Caroline & Thanksgiving

Caroline & Thanksgiving

Part One of Three

Rated 'PG-13' for sexual content

By: Jana~

~~Disclaimer~~

*****~*****

--"I am so excited! Aren't you excited Richard?"

"If I say no, are you going to hit me?" Richard asked sarcastically...

"Quite possibly." Caroline smirked...

"Then yes... I'm excited..."

"Good answer!" Caroline replied humorously, but a sad look soon followed...

"What's wrong?"

"Oh, it's just... it's not going to be the same... spending the holidays at my parents condo... and not the house..."

"Well, we can stay here instead..." Richard suggested enthusiastically...

"Nothing doing! You're going to Peshtigo Richard, so get used to the idea!"

"I'm used to it... I just don't like it..."

"I wish you did. Like that we're going I mean..."

"Caroline..." Richard said in a tone that was a cross between sympathetic and exasperated...

"Well, it's just... you're my husband now... and I want you to like the things I like..."

"I do. Well... some things I do. Just because we're married doesn't mean we have to like the same things. You can like spending the holidays on an iceberg... in the middle of nowhere... in the dead of winter, and I'll like Swedish documentaries about the bubonic plague."

"We should check the house... while we're there..." Caroline said, changing the subject abruptly...

"Yeah... we probably should... seeing as how we haven't been back since Randy moved out..." Richard agreed...

Caroline winced at the sound of Randy's name. She still hadn't forgiven herself for leaving Randy at the altar. She knew she made the right decision... she didn't love Randy, she was using him as an escape to help her forget Richard. When Richard showed up at the church... she knew in an instant that to marry Randy would be a mistake, and that her place was with Richard. They were married a few weeks later in a small but elegant ceremony with family and just a few close friends.

"Did you pack Stefano's snow suit?" Richard asked as he rummaged through his son's suitcase.

"Yeah... but I ran out of room in his suitcase, so I put it in yours..." Caroline informed, Richard's question bringing her back to the present.

"The shuttle is late..."

"Don't worry... they'll be here..."

As soon as she made the comment there was a knock at the door. Caroline and Richard smiled at one another, then Richard answered the door while Caroline went to go get Stefano.

*****~*****

--The flight to Wisconsin was uneventful, but the drive into Peshtigo was long and emotional...

"Well, if we're gonna be checking the house, let's do it before we get to the hotel..." Richard suggested...

"Why?"

"Because, once we get to the hotel I'm not going to want to go back out into the sub-zero winter weather..."

"Well, we could go tomorrow... if you'd rather..."

"No, we should go tonight. You're not going to be able to stop worrying till you see the place..."

"I'm sorry Richard. I don't think Randy would destroy the place or anything... but... after the wedding fiasco... and leaving him at the altar..." there was sadness to her voice...

"Caroline... don't beat yourself up over this. You didn't love Randy. Marrying him would have been a mistake... for both of you."

"Oh, I know. I don't doubt my decision... I just feel bad that I hurt him..."

"I know you do... and I'm sorry that Randy got caught in the middle of our... issues... I just thank God every day that I got to the church when I did."

"Me too..."

"I love you Caroline..." Richard said, taking his eyes off the road just long enough to smile at her...

"I love you too..."

"Ageebaa..." Stefano babbled in baby gibberish, causing Caroline and Richard to laugh...

"We love you too son..." Richard cooed as he caught a glimpse of his son in the back seat through the rearview mirror.

"You did send those papers to Julia... right? About me adopting Stefano?"

"Yeah... I did. Quite a while ago..."

"I wonder why we haven't heard back yet..."

"With Julia... who knows..."

"It just patterns all the rest of the times she has ignored our attempts to get her involved with her son..." Caroline complained bitterly.

"Stefano is better off. It's Julia's loss that she doesn't want to know her son."

"I know. It just infuriates me. How could she ignore her own child?"

"Well, Julia has always been selfish..."

"I don't know what you saw in her."

"I saw the past... and an escape from my feelings for you..."

"I'm sorry... I shouldn't have said that..." Caroline said remorsefully.

"It's ok. All our running and hiding from our feelings is in the past. We're together now... that's what matters." Richard stated softly. "I'm gonna call the hotel... make sure they know we're coming..." he added abruptly when he realized they were nearing Caroline's childhood home

"Ok. Make sure they have the crib for Stefano..."

"Ok..."

*****~*****

--Caroline paused just before the steps to the house. Richard sensed her hesitation and took her hand in his as he carried Stefano.

"It'll be fine Caroline. Randy is a big boy... he didn't wreck the place..." he assured her.

"Yeah, you're probably right..." she sounded more sure of that then she was. They approached the door and Caroline unlocked it and stepped in. It was dark, but besides that, something seemed wrong. For starters... it was warm inside, not cold like it should have been. Caroline was trying to determine what was going on when suddenly, the livingroom lights went on to reveal Annie, Del, and Caroline's parents.

"Surprise!" they all shouted as Caroline stood dumbfounded...

