Date: Sat, 12 Jul 1997 14:53:56 -0700
From: "Nancy A. Taylor" <taylorln@open.org>
Subject: Archiving "Keeping Watch"


Disclaimer: The characters of Nick and Co. are not mine.
They were created by J. Parriott and B. Cohen and are owned
by Sony/TriStar. No copyright infringement was intended.
The character of Laurene is mine.

Keeping Watch Over the Knight
by Nancy Taylor
(c) June 1997

Part 1 of 2

"What are we going to do, Nick?" Pinning the last stray
strands of hair atop her head, Natalie turned to her husband,
who was putting the finishing touches on his bow tie.

"Don't worry, Nat. I've got it covered." Nick turned to
Natalie, flashing his trademark smile. He looked absolutely
dashing in his double-breasted black tux with the blue and black
checkered silk tie that matched Natalie's dress.

Natalie wished she could feel as confident as Nick
sounded. In less than two hours they needed to be at the
Policemen's Gala Charity Ball and they still didn't have a
babysitter. Pulling on her sapphire blue satin gown, Natalie
muttered, "Of all times for Jenny to get sick!"

Jenny Schanke, the dependable teenage daughter of Don and
Myra Schanke, had called to inform Natalie that the latest
strain of the flu sweeping through Toronto had nailed her and
she wouldn't be able to babysit for the couple. Natalie was
dismayed at the news of losing her favorite babysitter, but
Jenny had sounded awfully miserable over the phone.

Natalie turned around so Nick could fasten the pearl
buttons down the back of her gown. As Nick clasped the tiny
pearl-and-loop closures, Natalie continued, "Myra has to stay
home with her ... Schanke and Tracy both have to be at the
ball.... Nick, who can we get at this late hour?"

Placing his hands on Natalie's shoulders, Nick turned her
gently to face him. As she opened her mouth to continue her
protests, Nick firmly covered it with his own. After a long,
breathless moment he released her and put an index finger to her
lips to keep her hushed. "I've got it covered, Nat. Don't
worry."

Upon Nick's removing his finger from her lips, Natalie
took in a deep breath. Quickly replacing the finger, Nick
shushed her again and gathered her in a warm embrace. "You
worry too much," he informed her.

From downstairs they heard the doorbell ring.

"Who could that be?" Natalie wondered.

"I'll get it!!" Laurene, with all the energy of a
firecracker, went running down the stairs.

"Uncle Lucien!" she cried, throwing open the door.

"Ah, mon petit ange.... Didn't your parents teach you not
to open the door before asking who is there?" LaCroix swept the
energetic four-year-old up in his arms. A smile graced his
severe lips and his eyes danced as he gazed at her.

"Yeah, but...." Laurene giggled as LaCroix bounced her in
his arms.

"I will hear no more 'Yeah buts,' from you, young lady.
The next time, you WILL ask," LaCroix admonished the youngster.

"Oh, okay," Laurene reluctantly agreed. "But I knew it
was you!" She squirmed until LaCroix was forced to put her
down.

Upstairs, Natalie broke away from Nick's embrace and
looked accusingly at him. "You didn't...." she growled.

Nick put on his best innocent puppy dog look. Cocking his
head to one side he smiled and shrugged. "What choice did we
have?" he asked. "They'll be fine."

"In a rat's ass," Natalie mumbled quietly under her
breath.

"I heard that," Nick laughed. "Come on, we've got to get
going. It's a long drive into town." Placing a palm in the
small of Natalie's back, he guided her out of the bedroom and
down the stairs to greet this evening's babysitter.

Ever since Laurene's birth, LaCroix had taken an
inordinate interest in his mortal granddaughter. He had become
a frequent visitor at the Knights' residence and had been, for
the most part, a welcome one.

Still, Natalie harbored a seed of distrust in her heart;
LaCroix's motives were rarely clear-cut and simple to define.
But, in the custom of all good hostesses, she put on her best
smile and greeted the evening's unlikely savior.

