Title: Together on Valentine's Day
Rating: I'm going to go with FRT.
Disclaimer: ER and its affiliated characters do not belong to me. I only use them as a means to de-stress myself.
Summary: Another part in the "Together On…" series. Ray and Neela start talking about their future and celebrate Valentine's Day.
Note: As I mentioned, this is the fourth installment (I'm calling them installments instead of sequels now) of my "Together On…" series. I recommend you read the three previous stories first (even though you don't necessarily have to). To summarize the last three stories – Ray and Neela admit they have feelings for each other, fall in love, and become engaged. This story takes off exactly where the last one ("Together On New Years" leaves off).
Neela looked down at her left hand. She moved her hand it slightly, but enough so that the light reflected off the diamond she now wore. Looking at the ring made her smile. Even though she had only been wearing it for twenty minutes, she didn't think she'd ever get tired of looking at it. It was a simple, yet elegant solitaire. It complimented her small hand as if it were made specifically for her. It was a big enough ring to notice, but small enough so that she could easily still put on a pair of latex gloves and do her job. She knew that Ray had put a lot of thought into buying the ring. Either that or he had asked Abby for help.
"What are you thinking?" He asked.
They were sitting in the limousine heading back towards their apartment. Neela was practically sitting on his lap and his arms were tightly wrapped around her. He never wanted to let go of her, and with the ring that she now wore, he knew that he would never have to let her go.
"I'm just thinking about how happy I am," she answered truthfully.
"Mmm…me, too," he replied, taking her hand and bringing it to his lips. He kissed each of her fingers lightly.
The limo stopped outside of their apartment. The driver got out and opened the door for them. Ray scooted out and then gave his hand to Neela. He helped her out of the vehicle. She shivered from the cold. He immediately took off his jacket and draped it around her shoulder's. Even though their apartment door was only ten feet away, he heard his mother's voice in his head reminding him that when a woman is cold, it is the man's job to sacrifice his own warmth to keep her warm. Not that Ray minded giving up his jacket to her. He would do anything for her.
As Neela pulled the jacket more tightly around her, smiling at how much of a gentleman Ray was, Ray had a vision of how else he was planning on keeping her warm that evening.
Ray thanked the limousine driver and handed him a pretty hefty tip. He took Neela's hand and they walked up to their apartment together. As soon as the door opened, Neela threw his jacket off her shoulders and leapt towards him. He caught her around the waist and she wrapped her legs around his torso. Her hands immediately found their way to his hair and her lips began to devour his. Ray held on to her tightly as leaned his body against the wall so that he wouldn't collapse. Her sudden enthusiasm had him smiling.
While they continued to make out like teenagers whose parents weren't home, Ray hoisted her body up so that he had a better grip on her and so she wouldn't fall. When he was sure she was so secure, he took a cautious step forward. Hoping that he would make it to the bedroom, Ray managed to slam the front door closed with a kick of his foot and he briskly walked towards the bedroom all the while kissing her. By the time he reached the bed, he could feel her slipping and he let himself fall onto the soft mattress. She fell on top of him and laughed.
A loud clanging woke Ray up from the amazing dream he had been having. He had dreamt that he and Neela were on their honeymoon on some tropical deserted island where they were far from traumas, patients, and the stresses of everyday life. Ray was lounging in a hammock while Neela ran up the beach away from the ocean in a very skimpy, black bikini. He was jarred awake right as she reached his hammock.
Opening one eye, Ray noticed that Neela was no longer lying beside him. He groaned as he heard another loud bang. He knew exactly where she was.
Getting out of bed, Ray threw on a pair of boxers and a pair of pants over them and walked out of the bedroom. He hoped that by bypassing the shirt, Neela would be tempted enough to join him back in bed.
Ray headed straight for the kitchen where he saw her standing in front of the stove.
"Morning," he said, wrapping his arms around his chest to keep himself warm. He started to second guess his decision to go without a shirt. The temperature had most definitely dropped since the day before.