"What? What's going on?"

"Richard wanted to surprise you!" Caroline's Mom Margaret announced, hugging her daughter.

"You did this?" Caroline asked Richard...

"I arranged it... yeah. I knew you wanted a traditional family holiday season... so I asked Annie, Del, and your folks to furnish the place and set it up nice." Richard admitted, smiling broadly... "You guys did a great job!"

"Thanks!" Del exclaimed proudly...

"Oh, please! Del, you barely did anything but pester us!" Annie complained.

"Well... what do I know about interior decorating?" Del excused his actions...

"Obviously nothing! But that's ok... you know about... other things..." Annie purred, then kissed him passionately.

"Oh, my..." Margaret muttered softly, somewhat uncomfortable with the open display of affection.

"Sorry Mrs. Duffy..." Del apologized.

"Oh, that's ok... I'm a 'hip' Momma..."

"Ok 'hip Momma'... let's leave these youngsters to gettin' settled in..." Caroline's father Fred suggested as he headed for the door.

"Oh, you guys aren't staying a while?" Caroline whined. Richard shot her a look she recognized immediately as his 'I want to be alone now' look, and she smiled awkwardly at him...

"Not tonight... but we'll be seeing each other a lot through the holidays..." Fred said as he hugged his daughter.

"Oh, joy... lucky us..." Richard whispered sarcastically to himself. Margaret heard him though and walked up to him...

"Oh, hush! You're such a sour puss! You give your Mom-in-law a hug now..." she exclaimed as she hugged him... "And before I go I wanna hug that grandbaby!" she added, pulling away from Richard and taking Stefano from his arms... "C'mon you precious bitty boy... let Gramma show you the nursery!"

"There's a nursery?" Caroline asked excitedly...

"You bet!" Annie announced, taking Caroline by the arm and falling in behind Margaret... "I'll be right back... then we can head for the hotel..." she called back to Del...

"Ok..." Del agreed.

"Hotel?" Caroline asked... "You're not staying here?"

"Nope. Richie said he wanted to be alone with his wife and son..." Annie informed, winking at Richard. He just rolled his eyes and looked away...

"Oh... ok..." Caroline looked back at Richard and smiled, then headed for the nursery...

--"So... you wanna be alone, huh?" Del asked suggestively. Richard shook his head and sighed...

"You and Annie are SO made for each other..." he quipped as he started to walk towards the door... "Give me a hand with the luggage..."

"Sure..."

*****~*****

--"Oh, guys... the nursery is perfect!" Caroline gasped as she saw the beautiful room set up with 'Classic Winnie the Pooh' wallpaper and bedding... with a beautiful crib and matching furnishings...

"Glad you like it! Your Mom was the one who did the nursery..." Annie informed, a huge smile across her face...

"Thanks Mom..."

"Oh, you're welcome sweetheart."

"And you too Annie!" Caroline was on the verge of tears...

"Oh, don't you start... or you'll get me started..." Annie warned, already feeling choked up... "Besides... it was all Richie's idea! Go cry on him!" she joked...

*****~*****

--"Hey Richard... can I ask you a question?" Del asked as he helped Richard get the luggage from the car...

"You just did..." Richard said sarcastically...

"Huh?"

Richard sighed as his humor was lost on Del... "What's your question Del?"

"Ok... when did you know Caroline was the one? You know... 'THE one'..."

"I think on some level I knew the moment I saw her... but I truly realized it and admitted it to myself when you proposed to her..."

"Why did you take so long to say something?"

"I was afraid..."

"Afraid of what?"

"Afraid to love... afraid of getting hurt... of Caroline not reciprocating my feelings..."

"Yeah..." Del seemed deep in thought... and the expression on his face caught Richard's attention...

"Why are you asking me all these questions?"

"No reason..."

"Are you and Annie...?"

"Annie and I have a 'no commitment' relationship... no strings attached..."

"But you want more..."

"But Annie doesn't!" Del snapped nervously...

"How do you know unless you talk to her?"

"I can't risk it! She is the best thing that has ever happened to me! If I tell her I'm interested in changing the rules of the relationship I could lose her! I can't take that risk..."

"Boy, does all THIS sound familiar! I said all the same things about me and Caroline. I wasted 3 years being afraid... hiding and denying my feelings... don't make the same mistake I did Del. Talk to Annie..."

*****~*****

--"Hey Caroline... can I ask you about something?" Annie asked after Margaret left for the night.

"Sure. What's up?" Caroline replied as she put a sleeping Stefano into his new crib...

Annie walked over to the door and quietly shut it... "It's about Del..."

"What about him?"

"Do you think... he's... changed?"

"Changed... how?"

"Well... he's always kinda wanted... 'no strings attached' relationships..."

"Yeah?"

"So... do you think he's... do you think maybe he might be ready for..."

"Strings?" Caroline asked, smiling slightly...

"Yeah..."

"I thought you guys weren't interested in a committed relationship..."

"Well, at first... we weren't. But now..."

