Caroline & The Conversation

Caroline & The Conversation

Rated 'PG'

By: Jana~

~~Disclaimer~~


*****~*****

--Richard Karinsky hated birthdays ... especially his own. It was just a yearly reminder that he was getting older and still had not become a successful artist. He stood outside his employer's door, dreading going in. He just knew Caroline had over-decorated with silly balloons and hats and other paraphernalia that said 'Happy Birthday' on it.

*'HAPPY Birthday'... right. Happy is something I am definitely NOT!* Richard thought to himself as he quickly reviewed his life. "God, I hate my life."

--Richard walked through the door to Caroline's apartment and was surprised by what he saw. No decorations. No balloons. No hats. No banner with 'Happy Birthday' written on it. Nothing. He hung up his coat and headed for the kitchen when Caroline came bouncing down the steps...

"Mornin' Richard!" she announced cheerfully.

"Morning." Richard replied unenthusiastically. *Maybe she forgot...*

"I thought we would start with the lunchbox designs today."

"Fine."

"Oh. And Happy Birthday." Caroline added casually. Richard looked at her, surprised. "What?" she asked, noticing the surprised look on his face.

"I thought maybe you forgot."

"Why would you think that?"

"Well, usually you make a big deal out of birthdays ... with decorations and such."

"Well, yeah ... but I thought you didn't like..."

"I don't!" Richard interrupted... "But since when has that ever stopped you?"

"Are you disappointed?"

"No! I'm grateful!"

"Ok then. So shush-up!" Caroline quipped.

*****~*~*~*~*~*****

--Five o'clock came quickly as Richard completed the work Caroline had for him. He wasn't in a hurry to leave though. All that waited for him at home was a freezer-burned frozen dinner and the realization that today marked another year of failures.

"Do you have anything else for me to do?" Richard asked as he set the finished panels aside.

"No. You can go home." Caroline replied, distracted by her work.

"Are you sure? I don't mind staying..."

"No, really... it's fine. It's almost 5:00 and I don't want to pay you over time for sitting around when I don't need you." The look on Richard's face drew attention to how that statement sounded, so Caroline corrected herself... "Not that I don't need you! I just meant that I won't have anything ready for you anytime soon."

"Ok. Guess I'll go home then."

"You alright?"

"Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?" he asked while putting his coat on.

"With you? Who knows. You just seem depressed... more so than usual..."

"I'm fine Caroline. See you tomorrow."

*****~*~*~*~*~*****

--Richard entered his run-down apartment and tossed his coat over the back of the chair...

"Ah... lucky me. The roaches decided to throw me a party..." he said bitterly, then stomped on a roach, killing it and causing the rest to scatter. He walked to the tiny refrigerator and pulled out his feast... an iced-over box that contained a pitiful TV dinner. He brushed the ice off the box and started to read the directions when there was a knock at the door. "Who is it?"

"It's Del." the voice from the other side of the door announced.

"What do you want?"

"Well, for starters you could open the door!"

"Fine... hang on!" Richard snapped. He opened the door abruptly, more than just a little annoyed... "What?"

"Sheeesh Richard! Chill out! I'm just here to invite you to dinner!"

"Why?"

"Cause it's your birthday!"

"Thanks Del, but I can order a BigMac without your help." Richard replied sarcastically.

"It just so happens I'm not taking you to a fast-food place!"

"You can't afford anything but fast-food!"

"Not true! At the 'Eat, Drink, & Be Merry' the birthday boy eats free! And the rest of his party gets 25% off!"

"How thrifty of you. Look, Del... I have dinner plans already. So, thanks anyway..."

"What? This gross, old frozen TV dinner?" Del asked, picking up the frozen dinner and waving it around... "C'mon Richard! It'll be fun!"

"Fun?" Richard scoffed.

"Ok, so maybe YOU wont think it's fun... but hey! It's a free meal!"

"Alright, alright already! I'll go!" Richard said, throwing the TV dinner back in the freezer... "But just for the record... I'm going under protest!"

"Yeah, Yeah. Whatever."

*****~*~*~*~*~*****

--"Why are we at Caroline's?" Richard asked as Del pulled up in front of her building.

"I need to get the lunchbox designs."

"Will this miserable night ever end?"

"Well, yeah. Eventually..." Del replied, confused by the question. Richard rolled his eyes and sighed...

"It was a rhetorical question Del."

"What is your problem anyway?"

"Nothing. Let's just hurry this along... ok?"

"I just don't get you! You didn't have a good time at all tonight?"

"Well, it was tolerable till the waiters started singing 'Happy Birthday'!"

"Man you're a downer!"

