Believe
By tuna.dc

First we have to believe, and then we believe

G.C. Lichtenberg

 

It was a warm and pleasant very early Christmas Morning, the sky was clear and stars were still twinkling. The night air was fresh and pure. The walk wasnít long, but it was late, well after 1am already. Midnight Mass at church had just ended. It had been a long day for the boy and his Grandma. She kept him busy, hoping that his own personal sadness would be forgotten amidst the joy and love that surrounded the holiday. He ran a few steps ahead of her, spinning around, jumping onto decorative stones or fences, straddling the curb, like walking a tightrope. She smiled as she watched him play. She knew that was what he needed most of all, simply to be a little boy. "Christopher," she called out to him, not loudly though, due to the hour. The boy came darting back, slightly out of breath.

"Yeah, Grandma?" he asked.

"Settle down now, itís late, we donít want to wake anyone. Why donít you just walk with me now?" she tried to reason with him.

"Ok, Grandma," he said obediently. He fell in step along side her. She didnít think heíd obey right away. That made her sad.

There were just about a half block away from her little house. "I want you to go to bed right away when we get home Christopher," she began, touching the top of his head with her gloved hand.

"I will Grandma," he answered, looking up to her and giving her the grin.

His agreeable manner worried her. He hardly ever got upset and seemed to almost always do what he was told. At times, he didnít act like an eleven-year-old boy at all. "Santa Claus wonít come if you stay awake, you know that donít you?" she asked.

"I donít believe in that anymore Gram," he said, "I used to, but Iím not a kid anymore," he explained.

"What about wishing on a star?" she said, motioning to the heavens. "Or miracles, rainbows or having a lucky charm?" she asked.

He looked up at her with seriousness in his eyes, "Nope, none of that, I donít believe in any of it anymore. I donít think I ever will again. Thatís kid stuff Grandma."

"Not always, Christopher, not always," she said. He didnít understand what she meant. They turned up the walk to the house. Christopher didnít see the tear in his Grandmaís eyes.

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Thanksgiving Day was drawing to a close. Rita and Chris were in the kitchen cleaning up dessert dishes from Connie's homemade pumpkin pie. Harry and Franny were still there, along with Robert and Ana and Benny. The five of them were in the living room discussing Chris and Rita's upcoming nuptials.

"I think it's dangerous that we're leaving them all in there together, discussing OUR wedding," Chris said defensively. "I'm telling you right now Sam, I'm not wearing a baby blue tux with a ruffled shirt, no way, no how."

"I was thinking more like lime green," she said, smiling at his playful, blue eyes, giving him a kiss on the cheek. She moved closer to the doorway, so she could hear the conversation coming from the other room.

"Did anyone ever tell you, you got a mean streak in you Sam?" he replied, wiping a plate.

"Ssshhh, I'm trying to listen to what they're saying," she said, holding her finger up to her lips.

He caught sight of her gesture and that along with the slightly moist kiss she had given him, started to ignite his fire. She didn't notice his stare, or the fact that he inched closer to her. She was too busy trying to listen to the conversation that was drifting in from the room next door.

"Oh my God, your Mother actually thinks we should invite 500 guests to the reception and have it at the Palm Beach Yacht Club and Polo Grounds," she said, covering her mouth so she wouldn't laugh out loud. "I barely know 50 people," she added.

Chris was nearly on top of her; he was so close now. Her perfume permeated his senses, nearly putting him in a trance. How had he avoided staying at arms length from her for so many years was beyond him, when a simple, yet powerful smell could now render him at her mercy? He stayed coherent long enough though to reply in a hushed tone. "So that means by now Benny is asking her why she's stopping there? Why not 1000 guests, we could rent out the entire Civic Centre and have the reception there!"

Rita heard Benny practically say the same thing word for word. She was about to turn around and say so to Chris, but she felt him move in behind her. She could feel his warm breath on her neck. She started having the same thoughts Chris was having. He could make ever cell in her body tremble, just from being so near. She didn't turn around or even look at him. "You know your Father pretty well," she said softly in response, letting herself drift back toward him.

"Hmm," he moaned a little as he let his hands define the shape of her body, while his lips began to nuzzle her neck, where his warm breath just had been. She exposed a little more of her neck for him, just by moving her head a little. He was quick to pull back some of her hair and continue what he started. She felt one of his hands around her waist and reached for it with both her hands and rubbed it tenderly. She closed her eyes and began to lose herself to the moment, until she heard Harry's distinctive voice announce that he and Franny were going to head out.

"Chris," she said quietly. He was fixated on the mission he had begun. That meant, it would take a lot more than she quietly saying his name would to stop him. She turned around to face him. He immediately captured her lips. She did nothing to prevent him. Not when it felt this good. She leaned back a little and felt the counter. Good thing she had some support, she was becoming a little weak-kneed. He pulled back for just a second to grab a quick gulp of air and plunged into her waiting lips all over again. Her arms now clung to his back. She opened her mouth and he immediately deepened the kiss they were locked in. She forgot all about hearing Harry's voice. Chris had never heard it all. And then all of a sudden, Harry, with Franny a step behind, had come bursting into the kitchen.

Harry didn't see them at first. "Hey you two we'reÖ.. WHOAH, come on Fran," he said spinning around, so as not to see them now at all and blocking Franny's view totally, "we'll just go out the front door," he said pushing her back into the living room.

Rita pulled back right away and Chris stood up straight, his arm leaning on the counter for balance. He sucked in air. "Cap, it's ok," Rita called out and gently pushed Chris out of her way, heading toward the living room. Chris followed behind her.

"Those two don't need a wedding," he joked to the others, "they need a cold shower." Franny slapped at him playfully and Rita blushed a little. Chris stood in the doorway with a smirk on his face.

"Oh Heschy, they're in love, you know all about that," she said, winking at him.

Cap turned toward Chris and directed his comment toward him, "You better just watch out Lorenzo, all your skinís gonna turn to prunes from all those cold showers, take it from someone who's been there.

Everyone started laughing. Chris smiled, rolled his eyes and glanced over at Rita who still was a deeper shade of pink than usual.