"You are?"

"I am... HE isn't..."

"Did you ask him?"

"I can't! If he thinks I want to change the rules... he'll freak and run!" Annie panicked...

"You don't know that! You wont know unless you say something..."

"I can't risk it! I love him Caroline..."

"Really? Wow..."

"And I would rather have him like this then not at all..."

"Oh, sweetie... what does this sound like?"

"What?"

"It sounds like Richard and I... we avoided and denied and ignored our feelings... and we lost precious time together. Don't make the same mistake we made. Talk to Del..."

*****~*****

--"I didn't know you knew how to get a fire started..." Caroline teased as Richard knelt at the fireplace, stoking the newly started fire.

"Yeah... amazing isn't it? I have finally mastered the art of fire. I have finally caught up to the caveman..." Richard cracked, rising and approaching Caroline...

"Amazing. Is there anything you can't do?"

"Yes..."

"There is? What?"

"I can't stop loving you..." Richard whispered, kissing her passionately. "Is Stefano asleep?" he asked as he kissed his way to her neck...

"Soundly. It's the country air..."

"Remind me to thank the country air..." Richard hummed as he melted to the floor, taking Caroline with him. His kisses and soft caresses created a need in them both...

"Let's go to the bedroom..." she suggested, her voice barely above a whisper.

"No... I want to make love to you right here... in front of the fire. I want to see the light from the fire dancing on your bare skin..." His voice was hoarse with passion. He tried desperately to get to her pale skin, but layers of clothing stood in his way, frustrating him...

"Want some help?" Caroline smiled, trying not to giggle. Richard, being a very passionate man, lost his patience quickly when something stood in the way of his desires... and Caroline found it amusing...

"Please..."

Caroline slowly started to undress, causing him to fidget impatiently...

"You're trying to kill me..." Richard grumbled softly, reaching for her. She pulled away and smiled...

"No, I'm trying to tease you..."

"Same thing..." he reached for her again, and again she pulled away...

"Ah-ah-ah... patience..." Caroline purred, smiling seductively. Richard crumpled back to the floor and grit his teeth as he waited for her to undress. She enjoyed watching him squirm, knowing she was having an effect on him. When she was finally rid of the last of her clothing she slowly walked towards him. As soon as she was within arms reach, Richard abruptly reached out and grabbed her, pulling her quickly but carefully to the floor.

"No more teasing..." Richard whispered, ripping the clothes off himself in a fraction of the time it took Caroline to undress. She chuckled at his impetuousness... "What?"

"Nothing..."

"Do you have any idea how much I love you?"

I have an idea..." she smiled shyly, alluding to his obvious arousal. Richard smiled in return and kissed Caroline passionately... making love to her in front of the fire, the warm glow of the flames adding to the intensity of their union.

*****~*****

--Richard entered the kitchen to find Caroline making hot cocoa in her flannel PJs and fuzzy moose slippers. He smiled and suppressed a chuckle as he watched her, Caroline unaware that he was there...

*How can someone be so intelligent and sexy, so naive and unsophisticated, all at the same time?* Richard asked himself, marveling at his wife's beauty and allure. He walked quietly up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, causing Caroline to jump slightly with surprise...

"You startled me!" she said with a giggle...

"Sorry..." he apologized as he kissed her neck and nuzzled into her shoulder.

"It's ok... you want some hot cocoa?"

"Ok..."

"I had an interesting conversation with Annie tonight..." Caroline said after a long pause, signaling to Richard to get out the mugs...

"I didn't even know it was possible to have an 'interesting' conversation with Annie..." Richard joked...

"Oh, hush! I think she is looking for a more permanent relationship..."

"Really?"

"Yeah..." Caroline poured the hot cocoa and put the pan in the sink...

"With Del?"

Caroline chuckled... "Yes Richard, with Del..." They both sat down at the small dining table...

"Interesting..."

"That's what I thought..."

"Well, wait. It gets even more interesting..."

"What do you mean?"

"I had a similar conversation with Del tonight..."

"What? You're kidding?!" Caroline sounded amazed...

"Nope. Not kidding. He said he wanted 'more' then a 'no strings attached' relationship. But he is certain that Annie doesn't feel the same way... so he's afraid to say something..."

"Oh my God! Annie said the same thing! We have to say something..."

"Caroline..." Richard muttered in a reprimanding tone...

"Richard... we have to help them!"

"No Caroline... we don't. It is not for us to get involved..."

"We can't just NOT say something! We can't let them make the same mistake we made..." Caroline said, almost sadly. Richard smiled and held his hand out to take hers...

"I know honey... and I understand that. I told Del that too... that I wasted 3 years not saying something. I told him not to make the same mistake..."

"I told Annie the same thing..."

"Just give them a chance to work it out on their own... ok?"

"Ok... you're right..."

"As always..." Richard smirked. Caroline smiled back and tossed her wadded up napkin at him...

"Let's go to bed..." she suggested...

"Good idea..." Richard agreed.