--As Richard and Del entered Caroline's apartment Richard sighed...

"What?" Del asked, noticing the sigh.

"Nothing. Where's Caroline?"

"She went out with Annie... where did she put the sketches?"

"Over there." Richard said, pointing to the envelope near the drafting table. He could smell Caroline's perfume and he inhaled deeply... "I love that perfume..." Richard said quietly to himself, not intending for Del to hear it.

"What?"

"I didn't say anything..."

"Yeah you did. You said something about perfume..."

"It's nothing. Hey Del, can I ask you a question?"

"Sure."

"Have you ever been in love with someone, but afraid to say something?"

"Are you in love with someone?" Del asked, giving Richard his undivided attention.

"Let's just say it's a hypothetical question... ok?"

"Why would you be afraid to tell her you're in love with her?"

"Look at me! I'm a poor, unsuccessful artist! She could never love me..."

"How do you know unless you say something?"

"If I say something I might ruin an existing friendship... I don't want to take that risk..."

"Life is full of risks! I would say something." Del advised... "Do I know her?"

"Know who?"

"The person we're talking about. The woman you're in love with."

"I said it was hypothetical..."

"And I said I was 10 pounds lighter on my driver's license..." Del quipped.

"Let's just drop it now... ok?"

"It's Caroline, isn't it?"

"What?!" Richard gasped, the shocked look on his face answering Del's question...

"Whoa! I was right?! Get out! You and Caroline?!"

"This conversation is over..." Richard said, embarrassed.

"Hey! Chill... ok? I think you two would make a great couple!"

"Del! If you breathe a word of this to Caroline..."

"God you're uptight! Fine... I wont say anything. Sheeesh!"

"Sorry... it's just that Annie already knows and she has been using the information to blackmail me and... I just don't need this..."

"Annie knows? How does she know?"

"Oh God, this is awkward... umm... well... I wrote her a letter..."

"Annie?"

"No... Caroline. Try to stay with me here..."

"Ok..."

"I wrote Caroline a letter telling her how I feel and Annie found the letter."

"Well, if you wrote Caroline a letter telling her how you feel, then what's the problem with her finding out?"

"I decided it wasn't a good idea to tell her, I tried to get the letter back, but I couldn't. So I went to Paris."

"You went to Paris to avoid telling Caroline you have feelings for her?" Del asked, amazed.

"You wouldn't understand..." Richard sighed, ready to drop the discussion.

"Wait a minute... you wrote the letter BEFORE you went to Paris? You went to Paris like the day Caroline and I called off the wedding! You wrote Caroline a love letter while I was engaged to her?"

"Remo filled my head with crazy ideas... and I had too much Chianti..." Richard said defending his actions.

"Hey, it's ok... ok? We weren't meant to be. Sooner or later we would have figured that out... just good that we figured it out sooner rather than later."

"So, you're not mad?"

"No. But I still think you should tell Caroline..."

"Ugh... I don't think I can..."

"Well, I wont tell her... and I wont blackmail you either..." Del assured him.

"Thanks."

"How did Annie get the letter anyway?" Del asked, heading out the door.

"Well, I put the letter on top of a box of thank you notes, and when I couldn't get the letter back it got packed up..."

--Just then Richard shut the door and Caroline couldn't hear the rest of the story. She sat at the top of her stairs, in shock over what she had just heard. She was about to announce her presence when Richard started talking about being in love. She knew she shouldn't have eavesdropped, but the longer the conversation went on the more she realized how upset Richard would have been about her listening in.

*How could I be so blind? I should have realized... I should have seen it... So much makes sense now...* she thought to herself as she picked up the birthday present she had returned to her loft to get. She didn't know Del was going to stop by for the lunchbox sketches and she thought she could run back home, get the gift, and return to Richard's before Del got there with the birthday boy. She knew he didn't like surprises, but she couldn't help herself... she had to throw him a surprise party. She kept it simple though... just herself, Annie, Charlie, Del, and Remo. "I gotta get back there!" Caroline realized, coming out of her daze. She peeked to make sure Richard and Del had left, then walked out the door and headed for Richard's.

*****~*~*~*~*~*****

--"Shhh! They're coming!" Annie whispered as she spotted Richard and Del through the peephole.

"But Caroline isn't back yet!" Charlie announced, flustered.

"We can't do anything about that now! Shhh!" Annie whispered back, irritated. Just then Richard opened the door...

"SURPRISE!" everyone shouted as Richard walked in. Richard just rolled his eyes and looked back at Del.

"Hey! Caroline made me do it... ok?" Del defended himself.

"Where is Caroline?" Richard asked, a quick glance around the room producing no sign of her.