She spun around, startled.
"You scared me," she replied. "I didn't hear you get up."
"Yeah well, when I heard you cooking, I thought I should come supervise."
He walked closer to her and met her with a kiss. As their lips parted, he looked over her shoulder and saw, as he expected, a mess on the stove and the surrounding counter.
"I was trying to make scrambled eggs," she stated. "I wanted to have them ready for you when you woke up."
"How about we go back to bed and we forget about breakfast?" He asked, gently nibbling on her earlobe.
"We both are on in an hour and I'm starving," she said, playfully pushing him away.
"Then how about I cook and you can just sit and look adoringly at me."
"I can cook eggs, you know," she responded. She looked down at the egg that she had cracked into the pan. There were at least three pieces of egg shell mixed in with the egg. "Then again, I am good at looking adoringly."
"And you're good at looking adorable."
As she maneuvered around him to sit at the table, he caught her hand and pulled her against him. He dipped his head and crushed his lips against hers.
"I'm hungry," she mumbled against his lips.
He couldn't help but chuckle. She walked over to the small, round kitchen table and sat down. She watched him pick out the eggshells from the egg she had cracked with a fork and then skillfully crack another three eggs into the pan. He turned on the burner to the stove and began to cook up the eggs.
"You better be paying attention," he said.
"Oh? Why's that?"
"Because when we're married, I expect breakfast waiting for me every morning when I wake up," he joked.
She picked up a dish towel that was sitting on the table and threw it at him. It missed im completely and landed about a foot away from him.
"We're not going to start this food fight thing again, are we?" He asked.
"It wasn't food," Neela corrected him. "It was a towel." She smiled. "And besides, eggs aren't nearly as fun to throw as raw stuffing."
Ray smiled at the memory. The stuffing fight they had had just before Thanksgiving was one of the many little instances that had finally brought them together.
"I still expect breakfast every morning," Ray repeated.
"How about a kiss instead?" She bargained.
"Yeah, that'll do it, too."
He turned back to the eggs and flipped them over with expert skill. He thanked his mom for not only teaching him how to be a gentleman, but also how to cook. It certainly impressed the ladies. Not that he would have to be impressing ladies any more. Now there was only one lady for him and he couldn't have been happier. Of course, it still crossed his mind every day that he and Neela were so close to just being and staying friends. Even though there were so many signs that told them both that they should be together, they were both extremely good at ignoring them. What would have happened if Ray hadn't insisted they host Thanksgiving dinner? Would they have eventually found their way to each other or would they have continued their path of friendship and denial that they had any more feelings than that?
"You okay?" Neela asked, sensing a change in his facial expressions. He had been smiling and suddenly he looked concerned.
He didn't reply right away, but Neela knew that eventually he would answer her. To anyone else, Ray probably seemed like a typical guy who said what was on his mind and never thought about his words, but Neela knew better. She knew that when it was important, Ray chose his words carefully.
"I was worried," he admitted after a long pause.
"Worried? About what?"
"I was worried that you wouldn't say yes when I asked you to marry me."
"What would make you think I wouldn't say yes?"
"I was worried that it was too soon. We haven't exactly been…together for very long and…"
Neela stood up and walked over to him. She took his hands in hers.
"Ray, there isn't just some magic number of months or years that you need to be with someone before you should get married. You and I have known each other and lived together for so long and we know everything there is to know about each other. Maybe we haven't officially been together as a couple for as long as most people are before they get married, but I don't care. I know that I love you and that you love me. I know that I have never felt this way about anyone else. I know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you."
"God, I love you," he said, bringing his lips to hers.
"And I love you," she replied when their kiss ended. "But if you burn my eggs, I'll have to seriously reconsider this whole marriage thing."
"Let me see it!"
