"SWEETSTUFF"
A Valentine's Day Story
By Mike Paterno

Disclaimer: Early Edition, it's situations and characters (with the exception of Mark Perini, who is my own creation) are the property of CBS Productions and Columbia/Tri-Star Television. This fanfic is for entertainment purposes only; no infringement is intended and no profit is being made.

Rating: PG

Summary: Mark Perini calls Marissa "Sweetstuff" as a pet name. This is how it came about.on a Valentine's Day a couple of years ago......

Author's Notes: After having received quite a few e-mails asking me why Mark calls Marissa "Sweetstuff", I decided, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, to explain it to everyone. I hope you'll enjoy this short and sweet story that takes place about two years ago.Mark and Marissa's first Valentine's Day together.

CHAPTER ONE

Mark Perini had come back to McGinty's that afternoon from the jewelry store after buying a small bracelet for Marissa. It was Valentine's Day and Mark had no chance to shop for her gift before today since he had been busy all week setting up the "A Romantic Evening at McGinty's" Valentine's Day promotion. He wanted this day to be extra special for Marissa since it was their first Valentine's Day together and he had fallen deeply in love with her.

Mark entered the bar's office and was surprised to see Gary sitting at a desk going over paperwork. Gary usually would leave any paperwork or decisions to either Marissa or himself, so he was a little puzzled by Gary's being there.

Gary looked up at Mark as he walked in the door, "Hey, pal, whazup?"

"Gary, no offense, but what are you doing here?" Mark asked gingerly.

"Somebody has to pay the bills," Gary replied, "And since your better half decided to go to the beauty parlor to make herself *special* for you guys first Valentine's Day with each other, I sorta figured I'd better work here for once."

"What about The Paper?"

Gary laughed, "I took care of it already. I, uh, like your idea, the "A Romantic Evening at McGinty's" thingy. Not bad, except, um," Gary's expression changed to one of disgust, "Uh, why did you let Detective Brigatti know about it?"

"She may've been on the mailing list," answered Mark, "I don't recall sending her a special invitation, I wouldn't do that.....unless Marissa did."

"Every time Marissa's in love," replied Gary while shaking his head, "She figures I should be too, and tries to set me up! I'm sure she's the one that invited Brigatti!"

Mark laughed, "Gary, she obviously likes you....and she's not half bad looking to boot!"

Gary shook his head, "She's also short-tempered, opinionated, crabby and is allergic to cats! She has as much charm as a three toed sloth!"

Mark laughed louder, "Yeah, Marissa's right, you two are meant for one another!"

Gary grimaced, "Tell me, pal, do you like working here?"

"Of course!"

"Then shut your trap about Brigatti if you want to continue being the bar manager!"

"Uh, yes, sir." Mark had never seen Gary that upset about something that had nothing to do with The Paper. Gary wasn't angry, just upset and Mark figured he had better cool it on the Brigatti jokes for a bit. He also knew it was Marissa's idea to invite her, but thought that he would keep his mouth shut for now.

"So," asked Mark innocently, "Do you know when Marissa will be back?"

"Soon, I hope," Gary replied, "I have to go over this expense report with her. I really should spend more time in this bar."

"You do what The Paper has you do, Gary," said Mark, "You can't control what saves you have to make. That's why The Paper brought me here...to help you and run the bar. You know that!"

"Yeah, I know. It's just...I wish I was more of a hands on owner. I shouldn't rely on you and Marissa for everything that goes on in this bar."

"Those are the breaks, Gary," Mark chuckled, "Besides, if you were here all the time, you'd probably scare the customers away."

Gary laughed, "Yeah, you're probably right."

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CHAPTER TWO

The cab dropped Marissa off in front of McGinty's and she entered the bar. She just had a complete make-over at Vanessa's House of Beauty on Clybourn Avenue and couldn't wait to show Mark her "new" look for Valentine's Day. Her hair was done in long thin braids with small red beads on the ends and her fingernails were brightly polished in "Dusky Mauve", Mark's favorite color of all that she wore. She had asked the beautician to make her lips a matching color to her nails and the beautician had given her a matching lip gloss that was not only the same color, but was "strawberry flavored".