*****~*****

--Morning came, leaving the darkness behind... but the cold remained. Richard grumbled and shivered as he pulled the blankets aside to get up to go to the bathroom...

"Freezing--... stupid cold--... 100 degrees below zero--..." he muttered as he crossed the bedroom...

"Nah. It's probably only 6 degrees below zero..." Caroline corrected, hearing him complain... "Morning sunshine!" she added cheerfully. Richard just shot her a less-then-amused look and continued to the bathroom. "Check on Stefano while you're up..."

"Yeah..." Richard mumbled from inside the bathroom... "I can't even go to the bathroom it's so cold! I think my bladder is frozen!" he griped... Caroline just chuckled. Just then she heard Stefano stirring and whimpering...

"I think he's awake..." Caroline called out... "I'll go get him."

"Thanks. I'm gonna be a while... waiting for my bladder to defrost..."

--Richard came out of the bathroom and quickly grabbed for the blankets, snuggling into them as he climbed into bed. He could hear Caroline talking to Stefano on the baby monitor and he smiled, amazed at how wonderful his life had become.

"Good morning Stefano. Did you sleep well sweetie? Hmmm?" Caroline chirped as she picked the baby up out of his crib... "Are you freezing like daddy? Daddy is grumpy cause he's so cold... but we'll go cheer him up... ok?"

Richard laughed, but quickly wiped any sign of amusement off his face, knowing Caroline was headed down the hall.

"Good morning daddy!" Caroline announced in a high-pitched child-like voice as she entered the bedroom with Stefano...

"Good morning son."

Caroline handed Stefano to him, then climbed into bed and snuggled up to Richard.

"Could it get any better then this?" Caroline sighed contentedly...

"If it warmed up about 75 degrees..." Richard quipped, then he kissed the top of her head.

"You get used to it..."

"I don't plan on being here long enough to get used to it..."

"Isn't there any part of you that finds this nice? I mean, living away from the hustle and bustle of a big crowded city? Clean air... friendly people..."

"No. Not really. It's ok to visit... but to be honest, I wouldn't even want to do that if it wasn't for you. I love these moments... snuggling with you and Stefano... but we could do that anywhere..."

"What if I asked you to move out here? Permanently..."

"What? Caroline... you can't be serious..."

"Well, let's just say I asked you to consider it... would you?"

"Would I... move or consider it?"

"Both. Either."

"I would consider it... because it's something you want. But live here? I have no problem coming to visit... for the holidays, or to see your folks... or just cause you miss the place... but I would not be happy living here..."

"Yeah... I know..." Caroline whispered sadly...

"Do you really want to move here? I mean, leave New York? And all your friends?"

"I don't know. Sometimes I think I would like to move back here... I have so many fond memories of my childhood here and all. Then, other times I think I wouldn't be happy here like I was in my youth... you know? I've changed a lot since I moved to New York. I'm not the same gullible little girl I once was..."

Richard chuckled, which caused Caroline to look at him suspiciously...

"What was THAT for?" Caroline asked with slight indignation...

"Just trying to picture you MORE naive then you are now..."

"I am NOT naive!"

"Whatever you say Caroline..." he patronized, a slight smirk across his face...

"Shut up Richard!" Caroline snapped playfully, then hit him with a pillow...

"No hitting! I'm holding the baby!"

"You ARE the baby! Stefano thinks it's funny! Dontcha Stefano?" Caroline asked, giggling at the baby.

"I wouldn't put too much in that... he thinks dirty diapers are funny too!"

"Speaking of..."

"Your turn!" Richard quickly interrupted.

"After that naive crack? I think it's YOUR turn!"

"Rrrrggg... ok, ok. Can you get me his diapers and wipes?"

"THAT I can do..." Caroline agreed, then got up and headed for the nursery...

"Mommy will get your stuff, then I'll change you... k?" Richard cooed quietly at Stefano.

Caroline stopped dead in her tracks... "What did you just say?"

"What?"

"You just called me 'Mommy'..."

"Yeah... I know..." Richard replied, a smile crossing his face.

"What about Julia?" A single tear streamed down her cheek...

"Julia just gave birth to him... YOU are his Mommy..."

*****~*****

--"You're never gonna guess what Richard called me this morning..." Caroline said to Annie as they walked down the aisle at the grocery store...

"Do I wanna know?" Annie quipped...

"He called me 'Mommy'..." Caroline said, ignoring her crack...

"For some kind of sick role playing thing?"

"No! He said it to Stefano! He said I was Stefano's Mommy!"

"Well, yeah... you ARE his Mommy! Julia sure isn't!"

"Well... she did give birth to him..."

"Yeah... and then abandoned him! Caroline... Julia is nothing more then a selfish bi--..."

"Annie!" Caroline quickly interrupted, pointing at Stefano... "Little ears..."

"Sorry..."

"It just really touched me... it's the first time Richard has called me that to him. He usually just calls me Caroline..."

"What size turkey?" Annie asked, changing subjects...