"Listen, everything was great today. The food, the company, everything. It was a nice Thanksgiving, thanks for asking us over!" Cap said, giving Rita a hug. Chris finally walked over and stood behind her and shook Cap's hand.

"Thanks for coming," Chris said in reply. Franny stepped in between them and gave Rita a hug too.

"That was the best Thanksgiving I've ever had Doll," she whispered in her ear. Rita smiled. "Everything was perfect."

Chris reached down and gave Franny a big hug, "Thanks for making the turkey Fran, it was outstanding!" he said. She gave him a little kiss on the cheek.

"You are such a charmer Chris. It's a good thing you've got Rita and I've got Harry, otherwise I'd snatch you for myself," she said.

"That goes the other way for me Fran. Thanks again for everything today!" he said.

Chris and Rita walked them to their car outside. The night air had cooled off a bit. It just felt good to be outside for a few minutes.

"Listen you two, take tomorrow off, ok, I'll keep Thomas occupied with some paper work. You've had a busy day!" Cap was saying as he ushered Fran into the passenger seat.

"Thanks Cap," Rita said with a smile. "We'll take you up on that." Chris hugged her from behind as Cap and Franny backed out of their driveway.

Chris spun Rita around in his arms and went to kiss her again. She put her hand up to prevent him. "Oh no you don't, not out here and especially not with your parents inside. We almost got caught ten minutes ago, or have you already forgotten?" she said grinning.

"Oh, believe me I haven't forgotten," he said, taking a deep breath, "why don't we just leave them all in there and go find a hotel?" he asked.

"I don't think so," she said kissing his cheek and breaking away from him, grabbing his hand and leading him back inside.

As they entered the living room, Benny, Ana and Robert were having a pleasant conversation. As usual it was about Ana. She and Robert were telling Benny about a recent hectic day of sightseeing in London. The conversation stopped when they came back in. "Ah, there you two are, we want to talk with you a little bit about the wedding ok?" Ana asked.

"Sure Mom," Chris said with a forced smile.

"Would anyone like some coffee?" Rita asked, heading toward the kitchen.

"Yeah, I'll take some," Benny said, "what about you Robert? This conversation could take awhile," Benny joked.

Robert laughed, "Then, yeah, I better take some too."

"Chris, you wanna give me a hand please?" she asked from the kitchen doorway.

"Sure, Sam," he gladly said, nearly running to help her.

"That means make coffee, not babies," Benny called from the easy chair he sat in.

Chris turned around at the doorway and rolled his eyes at his Father.

The three of them had a good chuckle.

Rita tugged at Chris' arm and pulled him into the kitchen. "I do not think that I am quite ready for what ever is about to happen," she started.

"Just keep telling yourself, that this is our wedding, not theirs. We have to do what we want to do," he answered.

"This is all so weird," Rita continued.

"Hey listen Sam, if you don't want to talk about with them, I'll say so, not a problem," Chris offered.

She took a deep breath and exhaled, "No, we have to do it at some point, better now than later, right?" she said, getting cups out of the cupboard.

She started getting everything together and headed back toward the living room. "Hey Sam," Chris began. She turned to look at him.

"Yeah?" she asked.

"What plans do we have so far?" he jokingly said.

"Come on," she said, shaking her head.

They all situated themselves with coffee and began to chat. Rita sat next to Chris on a loveseat, while Robert and Ana sat on the sofa and Benny in the easy chair. "So Rita, what have you two come up with so far?" Ana started right in.

Chris casually put his arm around her shoulder and softly smiled at her. Planning a wedding was definitely a woman's job is what he was thinking. He was ecstatic that his Mother directed the question to Rita. He had no clue. They had talked in generalities, but nothing was definite yet, except the date. Or so he thought.

Rita could tell that Chris was overjoyed that his Mother had asked her and not him. "Chris, why don't YOU tell your parents what WE'VE come up with so far," she immediately replied, dumping the mess directly in his lap.

"Ah, um, well," Chris began a little dumbfounded.

Benny started laughing, "Rita, darlin', you're killing him here, besides it's already late, what have you got in mind?"

"Well, I was thinking I'd like to see Chris in a baby blue tux with a ruffled shirt," she began as Chris nearly spewed out the coffee he was sipping on.

"Oh, very funny Sam," he said, wiping his shirt up a little. "And you'll be wearing one of those floppy straw hats too," he added. He turned to all of them and seriously began to tell them about what the two of them had been planning. "What we've been thinking about is having a late afternoon or early evening service, followed by a reception for family and friends. Nothing extravagant," he added. He turned back to Rita and saw her grinning from ear to ear.

"Yeah, just something small," she said.

"You'll want it to be elegant though?" Ana said. "I was thinking of having the reception at the Polo Club. I'm sure I could talk to the manager," she began.

"Mom, no, we're not gonna have it there. That's exactly the opposite of what we're talking about," Chris replied. "Besides, we're not planning on inviting 500 people. We don't even know 500 people, unless you want to count all the dead ones we've met along the way," he joked.

"Christopher!" Ana said in shock. Rita, Benny and Robert were laughing again. "I'm sure the Polo Club has some smaller halls too, we could look into that?" Ana insisted.

"Actually, there's a spot just outside of town, it's actually a church too and they have a small hall. It's called St. Bartholomew's. It's right on the beach and they have an outdoor gazebo that would make a lovely setting for the ceremony," Rita started. Even Chris was a bit surprised by her news.

"That sounds great Sam!" he said.

"If it's available, I think it just might be what we both want to do," she replied looking right at him and his sparkling blue eyes. He grinned at her in return. "We both still need to take a look at it though."

"Great, it sounds like the two of you have everything under control," Benny said getting up. "It's late, I'm tired, I'll see you in the morning," he started, then he turned toward Rita and said, "Sweetheart, this was one terrific Thanksgiving, thanks for having me down," he bent down and placed a kiss on her forehead.

He started walking down the hall. Rita rose up and followed him down to one of the spare rooms. "I need to give you an extra blanket and pillow," she said.

