When the Lights go Down in the City - Part 2
Ray pulled to a screeching halt in front of the emergency room entrance. Before he could exit the car, Ben was running through the doors. Ben could feel a tightness across his chest as he entered the emergency room. He lunged at the desk and had to keep from screaming at the nurse. Ray had ran up behind him and grabbed him by his shoulders in an effort to calm him down.
"Sara Fraser! Where is she?!" Ben tried to calm himself but the emotions were too strong for him to control. Ray pulled him away from the desk and stood in front of him and spoke to the nurse while shoving his badge in her face.
"Detective Vecchio, Chicago P.D. This is Constable Fraser, RCMP. Heís the husband. We need you to take us to Sara Fraser right away." The desk nurse gave each man a disinterested look and returned to her paperwork. Ray stood there for a few seconds pondering what charges he could arrest the woman on and then she spoke.
"Sheís in exam room 4. Three doors down, to the left." Before Ray could make a snide comment, Ben ran down the hall in the direction of room 4.
Ben burst into the room to find a doctor leaning over Sara. The doctor looked up in surprise at the sudden interruption of his exam.
"Ah, you must be the husband." Benís eyes met Saraís as he rushed to her side. She reached out her hand and smiled weakly.
"Iím fine. I just fainted thatís all. Right Doc?" Ben took Saraís hand in his and gently rubbed her fingers as he looked toward the doctor for reassurance.
"Iím Dr. Michaels. Iíve ordered some tests. Once we get the results, then weíll see what caused the loss of consciousness."
Ray pushed through the door and stood beside Ben.
"Sara, honey, you all right?"
"Iím fine. I just fainted. It must be this stomach flu or something." The doctor checked the IV in Saraís arm and listened to her breathing.
"The results should be back shortly. Iíll check back in on you in a few minutes." Ben brushed the hair from her forehead as tears brimmed his eyes.
"Sara, what happened?" Before she could answer, Craig Parker entered the room carrying a cup of coffee.
"Ben! Iím glad youíre here."
"Craig, what happened?"
"She was cross examining a witness and passed out in the middle of questioning." Ray moved to the other side of Saraís hospital bed and held Saraís other hand.
"Iím fine, really. Iím sure itís nothing." Ben leaned over and kissed her on the cheek.
"I should have never let you go to work this morning." Sara gave him a cocky look and grinned.
"Let me go to work?! Ben Fraser, you know I would have gone to work no matter what."
"I should have insisted." Ray shook his head and tried to make Ben feel better.
"You know it wouldnít have done any good. Saraís stubborn. We all know that."
Ben kissed her on the temple as his eyes gleamed with unshed tears.
"I canít let anything happen to you. You canít leave me Sara. You canít." It was barely whispered, but Ray heard Benís plea to Sara. It nearly tore his heart out to hear such emotion coming from Ben.
Dr. Natalie OíNeill walked briskly in the examining room.
"Hey, stranger." Sara smiled at her friend and former doctor as she made her way across the room.
"Nat! Itís been a while. Howís it going?" Dr. OíNeill laughed as she flipped open Saraís chart.
"The better question would be, howís it going with you."
"I just fainted, thatís all." Dr. OíNeill closed the chart and gave Sara a serious look.
"Dr. Michaels has gotten the results back from the tests he ordered done. I happened to be in the ER when they brought you in. I inquired about you and he thought that I should give you the results." Ben stiffened as she spoke. The urge to panic gripped him once more. He squeezed Saraís hand and listened while Dr. OíNeill continued.
"He felt that the results would be best delivered by a friend." Saraís face went pale as she waited to here what Dr. OíNeill had to say. Ray lightly rubbed her arm as he silently prayed.
"Would you like me to give you the results now or in private?" Sara swallowed hard and looked at the faces of the three men staring at her.
"You can tell me now. Everyone here is family." Craig stood and tried to brace himself for the news. Ray leaned over and kissed Sara on the head and Ben wrapped a protective arm around her shoulders.
"Very well. It seems that over the past few days you have become slightly dehydrated due to the nausea and vomiting. The fainting was caused from that and probably the stress of the situation you were in. Now the nausea is going to continue and we have to get you re-hydrated, because if not, there could be complications." Sara felt a jolt of fear run down her spine until she saw the look on Dr. OíNeillís face.
"Natalie, what are you telling me?" A broad grin spread over Dr. OíNeillís lips as she leaned forward and looked Sara in the face.
"Iím telling you that what you have been experiencing is quite common for a woman in your condition."
"What condition, Doctor?" Ray leaned in closer to Sara and rubbed his hand down her arm.
"Congratulations, Sara. You and Ben are going to have a baby." Sara took a few moments for the words to register. Ray turned a large smile in Saraís direction as Craig shook Dr. OíNeillís hand. Then Ray turned his attention to Ben.
"Benny! You okay?! Benny!" Benís blank expression worried Ray. He knew that Ben was good at hiding his feelings when it came to most things, but matters concerning Sara was not one of them. Sara finally felt the joy of understanding as tears slowly rolled down her cheeks. She pulled Ben to her and hugged him tightly. Pulling back from him she called out to Ray.
"Ray! Help him! Heís about to hit the floor!" Ray scrambled across the end of the hospital bed just in time to grab Ben as he slumped to the floor.
"Some strong Mountie you are. Your wifeís pregnant and you faint. Great, Benny. Just great."
Ben shook his head to clear the daze that clouded his thoughts. He felt a sharp jolt to the side of his face and opened his eyes to see his best friend, Ray standing over him.
"Benny. I think heís coming around. Benny, can you stand up?" Ben looked around rather confused and felt Ray pulling him upward.
"I thought I was standing up."
"Yeah, well. You ainít standing now."
His face turned to see Craig Parker holding on to his other arm as they positioned him in a chair. Craig gave him an amused smile as he searched the room for Sara.
"Iím still right here, Ben. You okay? You didnít hit your head, did you?"
"Hit my head?"
"Fainted. Passed out. Hit the Floor."
"I get the point, Ray. Why did I faint?" Sara smiled and motioned for Ray to help Ben to the side of her hospital bed. She gave Dr. OíNeill a wicked grin.
"Ben, honey. Dr. OíNeill just gave us some great news. Do you remember what she said?" Ben sat with a blank expression on his face as he replayed the moments of just a few minutes prior in his mind. A large smile crept across his features as he began to laugh.
"Iím going to be a Dad." He laughed harder and louder than Sara had ever heard from her husband. He pulled her to him and hugged her tightly to him. Then as quickly as the laughter started, it stopped. He pulled away from Sara and held her at arm length. Panic flashed in his eyes as he turned his attention to Dr. OíNeill.
"Is she all right?! Is everything okay?! The baby? She fainted. Is Sara going to be all right?!" Dr. OíNeill placed a reassuring hand on Benís shoulder and gave Sara an amused look.
"Everythingís fine, Ben. What Sara thought was the stomach flu was morning sickness. It should start to decrease in about month or so. The dehydration and stress brought on the fainting. From what I gather from Mr. Parker, Sara was getting rather upset with her cross-examination. Her blood pressure probably shot up. That in combination with nothing on her stomach for the past couple days knocked her on her butt." Sara gave Dr. OíNeill a sarcastic look.
"Ha Ha. Thank you for that inspiring medical diagnosis, Nat."
"Anytime, Sara. Weíre going to keep you for a few hours until youíve replenished your fluids. Youíll need to make an appointment with your gynecologist, right away. Iíve written you a prescription for some vitamins that you need to take everyday. Fortunately, youíre in good health and I donít foresee any complications." She turned her attention toward Ben and gave him a stern look as she continued. "Sheís got to start eating and drinking plenty of fluids. Try to reduce stress where you can and she needs to get plenty of rest." Ben felt Sara heave a long and tired sigh as Dr. OíNeill was talking. He squeezed her shoulders and placed a small kiss on her head.
"You have no idea what youíve just done." The room looked at Sara in confusion. Ben rubbed Saraís head and pulled the blanket up a little farther. Sara sighed again and glared at Dr. OíNeill.
"Thanks Nat. youíve just created a room full of wet nurses. Meet their chief of staff." Sara pointed at Ben and gave Dr. OíNeill a fake smile.
"If itíll keep you healthy, so be it."
"Iíll do whatever it takes to make sure Sara is comfortable." Dr. OíNeill surveyed the room and chuckled at the nodding heads of the men that surrounded Sara.
"Iím sure you will, Ben. Iím sure you all will. Well, Iíll check back in about an hour. Later Sara." Sara waved and made a goofy face at Dr. OíNeill as she left the examining room. She turned and took in the worried faces of Ben, Ray and Craig. Ben started to fluff the pillow behind her head as Ray poured her a glass of water. Sara rolled her eyes and lowered her head.
Sara had finally drifted off to sleep in the hospital bed. Ray and Craig had left for the cafeteria. Ben sat in the chair next to the bed and watched the mother of his unborn child sleep.
Ben eyes looked up to meet the smiling face of Bob Fraser.
"Hello, Son." Bob Fraser stood and smiled at his son while Ben waited on his father to speak.
"Arenít you going to say anything, Dad?" Bob walked over to the side of Saraís hospital bed and looked down at her sleeping.
"Dad?" Bob Fraser turned tear filled eyes to his son.
"Iím proud of you, son. Good job." A lifetime of self-doubt and insecurity had just been reduced by those five simple words. Ben felt his own eyes start to fill with tears as he looked at the pride in his fatherís face. Bob Fraser wiped a hand across his weathered face as he turned and left the room. Ben sat and allowed the tears to flow freely as he reached out and held Saraís hand.
Sara stretched her arms in front of her while Ben busied himself with the position of her pillow.
"Iím fine, really."
"Then light somewhere, will you?"
"Iím just making sure youíre comfortable."
"Ray, make him sit down!"
"Benny, sit down. Sara, you want some more water or something?"
"Jesus!" Sara looked toward the ceiling in frustration."
"Whenís Dr. OíNeill coming back?"
"God, I hope itís soon."
"Well, youíre not leaving until we know everything is fine."
"I know, Craig. I know."
Hey, Benny. What do you want? Boy or Girl?"
"Either is a blessing."
"Yeah, right. Sara, I bet you want a girl."
"I donít care, either. Boy or girl, either one is great with me."
"I vote boy. Boyís are great. We can take him to the Bullís games and to see the Cubbyís."
"You can take a girl to all those things."
"Yeah, but then you have to watch what you do and act civilized and all that."
"God forbid that happen."
"Oh, come on, Sara. You know what I mean."
"Well, while Iím thinking about it. Ray, Craig, I need to talk to you."
"Well, I know weíre all excited and everything, but I donít want to tell everyone right away. Let us find out how far along I am first, okay?"
Ray placed a hand on Saraís and nodded in understanding. Craig leaned over and kissed her cheek in agreement.
"No problem. We understand. But, this is gonna be one hellova secret to keep."
"Iím sure you can handle it."
"I sure hope so, Benny."
"Will you please be still!"
"I am being still!"
"You are not. If you keep twitching like this, Iím gonna make you wait in the car."
"Sorry." Sara smiled as she flipped through the magazine. Ben tucked his head slightly and picked at a piece of minuscule lint on his uniform.
"I donít know why youíre in such a snit."
"Iím not in a snit."
"Youíve delivered a baby before."
"Thatís entirely different."
"It was a desperate situation. It was winter and she went into labor in the middle of an ice floe."
"But, you did it. Thatís why I canít imagine why this is so unnerving to you."
"Itís just different, thatís all."
"Itís just an exam."
"But, IÖ..I meanÖ.youíll beÖ." Sara shifted in the waiting room chair and faced a very red-faced Ben. She placed a hand on his arm and pulled his face toward hers.
"Ben, youíre here to TALK to Dr. Vickers with me. Youíll be waiting in his office during the actual exam. You wonít be in there with me." Relief washed over Benís features as he looked around the waiting room. He noticed an attractive, very pregnant woman trying to hide the smile on her face with the book she was reading. He tucked his head slightly and reached for Saraís hand.
"Sara Fraser." Sara returned her magazine to the table as she and Ben followed the nurse to a small examining area.
"This is my husband, Ben. Should he wait in the waiting room until Dr. Vickers calls him?"
"No, thatís fine. He can sit with you here. Weíre just going to check your weight and blood pressure. Weíll also need a specimen."
"Great." Sara looked up at Ben and responded in the least enthusiastic tone she had. The nurse ushered Ben to a chair as she weighed Sara and made notations in her chart.
"Dr. Vickers shouldnít be long. The two of you can have a seat in examining room four."
Ben held the door for Sara as they stepped into the room. Ben looked nervously at the examining table and then back at Sara.
"You okay?" Sara placed a reassuring hand on Benís arm as she went to have a seat in one of the chairs in the corner of the room.
"I thought you would be more comfortable with all this."
"I am comfortable."
"Right. Then why do you look like a rabbit caught in a hail storm?"
"I beg your pardon?" Before Sara could answer him, the door opened and an attractive older man entered the room.
"Sara, itís a pleasure to see you again."
"Hi, Jim. Iíd like you to meet my husband, Ben Fraser."
"Jim Vickers. So youíre the Constable weíve heard so much about."
"Yes, sir. Itís a pleasure to meet you." Ben stood and shook the hand of Saraís gynecologist.
"I hear there are congratulations in order. I know youíre both thrilled." Sara smiled as Dr. Vickers patted Ben on the shoulder while he spoke.
"Yes, we are."
"So, letís get to it, shall we?" A jolt of panic struck Benís face. The color quickly drained from his cheeks as he looked from the doctor and then to Sara. Seeing his evident trauma, Dr. Vickers chuckled slightly.
"Ben, Iíll need you to wait outside of course. Trudy will show you where my office is. Sara, Kelly will be in to get you what you need to change into and then she and I will return in a few moments to see how far along you are and if everything is progressing normally."
"Sounds good, Jim. Ben, Iíll be fine." Ben leaned over and gave her a small peck on the cheek before scurrying out the door behind a nurse he could only hope was Trudy.
Ben shifted in the chair while he waited for Dr. Vickers and Sara to return from her exam. Dr. Vickers ducked his head in and smiled at Ben.
"Weíre all finished. Everything looks good. Sara will be out in a minute. Iíve got to check on one more patient and Iíll be right with you." Dr. Vickers patted the wall next the door and disappeared down the hall. Ben rubbed the knuckle of his thumb over his eyebrow. He hoped Sara would get there soon.
"Hey." Ben stood and waited for Sara to be seated. He reached for her hand and gently rubbed her fingers.
