Caroline & The Message

Caroline & The Message

Rated 'PG'

By: Jana~

~~Disclaimer~~

*****~*****

--Julia was sitting sipping her tea, waiting for Richard to come out of the bathroom when Caroline left her heart felt message for Richard, declaring her feelings for him.

*Hmmm… so, the marriage was fake, but the feelings were real. At least for Carolina.*

"Julia…" Richard stuck his head out of the bathroom, wearing nothing more than a towel… "Who was on the phone?"

"No one Reechard, just some woman trying to sell you something."

He smiled and went back into the bathroom to dress. Julia reached over and hit a button on the machine, erasing Caroline's message.

*He could not feel the same as she. Not after this evening…* she justified her actions. *He wants to be with me.*

Richard came out of the bathroom and kissed Julia on the cheek, smiling wide as he poured himself some hot water for tea.

"Reechard?"

"Yes?"

"Tell me about Carolina…"

"Tell you what about her?"

"How did you meet her?"

Richard shrugged as he joined her at the tiny table… "I needed a job, and I saw her add in the paper."

"She is more than just your employer… yes?"

"Well…" he faltered… "She's my friend."

"A good friend too… to pose as your wife…"

"Yeah. I guess so."

Julia squinted as she studied Richard's face… "I wonder… would you have done the same for her?"

"Yes. As a matter of fact, I have."

"Really? When?"

"My first day on the job. She was trying to show an old boyfriend that she had 'moved on', and well, long story short… I posed as her boyfriend."

"Interesting. And what happened?"

"She wound up dating him again. Even got engaged to him, but they called off the wedding. You met him actually. Del. The guy I was with at the restaurant."

"Ah yes, I remember. What happened on the date?" Julia directed the conversation back to Caroline.

"Well, it wasn't exactly a date. I was just pretending to be her boyfriend…"

"Yes. I understand. Please continue."

"Why do you want to know about this?"

"No reason Reechard, just curious."

"Well…" Richard hesitated, like he was trying to remember. Truth was, he remembered all to well… "I went to Remo's to tell her that her original date had called to cancel. Turns out, he was married." He started to get flustered… "It all happened so fast. Del came over and assumed I was her date, and I just… agreed. And then I kissed her…"

"You kissed her, hmmm?"

He blushed… "Yeah, well… I…"

"Reechard… let me ask you…" she interrupted, gaining his attention before continuing… "And I want you to be honest."

"Ok…"

"What are your feelings for Carolina?"

Richard couldn't look at her. Guilt nagged at him, and he struggled with his conscience…

"Julia… I…"

"She's more than a friend, isn't she?"

"Well, no. Not exactly…"

"But you would like her to be?"

"She could never love me." He stated sadly.

"Why would you say that?"

He just shook his head.

"You have changed Cara Mio. Your self worth is gone!"

Richard looked away sadly. She was right, and he knew it, but admitting it… that was something he was reluctant to do.

"What happened to you Reechard? What happened to the man I knew?"

"You." He replied simply.

"Me?"

"You really hurt me Julia. More than you realize."

Now it was Julia's turn to look away out of guilt. She had been so wrapped up in herself she didn't stop to think how her actions had affected him.

"Amore! You are afraid to love Carolina because of me? Because I left you for my trust fund?"

He nodded cautiously, avoiding eye contact.

"Amore, it wasn't personal! It was a 3 million dollar trust fund!"

"It sure felt personal!"

Julia shook her head ruefully, sighing deeply… "Reechard, why did you make love to me tonight?"

"I just-- I was…"

"Hurting?"

He nodded. "You were familiar. And you wanted me. I haven't felt wanted in a long time."

"If Carolina had asked you to stay--"

"She never would have…"

"If she had…"

"I would have stayed."

"Reechard, amore, I will help you."

"With what?"

"With Carolina! I will help you win her!"

"No, Julia, I don't know… I don't think…"

She cut him off with a wave of her hand… "Yes, Reechard! It will be perfect! I will help you win her as penance for hurting you!"

"You don't have to…"

"Yes! I do!" she announced excitedly.