"We really appreciate you being able to watch Laurene at
the last minute like this." Natalie smiled at LaCroix, but
inside she was plotting the imminent demise of her wayward,
albeit well-meaning, vampire husband. Stake through the
heart? Beheading? Stake him out in the sun and THEN behead him
if there was anything left to behead? No ... those alternatives
were too humane. She decided instead to give him a very
definite piece of her mind once she got him alone in the Caddy.
By the time she was through with him, Nick was going to WISH
he'd been staked or beheaded....

"My pleasure, I assure you," LaCroix replied in his best
formal attitude. "I'm sure that Laurene and I will get along
quite well for the evening."

"Just make sure she gets to sleep at a reasonable hour,"
Natalie admonished. "Nine o'clock is her bedtime." She slipped
into the coat Nick was holding for her and picked up her purse.

Nick began guiding Natalie to the door, ushering her out
of the house. Natalie continued to talk, twisting her head to
look over her shoulder as Nick pushed her out the door. "She's
had dinner, but a snack is okay. There's cut fruit in the
refrigerator."

"Thanks," Nick mouthed silently in LaCroix's direction as
he pulled the door shut behind them.

Once in the Caddy, Nick did his best to studiously ignore
Natalie in the hope that she would simmer down, but to no avail.

"How COULD you?!?" The decibel level of Natalie's voice
could have been heard over the roar of a jet engine. For Nick's
sensitive hearing, the sound was downright painful. He cringed
behind the wheel. "Of all the people you could have possibly
found to babysit, you ask LACROIX?"

Nick didn't answer for a moment; he concentrated on his
driving. Then, turning to Natalie, he replied with a plaintive
voice, "But we really didn't have a choice, did we?"

"One of the perverts from down in lockup would have done
about as well," Natalie spat. "Not to mention, I'd probably
trust him more than I trust LaCroix ... alone with OUR
DAUGHTER!" Natalie's cheeks had flushed crimson with her rage.

"I'm sorry, Nat," Nick said, quite sincerely. "I should
have discussed it with you first." He paused, gauging Natalie
for a reaction. She simply sat and simmered. "He really loves
her, Nat." Nick was almost whispering. "LaCroix, that is. He
really loves Laurene. They'll be okay. You'll see."

Having vented sufficiently for the time being, Natalie
leaned over to give Nick a conciliatory peck on the cheek, then
sat back in silence.

LaCroix clapped his hands together and stood looking at
the petite vision in front of him. "I thought they'd never
leave." He smiled down at Laurene who was regarding him
carefully with her large blue eyes. "Where do we start?"

"Wanna play Barbies? You can play with Ken!" Without
waiting for a reply, Laurene retreated with lightening speed up
to her room to retrieve her dolls. She returned shortly after,
carrying a good-sized overnight tote filled with her dolls and
their accompanying paraphernalia.

LaCroix smiled and shook his head slightly in bemusement
as Laurene shoved her one-and-only Ken doll into his hands. The
doll was totally bereft of clothing, as was her rather large
assortment of Barbies.

Digging through the mass of naked dolls and the assortment
of clothes in the tote, Laurene handed LaCroix a dark blue suit
for Ken and then began the laborious pursuit of putting a
wedding gown on her Barbie-of-choice.

After much earnest hard work, Laurene finally succeeded in
the difficult dressing stage of the game. Turning to watch
LaCroix, she observed that he was still struggling in vain to
pull Ken's slacks on over the doll's big, stiff plastic feet.

Giggling, Laurene took the doll from LaCroix's unresisting
hands. "Here, let me do it." Her eyes sparkled with mirth at
the inability of her grandfather to dress a simple doll. "You
can look for the shoes," she commanded, pointing to the pile of
clothes on the table.

Dutifully following orders, LaCroix began digging in the
clothes for Ken's shoes. By the time Laurene had finished
dressing the doll, LaCroix had managed to find one brown dress
shoe and one white tennis shoe. "Will these do?" He held out
his offering, hoping it would be sufficient. Laurene wrinkled
her nose but nodded in reluctant agreement.