"Is everything all right? Are you okay?"
"Everythingís fine, honey." Sara smiled as Ben lifted her hand to his lips and lingered a kiss on her palm.
"Did he tell you how far along you are?"
"I asked him not to tell me until we were together." Ben smiled and rubbed a finger across her cheek.
"How do you feel?"
"I meant, do you feel nauseous or anything?" Sara wiped a hand across her face and offered a weary smile.
"No, thank God."
Dr. Vickers walked into the office and took a seat behind the large mahogany desk.
"So, Iíve checked your chart and your blood pressure is good and the exam went well. Everything seems normal at this stage in the pregnancy."
"What stage is that doctor?" Ben leaned forward in anticipation.
"I would say 10 to 12 weeks." Sara squeezed Benís hand and let the tears spill from her eyes as Ben draped his arm around her shoulders. Ben cast a concerned look toward Dr. Vickers.
"Doctor, Iím sure you are aware of the shooting involving Sara and the damage it caused. Will this in anyway effect her in pregnancy?" Dr. Vickers smiled and leaned back in his chair.
"No, Ben. The damage was repaired and there should be no problems with Sara carrying this pregnancy to term. Everything seems normal and I donít foresee any problems."
Ben pulled out of the parking garage and headed toward home. Sara was looking over the pamphlets that Dr. Vickers had given them.
"Do you want to stop by the bookstore before we head home?"
"I thought you had to get back to work. Thatcheríll have your butt if you stay away to long."
"Iíve got a little time. I would like to pick up a few of those books that Dr. Vickers recommended."
"Sure. That sounds fine. Iím cleared for the rest of the morning. I have to go by the courthouse at two and meet with Judge Thomas, which is always a joy I might add."
"I donít want you getting upset or stressed. If you think there maybe a problem, perhaps we should discuss the possibility of you quitting work."
"Quit!? Ben, Iím barely three months pregnant. Do me a favor. Letís not have this discussion for anotherÖ.oh, I donít knowÖ..five months!"
"I just worry about you. You did faint during the trial last week."
"That was because we were unaware of my condition and werenít taking the necessary steps to ensure that something like that would not happen."
"Well, your safety and the safety of our child is the most important thing to me."
"I know. Have I told you how much a love you, lately?"
"I believe you mentioned something to that effect this morning."
"Well, then itís about time I told you again. I love you, Benton Fraser."
"I love you, Sara Fraser." The two of them rode in silence for a few blocks as Sara continued to look through the material she was given at the doctorís office. Sara held a pamphlet in her hand and held it up to Ben to read aloud.
"First Time Father: Naïve or Nitwit. I think Iím offended."
"I wouldnít be." Sara began to chuckle to herself as Ben pulled away from the stoplight.
~~~~~~Sara entered the den wearing one of Benís sweatshirts and a pair of flannel pajama bottoms. She trailed a blanket behind her like a child waking from a nap. Ben scooted to the end of the couch and motioned for her to lie down.
"Still feeling bad?"
"Nah, Iím a little better now. Iím just so tired."
"Why donít you go on to bed."
"I want to sit up with you and Dief for a bit." Sara snuggled into a ball on the couch as she rested her head in Benís lap. He rubbed her hair as she unconsciously rocked herself back and forth.
"Are you too cold?"
"Iím better now. But Iíd feel better if a certain someone would warm my feet up." Sara poked her lip out and batted her eyes in a plea for sympathy.
"Please." She appealed to him once more and grinned in victory at the sight of him slowly sauntering toward her feet. A low moan escaped his throat as he settled himself at her feet. Sara pushed her feet underneath him and sighed.
"Thanks Dief. Youíre the best." Dief replied with a slight whine and a disinterested look.
"You two are a sight." Ben shook his head as Sara nuzzled herself deeper into the cushions of the couch while pulling the blanket up to her chin.
"I donít want to tell anyone until I get to tell my Dad. Is that okay?"
"Thatís fine. Do you want to call him?"
"No, this is something that needs to be done in person. Letís surprise him."
"That sounds like a good idea. When do you want to go?"
"Well, Iíve got court all this week and next week I have that seminar. But I could get off early Thursday afternoon and that way we could have a long weekend. Do you think you could get off?"
"Iím pretty sure I could arrange it. Youíre not even going to tell him weíre coming?"
"No, then heíll know somethingís up. He and Jacky are going to bust when we tell them."
"You realize that Ray will have to keep this a secret for another two weeks."
"Heís done great so far."
"But, I wonder how long he can keep it up."
"Letís do this. Make plans with him to have dinner at the Vecchioís the Monday we come home. Weíll tell everyone then."
"That sounds good. I wonder how Ma will react."
"It should be a sight to see."
"Sara, what do you think about this one?" Francesca held up a dress from the rack. John had invited her to a formal party in New York and she needed something fantastic to wear.
"Itís too short."
"I like short."
"Not for this you donít."
"Really?" Francesca had a look of discouragement on her face as she replaced the dress on the rack.
"Franny, I really donít think weíre going to find anything here."
"I know. Everyone will be wearing all those designer gowns. I canít wear the one I wore to the Tonyís again. I think thatís against the law in New York."
"Oh, itís a capital offense. Listen, I know what we can do. Iíve got the perfect little place."
"Sara, you know I canít afford to pay a fortune for a dress."
"I know that. I donít think you should have to. Just trust me." Sara looped her arm in Frannyís and walked out of the store. Sara pulled her Jeep Cherokee out into traffic and headed east.
"Where are we going?"
"Youíll love it. Itís this retro place I found over on 14th. Theyíve got everything in there. Gowns from the 30ís and 40ís. Plus the owner is a seamstress. She can do anything."
"A used dress?!"
"A vintage dress. Thereís a difference. Besides, everything is in mint condition. Iím sure weíll find something."
Sara and Francesca walked into the ĎYesteryear Shoppeí and started to browse. Sara loved the feel of the old silk dresses. Francesca was surprised at all the clothing in the store. It wasnít what she had imagined at all.
"May I help you?" A sweet gray-haired woman stepped from the back room with a childís party dress still in her arms.
"Yes, maíam. We are in need of a formal party gown. Something that will really knock someoneís socks off."
"For each of you?"
"Sure!" Sara looked surprised at Francesca as she answered the storeowner.
"Címon, Sara. It could be fun." Sara grinned and followed Franny and the owner to a rack of dresses at the back of the store.
"Hereís a lovely selection of clothes. Most are probably going to be a little big for such petite girls like you, but we can take them in for you." Francesca began to gingerly slide the dresses across the rack.
"Wow! These are beautiful. Look at this green one." Sara had joined Francesca in front of the rack and smiled at the reaction Francesca was giving the vintage dresses.
"Look at the bead work on this red one, Fran."
"Oh, itís beautiful. But, can I afford any of these?"
"The tag on the red one says $300. Thatís a steal for all the bead work."
"$300!! Thatís all?! Oh, Sara. This was a great idea. What do you think about this blue one?"
"Oh, itís gorgeous. Go try it on. I bet it doesnít even need altering." Francesca made her way to the back of the shop to change into the navy princess style gown.
"Thatís from the 1940ís dear. Itís a classic style. Designers are still modeling their gowns after it." Sara nodded and smiled at the elderly woman.
"Itís so beautiful. I know itís gonna look stunning on her." Francesca emerged from the changing room with a large smile on her face.
"Is this it?"
"Itís perfect. It only needs hemmed. I canít believe it. The first dress you try on!" Sara gushed her enthusiasm at Francesca. The owner motioned for Francesca to turn around and model the gown.
"Itís perfect on you, dear. Here, honey, step up here and Iíll pin it up. I can have it hemmed in a jiffy."
"What kinda shoes should I wear?"
"I say we have a pair dyed to match the dress. That would be fabulous." Before Francesca could make it to the alterations area, she spotted another dress.
"Oh, Sara! Youíve got to try this one on! Look at this green. Itís so deep and rich looking. I bet it would look great on you. Go try it on." Sara took the dress from Francesca and walked slowly toward the changing room. She hadnít really planned on trying on any clothes. She was a full three months pregnant and had done a pretty good job of hiding her slight weight gain behind her sweaters. Sara had been grateful for the cool weather and the ease in pulling on a bulky sweater.
Francesca turned to see Sara exiting the changing room. She tried to hide her surprise but Sara saw it just the same.
"Itís a little snug."
"Oh, well. I guess Iíll just have to try a bigger size." Sara could see the look on Francescaís face. She knew if she didnít think of something fast, Francesca would start firing questions at her.
"You know what they say, once you get married you get all happy and fat." Sara smiled nervously and made a quick exit to the changing room. * Dear God I hoped that worked. Iíve only got four more days until we go to the farm. Four little days to keep this secret. Please donít blow it now. *
Sara returned and helped Francesca down from the alteration stool.
"I should have it finished tomorrow. You want to pick it up on Monday?"
"Iíll pick it up after work. Thank you." The elderly woman smiled as Francesca returned to the changing room.
The elderly woman grinned a knowing smile at Sara as they waited for Francesca.
"How far along are you?" Sara tucked her head and grinned.
"Three months. But please donít say anything. My husband and I are waiting until we can tell everyone together."
"Oh, thatís fine, honey. Fine, indeed. Congratulations."
"Thank you kindly." The owner patted Saraís hand as she walked past her to stand behind the counter. Francesca emerged and paid for the gown.
"Now, letís go buy shoes."
"Sara! Are you here?"
"Iím in the bedroom changing! Iíll be out in a minute!"
"Ray and I brought home dinner." Ray and Ben deposited the pizza boxes on the counter. Ben motioned for Ray to have a seat while he pulled down glasses from the cupboard.
"Yeah, sure. What are you two doiní with beer?"
"You like it. So Sara buys it."
"I gotta get me one like her."
"Good luck." Ray turned and grinned at Sara as she emerged from the bedroom.
"Iím not talking to you.í
Ben shook his head while he poured Sara a glass of juice.
"What did I do?"
"Francesca grilled me for thirty minutes after you dropped her off from your little shopping spree Saturday."
"What did she say? You didnít tell her did you?"
"Of course I didnít tell her. I promised, didnít I?"
"Yeah, well, what did she say?"
In his best Franny voice, Ray mocked his sister. "Do you know something? Saraís gained weight. You know what that could mean donít you?"
"What did you say?" Ben started to chuckle from the answer he knew Ray was about to give.
"I told her that sheís never really seen you eat."
"Yeah, I told her that whenever Benny and I order pizza, we split one and you get the other all to yourself."
"So basically you told her I was a pig."
"Would you rather I have told her the truth."
"No, not yet. Great. Iím a cow. Iím a pizza-eatiní-food-hound." Ray and Ben erupted with laughter at Sara while she lifted the lid on the pizza box.
"Hey, this looks really good. What are you guys gonna have?"
"Iím kidding, Ben. Well, it looks like Iím gonna have to do the safe thing and avoid your family for the next three days until we leave."
"That shouldnít be too hard. Besides, weíll see you Monday night when you get back. Thatís gonna be one dinner I sure ainít gonna miss."
Ben helped Sara from the Jeep and held her hand while they walked to the airport terminal. The trip would only last three days, so they each needed only a carry on bag. Sara felt as if she would burst with excitement as they boarded the plane.
"Are you comfortable?"
"Yes, Ben. Iím fine. Are you going to dote on me like this for the duration of this pregnancy?"
"Uh-huh. But, you do realize Iím not a china doll? Dr. Vickers told you that."
"Dr. Vickers told me to make sure you were eating right and not to let you over-exert yourself. He also said that you need plenty of rest and a calm environment."
"I canít live in a bubble. Besides, Iím taking care of myself, you know that."
"I know. For the most part anyway."
"Whatís that supposed to mean?"
"Did you really need that chocolate milkshake with the french fries dipped in it?"
"Ben, that had nothing to do with the pregnancy. My friends and I used to eat that in high school all the time."
"Well, thatís just odd."
"If you would have tried it, you would have liked it."
"I doubt it."
"This from a man who indiscriminately licks thinks he comes in contact with."
"Next time, youíre trying it."
"Hey, have you ever had Fruit Loops and chocolate syrup?"
"Why would I want to?"
"Itís really good."
"I doubt it." Sara leaned her head back against the airplane seat and closed her eyes. Ben absently stroked her fingers with his as they waited for take off.
"I wonder how Daddyís gonna react." Ben smiled to himself. Saraís accent always got thicker when she thought about home. He knew she didnít even realize it was happening. He looked forward to when they were back on the farm. Sara always seemed relaxed and free there.
"Heís going to be thrilled, Iím sure."
"Yeah, I know." Sara smiled at the image in her mind of her father after they told him the news.
The plane roared into the air and Sara and Ben were once again off to South Carolina. Sara leaned over and kissed Ben on the cheek as the plane lifted off.
"Sara, why do you do that every time we take off? You kiss Ray, too when heís with us. Why?" Sara grinned slightly and offered Ben her explanation.
"I never really thought about it, I guess. My mom always kissed each of us as the plane took off. She made sure we knew we were loved. I guess I just do the same."
"Iím glad." Ben brought her hand to his lips and lightly pressed his lips to her palm.
"You wait here while I rent us a car."
"Rent us something fun."
"Fun?" Ben tilted his head slightly as he inquired as to what Sara meant by fun.
"Yeah, a convertible or something."
"Weíre only going to have the car for a few days. I doubt weíll even leave the farm."
"So. Címon, live a little."
"But, itís October. Itís too cold to put the top down."
"Then get something sporty looking at least." Ben shook his head as he walked over to the rental counter. He returned with a smile on his face and a key in his hand.
"They had a choice between a Mazda Minivan and a Ford Taurus."
"I hope you got the Taurus."
"Actually no, I thought we would benefit more from the minivan."
"Why is that?"
"I thought me might look in to purchasing such a vehicle for when the baby is born."
"And why would we want to do that?"
"Donít you think a minivan would be more prudent?"
"I do not."
"Iím sensing a little animosity. Why?"
"Youíre sensing a lot of animosity actually. And Iíll tell you why. Iím not driving a van. A van is for preppy little housewives that take their kids to ballet lessons. Iíll keep my Jeep, thank you."
"So youíre afraid of getting old."
"What?! No! I just donít want a minivan." Ben grinned to himself as he led Sara to the parking lot to retrieve the van.
"Well, weíll see how you like it once youíve ridden in one."
"Fine. But Iím never getting a van. Never."