Abby rushed into the lounge, a big smile on her face. Neela was sitting on the old, uncomfortable couch, jotting down last minute notes on her patient's chart before she moved on to the next patient. The morning had been so busy that Neela barely had time to take a sip of coffee before she was hit with a dozen patients. The afternoon had calmed considerably, giving Neela time to grab a quick lunch and catch up on paperwork.
"What happened to 'Hi, Neela, how are you? Sorry that I lied to you and knew that your boyfriend was going to propose?'" Neela said, not angrily, but in jest.
"Just let me see it!"
Neela kept her hand hidden behind her back.
"You could take your coat off first, have a cup of coffee, get settled."
"Don't make me wrestle you," Abby practically shouted. She had been dying to know what ring Ray had picked out. She practically ran right into an elderly woman as she burst through the ER doors to find Neela.
Neela smirked. She had no doubt that Abby would, in fact, try to wrestle her if it came down to it. Instead of taking her chances, Neela held out her left hand. Abby stared at the rock on her finger.
"It's absolutely gorgeous!" Abby exclaimed.
"And by that reaction, I'd guess that you didn't pick it out for him."
"Oh no, he was on his own with that one," Abby explained as she quickly began to examine the ring. "Actually, he didn't even ask. I just helped him get you out of the house."
"Well, I do appreciate it, even if you did lie to me."
"So, have you started planning the wedding yet?"
"Good God, Abby, I just got engaged fourteen hours ago."
"And let me guess, you were a little too preoccupied when you got home last night to think about it."
"You could say that. I did think of one thing, though."
"Would you be my maid of honor?"
"I promise, no ugly peach, puffy dresses or anything like that."
"Well, in that case, I'd be honored."
Neela stood up and hugged her.
"I should get back to my patients," she said.
Neela headed for the door.
"Hey, what are you doing on Saturday?" Abby asked her as she finally began to take her coat off and put it in her locker.
"You can't get married without a wedding dress."
Neela smiled and left the room.
It had been a month since Neela and Ray had gotten engaged. When they had first told everyone at the ER, they were all surprised, but excited about their news. Within a few days, doctors and nurses from other areas of the hospital were congratulating them, even though neither Ray nor Neela knew who they were. One doctor even offered to give Ray the name of the female stripper he had at his bachelor party. Ray politely declined.
"We really do need to think about setting a date," Neela said. "People keep asking me and they're driving me bloody insane."
She was sitting in the passenger's seat of Ray's car as he drove. She had no idea where they were going. Ray had been mum about the whole trip.
"Well, we could run off to Vegans and elope if you want. That'll shut everyone up."
"I'd love to, but I can't."
"I have a strict no eloping policy."
He reached his hand across on to her lap and intertwined his fingers with hers. She looked at their hands joined together and sighed a deep sigh of contentment. She liked the way it felt when they held hands. It was as if their hands were perfectly made to fit with each other. His hands themselves never ceased to amaze her. She knew that, like her own, his hands could skillfully sew up a wound or resuscitate a failing heart. What amazed her most, though, about his hands, was the way they made her feel when he touched her. His hands could make her feel alive.
"How about a spring wedding? We could find a nice place to both get married and have the reception. Maybe even have an outdoor wedding."
"I'd like an outdoor wedding," she said.
He brought her hand to his mouth and kissed it.
"How about a late spring wedding? Some time at the end of May before it gets too warm."
"Then May it is."
"But, then again, May's only three months away and that's awfully soon. What if we can't pull it together in time?"
"Everything will be perfect," he assured her.
"Okay," she replied. "I think I'd like the last weekend in May."
"Then May 26th it is," Ray quickly calculated. "See, that was easy. Now people can stop bugging us."
"Yeah, they can stop bugging us about the date. But just wait until they start bugging us about where we're getting married, what my dress looks like, who our caterer is, who's marrying us, what kind…"
"Did I ever tell you that you're cute when you're stressed out?"
She smiled. "I'd be less stressed out if you told me where we were going."
"I told you, it's a surprise. Besides, we're almost there."
