Caroline & The Accident

Caroline & The Accident

Rated 'PG-13' for intensity

By: Jana~

~~Disclaimer~~

PLEASE... TAKE A FEW MOMENTS TO READ:

This fanfic is a little different from the fanfics I usually write. This story features the characters from the TV show 'Caroline In The City', but is based on my real life. Except for the changes needed in order to stay true to the characters, this story is about what actually happened to me on February 20, 1995 and the weeks following. Even some of the conversations (with only slight changes made to stay true to the characters) actually happened.

WARNING!!
This story is descriptively graphic and, in some areas, very intense. Please do NOT read it if you think it may upset you.

*****~*****

--Caroline Duffy was startled awake by the sound of the alarm. She hit it, turning it off, then laid back in bed and stared at the ceiling. She didn't want to get up and she didn't want to work, but there was no real reason why. Just a slight feeling of not wanting to face the day. She forced herself to get up... she had work to do... and Richard would be by in a while. She moved in what felt like slow motion to the bathroom to take a shower.

*Maybe a shower will snap me out of this...* she thought to herself. It didn't. The day seemed almost surreal, like something was off about it, but she couldn't put her finger on what. She wasn't feeling depressed. She wasn't in any pain. There was nothing specific going on in her life that would explain this mood... this feeling she had... so she just tried to ignore it. She looked around the kitchen for something to eat, but nothing she had looked appealing, so she decided to go to the bakery to pick up some muffins. The odd feeling got stronger as she walked along, but she couldn't figure out what it was, or why it was happening... so she continued to ignore it. She was almost to the bakery when she saw the sun peek through the clouds, the rays of sunshine reaching to the ground.

*Wow. That's so pretty. Almost... heavenly...* she thought to herself. Then... suddenly...

~*~*~*~

-- Caroline came to, but was very disoriented. She tried to turn over... tried to understand what had just happened...

"Don't move! You will do more damage!" someone said, his hands on her holding her down. She tried to look around, but the stranger was pushing too hard, so she couldn't move much.

"Stop it! I'll hold still..." Caroline said, wanting this person to ease up. He was causing her pain. She looked at the ground... she was face down on the sidewalk. Suddenly, pain began to surface. She, as much as she could, lifted herself up on her left elbow and looked down... blood. Her blood. She looked up... there were strangers surrounding her.

"You're doing fine. The ambulance is on the way..." a woman said soothingly.

"I am so sorry! I'm just so sorry! I thought I saw a cat! I was trying to avoid the cat!" another woman shrieked.

"Do you know what happened?" someone asked.

"I... was... hit by a car... I think..." Caroline answered, not sure how she knew that. It was the only thing that made sense...

"Do you know your name?"

"Caroline..." she answered softly.

"Can we call someone for you?"

"Richard..."

"What's his number?"

"I... ummm... I don't know..."

"I am just so sorry! I have insurance! You will be taken care of!" the hysterical woman shrieked again.

"You're doing great... just hold on..." the woman with the soothing voice said consolingly.

*Hold on?* Caroline thought to herself... *Am I dying? I don't feel like I'm dying...* Her mind raced over events of her life. *God... if you're going to take me... if I am dying... please take me now before the pain of this really hits me...* she prayed, the pain becoming more intense. She could hear the ambulance coming. She could see people moving away from her. She could see fireman approaching...

"Do you know what happened?" one fireman asked.

"I was hit by a car?" Caroline replied, it sounding more like a question then an answer.

"What's your name?"

"Caroline."

"How old are you?"

"30."

"What day is it?"

"I don't know. Monday. It's Monday..."

"What's the date?"

"I... I don't know..."

"Who's president?"

"Clinton?"

"Where do you hurt?"

"Everywhere..."

"We need to know specifically where you hurt..."

"My right leg... the left side of my face... my left arm... the left side of my chest..." Caroline said, trying to determine what hurt worse...

"What about your back?"

"Some. Not a lot... I don't know..."

"Can you feel your feet?"

"Yes..."

"We're going to turn you over... ok?"

"Ok." Caroline replied, feeling almost detached from the situation. They started to roll her over when extreme pain hit her, causing her to scream out.

"What? What hurts?" the fireman asked.

"My leg! It doesn't bend like that!"

"We're not bending it. It's badly damaged." he replied. Caroline knew she would have to just take it... that it was going to hurt and there wasn't anything that could be done about it.

"Ok..." she whispered. They continued to turn her over onto the 'Miller Board', causing extreme pain like she had never before experienced.

"We have to cut off your clothes..." one of the fireman said, almost apologetically.

"Ok..." Caroline acknowledged. She laid on the board, completely naked, feeling very humiliated. The pain was getting worse. *If I die... there's so much left undone... unsaid... Richard...* she thought to herself. They put her in the ambulance and headed for the hospital.

~*~*~*~

--"Am I going to die?" Caroline asked the paramedic.

"You're going to have a lengthy recovery... but I don't think you're going to die..."

*He's just trying not to scare me...* she thought, flinching from the pain he was inflicting as he tried to get an IV started. They got to the hospital and immediately Caroline had a swarm of people around her...

"What's your name?"

"Caroline..."

"Do you know where you are?"

"The hospital..."

"Do you know who WE are?"

"The hospital staff?" Caroline replied, causing the nurse to smile.

"Ok... on my count. 1... 2... 3..." the doctor ordered the nurses, moving Caroline from one gurney to the next. Although they did it gently, it caused her extreme pain.

"Are you pregnant?" one nurse asked.

"Pregnant? You gotta have sex first... no..." Caroline replied.

"Is there someone we can call for you?"

"Richard."

"Do you know the number?"

"He's probably at my place... I... I can't remember the number..." Caroline said, frustrated.

"Have you been here before? We can get your phone number from your records..."

"Yeah..."

"Name?"

"Caroline Duffy."

~*~*~*~

--The morphine started making Caroline drowsy. She closed her eyes, but she could still hear the nurses talking...

"Poor thing. At least she is getting some rest now..." she heard one nurse say. She quickly opened her eyes to see 2 nurses in the room with her...

"Can I ask you a question?" Caroline asked, sluggish from the medication.

"Sure."

"I don't know what you're allowed to tell me... to keep me calm or whatever..."

"We can tell you anything you want to know..."

"Am I going to die?" Caroline asked nervously.

"No. Your injuries are severe, but not life threatening..."

"What happened to my chest?"

"Your left breast was damaged..."

"Damaged?"

"It's gone."

"Gone?"

"It became detached. It was ripped off..." the nurse replied sadly. Caroline just closed her eyes.

~*~*~*~

--"Hello?" Richard answered the phone, thinking it must be Caroline. It wasn't like her to leave without leaving a note...

"Is this Richard?" the voice on the other end of the phone asked.

"Yes..."

"This is NY General Hospital."

"Hospital?"

"Caroline has been in an accident..."

"Oh my God! What accident? When? Is she ok?" Richard panicked.

