By Pretty Pretty
a continuation of "Her Name is Sara" and "Southern Comfort" and "All You Need is Love" and "To Make You Feel My Love"
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Alliance.
"Morning." Sara stretched as Ben was lying out his clothes on the bed.
"Youíre up early. Whatís the matter? Nervous about going back to work a married man?" Sara chuckled at herself while Ben shook his head in laughter.
"At least youíre not on sentry duty." Ben smiled as he pulled the brown uniform from the closet.
"Well, we know that will change."
"I donít know. Maybe the Dragon Lady will leave you alone now that youíre married."
"Sara! I really wish you wouldnít call her that."
"Fine." Sara pulled herself out of bed and made her way into the bathroom. Ben smiled and followed her naked form as she walked through the room.
"Itís not polite to stare." Ben tucked his head in embarrassment. "Oh, stop it. I was just teasing. You want the shower first or shall we conserve water and share."
"I feel that it would only be the right thing to do if we share."
"I bet you do."
"You want more eggs, Ray?" Ray was grinning at Benny as he walked over to the fridge and grabbed the orange juice.
"Sara, if you keep cooking like this, Iím not going to be able to chase down criminals anymore."
"Well, donít get used to it. Iíve got to be in the office early tomorrow. Iíve got to wait on the bank to open today so I can change my name. Ben, donít forget to stop by sometime this week to sign the papers."
"I will." Sara placed another plate of bacon on the table.
"Whatís going on down at the station, Ray?"
"Not a lot. Huey and Louie are working on a string of smash and grabs and Iím catching up on my paperwork."
"You two better get moving. Thatcher will freak if youíre late on your first day back." Ray stood and stuffed a half a piece of toast in his mouth as he grabbed his plate.
"Leave it. You two go. Iíll clean all this up. Ben, be home early. We have to go through all the wedding gifts and write thank you notes."
"Donít worry, Iíll get your hubby home in time for dinner." Ray smirked at Sara and then at Ben. Sara ignored his smart-ass tone and continued to clear the table, then placed the dishes in the dishwasher.
"Speaking of dinner, Ben and I would like to take the family out for dinner and the theatre on Saturday. Hamlet is showing and a friend of mine is the star. Weíll go to Carmineís afterwards and grab a bite. They got back from Florida yesterday, right?"
"Isnít John Chamberlain in that play?"
"Yes, thatís right. Are you a fan?"
"Nah, Frannyís in love with him though. Sheís been begging someone to take her to see that play."
"Well, he and I met several years ago. Heís very nice. Benís met him." She turned to look at Ben and smiled at the memory of the play they had seen together. She loved the fact that Ben was interested in the arts as much as she was.
"Heís a brilliant actor. I know the family would enjoy it." Ben pulled on his brown uniform coat and walked toward the door.
"Sure, Benny. Iíll tell them. Maria and Tony can get the Dominiani girl down the street to watch the kids. It should be great. You ready?"
"Ready." Ben leaned down and gave Sara a long loving kiss.
"Have a good day and be safe." She grabbed Ray by the arm before he could walk out the door. "You, too." She pulled him down to her level and kissed him on the cheek.
Ray and Fraser walked through the parking garage and over to the Riv.
"Youíre one lucky man, you know that Fraser?"
"Yes, Ray, I do."
"Címon. I better get you to work before the Dragon Lady has a fit."
"Welcome Back, Constable Fraser." Turnbull greeted Ben with the same enthusiasm as always.
"Good morning, Turnbull. I trust you kept everything in order while I was away."
"Of course, sir. The Inspector would like to see you in her office, too, sir."
"Thank you. Is the weather sunny or foul?"
"It seems to be too early to tell, sir."
"Ah. Thank you kindly."
Ben knocked on Inspector Thatcherís office door and approached her desk. He was taken a bit by surprise at the smile on her face.
"Welcome Back, Constable. I trust you had a pleasant holiday."
"Yes, maíam. Sara and I had a wonderful time." Not knowing what to say next, Ben stood at attention and waited for the Inspector to say what was on her mind.
"At ease, Fraser." Fraser relaxed his stance slightly.
"I just wanted to let you know that the wedding was beautiful. Sara made a lovely bride." Ben smiled slightly. He knew that this was indeed a compliment coming from Meg Thatcher.
"Thank you kindly. It meant a lot to Sara and myself to have you and all of our friends in attendance."
"I have to admit I was caught by surprise at the plane tickets and hotel reservations that Saraís father had arranged for us."
"It was a surprise to us as well. Heís a remarkable man."
"I had no idea Saraís family was soÖ. affluent."
"One is often taken by surprise."
Meg tried not to let her curiosity of Saraís family overtake her. She would never be so rude to ask such a personal question.
"Itís good to have you back Fraser. I took the liberty of compiling all the forms needed to update your status and to add Sara to any documents that you wish. Return them to me when youíre finished and I will see that they are returned to Ottawa."
"Thank you kindly, Inspector."
"Hello, Miss Montgomery. How are you this morning?"
"Iím fine, thank you, Mr. Pratt. But, itís Mrs. Fraser now."
"Of course, forgive me. Congratulations."
"Thank you kindly." * Oh dear, where did that come from? *
"Please step into my office. I have the paperwork ready for you to sign."
"Ben should be in to sign the papers later. I want to make sure his name is on all of my accounts and the safety deposit box. Iíll need to deposit our marriage license in our box today as well."
"That shouldnít be a problem. Iíll ring Margie and she will bring it to you. Do you have your key?"
Sara reached in her purse and handed the Bank Manager her safety deposit key. A nice looking older woman knocked lightly on the door and smiled at Sara.
"Congratulations, Sara. I read about the wedding in the paper."
"Thank you. It was beautiful if I do say so myself. My father went all out to make things special for me and Ben."
As Margie took the deposit box key from Mr. Pratt she took Saraís hand and gave it a polite squeeze. "I canít wait to meet that new husband of yours."
"Heíll be in some time this week. You canít miss him." Sara grinned at the thought of Ben in his uniform strolling into the bank. Margie left the room and Sara returned to the task of filling out the various papers that needed to be signed.
"Has the donation to the cancer wing been drafted yet?"
"It doesnít normally go out until the end of the month. Is there anything you would like changed?"
"I would like you to increase the amount by four thousand and when Ben comes in, ask him which charity he would like to make a donation to. He can set the amount when he decides."
"That sounds fine. Iíll get the draft form for you to sign and verify the change."
"Ben will also need a bank card. Can you have that ready for him?"
"Of course, Iíll order it immediately."
"Thanks." Sara completed the forms and waited for Margie to return with her safety deposit box.
"Mr. Pratt, Ben isnít used to all this, so if you could make it all as painless as possible that would be appreciated."
"Of course. I understand. He does know about your financial position?"
"He knows some. He doesnít know the full extent of my actual accounts. Iíve tried to let him know, but heís like me, he has no real interest in money."
"No true words were ever spoken. Howís your father?"
"Heís doing very well. Heís proud to have another son in the family."
"I can imagine so." Margie walked in carrying a long metal safety deposit box. She smiled as she handed Saraís key back to her and left the room. Mr. Pratt stood and walked over to the door.
"Iíll leave you. When youíve finished Iíll be over in the cashierís area."
"Thank you, sir."
Sara lifted the lid on the safety deposit box and smiled. She knew that some people in the bank thought she had some rare jewels or something insanely expensive in her box. She opened her purse and pulled out her marriage license and rubbed her fingers over the typed names. She smiled as she whispered to herself, "Benton Robert Fraser and Sara Hastings Montgomery."
She removed a small bag from the box and placed it on the table. Then her hand found the manila envelope that she kept all her important papers in. Sara slowly opened the flap and slid its contents out on the desk. She held the picture of her mother and father in her hands. Her motherís wedding dress was the most beautiful she had ever seen. She felt a tear roll down her cheek as she realized the style of dress was very similar to the one she had chosen. Sara sifted through the pile of papers and her eyes drifted to a drawing Jacky had done for her when they were small, and her fifth grade report card in which her teacher had written, "Sara is a pleasure to teach, and has the potential to accomplish anything." She pushed them aside slightly to see a note written on a napkin. It was the last note Saraís mother had placed in her lunch box before the cancer had confined her to the hospital. She stacked the papers neatly once again and returned them to the envelope. Sara reached again for the small bag and emptied the contents into her hands. The old coins felt cold in her palm. Her grandfather had collected coins for years. Sara knew they were probably worth a little money, but because they were her grandfatherís, to her they were priceless.
Sara returned all of the things that she treasured back to the box. She locked it with her key and stood to leave the room.
"Thank you, Mr. Pratt. Iíve locked my side of the box."
"Thank you, Mrs. Fraser. Margie will lock the other side when she returns it to the safe. We look forward to meeting your husband."
"Call me Sara." Mr. Pratt shook his head and laughed as he held the door. She always ended their conversations the same way. Mr. Pratt couldnít bring himself to call one of his wealthiest customers by their first name, no matter how much she insisted.
"Did you go by the bank yet?"
"Saraís gonna kill you if you donít get that done."
"Youíre quite right. Would you mind terriblyÖ"
"No problem, Benny. Weíve got time. Have we gotta go by your bank first?"
"No, that wonít be necessary. Sara and I have the same bank." Ray rolled his eyes as if to say Ďof courseí.
Ray and Fraser strolled into Chicago National Bank and Trust and caught the attention of a nice looking older woman sitting behind the desk.
"Good afternoon, gentleman. How may I help you?"
"Good Afternoon. Iím Constable Benton Fraser, I would like to see Mr. Pratt, please."
"Oh, you must be Saraís husband! Iím Margie Watson. Itís so nice to meet you." Margie rounded her desk and extended her hand to Ben. Ben politely shook her hand and introduced her to Ray.
"This is my partner, Detective Ray Vecchio."
"Itís a pleasure. Iíll get Mr. Pratt for you. Please have a seat." Ray and Fraser sat in the small waiting area of the bank.
"You want me to go in with you?"
"I donít think thatís going to be necessary, Ray."
"Well, if you need me, just yell."
"Iím Mr. Pratt. Itís a pleasure to meet you. Congratulations on your marriage."
"Thank you kindly."
"Right this way and weíll handle all the paperwork." Mr. Pratt led Fraser to his large office and offered him a seat. Fraser noticed the large stack of documents on Mr. Prattís desk.
"Iíve spoken with Mrs. Fraser and Iíve compiled all the necessary forms required to merge your bank accounts and add you to her various other accounts."
"Various other accounts?"
"Yes, In addition to the standard checking and savings, Mrs. Fraser has an IRA account, two money market accounts and a business account. She also has an account set aside for all her charitable contributions."
"I see." Ben rubbed a thumb across his eyebrow and shifted slightly in his chair. "If youíd excuse me for a moment?" Fraser rose and leaned his head out the door.
"Cominí Benny." Ray quickly walked across the bank lobby and took a seat next to Fraser.
"Mrs. Fraser asked me to inquire about which charity you would like to contribute to."
"Ah, yes. Sara mentioned that. Which organization is Sara currently supporting?"
"She has the accounts drafted each month. Let me seeÖ" Mr. Pratt shuffled through the files on his desk until he found the paperwork he needed. "Here it is. Mrs. Fraser donates $3000 to the Cancer wing at Chicago General. The same amount is drafted to Charlotte Memorial near her hometown. She increased that to $7000 to each on Monday. $5000 to the Chicago Police Department Childrenís Fund. Letís see, $2000 to the Arctic Wolf Preservation Society and $4000 to the Chicago Repertory Theatre."
"Thatís $25000 a year!" Ray looked at Fraser as her blurted out his remark. Mr. Pratt turned his gaze toward the detective and smiled.
"Iím sorry Detective. I think you misunderstand. Thatís the monthly donations." Ray and Fraser stared at one another for a few seconds while Fraser regained his thoughts.
"I see. Could you excuse us for a moment." Mr. Pratt nodded as he stood and left the room.
"Ray, may I borrow your phone?" Ray shook his head to clear away the shock as he reached into his coat pocket for his cell phone.
"District Attorneys Office."
"Sara Fraser, please." Fraser pulled at this collar while ĎBillie Jeaní played over the musak.
"Sara, Iím at the bankÖ."
"Is everything okay? Thereís not a problem, is there?"
"No, not exactly. Mr. Pratt just asked me about my wishes for a charitable contribution."
"Great. Pick something close to your heart."
"Sara. I had no idea you donated so much money."
"What wrong with that?"
"Nothing, but I must admit I was taken off guard."
"I tried to tell you. Itís your own fault. You hate to discuss money just as much as I do, so I thought it would be easier if you heard it from our banker."
"But, where is all this money coming from? I knew that your father was very well off, but I mean how did youÖ"
"Ben, itís all right. My motherís family had money. When she died my father took her inheritance and the insurance money and split it between Jacky and me. Plus, my father keeps me on retainer. He refuses to take no for an answer on that one. He does the same thing for Jacky. He pays me for legal services and Jacky for maintaining the livestock and other veterinary services. I take his retainer fee and invest it along with my other assets. Iím pretty good at judging stock. Anyway, I work, you know that. So who needs all that money. So pick a charity, pick as many as you want and you set the amount. I think the account has about 2.5 in it now. So you use your judgement."
"I see. Are you gonna be okay?"
"Iím not sure."
"Is Ray there with you?"
"Hand the phone to him." Ben stared straight ahead as he handed the phone to Ray.
"Ray, apparently Ben wasnít aware of the full scope of my assets. Will you look out for him until I get there?"
"Sure. What do you mean the scope of your assets?"
"Itís my own fault really. I should have made him listen to me when I wanted to explain our financial situation."
"Whatís the deal Sara?"