After entering the bar, Marissa was warmly greeted by a few members of the wait staff, who voiced their approval of beauty salon's work. "You really look beautiful, Ms. Clark," said Gina, "I just love what they did with your hair!"

"Thank you, Gina," replied Marissa, "It's nice to know they did their job. My nails...are they dusky mauve, like I asked for?" She held out her fingers for Gina to see, "And my lip gloss matches them, doesn't it?"

"Yes on both counts, Ms. Clark, you look wonderful!"

"Good! Now, if you'll excuse me, I can't wait to show Mark. He's going to be surprised and pleased, I hope," chuckled Marissa, "And since we're having the romantic dance music here tonight, I wanted to look my best when we dance together. It's our first Valentine's Day together and I want everything to be perfect!"

"He's in the basement," smiled Gina, "He's making sure all the electrical connections are in place and the wiring is safe. He put up all of the red and pink mini-lights this morning in the back area and hung the reflecting globe, too. He's done a lot of work to make sure tonight is a success." She began to walk away from Marissa, but stopped and turned around, "By the way, Ms. Clark, a word of, um, warning before you go into the office. Mr. Hobson seems to be in sort of a bad mood, I guess. He and Mark were talking earlier and it sounded strange. Mr. Hobson complained about a three toed sloth or something, I'm not sure, so I thought I'd better warn you."

Marissa smiled, "Thanks for the warning, Gina, I'm sure it's nothing important."

As Marissa tapped her cane slowly towards the office, she suddenly realized why Gary was upset, 'He must've found out I invited Brigatti for tonight's activities,' she thought, 'Uh-oh! I'd better think fast to explain why I did it! It's just, well, the two of them seem so good together...at least sometimes. Gary needs some romance in his life! He needs more than The Paper! He needs to find his soul mate like I did with Mark!' Armed with her explanation, Marissa entered the office to face Gary.

"Happy Valentine's Day, Gary! I'm surprised to find you in the office, for once."

"Hello, Marissa. I got an interesting phone call today," he replied dryly, "Do you want to know why it was such an interesting phone call?"

"Probably not," she answered shyly, "But I have a feeling you're going to tell me anyway."

"Heh-heh," laughed Gary sarcastically, "It seems that somebody, and we won't name names, invited Detective Brigatti to tonight's Valentine's Day event and she called to thank me for thinking of her!" Gary's voice got louder, "Can you imagine my surprise, when I told her I knew nothing about it! She laughed and said she couldn't wait to see me tonight!" He stood up and yelled in Marissa's direction, "Now what am I supposed to do?"

"Uh, see her, I guess."

"That woman drives me crazy!" Gary started pacing around the office, "One minute, she's passionate, and the next, she's got a gun pointed at me. Marissa, I don't need my life complicated anymore than it already is!"

"For whatever it's worth, Gary," replied Marissa, "She genuinely seems to care about you, at least some of the time, and I thought it might be good for the two of you to spend a night dancing and enjoying each other's company. If it doesn't work out, fine, no one gets hurt and you each go your own separate way."

She tapped her cane over to him, "But if it does work, who knows where it may lead? It's Valentine's Day, Gary, at least give it a chance!"

Gary shook his head, "For your sake, and the day's, I'll give it a chance...but if she gets on my nerves at any time tonight, even once....it's over! Is that understood?"

Marissa smiled, "Understood, Gary."

Gary looked at her and smiled back, "By the way, you look very beautiful."

"Thanks, Gary," she replied, "I just hope Mark thinks so. I want everything to be just right tonight. If you have a minute, I'd like to show you the gift I got him before I wrap it." Marissa reached into her purse and pulled out a paper bag.