"I can find it, hon," he said glancing back at her, "I've been here before, remember, I know my way around."

"Nonsense, you're the guest here, I'm the hostess, let me host," she said with a grin, putting her arm around his waist, walking him down the hall. "It might be chilly tonight, I saw the forecast early this morning," she added.

"Chilly? Are you kidding me? What? It might get down into the 60's? Rita, love, that's not chilly. That's a heat wave! Now, 60 below is chilly!" he said.

"Oh, it never gets that cold in Philadelphia!" Rita chuckled. "Quit exaggerating!"

"Maybe not, but believe me, I won't freeze," he said.

"Well, just in case," she said, grabbing them out of the linen closet and handing them to him. "Sleep well, Dad."

Benny suddenly turned and his face exploded into the hugest smile, reminiscent of Chris', surprised, excited and delighted by her simple choice of words. He never expected it in a million years. "I will, Rita, I will," he said, engulfing her in his arms for a warm embrace.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to embarrass you," she said, unsure of how he took her calling him Dad, "it just slipped out, that's just how I think of you now," she added, "is it ok?".

"Sorry, for what? I'm touched, it means a lot. I loved it! And yes it's more than ok!" he replied, "thank you!"

He kept her in his arms, but pulled back a bit, "listen, you two have the wedding you want, don't let Ana or anyone else tell you what you should do, understand? It's your day and you should have it how you want it. I'll support you both, I want you to know that, ok?"

She nodded, "I know," she paused and added, "so if we do decide to go with the Polo Club for 500, you'd still pay for it?" she asked playfully.

"For you, sweetheart, and for Chris, I'd do anything," Benny said. This time she pulled him close for one more hug.

"Good night, Dad," she whispered.

"See you in the morning, lovely Rita," he said.

As Rita came back into the living room, she saw Ana and Robert standing up near the door, ready to head out. "You guys are leaving too?" she asked. "You know, we still have another spare room," she added.

"It's getting late," Robert started.

"We just weren't sure what kind of room you'd have, we didn't want to impose, next time we'll know though. It's just as easy now to stay at a hotel. And we'll be in town through Sunday, so we'll see you again," Ana added.

"Goodnight, Mom," Chris said, giving her a hug and kiss. He reached over and shook Robert's hand, "I'm glad you both came, it was kinda like Grandma Rose's wasn't it Mom?"

"Yes, honey, it was," she said, and to Rita, "Thanks for having us, we'll talk to you tomorrow, ok?"

"We'll be here," Rita said, "thanks for coming,"

They walked out arm in arm. Rita turned and began picking up the cups and saucers from the coffee. "You know, that's what I've always hated about holidays, the dishes are endless," she said, carrying some of them off into the kitchen. Chris grabbed the remaining ones and followed her.

"Forget these, right now, lets go sit outside on the patio for a bit ok?" he said, setting them in the sink.

"Oooh, that sounds ominous," she said, "besides, it's cold out there!"

"I'll grab a blanket, come on," he said.

She smiled and went outside, waiting for him to follow with the blanket.

She sat down on the chaise lounge and he came out a few moments later with an afghan. He deposited it in her lap and sat down in front of her as she quickly opened it up and placed it over him as he leaned back.

"Are you warm enough?" he asked.

"I'm getting there," she said, kissing the top of his head, through his hair, cuddling close to him.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Chris cleared his throat. "Saying thank you for today, doesn't seem like enough Sam," he began.

"Isn't that what today is all about? Saying thanks?" she asked smiling.

"You know what I mean," he said seriously. "I know this wasn't easy for you."

"It wasn't so bad Chris, sometimes you gotta just let go," she explained. "I'm glad I did it! I'm glad I've moved forward."

"So you're ok?" he wondered, turning his head a bit to see her face.

She smiled, "I'm just fine," she paused. "I'm really happy that you thought today was like Thanksgiving with your Grandma!"

"It was, Sam, it was. All the food, all the people, everything crammed into the house. It was fun!" he said.

"I'm almost afraid to ask what Christmas was like," she replied.

'Ha," he replied. "Christmas was the opposite. Well, Christmas Eve anyway, I think most of the time, when I was with her, it was just her and I. It was quiet. During the day, we'd make Christmas cookies, and deliver them to all the neighbors. She'd, of course, make us this huge dinner; we'd have leftovers for weeks. And the two of us would walk down to midnight mass. She sang in the choir. We'd quietly walk back home. It was peaceful. It was pretty special. I liked it a lot. I miss it," he said softly. Under the afghan, she hugged him a little tighter. "What about you?" he asked a bit more cheerfully. "I bet you did the whole Christmas present, Santa thing huh?"

She nodded, "yeah, Tom and Sue went all out. I think I believed in Santa till I was 16!" she joked. "When I first lived with them, we'd go to Tom's parents. They died though after a few years. But Christmas was always a big deal. The school plays and pageants, making cookies with Mom. Shopping with Dad for Mom, that was always a treat. We'd spend the whole day together, just my Dad and I. We'd buy each other little gifts too and then act surprised when we opened them on Christmas morning. He'd take me out to lunch. After that, we'd hit every women's store, every jewelry store, every gift store, looking for just the right presents for him to give to her, Mom was always surprised. Dad had great taste." she detailed, then got quiet.

Chris was fascinated by her story and wondered why she stopped, "Rita?"

She inhaled and smiled, "I almost forgot about that. I haven't remembered that in years. He made such a big deal out of it every year. When I was real little it was fun, and then the older I got, well, you know how teenagers are, they never want to be seen with their parents. I'd still go, but it wasn't the same, you know. I had to force myself to do it for a few hours. Now, I'd give anything to be able to do it again," she said, a little sadly.

Chris turned his head a little and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "That's a beautiful memory Sam!" Then to lighten the mood he said, "you teenage girls are just a raging hormone!"

"Yeah, and what about teenage boys?" she fired back.

"Complete gentlemen!" he said with a flourish.

"Sure," she said laughing. Then she changed the conversation back to him, "what about Christmas with your Mom and Dad, now that must have been fun?" she asked, just thinking about Benny and Ana.

