Caroline & The Sky Blue Hat

By: Jana~

~~Disclaimer~~

(Link doesn't work? See below.)

*****~*****

--"You know what I like best about this time of year?" Caroline asked as she watched the snow falling outside the window…

Richard glanced briefly at the chipper woman across from him… how could she find anything to like about gloom, snow, and cold?

Without waiting for his sarcastic reply, she continued… "It's the perfect time to sit with a cup of hot cocoa and snuggle with the one you love under a warm blanket."

He forced himself not to smile… "Don't you have to be clay-mation to say stuff like that?"

"Oh hush!" she smirked as she stood and headed for the kitchen… "Want some hot cocoa?"

"No."

"Yes you do!" she insisted, grabbing her brightly colored mug and his solid black mug…

"Why do you bother asking?"

"I keep hoping you'll give me something besides a sarcastic reply."

"Yeah, well, keep hoping."

She shook her head softly as she grabbed the milk, cocoa, and marshmallows… "You're lucky I love you."

"I know I am." He smiled to himself as he continued coloring the 'Caroline' comic strip… "You have a deadline you know. You shouldn't be wasting time puttering around the kitchen."

"Yes Richard, I am aware of the deadline. I am also aware that I have three more days till these are due and I am ahead of schedule. I want to enjoy a nice hot cup of cocoa with my boyfriend, is that so bad?"

With a light sigh he put down his colored pen and meandered up behind his love, wrapping his arms around her waist as she continued her task… "No… it's not bad at all…" he whispered in her ear… "I just like giving you a hard time."

"So I've noticed." She hummed softly as his lips found her neck… "And that's why I keep you around…"

"Is that all I am to you?" his voice was low and soft as he continued his affection… "A stud?"

Caroline laughed shortly, causing Richard to pull back…

"That's funny is it?"

"No…" she strained, trying to keep from chuckling… "Not funny…"

"And yet you laugh."

"Not laughing… just… chuckling…"

"A little too hard."

She smirked and handed him his mug… "Just hush and come snuggle with me on the couch."

"My work is never done."

"Yeah, well, with as much as you make it out to be a chore, one might wonder where your interests lie." She sat carefully on the couch, grabbing for the blanket off the back as Richard joined her… "Ya'know, if you don't really wanna be here, I think the new pizza delivery guy from Antonio's has a thing for me."

He pulled her to him possessively… "Don't even joke…" he ordered… "You are my very reason for living."

"So, stop complaining every time I wanna take a cuddle break."

"Not complaining…" he corrected as they both snuggled under the blanket, forgetting all about their hot cocoa on the coffee table… "Just being the voice of reason so that when you're racing around here at zero hour, I can say 'I told you so'."

"Oh, I know you will…" she murmured as she inched her hand up his thigh, catching that his breath quickened and smiling to herself… "Now, less talk, more touching…"

He shrugged… "You're the boss."

Her body instantly responded to his artistic hands, his touch arousing. It was almost hard to believe that they had been together eight months, even harder to believe that they got together at all.

--She'd known about her feelings for Richard for months at that point, but flirting and dropping subtle and not-so-subtle hints got her nowhere… so, she just figured he wasn't interested in her like that. Not interested in having her as a girlfriend… or a lover.

She'd have to be happy with just being his friend… not that that was so easy either. Much easier said than done.

They'd been working late… trying to get through the crunch of cranking out Mother's Day cards before the deadline…

---------------*flashback*---------------

--"Caroline…" Richard complained… "I could get done a lot faster if you actually gave me the color indications…"

She gave an exasperated sigh as she rushed around… "Sorry, where?"

He pointed at the panel and she walked around to his side of the desk…

"Oh, right. Ok, ummm… blue?"

He shook his head… "Royal? Cerulean? Midnight?"

"You choose!" was her flustered reply… "I- I just- I can't- I don't-"

It was obvious that she was overworked and completely stressed…

"Ok, Caroline, slow down…"

"I can't! I have all these due by tomorrow and I'm only half done!" She flailed her arms and grabbed fistfuls of her hair, pulling at the tufts in frustration.

Richard stood and approached her, taking her hands away from her hair and holding them in his… "You're working yourself up into a lather here, Caroline. Take a deep breath."

She looked down at their hands, then back up at him with a look in her eyes that seemed to make him uncomfortable. He pulled his hands away and turned from her gaze…

"Take a minute if you need it… I'll just get back to choosing the blue for the hat."