Richard reluctantly agreed.

*****~*****

--Caroline had waited nervously all night for Richard to call, but he never did. Annie, Del, and Del's girlfriend Kirsten kept her company as she baked and paced nervously. When Richard walked through the door for work, Caroline's nervousness shot through the roof… the butterflies in her stomach multiplying.

After everyone left, leaving Caroline and Richard alone, Richard started Julia's plan in motion.

"I have something to tell you."

Caroline assumed he was about to mention the message… "Ok…" She smiled shyly.

He took a deep breath and looked her straight in the eyes… "I'm engaged."

"What?" She couldn't control the shocked look on her face.

"I can barely believe it myself! Julia wants to try again!"

Annie burst through the door… "Bitch!" she barked angrily, Del and Kirsten following close behind.

"Annie!" Caroline scolded.

"How could you do that? How could you get engaged?" Del asked, obviously upset… "Didn't you get the message?"

Richard looked confused… "What message?"

Del turned to Annie… "He didn't get the message."

"He didn't get the message!" Annie repeated…

Del shook his head, looking back to Richard… "I can't believe you didn't get the message!"

"What message?!" Richard asked, getting irritated.

"Nothing…" Caroline stated… "It was nothing. I just… left a message… asking you to pick up… liquid paper!" she stammered nervously… "It's ok! I'll just go out now and pick up some liquid paper!" she announced, then hugged him… "Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials!" She broke away from their embrace and grabbed Annie… "Let's go Annie! Let's go get liquid paper!" She drug Annie out into the hall, leaving a confused Richard behind, mouth hanging open.

--"Engaged?" Annie said, amazed and in shock.

"No, no! We can't even go there! We just have to get to Richard's and erase that message!"

Annie nodded, then opened the door to her apartment… "MA! I'M GOING!"

*****~*****

Caroline and Annie arrived at Richard's apartment and Caroline fished her copy of Richard's key out of her purse…

"We just have to erase the message and get out of here…" she said as she approached the machine, looking it over before hitting a button…

"You have six new messages." The computerized voice informed her.

"Erase them and let's go!" Annie said as she looked through Richard's mail.

"I can't just erase them all! What if the other messages are important?"

"So listen to them till you find yours!"

"That's an invasion of his privacy!"

"Well, so is going through his mail, but, here I am!"

"Annie! Put those down!"

Annie rolled her eyes and hit a button on the answering machine…

"Messages erased." The computerized voice informed.

"There! Now we can go!"

Before Caroline could express her anger, Julia walked through the door.

"Julia! Hi!" Caroline jumped at the sight of her.

"Carolina! What are you doing here?" Julia asked, her tone smug and contemptuous.

"Well, we heard that you and Richard just got engaged… so, we came by… to see what you could use… for a wedding present!" she stammered as she struggled to come up with a logical explanation. "Ah, look! No bread maker!" She started to drag Annie out the door… "C'mon Annie! Let's go buy a bread maker and liquid paper!"

"I erased the message Carolina." Julia called out to her.

"Message? What message?" Caroline feigned innocence.

"The message where you professed your love for my fiancée."

"Oh. That message…"

"Oh, don't worry… Reechard didn't hear it. I knew how… humiliating it would have been for you. Seeing as how we are now engaged."

"What happened to Marcello?" Annie asked bitterly.

Julia played with her hair as she squinted at Annie… "And you are?"

"Julia, Annie. Annie, Julia." Caroline introduced them.

"Marcello is a nice man. Beautiful and rich… but he's no Reechard."

"Yeah. Richie is ugly and poor." Annie quipped, receiving a jab from Caroline.

"Reechard is dark, and mysterious, and so very passionate…"

"Ok, this is venturing into 'I don't wanna know this' territory!" Annie shook her head and waved her hands, walking towards the door.

"Yeah, ummm… we gotta go… actually." Caroline stuttered as she headed for the door… "Congratulations Julia. I hope you and Richard will be very happy."

"We will, thank you."

*****~*****

--"Where's the liquid paper?" Richard asked as Caroline walked through the door.

"Oh. I guess I forgot it…"

"It's the only thing you went after! How could you forget it?"