"She is stable, we can answer your questions when you come in. Will you come in? She's been asking for you..."

"I'll be right there!" Richard slammed the phone down and ran for the door.

"Hey! Careful! You almost knocked me over!" Annie shouted as Richard flew out the door, almost running into her.

"Caroline is in the hospital!"

"What?!"

"They just called! She was in an accident!"

"An accident?! How serious is it?!"

"They wouldn't tell me. She's been asking for me..."

"I'm coming with!"

~*~*~*~

--Caroline awoke to see Richard standing above her...

"Hello Caroline..." Richard said softly.

"Richard... I'm glad you're here..."

"How do you feel?"

"Like I was hit by a truck..."

"Close. It was a Buick..." Richard said, smiling. "I came as soon as they called..."

"I appreciate it. Did they tell you what's wrong with me?"

"Yes..." Richard replied softly. He wanted to cry seeing her like this. Bruised and broken, her face expressing pain. He forced himself to hold it together... to be strong for her.

"I'm so tired... will you stay with me? I need to sleep..."

"Yes. I'll stay with you..."

~*~*~*~

--"Caroline? It's time for your dressing change..." the nurse said as she hovered over Caroline, trying to wake her.

"What?" Caroline asked, barely able to open her eyes.

"We need to change the dressing on the chest wound."

"I'm so tired. Why am I so tired?"

"It's the morphine. They will take you off it sometime today." the nurse said as she buzzed about, getting supplies out and ready. Their talking woke Richard, who had been sleeping in the chair beside the bed. He wiped his eyes and reached for Caroline's hand...

"Hi..." he said softly.

"Hi. Thanks for staying..."

"It's no problem. What's going on?" Richard asked, looking at the nurse.

"She needs the dressing changed on her wound. You might want to leave..." the nurse replied.

"Not if Caroline wants me to stay..." Richard said protectively.

"Do you want him to stay?" the nurse asked Caroline.

"Yes..." Caroline replied, taking comfort in his presence.

"Ok. That's fine. Sir, come with me a minute..." the nurse said, indicating she wanted him to leave the room with her. Richard let go of Caroline's hand and followed the nurse into the hall. "You need to understand, this is a very... graphic wound."

"Graphic?" Richard asked, not quite sure what she was getting at.

"Yes. They told you what her injuries were, right?"

"Yes..."

"Ok... the breast is almost completely gone. It's very... extreme. What I mean is... you don't faint easily... do you?"

"No."

"It's very important that you do not react to the sight of the injury. It will scare her. You need to stay calm... can you do that?"

"Yes."

"Ok..." the nurse said, then turned to go back into the room. "Ok Caroline... we're going to change the dressing now..."

"Ok." Caroline whispered.

~*~*~*~

--Richard sat in a chair on Caroline's right side while the nurse worked on her left. Because of the morphine, Caroline could barely feel any pain. Richard tried very hard to avoid looking at the wound, but it was hard not to. He forced himself to keep calm, to not react to what he saw. When the dressing change was done, Richard went with the nurse out into the hall...

"Why is it like that?" he asked, his shock and concern obvious.

"The doctor can explain everything better..." the nurse replied, trying to avoid answering.

"Until then, you tell me! Why?" Richard insisted.

"When she landed on the ground, dirt and debris got into the wound. They can't close the wound until they clean it out."

"My God! So that's... that's her..."

"That's the inside of her breast. The inner tissue. The outside of her breast is gone." the nurse confirmed, then turned and walked away. Richard just stood there, numb. He gathered his composure and went back in to the room.

"It's bad... isn't it?" Caroline asked as Richard came into the room.

"Is what bad?" Richard asked, stalling...

"The wound. Did you see it? It's bad... right?"

"I'm not going to lie to you Caroline... it's bad... but you're alive! That's the important thing!" Richard said, trying to sound positive. Caroline just closed her eyes and drifted back to sleep.

~*~*~*~

--"Ms. Duffy? We're here to move you to your new room." the nurse said, trying to wake her.

"Why?" Caroline asked, still groggy from the morphine.

"Because you don't need to be in ICU anymore." the nurse answered shortly. They moved Caroline to a gurney and unhooked the morphine, then wheeled her out of ICU and into a standard room. Richard never left her side.

"Sir? If you want to take a shower... you can in there..." the nurse said, pointing to the bathroom.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now that she is off the morphine drip, she will be a lot more awake, and in a lot more pain too, unfortunately." the nurse informed him. Richard just nodded. He went in and took a shower, but didn't really feel clean once he put his dirty clothes back on. Annie was supposed to bring him a change of clothes, but she hadn't come by yet.

~*~*~*~

--"Richard?" Caroline called out, more awake then she had been since the accident.

"I'm right here Caroline..." Richard said, coming out of the bathroom and rushing to her side.

"I'm scared..." Caroline said, tears splashing down her face.

"I know... I'm here with you... ok?" Richard said, trying to sound reassuring.

"My parents... do they know?"

"Yes. Annie called them. They'll be out today."

"Is mom ok?"

"She's worried..." Richard replied softly. Caroline just nodded.

"Hi Caroline..." Annie said softly as she entered the room.

"Hi Annie."

"How are you feeling?"

"I've been better. They took me off the morphine, so now I'm really feeling some pain."

"God, honey... I'm just so sorry... I don't even know what to say..."

"Did you feed Salty?"

"Uh... yeah... I did..."

"Ok... good."

"Do you remember anything that happened?"

"Annie!" Richard whispered sharply, concerned that the question would upset Caroline...

"It's ok Richard..." Caroline assured him... "I remember some. I remember feeling weird... I woke up with this feeling... like something was just wrong, but I didn't know what. I remember a sharp pain, and a sensation like I was being tossed in the air... next thing I remember, I was laying face down on the sidewalk..." Caroline recalled. Annie couldn't stop the tears...

"Excuse me..." she choked, running from the room.

"I'll be right back..." Richard said, then followed Annie out into the hall. "You can't lose it!"

"I know... I'm sorry. I thought 'I'm an actress, I can do this!'... but it's harder then I thought!"

"I know... I know..."

"How are you doing it?"

"I honestly don't know..." Richard answered quietly. "Get yourself together and get back in there. She needs us right now!" Richard ordered.

"Ok..." Annie said, wiping her tears. Richard walked back in and went straight to Caroline's side.

"Is Annie ok?" Caroline asked, tears rolling down her cheeks.

"She's ok. She's just sad that you had to go through that... we all are..." he whispered, wiping the tears from her face.

"I'm sorry..."

"Don't apologize Caroline... this is NOT your fault..."

"I know... I just feel bad for causing everyone pain..." Caroline replied sadly.

"Sorry..." Annie said as she came back into the room...

"Are you ok Annie?" Caroline asked.

"Yeah. I'm fine... don't worry about me..."

"Someone's going to pick my folks up from the airport... right?"

"Yeah. I'm going to head that way in a little bit..." Annie replied.