"Including my salary as an employee of the City of Chicago, Iím worth approximately 3.2 million. I havenít checked todayís stock prices so that may change. Iíve been worried about my Intel stock. Itís no big deal. But I think it may be a little much for Ben to digest. So, hang on to him for a few minutes and Iíll be right there. Okay?"
Ray seemed to have lost his ability to speak and he wasnít sure at what point he grabbed Fraserís shoulder.
"Ray?" Ben took the phone from Rayís ear and put it to his own, "You probably need to come down here."
"Good lord, Iím on my way."
Sara waved at the bank employees as she walked quickly to Mr. Prattís office. She stood in the doorway for a moment and listened to Ben calming Ray down.
"Ray, Iím sure itís nothing to get out of sorts about."
"You and Sara are millionaires."
"Well, it would appear so."
"You didnít even have to go on a game show or anything."
"Youíre babbling, Ray."
"Jesus, Benny, Why didnít you tell me sooner? I mean I knew her old man was loaded, but I had no idea Sara was rolliní in it."
"Sara tried to discuss it with me several times. I assume that I chose not to listen for fear of knowing."
"I had no idea. Man, I canít believe Sara is loaded." Sara cleared her throat and entered the room.
"Whatís going on with you two?"
Ben and Ray turned to see Sara smiling at them.
Ray stood to offer Sara his seat while Ben stood as she sat down.
"Whatís all the drama about? Itís like you two have never been in a bank before."
Ray looked at Ben and Ben looked at Sara and Ray finally found the words he needed, "Itís just come as a shock thatís all. I had no idea you were rich." Sara heaved a loud sigh.
"Ray, Iím rich but not in the ways you think. Did it matter that I had a lot of money when you were protecting me from Carver? Did it matter that I had a lot of money when you jumped in front of a bullet for me? Did it matter that I had a lot of money when you came back home with me and held my hand during the nightmares? Did it matter that I had a lot of money when you waited by my hospital bed and took care of my family after I was shot?" Sara looked into the Detectiveís big green eyes. Understanding skipped across his face.
"No. I love you because youíre my friend and my best friendís wife."
"Thank you, I love you, too." She turned in her chair and met the eyes of her husband. She could tell he was still a little overwhelmed but he had a slight smile on his face.
"Well, same questions." Ben reached out and took her hand and brought it to her lips.
"Iíve told you before. I loved you from the moment I saw you."
"So thereís not a problem?" Ben shook his head and leaned over and kissed Sara on the cheek. She tucked her head slightly and smiled. Sara then stood and faced Ray, with her hands on her hips she began to speak.
"Ray, I know that most of our friends have realized that my father has a very lucrative business from the wedding. But, I donít want people to know about our financial standing. You are the only one of our friends, besides Debi that has full knowledge of our accounts. I learned along time ago that money could sometimes make people think things that arenít true. I wasnít raised to be conscious of money, so I donít like the people around me to be conscious of it either. I hope you understand that." Ray pulled Sara into a large hug and held her for a few minutes.
"Of course I understand. It doesnít matter to me. Bennyís still Benny and youíre still the same ole Sara." He released Sara and pointed a finger at Ben, "This does mean youíre gonna start paying for your own lunch more often though!" Ben laughed his reply, "Understood."
"Ben, have you picked a charity, yet? I have it set up that the profits and interest from my business accounts are transferred to a separate account. That account is used to draft contributions on a monthly basis. I added the Arctic Wolf society after we met. I thought you would like that." She grinned at the pleased look on Benís face.
"Ray, what do you think?" Ben turned to his friend for guidance.
"What about some of those charities in the Territories?"
"That sounds perfect. Sara, I would like to support the Wildlife Federation of Canada and the Preservation of the Caribou."
"Sounds good to me, pick an amount."
"Well, I was hoping you could do that." Sara nodded as she leaned her head out the office door and called for Mr. Pratt.
"I hope everything is in order." Mr. Pratt smiled at Sara as he entered the office.
"Yes, Sir. We would like to add the Wildlife Federation of Canada, the Preservation of Caribou and the East Side Neighborhood Youth Center." Ray turned a surprised glance at Sara. He had only mentioned his old neighborhood stomping grounds to her once or twice. "Ben, do you think $5000 each is enough to start out with?" Ray shook his head and laughed while Ben nodded in agreement. Mr. Pratt filled out the paperwork and handed it over to Ben and Sara to sign. With all the business completed Sara stood and looped arms with Ben and Ray.
"Well, Iím glad we got that settled. And Ray, remember, not a word. This doesnít change a thing."
"No problem. But, youíre buying lunch."
"You got it."
"Yo, Benny!" Ray knocked on the door of Ben and Saraís apartment. It was about 7:30 and Ray decided he would stop by and watch the game with Fraser. Growing impatient he knocked on the door again.
"Benny, you all right in there?" Ray was getting ready to knock again when Ben swung open the door. Ben was dressed only in blue jeans and if Ray had paid closer attention he would have noticed his face was slightly flushed.
"Hey, Benny. Whatís going on?"
"What are you listening to?!" Ray scrunched up his nose at the music coming from inside the apartment.
"Itís one of Saraís CDís." Ray heard Sara call from the kitchen.
"Itís Macy Gray, Ray."
"Did it just say sex-o-matic venus freak?!" Ben tilted his head slightly to listen to the music.
"Yes, it did, Ray."
"So you guys watching the game?" Ben was still holding the door and standing in Rayís path.
"No, we are not watching the game."
"Did I catch you in the middle of changing clothes?"
"Not really." Ray stared blankly at Ben, he heard Sara start to giggle from the kitchen.
"Is that syrup on your hands?"
"Um, yes Ray."
"You cooking dinner?"
"Then whatís with the syrup?" Ben gave Ray his best Big-eyed Mountie look.
"Well, Ray we wereÖ." Ray looked past Ben to see Sara turn the corner and lean against the wall. She was dressed in Benís shirt. And from what Ray could see, that was all she was dressed in. The color rose in his face as Sara licked the syrup off the tip of her index finger. Ben followed his gaze to see Sara leaning against the wall. Ben tucked his head and smiled.
"Jesus, Benny! Whyíd you even answer the door?!"
"You would have broken it down if I didnít."
"Yeah, well, geez. Oh god, now Iím gonna have toÖ.Jesus, my eyesÖ."
"Thank you for dropping by Ray." Ray turned and rubbed the top of his head and shot a disgusted look at Ben. Before Ben shut the door, Sara called out to Ray.
"Sweet dreams, Ray!"
"Yeah, right. Youíre sick Sara!"
"Iím not speaking to you."
"Oh, I see. You came over, Ray. We didnít know you were coming."
"But, I always come over."
"Yes, but I lived alone and didnít have a phone."
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. Iíll call first from now on."
"Thank you kindly."
"Donít mention it."
"Please remind your family about the play tomorrow night."
"Are you kidding? Itís all theyíve talked about since you asked them. Franny canít stop yammering on about John Chamberlain, this and John Chamberlain that."
"Heís a brilliant stage actor. Iíve heard his rendition of Hamlet is amazing."
"Yeah, whatever. Iím not really into Shakespeare."
"How can you say that Ray? Heís one of the greatest writers in history. Writers have tried to match his brilliance only to pale by comparison."
"Itís true. Take his sonnetsÖ"
"What time should we expect you and Sara?"
"Ah, weíve taken the liberty of securing a car for the evening so the seven of us could ride comfortably. The play begins at 6, so we should be at your house by 5:15. Is that too early?"
"Nah, Iíll make sure Franny and Maria are ready."
Ray and Ben pulled into the station parking lot. Ben held the seat for Dief to exit the Riv and they all walked into the station. Before Ray could hang up his coat, Francesca descended on Ben.
"Good morning, Francesca."
"I canít believe you got us all tickets to see John Chamberlain. Heís my favorite actor. Iíve seen all of his stuff. Iíve been dying to see this play since I heard the production was coming to Chicago." Fraser noted that Francesca had the amazing ability to speak without actually breathing.
"Iím sure weíll all have a delightful time."
"Franny, donít you have some work you need to do?"
"Shut up, Ray!"
"See ya tomorrow, Frase."
"Good day, Francesca."
Sara stood near the bedroom door. She had finished the depositions she was working on and went to see what Ben and Dief were up to. She wasnít sure if Ben had heard her or not, even though his ears would bring a bat to tears. She smiled at the sight of him lying on his stomach on the living room floor, his bare feet bobbing back and forth while he propped himself up on his elbows. The blue t-shirt he wore was pulled halfway out of the waistband of his old blue jeans. He fiddled with the stereo remote as Dief snoozed peacefully on the leather couch. Sara walked quietly toward him, her own bare feet tip-toeing across the plush carpet. She was just about to bend down and grab his foot when Ben rolled quickly on his back and pulled Sara on top of him.
"Youíve still got a lot to learn when it comes to the element of surprise." Ben laughed as he brushed the hair from Saraís face.
"You have an unfair advantage. Youíre trained in all that stuff."
"Itís a good thing. It looked like you were trying to assault my feet."
"Me? Assault? Never!"
"Oh, I wouldnít be too sure." Sara pulled her self into a sitting position and rubbed her hands across Benís chest while he reclined with his hands behind his head. She leaned down and kissed him gently on the lips.
"Youíre just nervous because I was going to do this!" Before Ben could stop her, Sara dove toward his feet. Grabbing his left foot in her hand she began to violently tickle the bottom of his foot. Ben grabbed her quickly around the waist, but it was too late to stop the laughter spilling from his lips.
"Sara, Stop it!" Sara giggled while Ben twisted on the floor to free his foot from Saraís grasp. Dief at first was annoyed at the interruption to his nap, however, he decided to join in on the game with his alpha male.
"Thatís it Dief. Go for the face!" Sara continued tickling his foot while Dief relentlessly licked Benís face. No matter which way Ben turned, he couldnít escape tickling fingers or a licking tongue. "Stop it!"
"Thatís telliní him Dief!"
"I thought you would at least take myÖ.bbthpth! Dief! That really is uncalled for! You licked me right in the Ö.ppthbbtht!" Sara released her hold on his foot slightly to wipe the tears of laughter from her eyes. Seeing his opportunity, Ben freed his foot and flipped Sara onto her back.
"Now, weíll see how you like it!" Sara saw the crooked grin on Benís face and knew she was in for it.
"Iím sorry! Iím sorry!" Ben tilted his head as Sara giggled her apologies, he then turned to Dief and spoke to him in Inuktitut. Before Sara could free herself Ben had straddled her and held her arms to the floor.
"Thatís not fair! You know I donít understand Eskimo!"
"Sara! You know thatís notÖ."
"Aaaaa!! Tell him to stop! Stop!" Ben chuckled as Dief started licking Saraís toes.
"Iím going to pee my pants!!"
"I really donít think thatís the case."
"I will! I swear I will!" Ben grabbed Sara by her sides and began to tickle her even more. Dief barked and spun around as Ben and Sara wrestled playfully on the floor. Sara heaved a loud sigh and collapsed on her back on the floor as she wiped her face with the back of her hand. Ben lay beside her and held his side from laughter.
"You started it."
"I think I really did wet my pants."
"I could have."
"Dief, youíre a traitor."
"Sheís only kidding."
"Are you sure about that." Sara jolted to a seated position and grab Dief by the nape of the neck. She rubbed his ears and sides until he melted onto his back on the floor.
"Oh, please. Youíre an arctic wolf for landís sakes. I canít believe you would even request such a thing."
"He wants you to rub hisÖI canít believe you even used the term!"
"Iím embarrassed for you. I really am."
"He wants you to rub his Ďbellyí. My stars! You should be totally embarrassed by this!"
Sara took her fingernails and scratched Diefís stomach as he pawed happily in the air.
"I canít watch." Ben stood and walked into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of milk while Dief and Sara continued to roll on the floor.
"Donít pay him any attention. He likes his belly scratched too. Heís just too proud to admit it."
"I heard that!"
"Yo, Franny! Maria! Get a move on. Sara and Ben should be here in a few minutes!"
"CAN IT!" Francesca screamed from her bedroom as she checked herself in the mirror. She placed her hand on her stomach in an effort to calm the butterflies that fluttered around in there. She was so excited about the play that she could hardly concentrate on anything else. She, Maria and Ma had gone shopping for new dresses to wear for their special evening. She had gone to the theatre before, but this time she would be seeing her favorite actor and hopefully by some stretch of her imagination, he would see her. She chose a red off the shoulder floor length gown and matching shoes. Her mother let her borrow her pearl necklace and earrings, even though she may have wanted to wear them herself. Everyone knew how much Franny flipped over John Chamberlain.
"Letís go! Franny, shake your butt. Theyíre gonna be here any minute!"
"Iíll be down in a minute!"
"Raymondo, give her time. Sara and Benton are not here yet."
"But, Ma, sheís gonna make us late."
"She will not make us late. If anyone wants to be on time to see this play, it is Francesca."
"Yeah, sheíd crawl on her hands and knees to see John Chamberlain." Maria rolled her eyes and she looked up the stairs toward Francescaís room.
"Here they come." Ray leaned out the door and waved to the limo as it pulled in the driveway.
"A limo? Why would Benton need to have a limo?"
"He said they wanted us all to be able to ride together comfortably, Ma. Sara didnít want us to have to take separate cars."
"Caro, sheís so thoughtful."
"Franny! Time to go!" Francesca grabbed her purse and tried not to run down the stairs. She brushed past Ray and stood anxiously on the porch next to Maria and Tony. Ben opened the door of the limo and helped Sara from the car. Francesca couldnít hide the surprise on her face when Ben exited the car wearing a suit she had never seen before. She was so used to seeing him in his red serge and was taken by surprise to see him in a suit. An expensive suit, at that. Sara emerged from the limo and continued to hold Benís hand as they walked toward the front porch. The dark green dress she wore made her eyes seem a brighter shade of green.