Ray turned off the highway. Neela looked out the window as they drove down the unfamiliar road. She tried to see if she recognized anything around her, but she didn't. She honestly had no clue where they were or where they were going. She had to hand it to Ray, he was certainly good at surprising her.
As they began to travel into a neighborhood with your every day, medium-sized houses and white picket fences, Ray slowed the car and eventually stopped.
"Where are we?" Neela asked. Ray pointed to the white house they had pulled up in front of. "Do we know who lives here?"
"Okay, I'm confused."
"What would you say if I told you that we could live here?"
"I did some checking on houses for sale in the area and I talked to the realtor."
A beige colored BMW pulled up behind them.
"That must be the realtor," he said.
Ray opened his car door and got out of the car. Still slightly confused and with somewhat of a headache coming on, Neela exited the car, as well.
The realtor, a large man with grey hair and a professional, but obviously well worn suit, got out of his own car.
"Mr. Barnett?" The man asked, approaching Ray.
"Please call me Ray," Ray replied, shaking his hand. "This is my fiance, Neela." Neela shook his hand as well. "Neela, this is Bernie Grant. He's the realtor I spoke to."
"Let's head into the house and I'll show you around," Bernie suggested, beginning to lead the way towards the house.
Neela stood at the edge of the lawn. A sudden choking fear came over her. For the first time, she felt like everything was moving too fast. She wasn't ready to commit to buying a home. She didn't feel like she was ready to commit to anything at that particular moment. She felt her throat closing and, even though there was a chill in the air, she could feel her palms beginning to sweat.
"Honey, you okay?" Ray asked.
Honey? Since when did he start calling her honey? Honey was a term her parents used for each other after they had been married for thirty years and the magic between them was all but gone. Did getting married and buying a house mean that the magic was gone before they even got married?
Neela smiled as sweetly as possible and nodded. Ray reached for her hand. As soon as she felt his skin against her, she calmed a little and took a deep breath.
"So, you're both doctors?" Bernie questioned as they entered the house.
"We're ER docs at County General," Ray answered. "Wow, this is even nicer than you described on the phone."
"It's a beautiful house and the owners took very good care of it. They recently replaced the counter top and bathroom tile on the second floor. The house is only about ten years old so it's in great condition. The neighborhood around here is great and the schools are among the top in the state. If you'll follow me into the kitchen, you'll see that…"
Neela tuned him out and simply stared at the house. She had to admit, it was a nice house. The rooms were all painted neutral colors that complimented each other. The previous owners had stuck to Earth tones, which would make it easy for anything to go with the house. There were two floors and a basement. There were two smaller bedrooms at the top of the stairs with a bathroom between them. The master bedroom was downstairs along with a second bathroom, a living room, a kitchen, and a dining room. The rooms downstairs were large and they all had a lot of potential.
As Neela looked out over the kitchen sink through a window into the backyard, she noticed that the grass and garden were immaculately kept. There was a playground complete with two swings and a slide beside the garden and, as Bernie pointed out, there was room for a pool. The house was perfect, but it made Neela want to gag.
"Could we have a minute?" Ray asked Bernie as they entered the master bedroom, seeing that Neela's face had grown pale and she hadn't said a word since they entered the house and had begun their tour.
"Of course. I'll be in the living room whenever you're ready to continue the tour."
Bernie left them alone. Neela stood, staring out the window towards the front of the house this time. In every room she found herself standing at the window and staring at whatever was outside. It was as if she was trying to make sure that she could escape if necessary.
Ray walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder. She turned towards him. He put his hand on her cheek and kissed her.
"What was that for?" She asked as he settled his hands at her waist. Whenever they were standing close to each other, he couldn't help but touch her.
"Just reminding you that I love you," he replied. "Now what's wrong?"
Neela shook her head. Telling him what was wrong would break his heart. Just like picking out her ring, he had obviously thought long and hard about the house they were looking at and she didn't want to have to tell him that she absolutely hated it.