"Ummm... well, there's mom & dad, you & Del, me & Richard, Stefano, and my brother Chris... 8 people... better make it a 15 pounder... maybe more..."

"We are all gonna eat 2 pounds of meat?? Even Stefano??"

"No, of course not! The bones weigh something you know! And you gotta have left-overs! For sandwiches!"

"Ok... so get this one. It's 17 pounds..."

"Ok..."

"I think it's only right that Richie calls you Stefano's Mommy. You're the only Mommy Stefano has ever known!"

"We're trying to make it official..."

"What?"

"I'm trying to adopt Stefano... legally..."

"Really?"

"Yep. But we need Julia to sign some papers, and she won't respond to any of our letters or telegrams or phone calls..." Caroline replied, obviously distraught.

"Figures! What a bi--... ummm... bad person..." Annie stopped herself from cursing in front of the baby, then smiled awkwardly at Caroline...

"Thanks..."

"It's ok... so, what happens if she doesn't sign the papers?"

"Well, that'll be the next step... to figure out what happens if she doesn't sign..."

*****~*****

--"Do you have any idea of what you're gonna buy Caroline for Christmas?" Del asked Richard, breaking his artistic concentration...

"I'm not BUYING her anything. I'm giving her this..." Richard replied, pointing to his current masterpiece...

"Oh. I don't know what to get Annie for Christmas..."

"Edible underwear?"

"Hey!" Del seemed excited about that gift idea... "No... that would be more for me..." he added, disappointed...

"Get her an engagement ring..." Richard suggested seriously.

"I can't do that! I told you, she doesn't want to marry me! A two-time divorcee..."

"How do you know unless you ask her? She's been with you this long..."

"Yeah... still..."

Richard scoffed and rolled his eyes... "Persuasive argument. Look, the kind of relationship you have with Annie is more complicated then you are admitting..."

"What do you mean?"

"Ok, you're calling it a 'casual, no-strings-attached' relationship... right?"

"Right."

"Do you spend more nights together then apart?"

"Yeah..."

"Do you care about her feelings? Do you hate to see her sad?"

"Yeah..."

"Do you try to make her happy? Do you think she tries to make you happy?"

"Yeah..."

"Has she introduced you to her folks? Have you introduced her to yours?"

"Yeah..."

"And here you are spending Thanksgiving together... with plans to spend Christmas and New Years together..."

"Yeah..."

"That's not a 'no-strings-attached' relationship. That's a real relationship... and she's been right there with you. She's aware your relationship is evolving... and she's been with you every step. So, the important question is... do you love her?"

"Yes! Of course I love her!"

"Then tell her. Ask her to marry you..." Richard advised as he turned back to his painting.

*****~*****

--"I have no idea what to get Del for Christmas..." Annie said as she and Caroline stood in line at the check-out.

"I'm gonna get Richard this really neat easel he's had his eye on..." Caroline replied excitedly.

"He oughta like that. Do you have any idea what I should get for Del?"

"Well, what price range are you looking to stay in?"

"It's not so much the price range, but the type of gift I'm having the problem with..."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, should I get him something that says 'we're casual'? Or should I get him something that says 'I want us to be more than casual'?" Annie asked, struggling with the decision she had to make...

Caroline wanted to scream 'Get him something that says you want to have more than a casual relationship!'... but she restrained herself...

"I would get him something more towards serious. That way, it tells him you are looking for a more serious relationship without TELLING him you're looking for a more serious relationship. See what I mean?"

"Yeah... good idea. That way, if he thinks I'm trying to get serious... and he freaks... I could just deny it..."

"Exactly!"

*****~*****

"What time are we waking up tomorrow?" Richard asked as he fiddled with the alarm.

"Six... but once we get the turkey in the oven, we can go back to sleep for another hour..." Caroline replied as she got ready for bed.

"Oh, joy..." Richard mumbled sarcastically as he set the alarm.

"Yeah, yeah... grumpy-butt..."

"Grumpy-butt?? That's new..."

"Talked to Annie today..." Caroline said, changing the subject...

"Don't you talk to her most days?"

"Yeah. But... not always about her relationship with Del..."

"Caroline..." Richard scolded... "You didn't tell her about the conversation I had with Del... did you?"

"No! She asked about what to get him for Christmas... and she wanted to know if she should get him something that says 'I want a serious relationship'. So I just suggested that she should do that... cause she could always deny it's meaning if he freaked out about it..."

"Well, I got you beat then..."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Del asked me about what he should get Annie for Christmas, and I suggested an engagement ring..." Richard said with a smirk.

"You're kidding!? Did he say he was going to?"

"No, and he seemed hesitant about the idea at first... but I told him that their relationship is not as casual as they claim it to be. Then he seemed to really consider the idea..."

"Wouldn't that be great?! If Annie and Del got married!"

"Great? I don't know. Frightening? Definitely."

"Well, I think it would be great..." Caroline mumbled disappointedly, trying not to let Richard spoil her enthusiasm.