Ray jogged down the walk and greeted Ben and Sara. "Hiya, gorgeous. You look stunning." Sara smiled and thanked him with a kiss on the cheek. Ray turned and looked Fraser up and down.
"New suit?" Ben smoothed the front of his jacket with his palm.
"Sara pick it out for you?"
"No, I chose it myself. I am capable of picking out my own clothes, Ray. I was quite intrigued at how one man can create menís clothing as well as design such a stunning dress for Sara."
"Yeah, Benny, amazing." Francesca stared at Ben and Ray and then turned her gaze to Sara. *Versace!! Theyíre both wearing Versace! *
"I see youíre all anxious to go?" Sara smiled as Francesca looked as if she were about to jump off the porch in excitement. Mrs. Vecchio hugged Ben and Sara on the steps of the house while the other members of the family climbed into the limo.
"Why did you need such a big car? It is too much." Ben smiled as he took Mrs. Vecchio by the hand and led her down the sidewalk.
"This is a special evening. Sara and I want to thank you for all youíve done for us. Besides, we wanted us all together, Ma." Mrs. Vecchio stopped before she stepped into the limo and placed her hand on Benís cheek.
"Youíre such a good boy." Ben tucked his head as the blush crept across his cheeks.
"Yes, he is." Sara gave him a wicked smile as she took his hand and entered the limo.
The limo pulled in front of the theatre. Ben, Ray, and Tony helped the ladies from the car and escorted them into the large theatre. The manager of the theatre spotted Sara through the crowd and greeted her with a large hug and kisses on both cheeks.
"Good evening, Sara."
"Good evening, Martin. You remember my husband, Ben."
"Of course, itís a pleasure to see you again. Youíve been sorely missed, I have to say."
"Martin, I would like you to meet our family. Ray Vecchio. His Mother, Rosa Vecchio, Francesca Vecchio and Tony and Maria Marciano."
"Itís a pleasure to meet you all." Martin reached and kissed Mrs. Vecchioís hand, followed by Mariaís and then Francescaís. He smiled brightly as he motioned for an usher.
"Chad, Please show the Fraserís and their guests to their seats."
"Yes, sir. Right this way." Francesca gave Ray a confused look. She leaned over and whispered to Maria, "He didnít even look at our tickets." Maria shrugged her shoulders and continued to follow behind Ray and their mother. Ray grinned as the usher led them past the main entrance of the theatre and to the box entrance. Francescaís mouth hung open as they were escorted to a private box overlooking the stage. Maria nudged her in the ribs as Ben seated Sara in the front corner seat of the box. Ray seated his mother and took a seat next to Ben and Sara.
"Nice, real nice. So, you two come here often?" Ray gave Sara a smirk. She leaned over and whispered in his ear.
"Iíve got a surprise for Francesca after the show. John is meeting us backstage and joining us for dinner." Ray leaned back and shook his head.
"Sheís gonna freak."
Ben chuckled at the thought of Francesca meeting John Chamberlain.
The lights dimmed in the theatre and the actors took the stage. The performances were breath taking. John Chamberlain invoked such emotion from the crowd that intermission came as a welcome retreat. Ben stood and offered his hand to Sara while Tony and Maria made their way to the refreshments. Francesca looked at Ray with a slight surprised smile as he escorted her and Mrs. Vecchio into the lobby.
"How are you enjoying the play so far, Ma?"
"Oh, Benton, it is wonderful. I can see why Francesca enjoys Mr. Chamberlain so much. He is fabulous."
"His performance is quite compelling." Ben and Sara shared a soft drink as the others sipped on glasses of wine. Martin the theatre manager appeared out of the crowd once again, his arms were filled with books and souvenirs of the play. Ben was the first to greet him.
"Hello, Martin. The play is spectacular."
"Thank you, Ben. I thought your lovely family might like some souvenirs of the show. The books have all been autographed by the cast and these are a few of the t-shirts weíre carrying in the gift shop." Sara smiled at Francesca as Martin handed her a book and a t-shirt. Francesca quickly flipped through the pages and found the autograph of John Chamberlain.
"Benton, darling. Where should we pay for these lovely things?" Martin placed an arm around Mrs. Vecchioís shoulder.
"There is no need for that. These are gifts from the Theatre Company and myself. We are pleased to have Sara and Benís family with us this evening. If there is anything else I can do for our favorite patrons family, let us know." Sara tucked her head slightly embarrassed. Martin was one of the few people that knew she was a major contributor to the theatre. Ben rubbed the small of her back as he saw the color rush to her cheeks. Francesca looked at Ray and gave him another confused look. Ray grinned and thanked Martin for his kindness as he held out his arm for his mother.
"Please enjoy the rest of the play."
"Thank you Martin." Sara had recovered her voice and waved politely to her friend. She leaned over to Ben and whispered in his ear. "You think theyíre having a good time?"
"I think they are having a great time."
"I hope so. I just want tonight to be special for them."
"I know Francesca will never forget it."
"I canít wait to see her face when she meets John."
"You did bring your camera, didnít you?"
"Of course. I knew she would want to have a picture. After all, John Chamberlain to her is like Mel Gibson to me."
"Youíre kidding, right?" Ben gave Sara a crooked smile as he helped return to her seat.
The second part of the play was as mesmerizing as the first. The crowd stood on its feet and cheered at the closing act. Ray grinned as Francesca joined the crowd in cheers of ĎBravoí.
Sara turned and faced her guests, "I hope everyone enjoyed the play. But thereís something I would like to do before we go to dinner." Ben tried not to openly smile at Francesca at the thought of her meeting John Chamberlain. She had already starting gushing to Maria and Tony about the performance. Ben escorted Sara through the exit and around the side of the lobby.
"Where are we going?" Francesca still had a look of excitement on her face as they walked down the hallway. Sara released Benís hand and looped her arm through Francescaís.
"Hey, walk with me, okay?" Sara smiled as Francesca gave her a strange look but continued to hold onto her arm. Ray winked at Sara as they came to the stage door.
Ben held the door while his family walked through the back stage area. Francesca and Mariaís eyes were as big as saucers as they took in all the costumes and extras running around back stage. Then Francesca stopped in her tracks. She turned and stared as Sara then returned her gaze to the figure standing near one of the dressing room doors.
"John! You were wonderful as always." Sara called out to her friend as he was rushing over to greet her. Sara released Francescaís arm to engulf John in a hug.
"Who can trust you! Youíre biased!" John released Sara and extended his hand to Ben.
"Ben, Itís nice to see you again. I see you survived the honeymoon none the worse for wear." As John and Ben exchanged pleasantries, Francesca could feel her mouth go dry. Her palms had started to sweat and she wasnít sure where the ringing in her ears was coming from. Then she saw Sara motion her hands and speak. The words were there; she just couldnít comprehend them.
"John, this is Ray Vecchio and his mother Rosa. This is Tony and Maria Marciano."
"Itís a pleasure to meet you all." Then Francesca felt Saraís arm on her shoulder and felt herself being nudged forward.
"I would also like you to meet Francesca Vecchio." Some how her body responded with the extending of her hand. She could feel the blood pounding in her ears as John Chamberlain took her hand and kissed it.
"Itís a pleasure to meet you, Francesca." *OH MY GOD, he said my name. Heís touching my hand. Iíve got to say something back. Speak Franny, speak!! *
"You wereÖitís a niceÖ.I lovedÖ." * Iím not making any sense! Breathe, Franny, breathe! * "I meanÖ.the playÖwasÖwonderful." John laughed and put a loving arm around Francescaís shoulders.
"Now thatís a critic I would believe." Sara took Benís hand and gave it a squeeze as she whispered in his ear.
"I bet she wonít wash that hand for a week." Ben chuckled and noticed the joy in Mariaís face as John clung to Francesca.
"John, weíve got a car waiting out front. Whenever youíre ready we can go to dinner." John released Francescaís shoulders and turned quickly from the group.
"Right, give me two shakes and Iíll meet you in the alley by the door."
"Thatís fine. Weíll see you in a second." John disappeared into his dressing room and everyone turned to leave. Ray pulled on Francescaís arm.
"Hey, heís gone. Earth to Franny." Francesca slowly floated back to reality and grabbed Ray by the arm.
"Oh my God! Did you see him? HeÖheÖ.can you believeÖ.heÖ."
"Heís going to dinner with us. I bet you didnít even hear that part." Ray laughed as Francesca stopped in her tracks again.
"Heís going to dinner with us?!" Before Ray could answer Francesca tore past him and locked arms with Ben.
"How did you do that?!"
"Do what, Francesca?"
"That was John Chamberlain."
"How is John Chamberlain going to dinner with us? Heís a big star!"
"Heís an old friend of Saraís. They met when she was in college." Sara tucked her head slightly as Francesca stared at her.
"Heís a very nice man, Francesca. Iíve met him before when he had a layover on his way to New York."
"He called Sara from the airport and we met him for dinner. I have to admit, I had no idea who he was until Sara told me. Heís quiet talented, donít you think?" Ben waited for a reply but only got an opened-mouthed stare in return.
The limo driver held the door while Ben and Ray helped the ladies into the car. Maria and Mrs. Vecchio chatted excitedly about the play and the thought of going to dinner with its star. Tony called the babysitter and made sure the kids were in bed and Francesca leaned forward and started to grill Sara.
"You know John Chamberlain!"
"He and I have been friends for about ten years now."
"And you didnít think to tell anybody that?"
"I had no idea you were a fan until Ray told me the other day."
"Where did you meet him?"
"We met when he was touring with a small theatre group out of New York. I was in my freshman year of college and they needed a few extras for the play. I was taking drama at the time, so I decided to try out. I was cast because of my accent. Iím sure of it. John denies it, but I know it couldnít have been because of my talent." Ben brushed a stray hair away from her face as she spoke. Ray shook his head at the intensity in which Francesca was listening to Sara.
"He was really nice and we just became friends. We keep in touch and whenever heís in Chicago we get together. He would have been at the wedding but he was touring in London." Before Francesca could ask anymore questions, the limo door opened and John stepped in and took a seat next to Francesca.
"Sorry it took so long. Some people wanted autographs. If theyíre going to wait for me the least I can do is sign them. I hope I didnít make us late." Ben smiled and responded, "Of course not. Our reservations are for 9. Weíve got plenty of time." John smiled and leaned back and made himself comfortable. Sara grinned at him while Francesca stared. John winked at Sara and put an arm over the back of the limo seat. Ray smiled when he heard Francesca inhale sharply at the arm that was draped near her.
"So, Francesca, do you enjoy the theatre?" Everyone turned and waited to see if Francesca would be able to answer or not. Seeing that she was not going to be able to answer, Sara pulled out her camera and held it up to take a picture.
"Hey, you two, look at me. Smile!" Francesca had a smile on her face the minute John stepped into the limo, and it grew wider when John leaned closer to her and smiled into the camera.
"You take that thing everywhere?"
"This is a special night. I like to have photo memories." Francesca gave Sara a thankful look. She could feel her stomach remove itself from her throat and settle back into its normal position.
"Reservations for Fraser." Ben spoke to the maitreíd as Sara spoke quietly to John. Francesca hung on every word of their conversation. Ben placed his hand on the small of Saraís back as he walked her to the table. Maria smiled as John held Francescaís chair out for her. Francesca amazed herself when she managed to speak a thank you. The first course was served and Mrs. Vecchio commented on Ben and Saraís choice of restaurant.
"The cookingís not a as good as yours, Ma. But itís close." Mrs. Vecchio tucked her head and waved a hand at Ben. "Benton, you are such a dear." Sara squeezed his hand under the table as Ben chuckled.
"Francesca, what do you do?" Francesca took a small sip of water in an effort to return some moistness to her mouth.
"Iím a civilian-aid." John placed his hand on the back of her chair and leaned closer to her as she spoke.
"What is that? Do you work with Sara?"
"I work at the police station with Ray and Fraser."
"Thatís right, Sara told me that Ray was a detective. It must be hard on all those cops to get any work done with a beautiful woman like you in the office all day." Ray couldnít help but laugh, but he sobered when Mrs. Vecchio pinched him on the leg.
Francesca could feel the color rise in her cheeks as she looked at Maria and smiled with embarrassment. She returned to meet the soft blue eyes of John Chamberlain and said the only thing that came to mind, "Iím still in training." John chuckled and squeezed her shoulder.
Thankfully the meal arrived and Francesca was given a break from his eyes and smile. Ben leaned over to Sara and whispered, "Do you see what I see?" Sara nodded and cast a knowing smile toward Francesca. "Yep, looks like somebodyís smitten."
"Benton, Sara I canít thank you enough for the lovely evening."
"It was our pleasure, Ma. Iím glad everyone had such a nice time." Sara leaned over and kissed Mrs. Vecchio on the cheek while they were placing dessert on the table. Ray nearly choked on his wine when John spooned a piece of cake in Francescaís mouth. * HolyÖ.Iím gonna have to scrape her off the floor before the nights over. *
"John, how long is the play running for?" John broke his attention away from Francesca and faced Sara.
"Five more days. Then Iím off to New York."
"Well, you need to come to the apartment before you go. Iíll fix you some good home cookiní."
"Ah, I never realize how much I miss you until I hear you talk and taste your cooking."
"Yeah, yeah. Is Wednesday good for you? Iíll make your favorite. Ben itís your favorite, too. Fried Chicken."
"John, youíll have to come to dinner more often, if it means Saraís chicken."
"I wouldnít be able to fit in any of the costumes anymore if I ate her cooking too often."
"I donít see how you stay so thin. The girl doesnít believe in low fat. And Sara, you look as if youíve actually lost weight."
"Thatís because Ben took us camping on our honeymoon. The Grand Canyon will take the weight off you in a hurry."
"Camping? You should be good at that right? Farm girl like you." Ben laughed and shook his head.