She watched him as he appeared busy with his task, and she smiled just slightly. He'd shown her something with that simple gesture… his expression showing concern and kindness.

"Maybe sky blue would work best…" he babbled… "Seeing as how these are for a spring time holiday and the other colors are pastels…"

"I trust your judgement." Her voice was soft, not sounding at all like the crazy person she had minutes before…

He glanced at her, then focused his attention once again on the panel… "Really, if you're going to get yourself all crazed over your deadlines, maybe you shouldn't wait till the last minute to get started."

"I didn't wait till the last minute Richard, and you know it."

"Whatever. Want to get back to it then? I would like to go home sometime this year."

She shook her head as a smirk showed itself… "Yeah, yeah…" She went to his side, watching over his shoulder…

"What are you doing?" His tone edged irritation… or maybe something else…

"What? I'm just checking on your choice of color."

"Thought you said you trust my judgement."

"I do. I'm just looking. Sheeesh!"

"Well, I do better when you're not hovering, thank you very much."

"And you call me uptight…"

"No, I called you a procrastinator… in so many words…"

Caroline scoffed… "Oh, well, that's much better!" Suddenly, she moved to stop his coloring by placing her hand on his… "Wait. You've moved into the flower. The flower is yellow, not blue…"

He jumped at the unexpected contact, dragging the blue pen across the panel… "Caroline! See what you made me do?"

"Uhn! I didn't do anything!"

"You were hovering! And… distracting me!"

"Well, sor-ry, your Majesty! I didn't know my very presence was such a distraction to you!"

"Surprise! It is!"

"Why do you have to be so difficult?! Just when I think you might be human, you turn around and insult me!"

He looked hurt… "Might be human?" he repeated…

She could've sworn she saw tears in his eyes as he looked away to fix the mistake he'd made…

"I'm sorry…" she apologized… "That's not what I meant…"

As quickly as the blink of an eye, he was his distant, unemotional self… "No, Caroline, it's fine…"

Without warning, she swiftly moved to hold him, turning him by grabbing his arm, then embracing him tightly…

"Caroline--?"

"I'm sorry. You're just… such a mystery to me. Just when I think I have you figured out, I realize it was a wrong turn in the confusing maze that is Richard Karinsky."

She felt him try to pull away, but just held him tighter, making his attempt at freedom more difficult…

"Don't pull away from me… I care for you, Richard. I wish I could make you understand that."

After several minutes of silence, she heard him reply, his voice a whisper…

"I do understand… more than you realize."

They pulled back enough to stare into each other's eyes, then oh-so-slowly, Richard's lips sought hers…

The gentle kiss, the slight brushing of lips grew in intensity… Richard's arm snaking around her waist as his free hand found its way into her hair.

Her initial confusion changed to arousal… her hands finding his soft blond hair. She needed to touch him… anywhere… everywhere…

In a flurry of movement they touched and caressed, passion taking over, their desires foremost on their minds. Clothes were quickly shed, ending up in a pile on the floor, then they slowly made their way to the couch.

Nothing was said, except their names uttered in the throws of passion as they made love, collapsing in each other's arms when the act reached completion.

--It was silent… eerily silent… the only sound in the room was the soft hum of the refrigerator running and their labored breathing.

A million thoughts and questions ran through Caroline's mind, new ones being added as she felt his hands caress her arm lovingly. The passion in their act… the gentleness he showed as he held her… it was like they were long lost lovers.

What had happened? She didn't know exactly. She'd said something that hurt him… then apologized. She held him tight… everything was a blur after that.

She dared break the silence… "Richard?"

"Ssshhh…" he replied, stopping her from continuing… "Let me just hold you for now. We'll talk… but, not just yet. Ok?"

She nodded against his chest… "Alright."

What would he say when the time came? What should she say? She wasn't quite sure. They'd crossed a line… a line she didn't mind crossing, but she was unsure of Richard's stance.

Did she seduce him? Was it the heat of the moment? Would he now push her further away? If only she could get some indication of his feelings… of what he was thinking…

"Can I use your bathroom to clean up?" His voice, though soft, startled her as she was deep in thought…

"Uh, yeah. Yeah… sure."

"We'll talk, I promise. I just feel… awkward… now. I need to… regroup."

"I understand…" she lied. Truth was, she didn't understand, but while he was 'regrouping', she could collect her thoughts and figure out what she was going to say to him… how to react to what he would say to her…

He kissed the top of her head before standing, locating his clothes off the floor and heading for the bathroom.