"When I was small and they were together, I don't really remember Sam. It must have been fun though, you've seen the pictures, and I was spoiled rotten. You know that one when I'm sitting in a sea of toys?"

"I love that picture," she said.

"Oh yeah! What? I'm like nine months old and besides the building blocks and the teddy bear, which I could actually use at that age, I've also got a two wheeler, a wagon, a complete set of GI Joe dolls and gear, paints, a train set, a race car set and the 1965 set of Encyclopedia Britannica. Just what every toddler needs right?"

"So they weren't model parents, they were trying," she said.

"Trying to buy my love already back then, theyíre still trying now," he said, "as evidenced tonight!" he added. "You know the best present I think I ever got was from Grandma Rose. I think I was about 12, typical boy, you know, always out playing, always late for everything. She got me one of those, watches, you know, the kind that had a night light in it, it was dive proof, it has all those dials and stuff, it nearly spoke ten languages, the thing was great. It finally broke down a couple of years ago; I had to toss it. To her it was practical; to me it was spectacular. I was never late again, and every kid I knew envied that thing for a long time. It barely fit around my wrist back then, it flopped around. I was the first one to have one just like that," he explained. "It's kind of ironic, you know, she's the only one who gave me time," he paused, "in more ways than one," he added.

When he said stuff like that, he nearly broke her heart. What could she possibly say to give him any comfort? "Everyone shows his or her love differently," she whispered in his ear.

He was quiet. "I love the way you show your love," he responded.

She chuckled. He could turn his feelings around so quickly. "That goes for you too," she replied.

"I also love the St. Bartholomew's idea. It sounds parfait," he said, glancing around to catch her eyes. "How'd ya come up with that?"

"That's where Diana and Tre got married. I talked to her a bit about it this afternoon, during dinner, I hope you didn't mind that I just dropped it on you tonight, before discussing it alone." He shook his head that it was ok. "It's non-denominational, but ministers or priests or even a justice of the peace will come out and perform the ceremony out there. The Catholic Church closed it down about five years ago, due to lack of parishionerís, but a private group runs it now, for all different kinds of services, and there's also the church hall they rent out too," she explained.

"I think it's perfect Sunshine, it sounds like what we both want," he said again.

"We'll have to go take a look and see if we can still get it for February 13. According to Diana, not too many people know about it yet, so maybe we'll be in luck," she said.

"Maybe we can go check it out tomorrow, I mean why wait, let's get it reserved," Chris said.

"That sounds like a plan," Rita said. "How do you think you're parents felt about it?"

"We could get married out here and Benny wouldn't mind," he said, motioning to their patio. "As far as Ana's concerned, she'll be extremely disappointed, but the minute she leaves town, she won't bother giving it another thought," he said.

"I think you're right about your Dad, though" she laughed a little.

He wondered why, "what's so funny?" he asked.

"I called him Dad tonight, I think he was a little shocked. I guess I surprised myself a bit too," she added.

"I bet he loved it, you made his day," he said, turning around to look at her again.

"He said it did," she smiled back at him. "You know, I think you have his smile after all."

He chuckled, "I think you talk too much," he said reaching up to find her waiting lips. He started to kiss her, "and I think I love you with everything that's in me," he said, delving back in for more.

They enjoyed their passion for a few minutes when Rita broke off the kiss. "Listen, Chris, I think I'm gonna head inside to bed, ok? It's getting late, I'm cold and I'm tired," she said hugging him tightly.

He stretched out a little and let her get up, "I'll be in, in a bit too, I think I'm just gonna stay out her a little while longer, ok?" He curled under the afghan as she slid open the patio door.

"Alright, good night, I love you," she said.

"I love you too, Sunshine," he called back to her.

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Chris closed his eyes and may have even drifted off to sleep for a little bit. Someone was shaking him and he opened his eyes to the dark night to see Benny hovering over him. He grabbed a chair and slid it over next to the chaise lounge.

"She throw ya out of the bed or what Big Guy?" Benny asked.

Chris scratched his forehead, still waking up. "Nah, I just must have fallen asleep out here," he said sitting up. "What are you doing out here?"

"You know, sleeping in someone else's bed, I just can't seem to fall asleep. Thought I'd raid the refrigerator, then I saw you sitting out here," he said.

"You feeling ok Pop?" Chris asked, worried.

"Yeah, I'm fine, I told ya, the Doctor said everything's fine. Can't a guy just have a simple case of insomnia?" he asked.

"Yeah, sorry," Chris said, defending himself. "Though I can't believe you're still hungry after all the food we had today?"

"I'm getting my appetite back, what can I say?" Benny explained.

"Well, I know there's some turkey left in there, and pie too!" Chris said, starting to rise to get it for his Father.

"Nah, don't, I'm fine. It's actually just nice to sit out here for awhile. Feels good," he began, "Can't do this in Philly ya know? Not in November!"

Chris got the feeling that something else was on his Dad's mind. "Pop, you wanna talk or something," he said; now sitting on the edge of the lounge chair.

"You got yourself one hell of a woman there, Big Guy, you know that?" Benny said, pointing back inside the house.

Chris smiled, "yeah Dad, I do," he chuckled, scratching his head, still trying to wake up fully.

"I guess I'm jealous," he openly admitted.

"Jealous?" Chris chuckled, "jealous of what?" Chris watched his Father's expression become very serious. "You must have loved Mom like that at one time, right Pop?" he asked.

Benny shook his head no, "Not like you two," he quickly said. "Ana and I were attracted to each other right away, physically. She was beautiful, she still is," he laughed. "We dated for a few months, that physical attraction grew, so we got married. We really hardly knew each other. What our individual dreams were, what we wanted out of life. We didn't talk much," he explained. "I don't think your Mother and I ever really knew each other. Then all of a sudden, you came along, and we were parents. We weren't ready for that either," he said, staring at Chris, not even blinking. Chris' head was down, but he lifted it up to look at his Father. Benny put his hand up over his mouth, almost to cover up a cry, "and you," he paused, "you turned out so good, look at you," Benny said, taking his hand and touching Chris' cheek, "Rita's got herself one hell of a man too," he said. Chris smiled a little and closed his eyes as he listened to his Father's confession.