"Oh! The strip!" Caroline exclaimed, looking over at Richard.

"It's fine. They are running reruns..."

"Not of 'Cathy' though... right?"

"No. Of 'Caroline'."

"I thought the name looked familiar! Hello Caroline. I'm Dr. Baird. I'm the orthopedic doctor... for your leg..." the young doctor said as he entered the room.

"Hello." Caroline replied softly.

"Well, this was an amazing accident! You're lucky to be alive!" the doctor said as he looked over her chart.

"So they tell me..." Caroline whispered.

"Did they explain your injuries to you?" the doctor asked. Caroline nodded. "Ok, what we have is a fracture of the tibia and fibula. Actually, it's more like 5 fractures... your leg was basically shattered. What we need to do now is operate..."

"And do what?" Richard asked.

"We will use surgical plates and screws to reconstruct the bone and hold the breaks in place."

"I would need a cast?"

"No, actually, you will have a splint... some of the time. At other times you will be using a machine that moves your knee for you... to help keep it mobil..."

"Will I be able to walk again?"

"Well, you will never have the mobility you had before the accident... we just wont know how much mobility you'll have till you start rehabilitation and physical therapy..."

"Typical doctor response..." Richard snapped, mostly to himself.

"I know it's hard not to have answers, but the truth is, we just wont know till later. A lot will depend on you as well..."

"Ok, so, when do we have the surgery?" Caroline asked, the sorrow in her voice clearly heard.

"Tomorrow. Do you have any more questions for me? Now is the time to ask..."

"No..."

"Ok. If you think of any questions, ask the nurse to page me... ok?" Dr. Baird replied kindly, then left.

"I need to go... I have to go get your parents at the airport..." Annie said, gathering her stuff.

"Ok. Thanks for coming Annie... and for feeding Salty... and for picking up my parents..."

"It's no problem sweetie... I'll be back later to see you..." Annie said, handing Richard the clothes she had picked up for him.

~*~*~*~

--"Hello?" Richard answered the phone quietly, not wanting to wake Caroline...

"Richard. We have a slight problem..." Annie said, calling from a payphone at the airport.

"Don't tell me you can't find her parents..."

"No, I found them ok... but..."

"But?"

"Well, they're sorta hysterical. Well, her mom is..."

"Put her on..." Richard instructed.

"Yes?" Caroline's mom Margaret said as she was handed the phone...

"Mrs Duffy... hi. It's Richard..."

"Richard! Is Caroline ok? Annie told me what her injuries are... is she in pain? Is she scared? Is she..."

"Mrs. Duffy? Calm down. If you come here to see her and you're hysterical, you're only going to scare her... ok? We need to be strong for her..."

"I know... but... I'm her mother..."

"I know. You're going to worry, just try not to look it around Caroline... ok?"

"Ok. I'll try." Margaret said, trying to calm down.

"Ok... thank you. We'll see you in a little bit. Put Annie back on."

"Yeah?" Annie said as she got back on the line.

"Why did you tell her about Caroline's injuries?"

"I thought she knew!"

"Just try to keep her calm! Where do you think Caroline gets her overemotional side from?"

"Ok, ok... I'm sorry. We'll be there shortly... Bye"

"Bye"

~*~*~*~

--Margaret walked slowly into her daughter's hospital room, the strain of trying to keep it together on her face. Richard stood as she entered the room, looking at her consolingly but firmly. He felt for the pain she was feeling, but his top concern was Caroline...

"I don't want to wake her..." Margaret whispered to Richard.

"Here... sit here..." Richard offered her his seat. Margaret sat down and held Caroline's hand. A small tear fell down her cheek as she looked over her daughters bruised and swollen face. Richard stood behind her and placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Thanks for being here Richard. You mean so much to her..." Margaret said softly.

"Mom?" Caroline asked, starting to wake.

"Hi sweetheart..."

"When did you get here?"

"Just now. How do you feel?"

"I hurt..."

"I know... I'm sorry. That was a stupid question..."

"It wasn't stupid mom..."

"I just don't know what else to say..."

"I know..."

"Where were you going? When this happened..."

"To the bakery to get some muffins..."

"Were you in the street?"

"No. I was on the sidewalk..."

"The car jumped the curb Mrs. Duffy..." Richard interjected.

"Oh, dear. Why?" Margaret asked.

"The driver was taking prescription medications at the time. The police think she just simply dozed off. She said she saw a cat... but witnesses said there was no cat..." Richard replied.

"Oh, my..." Margaret said, obviously fighting back tears... "Well, what do the doctors say?"

"I have to have surgery tomorrow on my leg... to reconstruct it with metal plates and screws..."

"And... what about... what about the other... injury...?"

"I don't know, the doctor for that hasn't come in yet..."

~*~*~*~

--"Hello... Caroline? I'm Dr. Voss. I'm here to look at your chest wound..." the doctor said, waking Caroline from her sleep.

"Ok..." Caroline replied groggily. The doctor said nothing as he washed his hands and got latex gloves on. The nurse got everything the doctor would need out and ready... she also said nothing. The doctor took the top portion of the bandage off... the tape being ripped from her stung, causing Caroline to wince. Next they tugged at the gauze that was under the top bandage. "OW!" Caroline exclaimed, jumping slightly from the pain.

"Sorry. The gauze has dried and has adhered to your tissue..." the nurse said, obviously preoccupied. The nurse then grabbed a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and poured it straight onto the gauze on the wound, causing bubbling and stinging and burning...

"OW! OH MY GOD!" Caroline screamed out in agony...

"You have to hold still!" the doctor barked, obviously upset. The nurse and doctor started pulling the gauze off the wound, taking little chunks of flesh and tissue with it...

"YOU'RE HURTING ME! YOU'RE KILLING ME! PLEASE! Please! Please KILL me... I can't take this pain..." Caroline begged, thrashing around in agony.

"Hold still!" the doctor ordered, anger in his tone. Richard glared at the doctor and tightened his grip on Caroline's hand...

"Caroline... look at me. Look in my eyes Caroline..." Richard instructed, firmly but sweetly. Caroline looked him straight in the eyes, trying to take comfort in his compassion.

"Kill me... please kill me Richard..." Caroline pleaded, the look on her face was so distorted from pain, it was everything in Richard's power to keep from crying...

"Shhh... Caroline. It's going to be alright... just keep looking at my eyes..." Richard spoke softly and soothingly, brushing the hair from her eyes. He locked her in a stare and touched her hand to his face as he continued to whisper that it would be alright... and that he was there for her. He could feel her starting to relax as the last of the gauze was removed. After several minutes Caroline jumped again...

"OH MY GOD! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" she yelled at the doctor.

"You have got to hold still!" the doctor snapped angrily.

"It's called debridement. He is cutting the dead tissue away from the live tissue..." the nurse informed.

"WHAT?! He is CUTTING on my SKIN with SCISSORS!??" Caroline screamed, looking at Richard to help her... stop him... say something... anything...

