These characters do not belong to me, I just like writing about them. If this fanfic resembles any other, it is purely accidental. This is a work in progress. I hope to write continuing chapters when I get time. Chapter one is similar to my last fanfic, "Journey" but written from a different viewpoint and veers off in an entirely different direction. Hopefully it is lighter and has less angst. The journey begins with the episode Caroline and the Bad Trip. Like most journeys in life, much can be learned from them if you just pay attention.
Rebekah


CHAPTER ONE---DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE


"Annie, I'm so excited about being on Jay Leno today. I hope my story sounds okay. Did I mention that I couldn't sleep at all last night?" Caroline was practically bouncing up and down on the Los Angeles sidewalk outside LAX.

"Yeah, at least three times already but who's counting? Try to calm down or you'll talk too fast and no one will understand you. You know how you are." Annie was busy trying to flag down a taxi outside the airport. It was hotter here than when they left New York. Annie could feel rivulets of sweat run down her back under her heavy sweater, a poor choice of clothing when arriving on the west coast. She realized that everything in her luggage was pretty much the same.

"Annie, I'm just so ready for an adventure. This trip makes me realize how stale my life is lately. I need some excitement, some thrills."

"Right now I'd settle for a cab and for certain people to quit pushing me." In her loudest threatening tone, she aimed this last part to those behind her. Other exiting passengers kept jostling them and rushing to other available cabs.

"God, Caroline, Los Angeles is as bad as New York. Full of rude people." Another businessman made the mistake of stepping in front of Annie. She ground her 3 inch spiked heel into his foot and rushed for the standing taxi. Caroline ran after her, throwing their bags inside and slamming the door just as the irate man hobbled over and began banging on the window.

"Floor it, mister." She said to the driver.

"Okay, just no violence. You must be from New York." It was merely a statement since he didn't need an answer. It was pretty obvious. "Where you need to go, ladies?"

Annie answered. " NBC studios, the Jay Leno show. And none of those 'shortcuts', buster." The cabbie just smiled, amused.

"Annie, I just want to drive around and see something. We have almost 2 hours before I go on. I want to see Mann's Chinese theatre, Hollywood and--" Caroline's face lit up. "Rodeo Drive. Ohhh, Annie, let's go shopping while we're here. Rodeo Drive is famous. Let's check it out." She was bouncing on the seat with excitement.

"Caroline, I don't think we should. Look at all this traffic. You can't be late for the taping. Driver, just ignore her and take us to the studio." Annie looked over at a disappointed Caroline. "We'll play tourist after the show, kay?"

Caroline nodded. "I'll practice my story again about Jerry Garcia's jacket." She stared down at her notes on the small dotted squares of paper for the umpteenth time. Suddenly, she wasn't feeling so good. Just a little lightheadedness. Probably from jetlag or just pre-show jitters. She shook her head to clear it and started her story again.

Annie rolled her eyes and groaned. "Caroline, not again. I've heard it a million times already."

The taxi driver glanced in the back seat. "Wow, that's Jerry Garcia's jacket, huh? Just what the TV audience needs to hear, another jacket story. Let me tell you what will sell. An embarrassing moment or an indiscretion, something that makes you human. That's the stuff people want to hear about even if it's a lie. Not about an article of clothing from a dead acid freak."

"Listen, it happens to be a very good story and a true story too. I don't need to lie about anything." Caroline was now perched on the front of her seat and was waving her papers at the driver to emphasize her point. He glanced at the sheets in her hand.

"Whoa, do you know what you're holding there, lady?" He turned completely around in his seat. It was a good thing the traffic wasn't moving.

"Yes, just some pieces of paper I found in the pockets of the jacket. I didn't have anything else to write notes on. Why?" she asked defensively.

"You really want to know? If I'm not mistaken, that's acid. That stuff brings back memories. Better watch yourself." He was grinning like the Cheshire cat.

Caroline looked down at her hand. The scraps of paper and even her hand seemed to have shrunk into miniature copies of the originals. As she watched, they morphed back. She shut her eyes. She must have imagined that and the sudden nausea that swept over her. Just the power of suggestion, that's all. She could hear Annie and the cabbie in the distance discussing something, something about her. She snapped back with a jerk of her head. She had to focus...focus...focus. What was the driver saying?