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CHAPTER THREE

"Mark should be in the basement for awhile, Marissa," chuckled Gary, "So if you want me to see what you got him for Valentine's Day, now would be a good time."

Marissa smiled and took a pipe out of the paper bag she was holding, "It's an imported briar pipe from Italy, Gary, and I had the stem engraved with his name on it!" She handed the pipe to Gary, "Did they spell his name right?"

"Let me see," answered Gary as he looked over the pipe, "Uh-huh, it says Mark Perini in gold letters, very nice, Marissa. One thing puzzles me though."

"What would that be?"

He smiled softly, "For a woman who always hated smoking, this is a very odd gift to give someone."

"I know," Marissa grinned, "But his pipe smoke smells like vanilla with a hint of maple and I have to admit, I enjoy smelling it. It's not like cigarettes or foul smelling cigars, it actually has a nice aroma and he really enjoys smoking it. I wanted to give him this pipe to show that he doesn't have to change anything just to please me. He'd talked about giving it up because he thought it bothered me. This gift should make him realize that I love him just the way he is."

"You're a good woman, Marissa, and I hope Mark realizes that."

Marissa giggled, "Thank you, Gary, and I think he does."

"Damn! I hope Brigatti doesn't expect a gift from me!"

"Well," replied Marissa, "It would be a nice gesture on your part. Some flowers would even do, Gary. Just a little something to show you care."

"The thing is, Marissa, I-I don't."

Marissa crossed her arms over her chest, "You can lie to me, Gary Hobson, but don't lie to yourself! You do have some feelings for her, as much as you won't admit it!"

"Oh, yeah, I've got feelings for her," answered Gary sharply, "But they sure as hell aren't romantic!"

"I don't believe you."

"Believe what you want," replied Gary, "I know how I feel!"

"Gary!"

"Okay, okay, I'll go get her some flowers," he quickly answered, "But they won't be roses."

"That's alright, they don't need to be," replied Marissa, "What kind of flowers are you going to get her then?"

"Something that fits her personality!"

"I know I'm going to regret asking you this," sighed Marissa, "But according to you, what kind of flowers would fit her personality?"

Gary grinned broadly as he got up to leave the office, "That's easy....snap dragons!"

"*Gary!*"

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

Mark finished in the basement and came upstairs to change into his best suit. The "Romantic Evening at McGinty's" promotion would be starting in about an hour and even though Marissa couldn't see what he wore, he still wanted to look his best for her. It was their first Valentine's Day together and he wanted everything to go just right. The bracelet he had bought that day was only part of her gift. The other part was something he had special ordered from a jeweler two months ago, a small gold heart shaped locket that he attached to the bracelet. "I hope she likes this," he mused while wrapping the box, "I never know what to get her."

After changing in the Men's room, Mark came out into the bar, immediately greeted by some wolf whistles from the female bar staff. "Lookin' pretty hot there, Mark," said Gina, "I guess you have a date tonight! Does Ms. Clark know?"

"Very funny, Gina," scowled Mark, "Do you happen to know where Ms. Clark is, by any chance?"

Before Gina could answer, he heard Marissa's voice say, "I'm over here by the end of the side bar, Mark."

Quickly turning to his left, Mark saw Marissa and suddenly a huge smile came over his face. "Wow! You look gorgeous!"

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EPILOGUE

Marissa was standing at the far end of the bar, wearing a stunning white and red floral print v-necked sleeveless dress. She had accessorized it with red high-heeled pumps, small red heart shaped earrings and a matching thin red belt around her waist.

Mark slowly walked over to her, his smile becoming broader with every step. "You are the most beautiful woman in the city of Chicago tonight, Marissa, I-I don't know what else to say."

Marissa beamed and said, "If the female members of our staff are to be believed, you don't look too bad yourself."

Mark gently took one of her hands and kissed it, "Happy Valentine's Day," he placed her gift in her other hand, "This is for you, I hope you like it."

Marissa flashed a sweet smile and chuckled, "What? No kiss on the lips?"