"Whatever you say." Ben pressed the button on the keyless entry and grinned in satisfaction as the side door automatically opened. He looked at Sara and quickly tucked his head and tried to stifle a laugh. Sara rolled her eyes and shook her head at the obvious joy on Benís face. The keyless entry firmly grasped in his hands like a kid with a new toy.
"Hey, it appears to even have a separate stereo system in the back."
"Great." Sara didnít even try to fake being enthusiastic. She knew Ben would try to talk her into it. But she wasnít budging.
"Itís got a CD player."
"My Jeep has a 10 CD changer, so what?"
"I am not!"
"Youíre not being very pleasant."
"Can we go please?"
"I heard that."
"You know what Iím talking about. That tone. You can use it on Ray but not on me. I know your tone."
"I didnít realize I had a tone."
"You know the tone. That tone that you do. Uh-huh, donít try to tone me." Ben stared at Sara as she rambled. He opened his mouth to speak when a piece of advice that Ray had given him had popped into his mind. Ray had lived in the same house while Maria was pregnant all three times. He offered a few things by way of advice. One rang in Benís ears. ĎSometimes, you just need to keep your mouth shut. You donít know why sheís mad. You donít care why sheís mad. Itís probably some hormonal emotional pregnancy thing. Just sit there and take it. Itíll pass just as quickly as it started. Just donít open your mouth. Youíll regret it if you open your mouth.í Ben quickly shut his mouth and started the car. Casting only a quick glance over at Sara. She sat with her arms crossed and stared straight ahead. * Oh, dear. *
"You think Debi will freak out?" Ben looked over at Sara and smiled. The mood swing of ten minutes ago had obviously passed.
"I imagine thatís a safe assumption."
"I wonder what Jackyíll say?"
"Iím sure heíll be thrilled at the idea of being an uncle."
"Uncle Jacky." Sara laughed and rubbed her hand down Benís arm as they drove to the farm.
"Weíre almost there. I sure hope youíre father is home. We should have called."
"Nah, heís home. Itís Thursday night. Heís sitting in front of the TV watchiní ĎWalker Texas Rangerí by now." Ben chuckled at the subtle change in Saraís accent.
"I love the way you talk."
"I know, I know. Itís getting worse isnít it?"
"Oh well, between the two of us, our childís gonna have perfect grammar with a wicked southern drawl."
"I hope so."
"If our child is anything like you, then he or she will be wonderful." Sara squeezed Benís shoulder as he turned into the driveway of the Pegís Paradise Ranch.
"Daddy, looks like thereís a car cominí up the road."
"Reckon who it could be at this hour? Does it look like Deb-I?"
"No sir. Looks like a van."
"Well, donít just stand there gawkiní. Turn the light on, soís they can see to get on the porch." Jacky turned the porch light on and waited on the front step to see who was in the van.
Mr. Montgomery heard a loud yell and a familiar scream. He jolted from his recliner and bounded down the front steps.
"Baby Girl! What in heavenís name are you doiní here?! Ben, is everything alright?!" Mr. Montgomery shook Benís hand and waited for Jacky to release Sara from his hug.
"Everíthingís fine, Daddy. We just wanted to surprise ya, thatís all. Jacky, what are you doiní home?"
"Class was cancelled for tomorrow so I drove on home tonight."
Mr. Montgomery engulfed his daughter in a large and loving hug while Ben removed the bags from the van.
"How long yíall stayiní?" Jacky quickly took one of the bags from Ben and they all made their way into the house.
"Weíre leaviní on Sunday morning."
"Oh, this is a surprise! I canít tell ya how happy I am to see ya." Mr. Montgomery walked with his arms around Sara and Ben as they walked through the living room and into the kitchen.
"Whereís Dief? Didnít he come?"
"Diefenbaker is staying with Ray for the weekend, Jack." Ben pulled out a chair at the kitchen table for Sara and then took a seat beside her. Sara looked at him and smiled while her Dad took his seat at the head of the table.
"You children want some coffee or something to drink?"
"No thanks. Daddy, Ben and I have something we have to tell you." Jacky leaned against the sink and started to grin at Sara. Sara rose and stood in front of her father. Ben Montgomery leaned back and saw the excitement on his daughterís face.
"Well, spill it girl. I can tell youíre about to bust."
"Daddy, Iím pregnant. Ben and I are going to have a baby!" The kitchen fell into complete silence as Mr. Montgomery processed the information. Jacky grinned and waited for his fatherís reaction.
Mr. Montgomery rose slowly to his feet. Towering over Sara, he looked down at his first born child. Slow, silent tears slid down his weathered cheeks as he pulled Sara to him.
They stood in silence for a long time until Mr. Montgomery finally regained his voice.
"My baby girl. I only wish your Momma could be here to see this day. Iím so proud. So proud." Sara pulled away slightly and reached for Benís hand. Ben stood and before he realized what was happening, Mr. Montgomery had him in a tight embrace. The elder man openly wept as he held Sara and Ben. Jacky brushed a stray tear from his cheek as he walked across the kitchen.
"Well, this calls for a celebration! And Ben, by now you should know how the Montgomeryís celebrate." Ben smiled and nodded at his brother-in-law.
"Right, letís go eat."
"Sara already gone up to bed?"
"Yes sir, she had an early court time. Sheís been up since six this morning."
"That girl always did work hard. She gets that from her Momma." Ben sank down into the couch and took in the look on his father-in-laws face. He hoped that he would one day have the automatic look of pride and love come over his features whenever he would mention one of his children.
"Has Jacky gone to bed for the evening?"
"No, weíve got a cow about to calf and heís gone down to the barn to go check on her." Ben shifted on the couch and picked up a picture sitting on the end table. He ran his fingers over the face of a twelve year old Sara as she hugged her father tightly around the neck.
"I just picked her up from a birthday party when that was taken." Ben looked up a bit startled. Mr. Montgomery could tell that Ben had something on his mind. "You can talk to me if you want to, son." Ben sighed and replaced the photograph.
"Is it hard?"
"Is what hard, Ben?"
"Being a father." Mr. Montgomery leaned back in his chair, as he looked Ben right in the face.
"Yes." Ben cleared his throat as he picked at a piece of invisible lint on his jeans.
"Iím not sure if I know how to be a good father."
"Ben, none of us knows how to be a good father. Most of us learn from our parents. We learn what to do and in some cases, what not to do."
"Well, my father was never really around. My grandparents raised me. Iím sure they did the best they could, but IÖ.I want to beÖ.I meanÖ." Ben rubbed his thumb along his eyebrow and licked his bottom lip.
"Ben, I know your dad had his reasons, but I will tell you this. I wouldnít trade all the tea in China for the time Iíve spent with Jacky and Sara. Those are the things no one will ever be able to take away from you. Also, if youíve missed them, you can never get them back." Mr. Montgomery leaned forward slightly as he motioned with his hands while he spoke.
"I was there when Sara took her first steps. I was there when Jacky said his first word. That scar on Saraís right elbow. I put the Band-Aid on that cut after she fell of her bike. I was there after Sara convinced Jacky to jump off the barn holding an open umbrella. I was there when Jacky finally hit his growth spurt. I was there when Jacky tied Sara to a tree in the southwest pasture and left her there for two hours. I was there the day each graduated high school. I was there the day my daughter walked down the aisle and married the man of her dreams. And, God willing, Iíll be there when my grandbaby comes into this world. Those are the things you canít replace, Ben. Cherish the time you have with your children, because it only takes a blink of an eye for them to grow up."
"I just donít want to make a mistake?"
"Ben, youíre going of make lots of them. Youíll make them, Sara will make them and your children will make them. The key is to try not to make the same mistake twice. And well, you have to remember, Ben, that when dealing with children sometimes the answer is no. You wonít understand now, but if you have a daughter, that will be the toughest one to stick to."
"Thereís something about a baby girl that will just wrap you around their little fingers. The minute they call you daddy, youíre a lost cause. Now, donít get me wrong. Iíve had to swat Saraís behind on more than one occasion. That girl could get in more trouble before breakfast than Jacky could think up all day. But, she could melt your heart in a instant."
Ben laughed at the image of Sara as a precocious child. Mr. Montgomery stood and walked to the bookshelf and pulled down a thick photo album. He handed the album to Ben and returned to his seat.
"Someday, youíll have an album like this in your house. Every time you open it, youíll get a warm feeling in your heart. Thatís what itís about, Ben. You have children to love." Ben opened the album and Mr. Montgomery began pointing out pictures of family vacations, first days of school, proms and birthdays. The two men sat and talked for an hour, telling stories and looking at pictures.
Sara sat on the top step and silently cried as her father talked to Ben. She listened and giggled at some of the old stories her father told. Some she was slightly embarrassed others of her mother made her cry again. Some say that a girl can never find a man as wonderful as her daddy. Sara wiped a tear from her cheek as she listened to the laughter of the man that was.
Sara and Ben walked hand in hand into the pharmacy. Sara leaned over to Ben and whispered in his ear, "Sheís gonna freak."
"This is a rather sneaky way to tell someone."
"Yeah, but itís fun." Sara waited until there were several people in line for the pharmacy before she dropped her prescription at the counter. Debi was too busy filling prescriptions and exchanging pleasantries with long time customers to notice Ben and Sara in the store. Ben and Sara browsed through the hair care section so they could watch Debi through the shampoo display.
"Mineís next. Letís see what she does." Ben peered over the counter while Sara looked around the side. Debi quickly grabbed the prescription and pulled the large supply of medications off the shelf. She counted out the required amount and placed the prescription in the bag. She turned the label over and absent-mindedly shouted the name.
"Sara Fraser!" Sara stifled a laugh as Debi looked at the bottle again and mouthed her name. This time Debi yelled her name with more enthusiasm.
"Sara Fraser! SARA!!"
Ben and Sara walked quickly to the counter as Debi ran out from behind it through the side entrance. She wrapped both arms around Saraís neck and the two of them started to squeal their traditional greeting.
"What are you doing here?! You didnít tell me you were cominí home!"
"I just need to get my prescription filled." Debi held the bottle out to Sara and then snatched it away once it dawned on her what she had filled.
"These are prenatal vitamins! What are you doiní taking prenatal vitamins?! Oh my God!" Sara nodded her head and Debi engulfed her once again. Several customers turned to see what all the screaming was about when Debi flung her arms around Ben and then started hopping up and down. Ben smiled and ran a finger around his collar as Sara and Debi chatted like magpies about Saraís pregnancy.
"Weíve got to go shopping. Have you started on a nursery yet? Have you picked out a theme? Let me guess Winnie the Pooh, right? You always did love that bear. How far along are you?"
Sara turned a smiling face toward Ben and winked as Debi continued with her questions.
~~~"Sara, are you about ready?"
"Just about!" Sara pulled off another pair of jeans and threw them on the floor. She stomped over to her closet once again and yanked the hangers across the bar.
"Sara, whatís the matter?" Ben walked into the bedroom to see at least four pairs of jeans scattered across the floor and a very irritated Sara slinging clothes about in her closet.
"Nothing!" Sara continued to violently slide the hangers of clothes back and forth across the bar in the closet.
"Obviously itís something. Why arenít you dressed?" Sara plopped down on the end of the Ben and covered her face with her hands.
"Iím too fat."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Iím too fat. Nothing fits." Ben sat down next to Sara and put his arm across her shoulders.
"Youíre not fat, youíve merely gained weight because of the pregnancy."
"Still the same problem, Ben. Nothing fits."
Ben walked over to the closet and removed a long sleeve navy t-shirt dress.
"This should fit." Sara sighed as she took the dress from him and started to pull it on over her head.
"Maybe. I havenít worn it in a while. It was big when I bought it." Pulling the dress into place, Sara turned from side to side in front of the mirror. It wasnít as loose as she remembered, but it did fit. Ben reached out and placed his hand on the slight bulge of her abdomen.
"You can tell youíre pregnant." Sara moved closer to him and stood between his legs as he sat on the bed.
"Itís a good thing weíre telling everyone tonight." Sara placed her hands behind Benís head as he slipped his arms around her waist and kissed her abdomen.
"Oh sure, you say that now. What are you going to say when Iím big as a Buick?"
"Youíll still be beautiful."
"Uh-huh. What about when my ankles are all swollen and my back hurts?"
"Sara, you will always be beautiful to me."
"God I love you!" Sara lifted his chin and planted a big kiss on Benís lips. She pulled away from him and put her hands on her hips.
"You ready?" Laughing, he stood and took her by the hand. In a few moments they would be across town at the Vecchioís telling them their wonderful news.
~~~"As soon as I take off my coat theyíre gonna know."
"Then we better tell them before we take off your coat."
"Thanks for working that all out for me, Ben. What would I ever do without you?" She poked him in the ribs as they made their way up the walk. Before Ben could open the door for Sara, Ray swung the door open and greeted them with a big hug. Dief bounded past Ray and went to find the Vecchio children to feed him.
"Hey,Benny! Sara! Címon in. Dinnerís almost ready!" As Sara hugged Ray, she whispered in his ear.
"Do they know?"
"Well, here it comes, so get ready."
"I donít have much of a choice."
"Raymondo! Is that my Benton and Sara?!" Rosa Vecchio emerged from the kitchen carrying a large wooden spoon. She rushed to hug Ben and Sara.
"Itís us, Ma! We need everyone to come into the den!" Sara still clutched her coat tightly around her as she and Ben led Ray and Mrs. Vecchio into the den. Mrs. Vecchio could see the seriousness in Benís face and how peculiar he and Sara were acting. She immediately began to pray.
"Is everyone else here?" Ben looked around for the rest of the Vecchio family.
"Iíll getíem for you Benny. YO! Franny, John, Maria, Tony, Little Anthony, Angelo and Theresa get down here!"
"Thank you kindly, Ray. That was most effective."
"No problem, Benny." Vecchioís poured from just about every room of the house and soon filled the den. Sara and Ben were pleasantly surprised to see John in attendance as well.
"Sara, love, youíre looking absolutely radiant." John leaned over and kissed Sara on the cheek before shaking Benís hand.
"Thanks, John. Iím glad youíre here tonight. You saved me a phone call." Sara looked over at Ben, with a smile she nodded for him to speak. Ben cleared his throat and allowed a large grin to part his lips.
