|Caroline and Richard: Season Five, Part 1
Author: charming2492 PM
Caroline remembers getting over Richard and falling for Randy, while Richard thinks about his transition into a father. But is it really the end for them?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Chapters: 17 - Words: 51,121 - Reviews: 16 - Favs: 5 - Follows: 6 - Updated: 09-15-12 - Published: 10-29-11 - Status: Complete - id: 7505151
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
They were almost finished. Richard had thought that as he put the finishing touches on a birthday card Caroline had drawn just before leaving to go to dinner with Randy. They were almost finished with their work. Or, more accurately, Caroline was almost finished with Richard. And yet, things between them were almost as good as they had been in the past. With the exception of the playpen in the corner, it could have been two years ago. But it was not two years ago, Richard remembered, as he picked up a wedding invitation that was lying on the coffee table. He needed to buy a plane ticket home. He needed to get out of Wisconsin and go back and New York and try and remember how to live without her.
The problem was, living with her was feeling more and more right. The last few days had been wonderful. There had been something between them, a spark of something he recognized from the old days. It was the spark he had first felt working with her in the early days, when he wouldn't let himself believe he was in love with her (though it was fairly obvious that he was). It was the same spark that had remained through her relationships with Del and the veterinarian and Trevor. It was the same spark that had been there while he had been married to Julia. And it was the same spark that had led to their relationship, the happiest time in his life (before fatherhood). And it was there. It was in every conversation, every moment when their eyes met or their fingers touched, every compliment on work. The only problem was, he couldn't be sure she felt the same. He felt, by now, he should know. With Julia, he could tell her every emotion by the look on her face. He was an artist, after all. He had seen Julia from every angle and in every light. He could tell when she was annoyed or happy or excited. But then, Julia hadn't been a difficult person to decipher. Her moods were shallow and variable, he could usually guess how she would react to something. But Caroline was deeper than that. He could never tell what she was feeling. Was the blush in her cheeks guilt, because she felt she was emotionally cheating on Randy? Or was it simply the heat of the fire-warmed room? When he caught her eyes on him, was she thinking about how sad she would be after his imminent departure, or was she wondering when she could get rid of him and move on with Randy? He found himself watching her across the desk, wondering what went on in that head of hers. And so, the days passed, and soon it was the day before he was set to leave, and two days before her wedding.
Stephano was having a bad day. Richard felt like he and his son had a strange bond sometimes, as if his child could feel when his father was distraught and responded by being similarly upset. And that day, as Richard tried to enjoy his last moments with Caroline, Stephano had been near inconsolable. It got so bad he needed to stop working all together and bring Stephano into the guest room and try and coax him into silence.
When Richard had finally put his son down, he had left the room to try and get back to work. But his nostrils were immediately assaulted by the stink of rotting flowers. He followed his nose, and then almost slipped on the floor. He only just managed to catch himself by grabbing on to the wall. If that hadn't been enough, he turned the corner and found himself watching Caroline and Randy in a lip-lock that made his stomach turn.
For a while afterwards, after Caroline left for some romantic dinner Randy had planned, he thought about that kiss. That stupid kiss. It made him sick to see it. Randy's kiss. If Richard had been in his own house, he would have rushed off to his room and immediately began painting, but there were no materials for that here. He tried to color in the new cards for a while, but his dark thoughts were coming back and encroaching on his ability to concentrate. Only when he heard a little cry from Stephano did he realize it was around dinner time.
"OK, OK," Richard said, scooping up his son and taking him to the kitchen. Richard had been trying to avoid this room, and the reason was hanging from a hook by the back door. It was Caroline's dress, wrapped in dry cleaner's plastic, ready for its trip down the aisle. It had been there since earlier in the day. Seeing it sent waves of annoyance through him. He tried to ignore it and deal with the situation at hand.