"You mean, you were at Woodstock? Jeez, who would have guessed?" Annie muttered.

"Nope. What I mean is that the stuff really does bring back memories. That's what it does to a person." He started chuckling. "She's soaking it in through her pores. She'll never make it to the monologue. Too bad. This would have made a great story."

"Excuse me, but you're wrong." Annie hotly insisted. The cab driver just shrugged and began whistling under his breath.

Annie and Caroline sat against the back seat in shock. It couldn't be true. He was just trying to scare them. He must have mistaken them for gullible tourists. Annie had had enough. She sat forward and let loose with her colorful opinion of him and cabbies in general. She threw in the city of Los Angeles as well for good measure. While the two of them argued, Caroline leaned her head back against the seat. She just needed to rest, that was all. Then she'd be fine. She'd meet Jay Leno, whom she loved and tell her jacket story. The jacket. Now, who's jacket was it? It was from someone's father, their real father...no, that wasn't it. Someone's long lost father? She shook her head, trying to concentrate. The more she tried to pin down the thoughts, the more elusive they became. She could feel the panic setting in. Someone who didn't know his father? Richard? No, Richard had a father. Charlie? Maybe that was it. Something to do with Charlie....

* * * * *

"Look, Mac, Joe or whatever your name is, cut out the stories. We don't scare so easily. Just drive us to the studios and make it fast." Annie was breathing down his neck.

"Lady, look around you. Where am I supposed to go in this?" He gestured to the vehicles surrounding them on all four sides. It was a typical Los Angeles rush hour gridlock. They were all advancing a car length at a time, and then coming to a stop. "By the way, my name is Robert." He reached his arm across the seat to shake her hand. She ignored him.

He turned up the volume on the car radio that was set on an oldies station. California just gets better and better, she thought as she rolled her eyes. "Hey, can't you at least put on some decent music? And get some air in here, will ya? It must be 80 degrees in here." She tugged on the neck of her sweater that felt 10 pounds heavier than when she had put it on this morning.

"What, may I ask, is wrong with this music? The oldies are some of the best music ever written, in my humble opinion." He leaned his head back against the seat, relaxed. "Besides, it soothes me when I drive in traffic."

Caroline was murmuring to herself. Annie figured she was still practicing that story. Even she had it memorized by now. She sighed, shut her eyes and began taping her foot.

"I'm going to be sick." Caroline whispered just as she leaned forward and dry heaved. Annie jumped. "Caroline, are you alright? It's a good thing you didn't eat on the flight. Caroline?" There was no answer.

"Uh-oh. I was right. Guess we better crack some windows in here." The cab driver started laughing at his own unintentional pun.

Annie was shaking her with no luck. She waved her hand in front of Caroline's face, then took a closer look.

"Her eyes are dilated. She can't hear me, can she? Omigod, what are we going to do? She has to go on in," she glanced at her watch. "Less than one hour. Make this go away."

"Too late. Your friend has fallen down the rabbit hole into Never-Never land. You can't do anything about it except wait for her on the other side." He laughed again at his own joke.

"I hope you're just kidding." Annie sounded threatening.

"I'm telling you there's nothing you can do for her except keep her calm. She'll have hallucinations that will probably last a few hours, depending on how much she soaked up. She'll be fine after that."

"Fine? Fine? Are you out of your mind? This is a woman who doesn't take drugs stronger than Tylenol." Annie was shaking Caroline so hard her head bobbed sideways. Still no response. She was staring off into the distance, murmuring Richard's name and VCR's in Afghanistan. Annie just shook her head. It made no sense to her.

Well, be careful what you wish for, Caroline, Annie thought. You finally got your adventure.

"Listen, I had a cousin that tripped all through the 70's. You can handle this. Just don't panic." The cabbie was watching both of them in the rearview mirror.

"This is going to be fun!" Caroline piped up from the rear seat.

"Hey, what's she talking about?" the cab driver was watching again.

"I don't know. I heard my name and Del, that's another friend of hers. Actually an ex-fiancée, but that's a long story. Oh, and Richard, of course." Annie was puzzled. Who was Julia? Why did Caroline keep insisting she needed to leave Richard a message? She shrugged. "Hell if I know what she's talking about."