"Sara and I have an announcement to make." Ben looked around the room at all the expectant faces of the family he loved. Ray winked as Ben cleared his throat. As he pulled off her coat and everyoneís eyes riveted to her obviously larger stomach, Ben exclaimed, "Weíre going to have a baby!" Ben flinched slightly at the enormity of sound coming from Maria, Mrs. Vecchio and Francesca. He drastically underestimated the reaction their news would get. Sara found herself being hugged and kissed from every direction. Mrs. Vecchio lifted her hands toward the ceiling and began speaking in Italian. Maria was rubbing Saraís stomach while kissing her on the cheek. John had enveloped her in a large hug and Sara could actually see the glimmer of tears in his eyes. Even Tony and the children joined in on the hugs for Sara. Then she felt a hand on her wrist and was being pulled forward. Sara looked up to see Francesca had her by the arm while she pointed a finger in her face.
"I knew it! I knew it the day we went shopping! I told Ray there was something up. He said you were just a big eater. But, I knew it was something else. He just kept saying I was crazy but, I knewÖ.waitÖ..HE knew!" She quickly whirled around and stuck the finger in Rayís face as she screamed at him.
"You knew all the time! You did! You knew!" Ray held his hands up and shrugged his shoulders. Then, Mrs. Vecchio joined into the fray.
"Raymondo! How could you not tell us?! Sara is family!" Ray backed up against the wall and looked toward Ben. Maria and Francesca had started taking turns punching him in the shoulder while Mrs. Vecchio yelled at him some more.
"A little help here, Fraser!"
"Ma, Ray was only following our wishes. We wanted to wait until we knew everything was fine regarding Sara and the pregnancy and we wanted to be able to tell her father before we told the rest of the family."
Mrs. Vecchio rushed toward Ben and took his face in her hands. She spoke to him in Italian as she kissed his face. Sara could only catch a word or two. Ben was still teaching her the language. She could understand a few of the words love, baby and family. Benís eyes filled with tears as Mrs. Vecchio pulled him into a hug. She rocked him in her arms and then exclaimed.
"Iím going to be a grandmother again!"
~~~Everyone was still gushing over the news of Saraís pregnancy until Mrs. Vecchio took Sara by the hand and led her to the couch.
"You sit, mio tesoro. You donít need to be on your feet right now." Sara gave a pleading look to Mrs. Vecchio.
"But, Iím fine, really. I thought you could be the one to tell Ben that Iím not going to break. Heís been falling all over me ever since we found out."
"No, you will not break dear. But, you are with child now. That is a blessing. Treat it as a blessing." And with a wink and a squeeze of the hand she continued. "Let others treat it as a blessing. What might be an annoyance now, will be greatly appreciated in a few months." Sara nodded her head and grimaced as Ben quickly grabbed a pillow and placed behind her back. John had taken a seat beside her and was looking at her like a wonder of nature.
"John, quit goofiní over me."
"Iím just so thrilled, love. Sara the Great is having a baby." Sara rolled her eyes. She hated it when he called her that.
"Well, John the Fabulous, howís things with you and Franny?"
"Wonderful. I still canít believe Iíve fallen so hard." Franny winked at John as she returned to the kitchen to help her mother bring out dinner.
"Do you need any help?" Sara leaned forward and called after Francesca.
Sara sat back a little stunned at Mariaís and Francescaís answer to her question while Ray chuckled.
"Sara, face it. In this house, the pregnant are treated like royalty. I think thatís why Maria had three kids."
"Shut up, Ray! I heard that!"
"Sara, are you thirsty? I can get you a glass of juice." Before Sara could decline Rayís offer, Ben had accepted it.
"But Iím not really thirsty."
"You are supposed to drink plenty of liquids. You need to drink more."
"Fine. Iím going to be up all night, though." Sara warned.
Ben smiled and rubbed his hand along her shoulders.
Ray jolted from his seat and returned with the largest glass of juice Sara had ever seen.
"Who drinks out of this glass, Ray? The elephant across the street?"
"Just cut the smart-ass and drink it. Iím not going to go through another hospital visit."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Sara cringed. Francesca and Maria came rushing in from the dining room. Before she could blink, John had her by the hand and Tony was calling for Ma to come back in from the kitchen.
"Hospital visit? What hospital visit?!" Francesca smacked Ray on the back of the head as Maria inquired to Ben what Sara was doing at the hospital. Mrs. Vecchio rushed from the kitchen and held Benís face in her hands once again.
"What is this about our Sara being in the hospital and we were not told?" Ben could feel the color rising in his face. He knew Mrs. Vecchio was not pleased.
"UmÖ.see, MaÖ..well, SaraÖ." Ben rubbed a knuckle across his eyebrow as he stuttered.
"Benton! Tell me!"
"Sara passed out in the middle of a cross examination four weeks ago. Craig Parker was with her and called an ambulance. We thought she only had the stomach flu, but it turned out to be morning sickness. The dehydration and the excitement from the case caused her to lose consciousness. Thatís when we found out Sara was pregnant. But, we didnít want to tell anyone until we found out how far along she was and then until we could tell her father. Iím sorry. We didnít want you to worry." Sara sat in silence waiting on the familyís reaction to Benís rambling explanation. Ben took a deep breath as his head remained in Mrs. Vecchioís hands. She smiled slightly and gently patted his cheek.
"Benton, from now on, you tell us. Okay? We are family. You always tell family."
"Please donít be mad at Ray."
"I am not upset with Raymondo. He was keeping a promise to his best friend and brother." She turned to Ray and pointed a finger at him. "But, from now on, no secrets!"
"Yes, Ma." She turned to Ben again and then to Sara.
"Yes maíam." "Yes, Ma."
"Now, letís eat. Benton, help Sara to the table." Sara stood and shook her head as Ben took her by the hand and led her to the dining room. The meal looked wonderful and Sara had to admit she was starving. However, she could never eat all the food that was being constantly replenished on her plate. Ben and Ray chuckled as Maria placed another helping of broccoli on Saraís plate and commented on the folic acid content.
"Youíre eating for two now, Sara." Mrs. Vecchio spooned a large helping of mashed potatoes next to the broccoli. Sara gave Ben a wide-eyed look as he grinned and tucked his head.
Sara pulled one of the kitchen chairs over to the cabinet. She gracefully hopped on the seat of the chair and reached for the ceramic bowl she kept on the top shelf.
"Sara!" Ben rushed through the front door and grabbed her around the waist and scooped her into his arms.
"What are you doing!?" Sara looked at him with fury in her eyes. "You could have made me break that bowl!" Before she could continue her admonishment of him, she noticed the look in Benís eyes. She could tell he was very upset. She chose not to say another word until he spoke. Through a clenched jaw and glaring eyes he softly began to speak.
"What do you think you were doing?"
"Getting a bowl."
"You could have fallen. What if you would have hit your head? What if you had hurt yourself and I hadnít come home yet?"
"You could have fallen and hurt yourself and the baby. What were you thinking Sara?!" Sara had only seen Ben this upset with her one other time, when she kept her blister from him on the honeymoon.
"No buts! From now on if you need something from the higher shelves, you either call Ernie or wait until I get home. Do you understand?" Sara knew that he was upset but she had had just about enough of this china-doll treatment. She wiggled slightly in his arms and Ben stood her gently on the floor. She tried to take a deep breath and calm down but it was too late. Ben wouldnít let it go.
"I asked you if you understood, Sara. Iím not going to stand for you getting hurt." Sara squared her shoulders and planted her feet. She leaned in and pointed her index finger in Benís face.
"You let me tell you one thing. I donít take to kindly to be treated like a toddler. Iím having a baby; Iím not one! So you listen to me. Iím not going to do anything to jeopardize the safety of our child. But if I need to get a freakiní bowl off the shelf, I will. Iím pregnant, Ben. Iím not incapacitated. Look at those women in those other countries that squat down in the fields and have babies and then scoop Ďem up and keep on workiní. Iím not a hothouse flower, Ben Fraser. What if?! What if? Donít talk about Ďwhat ifísí. What if a frog had wings?! Then it wouldnít bump its ass when it hops! Thereís a Ďwhat ifí for you! So you just better watch who youíre talking to like that. Do I understand! I donít need you asking about my comprehension skills. You just better remember who youíre talking to. Iím your wife, not your Ďlittle womaní. So donít try that bossy macho crap on me." Sara could feel the sweat forming on the back of her knees. She was mad. Furious was a better word. All the coddling had come to a head. Ben stood and placed his hands on Saraís shoulders. She stared straight into his eyes and almost dared him to speak. What she didnít realize that her safety and the safety of their child were more important to Ben than any fit she could pitch.
"Sara, you can yell and scream all you want to. I meant what I said." Ben met her determined stare with one of his own. Sara blinked a few times in reflex and then took a deep breath. The exhale was in the form of a tirade that had been building for days.
"You are not the boss of me Ben Fraser! You are not and will never dictate to me like some child! Iím not going to break. Iím pregnant. Women for millions of years have had babies! I bet there are a hundred women who have babies in this city every day. All I tried to do was get a freakiní bowl. I was going to bake you a cake. But you know what?! Not anymore!" Ben grabbed one of her hands as she gestured wildly. He pulled her to him and hugged her tightly.
"Youíre not making any sense."
"I donít have to make sense. Iím mad." Ben held her tightly to his chest until he felt her shoulders start to shake.
"Why are you crying?"
"I donít know!"
"I thought you were mad at me."
"Well, now I want to cry. Is that all right with you?"
"Thatís fine. Go ahead and cry if it will make you feel better."
"Why did you have to yell at me?!"
"Iím sorry for yelling."
"You scared me too."
"I didnít mean to scare you. It just alarmed me to see you standing on the chair."
"I do it all the time when youíre not here."
"Perhaps I should remove all the chairs when I go out." Sara gave a small chuckle. Ben pulled away from her and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
"Youíd really do that, wouldnít you?"
"Yes." Sara smiled as Ben placed a kiss on her forehead.
"Me too. Were you really going to bake me a cake?"
"Youíre not going to now?"
"No, I canít get the bowl down." Sara gave him a sly grin and he hugged her to him once again.
"What if I get the bowl for you?"
"I donít know if Iím in the mood to bake anymore."
"What if I help you?"
"I donít know. Youíll have to convince me that it will be worth my while." Ben lifted Saraís chin with his finger and kissed her passionately. She moaned slightly as he rubbed his hands down her back and across her buttocks.
"What about now?"
"Only if thereís more where that came from and you do the dishes afterwards."
~~~Ben and Ray sat in their usual spots in the den and watched the game on TV. Whether it was baseball, basketball, football or even if Ray was feeling generous, hockey, there was always something for the two of them to watch. Sara shared the couch with Ray, while Ben chose the recliner. Saraís pregnancy was very obvious and required the purchase of a new wardrobe. However, when it came time to relax at home she chose to wear Benís sweatshirts and a pair of sweatpants. Sara was now almost five months pregnant and had the full pregnancy glow, as it was called. Ben smiled over at Sara as she read through her depositions while he and Ray commented about the game. Ray shook his head and chuckled at how easily Ben could lose his interest in a game and turn his attentions to his wife. Sara leaned forward slightly and then made a strange face.
"Sara? Whatís wrong?" Ben started to relax when he saw the smile on Saraís face.
"The babyís moving a little bit." Ray scooted closer to Sara on the couch.
"Really? You can feel it?" Ben stood and walked into the kitchen to pour Sara a glass of juice. Sara took Rayís hand and placed it on her stomach.
"Feel that." Ray looked at Sara and the two of them sat in silence with grins plastered on their faces.
"Wow! Thatís amazing."
"You never felt Mariaís stomach?"
"Not really. She never offered." Sara still had her hand over Rayís as she positioned it in another spot on her stomach. Ben returned from the kitchen and handed Sara the glass of juice. Ray looked up with concern in his eyes that quickly vanished when Ben grinned at him. Sara looked at Ben and smiled a loving smile. Ben sat on the floor in front of Sara and placed his hand next to Rayís. Sara took a small sip from her juice and placed the glass on the end table.
"Fascinating, isnít it, Ray?" Ben reassured Ray with a slight smile and then motioned for Ray to lean in closer.
"Put your ear right here." Ray looked at Ben and then to Sara. Sara removed her hand from Rayís and nodded her approval. Ray placed his ear on Saraís stomach and grinned.
"Wow, Benny. Thatís awesome." Ben nodded and rubbed his hand along the side of Saraís stomach. Sara placed a hand on Benís and the other on Rayís shoulder.
"Talk to her."
"You know itís a her?"
"No, we donít want to know until the birth but I just like to say Ďhimí or Ďherí instead of Ďití. ĎItí just sounds soÖ.I donít knowÖ.like a hammer or hubcap. Not like a baby. So talk to her."
"Huh? Babies can hear in the womb. Ben and I talk to her all the time. I even put headphones on my stomach so the baby can listen to music."
"Sure. Talk to her. That way when sheís born, sheíll know her Uncle Rayís voice." Ray leaned up with a look of pure joy on his face. Ben nodded his head as Ray gave him a questioning look.
"Itís true, Ray. The baby will be able to recognize your voice after heís born."
"Heh, heh. Saraís saying she and youíre saying he. Poor kids gonna have a complex."
"Shut up, Ray. Now talk." Ben cocked his head at Saraís requests of Ray and chuckled."
"I donít know what to say."
"Say whatever you like. Why donít you tell her a story? Tell her how you and Ben met."
Ray leaned on an elbow on the couch and started telling the story of the first time Ben walked into the 27th. Sara sat with her feet propped up on Benís legs as he sat in the floor in front of her while Dief rested beside him. Ben felt a smile part his lips as he watched his family. Ray and Sara sat relaxed and cozy on the couch as Ray told his story. Sara shared a look with Ben and winked at him as Ray started to laugh at his own tale. Benís mind wandered to the future and how in a few months Ben would be holding the child that Ray now spoke softly to. Sara released a light sigh of contentment as Ray spoke. She leaned her head back on the couch and closed her eyes. As she listened, she thanked God for all the love their child would know.
~~~~Sara sat propped up against the headboard of the bed with headphones stretched across her stomach. She worked at drafting her closing arguments for a case she was working on when Ben walked into the bedroom.
"Hey, what are you doing?"
"Iím working on my closing while the baby listens to a little music."
"Great, what is he listening to?"
"A classic." Sara jotted down a few sentences while Ben reached into the closet for a fresh shirt.
"Really? Brahms? Beethoven?" Sara chuckled and Ben gave her a look of confusion.
"No, this is better than that."
"Better then Beethoven? What could be better than Beethoven?" A sly smile parted Saraís lips as her eyes remained focused on her notepad.
"Oh, sheís listening to one of the greatest of all times."
"Elvis." Ben turned from the closet to see the look of satisfaction on Saraís face.
"I want our child to have a descent start in life."
"An appreciation of the classics are important."