"Let's see what we have here." He looked through the baby food options. "Strained peas?" Stephano turned his face away. "No good. Alright. How about pears, mmm, yummy yummy pears. No, that's not going to work either. So what do you want, Stephano? What do you want?" Richard sat down at the table, suddenly feeling tired. He supposed the important question was, what did he want? Here he was, living with the love of his life and her soon-to-be-husband. On top of that, he hated it here. He hated the fact that it was barely fall and it was already bitterly cold. He hated that there were no nice restaurants. He hated that their idea of 'good art' was a kitschy, neon-colored poster of Jesus. He hated that he couldn't go outside because the townspeople still despised him and kept throwing small stones at him. He wanted to go back to New York, where he could move into his new apartment, rent a macabre East German documentary and paint to his heart's content. But he wanted something else too. He hadn't totally realized it until the day before.
He had fallen asleep on the couch after he and Caroline had worked several hours straight. Randy hadn't been there, which was a relief, because he kept trying to listen in on their conversations and interrupt them if he thought they were being too friendly. If he kept knocking things over the distract them, there was a chance all the furniture in the house would be broken by the time Richard left. So, with Randy at the hospital, he and Caroline had worked in relative peace. But their strange sleep schedule had gotten to him, and somehow he had drifted over to the couch as Caroline brainstormed for strip ideas. In the next second, he had drifted off.
He opened his eyes, and sun was pouring through the windows.
"Caroline?" he called out, getting up from the couch. "Caroline, where are you?"
"In here," she called back. He followed her voice, but the hallways were unfamiliar. No, they weren't. They were in his apartment. He realized it suddenly, and then it seemed so obvious he couldn't believe he had been confused. He came around a corner, and found her in a kitchen. The little window over the sink revealed the New York skyline.
"What are you doing?" he asked, coming closer. She smiled at him, but his eyes were on her abdomen. She was pregnant. She was really pregnant. There was a smudge of flour on her cheek, and she was licking frosting off her fingers.
"I hate when you do that," he said, but there was no venom. Her table manners had always been a little lacking, especially when she had been at home and only close friends were near.
"I'm pregnant, I can do whatever I want," she said, with a laugh, and took a big fingerful of icing on her index finger and licked it off with emphasis.
"What are you making?" Richard asked. He was a little worried. Caroline always baked when she was nervous or stressed over something. But she just kept smiling happily.
"A wedding cake, silly," she said, and as she stepped aside he saw it. It was a towering cake, taller than she was, white and immaculate. It was the sort of cake he never would have wanted at his own wedding. If there was going to be cake at his wedding, it would be small and unadorned, much like the wedding itself. But this was a cake for a big shindig, the sort of church wedding Caroline would have always wanted. The sort she had already had, and would soon have again.
"You're marrying Randy," Richard said, with a bolt of understanding.
"That's Randy's baby."
"Who else's would it be?" He couldn't seem to catch his breath. It was like something was pressing down on his chest. He caught a glimpse out the little window. New York was gone, and all he could see were the thick woods of Wisconsin. He still couldn't seem to breath. His eyes opened, and he found himself in a nightmare where a huge creature's gigantic yellow eyes were baring down on him. Then he realized it was no huge creature, just the damned cat, standing on his chest.
"You," he said, his voice filled with contempt. He stood abruptly, and the cat was thrown to the ground with a satisfying thud. Along with it went a blanket Richard had apparently been covered in. Other than that, it was hard to figure out what was going on because the world was so blurry. Someone had taken off his glasses.
"Who took my glasses?" Richard yelled out. He wasn't discounting a childish prank from Randy. But Caroline's calming voice responded instead.
"Well, someone woke up on the wrong side of the couch," she said, and her blurry form showed up in the room. "You fell asleep with them on again. I took them off. You're welcome." After that, they went back to work, and Richard had a very hard time looking her in the eye.
He spent a lot of time thinking about his dream afterwards. And now here he was, a day later, and he knew what it had meant. He didn't want closure. He didn't want to wave goodbye to her tomorrow, knowing she would marry Randy and disappear from his life. What he wanted, more than anything else, was her. He wanted her. He wanted to marry her and he wanted her to be pregnant with his child. He wanted that apartment in New York, the city where they had met and fallen in love. He wanted her to help raise Stephano, because he knew that she would always love him as much as she would her own child. But he had seen her with Randy, kissing Randy, ready to marry him and have his kids.
