The Road Home is Often
by Pretty Pretty
"Couch or Bed?"
"You hungry? You want me to fix you something to eat?"
"I’m fine. I really wish you wouldn’t do all this." Sara held Ray around his chest as she and Jacky helped him to the couch.
"Well, you really don’t have a lot of say in the matter, so deal with it." Sara reached over and picked up his bag and was getting ready to go in the other room, when Ray reached out and grabbed her hand.
"Hey." Ray pulled her down to the edge of the couch.
"What’s wrong? You’re not in pain are you?" Ray shook his head and Sara could see the emotions playing across his face. Before she could be sure they were there, Ray drug his hand across his face and wiped away the tears that were pooling in his eyes.
"I uh…I just wanted to say thanks. I mean…uh…you didn’t have to do this."
"Shut up Ray. When are you going to realize that you are loved? You are part of this family. Some may find that a heavy cross to bear, but you’re stuck with us just the same." Sara leaned in to Ray and hugged him.
"Now, are you comfortable? Do you want to change?"
"Nah, I’m fine."
"Well, I’m gonna cook supper around six. Ma’s bringin’ Caroline home in about an hour, so if you need a nap, take one now."
"I can’t wait to see her."
"Well, she’s thrilled to pieces that you’re staying for a
sleepover." Ray chuckled and scooted down in the cushions of the couch.
Sara adjusted the pillows under his leg and kissed him on the top of the head.
"Green or Red?"
"Red." Sara walked to the kitchen and poured Ray a glass of Kool-Aid. Jacky had finished putting Ray’s things away in the guestroom and had settled in the recliner.
"Here. I’m going to call Ray and see what he’s doing tonight. You need anything else?"
"Jacky, don’t let him do anything stupid."
"How will I recognize a change?"
"Oh you’re funny." Ray threw a pillow at Jacky’s head and then grimaced from the strain put on his thigh.
"See, that was stupid. Now behave." Sara giggled as she left the room. Jacky had found a hockey game on ESPN and fortunately it was the Leafs against the Wings. Sara had to close the door to her room so she could hear the phone over the screaming.
Sara sighed and leaned back on the bed with the phone to her ear. After a few rings, Ray Vecchio finally answered his cell phone.
"Hey, where are you?"
"Oh hey, Sara. Meg and I are on our way to the airport to pick up Turnbull."
"Huh? You need me?"
"No not really. I thought I’d cook tonight since Ray was here. I didn’t know if you wanted to bring Ren and Meg back here and we could all eat together."
Sara listened to Ray move away from his phone and talk to Meg. She smiled to herself at how ‘friendly’ they had become.
"Meg and I will be there. We’ll just come on over with Turnbull if he feels like eating."
"He’s tired. I can see it in his eyes. He’s watching hockey with Jacky right now."
"You need anything while we’re out?"
"No I’m fine. I’m making hamburger steak with gravy. I hope that’s okay."
"Sounds great. See you soon."
"Bye, and Ray…"
"Tell Meg I said hello." Sara giggled and Ray knew by her tone that he would be having a conversation with Sara that wouldn’t be at all pleasant for him regarding Meg.
~~Ray stood with Meg at the airport counter and waited for Turnbull’s plane to arrive. He tried not to stare, but she had worn jeans and a form fitting red sweater and he found it hard to think about anything but how it hugged the curves of her body. *Man, she looks good in red. It suits her. * She paced impatiently while reading the arrival information.
"It looks like it’s running behind. We could be here awhile. Should we call Sara?" Ray looked at the soft brown eyes looking into his and grinned.
"Nah, give it a while. She knows how flights are. You want to go get a cup of coffee in the café?"
"That sounds great, Detective."
Meg looped her arm into Ray’s and the two of them walked down the concourse past the small shops and into the café.
Meg found them a table and waited while Ray brought over their coffees.
"I wonder if Turnbull survived Debi's father?"
"God only knows. Sometimes I worry about my junior officer. But, I do have to admit, that Debi and he are wonderful together."
"Yeah, she really fell for the guy."
"It seems so. I wonder what she'll do when she moves here."
"I think she said she was going to try to find a job at one of those pharmacy supply places."
"Ah." Meg stirred her coffee and looked around the airport at all the travelers scurrying from one place to the next.
"What are you thinking about?" Meg smiled at him and then lowered her head slightly embarrassed.
"Just how nice it would be to hop on a plane to some far off island somewhere."
"Yeah, I wouldn't mind that myself right about now." Meg smiled at Ray and reached across the table and took his hand.
"Are things falling back into place for you?" Ray felt the heat of her hand surge through his body and his fingers instinctively threaded through hers. His eyes locked with Meg's and for a split second, time stopped. Hearing a tray behind the counter crash to the floor, Ray jolted back to reality and answered Meg's question.
"Yeah, I think so. Being around Sara and Benny helps. Sleeping in my own bed was a forgotten luxury that's for sure. The only thing that would make me really feel normal is to have my car." Ray felt Meg's grip stiffen. He saw her expression change slightly.
"Your car?" Ray chuckled at the panic flashing across Meg's face.
"Don't try to cover it up. Sara told me."
"She told you? About your..uh….car?"
"Yes, she told me how Kowalski and Benny turned it into a deep fried submarine."
"I'm so sorry Ray." Ray shrugged his shoulders and took another drink of his coffee, ever mindful of the fact that he was still holding Meg's hand.
"It's okay. I should be used to disappointment by now." Meg frowned at Ray.
"No you shouldn't."
"Huh?" Ray looked at the stern look on Meg's face as she stared at him.
"You shouldn't be used to disappointment. No one should."
"You sound like Sara."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"No. Why are you so upset?"
"I just don't like seeing you like this. I….well, to be quite frank, this is not the Ray Vecchio I remember."
"Well, I'm not sure if he even exists anymore."
"We don't just lose ourselves Ray. The foundation of you life will not disappear. We can forget it sometimes, but it's always there supporting us in the end. You shouldn't be used to disappointments Ray. That's just sad."
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you." Ray took another drink of coffee and swallowed hard. *It's now or never.*
"That's okay. I shouldn't have lectured."
"Well, how about you make it up to me?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"How about you and I having dinner tomorrow night?"
"Dinner?" *Oh God, she's going to turn me down. Disappointment all the way, Vecchio.*
"Dinner." Meg smiled and felt her heart quicken its pace.
"I'd love to." *Holy Mary Mother of God! She said yes!! *
"Great." Both of them quickly hoisted their coffee cups to their lips and took long drinks trying not to let the other see the smile that was playing at their lips. Thankfully, Turnbull's flight was announced and they walked arm in arm to the gate.
"I said no."
"Take it or I'll shove it down your throat."
"No you won't."
"Don't try me. Jacky gives pills to animals all the time. I know how. I'll grab you by the head, shove my hand down your throat and then rub your neck until you swallow it."
Ray looked at Sara and then to Jacky. Jacky nodded and started to laugh. Ray's shoulder's slumped as he sat on the couch and held out his hand to Sara.
"Fine. You're not a very good nurse."
"You're not a very good patient." Ray grimaced as he put the pill in his mouth. Sara shoved a glass of Kool-aid at him and glared until he swallowed.
"You want cookies?"
"Chocolate chip. Or store bought sugar cookies."
"Yours." Sara smiled and went into the kitchen. Ray grinned like a six-year-old when Sara handed him a plate of homemade cookies that were still warm from the oven.
"You want milk?"
"Nah, I'm fine." Ray started cramming cookies in his mouth while Sara sat on the floor in front of the couch.
"When's Ma coming?" Jacky asked over his shoulder as he went to the kitchen for more cookies.
"Any minute. So, save her some cookies. I owe her big time."
"Owe her? For what?" Ray bit into his cookie.
"She worked her magic on Uncle Ray this afternoon."
"What'd she do?"
"Save your ass."
"Ray knows about his car." Ray dropped the cookie his was holding on his plate. His mouth was suddenly very dry.
"You heard me."
"Yep, you know, the fireball you drove into the lake."
"Yep. That sums it up."
"So what did Caroline do?"
"She's her father's child, I'll tell you that. She knows how to melt her Uncle Ray. He and Meg will be here tonight."
"I really hope you'll stop saying that when my child gets here."
~~~"Welcome home, Constable. Did you have a pleasant trip?"
"Oh yes ma'am. Most pleasurable. Deb-I's family was wonderful."
Turnbull hoisted his carry on bag over his shoulder and began walking to the parking lot with Meg and Ray.
"How'd you make out with her old man?"
"Well, detective, I was most concerned about Mr. Johnson's reaction. I guess I feared the worst. However, I was pleasantly surprised. He was very happy for us."
"When's Debi joining you in Chicago, constable?"
"In three weeks. That should give her time to square away things at the pharmacy and pack. The wedding is in February."
"That's great Turnbull. I'm really happy for you."
"Thank you detective."
"Did you have any other bags?"
"No, just the carry on."
"Sara invited us all over. Do you feel up to it?" Turnbull smiled and nodded.
"I'd like that." The thought of going home to his empty apartment was something he wasn't looking forward to.
Sara heard the buzzer sound and pressed the button for the intercom.
"Heeey Mooommmaa!!" Sara laughed at the sound of Caroline's voice booming over the intercom.
"Hey Doodlebug! You better get up here. There's some people here that want to give you a big ol' hug."
"Ok, we're comin'." Sara laughed and opened the front door for Ma and Caroline.
"Ray, you better brace yourself. She's on her way." Ray laughed as he pushed himself up into a sitting position on the couch. His leg was propped up on pillows and his abdomen wound was heavily bandaged. His medication made him groggy, but he wasn't going to let Sara know that.
"Uncle Rah!" Caroline burst through the front door and made a beeline to the couch. Ray braced himself for the weight of Caroline's body, but was shocked when she stopped short at the edge of the couch.
"Hey Doodlebug! What? No hug for your Uncle Rah?"
"It won't hurt?"
"Momma said I can'ts jump on you 'cause you gots shot and it'll hurt."
"I think I can handle a hug from you. Com'ere. " Ray leaned forward and pulled the little girl to him. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and planted a kiss on his cheek.
"Mmm-mm. Nobody gives hugs like you. They're the best." Caroline beamed at the compliment and sat gently on the edge of the couch next to Ray. Ma smiled as she watched the two of them.
"Ma can you stay for a while? I'm cookin'. Ray and Meg are coming."
"I'm sorry dear. Francesca and John are taking me out to dinner. I'm going to meet the publicist and his agent. We're going over some details for the wedding."
"Did you get the dresses?"
"Oh, darling, they are gorgeous. You are going to look beautiful. Francesca has exquisite taste. I didn't know my little girl had such an eye for fashion when it came to matters like this."
"What color did she decide to go with?"
"Well, since it's a Christmas wedding she decided to go with a deep green velvet dress. It's very plain, no bows or frills. It will look stunning on you."
"It sounds like it. I can't wait to try it on."
"She's bringing it by tomorrow."
"Oh yes. I learned that celebrity can do a lot of things. People were falling all over us. Running this way and that, trying to please us. It was crazy."
"They all want to get credit when the media frenzy hits."