"Thatís true. May I ask what other CDís you plan on exposing our child to?"
"Oh, just some of the greats. Bob Dylan, The Eagles, and the Beatles. Maybe a little Aretha Franklin."
"What? No Stones?" Saraís head shot up from her notepad. Ben chuckled at her shocked expression.
"You pick a CD and the baby will hear it." Ben slipped into a white undershirt and pulled off his jeans, then slid in bed next to Sara.
"Iím sure I can find something in the CD rack for our child to listen to."
"Just let me know."
"Have you thought about names yet?" Sara put her notepad beside her on the bed and turned to face Ben.
"Iíve had a few ideas. What about you?"
"You first. What if we have a boy?"
"Sure. But as his middle name, what do you think?" Ben tucked his head and smiled.
"I like it."
"What about a first name? My Grandfatherís name was Henry and Iíve always liked that."
"Henry Benton Fraser. I like the sound of that. Would we call him Henry?"
"Yeah. But Iíd bet you anything my Daddy would call him Hank. But I think thatís cute." Sara giggled and snuggled closer to Ben on the bed as he softly rubbed her stomach.
"What if itís a girl?"
"Caroline." Ben turned to face Sara with a somewhat shocked look on his face that quickly faded to a smile.
"After my Mother?"
"Uh-huh. I think thatís a beautiful name. Is that okay?" Ben hugged her to his chest as tears filled his eyes.
"I think thatís wonderful."
"Now, the naming of the first born daughter in my family follows a tradition."
"What sort of tradition?"
"Well, the first born daughterís middle name is the maiden name of the maternal grandmother."
"My motherís middle name was Chase. My middle name is Hastings. So, Carolineís middle name will be Stockton. Caroline Stockton Fraser. And when Caroline has a daughter, her middle name will be Montgomery. But, thatís her little cross to bear, now isnít it?" Ben chuckled at the thought of Sara being a grandmother.
"I think itís perfect."
"Henry Benton Fraser or Caroline Stockton Fraser. Sounds good to me."
"Me too." Ben kissed the side of Saraís neck and rubbed his fingers along her arm. Sara closed her eyes and sighed at the warmth of Benís kisses on her skin.
~~~"Good morning, Turnbull."
"Good morning, Constable Fraser. May I inquire as to how your lovely wife is doing?"
"Sheís doing quite well, thank you. She should be by here today for lunch. Youíll be able to see her then."
"Oh, thatís wonderful, sir. How much longer?"
"Four months. The due date is set for May fourth." Turnbull excitedly clapped his hands and grinned while Inspector Thatcher entered the foyer of the consulate.
"Constable, what are you going on about?"
"Saraís due date, sir."
"When is her due date, Fraser?"
"May fourth, sir."
"Thatís not far off. Are you ready?" Ben rubbed a thumb across his eyebrow. He was a bit taken aback at the relaxed conversation coming from his Superior Officer.
"Weíve started to decorate the nursery actually."
"Really? Have you chosen any particular theme?" Ben looked at Turnbull and then back to the Inspector. Inspector Thatcher seemed genuinely interested and Turnbull appeared to be absolutely enthralled.
"Sara is quite fond of Winnie the Pooh."
"Ah, yes, the characters created by A. A. Milne. Iím familiar with them. Very cute."
"Yes sir. The room has yet to be painted. Sara seems to have taken that task on herself."
"Oh, that should be wonderful, sir. If I can offer any assistance at all, please donít hesitate to ask." Turnbull gushed at the thought of decorating a nursery.
"Thank you kindly, Turnbull."
"Fraser, I need to see you in my office, please." Ben nodded and Turnbull returned to his dusting.
Ben stood in front of Thatcherís desk as she shifted s few papers across her desk.
"Constable, Iíll get right to the point. Iíve been informed of a training seminar in Toronto that requires your presence. The seminar will last three weeks and it will involve protocol and procedures regarding Canadian Consulates and RCMP personnel."
Fraser cleared his throat and began to speak. Thatcher held up her hand and continued.
"I know that your family obligations are your first priority, so I initiated a special request that Sara be allowed to accompany you on this trip. Youíll be staying in Toronto with every comfort required for Saraís condition. The trip is scheduled to begin next week. Iím sorry about the notice. I just found out about it myself. If Sara is unable to attend, Iíll make sure she is looked after and cared for myself in your absence." Thatcher leaned back in her chair and waited for Ben to respond.
"Sara will be here this afternoon for lunch. Iíll discuss it with her then."
"That sounds fine. Let me know your decision this afternoon and Iíll make any necessary travel arrangements through Toronto."
"Thank you, sir."
"Dismissed." Ben turned to leave. He turned slightly and faced Thatcher again.
"For what, Constable."
"For the request for Sara to travel with me." Thatcher smiled and nodded as Ben exited her office.
"Sara!" Turnbull leapt to his feet and rushed to greet her.
"Hi, Ren. How are you?" Sara spread her arms and stood on her tiptoes to give Turnbull a hug. Turnbullís face lit up and returned her hug with all the affection the man could muster.
"Oh, Iím most fine. How are you? I must say, you look absolutely radiant." Turnbull stepped back and held Saraís hands as he looked at her growing stomach. He pulled a hand toward her then jerked it back slightly embarrassed.
"Ren, if you want to touch my stomach, itís fine. Itís good luck. Besides, every time someone touches my stomach I feel like our baby feels that much more love." Sara pulled Turnbullís hand to her stomach and laughed.
"Did you feel that?"
"Yes, I did!" Turnbull beamed his enthusiasm around the room, and then he saw the smiling face of Constable Fraser. Turnbull tucked his head slightly and pulled his hand away from Saraís. Ben walked over and patted Turnbull on the shoulder and smiled.
"I see heís moving around today." Sara giggled and slipped her arms around Benís waist.
"Then shall we go then?"
"Bye, Ren. Iíll see you when we get back."
"Have a pleasant lunch." Turnbull returned to the kitchen and whistled happily as he prepared his lunch.
~~~~~"Three weeks, huh?"
"I guess I can swing it. Iíve practically gone part time at the DAís office, anyway. Besides, they better get used to me not being around."
"How did Craig take it when you told him you were staying home after the baby was born?"
"Surprisingly, he loved the idea. He said his wife didnít have to work and that was the best thing in the world for his kids. I told him I would help out where ever I could and possibly take on some private work. So, whatís Toronto like?"
"Youíll like it. It has a large entertainment district and itís very close to Niagara Falls. You mentioned that you wanted to go there."
"But, will a pregnant woman have a good time?"
"Of course. We walk everyday now, so it shouldnít be a strain on you. Besides, if you feel tired, weíll just go back to the hotel and relax."
"Youíre so good to me."
"Thatís what Iím here for." Sara giggled as she took another bite of her salad.
"Iíll call Dr. Vickers this afternoon to see if I need to take any precautions while weíre traveling."
"Good idea. Inspector Thatcher gave me the itinerary for the three weeks and weíll have plenty of time for site seeing. The seminars and training classes are scheduled for the morning and early afternoon. The inspector mentioned that the hotel had a spa that you would enjoy."
"That sounds nice. Maybe I could do all that makeover stuff. Mud masks, seaweed wraps, maybe get my nails done."
"Thatís sounds great. So Iíll have her make the arrangements this afternoon. She asked about the baby?"
"Really? Maria mentioned giving me a baby shower. Do you think she would like to come?"
"Iím sure she would. Turnbull offered his assistance with the nursery."
"Thatís so sweet. He needs to find a girl." Ben stopped his fork in mid air."
"Donít even think about it."
"Turnbull is perfectly capable of finding a girlfriend on his own, so get that look off your face."
"Youíre no fun."
"I have to work with him." Sara sighed and took a sip of water.
"Well, Iím not going to promise anything. If I meet somebody nice that I think Ren will like, I just might introduce them."
"I really wish you wouldnít."
"Relax, I havenít met anyone yet."
"Yes, but how can I relax when thereís always the possibility." Sara giggled and rubbed her hand down Benís arm.
"Well, a least I keep you on your toes."
"True." Sara gave him an evil grin and purred.
"I rather keep you on your back."
"You like that, donít you?"
~~~~Meg Thatcher stood in the foyer of the Consulate. She turned to hear Ben and Sara laughing with one another as they walked up the steps. A twinge of emotion tripped through Megís stomach as she saw Ben lean down and give Sara a loving kiss at the door. Was it jealousy? Probably not. More like loneliness. The need to have someone to share her life with. Sara rushing toward her interrupted her thoughts. Sara wrapped her arms around Megís neck and hugged her tightly. Ben stood back in amazement at how his wife had the ability to make even the most rigid person melt under her hugs. Meg stepped back startled at first but then succumbed to Saraís embrace.
"Oh, thank you, Meg. It was so thoughtful of you to think of me when Ben was asked to attend the training." Sara swiveled from side to side as she hugged Meg and talked. Ben tried to stifle a laugh at the expression on his Superior Officers face.
"Youíre quite welcome, Sara. Do you plan on attending the seminar with Constable Fraser?" Sara finally released Meg from her clutches and nodded her head in reply.
"You have to tell me all the good places to go while Benís in class. He mentioned that the hotel had a spa. Do you know what types of things they offer?" Ben observed a change in Inspector Thatcherís demeanor as she spoke to Sara. She seemed to be relaxed and for lack of a better term, softer. Ben decided to allow the two time to talk.
"Ladies, Iíve got some reports that need my attention." Sara kissed Ben on the cheek and then turned her attention back to Meg.
"If you would like, I could show you a few of the better stores to go."
"Oh, Meg that would be great. I might find something for the nursery."
"I hear youíve chosen a Winnie the Pooh theme." Sara followed Meg down the hall and into her office. Meg lifted the screen of her laptop and started to browse for the stores she thought Sara would like in Toronto.
"I love Walt Disney and Winnie the Pooh has always been my favorites. I have all kinds if Disney videos. I sit and watch them all the time. Ben likes the Lion King." Meg stopped her typing on the keyboard and turned to face Sara. Sara laughed at the look on Megís face.
"Sorry, I guess itís hard to picture Ben watching a Disney movie. Well, if youíre forced to watch something, you either learn to like it or youíll go crazy." Meg nodded her head slightly and returned to the computer.
"You should come see the nursery. Iíve got the color picked out and Iím going to start painting tomorrow. The color is called ĎWhitecapí. By itself, it looks white, but if you put another color beside it, it turns the palest blue youíve ever seen."
"What if you have a girl?"
"Oh, that want matter. Iím using primary colors. All reds, blues, green and yellows. I like bright colors. Come over on Friday. Iíll cook and show you the apartment. Itíll be fun." Before she realized what she had done, Meg smiled and accepted Saraís offer. Sara could tell that Meg had just shocked herself. She accepted and then thought about Ben being her junior officer. Sara smiled smugly to herself as Meg turned her attention back to the computer screen. * So, the Ice Queen melteth. Benís gonna flip when he hears whoís cominí to dinner. *
~~~~Sara changed into a more comfortable shirt and jeans. Ben loved the way Sara looked in her maternity jeans. She went barefoot most of the time around the house and there was something about the way she was carrying her pregnancy that made her so attractive. Sara had accused him of just loving the fact that she was barefoot and pregnant. He categorically denied it, but deep down he knew that it might actually be true.
"What time did you ask the Inspector to arrive?"
"I told her about 6:30. I told her just to go home and throw on a pair of jeans and come on over if she wanted." Ben chuckled at the thought of Meg and Sara acting like girlfriends.
"I canít believe you."
"What about me?" Sara emerged from the bedroom with a white maternity t-shirt and a red cardigan paired with her jeans. Ben looked down and was actually disappointed to see the navy running shoes Sara wore walking.
"You just have a way with people."
"Megís our friend."
"Well, yes, I guess. Sheís my superior officer."
"I should have asked Ren. Do you think his feelings will be hurt?"
"No, heís been here before. You had him over for lunch with us last month."
"I know. But heís so sensitive, I didnít want him to feel left out."
"Iím sure heíll be fine. What would you like me to help you do?"
"Well, I made the salad when I got home. The chicken breasts are in the oven. The vegetables are on the stove and the cake is in the fridge. You didnít touch that cake did you?"
"No, I promise this time I didnít touch it."
"You better not. If I ever pull out a cake for a guest with a piece cut out again, Iíll go ballistic right there."
"I donít see what was so upsetting. We were going to eat it anyway."
"You just donít do that, Ben. It just better not happen again. You wait like the rest of us for a piece of cake." Ben tucked his head as Sara swatted him playfully on the behind.
"I wonder if Meg will care for a glass of wine with her chicken? I can run and get a bottle of Chardonnay."
"Weíll ask her when she gets here. She may not be in the mood for wine tonight." The doorbell rang and Sara moved quickly to the door. She greeted Meg with her usual hug of hello. Meg smiled and stepped into the apartment. She shifted from foot to foot by the front door as Sara took her purse and coat. Ben stepped out of the kitchen and was a bit shocked at his Superior Officers appearance. Sara could tell by the look on Megís face that her feelings were the same. The two had only seen each other in an office setting. Ben was always in his Red Serge and Meg was in her professional looking business suits. Ben almost didnít recognize the woman standing beside his wife. She had on jeans and a loose fitting but very nice yellow sweater. Instead of the normal high heels, she had on a pair of white tennis shoes. Meg tried not to openly stare at how relaxed Fraser looked. He had on a flannel shirt and jeans, and he too had on a pair of high top Nikes.
"Good evening, Inspector. Iím so glad you could come."
"Thank you, Fraser. But, under the circumstances, I think it would be appropriate if you called me Meg."
"Very well. Sara, Iíll hang up Megís coat while you show her to the den."
"Thanks, Ben. Meg, follow me." Sara gestured with her hands and led Meg into the den. Meg was a little started at the furnishings and how cozy everything was. She knew that Saraís family was well off financially, but she had no idea how substantial her position was. The apartment was not pretentious by any stretch of the imagination, and Meg knew Italian leather when she saw it. She was sure that the artwork displayed throughout the room didnít come from a decorative import store, either.
"Have a seat, supper will be ready in a few minutes."
"I mean dinner. Itís a southern thing. Weíre having chicken. Would you like Chardonnay with dinner? Ben can run and get some right quick."
"Oh, no thank you. Iíll drink whatever you have."
"How about Kool-Aid."
"Oh dear, another one. Surely they have Kool-Aid in Canada."
"Iíve never had it."
Sara stood and made her way in to the kitchen while Ben was having a seat in his recliner in the den.
