Caroline & The Valentine's Day Promise
--Richard sat at his side of the partner's desk, doing his job with his usual lack of enthusiasm as he colored the 'Caroline' Valentine's Days cards. His exasperated sigh caught Caroline's attention…
"What?" she asked, suppressing a smile…
"Nothing, it's just that this holiday is so ridiculous." He snapped… "It's just an excuse to sell cards and chocolates!"
"Yep." For once Caroline agreed with him… "Just a great big, fat reminder that I have NO ONE in my life. That I'm gonna die without ever having been married. That no one could possibly love me."
"Oh, now, that's not true…" he said, unaware that his simple comment sparked a twinge of hope within Caroline… until… "You'll probably marry out of desperation and get divorced at least once before you die…"
The hope left as fast as it arrived… "Thanks." she replied sarcastically.
"You're welcome." His voice was thick with cynicism.
--"Do you have any plans for Valentine's Day, Richard?" Caroline asked 2 days before February 14th, for the sake of conversation more than anything else.
"Nope. I'm doing what I do every other day of the week… I'm going home to my rat and roach infested apartment to eat a frozen meal; hopefully my oven will be in a good mood and allow me to cook it first. Then, I'll try to fall asleep while being serenaded by my neighbors fighting. How about you?"
"I have a date." She almost felt guilty admitting that, after what Richard had just said.
Jealousy gnawed at Richard, but he swallowed hard and forced the feeling down deep, with all his other unwanted emotions. "With who?"
"A guy I met in line at the bank."
"And does this guy have a name?"
"Chase? That's not a name, it's a verb."
"Oh, hush! At least it's a date with someone! It's been so long--"
"Well, I hope you have fun." Richard cut her off as he headed for the door… "Good night."
"Good night, Richard."
--"Hey, Richard… how do I look?" Caroline asked as she walked down the stairs, all dressed up for her Valentine's Day date.
Richard was in awe of her beauty, and he gasped before he answered… "You look great."
"Thanks." She blushed when she replied.
"I still have 2 panels to do… did you need me to finish them up today? Or can it wait till tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow is fine. I'm sure you wanna get home."
He just shrugged… "I have nothing to go home to…"
That simple comment, along with the tone of his voice caused Caroline's heart to ache. To the point of wanting to cry… "You can finish them now, if you'd rather."
"Ok. So, where are you going tonight?"
"Well, I hope you have a good time. You deserve it…" he said with all sincerity.
"Thank you, Richard…" she smiled, almost apologetically. She watched him as he colored the strip, his eyes looked so sad…
She was so deep in her thoughts that when the phone rang, it visibly startled her…
"Hello?" she answered the phone… "Oh, hi Chase. ~~ What? ~~ Ooookaaaay... ~~ Yeah, well, I'd wish you good luck… but it sounds like your fiancée is the one I should be wishing luck too!" With that she slammed the phone down, kicking her shoes off and storming into the kitchen.
"What happened?" Richard asked, putting his work aside.
"That guy. My date. Chase. He's engaged! He only made the date to make her jealous!" she snapped angrily… "Maybe Annie is right… maybe men just suck!"
"I'm sorry Caroline."
"Yeah, well… such is my luck lately!" she grabbed a bottled water from the fridge and flung herself onto the couch… "I'm never gonna find happiness, am I?"
She started to cry, and it immediately made Richard wince… "Please don't cry, Caroline." He walked to her, handing her his handkerchief… "Please?"
"I'm sorry Richard, I know you hate it when anyone shows emotion…"
"No, it's not that…"
"What's wrong with me?"
"Then why can't I find true love?"
"Maybe your sincere amore came into your life, but you were busy with someone else…"
"Oh great! So, he showed up and I missed him! Which means I will forever be alone!"
"No, no… that's not what I meant…"
"When did it get so complicated, Richard?"
"Well, for me, it got complicated the second the doctor announced 'It's a boy!' and slapped my butt." He joked as he joined her on the couch, inciting a small chuckle from Caroline.
She rested her head on his shoulder, leaning into him and sighing. It felt nice to be close to him, and she closed her eyes, enjoying his compassion.
Richard's heart was racing. Her body contacting his was profoundly affected him. Her warmth, the light scent of her perfume, the sound of her contented breathing was causing him to ache with need…
"I'll take you to dinner. If you want…"
She looked up at him and smiled… "Really?"