Caroline was smiling to herself, then started laughing uproariously. "That's funny!"

Well, I'm glad she thinks so now. She won't tomorrow, Annie thought sourly. As soon as that thought crossed her mind, Caroline's face instantly changed from happy to tragic. She whispered a word that sounded like Mary. Who was Mary and why would she make Caroline upset like this? She grabbed a Kleenex and dabbed at Caroline's teary face, soothing her. Caroline started muttering to herself again saying she wasn't jealous.

Robert began tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. "Hmmm, did I mention that sometimes the ex-per-i-men-tor" he mispronounced the word one syllable at a time, "goes through real fast mood swings? Like happy, sad, angry or depressed?"

Annie slowly turned her head to look at him glaringly. "No, you didn't mention that. Anything else I should know?"

"You just have to stay with her and help her through it. She's in her own crazy world. My cousin told me that when he was trippin', all he remembers is dreaming about his own life but sort of upside down. He relived all his past mistakes and decided to change his life and career after that. He used to be so unhappy but now he loves his job." He was chuckling to himself. "I guess you remember the stuff you've repressed."

"Well, since Caroline is from Wisconsin, she represses a lot. But she does have a perfect life and she likes it just the way it is, except she doesn't have a steady guy. She keeps looking for Mr. Perfect and I keep telling her he doesn't exist."

"Huh, my cousin..."

"Okay, I know you're not talking about any cousin."

The cabbie just smiled. You sure couldn't pull anything over on this one.

Caroline started singing and swaying along with the car radio, snapping her fingers and waving her arms in the air in tune with the song. Annie couldn't help but laugh even as worried as she was.

"Hey, another fan of Motown! All right!" The cabbie sang along with her, tapping on his steering wheel in time with the beat. Annie groaned.

As they watched, Caroline attempted to pirouette on the seat. Both of them found this quite entertaining. Caroline suddenly stopped, looking sad and forlorn. "You don't understand, Annie...this is my baby." Annie tried to comfort her but Caroline had moved past it and now had a look of shock on her face. It was impossible to tell where she was now. The cabbie wasn't kidding when he mentioned the lightening quick mood swings.

"Hey, if we ever get through this traffic jam, do you want me to take her to a hospital? I mean, just in case?"

"Hospital? No, no. Let's not do that." Annie was panicking again. She could visualize the questions from the hospital staff and the recognition of Caroline Duffy, nationally syndicated cartoonist. The gossip and headlines could ruin her career. No, she had to protect her. After all, Caroline was her best friend. Annie knew Caroline would do the same for her.

Caroline started mumbling again. It was difficult for Annie to pick up but it sounded like 'Trevor.' She mentally ran through the list of Caroline's old boyfriends. She couldn't recall a Trevor. Then the name 'Julia' again. Who was this chick? It was obvious that Caroline hated her, which was strange since she liked everyone. Annie leaned closer to her to pick up broken phrases and broken bits of imagined conversations. From what little she could piece together, Caroline was angry with Richard over something. Green tea ice cream?

The cabbie turned the radio dial when a commercial came on. The music thundered out from a local rock station. Caroline moved wildly back and forth across the back seat in time with the tempo. He took one look at her and changed the station. "Sorry about that. How about some Mozart? That might calm her down some."

He was right. Caroline settled against the seat back. Annie sighed. "God, I hope she's going to be alright."

"Bitch." Caroline whispered. Annie's eyebrows rose up to her hairline and her mouth dropped open. She snapped her fingers in front of Caroline's eyes with no reaction. "She's my bitch."

"You probably won't believe this, but my friend does not talk like this. She's nice to everyone. Too nice."

"Daddy, I'm home!" Caroline chortled. Okay, now things were starting to sound interesting. Maybe she could use some of it. Annie leaned in close to her.

"Caroline, tell me all about 'daddy.'" Caroline started mumbling unintelligently, smiling to herself.

"Richard's honeymoon...No, I'm not jealous, stop me." Annie just stared at her. Richard again? Who would marry that guy? She wanted to hear something juicy not some garbled story about Hawaii, the prince of darkness and this Julia person.

"What?!" Caroline shouted, sitting forward in her seat, bug-eyed. Then, "Doesn't Annie have the biggest mouth?"