"It already has. Three cameramen followed us at lunch. Poor Francesca, I don't know how she deals with it."
"She can handle it. I pity the photographer that pisses her off."
"This is true."
"Momma, I'm hungry."
"Dinner will be ready in a little while. I made some cookies. You want one to tide you over?"
"Yes'm." Sara noticed the stern look Rosa was giving her.
"I owe Caroline this one. Besides, sometimes you just need to eat dessert first." Rosa's eyes wrinkled with a smile as she nodded in agreement.
"True. I think I'll have a cookie myself." Sara offered the plate of homemade cookies to Rosa and then took one herself.
"Momma, can I eat this wif Uncle Rah?"
"Sure sweetie, but remember, don't be rough."
"I won't." Sara smiled at the sight of her beautiful daughter climbing gingerly onto the couch and taking a seat next to Ray. She broke off a piece of cookie and offered it to Ray who happily accepted. Rosa sighed as Caroline fed Ray the piece of cookie.
"She adores him."
"They share the same mentality."
"This is true. But Ray is a good boy. I'm glad you're taking care of him."
"You have to take care of the ones you love."
"Yes you do, dear. Yes you do. Well, I need to go. I'll see you tomorrow. I'll stop by after I visit Benton at the hospital."
"He's so happy you're bringing him lunch."
"My poor boy is probably wasting away. I'm glad to do it. You've got your hands full here. Call me if you need me dear."
"I will, night Ma."
Sara kissed her on the cheek as she left the apartment. Sara turned to find Caroline sitting on Ray's lap holding a book.
"Is she hurting you?"
"Nah, not like this. She's more on the couch than me."
"I'm going to go finish supper. Holler at me or Jacky if you need anything."
"'kay. You gonna help me with the big words Bug?"
"Uh-huh." Ray opened the book and started reading.
"One summer day Toad was unhappy. He had lost the white, four-holed, big, round, thick button from his jacket. Who helped him look for it? His best friend, Frog."
"Uncle Rah, you're Daddy's best friend, ain'tcha?" Ray stared down at the book for a moment. *Am I Fraser's best friend? Vecchio is his best friend, right? What does that make me now that he's back? * Sara saw the look of sadness pass across Ray's face. She walked over to the couch and leaned over the back cushion.
"Yes, Caroline, Ray and Daddy are best friends."
"Theresa's my best friend."
"She sure is. You two keep reading while I cook." Sara nudged Ray in the shoulder and smiled a loving smile. Ray's face brightened and he flipped the page and began reading again.
Sara sighed as she checked the oven. *Ben needs to talk to him soon.*
~~"Hey! Is anybody here?" Ray held the door to the apartment open for Meg and Turnbull. Caroline ran to greet them. Turnbull lifted her high in the air and spun her around.
"There's my pretty girl!"
"Hey Ren!" Turnbull brought the girl down into his arms and gave her a big hug. His large frame made Caroline look like a small doll in his arms. She leaned forward and stretched her arms out to Ray.
"Hey kiddo. Where's your Mom?" Ray took Caroline into his arms and held her on his hip.
"She went potty."
"Caroline!" Sara appeared in the doorway and shook her head. "Talk about your TMI. Geez." Caroline giggled while Ray carried her over to where Jacky was sitting.
"Kowalski is out like a light, huh?"
"Yeah, the medication knocks him out. An elephant stampede could run through here and he wouldn't know it."
Sara pulled Ray to the side and into the kitchen.
"Not one word about the Riv."
"Not one word. He's been a nervous wreck all afternoon. Just don't even bring it up."
"I hadn't planned on it."
"Well, just don't. I know you loved that car. But, Uncle Rah in there has been through enough already. It took him forever to go to sleep."
"Okay, Sara, calm down. I'm not going to say anything. Besides, it's Benny I want to make suffer."
"Oh that's a comfort."
"Hey, I'm just kidding. Don't worry, I won't say anything."
"Thanks Ray. I just don't want to see him upset today, that's all."
"You really care about this guy don't you?"
"Yeah, I do." Sara could see the pain in Ray's eyes as she admitted her feelings for the man who had taken his place. *God, Ben, you need to be here. * Sara didn't know what else to do but go with her instincts. She reached out and wrapped her arms around Ray's waist. She took a deep breath and inhaled the scent of his cologne. He responded in kind and held her close.
"I missed you."
"You better have."
"Same old Sara." Ray squeezed her and then looked down into her green eyes. He saw the flash of wickedness and felt the urge to run. He knew what was coming next.
"Did you and Meg have a good time?" *Oh damn.*
"Yes we did." Sara's smiled grew wider as she hugged his waist and looked up at him.
"Start what? I was just askin'."
"Yeah, I know what your were asking. And I don't have an answer. I'm just enjoying the company of a friend. That's all."
"Okay, whatever you say." *Oh God, she's going to drive me crazy. *
Sara released him and went back into the living room to check on Ray. He was sleeping soundly on the couch. Caroline had given him one of her stuffed monkeys and Ray had it curled up in one of his arms while the other rested above his head on the arm of the couch.
Sara placed her hand on his forehead and then on his cheek.
"Momma, is Uncle Rah gonna be okay?"
"He sure is, baby. He just needs taking care of."
"I can takes care of him."
"I'm counting on it." Caroline walked over to the edge of the couch and pulled the throw blanket up to Ray's chest and then kissed him gently on the cheek.
"Now, he's all tucked in." Sara's chest swelled with pride at her daughter. Caroline's smile could power a city. Before Sara could praise her daughter, the doorbell rang and Caroline raced past them all.
"Nat." Caroline swung open the door and smiled at Natalie. Before Natalie could say anything, Caroline put her finger to her lips.
"Shhh, Uncle Rah is sleepin'. I tucked him in."
In a whisper, Natalie spoke.
"You did. That's great. Has he been a good boy?"
"Yes'm. He's been good."
"Let's go check on him, okay?"
"'kay." Natalie held out her hand and walked into the living room behind Caroline.
"How's my baby doing?" Natalie asked as she squatted down beside the couch.
"He's been asleep for about an hour." Sara answered with a warm smile.
"When did you give him his medication?"
"He'll be out for another hour or two. Has he had any pain?"
"Just when he throws pillows." Natalie laughed at Jacky while she continued to look over Ray's healing wounds. Sara lifted Caroline in her arms and kissed her on the cheek.
"You ready to eat, Bug?"
"Yes'm. I'm hungry."
"Tonight's casual. Everything's on the stove. Plates are on the counter. Help yourself." Everyone filed into the kitchen and began fixing plates of food. Sara made Caroline a plate and then prepared one for Ray. She wrapped it in foil and placed it in the oven. Ray and Meg shared a smile at how Sara cared for Ray.
"This is really good Sara."
Everyone ate and enjoyed pleasant conversation. Ray slept soundly on the couch and barely stirred. Sara ate and hoped that this time next week, Ben would be back home where he belonged.
~~Ray rolled over on his side and gripped what he thought was a pillow in his left arm. He blinked a few times to clear the haze of medication from his mind and tried to remember where he was. * Sara's. I'm at Sara's. * He rolled over on his back and looked over the back of the couch into the kitchen. He smiled to himself and sank back down into the cushions of the big leather couch. Everyone was in the kitchen talking around the kitchen table. Ray debated on whether he should let them know he was awake or should he just rest some more? He yawned and stretched. Allowing his arms to extend above his head, he finally noticed the odd shaped pillow he thought he'd been holding. Caroline's large stuffed monkey stared back at him with its large plastic eyes. *Jesus Christ! *
Natalie saw his movement and walked over to the edge of the couch.
"Hey sleepy head. You feel any better?"
"Hmm, yeah, I'm okay? When did you get here?"
"I've been here for about two hours. You want something to eat?"
"Um, yeah, sounds good."
Ray stretched again and watched Natalie leave the room. He shifted positions on the couch and tried to get comfortable again. Natalie returned carrying a tray and was followed by Turnbull, Ray, Meg, Jacky and Caroline.
"She's coming. She's making you some more Kool-Aid."
"She loves me." Ray grinned as he took the tray from Natalie.
"Good thing too. She's got to put up with you for two weeks." Ray laughed as he started to eat the plate Sara had saved for him. Before he could respond, Sara returned from the kitchen with a glass of Kool-Aid for Ray.
"Here you go."
"Thanks Sara." Sara settled in on the floor with Caroline while Ray Vecchio and Meg sat on the opposite couch. Jacky made himself comfortable in the recliner while Turnbull went to use the phone.
"So Kowalski, that leg doing okay?" Both Rays looked at one another. Kowalski smiled and nodded as he chewed. Vecchio leaned back on the couch and smiled. "Good. I'm glad."
"Thanks Ray." Sara smiled up at Ray Vecchio and then to Ray Kowalski. Meg looked over at the man sitting beside her and felt a warm current run through her spine. *Oh dear. What was that? *
Turnbull returned from the bedroom with his customary grin on his face.
"She's great. She's going to start interviewing Pharmacists at the end of the week. She's very excited."
Sara noticed the far off look in Jacky's eyes as he listened to Turnbull.
"Jacky, you okay?" Jacky turned his head quickly to Sara and smiled.
"Yeah, I'm just going to miss her that's all."
"You could always move up here with me." Caroline ran over to Jacky and climbed over the edge of the chair and into his lap.
"You can sleep wif me in my room Uncle Jacky."
"Thanks Bug, but between you and Dief, there's not enough blanket for me." Jacky then turned back to Sara. His tone was more serious.
"You know my life is on the farm. Who'd take care of the cattle?
"I know. Maybe Daddy will retire soon."
"He's not going to retire and you know it. He'll raise cattle until the day he dies."
"True enough." The room was quiet for a moment as Jacky and Sara thought about what the other had said. Ray drained the contents of his glass and looked over at Natalie.
"Please." Ray handed his glass to Natalie and offered her an appreciative grin.
"When's the last time you took your medication?"
"Don't ask me? Ask Florence Nightingale over here."
"I shoved the last one at him about five and half hours ago."
"Time for another one."
Ray cringed as Natalie returned from the kitchen with a glass of Kool-aid and a pill."
"So does an infection. Take it."
"Fine." Ray took the pill and did as he was told. Ray nudged Meg and nodded toward the door. Turnbull saw the gesture and nodded himself.
"Well, it's late and I better get going. I've got a meeting with Welsh first thing in the morning."
"Stop by here after, okay?"
"Sure Sara. Meg, you ready?"
"Sure." Turnbull stood and handed them their coats. Sara and Caroline kissed them all goodbye at the door.
"I hope the meeting goes well." Sara held onto Ray's hand as she
"Yeah, me too."
Sara watched them leave. Worry settled over her as she wondered what Welsh would tell Ray. *I hope he still has a job. But where does that leave Ray? I need to call Ben. *
Sara made sure Ray was comfortable and then went to her room to call her husband.
~~~Jacky and Caroline were dressed and ready before eight o'clock Monday morning. He had promised to take her skating and she couldn't have been more excited. Natalie had rounds at the hospital so that just left Sara and Ray in the apartment. After Sara cooked them both breakfast, they decided to spend the day relaxing in front of the television. Before they knew it, several hours had passed and both were still in their pajamas.
