|Caroline and the Right Guy
Author: Caroline PM
Rewrite of an older fic. Alternate ending to 'Caroline and the Opera.' Caroline's tired of chasing after the wrong kind of guy.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Words: 3,523 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 2 - Published: 10-24-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3853751
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
TITLE: Caroline and the Right Guy
SPOILERS: "Caroline and the Opera"
You can't believe what's happening. What was supposed to be an innocent night out with an old schoolmate has suddenly turned into a three-ring circus, right in the middle of Remo's. Del, probably in an effort to impress you, came to Remo's and started spouting off some diatribe about the opera. You figure he probably doesn't even know what he's saying; the words don't even sound like him. If you didn't know better, you'd say they sounded like Richard. Del and Peter then continued trying to one-up each other, until this moment you find yourself inexplicably in the midst of -- Del, balancing a chair on his chin... and Peter, walking on his hands.
Is this what you want out of your lovelife? You're about to turn thirty and you're still engaging in meaningless (yes, meaningless -- your relationship with Del? -- let's call a spade a spade) relationships. You always figured in high school that you'd be married by the time you were twenty-two, and have a baby by the time you were twenty-six. By the time you turned twenty-three you had luckily come to your senses about just how silly that was. At twenty-five you were finally getting your comic strip off the ground and you couldn't be bothered with thoughts of marriage. When you turned twenty-seven was when you dumped your then-boyfriend because he didn't like cats. And at twenty-nine, you met Del.
Now it's nine months later and you're not even close to those high school dreams of marriage. No, you're wasting your time with a guy you have nothing in common with aside from great hair. Is that really what you want?
"Enough!" you shout, and it's partly to stop Del and Peter from making further idiots of themselves, and partly to stop all the nagging thoughts in your head -- thoughts that have kinda been there since your first date with Del.
Del sets the chair down and Peter straightens up; both of them look at you expectantly, as if you'll run into the arms of whatever hero you choose. If you were Annie, maybe you'd be willing to put up with this tonight purely because they're both good-looking men. But you're not Annie. As much as you love her, you have no aspirations whatsoever to be Annie. You're you. And you shouldn't have to settle for this. So you don't. "I can't deal with either of you right now," you sigh, and you just barely wave to Remo as you head out the door.
Where you go next is pure instinct. You know the way by heart even though he's been in your life for not even three months. If anyone will remind you that there are still decent guys out there, he will. Sure, he's cranky and sarcastic and you're pretty certain you can count on one hand (okay, two fingers) how many times you've seen him smile, but... he's brilliant. And he's kind (cynicism aside) and handsome and several other things you never even let yourself consider until that freak show you just witnessed at Remo's.
You enter his building (the buzzer is out, and conveniently, so is the front door) and head upstairs -- no elevator. Once you reach apartment six, you raise your fist to knock, and your eyebrows fly up when his annoyingly-clingy girlfriend Shelly opens the door.
As always, she's thrilled to see you, and smiles brightly. "Oh, Caroline! Hi!"
"Hey, Shelly," you smile back uneasily -- Shelly always looks like she might pounce on you for a hug. Which... she really might. So you lean around her and peek into the tiny studio apartment, furrowing your brow when you don't find who you'd been looking for. "Where's Richard?"
Shelly rolls her eyes. "He's hiding in the closet like a big baby. Del just barely got him to come out. Maybe you could do better." Shelly tilts her head at you, and you're surprised to hear a hint of jealousy in her tone as she says next, "He seems to like you a lot more."
That comment hits you in a funny way but you brush past it -- and Shelly -- and go over to the closet door, knocking. "Richard?"
"Did she put the needles away?"
You toss a glance over your shoulder at Shelly, who's holding up the accupuncture needles and smiling sheepishly. You smile back and tell your assistant, "Not quite."
The closet door cracks open and Richard's eyes meet yours, his expression solemn. He then looks warily at Shelly, and you follow his gaze only to look back at him a second later when you feel his hand close around your wrist. Then he pulls you into the closet with him and shuts the door again. You can't help but laugh at this as the two of you sit down. "Richard, what's going on? What are you doing?"
"Trying to preserve the integrity of your epidural layer. And mine." He looks at you almost expectantly, as if you're supposed to question his meaning or something.
You just shrug facially and accept the response. You speak his language; oddly enough, you always have. He's the most complex person you've ever met and yet since the beginning it's been easy to understand him. You sense this is partly why he actually likes you. You figure he probably doesn't encounter many that can speak his language. You watch his eyes flick over you then in a brief assessment of your attire, before he asks, "How was the opera?"
"It was great," you shrug and sigh. "Beautiful. It's what happened afterward that brings me here."
"What are you guys talking about?" you hear Shelly whine from just outside the closet door.
Richard rolls his eyes and you smile at this, as he yells back, "We're planning a surprise party for you!"
"Aww, Richard, that's so sweet!" she exclaims, obviously happy. "Okay, I can put the needles away now since you're doing something so thoughtful."