"Thatís the same mistake I made." John threw his head back and laughed along with Ben while Sara sat with her hands on her hips in mock indignation.
"Laugh it up. Ha Ha. You werenít the one beaten half to death by Mother Nature." John laughed even louder as Ben gently kissed Sara on the temple.
"It wasnít that bad."
"Ben, I came back with a blister, scraped knee, bee sting, sunburn and a rash. No, it wasnít that bad." Sara couldnít hold a straight face any longer and tucked her head in a fit of giggles.
"Well, do you think the evening was a success?" Sara kicked her shoes off at the apartment door while Ben took off his jacket.
"That would be an understatement. Did you see Francescaís face when John kissed her hand goodnight?"
"I bet sheís sleeping on a cloud tonight." Sara turned her back to Ben and he unzipped her dress. "You want me to fix you something to drink?"
"Sure. I made some Kool-Aid this morning. Let me hang my dress up. Here, hand me your coat. Iíll hang it up as I go." Ben handed Sara his jacket and walked into the kitchen. He opened the refrigerator and poured he and Sara a glass of Kool-Aid. He smiled as he took a long drink and handed the glass to Sara. "I canít believe youíve got me hooked on this stuff."
"I canít believe you never had it before." Ben stood and stared at Sara for a moment.
"Arenít you going to put some clothes on?"
"Why? Does my nudity bother you?" Ben slipped his arm around her waist and kissed the side of her neck.
"Not at all."
"Youíre going to make me spill my drink."
"Then I suggest you put it down."
"Yes, sir." Ben leaned Sara back against the kitchen counter as she placed her glass near the sink. He trailed kisses down her shoulder as he rubbed his hands over her stomach and back. Dief appeared at the entrance to the kitchen.
"erff." Ben pulled away from Sara and walked over to the front door and motioned for Dief.
"I really donít appreciate your tone."
"Ernie gives you donuts, so donít pull that with me." Dief hung his head down and trotted out the front door. Ben closed the door and returned his attentions to Sara.
"Now where were we?"
"I was naked in the kitchen and you were right about here." Sara tilted her head back and pointed to her neck. Ben pulled off his tie and threw it on the kitchen table as he walked over to her. She sighed as Ben trailed his fingers over her breasts while he sucked on her bottom lip. Sara grabbed at his shirt as he lifted her off her feet and perched her on the side of the counter. Hearing a cufflink hit the kitchen tile she smiled and began to unbutton his shirt. In order to speed her progress, Ben pulled at his belt and unfastened his trousers. Sara quickly lost her patience with the last few buttons and pulled Benís shirt over his head. She smiled at the sight of his bare chest and mussed up hair. Ben quickly found her mouth again and pulled her into a passionate kiss. Sara moaned as Ben picked her up from her perch on the counter and carried her over to the recliner. Sara and Ben fell into the recliner with a thud. Ben shed his shoes and Sara pushed at his trousers with her feet. As Ben stood before her only in his boxers, Sara smiled at him. She took both hands and grabbed each side of his boxers. With one clean fast jerk, the boxers were around his ankles and his obvious excitement was staring her in the face. Sara reached her hands around his waist and pulled him toward her. Ben placed his hands on the back of her head and ran his fingers through her hair as she trailed kisses along his hip. She could feel him start to tense as her lips brushed across his length. His hands tightened in her hair as she engulfed him in her mouth. Sara rubbed her hands over his back and buttocks as she licked and sucked at him. Ben arched his back slightly to greet Saraís lips as they assaulted his length. Feeling the pressure building, he pulled away from Sara and pushed her onto her back in the recliner. He flipped the side handle of the large leather chair and gave Sara a crooked smile as she reclined before him. Ben placed his hands underneath her thighs and rested her legs on the arms on the chair. As he climbed on top of her, he ran his hands between her legs and gently fingered her sex. Before another moan could escape her lips, he entered her. As his rhythm increased, he sucked and gently nibbled at her bottom lip. Sara gasp for breath as Ben reached for her legs and pulled them up to his shoulders. Arching forward, she dug her nails into his back as he thrust into her again and again. Ben couldnít control the sound of the moan that escaped his throat as he released. Sara clung to him and pulled him closer to her as she trembled beneath him. Ben kissed her softly on the lips and he tried to catch his breath. Sara rubbed her hands lightly over his back as she tried to focus her eyes and stop the ringing in her ears.
Ben stood and offered a hand up to Sara. The two of them strolled hand in hand to the bedroom. Sara pulled on a pair of sweatpants and a tanktop, while Ben pulled on a pair of plaid boxers Sara had bought him.
"I better go find Dief. Heís probably gonna sulk all night." Ben nodded his agreement as Sara walked to the front door. She swung the door open and was greeted by Dief and John Chamberlain.
"John! You scared the crap out of me! What are you doing here? Itís after midnight."
"I figured you would still be up. I wonít stay long. I just need to ask a favor." Sara motioned for John to enter the apartment and to have a seat at the kitchen table. Dief huffed over to the recliner, deciding that was not where he wanted to sit anymore; he climbed onto the couch and sprawled out.
"What kind of favor?" Sara walked toward the bedroom and motioned for Ben. Ben emerged in a white t-shirt and plaid boxers.
"Good evening, John. Is everything all right?" John stood and shook Benís hand.
"I need a favor. I should probably ask it of you more than Sara."
"How may I help you?"
"I canít stop thinking about her."
"Canít stop thinking about who?" Sara poured herself a glass of water and gestured an offer toward John. As he shook his head and declined the offer he whispered, "Francesca."
"Francesca?!" Sara was a little embarrassed at how loud she had said Francescaís name.
"I was wondering if it would be all right if I called her. Do you think she would like to get together before I left for New York?"
"Does a bearÖ"
"Oh, sorry. So you want her number?"
"That would be the most logical course of action, Sara." John rolled his eyes as Sara stuck out her tongue in reply.
"Iím sure she would enjoy seeing you, John." Ben penciled Francescaís number on the notepad by the phone and handed the slip of paper to John.
"You think sheíll like me? I mean for me, I mean. Not for the actor thing." Sara patted him on the shoulder and smiled.
"Who wouldnít like you. Youíre fabulous."
"Oh, shut up, Sara." Ben chuckled at Saraís playfulness and Johnís droll tone.
"Iím sure Francesca will like you."
"Great. Iíll call her for lunch. I donít have to be at the theatre until three during the week."
"That sounds great. Iím sure sheíll love it." John stood and kissed Sara on the cheek.
"Okay, sorry to pop over so late. Thanks love."
"No problem. Goodnight, John." John waved his good-byes to Ben and Sara and practically skipped out the door.
"Weíve got to start making people use the buzzer." Sara sighed as she finished her glass of water.
"I think that would be a good idea."
"So what happened Saturday night? Howíd the play go? Did you get to meet John Chamberlain?" Rita the desk clerk leaned over her desk and grilled Francesca.
"The play was wonderful!" Francescaís face lit up when she talked about the play and her evening spent with John Chamberlain.
"Tell me everything. Start from the beginning. Did you have good seats?"
"Good seats!? Iíd say. Sara and Ben have a private box."
"Really?! How can they afford that?"
"Thatís not all. The manager of the play came out to meet us. He even gave all of us souvenirs for being Saraís guests to the play."
"No, itís true. You didnít know about Sara? Sheís loaded. She must give the theatre a wad of money for them to be so nice to her."
"You mean she and Fraser or rolling in it?"
"Like pigs. She even has Fraser wearing Versace to the play."
"Versace?! I had no idea."
"Yeah, I couldnít believe it. Even backstage, they both seemed so cool and calm when John was talking."
"What?! John? John Chamberlain?!"
"Yeah, heís a friend of Saraís. He went to dinner with us."
"Itís true. Sara took my picture with him in the limo."
"You went in a limo?
"Oh yeah, Sara went all out to impress us."
"Sounds like it worked."
"Not hardly. Sheís got Fraser all dressed up like a ken doll. I guess she has to let us know how much higher and mightier she is than us."
"Yeah, I guess we wonít be seeing Fraser that much anymore. Heís too good to socialize with the lower class now." Francesca grabbed her folder and turned to return to her desk. As she turned, her eyes met with Fraserís. He and Ray had come back from the consulate and were just entering the station. Francescaís mouth fell open as her gaze left Fraserís hurt expression and fell on Rayís glaring face.
"IÖ" Before Francesca could speak, Fraser turned and quietly walked out of the station. Ray walked over and grabbed Francesca by the arm. "What the hellís the matter with you?"
"I Ö." Ray released her and ran after Fraser.
"Hey, Benny! Wait!"
Francesca clutched the folder to her chest and walked slowly back to her desk. Rita shook her head and answered the ringing phone.
"Whereís Fraser?" Francesca managed to squeak out the question as Ray stalked back to his desk.
"He went home." Francesca opened her mouth to speak again when Ray turned and put both hands on each side of her desk. He leaned down within inches of her face as he spoke through gritted teeth.
"Weíll talk about this when we get home. God, Franny! Sometimes you can be so dense."
"Iím not dense!" Francesca leaned forward and recovered her voice.
ĎThen how do you explain that shit you were saying?"
"I wasÖ.I meanÖ."
"Yeah, thatís what I thought. Get your stuff. Itís five oíclock; weíre going home. Now!"
Francesca hurriedly grabbed her purse as Ray walked out of the station. The ride home was made in silence. By the time Francesca and Ray pulled in the driveway, Rayís anger had increased and Francesca felt worse than she ever had before.
Sara entered the apartment to see Ben and Dief sitting on the floor in front of the couch.
"Hey, whatcha doin?" When Ben didnít answer she dropped her keys and walked across the apartment to stand in front of him.
"Ben?" Ben slowly turned his eyes toward Saraís. Sara dropped down beside him and placed her hand on his arm.
"Ben, whatís wrong?" Ben leaned into Sara and hugged her tightly to him. Sara could feel the sadness engulfing her.
"Please, talk to me, Ben. Tell me what happened." The two of them sat in the floor for a long time. Ben sat stoic and silent as Sara caressed his hands and rubbed his hair.
"When youíre ready to tell me. Iím ready to listen. But weíre not moving until you tell me." Four and half hours later Ben kissed Sara on the forehead before he and Dief went for a run. The front door closed behind him and Sara rushed to the bedroom to change clothes. She grabbed her keys, scrawled a note to Ben and ran down to the parking garage.
"Francesca, how could you say such a thing about Sara and Benton?"
"I didnít know he was standing behind me."
"That is not the point." Mrs. Vecchio leaned against the kitchen counter while Ray paced the floor rubbing his hands over his head. Mrs. Vecchio twisted a dishtowel in her hands as she continued to speak.
"I called Benton this afternoon. I invited he and Sara to dinner for tomorrow. He declined the invitation, Francesca." Ray stopped pacing and looked at his mother in shock.
"What? Bennyís never turned down dinner."
"Thatís why I was concerned. He didnít give me an explanation. But now I know why."
Ray glared at Francesca as she tucked her head and pulled at the corners of a paper towel.
"How can you be so dumb?!"
"Hear me out, Ma. Do you know why Ben and Sara invited us to the play? Do you?"
Francesca shook her head. She thought it was because Sara wanted to impress them but she didnít dare say that now.
"They invited us because they wanted to give you, Ma and Maria a special evening. Sara said it really meant a lot to her to have Benís family work so hard to make the wedding special for them." Francesca continued to shred the paper towel in her hands as Ray voice increased in volume.
"Then she found out that you were in love with John Chamberlain. Sheís friends with the guy so she made a point to let you meet him. She thought youíd like that. She and Ben were real excited about the surprise they had planned for you. For you, Franny! And how do you thank them? You run your mouth down at the station. You know how sensitive Fraser is. Heíll probably never set foot in this house again. To hear you tell it, why would he want to? Weíre just a bunch of low-lifes." Ray waved his hands in the air as he screamed at Francesca. Mrs. Vecchio stood with her arms folded across her chest until she heard the doorbell ring. Before Ray could move, Mrs. Vecchio left the kitchen and went to answer the front door.
"Sara, Caro." Before Sara could take another step, Mrs. Vecchio engulfed her in a hug and spoke several sentences in Italian. Over Mrs. Vecchioís shoulder, Sara could see a very irate Ray in the kitchen.
"I think I should go talk to Ray." Mrs. Vecchio patted Sara on the arm as she walked into the kitchen.
"Hi Ray." Ray and Francesca turned to face the doorway and saw a very upset Sara.
"Hey, Sara. Whereís Benny?"
"Heís running." Ray glared at Francesca as she turned her attentions back to her shredded paper towel.
"Is he upset?"
"What do you think? His family thinks heís to good for them." Ray grabbed Sara by the arm and pulled her into a hug.
"Iím so sorry. Where do you think he went? Iím gonna go find him."
"Try the lakefront. He runs there a lot during the week."
"Okay. Iím gonna go find him. You gonna be here when I get back?"
"That depends." Sara turned and stared at Francesca as she looked up with guilt in her eyes.
Sara put her keys on the counter as Ray left to go find Ben. She leaned against the sink and folded her arms across her chest. It seemed like an eternity to Francesca before Sara finally spoke.
"Iím sorry you feel the way you do about me. But, Ben considers you his family. You really hurt his feelings, Franny." Francesca choked back the tears in her voice and managed to squeak out and apology.
"Sorry, for what? Sorry you said the things you did or sorry he heard you?"
"Thatís not fair."
"Neither is condemning Ben for the way you feel about me. I thought we had put a lot of this behind us. Apparently, I was wrong. You helped me pick out my wedding dress, for Godís sake. I thought we were on the road to being friends. What happened to that, Fran?"
"You know what? Thatís fine. You donít have to be my friend. Because I donít think you can handle being my friend. You canít get past the money."
"I donít care about your money."
"You must. Itís what you were talking about. You want to see my bank statement? Would that make you feel better? Would you like a stock portfolio to pass out to the station?"