"Do we have to watch this?"
"What's wrong with this?"
"Sara, it's ice dancing."
"It's like unnatural."
"Ice dancing is unnatural?"
"Yeah, dancing is done on land, not ice."
"God, look at that guy. What man would let himself be dressed like that?"
"Maybe he likes it."
"There's my point."
"Oh man! That had to hurt!"
"Hehe, he busted his ass!"
"Did she rip her costume on his skate?"
"Ooo, what a tragedy."
"Ice dancing can be a rough sport." Sara smiled at Ray's reaction.
"Sport?! That ain't no sport. That's..that's…'ice dancing'. That's like saying curling is a sport."
"You better not let Ren hear you say that."
"Men with brooms. Housekeeping is all that is. And this ain't no sport. Ooo, did you see her fall?!"
"The German judge is going to hate this."
"See, there's my point."
"Another point? My aren't we special today."
"Bite me. What I'm saying is that if you have to have a judge, then it ain't a sport."
"You're a dufus."
"Oh yeah, Football. No judges. That's a sport. Basketball, sport. Hockey, sport."
"What about boxing? There's a judge in that. So that's not a sport." Ray looked blankly at Sara's smug expression.
"Of course boxing is a sport."
"But it has a judge."
"No, it's won by knockouts. One guy knocks another guy on his ass. Sport."
"But it has a judge. So according to your theory, if the fight doesn't have a knockout then it's not a sport." Sara could see she had Ray completely flustered.
"No, boxing is a sport either way."
"That's not what you said."
"Boxing is a sport."
"So's ice dancing." Ray sighed and slumped down into the couch. They sat in silence and watched the couples glide across the ice. During a commercial, Sara stood and went into the kitchen to fix them something to drink. Rubbing his hand through his hair, Ray tried to sound as casual as he could.
"So, uh, is Ray coming by here after he talks to Welsh?"
"He's supposed to."
"What do you thinks gonna happen?" Sara sighed and handed Ray a glass of Coke.
"I don't know. Ray had no idea and Ben wasn't saying a word."
"Did Fraser talk to Welsh?"
"I think so. But, you know Ben, if he's bound to secrecy, he'll take it to the grave. Even from me."
"Yeah, he sucks that way." The phone rang with an annoying shrill. Sara lifted the receiver.
"Hello…speaking….Oh hi Frank….really? That's fantastic. What condition was it in? Does it have a cigarette lighter? Oh, that's great! How long until it gets here? No…no that's fine. I'll arrange the flight….great. See you on Wednesday." Sara hung up the phone with a huge smile on her face.
"What was that all about? You look like you just hit the lottery."
"Yep, I just saved your ass."
~~~Ray Vecchio gripped the door handle of the 27th precinct. He took a deep breath and entered the building he hadn't stepped in for the past three and a half years. After a few steps he realized he was still holding his breath. Some of the faces were still the same. It still looked the same. Smelled the same too. Walking into the bullpen he smiled. Franny was sitting at her desk with the phone cradled on her shoulder. She filed her nails while screaming at whomever was on the other end giving her grief.
"Hey, Vecchio! Welcome home."
"Thanks Jack. Welsh in?"
"Waiting on you in his office."
"Thanks." Ray walked confidently over to the Lieutenant's office door and knocked.
"Yeah!" Ray opened the door and saw a very irritated looking Harding Welsh standing at his desk with the phone in his hand.
"Have a seat detective….. No, I'll handle it in the morning." Welsh slammed the phone down and looked at Ray.
"You wanted to see me sir?" Welsh smiled slightly as he sat behind his desk.
"It's good to have you home."
"It's good to be home, Lieu."
"I hear the FBI offered you a job." Ray shifted in his seat before meeting the gaze of his boss.
"Yes sir. I turned it down."
"I heard that too. That's why I wanted to talk to you. It's about your current status."
"Do I have a status?"
"Currently you are a detective with the precinct."
"Yes, that's what we need to discuss. As you know, Detective Raymond Kowalski took over your identity in order to keep your cover. During the time you were undercover, Kowalski has been a fairly decent detective. He and the Mountie have been working well in an unofficial partnership. However, now that you have returned…."
"Just tell me, do I have a job or what?"
"Of course you have a job detective. That's what this is about. What your job will be."
*Oh God, he's going to partner me with Kowalski. He can't do that? I…what about Benny? *
"Detective, it's simple. You've been promoted." Ray sat motionless in the chair. Welsh waited on a response, when he didn't get one he stood and walked around to the front of his desk.
"Ray, you've been promoted."
"Promoted? I'm a sergeant?"
"No? Then what am I?"
"Well, the police and the FBI have been in discussion for the past week over what would be the best course of action to take regarding the situation. So as of 8:00 this morning, you are Lieutenant Ray Vecchio assigned to the 27th precinct." Ray sat speechless.
"We've taken in consideration your time and dedication to duty. So, with the FBI's recommendation and that of the Police Commissioner, you are now Lt. Vecchio. Congratulations."
"But…but…but what about you? What….I mean…."
"Take it easy Ray, I know it's a lot to process. I think congratulations are in order for me as well. Say hello to your new Captain." Ray's face parted in a large grin.
"Harding that's great!"
"Well, there's more. Kowalski will still be assigned to the 27th if he wants it."
"That's great. I'm sure he'll like that."
"Have you two spoken?"
"Some. Not much. He's at Sara's now. I'm going there after I leave here."
"Well, give her my love. I've taken it upon my self to extend your leave until next week. That will give us both time to get settled into our new quarters."
"Yeah, I'll call you later with the details. Now beat it. I've got the chief screaming down my neck about Duck boys last bust." Ray stood and shook Welsh's hand. He couldn't believe what had just happened. He walked out into the bullpen and over to Franny's desk.
"Well?" Francesca leaned forward and smiled up at her brother.
"I'm your boss." Ray smiled at her with all the Italian charm he could muster.
"I'm your boss Franny." Ray erupted in laughter while Francesca scowled.
"Oh Jesus! Ray, you mean…."
"That's Lt. Vecchio to you."
"Oh God. I think I'll listen to John and give up this job. I don't need to work anyway. Why put up with the heartache?!" As Francesca was talking to herself Ray leaned over and pulled her to her feet. Engulfing her in his arms he spun her around as he laughed. She couldn't help but laugh with him. She hadn't seen him this happy since he returned home.
"Okay! Okay! Put me down. You're thrilled. I get it."
"I'm going to the hospital. Will you call Sara and tell her where I went and that I'll be over there in a little while?" Ray rushed from the bullpen and waved to Franny. She stood with her hands on her hips and a grin still plastered on her face. Jack Huey walked up beside her.
"What was that all about?"
"He just made Lieutenant."
~~~Ray quietly opened the door to Ben's hospital room. Peeking inside, he saw that Fraser was awake.
"Hiya Benny." Ben noticed the look on Ray's face and figured he was happy with his meeting with Welsh.
"What are you doing here Ray?"
"Well, I had a meeting with Welsh this morning. I wanted to talk to you about it."
"Congratulations Ray." Ray stood beside the bed and stared down at the broad smile on his best friend's face.
"Yes, Welsh stopped by and spoke with me last week."
"Does Kowalski know?"
"No, he was in physical therapy when Welsh was by."
"Do you think he'll stay?" Ben thought for a moment and nodded.
"Yes. I'm sure he will."
Ray's expression grew sullen and Ben could sense where his thoughts had turned.
"We won't be working on cases together."
"But we'll still be working together in an official capacity."
"Yeah, but you'll be with your new best friend." Ray knew it sounded childish, but he couldn't help but speak his mind. It was driving him crazy thinking about it.
"You're my best friend too Ray."
"How can you have two best friends?" Ben rubbed his thumb along his eyebrow.
"Well, you're actually something other than a best friend to me." Ben noticed the fallen look cross Ray's features. Ben looked him directly in the eyes and continued with what he had to say.
"You're more than a friend Ray. You are my family. You are the only person I have ever known as brother. You are as much my family as Sara and Caroline. Please don't forget that."
Ray swallowed hard in an effort to remove the lump from his throat. A smile crept across his features as he looked at Fraser.
"Thanks Benny. I needed to hear that."
"Anytime Ray." In an effort to lighten the mood, Ray pulled up a chair and sat next to Fraser's bed. He schooled his features and tried not to laugh at the reaction he knew he would get.
"So, when can I get the Riv back?"
Ben's face paled and his clear blue eyes widened with fear.
~~~Ray left the hospital feeling better than he'd felt in a long time. He hailed a cab at the curb and gave the cabbie directions to Sara's. Flipping open his cell phone, he dialed the Consulate. Taking a deep breath, he waited on Turnbull to answer.
"Hey Turnbull, it's Ray. Is Meg in?….Thanks….." Steeling his nerves, he waited to hear her voice on the other end of the line.
"Meg? Ray. Let's you and I have dinner tonight….Just you and me….no, a date….that's right, I said a date….great. See you then." Ray snapped his cell phone shut and looked out the passenger window with a big smile on his face.
Ray rode the elevator up to Sara's apartment. He opened the door and saw Kowalski flipping channels on the television.
"Hey, where's Sara?"
"She went to the store for a sec. She should be back in about ten minutes."
"Oh okay." Ray pulled off his coat and sat in the recliner next to the couch. He could tell the blond detective was a little uncomfortable. Ray figured it was as good a time as any to talk to him about the changes that were going to occur at the station.
"Uh, Ray, I had a meeting with Welsh today." Ray Kowalski felt his stomach twist into a knot.
"With Welsh? Today?"
"Yeah, we discussed where I stand with regards to the department." Deep green eyes looked directly at pale blue ones. * Here it comes. Thanks for the time Kowalski, now hit the road. *
"Yeah, I'm just going to say it straight."
* Here we go. *
"I've been promoted to Lieutenant and Welsh to Captain. We'd like you to stay at the 27th on permanent assignment."
Kowalski ran his hand over his head as he digested what he had just heard. Ray leaned forward and tried to read the reaction on the Detective's face.
"Stay? Like, stay the way things are?"
"Well, kinda. I'd be your boss."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"If you and Fraser are working together, it just might be." Ray laughed and sat back in the recliner.
"Does Fraser know?"
"I stopped by the hospital before coming here."
"Where's Welsh going?"
"He's our new Captain."
"Yeah." The two men sat in comfortable silence and watched television. Things would be fine between them. Ray just knew it.
~~~"Francesca, a package has arrived for you!" Ma called up the stairs to Francesca. She had just got home for lunch and went to check her mail.
"Coming Ma." She skipped down the stairs and entered the den where her mother was sitting.
"It must be the invitations." Francesca smiled and tore open the plain brown box.
"Oh Ma, look." She pulled open the box and offered her mother one of the linen invitations.
"Oh my, these are beautiful. Francesca they must have cost a lot of money."
"You don't want to know." Francesca ran her fingers over the pale cream colored linen paper. The raised letters of her name sparkled with the gold ink.
"How will they be mailed?" Francesca beamed at her mother.
"Oh Ma, it's going to be so fancy. Each invitation will be placed on a bed of red rose petals in a hand made linen box with my initials in gold on the outside and hand delivered to each guest."