Richard's hand is on your skin again -- your wrist, to start out -- but then as he stands up, his hand slips down to yours and grasps it. And you think you might be hallucinating because you think you feel him giving your hand a gentle squeeze before he pulls you up. He opens the door and pokes his head out, and you look down at your hands, still clasped together. You wonder why it doesn't feel weird.
Come to think of it, it's never felt weird. Maybe because you guys kissed shortly after you first met, who knows? It's always felt natural touching his shoulder or grabbing his arm, or having him touch your shoulder or your back. Or when you guys hugged at the gallery. Nothing had felt as natural. Again, it makes you wonder why.
Once Richard has assessed that the needles actually are, in fact, put away, he moves out of the closet and you follow, your hand still encased in his. Instinctively, though, he takes a step slightly in front of you as if Shelly could whip out the needles again. Oddly, you don't mind this gesture of protectiveness. It's sweet.
Shelly beams brightly at the both of you, and doesn't even seem to mind that Richard's still holding your hand. You don't mind either. What the hell? "You guys are really planning a surprise party for me?"
You nod enthusiastically and beam at Richard when he turns to look at you. "Absolutely!" you answer as brightly as you can, and you surprise even yourself when you step into him and bring your other hand up to grasp his wrist as he continues to hold your hand behind his back.
Richard squeezes your hand and you watch the left corner of his mouth twitch slightly upward. How had you never noticed his lips before? All this turmoil with Del is making you think things that you shouldn't about your assistant. You look down at your joined hands again, almost accusingly this time. His touch does some weird (good) things to you and you hate (love) that.
Shelly smiles and waves as she heads for the door with her needles. "Well, I'll let you guys get to planning! Richard, we can pick this up tomorrow. I really need to help your yang."
"Really, Shelly," you listen to him insist, and it's hard not to laugh because of his very sarcastic tone, "my yang will be fine."
"Alright. See you tomorrow, Richard! Bye, Caroline!" she waves one last time before the door shuts behind her, and through your joined hands you literally feel all the tension leaving Richard's body.
His head droops as if he's exhausted, and he sighs. "Oh God."
You chuckle and squeeze his hand (and his wrist) supportively. "She's gone, Richard."
"I know. I was just thinking of the fact that I'll have to see her tomorrow," he groaned, and squeezes your hand one more time before letting it go.
You're almost disappointed, but you recover quickly. "Why not just... break up with her?"
"You know it's not as simple as that, Caroline. I've done everything I could. I've even tried being as disgusting as you and picking my nose, but she just took that as a sign that I was comfortable around her."
You roll your eyes at his brief insult, and then suddenly find yourself saying something you really shouldn't. "Well just tell her you and I started dating."
"What?" he makes a face, like what you've said is completely preposterous, and suddenly you don't feel too great. "She'd never buy that. First of all, there's Del."
One of your eyebrows jumps. "Not for much longer."
Now Richard has a look of concern on his face. "What? You're dumping Del?"
"I never should've gotten back together with him in the first place," you hear yourself saying, and you sit down on his mattress. Suddenly he's sitting beside you and you're telling him everything. Everything. What happened that made you date Del in the first place, all the things that went wrong in the relationship the first time around. You gloss over the day he pretended to be your date because he obviously knows the outcome of that... and finally you end up with what happened at the opera, and then at Remo's. For some reason, you start to cry, and you know he's going to panic. Especially since you're now draped over his shoulder.
"Caroline, Caroline..." he's got that panicky 'Richard' tone, but instead of shying away from you, he hands you a kleenex and lets you wipe your eyes.
"I'm sorry." Your first instinct when you cry in front of him is always to apologize, because you know it distresses him.
"Don't be," he assures you, and his voice is soft. Like that first night when he was talking to you about Julia. Or at the gallery when he was talking about finally being able to sell a painting. It freaks you out how deeply you respond to that tone, but you don't fight it.
You look up at him and his glasses are gone. He always tends to remove them in times of solemnity. Now must be one of those times because there's no barrier separating you from those giant brown eyes of his. "I should apologize," he tells you, and throws you off completely. His hand is touching yours again and you squeeze it, tightly.
"For what? Why?"
"I may have... given Del some advice on how to impress you. Which was why he showed up at Remo's prattling on about opera."
Your jaw drops just slightly for a second but you recover -- you knew those words sounded like Richard. And unfortunately, you can't think of anything more intelligent to say than, "Oh."
His expression now reminds you of a sad puppy -- or someone whose puppy had just been senselessly killed -- and he looks genuinely remorseful. "Caroline, really, I never meant for him to take it so--"
"Shh, shh," is the only way you know how to stop his unwarranted apology, and your hand finds his face. It's so easy to just... touch him. Even though he hates being touched, he allows it from you. Your voice drops to a whisper as you tell him, "It's not your fault."
"But I told him to--"
You lay a finger over his lips now (oh God, his lips) and shake your head. "Del's a big boy. He could've listened to that voice in his head telling him he was going too far, but he didn't."
