Caroline walked around the small laboratory, looking at the monkeys in their cramped cages. This wasn't her idea of the best place for a first date, but hey, at least it was interesting.
Something moving behind her caught her attention and she found a little chimp holding a small hand out to her.
"Aw! Aren't you so cute?" she exclaimed, taking the chimp's hand in her own. "Yes, you are! Maybe Joe was right about this, you guys should be let out."
A woman ran into the room, slamming the steel door behind her and startling Caroline, who spun around, feeling ashamed for having been caught talking to the chimp.
"Oh my god, Caroline?"
The two women looked like they were about to run forward and embrace, but they hung back and nodded at each other.
Shelley spoke first. "So, how are ya? How's the strip? How's Richard?"
Caroline let out a little breath. "I'm fine, so's the strip. Richard- I don't know." She didn't know how to tell Shelley that she hadn't seen him in three months.
"You don't know?"
"No... wait, Shelley, what are you doing here?"
"Oh," she waved her hand dismissively. "I'm supposed to be keeping look out, you know, for the cops." She jumped up on top of one of the empty cages and sat on top of it. "So, anyway, why don't you know how he is? He comes in everyday for work, right?"
Caroline looked at the ground. "Not anymore. I haven't seen him in three months. I broke off my engagement to Del, and when I went to go tell Richard what happened, the only person there was the landlord, who told me 'Crazy artist? He go.' So here I am, with Joe."
Wishing I wasn't. Where had that come from?!
Shelley nodded sympathetically. "Joe, huh? I just figured you and Richard would be together by now, you know? You guys are so perfect for each other."
"So why don't you go find him?"
"Find him? I don't know where he went. Plus, it's not like I'm in love with him. He's my friend, that's all." She crossed her arms defensively over her chest.
Shelley rolled her eyes and hopped off the cage, grasping Caroline's hands.
"Richard loved someone else the entire time we were together. I knew it, he eventually knew it, and it's about time you did, too. Sweetie, he loves you, and only you. He'd do anything for you. If you came at him with a hundred sharp, pointed needles, he'd let you poke him to death, as long as you were the last thing he'd see before he died. He wouldn't even let me come near him with a dozen."
Caroline was shocked by the other woman's words.
"He loves you still. He'll never stop. You love him too. And I'm willing to bet you know where he ran off to. You guys have that kind of connection."
Caroline whispered, almost inaudibly. "Sincere amore. The love you never have to question."
Shelley looked around in confusion. Caroline had muttered something about 'sincherry amoray,' whatever that was. Anyhow, she did love Richard, that much she understood.
"Shelley, look, I gotta go. I'll see you sometime, I guess."
"Well, wait a sec, where are you going?"
Caroline had already started running out the door of the lab. "Paris!" she screamed.
Shelley smiled and waved goodbye. Then she went to go find Joe and break the news to him...
"So you're a vet? That's great... I love iguanas!"
Caroline managed to get a midnight flight to Paris, and fell asleep on the way there. When she finally got settled in a hotel room and got some more sleep, she set out to find Richard.
She figured she'd find him painting, but none of the street artists was him. She stopped at a little café and managed enough poorly accented French to order some food. She gazed around at faces as she sipped her coffee. She didn't see his familiar blond head immediately, but the harder she looked at a figure that stood on the bridge before a large easel, the more convinced she was that it was him. She ate her meal quickly and got another cup of coffee to go.
Richard loved Paris but hated the French. So far, it was like being in New York. People yelled things in languages he didn't understand, were rude, smelled, and still didn't buy his paintings.
He imagined he saw her, sitting underneath a hideously cheerful, bright red and white umbrella in a small, outdoor café, but that was impossible. She was miles away in New York. The petite red head he saw drinking from a mug could not have been her. Caroline. When he dared to look back at the table, she was gone.
It couldn't have been her. Caroline never at a meal alone in her life. She was always with Del, or Annie, or 'just happened' to show up at the same restaurant as Richard.
"There you are."
He yelped at the sudden sound, and her crystalline laugh threatened to break his heart.
"I had to come halfway around the world to find you, and here you are."
He overcame his shock, and it turned immediately to suspicion. "How did you find me? I didn't tell anyone where I was going."
"Richard, it's okay, I-"
"No, it's not okay, Mrs. Cassidy." He began to angrily throw his paints and brushes in a box and fold up his easel.
"I didn't marry Del."
His heart soared, then plummeted. He was sure it didn't have anything to do with him. "Why not?"
"He wasn't my sincere amore."
Richard laughed bitterly. "Sincere amore, what a crock. That doesn't exist. Love doesn't exist."
Caroline was near tears. "Yes, it does, Richard." She reached for his arm, expecting him to flinch, but he didn't, needing her to touch him, to feel that she was real after all.
"It does exist. For me, and for you."
What was she getting at?
"Well, that's all fine and great, I hope you find love, or at least lasting lust, with Del-"
"I don't love Del!"
"-and I'll see you if I ever get reincarnated as a lucky little cockroach who gets stepped on by you some morning as you rush around getting the Cassidy clan ready for the day."
"Richard!" She stomped her foot. "Richard, I love you!"
His back was to her, he froze, then continued to fold his easel.
"What, like a brother, right? Yeah, me too, Caroline. Me too."
"No, Richard, I just love you." She spoke quietly and stared at the ground. Maybe Shelley was wrong. "I just love you. That's all I had to say." She turned to walk away from him.
Richard's shoulders sagged. He held up a hand to stop her. "Wait."
She turned to him hopefully.
"Did you get my letter?"
"What letter? No."
He frowned. "You didn't? So you came here of your own volition? Because you really do... dare I say it... love... me?"
"Yes, Richard. As Olivia Newton-John sang in Grease, 'I honestly love you!"
He blinked in confusion. Grease? Oh well, at least she loved him!
"Oh, god, Caroline, I love you too, that's what the letter said. I love you and I didn't want you to marry Del. He wasn't right for you, you didn't need cerulean blue."
"I need black?"
He nodded solemnly. "Black and red go well together."
She grinned up at him, showing off her dimples. "Yes, yes they do," she said, just before, at long last, she kissed him.
Shelley tore open the envelope she had gotten in the mail.
Shelley, thank you for bringing Richard and I together. I don't know how to properly thank you, but enclosed is something I think you might enjoy...Love, Caroline (and Richard)
Also inside the envelope was a wedding invitation. Richard and Caroline's wedding invitation.
Shelley jumped up in excitement and ran into the kitchen. "Joe! Joe! Caroline and Richard are getting married!"
Joe put his arms around his fiancé and kissed her. "Finally?" he asked.
"Finally," she said, and kissed him again.
Six months later, Shelley found a pink envelope in the mail, but it was from an Annie Cassidy, a name Shelley found only slightly familiar. As she flipped it over to open it, the afternoon sunlight sparkled as it hit the diamond wedding ring on her left hand. She admired it and smiled, then tore into the envelope.
You are invited to a baby shower, to be held in honor of Caroline Karinsky (and Richard) on the twenty-first of this month, at the apartment of Annie and Del Cassidy. The happy couple has just found out that they are expecting twins, a boy AND a girl, and we invite you, family and friends, to share in their happiness.
Annie and Del Cassidy