"Do we need to…." Francesca knew what her mother was going to ask. She shook her head before her mother could finish.
"We're not doing a thing. The wedding planner is handling all of it. The invitations should be sent out by the end of this week."
"The plans are shaping up then?"
"Well, the caterer is straight on everything. The music is set. The bridesmaid's dresses are in. I've talked to Father Behan."
"Did you talk to Ray and Benton?"
"Yes ma'am. Ray thought it was a great idea. And after Ben refused because he didn't want to hurt Ray's feelings, I finally convinced him. He seemed very touched."
"He's so much a part of this family. He has to be a part of the ceremony."
"I know. I'm glad you thought of it Ma. It's going to be really special to me."
"Have the flowers been arranged?"
"White roses will fill the church. It's going to be beautiful."
"Nothing compared to how you will look, dear."
Francesca tucked her head and smiled. "Thanks Ma."
"Is John coming over tonight after shooting?"
"He said he would be here around seven. He's got to shoot some outdoor scenes and then he'll be finished for the night."
"Are you staying in or eating with us?"
"We're staying in tonight. With the wedding drawing closer, I'd rather just hang out."
"That sounds fine. I enjoy talking to my new son-in-law."
Francesca laughed at her mother.
"I like the sound of that."
"So do I."
Sara pushed open the door with her foot as she carried two bags of groceries into the apartment. Ray leapt from the recliner and took the bags from her arms.
"Hey, how'd the meeting go?" Sara dropped her purse on the table by the door and called after Ray as he walked into the kitchen. She walked over to the edge of the couch and looked at Ray Kowalski's smiling face.
"Wait until you hear."
"What? What happened?" Ray walked back in to the living room and swept Sara up into a big hug.
"Kiss me! I've been promoted!" Sara gave him a friendly kiss on the lips and laughed at his excitement.
"Yep, your best friend is now your other best friends boss." Kowalski made a face as Sara looked at him in confusion.
"Lt. Raymond Vecchio, 27th precinct, at your service."
Sara stared up at the tall lanky Italian. She couldn't believe what she had just heard.
"You're the new Lieutenant? What about Harding?"
"You mean Captain Welsh."
"Captain?! This just gets better and better. What about Ray?"
"He's assigned as Detective First Class as long as he wants it."
Sara looked over at the blond detective and smiled brightly. He looked happy and
content. That was something she hadn't seen in weeks.
"That's so great, Ray. What did Ben say?"
"He already knew! Welsh told him last week. I can't believe you didn't know."
"Yeah, me either. I'm so happy for you Ray. When do you start?"
"That's great. It really is." Sara hugged him tightly and then went to hug Ray as he sat on the couch. When Sara hugged him, Ray held on to her arms before she could stand again.
"You feel warm. You okay?" Sara wouldn't look him in the eyes when she spoke. She had felt sluggish most of the day, but was trying to get some things done.
"I'm fine." Ray saw the concern in Kowalski's face and walked over to Sara. Placing his hand on her forehead, he frowned.
"You've got a fever."
"I'm just excited that's all."
"Sara, don't give me crap."
Kowalski leaned over the edge of the couch and reached for the phone.
"Who are you calling?"
"No!" Sara pleaded.
"I'm callin' Sara. So deal with it. I ain't lettin' ya get sick."
Kowalski dialed the phone and waited for an answer.
"Hello, Vecchio Household."
"Hello Ray. How's the leg?"
"It's doin' better. Is Ma there? Sara's runnin' a fever."
"Hold on." Kowalski held the phone to his ear and heard John's muffled voice speaking to Mrs. Vecchio. Within a minute he was back on the line.
"She's on her way. She says it's probably the flu that's been going around. Angelo had it last week."
"Greatness. Thanks." Sara tried to protest, but it was falling on deaf ears. Ray had already started putting the groceries away in the kitchen while Kowalski was on the phone with John.
"I'm fine. So I'm a little warm. You people are acting crazy."
Ray held the phone away from his ear and commented on Sara's remark. "Bite me."
~~~"Why do you think you have to be superwoman, huh?" Sara lowered her head and tried to hide the fact her nose was starting to run.
"Yeah, Sara, you always think you have to take care of the world." Sara looked at one Ray and then to the other.
"Well, it's what I do. I've always had to take care of things."
"Well, you can't do everythin' Sara. So deal with it." Kowalski shifted on the couch while Ray walked over and put his hand on her forehead.
"Does your throat hurt? Because you don't look good."
"Yeah, right. When Ma gets here we'll see." Kowalski looked at Sara
"Yeah Ray, when Ma gets here she can take care of 'both' of us."
Ray smiled as Kowalski cringed and flipped Sara off. To his surprise, Sara returned the gesture.
"He started it."
Ray rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"See, you don't feel well. I bet it's the flu that's going around. Angelo had it last week. It was horrible."
"I don't have the flu. I'm fine. Ray do want something to eat?" Kowalski shook his head and shared a look with Ray. The look was not lost on Sara. She glared at Ray and he knew she was getting angry, but he didn't care.
"Sara, Benny's not here, so in his absence, I'm acting as resident Sara attendant."
"Go put on your pajama's and go to bed."
"No. I've got to cook supper." Sara tried to nonchalantly sniff the mucus that was forming in her sinuses.
"I heard that. Go." Ray's green eyes dared her to argue. However, Sara was not used to backing down.
"I'm the one takin' care of things. I'm fine. I've got to cook supper for my family."
"Okay, one…that was a little more southern sounding than usual. Two, if you don't do what I say, I'm going to call your Dad."
"I'm not a child. I'm a grown woman, so threatenin' to call my Daddy ain't scarin' me."
"Okay, now that was just plain scary Scarlett. Fine, then I'll call Fraser."
Ray noticed a chink in her armor. He'd hit a nerve.
"Don't you dare."
"Then go put on the old pj's and get comfy till Ma gets here."
"Let me just say this, I'm very pissed."
Kowalski laughed as Sara sulked off to her bedroom.
"Damn, you sure know how to handle her."
"You don't 'handle' Sara. You scream threaten and yell, then you result to fighting dirty."
Ray rubbed his balding head and wished his Mother would get there soon. She would know what to do. Besides, he had bigger things to worry about. He had a date with Meg.
* My God, I've got a date with Inspector Margaret Thatcher! * Panic started to set in. He looked around the room in an effort to…well, he didn't know what he was looking for. Kowalski had become engrossed in the television again which left Ray to sit and ponder this evening's activities.
Before Ray could work himself into a complete panic, Jacky and Caroline returned home. Jacky opened the door and had a limp and sleeping Caroline draped partially over his shoulder. Kowalski turned the television down and whispered to Jacky.
"Hey, did you and Bug have fun?"
"I thought she was gonna bust. She had a blast. I'm gonna go put her down. Where's Sara?" Ray stood and helped slip Caroline's coat off.
"I think it's the flu. Ma's coming over. Sara's running and fever and…."
"Acting like a there's nothin' wrong?"
"Yeah pretty much."
"She's always been like that. Just boss her around, call Ben if you have to."
"The threat already worked." Jacky carried Caroline into her room and gently laid her down on the bed. Ray followed and helped Jacky change the little girl into something to sleep in.
"She's out like a light."
"Yeah, she fell asleep in the car. There's no telling how long she'll sleep." Jacky slipped off her shoes and socks then gently pulled off her little purple sweatshirt. Ray handed him a green nightgown with big bird on the front as he took the sweatshirt from Jacky.
Jacky finished dressing his niece for bed and tucked her into the blankets. Dief whined for attention.
"What's the matter?" Ray looked at the wolf in concern. Dief trotted over to the dresser and stood on his hind legs. He pulled a small love-worn stuffed monkey from its perch and trotted to the edge of the bed. In a graceful leap, he stood on the bed beside her and placed the monkey beside Caroline's head.
"Thanks, Dief." Jacky scratched the wolf's head and turned on the small nightlight near the door.
`~~~Sara slipped out of her jeans and into a pair of flannel sleep-pants. She
pulled one of Ben's RCMP sweatshirts over her head and flopped down on the bed.
It felt good to close her eyes. She did feel horrible. She didn't know why she
couldn't admit being sick. It wasn't a weakness. Lots of people get sick. She
reached for the box of Kleenex on the nightstand and blew her nose. *I'll be
fine. I just need some vitamin C and then I'll be as good as new. Besides, I
can't afford to be sick right now. Ray needs me. * Sara stretched her arms above
her head and closed her eyes. She just needed to rest her eyes for a minute.
Within ten minutes, Sara was asleep.
Ma stepped off the elevator with bags in hand. She rang the bell and was let into Sara's apartment.
"Hiya Ma." "Hey Rosa!" "Hey Ma." Rosa smiled at Jacky and Kowalski as Ray helped his mother with her bags.
"What all did you bring Ma?"
"Some soup and some chest rub. If she's got the flu, she'll need it. Where is Sara?"
"She's in her room. She went to change clothes and she hasn't come out yet."
Rosa crossed the living room and knocked quietly on Sara's bedroom door. After a few seconds of silence, she quietly turned the knob. Sara was sound asleep in the middle of the bed. Rosa slipped quietly into the room and placed her hand on Sara's forehead.
* 102 fever. Poor thing. * She brushed the sweat soaked hair from Sara's face and went to the bathroom for a cold cloth. Sara stirred and opened her eyes as Rosa wiped the cool towel over her face.
"How are you feeling dear?"
"I'm fine." Sara no sooner got the words out of her mouth when a pain hit her abdomen. She leapt from the bed and raced to the bathroom.
"Oh dear. Poor thing." Ma left the bedroom and closed the door behind her.
Returning to the living room she was met by three worried faces.
"She's got the flu. It's the same as Angelo had. Fever, diarrhea and goodness knows what else."
Jacky furrowed his brow and looked at Ma with concern in his eyes.
"What can I do?"
"Call Natalie and see if she can write her a prescription. Make sure she
drinks plenty of fluids so she doesn't get dehydrated. She should rest for the
next few days. Make her rest."
"Where's Caroline? She should come home with me."
"I'll pack her some things and then check on Sara again. Hopefully she'll go back to sleep."
Ray looked at his watch and reached for his cell phone. Kowalski shifted his position on the couch and reached for his crutches.
"What are you doing?" Kowalski looked at Ray and cocked his head.
"I gotta go."
"You can't be up and around. Can you?" Ray still held his cell
phone in his hand.
"Well, I gotta go. So what do ya think I oughta do about it? Who you callin' anyway?"
Ray looked at the cell phone and sighed.
"I..uh…I was going to call Meg."
"I can't leave Sara."
"Why not?" Jacky asked before Kowalski had a chance to.
"She's not dead. She's just got the flu. Go on your date." Ray looked at Kowalski and then to Jacky. Ma walked out of the nursery with a small duffel bag in her hands.
"Raymondo, Sara's going to be fine. Don't leave Margaret waiting. Go. Ray and Jacky will be here."
Before Ray could answer Sara emerged from her bedroom. Her hair was partly pulled back in a scrunchy. She walked slowly to the couch and flopped down next to Ray.
"You look like hell sweetheart."