"Well, Annie and I--"

"Enough said." Richard interrupted. "So, what do you want me to do next?"

"Well, let's see…" Caroline rifled through the finished panels. She was shaking nervously as she looked them over, and Richard noticed…

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Caroline lied… "Why?"

"You're trembling."

She dropped the panels and headed for the kitchen… "I'm just hungry. I always get the shakes when I haven't eaten."

"I thought you went out to lunch with Annie."

"Oh. Yeah. I did."

"Caroline--?"

"Nothing is wrong, ok!?" she shot back.

He stood up and walked into the kitchen, approaching her slowly as if she were a frightened child. He set his hand on her shoulder and she stopped cold. His touch was intoxicating.

"Something is wrong." He insisted.

She sighed, then spun around, confronting him…

"Do you remember when I told you that Del had proposed?"

Richard nodded… "Yeah."

"And you said that there were a lot of other choices out there for me?"

He nodded again.

"Well, I just happen to think there are a lot of other choices for YOU! She broke your heart Richard!"

"She's changed."

She sighed and walked out of the kitchen… "I think you deserve better."

"Better than Julia?"

"Yes. I don't trust her."

"Why? Why don't you trust her?"

Caroline didn't want to answer that question. Didn't want to tell him about the message she left, or how Julia had erased it so that she could seduce him and keep him for herself. She couldn't risk her heart. Truth was, she felt inferior to Julia, and didn't think Richard could love HER when he could have Julia.

"Let's just drop it, ok?"

Richard sighed. Julia's plan wasn't working. She had been so sure that if he announced his engagement, Caroline would admit her feelings. But, she wasn't doing that.

*She must not feel that way about me.* he thought sadly, returning to his desk.

--They worked in silence for the next few hours, neither knowing what to say to the other. The tension between them was obvious, and Richard considered telling Caroline the truth, but he wasn't brave enough.

"Richard?" Caroline said quietly.

"Yes?"

"It's almost 5:00. Why don't you go ahead and take off. I'm sure you'd like to spend some time with Julia…"

Richard bowed his head and nodded… "Are you're sure?"

"Yeah. Julia would probably enjoy going to dinner or something."

The way she said 'Julia' had so much disdain… "You really don't like her, do you?"

Caroline didn't answer.

"I wish you would tell me why."

She just shook her head sadly.

"Ok…" Richard sighed… "I'll see you tomorrow Caroline."

"Ok."

--When Richard left, Caroline broke down in tears. She had lost him… lost him to HER. Now that she had finally figured out her feelings… but she was too late. She silently cursed herself for not realizing her feelings sooner. For not speaking up sooner. Now he was Julia's. Her Richard was Julia's. She threw her pencil down and laid her head on her arms, sobbing, her heart aching.

"Caroline?"

Caroline whipped around to see Annie at her door…

"What's wrong sweetie?" Annie asked as she moved swiftly to Caroline's side.

"I lost him Annie. I lost him…"

"No, sweetie, you haven't lost him. Not yet. You have to fight for him!"

Caroline wiped her eyes and looked up at her… "Fight for him?"

"Yeah! Fight for him Caroline!" Annie declared… "Do you love him?"

"Yeah, Annie, I do."

"Then fight for him! Beat the witch at her own game!"

"How?"

"Seduce him!"

"Seduce him?! Oh, I don't know Annie…"

"Trust me on this Caroline! Richie will dump her and snatch you up in his arms!"

"You think so?"

"I know so!"

Caroline nodded and cleaned her face from her tears… "Help me Annie?"

"You bet!"

*****~*****

--"Julia Mazonne's room please." Richard said into the phone from his tiny apartment. "Yes, I'll hold. ~~ Julia? Richard. ~~ Not well. ~~ No, she didn't. ~~ I told you she didn't feel the same. ~~ How can you be so sure? ~~ Ok, ok… I'll give it more time. I still don't think-- ~~ Ok Julia, you and Marcello have fun. ~~ Bye."

