Just Falling Part 4
Ben woke early and dressed to meet Neely for breakfast. Dief strolled beside him as the made their way uptown to the small diner.
"What's wrong?" Fraser stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and held his hands out to the side. Dief turned and whined at him. Fraser started walking again as he pulled on the collar of his sweater.
"I know what I'm doing. It's 'not' like last time. Nothing like last time actually." Dief growled his feelings and loped ahead. Fraser looked mildly shocked at what the wolf had conveyed to him.
"Well that's your opinion. I however do not think I'm falling too hard, too fast. I haven't fallen at all. We merely enjoy each others company." Dief stopped and glared at him.
"It's true! I admit that I thoroughly enjoy her company. What's wrong with that? You act as if I'm not entitled to have a relationship. I am entitled. Neely is a wonderful woman and I won't stand for this kind of talk any longer." Fraser huffed passed him as Dief growled his irritation.
"Well you started it."
Neely sat at the table near the window. She was sipping on a cup of coffee when Fraser and Dief came through the door.
"Good morning." Fraser leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.
"Morning." The two of them just looked at each other for a moment as the activity of the morning breakfast crowd faded away around them.
"I thought we could go shopping today."
"Are you shopping for anything in particular?"
"I need a new purse so I thought I'd browse a bit today. Care to join me?" Neely smiled sweetly at him before taking another sip of her coffee. Ben looked into her large brown eyes and nodded.
"I'd love to."
Fraser could actually hear Dief roll his eyes.
Ben slipped his fingers into Neely's hand as they walked through the mall. Dief trotted along behind, totally uninterested in this little shopping trip. He would much rather be home asleep or at the Consulate with Turnbull. He just knew Turnbull was probably making a cake or something else just as delicious today. Neely threaded her fingers into Ben's and leaned into his arm. They shared a soft drink as they looked at the small kiosks set up along the center of the mall.
"Look!" Neely pulled Ben's arm toward a picture booth.
"I love these things. Let's do it." Before Ben had a chance to speak, Neely grabbed him and shoved him inside the small curtained area. Ben handed her several one-dollar bills and the two of them smiled nicely for the camera for the first shot. As the shots progressed, they stuck out their tongues, made faces and kissed in front of the small flashing camera. Ben pulled out more bills and fed enough to the machine so they would each have a strip of pictures. He couldn't remember when he had been in such a good mood.
"Mom, he's working."
"Don't whine, dear. I'm sure Ray would love a surprise. Besides, I think I should see where my son-in-law works."
"We should call and see if he's there." *And warn him. *
"Oh, quit being such a pill." Rayni sighed as she made a left turn onto Main and waited at the light. They were eight blocks away from the police station when Eleanor had the idea to take Ray and Fraser to lunch.
"I'm not being a pill. I never would have taken today off if I knew you were going to be so bossy." Eleanor just smiled and looked out the passenger window.
"You've got to take all that sick leave sometime. You're like me. I never missed work."
"Well, I'm saving most of it for a week before the wedding and two weeks after."
"How much time do you actually have?"
"Three weeks vacation and……I think, twenty eight sick days."
"Good gracious! How did you manage that?"
"I've been with the county for nine years mom. I've only missed three days. Remember the flu I caught over Christmas that year?"
"You were so sick." Rayni pulled into a space next to Ray's GTO and took a deep breath before she exited the car. *Let the games begin. *
"Oh my. A real police station. Do you think we'll see any criminals?"
"There's a good chance." Rayni pushed the large glass door and held it for her mother to step through. Eleanor smiled to herself as they walked past the desk sergeant and into the bullpen.
She looked around her at all the different faces, wondering if all of them were police officers. She saw a man in handcuffs sitting on a small bench against the wall. Following closely behind Rayni they walked down a narrow hallway. She turned in time to see her daughter's shoulders stiffen. Eleanor smiled as an attractive blond woman walked toward them. Rayni kept walking and hoped there wouldn't be a scene.
"Well hello again Sunny." Eleanor gave the woman an odd look and then looked at the hatred filled face of her daughter.
"It's Rayni. Perhaps you should get someone to write it down for you." Stella smiled sarcastically at Rayni and then looked at Eleanor.
"Hello, I'm Mrs. Kowalski." Eleanor never flinched as Stella emphasized her last name. "Assistant States Attorney."
"Eleanor Mason. How funny! You have the same last name as my son-in-law. Are you his cousin?" Rayni looked at her mom in slight surprise. *What are you doing?!* Rayni knew full well that Eleanor knew Ray's ex-wife worked at the station.
"I'm his wife." Eleanor took a step forward and looked Stella directly in the eye.
"I'm sorry. But Ray doesn't have a wife…." As Eleanor's glare hardened she emphasized her next word. "….yet."
"Come on mom. Let's go." Stella broke away from Eleanor's gaze and leered coolly at Rayni again.
"Good to see you again, Cloudy." Rayni spun around and was just about to launch into a stream of expletives, when Eleanor stepped in front of her.
"Let me make things perfectly clear. You're obviously slow, so I'll use small words. The worst mistake anyone can make in his or her life is causing stress to a mother's child. Much less have the stupidity to do it front of that child's mother." Eleanor lowered her voice and leaned in as she spoke.
"The only reason Rayni hasn't stooped to your level is because I've raised her better than that. That's fortunate for you. However, what is unfortunate is, I wasn't. She could mop the floor with your bony ass and not break a sweat. I've seen her drop her brother like a sack of dirt by the time she was ten. My child's happiness is why I breathe each day. Anyone that works to destroy that happiness is asking for the full wrath of a mother's love. To put it simply, don't fuck with my family." Rayni actually felt her heart stop beating. Eleanor reached behind her and took Rayni by the hand. Stella's face was ashen and she felt her knees start to shake. The smile was soon back in place on Eleanor's face as she pulled Rayni by the hand.
"Come along dear. I want to see that handsome son-in-law of mine."
"You should have seen it. It was like….I have no idea what it was like." Ray leaned his elbow on the table and looked from Rayni's stressed out face to the smug look of satisfaction plastered on her mother's.
"What did Stel do?" Rayni looked at Ray with her mouth hanging open.
"Do?! She couldn't do anything. Eleanor Mason just went Dirty Harry on her. There's not a whole lot to 'do' after that."
"Rayni, you're over reacting."
"You said 'fuck'."
"Watch your mouth. We're at the table." Rayni held the sides of her forehead with her palms as she stared up at the ceiling.
"Where's my mother? What have you done with her?!"
"I'll talk to Stella. I'm tired of this shit. Sorry Eleanor." Eleanor smiled sweetly at him.
"That's okay dear. I agree. You should talk to her. Her behavior is uncalled for. I won't stand to have Rayni upset. Not now more than ever. This is her wedding. It 'will' be the happiest day of her life."
"Oh God." Rayni groaned.
"Don't worry, babe. I'm gonna talk to the Stella and get things straightened out."
"I'm going to end up beating her ass. I just know it." Eleanor looked up from her chicken salad with a stern look.
"You will not! I won't allow it. I'll beat the little hussy's ass before I have my daughter with a black eye in her wedding portrait."
Rayni rested her head in her hands as she sighed.
"Jesus, why can't I just have a normal family?"
"And don't tell your father about this. It will just get him upset."
"Why? Because he might find out he's married to a closet Rambo?"
Ray chuckled as Eleanor scolded Rayni again.
"Oh stop acting childish. We talked about this remember. I used to be engaged to a biker. How do you think we met? Church? No. I met him at a bar. He was working on his bike outside in the parking lot after me and another girl were thrown out for fighting."
"I don't want to hear anymore. Really." Rayni looked on pleadingly as Ray leaned forward.
"I do." Rayni glared at him as Eleanor shook her head.
"I changed all that after I met your father. I loved him so much. Still do. I wanted to be the perfect wife and mother. I wanted to protect my children from all the things I had done growing up."
"So why turn back into Big Bad Mamma now?"
"You're grown. You can handle it. Besides, I think you need me right now."
"Need you? You think I need you to beat my fiancé's ex-wife's ass?!"
"Don't be cute. You know what I meant." Rayni offered her a small but weary smile. The stress from the wedding plans, family visits and Stella was evident on Rayni's face.
"I know. Thanks mom."
"Any time dear."
"You sure you don't want me to go?" Rayni was sitting in the chair near the window flipping through a bridal magazine.
"I'm sure. The last thing I want is to end my day arresting my fiancée and ex-wife for assault."
"I'm more civilized than that."
"Some how I'm not convinced. Why don'tcha call Cara over or somethin'?"
"She's busy tonight."
"Well, I'll be back soon. I hope." Ray kissed her and offered her a smile. Stella had no idea he would be dropping in for a little chat. That's the way Ray wanted it. He very rarely had the upper hand in regards to Stella. Any advantage was worth it.
Rayni tossed the magazine on the coffee table and reached for the phone.
"Hey, are you busy? I need for you to come over." In another minute she hung up the phone and waited. She needed to talk and she didn't want to dump all this on Ray.
Twenty-five minutes later, Rayni stood to answer the doorbell. Neely and Fraser were dressed in sweatshirts and jeans. Rayni smiled until she looked into Fraser's eyes. She buried her face in his chest and began to cry. Neely stood and looked on in uncertainty for a moment as Fraser wrapped his arms around her and allowed her to cry. He smiled over and Neely as he rubbed Rayni's hair. Dief took up the task of whining softly in sympathy. Neely went to the kitchen and wet a cloth. She placed her hand on Rayni's shoulder and tried to calm her down.
"I think I've missed something. What's wrong?" Neely looked to Ben and then to Rayni. Rayni wiped the cool damp cloth over her swollen eyes and sniffed back more tears.
"I'm sorry. I'm being stupid." Fraser took her shoulders in his hands and leaned down to her eye level.
"No you're not. You're just stressed out. Where's Ray?"
"He's over at Stella's."
Stella pulled the Uncle Ben's rice bowl from the microwave and carried it over to the couch like she had done so many nights before. Her hair was pulled haphazardly into a clip and her sweatpants had seen better days. She rested the bowl on a pillow on her chest and flipped on the news. She never bothered with cooking anymore. It was just her. She had planned on tonight being just like every other night. She would eat, watch CNN for a while. It was Thursday so she'd probably watch 'Frasier' or some other primetime show to lose herself in. Then she'd surf the Internet for a while or work on some casework until it was time for bed. That however would change with the ringing of her doorbell.
Looking out the peephole, she smiled. As she swung open the door the smile disappeared.
"What are you doing here?"
Ray cocked his head to the side and looked her over.
"Did I interrupt anythin'?" She looked down at her wrinkled t-shirt and holey sweats and frowned.
"Is that what you're here for, to piss me off?"
"Nah, we need to talk." Walking past her, Ray entered her apartment and took a seat on the couch.
"Talk about what?" Stella sat opposite him and tried to appear nonchalant.
"Leave Rayni alone. You don't have to like her. You don't have to like me. Don't talk to her anymore. I'm tired of your shit."
"My shit! What?! You come into my home and start barking orders?! We're not married anymore, Ray."
"I'm aware of that Stel. You made that perfectly clear when you were dating that politician."
"Did your little girlfriend tell you how her mother spoke to me? Looks like you've found the perfect little trash to compliment that less than desirable taste you have."
"Why do you care?!" Ray leaned forward and his voice grew louder.
"What makes you think I care?!" Stella matched him volume for volume.
"You must! You won't leave her alone. The snide comments. The catty remarks. She's done nothin' to you. Quit being a bitch."
"To hear you tell it, it's all I know how to be!"
"What's that supposed to mean?!"
"You think it's easy? I see you, so happy and so full of light. How's that supposed to make me feel?"
Ray sat motionless for a few minutes. He didn't know what to say. He just looked at the woman he used to love more than anything else as she softly cried.
"You left me Stella. You were the one that had the affair. You were the one that didn't want to be married to a cop. I was never good enough for you Stella. Why could you possibly care now?" Ray just looked at her as she stood to grab a tissue from the bookcase. Then like a sudden light from the air, he saw it. Stella was alone. Not just alone, but lonely.
"I never said I cared Ray." There it was the tough exterior. The bitch-on-wheels front to a lonely soul. Ray stood and took a step toward the door.
"I didn't fuck us up Stella. You did. It took me a long time to move on. I guess it's going to take you a little longer." He opened the door and never looked back. It was nearly an hour before she moved from the chair. She didn't burst into violent tears or a fit of rage. She simply sat and digested his words. She was the one that fucked them up. She and only she was to blame. Ray even forgave her and tried to work things out, but she wouldn't have any part of it. She had everything planned. She would divorce Ray and move in with the rich doctor. Only the rich doctor didn't share her plans. He laughed when she became upset because he wouldn't leave his wife. He called her childish and naive. Told her she should have known how things were going to play out. Wiping her hand across her face, she stood on unsure legs and made her way to the bathroom. As she looked in the mirror, she could no longer fight back the tears. She had fucked them up. She was the only one to blame.
"She was so upset." Neely held onto Ben's arm as they walked down the street toward her apartment.
"Stella has been less than pleasant to her. With the wedding plans and her family visiting, it's finally boiled to the surface."
"Do you think that Stella woman will leave her alone now that Ray has talked to her?"
"I have no idea. Mrs. Kowalski is not someone I would want to cross."