"Hey!" Annie was miffed. She knew it was true but still, who really wants to hear the truth about themselves. She started shaking her again. "Caroline, can you hear me? Snap out of it. You have to be on Jay Leno in a few minutes. You have to pull yourself together. Pleeease, Caroline."

"I'm not sure she can hear you." The driver had reached the surface streets and the traffic was lighter.

"I have to try, okay? You don't know how much this interview meant to her."

"Who asked you?" Caroline growled angrily from the rear seat. She mumbled and gestured again. "Couldn't figure out how to say goodbye to you...Three million dollars... Go paint beautiful pictures." Annie was growing bored trying to understand what small bits she could piece together. Besides, she knew Richard couldn't paint 'beautiful' pictures if forced at gunpoint. Caroline looked like she was going to cry.

They had reached the NBC studios. Annie could see the building and the peacock insignia from across the street. "This is it. Let us out. I'm sure she'll be just fine now. All she needs is a strong cup of coffee." She sounded more confident than she felt.

"Look at that ass!" came from Caroline's direction. Annie groaned, laying her forehead on the back of the seat in front of her. "I give up. Caroline is going to be so upset. Take us back to the airport."

"You got it. You can probably catch the red eye back to New York tonight. Course, I don't think she'll be any better by then. By the way, who is she?"

"Nobody." Annie snapped back.

"But she must be somebody if she was going to appear on Jay Leno." The cabbie turned a sharp corner, narrowly missing a truck as he raced for the freeway onramp, only to stop once more in traffic. "I heard you call her 'Caroline.' What's her last name?"

"Look, Robert, you don't need to know. In fact, no one needs to know, understand?" The cabbie found it difficult to understand Annie due to the fact that she was speaking through clenched teeth.

"Hey, I can find out, you know. Can't be that many celebrities with that first name. The National Enquirer pays big bucks for stories like this."

Caroline started to sing along with another song on the radio, kicking her legs to the tune and belting out 'it's in his kiss.' The driver turned around, grinning and joined in. Annie wondered what horrible thing she had done in her life to deserve this. She moved up right behind the cab driver's head and tapped on his shoulder to get his attention. She spoke very slowly. "Listen carefully to me Robert. If you do mention this to anyone, and I mean anyone, I know people who can hurt you. Hurt you bad. I'll make you sorry you ever picked us up."

"Mention what?" he murmured. Annie always made an impression on everyone she met. Whether that impression was good or bad never worried her.

"That's a good little cabbie." She patted his shoulder. "Don't worry. There will be money in it for you. Get us to the airport, pronto." He stared at the surrounding gridlock. "Yeah, right."

"Richard! Richard, come back!" Caroline had scooted to the front of her seat, seemingly carrying on a conversation with Annie about Spain and bulls. "Run, Richard, run!!" She was shouting now while Annie and taxi driver just watched in fascination.

"Wow, she sure talks about this Richard guy a lot. He must mean a lot to her. Is he her husband or boyfriend?"

Annie snorted, then gagged. "He wishes. He just works for her. He has this major crush on her but she doesn't know it. It's obvious to me but Caroline can't see it. Anyway, it's a long story."

The cab driver gestured around him. "Hey, we've got nothing but time. Go ahead, I like a good story." Annie told him about the day stuffy, uptight Richard came into their lives, his misguided love letter and Caroline's complete blindness when it came to the men in her life. It resembled more of a daytime soap rather than someone's life.

"I really worry about her. She's so gullible, ya know? She just doesn't realize that men suck. She really needs someone to watch out over her."

"How about this Richard she keeps mentioning?"

Annie laughed. "Caroline has never really taken the guy seriously. I think he's just an employee to her and...."

"Let's get naked! Richard..." Caroline shouted from her corner of the cab. She had both hands covering her breasts. Suddenly, a look of horror crossed her face.

"I think I might have been wrong about that." Annie said thoughtfully. "You said this drug brings out your repressed feelings? Like maybe she likes him more than she thought?"

"Uh huh. That's what I've heard about it."

"Well, well, well. This ought to be interesting." Annie was thinking of several different but interesting future scenarios.

