Caroline & The Family Man
--Richard woke abruptly just before dawn, wide eyed and frustrated. Another 'Caroline dream' interrupted his sleep, a usual occurrence as of late. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, checking the clock. It was too early to wake up, but he knew if he tried to go back to sleep he would dream about Caroline again, something that was like a kind of torture. He sighed as he climbed out of bed, throwing his over sized sweatshirt on and preparing his palette, painting his only solace. He painted through the sunrise, losing track of time as he immersed himself in his art.
--The sound of the phone broke through his trance, forcing him back into reality…
"Hello?" Richard answered the phone with paint stained hands.
"Richard? Are you alright?" It was Caroline, and his heart leaped at the sound of her voice.
"Caroline. Yeah, I'm fine, why?"
"Well, you were supposed to be here 45 minutes ago."
"What time is it?" He looked around at his alarm clock…
"I am so sorry Caroline! I'm on my way!"
"On your way, could you stop and get some muffins?"
Richard rolled his eyes and groaned… "Must I?"
"Well, I would really appreciate it…"
"Fine, fine. I'll be there shortly…"
--He waited in line in the semi-crowded bakery, irritated by the close quarters.
"Guess everyone else had the same idea." The man standing in front of Richard stated, striking up a conversation.
Richard smiled a polite smile, then turned away, trying to ignore him.
"What did you come in for?" The man asked, not taking the obvious hint.
Richard sighed, irritated… "Muffins."
"Your wife send you after them?"
"Just gonna surprise her, huh?"
"Do I know you?"
"I don't think so."
"So, why are you talking to me?"
"Just being friendly. Killing time."
"I have a lot on my mind, so…"
"Oh, of course. Say no more…"
They stood in silence for a few minutes before the man spoke again… "How long have you been married?"
Richard looked at him with an expression that showed just how annoyed he was with the intrusion… "I'm not married… ok?" he snapped.
"Oh, I'm sorry."
"It's ok…" Richard just assumed he was apologizing for being bothersome…
"Is it? Is it ok?" The man asked… "You want to be married, don't you?"
"You are in love, but you are afraid of it."
"How did you--? Who are you?"
"She loves you. You should tell her how you feel."
Richard looked worried, and like he wanted to run away. Escape. This man was hitting too close to home, too close to his heart… "I gotta go."
"What about your muffins?"
Richard didn't answer, he just sprinted for the door. He needed distance from this odd man who seemed to know just a little too much about his feelings… about his love for Caroline.
--Richard walked through the door of Caroline's apartment, hanging up his coat as usual, but when he turned around. Something was different. Something was wrong. He didn't have long to determine what, when Caroline came bouncing down the stairs…
"Hi honey…" she greeted him casually… "Where's the muffins?"
Richard just looked at her… *Honey?* he asked himself, his odd expression catching Caroline's attention…
He looked around as if something would clue him in as to what was going on. "I… ummm…"
She scowled as she watched him fidget, then approached him, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing his lips softly.
He jumped at her touch and pulled away… "What did you do that for?"
"Do what? Kiss you?"
She smirked at him, glaring jokingly… "You've never complained before. Why are you acting like this?"
"I'm just-- trying to-- think…"
"Don't hurt yourself." She laughed… "Where are the muffins?"
"The line was too long. And this guy was bothering me…"
"Oh, well, Kelsea will be disappointed…"
"Kelsea?" Richard asked, confused. *Who's Kelsea?*
"Yeah Daddy?" a little voice called out from the stairs, a little voice belonging to a little girl about the age of 5. She came bouncing down the stairs, a smile wide and bright. "Where da muffins Daddy?" she asked as she wrapped her little arms around his waist.
"Daddy forgot them sweetie…" Caroline interjected, pulling a box of Poptarts out of the cupboard… "We'll just have Poptarts, k?"
"Oooohhhh…" Kelsea whined, both her and Caroline unaware of Richard's reaction to the scene in front of him.