"She's a bitch." Fraser turned horrified eyes toward Neely. Neely stopped in the street and gave him an incredulous look.
"Am I lying?! From what I've heard, I'm being kind." Neely gave him a sly smile that melted his indignation. He threaded his fingers through hers and continued walking. Neely smiled to herself as they walked across the street. Diefenbaker had decided to stay with Rayni tonight so Neely would have Ben all to herself. She gently squeezed his hand and was rewarded with a sweet smile.
Rayni rested next to Dief on the floor while the television droned on. She lazily scratched his stomach as she talked.
"I don't know why I'm worried. Ray loves me."
Dief whined and rolled over on his side so she could scratch his haunches.
"I mean so what that he's over at his ex-wife's apartment at nine thirty at night. So what that he was totally in love with her. That doesn't mean anything, right?" Rayni stared off into space as she spoke. Dief growled his irritation at her line of thought.
"Well, what if she puts the move on him? I can't compete with that. She's his first love. What if……" Dief growled at her once again. He didn't like the way she was thinking.
"Well, I can't help it." Dief licked the side of her face as she rolled over on her back on the floor. The stress of work, Stella and wedding plans was finally too much to take. Something had to give. Before Dief could get her to smile, Ray walked through the door.
"Hey babe." Rayni didn't speak for a moment and Ray could tell she had been crying. "What's the fur ball doin' here?"
Ray knelt down on the floor and rested his weight on his hands. Leaning over her face he smiled.
"If you wanna scream it's okay. It just might do you good."
"The wedding plans I can handle. The stupid shit at work I can handle. My parents I can handle. But all that and your ex-wife…..I can't handle." The last phrase came out as a strangled sob. She rolled over on the floor and buried her head in the crook of her arm. Dief barked his opinion and placed his paw on her shoulder.
"Shhh. I've handled it. Don't worry about anything anymore."
"What happened?" Rayni wasn't sure if she wanted to know or not. She kept her head down on the floor and sniffed softly.
"Let's change clothes and get ready for bed. Once we get settled, I'll tell you all about it." Ray helped Rayni up and the two of them changed for bed. Rayni shoved her feet underneath Dief as he sprawled out on the end of the bed. As Ray told Rayni the details of his visit with Stella, Dief softly snored.
Neely slid her hand from Ben's as she unlocked her apartment door. In one fluid motion, she unlocked the door and pulled Ben inside. A surprised yelp barely escaped his lips as Neely pressed her tongue into his mouth. She slid one arm from her coat as she threaded the other hand through his hair. In a whirlwind of movement and passion, they quickly found their way to the bedroom. Ben rested on his hands as he leaned over her naked body. The look of lust in her eyes spurred his passion. He assaulted her mouth with his tongue as she pressed his erection against her warmth. A moan rose to the surface as she felt him enter her. He moved slowly at first, relishing in the feeling of her. She wrapped her legs around his waist and urged him to move faster. He buried his head in her neck as she cried out in pleasure. The pain mixed with pleasure as she dug her nails into his back was too much. He moaned loudly as he released. Panting and spent, he slowly moved from her. She turned on her side and smiled as he wrapped his arms around her waist. Ben sighed with contentment as he listened to Neely breathe. She was beautiful. She was smart and she wanted him. He fell asleep with a smile on his lips.
"What time is it?!" Rayni screamed through the apartment as she hopped on one foot while zipping her knee boot.
"It's ten minutes later than the last time. Calm down."
"How can I calm down?! In less than an hour, my parents and your parents will be sitting down to dinner together for the first time."
"What's the big deal?"
"What's the big deal?" Rayni walked into the bedroom and checked her hair in the mirror while Ray tied his tie. "Barbara and Eleanor are about to share the same air space. That's the big deal. What if they don't like each other?"
"So. Who cares? We like each other. That's all that matters. They don't have to be buddies. They just have to love us." Rayni stared at her reflection for a moment and then looked at Ray.
"Who the hell are you?" Ray chuckled and shook his head.
"Fraser told me that shit. I knew you wouldn't buy it." Rayni smiled for the first time in about two hours. She walked over to Ray and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist.
"I love you."
"Yeah, I know." Ray kissed her on the forehead as she reached up and straightened his tie.
"Yep. Dief?! You ready?!" It always amazed Ray at how the 'deaf' wolf would always come when his named was called.
Ray helped Rayni on with her coat and held the door as they went downstairs to the car. He held the door for her as she slid in to the front seat of the GTO. Dief trotted around the car and waited for Ray to open the passenger door.
"I hope tonight doesn't suck." Rayni looked over at Ray and smiled hopefully. Dief barked his reassurance while Ray pulled into traffic.
Rayni brushed her hair nervously from her face as she entered the restaurant. She and Ray had dropped Dief off at Fraser's and were now running a little behind. As Rayni walked over to the hostess she silently prayed. *Please don't let them be here yet. Please don't let them be here yet.*
"Mason, party of six." As the hostess read over her list she smiled.
"Oh yes, the rest of your party is waiting. Right this way." *Shit! * Ray placed his hand on the small of her back as they walked through the crowded restaurant. Taking a deep breath, Rayni steeled herself for the evening.
"There you are sweetheart. We were getting worried." Eleanor smiled up at Ray as he pulled out Rayni's chair. Barbara leaned over and gave Rayni a warm hug before kissing Ray on the cheek.
"Steve couldn't make it in?"
"Not this time. He couldn't get away from the office. Something about mergers or somethin'. He said he'd call you tomorrow." Damien patted Ray on the back as he spoke. He leaned over and smiled at Rayni. "How's my girl?"
Damien always made Rayni smile. She playfully winked at him as he reached across Ray and patted her hand.
"I'm good, pop."
"So, have you all been getting acquainted?" Ray asked.
"Oh yes. Barbara and I have been talking about the wedding." Paul offered Rayni a sympathetic smile. He had heard about the run in with Stella and could tell she was stressed to the gills. He knew that this little meeting was just adding fuel to the fire. The waitress took their drink orders and much to Eleanor's dismay, Rayni ordered a glass of red wine. * One won't kill me. It just might do me good.* Ray offered her a sideways glance as he ordered the same. She never drank. *Don't go gettin shit-faced on me babe. *
Eleanor began talking about the wedding plans again. At least Rayni wouldn't have to carry the conversation.
"The flowers are beautiful. Daisies are Rayni's favorite flower. They're going to be everywhere. She's picked out the most beautiful bouquet. It's absolutely stunning." Rayni smiled gratefully as the waitress brought her drink. She took a slow sip and tried to calm the knots in her stomach. Ray placed his hand on her back and softly rubbed circles on her shoulder blade.
Barbara was giving her full attention to Eleanor. The two seemed to be getting along wonderfully.
"Oh it sounds wonderful. I know it must be gorgeous if Rayni picked it out." Barbara smiled over at her future daughter-in-law. Eleanor reached across the table and patted Rayni's hand.
"That's true. Rayni has exquisite taste. She picked out my dress. It's stunning." Rayni looked at her mother and then to Ray. *Is it the wine or did my mom just give me a compliment. *
"I've got to get a dress while I'm in Chicago. Rayni dear, you must help me find a dress. Why don't we all go shopping tomorrow morning?" Barbara looked from Eleanor to Rayni.
"Sure, Barbara, I'd be happy to help."
"Rayni, does anything else need to be done tomorrow while we're out?"
Rayni thought for a moment, before Ray spoke up.
"Rayni needs to buy some clothes for the honeymoon. She's been so busy, she hasn't had a chance." Everyone at the table seemed to perk up. Even the father's broke their comfortable silence.
"Where's the honeymoon gonna be son?"
"I'm takin' my bride on an Hawaiian cruise."
"Oh that sounds wonderful!"
"How romantic!" Both mothers gushed over the news as Rayni smiled happily at Ray.
"Neither of us have been so it should really be fun." Rayni closed her eyes, as Ray kissed her lightly on the temple.
"I can't wait."
"Now, now. There'll be time for that on the honeymoon." Rayni gave her mother a weary look as she took a large drink of wine.
"Stanley, dear, have you two decided where you're going to live?" Barbara could tell Eleanor's remark was embarrassing Ray so she decided to change the subject.
"We'll live at Rayni's apartment until we can find a house." Paul smiled as he voiced his approval.
"Smart thinking son. Save some money first. Owning a home can suck you dry. I thought I'd hate that condo. Now I love it. No lawn to mow, no gutters to clean. The maintenance people do all the work I used to spend all weekend on." Damien nodded his head in agreement.
"You know it. That's why me and Barb bought the motor home. Freedom. We couldn't be happier. So you save your money for a while and find something that suits the two of you. No fixer-uppers. That will kill ya."
"I here ya." Paul added with enthusiasm. Ray and Rayni chuckled at the two of them as they talked.
*Thank God this is going okay. Rayni would die otherwise. * Ray took a sip of wine as he looked around the restaurant. He nearly choked when he saw her walk through the door.
"Oh damn." Ray mumbled.
"What did you say?" Rayni looked over at him with a curious look. He quickly plastered a smile on his face before answering.
"Nothin' babe. Excuse me for a sec. Gotta go….you know." The conversation continued as Ray excused himself and walked to the front of the restaurant. Thankfully the hostess hadn't seated them yet.
"Stel." Stella turned quickly and the calling of her name.
"Ray?! What are you doing here?" She braced herself for another confrontation. Her date looked on in confusion.
"We're all having dinner. My parents and Rayni's parents." There was no emotion in his voice. Just stating fact. Stella looked past him and saw everyone sitting at a far table. Two weeks ago she would have relished in the opportunity to irritate Ray and his young girlfriend. But now, now was different. She looked up at her date and smiled politely.
"Let's go somewhere else. Please." Ray swiped his hand through his hair as they turned to leave.
"Thanks Stel." She stopped at the door and turned to look at him. Really look at him. She wasn't his anymore. He never would be again. She offered him a faint smile.
Ray returned to the table and took a deep breath as he sat down. *No one noticed. Thank God. * Rayni laughed as Damien told a story about Ray when he was little. Soon the food came and everyone enjoyed a wonderfully prepared meal. As plans were made for tomorrow and hugs and kisses were distributed, Rayni turned her back to the crowd and faced Ray.
"I saw her come in." Ray tucked his head and tried to act innocent.
"Don't even try it. Thanks Ray. I appreciate it." Rayni reached out and squeezed his hand before giving him a small kiss.
"See you in the morning dear." Eleanor called as she and Paul walked to the entrance.
"Sure thing. I'll pick Barbara up on my way and then we'll head to that dress shop we found."
Ray put his arm around Rayni's shoulders as they walked to the parking lot.
"So how was it?"
"Not bad. Your mom and my mom are going to make an unusual pair shopping tomorrow."
"I don't know. They may end up friends."
Cara turned onto Stetson Ave and parked in front of the consulate. She had called Rayni earlier that morning and found out that Fraser had sentry duty. *Gotta suck to work on Saturday. * She stepped around the car and walked up to the statuesque Mountie.
"Hey Fraser. Rayni told me you had duty today. That's gotta suck. Anyway, how about the 24th. That's about the only Saturday free. If that's not gonna work for you let me know and we'll try to find another date. I found some beautiful invitations. The printer is going to do them at a great price. Oh, I was also wondering if you wanted to go in together and get them a really nice gift. Seeing as how we're both public servants, you're probably as poor as I am." Cara giggled slightly at her joke before continuing to talk to Fraser. "I've got a list of people to invite from work and some of her friends from the old neighborhood and college. I need you to get a list of people to invite for Ray. I've talked to Mike and he said we could have it at his house. He'd make sure Karen didn't try to run things. You know, Rayni was right, this is pretty fun. It refreshing talking to a man and not having him interrupt." Cara stared at him for a moment. He never even flinched. She could barely see him breathe. What she didn't know was that Fraser only had to work until noon, which was less than a minute away.
"Oh well, I'm going to go look for some nice decorations and try to get some ideas for the menu. Give me a call on my cell and I'll……" She didn't hear the clock chime so when Fraser reached up and took his Stetson off it scared her.
"Jesus! What are you doing?"
"I'm off duty. Would you like some help with the decorations?" Cara smiled up at his sparkling blue eyes.
"I'd love some. You want me to drop you by your house so you can change first?"
"If you don't mind."
"No problem. Where's Dief?" Fraser called Dief's name and shook his head when he heard a small whine.
"You've had a long enough nap. We've got a lot of things to do. Let's go." Cara unlocked her car with the remote and shook her head at the two of them as they still argued.
"Before we hit the shops, I'm starved. How about after you change clothes we go to Duke's and get a sandwich?" Dief barked his approval before Ben could respond.
"I take that as a yes. Let's roll." Cara shifted the car in drive and followed Fraser's directions to his apartment.
"What color is your dress Eleanor?" Barbara shifted through the racks of dresses while Eleanor looked at the jewelry.
"Sage green. Not what I would have normally chosen, but Rayni said it looked great on me."
"You'd look good in navy, Barbara." Rayni pulled several dresses from the rack and held them up to her future mother-in-law. "See, Mom, doesn't that look good?"
"Oh yes! That's a good color for you."
"You don't think it's too dark?"
"Not at all. It's very becoming."
"But it's a day wedding. Maybe I should go for a lighter color." Barbara looked through the racks until she found a lovely taupe dress. She held it up for Rayni.