"She'll be back, she had to go get something..." Annie informed, then shoved a glass of punch into his hand. Just then Caroline came bounding through the door, drawing everyone's attention...

"SURPRISE!" Charlie shouted.

"You only shout 'surprise' to the birthday boy!" Del corrected.

"What if the one having the birthday is a girl?" Charlie asked foolishly.

"Shut-up Charlie." Del snapped, then walked away.

"So... I hear you're responsible for this." Richard accused Caroline, approaching her.

"Yeah. Sorry... I just didn't want you to be alone on your birthday..." Caroline replied, trying desperately to hide the nervousness she felt over her new found knowledge.

"Well, I guess I can forgive you..."

"Thanks." Caroline chuckled nervously.

"Is something wrong?"

"No. Why?"

"You seem... jumpy..."

"Oh. It's just cause of the party... all the preparation and wondering if you would like it. That's all. Hey! There's Annie! Be right back!" Caroline said, excusing herself. She hurriedly walked over to her, grabbing her arm and pulling her aside.

"What?" Annie asked, confused and irritated.

"Richard is in love with me?" Caroline whispered urgently.

"Oh my God, how did you find out?"

"I overheard Richard talking to Del!"

"When?"

"At my apartment. They came by there first before coming here and I overheard them talking!"

"Eavesdropping? Tsk, tsk, tsk..." Annie scolded teasingly.

"Annie! This is serious!" Caroline snapped back in a whisper.

"OK, ok. Sorry."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I was having too much fun tormenting Richard..."

"Annie!" Caroline scolded.

"I'm just joking. He asked me not to... I'm sure he wants to tell you in his own time..."

"What do I do now?"

"I don't know. What do you want to do?"

"Well, I suppose I could tell him I know... but I don't want to upset him. On the other hand... if I don't say anything he might not EVER tell me!"

"You want my opinion?" Annie asked.

"Ok..."

"Don't say anything. Wait for him to say something. I think he's still coming to terms with his feelings and if you say something he might run again."

"Yeah. Maybe you're right. Thanks Annie."

"You're welcome." Annie replied, hugging her best friend.

*****~*~*~*~*~*****

--"I'm sorry you didn't have a good time tonight..." Caroline apologized to Richard after everyone left... "I just wanted to do something nice for you..."

"I appreciate the thought... besides... I've had worse nights." Richard said, cleaning up the mess left behind. Caroline smiled awkwardly...

"Do you want me to stay and help you clean up?"

"Yeah... ok. Thanks."

"The lunchbox designs came out good... don't you think?" Caroline asked, trying to find something to talk about.

"Yeah... I guess. Del seemed to like them..." Richard replied nervously.

"He's seen them?" she asked, knowing full well he had.

"Yeah. We stopped by and picked them up on the way here."

"Oh, good..."

"Good?"

"Yeah. That he's seen them and likes them..."

"Oh. Right."

"Well... umm... I hope you like your presents! And you know... if you don't like the shirt I got you, you can return it..."

"I like the shirt..." Richard replied, turning away from Caroline so she couldn't see the flushed expression on his face.

"Oh good! You know, you're very hard to shop for!"

"I am? Why?"

"I don't know... you hate appliances, you're picky about clothes... you just are!"

"Sorry..."

"It's ok... I didn't mean it to sound like a bad thing. Just makes it all the more special when I find something you like!" Caroline explained.

"Ok..."

"Well... Happy Birthday Richard..." Caroline said as she hugged him, feeling uneasy about the closeness. Richard forced himself not to enjoy the embrace too much...

"Thanks. For the party... and for the present..."

"You're welcome. I'll see 'ya tomorrow..."

"Yeah..."

"Night." Caroline said, then kissed him lightly on the cheek. She lightly ran her fingers through his sandy-colored hair and smiled at him, then she walked out the door.

--Richard forced himself to breathe again. He started the day miserable, his thoughts focused on the reality of his failures, and it ended with a simple gesture from Caroline that neutralized his self-inflicted torture. He picked up the shirt Caroline had given him and held it to his heart, smiling. He went to bed that night happier than he had been in a long time.

*****~*~*~*~*~*****

--Caroline walked through the door to her apartment and kicked off her shoes. She smiled as she recalled the look on Richard's face as she was leaving. He actually smiled. He actually seemed happy. Richard was a complex man... she knew that. That's part of what made him so interesting. She decided to let Richard tell her about his feelings in his own time... with maybe just a hint of flirting. Just to encourage him...

"Maybe if he sees I'm interested he'll be able to gather the courage to say something..." she said, smiling to herself... "I just hope it's soon..."


THE END?

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