"Can't you give her anesthesia or something??" Richard asked the doctor, only to be ignored. "Hello?? She's in PAIN!" Richard snapped at the doctor... the doctor just sighed and continued his cutting. Caroline was near hysterical and Richard's soothing words were just not enough...

"I can't take the pain... I can't... please kill me... please... please..."

"Shhh... it will all be over soon..." Richard assured her. Finally, the doctor was done and he got up from his stool and walked towards the door, throwing his gloves in the bio-hazard trash receptacle...

"Pack the wound with dacons soaked gauze... Percocet for pain..." was all he said, then walked out of the door.

"What the hell was that?!" Richard asked the nurse angrily.

"The procedure? It's called debridement..." the nurse replied softly.

"More like torture!" Richard snapped, running his fingers up and down Caroline's arm, trying to do something to make it up to her.

"I'm sorry sir." she replied as she soaked the gauze in dacons solution.

"What is that?" Richard asked as he watched her work.

"It's dacons solution. Part water, part bleach..."

"Will that hurt her?"

"Some... but it will hurt more when it comes time to take it off..." she answered honestly. Caroline started sobbing.

"God!" Richard exclaimed. Seeing Caroline hurting was near killing him... and he could do so little to ease her suffering. The nurse started to pack the wound, causing Caroline to wince and squirm.

"I'll go get her pain medication..." the nurse said, then left the room.

"God, Caroline... I am so sorry..."

"I can't do this Richard..."

"Do what?"

"Live through this..."

"Yes you can Caroline. You are a strong person..."

"I don't feel strong. I have always been able to see tomorrow... see that tomorrow might bring happiness... or something... I can't see tomorrow Richard..." Caroline cried. Richard grasped her hand and leaned over, his cheek to her cheek, giving her what would have to do for a hug...

"Caroline... tomorrow will come..."

"Tomorrow will come... but what good will it do? Tomorrow wont change this... the accident... the pain..."

"No, you're right... it wont change that... but tomorrow will come. And I'll be with you... tomorrow and every day..."

"Why?"

"Why??"

"I'm damaged..."

"What?"

"I'm damaged! Defective! Flawed! Marred! I'm never going to get married! No man will ever want me now!" Caroline snapped bitterly.

"Caroline... don't think like that..."

"It's true! I couldn't find a lasting relationship before all this! You think I'm gonna be able to now?!"

"Any man worth having will see what an amazing, wonderful, incredible woman you are..."

"Any man worth having wont give me a second look now!"

~*~*~*~

--"Then what did you say?" Annie asked Richard as he relayed the story while they waited in the waiting area for Caroline to come out of surgery...

"I couldn't think of anything to say..." he replied, head hung low...

"Ummm... how about 'I love you Caroline'... or do you not now?"

"Annie! Of course I love her! This doesn't change that! But I'm not going to tell her that right now... not with all this going on. Don't you think she has enough on her mind?"

"Yeah... I suppose you're right..."

"I just... I felt so helpless... FEEL so helpless..."

"I know..."

"You have no idea what it felt like to have her beg me to kill her... that will haunt me for the rest of my life..."

"I can't even begin to imagine what she's going through..."

"That doctor was just plain sadistic!"

"Sounds like it!"

"Are you the fiancee?" a young nurse wearing surgical scrubs asked Richard as she entered the waiting room...

"Fiancee?" Annie asked. Richard just waved her away...

"Yes..."

"The surgery went well... she's in recovery now..." the scrub nurse said reassuringly.

"Can I go see her?" Richard asked eagerly.

"Not while she is in recovery. You can see her when she goes back to her room..."

"Ok... thank you..."

"Fiancee??" Annie asked after the nurse left.

"They wouldn't let me into ICU cause I wasn't family. The words 'I'm her fiancee' just flew out of my mouth..."

"Wishful thinking?"

"Annie..." Richard said in a reprimanding tone.

"Ok... ok. You know, you look like crap."

"Thanks. You look inconsiderate."

"Ha ha. When was the last time you slept?"

"I got a few minutes last night..."

"What about food? When was the last time you ate something?"

"I had some toast..."

"Toast? Ok, c'mon..."

"To where?"

"The cafeteria. You need food... my treat!"

"Thanks, but I really should be there when Caroline wakes up..."

"We'll make it quick... you wont be any good to her if you're admitted to the hospital for malnutrition!"

"Ok, ok..."

~*~*~*~

--"Richard?" Caroline whispered as she started to come out of the anesthesia.

"I'm right here Caroline..." Richard assured her, holding her hand. Caroline just closed her eyes.

"How is she?" Annie asked as she came into the room.

"She's still sleepy from the anesthesia..."

"Her parents are on their way..."

"Ok..."

"Has Del been by?"

"Twice..." Richard nodded.

"How's he handling it?"

"About as good as any of us..."

"That good, huh?"

"Yeah..."

"It almost doesn't seem real... 'ya know?"

"Yeah, I know... I keep hoping I'll wake up and this will have all been a nightmare..."

"Yeah..." Annie sighed. She looked exhausted from lack of sleep and worry... "I gotta go. I gotta feed Salty..."

"Ok..."

~*~*~*~

--"It's time to change the dressing on your chest wound..." the nurse said as she walked into the room. Immediately Caroline started to cry...

"You know... this is bordering on sadistic! Can't you give her some pain medication or something? This dressing thing is VERY painful!" Richard said assertively. Just then Dr. Voss walked in...

"The fiancee needs to leave..." he said sternly.

"Ummm... no! I'm not leaving her here alone with you!" Richard stood in a confrontational stance.

"I want him to stay!" Caroline wailed, tears flowing. The nurse took Richard by the arm and started to walk him out of the room. Richard freed himself and grabbed the phone...

"Who's your boss?" Richard demanded of the doctor. The doctor ignored him. He hit 'O' and waited for someone to answer...

"Operator, how may I direct your call?"

"Who would I talk to if I had a complaint about a doctor?"

"Administration... please hold..." the operator said, transferring his call.

"Don't you TOUCH her till we settle this!" Richard snapped angrily. The doctor just shook his head and left the room. "Hello? Is this who I talk to if I have a complaint about a doctor?" Richard asked the person who answered the phone.

"Yes..."

"My fiancee was in a major accident and is in extreme pain and your Dr. Voss is sadistic! He insists on doing extremely painful and inhumane procedures without anesthesia or medication! We want a different doctor!"

"Ok, sir, calm down... patient's name?"

"Caroline Duffy." Richard replied. After a few moments of hearing her typing on the computer she responded...

"Ok, room 2-28. I'll be right down..."

"Thank you." Richard said, then hung up the phone... "Someone's coming..." Richard said, grasping Caroline's hand.

~*~*~*~

--"Ok, sir, I understand, but he's the best doctor in this field..." the administrator said, trying to appease Richard.

"I don't care! He's sadistic!" Richard snapped.

"What do you want us to do sir?"