Sara returned and handed Meg a small glass of grape Kool-Aid. Meg took a tentative sip and then another large swallow.
"It tastes like grape candy."
"Good, huh? Ben likes the green best."
Meg, Sara and Ben sat in the den exchanging pleasantries for a few more minutes. Meg suddenly realized how relaxed and comfortable she was. Sara led them all to the dining room and started to serve the meal. Ben insisted that she rest and allow him to do it. Meg smiled at the two of them exchanging playful remarks. She had never seen Fraser in this setting and she had to admonish herself. *Why wouldnít he be like this? Heís just a man. Now he has a wife and a child on the way. Why wouldnít he act like any other man in his position? Good lord, heís so uptight at the office. Thatís just a sign of a disciplined officer. But, itís almost spooky. *
"Meg you have to tell me about these classes. Will Ben be gone most of the day?"
"Only part of the day. Heíll be able to join you for lunch and from about four oíclock on the evenings will be free."
"Thatís not so bad. Iím sure youíll find something to do with your time." Ben chuckled at Sara as she returned his remark with a goofy expression.
"Donít you worry. Meg told me where all the good stores are. Iím sure weíll have a shipment of things arriving shortly after our trip, if not before we get back."
"What on earth is there left to buy? Youíve bought all the baby furniture."
"Thereís baby clothes. Cute little stuffed animals."
"Bottles, toys, little baby booties." Sara grinned at Ben as Meg joined in with baby items.
"Do you want kids someday, Meg?" Ben looked a little uncomfortable at Sara for asking such a personal question. Then his look turned to amazement when Meg answered the question.
"Yes, actually. Iíve even thought about adoption."
"Oh, that sounds wonderful. If you need any legal services, Iím here. Iíd be more than happy to help. Hey, who wants dessert?"
"Dessert? I couldnít possibly."
"I made chocolate cake. Benís been waiting for a slice of it all day."
"I had no idea you were so domestic, Sara."
"I wouldnít go that far. I can cook and bake. But that was more out of a necessity. I took over the kitchen after Mom died. But, I wouldnít say I was ĎBetty-Homemakerí"
"Yeah, Ben, you wish."
The evening was pleasant and comfortable. Ben had never seen Meg so relaxed around him. Sara hugged her good-byes at the door and started to clean up the kitchen.
"I think she had a good time."
"Yeah, I like her." Ben smiled at Sara as he loaded the dishes in the dishwasher.
"Does that mean youíll stop referring to her by that horrible nickname?"
"What? Dragon Lady or Ice Queen?"
"Iím kidding. I think she just needs a friend. I wonder if she even does anything after work. Have you ever heard her talk about friends?"
"Well, Inspector Thatcher likes to keep her personal life personal."
"Uh-huh. Well, Iím gonna get Maria to invite her to the shower after we get back from Toronto."
"Thatís sounds nice. You go ahead and sit down. Iíll finish the rest of this. Youíve worked hard all day."
"What did I ever do to deserve you? Oh yeah, I was kidnapped by a serial killer. Lucky me." Ben rolled his eyes as Sara made a sweeping dramatic exit from the kitchen.
~~~Ray pulled the Riv up to the curb at the Airport. He hopped out and trotted to the passenger door and helped Sara from the passenger seat. Dief and Ben followed and gathered their bags.
"Weíre a little early. Letís get something to drink after we check our bags."
"Sure thing, Sara." Ray hoisted Saraís suitcase over his shoulder while Ben carried his pack. Dief sulked along behind dreading the ride in the carrier. With the luggage all checked and Dief pouting in the carrier even though Sara promised donuts and coffee cake after the flight, the three friends sat and sipped on soft drinks in the small restaurant.
"It takes three weeks to learn how to run a consulate?"
"Apparently so, Ray."
"Youíre gonna miss me, arenít ya?"
"Iíll always miss you, Sara." Sara leaned over and gave Ray a playful peck on the cheek. Ben smiled at how close the three of them had become. He was worried at first about how his marriage would effect the friendship he and Ray shared. He was thrilled at how close Sara and Ray had become. It was a comfort to him to know that his best friend would be there if something happened to him. Ray thought of Sara as one of his sisters, just as Ben was his brother. They had both been welcomed in the family with open arms. Ray put his arm on the back of Saraís chair and leaned back relaxed. Ben liked the fact that they were all so relaxed with one another. Ray had worried at first about being too good a friend to Sara. He would never want to step over the line or make Ben jealous. But it never seemed to be an issue. Ben and Sara loved each other and they both loved Ray as much as he loved them.
"Itís just about time to board. Sara you sure itís all right for you to fly?"
"Ben talked to Dr. Vickers personally. At this stage in the pregnancy, he didnít foresee any problems. Iím fine, I promise."
"Benny, you take care of our girl. I donít want anything to happen to my little niece or nephew."
"I will." Ben rubbed his hand along Saraís back and kissed her on the cheek.
"Well, we better get going if youíre gonna make it on the plane."
"Ray, the gateís right down there."
"Yeah, but weíve got to get through Saraís ĎIím-leaving-on-a-plane-this-may-be-the-last-time-I-see-you-ritualí." Sara swatted him on the arm while Ben nodded and laughed. The three of them walked the short distance to the gate and waited for the announcement to board. As soon as the announcement was made, Ray stood and hugged Ben.
"Take care, Benny. Have a good trip." Sara shook her head and cleared her throat.
"Fine! Benny, you are my best friend and I love you dearly. Be safe and God speed."
"Thank you kindly, Ray. I love you too." The two of the grinned and faced a very satisfied looking Sara.
"Doesnít that make you feel better?"
"Oh yes, Iím walking on air."
"Shut up and tell me you love me." Ray engulfed Sara in a large embrace. Even though they poked fun, they always did feel better after Saraís little ritual.
"I love you, Ray."
"I love you too, crazy hormonal pregnant woman." Ray leaned back and kissed Sara.
"Take care of Ma and everyone while weíre gone."
"I will. Be careful and donít wear yourself out. Iíll pick you up here two Thursdayís from now."
"Sounds good. Miss you."
"Miss you. Have a good flight."
Ray waited until they had boarded and taken off before he left the airport. It was going to be a long three weeks.
"Dief! Good Lord, whatís wrong now?"
"Heís not going with you today."
"Evidently the training session was a little less than interesting yesterday, so heís going to go with me today."
"I see." Ben cast a disparaging look at his wolf companion and then grabbed his Stetson from the dresser. "You two have fun today. You know where I am if you need me."
"Sure do. Have a good day. Love you." Sara kissed him good-bye at the door as he left for class. She closed the door behind him and shared a mischievous look with Dief.
"Iíll be ready in about five more minutes. Theyíre expecting you at 9 and me at 10. We both should be done in time to meet Ben here for lunch."
"I know. Itís going to be fun." Sara dashed off to the bathroom and finished putting her clothes on. In less than ten minutes she and Dief were on their way down stairs.
"Iíll be back in about three hours. Please make sure he has every comfort and if there is anything he requests, give it to him."
"Yes, maíam." Dief gave a small woof of approval and trotted off with the young attendant. Sara very rarely indulged herself or played the part of wealthy snob, but today was for fun so she and Dief played it to the hilt. As she made her way across the street she giggled at the thought of Benís reaction to their day out. As she entered the salon attendants ready to take care of all her needs surrounded her. * Meg was right. This place is nice. Swanky! I am loving this. *
"Hello, Iím Mrs. Fraser. I have an appointment for 10. Iím a bit early. I hope thatís not a problem." Pulling out her best Southern accent and charm, Sara played the part for all it was worth. The fresh faced looking girl behind the counter smiled sweetly and pointed to an equally cover-girl type woman by the spa entrance.
"Monique will be your attendant. She will be happy to escort you." *Monique, of course. You couldnít have been named anything else with a face like that. Theyíre going to freak when they see all the stomach under this big coat. I bet they havenít seen a body this size since Seaworld."
"Oh, youíre pregnant! How fabulous!" Sara smiled at the attention the attendants were showering on her. * I could get used to this. *
Sara sighed as Monique helped her into her smock and led her to the facial room. The smell of fruit was intoxicating.
As Sara sat with her strawberry facial, she wondered what Ben was doing in his class. She knew it wasnít as fun as this.
"Mrs. Fraser, Claudette will be giving you a pedicure while the facial is working."
"Thank you kindly."
"Weíve chosen colors based on your skin tone and presence. Iím sure youíll be pleased."
"Iím sure I will, thank you Monique."
Sara emerged from the salon two hours later with a cover girl complexion, a new hair do and nails. Ben was going to love it. Now to go pick up Dief.
"You look wonderful. Youíre so handsome!" Dief barked and turned in place to give Sara the full effect.
"I know. I can see that. Are you ready to go meet Ben?" Sara and Dief walked swiftly down the street to the hotel. They had just enough time for Sara to take off her coat and appear to be sitting and relaxing on the couch when Ben returned upstairs.
"Hey, sweetie. How was your day?"
"It was quite interesting, Dief youíll be sorry you missed it. It was a session onÖ..youíve had a hair cut."
"Yes I have."
"It looks very fetching."
"Thank you." Ben sat down on the couch next to Sara and kissed her neck.
"Hmmm, you smell wonderful. Where have you been?"
"Dief and I had a morning out."
"Youíve had your nails done too. Did you go to the salon?"
"Yes, we did."
"We?" Dief trotted across the floor to sit near Sara. Ben cocked his head slightly and sniffed the air.
"Are you wearing perfume?"
"Why yes itís nice. But, I neverÖ.."
"No, Iím not implying anything at all."
"Yes, you look very handsome, but you are a wolf."
"Really? Yes your nails look very fetching as well."
"Iím sorry if I offended you. You have every right to look good as anyone else." Dief lobbed his tongue out of the side of his mouth and appeared to be smiling at Sara. Ben shook his head and draped an arm over Saraís shoulder.
"Youíve absolutely spoiled him."
"I know." Sara laughed.
"Youíre going to make it impossible for me to get any work out of him this trip."
"Oh, give him a break. He deserves some pampering every once and a while."
"Heís an arctic wolf, Sara. A wild animal. Heís used to surviving in the wilderness."
"Uh-huh. So are you, but you enjoy a warm bed and a bowl of Moose Tracks ice cream every night."
"Well, thatísÖ..um, IímÖ.." Sara laughed and stood in front of Ben on the couch.
"Letís go eat lunch, Constable."
~~~~At this time of morning the Airport was almost empty. He sat and watched a few weary travelers making their way through the airport. The shadows of the airport made it seem lonely and cold as he shifted in the plastic chair. The flight was delayed which put him even more on edge. The man sitting beside him looked uncomfortable as he adjusted his black overcoat.
The noise of the people around him was drowned out by the sound of his own heartbeat in his ears. He wanted to drop his head and weep, but he couldnít do that. He wouldnít allow himself to do that. He had to do this. People were depending on him. He sighed as the voice of a woman announced the boarding of his flight. He and the man sitting next to him stood and gathered their things. He paused before moving toward the gate. A part of him wanted to complete the ritual; the ritual that had been done two weeks before just twenty feet away. He fought back tears as he took that first step toward the gate. The gate attendant took his boarding pass and smiled into the face of her passenger.
"Is this youíre first time to Las Vegas?" Ray cast a glance at the man beside him and tried to hide the emotion in his voice.
"No, I live there." She saw the pain in his eyes as he spoke. She also saw the fear.
"Have a pleasant flight home, Mr. Langoustini."
The word Ďhomeí pierced him like a knife. He felt his body jerk as the man standing beside him gently guided him forward.
"Letís find our seats, Armando." Swallowing hard, he took what seemed to be the hardest walk of his life to his seat on the plane. As the engines started and the plane soared into the air a single tear escaped the trappings of Ray Vecchioís eye. The FBI agent sitting to his left looked over and nodded his head.
"It should only take about two hours. Youíll be in Vegas by morning."
Ray Vecchio stared out the window as the only home he had ever known disappeared in the night sky. Ray brushed the tear away from his face as he said a silent prayer for his family and friends. He took one last look as dawn crept in. He sighed as he remembered a talk he and Sara had had one late summer night. This was the time she liked. This was the time when the lights go down in the city.
~~~~"Where is he? Do you think he forgot about us?"
"Ray wouldnít do that. There must be a reason."
"Maybe he had a case come up. But, surely he would make arrangements for someone else to pick us up." Sara took a seat on the top of her suitcase as Ben searched the parking lot for the Riv.
"I hope heís okay." Ben took Sara by the hand and led her back into the airport. He returned and retrieved their luggage while he called the station. A few minutes later he returned with a concerned look on his face.
"What did they say?"
"Detective Huey said I should drop you off at home and then come to the station right away."
"Is Ray alright?!"
"He said he was fine. But Welsh needed to speak to me right away."
"Well, letís get a cab."
Ben had deposited Sara safely back at the apartment and left her unpacking. The cab pulled up to the precinct and Ben made his way inside. The sight was a familiar one. Chaos was the norm as cops and criminals interacted. Ben was happy to see some of the familiar faces again. He greeted Detective Huey and presented him with a lovely gift from the north. Lt. Welsh started to engage him in conversation but was immediately distracted. Ben tried to find Ray but with all the pandemonium he could barely get a word in edgewise. Then he finally found his way to Rayís desk, only Ray wasnít there. There was a man that someone pointed out to be Ray, but he was not his Ray.
"Fraser, buddy! How was the trip?" A spiky-haired blond came at Ben with arms extended. Ben took a step back and looked around the bullpen.
"Iím sorry. Iím looking for Detective Raymond Vecchio."
"Fraser, Itís me Ray."
"Ray Vecchio?" Ray pulled his identification from his wallet and flashed it Benís face.
"You talked to Welsh, right?" Ray lowered his voice slightly and leaned in and spoke to Ben.
"Uh, yes, weíve spokenÖ.."
"Greatness!" Ben found himself being led to Rayís desk as he began to ramble on and on about something Ben didnít have the ability to understand. Benís thoughts were interrupted by a phone call.
"Iím not entirely sure he is my friendÖ." Ben hung up the phone and alerted Ray to the purpose of the call. Ray and Ben rushed from the precinct and to the parking lot. Ben was still confused and a bit rattled when this man who claimed to be his friend Ray Vecchio jumped behind the wheel of the beloved Riv.
Ben rubbed a thumb across his eyebrow as he tried to get a grasp on the situation before him. He looked a Dief and then back to the man driving the car.
"May I use your phone?"
"Sure Benton buddy. No problem."
