At the soft sound of knocking, Caroline put down her pencil and answered the door, surprised to find her boyfriend standing before her.
"Joe, what are you doing here?"
"Well, I figured that since we're moving in together soon, we should start by being honest with each other."
The statement caught her off-guard and worry crept into her chest. "Are you saying you don't want to move in together?"
"No, of course not. I want to live with you, Caroline. There's just... something I should say first."
"Oh... All right. I guess there are some things we should discuss first. The key to a good relationship is honesty."
"Okay, here goes nothing. Caroline, I-."
"Well, as long as we're doing this honesty thing I should say something too."
"Sure, go ahead."
She looked away, suddenly ashamed of herself.
"This isn't easy for me to say, but that sweatshirt you gave me? The one you got in college that you love so much?"
Caroline's next words came tumbling out, followed by a rush of relief.
"I gave it to Annie."
She searched Joe's face for a reaction but all she received was a blank stare.
"Aren't you going to say anything?"
"Sure... It's just..."
"I know it's a shock and all but it's a really comfortable sweatshirt. I... tried it on myself, but Annie took it from me and now she won't give it back. I'm so sorry, Joe. I know I should have told you sooner."
He ran his hand through his hair in a nervous gesture. "Wow... I wasn't expecting that."
Suddenly she felt like the lowest life form possible. Because of one stupid mistake, she was about to lose the man she loved-and who loved her in return.
Her hand went to his forearm. "Joe, I'm sorry. I didn't' mean to hurt you."
"It's fine." He replied. "But Caroline, there's something-."
"Oh, right. You were going to tell me something."
"Yeah. This isn't an easy thing to say, so I'm just going to come out and say it."
She smiled and took his hand, bringing it to her mouth for a kiss. "You can tell me anything."
There was another pause, this one much longer and the worry she'd kept at bay began to surface.
"Joe, what is it?"
He sighed deeply and she could feel her heart racing. Whatever he had planned on telling her must have been pretty important, perhaps a childhood secret.
"I slept with my ex-girlfriend last night."
She could not have been more stunned if he'd told her that the world was coming to an end. And at that moment, it felt as though it were.
She swallowed hard, painfully aware of the tears that were quickly rising to the surface.
"Well... that certainly is honest. Boy... I really wasn't expecting that."
"You know what, Joe? Honesty is good for a relationship, so I think we made real progress."
He stared at her incredulous. "You're not mad?"
"Mad? Why should I be mad? My boyfriend tells me that he slept with his ex-girlfriend. No big deal right?"
He let out a breath. "Thank God, because I was sure you were going to be upset. But I guess this kinda changes things between us, huh?"
She laughed in an effort to keep from crying. "Yeah, it sure does."
A long uncomfortable silence followed.
"Great, so I'll get my stuff and start bringing it over so that we can-."
The words tumbled out before she could stop them.
"I don't think we should see each other anymore."
"Caroline, you can't be serious! It was only the one time and she meant nothing to me!"
She nodded absently. "I am... serious, that is. I think you should... just go."
"If that's how you feel. But just so you know, I still care about you."
The words cut like a knife and the kiss on her cheek made her flinch. It was funny how repulsive he suddenly seemed.
Alone in her apartment, she locked the door and slumped against it. But she wasn't about to cry. She was far too mature to waste her tears on some college guy.
Instead she headed for the kitchen and peeked into the refrigerator, pleased to find a bottle of champagne left over from a recent party at Del's greeting card company.
Grateful that she had kept it, she took the bottle out of the fridge and settled herself onto the sofa. Almost instantly, Salty was in her lap, wanting attention.
"Well Salty, at least you love me. Joe said he loved me and I believed him. If he hadn't been so handsome, so sweet, so kind, so generous... and if his kisses hadn't made me melt..."
The threat of tears grew stronger and she stared at the bottle of champagne as a recent memory surfaced.