"Uh-uh. Washes you out." Thankfully the salesgirl agreed with Rayni. Barbara relented and tried on the navy dress. Rayni compromised and offered her a purple silk floor length as well. Rayni and Eleanor browsed while Barbara changed. Within a few moments she emerged from the changing room in the navy dress.
"Oh, that looks lovely." Eleanor cooed.
"I vote for that one. But try on the violet just in case." Barbara slipped back into the dressing room. Once she emerged in the violet, the vote was unanimous.
"You're right. Definitely the blue. Looks like I've found my dress."
The three women smiled as Barbara paid for her dress. Rayni's smile soon faded once her mother announced what she had planned next.
"Now, let's buy you some clothes for your honeymoon. I'm sure you'll want to buy something……sexy."
Cara and Fraser strolled through the department store and looked at the china and china that Ray and Rayni had registered for. They chatted comfortable and laughed as they walked the narrow aisles together.
"Do you think burgers and hot dogs are too….too….'not great' for a wedding shower?"
"What would be our alternative? Chicken perhaps?"
"That would get expensive."
"I love Rayni. Don't get me wrong. But, I like to have heat and hot water in my apartment too." The two of them laughed as the salesgirl approached.
"Can I help you? Would you two like to register today?" Cara looked at the wide eyes of Fraser and laughed.
"Look, you scared him. Say you're sorry." Cara joked with the young woman as she poked Fraser in the ribs.
"We're just friends."
"I'm terribly sorry. You make such a cute couple."
"We're selecting a gift for our friends." Fraser blushed slightly
as Cara followed the salesgirl to the fine china.
"That's a lovely setting." Fraser tugged at his collar as he spoke.
"I'll let you two browse. If you need me, my name is Katie."
"Thanks." Cara turned her attention to the merchandise while Fraser turned his to her. He was having a nice time. It was nice to go out with a friend and not feel uncomfortable. Before his friendship with Rayni, he never expected to feel comfortable around women. Now he considered Cara as his friend. She never treated him like he was backwards or an outsider. Better still, she never treated him like something to leer at like some of the women in Chicago had treated him. She was just a good friend to him.
Neely tried his phone once more. She was quite proud of herself for talking him in to having one installed. Fraser had hated the idea, but after some strong persuasion on her part, he relented. As she slammed the phone back on the cradle, she cursed.
"Dammit Ben. Where are you?" She knew he got off work at noon. She had hoped he would stop buy and take her to lunch. *Where is he? * She walked into the kitchen and pulled a post-it note from the refrigerator. Dialing Ray's cell phone she sighed impatiently.
"Ray? This is Neely Hamilton. Is Ben with you?"
"Nah, haven't seen 'im."
"Thanks." Before Ray could respond, Neely hung up the phone. He stared at the phone for a second before flipping it closed.
"Looks like somebody's lookin' to tighten the noose."
Cara pulled up to Fraser's apartment and popped the trunk. The two of them carried an armload of decorations and packages up to Fraser's apartment. Dief greeted them at the door with an excited yelp and a lick on the cheek for Cara.
"Hey handsome." Cara put her bags down by the door and rubbed Dief along the neck.
"Don't encourage him." Cara looked at Dief and then smiled up at Fraser.
"Jealous." Dief lolled his tongue out to the side and appeared to be laughing at him. He looked indignant for a moment and then relented to the urge to laugh.
"Maybe so." Cara grabbed Dief by the neck and looked into his eyes.
"Was that a joke? Was the stoic Ben Fraser joking? I think I may faint." In Cara's own style, she collapsed on the floor in a heap.
Ben chuckled as he stepped over her lifeless form. Cara started to giggle as Dief licked her in the face. She sat on the floor crossed legged while Ben put the rest of his packages on the bed.
"How are you at wrapping?" Cara asked.
"Good, you're hired. I pretty much suck at it." Fraser smiled as he pulled the roll of cream wrapping paper from one of the bags. Cara scooted across the bare wood floor to the pile of packages she abandoned near the door. She took out several large boxes and carried them over to the bed to Fraser. He was standing at the foot of the bed removing the plastic wrap when Cara plopped down on his small mattress. She spread the boxes out in front of her and began removing the tags.
"Dang! We didn't buy tape."
"I have some." Fraser walked into his sparse kitchen and retrieved a roll of Scotch tape from the drawer. He smiled to himself as Cara slipped off her shoes and crossed her legs under her on the bed.
"You don't care do you? If my feet stink, I'm sure Dief will let me know." Dief whined and stuck his nose under his paw. Fraser erupted in laughter as Cara protested.
"You big ham! They don't stink!" Cara laughed along with Fraser as they sorted out the boxes and began to wrap the gifts.
* This is not happening. This is not happening. This is not happening.* Rayni felt the dull pounding start to beat a rhythm behind her eyes.
Eleanor and Barbara had insisted they go to the mall after they left the bridal shop. Rayni thought she would die when her mother and future mother-in-law started discussing lingerie on the drive over. Now she was being dragged through the crowded mall and into the Victoria's Secret.
"How many nights does the cruise last?" Rayni swallowed in an effort to find her voice.
"Eight. Eight nights." Eleanor was already cruising the racks of assorted lingerie and undergarments.
Rayni decided to make the best of it and look at the bras. *I can always use a new bra. * Her worst nightmare was realized when she heard her name echoed through the small shop. Looking in the general direction of the bellow, she froze in horror at the sight of her mother holding up a leopard print thong for her approval.
* Oh Jesus, kill me now. *
"This is nice!" Barbara turned her attention away from the teddies to nod her head in agreement.
"Mom! Please, I can't afford the amount of therapy it's going to take to recover from this. Let's just go."
"Nonsense. You're going to be a married woman. That comes with certain obligations. You've got to keep Ray interested. Oh I know at first you'll be like a couple of rabbits. But, soon the new wears off. Besides, you want the first time to be special and exciting." Barbara tried not to laugh at the look on Rayni's face. At that moment she was grateful she had sons. Rayni tried to turn her eyes away quick enough. Eleanor seemed totally enthralled with the display of 'Buy one, get one free' thongs. * Oh my God, she thinks I'm a virgin! This is a punishment. That's it. God is punishing me. I have to endure shopping for lingerie with my mother because I'm not a virgin. *
"This is very nice. Very classy." Barbara held up a long black silk nightgown with bright red flowers. Rayni snapped away from her thoughts and looked in Barbara's direction. "Do you like it dear?"
"Yes ma'am. It's beautiful."
"Then I'd like to buy it for you. I think it's something you'll get a lot of use out of." The last sentence was said a little softer and was accompanied by a knowing wink. "I think there's a matching robe as well. What size do you want sweetie?"
"Medium. You really don't have to do this. I can buy it. It's too expensive."
"It's a gift."
Eleanor wandered to the back of the store while Rayni and Barbara looked through some of the other styles of nightgowns. Barbara grinned as Rayni cringed at the sound of her name being called again.
"Rayni! Come back here sweetie." Rayni walked like a condemned man down the last mile.
"Look at these. They're cute." Rayni looked at the silk pajama sets Eleanor held up and grinned. She actually did like them. They were kind of sexy in a cute sort of way.
"I like those."
"The question is will Ray like them?" Rayni rolled her eyes and tried not to gag at the sexual undertones her mother was throwing around. *Just kill me now. *
Fraser sat on one end of his small bed while Cara sat at the other end. Between the two of them were various size boxes and a mangle of gift-wrap and ribbon.
"There. This one is finished." Fraser held a perfectly wrapped package in his hand as he smiled over at Cara. She looked down at her package and sighed.
"I quit. Mine looks like I ran over it with my car a few times. Here, you fix it." Fraser chuckled as Cara thrust the wrinkled and creased wrapping at him. She stood to stretch her legs while Fraser made quick work of the package.
"I don't see how you do that! I know where I'm bringing all my Christmas gifts this year."
"I'll be happy to help you. That's what friends are for." Cara smiled as stretched her arms above her head.
"May I have a glass of water?" Before Cara could blink Fraser was on his feet and moving toward the kitchen.
"I'm terribly sorry! Please forgive me. I should have offered you something earlier." Cara could tell he was genuinely upset.
"Hey, it's okay. It's just me. You don't have to be all formal. I know you're not a rude person. I just happen to be thirsty." Fraser looked out from behind the cupboard door at Cara. She offered him a warm and friendly smile. He handed her a glass and was about to remove an ice tray from the freezer when the phone rang.
"Hi sweetie. Where have you been? I've been trying to reach you all afternoon."
"Is everything okay? Nothing's wrong is there?" Cara saw the concern flash across Fraser's face.
"No, nothing like that. I just thought you'd come by after your shift."
"Cara and I had some shopping to do for the shower."
"Yes, hold on just a moment please." Fraser placed his hand over the receiver and pointed toward the freezer. "Ice trays are in there. There's juice, milk, ginger ale or water from the tap if you prefer."
"Who was that?" Fraser was totally oblivious to the tone in Neely's voice.
"What she doing at your apartment?"
"We're wrapping the gifts we purchased and going over the details for the party."
"Would you like some help? I'll be happy to…."
"Thank you kindly. But, we've wrapped all the gifts we're just going to jot down some ideas….."
"I'm great at things like that. I'll come right over. See you in a few minutes. Bye sweetie." Before Fraser could get a word in, Neely hung up the phone.
"Neely's coming over."
"Do I need to go?" Fraser cocked his head in confusion.
"I don't want to make your girlfriend mad."
"Why would you make Neely mad." Cara held her hands out by her sides and looked at him slack jawed.
"Hello. Another woman in your apartment. Even though we're just friends, some women don't care."
"I assure you Neely isn't like that. She's just eager to be of assistance." Cara looked over at Dief and shared a 'yeah right' look.
"Okie dokie then. Let's get this shin-dig planned then." Fraser and Cara returned to their previously vacated corner of the bed and began jotting down notes of how much food would be needed and who should be invited. It wasn't long before Cara heard heels clicking up the stairs.
Rayni stood behind her mother and Barbara as they paid at the counter. The cashier carefully folded each item and wrapped them individually in pink and gold striped tissue paper.
"You've made some wonderful choices. These are very nice."
"They're for my daughter. She's getting married in a few weeks." The cashier looked passed the two women at Rayni and smiled.
"Would you ladies like to buy a bottle of perfume to go along with your other items? We have some new scents." Before Rayni could protest, her mother darted over to the perfume section.
"Look Rayni, they have lotions as well." Rayni smiled and nodded while Barbara tried out a tester of lotion.
"This one's nice."
"I've got perfume mom. Ray bought me some." Both women stopped in mid motion and gave Rayni their undivided attention.
"My son picked out perfume? You told him what kind to get?"
"No ma'am. He picked it out on his own. I love it."
"What kind did her get, dear."
"It's from Bath and Body works. He bought me the lotion and the perfume. He said once he saw the name, he had to buy it. It's called 'Love'."
Eleanor and Barbara placed their hands to their chest and sighed.
"That is so sweet."
"What a dear. You're right. You don't need perfume." Eleanor placed the bottle back on the shelf and returned to the register. Rayni said a thankful prayer as the three of them walked out of Victoria's Secret.
Cara and Fraser were at opposite ends of the bed bouncing ideas off one another for the shower. Cara jotted down a grocery list and a list of things that needed to be done. Cara heard the sound of heels coming up the stairs and fought back the urge to leap from the bed. Much to her surprise, Neely didn't knock on the door. She walked right on in. Fraser looked up a bit startled, as did Dief. Neely had a large smile on her face as she crossed the room to kiss Fraser.
"Hi sweetheart. How are the plans coming?"
Fraser stood and accepted her kiss on the cheek. He turned to Cara to make the introductions. Cara could feel the tension the minute Neely had walked in the door. *This is going to be fun. *
"Cara Muchmore, this is Neely Hamilton."
"It's a pleasure to meet you. I've heard a lot about you."
"Likewise I'm sure." Cara fought the urge to flip her off after her snotty tone. "Ben, would you like any help with the shower plans."
"Cara and I are making out our grocery list. It's going to be a casual gathering. We think Ray and Rayni would like it better that way."
"That's a good idea. They don't strike me as the suit and tie type." *Did you just insult my best friend?* Cara thought. "I've had to plan several functions at work, would you like me to look over your list."
Cara decided to play along and hand Neely the food list. It must have never occurred to Neely that Fraser handled all the Consulate functions and was fully capable of compiling a list of necessary items for a crowd of thirty.
"You may need more meat. I don't think you have enough here." Ben smiled and looked over her shoulder.
"No, that's plenty. Cara and I discussed that earlier."
* There it is. The I'm-so-in-love-I-can't-see-you're-jealous look. Good God, Ben. Open your eyes. *
Cara smiled and stood from the end of the bed. She started to pull her shoes back on but was interrupted by Dief.
"Are you leaving?" Ben asked as Dief licked the side of Cara's
"I really need to get going. I think we have enough of a list to get us started. I'll call you later in the week and we can go over the guest list. I'll pick up the invitations on Tuesday so we should be able to have them mailed by Friday."
"That sounds great. Thank you kindly Cara. I'll see you next week, if not before."
"Goodbye Neely. It was nice meeting you."
"Nice meeting you." *Sure I bet. * Cara pulled on her jacket and gave Dief and rub on the head before leaving. As she started her car, she wondered what Rayni thought about Neely.
"How was shopping?" Ray leaned his head back on the couch as Rayni walked through the door.