"Thank you kindly." As the two of them sped through the streets of Chicago on the way to the Vecchio home, all Ben could think to do was to have Sara meet him at the station. If he were having some type of mental break down he would need to be taken to a hospital.
Sara reached for the phone and could hear the emotion in Benís voice. Before he could sat goodbye she had hung up the phone and rushed out the door to the parking garage. Within minutes she was sitting in the bullpen waiting to see Lt. Welsh.
Fraser and Ray pulled up to the Vecchio home to see black smoke pouring from the windows. Ignoring Rayís request to wait for the fire department, Ben broke through the front door and began searching the house. He quickly removed Francesca and Tony from the house. Knowing that there was still life in the house, Ben returned to retrieve the family goldfish.
Ben rushed to the side of the house to see about Francesca and Tony.
"Francesca, who is this man?"
"Thatís Ray." Ben could feel his head starting to pound and he couldnít tell if he was crazy or had everyone else around him lost their mind. The throbbing spread from his forehead and into his ears as Francesca started rambling about knowing what he knew. He wasnít sure if he was capable of knowing what he knew anymore. Ben shook his head and tried to focus on the issue at hand. He needed to find clues to how this fire started. He needed to focus on the case.
"Sara! How was your trip?"
"Fine, Lieutenant. Ben just called and asked me to come down here right away. Whatís going on?" Welsh rubbed the back of his neck as he took a seat behind his desk. Sara sat directly across from him, the concern was evident on her face.
"I havenít had a chance to tell Fraser yet. This place has been a mad house today."
"Tell Ben what?! Whatís wrong?"
"A situation came up rather quickly and we had to make a decision right away."
"Situation? Just spit it out Lieu. What happened? Why is Ben calling me from the Riv in a panic."
"He was in a panic?"
"Panic for him! I can tell when heís upset. Is there something wrong with Ray?"
Welsh took a deep breath. He regretted that Francesca had taken the day off. He could have used her help to explain the situation to Sara.
"The Feds showed up a week ago. It seems that a high profile mob figure was killed in a car accident."
"What does this have to do with us?"
"It seems that Ray was a dead ringer for the guy. The Feds needed him to go undercover." Sara felt a knot forming in her stomach. Her mouth had suddenly gone dry.
"What are you telling me?"
"Rayís in Vegas. Heís gone deep undercover as Armando Langoustini, otherwise known as The Bookman."
"Whenís he coming back?"
"Weíre not sure. In order to protect Rayís cover, the Feds, along with the Chicago PD have arranged for another officer to assume the identity of Ray Vecchio."
Sara could feel a pain shoot between her eyes, as the words seemed to hang in the air.
"What?" Her voice was barely audible. Lt. Welsh stood and quickly made his way around his desk to Sara. He didnít know how she would take the news. He started to get nervous as the color left her face. In her condition, he didnít know whether to call the hospital or not.
"Heís going be fine, Sara. Heís a good cop."
"He could be killed. Itís the mob. How could you let him do this?!" Lt. Welsh held Saraís hand as she searched his face for answers.
"Heís fine. But, right now we have to keep his cover, so thereís a new Ray."
"What? A new Ray? What do mean? I donít understand any of this." Sara could feel the tears filling her eyes. Everything was swirling around in her head; she couldnít comprehend it all. Welsh wrapped his large frame around her as she began to sob. He looked around as if to find someone to rescue them.
"Perhaps we should call Fraser." Before Welsh could make it to the phone the desk clerk buzzed in.
"Itís Francesca. She says thereís been a fire at the Vecchio home. Fraser and Ray just left."
"Weíre on our way."
"Sara, honey. Do you think youíre gonna be alright to take a ride?" Sara nodded and stood on trembling knees. She and Welsh hurried to the parking lot. As she buckled herself into the police car, she felt like throwing up. Welsh looked over at her and gave a weak smile.
"Itís gonna be fine. I promise."
~~~Sara wiped the tears from her cheeks as Welsh pulled in front of the Vecchio house. The fire trucks were still in the yard of the house as Welsh radioed for the Fire Marshallís office and arson investigators to report to the scene. Sara grabbed the door handle and left the vehicle on her way to Francesca.
"Franny! Are you okay?!" Francesca was shocked to see Sara. The two women hugged briefly and then Sara started firing questions at her.
"What happened? Whereís Ben? Is Ma here? What about the kids?"
"Sara, Ma and Maria are at a school party with little Angelo. The other kids are at school. Ben and Ray just left."
Welsh walked up beside Sara and gave Francesca a weary look.
"I just told her. Fraser doesnít know yet."
"Fraser doesnít know?! No wonder he looked at me like I was some kinda moron! So what?! He thinks heís losing his mind or something?!"
"Francesca, how could Ray do this?"
"Ray or Ray Ray."
"Perhaps we should discuss this somewhere else. Francesca do you have someplace you can stay?"
"Sheís staying at my house." Francesca started to argue and but was quickly silenced by a pleading look from Sara.
"What about Tony, Maria and Ma?"
"Iíll book some hotels rooms."
"Sara, you shouldnít have to do that. We can stay at Mrs. Rossettiís."
"Iím not in the mood to argue about this Franny. Do you think they will let you get some clothes? We need to call Ma and Maria, too." Francesca could see the strain on Saraís face. She knew she was having a hard time holding it together. Sara reached for her cell phone and called Ernie at her apartment building.
"Heís going to call the Drake and let them know youíre coming. Everythingís taken care of. I think Iíd like to go home now." Francesca shared a look with Lt. Welsh as he walked Sara to the car. Francesca and Tony went through the house with the firemen and retrieved some clothes for the family. Welsh made sure Maria and Mrs. Vecchio had been notified and picked up at the school.
Within two hours, Maria, Tony, Mrs. Vecchio and the children were settled into their hotel rooms and Francesca was cradling Saraís head on her shoulder while she cried over Ray.
Francesca had tried to reach Ben and Ray several times on the cell phone but hadnít been able to reach them. She hoped Ben would get home soon. She had never seen Sara so upset. It was if she had lost her best friend. To Sara, she had.
~~~~Francesca left an exhausted Sara sleeping on the couch in order to answer the door. John Chamberlain greeted her with a kiss and a concerned look.
"Are you alright?! You werenít hurt were you? Darling, you could have been killed." John embraced Francesca as he rubbed his hands through her hair. Francesca pulled away slightly and pointed over to Sara.
"We have to talk."
"Whatís wrong? Is she all right?"
"Not really. She was told about Ray today and sheís not taking it very well. You know how close they are."
"Oh dear. Poor love. Sheís so emotional right now anyway. Whereís Ben?"
"We havenít been able to reach him. Heís with Ray. They left after whoever tried to burn down the house."
"How long has she been asleep?"
"About a half hour. I donít know what to do for her. I explained everything that had been told to us and even told her about how nice this Ray was. It didnít seem to help. Itís like sheís devastated."
"But itís not like heís dead. Heís going to be fine." John brushed a piece of hair away from Francescaís face and smiled. He saw the look in her face. She had been so upset a few days ago that she could barely breathe. Now she had convinced herself that Ray was just working on any other case.
"She just needs time. The thing that a lot of people donít realize about Sara is that she may seem to be friends with the world, but she only lets a few people get really close to her. After what she went through in high school, sheís not quick to open her heart to people. Especially men."
"Ray told me about that guy and how he beat her up."
"It really had an effect on her. Half the town thought she deserved it. They couldnít believe that such an upstanding boy like him would do something like that unless he was provoked."
"Yeah, well. Sara really found out who her friends were. If she does make a friend and she allows them to get close to her, she cherishes them. Ray leaving without telling her has torn her heart out."
"What can we do?"
"That will depend on Sara. Iíve seen her get like this a few times before. She dated a guy once that she thought was really special. He ended up breaking her heart. She acted like it didnít even phase her. She threw herself into work and never skipped a beat. But, Rayís gonna be different. She loves him. She only thought she loved that creep. But she knows she loves Ray. He was one of her best friends."
"Maybe I should call the station again."
"Good thinking, Son."
"Thank you for what Fraser?"
"Thank you for driving."
"Youíre welcome. You Canadians sure are polite."
"Yes we are." Bob Fraser grinned with satisfaction as Ben took the measurement of Rayís nose with the calipers. Ben was determined to get enough evidence to substantiate his claim that this was an imposter claiming to be Ray Vecchio.
He tried to call the station to talk to Sara, but she had all ready been notified of the fire. She and Lt. Welsh were on their way to the Vecchio house and Ben was unable to reach her. He couldnít wait until he saw her so she could verify his conclusions that this man was not who he claimed to be.
It had been a long and tiring day. Ben and this man who claimed to be Ray Vecchio had apprehended the arsonist set on destroying them. He collected his evidence and walked confidently into Welshís office.
"Sir, I have indisputable evidence that will prove that this man is not Ray Vecchio."
"I apologize Constable. I should have been able to talk to you sooner." Ben stood confused and bewildered at Welshís disregard of his evidence. Then he felt his whole body go numb. The words seemed to echo in his ears as the Lieutenant spoke. He hadnít lost his mind or become unhinged, but his best friend was no longer here. He was thousands of miles away and he couldnít help him.
"Iíve already spoken with Sara. She didnít take the news well at all. I know you realize the importance of keeping up appearances in this matter. Vecchioís life may depend on it."
"Yes sir." Ben walked to the door and took a deep breath in an effort to digest all the information he had just been told. His eyes fell on the wiry blond that was sent to help protect his friend.
"Delivery came for you Fraser."
"Thank you kindly." Ben held the unsigned postcard in his hand. A small smile spread across his lips as he borrowed a lighter. Heating the card, it reveled a photograph of himself and the real Ray Vecchio that Sara had taken last year before they left for the farm.
"Everything all right, Fraser?"
"Yes, everything is just fine." He felt the tears well up in his eyes. He cleared his throat and turned to the man he would now call Ray.
"Would you like to get something to eat."
"Sure, why donít we go to my house. I think you need to meet Sara."
"Sounds good. I heard sheís real nice."
~~~~Sara woke to find John and Francesca sitting in the kitchen. She stood in the kitchen door hoping it had all been a horrible dream. She knew it wasnít the case when John rushed to her side and gave her a mournful look.
"Hey love, how are you doing?"
"I feel like Iíve been hit by a bus."
"Thatís natural. Youíve been given some overwhelming news. Ben called. He and Ray are on their way."
"Yes Sara, Ray. Itís important that you understand the importance of everything Francesca told you."
"Iím not an idiot, John. I am fully capable of understanding the weight of the situation. That doesnít mean I have to like it."
"Youíll like Ray. Heís different, but heís nice." Francesca tried to reassure Sara and herself. She had accepted her brotherís absence but had not entirely embraced his replacement.
"Let me fix you something to eat."
"Iím not hungry."
"Sara, you havenít eaten all day. You have to eat. Itís not good for the baby." Sara sighed and rubbed her hand over her stomach. Six months pregnant and she felt like crap. She shook her head as she opened the refrigerator door.
"I need to go to the grocery store. I used everything up before we went to Toronto."
"Iíll go get you whatever you need. Come sit down. Weíll order you something to eat." Sara slumped in a chair and rested her arms across her stomach.
John started to put on his coat when the front door opened. Ben saw John first and the concern on his face. The two of them spoke quietly at the door while Ray waited.
"Sheís distraught. Itís hit her pretty hard. Maybe meeting Ray will help her deal with all sheís had to process."
"Thank you kindly. Are you leaving?"
"No, Sara invited Francesca to stay the night while the repairs were being made on the house. Weíre going to the store. We were going to order some take out. Let me know what you two want and Iíll get it."
"Thank you kindly, John. I appreciate all youíve done." Ben and Ray gave John their food order and waited by the door as he and Francesca left. Ben and Ray walked slowly in the kitchen. Sara was still seated at the kitchen table. Ben could tell she had been crying and looked depressed.
"Hey, sweetheart. Iíd like you to meet Ray." As soon as the words left his mouth, he could see the emotion on Saraís face. Ray looked down at the floor while Ben spoke. When he heard his name Ray looked up to see the saddest green eyes he had ever seen. He wanted to run to the nearest hole and bury himself in it.
~~~"Itís nice to meet youÖ.." Sara swallowed hard to dislodge the lump from her throat before she could continue. "Ö.Ray." The way she said his name made Ray want to just drop dead where he stood. He knew this was going to be hard. It was hard on everyone. He thought Rayís family would have the hardest time with the adjustment, but he didnít take in to consideration the friendship shared between Ray Vecchio and the two people that now stared at him for a reply.
"Iíve heard a lot about you. Iím glad to finally meet you Sara." Ray gave a weak smile as he shifted from foot to foot. Sara wanted to scream at him, grab him by the collar and shake this stranger who had claimed the life of her friend. She took a deep breath and tried to shake the ill will from her mind. She looked at Ben for support. Ben sat down and offered a seat to Ray. Ben could see that the stress of the day had taken a toll on Sara. She looked visibly tired and depressed. The gleam of unshed tears hung in her eyes as she stared at the man across from her. Ben rubbed his hand along her back as she absently rubbed her stomach.
"Sara, why donít I fix you something?" Ben stood to walk to the refrigerator, Sara reached out and took his arm.
"Iím fine. John and Franny will be back in a few minutes." Ben saw the uneasiness in Saraís eyes. Itís as if she didnít want to be left alone anywhere near this stranger. He smiled slightly, then sat back down, and held Saraís fingers in his hand. He started to tell her about their day. The two men laughed at Benís story as he told how he tricked Ray into biting into a window putty sandwich. Ben was painfully aware of Saraís silence. Ray shifted nervously in his chair, as Saraís gaze never left his face. He wanted to run out of the room, but he knew he had to stick it out. Ray looked up and his pale blue eyes met the deep green of Saraís. He offered her a weak smile only to be met with a single tear rolling down her cheek. *God I suck! Iíve made this poor pregnant womanís life hell. She hates me. Why would she like you?! Youíre not Ray. You never will be Ray. Jesus, I should just pass a bullet through my brain. But, then where would that leave Vecchio? Shit! *
Sara took a deep breath and tried not to break down in sobs. Everything had hit her like a Mack truck. She turned away from Rayís face and looked at Ben while he spoke. *He seems to actually like this man. This imposter. How can you be handling this so well? We come home and within an hour of walking through the door, we find our best friend has been shipped off to Las Vegas and replaced by thisÖ.thisÖ.stranger. Weíre supposed to act like nothingís wrong?! How the hell can I act like nothingís wrong?! How can you sit there and be so damn calm? This is a total stranger! What am I supposed to do?! Welcome him in my home with a hug and a kiss? Take him shopping with me? Have a big ole jolly time while MY Ray is trying to not get killed? * Sara inhaled sharply causing Ray to flinch. The kitchen fell silent as everyone looked at Sara. She could feel the emotions rushing toward the surface. She looked at Ben and then to Ray. Ray lowered his head slightly. He had read about Sara in the FBI files. He knew more than he knew he probably should about the woman that sat across from him. He knew this would be hard for her. He raised his head slightly and spoke softly to Sara while Ben looked on with an aching in his stomach.