"I'm sorry... I know you're excited for them..." Richard apologized, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close... "I'm excited for them too..."

Caroline smiled and kissed him lightly on the lips, then turned over to go to sleep... "Night..." she said softly. Richard looked disappointed for a minute, then smiled...

"Goodnight." he whispered, then snuggled into her. He was hoping to do more then sleep, but he attributed Caroline's lack of interest to the fact that they had to wake up so early the next morning.

"I love you..." Caroline whispered as sleepiness started to set in...

Richard smiled and kissed her neck... "I love you too..."

*****~*****

--Morning came quickly... too quickly for Richard...

"C'mon Richard... I need your help with the bird..." Caroline pestered a still-sleeping Richard...

"Tell the bird to fly south for the winter already! It's freezing out there!" Richard exclaimed, still asleep for the most part. Caroline chuckled and shook him a little harder then she had been...

"Wake up! I don't want the dead turkey to fly south for the winter... I want to cook him for dinner!"

Richard grumbled and opened one eye to glare at Caroline... "Shhh... sleeping..." Richard muttered as he snuggled into the warm blankets. Caroline grabbed them away from him and whipped them off in one quick motion, leaving Richard exposed to the cold. "HEY! What are you doing?!" Richard bellowed as he shot up in bed.

"I told you! I need your help with the turkey!" Caroline snapped as she handed him his robe... "Let's go!" she added, then walked off, heading for the kitchen. Richard grabbed the blankets off the floor and snuggled back into them, then drifted back to sleep.

--A short time later Richard was abruptly jostled awake by a freezing cold snowball... courtesy of Caroline. Caroline stood there laughing as Richard jumped from the bed screaming...

"COLD! What the--!! What did you--??!!" he said, making no sense what-so-ever. He shook the ice off himself the best he could, then reached for his robe as he glared at Caroline, who was still laughing at him...

"I told you to get up!" she announced in response to his hardened stare... "I love you?" she said, almost like a question... as if asking for forgiveness. Richard silently walked into the bathroom and shut the door soundly. Caroline chuckled to herself as she headed back to the kitchen, fully prepared to deal with the turkey without help...

*It was worth it though...* she thought to herself... *That look on his face...* she started chuckling again... *And I don't think I've ever seen him move so fast... except for that time in Spain when he was running from the bulls...* her expression turned serious as she remembered that day. She forced the memory from her mind and headed for the fridge...

--She had just started to prepare the turkey for cooking when Richard appeared...

"Here... let me help..." he offered as he rushed to her side, seeing her struggling with it.

"Thanks. I kinda thought..." she stopped short of finishing the sentence.

"What? That I would be too mad to help?"

"Yeah... kinda..." she admitted sheepishly...

"I said I would help... so I'm helping." he replied matter-of-factly... "Besides... revenge is a dish best served cold..." he added, smiling mischievously. Caroline cracked a tiny grin, then focused her attention back on the turkey.

*****~*****

--"People are going to be here any time now! Go get dressed!" Caroline barked at Richard as she hurried about, putting the final touches on the decorations and table setting...

"I am dressed!" Richard replied, striking a pose. Caroline looked him up and down and scowled at him... "Ok, so... maybe I'm not dressed yet..." he added, reacting to her expression... "I'll just go change now..."

"Check on Stefano while you're at it... he should be awake from his nap by now..."

"Ok..."

--Richard changed his clothes, then peeked in at Stefano...

"Hey son. You're awake!" Richard exclaimed as he entered the room. He picked him up out of his crib and headed for the kitchen. "We're up mommy!" Richard announced, walking into the kitchen with Stefano.

"Hello sweetie!" Caroline chirped as she buzzed about, stopping long enough to kiss the baby on his forehead.

"Better?" Richard asked, striking a pose. Caroline looked him over and smiled...

"Yeah..." she said softly, then kissed him softly... "I'm sorry I'm acting so crazy..."

"Oh, honey... you're not acting..." Richard quipped, receiving a slap from Caroline... "Would you STOP hitting me!" Richard chuckled.

"You deserved it!" She stole another quick kiss, then continued her frantic activities...

"You want some help?"

"Just watch Stefano for me and answer the door when people start showing up..."

"Ok..."

--It wasn't much later when there was a knock at the door...

"Hey Richie! Happy Thanksgiving!" Annie exclaimed when Richard opened the door...

"Happy turkey day Richard..." Del added as they walked into the house.

"You're the first ones here..." Richard informed... "Caroline is in the kitchen..." he added, directing the comment to Annie.

"Ok..." Annie headed for the kitchen and Richard and Del sat down in the livingroom.

"You gonna turn the game on?" Del asked, amazed that it wasn't already on.

"No."

"Oh, c'mon!" Del whined...

"Go ahead and turn it on if you want..." Richard said, annoyed...

--"Hey Caroline! Need some help?" Annie asked as she entered the kitchen...

"No, that's ok..." Caroline huffed as she went about her multiple tasks.

"Caroline... I don't mind helping. C'mon! You're obviously super busy here..."

