It was nearing midnight when Neela and Ray trudged hand in hand up the steps to their apartment. They were both exhausted. As they got closer to their door and saw light flickering through the crack under the door, they both knew that their night was far from over.
As Ray reached for his keys, the door swung open.
"Ray!" Catherine screeched, throwing herself against him, hugging him. "My God, what happened to your nose?" His nose had begun to bruise, but it had fortunately stopped bleeding.
"I see you brought company," Catherine said, pointing to Neela. "She must be here to pick up her stuff."
Catherine opened the door wider and revealed a number of packed boxes. She had already packed up most of Neela's belongings and had them ready to go.
"She isn't here to pick up her stuff," Ray said.
"You know she isn't welcome in our place anymore," Catherine remarked.
"This isn't our place," Ray stated simply, trying not to raise his voice. He knew that yelling at her wouldn't help the situation. Besides, he had already tried that and it hadn't worked before.
"Oh come on, sweetie, you know that this became our place when you asked me to move in with you." She grabbed Ray's hand and dragged him into the apartment. Ray held tightly onto Neela with his other hand, subsequently dragging her in, too.
"You can leave the trashy whore at the door," Catherine commented.
"I'm not going anywhere, Catherine," Neela responded.
"I planned a romantic dinner, Ray," Catherine said, ignoring Neela.
Catherine was determined that if she couldn't get Neela out, she would just pretend she wasn't there. She was exceptionally good at pretending and she was not about to let anyone ruin the perfect evening that she had planned. This was the evening, she could tell, that Ray would ask her to be his wife and they would be together forever.
She had set everything up perfectly for the occasion. She had gone out and bought silver candlesticks, matching porcelain, and the most expensive bottle of wine she could find for the table. She had spent all day cooking the perfect dinner, which would have been perfect if it had been served at seven o'clock like she had planned, but she wasn't angry with him. She knew he was busy at work saving lives.
The extra time had just given her extra time in front of the mirror. She had agonized for hours over what to wear. In the end, she had settled for a short, tight black dress, one of many in her closet, accompanied by a pearl necklace and matching pearl earrings that she had bought for herself even though she knew she would be able to convince Ray to actually buy them for her along with any other expensive jewelry she wanted. She even visited a lingerie shop to get something extra special for under her dress. Ray was just going to have to wait until after dinner for that surprise.
"It's just for the two of us, like old times," she continued.
"There is no us," Ray stated, squeezing Neela's hand. He placed his arm around her shoulder. "I don't love you, Catherine. What we had together was a long time ago."
"That doesn't mean we can't rekindle our romance. Besides, I never stopped loving you."
"But I stopped loving you," Ray told her. "We're different people now, Catherine. We're not the same teenagers we were back then. And I love Neela."
"No!" Catherine shouted. "You can't love her! You can't love that ugly, no good, slut!"
Neela cringed at the words she was being called. Ray simply held her closer and she felt better.
"I do love her," Ray said calmly. "And you don't love me, Catherine."
"I do!" She wailed.
"No," he replied. "You love what we used to have. You love the fact that, when you're with me, you're not alone anymore, but that's not enough, Catherine."
"It is! Just say what you mean, Ray. Just tell me that you want to marry me and get it over with!"
"I don't want to marry you, Catherine."
"Tell her that you don't love her and just ask me to marry you! I know you want to!" She continued, yelling. "We can do it tonight. We can fly to Vegas and get married tonight. Then she can never come between us."
She took a few steps towards them both. She stumbled on her high heels and fell on her knees. She immediately began to cry. She reached out her hand to Ray to help her up, but he didn't take it.
"I love you, Ray!"
"I don't love you, Catherine. I could never love you."
"Marry me, Ray! Spend the rest of your life with me! I know you want to marry me!" She cried out.
"Ray…" Catherine pleaded, groveling on her knees. She clawed at his legs.
"The only person I want to spend the rest of my life with…the only person I want to marry is Neela!" He shouted, raising his voice for the first time.
Neela immediately looked at him. For as many times as he told her he loved her, he never before told her that he wanted to marry her. Sure, they had joked about it once or twice, but it never got beyond joking. Now, here he was, telling her that he wanted to marry her. Or was he only doing it to get Catherine to understand that he didn't love her? Maybe he didn't want to marry Neela at all and it had just slipped out.
"Catherine," Neela said softly as a mother would do when trying to soothe a whimpering child. She let go of Ray's hand and bent down so that she and Catherine were eye to eye. "You are a beautiful, amazing woman who deserves to find your one true love. I know you think Ray is it for you, but he's not. But I know someone who is."