Richard plopped down on his bed and ran his hands through his hair, frustrated. Things weren't going well. He hated deceiving Caroline, and hated himself even more for agreeing to Julia's plan. He wanted to call Caroline and tell her the truth, but he was too ashamed. He laid back and stared at the ceiling, the light from the bright pink 'Able Storage' sign invading the room.

*What do I do now? How do I get out of this?* he asked himself, a single tear trickling down his cheek. He was never one to cry, not even as a child. Not when he was beat up, or bullied, or ignored. Not even when Julia left him, so, why now? Cause he now knew for sure… knew for sure that Caroline didn't love him. Could never love him. He wiped the tear away and rolled to his side, eventually falling asleep.

*****~*****

--"Good morning Richard!" Caroline greeted him cheerfully.

"If you say so." Richard quipped as he hung his coat on the hook and headed for the kitchen.

"What's wrong with you? Didn't you have a nice evening with Julia?"

"No. I mean, I didn't spend the evening with Julia."

"Why not?"

"She said she had something else she needed to do." He took his coffee and sat at his side of the partner's desk… "Can we please just get some work done?"

Caroline smirked and sifted through some panels of her strip… "Sure. Here you go." She handed him some panels and took her place across from him.

--She waited for the right time, but reading his mood was difficult and she couldn't see the right time present itself. She watched him, without realizing it, intently. Richard noticed…

"What?" he asked, never looking up from his work.

She snapped out of her trance… "Huh?"

Richard put his pencil down and looked up at her, giving her his full attention… "You were staring at me."

"I was?"

"Yes. You were. Why?"

"I was just thinking…"

"I thought I smelled something burning." He joked.

Caroline just smirked… "I was wondering… what happened to Marcello?"

He looked down at his work, avoiding eye contact… "What?"

"Well, he was engaged to Julia, then she said she called off the wedding, so, did he just go back to Italy?"

"I don't know."

"That had to hurt. I would think. Her breaking up with him like that."

He just shrugged… "I guess."

"Well, when she did it to you it hurt."

"Yeah. It did."

"I still don't see how you can trust her."

"Well, she's changed."

"How much could she have possibly changed? She just did to Marcello what she once did to you! How can you be so sure she won't do it to you again? When someone better comes along…"

Richard kept his head bowed… "I guess I'm not."

Caroline got up from her seat and walked over to Richard, placing her hand on his shoulder… "I'm just worried Richard…"

"About what?" he asked, looking up at her.

"About you."

"Really? Why?"

"Cause I care about you."

"You do?"

"Yes. Deeply. Surely you know that!"

He just shrugged.

"Richard, I care more for you than you know." She admitted, leaning into him, touching her lips softly to his. When he didn't pull away, she pressed her lips to his, kissing him softly.

"Caroline?" he whispered when she pulled away.

"What?"

"I'm not in love with Julia."

"Then, why are you going to marry her?"

"I'm not. She is still with Marcello…"

"What? I don't understand…"

Richard sighed, shaking his head in disgust of his actions… "She thought if I told you I was engaged, you would realize your feelings for me and profess your love…"

"She said what?!"

"She said you have feelings for me. That she could tell, and that if I told you I was engaged to her, it would force you to realize it." Richard's tone was that of guilt and remorse… "I'm so sorry Caroline. I've been kicking myself for following along with this stupid plan! I just… I just thought… if maybe--"

"Richard…" Caroline interrupted… "Do you want to know why Julia was so sure I had feelings for you?"

He blinked in confusion, then nodded.

"I left a message on your answering machine telling you just that, but Julia took it upon herself to erase it."

"What?!"

"That's right. When you said you didn't get my message, I went to erase it…"

"Why did you want to erase it?"

"Cause you told me you had just gotten engaged! Why would you do that if you weren't in love with her? I thought my message would make things… awkward between us, so I went to your apartment to erase it, but Julia showed up. She informed me that SHE had already erased it, but that you hadn't heard it."

Richard stood abruptly and headed for the door… "She had no right!" he snapped, grabbing his coat and marching out the door.

"Richard!" Caroline called to him, chasing after him. She grabbed her coat and ran to catch up with him.