"We want a new doctor! Or give her anesthesia!"

"Dr. Voss?" the administrator turned to the doctor for his input.

"Fine. I will schedule the surgery for tomorrow." Dr. Voss replied, obviously irritated.

"Ok?" the administrator asked Richard.

"Fine." Richard responded sourly.

"The dressing still needs to be changed..." the doctor reminded.

"Can't she be given medication to help her with the pain? The dressing change is VERY painful!"

"We can give her Percocet and wait 30 minutes before changing the dressing..." the nurse interjected...

"But it wont do much good..." Dr. Voss added...

"Well, it's better then nothing... right?" Richard asked indignantly.

"And I want Richard in the room..." Caroline added.

"That's fine. I'll go get the medication..." the nurse said, turning to leave. The doctor just sighed and walked out of the room.

"I'm so sorry for the problem..." the administrator apologized, then left.

"Fiancee?" Caroline asked when they were alone.

"You caught that, huh? They wouldn't let me into ICU cause I wasn't family. It just flew out of my mouth... are you upset?"

"No... of course not. I'm just glad you're here..."

~*~*~*~

--"Ok, Caroline... it's been 30 minutes since you took the Percocet. Time to change the dressing..." the nurse said as she entered the room. The nurse busied herself getting the supplies out and ready while Richard held Caroline the best he could with her injuries.

"It'll be better this time Caroline. I'm right here... just focus on me..." Richard whispered soothingly. The nurse started to change the bandages and again, it was excruciatingly painful. Caroline screamed out in pain...

"I CAN'T DO THIS ANYMORE! PLEASE, JUST KILL ME! LET ME DIE!"

"Caroline... look at me... just breathe. Don't panic... breathe..."

"I can't! I can't!"

"Yes you can Caroline... focus. Look at my eyes... keep looking at my eyes..."

"Richard... help me..."

"I'm trying Caroline. Please... look at my eyes. It'll be over soon... just keep looking at me. I saw the 'Caroline' they ran today in the paper... it was the one with Del about commitment..." Richard said, trying to distract her.

"Which one?" Caroline asked, almost chuckling. Richard smiled...

"When you say the magic word: 'commitment' and he disappears..."

~*~*~*~

--After the dressing change, Richard followed the nurse out into the hall...

"Look, there's got to be something you guys can do to make this easier on her..." Richard pleaded.

"We're doing the best we can sir. I know it's hard to see loved ones in pain, but there is only so much we can do..."

"Can't we ask a doctor that isn't a sadist?"

"I'll see what I can find out for you sir... ok?"

"Thank you..."

~*~*~*~

--"Hello, I'm Dr. Taylor. I was instructed to come up and examine the patient's chest wound..." the gentlemanly doctor said as he approached the bed. "I hear that the dressing changes are very painful..."

"Very! Very painful!" Richard spoke up.

"Ok... nurse? What are we doing for the dressing changes?" the doctor asked the nurse as he looked over the chart.

"Dr. Voss has me packing the wound with dacons soaked gauze. When I change the dressing, peroxide is needed because the gauze is drying and adhering to her tissue." the nurse replied.

"Well, no wonder she is in pain! Let's look at the wound..." the doctor said, taking a seat on a stool at Caroline's left. "I need you to be brave. I'm going to try to make this less painful for you..."

"Ok..." Caroline whispered... her fear obvious. The doctor used sterilized water instead of peroxide to re-wet the dried gauze and was much more careful about removing it. The pain was far less excruciating...

"Ok, nurse... this is unnecessary... I need silvadene cream..."

"Right away doctor..." the nurse said, leaving to go get it...

"Instead, we'll butter-up the gauze with silvadene cream. That way it wont stick, and it will be far less painful to change the bandages... ok?"

"Thank you doctor..." Richard said, grateful for his help.

"You're welcome."

"Are you my new doctor now?" Caroline asked softly.

"Dr. Voss will still perform the operation tomorrow, then you will be my patient, yes."

"Good..." Caroline and Richard both said, almost in unison.

~*~*~*~

--"So, the new doctor was much better then?" Annie asked as they again sat in the waiting room and waited for Caroline to come out of surgery.

"Oh, much better! And the dressing change today caused her almost no pain... thank God..." Richard replied.

"But the sadistic doctor is in there now?"

"Yeah."

"Now, is the surgery to close it up? Or what?"

"No, they have to leave it open to make sure all the debris is out and the tissue isn't dead before they close it. This surgery is for 'debridement'... which basically means cutting the dead tissue away from the live tissue..."

"And Dr. Sadist was doing that WITHOUT giving Caroline anything? Like anesthesia or pain medication or anything?"

"He gave her nothing..."

"God!"

"I know..."

"Someone oughta take some scissors to him and start cutting! See how he likes it!" Annie exclaimed angrily. Just then Richard jumped up to greet the nurse who had just come into the room.

"The surgery is over... it went very well. She'll be back in her room in a little bit..." the nurse apprised them, then left.

"Thank God..." Richard sighed, looking relieved... "Think I'll go get some horrible coffee..."

"I think I'll join you..." Annie said, gathering her belongings.

~*~*~*~

--Caroline started to wake and looked around the room. There, in the chair beside the bed was Richard. Sleeping the best he could, his chin resting on his hand. He looked so uncomfortable. She reached out and touched his cheek, startling him awake...

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you..." Caroline apologized.

"That's ok..." Richard said, taking Caroline's hand...

"Why are you here?"

"What?" Richard asked, confused by the question...

"What are you doing here? This isn't in your job description..."

"Caroline..."

"No. I mean, you don't want to go anywhere with me, or do anything... you don't like me talking about my personal problems... you charge me overtime for attending my birthday party... so, why are you here?"

"I wouldn't be anywhere else right now..."

"I don't want your pity... just go..."

"What?!"

"You heard me... just go!"

"Caroline... all of this is very overwhelming to you... I know you don't mean this."

"Yes I do! GO!"

"I'm not leaving..."

"Why?!" Caroline barked. Richard just leaned forward and held her, his cheek against her cheek, her hand in his hand. At first she tried to push him away, but she didn't have the strength, so she stopped. She wasn't going to enjoy the closeness though... he couldn't make her enjoy the closeness. He pulled back and stared her straight in the eyes...

"I'm not leaving Caroline..." he said, sincerely but firmly. Caroline just closed her eyes. Tears fell down her cheeks and Richard wiped them away.

"I don't even want to be alive anymore..." Caroline whispered through her tears.

"Why?"

"Look at me! Why bother? I always thought I would get married someday... have kids... that's not going to happen now!"

"Why?"

"Oh, c'mon Richard... I'm not stupid... look at me! I'm damaged goods now! No man will ever want me now!"

"How can you be so sure?" Richard asked softly.

"I just can..."

"What if I told you I know you're wrong..."

"How can you know I'm wrong?"

"I just can..." Richard answered simply. Caroline just looked at him for a moment...