"Remind me never to do that again."
"What happened?" Ray was quickly taking packages from her hands and following her down the hall to the bedroom.
"I thought I would die of embarrassment." Rayni took a few of the bags from him and removed their contents. Ray looked at several of the clothes she had bought and then he saw the large Victoria's Secret bag.
"Let me guess. You and my mother and your mother went to Victoria's Secret. Bet that was like a bullet in the head."
"You think? I was horrified. My mother kept holding up thongs for me to try on."
"Oh Jesus! I bet that was hysterical!" Ray flopped over on his side on the end of the bed and howled with laughter.
"Oh, it was a real riot! Your mom was right there with her. They insisted on buying me all this stuff."
"Let's see it!" Ray reached for the bag. Rayni quickly snatched it from his reach.
"No way. It's for the honeymoon."
"Aw c'mon. Let's have a little preview. Let's play fashion show!"
" No. You'll have to wait. Pervert." Both of them laughed while Rayni placed the boxes of lingerie on the shelf in her closet. The phone rang and Ray rolled over to the other side of the bed.
"Hello…..sure sugar, hold on." Ray grinned as Rayni shook her head.
"Must be Cara. She hates when you call her sugar. But, you already know that, don't you?" Rayni swatted him on the butt as he handed her the phone and went back to the living room.
"Hey, what's shakin'?"
"What's shakin'?! God, Ray is really a horrible influence."
"Yeah, but love's like that."
"Speaking of love making you blind and stupid….."
"I didn't know we were, but go ahead."
"What's up with Neely?"
"Neely? Ben's Neely?"
"Brunette, jealous type. I'm pretty sure we're talking about the same barracuda….I mean woman."
"What happened?" Rayni reclined on the bed while Cara told her about her afternoon. Once Cara had her filled in on her opinion, Rayni was starting to worry about Fraser.
"He's a grown man, though Car. Besides, maybe she's just insecure. You know, she's in a new relationship and there you are at his apartment."
"I thought about that. But, it still pisses me off. Ben's such a nice guy and she really seemed like a bitch to me."
"Well, let's hope not. I'd hate to have to beat her ass."
"Yeah, me too."
"You too huh? You and Ben are getting to be good friends huh?"
"Yeah, he's nice. He's funny once he gets to know you." Rayni smiled as Ray strolled back into the bedroom and flopped down beside her on the bed.
"Well, we'll keep our eyes open. If she starts getting psycho jealous on
you I'll say something to Ben." Ray furrowed his brow and wondered what
Rayni was talking about. He then remember the phone call he received from Neely
"I'll call you later tonight, Cara. Ray's giving me a weird look."
"He always gives you a weird look."
"Ha. Ha. Stop my sides are splitting. Later."
"Over and out." Rayni hung up the phone and gave Ray the 'start talking' look.
"What happened with Cara? Was she with Fraser this afternoon?"
"She and Ben were shopping for stuff for the shower they're giving us. Why? What do you know?"
"Neely called me looking for Fraser. Sounded like she was a little pissed that she didn't know where he was."
"Cara and Ben were going over some details and stuff at his place when
she called. She must have broken every traffic law to get there as fast as Cara
said she did."
"What did Frase do?"
"Nothing. He doesn't see it."
"Ah? What's 'Ah?'"
"Ah just means that evidently he's thinkin' with his head and not his head."
"Sounds like it."
"Has it ever happened to you?" Rayni gave him a sly little smile.
"Go try on some of that new lingerie and I'll show you."
Cara walked down the hall and into the break room. She poured herself another cup of coffee and looked at the vending machine for something to eat.
"You want to go to lunch?" Cara turned and smiled at Rayni as she entered the small kitchen area the employees used as a break area.
"Nah, I've got to finish Channing Park. Five hundred lot subdivisions don't just draw themselves."
"You still have to eat. You want me to bring you something back? I'm just going down the block to McDonald's."
"Ray can't meet you today?"
"He and Fraser are working on a case. We both know what that means."
"God knows where they are."
"You got it. So you want anything or not?"
"Yeah, bring me some nuggets and an order of fries."
"No problem." Rayni waved as she left her office and walked out to the elevators.
Once down stairs she walked leisurely the four blocks over to the McDonald's. It was getting warmer out and the sky was a brilliant blue. She strolled past the street vendors and the small café's that lined the streets of downtown. She was about to walk through the double doors of the fast food restaurant when someone caught her eye. She stopped mid-motion with the door half open as she stared the couple dining in the window across the street.
A large man and his son pushed through the door causing Rayni to snap back to the present. She quickly stepped inside and stood behind a decorative plant near the entrance as she stared at the couple dining.
*Don't jump to conclusions. It could be perfectly innocent. They could just be friends. * Rayni stared intently at the two people laughing and casually touching each other's arm. * That better be just an old friend. Otherwise, your ass is mine. *
"Are you looking forward to this evening, Ray?"
"Yeah, kinda. I've never had a shower before." Ray noticed the smart-ass grin that appeared on Fraser's face. "You know what I meant."
"Of course Ray. Cara and I are happy to host a shower for you and Rayni. You're our best friends."
"Thanks Fraser. So you picking up Neely?" Ray maneuvered the GTO through the streets en route to Fraser's apartment.
"Unfortunately she isn't feeling well. I called her this afternoon around lunch and the receptionist said she left early with a headache."
"Didcha try her at home?"
"I got her answering machine. She must have turned the ringer off."
"Ah." Fraser didn't notice the tone of Ray's 'ah', he was too involved in his concern for Neely.
Turning the corner, Ray pulled up to the curb in front of Ben's apartment.
"See you in a couple hours."
"See you later Ray." Fraser stepped quickly up the steps and into his building. Dief greeted him at the door.
"I know we've got to be there early. I'm getting dressed now. I want to stop by Neely's before we go." Dief stood on his hind legs and placed his paws on Fraser's chest and whined.
"We won't be late. Cara is meeting me at Mike and Karen's at six. It's only 4:45. We have plenty of time." Fraser began to quickly shed his uniform as he made his way to the small shower. In record speed, he was dressed in casual clothes with his Stetson in his hand. He stopped off at a small diner and bought some chicken soup before riding the El to Neely's apartment.
As Fraser stood at her apartment door, Dief sniffed the threshold and whined. Knocking, he waited for Neely. A familiar feeling spread through his bones when his ears caught the sound of voices from the other side of the door.
Wrapped in only a sheet, Neely flung the door open. Ben stood silent as he looked passed Neely to the partially naked man lying on the couch. Dief growled as the man moved to sit up. Ben silenced him with a motion of his hand.
"I brought you some soup. The receptionist said you went home sick today from work." Thrusting the take out container at her, he turned quickly and walked down the stairs. Neely called after him, but he couldn't hear her. He could only hear the laughter of Victoria in his ears. He thought he could never be hurt by anyone as badly as she had scarred him. He was wrong.
Fraser didn't remember the train ride or the walk that followed to Mike's house. He rang the doorbell and Cara answered the door.
"Fraser?" He took his Stetson off his head and stepped into the foyer. Dief whined and growled as Cara took him by the arm.
"Fraser? What's wrong?" He turned to her to speak. The emotions were evident on the surface. His face told the whole story. Within a breath, the mask was in place. His expression was emotionless and made of stone. His eyes no longer sparkled with the joy of new love and friendship. Cara pulled him by the hand and into Josh's bedroom.
"Hey Fraser! Is Dief here?" Josh scrambled from the floor, his video game forgotten. Ben nodded as Dief trotted into the room.
"Josh, why don't you and Dief go play in the back yard." Josh saw the hard look on Fraser's face and knew he'd better comply. Dief licked Fraser on the hand before leading Josh from the room. Cara pulled him to the bed and made him sit.
"I'd really prefer not to discuss it. It's nothing. We should get things ready for the shower."
"Things are done. Karen and Eleanor are handling everything. Now tell me." Fraser refused to look at her. His gaze was focused on a large Lego creation Josh had been building on the floor.
"It's personal. I prefer not to discuss it." Cara could tell he was hurting. There was only one thing that could make him hurt like this.
Cara noticed his jaw clench and his hands tighten in to fists. She sighed heavily and shifted on the bed. Before Ben could protest, Cara had her arms wrapped tightly around him in a warm hug.
"What happened? You can tell me Ben. I'm your friend." Cara gently rubbed her hand down his back as she tried to comfort him. She felt the stiffness in his muscles relax just slightly.
"We should get to the party. The guests will be here soon." Cara noticed his voice was betraying him. She could hear the crack of emotion as he spoke.
"You are more important than any party. If Rayni were standing here right now, she'd say the same thing. Now tell me what happened." Cara pulled away from Fraser and held him by the shoulders, as she looked him straight in the eye. She could see the slight mist of tears pooling in his eyes.
"I went to see Neely. I should have called first. I didn't think I needed to." Cara knelt down on the floor in front of him and rubbed the back of his hand as he told her the details of what he saw.
"She was with another man. I had no idea." Fraser's last sentence was barely a whisper.
"Oh Ben, I'm so sorry." Cara wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and this time Ben responded. He rested his head in the crook of her neck and wrapped his arms around her waist. She cradled his head in her hands as she began to speak.
"Now I know why she was so jealous. She was afraid you would do to her what she was doing to you."
Rayni and Ray arrived early to the shower in an effort to help with any last minute things. Karen greeted them at the door with corsages in her hand.
"This one's for the bride and this one's the groom's." Ray rolled his eyes and looked pleadingly at Rayni.
"Do I haveta wear flowers?"
"Okay." Karen laughed as she pinned the small rosebud on his jacket lapel.
"Where's Fraser and Cara?" Rayni looked through the open living room and into the kitchen.
"I haven't seen them in a while. I heard Fraser come in and that's the last I saw them." Rayni looked at Ray and frowned. She had told Ray about seeing Neely and some man eating together in the café earlier today.
"I'll go see if I can find them." Ray ambled down the hall until he came to Josh's room. Cara was kneeling on the floor while Fraser sat on the edge of the bed. They were talking quietly. He poked his head in the door and smiled at them.
"Hey, what's goin' on?" A set of sad pale blue eyes met with Ray's. He had never seen Fraser so sad and upset. Cara rose to her feet and placed a protective hand on his shoulder.
"Is Rayni here too?"
"Go get her please." Ray did as he was told. Rayni was quickly by Fraser's side.
"What happened?" She had his hand in hers and looked at him with sympathy and anger flashing in her eyes.
"Please, this is a special occasion. I don't want to……"
"What did she do?" Cara sat down on the chair near the corner of the room and told Rayni what Fraser had told them. Fraser looked at Ray with sadness in his eyes as Cara told them of how he found Neely.
"I'll kill her."
"Rayni please don't." Fraser pleaded.
"I'm sorry. I know how much you cared for her."
"Please, can we all just forget about this for the time being. We have a lot of guests coming and I'd prefer no one else knew about this." The three of them knew not to argue. Ray was amazed at how Fraser could quickly mask his emotions. The stoic expression he had known was back in place. They all stood and made their way to the kitchen. Rayni and Cara shared a look. *I'll beat her scrawny fucking ass. *
Rayni tried to do as Fraser asked and put Neely out of her mind. She tried to focus on the many guests that were arriving instead of the need to seek out Neely and pummel her swiftly about the head and neck. Ray was always by her side and tried to be as happy as he possibly could. His parents were there. Steve had called from California. Rayni's parents were mingling with Ray's co-workers and Rayni's friends from work. Fraser busied himself with the grill while Cara placed the condiments and side items on the table in the dining room. Rayni couldn't believe all the gifts that were stacked up on a card table in the corner of the room.
Cara placed a bowl of potato chips on the table when she heard the doorbell ring. She swung open the door with a smile ready to greet some more guests. The smile faded quickly when she saw Neely standing in the doorway.
"What do you want?" Neely was a little surprised at the hatred in Cara's voice.
"I'd like to see Ben." Neely took a step forward in an attempt to enter the house. Cara held the door with one hand as she placed her other hand on the doorframe.
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"Oh really? Why is that?" Neely looked down her nose as Cara stared directly at her.
"You've hurt him enough. Besides, if Rayni sees you, it will only get her upset. I won't stand for having my best friend upset at her own bridal shower."
"I see Ben's told you what happened."
"Yes, he told me. Now leave."
"I want to talk to him."
"Are you hard of hearing or just stupid? Leave." Cara felt someone walk up behind her and place a hand on her waist.
"I'll just be a minute Cara." Fraser stepped around her and out onto the porch.
"What do you want Neely?" Cara didn't even try to act as if she would give them some privacy. She stood her ground in the doorway and waited while Neely spoke to Fraser. She was just waiting for the chance to pounce on the tall brunette.
"Ben, I'm so sorry." Neely began to cry and reached out for Fraser's hand. Cara smiled as Fraser pulled his hand from her reach.
"He's an old boyfriend. He was just in town for a couple of days. I didn't know that we would….."
"I really don't have anything to say to you Neely. Obviously you don't feel the same way about me as I felt about you."
"Yes. Those feelings have been destroyed. Like Cara said, please leave."
"You have to accept my apology Ben." She reached for his hand again. Again he jerked it away.
"No, you can't make me leave. You have to listen to me." Cara took a step forward. Neely looked up at her and laughed.
"What are you going to do? Threaten me? You are just a bunch of trash."