*****~*****

--Richard arrived at Julia's hotel room door, his mind set on confronting her, Caroline close behind.

"Richard…" Caroline called to him… "What are you going to say to her?"

He didn't answer, he was too engrossed in his task. He knocked with force, crossing his arms as he waited for Julia to answer.

"Cara Mio!" Julia greeted Richard with a kiss to each cheek… "What are you doing here?"

Richard pulled back from her show of endearment… "Did you erase a message from Caroline?"

Caroline waved sheepishly as Julia looked from Richard to Caroline, then back to Richard… "Did she tell you that?"

"Yes she did. Can I assume you… accidentally erased it?"

"It was no accident Reechard."

"What?!"

"It was before you told me about your feelings for her. I thought we were getting back together. I thought it would ruin my chance with you."

"That still gave you no right to erase it Julia!"

Julia nodded… "I know. When I saw how much you truly loved her, I knew 'we' could never be."

"You should have told me about the message THEN!"

"I know that now. I was embarrassed. Ashamed. But, I did tell you she cared for you! I did try to help you!"

"Help me?! You almost ruined everything!"

"Answer me this Reechard. If you had heard Caroline's message, what would you have done?"

Richard hesitated before answering… "I would have gone over there…"

"Then what? Maybe… make love to her?"

He looked down in embarrassment, not answering the question.

"Carolina…" Julia turned her attention to Caroline… "What would you have done if Richard had come to you that night?"

"I don't know."

Julia looked at her skeptically, a smirk on her face. "Ok, how did you feel when you thought you had lost Reechard?"

"I was upset…"

"And…" Julia gestured for her to continue…

"I was sad, AND I was angry…"

"You wanted to fight for him, yes?"

Caroline nodded as she glanced at Richard.

"Don't you see? If he had heard the message and come to you, it would have been too easy!"

"Too easy?!" Richard asked, shocked. 'Easy' was not a word that described his feelings or relationship with Caroline. He yearned to hold her so badly at times, it almost caused him physical pain.

"Amore…" Julia chuckled… "You have waited for Carolina for so long, but, Carolina just realized her feelings for you. If you had rushed over there, she would have never realized how much she loved you. How much she wanted you. How much she was willing to do to get you!"

"Same 'ol Julia. You assume too much!" Richard snapped, shaking his head. "You have no business playing with people's feelings and emotions!"

"I didn't play with your emotions, I brought feelings out in the open!" Julia announced proudly… "Now, I must go. Marcello is waiting for me. We are going back to Italy." She kissed Richard on each cheek, then Caroline on each cheek… "Good luck to you both." She stated sincerely, then walked out the door, past them and towards the elevator. She stopped abruptly and turned around, smiling… "Sincere Amore." She gave Richard a knowing glance, then blew him a kiss. She entered the elevator, leaving a confused Caroline and Richard behind.

"She is… is…" Caroline stammered…

"Annoying." Richard finished her sentence, causing her to chuckle. "You wanna get a bite to eat?"

Caroline smiled and nodded… "Sure."

They headed for the elevator, silently, contemplating Julia's words.

"Where do you wanna eat?" Caroline asked as they stepped onto the elevator.

"I don't care. Where do you want to eat?"

She just shrugged. There was a tension between them, even more so than before, and they both could sense it. All feelings were out in the open, and now they weren't quite sure what to do with them.

When the elevator doors closed Richard looked over at Caroline, a slight smile crossing his face. He slowly stepped to her, placing his hand on her face. He leaned towards her, kissing her softly on the lips.

"I'm sorry for what I put you through. And what Julia put you through."

"It's ok Richard." She whispered, gently touching his lips. He took her hand and kissed her palm, holding it to his face.

"I don't know what to do now…" he admitted, looking deep in her eyes.

"Well, let's eat first. Then we'll decide where to go from there… ok?"

He nodded, and let go of her hand, allowing her to remove it from his face. She reached her arms around his neck and held him tightly, his face resting in the hollow of her shoulder. When the elevator arrived at the lobby, the doors opened and they backed away from each other, Caroline chuckling shyly. Richard grasped her hand and they left the hotel hand in hand.