Once both dolls were properly dressed, Laurene promptly
lost interest in the game. "I'm bored," she announced. Taking
the Ken doll from LaCroix's grasp, she laid it down beside all
the other Barbies. Idly, LaCroix picked up one of the undressed
Barbies and tried vainly to get a dress on past those tiny
hands; the sleeves kept catching on the doll's small thumbs.
LaCroix's first thought was to snap the frustrating doll in
half. Positioning his thumb and applying pressure to that end,
LaCroix looked up to see that he was being watched. Laurene's
eyes shifted between the doll in his hand and LaCroix's face.
The look of hurt and confusion there caused LaCroix to rethink
his actions, and he finally tossed the half-dressed toy onto the
pile with the rest. He really didn't know how Laurene managed
to clothe those things in the first place. It was no wonder to
him why most of the dolls were naked.

Laurene sat quietly for a moment, considering the
possibilities. Finally, she jumped up and grabbed LaCroix's
hand. She dragged her grandfather up the stairs and into her
bedroom where, together, they began to dig through her pile of
toys and games.

Coming downstairs with an assortment of games, LaCroix set
them down beside the coffee table and put some music on the
stereo system. As the cheerful strains of Sharon, Lois and Bram
wafted through the air, Laurene helped LaCroix to spread the
Twister sheet out on the floor.

Laurene started the game by spinning, then placing her
left foot on a yellow circle. LaCroix's spin put his left hand
on a red circle. As the game continued, LaCroix found himself
reaching over, or trying to squirm a limb under, a giggling
Laurene. The two became so entangled that they toppled over,
eliciting gales of laughter from Laurene. LaCroix's hard
features were softened by a large smile, but he refused to
demean his dignity any further by laughing aloud.

When Laurene had finally composed herself enough to be
coherent, she stood up and walked over to the pile of games.
Not one to be content with playing anything more than once, she
picked through the assortment. LaCroix came over to crouch down
beside her.

"How about this one?" he asked, holding out the
'Candyland' box for Laurene's approval.

"Nah, I'm bored with that one." Laurene took the box from
LaCroix and put it behind her.

Digging through the pile, LaCroix pulled out 'Clue.' "Now
this looks interesting." LaCroix held the box out for Laurene's
inspection.

"Daddy and I play that all the time," she sniffed.

"And I suppose you don't like it because he wins?" LaCroix
inquired.

Laurene shook her golden curls. "Nope. I win." She
turned her most innocent look on LaCroix. "Daddy's a GREAT
detective, but he sucks at board games!"

LaCroix barely controlled the guffaw that threatened to
escape at Laurene's choice of words. Shuffling through the pile
once more, LaCroix presented Laurene with the game of
'Operation.'

"Uh uh," Laurene shook her head. "That game's silly!"
She paused slightly, then continued. "I found a dead bird in
the back yard last week and Mummy autopsied it for me so we
could find out why it died." Laurene had a look of grim
satisfaction on her very young face.

"And what did you discover was the cause of death?"
LaCroix was curious.

"Cat attack.... The bird was murdered," Laurene stated
seriously.

This child has been around homicide detectives and
coroners too much for her own good, LaCroix smiled at the
thought.

Delving even deeper into the pile, LaCroix found a small,
magnetic traveler's chess set. "Do you play?" he asked, showing
Laurene the board.

Excitedly, Laurene grabbed the chess set from LaCroix's
hands and headed to the dining room table to set it up. "Daddy
taught me how," she stated proudly.

LaCroix watched as she correctly set up the board and made
her opening move with a white pawn. The game progressed quickly
for a time, with Laurene giving up quite a few pieces. LaCroix
smiled inwardly, noting Nicholas' style of play in this
inexperienced child.

Then, suddenly, Laurene's voice broke into his reverie.
"Check!" LaCroix shook himself out of his memories to find
Laurene's knight had put his king in a rather precarious
position.