"C'mon Kelsea, Daddy would have gotten them if he could have…"
Richard felt like he was suffocating. He had to get out, get some distance to determine what was going on. "I'll go get them…" he blurted out, then grabbed his coat.
"Yay!" Kelsea cheered, and Caroline smiled at Richard warmly…
Richard gave her one last odd look before walking out the door.
--Richard walked absent mindedly to the bakery, trying to process all that had happened. Nothing made sense. Caroline's behavior, and who was Kelsea? Why did she call him 'Daddy'? He didn't know what to think. He arrived at the bakery, but before going in, he heard his name being called, and turned to look at where it had come from.
"Richard." The man repeated. It was the same man that had talked to him while he was in line at the bakery earlier. Richard looked at him with concerned curiosity, one eyebrow raised. "I have the answers to your questions, Richard." He said assuredly. With regard, Richard approached the man, still leery, but wanting answers.
"Answers to my questions?"
"Yes. I know why Caroline is acting this way. I know who Kelsea is."
"Ok, enlighten me…"
"This is the life you would have had, if you had told Caroline about your feelings when you first realized them."
"What are you talking about? How do you know so much about--?"
The man interrupted… "When Del proposed to her, and you realized you were in love with her… why didn't you say something to her?"
"Cause she could never love me…"
"You're wrong. She loves you."
"If you had told her right then, about your feelings… this is the life you would have had."
"I don't understand any of this…"
"This is a glimpse into what would've happened if you had told Caroline you were in love with her when she told you about Del's proposal. Kelsea is your daughter. Caroline gave birth to her 9 months after you were married. She was conceived on your honeymoon. Five years ago today. It's your anniversary."
"Five years ago?"
"Yes. Today is February 16th, 2001."
Richard rubbed his face, confusion and disbelief ruling his thoughts… "What is the point of all this?"
"To show you what your life would be like if you weren't so afraid of your feelings."
"I'm not afraid of my feelings!" Richard snapped, starting to get angry with all of it.
"Richard," the man stated calmly… "Get muffins for your wife and child, and enjoy your time with them. It will be brief." He pointed to the bakery, and Richard turned to look at what he was pointing at. When he turned back around, the man was gone. He looked around for any sign of him, but he couldn't find him, so he went into the bakery to get the muffins, still looking around for some sign that all this was a dream, or something logical to explain it.
--Richard entered the loft, muffins in hand, peeking in the door nervously.
"Kelsea. Daddy is back!" Caroline called out as she saw the door creek open.
Richard walked slowly into the kitchen, placing the bag from the bakery on the counter, then leaning towards Caroline… "I need to talk to you."
"Ok, talk." She replied, smiling at him.
"Alone." He looked at Kelsea, then back at Caroline.
"Oh, ok." She looked at Richard, concerned… "Are you ok?"
"I don't know."
"Kelsea, eat your muffin here at the counter, we'll be right back."
They walked upstairs to the bedroom, closing the door softly before Caroline spoke…
"So, what's going on?"
"I don't know! Things are weird."
"When you called me today--"
"Yeah, at my apartment…"
"Your apartment? What are you talking about?"
Richard just looked at her blankly. Caroline walked to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, holding him tightly, lovingly. Richard melted into her embrace, getting lost in the moment.
"Richard, tell me what's going on…"
"I don't honestly know."
She could tell he was really distraught, and she kissed his neck, making her way to his lips, then kissed him passionately. He responded immediately, his arms snaking around her waist, his hands running up her back. He felt her shiver and he pulled back...
"Are you ok?" he asked tenderly, and she smiled up at him dreamily...
"Yes, I'm fine. I love you."
He hesitated, not sure how to respond to her comment, but he noticed worry in her eyes, so he swallowed his fear… "I love you Caroline."
She grinned with relief… "Happy anniversary."
She kissed him again, running her hands over his body hungrily.
He was drowning in sensation, and his hands flew to touch every inch of her, drink her in and love her like he'd always wanted to. Just then there was a knock at the door…
"Mommy? Daddy?" Kelsea called out… "Annie is here."