"Yams..." Caroline said, pointing to the cans on the counter.

"With little marshmallows?"

"Yes please..."

--"You don't like football?" Del asked as Richard played with Stefano...

"No..." he answered simply.

"Why?"

"Because there is no point to it. Grown men running around after a pig skin ball and attacking each other... for what?"

"First of all... they aren't attacking each other, they're tackling each other. Second of all... there is a point to it. The point is to win."

"Oh, right... 'I win because I'm the best at rolling around in the mud and chasing a ball around!'... good reason..." Richard scoffed.

"Well, what sports do you like?"

"I don't like sports..."

"Annie is right... you ARE weird..."

"And she would know..." Richard quipped sarcastically. Just then the phone started ringing...

"I'll get it!" Annie called out from the kitchen... "Hello?" she said, answering the phone... "It's your Mom..."

Caroline rolled her eyes and whispered "Tell her I'm busy..."

"She's busy Mrs. Duffy. -- Ok. -- She wants to know if you want her to bring anything..."

"Mom! For the 100th time I don't need you to bring anything but yourself and dad!" Caroline yelled in the direction of the phone...

"She says no thanks..." Annie said into the phone, trying not to laugh... "Ok... see ya in a bit then..." She hung up the phone and turned to Caroline... "She'll be here shortly..."

--"So... I thought about what you said..." Del said cautiously...

"About what?" Richard asked...

"About me and Annie... about our relationship. You were right... I think our relationship has been getting more serious..."

"Uh-huh..."

"So... I've decided to ask her to marry me..." Del exhaled sharply... as if finally saying it out loud was a big relief.

"That's great Del. Congratulations..."

"Don't congratulate me yet... save that for IF she says yes..."

"She will... say yes I mean..."

"Yeah... I hope so..."

--"Del has been acting kinda funny..." Annie said to Caroline as she prepared the yams...

"Funny 'ha-ha' or funny 'peculiar'?" Caroline asked as she continued her hurried pace...

"Peculiar. Like he's nervous about something. You haven't said anything to him about what we were talking about... have you?"

"No..." Caroline stopped abruptly and turned to look at her... "I haven't said ANYTHING to Del about what we have been talking about..." she assured her, conveniently leaving out the fact that Richard HAD...

"Ok... good..."

--"Don't tell Caroline... ok?" Del asked of Richard...

"Ok." Richard replied, an odd expression crossed his face...

"You haven't been telling Caroline about what we've been talking about... have you?!"

Richard quickly decided that lying was the best option... "No."

Del sighed with relief... "Good. You know women... they gotta gossip..."

Richard rolled his eyes and focused his attention back on Stefano.

--Caroline looked around and saw nothing that needed her immediate attention, so she just leaned against the counter and sighed... "What a day! And it's not even over yet!" She sounded frazzled.

"You know what you need?" Annie asked rhetorically... "You need to go play in the snow!"

"I'm too busy for that now..."

"No you're not! everything is caught up and at the ready! C'mon!" Annie grabbed her arm and walked into the livingroom.

"What are you guys up to?" Del asked curiously.

"We're gonna go play in the snow. Wanna come?" Annie announced, asking Del to join them.

"Sure!" Del seemed excited...

"Ummm... no, I can think of much better things to do with my time. Like shove a fork in my eye..." Richard replied sarcastically.

"Oh, c'mon Richard! It'll be fun! And Stefano would love it!" Caroline pleaded.

Richard rolled his eyes and handed Stefano to Caroline... "You take him then..."

"Can you get him in his snowsuit for me?"

"Yeah... I suppose..." Richard's prickly tone and demeanor told Caroline he was irritated, but that wasn't uncommon for Richard, so she laughed it off and headed for her coat.

--Richard came down the stairs with a bundled-up Stefano to find everyone had already gone outside...

"I thought you wanted to bring Stefano out here..." Richard said when he opened the door and saw Caroline, Del, and Annie romping around in the snow like children.

"I did!" Caroline chirped excitedly as she walked towards Richard, taking Stefano from his arms when she reached him. "You sure you don't want to come out with us?" She tried one last time to get him to participate...

"Very sure..." he replied simply, then walked back towards the house. Suddenly, a large snowball hit him in the back of the head and the ice started running down his back into his shirt. Richard resisted the urge to jump and scream in response to the unwarranted attack. He slowly turned around and glared at the now-laughing-hysterically trio. He didn't know which one was responsible, but it didn't matter... they were all guilty in his mind. He slowly turned back towards the house and walked inside, shutting the door soundly.

"What a brick!" Annie laughed...

"Annie!" Caroline scolded... "He's not a brick! He just isn't used to... loosening up. He's getting better..."

"Loose?! Caroline... he's wound tighter than a tick!"

"Oh, hush!" Caroline took a handful of loose snow and flung it at Annie, who retaliated by flinging snow right back at Caroline.

Stefano just sat in the snow like he was confused, and Del stood over him sprinkling snow on him, causing Stefano to giggle.