"It's just…," she stuttered, trying to gather her thoughts. "This house…it's beautiful and it's perfect…"
"But…" She sighed. "It's too much. It's too much too fast. It's such a big step to buy a house and I just don't know if I'm ready for it. I don't know if we're ready for it."
"Are you having second thoughts about getting married?"
"No. God no, Ray. Marrying you is the one thing that I am absolutely sure about. But a house? What's the rush?"
"I just wanted to show you that I was serious about us. I wanted to show you that I'm ready to spend the rest of my life with you."
"You don't have to show me. I already know. You thinking about our future and taking me here to look at this house means so much to me, Ray, but it's not for us." She took a deep breath. "I know this is going to sound stupid, but our apartment means so much to me. That apartment is the reason we're here now. We became friends in that apartment. We had our first kiss there. We made love for the first time in that apartment. I have so many good memories with you that all took place there. I don't know if I'm ready or willing to give that up."
"Our apartment means a lot to me, too. But it's small, Neela."
"It was never too small before."
"That's when it was just us. I'm just thinking about whoever might come along."
He smirked and a sudden, joyful tear came to her eye.
"Children? You've thought about us having children?"
"It's crossed my mind once or twice," he admitted. "Have you? Thought about it, I mean?"
"Once or twice," she mimicked.
"Why haven't we talked to each other before about this?"
"I was afraid you'd say you didn't want children," Neela stated. "And I was afraid if I heard you say that, I would feel crushed so I thought it better not to ask at all."
"There was a time when I would have told you I wasn't sure if I wanted children. As matter of fact, there was a time when I would have told you I definitely didn't want that children. But that's just because I never found the right woman to have children with. I want to raise a family with you, Neela."
A tear escaped down her cheek and Ray brushed it away with his thumb.
"I want to raise a family with you, too, Ray…but I also want time for us. I want time where I can just be with you. I want time where I can just be your wife. Is that selfish of me?"
He brushed his lips against hers.
"You could never be selfish. Besides, I'm going to want you all to myself for a while."
He pulled her against him and devoured her mouth with his, making her giggle and groan at the same time, which was possibly the sexiest noise Ray had ever heard.
"Bernie's still in the other room," she reminded him as he reached for the bottom of her shirt.
"We could ask him to leave," Ray suggested, kissing her neck.
"I don't think he'd appreciate that," Neela joked.
"Then I guess we should just tell him we don't want the house."
"Not now anyway. Some day, but not now," she said.
They indulged in one final, deep kiss before pulling apart and walking out of the room.
"I can't believe you still haven't changed your mind about that house," Abby said, chewing on a chocolate candy.
"We've been over this…many times," Neela reminded her, searching though the heart shaped box of chocolates for one that didn't look like it had coconut in the middle. She hated the coconut ones. As matter of fact, she hated most fancy chocolate. She preferred a good old Hershey's bar any day.
They had talked about Neela and Ray's decision to stay in their apartment almost every day for the last two weeks. Abby somehow always managed to work into the conversation that Neela was turning down a perfectly good house to live in a dingy apartment. Neela always just smiled and told her that they were happy with the way things were. In Abby's opinion, that logic wasn't good enough, but it suited Neela just fine.
"So, what are you and Luka doing this evening?" Neela asked, finally finding a piece she thought looked edible.
The two women were sitting at a small diner near the hospital, sharing the box of chocolates that Luka had given Abby. Neela sipped a hot tea while Abby indulged in her third coffee of the day. She had been on since seven that morning. Neela, on the other hand, was just wasting time until six when her shift began.
"Luka's working until midnight and with Joe, it's just too hard. Besides, we already celebrated this morning." Abby smirked. "And let me tell you, it was a very good morning."
"Okay, I don't need to hear any more about your sex life."
"Oh come on, it's not like we're both not having great sex these days."
"That is true," Neela said, sipping her tea.