Catherine wiped the tears from her eyes.
"Joe? My Joe?"
"Your Joe," Neela answered, smiling. "He's right outside."
"Then he does love me!" Catherine exclaimed, jumping up. She clapped her hands excitedly and began to straighten her tousled hair.
"Yes," Neela replied, "he loves you very much, but he thinks you need help, Catherine. We all think you need help."
"Help? Joe doesn't think I need help."
The front door swung open and Joe appeared in the doorway. He was a tall man with a medium build. His suit probably cost more than the monthly rent for Ray and Neela's apartment, but it did make him look stunning. If Neela wasn't still all-consumed with the idea that Ray might potentially want to marry her, she would have said he was attractive. Granted, he was nothing compared to Ray, but she knew she had a bias opinion.
"I do, Catherine," Joe said. His voice was deep and smooth. "I love you, but you need help."
Joe took a few steps into the room and held out his arms. Catherine walked towards him and fell into his arms.
"I'm sorry, Joe," she cried, sobbing. "I'm so sorry."
"I know, baby, I know," he soothed. "We're going to get some help together."
Catherine wiped her face with her hand and turned to Ray.
"I'm sorry, Ray," she apologized sincerely. "I never meant to cause you so much trouble. I'm sorry."
"Come on, Catherine, let's go home," Joe said, leading her out of the room.
Neela quickly closed the door behind them. She leaned against the hard wood and sighed.
"How…who…what just happened?" Ray stuttered, falling onto the couch, more exhausted than he ever thought possible.
"I called Joe."
"You called Joe? Just like that?"
"Well, I knew we were going to have to do something more than just ask her to leave."
Neela walked over to the couch and sat down beside him.
"How did you know she even wanted him back? How did you know she would go get help? How did you even know Joe? Wait. Are you having an affair?"
"Oh yeah," Neela joked, snuggling up beside him. "Joe and I meet for our nightly rendezvous at the motel around the corner while you're sleeping."
Ray smiled. "Okay, seriously. How did you…how did you do what you just did?"
"I spent four months interning at a psychiatric hospital in med school. There was this one woman who came to us after she was convicted of burning down her ex-husband's trailer. She was convinced that he was still in love with her and she was so enraged that she set fire to his trailer, thinking that, without somewhere to live, he would want to live with her. Within two hours of her coming to the hospital, she became infatuated with one of the doctors. She thrived on the attention. It wasn't about love at all. She just needed to be with someone. She couldn't stand to be alone."
"What happened to her?"
"Her mood swings were regulated with medication and she got some therapy. In the end, she finally found a man who truly loved her. Last I heard, they got married and had a kid on the way."
"So, she was psychotic until she found someone to love her back?"
"Basically. A lot of Catherine's tendencies reminded me of that patient. So, I called Joe and asked him about Catherine. Come to find out, she has spent some time in a number of psychiatric hospitals across the country, all because of severe attachment issues. She got out of the most recent hospital two years ago with instructions to stay on her medication. Then, she met Joe soon after being released and everything was great for a while and she apparently stopped taking her meds. They moved to Chicago together and things seemed to be fine. They began to plan their entire lives together, but then Catherine began to suspect that Joe was cheating on her. So, she became jealous and angry and started to go a little crazy. She didn't break her wrist falling down the courtroom steps. She broke her wrist trying to punch the daylights out of Joe. And she didn't get a leave of absence from her job. She was fired for incompetence after she let this whole Joe thing take over her whole life. Then, still off her meds, she ran into you and you became her next target. She used you to fill the void in her life that Joe left."
"And how do you know all this?"
"I told you, I called Joe."
"Yeah…okay, care to run that one by me?"
"I remembered she mentioned him once or twice in conversation. So, one night, I snuck into her room and got his number."
"You little snoop."
"I didn't use it until today when I realized that you were right."
"Right? What was I right about?"
"Catherine wasn't in love with you. She thought she was because she couldn't stand to be alone, but she wasn't really in love with you. And she wasn't trying to pull us apart just for the hell of it. She has a problem, Ray. When I called Joe, he told me the whole story. He was completely torn up over the whole thing. He claimed that he never cheated and that he still loved her and wanted to help her. So, I asked him to come over. I just can't believe neither of us picked up on her problems. I mean, looking back, it just seems so obvious. There was way more going on than just a girl who was obsessed with her ex-boyfriend."
"Are you saying that I once dated a psycho?"