"I-I thought you didn't like for me to kiss you in front of the staff."

"I'd say today would be an exception to that," she replied, drawing closer to him, "After all, it's a day for sweethearts and lovers, isn't?"

"I guess it is, at that," smiled Mark, "So let me oblige you and the day by giving you a big Valentine's kiss." He gently kissed her lips for a few moments and after finishing, had a puzzled look on his face, "Th-that *stuff* on your lips...that stuff is sweet...it's sweet stuff!"

Marissa giggled, "I'm glad you approve. It's a strawberry flavored lip gloss."

Mark grinned, "Well as far as I'm concerned, it's sweet stuff," he paused for a moment, "I just thought of something, Marissa, something very special."

"And what might that be, my love?"

"Well, you know how you said that I could only call you a pet name if it was original, had a real meaning to the both of us and was something that you liked?"

"Of course I do, did you think of one?"

Mark smiled, "I think I may've, but I want you to open your gift first."

"Okay, my love," she replied, "And I want you to open yours, too."

Marissa carefully unwrapped the gift in her hand and after removing all of paper, slowly opened the box, feeling the object inside. Taking it out, she gently ran her fingers around it and smiled. "It's a bracelet with a locket on it! Thank you, Mark!"

"Open the locket, Marissa."

She was somewhat puzzled by his request, "No offense, my love, but I'm blind....normally, doesn't a locket contain a small picture? I appreciate the thought and I know it's there, but opening it won't let me *see* what's inside."

"Just humor me, Marissa, open the locket."

"Okay."

She opened up the tiny locket and, after running her fingers across the inside, tears began welling up in her sightless eyes. She reached out for Mark and gave him a loving embrace. "It-it says 'I love you' in Braille! Oh, Mark! Thank you! This is the most precious Valentine's Day gift I've ever received!" She hugged him again.

"I-I was hoping you'd like it." He kissed her, "Now let me open yours." Mark quickly ripped open the nicely wrapped rectangular box and almost cried when he saw the pipe with his name engraved on it, "Oh, Marissa, th- this is wonderful...and my name is on it, too! I thought you didn't want me to smoke a pipe! I thought smoking bothered you!"

Marissa smiled, "Normally, it does, but I like the aroma of your pipe smoke and besides, I don't want you to change anything about yourself. I love you for who you are, and by giving you this pipe, you'll always know that." The two then embraced and passionately kissed one another. After they finished, Marissa took his hand and brought it to her heart, "My heart belongs to you, my love, and it will for as long as you want it to." She kissed him, "Now what was that pet name you thought of?"

"I-I'd like to call you 'Sweetstuff', because it will always remind us both of our first Valentine's Day together. I-I hope you'll let me call you that."

Marissa slowly wiped away the tears of happiness that ran down her face, "I would be honored for you to call me that. Happy Valentine's Day, my love."

Mark hugged her, "Happy Valentine's Day, Sweetstuff!"

At that point, Gary, who had returned earlier from buying flowers for Brigatti, came over to the both of them. "Well, at least you two are happy! Brigatti called me and can't make it tonight." He had a big scowl on his face, "Not only is she allergic to cats, but she's lactose intolerant to boot, and somebody put milk in her coffee down at the police station. She's sick to her stomach and doesn't feel like going anywhere this evening!" Gary threw the flowers on top of the bar, "Lactose intolerant, it figures. Even dairy products can't tolerate her!" He began to walk away, "If anybody wants me, I'll be in the office!"

"Poor Gary," said Marissa, "I know he acts like he doesn't like her, but deep inside, he really cares for Brigatti. It's too bad she couldn't come tonight."

"Yeah," replied Mark, "I feel for him. It's too bad Gary doesn't live in Philadelphia, I could introduce him to my cousin Amma." He shook his head, "On second thought, Sweetstuff, that's a bad idea. The two of them have nothing in common."

Marissa kissed him, "At least we have each other, my love, and I wouldn't have it any other way! Happy Valentine's Day!"

THE END