"I suggest you leave before things get out of hand." Cara barely got the words from her mouth when Rayni stepped passed her on the porch steps.
"I think my friend just asked you to leave. As far as I'm concerned you're trespassing on my brother's property. Leave or I'll have you arrested." Rayni gave her a steely gaze as Neely took a step away from Ben. Ben turned and walked back into the house. Neely stood on the sidewalk and looked at Rayni.
"Fine. I'll go. It's not like I loved him or anything. He was just a good lay." Rayni took a step forward.
"Don't come near him again."
"Oh are you his protector now? I always thought there was something more than friendship between you two."
"There is. I love Fraser. But not the way you think you stupid bitch. So you better leave now before I do something you'll regret." Rayni started removing her rings, watch and earrings. She handed them to Cara as she squared her shoulders. Rayni was fully prepared to have a street fight right there. This woman had broken her best friend's heart and she just needed one reason to hit her.
"I was right. You are nothing but trash. Only trash would resort to violence."
"You've got three seconds to get the hell out of here before my trashy ass beats the hell out of yours."
Neely turned in a huff and walked down the sidewalk to her car. Rayni turned and looked at Cara.
"Hey babe. What happened?" Ray watched as Neely's car sped away.
"Nothing. She's gone."
"Why did you take your jewelry off?" Cara handed Rayni her earrings as Ray questioned her.
"This ring has no real damage factor. It'll just break my finger if I'd hit hard enough and I didn't want her to have the chance to rip my earrings out."
"You're such a bad ass." Ray chuckled.
"C'mon. Let's go eat."
Rayni and Ray sat on the sofa and started opening gifts. Fraser was quiet but seemed to enjoy the excitement of watching Rayni and Ray open the brightly wrapped packages. Cara kept a close eye on Fraser as she moved around the many guests. She felt so sorry for him. He was such a nice guy. Why did he have to fall for a girl like that? Welsh stood near the food table talking to Paul while Eleanor chatted with Francesca. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. They were totally oblivious of the events that had gone on a few minutes before. Rayni and Ray laughed and joked with the friends and family that had gathered to show their love. All too soon, the evening was winding down and Cara and Rayni were carrying empty bowls and platters into the kitchen.
Cara was about to load the dishwasher for the second time, when Karen came in.
"I'll do that."
"It's no trouble. Thanks for letting us use your house."
"Mike and I were happy to do it. Anything for Rayni. Mike's so happy for her."
"She and Ray are really in love."
"It's so obvious, isn't it?" The two of them chuckled at the sight of Rayni smiling playfully over at Ray while she cleared a few drink glasses from the table. Cara's smile faded as she looked beyond Rayni and out to the back yard. Under the soft glow of the porch light, stood Fraser. He was making sure the grill was properly extinguished. At least that's what he wanted people to think. Cara placed the last bowl in the dishwasher and casually excused herself.
"I better go help Ben." She slid the sliding glass door open and stepped out onto the back patio.
Even though spring was here, the air was still cool at night. Cara wrapped her arms around her waist and stepped up beside him.
Fraser looked intently at the valve on the propane tank.
"Do you need anymore assistance inside?"
"Nah, we've got most of it. How about I give you a ride home?"
"That's not necessary. Dief and I can take the train and walk."
"But I'm offering." Cara leaned forward in an effort to make him look at her. His sad blue eyes rose slowly to meet hers. "That's what friends are for." Cara held his gaze. She hoped he would see the sincerity in her eyes. Looking away, he sighed and nodded.
"Let me know when you're ready to go." Without another word, she slid the door back and stepped inside. Everything was just about back to normal in Mike's house. Josh had long since gone to bed. Eleanor and Paul were sipping a cup of coffee as they chatted with Barbara and Damien. Ray was discussing a plan on how to get all the gifts back to Rayni's apartment while Rayni ignored him and sorted through the various gifts. Cara sighed and smiled. She and Fraser had pulled it off. It was a very nice shower. Except for Neely. But the more Cara thought about it, the more she smiled at the sight of Rayni standing up to Neely.
*She's such a redneck. Too bad she didn't hit her. I'd pay good money to see that. *
Cara started loading the car with decorations and some leftover food from the shower. Fraser was quickly by her side to help her carry the heavier items to her car. Ray and Rayni had just left and Cara was just about ready to leave.
"How will you carry these things in when you get home?" Fraser asked as he placed a large serving bowl into the back seat.
"A little at a time. Same way I got it here, I guess."
"Why don't we stop by your house first so I can help you unload?"
"You don't mind?"
"Of course not."
Cara hugged Karen and Mike goodbye as Fraser said his farewells to Rayni's parents. In a few moments, Cara and Ben were driving through the darkened streets on the way to Cara's house.
The ride to her house was made in relative silence. Fraser stared out the passenger window and tried not to think about the events of the afternoon. Cara pulled into her narrow driveway along the side of the small but comfortable house that used to belong to her grandmother. After she had passed away, she'd left the house to Cara. The motion security light went on and the two of them exited the car.
"I just assumed you lived in an apartment. I didn't realize you owned a home."
"Yeah, it's mine out right. My grandmother was one sweet lady. Here, can you unlock the door while I grab the mail? I didn't have a chance this afternoon." Cara handed Fraser her keys as she pulled a bag of items from the back seat. Bag in tow, she trotted to the front of the house and grabbed the mail from the box. Fraser held the door for her as she stepped up on the back steps.
"You're very welcome." The two of them made several trips to unload Cara's car and placed the various bags and plates on the kitchen table.
"You want coffee? Never mind you really don't like coffee, do you? Hang on, I think I have some tea up here from a gift basket I received for my birthday." Cara hung her purse over the hook on the back of the kitchen door and began to rummage through a cupboard.
"Here it is! Is this any good?"
"Oh yes, that's a very nice tea." Fraser took some of the plates of leftover food and placed them in her refrigerator. Cara rinsed out the teakettle, which had never been used for tea, and filled it with water. The two of them began to unpack the various packages while Dief lounged on the cool kitchen tile.
"Where am I going to put all this stuff?!"
"Do you have an attic?"
"No, but I have a basement."
"Would you like me to help you put this stuff away down there?" Fraser noticed the uncertain look on her face. "Is something wrong?"
"I beg your pardon."
"I hate it down there at night. Call me childish if you want to, but I hate spiders and I think there may be a rat down there. I've set traps during the day, but I haven't gotten anything so far."
"I'd be happy to go down there for you."
"You don't have to. I'll wait and do it tomorrow."
"It's no trouble." Cara sighed as she smiled over at Fraser. He was doing his best to busy himself so he wouldn't have to think about his heart and how much it ached.
"Okay, let me get a storage tub. I've got one in my bedroom."
"Do you need any help?"
"Sure, come on." Cara's heart went out to him. He seemed like a lost puppy. He didn't want to be alone and he wanted to stay busy. She knew he would have to stop and face his feelings sometime. Fraser trailed along behind her as she went through the small but neat living room and down the hall into the master bedroom. Even though it was an older home, Cara had taken a lot of time over the years to paint and update things where she could. Fraser stood in the doorway as Cara opened the closet door. Tossing a few sweaters to the top shelf she pulled a nearly empty plastic storage bin from the floor.
"This should work." Ben looked around the room at the simple décor. The bed suite must have been her grandmother's. The detail in the dark cherry wood was very ornate and classic.
Cara smiled when she caught Ben looking around the room at her things.
"You know, few men have seen my bedroom." Cara laughed, as Ben eyes grew wide. She handed him the storage tub and offered him a grin. The teakettle sounded and Cara went to relieve it.
She motioned for Fraser to have a seat, while she poured him a cup of tea. She sipped on her coffee as she looked at him.
"You have to talk about it sometime."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Look, I know we're not as close and you and Rayni. Maybe that's a good thing right now. Rayni would be perfectly happy to go over to Neely's and kick the living crap out of her. I'm your friend, right? So talk."
"I really don't see what good that would do." He took a nervous sip of his tea while he stared at some imaginary point on the floor.
"It sucks. I know, I've been there. But don't push the pain down inside. It only makes things worse."
"You're lying." Ben looked up slightly startled. Cara met his gaze with her own.
"You loved her. At least you thought you did." He slowly closed his eyes and looked away.
"I really should go."
"Why? Because I want you to admit you're hurting? Because I want you to face the emotions boiling under the surface? You have to face your feelings sometime Ben. It might as well be now and with a friend."
"You don't know anything about my emotions!" Dief quickly rose from the floor. He growled his warning at Ben as he stood by Cara. Fraser was even startled by his own outburst. The only person unfazed was Cara.
"That's better. At least you're feeling something right now." Cara took another sip of coffee and stood up from the table.
"Come with me." She reached out and took him by the hand. He didn't even feel like protesting. He stood and followed her out the back steps. She led him to the end of the narrow porch to the swing.
"Sit." Cara sat in the corner of the swing and motioned for Ben to do the same. He slumped down into the swing and let his chin fall to his chest.
"You can't let her destroy you Ben."
"She wasn't the one to destroy me." He couldn't believe he had said it out loud. Dief growled again and rested his head on Fraser's knee.
"Not all women want to destroy you Ben. There's someone out there for you. You just have to find them. There is someone out there just waiting to be loved."
"You don't have to try to make me feel better with cliché's." Cara shifted until she was sitting right beside Ben and resting her weight on her hands. The swing gently moved in the cool night breeze as Cara looked off into the distance.
"I'm not. I believe what I said. I have to. Otherwise I'd just give up myself."
"Who was it that destroyed you?" Cara looked over and smiled
slightly before looking down at her feet as they dangled off the edge of the old
"It was a long time ago."
"Did you love him?"
"He told me he didn't love me anymore. It was the morning of our wedding. He left with my best friend to the Bahamas using the honeymoon he had bought for us."
"Don't be. I'm fine now. But I wasn't fine for a long time."
"The first month I acted as if I didn't care and that I was better off. Of course, I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I looked like death. Then I decided to clean out my closets to get my mind off things. I found one of his old shirts. I cried for two weeks. My mom didn't know what to do. I refused to get out of bed. I wouldn't answer the phone. I just wanted to crawl in a hole and forget the world even existed.
"What made you snap out of it?"
"I finally faced it. I went to a therapist and basically screamed at her. I screamed at him, I screamed at my best friend. I screamed at my mother for not telling me that love could hurt so much." Cara looked over at him and took his hand. "You have to face your feelings Ben. If you don't, they'll consume you. So when you're ready to talk. I'll listen." With a gentle squeeze of his hand, she stood and walked the length of the small porch. The rustling of tree limbs and the bark of one of the neighbor's dogs were the only sounds that could be heard as two friends sat alone.
"I don't know what I do to make them hate me." Cara turned slowly and looked at the pale outline of Fraser as he sat on the swing.
"You don't do anything Ben. Some people are just mean and inconsiderate. Neely was jealous and manipulative. I don't see how you were blind to it."
"What do you mean? I never……"
"That night I was over at your place, she could have shot daggers into my heart. She made it very clear to me where she stood."
"I had no idea."
"I know. That happens. It wasn't your fault Ben. She shit on you. Plain and simple."
"I just wasn't good enough for her." Cara took a step forward so Ben could see her face clearly from the light shining through the kitchen door.
"That's shit! You are a wonderful man. Neely wasn't the woman for you. End of sentence. It hurts. It was her fault. Not yours. Do not blame yourself."
Fraser stared at his feet, unable to face her. Cara stood in front of him for a few moments before turning to walk into the house.
"Come on. I'm cold." She wanted to just wrap her arms around him and console him but she knew that he didn't want pity. He wanted someone to be straight with him. Years ago Rayni had done the same for her, she felt it was her turn to return the favor.
Rayni stared up at the ceiling as she rested her head on Ray's bare chest. They had been so exhausted by the time they got home; they went straight to bed. Only Rayni couldn't sleep. She was still seething from her confrontation with Neely. The look of sadness that consumed Fraser's eyes made her even more upset.
"Talk to me." Ray's voice was raspy from sleep. He slid his hand up her back and rested it on her hair.
"How'd you know I was awake?"
"You're too tense to be asleep. Do you want to call him?"
"No, Cara said she was going to take him home. She's probably talking some sense into him."
"Didn't you see the look on his face? He thinks it's his fault."
"Because he's been hurt before."
"I wish I knew what happened there."
"I don't think we'll ever know the full deal. The story I got from Huey wasn't a pretty one."
"I should have hit her when I had the chance."
"Why? So we could be bailing you out of jail right about now? Stella would have loved that." Ray felt Rayni tense at the sound of his ex-wife's name.
"Rayni!" Ray leaned up slightly to look at Rayni's face.
"Well, I'm pissed. I just want to hit something."
"Have you ever even been in a fight before?"
"Really?!" Ray just assumed she was putting up a front for Neely.
"One of Mike's girlfriends from high school started saying some pretty horrible things about him. I cornered her in the parking lot of the Jack in the Box after a basketball game one night."
"I was three years younger than she was, so she was a little cocky. She had no idea I'd been fighting full contact with Mike since I could walk. I broke her nose."
"Did you get in trouble?"
"No, she was too embarrassed to tell her parents the truth."
"You are such a bad ass." Rayni sighed and snuggled into his side.
"Not really. I just don't like to see the people I love in pain."
"Yeah, I know what you mean."