"Thanks. Go on your date."
"Go. I'll just give you the plague if you stay."
"Yeah." Sara started couching and Kowalski cringed.
Ma tapped Jacky on the shoulder and asked him to help with Caroline. Ray watched as Kowalski struggled to retrieve his crutches from the floor. He stood and grabbed the crutches before Sara had a chance to.
"Go to bed." Sara was about to argue when another 'pain' hit and she rushed from the room. Ray and Kowalski shared a chuckle as Ray handed him his crutches.
"Here, give me your arm."
"Yeah, right." Ray pulled the blond detective from the couch and helped him to the bathroom.
"Thanks, I can handle it the rest of the way."
"God I hope so. I'll do a lot of things for a friend but I don't think I'd do that." Kowalski paused and looked at the tall Italians face. * For a friend. * They were going to be fine. Just fine.
~~~Jacky lifted Caroline in to his arms while Rosa held her sleep over bag and stuffed bear. Dief whined softly and trotted out the door to wait on his youngest pack member.
"It's Uncle Jacky, sweetheart. Can you wake up for me for a minute?" Caroline's head sought out the comfort of Jacky's shoulder.
"Do you want to go spend the night with Grandma tonight?"
"She's here but she's got the flu."
"Yep, like Angelo. So we don't want you getting' sick too."
"Okay." Caroline cuddled into Jacky's chest while he carried her out into the living room. Ray helped Kowalski back to the couch and went to grab his coat. He had an hour to get home, shower, dress and pick up Meg.
Sara shuffled across the floor looking progressively worse every time she emerged from her bedroom.
"Let me kiss my baby."
"You think you oughta?" Sara frowned at Jacky. He was right. The last thing she wanted was to get Caroline sick.
"Bug, blow kisses." Caroline lifted her sleepy head and blew kisses to her mother.
"I loves you momma."
"Momma loves you bug. Be good for grandma. I'll call you in the morning."
"Okay. I will. Is Dief comin' wif me?"
Dief answered with a small bark and trotted over to the door.
"Like the fur ball is gonna leave her side." Ray laughed at Kowalski as he walked over to Sara.
"I'll be fine. Tell Meg I said hey."
"I will. Ray, take care of my girl."
Ray kissed the top of her head and helped Ma to the car. Jacky then turned his attention to Sara and Ray.
"Well, what the hell am I gonna do with you two? If you we're a cow I'd put ya down."
"Oh you're funny."
Jacky laughed at the irritated look on Ray and Sara's faces. He grabbed the phone and looked up the number for Natalie's pager.
"You look like hell. I wish you'd go back to bed." Sara responded with a loud cough and an unattractive sniff of congestion. Ray cringed at the gross sound and looked at Sara in shock.
"Suck it up, Ray. I'm not a pleasant patient."
"Great. That's always a comfort to know when yer trapped in an apartment."
"Yeah, well." Ray knew Sara was sick if that was the only response she could come up with.
The phone rang and Jacky answered with a southern drawl that rivaled John Wayne.
"Heee-llo…..Sara's got the flu…..Yep, runnin'-trots and all….." Ray looked over at Sara as she glared at Jacky.
"What the hell is runnin'-trots?!"
Jacky waved his hand to tell them to be quiet and continued to talk to Natalie.
"Nah, he's doin' okay. Ray and Ma just left. Caroline's going to stay over at their house….Okay, sounds great. I'll get it. Okay….thanks Nat. You're a baby doll."
"That's my woman you're talkin' about." Ray grinned at Jacky as he made kissing sounds in the phone.
"She's callin' in a prescription for you. I'm gonna go pick it up in about thirty minutes."
"Great. I hate takin' medicine." Ray took note of the southern accent. *She really does feel like shit. *
"Hey Jack, what's the runnin'-trots?"
"You never heard of that? It's when you are either runnin' or trottin' to the bathroom. Ain't that right Sara?"
"Shut up before I come over there and lick you."
"Hey, you stay put. I don't want your plague."
Sara could only manage to cough and rush from the room again. Both men laughed as they heard her bathroom door slam.
~~~Ray helped carry Caroline in and put her to bed in Theresa's room. Ma looked around the house to see if John and Francesca were still around.
"I'm going to grab a shower Ma. Do you need anything else?"
"No Caro. I'm fine. Francesca and John have gone to the hospital to visit with Benton. I'm going to work on the guest list for the wedding. Go get ready. You don't have much time."
"Okay, Ma." Ray took the steps two at a time as he raced to his room. He pulled his nicest suit from the closet and laid it out on the bed. Grabbing his robe he trotted down the hall and into the bathroom. Undressing quickly, he jumped in the shower. As the steaming water washed over his body he realized he was singing. That's something he hasn't done in a long time. He reached through the shower curtain and grabbed a towel. Toweling off his head first, he then wrapped the large blue towel around his waist.
He smiled as he looked in the mirror. He felt alive again. He was Ray Vecchio. * Lieutenant Ray Vecchio. Not Armando Langoustini. * He had his life back, his friend's back and a date with Meg Thatcher. *Damn, what a day! * Ray splashed some cologne on his chest and checked his appearance. He padded back down the hall and dressed for his date.
Rosa was in the kitchen when she heard something she had missed for three years. Tears welled in her eyes as she heard the sound of her son singing in the shower.
Ray shifted from foot to foot in front of Meg's apartment door. He pulled at his tie and cracked his neck.
"Here goes nothing."
Knocking lightly, he waited for her to answer. Meg felt her breath catch in her throat. *He's here.* She walked quickly to the door and had to remind herself to calm down. She checked her make up in the mirror by the door and made sure she didn't have lipstick on her teeth. Opening the door, she couldn't help but smile at the look on Ray's face.
"You look fantastic."
"Thank you kindly Ray." Ray took in the sight of her before stepping into the apartment. She was wearing a long black skirt with a slit on the side that allowed him to steal a glimpse of her legs when she walked. The dark green shear blouse brought out the gold flecks in her eyes. Ray felt his mouth go dry and wondered what the heat was set on in her apartment.
"So tell me about your meeting."
"My meeting?" Ray helped Meg on with her coat.
"With Welsh. What happened?" She picked up her purse and looped her arm in his. Locking the door behind her, they stood on the landing.
"I guess I forgot to tell you over the phone. Congratulate me."
"Congratulations. Now, what for?" Meg's eyes sparkled with anticipation.
"You can't call me Detective anymore." Meg furrowed her brow as only she can.
"Just tell me, Ray!"
"You're looking at Lt. Ray Vecchio. Welsh is my new Captain."
"Ray that's wonderful!" Forgetting herself for a moment, Meg embraced him in a warm hug. Wrapping his arms tightly around her waist, Ray felt the sparks immediately fly between them.
Ray started to laugh and Meg pulled back.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing funny, really. I just…well, you, me…I'm just happy that's all." Meg was very aware that they were still holding each other as she smiled up at his deep green eyes.
"I'm glad." Ray looked at the softness of her smile and the warmth in her eyes. This wasn't the Dragon Lady anymore. This was someone her cared for. He had so many great things happen to him today, he decided to live life a little dangerously. Slipping his hand along the small of her back, Ray took matters into his own hands.
Meg saw him tilt his head slightly and before she knew what had happened, he leaned in and kissed her. Surprise gave way to passion as she deepened the kiss. Ray felt the heat of her body press against his as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Breathlessly pulling away, Ray smiled.
Neither said a word as they walked slowly down the stairs and out to the street.
Things were definitely going well for Ray Vecchio.
Jacky sat in Ben's large leather recliner and watched the news. He had picked up the prescription Natalie called in for Sara and made Ray take his medication. Both of them were sacked out on either couch. Poor Sara's hair was soaked with sweat as she coughed in her sleep. Ray had tried to cover up the fact that his leg was hurting, but Jacky could tell he was in a little pain. By the looks of Ray's wound, he should be up and around with out the crutches in a few days. Hopefully, he and Sara will both be better by the time Ben gets out of the hospital.
Ray rolled on his side and looked at Sara. He sat up and wiped his hand across his face.
"She looks terrible."
"Yeah, Natalie said that she's just going to have to take her medicine and let it run its course."
"I don't like her sick."
"Me either." The phone interrupted them. Ray grabbed the cordless still lying next to him on the couch.
"Hello……I'm sorry she can't come to the phone right now…….Yes, sir……When?….What time?…….That sounds great. Thanks Frank. We'll see you then."
"What was that all about?"
"That was Frank. He's delivering Ray's car on Thursday."
"I can't wait to see the look on his face."
"Yeah, me too." Sara stirred and wiped the hair from her face. She scowled at the two men staring at her.
"You feel any better?"
"You want me to fix you some Kool-aid?" Sara nodded as she rubbed her throat. Jacky went into the kitchen to get her a drink while Ray looked at her in concern.
"Have you eaten anythin'?"
"I'm not hungry."
"Jacky made chicken salad sandwiches. You want one?"
"You look like hell."
"I feel like hell."
Jacky handed her a glass of red Kool-aid and returned to his seat.
"What did he say?"
"He'll be here on Thursday."
"Is the car in good condition?" Sara took a long swallow of her drink and closed her eyes. The cool liquid felt good on her throat. However, it didn't feel as good when it hit her stomach. Before Ray could answer her, she bolted from the couch and ran to the guest bathroom. Hearing the sound of her vomiting made Jacky cringe.
"I guess Kool-aid wasn't the best choice."
"Yeah, guess not."
~~~Ray hummed to himself as he unlocked the front door to the house. His date with Meg couldn’t have gone any better. He was happy with the fact that he was extremely charming and attentive throughout dinner. He smiled at the memory of how he was rewarded at the end of the evening. A wave of excitement churned through his stomach as he thought of the kiss he and Meg had shared at her door. He hung his coat in the foyer and climbed the stairs. The house was still and dark, a rare occurrence in the Vecchio household. He glanced at his watch. * Two-thirty. Always a true sign of a good date. * Ray paused on the landing when Dief appeared at the top of the stairs.
"Hey, buddy. What’s wrong?" Dief whined and went into Theresa’s room. Ray pushed the partially opened door and stepped inside his niece’s room. Dief sat at the end of the small pull out bed Caroline was sleeping in. Ray heard the soft sniffling of the small girl as Dief whined.
"Hey sweetheart, what’s the matter?" Ray whispered as he knelt down on the floor next to Caroline.
"I..<sniff> want my…..<sniff>…..daddy."
"Aw, sugar, come here." Ray lifted the little girl into his arms and held her to his chest.
She started to cry a little harder as he carried her down stairs.
"Let’s get you a drink of water. Shhhh, it’s okay."
"I want…..my…..daddy." Caroline buried her head in the side of his neck and whimpered.
"Come on, Uncle Ray will fix you up." He carried her into the den and sat her on his lap on the end of the couch. He reached for the phone and pulled a phone number from his wallet. He knew he’d wake him up, but Ray knew Ben wouldn’t mind.
Ben blindly reached for the phone on the bedside table.
"Is everything alright Ray? Is…"
"No, everything’s fine. Did Jacky call you about Sara?" Ben wiped his hand over his face and then turned on the small light over the bed.
