The scene was a morbid one. The mourners looked so sad that Caroline felt a twinge of guilt.
After all, this was her doing.
She was the reason that this horrible event was taking place and the thought made her cringe. But she was only trying to help. Richard was a dear friend, a sweet man despite all the things about him that drove her crazy. He worked so hard on his paintings and despite whatever comments she'd made about them in the past, she found every one of them beautiful.
Too bad no one else felt that way.
Well, except Hilton Traynor who only bought Richard's painting because...
She couldn't even finish the thought without shuddering. Her head began to pound and she tried to tell herself that this was merely her way of trying to help her friend.
Some friend she was.
"And now we'll hear from his friend and supervisor, Caroline Duffy."
Caroline rolled her eyes. Sure she and Richard worked together and he was her assistant but she hardly thought of herself as his supervisor. They were just two people who worked across from each other... literally.
Nervously she rose from her chair and walked to the front of the room, trying not to think about what she was doing.
The paper she was holding trembled in her hand and she tried her best to appear distraught.
"Um... Well... What can you say about Richard Karnisky that hasn't already been said? He was... a brilliant artist as you can see from the painting behind me. Um... He's... Um... he was... a wonderful colorist and I truly believe that he is the reason that Caroline in the City is so successful. Without Richard..."
She paused for a moment and glanced at her feet, trying to control the quivering in her voice. When she returned her gaze to the mourners, she saw Dell nodding and mouthing That's good, very convincing!
"I-I'm sorry, where was I?"
"Without Richard!" Charlie prompted a bit too enthusiastically, earning a look of confusion from the art dealer Kenneth Arabian.
Del punched Charlie in the arm and then clamped a hand over Charlie's mouth just as Charlie was about to let out a cry of pain.
"Right..." Caroline continued, feeling more nervous than before.
"Without Richard, the world will be a much lonelier place. I-I mean I can't imagine coming home to my apartment after a long day of shopping and not seeing him there. His smile, his eyes, his... kind, generous heart. Richard... is... um...was the sweetest man. He'd do anything for anyone, even if he didn't want to. He... was generous and was always willing to listen to me, no matter how stupid my problems seemed. He made me laugh, he... made me happier than I ever thought I could be... because he... c-cared so much for me and I lo-."
She glanced to her right, her breath staggering when she saw Richard, lying in the casket; his blonde hair shining under the bright lights of the funeral parlor. And suddenly, a flood of memories came over her...
Sitting with him at her parents' house under a blanket on the porch swing, coming over to his apartment in the middle of the night, having drunk an entire bottle of champagne when Joe confessed to sleeping with his ex girlfriend... the almost kiss as extras in the movie, their fateful encounter in the rain when he handed her his umbrella...
The tears began to fall, one right after another and she glanced back at the mourners; the image of Del, Annie and Charlie with their thumbs-up signs, blurred by her vision.
And then a sob escaped, and another.
"I-I'm sorry. I-I can't... do this!"
Her hand went to her trembling mouth and she ran out of the funeral parlor, oblivious to the concerned look on Del's face.
In the hallway, she slumped against the wall, sobbing into her hands.
She looked up in surprise to find Del smiling and clapping.
"You know, you deserve an Emmy because that performance was brilliant! I mean it was almost as though-."
But when she turned away and continued to cry, Del's smile disappeared.
"I-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to break down like that. I just... Oh Del, I can't believe Richard's really gone!"
She threw her arms around her former fiancé and cried against his chest.
"Caroline, it's okay. You can cut the act now."
But the crying continued.
Hesitantly, Del rubbed her back.
"Caroline? Hey... What's going on here?"
She raised her head to look at him.
"Wh-what are you talking about?"
"You know this was all a joke, right? Richard faked his death so that Hilton Traynor would buy his painting! Annie got this funeral parlor and..."
"What? Del... Why are you looking at me like that?"
"That look... I've seen it before." Del said slowly.
"I-I don't know what you mean. What look?"
"The look on your face right now. Oh my God, I can't believe I didn't realize... You're in love with Richard!"
"Oh... No, Del... Um... absolutely not. Richard's m-my friend and we-we work together and-."
"So that breakdown in there wasn't an act after all. You were thinking about how you'd feel if he was really gone, weren't you?"
"It's all right. I understand. I just... I want you to be happy. And I hope to hell Richard can do that for you."
She gave him a watery smile and hugged him.
"Thank you, Del. Thanks for always being so wonderful."
"Well... You're welcome, Caroline."
Without warning, he drew back from the hug.
"Del, what's going-."
And suddenly he appeared beside her.
Del glanced at her awkwardly. "Um... Look... I'll ... You two have some things to talk about and I'll just go in there and straighten things out."
"Good idea." Richard said. "A few of them fainted when I sat up in the casket so can you make sure that they're okay?"
Dale chuckled. "Sure Richard. Just... Take care of Caroline for me, will you?"
"Sure, Del. And... Thanks."
When they were alone, Richard turned to Caroline. "Are you all right? Because if I had known this was going to be so upsetting, I never would have-."
She fell into his arms, sobbing against his chest, her heart beating rapidly. And it was all he could do to hold her, trying his best to calm her trembling body.
"Here, let's... sit over here. It's more comfortable. Although God knows why I'd want to sit down after being stuck in that casket. I knew I should have gotten asked for the nicer model."
His attempt at humor only made her cry harder and she held him close on the velvet sofa.
"Shhh... It's all right." He whispered, rubbing her back. "Everything is okay. I'm not dead, see?"
Slowly she looked up and brushed the tears from her cheeks. "I-I know... But when I saw you lying there I couldn't help thinking of what it would be like without you. Oh Richard, I'd miss you so much!"
When she began to sob once more, he held her even closer, resting his cheek against her forehead.
"Caroline... Don't cry... I'm not going anywhere. I'm going to stay here with you... for the rest of my life."
The last word made her look up in horror.
"Oh God, I didn't mean that, Caroline." Richard said quickly. "Well, I did mean it but what I meant to say was... I'm not planning on leaving for a very long time."
"I love you, Richard..." Caroline said tearfully.
"God you have no idea how long I've waited to hear those words." Richard said.
"Yes... I'm sorry this whole stupid funeral thing got you so upset. It didn't even work! As soon as Trayner started going on and on about how horrible my artwork is... well I just couldn't take that lying down!"
Caroline stifled a giggle.
"Oh sure, you laugh now, but how would you like to be lying in a casket, listening to people talk about how horrible you are and-."
"Just kiss me, okay?"
Before he could protest, she carefully removed his glasses and caressed his cheek with the back of her hand.
And then it happened... the most wonderful kiss she'd ever experienced in her entire life.
"Well..." Richard said nervously when she drew back. "That was..."
"You know, Richard... This place kind of gives me the creeps. Why don't we get out of here?"
"That's a good idea." He said, hugging her warmly.
With their arms around each other, they walked out of the funeral parlor, ready to begin the rest of their lives...
Till death do them part.