"Pop, I turned out this way, cuz of you and Mom," he said, attempting to make his Father feel better.

"Nah, you turned out this way, cuz of your Grandma, and whatever kind of special organ you got beating inside there," he said, pointing to Chris' heart. "I envy ya kid, you got it all," he said.

"You make it sound too good to be true Pop, we've had some rough spots along the way," Chris said. "It's not always perfect," he explained, as Benny interrupted.

"I know, and you'll keep having problems too. That's life. But you started out as friends; you built on it from there. Even though you're both individuals, you still act as one, you think about her first don't ya?" he asked. Chris nodded, "she thinks about you first too. I bet you read each others minds too," he said.

"Sometimes," Chris said grinning.

"I don't think too many people find what you two have Chris, that's all I'm saying. Most of us just settle, you two found just what each of you wanted. It's very special," Benny said.

Chris glanced away and laughed a little. This whole conversation was getting a bit too serious at 12:30 in the morning, yet he fully understood what Benny was saying. He agreed with it too.

"What brought all this on Pop?" Chris asked, eyeing him up again.

"She called me Dad, tonight!" he said proudly. "I didn't ask her too, it just came out, naturally," he said grinning from ear to ear.

"She told me," Chris said smiling in return, recalling Rita telling him so.

"You know how good that sounds? How wonderful it feels?" Benny asked.

"Not yet Pop, but I hope I do someday," he said.

"You will, you will," Benny said grinning again, "I can't wait to be a Granddad. Can you imagine how that's gonna feel, to be called Grandpa?" he said.

Chris shook his head. "Letís not even start up this conversation again ok? Listen Pop, I got an idea, something Rita said to me earlier. I really think she might like it if you took her Christmas shopping, like for a day, take her out to lunch, buy her some presents, let her buy you something, you know, just the two of you. Spend the whole day with her. See, when she was little, her Dad took her every year for the whole day. They'd pick out something for her Mom. I think she misses it. And you just might be the guy who can pull it off again."

"You think so?" Benny asked.

Chris nodded, "don't tell her I told you though, just bring it up yourself, you know, your idea and everything, alright?"

"Ok, sure, I'll do it," Benny said, standing up. "See that's exactly what I'm talking about, the two of you are one, always looking out for each other."

Chris stood up next to Benny and grinned, "it's too late for this, let's go to bed," he said.

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Chris woke up the following morning with Rita wrapped securely in his arms. He lay on his back, with her head resting on his chest. He smiled. The faint scent of her perfume and shampoo drifted up to his nostrils. He took in a deep, satisfying breath. He said a silent prayer for allowing him to wake up this way for the rest of his life. He glanced at the clock and saw that it was already past 7:30am. He knew Benny was already up. He got up every morning at 5:45am, rain or shine, spring or summer. Even during his cancer treatments. Chris wasn't going anywhere in a hurry today, especially since they both had the day off and Rita was sleeping peacefully in his arms. Benny knew his way around the house and the neighborhood. By now, he was probably out walking or something anyway. Chris closed his eyes and kissed the top of her head. He started to think a little bit about the conversation he had with Benny in the wee hours of the morning. He'd never really talked to Benny before about his life with Ana. He was a bit surprised by his Father's revelation. He always figured that at some point they did indeed love each other, like he loved Rita. Did people really just settle? He started thinking about Rita's parents too, both the Lance's and the Fontana's. Had they settled on each other as well? Rita shifted a little in her sleep. Chris opened his eyes and stared at her. She had said that his smile resembled his Father's. He wondered who she looked like, her Mom or her Dad? He'd only seen a picture of her Father once, a long time ago, he barely remembered what he looked like, and he didn't know where she kept it. When he first met her, she had a picture of herself with Tom and Sue sitting out in her living room. He made the mistake of telling her that she looked like Sue. What he thought had been a compliment, turned into a long evening. He didn't think he'd ever apologize enough for his slip of the tongue. She explained the whole situation to him right then and there, tears and all. He felt terrible for days, she kept telling him that it was ok, that he didn't know she was a foster child.

She started waking up now. Unconsciously, Chris had been softly caressing her arm. She opened her eyes and shifted her head to see him staring at her. He looked so serious. "Chris, is something wrong?" she asked, worried.

He turned his mouth upward into a smile, "No, nothing at all, sunshine," he said, realizing that he was still rubbing her arm. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to wake you," he added.

"Sure you didnít," she said, still a little sleepy, "you just hate waking up all alone, I know you too well Mr. Lorenzo," she added, kissing his chest.

"Alright, I'm busted," he replied.

"What time is it?" she asked, attempting to roll over and look at the clock.

He wouldn't let her, "it's past 7:30am," he paused, "did I ever tell you how beautiful you look while you're sleeping," he tried changing the subject.

"I believe you said something to that effect yesterday morning, yeah," she said.

He scowled his face, "well what about how wonderful you smell?"

"The day before," she answered.

"How about how soft and warm you are, next to me?" he said, kissing her.

"Two days ago," she responded.

"How good you taste?" he said, running his lips along her cheek.

"Been there too, face it Chris, you've hit all the senses this week!" she replied.

He groaned a little, "Ok then, what about I just flat out love everything about you?"

"That works for today," she said, reaching up and returning some potent kisses to him in return. "I love how strong you are," she began, running her hand up his stomach and onto his chest.

"Hmmm," he moaned, her touch was captivating him.

"I love that sound," she said in reply, "it means you're happy," she said.

"I'm way beyond happy," he chortled.

"I love these dimples," she said, as her eyes focused on his face and he grinned on cue. Their lips forged together. She broke off and said, "and I just plain love how you love me," she said, nuzzling nose to nose with him.