"Well, she probably wasn't psycho back then," Neela joked, cuddling even closer to him. He draped his arm around her shoulder. "But, in short, yes, you did once date a psycho."
Ray playfully hit her in the ribs.
"Do you really think she'll leave us alone?" Ray asked.
"If she gets the treatment she needs and she has Joe to support her, yeah, I think she'll leave us alone. After all, it was never about us to begin with."
"You are amazing," Ray said, kissing her on the top of her head. "I just can't believe it's over."
"Believe it," Neela assured her.
"We should get some sleep," Ray suggested.
He stood up and offered his hand to her. He helped her up and he led the way to their bedroom.
As they neared the doorway, Neela stopped.
Ray turned around.
"What you said tonight…what you said to Catherine about…marriage. Did you mean it?"
"That I didn't want to marry her? Of course I meant it."
Neela looked down at the ground in disappointment. Of course Ray had said he wanted to marry Neela out of anger and trying to get Catherine to listen to him and not out of love. He hadn't meant it.
She began to walk into the bedroom, but Ray held onto her arm, stopping her. He kneew exactly what she meant.
"Are you asking me if I meant it when I said that you were the one person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with? That you are the one person I want to marry?"
Neela looked up at him with a hopeful look in her eye. He smiled.
"Yes, Neela, I meant it when I said I wanted to marry you."
Ray reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, black box. He got down on one knee and held the box out to her.
She gasped. She was excited when he mentioned wanting to marry her, but she never expected him to get down on one knee and propose.
"I've been carrying this box around for more than two months. I've been carrying it with me everyday and I've had with me everywhere I go, but the timing was never right. I wanted this to be perfect. And I'm sorry because tonight isn't my idea of perfect. Hell, I'm proposing when my nose is five times its normal size, but I can't wait any longer."
He reached for Neela's hand as a tear rolled down her cheek. This time, though, it was a tear of joy.
"I love you, Neela. I could never express to you how much I love you. And I promise you that I will always be true to you, that I will love you until the day I die and, even then, I'll come back to haunt you because I can't be without you. I know that now more than ever. Would you do me the honor of being my wife?"
Ray opened the box and Neela gasped for a second time. The ring was a simple solitaire, but it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
"Yes," she said without skipping a beat.
He jumped up, cupped her cheek with his hand, and their lips met in a passionate fury. Somewhere in the middle of it all, Ray managed to slip the ring on her finger.
"I love you," she whispered against his lips.
"I love you," he replied.
"And you're wrong," she said, "that proposal was perfect."
They stood together, his arms around her waist and her arms looped around his neck. Their foreheads touched and Neela couldn't help but look over Ray's shoulder to see the shining ring that now graced her finger.
"I'm suddenly not so tired," Ray commented.
Neela smiled. "Neither am I."
"You still have that nurses costume handy?"
"I threw it away," Neela reminded him.
"That's too bad," Ray whispered as his lips met hers again.
"But I know where there are more," she said softly back between kisses.
She jumped up, wrapping her legs around his waist. Her force backed him against the wall. Their lips never separated.
Somehow, Ray managed to stumble into the bedroom. They both fell onto the bed, never breaking their kiss.
"I am so lucky to have you," he said as she placed tender kisses around his sore nose.
"Ditto," she replied as she captured his mouth with hers.
Author's Note: Wow, the end. Sorry this is going to be a long author's note. In case you don't want to read the whole thing, I'll start with the important stuff – thank you so much to everyone who read this story and gave me such amazing comments. I don't normally respond to every person's individual comment, but I do read every single word you guys write and I appreciate them so much. I wouldn't keep writing if it weren't for all of you. Also, thank you to Dr. Quinn for inspiring me and giving me the idea and the character's name for this story.
Okay, now for the not so important stuff – even though I had said earlier that I hadn't expected this story to be so long, I hadn't expected to really end it with this chapter. I honestly thought I'd keep going for at least another one or two and then have some sort of epilogue (in case you couldn't tell, I have a hard time ending stories), but this seemed to be as good a place as any to stop, so I did. I spent a bit of time rewriting this chapter and trying to figure out exactly how to end the story and I just hope it didn't disappoint.
And, on another note, this story was such a fun journey to take because writing it even surprised me sometimes. This was a story that I hadn't planned out as much as I had for my other stories (I'm quite the planner and organizer) so it was an adventure. Sometimes I felt like I was reading this story as I went instead of writing it if that makes any sense. Anyway, this was a fun, long journey that I can't wait to take again with another story so be on the lookout!