"Donít be ridiculous."
"Well, it is ridiculous, Francesca. Iím rich. Big damn deal. My parents worked hard to have what they did. It wasnít always good times for them. Do you know how I got most of the money? Go ahead, take a guess." Francesca shifted nervously in her seat as Sara walked toward her and leaned across the table.
"My mother died."
Francescaís eyes met Saraís. Sara felt the sting of tears roll down her cheeks.
"Jacky and I inherited her estate because Daddy wanted us to have a start in life. Well, let me tell you something. Iíd give it all back to see my Mother again." Sara leaned back and pulled a chair out from the table. She sighed and wiped her face as she sat across from Francesca.
"Iím sorry you thought I was trying to impress you. I had no idea Martin would fall all over you like that. This is why I donít tell people about the money."
"It just seemed likeÖ."
"It seemed like what? That Ben changed and cares about money? That couldnít be farther from the truth. He didnít even know he was wearing a designer suit. He picked it because it looked nice. The only reason I was wearing Versace is because Ben asked me to try on the dress. He didnít know and I didnít tell him. He would have never bought it otherwise."
"I didnít know."
"No, you donít know a lot of things. Why donít you think about that before you start telling the station about me and Ben." Francesca felt the tears filling her eyes. She didnít know why she said those things. She only thought it was between her and Rita.
"Iím sorry. Please tell BenÖ"
"Iím not telling Ben anything. It took me four hours to find out what was wrong. I canít fix this problem, Franny. Only you can do that. But you better figure out where you stand. Grow up and get over it. Love Ben for who he is or lose us both. Youíve got to get past the superficial or Ben probably wonít come over here anymore. He feels like youíve pushed him out of the family. He doesnít understand why you would say the things you did about me."
Francesca wiped the tears from her cheeks and stared at the table. Sara sat in silence and prayed Ray would find Ben.
Ray pulled the Riv along side Dief and Ben as they ran along the waterfront.
"Hey, Benny!" Fraser continued to run as Ray slowly drove the car along side of them.
"Címon Fraser! Get in."
"Iím busy right now, Ray."
"Donít make me have to run you down with the car!"
"That would be illegal." Fraser continued to run as the sweat poured from his face.
"Yeah, so whatís your point? Just stop and talk to me." Fraser slowed his pace slightly and Ray stopped the car. Fraser stopped running and bent over with his hands on his sides catching his breath.
"What do you want, Ray?"
"Saraís at the house."
"Yeah, you got that right."
"What did she say?"
"I donít know. I left her in the kitchen with Franny."
"Címon. Iíll take you to the house."
"I really donít thinkÖ."
"Get in the car."
"Do it! Iím not gonna let my dumb sister ruin our friendship." Fraser held the seat for Dief and then climbed into the Riv. The ride was a silent one until Fraser finally spoke.
"Iím sorry if your family feels that I have changed." Fraser eyes never left the view from the passenger window.
"What?! Benny, nobody thinks you have changed. Frannyís just being petty because sheís jealous of you and Sara." Fraser finally turned to face Ray.
"Why?! I donít understand?"
"Look. Itís no secret Frannyís worshiped you from the day she met you, right?"
"Ray, I donít seeÖ."
"Hear me out. You didnít pick her. And the woman you did pickÖ.well, sheís loaded."
"I donít care about the money, Ray. I donít even think about the money. I canít understand why this is even an issue."
"I know that. But all Franny sees is limoís and private seats."
"But, the limo was just so we could all be together."
"I know, Benny. You tried to do something special and Franny took it as Sara rubbing things in her face."
"What things? I really donít understand any of this."
"Franny thinks Saraís rubbing the fact that she has you and a wad of money in her face."
"Yeah, I know."
"Was Sara angry when she got to your house?"
"Angry would be an understatement."
"You need to really think about how you want the rest of this to go. How you play this will decide our relationship from now on. Not just yours and mine, but Benís and the familyís. He thinks heís not wanted around here anymore."
"But thatís not true. Heís always wanted here."
"But, Iím not, right?"
"I didnít say that."
"Then what are you saying?" Francesca used a piece of shredded paper towel to wipe her nose.
"Iím sorry. I never meant for any of this to happen."
"Yeah, well, too late for that." Sara looked up to see Ben standing in the kitchen door. He looked solemn and hurt as Sara stood and took him by the hand.
"Fraser, Iím sorry." Ben tucked his head as Francesca blurted her apology.
"Ben, Iím going in the den with Ma and Ray. You and Franny need to have a talk." Ben pulled at her hand when she tried to walk away.
"Uh-uh. You two need to hack this out. Iíve said all I have to say." She patted Francesca on the shoulder before she left the kitchen and took a seat beside Ray in the den.
Ben leaned against the refrigerator not knowing what to say. He kept his head tucked and his eyes focused firmly on the floor. The only sound was the soft sniffling of Francescaís tears. Ben finally shifted from one foot to the other and Francesca burst into loud sobs.
"Oh, Fraser, Iím sorry! Iím such an idiot. IÖ<sniff>Önever meantÖ.please forgive meÖ."
The outburst took Ben off guard. He didnít know how to react. If it had been Sara before him he wouldnít have hesitated to pull her to him and comfort her sobbing. But this wasnít Sara. This was Francesca. She had hurt him deeper that anyone would ever know. For the past six hours he felt crushed and unloved by the only family he had. Francesca looked up at him and searched his face for some kind of recognition.
"You canít even look at me. Oh GodÖ.Iím sorry. Please, look at me." Ben slowly lifted his head and did as Francesca asked. She wasnít prepared for what she saw. Instead of the strong blue eyes she was used to, she saw pain filled eyes brimming with tears. Francesca buried her head in her hands and wept. Ben tried to understand the words she choked out between sobs.
"I didnít mean itÖ..Iím so sorryÖplease believe meÖ.Iím such an idiot."
"Why would you say those things if you didnít mean them?" Francesca looked at him for a minute and then sighed.
"You wouldnít understand. You never say anything you donít mean."
"Youíll have to make me understand."
"I was jealous."
"Jealous of what?" Francesca gave a small laugh.
"Of what?!" Ben starred at her with a blank expression on his face. "You really donít know?"
"No, Francesca, I donít know." Francesca could feel the anger growing in her chest she pushed the chair back from the table and stood in front of him.
"You were supposed to fall in love with me! Not Sara, me!"
"But I didnít fall in love with you. I fell in love with Sara." The matter-of-fact way he said it seemed to cut Francesca to her very core. She took a deep breath and held her shoulders back as she spoke.
"I canít help you Francesca. I donít know how."
"I donít want your help Fraser. I wanted you to love me."
"I do love you."
"But not like you love Sara."
"No, not like I love Sara. I love you likeÖIím not sure really. I never had any brothers or sisters, but I think I love you as much as I would a sister." Francesca stood facing Fraser as he still hugged his arms across his chest and leaned against the refrigerator. She slowly began to understand how much pain she had really caused him.
"Iím sorry. Itís how I feel. I canít help that." Fraser slowly lifted his eyes to meet hers once again. The blueness of them nearly sent Francesca into another fit of sobs. She clutched her chest as he spoke.
"You have to accept Sara, Francesca. I canít be part of this family if you donít." Fraser had never asked anything of Francesca before and this was the hardest thing she would ever have to do.
"I donít have anything against Sara. It was you I wanted. I didnít like her because she was the one that got you."
"Now, I donít want to lose my family. Iím sorry for acting petty. It wonít happen again. I love you and Sara."
Ben heaved a sigh and smiled slightly at Francesca. Before he realized it, Francesca flung her arms around him and hugged him tightly. She was still crying and apologizing as she hugged him. She pulled away from him and kissed him softly on the cheek.
"Iím sorry. Still friends?"
"Great. Maybe you and Sara can go to lunch with me one day next week." Ben smiled and Francesca looked at him with confusion.
"I wouldnít make any lunch dates just yet?"
"John Chamberlain came by last night to ask a favor from me."
"So? What does that have to do with anything?"
"He asked me for your phone number." Francesca stood with her mouth hanging open in disbelief while Ben chuckled softly.
"Donít worry Francesca. I told him what a wonderful person your are." Ben squeezed her shoulder as he left the room and took a seat on the couch next to Sara.
"Howíd it go?" Sara rubbed the back of Benís hand as they sat on the couch next to Ray.
"Everythingís fine. I just told her about John." Sara erupted into laughter while Ray and Ma looked on in confusion.
"Whatís so funny?" Ray poked Sara in the side as she laughed.
"You better go scrape your sister off the floor. Ben just told her about John coming by last night to get her phone number."
"What?!" Ray flew off the couch toward the kitchen as Mrs. Vecchio smiled while she continued her knitting.
"Hey, Franny! Franny! Are you okay!? Ma, I think Frannyís having some type of episode like Aunt Celeste."
Sara and Ben laughed, more in relief than at Franny. Mrs. Vecchio was just glad to hear the laughter returned to her house.
"Chicago Police Department. Francesca Vecchio, Civilian-Aid speaking."
"Now thatís a mouthful. Francesca, this is John."
"John Chamberlain." Huey turned to look at Franny as she knocked the stack of files off her desk.
"UmÖyesÖ.hiÖhi." Francesca looked around as she held the phone to her ear and picked up the fallen files.
"Iím sorry to have to call you at work. I tried your house and your mother said it was alright to call you."
"Yes, yes. Thatís fineÖ.fine." Francesca rubbed her hand over her forehead and then switched the phone to her other ear.
"Well, I was wondering if you.Öum.Öwell, Iíd like to take you to lunch, if thatís okay?" Francesca stood up at her desk and waved her arms in the air as she hopped up and down.
"What the hell is she doing?" Ray nudged Ben as he pointed in Frannyís direction.
"Iím not sure actually. Do you think sheís having a seizure?"
"Hey, Franny! You haviní a seizure?!"
"Youíre very subtle, Ray." Francesca stopped hopping and accepted Johnís invitation for lunch. As John was verifying the directions to the station, Francesca pointed frantically at the receiver and mouthed at Ray and Ben, ĎItís John Chamberlain.í
"Good Lord, he actually called her."
"I told you he would."
"Yeah, but he really did it." Ben shook his head at the amazement in Rayís face as they watched Francesca return to hopping in place. She scribbled a note and replaced the receiver of the phone. Ben stood from his seat beside Rayís desk as she ran toward them.
"Oh my God! He called! He really called!" Francesca grabbed Fraser by the shoulders and began hopping up and down again.
"I told you he would."
"But he called. John Chamberlain called and asked me to lunch. THE John Chamberlain. Can you believe it?!"
"Yes actually I can." Waving a hand at Fraser to express that he wasnít showing enough enthusiasm, she turned her excitement toward Ray.
"Ray, Iím going to lunch with John Chamberlain!" She grabbed his hands and continued to bounce up and down. Not realizing he was doing so, Ray started to bounce up and down with her.
"When is he taking you?"
"Today! At lunch! Oh My God! Iíve got to call somebody!"
"Who? Who do you have to call?"
"Excuse me, Ray. You may want to stop bouncing. Itís not really helping your tough detective image." Ray looked at Fraser blankly and then stopped bouncing.
"Oh, thanks, Frase."
"Iíve got to callÖ.Sara! Iíve got to call Sara! Fraser, is Sara at work?"
"Yes, sheís in court at 9:30, but you should be able to catch her now if you try." Francesca released Rayís hands and ran back to her desk. She practically lunged toward the phone and dialed the District Attorneyís Office.
"Hey, whatís up with Francesca?" Huey and Louis stood by Ray and watched Francesca tap a pencil violently on the corner of her desk while she held the phone to her ear.
"Sheís gotta lunch date."
"Yeah, so? Whoís the poor guy?" Louis grinned in Francescaís direction as he spoke.
"Yeah, right. The actor guy?" Huey looked at Ray in disbelief.
"Thatís the one."
"No, itís quite true, gentlemen. You see, they met last Saturday at the theatre. Sara introduced them."
"Sara?" Louis cocked his head and gave Fraser a confused look.
"Sara introduced them?" Ray smirked at the looks on the faces of Huey and Louis.
"Yeah, Sara. She and Ben are friends of John Chamberlain. Heís a nice guy, right, Benny?"
"Yes he is. Heís very unpretentious to be so talented. Of course, that may be a stereotype cast upon actors and people thrown into the public eye. HoweverÖ."
"Fraser!" Francesca rushed toward the group of men gathered around discussing her pending lunch date.
"Sara said to act natural and be myself. What do you think?"
"I think thatís excellent advice."
"Do I look okay?"
"You look lovely, Francesca. Yellow is a very soothing color on you."
"Soothing, huh? Is that good?"
"In your case, yes. Thatís a good thing." Francesca nervously nodded her head as she smoothed out the front of her shirt.
"Iíve got to fix my hair."
"Francesca, itís only 8:15. Iím sure you have plenty of time before he picks you up."
"Yeah, youíre right. My make up! Howís my make-up?"
"Iím sure Iím not one to judge that sort of thing."
"You got a little lipstick smudge on your tooth, right here." Louis curled his lip up and brushed his finger over his tooth while Francesca mimicked his movements.
Ray rolled his eyes and waved his arms in the air.
"Would you people get out of here! Címon, move it!"
Huey muttered to himself while Louis smoothed the back of his hair down.
"Wow, Frannyís got a date with John Chamberlain."
Ray sat back down at his desk and shook his head at Fraser.
"This is gonna be a nightmare."
"Miss Vecchio!" Welsh bellowed for the third time at Francesca.
"Yes Sir!" She nearly choked on the end of the pencil she had been chewing on.
"Do you plan on doing any actual work here this morning? Whatís the matter with you?" Francesca allowed a large smile to spread across her face as she pulled Lt. Welsh by the arm so they were standing side by side.