When the bathroom door closed, she slowly moved from the couch, grabbing her clothes and bunching them to her body protectively. She climbed the stairs to her room, dropping her clothes into the hamper as she entered her bathroom. She turned on the water and tested it before stepping into the shower, then absently washed herself, her mind spinning into different frightening scenarios…

Would he stop working for her now? Should she apologize? Should she lie and tell him it meant nothing? Should she be honest and tell him it meant everything? That she had never felt so alive in her life… being in his arms as he made her whole?

She exited the shower and started drying off…

"Caroline?" She heard his voice from downstairs…

"I'll be right down, Richard."

Toweling off quickly, she left the bathroom and set foot into her bedroom, only to find Richard in the room, fully dressed…

Instinctively, she covered herself with one arm across her bare breasts and her free hand in front of her most private of areas… "What-? What are you doing, Richard?"

He didn't reply… right away… and not in direct response to her question…

"Don't cover yourself Caroline…" he instructed, his voice low and seductive… "You are so beautiful…" he added, his hand outstretched as he approached her.

She could only whisper his name as she dropped her arms to her sides. He ran his fingers gently across her cheek, then down her neck to her shoulder. His eyes stayed locked with hers as his fingers ventured lower. When she gasped as his hands found her breast, he moved to gather her in his arms, his lips finding her neck… she could hear his breathing quicken…

"So beautiful…" he whispered, taking her face in his hands and kissing her.

She felt weak as he kissed her… nuzzled into her hair… nibbled on her ear…

"We should talk." His breath was warm against her cheek… "I'll be downstairs."

She stood trembling as she watched him leave the room, wanting more of what he'd just shown her… actually optimistic that the conversation they were about to have would end well.

--She descended the stairs to see Richard at the bottom, waiting for her, a nervous smile on his face.

"I don't even know where to begin…" she told him, stepping off the last step to join him…

"Then, let me start." He took her hand and led her to the couch, gesturing for her to sit as he kneeled in front of her… "What happened between us… there was a reason for it…"

"Ok…"

He took a deep breath to settle his nerves, looking as though he were about to become ill…

"Caroline," he gulped in air before continuing… "I'm in love with you. It's ok if you're not in love with me…" he hurriedly added… "But I wanted you to know… I wasn't just 'sleeping' with you. What just happened meant something to me… meant everything to me…"

She felt the tears well up, his figure becoming blurred before she blinked them away. He looked down, his expression almost sad, and she knew at that moment he had no idea about her feelings for him…

"Richard… I love you too."

His head jerked up, a hint of tears in his eyes as his searched hers… "You what?"

She smiled and touched his face… "I love you too, Richard. I have for a while… I've known for nearly as long… but, you're always so distant…"

"My protection against getting hurt…" he offered…

"I know. But, Richard, I would never hurt you."

"I know that… now."

----------------*flash forward*---------------

--"See?" Caroline gloated… "All done! We had our little sex break and still we got done ahead of schedule!"

"Ugh! Caroline! Please!" Annie recoiled as she sat reclined on Caroline's couch, thumbing through a magazine… "Some of us are trying to keep lunch down!"

"Well, ya'know Annie, if you don't find the conversation here to your liking, you could always leave…" Richard retorted…

Annie scoffed… "If I weren't here, you people wouldn't get anything done! You'd be all over each other like a fart in a space suit!"

He smirked, his attention remaining on the task of cleaning his side of the desk in the meticulous way he always did… "This coming from the head astronaut."

Annie made a face at him, then turned to Caroline, quickly dismissing him… "Wanna go Christmas shopping with me?"

"You're not done shopping yet?" Caroline asked in amazement… "Christmas is 4 days away! What are you going to do?"

Richard let out a pained groan… "I've landed in the middle of a bad holiday special…"

"Oh hush…" Caroline scolded playfully, wrapping her arms around him… "Stop being such a Scrooge…"

When Richard smiled and leaned in to kiss Caroline, Annie jumped off the couch…

"Yuck! Ok, you two are making me ill…" she headed for the door… "Caroline? Coming?"

"Go…" he whispered… "I'll be here when you come back…"

"Ok…" Caroline smiled, kissing him again before leaving his arms, heading for and out the door.

*****~*****

--"Annie's party was fun…" Caroline defended… "Kind of…"

"Please Caroline…" Richard scoffed… "Christmas is just another excuse to get inebriated to her. If not Christmas or New Years, Groundhog Day works just as well."