Richard arches an eyebrow, and your finger is still against his lips. He doesn't move, though, as he quips, "You're certain Del even has that voice in his head?"
You can't help but laugh, even as you tell him, "I'm being serious, Richard." And it seriously makes your heart skip when you realize you've just run your fingertips across his lips. You see something in his eyes, some sort of light, but before you can figure out what it is, you've jerked your hand away as if you've been burnt.
Richard averts his eyes to his hands, which are now clasped in front of him as he awkwardly shifts next to you on the mattress. "So... so you're really breaking up with Del?"
You nod slowly and look down at your own hands. "Yeah," you respond softly, and shake your head now. "I gotta stop dating guys that are wrong for me. I need to take steps to find the right guy."
"Would you hold it against me if I told you I always thought you could do better than Del?" he asks tentatively, and he's got a look on his face like you might hit him.
You smile, and it completely disarms him as you chuckle. "No, I wouldn't hold it against you, Richard." Then you just have to touch him again -- hug him. But, just like at the gallery, you need his permission since he's so skittish about physical contact. "Can I hug you?"
And instead of a quippy retort like at the gallery, Richard just smiles slightly and nods, allowing you to pull him into an embrace. "Thank you," you hear yourself murmur.
Your breath catches when his hand slides up your back and he asks, "For what?"
"For being here. For letting me talk and not getting upset about it. For letting me cry all over you." You chuckle and lay the final card on the table unknowingly. "Too bad a guy like you would never be interested in someone like me."
Richard stiffens in your arms, and the feel of it makes you stiffen too. Oh God, now you've done it. This is how it always goes with you two -- one step forward, fifty yards back. You almost get him to open up, you almost knock down the walls, but then something happens -- some moment or spark -- and suddenly he's built the walls up even higher. You close your eyes and continue to hang on, hoping it'll pass. Then Richard says something that surprises you both.
"Who says I'm not?"
Your breath catches again, and you both are still stiff as two-by-fours; you pull back gently to look at him, to search his eyes. Nobody had said he wasn't interested -- it was the impression that he gave. And then it hits you -- maybe that was his safe-guard. Maybe what had happened with Julia scared him away from taking any kind of chance in his romantic life, so anyone that he's remotely interested in gets pushed away while he dates people like Shelly that annoy the hell out of him.
"You are?" you hear yourself asking, breathlessly.
Richard says nothing in response -- he actually looks kind of panicked. Just one corner of his lips twitches in a nervous, barely-there smile. Those lips.
And suddenly everything becomes clear: why he lets only you touch him, why it distresses him when you cry, why he takes five steps back when you take one forward. Richard just might be interested in you that way. And maybe you didn't realize until now that you've been interested in him too. So you let his lips provide the distraction you've been looking for as you lean in, staying mindful of his reaction, and lay your lips across his.
The kiss is chaste, tentative... just testing the boundaries. When Richard doesn't respond, you pull back, disappointed, and your chin drops halfway to your chest as you mutter, "Sorry, Richard, I don't know why I--"
Then you can't say anything more as Richard ducks his head and captures your lips passionately. Your stomach somersaults and you inhale deeply through your nose, as if that will help you gain control of what you know is quickly going to become something uncontrollable. His hands are on your face as your heads tilt in unison, and yours are clutching his shirt as the kiss deepens. For one fleeting moment in Remo's, that day you met and he kissed you, you thought he might've been a good kisser. That kiss had been too stiff, too quick, for you to determine. But now, you realize your suspicions were correct. You've never been kissed like this before.
Part of you can't believe you're here; that this is even happening. This is Richard. Your cranky assistant that constantly tries to get your cat to jump out the window. This is Richard, the guy that will probably charge you overtime if you make him attend your birthday party, the guy that forces you to stay all-business from nine to five. This is Richard. And you're kissing him. Annie would probably laugh at you before insisting that you go see a shrink.
But then there's that other half of you that reminds you that this is Richard. Your friend who never wants to see you cry and allows you physical contact even though he resists it from everyone else. This is Richard, the guy that can stir up your deepest emotions with just his vocal inflection or expression, the guy that tried to help your boyfriend impress you because he knew you'd appreciate it. This is your Richard. And you're (finally) kissing him. Annie of course would laugh because she doesn't see him the way you do. And you're totally fine with that.
When you pull away from that phenomenal kiss, his hand is cupping your jawline and you realize he's pulled all the pins from your hair -- you can feel it around your shoulders. He's looking at you with the softest, most romantic look on his face, and... he's actually smiling. He's smiling at you like you've just made his whole life. It's such a gorgeous sight that you can't help but laugh, and kiss him again.
Looks like Shelly will have to buy that you two are dating. Because you feel, deep in your heart as Richard kisses you again, that you've finally found the right guy. There's no way you'd let him go now.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: As stated in the summary, this is in fact a re-write of a much older (much crappier) fic. I've been wanting to do re-writes of some of these for years, especially now that I'm such a stickler for characterization. With this one I decided to experiment with a writing style I love oh-so-very-much: second-person narration. Hope you enjoyed it!