Studying the board intently, LaCroix quickly found the
move to get himself out of check. He wasn't about to
underestimate this child again. Who would have suspected such
talent from one so very young? LaCroix thought. This child had
potential. He would need to stay sharp in the coming years, as
a future chess master sat across from him now.

A few moves later, LaCroix finished the game.
"Checkmate," he said, knocking Laurene's king over with his
bishop.

Laurene looked at her king, frowning. Just as she was
moving to sweep the pieces off the board, LaCroix grasped her
hand, giving Laurene a firm handshake for a game well played.

"Let's have a tea party now!" Laurene suggested, quickly
dropping the idea of the chess game and moving on. Standing
up, she left the chess set on the table and crossed the room to
the china closet where a pretty child's tea set was displayed on
one of the lower shelves. LaCroix helped her remove the small
porcelain cups and saucers, while Laurene took out the teapot
herself.

"If we're going to have a party, I gotta get dressed,"
Laurene announced. Running up to her room once more, she left
her grandfather standing alone and bemused in the dining room.

While she was gone, LaCroix poured some apple juice in the
tiny teapot, and readied the set for Laurene's return. After
about a fifteen minute wait, Laurene strutted down the
staircase, regal in her blue satin and lace gown.

"How lovely you look this evening, mon ange," LaCroix
greeted the petite princess who appeared before him. Taking
Laurene's tiny hand, he bowed low and placed a small kiss on her
knuckles.

"Thank you, kind sir," Laurene replied solemnly,
curtseying like a courtly young lady would be expected to do.
Then quickly discarding her formal manner, Laurene piped, "How
do you like the dress, Uncle Lucien?" She spun in a circle to
show off the costume. "I'm gonna get to play the part of
Cinderella in the school play!" Laurene's preschool was putting
on its annual pageant for the parents and Laurene had been
chosen for the lead role this year. She'd been looking for
an excuse to try out the lovely gown that her mother had so
laboriously slaved to finish.

"You are a vision of loveliness," LaCroix intoned
solemnly.

Laurene picked up the tea service tray from the main
dining table and carried it to a small child-sized table in the
corner of the large dining room. Already seated at two of the
four chairs were a teddy bear and a doll. Laurene set the tray
on the low table and sat comfortably in one of the small chairs.
Pulling out the remaining chair, LaCroix looked at it dubiously.
Then, with great care, he lowered his tall lanky frame, ending
up sitting with his knees tucked up under his chin. He shifted
slightly, trying to find a more comfortable position.

Lifting his teacup in a toast to Laurene, LaCroix took a
small sip of the apple juice and wrinkled his nose in disgust.
He put the teacup to his lips once more, but only pretended to
drink. He placed the delicate cup back in the saucer and
addressed Laurene. "Tell me more about your play. You were
chosen to be Cinderella? I'm sure you'll be quite enchanting."

"Yeah!" Laurene bubbled enthusiastically. "We gotta
practice tomorrow night.... The play is next week! I already
know all my lines," she bragged.

"And am I to be invited to this gala event?" LaCroix was
actually looking forward to the possibility and hoped the play
was in the evening.

"Oh yes!!" Laurene bounced in her seat, nearly spilling
her 'tea' on the lovely gown. Hurriedly placing the cup back in
the saucer, Laurene gestured largely with her arms. "Everyone
is invited!!!" she crowed, then after a brief pause, "It's at
night. You can come."

LaCroix glanced at the clock, knowing the hour was getting
late. He rose from his seat and escorted Laurene back to the
living room. "How about a story, and then I believe it's past
your bedtime, young lady."

Laurene scurried to the bookshelf and pulled down her two
favorites, 'Peter Rabbit' and 'Green Eggs and Ham.' Snuggling
down beside LaCroix on the couch, she handed him the books and
yawned. LaCroix began reading 'Peter Rabbit,' and Laurene laid
her head against his chest. She looked at the pictures and
listened to her grandfather's mesmerizing voice, her eyelids
growing heavier by the minute. Before LaCroix was little more
than halfway through the book he heard Laurene's gentle
breathing, heard her heart rate slow, and felt her slight weight
slump against his side.