"I don't want to talk about this anymore. I'm going to sleep now. Stay or leave... I don't care..."

"Yes, you do. I am staying Caroline... sleep well..." Richard said sweetly, then kissed her forehead.

~*~*~*~

--"You should've told her! Right then! It was perfect!" Annie announced after Richard told her what had happened with Caroline...

"Perfect?! Annie, she is in major crisis right now!"

"But, if you tell her you love her..."

"If I tell her I love her, it could make her worse! She doesn't even think she is worthy of love now! She doesn't even want to live! I'm not giving her one more thing to deal with... I'm just not going to do it..."

"Ok, ok, ok... I get your point..." Annie conceded.

"Her parents are leaving tomorrow night... right?" Richard asked, changing the subject.

"Yeah..."

"Ok..."

"How are you doing?"

"I'm fine..."

"If this is what fine looks like, I'd hate to see what you look like when you're NOT fine..."

"Yeah..." Richard mumbled, running his hands through his not-so-clean hair. Annie patted him on the shoulder, a gesture of friendship, that, up until 3 days ago, consisted of playful jabs and practical jokes. Now, it consisted of more...

~*~*~*~

--"My parents left tonight..." Caroline said softly.

"I know..." Richard replied.

"Just as well... mom was having a hard time with all this..."

"Yeah..."

"Will you go already?"

"How can I with you talking? I can't think..."

"Excuses, excuses... you're just saying that cause I'm kicking your butt!"

"You're only kicking my butt cause you wont stop talking when it's my turn!"

"That's cause you're taking so long to go I'm getting bored!"

"Shhh!!!"

"Fine... just hurry up!" Caroline huffed. A few silent minutes went by... "You know, if the ambulance had taken this long I would have died!"

"SHHH!!!" Richard hissed.

"It's 7 little tiles! Are you not familiar with the English alphabet?" Caroline teased.

"Ugh! Caroline! Please!"

"Fine... fine..."

"There! Happy now?!" Richard snapped, putting his tiles on the board.

"What is 'extoll'??"

"It's a word! That's 13 points plus double word score... so that's 26 points!"

"That's not a word!"

"Yes it is!" Richard insisted.

"Then what does it mean?"

"Where in the rule book does it say I have to know the definition?"

"Right under where it says 'if Caroline has never heard of it you have to'..."

"Quit making up rules!"

"Quit making up words!"

"I'm not!"

"Yes you are!"

"Are you challenging me?"

"Yes... I am! But we don't have a dictionary..." Caroline shot back. Richard immediately reached for the phone... "Who are you calling?"

"Annie..."

"Annie?"

"Hello, Annie... I need a favor." Richard said into the phone... "I need you to look up a word. -- Look up a word... you know... like in the dictionary? -- What do you mean you don't own a dictionary? What kind of person doesn't... nevermind. Caroline? You have a dictionary... right?"

"Yeah..."

"Where is it?"

"In the bookshelf..."

"Annie... go get Caroline's dictionary... it's in the bookshelf... -- Just do it! -- I'll wait..."

"It's not a word..." Caroline said quietly.

"It's a word... what kind of person doesn't own a dictionary?"

"Someone who isn't interested in knowing the correct spelling or meaning of words?" Caroline asked jokingly. Richard just scoffed...

"I know what someone is getting for Christmas... Yeah, I'm here. -- Ok, great... the word is 'extoll'. -- E-X-T-O-L-L... -- Uh-huh... and what does it mean? -- 'To praise highly. Glorify'! -- Thanks Annie... go back to sleep..." Richard hung up the phone and smiled smugly at Caroline...

"Oh, you think you're just so great now... don't you? Well, I'm still winning!"

"Maybe, but I'm narrowing the lead!"

~*~*~*~

--"I'm sick of playing this!" Caroline blurted out unexpectedly, startling Richard...

"Well, ok... what about cards?"

"No..."

"Chess?"

"I'm sick of games! I need to work! I bet if you brought me some blank panels I could get some 'Caroline' strips done..."

"I think maybe you should wait till you're feeling better..."

"It's been almost 2 weeks! I need to work... I'm going stir crazy!"

"Ok, if you're sure you're feeling up to it... I'll have Annie grab some panels and supplies on her way down here..."

"Thank you Richard..."

"You're welcome..."

"Not just for this... for everything..." Caroline said appreciatively. Her tone of voice caught Richard's attention, and he smiled warmly...

"You're welcome, Caroline..."

~*~*~*~

--In no time at all the 'Caroline' comics were just flying onto the panels.

"Wow! What's all this?" Dr. Taylor asked as he entered the room, seeing all the comics strewn about.

"I had to work... I was going crazy..." Caroline replied, continuing to draw. The doctor peeked at her work and smiled...

"Cute..."

"Thanks."

"It's time for the dressing change. And if it looks good, I'm going to schedule you for surgery tomorrow to close the wound."

"Really?" Caroline asked...

"Really?" Richard asked as he looked up from the Sunday panels he was frantically coloring.

"Yes. Really. Then after a few days recovery and observation, you can go home..."

"Really?" Caroline asked...

"Really?" Richard asked... the doctor chuckled...

"You have an echo!" he said, smiling at Richard. The doctor looked at the wound and liked what he saw... "It's looking very healthy... I will schedule the surgery for tomorrow."

~*~*~*~

--"God, why is it taking so long?" Annie asked as she paced back and forth in the small waiting room...

"If you don't stop pacing I'm going to trip you. You're making me nervous..." Richard said, anxiety in his voice.

"I'm nervous too... pacing helps..."

"Not me! Stop it!"

"What is taking so long?!"

"You already asked that. I didn't know 3 seconds ago and I don't know now..."

"Sorry! I'm just worried..."

"I am too... and you're not helping." Richard snapped, his fingers intertwined so tightly his knuckles were stark white. Annie sat down and they waited in silence. Hours went by with no word...

"It shouldn't be taking this long... should it?" Annie asked, annoying Richard.

"I don't know..."

"Something's wrong..."

"Shut-up Annie! She's fine!" Richard said with authority he didn't quite feel. Just then the doctor came in... "Dr. Taylor! How's Caroline?" Richard asked, jumping up out of his seat to greet him...

"She's fine. She's in recovery now. For a time we thought we might have to give her blood, she lost so much, but her blood pressure stabilized..."

"When will she be going back to her room? I want to see her..."

"The surgery was long, and difficult... it might take a while for her to come out of the anesthesia. But when she does, she can be taken back to her room... ok?"

"Ok. Thanks doctor..." Richard sighed with relief. He looked over at Annie and hugged her... "I'm sorry I snapped at you. I was just so..."

"I know. Me too. You're forgiven if I am..."

"You are..."

~*~*~*~

--"Wow! She did all these today?" Del asked as he looked over the 'Caroline' strips Caroline had finished.

"Yeah. Well, yesterday and today. She probably would have done more, but she had surgery..." Richard said quietly, not wanting to disturb Caroline.