*****~*****

--Richard and Caroline arrived at her loft after lunch, both nervous and unsure how to act in the other's presence.

"Is it always going to be this awkward?" Caroline asked as she watched Richard looking out the window.

"I don't know." He answered honestly… "All I know is, this is what I wanted to avoid."

"What?"

"Putting our friendship at risk."

"I don't think we have. I think we just need to figure out where we go from here… you know?"

Richard turned to face her… "Where DO we go from here?"

She turned the radio on, a soft slow song playing as she approached him… "Will you dance with me?"

He took her hand and pulled her close, placing one hand on her back, the other gently holding her hand to his heart. They danced silently, bodies close, hearts beating just a little bit faster than normal.

"Richard?"

"Uh-huh?"

"When Julia said 'Sincere Amore'…"

Richard pulled back and looked at her… "Yeah?"

"Do you think--?"

"What?"

"Do you think she meant it? That she sees us as each other's--?"

"I don't know about Julia, but I see you as my true love. My Sincere Amore…"

"You do?"

"Yeah. I do." He kissed her passionately, running his hand through her soft auburn hair.

--"Hey Caroline! Do you have--" Annie stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of them kissing… "I guess you won?" she asked, smiling broadly.

Caroline threw a dirty look at Annie as Richard pulled away.

"Ah. Ok. I can tell when I'm not wanted…" Annie chuckled as she headed for the stairs.

"Wha--? Where are you going?!"

"I need to borrow your black skirt…"

"Ever hear of Macy's? Bloomingdale's? Saks Fifth Avenue?" Richard teased, walking into the kitchen.

"Ever hear of minding your own business?" Annie shot back…

"This coming from the busiest busy body on Broadway." He quipped as he started to make coffee.

Annie just made a face and headed up the stairs.

"It's in the laundry basket by the bed!" Caroline called to her as she disappeared into her room. "I'm sorry…"

"It's ok Caroline. It's not your fault."

"I'll lock the door next time."

Richard just smiled, then Annie came down the stairs…

"So Caroline, what did you think of Richie's letter?"

Richard looked at her as if he wanted to kill her…

"What letter?" Caroline asked, looking back and forth from Richard to Annie.

Annie laughed as she dodged the wadded up piece of paper Richard had thrown at her… "He wrote you a letter like a year ago! I thought for sure that he woulda given it to you now that you're all kissey-kissey!"

"You wrote me a letter?"

"Yeah he did!" Annie exclaimed, then sprinted from the apartment, only to come back seconds later, a piece of paper in hand… "Here ya go!" She handed Caroline the note, then turned to leave… "Gotta go! Call ya later!"

She slammed the door as she left, leaving a confused Caroline and an angry Richard in her wake. Caroline held the letter up at Richard, and he gestured for her to read it. She read it silently, tears splashing down her face.

"My God Richard, I had no idea…" Caroline whispered…

"No idea?" Richard asked softly.

"Well, I think I might've had some idea… but you always seemed to do something to contradict what I thought I was seeing."

"I was fighting to keep you at a distance."

"You succeeded."

He bowed his head sadly and nodded… "Yeah…"

Caroline approached him and took his hand… "But we're not doing that anymore, are we?"

He kissed her hand and pulled her to him… "No, not anymore. I don't want there to be distance between us." He kissed her as he ran his hands down her back, causing her to shiver with desire…

She pulled away, a smile on her face to let him know everything was alright… "What do ya say we get some work done."

"Ok."

"Then… after work…" she left the statement hanging, smiling mischievously…

"Yes…?"

"After work…" she repeated, then kissed him passionately, running her hands up and down his chest… "After work… we'll do something… fun."

"Define fun."

"Usually 'fun' means amusing, entertaining… pleasurable…"

"Hmmm… pleasurable, huh?"

She kissed him playfully, then winked at him, gently pushing him to his side of the partner's desk. Richard groaned and took his seat across from her.

They both knew that working together while having a relationship would be difficult… and interesting, but they also knew they wanted nothing more than to be with each other. It was a difficulty they were willing to endure… forever.

THE END