Putting the book down beside himself, LaCroix wrapped an
arm around Laurene and laid his head on the back of the couch.
Soon he, too, had drifted into a peaceful repose.


Keeping Watch Over the Knight
by Nancy Taylor
(c) June 1997

Part 2 of 2

Nick and Natalie arrived at the charity ball fashionably
late. Captain Donald Schanke of the 39th Precinct came over to
slap Nick heartily on the back by way of greeting.

"Welcome to the madhouse, partner!" Schanke was grinning
ear to ear. Despite his promotion, he never considered Nick a
subordinate. The two had been partners together for three
years, in two precincts, and Don Schanke valued dearly his
friendship with the rather eccentric homicide detective.

"Hey, Schank!" Nick returned the greeting. "How's Jenny
doing?"

"Death warmed over, partner." Schanke shook his head,
looking grim. When he had left Myra at home to come to the
ball, Jenny had been vomiting frequently; he was worried about
his little girl.

"Why don't you just go home and be with your family, Don."
Nick was very fond of the vivacious Jenny himself, and he hated
seeing his friend so distracted and worried.

Nick rarely called Schanke by his first name; that
courtesy and the tone of Nick's voice caught Schanke's
attention. "Yeah, you're right. Maybe I will." His voice
trailed off, then Schanke took a deep breath. "But I have to
give a little speech first." Pulling down on the edges of his
tuxedo coat to straighten it, Schanke walked up to the podium.

"Ahem," Schanke cleared his throat and tapped on the
microphone. "This thing alive?" he asked, turning to the sound
technician. Getting the nod, Schanke continued, "Ladies and
gentlemen, may I have your attention please?"

The music stopped and the general buzz of noise in the
room decreased as the crowd of well-dressed and influential
party-goers turned their attention to the podium.

"I'd like to welcome you all here tonight. On behalf of
myself, the Commissioners and the Toronto Metro Police
Department, I would like to thank you all for your donations.
The monies collected here tonight are going to support the
Children's Hospital. I know that if the kids were here, they
would thank you too." Schanke paused while the audience cheered
and clapped. "Here to make a special presentation is our very
own Detective Nick Knight."

More applause accompanied Nick's arrival at the podium.
Smiling, Nick handed a bank draft to Schanke, then leaned into
the microphone. "On the behalf of the de Brabant Foundation, I
would like to present the hospital with this check for one
million dollars."

The crowd erupted into wild applause and cheering.
Schanke's eyes nearly popped out of his head as he looked at the
check. One million dollars, and he was holding it in his hand!
Handing the draft to the treasurer, Schanke turned back to the
microphone and gestured for silence. When the crowd noise
finally dropped, Schanke continued, "Well, ladies and gentlemen,
now that's what I call a donation!" As he spoke, Schanke
reached out to shake Nick's hand. "Please extend our most
profound gratitude to the Foundation, Detective Knight."

"I will, yes," Nick smiled warmly at Schanke. Finally
free of his obligation, Nick hurriedly stepped down.

Once more, Schanke turned to the microphone, "Ladies and
gentlemen ... enjoy the party!"

Stepping down from the podium, Schanke quickly cornered
Nick. "Who do you know with that kind of money, buddy?" he
prodded.

"I'd heard of the Foundation," Nick hedged. "I knew they
made charitable contributions to worthy causes, so I called in a
few debts, twisted a few arms and talked them in to donating to
the Children's Hospital. Wasn't too hard really," he shrugged.
"It IS a good cause, after all."

"Man, oh man, oh man," Schanke shook his head. "I wish I
had connections like that."

Just then, Tracy walked over wearing Javier Vachon on one
arm. Her short, sequined black party dress was the perfect
accent to Vachon's tux. Nick was mildly amused to notice that
the usually laid back vampire appeared to have primped for the
occasion; his beard was trimmed, his hair combed and tied back
in a neat ponytail.