"Iíve got a lunch date." Welsh lowered his voice to match Francescaís.
"Thatís very nice, Miss Vecchio. But, why has it stopped you from doing any form of police work." Francesca squeezed his arm and leaned closer to him.
"Itís John Chamberlain. Heís coming here to take me to lunch." Lt. Welsh stooped a little lower and practically whispered in Francescaís ear.
"John Chamberlain. The actor? John Chamberlain is coming here?" Francesca nodded her head as she squeezed Lt. Welshís arm even more.
"I canít believe it either!"
"I met him the other night when Ben and Sara took us to the theatre." Welsh sat back on her desk and looked at her in astonishment.
"You just met him and he asked you out?" Francesca smiled and nervously shuffled the papers around on her desk.
"Not exactly. Heís a friend of Saraís and we metÖ."
"Heís a friend of Saraís? Our DA, Sara?"
"Uh-huh and Sara said that after we all had dinner he stoppedÖ."
"You all had dinner?"
"Uh-huh, after the play. He sat by me. Anyway, Sara said he stopped by their place and asked for my phone number. He asked Fraser actually because heís like an older brother type thing, you know? So he called today and asked me out!" Welsh sat for a few moments processing the information Francesca had just spilled forth.
"What timeís he coming?"
"He said heíd be here around 10 Ďtil 12." Francesca looked as if she could pop.
"Thatís in about twenty minutes." Francesca jolted from her seat and looked around her in a panic.
"Oh my God! Does my hair look all right?! What about my makeup?!" Welsh stood and looked Francesca over as she nervously shifted from foot to foot and turned in circles.
"You got a piece sticking up right there."
"Oh God! Where?!" Welsh licked his finger and pushed the stray hair back in place.
"Really? I look okay?" Welsh leaned down and took Francesca by the shoulders.
"You look great." She gave him a half smile and grabbed her purse.
"Iím gonna go to the ladies room and powder my face. Will you look for him? I donít want any of these barracudas getting their claws in him."
"Sure thing." Francesca scurried off to the ladies room as Welsh looked around to see if anyone had actually heard their conversation. Ray chuckled to himself at the sight of Welsh spitting down Francescaís hair.
John Chamberlain walked sheepishly into the bullpen and looked around for Francesca. Ben spotted him and made his way across the room to greet him. John was grateful to see a familiar face.
"Ben! What are you doing here?"
"I work with Ray when Iím not at the consulate. Francesca seems to be away from her desk. She should be back in a few minutes. You can wait over at Rayís desk." Ben motioned in the direction of Rayís desk and the two of them walked across the bullpen.
John smiled and greeted Ray.
"Hiya, John. I hear youíre taken my little sister to lunch." John shifted nervously.
"Um, yes. I hope thatís not a problem?"
"Nah, no problem. Just donít get any funny ideas." Ray gave him a serious look while Ben shook his head. Ray turned his attention away from John and noticed the buzz floating through the bullpen. John tucked his head and tried to make himself as inconspicuous as possible. Rita the desk clerk had assembled several of the staff and female officers in the corner. They whispered and pointed as Francesca made her way down the hall from the restroom.
"Whatís going on?" Francesca stopped in front of Rita and gave her a curious look.
"Look whoís here!" Francesca followed her gaze and saw John looking rather uncomfortable with Huey and Louis hovering near Rayís desk.
"Good, heís right on time."
"Right on time for what?!" Francesca squared her shoulders and tried to talk as nonchalantly as she could.
"John and I are going to lunch." She smiled to herself as she saw the stunned look on the womenís faces.
"YOU are going to lunch with JOHN CHAMBERLAIN?!"
"Yes, I may be late coming back." Francesca smugly walked away and in the direction of her desk.
"Ah, thereís Francesca now." Ben spied Francesca walking rather self-confidently back to her desk. He turned to see the look of adoration in Johnís eyes as he too watched her.
"Thank you, gentlemen, for the company. But I have a date." He strolled over to Francescaís desk and kissed her hand, much to the delight of Lt. Welsh who was watching from his office door. Welsh cast his gaze over to the gaggle of women that had gathered to catch a glimpse of John. He puffed out his chest and strode over to them.
"I believe we have police work that needs attending to. Letís get to it, ladies!" Welsh waved his goodbye to Francesca as she and John left the station for lunch. Francesca turned, smiled and waved a few fingers at him as John took her by the hand and escorted her to lunch.
Sara made a beeline over to Rayís desk.
"Whereís Franny?" Ray looked up and smiled sarcastically at Sara.
"Well, hello to you too, Sara. Yes, Iím fine. You?"
"Smart ass. Howíd the lunch go?" Ray shook his head and chuckled at how nosy Sara was being.
"What are you doing here anyway? Does Fraser know youíre here being so nosy?"
"Well, you know as well as I do, he has sentry duty this afternoon. Besides, I had to drop a subpoena off for Welsh in the Grafinino case."
"Howís that case going?"
"Huh? Who cares? Whereís Franny?" Ray leaned back in his chair and laughed at Sara.
"Sheís showing John around the precinct."
"Heís still here? Itís nearly 2 oíclock. Woohoo. This must be serious."
"He and Franny got back about 1:30. I thought Welsh would flip Ďcause she was late. But, he just strolled over and introduced himself to John and told Franny to show him around the station."
"John has that effect on people."
"Well, heís sure had an effect on Franny." Sara turned at Rayís gestured toward the door and saw Francesca walking hand in hand with John. Sara smiled and waved as John saw her from across the room.
"Hiya, love. What are you doing here?" John leaned in and kissed Sara on the cheek.
"Iím dropping off some paperwork for the Lieutenant. What about you?"
"Francesca is showing me the station. We just got back from lunch."
"Did you two have a good time?" Sara tried to school her features and hide her enthusiasm.
"We had a lovely time." John pulled Francesca into a small hug as he answered Sara.
"What time do you have to be at the theatre?"
"Oh my! Iíve got to run. Francesca dear, youíve gotten me completely dumbstruck. Iím gonna be late for make-up if I donít hurry." He leaned over and kissed Francesca on the cheek and bolted toward the door. "Iíll call you tonight!" John called as he trotted backwards from the precinct.
Francesca waved until he was out of sight and then turned to face Sara. Sara stood with her eyebrows raised in expectation.
Francesca grabbed her hands and the two of them started squealing like schoolgirls.
"Good God! Canít you two do this somewhere else?"
"Stow it, Ray!"
"Can it, Ray!"
"Hey, thereís no need to get nasty." Ray raised his arms in surrender and headed off to the canteen.
"So? How did it go?"
"Oh, Sara, it was fabulous. Heís so nice. He held my chair for me. We talked all through lunch. He got recognized several times. People even came up and asked for autographs. He asked me about my job. Heís so nice. I mean nice like a regular guy."
"He is a regular guy, Franny. He just happens to be known by a lot of people."
"You know what I mean. Heís so relaxed, you know? And he listened to me. He really listened to me."
"So are you gonna see him again?"
"Yeah, I think so. He said he had plans for Wednesday with you guys, but he wanted to go to dinner on Thursday."
"Oh, Franny, thatís great. Iím so glad you guys hit it off."
"Yeah, can you believe it?!"
"Sure I can." Francesca caught the tone in Sara voice and knew she really meant it. Francesca released Saraís hands and wrapped her arms around her in a tight hug.
"Youíll need more milk than that."
"Are you sure?"
"Ben, how many times have you made mashed potatoes?"
"How much more milk?"
"Start pouring. Iíll tell you when." Ben started pouring milk into the large pot of potatoes.
"Thatís good. Now mix it all up." Ben returned the mixer to the pot and switched it on. Sara watched in amusement at him bobbing from side to side in motion with the mixer.
"Whenís John supposed to arrive?"
"They had an early show today, so he should be here in about an hour."
"These are looking quite good." Ben continued to move the electric hand mixer around the pot.
"Thatís about right. Now add the butter."
"Uh, Ďbout two tablespoons for now."
"Donít you think itís a bit much?"
"I only cook one way, Ben. Southern. If my Momma or Grandma saw me serve mashed potatoes without enough butter theyíd have a fit." Ben grinned and shrugged his shoulders as he spooned the butter into the pot.
"How much salt and pepper?"
"Iíll do it. Itís easier than telliní. Here, watch." Sara left the chicken she was frying to season the potatoes. Ben stood behind her with his head resting on her shoulder.
"Iím going to have to run an extra few miles after this meal."
"Thatís why I donít cook like this every day. Weíd both have trouble walkiní after all this food."
"You want me to start setting the table?"
"Please. Use the new dishes I bought."
"The ones I bought the night you proposed."
"Sara, Iím terribly sorry, but I donít remember much about the things you bought on the night I proposed. I was a little preoccupied. I donít remember much up until you said yes."
Sara laughed and kissed Ben on the cheek.
"The ivory colored plates on the top shelf of the hutch."
"Ah, thank you kindly." Ben pulled the plates down from the hutch and took them over to the sink. After rinsing and drying them thoroughly, he began to set the table. Sara smiled to herself as she watched Ben meticulously place each piece of the service on the table.
"The napkins are in that side drawer over there. Do that thing you do with them." Ben chuckled at Saraís reference to his napkin folding ability as he pulled the linen napkins from the drawer.
"Iím sorry I missed Francescaís return to work the other day. She was very excited when John picked her up."
"I bet. She nearly burst my eardrum when she called. I thought she was having some type of seizure. It took me a second to figure out what in the world she was talking about. I canít wait Ďtill John gets here. I want to know everything." Ben put the last napkin in place and went to stand behind Sara in the kitchen He slipped his arms around her waist as she stood in front of the stove.
"Sara, I hope you donít plan on being nosy this evening."
"Itís really none of your business what goes on between John and Francesca."
"Oh, yeah, sure. I know."
"Sara." Sara smiled to herself as she checked on the broccoli casserole in the oven.
"Sara, why do I get the feeling youíre not listening to me."
"Did you say something, dear?"
"Thatís not funny." Sara walked to the refrigerator and pulled out the pitcher of Kool-aid.
"No thank you. I mean it. I really hope youíre not going to grill him about the details of his lunch with Francesca."
"You sure you donít want some. Itís your favorite. Green." Ben gave Sara a stern look as she poured herself a glass of Kool-Aid and grinned at him over the rim of the glass.
"I mean it."
"Mean what?" Ben walked closer toward her as she smirked at him.
"Sara, you know what Iím talking about."
"Do I?" Ben stood before her and crossed his arms over his chest.
"Promise me you wonít torment the poor man." Sara could see the determination in his eyes. His playful tone had disappeared and she knew he meant what he said. Sara sighed and placed her glass on the counter.
"Fine." Ben hugged her and kissed her on the forehead.
"Yeah. Youíre no fun sometimes, you know that?"
"Thatís not what you said last night." Shock and delight flew over Saraís face.
"Constable! What a wicked remark." She shot him a smile as he blushed.
"Good Evening, love." John leaned in and greeted Sara with a kiss on the cheek.
"Hey, wonderful. How was the show?"
"Great. Ben, good to see you again. I must say it was good to see you at the station the other day.I was a little nervous there and it helped to see a friendly face." Sara started to pounce on the opportunity to bring up his lunch date but was quickly thwarted by a look from Ben. John noticed the look and burst into laughter.
"Dear God, heís tamed you! I never thought Iíd see the day!" Sara shot Ben a disparaging look and then punched John in the arm.
"I donít think so."
"Donít tell me! Iíve just seen it. I gave you the perfect opportunity to light into me about my lunch date with Francesca and you were stopped dead in your tracks. Ben, I bow in the presence of greatness." John dramatically bowed at the waist as he smirked at Sara.
Ben tried to suppress his laughter, but lost the battle when Sara kicked John playfully in the seat of the pants as he bowed.
"Ah, thereís always a critic."
"You hungry?" Sara led the way to the dining room table and offered John a seat.
"Iím famished. I ate a light lunch in preparation for this meal tonight. If I recall correctly, I should gain about 15 pounds from the mashed potatoes alone."
"But itís worth it, right?"
"Sara my darling, when it comes to your cooking, Iíd crawl through the streets of Chicago for a mere morsel of chicken."
"God, your dramatic this evening." Sara left Ben and John chatting about the theatre as she brought in the meal.
The meal was pleasant and the conversation was nice. John could tell Sara was about to have a running fit through the apartment if he didnít fill her in on the juicy details of his social life. After all, they told each other just about everything over the past ten years. He wasnít about to stop now.
"Sara, that was fantastic as always."
"Thank you." Sara rose to clear the table but was quickly stopped by Ben.
"Iíll do that. You two chat. Iím sure youíd like to talk awhile." Ben gave Sara the same stern look from their talk in the kitchen as he cleared the plates. Sara shot him a look in return. While Ben was still in earshot, John settled in for a juicy conversation.
"Well, love seeing as how you canít ask me, Iíll spill it all on my own." Sara smirked as Benís shoulders slumped and he shook his head while he walked into the kitchen.
"I could kiss you! Francesca is stunning. Those classic Italian features. Those eyes. Sheís captivating. I canít thank you enough for introducing me." Ben returned from the kitchen to see Saraís smug grin directed at him. As he cleared the last few dishes he leaned over and kissed her on the top of the head.
"Ben, I hope you donít mind me running on and on about Francesca. Sara told me sheís like a sister to you."
"Thatís quite all right. Iím glad youíre so taken with her." Sara returned her attentions back to John and began to question him.
"Did you have a lot to talk about?"
"Surprisingly, yes. We talked about her job. My job. Things she liked. Oh, gosh, all kinds of things."
"Thatís great. But what about when you leave on Friday? Thatís the closing of the show here in Chicago, isnít it?" Ben returned from the kitchen and took a seat next to Sara. She instinctively scooted over closer to him and put her hand on his leg.