"You look like crap..."

"So I've been told..."

"This must be so hard on you. I mean... with how you feel about her and all..."

"Del!" Richard interrupted... "I know how I feel about her and I know what you mean... ok? Don't you have to go drop these off somewhere or something?" Richard added, pointing at the 'Caroline' panels.

"Yeah... ok. Tell her I stopped by... ok? And that I loved the strips..."

"Ok..."

~*~*~*~

--"Has she been awake at all since the surgery?" Annie asked, concerned.

"Yeah. She's been in and out... mostly out. The doctor came by... he said it was normal... to still be groggy..." Richard replied as he colored one of the Sunday strips.

"Well, I fed Salty... she is NOT a happy kitty..."

"Uh-huh..."

"So, she's going home in a few days..."

"Yeah..."

"You're going to stay with her? To help her out?"

"Yes..."

"How are you going to get her upstairs to her bed?"

"I'm not. The hospital is arranging for a hospital bed to be delivered to her loft. I figure we'll set it up in the dining area, near the kitchen... cover the windows so the neighbors don't spy on her... maybe put up a partition for some privacy..."

"Wow! You just have this all figured out, don't you?" Annie asked. Richard ignored the question... "You have been really great through all this..." Annie complimented, Richard ignored... "Hello?"

"Hello..."

"I was paying you a compliment..."

"I heard you..."

"Well, it's customary to say 'thank you' you know?"

"It's also customary to wear undergarments under your clothing, but I don't see you following that rule too closely..." Richard quipped.

"Ok, sarcastic humor and insults... I can take a hint. Tell Caroline I stopped by..." Annie said as she headed for the door.

"Ok..." Richard said indifferently, continuing to color. Annie stopped and smiled, feeling a little bit of normalcy returning to their relationship.

~*~*~*~

--"I can't believe I'm going home today!" Caroline said as Richard packed up her flowers, 'get well' cards, and belongings.

"I can't believe you've managed to accumulate this much stuff in 2 short weeks!" Richard joked.

"Well, half of this stuff YOU brought here!"

"Cause you asked me to!"

"Yeah, well, you could've said no..."

"Oh, right..." Richard said sarcastically.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Like I could ever deny you anything!" Richard said, quickly regretting it.

"What?" Caroline asked, the comment taking her by surprise.

"If I had said 'no' you just would've whined. Del is waiting with the taxi, I'm going to take your stuff down to him..." Richard replied, then quickly left the room.

"Hey Richie!" Annie said as she passed Richard on his way out the door...

"Hey pest..." he replied, not even pausing a beat. Annie ignored him...

"Hey Caroline!"

"Hi Annie..." Caroline said, obviously distracted.

"What's wrong?"

"Huh? Oh, nothing... just thinking about something Richard said..."

"I did that once... gave myself a headache. Now I just ignore him..." Annie joked... "You excited about going home?"

"Yeah..." Caroline said hesitantly...

"But...?"

"But... it's just going to seem so weird. Everything is so different now... 'ya know?"

"Yeah..."

"I've always been so independent... now I'm completely dependent..."

"Yeah... I know..."

"And Richard..."

"Richard?"

"I just don't get him..."

"Who does?" Annie quipped.

"No, I mean... why is he doing all this?"

"Because he cares about you!"

"Yeah... I guess..." Caroline said disbelievingly.

"You don't believe he cares about you?" Annie asked. Richard had just approached the door, but heard Annie's question and stopped short of going in. He stood outside the door, waiting for Caroline's reply...

"I don't know... I'm just so confused..."

"About what?"

"Oh, God Annie... I can't even say it..."

"Say what?"

"What I'm thinking... what I'm feeling..."

"Caroline... I'm your best friend... you can tell me..."

"It's just... Richard has been so great... and he's been... and I just... I just don't know what I would've done without him... here..."

"Yeah...?"

"But look at me! I mean, maybe before... but now?! Like I am now?! And he's... oh, God..." Caroline babbled, making what seemed like no sense at all, but Annie knew exactly what she was saying...

"Caroline, look... there's something I need to tell you. I probably shouldn't... but..." Annie said, only to be interrupted...

"Ok, Del is on the way with your stuff..." Richard said, entering the room abruptly. He knew what Annie was about to say and had to stop her. Caroline and Annie both jumped, startled by his entrance... "What?"

"Nothing..." Caroline said quickly, embarrassed.

"Ok..." Richard replied... "Annie, give me a hand a minute..." he added, dragging Annie out into the hall...

~*~*~*~

--"What do you think you're doing?!" Richard asked with whispered anger.

"What?" Annie asked, playing dumb...

"Oh, please! I told you Annie... stay out of this! I will tell her when the time is right!"

"What? You were eavesdropping?"

"This isn't about me eavesdropping, so don't twist it around! You promise me right now that you will let me tell her! Promise!"

"Ok... ok... I promise." Annie replied. Richard turned to walk away... "She needs to know Richard." she added, her tone of voice causing Richard to stop in his tracks...

"I know..." he said softly, then walked back into Caroline's room.

~*~*~*~

--"It feels so weird to be home." Caroline said somewhat sadly.

"Yeah..." Richard replied as he buzzed about, getting Caroline settled... "You hungry?"

"Yeah... you know what I'm in the mood for? Chinese food! That hospital food was horrible!"

"Chicken dumplings-steamed, Mu Shu pork, 4 pancakes, fried rice, and cold sesame noodles?"

"Wow! Do you know me or what? It's almost frightening..."

"Yep... I'm afraid..." he replied dryly.

"Oh! And you know what else sounds good?"

"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me..."

"Ginger ale! I am so sick of water! I know water is supposed to be good for you and all... but I want something with some flavor! And some bubbles!"

"I'll send Annie to the store for some ginger..."

"OH! and you know what else??" Caroline interrupted... Richard just shot her an exasperated look... "Sorry..." Caroline apologized, noticing he seemed upset. Richard just chuckled...

"It's ok Caroline... what else do you want?"

"Ice cream..."

"Chocolate?"

"Uh-huh..."

"Ok..." Richard said as he picked up the phone.

~*~*~*~

--"I never realized how great REAL food tastes!" Caroline said as she polished off her plate.

"Want more?" Richard asked, amazed at how she almost inhaled the food.

"No... thanks... but I think I want ice cream!" she said cheerfully. Richard smiled as he got up and headed for the kitchen. "Thank you."

"Uh-huh..."

"Richard?"

"Yeah?"

"I don't know what I would've done if you hadn't been here..." Caroline said softly. Richard just continued to dish up the ice cream, silently, avoiding looking at her. "I mean it Richard. I am so glad that you are here with me... and I know it must be an inconvenience...

"It's not an inconvenience..." Richard said as he approached Caroline, handing her the bowl of ice cream. Caroline grabbed his hand before he could walk away...

"Ok... but I'm still grateful... thank you..."