"Sounds like the flu. She’s a horrible patient you know."
"I know. Listen, I’ve got someone here that wants to talk to her daddy." Ben smiled as he waited for Ray to hand the receiver to Caroline.
"Hi Doodlebug. What are you doing up so late?"
"I miss you. I wants you to come home."
"I’ll be home on Thursday."
"You have to get through tomorrow and the next day."
"Okay. Momma’s gots flu."
"I know, Uncle Jacky is taking care of her and Uncle Rah."
"Uncle Rah read me a story." Ben smiled at the sound of his daughter’s voice.
"Would you like Uncle Ray to read you a story before you go back to bed?"
"Uh-huh. Dief’s licked me on the head. I told him to stop."
"He just likes making sure you’ve been kissed enough. Are you ready to go to back to bed now?"
"Yessir. I loves you daddy." Ben felt a tightness grip his chest as tears sprang to his eyes.
"I love you too, baby. Goodnight."
"Night night." Caroline snuggled into Ray’s chest and rested her head on his shoulder after handing the phone back to him.
"I’ll take good care of her Benny."
"I know you will Ray."
"I’ll bring her with me tomorrow when I come."
"Thanks. And Ray, could you check on Sara too. I know she won’t let Jacky tell me all that’s going on."
"You got it."
"Good night Ray."
Ben rested his head on the pillow once again and smiled as he turned off the light. His love for his daughter couldn’t be measured. But the love she was given in return was more than he could fathom. Six short years ago he walked into the city alone. Now he was surrounded by family and friends who meant more to him than he ever would have imagined.
~~~Jacky yawned and stretched in the recliner. It had been a long two days. Sara was finally getting better and Ray was walking around without his crutches. Ben would be home tomorrow and he would have it all to start over again.
"You look beat."
"I am beat. I’ve had to take care of two invalids for three days." Jacky smiled over at Ray as he rubbed his hands over his head.
"Like I’ve never taken care of you." Sara smacked the back of his head and laughed.
"Hey! Watch it. I’ll beat yer ass."
"Yeah, right. I fight dirty remember." Sara sifted through her purse for her keys.
"What are you doin’?"
"I’m going to the hospital. Y’all want to go with me?"
"You feel well enough?"
"I feel 100% better than I did."
"Sure, I’ll go."
"Me too. Are we pickin’ up Bug on the way?"
"Nah, I talked to Ray, he’s going to meet us there with her."
"Cool." Ray slowly walked to the guestroom and put on his coat. He was about to go crazy sitting on that couch. Jacky grabbed his jacket and made sure Ray wasn’t going to fall on his way to the elevator.
"There’s my handsome husband!" Sara leaned on the edge of the hospital bed and gave Ben a warm kiss. He reached for her hand and smiled up at her.
"Nat said I could go home first thing in the morning."
"Just a few days rest and I should be as good as new." Sara beamed with happiness and she hugged Ben close to her. Ray and Jacky smiled at the love the two of them had for each other. They all looked toward the door when they heard a familiar set of footsteps running down the hall.
Caroline burst through the opened door and ran to the edge of the bed.
"Hey there Bug! Where’s Uncle Ray?"
"He’s here." Ray stepped through the door and chuckled.
"She’s wired. Maria made chocolate chip pancakes this morning."
"I can image. Are you excited about Daddy coming home tomorrow?"
"Uh huh." One look from Ben and Caroline quickly changed her answer.
Ben was in excellent spirits and was ready to get out of the hospital. Sara
was ready to have him home and Kowalski was ready to get back to his own
apartment so he would be a burden to Jacky or Sara anymore.
Tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.
~~~Sara yawned as she stood in the parking garage, waiting on Frank to drive around to the entrance. Ray leaned on one crutch and shivered at the cool morning air.
"What time is it?"
"Did the guy drive all night?"
"Yeah. He's said he'd sleep on the plane." A broad smile split Sara's face as the dark green 1971 Buick Riviera rounded the corner. Ray laughed as Frank waved from the driver's window. Pulling into a parking space on the end, Frank exited the car and handed the keys to Sara.
"It's a beaut, huh?"
"Oh Frank, it's great! Look at it Ray! It's just like his old one. Does it have a cigarette lighter?"
"Works like a charm."
"I can't believe you found one." Ray leaned on his crutch as he looked inside at the interior.
"Well, it took a little diggin'. But thanks to computer's all the dealerships are linked together."
"Where did you say you finally found it?"
"Marcel's Used Cars of Yucca Valley."
"Where?" Ray leaned up and cocked his head in confusion.
"It's a little spot on the map near the Joshua Tree National Park, California."
"It sure looks great."
"It's a wonder I found it. But now they got all the dealers linked up by computer. You just punch in what you're a lookin' for and the thing hunts one down for you." Sara smiled at the balding southern man as she fished an envelope from her purse.
"Here's the cashier's check and your plane ticket."
"Thank you ma'am. These old bones are ready to just rest a spell." Ray grinned as Sara pulled five new one-hundred dollar bills from her purse and handed them to Frank.
"This is for the trouble."
"Oh that's not necessary."
"Yes it is. You've got time before your flight. How 'bout I fix you some breakfast."
"No thank you, I'd rather get to the airport and get everythin' squared away so I don't have to rush."
"I'll get Ernie to call you a cab."
"Tell your friend that he can finish up the paper work at your bank. I had everythin' handled through them. I sure hope he likes it."
"He'll love it."
Sara and Ray waited with the elder man until his taxi arrived and drove him to the airport. Sara couldn't keep the smile off her face at the thought of how Ray would react to his 'new' car.
~~~Ray couldn't understand why Sara insisted he meet them over at her apartment. He would have much rather met them at the hospital. But Sara was insistent. He stepped out of the cab and made his way upstairs. He don't know why he even bothered knocking. She never answered the door. After, Jacky yelled 'come in', Ray flopped down on the couch and watch the flurry go on around him.
"Bug, go get your shoes."
"Can I wear my boots?"
"Sure, but go get them. We've got to go get Daddy." Ray watched as Sara pulled her hair back, Caroline raced to her room and Jacky shoved a donut in his mouth.
"Shower." Sara managed as she lifted Caroline on her lap.
"Are we running late?"
"No. I don't think so." The phone rang and Sara answered it with one hand while trying to push Caroline's boot on her foot.
"Has he seen it yet?"
"Not yet." Sara held the phone in the crook of her shoulder as she talked to Ben.
"I wish I could be there."
"I'll call you on the cell on the way down."
"Talk to you in a minute."
"Love you more. Bye."
Ray wondered what the smug little grin meant on Sara's face. He passed it off as happiness over Ben coming home. Kowalski limped slightly as he walked across the living room floor and over to the couch.
"How's the leg?" Ray nodded at Kowalski as he slowly sat down.
"Doin' better. Still a little stiff."
"You never get used to getting shot, huh?"
"Nope." Sara put Caroline down and playfully patted her bottom.
"Go get your coat. We're ready to go."
Jacky pulled his jacket on and helped Caroline with hers. Ray held the door while Sara and Kowalski walked to the elevator. Sara dialed Ben on her cell phone and casually chatted while they rode the elevator down. Stepping out into the parking garage, Ray looked around the parking lot.
"How are we all going to fit in Sara's Jeep, plus bring Benny home?" Sara smiled, she couldn't have asked for a better set up. She grinned over at Ray and Jacky and then beamed at the tall Italian.
"I'll guess you'll just have to take your car." Ray looked at her like she was crazy.
"What?!" Sara tossed a set of keys at him and pointed to a parking space. Ray snatched the keys from the air and with a puzzled look on his face, followed her gesture.
Ray walked slowly over to the car and rubbed his hand along the unmistakably shaped hood.
"Like you say Ray, a man without a car is nothing." Sara chuckled as they watched Ray staring at his car.
"I likes the color Uncle Ray!" Caroline's laughter started a reaction in Ray. He began to chuckle and then he soon erupted into a belly laugh.
"I think he's speechless Ben." Sara smiled into the cell phone as Ben laughed.
"Is that Benny?" Sara nodded and handed the phone to Ray.
"You did this? Sara!? Benny, don't get mad, but I think I'm going to kiss your wife!" Kowalski reached out and took Caroline's hand while they all laughed at the excitement in Ray's voice.
Ray held the phone away from his ear and grabbed Sara in a large bear hug. Caroline screamed with laughter as Ray planted a loud smooching kiss on her lips.
"MMM-mmm! I love you! Thank you!"
Sara laughed as she took the phone from him.
"Well, I think we made his year……We'll see you in a few minutes if we can get him actually in the car."
"Who's riding with me?! Sara?! Ray? Jacky?! Doodlebug, you want to sit up front?!" Ray rubbed his hands together as he looked from face to face.
"Jacky's driving my Jeep and Caroline has to have a car seat."
"That leaves you Kowalski. Want to take a ride in a real piece of American machinery?"
"I'd love to." Ray unlocked the driver door and slid behind the wheel. Sara had already started walking across the parking lot, when Ray called out.
"It even has a cigarette lighter!"
Jacky lifted Caroline into his arms and looked over at Sara.
"That is one happy man."
"You don't know how glad that makes me."
"You did good sis."
~~`Ben sat anxiously on the edge of the bed as he waited for Sara. He had insisted on dressing himself, even though the nurses had jumped at the chance to help him. Natalie had checked in on him once and promised to see him before she left. A smile crept across his face as he heard the excited voice of his only child.
Footsteps clapped down the tiled floor and came to an abrupt halt in front of his door. Ben cocked his head to the side as the door slowly opened as the little girl pushed with all her might against it. Sparkling blue eyes met their mirror image as she poked her head through the doorway.
Ben held his arms opened wide for his little girl. She rushed toward him and leapt into his arms.
"You's ready to go home?!"
"Yes I am. Did you leave your mother?"
"She's with Uncle Jacky. They's were getting some papers from the nurse." On cue, Sara walked through the door and greeted Ben with a long and warm kiss. Caroline giggled and snuggled into her daddy's chest.
"Uncle Ray kissed mommy!" Ben broke the kiss laughing. Sara smiled at Jacky and Ray as they walked through the door.
"Uh-huh. It was funny."
"Was Uncle Ray excited?" Ben smiled up at the man he considered a brother.
"Let me just say, I love you!" Ray stepped forward and hugged Ben.
"It was entirely Sara's idea. She had to think of something to make you forgive us." Kowalski trailed into the room with Natalie on his arm. Sara crossed her arms and playfully greeted her friend.
"So Dr. O'Neill, can I take possession of my husband now?"
"He's all yours. You're ready to roll." Ben stood slowly and took a seat in the wheelchair they insisted he use. Caroline was seated on his lap and Ray took command.
Sara held Ben's hand as they rolled to the lobby. She looked down at him as tears glistened her eyes. She would finally have him home.
~~~"Get your shoes Bug. We're running late." Ben laced his boots while Sara sprayed her hair.
"Are we really running late?!" Sara called from the bedroom.
"By my standards, yes." She rolled her eyes and returned to her hair.
"We've still got an hour then."