"Well, Itís the best luck actually. I havenít even had time to tell you about it, it happened so fast. Iíve been offered a series."
"I know. I thought I would never go back to television. But, the series is very well written and I think itís going to be a success. Well, luck would have it, itís going to be filmed on location in Chicago."
"Whatís it about?"
"Itís a drama about a hospital emergency room. They want me to play one of the leads."
"So, youíre going to take it?"
"Of course! Iíd be a fool not to take it. It screams Emmy. The writing is fabulous. And the producer is the best in the business."
"That sounds wonderful! So when will you be moving?"
"Not for another couple of months. The play closes next month and Iíve got the Tony Awards in a couple of weeks. Filming doesnít start until September."
"Thatís great. Are you going to buy a house or an apartment?"
"You know me. Who needs a house? Grass. Trees. All that stuff to maintain. Give me sidewalk, any day."
"So, are you and Francesca going out again before you leave on Friday?" Ben smiled as Sara interrogated John. He rubbed his hand across her back as she pulled one of her knees to her chest and twisted in the chair to get comfortable.
"Tomorrow night. I thought weíd go to that quiet little place on the corner of 35th and Madison."
"Oh, I love that place. Ben weíve never been there. Weíve got to go one night. Itís great." Ben smiled as Sara leaned her head on his shoulder as she talked. He loved the way she always had to touch him when they were together. It may be just a touch of the hand or a brush of the leg. But if Ben was within a foot of her, she had to make contact with him. He brushed a hair from her face as she smiled at Johnís excitement over his pending date with Francesca.
"I hope she likes me." Sara placed a hand over Johnís and gave him a warm reassuring grin.
"She will. Youíre a nice guy remember." John tucked his head slightly. Ben could see the blush creeping along his cheeks.
"Yeah, but you think Iím wonderful no matter what. She still sees the star. Actor Guy. I want her to like me for me. Not all that other stuff."
"John, she will like you for you. And if she doesnít, then thereís someone out there that will. Understand?"
"Yes, love. I hear you." John picked up her hand and kissed her palm. "Ben, youíve got a good one here. Annoying, headstrong, tends to pitch fits and a southern little spit fire, but as good as they come."
"I agree." Sara laughed as Ben nodded his head and poked her in the side. She stood and placed her hands on her hips.
"So, who wants dessert? Iíve got pie."
"Good lord, woman. Who could possibly have room for dessert!?" John gave Sara his best dramatic look of shock.
"You want ice cream with it?"
Francesca paced as she held the phone to ear. "Come on, pick up. Pick up." She knew Sara and Ben had a bad habit of letting the machine pick up the phone. If she willed it Sara to pick up the phone strong enough, perhaps it would happen.
"Sara! Are you still up?!"
"Francesca?! Yeah, weíre still up. John left a few minutes ago. Iím just cleaniní up the kitchen." Francesca flopped down on her bed and twisted a piece of hair around her finger.
"Thatís what I wanted to talk to you about. He asked me to dinner for tomorrow night."
"Thatís great! Iím sure youíll have a good time."
"I hope so. But he didnít tell me where we were going. Did he tell you? What should I wear? Oh, Sara, heís your friend! I donít know what heíll like. Should I dress to the sevens? Or casual? What?"
"Dress to the nines."
"Itís dress to the Ö..never mind. Knowing John like I do, Iím sure heíll call you tomorrow at work and chat. You can ask him what youíre doing then. He did mention he was going to take you to dinner. The Red Setter, I think. If you havenít been there, youíre gonna love it. What time is he picking you up?"
"If itíll make you feel any better. After you find out what his plans are, give me a call. If we need to go shopping, Iíll pick you up at the station at five."
"Youíd do that?"
"Sure, why wouldnít I?"
"After all the horrible things I saidÖ.well, I meanÖ.."
"Shut up." A wide smile spread across Francescaís face as Sara chuckled into the phone.
"Iíll call you tomorrow, okay."
"Talk to ya then. Bye."
Francesca hung up the phone and tried to relax enough to fall asleep. Her stomach was still fluttering from the thought of going out with John Chamberlain.
"Sara, itís Franny. I just talked to John and he said we were going to the Red Setter for dinner. Iíve never been there, so youíll have to tell me how fancy it is. After that he said heíd like to go to a friends party. He said it was a director guy. He told me that it was nothing fancy, just a few friends. He said we wouldnít stay long. He then hoped we could find something to entertain us after that. That wasnít an invitation to, you know, was it? He didnít sound like he was insinuating anything. I donít know if I should go fancy or a little more casual. What do you think?"
"Um, hi Fran. How are you?" Sara could hear Francescaís blood pressure increase as she sat in silence on the other end of the phone.
"Iím fine. Answer the question."
"The Red Setter is a nice little place near downtown. Iíve eaten in there in an evening dress and Iíve also gone in with a pair of flip-flops and a tank top. Anything goes in there. Whoís having the party?"
"Name sounds like a soft drink or something."
"Yeah, thatís the guy. Is he somebody?"
"Yeah, Francesca, heís somebody. He directed that movie we all went to before the wedding, ĎSnow in the Fall.í John told me he was in town for a show or something."
"Ooo, I love that movie. So what should I wear?"
"Can you hang on for a minute?"
"Sure." Sara placed Francesca on hold and accessed another outside line. She quickly dialed and waited for an answer.
"What are you wearing tonight?"
"Just asking. Bye."
"Bye, Sara." She pressed the disconnect button and hit the line that Francesca was holding on.
"Franny, Iíd wear jeans."
"Yeah, go comfortable. Wear jeans and that navy sweater of yours. It really looks good on you."
"You donít think I would look like a slouch in jeans? I mean, Iím going out with John Chamberlain!"
"Heís just a guy, Franny. Donít forget that. Besides, I just called him. Heís wearing jeans. I thought he would anyway. He wears costumes all the time. Heíd rather wear jeans than anything else. Donít worry. Just be yourself and have fun."
"But what about all those actor types at the party?"
"Donít let them intimidate you. Most are insecure wannabeís trying to impress the people around them. Some are very nice people, like John. Youíll be able to tell the difference. Just remember theyíre just like the rest of us."
"Thatís easy for you to say. Youíre a lawyer and worth a fortune."
"And youíre Francesca Vecchio."
"But what? Youíre a Vecchio."
John stood like a nervous teenager on the stoop of the Vecchio home. He rang the doorbell and waited for what seemed like forever for the door to open. Ray stood in the entrance and gave John a goofy grin.
"Hiya, John. Come on in." John shook Rayís hand and stepped into the foyer.
"Is Francesca ready?" Ray shook his head and laughed.
"You kidding? You better come and have a seat in here. Sheíll be down in a minute." Ray motioned for John to have a seat in the den while he grabbed the stair rail and screamed upstairs.
"Franny! Move it will ya, your dateís here!"
"Iím coming!" John chuckled at Rayís delicate way of speaking to Francesca.
Francesca placed her hands over her stomach in an effort to settle the butterflies fluttering around. She took a deep breath and made her way down the stairs. She paused on the top landing and looked to see if she could see John before she made her entrance. He was sitting nervously on the edge of the couch. His sandy blond hair was slightly ruffled and the camel colored sweater made his pale blue eyes sparkle as he watched TV with Ray. Francesca smiled and whispered a thank you to Sara as she made her way down stairs. John nervously wiped the palms of his hands on the old tattered jeans he wore. Francesca noted how handsome he looked in casual clothes and boots. John heard gentle footsteps descending the stairs and he rose and turned to see Francesca. Her hair was fixed loosely around her face, the deep navy sweater complementing her Italian coloring beautifully. He openly smiled at her as she skipped down the stairs. Her jeans were slightly faded and a little more relaxed fitting than her usual attire. Her flats were a nice contrast to the high heels he had seen her in earlier.
John slipped his arm around her small frame and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek. He liked the fact that he had to bend down and kiss her. To him she was petite and delicate. But he could tell from the environment that she had grown up in that he might have been mistaken on the delicate part.
"Let me grab my purse. Bye Ray."
"Later! You two have fun."
Francesca took in the surroundings of the restaurant while John gave the waitress their drink orders.
"The food here is great. I think youíll like it."
"Iím sure I will. How was the show today?"
John and Francesca shared a pleasant meal and equally pleasant conversation. The two of them laughed and held hands across the table while sharing food from each otherís plates. Francesca had to remind herself that this was real and not all a dream. John spooned a piece of chocolate cake into Francescaís mouth. He laughed as she licked a bit of frosting from the corner of her lip.
"I hope you wonít mind going to Tadís party tonight."
"Why would I mind?"
"It just that, although heís my friend, and I hate going to his parties. They are so, I donít know, fake."
"You know, ĎHollywood Glam and Hamí fake. I promise we wonít stay long. Letís do this." A smile spread across his face and he leaned toward Francesca. " If the party gets to overwhelming for either of us letís tell the other something likeÖ.I donít knowÖ.how about, I left the iron on." Francesca laughed and nearly choked on the drink she was sipping.
"I left the iron on?!"
"Sure, why not? Itíll be fun. I have a feeling Iím gonna walk in and realize the iron is on right away."
"Itís not gonna be that bad is it?"
"I hope not. At least we have an out." The two of the chuckled over their newly hatched plan as they paid the check and walked to the car.
Francesca felt the knots forming in her stomach as the elevator neared the penthouse. John held tightly to her hand as the floors rang by.
"Are you sure Iím dressed alright for this party?"
"Francesca darling, Neither of us is dress right for this party. Youíll see people dressed like no one ever dresses in real life. Itís quite interesting, actually. Like watching tropical fish in a bowl."
"Uh-huh. Just smile and stick close. I hate to be left alone at these things."
"Oh, donít worry. Iím gonna stick to you like cement." John cocked his head and chuckled slightly at Francescaís phrasing. The elevator doors parted and the two of them stepped out into a large marble foyer. John knocked on the door to the suite as he leaned down and whispered to Francesca, "Hold on to your hats. Itís show time."
The door swung open and a painfully thin, unnaturally tall blond woman answered the door. Francesca tried not to stare at the fact that the womanís blouse was completely unbuttoned and tied in a loose knot above her navel.
"John, itís so good you could make it." The lack of enthusiasm stunned Francesca, but John smiled politely as the woman leaned in and kissed him on the cheeks.
"Anka, this is Francesca. Francesca, Iíd like you to meet Anka."
"Itís a pleasure to meet you, Anka."
"Likewise, Iím sure." Francesca squared her shoulders at the way Anka looked her up and down. Anka turned and walked into the room leaving John and Francesca standing near the door.
John placed his hand on the small of Francescaís back and guided her into the room. The room was filled with people. Some were dressed in suits and cocktail dresses. Other were in halter tops and hip hugger pants, that Francesca had only seen people where in magazines. She gave John an amused look when she noticed several people talking to one another with their sunglasses still on. John led Francesca through the crowd and over to a large man. He wore a smoking jacket like the stars of old black and white movies. He had a cigarette in one hand and a martini glass in the other. Both made endless rotating trips to his lips as he spoke.
"John! Itís so good of you to come. And who is this exquisite creature youíve brought with you?"
"Tad Jamison, this is Francesca Vecchio."
"Oh, Francesca Vecchio. How ethnic. I love it." John turned to Francesca and gave her a large smile. She replied with a plastered smile of her own.
"So John. I hear youíve decided to do television." The way this man said television made Francesca think he had just said a dirty word. She tightened her grip on Johnís hand as he spoke.
"Yes. I thought Iíd give it a go. After all, if things donít work out, I can always go back to the stage."
"Yes, Iím sure. Peter darling! If youíll excuse me." Tad waved his cigarette in the air as he called across the room. John leaned over to Francesca.
"Okay, weíve been seen. I say we may a break for it."
"I need to make one stop first." John winked at Francesca and led her to a small hallway. He pointed to a door on the left and smiled. Francesca stepped into the bathroom and smiled at her reflection in the mirror. *How cool was that!? He knew exactly what I meant! *
Francesca completed her business and opened the bathroom door. She came face to face with Anka.
"Hello again, Anka." Francesca smiled and tried to appear pleasant.
"Yes. Youíre that person with John, right?"
"Iím his date, Francesca."
"Date? How cute."
"Yes he is."
"Funny, I never pictured John as the neighborhood urchin type." The smile slowly left Francescaís face. She stared up at the woman before her with her fist clenched tightly.
"I bet you had a lovely time bowling on your little date." A smile flashed across Francescaís lips as she brushed back a strand of hair.
"At least I can lift the ball, honey. Hey, I saw a peanut over by the fruit. Why donít you go find someone to split it with you." Francesca brushed past the woman with a smile on her face. She walked swiftly over to John and grabbed his hand.
"The house is burning down."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Youíve left that iron on way to long."
"Hold on a minute, Sara. I think I hear a car door outside."
"This early. God, I hope the date went all right." Ray quietly got up from the recliner in the den and walked over to the window, the cordless phone still pressed firmly to his ear.
"Yep, itís them."
"What are they doing?"
"Theyíre still in the car. I canít see."
"Well, are they making out or something?"
"Even if I could see, I wouldnít want to see that. What are you thinkiní?"
"Who are you talking to?" Saraís head jerked up from its reclined position on the floor.
"Ray? Itís late. What are you talking to Ray about?"
"UmÖ..wellÖ.." Sara gave up her attempt to make up an elaborate story and just grinned at him.
"Sara! I canít believe you and Ray are gossiping!"
"Weíre not gossiping. John and Francesca just got back."
"Then youíre spying. Itís really none of your business."
"Theyíre getting out of the car." Ray stepped back into the shadow of the curtains as John and Francesca walked hand in hand up the walk.
"Are they holding hands?"
"Sara, Iím really not at all happy with your behavior." Ben took a seat on the couch and crossed his arms.
"Yeah, theyíre holding hands."