Joe had gone out of his way to surprise her with dinner at Remo's. And then they'd made their way to her apartment where they'd indulged in a bottle of champagne. It didn't take them long to become sleepy and they spent the night on her sofa in each other's arms.
Trying to get the image out of her head, she poured herself a glass of champagne and gulped it down. That glass was followed by another... and another... and another...
A few hours her eyes slowly opened and she looked around, amazed to find the apartment swaying back and forth.
Funny, it never did that before.
She swung her legs over the edge of the sofa and tried to stand but she lost her balance, almost falling over Salty, who quickly got out of the way.
"S-ssssooorry." She slurred. "Dumb cat. Sh-should get out of the way when people are drinking. Oh wait... you did. N-never mind."
Finally she was able to stand on her own and she managed to make her way to the door. As carefully as possible she got into the elevator and pushed the button for the familiar floor. When the doors opened, she staggered down the hallway, her head throbbing as she headed for the second door on the left.
In an almost desperate manner, she banged on the door rapidly until she heard the click of a lock unlocking.
"Caroline, what are you doing here? It's the middle of the night?"
She looked around, incredulous. "R-really? I didn't notice. Well... I s-suppose I should go back to my apartm-."
He opened the door wider and took her hand to lead her inside.
"I don't think you're in any condition to go anywhere. You look terrible."
She grinned at the compliment. "Th-thanks."
He caught a whiff of the alcohol on her breath and waved his hand in front of his face.
"Have you been drinking?"
"Why? Do I look like I have? B-because I think I'd know if I drank a whole bottle of champagne. It's not something one does every d-day."
He caught her seconds before she began to fall and guided her to the bed, sitting down beside her.
"Okay what's going on, because people don't drink an entire bottle of champagne for no reason."
"What makes you think I did that?"
"Well..." he said slowly. "You told me for one thing."
"Oh... I don't remember."
Richard's mouth curved into a smile. . "Of course you don't. So something must have happened."
"Right... Well you might say that."
"So, are you going to tell me or are we going to talk in circles all night?"
"Well... Joe and I were going to move in together." Caroline explained.
Richard took a deep breath and let it out. "Right... So how's that working out?"
"Um... Not so well. We... broke up."
His hand went to her shoulder. "Oh... Caroline...What happened?"
"Um... Well... he came over and said he wanted to be honest, so I told him that I took his college sweatshirt."
"Not a federal offense by any means. So what did he say?"
She tried to smile but a sob escaped instead.
"Caroline? God, what happened? Did he hurt you?"
"He slept with his ex-girlfriend!"
Richard cursed under his breath and drew her close.
"Damn it. I knew this would happen!"
She raised her head to look at him.
"Well... No, but I was afraid someone was going to hurt you sooner or later."
"I'm a bad person, aren't I?"
"No... You're a wonderful person."
She looked at him tearfully. "Then why won't anyone stay with me?"
When she began to sob, he drew her even closer and wrapped her in his arms.
She cried quietly onto his soft pajama shirt, unleashing all the pain she'd felt since that horrible betrayal just hours before.
And suddenly she could no longer keep her eyes open. "I'm so... tired..."
Richard scooped her up in his arms and gently laid her on the bed, cradling her head on the pillow. She was asleep within seconds, barely aware that he was removing her shoes and tucking her in.
As he grabbed a blanket from the foot of the bed and settled himself onto the floor he heard her calling his name.
"Would you... sleep with me?"
He was so stunned he could hardly breathe. "Wh-what?"
She moved over on the tiny bed, creating a space for him and he gave a nervous laugh.
"Oh... Right... I thought..."
"Please? I'm so lonely. No one loves me."
"Caroline... that's not true... Of course people love you! Your parents love you, your fans love you and even I lo-."
But she was sound asleep.
He pulled back the covers and climbed into bed next to her, aware of how quickly she snuggled against him. Her head resting against his chest, he couldn't resist kissing her forehead before drifting off to sleep.
"I love you too... Richard."