And now that he had finally come to this momentous conclusion (though, in retrospect, it really had been obvious since the second he had gotten on the plane to Wisconsin), he realized that, actually, what he wanted was unimportant. What she wanted was far more important, and if that kiss said anything, it said that she had already made her choice.
Richard felt a small hand on his cheek. He turned his eyes down, and Stephano, sitting in his lap, was tapping his chin.
"Let's get you that food," Richard said. He stood up, went over to the refrigerator, and looked through the option. He pulled out an avocado, fairly ripe. He held it out to Stephano, and though it may have been in his head, he was fairly certain his son nodded in approval. Richard cut it up into small pieces, and put them on the tray of the high chair Caroline had also lent him. Stephano picked at the pieces happily. Richard realized that he should probably eat something too.
He usually tried to avoid cooking at all costs. Cooking always reminded him of his childhood. He had vivid memories of his mother's half-cooked chickens and still icy frozen peas. When he had gotten old enough, he decided he was going to buy pre-made food like any other smart person, and never cooked anything more complicated than a slice of toast. Today was no different.
He plugged the toaster in, and put the bread into the slots. But as he turned on the toaster, it made a strange noise. When he tried again, it sparked, hitting his thumb and causing him to cry out some choice words he hoped Stephano wouldn't remember. Of course the toaster was broken, Richard thought bitterly. Caroline could never bring herself to throw anything away. She probably kept it because her Great Aunt Someone-of-Other had made toast with it when she was a child. While he thought about that, and examined it injured thumb, a strange smell hit his nostrils. It was the smell of fire. He turned abruptly. Apparently, in his haste to treat his injury, he hadn't realized that he wasn't the only victim. A dishtowel was now alight. Richard grabbed it, in his horror forgetting where the sink was. He ran to the wrong side of the kitchen, keeping the quickly-disintegrating cloth as far away from himself and his son as possible. But as soon as water was running over it, he saw something out of the corner of his eye. While he had been flailing around with the lit cloth, it had thrown a spark of its own. Caroline's dress was burning up as if it had been doused in gasoline. The smell of melting plastic and burnt fabric was filling the room, as well as a thick smoke that was making it hard to breath.
Maybe in the past, Richard might have tried to stop the fire from spreading. Or, more likely, he would have run out to save himself. But only one thing went through his mind in that second: Get Stephano out. He grabbed his son, who was already coughing, and ran for the front door. The way to the back was blocked by the fire on the the dress, which had now spread to parts of the back wall as well.
He threw himself out the front door, into the frigid cold. Stephano was crying now, between little coughs. Richard frantically looked around. Thankfully, Caroline's neighbors weren't far. He could already hear the smoke alarms going off in Caroline's house as he ran.
He banged on the door next door. A severe woman, probably in her late seventies, opened the door, looking him up and down skeptically.
"Call the fire department!" Richard yelled out, between breaths. "Caroline Duffy's house in on fire!"
"What's that, son? You have to speak up... Oh! It's you," she said the last word with contempt. "I remember you from the wedding."
"Yes, and we can talk about that later but right now Caroline's house is burning down!" Richard yelled back.
"Yes, burning with the fires of hell, where you belong," she replied, trying to close the door in his face. He caught it with the hand that wasn't holding Stephano.
"No, you miserable old crone, ACTUAL FIRE!" Richard screamed in her face. It took another five minutes to convince her to call the firefighters, all the while mumbling under her breath about Richard and his 'shenanigans'. Meanwhile, the smell of burning house was getting stronger with each passing moment.
Soon enough, the sound of sirens permeated the air. The flashing lights whizzed by them. Richard rushed back to the house, and now it was clear that the entire kitchen, part of the floor above, and most of the living room were on fire.