"Theyíre holding hands."
"Itís none of our business if theyíre holding hands."
"What are they doing now?" Ben rolled his eyes at Sara as she rolled over onto her back on the floor.
John and Francesca stepped onto the porch and John motioned for them to sit in the porch swing. Francesca took a seat and snuggled close to John. The brisk night air was the perfect excuse to cuddle.
"Iím sorry you had to deal with Anka."
"Oh, who cares?"
"She thinks sheís, wellÖ..Godís gift to mankind."
"I hope someone kept the receipt." John chuckled and put his arm around Francesca.
"Are you cold? We could go in."
"Nah. Iím fine out here. Besides, half the family is probably sitting up in the den. I know Ray is."
"Protective older brother, huh?"
"Yeah, kinda. That and heís nosy."
"Will you come to the play tomorrow? Itís closing night."
"Iíd love to."
"Thereís a cast party afterward." Francesca made a face in remembrance of the party they had just left.
"Sounds fun." John chuckled and kissed her on the temple.
"Donít worry, darling. It wonít be anything like tonight. Mainly the cast and crew. Bring a change of clothes. Everyone will be in jeans. Weíll eat, drink and be merry."
"Then you go back to New York." Francesca looked up at him with her soft doe eyes. He trailed a finger along her cheek.
"Are they kissing?"
"Not yet. Theyíre pretty cozy on the swing, though."
"Sara, I canít believe you and Ray are acting like adolescents!"
"Ray, hold on a minute." Sara dropped the phone to the floor and stood up in a huff. She walked quickly to the bedroom and returned to stand in front of Ben, then shoved the cordless phone at him while he looked at her in disbelief.
"I donít want that."
"Yes you do."
"Itís none of my business."
"Thatís beside the point."
"Itís an invasion of their privacy."
"That bug up your butt has to die sometime."
"Thatís very rude."
"You know you want to. Itís just between us." Ben dropped his head and sighed. Sara grinned smugly to herself as she picked up the other phone off the floor.
"Are they kissing now?"
"Nope, not yet. But heís got his arms around her."
"Ray, where are you?"
"Hiya, Benny. Iím in the den looking out the side window."
John could see the sadness in her eyes as she thought about him leaving for New York. He was taken a little by surprise at the sharp pain in his stomach at the thought of leaving Francesca behind.
"Iíll be back in a couple of weeks. You have to help me find and apartment."
"Iíd like that."
"Yeah, me too." John pulled Francesca closer to him as he tilted her face toward his. Francesca felt a warm sensation travel through her spine as John captured her lips. He kissed her sweetly and delicately as he trailed his fingers down her arm.
"Heís kissing her!"
"If he tries to cop a feel so help me, Iíll shoot him."
"A what? Ray, what are you talking about?"
"Sara, show Benny what Iím talking about."
"Later. Whatís happening now?"
"Uh-oh. Theyíre coming inside." Ray moved swiftly across the den and leapt into his recliner.
Francesca opened the front door and whispered her goodnight to John. She turned and waved to Ray as she made her way upstairs. Ray stared straight ahead at the images flickering on the television. Francesca stopped on the fourth step and called down to Ray.
"Tell Sara Iíll call her tomorrow."
"Look! Look! There they are. Oh, she looks great." Sara pulled at Benís arm while they sat in the Vecchio den watching the Tony Awards.
"Ma! Youíre missing it! Frannyís walking down the red carpet with John!" Ray screamed over the television while Maria and Tony sat mesmerized at the image of Francesca on the screen. The kids all giggled and squealed as the camera panned the crowd and focused on John Chamberlain and his date. Mrs. Vecchio raced from the kitchen, still holding the pitcher of juice she was pouring.
"Are you taping this, Raymondo?"
"Yes, Ma. But I knew you wouldnít want to miss it."
"Oh, look at my little Francesca. Sheís beautiful. Look at that dress. Where did she get such a dress?" Sara positioned herself on the floor in front of the couch between Benís knees. She pulled little Theresa on her lap and pointed to the screen.
"Thatís a Vera Wang dress. When stars go to award shows, Designerís give the more famous actors and their dates gowns and tuxedoís to wear."
"They give them the dresses?" Theresa looked up at Sara as she explained the custom of awards shows.
"Most of them do. That dress is about $15,000. But, they gave it to Franny to wear. That way their clothes are seen by millions of people on TV." Maria leaned forward and listened to Sara.
"They just gave her a $15,000 gown?"
"They do it all the time. John called this morning and said that Francesca had to pick between four different dresses. Oh, she said to pay attention if John wins."
Maria shook her head at the thought of her little sister wearing an expensive designer gown. Ray sat with his mouth open for a few seconds in shock.
"Her dress costs more than the Riv!" Ben chuckled at Rayís comparison.
"Look! There she is again." Ben pointed at the image on the screen. John Chamberlain smiled brightly in the camera as he held onto Francescaís hand. She smiled sweetly at the reporter as he asked him questions. Then the Vecchio den fell silent as the reporter asked John whom he was with.
ĎThis is my girlfriend, the very beautiful Francesca Vecchio." Mrs. Vecchio put a hand to her chest and squealed something in Italian at the sound of Francescaís name being said on TV. Ben squeezed Saraís shoulders, while Maria and Ray gave each other a high five.
"Oh man! The whole world knows sheís datiní him now!"
"Yeah, Ray. I think thatís a safe assumption." Sara and Theresa smiled as John and Francesca disappeared into the theatre.
"Shhh! Theyíre getting ready to announce the nominees in the Best Actor category. Ray turn it up!" Maria was about to pop out of her seat from excitement. Ray pointed to the TV as if everyone else in the room were incapable of seeing it for themselves.
"Look, thereís John and Franny." Sara nervously braided Theresaís hair while Ben held Angelo on his lap.
"Did he win?!"
"Maria, calm down. They havenít announced it yet."
"Shut up, Ray." Maria threw a pillow at Ray and started to yell at him some more when Mrs. Vecchio quieted them with a motion of her hand.
"Listen." Everyone stared at the screen while the presenter opened the envelope. Sara crossed her fingers and started chanting.
"Please let him win. Please let him win."
"And the winner isÖ..John Chamberlain for Hamlet." The entire Vecchio Clan including Ben and Sara erupted in to cheers.
"He won!" Sara and Theresa were jumping up and down in the middle of the floor until John made it to the microphone.
"I would just like to thank a few people. My manager, Paul. My agent Mike Stubbin. Everyone that has stood by me and encouraged me along the way. But most of all, Iíd like to thank my parents, Sara, Ben, the Vecchioís and my beautiful girlfriend, Francesca. Thank you so much." Sara sat and hugged Benís leg as she sat on the floor. Theresa turned and wiped a tear from Saraís cheek.
"Aunt Sara, why are you crying?" Sara smiled and hugged Theresa as she openly cried.
"Iím happy. Johnís deserved this for a long time. Iím just so happy for him."
Sara was interrupted by the ringing of her cell phone. Ben reached into her purse near the end of the couch and flipped it open.
"Hello." Ben waved his hand excitedly to the room and pointed to the cell phone.
"John! Congratulations! Yes, weíre all here. Yes. Weíre very proud. Sheís right here. Hold on." Ben handed Sara the phone with a big grin on his face as Sara nearly dove for it.
"JOHN! OH MY GOD! YOU WON! YOU WON!" Ben held onto Saraís other hand as she screamed into the phone.
"Iím so proud of you. Yes, I know. She looks beautifulÖ..yes, we heard the speechÖÖI know, I can imagine how exciting this is for youÖ.Really?Ö.I bet she loved thatÖ..okay, we love you tooÖ.okay, bye."
Sara flipped her cell phone off and turned to see the entire room leaning toward her in anticipation.
"Well?! What did he say?!"
"Oh, Ray, heís so exciting he can barely think. He wanted to know if we saw the awards. He wanted to make sure we saw how beautiful Franny looked. He said they were going to a party afterwards and that he loved us. Oh, and that Franny got to meet Glenn Close and Rosie OíDonnell."
"Oh my, Glenn Close. Sheís fabulous. Can you believe it? Glenn Close." Sara smiled as Mrs. Vecchio gushed over Glenn Close.
"Are you feeling well enough to come back to bed and lie down for a while?" Ben wiped a damp cloth over the back of Saraís neck while she sat on the edge of the bathtub.
"No, I think I better stay here a little while longer." She walked slowly over to the sink and turned the faucet on. Scooping some water in her hands, she took a tentative sip and rinsed the taste out of her mouth.
"Why donít you let me take you to the doctor. At least let me call Dr. OíNeill."
"I shouldnít have had that shrimp for lunch. Iím sure itíll pass soon. Thereís no need to call Natalie at this hour."
"It could be food poisoning." Ben helped Sara walk slowly back to the edge of the tub. She sat leaning over with her head in her hands and moaned slightly.
"Ooaaahhh. I hope it just goes away soon." Ben went to the sink to run some cool water over the cloth. Before he could help her, Sara rushed to the toilet again and heaved into the bowl.
"It doesnít appear to be shrimp."
"Thatís so gross. Do you really have to do that? You donít have to stay in here with me, you know." Ben pulled her hair back from her face as she sat on the floor next to the toilet.
"If youíre not better by morning, Iím calling Natalie." Sara was too weak to argue. She tried to steady herself and stand but the wave of nausea returned. Ben held her hair as she vomited for the fourth time in two hours.
Ben placed a hand on Saraís forehead and gave her a stern look.
"You donít have a fever."
"See, I told you I was well enough to go to work. It was probably just something I ate, thatís all. You know how sensitive my stomach is to anything the least bit out of date."
"I think you should at least stay home today. Youíve been sick all weekend. Youíve hardly eaten anything but crackers and toast since Friday night."
"Iím fine. Besides, Iíve got court this morning. Iím cross-examining Baylor today."
"Itís against my better judgement. But, if you feel the least bit sick today, come home."
"I will. Iíll be fine." Sara grabbed her briefcase and keys as she walked toward the door.
"Call Rayís phone if you need me." Ben kissed her softly on the lips as she left for work. It would be another few minutes before Ray would be there to pick him up.
"Morning, Benny. Sara still sick?" Ray pulled out of the parking garage and into traffic.
"She still looks awfully pale. Her appetite hasnít been the same over the last couple weeks and sheís getting thinner. Iím concerned, Ray."
"Maybe sheís got a touch of that flu thatís been going around. Itís cold and flu season you know. And I heard that this year is gonna be bad."
"Iíve done everything short of calling Dr. OíNeill. Iíve made her tea. Iíve given her some herbal stew. She canít seem to keep anything down."
"The fluís rough. I had it last year, remember. I lost 12 pounds."
"I suppose your right. Iím just concerned thatís all."
"Weíll stop by my house before I take you home and get some of Maís chicken soup she keeps in the freezer."
"That would be nice, Ray. Thank you kindly."
Sara sat first chair next to Craig Parker during the Baylor trial. Accused of raping a 22-year-old girl, Baylor claimed it was consensual. Craig jotted down a few notes while the defense was examining the witness. Sara wiped her hand across her forehead and prayed her headache would go away soon. The defense attorney strutted around the courtroom gesturing wildly. Sara quickly rose to her feet.
"Objection, Your Honor! Counsel is leading the witness."
"Sustained. Watch it, Counselor."
Sara knew that he would be finishing his questioning soon. She had to clear her head and push down the urge to vomit. She wasnít going to let an upset stomach keep her from putting this bastard behind bars.
"Thatís all, Your Honor. No further questions."
"Mrs. Fraser. Your Witness." Sara slowly slid her chair back and cast a determined look toward Crag. She swallowed hard in an effort to push the lump from her throat. Taking a deep breath, she began her questioning.
"Mr. Baylor, is it your contention that Ms. Martin consented to intercourse with you on the night of October 3rd?"
"Yeah, she wanted me."
"I see and how do you explain the bruises and cuts on her face?"
"She liked it rough." Baylor leered at Sara as she walked closer to the witness stand. Sara could feel the hatred toward this man increase inside her.
"So rough that when her friends later found her in her dorm room that evening they felt the need to call an ambulance?"
"What can I say? Some chicks are in to that sorta stuff." Sara fought back the urge to slap the vile man across his face.
"How can you explain the testimony of Ms. Dalton? She testified that she heard Ms. Martin screaming for help."
"She musta misunderstood." Baylor leaned back in his chair and stared smugly at Sara.
Sara leaned a hand on the witness stand and wiped her other hand across her neck.
"Counselor, is everything all right? Counselor?"
"Yes, Your Honor. My apologies." Sara took another deep breath and steadied herself before she continued. "Mr. Baylor, how do you explainÖ.." Sara took an unsteady step forward and then collapsed. Craig rushed to her as the courtroom erupted in murmurs of shock. The Judge banged his gavel in an effort to return order to his courtroom. Craig cradled Saraís head in his lap and lightly patted her face.
"Sara! Sara, wake up! Someone call an ambulance right away!"
"Ray, you didnít even slow down!"
"Slow down for what?"
"That stop sign."
"What stop sign?" Ray grinned as he stared at the road ahead.
"The stop sign you just ran."
"Ah, Iím sure youíre mistaken." Ben shook his head and handed Ray his ringing cell phone.
"VecchioÖ..weíre on our way." Ray snapped the phone closed and floored the Riv.
"Ray, whatís wrong?!"
"Itís Sara." Ben reached an arm to the dash of the car to brace himself.
"Whatís happened?! Where is she?!" Ben could feel a wave of panic wash over him. He tried to maintain his composure and find out what was wrong with Sara.
"Elaine said she collapsed in the court room while questioning a witness. Theyíve taken her to Chicago General." Ray increased his speed as Benís mind raced over what was wrong with Sara. For once he didnít complain about Rayís habit of breaking the traffic laws.
Continued in Part 2