"And it was more than great sex," Abby said. "Luka also gave me this."
Abby put her left hand, palm down on the table. She had a diamond ring on her left ring finger. Neela immediately took her hand and brought the ring closer to her face.
"Engaged?! You got engaged?!" Neela exclaimed. Abby nodded and never stopped smiling. "I can't believe you didn't tell me." Neela reached across the table and hugged her.
"I was waiting for the optimum surprise moment," Abby replied.
"Well congratulations!" Neela said, finally giving Abby her hand back. "And might I say that it's about time."
"Yeah, well, after I kept reminding him that you and Ray got engaged after such a short time, I think he got the hint."
"Just remember that you were the one who didn't want to get married in the first place," Neela reminded her.
"Well, I a girl's entitled to change her mind, isn't she?"
"Yes, she is," Neela agreed. "I'm just so happy for you."
"I've never been happier, Neela."
"Neither have I." Neela looked down at her watch. "But I have to go. My shift's starting in a few minutes."
Neela stood up and began putting on her mittens. Even though the ER was only a block away, the wind chill made it feel like it was below zero outside.
"What are you and Ray doing tonight?" Abby asked, standing up as well. After her long day, she was ready to go home and put her son to sleep.
"Unfortunately, he worked this morning and is just getting off now. We haven't seen each other actually. He left this morning before I got up."
"You're going to spend your first Valentine's Day apart? That doesn't bother you?"
"You know, I thought I'd be angry about not being able to spend it together, but I'm not because I know that we have the rest of our lives to spend together."
"God, you really are in love."
"And so are you."
They both began to walk out together.
"Well, have a good night," Abby said as they walked out into the cold.
"Yeah, you, too," Neela replied.
Abby began to walk away.
"Hey Abby." Abby turned back around. "What are you doing Saturday?"
"Because now we both have wedding dresses to find."
Abby smiled. "You pick the time and I'll be there."
"I'll pick you up."
Neela chuckled. "Happy Valentine's Day, Abby."
"Happy Valentine's Day, Neela," Abby said before walking away.
Neela headed in the opposite direction towards the hospital. She walked through the double doors and past the admin desk, saying her hellos to her colleagues and friends. As she pushed the door open for the lounge to put her things away in her locker, she noticed that the lights were down low. She opened the door further and saw Ray sitting at a small, round table in the middle of the room. A single, lit candle was in the center of the table, but Neela was tooo busy looking at Ray to notice much else. He was wearing a black suit that she personally loved. Then again, she loved it when he wore anything or nothing at all. He had a dozen red roses in one hand and a large Hershey's bar in the other.
"Happy Valentine's Day," he said.
She walked over to him and he handed her the flowers and chocolate. As she took them from him, he wrapped his arms around him and pulled her against her, kissing her.
"My shift starts in five minutes," she stated, putting the items down on the table.
"I've got Morris covering for you for the first hour so we could spend some time together."
He walked over to the microwave and pulled out two steaming TV dinners.
"I know it's not exactly cuisine…"
"It's perfect," Neela said, sitting down.
He placed one of the dinners in front of her and the other in front of himself. He took a seat across from her and laid his hand on the table. She put her hand in his and he squeezed it.
"You know, you really are starting to spoil me with these holiday rendezvous."
"It's tradition in the Barnett family to spoil the women we love."
"I like the Barnett family more and more every day. And I can't wait to be a part of it."
They both leaned across the table and kissed.
Author's Note – Phew…another one's done. When I began this "Together On…" series, I only expected it to be three stories, but I just couldn't help myself. And now I expect it to go on for at least another one or two after the Valentine's one (although I'm running out of holidays). Anyway, I wrote this one pretty quickly and I hope you liked it. In case you couldn't tell, I'm not really the biggest fan of Valentine's Day in general so it doesn't play that big of a role in this story as some of the other holidays did in the other stories, but this story does go deeper into emotions and questions about their future. Please comment and be on the lookout for another sequel!