Cara pulled the throw blanket over Fraser's sleeping form. He was physically and emotionally exhausted. Cara had finally reached him and he went through the gamut of emotions everyone feels when suffering a broken heart. He yelled, he cried, he even cursed once or twice. Cara promised him she didn't think any less of him for being human. As she watched him sleep she wondered why everyone had the impression his was superman. Sure he was a wonderful man. An exemplary Mountie. But he was still a man. As Dief slept by his feet, she touched the side of Fraser's cheek.
"Goodnight, good friend."
Cara walked down the hall and into her bedroom. She pushed the door to, but didn't shut it all the way. She changed out of her clothes and into an oversized t-shirt and a pair of wool socks. She slid beneath the cool covers and prayed that Ben would find happiness soon.
Cara woke to the ringing of her bedside phone. She groped at the receiver and answered it as coherently possible.
"Hey, It's me."
"Rayni? What time is it?"
"10:30. Why aren't you up?"
"Late night." Cara pushed the hair out of her face and tried to focus on the clock.
"I tried to call Fraser this morning but there's no answer."
"He's here." There was silence on the other end of the line. Cara
could actually hear Rayni's gears turning.
"Not here in my bed, hussy. He fell asleep on the couch last night. It must have been about 3:30 or after."
"Yeah. One I remembered well."
"I hope it worked."
"Me too. I'll call you later."
"Okay, tell him to come over here on his way home."
"Will do. Bye."
"Bye." As Cara hung up the phone she swung her legs to the side of the bed. Padding down the hall to the bathroom, she saw that Fraser was sitting up on the edge of the couch.
"Good morning. I apologize for last night. I didn't mean to fall asleep."
"That's fine. You want breakfast?" Cara didn't wait for an answer. She closed the bathroom door behind her and did what she needed to do. When she entered the kitchen Fraser had started to put the coffee on.
"You want more tea?"
"No thank you. I think I'll have a cup of coffee with you."
"Rough night, huh?"
"Yes." Fraser looked up from the coffee maker and into Cara's eyes. "Thank you."
"That's what friends are for." She patted him on the arm as she crossed the small kitchen.
She opened the freezer and pulled out a box of frozen waffles.
Cara popped some waffles in the toaster and pulled some paper plates from the cupboard.
"Hey! I've got something that should cheer you up." She pulled a jar of Canadian Maple syrup from the cupboard and held it up to Ben. "Canadian. See? That should make it all better, right?" Ben laughed at Cara's sarcastic grin. He poured them each a cup of coffee and sat down beside her at the table. He may still have a broken heart. But, he also had a very good friend.
Ray smiled as he walked into the living room. Rayni was sprawled out on the floor with several scraps of paper around her. The stereo was blaring and she was singing at the top of her lungs.
"What are you doing?!" Ray screamed over the music.
"Going over wedding plans!"
"Lita Ford helps you plan our wedding?!"
"Sure, why not?" Rayni turned down the music and shuffled through the stacks of paper.
"What else needs to be done?"
"Well, we've got two weeks to get your stuff moved out of your apartment. I still need to pick up a few more things for the cruise. My manicure and pedicure are on Friday. Don't forget you've got to be at the restaurant by 6:30 for the rehearsal dinner."
"I won't. Why can't we ride together?"
"Aren't you going out with the boys?" Ray grinned at her.
"What else is all this stuff?"
"My to-do lists. Mom and I are meeting once more with the caterer. And I've got to talk to Mrs. Gandolfini about picking up our paper and mail."
"Fraser said he'd do it."
"But she's right down the hall." A knocking at the door interrupted their conversation.
Fraser was greeted with two sets of sympathetic eyes. Rayni was immediately on her feet.
"Hey, are you okay?!" She enveloped him in a hug. A hug he received openly as he wrapped his arms tightly around her waist.
"I'm okay." Ray noticed the bags under his eyes as he released Rayni and followed Dief into the apartment. He sat on the end of the couch and looked down at his jeans for a moment. He knew the questions would come, he just wasn't sure he wanted to answer them. Rayni sat down next to him and looked at him long and hard for a moment.
"I know this sucks." Fraser grinned slightly. Rayni always did have a way of putting things that made him smile.
"Yes, it does." Ray slumped down into the large armchair and nodded in agreement.
"What happened? I never really got all the story at the shower."
"I went to take Neely some soup. I guess I should have called first. When she opened the door she was…..well……"
"Let me go over there and beat her ass, Ben. It'll make us both feel better. I promise it will."
"I'd have to have you arrested for assault."
"No you won't. It'll be our little secret. Just say the word."
"Rayni. That won't help matters."
"So what's gonna happen now?" Ray asked.
"Nothing. I don't want to see her again."
"Good. It sounds like Cara has talked some sense into you."
"She said you did the same for her once. What happened?"
"It was about six years ago. We worked together but never really talked much. I saw that her work was being affected so I tried talking to her. We went to lunch. She broke down in tears telling me the whole story about her loser boyfriend and her best friend. I could relate. This may come as a shock, but I've dated my share of losers."
"Nooo!" Ben teased.
"Ha. Ha. Anyway. I told her things straight. No sugar coating."
"I believe she took a valuable lesson from you then."
"Did it work?"
"Can I let you know tomorrow?"
"Sure." Rayni smiled at Fraser as he looked down at his jeans and grinned.
"Well, I've got to get home. I didn't get much sleep last night."
"Okay, but why don't you come back for supper tonight? I'm making lasagna."
"Sounds great. Thanks." As Fraser left the building, his heart still ached. He knew with the support of his friends, it would subside soon. At that thought, he smiled slightly and rubbed Dief on the head.
Cara walked down the hall of the GIS department and looked into the many offices that sprinkled the floor.
"Anyone seen Rayni?"
"She want down the hall a few minutes ago toward the bathroom."
"Thanks." Cara walked quickly down the hall and into the ladies room.
"What?" Cara stood outside the stall and stared down at Rayni's feet.
"No." Cara shook her head at the ill mood Rayni was in.
"Did you eat something at lunch that would make your stomach upset?"
"Everything I've eaten for the last three weeks has made my stomach upset. I've lost four pounds!"
Cara giggled as Rayni flushed the toilet.
"It's nerves." Rayni pushed the stall door open and glared at Cara.
"You think? I'd eat a block of cheese if I thought it would help!"
"I've heard all brides go through this. It's the stress of the wedding. Why didn't you just take this week off? God knows you've got enough time."
"I didn't want to use it all for the wedding and honeymoon. Ray and I might want to take a vacation this year too."
"You're not working Friday are you?"
"No, my mom freaked out when I told her I was. So I decided to get a manicure and pedicure that day."
"Good plan. I'm leaving at noon anyway. Fraser and I are going to pick up the tuxedos and help Barbara and Damien with the rehearsal dinner stuff."
"How did I get such a great best friend?"
"God must like you." Cara laughed.
The two of them exited the ladies room and walked down the hall to the break room. Cara pulled a Sprite from the fridge and handed one to Rayni before grabbing another for herself.
"When's Sharon flying in?"
"Thursday night. She's booked a room at the Drake."
"Cool. I can't wait to meet her."
"You'll love her. She's bringing her boyfriend, Todd. He's a production assistant with MTV. Try not to laugh when you see him." Cara gave her an odd look to which Rayni only smiled. At least some of the stress was forgotten for now. The two of them made it back down the hall and returned to a never-ending pile of work.
Rayni looked at her watch for the fourth time in thirty minutes. *11:30. * In exactly an hour and a half, she would be walking out the door and preparing for her wedding. In a little over forty-eight hours, Rayni Mason will be Mrs. Rayni Kowalski. Rayni smiled as she thought about her new life. Ray had finally gotten everything out of his apartment. She thought he would never sort through all the stuff he had packed away in there. Fortunately he was renting a furnished apartment. The thought of having to find somewhere to put Ray's ratty furniture was more than she could handle. All his clothes were packed away in the drawers and closets. A few of his pictures were scattered around the apartment. It really looked like two people actually lived there. She couldn't wait to start her life with Ray. *My husband.* The thought made a warm feeling settle in the pit of her stomach. The phone rang and interrupted her thoughts.
"That's gonna change real soon."
"Hey sweetheart. Where are you?"
"Fraser and I are leaving a crime scene now. What are your plans for lunch?"
"I'm leaving here at one then I'm going to Mike's to pick up Mom and Karen. We're going to the rental place to make sure everything is right and then we're going to the church."
"You don't have a few minutes to eat?" Rayni looked at her watch again and then at the work on her desk. She had been working like a dog all week to make sure everything would be caught up before the wedding. *Screw it. *
"What time can you get here?"
"See you then."
Rayni shut down her computer and stared at the black screen for a moment. Her mind was filled with so many things she had to get done before the wedding. Looking at her watch once more she smiled. *12:05. I'm out of here. * Standing, she slung her purse over her shoulder and went down the hall to find Cara.
"Hey, I'm blowing this joint."
"I'm surprised you held out this long."
"Ray and Fraser are coming to take me to lunch. Want to join us?" Cara looked at the stack of subdivision plans on her desk and then up at Rayni.
"Let me get my purse."
Ray's knuckles were turning white from the tight grip he had on the steering wheel.
"Nervous?" Fraser asked.
"Well you are getting married this weekend."
"Nah, I'm not nervous."
"You look a little more stressed than usual." Ray laid down on the horn and screamed out the window.
"Hey buddy! This ain't no parkin' lot! Move it!!" Fraser rolled his eyes and decided against chastising his friend on his rude behavior.
"Would you like to express your feelings to me?"
"Quit bein' gay."
"I'm not 'being gay' as you call it. I just thought you'd like to discuss why you're in a tizzy."
"I'm not in a tizzy."
"You are in a tizzy."
"I'm not in a tizzy! And what grown man uses the word 'tizzy' anyway!? Huh?!" Ray hunkered lower in the seat of the GTO and stared straight ahead.
"Well there is no need to pout."
"I'm not pouting!" Ray turned his head and screamed at his best friend. "That's what *you* do! You pout. I just get pissed!"
"Shut up, Fraser."
"Nervous aren't you?"
"Scared as hell."
Ray held on to Rayni's fingers as they strolled out of the restaurant. Fraser held the door for Cara as she pulled her jacket around her.
"Are you off duty for the rest of the day, Ben?"
"Yes, Ray and I are going back to the station to complete some paperwork. I've convinced him that he doesn't need to leave such unfinished business for a week and a half while he's on his honeymoon."
"Well, you two have fun and play nice. I'll pick you up tomorrow at lunch time." Fraser walked her over to the front of her office building while Ray and Rayni talked on the sidewalk.
"See you tomorrow." Fraser waved as Cara scurried into the building. He looked across the street at Ray and Rayni. She was leaning against him as he leaned against the door of his car. His face was no longer stressed. He was smiling and totally engrossed in whatever Rayni was saying. She laughed slightly and leaned in to kiss him. Ray slipped his hands around her waist and held her closer. Ben sighed as he watched them. A stab of loneliness made him look away. He looked up and down the street before crossing over to the other side. Rayni smiled at him as he approached.
"You'll make sure he's at home by five?" Rayni asked.
"Of course. What time is Sharon's flight?"
"Six-thirty. Are you sure you won't go to the airport with us?"
"I've got some things I need to take care of at home. I promised Dief we would go to the park this evening and run."
"Okay. I'll see you two later then." She leaned in and kissed Ray again. "Thanks for lunch."
"Anytime, doll. See you at home." Ray held onto her fingers as she walked to the crosswalk and kissed her again before she crossed the street. He returned to his car and grinned over at Fraser.
"She's great, isn't she?"
"Yes Ray. She is."
Rayni stepped through the front door of her brother's house. As she tossed her purse to the floor, she called for her mom.
"Mom! Are you ready?! We've got a lot to do!"
"I'm coming! There's no need to scream your head off dear!"
Eleanor exited the back bedroom with her purse and her jacket in her hand. *Oh God, she's wearing a wind suit. *
"Nice wind suit mom. They issue you that when you bought the condo in Florida?" Rayni allowed a sly smile to part her features.
"It's comfortable. We're going to be doing a lot of running around."
"Okay, so let's go. I need to go by the florists first. The preacher said we could set up the church anytime this week. He doesn't have anything on the calendar so no one will mess with it."
"Great. I've got a few boxes in the back we need to put in the car. What time do you have to be at the airport?"
"I need to be home by five."
"Then we better get moving."
The two of them quickly carried things to the car and loaded them in Rayni's trunk. Soon they were speeding around town running errands.
After a quick stop at the florist, a drop by on the bakery and a quick run-in on the caterer, Rayni and her mom had finally made it to the church. The church secretary let them in and they were able to unload the various things they would need on Saturday.
"What in the world is all this?" The secretary asked.
"I'm not taking any chances. I've tried to think of everything Rayni might need. I've got a hairdryer, extra hose, make up, hair spray, sewing kit and goodness knows what else. If anything goes wrong, I want to be able to fix it."
"Rayni's lucky to have such a prepared mom."
"Thank you." Eleanor caught the smile on Rayni's face as she carried the last bag into the changing room they would use to dress in on Saturday.
"That's everything Mom. I'll bring my dress Friday night and lock it in the office. Cara and Sharon will have theirs and Fraser and Cara are picking up all the tuxes tomorrow afternoon."
"Sounds like that's everything."
"Let's hope. We'll find out during rehearsal."