Caroline slapped his arm playfully, then linked her arm in his… "Ya'know… it's past midnight. It's technically Christmas morning. Wanna open gifts?"

"You have no patience."

"I know! C'mon! Please?"

He smiled as he kissed her cheek… "If it'll make you happy."

"Yay!" She did a little jog to the overly-decorated Christmas tree and retrieved his gift as he got comfortable on the couch. "Here…" she sat beside him, joining him… "Merry Christmas."

Slowly, so as to savor her reaction… her anxious giddiness, her eyes wide with expectation, he opened his gift. He smiled when she started bouncing slightly in her seat…

"Hurry up Richard."

"I'm getting there…" he replied calmly…

Finally, the wrapping was off and the box the gift was in was open…

"Art supplies. These are great, Caroline!"

"You really like them?"

He kissed her lips quickly as a show of appreciation… "I really do."

"I have one more gift for you…" she informed after a moment… "I'll just go get it. Be right back." She kissed him before standing to leave and his attention went back to his present as she climbed the stairs to the bedroom.

--She had been gone for a while, and Richard was just about to call after her when she appeared at the top of the stairs…

"You ready for your next present?"

He turned at the sound of her voice and his jaw dropped as he took in the sight of her. She was naked except for strategically placed red bows, red curly ribbon dangling from her neck, and one shimmering gold ribbon and bow in her hair…

"Oh my God…" he whispered, struggling to stand, facing her…

"You like?"

He gulped involuntarily, taking a few steps towards the stairs… "And I thought it would be hard to top the art set." His voice had a quiver of desire to it that Caroline immediately noticed…

"And does this?" she asked, striking a pose…

He didn't respond verbally, he just smiled as he ascended the stairs, placing his hands on her hips once he reached her. He was on the step below hers, and they could almost see eye to eye, him being taller when on ground level.

His lips found hers, a soft tender kiss following that stirred in both of them the familiar ache of want.

With a slight pivot of her hips, she moved her leg to rub against his groin, feeling his firm arousal… he groaned in response…

"You are so incredible…"

His low whisper, the sound of need in his voice made Caroline shudder…

"Come…" she commanded, taking his hand and leading the way up the last few steps to her room…

--He 'unwrapped' her slowly, torturously, adoring her with his lips and hands as he made love to her…

"I love you Caroline…" he whispered in her ear as he felt her shudder in his arms… his reward following soon after…

--"I love you too…" she whispered as he held her in a post-coital cuddle, his arms warm and protective…

"It's time for your present…" he spoke softly, pulling her tight to him before releasing her… "I'll be right back…"

He climbed out of bed and grabbed his robe, a permanent resident of Caroline's loft now, a gift from her for their 6 month anniversary, then left the room and skipped down the stairs.

She could hear rummaging, then she could hear his footsteps climbing the stairs, him appearing around the corner a second later.

Smiling, he patted the edge of the bed… she sat up and scooted to where he asked her to sit…

She took the small gift from his outstretched hand, and as she opened it, he kneeled in front of her.

A lump in her throat began to form as she tore the paper away, producing a small box, and inside… a velvet ring box. It appeared to be older… not new at all, worn spots in the royal blue velvet clearly visible…

"This belonged to my great grandmother. It was passed down to my grandmother, than to my mother. She was going to give it to my sister, but decided to give it to me instead…" he shrugged… "Out of guilt most likely. Anyway…" he took the box from her hand and opened the hinged jewelry box to reveal a beautiful ring… a blue sapphire with 2 lovely diamonds on either side…

Tears flowed freely… "Oh, Richard…" she whispered, overwhelmed…

"I know it isn't much… I know I'm not a rich, successful man, but these past 8 months… you've shown me how to love Caroline. Really love, and be loved. You are the woman I am supposed to spend the rest of my life with. Sincere Amore. Please, Caroline, do me the honor of becoming my wife."

Her hand flew to her mouth, a sob of joy escaping… and she nodded, her voice missing under the extreme of the emotions that had overcome her…

He sighed with relief, hoping her answer would be 'yes', but still nervous till he saw her nod, and he removed the ring from the box and slipped the ring on her finger… a perfect fit…

"You even got it sized…" she uttered softly as she admired the ring…

"No, I didn't…" he kissed her hand… "Sincere Amore. This is meant to be."

She kissed his hand as he moved to wipe the tears from her face… "I love you so much Richard. The ring… is perfect."

"Merry Christmas."

She reached to embrace him… "Happy Hanukkah."

**And they lived happily ever after?**

THE END

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