"Annie, I don't know what to do." Annie whipped her head around to Caroline. Finally, she was back. Except that Caroline had her arm raised and was writing on some invisible wall, talking frantically. "Should I sleep with Richard? Will we still be friends? Is it too soon? I'm so confused." Oh yes. Things were definitely getting good.

"Caroline, calm down. You're not yourself. Just calm down."

"Go slow, you're right...we should wait two months."

Caroline began talking heatedly about office space, a bulky desk, Betty and a plum. "They called me an evil, insensitive bitch." Caroline was whining again and then mumbling incoherently.

Annie giggled. She just couldn't wait to tease Caroline about the stuff she had heard. It would be something entertaining in her boring life of late. She yawned. She had been fighting exhaustion from the trip for the last hour. She laid her head against the seat back and shut her eyes for just a minute. Jet lag had caught up to her.

"Hey, miss. We're here. Miss...." The driver was shaking Annie awake. They were right back at LAX where the whole crazy trip had started only hours before. It seemed much longer. She stumbled out, pulling Caroline out with her. After paying off the cabbie, she grabbed Caroline's arm, keeping a tight grip. Annie figured all she had to do was buy tickets and quietly wait for the flight in some corner.

Steering her away from an airport security guard, Annie knew they wouldn't get a flight the way Caroline looked. It was her dilated eyes. A dead giveaway. She whipped her own sunglasses out of her purse and crammed them on Caroline's face. Maybe they would get lucky.

Caroline stopped suddenly in the middle of the airport lobby area, wailing, "What happened to our family?" Annie tugged Caroline along behind her ignoring the stares from other passengers and trying to quiet her at the same time. Annie smiled weakly at the salesperson behind the counter and asked for two seats on the next flight out to anywhere, but New York would be preferable.

"Excuse me, but is your friend okay? If she's sick she shouldn't fly." The ticket agent eyed Caroline suspiciously.

"Oh, she'll be okay. She's just been to a funeral." Annie's mother would have called it a lie but Annie just called it thinking on her feet. She tried to appear serious and leaned closer to the woman and whispered "Her parents funeral." Annie figured she would just light a candle in church the next time she went.

"Oh, I'm so sorry. I'll find you a flight right away." The attendant whispered back. Her fingers flew over the keys as Caroline started grinning. Grabbing the ticket reservations, Annie steered Caroline over to a quiet corner in the gate area.

"I guess we should go on a first date if we're going to have sex in two weeks." Caroline announced in a loud chipper voice. Annie could only marvel at how fast a busy airport terminal could grow deathly quiet. She could feel hundreds of curious eyes focused on them. This was no longer amusing to her.

"Shhh...Caroline, quiet down. It's alright."

Caroline appeared to be furious, pointing an index finger to her temple. "The Richard in my head, the Richard I've been dreaming about hasn't got a romantic bone in his body." Annie figured that was probably very true.

Caroline stomped away, calling out 'Salty' as she walked towards a door marked 'employees only.' Annie chased after her. She grabbed Caroline's arm and drug her into the ladies room. At least she could keep the girl corralled in here until their flight.

So while Caroline sat on the toilet seat, babbling on about lost papers and divorces and bathtubs, Annie just leaned against the bathroom stall wall watching her. She wondered how long this was going to last and if Caroline would remember any of it. She certainly would.

Annie could hear other women coming in and out of the bathroom, each one pausing in silence as she realized that two women were in the same stall and one was ranting and raving. One woman was braver than the rest. "Umm, is everything alright in there?" Annie could tell by the direction of the voice that she was peering under the door.

"Shhh...I didn't pay all that money to listen to this crap!" Caroline shouted angrily. Annie could hear the retreating footsteps and the sound of the closing door. She smiled to herself. Serves her right, the snoop. Caroline was off again in her own universe. This time she seemed to be yelling at Richard about her breast size and his hair color. As far as Annie could piece together, Caroline was spending most of her dreamtime getting angry with Richard. She grinned. Too bad this wasn't real life. He would deserve it for all of his insulting remarks. Not that she didn't manage to get in her own well-aimed barbs but that was different.

Annie could hear their flight number being called. "Okay, Caroline, let's go." She sighed to herself as she pulled Caroline out of the bathroom. She knew this was not going to be smooth.