That was enough for him. "You mean like this?" he said. His arms released her and she turned fully around so that they were face to face. He lifted his head up to reach for her waiting lips. He brushed over them a few times, to tease. She wasted no time in parting her lips for him and he wasted no time seeking out the sleek, tender insides of her lips. He caught the inner surface of her lower lip between his teeth. She sharply took in a breath. Down lower he continued, over and around her chin and down her neck and over her throat. He pulled her closer all the while. She kissed his forehead and ran kisses in his hair as he slid lower and lower, inching his way toward her breasts. He kissed her right through the fabric she wore. She let out a satisfied sigh and reached out to bring his head back to toward hers to meet up with his lips again.

"I mean exactly like this," she said, out of breath.

His hands moved along her back and down lower, feeling the soft, delicious curve of her backside, then reaching back up and lifting off the nightie she wore. She returned the gesture by reaching down and removing the T-shirt he wore. She ran her open lips across his chest. His skin was smooth and hot to her touch. She left a moist trail in her wake.

He dipped his head back down now, to taste her uninhibited breasts. He quickly ran his thumb over one of the tips first, seeing it harden on impact, then immediately taking it into his warm mouth. He did the same thing to the other and was rewarded with a satisfied moan from her.

The sun streamed in through the blinds on the window, keeping them both warm, especially since they were furiously throwing back the bed sheets. Together they explored their favorite spots, slowly, passionately, aching for more, each crying out from the pleasure and touch the other one sought to give.

Their love once again, soared to new heights. Laying arm in arm, still toasty warm, relaxed and deeply satisfied, they both were now ready to start the day.

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Chris strolled down the hallway, wearing boxers and a sleeveless T-shirt. His sense of smell immediately was pelted with the aroma of bacon, eggs, toast, pancakes, maple syrup and was that hash browns too, he wondered? He headed into the kitchen and saw Benny, amidst a sea of pots, pans and plates, apparently making enough breakfast for what could possibly be the same group of people that were in their house yesterday for Thanksgiving dinner. A small, portable radio blared in the background, belting out financial news.

Chris stood in the doorway dazed. Rita, wearing a robe, was right behind him, peering through and seeing the mess. "Pop? What's going on?" Chris asked.

Benny spun around, "Hey, there you two are, I thought you'd never get up this morning. Don't take after your old man in the early to rise department, now do you Big Guy?"

Rita pushed pass Chris and headed for the coffee. Chris stood there with his mouth opened. "Good morning Benny," Rita said, giving him a little kiss, "breakfast smells wonderful!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah, who's gonna eat it all?" Chris asked, "this isn't a restaurant, you got enough food cooked up for an army," he said, walking over to the radio and turning down the volume.

"Listen to him," Benny started, talking directly to Rita, "I bet he's hungry, isn't he?"

"He's always hungry," she joked back.

Chris now was pouring himself a cup of coffee, "You can both stop right there, I really am not enjoying the way that you two always are ganging up on me," he said, avoiding eye contact with both of them.

They, on the other hand, made immediate eye contact with each other, which said, 'oh yes, let's keep this up,' "So Benny, what else can you tell me about little Christopher?" Rita started.

Chris turned suddenly and gave her a sharp look. She smiled and raised her eyebrows and looked back to Benny. "Do we have to go through my life history, every time he comes here?" Chris asked. "And just what do you mean by 'what else?'"

"I'll tell you anything you want to know Darling," Benny began, ignoring Chris. "I suppose I should start with the little bed wetting problem he had...."

"DAD!" Chris shouted. They acted as if he wasn't in the room at all.

Rita chuckled, "I had no idea Benny, isn't that hereditary? I may just have to re-think this whole marriage, now that I'm able to find out about the real Chris Lorenzo."

"Then there was that incident in third grade," Benny kept going.

"Oh, see, this is not fair," Chris said, waving his finger between the two of them.

They both pretty much ignored him. "What's not fair," Rita said looking at him with a devilish grin, and to Benny, "what'd he do in third grade?" she really wanted to know.

"The official report called it arson," Benny began, glancing over to see Chris, who waited to hear Benny's version.

"Chris started a fire?" Rita asked, plopping down in a chair at the table.

"No, Chris did not start a fire," Chris said, sitting across from her, "if you're gonna tell this story Pop, get it right!" he said, eyeing up his Father.

"Well, what else would you call flames pouring out of the boys lavatory?" Benny asked.

Chris shook his head, "I was eight! And I didn't do it!" he began, "See, Benny there," he said pointing at his Father, "bought me some smoke bombs over summer vacation, you know for the Fourth of July. Well, September rolls around and I'm back in Hollywood, living with Ana. School starts and I dig out the smoke bombs and take 'em to school."

"Fascinating so far, go on," Rita said.

"I didn't have anything to light them with, so one of my friends, Ricky Silva, he had an older brother in eighth grade, he had a lighter he hocked from the Quickie Stop across the street from the school. We met in the bathroom when Stinky Karl went in. We thought this would be perfect, you know Stinky and a smoke bomb, I thought I was so cool, hanging with Daryl Silva..."

"Can you believe this kid?" Benny interrupted.

"Who's telling the story Pop?" Chris answered.

"Oh please, by all means, continue, Mr. Firestarter," Rita said.

"Daryl lit one and nothing happened. He tried another and tossed it under the stall. Stinky started to scream. Then Ricky grabs one and lights it and throws it in the trash. Him and Daryl take off running, the trash can ignites, Stinky comes tearing out of the stall, sees me and runs out, down the hall saying Chris Lorenzo started a fire, Chris Lorenzo started a fire."

"So you're saying you were innocent?" Rita asked him.

Chris nodded, "Ok, maybe not innocent, but I didn't start the fire, Ricky did. He still owes me for taking the fall on that one," he explained.

"What happened to you?" she asked chuckling.

"I got suspended, then thanks to my Father the attorney here, my sentence was commuted to cleaning the bathrooms, both boys and girls, for a month straight," Chris explained.

Rita shook her head solemnly, "Geez Sam, first the bedwetting and then arson, I think I'm gonna have to postpone this wedding," she joked.

"No, see, I just need some dirt on you," he said. Benny laughed while dishing out some breakfast to both of them.