"It's going to be beautiful."
"I hope so."
Eleanor could tell Rayni was getting nervous. She could read it in her face. Rayni looked around at nothing in particular as she tried to think of anything she had forgotten.
"It's almost five dear. You need to meet Ray."
"Oh crap! I'm going to be late!" Rayni closed the trunk and waved her departure to the secretary. Eleanor was already buckled in by the time Rayni started the car. She couldn't help but smile to herself. Rayni was going to have a beautiful wedding.
Stella walked quickly down the hall of the precinct in route to Lt. Welsh's office. She had been in one of her patented pissed off moods all day. It started with the broken coffee maker this morning and it's just been one little annoying thing after another. She rounded the corner and stopped in her tracks. There he was. *What's he doing here. He's not supposed to be here. Dewey said he was taking today off. Why isn't he taking the day off? He's getting married in the day after tomorrow. * Stella stepped to the side and tried to conceal herself behind a file cabinet. She opened the folder she was holding and tried to look casual. As she stood in the corner of the station, she watched him. His hair was its usual uncontrollable mess. He and Fraser were working on what looked like a week's worth of paperwork. She smiled slightly as Ray ran his hand through his hair. He always did that when he was frustrated. If she concentrated she could barely make out what he and Fraser were saying. *Typical. He's complaining about paperwork. * The stress was evident on Ray's face. He had been wound as tight as a spring during the last week. Rayni was always busy with work or wedding plans and he had his own things to get done. They had basically passed each other over the last week. Stella watched as Ray gestured wildly with his hands as he yelled at Fraser. Fraser just sat quietly and let him yell. Stella grinned at the sight. Ray was absolutely frazzled. His forehead had a deep crease and his mouth had been in a permanent scowl for the duration of his conversation. Of course, that look was nothing new to Stella. He wore it for most of their marriage. Then the phone rang. She watched as he thrust the phone to his ear and screamed what barely qualified as a greeting. Then she saw it. Her heart sank into her chest and she felt an overwhelming sadness. In the time it takes to take a breath, his whole demeanor changed. The worry lines that of a moment ago were gone. He was smiling. She didn't have to hear whom he was talking to. It was evident in his face. She cast a quick look at Fraser. He was smiling. Just barely, but it was there. Ray leaned back in his chair as he absently twirled the cord of the phone around his finger. There it was. Staring her in the face. She hadn't wanted to face it before. Refused to see it. He'd found love. And not with her. Sure, he thought he was in love with Stella for all those years. But here it was. As plain as the look on his face. He had finally found it. She closed the file and looked at the floor for a moment. Why did she care? She divorced him. She cast him aside. Then she heard the words that would have her struggling to keep the emotion from strangling from her throat. "I love you too." It was filled with all the love she had ever imagined possible between two people and it had never been said to her. She turned to walk away. Out of the corner of her eye she saw him look up. Before she could stop herself, she looked in his direction. With a sympathetic smile, Fraser nodded his greeting. Squaring her shoulders, she continued down the hall.
Ray stepped softly through the apartment. It was nearly 11:30 and he knew Rayni would probably be asleep. He walked past the couch and saw her. Amidst a pile of thank you notes and boxes, was Rayni curled up on the end of the couch sound asleep. Saturday couldn't come soon enough for him. They just had to make it through the rehearsal dinner first. He sighed softly as he looked down at Rayni. She looked exhausted. She had been rushing around for a week now trying to get everything done for the wedding. He knew how she felt, though. Ray had been doing his share of the running as well. Fraser and Cara had agreed to pick up the tux's after lunch tomorrow while he and his folks went to pick up Steve at the airport. He ran his hand through his hair and shook the thoughts from his mind. He knelt down beside the couch and brushed his fingers across her forehead.
"Rayni." He whispered. "You need to go to bed, babe." She made that soft whimpering noise she made when she was really tired. He gently slipped his arms around her and lifted her off the couch. She instinctively wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and buried her head in his shoulder.
Once Ray had tucked Rayni into the bed, he began to strip off his clothes. He tossed his boots to the corner and shrugged his jeans off. He was tired. Tired and frustrated. He and Rayni had done little more than pass each other over the passed week. He looked over at her as she slept in one of his old police academy shirts. He sighed again and pulled the covers back on his side of the bed. He should probably take a shower but he was just too tired. He wrapped his arms around Rayni and pulled her toward him. He spooned in behind her and she quickly molded to his form. The gentle sound of her breathing that was normally a comfort was now driving him crazy. It had been two weeks since they'd had any real time together. Two long weeks. He grinned slightly in the darkness. * At least she had her period last week. She bitched enough about the honeymoon and her mother's and God's secret plan to punish her for not being a virgin on her wedding night.* The honeymoon. Seven nights alone with Rayni. He took a deep breath and snuggled his chin into the crook of her neck. He missed her so much. He needed her. Longed for her. The thought crossed his mind to wake her up, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. This was one of the few nights she had actually gotten to sleep before midnight. She shifted slightly and he found his hand gently cupping her breast. Her breathing was still steady and soft. Saturday couldn't come soon enough. Things would finally settle down.
Ray shoved a pair of jeans in his duffel bag as Rayni rushed into the bedroom.
"Are you almost ready?" Rayni asked in her rush to get dressed.
"I think so."
"Have you got your toothbrush and stuff?"
"Yeah. Are all the bags in the car for tomorrow?"
"Yeah. I've got my carry on in the front seat. But we've got to hurry. We have to be at the restaurant at 5:30." Ray slung the bag over his shoulder and reached for her hand as she rushed past him.
"I don't know why I have to stay at Fraser's tonight."
"We've talked about this."
"But I don't think I can sleep if you're not with me." Ray grinned down at her and he could see she was just about to give in.
"No. It's not going to work. It's bad luck to see me the day of the wedding. Besides, you'll probably need Fraser to help you walk by the end of the night."
"Hey! I don't think so. What about you? Sharon and Cara mentioned something about taking you out."
"They did." Ray didn't like the look on Rayni's face.
"So where are you going?"
"I don’t know."
"The hell you don't. You've got that shit eatin' grin on your face."
"No I don't." She teased. "Where are the boys taking you?"
"I have no idea." He dropped his head slightly and sighed. The last thing he wanted was to go out tonight. He wanted to sleep here in Rayni's arms tonight. Instead he would be sharing his bed with a candy-addicted wolf.
"You just better be at the church on time."
"I'll be early."
"Promise." Ray kissed her fingertips as he held on to her hands.
"Are we ready?"
"I think so. Just one more thing." Ray held on to her hands as he stretched his arms out to his side. "You look beautiful." Rayni tucked her head slightly embarrassed at the compliment.
"Thank you." Ray pulled her close to his chest and whispered in her ear.
"You're the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."
Ray leaned his chin on Rayni's shoulder as he wrapped his arms around her waist from behind. He leaned in and kissed her lightly on the neck as they stood against the bar of the restaurant.
"You want a drink?"
"Definitely." She smiled. "My mom isn't due for another thirty minutes. I could use the buzz."
"Yeah, me too. My mom's been running around like a woman possessed or somethin' all day. She was drivin' Pop crazy."
"I know the feeling. But everything looks beautiful." Rayni looked around the private dining room. The lights were dim and candles flickered on all the tables. The soft strains of music could be heard through the room. They were early. Rayni had planned it that way. She knew if she and Ray were late they be swept up in everyone else's idea of what they should be doing. Besides the wait staff, they were the only two in the room.
"I wonder where mom is? I figured she'd be all over this place." Rayni sighed softly as Ray brushed his hand across her abdomen.
"She called right before she left. She was going by the hotel to make sure your dad and brother were ready."
Ray shifted and stood in front of her. He looked into her eyes and sighed. She looked so content; so happy. He brushed his finger along her cheek as she took a slow sip of her wine.
"If I didn't know any better, I would say you are relaxed."
"I'm glad. You've been wound too freakin' tight for over a week now."
"I know and I'm sorry." She took another sip of wine and peered at him over her glass. Her eyes sparkled in the low lights and he could feel his stomach flutter.
"I love you." Ray leaned forward and kissed her forehead.
"I know." She smiled sweetly up at him as she traced small circles on his chest.
"How could you not?"
"Exactly." She leaned in to his body and tilted her head as she pressed her lips softly against his. She kissed him slowly, enjoying the sensation of his warm lips on hers. She lightly traced his lips with her tongue. A soft growl stirred in his throat as he slid his hands along her waist. He grasped her hips and pulled them toward him. She didn't know if it was the wine or the fact that she forgot to eat anything today, but she was actually getting light headed. As he slid his hands up her sides and grazed the outer curve of her breast, she knew. It was Ray. He made her light headed. She pulled away from him and took a deep breath.
"I need you." His voice was barely a whisper.
"I….." She couldn't even form the words. She was totally lost in him. His touch, his scent and the heat rising in his chest. She reached out and grasped his hand when she heard her name.
"Rayni!" *Dammit! *
"Hey mom." Ray looked as if he could die. He was so frustrated and tired he wished he would die.
"Your dad and Mike are parking the car."
"Where's Josh and Karen?"
"Josh had to go to the bathroom, so Karen's waiting for him at the front."
"Okay." Rayni still hadn't cleared her mind of the thoughts she was thinking about Ray.
"Ray dear, I just got off the phone with Barbara. They're on their way." Eleanor beamed as she walked around the room making sure everything was perfect. Ray sighed softly and Rayni leaned back against him again as she sipped her wine. He leaned in to her and whispered.
"It's gonna be a long ass night." Cara and Fraser walked through the door followed by the Kowalski's.
"No shit." Before the two of them could utter another word, the rehearsal dinner guests were arriving and Ray and Rayni were pulled in opposite directions.
"Hurry up!" Dewey screamed from the foyer of the church.
"I’ll be right there." Ray sighed as he pulled on his suit jacket and walked down the center aisle toward Rayni. She saw him approach and stepped away from all the women standing around her.
"Time to go, huh?" Ray slipped his fingers into hers and nodded.
"Don’t get arrested."
"Not me." *God he’s being coy. I love coy. *
"Don’t get Fraser into any trouble either."
"He’s big enough to take care of himself."
"Ray." She warned.
"I won’t. Hopefully we’ll be home early."
"So where are the girls taking you?"
"I have no idea."
"Yeah right." He mocked.
"I’ll be careful. Besides, Mom’s going."
"Oh boy. Can I just go with you guys then?"
"Yuck it up, smart boy." Ray laughed as he leaned in to kiss Rayni goodbye. Fraser walked up behind him and looked less than enthused about the night’s activities.
"The cab’s are waiting outside, Ray. We should go."
"Yeah, and get this over with."
"Exactly." Ray knew Fraser was uncomfortable about going out. So was he. He didn’t want to do anything that might make Rayni upset. Too much was at stake. He kissed her once more and turned to follow Fraser down the aisle and out onto the sidewalk.
Dewey, Huey, Welsh, Turnbull, Mike, Paul, Damien and his brother Steve were all waiting for him.
"Let’s go! The ladies are waiting!" Dewey shouted. Huey nodded his head in agreement as he opened the cab door for Ray.
"God, let’s go then."
"Oh don’t sound so glum. You’ll have a great time."
"Where are we going?"
"You’ll see!" Cara pulled her by the arm as Sharon pushed her toward the car. Eleanor and Barbara followed with Karen and some of Rayni’s friends from work.
"I hope you don’t take me to a strip club. My mom’s going! I’d die if we went to a strip club with my mom!"
"We’re not going to a strip club. Just get in the damn car!" Cara laughed. The women piled into three different cabs and were off on a night of their own.
"Wooohooo!" Steve yelled as the ladies started dancing onto the stage. He slapped Ray on the back and laughed at his brother’s drunken smile. "Feeling better big brother?!"
"Stop beatin' on me. I can still kick yer ass you know."
"Yeah, right. You're drunk."
"So are you."
"So neither one of us can kick either of our asses."
"Huh?" Steve just started laughing as one of the dancers stopped in front of him on the stage. Turning her back to him, she bent over at the waist and touched the floor with her palms.
"Flexibility. What a glorious thing." Harding and Ray's dad Damien burst into laughter at Ray's younger brother. Ray was on his sixth beer and was feeling no pain. He was feeling very little of anything actually. Fraser laughed along with the group while Steve danced in place in front of the stage. The dancer finally stood and walked across the dance floor and back behind the curtain. The music increased and several women jostled on stage. Two of them walked to the end of the stage and danced wildly in front of Ray. Ray just groaned and held the side of his head. The last thing he wanted was a lap dance. He wanted to be back home with Rayni. Fraser couldn't help feel sorry for his friend. He knew that Ray didn't want to go out tonight. He also knew Ray wouldn't let his friends down. They had been looking forward to his bachelor party all week. He glanced at his watch once more. * Just a few more hours Ray and then we'll go home. *
<< Baaarrrrp. Baaaaarrrrp. Baaaarrrrrrp. Baaaaarrrppp.>>
* Oh GOD! * Rayni clutched the side of her head and tried to figure out how she ended up in an air raid. * Alarm clock! It's an alarm clock! Turn off the fucking alarm clock!! * She managed to pry one eye open in order to search the room for the alarm. If she didn't find it soon she knew her head would explode. Then realization sank in and she found that she didn't know where she was. Willing the other eye open she looked around the room as much as possible without actually moving her head.