"Hi, Schank. Hi, Nick!" the perky blonde greeted her
fellow cops with a wide smile. "How are things?"

"Not so great," Schanke replied. "I gotta go. Excuse me,
please." Schanke beat a hasty retreat, making apologies as he
went, and left for home to take care of his ailing daughter.

"What was that all about?" a confused Tracy asked of her
partner.

"Jenny's got the flu and Schank's been really worried
about her. I don't think he would have even come if he hadn't
been volunteered to emcee this affair," Nick told her.

"Oh, that's too bad," Tracy commiserated.

Natalie glided over to join her husband and friends. She
had drinks in her hand and gave one of them to Tracy. "You look
really nice tonight, Trace," Natalie smiled warmly. She and
Tracy had become quite good friends over the years. With each
of them having a vampire as their 'significant other,' they'd
had plenty of gossip to share.

"Uh, Nat ... have you got a minute?" Tracy gave Vachon a
guilty little glance over her shoulder before turning her back
on him and eyeing her friend meaningfully.

"Sure, Trace," Nat replied, giving Nick one of those
wicked Cheshire Cat grins as she and Tracy walked off together.

"We're in trouble now," Nick sighed.

"Count on it," Vachon groaned. It looked as though it was
going to be a LONG evening.

Tracy and Natalie headed toward the powder room. In the
lounge area of the facility, the women sat down to refresh their
makeup. Tracy brushed on a touch more mascara while Natalie
applied some lip liner.

"So, Tracy," Natalie began the conversation, "am I to
assume that you and Vachon are a couple now? I never would have
expected to see him at snooty party like this."

Tracy smiled shyly, "Yeah, he finally told me how he
really feels about me."

"And?" Natalie urged, when Tracy paused.

"He told me he has been attracted to me since we first
met," she replied, a tinge of pink coloring her pale cheeks.
"Only, it's taken him this long to decide if he really wanted to
work at making a relationship."

"And?" Natalie was forced to prod again.

"He does," Tracy smiled, "want a relationship, that is."

"Tracy, that's great!" Natalie enthused, hugging her
friend and mussing their hairdos.

They both turned back to the mirror, combing and brushing
to straighten their hair. Concentrating on her reflection,
Tracy spoke in a quiet voice, "Nat, what do you and Nick do
about, well, do you, I mean, well...."

Natalie turned to her and chuckled. "We have sex, Tracy.
It's okay, you can talk about it."

Tracy's cheeks were bright red by this time. "What's it
like?" she ventured to ask.

"Well, Trace, it's like ... sex. Anything you can do with
a man, you can do with a vampire." Natalie chuckled lightly at
her friend's obvious discomfort.

"But doesn't he have to, well, you know, drink blood?"
Tracy still couldn't quite bring herself to look directly at
Natalie.

"There's that too," Natalie answered matter-of-factly.
"It's no big deal, Trace." Natalie turned Tracy to look at her
and took the brush from Tracy's hand. "A vampire needs to take
blood in order to complete the sexual act. It used to scare the
bejeezus out of Nick, but he's learned to control himself. He
only takes a few sips. It's enough.

"If Vachon really cares about you, Tracy, he'll find a
way. YOU'LL find a way." Natalie gave her friend a more
careful hug this time. "Are you sure this is what you want?"

"Yeah, I'm sure," Tracy said, some of her confidence and
perkiness returning. Smiling at Natalie, Tracy stood up and
slung the strap of her sequined purse over her shoulder.
"Thanks, Nat."

"Hey, anytime, Trace. Just holler. I'll be here for
you." Natalie finished her makeup and stood up to leave.
Putting on their best party faces, the women exited the powder
room and went in search of their escorts for the evening.

Watching Tracy and Natalie's return from across the room,
Vachon looked nervous. "What do you suppose they were
discussing?" he inquired.