Caroline pulled away and chuckled… "Tell her I'll be right down."
"What does she want?" He was upset by the interruption.
"She probably wants to go over the game plan for tonight."
"How quickly we forget." She teased… "Annie is watching Kelsea so we can go away for the weekend."
Richard knew it was futile to argue, to fight what was happening. The annoying man from the bakery seemed to be right. He was married to Caroline. They had a child together. He nodded, managing a smile as she headed for the door, leaving to talk to Annie. He didn't know how any of this was possible, but he knew now it was real, whatever that was. He looked around the room after Caroline left. In the closet were his clothes… at least he guessed they were his clothes. They looked like his style. He went into the bathroom, there were men's toiletries. Things he would use, like the type of hairbrush and shaving cream he favored. He was flustered, and it was obvious, even to a 4 year old child…
"Wussa matta Daddy?" Kelsea asked as she walked into the room.
"Huh? Nothing. Nothing is wrong." He lied, sitting on the bed. Kelsea climbed up beside him, snuggling into his side, immediately putting Richard on edge.
"I saw-wee Daddy. I kiss you and make all better."
Before Richard could answer, she reached up and kissed his cheek. Richard looked at her, that bright sweet face, smiling up at him. He smiled at her and touched her cheek lightly…
"Thank you… sweetheart." It sounded unreal for him to say that, to this child he didn't really know.
"Yer welca Daddy. Come eat muffins, k?"
"In a little while."
She climbed off the bed and toddled out of the room.
--Richard walked downstairs a few minutes later to see Caroline and Annie talking.
"Hey Richie! Big night, hmmm?"
"Yeah…" He sounded distant, and Annie could tell.
"What's your problem?"
"He's been acting like this all day…" Caroline confided in Annie, speaking quietly.
"Here da muffin Daddy!" Kelsea handed him a muffin, and Richard took it hesitantly.
"We'll drop her off in a couple hours." Caroline told Annie, hugging her… "And thanks."
"And thank Del for me."
"Sure thing hun."
"Del?" Richard asked, interjecting into the conversation.
"Yeah, you know, my husband?" Annie teased.
"Husband?!" The tone of his voice made Annie laugh…
"Did you hit your head or something? What's with you?"
"Hit my head?" he asked… *Hit my head! Maybe that's what happened.*
"I think he's finally lost his mind!" Annie shook her head and headed out the door.
--Richard wandered around the loft, taking notice of the differences. An easel was sitting where her exercise machine used to sit, a work in progress on it. It was definitely his style of art, but it was better than anything he had ever created.
"You gonna paint Daddy? Get your black paint shirt." Kelsea said as she spotted Richard looking over his art.
"Oh, I'm not gonna paint right now Kelsea."
"Wanna play with me?"
"You be King." She announced excitedly, handing him a homemade crown.
Richard just looked at her, holding the construction paper crown.
"Put it on yer head."
Reluctantly, he did as she asked. He felt ridiculous, but she was so happy.
"Ok, you tell me I's booteefull."
"You're the most beautiful princess in all the land." He smiled at her as she beamed.
"K. Now tell me to marry the ham-some prince."
"Aren't you a little young to be getting married?"
Kelsea giggled and slapped him playfully… "Iz just play Daddy!"
"Ok, my dear, sweet, beautiful princess… you need to marry the 'ham-some' prince!"
"But King, I don't love him!" she exclaimed dramatically… "Ask me who I love."
"Who do you love beautiful princess?"
"The cart jess-cher!"
"Huh? Oh! The court jester?"
"Cause heez funny!" she laughed, and Richard smiled at her enthusiasm.
He had never been very good with kids, and had never wanted kids of his own, but seeing this bright, witty, funny child with all the brightness Caroline showed each day, it made his heart warm and he felt truly connected to her. If Caroline were to have a child, this is exactly how he would picture her.