<< Baaarrrrp. Baaaaarrrrp. Baaaarrrrrrp. Baaaaarrrppp. SMACK!>>
*Oh thank God. Someone finally killed it. * Rayni's mind then clicked and she took a deep intake of breath. * Who the hell just killed the alarm!? *
"Morning sleepy head." Cara smiled as she leaned over Rayni's head.
"Right back atcha Wynona." Rayni pushed the hair from her face and glared at Cara.
"Why are you screaming at me?"
"I'm not. You're just hung over."
"Why did you call me Wynona?" Rayni attempted to lift her head but after her teeth cramped she decided to lay back down.
"You don't remember?! Oh this is too much fun."
"What are you talking about?" Cara quickly jerked the blanket off of Rayni and thrust a glass of water under her nose.
"Drink this. Take a shower and I'll fill you in on the Mason family sing along."
"What? Oh Jesus. Please tell me you're joking."
"Shower. Now! You're getting married in seven hours."
"I won't live that long." She groaned.
"Come on. Get up. You're making my sheets smell like a brewery."
"Leave me alone. I just want to die in peace. Tell Ray I love him but regrettably I drank myself to death."
"Come on Drama Queen. Get your ass up. Sharon is going to be here in an hour so we can all go to breakfast." Thoughts of eating made Rayni's stomach flip. She groaned louder as Cara pulled on her arm.
"I'm up! I thought you were my best friend?"
"I am your best friend. That's why I stopped you from riding the mechanical bull." Cara laughed as she started picking up Rayni's discarded clothes from the night before.
"You wanted to do your Urban Cowboy impression. And let me just say, you couldn't have done Debra Winger justice."
"Huh?" Rayni clutched the side of her head again and moaned.
"Shower! Now! I mean it." Rayni grunted as Cara pulled on her foot. She pushed herself up from the bed and wondered how she wound up in nothing but a t-shirt. She looked down in confusion as she read the caption. 'Wild Women Never Get the Blues.'
"How did I……oh hell, who cares."
Rayni stumbled toward Cara's bathroom. She had to steady herself on the chair and then again on the wall but she finally made it to the shower. She rested her head on the wall of the shower as the warm spray pulsed against her back. Flashes of the night before played across her mind. Cara was going to have to fill her in on the details. She couldn't figure out why she kept seeing Elvis.
"I really don't want to."
"It will make you feel better."
"Why'cha let me drink so much?"
"I wasn't aware that I was in charge of your alcohol consumption."
"Stop using big words Fraser. They make my head hurt."
"Drink this." Fraser shoved the glass toward Ray again.
"It looks like shit."
"It will make your hangover go away."
"What time did we get home last night?"
"And why are we up at…." Ray squinted at the small clock on the table. "….seven?"
"Because we've got a lot to do before you get married this afternoon." A small smile spread across Ray's lips as he thought about the events of the day.
"I'm getting married."
"Yes you are."
"I gotta call her." Before Fraser could protest, Ray grabbed the phone and dialed the apartment. His smile soon faded as the phone rang.
"Perhaps she spent the night at her brothers." Ray nodded his head and dialed Rayni's cell phone.
"She's in the shower. Did you boys have fun last night?"
"I think so. What about you?" Ray heard Cara laugh and mumble something to someone. After a muffled hand off, Rayni answered the phone.
"Hey babe. Whatcha doin' at Cara's?"
"This is where I woke up this morning. That's about all I can tell you."
"That bad huh?"
"I've got three words for you. Screaming Beer Shits."
"I'm all over that."
"Oh yeah. I can't remember shit."
"I think me and my mom sang karaoke."
"Hey, sounds…uh, fun."
"I think Sharon has it on video. Remind me to kill her after the reception. So did you boys get your fill of breasts and thongs?"
"I don't think that's possible."
"True. Did Fraser have a good time?"
"I have no idea."
"What about you."
"I have no idea."
"Well, at least I won't be the only one that looks like hell on their wedding day."
"You'll be beautiful."
"Yeah right. My tongue still feels like it's wearing a mohair sweater."
"What time are you going to breakfast?"
"In about an hour. We'll be at the church by 11. You need to be there by 12. The photographer will start taking pictures at 12:45."
"Got it. Have fun this morning. I'll see you down front."
"I can't wait." Ray paused a moment and took a deep breath.
"I love you." Rayni held her hand to her chest as she sighed happily in the phone. The emotion caught the words in her throat as she tried to speak.
"I love you too."
Rayni popped two more aspirin in her mouth as her mother walked into the
"You look beautiful!" Eleanor gushed as she kissed Rayni on the cheek. "Do you still feel sick?"
"No, I think I'm going to be fine. How did I get this way?" Rayni asked as she smoothed the front of her wedding dress.
"We were seduced by a margarita-pushing Elvis Impersonator."
Rayni stopped mid-motion and stared at her mother.
Eleanor smiled a little and straightened Rayni's veil. "I blame it all on Cara. She took us to that bar."
"That would be the one."
"I remember that much. But where did Elvis and Karaoke come in?"
"Well, the side bar had this guy dressed as Elvis. Well you know how much you loved him as a child." Rayni rolled her eyes. She didn't know why. She still loved Elvis.
Before her mother could answer Cara and Sharon walked in.
"Hey Wynona!" Cara laughed.
"See? Now what's up with that? Why has she been calling me that all morning?"
"Because when you introduced us on stage you told them we were the Judds. You made us call you Wynona all night. You insisted on calling me Naomi."
Rayni rested her head in her palms and groaned.
"Stop that. You'll ruin your make-up." Sharon pulled her hands down from her face and smiled at her friend.
"You're so beautiful." Cara stood behind Rayni as her mother fluffed her skirt. Rayni finally looked at herself in the mirror. Really looked at herself. Her breath caught in her throat and she could feel the tears in her
"Now don't start that. I can't start crying now!" Eleanor sniffed.
A knock at the door interrupted them. Cara went to the door and opened it a crack.
"Who is it?"
Rayni smiled and motioned for him to be allowed in. He stepped hesitantly into the room while tugging at his tuxedo collar. He cleared his throat and smiled at Cara.
"Come on in. We're all dressed. Ray's not lurking out there is he?" Ben shook his head and laughed.
"He's pacing at the front of the church." He turned and smiled at Rayni. His blue eyes flashed with excitement and love for his best friend.
"Hey Ben." Rayni said quietly. He was still staring at her. Finally he swallowed hard and found his voice.
She held his gaze as a small tear escaped the corner of her eye. He took a step forward and lightly kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you."
Eleanor smiled at her daughter. She looked around at the people in the room and sighed. She couldn't have wished for anything more for her child. She was a strong, beautiful woman with friends that loved her as much as she loved them. She had met the man she would be with for the rest of her life and that was all any mother could ask for.
Ben took her hand and placed a small box in her palm. "Ray asked me to deliver this to you."
She looked at the small burgundy box and then smiled up at him. "What is it?"
"Open it and find out!" Cara prodded.
Rayni rubbed her palms over the small velvet box and took a deep breath. She held it as she opened the box. A broad smile spread across her face. The tears rolled freely down her cheeks.
Ben smiled at how happy she looked. Ray would be pleased. He had been so worried about what to get Rayni. He wanted to buy her something to show her how much he loved her. She ran her fingers over the diamond earrings and started to laugh. She looked at Ben before she spoke.
"Tell him he's the most wonderful man I've ever dreamed of. I'm honored he chose me to be his wife. Tell him I love him more than time or words could ever convey."
She hugged him tightly before letting him leave. She placed the small box on her make up case and quickly removed the small pearl earrings her mother had given her for her sweet sixteen birthday. Once in place, she looked at herself in the mirror again.
"Rayni, that was the most romantic thing I've ever witnessed." Cara wiped at her eyes.
Sharon nodded in agreement as Eleanor gently wept.
Ray paced back and forth in the small room at the front of the church. Damien watched as his oldest son drug his hand through his unruly hair. Ray stopped in his tracks and jerked his head toward the door once he heard Fraser's familiar gate on the other side of the door.
Staring with wide and questioning eyes, Ray watched Fraser walk into the small room.
"She looks exquisite."
"That good huh?"
"Did she like the um….."
"Very much so. She sent me with a message."
"So spill." Ben tugged at his collar and looked around the room before meeting Ray's gaze. His deep blue eyes were locked with Ray's as he spoke Rayni's message.
" You are the most wonderful man she ever dreamed of. She's honored you chose her to be your wife. She loves you more than time or words could ever convey."
Ray was suddenly very warm. He had lost the ability to speak and he felt as if his face were on fire. He couldn't be sure but he might have lost the ability to breathe on his own.
"Ray?" His head jerked from side to side ever so slightly. He could only manage to blink a few times before Fraser said his name again.
"Ray?" He felt Fraser's hands on his forearms.
"The luckiest man alive?" That comment earned Ben a crooked grin.
"Yeah. How much longer?"
"My sentiments exactly."
Rayni stood inside the small changing room and waited for her father. She had finally found her mother a task that would keep her busy for a few minutes. Eleanor had been in full swing since six o'clock that morning. Rayni was normally a nervous wreck when her mother was so overbearing, but not today. Today she was in command and Rayni was her Commander in Chief. Anything Rayni thought of, her mother made happen. Caterers were rallied, florists were ushered in, photographers were positioned and every member of the wedding party was present and accounted for. All thanks to Eleanor. She was determined to make this day special for Rayni. Mission accomplished. A small knock on the door brought Rayni out of her nervous stance. She smiled graciously at her father as he poked his head inside the door.
"Depends on who you ask." Paul chuckled as he stepped inside. He strode over to her and gave her a warm lingering kiss on the cheek.
"Baby, you are the most beautiful bride I have ever seen."
"Are you ready to get this show on the road?"
"More than anything."
"Well how will we know when it's our time to go?"
"I'm sure mom will let us know."
"Yeah, I'm sure she will too." Rayni couldn't help but giggle at his tone. Her mother had been driving her father absolutely crazy with all the wedding details. He gently squeezed her hand as the two of them stood in terrified silence in the room.
* My baby girl is getting married! *
* Jesus Christ, I'm getting married! *
Cara had been given the task of making sure all the men were presentable. Without waiting for a reply to her knock, Cara walked into the small room inhabited by the groomsmen and the groom.
"Hey, everybody dressed?"
Steve smiled at her and flirted. "It's a good thing. You sure didn't give a guy a chance to cover up."
"Well, I'm sure you're relieved." Cara walked over to Ray and grabbed his lapel. She straightened his tie and brushed the stray pieces of lint from his tuxedo jacket.
"What the hell are you doing?" <SMACK>
"Watch your mouth boy, we're in church!"
"Sorry pop." Ray replied sheepishly as he rubbed the back of his head. Cara smirked at him before answering his question.
"I'm in charge of making sure you bunch of men are dressed and presentable to the public."
"I think we can dress ourselves." Steve tossed out to the room.
"Yeah, well. Fraser probably can but the rest of you need supervision." Fraser pulled on his earlobe at the mention of his name.
"I helped them with their ties earlier." Cara smiled at him as she crossed the room in his direction. She smiled at her as her eyes met his.
"About face." She instructed.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Turn….." She made a circular motion with her finger. "….around." Fraser gave her a confused look and then did as he was told. Cara survey him up and down while he fidgeted.
* Nice ass. * She then took the bottom of his tuxedo jacket in both hands and gave it a swift tug. Jumping slightly at the contact, Fraser made what Ray could only describe as a yelp.
Cara lightly brushed off his shoulders and back as he composed himself.
"There. That looks better. It's smooth along the shoulders now." She continued with the brushing of his coat until she was down to his lower back. Smirking ever so slightly she took one final sweep of her hand down the tail of his coat. * Very nice ass. * Fraser turned quickly to meet the slightly amused face of Cara.
"I think you did that on purpose." Cara looked him in the eye and cooed.
"Who knows, I might let you return the favor."
Ray snorted with laughter as Cara straightened Damien's tie before leaving the room.
"Gee Fraser, you just got felt up."
"On the contrary Ray, I believe I've just been tagged 'it'." Ray coughed abruptly. The look on Fraser's face had caused him to choke. There was no blush, no embarrassment. He was actually enjoying Cara's teasing.
* Oh if Rayni could see this. *
"Are they ready?"
"Ready and looking fabulous." Cara smirked.
"Even Steve." Rayni nodded her head and licked her lips. Just a few more minutes. She stood ramrod straight in the middle of the changing room. Not until her father reached for her hand moments ago had she realized she had been clutching her bouquet so tightly. Her knuckles were white and the palms of her hands were sweating. The knot in her stomach had unwound and now felt like a million butterflies had taken its place. Cara was busy with Sharon as the two of them checked their make-up in the mirror. Her dad paced slightly as he looked at his watch. A soft knock at the door made Rayni's heart skip in her chest. Eleanor slipped in through the door and smiled.
Rayni could only nod. She feared if she opened her mouth the emotions would overwhelm her.
"It's time." Cara and Sharon kissed her lightly on the cheek as they took their places at the back of the church. Eleanor offered one last kiss and a smile before she hurried out the door. Paul took Rayni's hand and placed in the crook of his elbow.
"You ready to make that man the envy of all the world?"
With a deep breath and a lick of her lips she replied.
"More than anything."
Continued in the Better Part of Me.
feedback is appreciated. :)