"Yeah." He smiled in return.
"I would love to go to dinner with you." She accepted his offer graciously, excited about the idea.
"Really?" he asked nervously, and Caroline nodded her confirmation. "Ok, let me go home and change, and I'll come right back and pick you up."
He grabbed his coat and smiled at her before he left, sprinting down the stairs.
--He took her to a wonderfully romantic restaurant, wanting to give her the evening she deserved. He even bought her a rose when the 'rose lady' walked by.
"Oh, thank you Richard. You didn't have to buy me a rose…"
"I wanted to." He smiled.
His smile was so sweet, so handsome, so unlike Richard. She loved it, wishing she could see it more often, but knowing she probably wouldn't.
He stood and extended his hand… "Would you like to dance?"
"Wow. Dancing too?" she asked rhetorically… "I would love to." She accepted, standing and taking his hand.
They only got a few steps away when Caroline saw him… and she stopped cold, causing Richard to turn around…
"It's him…" she replied.
"Chase. The 'date-from-the-bank-line' guy."
Richard turned and looked where Caroline was pointing, and he saw him. Sitting with his fiancée, looking shifty and dishonest.
"What do you want to do?"
She shook her head, a tear in her eye… "Let's just go."
"I thought you were having a good time. I thought you wanted to dance."
"I was. I do. It's just…" she stopped there, not knowing how to explain what she was feeling.
Richard took her back to the table… "Just wait here a sec…"
Richard walked over to the table the guy was sitting at, and Caroline could barely make out what was being said. Richard was calling him 'lover', and Chase was denying being gay to the woman at the table. When the woman got up and stormed off, Richard turned to the guy and glared…
"Next time be careful who's heart you break!" He walked back to his table and extended his hand again…
"Caroline, would you care to dance now?"
She couldn't contain her smile… "I would love to."
They danced close together, their bodies a perfect fit.
"This is nice." Caroline said as they danced, her head resting on his chest.
"I can't believe you told Chase you were gay."
"Well, I wanted him to suffer for upsetting you, and I'm no good with my fists."
"You woulda hit him for me?"
"Wow. Thank you."
He held her hand in his, over his heart with his chin resting on her head, her soft auburn hair and sweet perfume sending him into his fantasies. He longed to kiss her, longed to tell her how much he loved her, but he was afraid of ruining the perfect moment they were sharing.
--They arrived at Caroline's loft, and she invited him in for a cup of coffee.
"Thank you for tonight." She said as she made the coffee.
"You're welcome. I had a good time."
"I'm glad. You ever think about marriage?"
The question took Richard by surprise, and he stuttered as he answered… "Well, yeah. I guess. Sometimes."
"I'm starting to think I'm never going to get married."
"No, you will."
"It's like, all the great guys are already gone. Or gay. Or just simply not interested in me. You know?"
"I mean, most of my friends are already married." She handed Richard his cup of coffee… "Maybe I shoulda just married Del."
"He wasn't right for you."
"You thought me and him together was a mistake from the beginning." She recalled… "Why?"
Richard shrugged… "He's… well, don't get me wrong, I like Del and all… but he's just too… spoiled. He wouldn't have treated you the way you deserve to be treated."
"How do I deserve to be treated?"
"You deserve to be loved and cherished. Adored. He's too self-centered."
"Yeah, he is that." She agreed as she joined him on the couch. "What about you? Who do you see yourself marrying?"
"I don't know. Someone who can see past my bitter pessimism and love me for who I am."
"You know, Richard… you're hard to know, but you are the kindest man I know. And I can see something in you that is rare…"
"Yeah. You're unique. There is passion in you, and you have a good heart. Any woman would be lucky to have you. I would envy any woman who was able to steal your heart."
She nodded… "Mmmm-hmmm."
He smiled, a slight blush coloring his cheeks.
"Hey, Richard, have you ever heard of a 'back-up'?"
"You mean like how a musical group has back-up singers?"
"No, not exactly. Annie's friend Pheobe told her that if she didn't get married by the time she was 40, she was gonna marry her friend Joey. You know, if he wasn't married either."
Richard just looked at her in disbelief.
"I know it sounds weird… but it makes sense. I mean, that way, you're not alone for the rest of your life. You know?"