"Well, you're never gonna find any," she said.

"And why is that?" he asked.

"Because, I," she paused, biting a strip of bacon, "was a perfect angel when I was a child."

Chris shook his head, "No, you weren't, I'll find something out, you mark my words, I'll find something," he grinned.

Breakfast continued very pleasantly. "Listen, you two, if it's ok with the both of you, I'd like to stay down here through next weekend? How 'bout it?" Benny asked.

Chris started nodding his approval, between mouthfuls of pancakes and eggs, as Rita sipped her coffee, she said, "Yeah, Dad, we'd love it and it's fine, stay as long as you like." Chris noticed the grin on Benny's face, after hearing Rita call him Dad again.

"Listen, sweetheart, I also have another favor to ask," Benny began.

"Ask away," she said, picking apart a bagel.

"I'm thinking maybe you could sneak another day off next week and maybe the two of us could do a little Christmas shopping, I want to find some stuff for the Big Guy, plus I need a woman's perspective on what to buy Marie and Megan. They've both been so great to me this year and all, would you help?" Benny asked.

Rita glanced a little suspiciously at Chris, who seemed to be ignoring the whole conversation, he was engrossed in the sports section of the morning paper. She turned back to Benny, who had a very serious look on his face. "How 'bout it?" he asked again.

"I think I could probably arrange something, though the guy I have to leave in charge, is sometimes unreliable," she said, just to see if Chris was listening.

"I heard that," he grumbled, not taking his eyes from the paper he was reading. She leaned in to kiss him on the cheek as he grinned.

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St. Bartholomewís was an ideal setting for their upcoming wedding. It was about ten minutes north of Palm Beach, situated right on some perfect beachfront land. Itís freshly painted white steeple looked like something more out of a Norman Rockwell painting, rather than out of Palm Beach High Society, but Rita and Chris, both immediately fell in love with itís quaint charm upon arrival.

A woman in her forties came out of a side office and greeted them and welcomed them inside. She gave them a brief tour of the interior and took them into the adjacent hall and then outside to the gazebo. They didnít even really need the tour. As long as February 13, 1999 was an open date, they both knew theyíd be set. They were in luck, the date was open and they quickly filled in their names. Now they needed a minister and all the rest. Theyíd plan for having the wedding in the gazebo, but in case of rain, they could easily shift things inside to the quaint little church.

Theyíd also need to find a caterer and someone to do the flowers. They had already found the invitations they wanted and Rita knew an old friend of a friend who would bake their wedding cake. Things were moving along smoothly, until they began to discuss who was going to be in their wedding.

"I think Iíd like to ask Cap to walk me down the aisle," Rita started, "but maybe Benny should? Whatta you think," she asked as they leaned against the railings inside the gazebo, looking out over the ocean.

Chris shook his head, "I wanted to ask Cap to be my Best Man, heís been such a great friend, but I could ask Benny to be Best Man too. I guess we could go either way. Why donít you decide?" he said, trying to pass the buck to her.

"Nah, no way, letís do proís and conís, make a list," she began to explain.

"A list? What is this kindergarten?" Chris asked. "Who would you rather have?" he simply asked her.

"Itís not that easy Chris, Harry and Benny both mean a great deal to me. I know you feel the same way," she said.

"So letís ask them both to do both," he said, throwing his head from side to side, "why not, thereís no rules here anyway, itís our wedding, right?"

She laughed at first, then started mulling it over, "yeah, letís do it, I agree, I think theyíll both get a kick out of it."

"Iím gonna ask Diana to be my Matron of honor, which puts Franny as a bridesmaid"

"Well, I thought Iíd ask Daniel to be a groomsman, and Michael to be the usher, is that ok?"

Rita smiled, "thatís very sweet of you, Iím sure both of them would be honored."

"And" Chris began with a pause and a deep breath, "whatta ya think of letting Squirt lead the way," he said, watching carefully for a response.

"I think we could do that, Iím sure sheíll be thrilled," Rita said happily. "Is that everyone?"

"Yep, I think so, I like it Sam, I like the whole thing," he said, pulling her into his arms and dancing her slowly around the gazebo.

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On Saturday, they shopped along Worth Avenue, Chris, Rita, Ana and Robert. Ana and Robert were heading back to London the next day and Ana thought it would be a great time to do some Christmas shopping, as well as a little bonding between Mother and Son and soon to be Daughter-in-law.

Chris and Robert just kind of walked along, while Rita and Ana went from store to store, oohing and ahing over nearly everything they saw. They walked into one trendy, gifty type store. Rita spied a rather unusual looking vase. She gravitated to it right away, looking it over, stepping back for a moment and eyeing it up all over again. Chris noticed it right away.

"So, do you like it or what Sammy?" he asked, watching her gawk at it. He chuckled a little. "Earth to Sammy?" he said again.

"It's beautiful, almost like an antique," she said. "I would love this!"

She was more than fascinated by it. "Rita, honey, why don't you get it," Ana interjected, "Chris, can't you see that she wants it, buy it for her," she added.

Chris reached over and picked it up, the price tag on the bottom read $850. "I don't think so," he said, carefully placing it back down.

Rita had seen the price too, "Chris is right, it's a little out of our budget Ana, but it's so much fun to look," she said, forcing herself to move along through the rest of the store.

"Nonsense, it's not too expensive, I'll get it for her," Ana said to Chris, as Robert and Rita had gone on by now. "She really seemed to like it, don't you think?" she asked Chris.

"Mom, you don't have to do this, there's lots of things we'd both love to have, but there's also a lot of things that are a bit too extravagant, and where would we even put that in our house?" Chris replied.

"I think if she likes it she should have it," Ana argued. Chris just shook his head. A clerk came over to ask if they needed any help. "Yes, I'd like that vase right here please," Ana said pointing to it.

In the distance, Chris saw Rita and Robert heading out of the store, going to the next.

"I'm sorry ma'am, the pastel blue tag on the bottom means that it's being held for another customer. It's already sold, we just haven't had a chance to take it off the floor yet, it's been so busy in here today," the clerk explained, picking up the vase and putting it behind the counter.