"Do I look pretty daddy?" Caroline held her shoes up to Ben. He took the small black patent leather shoes and lifted her on his lap. Her deep burgundy velvet dress was adorned with a white lace collar and small white rosettes.
"You are beautiful. The prettiest little girl I've ever seen."
Caroline smiled as she leaned her head back on her daddy's shoulder and wiggled her foot into the shoe. Sara emerged from the bedroom and spun around in the middle of the floor.
"What do you think?"
"You're stunning." Ben smiled up at his wife. He still felt a wave of excitement pass through his stomach when he saw his wife.
"You're pretty mommy."
"Thank you. Are you ready to go?"
"I think we're ready. We just need coats." Ben lifted Caroline and carried her to the door.
"I can't wait to see what John's mother chose to do for a rehearsal dinner. Francesca was so excited today."
"She's been very nervous for the last few days. You remember how excited she was at her going away party?"
"I know. I'd be nervous too if my wedding was going to be covered on Entertainment Tonight."
"Don't forget People. They also have the rights."
"Exactly! Can you believe it?" Ben held Caroline in his arm while he held Sara's hand. They walked down to the elevator and into the parking garage. In a few moments they would be at Francesca and John's rehearsal dinner.
"Diane!" Sara hugged John's mother and kissed her cheek.
"Sara dear, how are you?"
"Everything is perfect. It's just perfect."
"Thank you dear. I'm just so happy. John has been a nervous wreck all day. Can you go talk to him?"
"Sure." Sara waved as she passed John's father and made a line to John. John was standing near the side bar with his hands shoved nervously in his pockets.
"Sara, love! Thank God you got here. Where's Ben?"
"He took Caroline to get something to drink. I hear you're frantic."
"Oh God, you don't know the half of it. Francesca has been running around crazy for a month. Her mother and sister are making her insane. The photographer pissed her off. She called him a lip roller or hair bottle or something utterly Francesca. My mom is ranting about cheese straws. I don't know what the hell cheese straws are and why they're so damned aggravating!"
"Sounds like typical wedding stuff. Calm down. It will all be a forgotten memory tomorrow. What time is everyone supposed to be here?"
"In another thirty minutes. The paparazzi have already staked out the entrances."
"Well, it's their chance to get some more coverage of the Chamberlain Wedding."
"You know I hate that."
"Sorry. But it's being touted as the wedding of the year."
"I saw the cover of People this morning. Where did they find those pictures of Francesca and me? I don't even remember going to half those places."
Francesca appeared in the doorway and all heads turned her way. Sara smiled at how beautiful she looked. She had truly been transformed into a fairy tale princess.
The room was decorated in garland and white lights. Red poinsettias were on every surface. Francesca stood at the entrance in a deep green dress that flattered her in every way possible. John merely stared as she walked toward him. Sara leaned over and spoke softly to him.
"You'll be just fine."
Francesca glided across the floor the skirt of her dress flowing across her legs like wind through a field. She reached out her hand and offered it to John. He grinned sweetly at her and kissed her softly on the lips.
"My mother is making me insane. Hey Sara. Do me a favor. Shoot me in the head."
"You sound like Ray."
"Well, my Ray might not live to see the wedding. He's lost his mind. He set up security around the whole place. The President doesn't have this much security."
"He and Ray have really worked hard, love. Besides, you know what kind of blood sucking leeches the press can be. Do you want cameramen crawling through your changing room window?"
"God help them if they try. Ray Kowalski or should I say, Boxing Poet will jump Bogart on them." Francesca laughed at Sara as John looked confused.
"That's his call name. They've been talking on radios all week while setting up the security. They didn't want the press to find out what was going on through scanners, so Ray is Italian Stallion, Ben is Red Leader and Rah is Boxing Poet. I think Ren was…."
"Mr. Clean. Turnbull was Mr. Clean."
"Oh yeah." They all laughed comfortably as the stress of the evening had been momentarily forgotten. Unfortunately it was short lived. A tall man in a tuxedo walked over to John and whispered in his ear.
"The guests are arriving."
Sara saw Ben enter the large ballroom with Caroline held tightly by the hand. Her eyes were full of wonder as she took in the decorations around her. The room looked like a Christmas fairy tale. Candles burned on all the tables as well as from candelabras placed in strategic locations around the room. Waiters and catering staff scurried around the room making sure everything was in place. As the door opened, the strobe of flashes bathed the doorway as the first few guests arrived. Most of Francesca's family was in awe of the excitement that surrounded the rehearsal dinner. But once they saw Francesca, they were no longer star-struck. This was their little Franny. She had finally found happiness and that was all that mattered to them. They were polite and cordial to the celebrities that mingled in the crowd, but to them, Francesca was the only shining star.
Francesca held her breath as the guests arrived. Her future mother and father-in-law cheerfully greeted everyone as they walked through the garland adorned double doors. John squeezed her hand as Mrs. Vecchio walked through the door with Maria, Tony and the children. Family mingled with celebrities under the soft lights of the large chandeliers that hung from the ceiling. Diane nodded and smiled at her son as his cue to take a seat at the head table. The guests followed suit and took their places at their assigned tables. Francesca couldn't help but laugh to herself to see that some of her younger cousins had been seated at tables with some of the more handsome guests. She leaned in and whispered into John's ear.
"My cousin Angie will never forget this night. She nearly died when I told her she would be sitting next to Mark Wahlberg."
"She seems to be handling herself quite nicely."
"I didn't have the heart to tell her he had a girlfriend."
"She couldn't make it out of LA. So who knows what will happen."
Caroline swung her legs back and forth over the edge of the chair while she watched all the people around her. Ben had a protective arm over the back of her chair while Sara held her hand. John's father, David tapped lightly on his glass to gain the attention of his guests.
"I'd like to thank you all for coming tonight and sharing in the joy John's mother and I have for his upcoming wedding to Francesca. When John first told me he wanted to be an actor, my first thought was of all the college tuition I had wasted. But John proved me wrong. He doesn’t waste anything. He takes everything in. Sights, sounds, people, experiences and emotions; he uses them for his talent. I'm very proud of my son. He's a leader in his profession and respected by many for what he does. He called me a few years ago before one of his performances of Hamlet. He talked about how he was going to meet his dear friend Sara and her husband's family after the play. He joked with his mother that he was going to be a surprise for one of Sara's friends who was a big fan. John called the next night with a tone in his voice I had never really heard. It seems he was the one given the surprise. For that was the night he met Francesca. He was just as star-struck by her, as she for him. When we first met Francesca I knew she was the one my son was going to marry. I could see it in her face. She had the look of a woman who had found the man of her dreams. That look was mirrored in the eyes of my son. So I'd like to make a toast to my son and his beautiful bride. May they have the years of happiness his mother and I still share. God bless you both." As the crowd raised their glass, Mrs. Vecchio wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. The look on her daughter's face would be enough to last her for a million lifetimes.
"So with that said. Enjoy your meal! Let's eat." All laughed and chatted at the tables. Soft music played in the background while John and Francesca's guests gathered to share in their joy.
Ray looked across the table at Ben and smiled down at Caroline. He couldn't believe he was here. His baby sister's wedding. Meg rubbed her hand along his back as she leaned over and talked to Sara. He stabbed a bit of salad with his fork as he looked around the room. Kowalski and Natalie were at a table with John's co-stars. Turnbull and Debi seemed to be engrossed in a story George Clooney was telling. Uncle Vito was cracking a joke to Aunt Celeste and Cousin Mary. His mother looked happier than he had seen her in his whole life. And Francesca, well, Francesca looked like a princess. He grinned as he thought of all this being for her. His aggravating, annoying, stubborn, wonderful, one-of-a-kind sister; she deserved every bit of it.
~~~Dessert had been served and toasts had been made. It was time for those in the wedding party to go to the church for a quick rehearsal. Francesca insisted on a simple ceremony. Her mother finally relented once Father Behan came to Francesca's aid. The evening's dinner had been a success. Photographers snapped rolls upon rolls of pictures of all the celebrity guests and miscellaneous family. As the line of limousines left the front of the hotel, Francesca was pleasantly surprised at the number of John's guests as well as her own that had chosen to stay and watch the rehearsal.
"This is going to be so beautiful." Maria gushed as she fussed with Theresa's hair. Caroline stood in total admiration of her older cousin and took her job as fellow flower girl very seriously. Sharon waved her arms for everyone's attention and started the rehearsal.
"I need all the ushers at the back. Groomsmen to the right. Bridesmaids to the left. Parents, you need to be up front." The wedding party waited at the back of the church and waited on further instructions. Maria and Tony's two boys fidgeted with the new suits their mother made them wear. Caroline held onto Theresa's hand while holding tight to her small basket. She wished it was filled with the petals she would toss, but her mother told her she would have to pretend tonight.
"Where's Kowalski?!" Ray's voice could be heard echoing through the church.
"I believe he's sitting in the sanctuary with Nat."
"Well, he needs to be back here with us."
"I'll get him." Fraser grinned as he walked down the wide aisle of the church and over to where Ray and Natalie were chatting with John's co-stars.
"You're needed in the back."
"We're rehearsing." Fraser smiled brightly at his best friend. He knew he'd be touched at the gesture the Vecchio family was offering him.
"I know, but why…."
"Just come." Ray stood and wiped his hands through his hair as he strode purposefully down the aisle. Once in the foyer, he saw Ray standing with Ma.
"There you are. We got to get this show on the road."
"What are you talking about Vecchio?"
"Ma wants to be escorted down the aisle by her sons. All of them." Ma smiled up at the blond man as comprehension took hold.
"Ray will be on one arm, Benton on the other and you my darling will lead the way."
Ben laughed when he realized Ray was rendered speechless.
Then they all saw panic set in.
"I don't have a tux!"
"Of course you do. Francesca ordered it when she picked them out. It's at the house. You can pick it up tonight." Ray hugged Ma and tried not to let anyone else see the tears that were pooling in his eyes. Sharon clapped her hands and started lining the party up in order.
"Groom's parents will walk in first. John's brother will escort them in. Then bride's mother. Then we will start the procession. Groomsmen first. That's you three. George, Michael, and Carson. Okay, then bridesmaids, Angie, Sara and Maria. After that, the ring bearers will walk in and then the flower girls. Okay, let's run through this." Sharon talked into her radio headset to staff members placed throughout the church. Ma thought at first her daughter's wedding was going to be more like a movie set instead of a family wedding. Thankfully, she was wrong. Francesca had made specific instructions on how things should be handled. She didn't want a lot of people swarming around making her family nervous.
The music started to play as John's parents walked slowly down the aisle. Francesca stood at the back of the church with Debi and Natalie and watched as the procession walked in. It came time for her to walk down the aisle and Sharon motioned for her to get into position.
"No way! I'm not walking down this aisle tonight." Sharon stared in confusion at the petite Italian.
"But this is just rehearsal."
"Nu-uh. I'm only walking down this aisle once and that's tomorrow. It's bad luck otherwise. We'll just skip that part."
With the set of her eyes, Sharon knew not to argue with her. She had been in more than one confrontation with her over wedding arrangements and knew that there was no winning a fight with Francesca Vecchio.