The next minutes passed in a blur. Men in uniform running into the house with long hoses. People asking Richard how this could have happened. The same people who had been throwing stones at him. People who were now looking at him with a very clear expression: This is your fault, and you did it on purpose. Meanwhile, paramedics were looking over Stephano and strapping an oxygen mask over Richard's face. And in the middle of all this, he saw Caroline and Randy show up, looking around in horror.
"Richard!" she called out, running over to him. "Are you alright? And Stephano? What happened?"
"It's a little hard to talk with this," Richard said, indicating the mask.
"Does he need the mask?" Caroline asked a passing paramedic.
"No, we just put that on to shut him up," he man replied. Richard ripped it off immediately.
"Your toaster tried to kill me," Richard said darkly. Just as he was going to explain further, a firefighter came up to Caroline.
"So sorry about this," he said, and from his tone, he was obviously an old friend. "The good news is, it looks a lot worse than it actually is. Most of the damage is in the kitchen and living room. It's like someone was intentionally aiming for something in there."
"I wasn't aiming for anything! The dress just lit up, and-" Richard stopped short, as he saw a bolt of horror shoot across Caroline's face.
"My dress," she said, barely in a whisper.
"Our tickets to Hawaii," Randy cut in. He turned on Richard, his eyes wide with hatred. "You did this."
"Don't be absurd," Richard replied.
"No, it all makes sense now. You waited until we were out of the house, and then you destroyed the things for our wedding: the dress, the honeymoon tickets... You could have gotten your son killed!"
"You're being ridiculous," Richard said, trying to inject some rationality into the conversation. "I would never do something like that. Tell him, Caroline." But Caroline wasn't speaking. She was looking back at the house, her eyes wide and glassy. "Caroline! Tell him I wouldn't do this. You do believe that... Don't you?" Suddenly, he wasn't so sure she did believe that.
"I don't know what to believe, Richard," she said softly.
"You're sick, you know that? You've got a problem," Randy said, disgust in his voice.
"I didn't do this!" Richard yelled, gesturing towards the house. "Caroline, you have to believe me."
"I've had to do a lot of that lately," Caroline said, tears welling up in her eyes. "First, you didn't mean to interrupt my wedding. Then you hit the Monsignor with a car, and that was an accident too, and now this." Her eyes lingered on her charred house. "That's a lot of coincidences, Richard."
"Caroline, I wouldn't burn down your house."
"Everything's ruined," she said, not really to anybody.
"We still have the church booked," Randy wheedled. "We can still have our wedding."
"That was my mother's dress," Caroline said numbly.
"We're taking these two to the hospital," an extremely uncomfortable paramedic cut in. "One of you could ride with us, if you want."
"No," Caroline said, though Richard wondered if she was even listening. Her eyes were stuck on the blackened side of her house.
"Then we should go," he said. They lifted the stretcher Richard was lying on, pushing it into the ambulance. Stephano was already in there, sitting on a paramedic's lap and playing with his stethoscope.
"Caroline, I'll come back and explain everything, I didn't do this on purpose," Richard yelled out, as they were closing the doors. He managed to hear her reply before the doors were closed to the outside.
"Don't come back," she said coldly. "You've already ruined everything."
As the ambulance drove down the street, Richard couldn't help but think of the last time he was in one. It was the night he proposed to Caroline, when their relationship had been hanging by a thread. He had been held up at gunpoint in a video rental store, and he had known, with his life on the line, that he wanted her for the rest of life. The ordeal had landed him in the hospital, but he had insisted that the paramedics take him to Caroline first. Last time he had spent the entire ride smiling. Once they got to the hospital, Caroline showed up. She had climbed into his bed and kissed him until the doctors kicked her out. In between kisses, he could see her smiling. It was a whole different person than the numbed, cold woman who had told him to stay away and never return.
He wanted her more than anything in the world. But barring that, he wanted her to be happy. His presence obviously brought nothing but destruction and disappointment. In that moment, he made the decision that he should have made in the beginning. It was the decision that would have saved him from this, that would have led to her being married and happy and on her honeymoon right now. He was going to ensure her happiness. He was going to leave her alone, forever.
In that moment, Stephano started crying.