"I think Stefano likes snow..." Del laughed as he played with the baby.

--Annie and Del started making a snowman while Caroline played with Stefano with little snowballs. Suddenly, and without warning, snowballs started falling from the sky. One hit Annie, one hit Caroline, one narrowly missed Del... several more fell before the three of them realized... Richard was behind the attack.

"Oh, you are SO dead!" Annie snapped as she did the best she could to run at him, the deep snow making it difficult. Caroline handed Stefano to Del and joined Annie...

"Get him!" Caroline yelled, charging at him.

Richard laughed and quickly tried to escape, but wasn't near fast enough. Annie and Caroline jumped him and pinned him to the ground, but both of them together couldn't quite keep him pinned. He was just slightly stronger, and he wriggled himself free and turned the attack around, pinning Caroline to the ground while ignoring Annie...

"Thought I forgot about the snowball this morning... didn't you?" Richard's voice was ominous, and he was sporting an almost wicked grin.

Annie, realizing this was a battle between husband and wife, backed off and retreated to Del and Stefano's side.

"Richard! You're not playing fair!" Caroline complained, trying to get free...

"Oh, and attacking me in my sleep IS fair!?" Richard shot back, keeping his tight grip on Caroline's wrists...

"You wouldn't wake up!" Caroline defended herself...

Richard imitated the sound of a buzzer... "Sorry, not a valid reason..."

"I love you?" Caroline offered as an apology.

Richard leaned forward and kissed her softly... "I love you too. Now prepare for your punishment...

Caroline tried one last time in vain to escape, but Richard had her tight.

"Help!" Caroline called out to Annie, but one look from Richard told Annie to stay out of it.

"No one will help you now! You are at my mercy!" Richard laughed maniacally, then he pinned her arms against her side with his legs as he sat over top of her and started shoveling snow into any crack in her clothing he could find.

Caroline screamed out while laughing... "No! Help! I'm sorry! I will never wake you up with snowballs ever again!" she pleaded, going into fits of giggles. Just then Caroline's parents came walking up. No one had seen or heard them drive up cause of all the commotion Caroline and Richard were causing.

--Margaret looked at Caroline and Richard, he on top of Caroline... her clothes all messed up... and her eyes got wide...

"Oh, my..." she mumbled softly...

"It's not what you think Ma... we're just playing around. Rough-housing..." Caroline assured her Mom.

"I'm just paying her back for waking me up with a snowball this morning Mrs. Duffy..." Richard said sheepishly as he started to get off of her...

"She's still doing that?" a voice coming from behind her parents asked.

"Chris!" Caroline exclaimed, bouncing towards her brother, hugging him tight once she reached him.

"Hey, Car!" Chris was just as excited to see his sister as she was to see him. "Hi Richard." Chris extended his hand, Richard took it...

"Hello Chris." Richard said cordially.

"Let's go inside before we all freeze to death!" Fred, Caroline's father suggested, heading for the door.

*****~*****

--Everyone sat around the table while Caroline and Margaret put the last of the food on the table.

"Ma... I got it. Sit down, please..." Caroline beseeched. Reluctantly, Margaret took a seat. After all the food was on the table, Caroline cleared her throat loudly to get everyone's attention...

"I thought we could go around the table and tell everyone what we are thankful for..." she suggested. She got mixed reactions. Her Mom, Annie, and Chris thought it was a neat idea... where as Richard, Fred, and Del grumbled at the suggestion.

"That's a great idea sweetie..." Margaret said cheerfully... "You go first..."

Caroline took her place at Richard's side and put her hand on his shoulder...

"I have a lot to be thankful for... I have a successful comic strip, good health, good friends..." She smiled at Annie and Del... "A wonderfully supportive, loving family..." She smiled at her parents and at Chris... "A beautiful stepson whom I love dearly... and, a wonderful husband to share it all with..." A small tear trickled down her cheek and she leaned over and kissed Richard softly on the lips, who returned the tender kiss.

Caroline sat down to everyone clapping softly, then Richard stood for his turn...

"I'm not good at stuff like this... and I could never beat Caroline's amazing speech. I never knew life could be like this. I never knew I could be so happy... but for the first time ever, I am truly happy. And it's because of my beautiful son, and my beautiful, amazing wife. I love you Caroline..."

He kissed her lovingly as everyone 'ahh-ed' and clapped, smiling at them as they kissed.

"That was perfect Richard..." Caroline whispered, choked up by the rare public show of emotion from him. Just then there was a knock at the door...

"Who's that?" Annie asked, looking towards the door, then at Caroline... "I thought everyone was here..."

"Everyone is..." she replied, looking a bit confused. She got up to answer the door and Richard followed.

Caroline opened the door and both she and Richard stood silent, there shock obvious. Finally, Richard found his voice...

"Oh, my God. What are YOU doing here??"




TO BE CONTINUED...


Click HERE for "Caroline & Christmas" -- Part two of three.

Click HERE for "Caroline & New Years" -- Part three of three.