He shrugged… "I guess…"
"Would you ever consider doing that?"
"Doing a back-up thing with a friend?"
"I guess it would depend on the friend."
"Me. If it were me asking you…"
He looked away, embarrassed… "Yes."
She reached over and placed her hand on his… "Let's do it. Let's make a pact. If neither of us are married by the time we are 40--…"
"Which one of us? You're one year older than me."
She chuckled and smirked at him… "Me. When I'm 40…"
"Why should I miss out on my extra year?" he joked…
"Ok, fine, when YOU'RE 40. If neither of us are married or in a serious relationship, we'll get married!"
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Yeah. Why not? We're both good friends. I care about you… you tolerate me--…"
"Is that what you think? That I just tolerate you?"
"Well, sometimes, yeah…"
"Caroline, I know I don't always show it, but I do care a great deal for you." He admitted…
"Wow. You're full of surprises tonight."
--Annie stumbled in to Caroline's loft, in search of coffee…
"Good morning Annie. Long night?" Caroline asked as her disheveled friend made her way to the kitchen…
"Haven't been to bed yet!"
"Anyone I know?"
"Nope. He's a new conquest." Annie announced proudly as she collapsed on the couch. "So, how was your Valentine's Day?"
"Oh! That Chase guy…?"
"Engaged!" Caroline informed…
"So, you spent the night alone?"
"No, actually, I went out with… Richard…"
"Richie? Ewww! Why?"
"Oh, cut it out! We had a wonderful time!"
"Yep! Oh, AND!"
"We made a pact! You know how you were telling me about your friend Pheobe's back-up plan? To marry her friend if they were both unmarried by the time they were 40?"
"Well, Richard and I are gonna do that!"
"No way! Why on earth would you wanna marry him?"
"Richard is a great guy! Passionate and loving and kind. Romantic, handsome--…"
"Ok, ok… I get the point! Sheeesh!"
Caroline smiled and returned to her work… "I was kinda surprised to learn that he actually likes me!"
"Yeah, well, I coulda told you that!"
"That Richie likes you! He's only been pining over you forever!"
"Uh-oh. That's not what you meant, is it?" she asked sheepishly… "Just forget I said anything…" Annie started to leave, but Caroline stopped her.
"Wait, wait. You can't just drop that in my lap and leave!"
"Look, I shouldn't have said anything! Richie will kill me…"
"Annie, what are you talking about?"
"Knowing Annie, she is talking about the 101 positions she tried last night…" Richard joked as he entered the loft…
"Ha, ha." Annie forced a fake laugh… "Bye!" she quickly left leaving Caroline in a panicked state of thought.
Richard hung up his coat and headed for the coffee… "Good morning."
Her tone sounded off, and he looked to her out of concern… "What's wrong?"
She looked at him for a moment, then shook her head… "Nothing."
"Ok. So, what are starting on?"
She handed him his work, her mind racing with thoughts…
"You sure you're ok?" he asked as he took his days work from her hand.
He wasn't quite sure he believed that, but he didn't have proof to the contrary.
"So, what was Annie talking about?" he asked as he started coloring.
"When I came in."
"Oh…" Caroline hesitated, trying to think up a lie… "About her date…"
"Ah. By your reaction, I woulda thought it was something else…"
"Why? What was my reaction?"
"I'm not concerned." She stated defensively, a sign that she was upset about something.
"Ok." he agreed, not wanting to upset her further.
It was several minutes before Caroline spoke again… "Can I ask you a question?"
"Why did you agree to be my 'back-up'?"
"You mean the marriage pact?" He knew very well that's what she meant, but he was stalling for time.
He didn't reply right away, he just kept coloring, and the fact that he wasn't answering made her nervous. Finally, his thoughts together, he answered…
"Cause I too do not want to spend the rest of my life alone. And because you seem to understand me. And because… I love you."
Caroline's mouth dropped open, and she watched as he continued to color, his eyes never leaving the panel. She slowly sat at her place at the desk, a smile crossing her lips as the admission sank in.
"Good." She stated as she started working… "Cause I love you, too." She admitted, and Richard quickly looked up at her.
He watched her for a moment, noticing her slight smile, and he smiled in return, his attention back on his work.
Maybe they wouldn't have to wait till they were 40…