Caroline laughed as she entered the room from upstairs…
"Ok, sweetie, you need to go pack up some toys to take with you. But don't try to pack all of them! Just a few please…"
"K, Mommy!" Kelsea quickly jumped to her task, leaving Richard and Caroline alone.
"She's amazing." Richard whispered as he watched her ascend the stairs.
"I know!" Caroline agreed, picking up some toys that had gotten tossed about. "Go get ready. Your clothes are sitting on the bed."
"Oh. Ok, thanks.
--When they finally got to the Inn, Richard was nervous, and Caroline could tell. She reached for him to hug him, but he flinched and pulled away. She couldn't help but be a little upset by this, and she tossed her coat to the bed, turning to face Richard…
"Ok, are you gonna tell me what this is all about?" she asked, her tone more worried than angry.
"What?" he looked lost and confused…
"You've been acting odd all day. Why?"
"It's not nothing. Talk to me. We've never kept secrets from each other…"
Richard looked at her for a moment, contemplating that simple statement. Maybe he should just tell her. Maybe he could trust her. He would have to be tactful though…
"What would you do if you woke up one day and your life wasn't your life anymore?"
"What do you mean?" she asked, sitting on the edge of the bed.
"Well, let's say you have this fairly ordinary life, then, all of the sudden, everything is very different."
"Just completely different. Nothing is the way it was before. You are the same, but everything around you is now different."
"I'm not sure I'm following you here." Caroline was starting to get exasperated, and Richard could tell…
"Caroline, this isn't my life! None of it! You are not my wife, Kelsea is not my child, this is not my anniversary!"
Tears came to Caroline's eyes and the sudden sadness shocked Richard… "Are you trying to tell me you want a divorce? Where did this come from all of the sudden?"
"No! No. No, no… it's not that!"
"Then what? What is it?"
"Let's go about this differently. Let's say-- Where do you think we would be if I hadn't told you about my feelings for you?"
"What? Why? Why wouldn't you tell me?"
"Let's say I was scared to."
"Why on earth would you be afraid to tell me you love me?"
"Well, let's say I didn't think you could ever feel the same, so instead of risking my heart, I just didn't say anything. Where do you think we'd be now?"
Caroline smiled slightly… "Well, I suppose I would have married Del… and would be divorced from Del. And instead of being a successful artist, you would probably still be my assistant, coloring 'Caroline in the City'."
"I'm successful? As an artist?"
"Of course you are! Do you feel sick? Do you have a fever or something?"
Richard ignored the questions, deep in thought and off in his own world…
"Richard?" Her calling his name brought him back into the moment…
"Caroline, do me a favor?"
"Tell me what happened that day. The day I told you about my feelings."
"Pretend I don't know anything about it, like I'm hearing the story for the first time." He knelt down in front of her, and she smiled as she gathered her thoughts.
"It was the day Del proposed. I was unsure if I should accept his proposal, and I looked to you for advice. You said there were a lot of other options out there for me, but I argued with you about that idea, so you left. When Annie and I were having lunch at Remo's I told her about Del's proposal and how you seemed to think it was a bad idea to accept. She told me it was because you had feelings for me. I went to your apartment to talk to you, to see if there was any truth to what Annie had said. I invited you out to dinner, but you declined. I thought then that Annie must've been wrong, so I left and started to hail a cab, then you showed up. It was raining, I remember, and you had brought me an umbrella. You said you had changed your mind, and would love to catch a bite with me, so we went to this Turkish place you had been dying to try. The food was awful, but it will always be my favorite meal… cause that is when you told me you loved me."
"What did I say?"
"I told you what Annie had said at Remo's and you blushed, and looked into your plate for a long quiet moment. Then you said: 'Annie is right'. And I said: 'What?', and you said: 'I love you Caroline.'… Do you want me to go on?"
