eye.

"Yes...".

He stood there quietly looking at her for a moment. Still clutching the gift in her left hand, she used her right to push her long hair off of her face.

"What? What is it?" she asked, wondering why he was looking at her so intently.

"After all these years, I've been so blind..." he sighed quietly, just loud enough for her to hear.

"I can't believe how much I've missed you over the last two days, and I can't believe that after all this time, you were afraid to say anything about us, just like I was". Kelly was stunned.

"Daniel, do you really mean that? Because I've missed you too..." she replied, a slight smile of hope forming on her lips.

Daniel reached down again to retrieve another hidden package, and this time, he held up a picnic basket full of food from his mother's Christmas dinner.

"Kelly, would you do me the honor of having Christmas dinner with me?".

She laughed out loud and fell forward to hug him. Then she kissed him.

"It's about time you finally came to your senses you ninny" she giggled happily, pulling him inside and closing the door behind them.

From one house down, Larisa sat in her car, watching.

"Merry Christmas Daniel and Kelly, and I hope you have a lot more of them" she said out loud with a huge, satisfied grin.

She placed her car in drive and drove away.

THE END