Francesca walked around the pews and up the side of the church. Smiling over at John as he laughed she took her place at the front of the church. Mrs. Vecchio smiled proudly up at her daughter as she stood on the platform.
As the rehearsal went on Sara could tell that Caroline was fading fast. Her little eyes were drooping and she was fighting to take in all the sights and sounds around her. It was way past her bedtime, but this was of course a special occasion. Ben waited near the front of the church for Sharon to run through the music once more. He had to admit he was tired himself. All he wanted to do was curl up next to Sara and hold her until he fell asleep.
Francesca smiled at how everything looked and sounded. This would be her dream wedding. She just knew it. John held her close to him while they chatted with some of her family. Finally Sharon had taken off her headset and proclaimed the evening a smashing success.
"Fran dear, the ET crew will be here at four tomorrow to get everything set up. They've promised to park the vans around the block and not to interview any of the guests until after the wedding and you and John have left for your honeymoon. "
"That's great, Sharon. Thank you. I'll see you tomorrow morning."
John led her by the hand to the foyer of the church. Father Behan patted John on the back and took Francesca's hand.
"I tell you how happy it makes me to see two young people in love. Francesca you are a vision."
"Thank you Father."
"Well, I must be off. It's late and these old bones can really tell it's December."
"Good night Father." John helped Francesca with her coat and placed his hand on the small of her back.
"You sure your mother wants all these people to come back to the house?"
Sara pulled Caroline into her arms and rubbed her back as she dozed. Ben draped Sara's coat over her shoulders and kissed the top of his daughter's head as they exited the church. It had been a long day. Ma was expecting them all back at the Vecchio home for coffee, and he knew she would be disappointed if they declined.
"We can stay for a few minutes. I'll put Bug down in Theresa's room. Just promise me we'll be home by eleven. I don't want Francesca's wedding pictures to have me with dark circles under my eyes."
Meg held on to Ray's hand as they walked up the steps to the Vecchio home.
"So, are you ready for your little sister to move out?"
"Why Ray Vecchio. You're getting sentimental."
"Yeah, well so sue me. I like John. I like him a lot. He's the only guy I ever want near my sister, but she is my sister. I'm going to miss her."
"Their house is gorgeous."
"I know, I can't believe little Franny is going to be living in a 6000 square foot home on Lake Shore Drive."
"The kids will be living in her pool this summer."
"Tell me about it. And can you believe all the press?"
"He's famous, Ray. People want to know who they're losing their heart throb too."
He squeezed her hand as they sat on the couch and waited for everyone to arrive from the church. Kowalski had driven Ma home earlier so she could put the coffee and tea on.
Natalie was helping Rosa carry trays of sliced cake into the dining room. Francesca had asked her not to go to any trouble, but Rosa just scoffed.
Francesca had made sure her mother wouldn't be burdened with the wedding. She wanted her mother to be able to enjoy herself and be able to sit and talk to family instead of slaving in the kitchen and serving everyone. John could only chuckle when Rosa informed them she would be serving cake and coffee at her house after the rehearsal.
Within ten minutes, the house was filled with family and friends. Sara took Caroline upstairs and made sure she and Dief were comfortable in Theresa's room.
Ben found a place for he and Sara to sit and chat with Turnbull and Debi.
"How are your wedding plans coming along?"
"Now I know why you screamed into the phone all the time when you were planning your wedding long distance. Sara, you were nuts. I'm nuts for trying it now. But, between Ren and I we can handle it."
"I know you will. You've only got two more months."
"Let's hope I can get it all done."
"Well, once everything settles down, I'll come help you paint the apartment."
"Thanks, I'll need it. With Ren working and me getting used to my new job at Abbotts, I haven't gotten anything done."
"We'll have it fixed up in no time."
Kowalski took a slice of cake and held it on his lap while he sat down in the den with his friends. Ray could tell he was being a little too quiet. After spending just about every day with him at work, he could tell when something was on his mind.
Ray leaned over and kissed Meg on the cheek and then stood.
"Hey Kowalski, come help me carry the trash out for Ma."
Ben smiled over at Sara as the two men walked out in to the kitchen.
"You okay?" Ray pulled the full trashcan from the corner and handed the bag to Kowalski.
"You're too quiet."
"Yeah. So spill it. What's on your mind?"
Ray shuffled from foot to foot and looked down at the floor. One of Ray's aunts came in and took another pot of coffee from the maker and carried it back out again.
"Spill it." Kowalski sighed and grinned at Ray.
"Ya didn't have to do what ya did."
"With Ma and all."
"You were a part of this family for three years. You're still part of it. All of Ma's sons should escort her down the aisle."
"Hey, forget about it." Ray replaced the trash bag and smiled at the look on Kowalski's face. The past month had been an adjustment on all of them. He really had to adjust to giving people orders. He laughed at the memory of having to chew he and Fraser out. The look on his face must have been priceless. How can you continue to yell at someone for a repair bill when their only excuse was, 'Don't you remember what it's like working with Fraser?' Who could argue with that?
~~~"This is Julie Moran and welcome to Entertainment Tonight. Tonight's top story is the wedding of one of Hollywood's brightest stars."
"That's right Julie. Hello every one I'm Bob Goens. I was at the wedding of the year and brought back exclusive photos. We'll show you who was in attendance. What the bride wore and why the groom broke down in tears during the ceremony. From the heart felt vows to the rocking reception, you can only find it here on ET. Stay with us."
Police lined the streets in front of the large church. Barricades had been set up for the fans that came to get a glimpse of their favorite stars as they entered the church. Limo's circled the block as guests arrived and took a seat in the church. John paced nervously in the small back room. His father was by his side, but couldn't calm his son's nerves. Rosa was dressed in a beautiful floor length dress with a beautiful white rose corsage. She rushed through the back halls of the church.
"What's the matter Ma?"
"Go out to the car and bring me the small yellow bag from the trunk. Francesca has run her hose and I need the extra pair."
"Okay, Ma. Calm down." Ray rolled his eyes and smiled at how his mother was reacting to a pair of hose.
Ben pulled at his collar while he waited on Ray to return. Kowalski looked anything but comfortable in his tuxedo.
"For December, it sure is hot in here."
"It's just all the people Ray."
"The church is packed. Good think Franny had the front three pews reserved for family. Her Uncle Vito woulda had a stroke if he had to sit in the balcony."
"She made sure that family was the usher's first priority."
"What time is it?"
"We've got another fifteen minutes Ray. Stop fidgeting."
"I'm not fidgitin'! I'm hot and my feet hurt. I hate rented shoes."
Ray skipped back up the steps and handed Ma the yellow bag. She hurried down the hall and into the changing room. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw Francesca.
"Oh il mio Dio. Il Francesca lei sono bello!"
Francesca smoothed the front of her dress and smiled. She was trying not to cry but the look of love on her mother's face was making hard to keep the tears away.
"Is it really beautiful, Ma?"
"You are the beautiful one, my darling. John is such a lucky man." Sara and Maria smiled as they fussed with the children's hair and clothes. Caroline was so excited. The thought of being part of her Aunt Franny's wedding had kept her up at night. She could feel the butterflies in her stomach as she absently fingered the white rose petals in her silk basket.
Francesca licked her lips nervously as the hairdresser placed her headpiece on her head. Never in a million years would she have thought she would be standing in the changing room of the church in a designer gown with people sent over to help her dress and do her make up. It was almost like a dream. In about twenty minutes she would be in the middle of her vows. Anther hour, she would be married. Mrs. Francesca Vecchio Chamberlain. That was a mouthful. She grinned as her thoughts wandered to what John was doing right then.
Sharon talked softly into her headset and motioned for the ushers to return to the back of the church. The music started to play and the procession started. Fraser looped Rosa's arm in his as he and Ray escorted her down the aisle behind Ray Kowalski. The Vecchio Family knew the significance of the three men who stood tall and proud as the escorted the family matriarch.
Ray Kowalski took a seat next to Rosa and smiled as he watched Ben and Ray walk back down the aisle.
The church was filled with greenery and flowers. It was only two weeks before Christmas and Francesca had wanted a fairytale. The church aisles were lined with white poinsettias and garland. Candles flickered and cast a warm glow across the multitude of guests. The groomsmen walked slowly and surely down the aisle, followed by the bridesmaids. Some of the guests couldn't help but coo over young Caroline as she walked proudly down the aisle. A broad smile fixed upon her face as she tossed her petals along the carpet. John winked and blew a kiss at the two girls and they hurried to their places. Then his attention focused on the back of the church. The music erupted in the church and the pipe organ announced the arrival of the bride.
Francesca took a deep breath and tried to fight back the tears forming in her eyes. A knot had taken up residence in her throat and her hands were so sweaty she feared she would drop her bouquet. Ray held her hand as he looked down into her bright green eyes.
"You're beautiful." She sniffed back a small sob as she looked at Fraser. He took her gently by the elbow and smiled down at her.
"He's correct. You look very lovely." Francesca looked at the two men she held so dear to her heart. One of the staff stepped forward to help lower her veil when Ray stopped her.
"Not yet." He placed his hand gently on Francesca's cheek and kissed her softly on the forehead.
"I love you."
The tears streamed down her cheeks as she choked out the words in return.
"I…love you, Ray." Just when she thought she couldn't take anymore, Fraser cleared his throat and looked at her with pale blue eyes.
"Francesca….I…" Losing the words, he took her by the hand and offered her a kiss on the cheek.
"I love you…too, Frase." Wiping her face, the young woman pulled Francesca's sheer veil into place and radioed Sharon. The music started playing and the doors flung open to reveal her most perfect evening.
"Who gives this woman to be married to this man?" Ray gave Franny's had a squeeze before answering.
"Her mother and family, sir." He and Fraser stepped back and took a seat next to Rosa. As the wedding ceremony began, Fraser looked around the large church. He knew Francesca would be delighted in the fact it was filled to capacity. He saw some familiar faces, those of family and friends. Some he recognized from television and movies. But one thing was certain, they were all here for Francesca and John. As Francesca lit the unity candle, Fraser looked over at his wife as she stood holding her bouquet. His mind began to reflect on the first time he saw her. She was so frightened. She had a strength about her as she sat on Lt. Welsh's couch that morning in his office. He knew he wanted to know her better then. After she was kidnapped he knew he couldn't live without her. They had been through so much. He thought he lost her once. He vowed to never let that happen again. He caught the look on his daughter's face, a face so similar to her mother's. She had his eyes, but she was her mother's child for certain. His chest swelled with pride at how beautiful the little girl looked in her white dress and ribbons in her hair. A wave of emotion crossed his face as his mind leapt forward to the day he would walk her down the aisle and give her away. He couldn't comprehend ever being able to make it through it. Not his baby girl. But then he grinned. He looked to either side and saw the two men he knew would be there to help him through it. He had so much family now. More family than he ever thought to imagine. Turnbull would marry Debi soon. Ray and Natalie were slowly talking about the possibility and if Ben had his way, Meg and Ray would be on a similar path. It was Christmas, Jack and Jacky would be flying in soon and everyone would be together. This would be their first Christmas all together. Both his best friends and their entire family. He didn't know what he had done to become so blessed. But as he bowed his head during the prayer, he took the time to thank the one who blessed him.
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