"Richard…" she whispered, shaking her head and chuckling… "I don't know what game you are playing… but, ok. I suggested we go back to my place to talk about stuff, and you agreed. You told me that you had been in love with me since the moment you laid eyes on me, and that you were only waiting for a sign from me… so I gave you one. I had never been kissed with such passion… you just amazed me. You continue to amaze me."
She leaned into him and kissed him, standing with him as the kiss intensified. When they finally pulled away to catch their breath, Caroline whispered in his ear: "Dance with me?"
"But there's no music." He replied nervously.
"I don't need music."
They danced in the silence of the room, Richard relaxing and enjoying the moment. None of what was happening made any sense, but he was going to enjoy it for as long as it lasted.
"Do you regret marrying me?" Caroline asked as they danced; Richard's arm around her waist, his right hand on the small of her back, his left hand holding her hand close to his heart. Caroline's arm was wrapped around his, her hand grasping at his shoulder, her head resting comfortably on his chest.
"No, of course not! Why would you ask me that?"
Caroline shrugged… "Just trying to figure out what all of this has been about. Your strange behavior…"
He knew he had to come up with something, some explanation… "I had a nightmare… is all…"
"When? Last night?"
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"It was so real. I was trying to determine which was the dream, and which was reality…"
"Tell me about the dream…" she demanded softly, kindly.
"I dreamt that I was scared to tell you about my feelings, so I just continued working for you, coloring the comic strip. We didn't get married and we didn't have Kelsea."
She held him just a little bit tighter… "Well, you're awake now…"
When she pulled back to look at his face, she could see the anguish in his expression… "You honestly think this is the dream? And the other is the reality?"
"I don't know what I believe. I know this feels so good, if it is the dream, I don't want to wake up."
She smiled at him and resumed dancing, holding him close… "You won't. This is real."
He wished he could believe that, but the strange man's words kept ringing in his ear… 'Get muffins for your wife and child, and enjoy your time with them. It will be brief.'
--Nervously, Richard made love to Caroline. He wasn't exactly sure if it was appropriate, he almost felt as if he were doing something wrong, because he wasn't REALLY married to her, but he couldn't control his hunger. She was so beautiful, and she wanted him, and when she touched him, he felt so loved and desired.
Caroline slept snuggled up to him, her head on his chest, but he remained awake, listening to her breathing. He had wanted her for so long, fantasized about being with her for so long, it was even better than his dreams.
*Dreams.* he thought to himself… *That's what this is…* He was sure of it. He didn't want to ever wake from it. When he heard and felt Caroline start to stir, he was brought out of his deep thoughts…
"Aren't you tired?" she asked when she realized he was still awake.
"I'm afraid to go to sleep."
"If I go to sleep, when I wake up again, all this could be gone."
"I won't be gone, Richard, go to sleep." She assured him, kissing his lips.
He nodded and smiled, watching her fall asleep before he finally fell asleep.
--The phone ringing woke Richard out of his sound sleep. He sat up abruptly, looking around, disoriented. He was in his squalid apartment, in his unkempt bed. He jumped up and grabbed the phone…
"Caroline…" Her voice pierced his heart, causing him to face reality… *It was a dream.* he told himself, sadness overwhelming him.
"Were you coming in to work today?"
"Yeah, sorry. I overslept." His voice sounded odd, and Caroline noticed…
"Nothing. Just had… a strange dream. I'll be right there…"
"When you come, can you pick up some muffins?"
"What?" It was a simple enough request, but it hit too close to home for Richard. That's how the whole dream thing started. Only, it didn't feel like a dream, it felt very real. So real, his body still trembled from her touch.
"I know, I know. You don't like running errands for me. I'm sorry, I'm out of Poptarts and I don't really have anything else for breakfast. I'll let you off a half hour early with pay if you do this for me."
"You don't have to do that, I'll get them."
"No problem. I'll be there shortly."
Caroline could hear the sadness in his voice… "Are you sure you're ok?"
"Yeah. I'm fine. Bye."
--Richard stood in line at the bakery, too consumed by thought to care about the activity around him. He inched up in line as the line moved forward, his face showing signs of deep concentration.