"Iím sorry." Rays words were barely audible. Sara fought back the urge to scream at him.
"For everything. I know this is a freaky kinda way to come home from vacation. Everythingís greatness and then you get a semi-okay-lookiní guy with experimental hair dumped in your lap." Ben could feel the pain in his voice. He hoped Sara realized the sacrifice Ray made to take over another manís life. Ray looked back down at the table. They all heard the front door open as Francesca and John returned with their dinner. Ben stood and helped John carry the bags of take-out Chinese food to the counter.
"Excuse me, please." Sara stood and walked quickly to the bedroom. Ray stood and started toward the door.
"Maybe I should go." John and Francesca looked at each other in confusion while Ben put a hand on Rayís arm.
"I would prefer it if you stay." The look of kindness in Benís eyes made him say yes. Ray slumped back into the chair while Ben went to see about Sara.
~~~~"Sara." Benís voice was calm and loving. Sara sat on the edge of the bed with her back to the door. Ben walked over and sat down beside her, enveloping her in his arms. She couldnít hold her emotions any longer. She collapsed against his chest in a deluge of tears. Ben stroked her hair as she released the dayís stress in the form of heavy sobs.
"Sara, honey. I knowÖ.shhhÖ..please calm down. Itís not good for you to get this upset. Just calm down." His voice was even and smooth. Sara could barely hear him over her sobs.
"IÖ.canít believeÖÖthisÖ..is happeningÖÖItísÖ..not fairÖ..what if ÖÖheÖ..getsÖ..hurtÖÖwhyÖÖI.missÖÖ" Sara tried to talk through the tears but it only seemed to make things worse. Ben hugged her close to his chest and rocked her in his arms until her breathing slowed and calmed.
"I know this is hard. Iím not sure Iíve fully digested the information myself. But, Sara, thereís a man out in our kitchen that has given up his own identity to save our friend. You have to try to make feelÖ." Sara pulled away and glared at Ben.
"Make him feel what?! Welcome? Like heís my best friend? I canít do that. My best friend is God knows where with God knows who!" Ben lowered his head and spoke in barely a whisper.
"Heís my best friend, too." Sara finally saw the pain and worry in Benís eyes. She finally saw what she had been feeling all afternoon. She reached for him and he pulled close once more.
"Try to get to know him. Heís a good man. I can tell. Please try Sara. Please."
"Iíll try." Ben wiped the tears from her face and went into the bathroom for a damp cloth. He gently wiped her face as she rubbed the hair out of her eyes.
"Letís get something to eat."
"Iím not hungry."
"I donít care. My child needs something to eat." Ben smiled slightly as he ran his hand across Saraís stomach. She smiled up at him and placed her hand on his.
"Letís go." The two of them walked hand in hand back to the kitchen.
John pulled a chair out for Sara and kissed her on the top of the head. Ray looked sheepishly at his plate as he pushed around his chicken lo mien. Francesca felt like crying. She hated to see him looking so pitiful. John cast a concerned look at Ben as he took his seat next to Ray.
Sara looked around the table and could tell everyone was walking on eggshells. She hated it. Hated everything. She looked over at Ray and tried to see what Ben saw in this man. He looked lost. His shoulders slumped slightly. His clothes were rumpled and leaning a little toward the grungy side. But there was a sweetness in his eyes. Sara had prided her self on reading people. She knew he was a good man, but her loyalty for her Ray wouldnít allow her to like him as much as she could. Ben smiled a weak smile as he offered her a taste of his spring roll. She shook her head and smiled back at him.
"Iím gonna make me some Kool-Aid. Anybody have a preference for the color?" She took a deep breath and looked at Ben then to Ray.
"Ray, what color is your favorite?" Ray looked up like a kid that had just been picked first in gym. Sara tried her best to smile a polite smile at him while Ben and Francesca exchanged looks.
"Green." Sara nodded her head and smiled. Ray returned her smile and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thatís my favorite, too." Sara opened the cabinet and absent-mindedly grabbed the back of her chair. Before she could start to drag it to the shelf, Ben grabbed the side of it and gave her a glare.
"Donít even think about it." Sara turned and laughed. She didnít even realize what she had done. Ben heaved his own sigh of relief at the sound of Saraís laughter. Ray popped from his seat and stood next to Sara.
"Iíll reach it. Whatdoya need?" Ray looked at Sara. She knew he was trying to do his best to get her to like him. He hoped it worked.
~~~Ray leaned back against the wall of the elevator as he made his way downstairs from Ben and Saraís apartment. He knew this assignment would be hard. But he never thought that Sara would take it so hard. He had read her file that the FBI had given him on all of Ray Vecchioís family and friends. Sheís smart, but sheís been through a hell of a lot in the last year and a half. Ray sighed and leaned his head back against the wall and waited for the doors to open. He felt like dirt. Then he spotted the car he had to drive home in. Then he felt worse. He had almost forgotten the fact that the Riv ended up a roasted marshmallow at the bottom of the Lake they call Michigan. Ray shook his head and unlocked the precincts fleet car. He sat there a few moments with his hands on the steering wheel. With a long sigh and a turn of the key, he pulled out of the garage and made his way home to his apartment.
* I knew this was gonna be hard, but this is terrible. That poor woman is cryiní her eyes out and itís all my fault. I just suck. Thatís all there is to it. I suck. She even had to try and be nice to me. What did you expect? For Vecchioís whole family to welcome you with open arms?! Hi, Rayís gone. Iím him now. Whatís for dinner? Yeah, like datíll happen. Jesus, why did she have to be pregnant? Sheís all worked up and depressed. That canít be good for nothiní. Fraserís nice though. I think weíre gonna get along. Heís a little strange though. I wonder if his wife knows he licks all that crap and then kisses her on the mouth? Eeww. Donít think about it! Gross. Maybe tomorrow will be better. We all just need time to get used to this whole thing. * Ray pulled the car into his parking space and lumbered upstairs to his apartment. Collapsing on the couch, he didnít even bother to get undressed before he fell asleep.
Sara had gone to bed early. Ben, John and Francesca sat in the den and talked.
"Sheíll be fine, Ben. She just has to let everything sink in."
"I know, Francesca. Sheís had a lot to digest today. It doesnít help that sheís so emotional now anyway."
"Did you get to tell her all the details of the operation? What we know anyway?" John looked over at Francesca while he rubbed his fingers with his hand.
"Welsh told me he talked to her and then I told her everything the FBI told us. She didnít take it well at all. Iím just worried what all this stress is going to do to the baby." Ben looked worried and John and Francesca could tell he was visibly upset.
"I think Iím going to go on to bed. Francesca if you need anything, you know where it is. Help yourself. John, youíre welcome to stay as long as you like."
"Iíve got a early rehearsal in the morning, so Iím going to go. Fran, you can come home with me if you like." Francesca gave him a small smile as she kissed his cheek.
"I think Ma would like it if I stayed here. Besides, Iím worried about Sara. She might need me."
"Okay, Iíll see you tomorrow. Bye." John and Francesca walked to the door as Ben stepped softly into the bedroom. Sara had finally fallen asleep. Ben slipped out of his clothes and climbed into bed beside her.
~~~íSara!í Ray called for Sara in the darkened warehouse. Carver stood in the shadows waiting for Ray to step into the light. Sara was naked and chained to a long metal pipe that ran along the wall.
ĎRAY! Stop! Heís there! Heís going to kill you!í Sara screamed at Ray as he walked toward her, but he didnít hear her screams. He stood before her and knelt down beside her.
ĎSara. Iím going to get you out.í
ĎWhereís Ben? Benís supposed to be here. Whereís Ben?!í Sara looked all around the dark cold room. All she saw was Ray. Ray smiled down at her and rubbed a hand along her cheek.
ĎBenís here. Heís going to save you.í
ĎWhy canít you save me? Whatís wrong, Ray?!í Sara felt the sting of tears on her cheeks as Ray stepped back away from her.
ĎRay! Ray, where are you going?! Donít leave me! Ray!" Sara started to scream into the darkness. Ray had vanished and she was alone in the room again with Carver.
ĎRay! Ray! Please donít leave me! Ben! Ben, where are you!?í
Sara called out in her sleep. Ben had her by the shoulders and was calling out her name.
"Sara! Sara, wake up!" Sara jolted awake. She looked around frightened and confused. Ben pulled her face to his and rubbed her hair.
"Calm down. It was just a dream. Youíre all right."
"He left me. He left me." Sara was breathing hard and still felt the sweat of her nightmare on her skin.
"Shh, calm down. What happened? Talk to me about it." Ben heard a small knock on the door and turned to call out to Francesca.
"Itís open Francesca. Come in." Francesca cracked the door and peeked inside.
"I heard her scream. Is she okay?" Ben motioned for Francesca to come in to the room as he draped his arm around Sara.
Francesca sat on the edge of the bed on Saraís side. She could see the tears welled up in her eyes.
"Sara, what happened?"
"He left me." Ben tightened his hold on Sara once he felt her still trembling.
"Sara, honey, who left you? What are you talking about?"
"I was with CarverÖ.back in the warehouseÖ." Tears started to flow from her eyes as she faced Ben.
"You werenít there. Just RayÖ.Ray was thereÖ..butÖ.heÖ." Francesca could feel the tears trailing down her own cheeks. She missed her brother more than she ever could imagine. She reached out for Sara and hugged her to her.
"Heís going to be okay. He has to be okay. Sara, we have to believe that. Youíve got to understand why he did it. Itís his job. He had to. You know how he is." Francesca rocked Sara back and forth as Ben watched in silence. He missed his friend. He hurt for his wife and his family. He hurt for himself. He brushed a tear away from his cheek as he got off the bed and went to the bathroom. He returned to find Sara and Francesca lightly weeping in each otherís arms. He held out a box of tissues to them. They both looked at him and gave weary smiles.
"Itís going to be a rough night."
"You can say that again."
~~~~"Hey, Frase. Hereís that paper work you asked for."
"Thank you kindly, Francesca." Ben took the folder from Francesca and turned to his partner.
"It appears that we were correct on our assumption. We need to contact the DA for a warrant."
"So call Sara."
"Saraís at the doctor."
"Is she alright? Why arenít you with her?!"
"Itís a check up. I wanted to go, but she wanted to take Ma with her this time."
"Ah, thatís cool. I guess this has all been a little hard on her." Ben placed the folder on the desk and looked at the hurt on his friendís face.
"Sheís been a little depressed. Please donít take it personally. Iím sure youíre aware of the kidnapping and the shooting."
"Yeah, the kidís been through a lot."
"Precisely. Plus, she had some things happen in her younger years that makes it hard for her to deal with Ray leaving without saying good-bye. She was very close to Ray. We both are."
"Yeah, I know. Iím sorry."
"Donít be. Iím sure once she gets to know you, you two will get along swimmingly."
"Yeah, buddies." Ray looked across the bullpen to see the object of their conversation walking toward his desk.
"Speak of the devil. Hey, Sara!" Ray stood up and offered Sara his seat. She leaned over and kissed Ben on the cheek and turned a blank look to Ray.
"Quit trying so hard." Ben swallowed hard and rubbed a finger around his collar.
"Sara." The look he gave her said volumes, the look she returned said more.
"Iíll uh, go get a cup ofÖyeah, ok." Ray dropped his head and headed off in the nearest safest direction. Ben leaned in and spoke quietly to Sara.
"That was really uncalled for."
"What? I just told him the truth. Heís breaking his neck being nice to me."
"Did it occur to you to be nice in return?"
"Donít get snotty with me. I talked to Dr. Vickers and he said that I should come clean and say what I need to say. Otherwise, Iím gonna get all stressed out and thatís not good for the baby."
"Why didnít you want me to go with you."
"I wanted to talk about things and I wanted Ma there."
"Yeah, things. This isnít the place to discuss this."
"Thatís entirely too bad, weíre going to discuss it." Sara looked at him in shock and slight pleasure.
"Quit acting like me. Itís very annoying."
"Yes, it can be."
"What things, Sara."
"I needed to talk about how I felt about you and Ray and how you just embraced him at first sight."
"Thatís not true, Sara. You know that."
"I know. Ma gave me the whole rundown. I needed to hear it from someone else besides you. Iím better now. Dr. Vickers said I needed to take it easy and cut back on my workload. Ma ratted me out about the work I bring home."
"Shut up. So now Iíve got to go by the office and request a replacement for my position. I think Craig has someone in mind. A woman has been working in the States Attorneyís Office for a while now that seems to do a really good job. A real bitch though."
"Iím just telling you, that. If I canít tell my own husband, who can I tell?"
"But, thatís so rude."
"Well, so is she from what I hear. These boys better watch out if she takes over. Iíve spoiled them. Sheíll eat them alive."
"Do you want me to take you to lunch? I could ask Ray to join us."
"Thatís okay. Iím gonna grab a bite on the way to the office. Iíve got the finish up some paperwork on the Carpenter case."
"You need to slow down. The doctor told you that."
"I am. Iím not going to bring any work home tonight, I promise."
"That means not working late too, Sara." Saraís shoulderís slumped.
"Fine. Iíll be home by five. What about you?"
"Ray and I will be home about six."
"Thereís a game on tonight."
"Sara, please be nice."
"I do the best I can." Sara stood and kissed Ben on the lips before turning to leave. Before she could exit the bullpen, she ran right into Ray.
"Sorry, I didnít see you."
"Either thatís a pity compliment for the extremely pregnant woman or you need glasses." Ray was afraid to laugh; instead he changed the subject.
"Did your hubby there ask you for the search warrant?"
"No, whatís the warrant for? Show me probable cause and Iíll call the judge."
"Greatness. Here look at this." Ray motioned for Sara to step back over to his desk. The three of them went over the points of a case Ray and Ben had been working on. Sara nodded her head and turned to leave.
"Youíll have it an hour." Sara waved her good-byes as Ben stared after her.
"Sheís something, huh Frase?"
"Yes, that she is."
Continued in Part 3