She was right. No sooner had they left the lavatory than Caroline yelled about everyone's lack of a Christmas spirit. It wasn't even June yet. "Alright, that's it. I've had enough. We're going home." Caroline was growling and glaring again.

They were so close. Annie could see the gate. It was a last call for their flight. "You got it, kiddo. That's where we're going. Calm down." Annie tried rubbing Caroline's back, thinking maybe that might help her relax. Instead, she whined, "but he's just a little boy." Ah, she must be talking about Richard again. That guy really had her upset. Before Annie could react, Caroline grabbed her hands and danced her around the room, giggling out loud. Out of the corner of her eye, Annie could see an attendant walk towards a security guard. She danced Caroline over to the gate, stuck their tickets into the machine, pulled her down the tunnel and into the plane. She was praying that they would get lost in the crowd.

"Caroline, sit still and be quiet. Maybe no one will realize you're not normal." Caroline just muttered that it wasn't her fault that Charlie was fired. Annie was still trying to figure out what Wisconsin and Caroline's family home meant to Caroline when their flight finally left the runway. Annie found it hard to keep up since Caroline kept jumping from subject to subject.

As the hours went on, Caroline's mind wandered through her imaginary world of burnout, retirement and then on to someone named Randy. And then back to Peshtigo again. Annie, of course, wasn't the only one listening to this continuous monologue. Crammed into small quarters, nearby bored passengers were leaning towards them so they could catch what was being said. Caroline was getting louder as she announced happily that Richard had proposed. Then started sobbing because he had left. This time, she was crying for quite some time. Flight attendants kept stopping and wanting to help. Other passengers offered advice for her heartache. Annie just hugged her and wiped away her tears.

"I'm finally getting married." Caroline announced, happier now and sitting up straight in her seat, holding her hands together out in front of her. Since the seating was rather cramped, this was quite a feat. Somewhere behind them, a baby started wailing, paying no attention to her shushing mother. At this point Annie decided she would never be talked into traveling with Caroline again. Ever.

Caroline suddenly looked confused. "Richard?" Annie started to look around for him, then realized that he was just another figment of Caroline's imagination. Caroline was carrying on a full conversation with the guy then halted. She mumbled something else, rubbed one hand across her eyes and slowly swiveled her eyes around the cabin of the plane until she turned sideways and saw Annie. Her mouth opened in surprise.

"Annie? Where are we? What happened to Los Angeles?"

"Caroline! I'm so glad you've come back to me!" She hugged her friend hard, not caring that she sounded a trifle melodramatic.

"But-"

"It's okay. We just took a slight detour, that's all. But everything is okay now." She started to explain to Caroline but noticed her drooping eyes and huge yawns. Instead she said, "Maybe you should get some sleep first."

"Okay." Caroline yawned again. "Wake me when we get to Los Angeles." She slowly leaned back against the seat and shut her eyes.

"Yeah, sure, when we get to Los Angeles." Annie echoed. She had a lot of explaining to do. Thank goodness it could wait until tomorrow when she had more energy. At least Caroline was fine now and just sleeping.

And sleep she did. All the way back to New York. It took a while to wake her up after they landed. She fell asleep again in the taxi, leaning against Annie's shoulder.

"Hon, come on. Wake up." Annie was scrounging through her purse looking for money to pay the driver.

"Annie? Where are we?" She started rubbing her eyes again, looking haggard.

"We're back in Kansas, Dorothy. Come on." Caroline wrinkled her forehead trying to understand what Kansas had to do with anything but her brain refused to click. She followed Annie out of the cab and recognized her own building. Something seemed very wrong about that but she needed some rest before she could decide what it was. She needed lots more sleep. Maybe for three days. All she wanted to do was lay down on her soft bed and never get up. Annie mentioned going out for lunch tomorrow to talk. She never bothered to answer.

Caroline dragged herself into her quiet, darkened apartment and stumbled upstairs. Salty was the only one who greeted her and padded up the stairs after her mistress, complaining about her absence. Even though it was early in the evening, Caroline fell into bed with her clothes on, too tired to care. She felt lightheaded and had a piercing headache to boot. Thinking was impossible because her mind felt jumbled, thoughts and impressions circling around. Something important had happened. She could feel that. She just wasn't sure she wanted to know exactly what it was.



TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER TWO---A SECOND CHANCE