"It wasn't a dream Richard."
Richard spun around and physically jumped when he saw the man behind him.
"You." Was all he could say, and the man smiled.
"Me." He replied simply… "It wasn't a dream, Richard. It was exactly what I said it was. It was a glimpse into what your life would be like if you had traveled down a different road."
"How could any of this be real. I don't understand."
"There's a lot in life we don't understand, doesn't mean it isn't real. Richard, don't let this special lesson go without heed. Tell Caroline how you feel. Don't waste anymore time."
"I can't. What if she doesn't feel the same? I couldn't take--"
"Richard! She feels the same. She has for as long as you have. You have given her no indication of your feelings. You are always hiding how you feel, pushing her away. Go to her, tell her how you feel, stop pushing her away from you."
"Next please!" the girl behind the counter barked at Richard.
He turned to acknowledge her, then turned back to the man behind him, but he was gone. Confused, he approached the counter and ordered the muffins, then headed for Caroline's.
--Richard entered the loft, almost suspiciously, and was greeted by a cheerful Caroline as she skipped down the stairs.
"Hey! You're here!" she announced, taking the bag from his hand.
"Nothing slips by you." He replied sarcastically as he hung up his coat.
"Feeling any better?"
"You seemed depressed on the phone earlier. You know, more so than usual."
"I'm fine, Caroline. I just have a lot on my mind." He was cautiously watching her as he never had before, looking for any sign that she might care for him.
"These muffins look great! Thanks for stopping and getting them for me."
"You want one?" she asked, her eyes bright and inviting.
Richard swallowed hard and shook his head… "No thanks."
"Oh, c'mon Richard! Come have a muffin with me!" She put a muffin on a small plate and extended it towards him, encouraging him.
"Alright." He took the plate and sat at the bar, fidgeting with it, very aware she was watching him.
"You know, I'm your friend Richard. If you tell me what's wrong, maybe I can help."
"You can't help."
After a long pause he finally confided in her… "I had a dream…" he whispered, obviously nervous.
"We were married."
"Really?" Caroline smiled… "And how did that make you feel?"
He scowled at her, that typical 'Richard expression' on his face… "What are you? My therapist?"
She couldn't help but chuckle… "No. Just asking."
"It made me feel-- I… I don't know how it made me feel."
She could see his anguish, and she reached out and touched his hand, but he pulled it away. "What?" she asked him, confused.
"Nothing." He got up quickly and walked to his side of the partners desk, needing space, but she followed him.
"Richard, why are you so nervous?"
He just shook his head. He couldn't do it. He wasn't brave enough.
Caroline just sighed and sat at her side of the desk. She didn't know what was bothering him, but he obviously didn't want to tell her about it. Didn't trust her enough to confide in her. A long moment of silence passed before Richard finally spoke…
"I'm in love with you, Caroline."
He looked petrified, staring at the desk, wringing his hands nervously. She stood and walked over to him, turning him to face her…
"I'm in love with you too, Richard."
His eyes grew wide as he looked up at her, her smile sweet and loving. He leaned in and kissed her, apprehensively at first, but the kiss quickly grew in intensity, amazing and perfect.
Caroline looked deep in his eyes and smiled, a tear of joy rolling down her cheek… "Do you know how long I've waited for you to do that?"
"Since Del proposed?"
She looked astonished at his answer… "Yeah! How did you know?"
"It came to me in a dream." He smiled, then embraced her, holding her tight to him… "I have loved you since the first day I saw you."
Caroline pulled back, a surprised expression on her face… "That long? Why did you wait so long to say something?"
"I was afraid of getting my heart broken again."
"Julia." He answered simply.
"I would never hurt you Richard. I could never hurt you."
He smiled at her as he stroked her face with the back of his fingers… "What do you think of the name Kelsea?"
"I love that name! I always wanted to name my daughter that. If I ever have a daughter that is."
"You will…" he told her… "And we will name her Kelsea."