Nick gave him a knowing look and, smiling, shook his head.
"Trust me, you really don't want to know," he chuckled. Pausing
to look him over more seriously, Nick noticed Vachon's edginess.
"Are you and Tracy getting serious? If you are, you'd better be
certain you really want this. I'm not letting any harm come to
my partner, you know."

Vachon eyed the older vampire and read the implicit threat
in his voice. The two had never really become friends, but
Vachon did consider Nick a valuable confidant. "We're ...
talking about it," Vachon hedged. Before he could explain any
further, the women had come within earshot and Vachon became
quiet.

The orchestra for the evening started up again, this time
playing a waltz. Vachon held out a beckoning hand and swept
Tracy onto the floor.

"May I have the honor of this dance?" Nick had taken
Natalie's hand and was bending over it, kissing her knuckles
softly.

"Yes, but of course," Natalie answered, using her formal,
'society lady' voice.

Nick smiled warmly at his lovely wife and, wrapping an arm
around her waist, waltzed her out onto the dance floor. Nick
was a very accomplished dancer. The floor slowly cleared so
everyone could watch, leaving Nick and Natalie the only couple
twirling around to the music. When the orchestra fell silent,
the crowd applauded. Natalie blushed; she had been so wrapped
up in the moment that she hadn't noticed they were alone on the
floor.

Nick took her hand and led her off the dance floor and
back into the crowd. Walking her over to the refreshment table,
Nick handed Natalie a glass of champagne.

Sipping at the bubbly liquid, Natalie looked over the
crowd. Tracy and Vachon had disappeared. "You know," Natalie
began as she turned toward Nick, "this has been quite an
interesting evening."

"Indeed it has."

"Did you hear about Vachon and Tracy?"

"Vachon told me enough," Nick replied. "I cautioned him
to be careful. I'm not about to lose another partner."

"I just hope it works as well for them as it has for us."
Natalie set the champagne flute down on the table and took
Nick's arm. "It's been a long evening. I'm tired. How about
we go home and make sure we're still parents?"

Nick chuckled and escorted Natalie out to the Caddy.
Holding the passenger side door as she stepped in, he picked up
the trailing edges of Natalie's gown and tucked them inside,
before carefully closing the door.

As they neared home, Natalie began getting nervous. "What
do you suppose we'll find?" she asked, turning to Nick.

"What do you expect? Mayhem? Carnage?" Nick chuckled.

Natalie slapped him on the shoulder. She was in a much
better mood than when they had left home earlier that evening,
but she was still concerned about leaving LaCroix alone with
Laurene for such a long time. "Be serious!" she admonished.
"LaCroix is capable of just about anything!"

"Including being a good babysitter?" Nick couldn't resist
baiting Natalie just a little. Her response was a frustrated
"harrumph." Natalie folded her arms across her chest and stared
out the windshield at the highway unfolding before them in the
beams of the Caddy's headlights.

Nick was relieved to finally be pulling into his own
driveway. He cut the engine and put the gear in 'park.'
Getting out of the Caddy, he walked around to open Natalie's
door. In true gentlemanly fashion, he offered his hand to help
Natalie out of the vehicle.

Stepping onto the sidewalk, Natalie turned to the porch,
hesitant to enter her own home. Nick came up beside her and
took Natalie by the elbow, guiding her up the porch steps.

Nick turned the key in the front door lock and quietly
eased the door open. Ushering Natalie inside, they both froze
at the sight that greeted their astonished eyes. Their home
looked as though Hurricane Laurene had swept through it. Toys
and games were everywhere, the tea set and chess game still out
on the tables, the stereo still on ... and in the midst of it
all, Laurene and LaCroix slept in blissful peace on the couch.

"I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my
own eyes," Natalie whispered as she hung up her coat, then
fetched a blanket from the guest room. She tucked the blanket
gently around Laurene and LaCroix, careful not to disturb the
pair.
Nick closed the blinds against the coming dawn, then
putting his arm around Natalie's waist, guided her upstairs. "I
told you it would be okay." He smiled....

THE END

Nancy <TaylorLN@open.org>