"You're welcome..." Richard whispered, then leaned in and gave her a light kiss on the lips. Caroline returned the kiss, which encouraged Richard to kiss her again, this time more affectionately. Caroline returned the kiss, which quickly became very passionate. Then, suddenly Richard stopped and jumped back, confusing Caroline...

"Richard?"

"Oh my God..." Richard said, a horrified look on his face.

"Richard??"

"Oh my God! I'm sorry... I'm sorry..." he said as he ran from the apartment...

"Richard?!" Caroline called after him. Just then Richard shoved Annie through the door of Caroline's apartment and ran off...

~*~*~*~

--"What?? What happened?" Annie asked a sobbing Caroline...

"I don't know! I thanked him for all his help... and for being here... and he kissed me... oh God it felt good. And I kissed him... and he kissed me... then he just said 'Oh God, I'm sorry...' and ran off!" Caroline said, continuing to cry.

"Oh, man..."

"I knew it Annie! I knew it!"

"Knew what?"

"I am HIDEOUS! He can't stand to be near me! He can't stand to touch me..."

"That's not it Caroline..."

"Yes it is! Oh, God! I am such a fool! Why did I kiss him? Now I don't even have him as a friend!"

"He'll be back Caroline..."

"No, he wont! I don't blame him! I wouldn't want to be around me if I was him! I don't even want to be around me, and I'm ME!"

"Caroline... don't talk like that!"

"It's true! Why did I have to live if this is all I have to look forward to?!" Caroline sobbed. Just then Del walked in...

"Hi. Whoa! What's going on?" Del asked, noticing Caroline was upset.

"I'm glad you're here! She'll explain everything... I have to go for a few... stay with her..." Annie said as she headed for the door... "I'll be right back Caroline..."

~*~*~*~

--"RICHARD! OPEN THIS DOOR!" Annie yelled as she pounded on the door to his apartment. He hoped he could just ignore her and she would go away, but she wasn't relenting...

"What do you want!?" Richard barked as he flung open the door abruptly. Annie marched in and pushed him onto his bed. "What do you think you're doing!?"

"What do you think YOU'RE doing?!" Annie snapped back angrily.

"I'm not going to talk about this with you!"

"Then you're going to listen! She is over there right now thinking you ran out cause she is hideous and you can't stand the sight of her!"

"What?!"

"What did you think she would think?!"

"I thought she would be upset that I kissed her! That I went too far! She's injured..."

"She's injured, not dead! She still has emotions! She still has feelings! She ENJOYED the kiss RICHARD! God, you are such a man!"

"What?"

"I said: 'You are such a man!'... by nature men aren't very observant..."

"Not that... the other..."

"What other?"

"She enjoyed the kiss? Did she tell you that?"

"Yes! Get your ASS over there and tell her how you feel about her!"

"You didn't tell her?"

"No!"

"You just left her there thinking I find her hideous?!"

"Wha--?? YOU ran out! Making her think that!"

"But I didn't KNOW she thought that when I left! You did! Wait a minute... you didn't leave her alone... did you?"

"NO! You think I'm an idiot?!"

"You really want me to answer that?"

"Bite me! Del is with her..."

"I don't know which is worse... her being alone, or her being with Del..." Richard said sarcastically as he ran out the door, Annie on his tail.

~*~*~*~

--"Caroline... Richard doesn't think you're hideous..." Del said, trying to calm her down.

"Yes he does! I know I do! You should've seen the look on his face Del..."

"He really cares about you... I know he does..."

"He was trying to be a good friend... why did I have to kiss him?"

"Cause you love him..."

"I know..."

"Then tell him!"

"I can't! I can't see that look on his face... hear that tone in his voice... when he tells me he could never love me... and I know why he could never love me... cause I'm HIDEOUS!"

"Caroline..." Richard said as he walked through the door...

"Del... c'mon..." Annie said, poking her head in only long enough to get Del's attention.

"Right... see 'ya Caroline... Richard..." Del said, walking out the door. Richard just stood and stared at her for a moment, not sure of where to begin. He felt horrible for upsetting her...

"I am so sorry Richard..." Caroline said through her tears...

"Caroline... you have nothing to apologize for... I'm the one who needs to apologize..."

"You've been so wonderful... and I shouldn't have... I mean, kissing you... I shouldn't have..."

"Caroline!" Richard interrupted, trying to get her attention.

"What?"

"I wanted to kiss you..." Richard admitted.

"What?" Caroline asked, not sure she heard him right...

"I wanted to kiss you Caroline..." he said louder, as if volume would make Caroline believe him... it didn't. "I have loved you for a long time... I just wasn't brave enough to tell you..." he said, then waited for a reaction... nothing... "When I heard about the accident... God, I thought I was going to lose you! I promised myself if you lived I would tell you how I feel. How I have felt all this time... but I... I wanted to wait for the right time... and... I am so sorry..." Richard stared at her, waiting for her to say something... do something... "Caroline?"

"When I was laying on the sidewalk... and I saw all that blood coming from me... when I thought I was going to die... the thing that kept running through my mind was that I never did tell you... I never did let you know... how I felt... how I feel... about you..."

"So, tell me now..." Richard encouraged, his voice soft and gentle.

"It doesn't matter..."

"Yes. It does."

"Maybe before... but not now..."

"Why not now?"

"I'm hideous! I'm defective! There's no way you can love me now!"

"Caroline... that's not true! I love you now! Right now..."

"It's pity..."

"Pity?! It's not pity Caroline..." Richard said, walking towards her...

"No! Don't! Please..."

"What?" Richard asked, stopping.

"Just stay there..."

"Why?"

"I can't do this..." Caroline said, crying hard.

"Do what?"

"Let you in..."

"I love you Caroline. Please... let me love you..."

"You can't love me! Look at me!"

"Caroline! The accident doesn't matter! I mean, it matters... God, I would do anything to take it away... but it doesn't change how I feel about you!"

"How can you possibly LOVE ME??!! God, Richard... I don't even have a left breast! How could you possibly find me attractive?!"

"Caroline... I didn't fall in love with you for your breasts..." Richard said softly, taking a few steps towards her... "I fell in love with YOU..." he added.

"I want to believe you..." Caroline whispered...

"Believe it Caroline. I could never stop loving you..." he said, taking the last few steps to be by her side...

"Touch me..." Caroline whispered... so softly Richard couldn't hear her...

"What?"

"Please touch me. I don't even feel human anymore... touch me like you love me..."

"I don't want to hurt you..."

"Then do it carefully." Caroline replied, the slightest hint of a smile on her face. Richard smiled, then gently sat on the side of her bed. He took her hand, placing it on his thigh, then put his hand on her waist and leaned in, kissing her tenderly. He slowly moved to her neck, kissing gently and nuzzling.

"Whatever lies ahead for you... we'll face together... ok?" Richard whispered in her ear. Caroline nodded, the ability to speak gone. It was a rough road that lay ahead, but Richard was determined to convince Caroline that she was worthy of love... and that he would love her forever.

THE END