"Well, what about your store in Miami, might there be another?" Ana persisted.

"Let me check," the clerk began to dial up the Miami store.

"Mom, this is ridiculous, it's too much, and what is Rita ever gonna do with it?" Chris asked.

"You obviously didn't see her face when she saw it, there was something about that vase. Christopher I'm surprised at you!" she added.

"At me? Why? Because I won't buy my fiancée a $850 vase? I live in the real world Mom, with real bills and a real paycheck. That's like half a paycheck for me!" he said.

"I understand all that, what I meant was, that I thought you knew Rita a little better," she said, "she is nearly in love with that vase, even I could see that."

"Oh, I know her well enough to know that she'd be ticked off if I gave her that for Christmas, besides, as for being in love, she loves me, remember, we've got a wedding in two months," he explained.

The clerk hung up the phone, "I'm sorry, they don't have one, however, it's based on an antique that's listed in this catalog," the clerk pulled up a magazine. "There's a antique store that's just on the other side of Lake Okeechobee, just outside of Teensa, the little town is one big antique store actually. Let me give them a call and see if they have the original ok?"

"That would be wonderful," Ana exclaimed, smiling at Chris, who stood there with his hands in his pockets, not believing this whole scenario.

"You could drive over and pick it up then?" Ana suggested.

"Sure, why not, there's nothing like a three hour joyride to Hicksville to buy my fiancée a present I can't afford to give her," Chris said sarcastically. Ana just kept on smiling.

The clerk came back again. This time she was smiling too, "I told them to hold it for you. They've got it and it's only $150 there, plus you'll be getting the real thing. Here's their number, you should call it and give them a charge card number to seal the hold. I told them you'd call today," she said.

"That's wonderful, thank you very much, you've been very helpful," Ana said. Chris and Ana started walking out of the store. "See, that wasn't so bad now, was it? She'll be so happy Christopher!"

Chris grinned a little, "Ok, ok, I'll get it for her, I can actually swing $150, though it's still outrageous to me to pay that much for a vase for crying out loud. It's gonna be a surprise though, you can't say anything to her, promise?"

"Of course, I'll tell her that I was checking on something for myself alright?" Ana said.

"She'll believe that," Chris replied.

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The following day they saw Ana and Robert off at the airport. Benny would be staying another week yet. It was actually rather enjoyable to have him around after all these years. Heíd be back late in the day on December 25th. He already had been asked to spend the holiday with his partner, Mike Schmidt and his family, but heíd be back in Palm Beach then until just after the first of the year. Ana and Robert wouldn't be coming back until the wedding, but with the church and hall in place, things were moving along fairly well in the nuptial department.

Chris and Rita decided to ask Benny that night, if he'd be the Best Man/'Father' of the Bride. They'd ask Harry on Monday morning.

Chris went and knocked on his bedroom door. Benny was on the phone with Mike Schmidt, from his office in Philadelphia, just going over some cases. Chris opened the door and saw him on the phone and whispered, "Sorry Pop, didnít mean to interrupt," he started to leave. "No, Chris, hang on a sec Mike," Benny began, "Whatta ya need kiddo?" Benny asked.

"Rita and I need to talk to you when you get a chance ok?" he said.

"Sure, just give me a few more minutes with Mike here," Benny said. Chris nodded and started to exit, hearing Benny happily remark, "make it quick Mike, I have to go help out the kids." Chris grinned.

Rita kept herself busy in the living room, decorating their Christmas tree, listening to some jazzy Christmas music that Chris had picked out. Chris walked down the hall and grabbed something out of one of the boxes. He went over to Rita and spun her around and kissed her passionately. She glanced up above him and noticed that he had grabbed an ornament and was holding it above her head.

"That's not mistletoe," she chided him.

"No, and I don't need mistletoe to kiss you either now, do I?" he said.

"That's a good point," she replied, holding up a string of lights and kissing him in return.

Benny cleared his throat. "I thought you two needed to talk to me," Benny said interrupting their fun.

"Yeah Pop, we do," Chris said, breaking apart from Rita.

"What is it? Am I getting in your way or something? I mean, I'm only gonna be here through the week," he said.

"That's not it at all, Benny," Rita began with a smile, "why don't you sit down."

"Oh, this must be pretty serious stuff huh?" he said, grabbing what was quickly becoming, 'his chair.' Chris and Rita grinned at each other. "Alright, then, let's have it, what's on your mind, and notice, that's a singular mind, you two seem to be sharing one these days."

"We both need to ask you something," Rita began with a huge smile lighting up her face.

"Ok, shoot!" he said.

"Pop, would you be my Best Man?" Chris blurted out.

"And," Rita picked up from there, "would you walk me down the aisle?"

Benny sat there stunned for a moment, "Both? You want me to do both? I mean, yeah, yes, by all means absolutely," he said smiling from ear to ear.

"Well, what our actual plan is," Rita began, "we'd like you and Harry to do both. See neither Chris or I could pick one of you over the other, you both mean so much to us, would you mind?"

"Would I mind?" Benny laughed a little and stood up and went to give them each a hug, "I'm honored, here I thought I'd just be the guy with the checkbook," he joked.

Chris shook his head at Benny's comment, "Dad, you mean a lot more to us than a checkbook, we love you, we always will," he said sincerely.

"I love you both too," he said, obviously touched by their proposal. "So, Sweetheart, tell me, do I get the right side or the left side?" he kept on joking.

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Monday morning things got back to normal, a little bit anyway. Geoff Morgan actually wheeled himself into work, apparently he had been cleared to work a desk, so there he was, catching up on reports. Tre was in too, looking like a newlywed and a Father of a newborn. The smile on his face was bright enough to light up the world. Rita strolled in and started chatting with both of them about how their weekends were. Chris walked in about five minutes later. They stood around drinking coffee and exchanging pleasantries when Cap walked out of his office and broke up the little pow wow they were having.

"Well, I'm glad to see that the gang's all here this morning, you know all this laughing and giggling is giving me a headache, so knock it off and get to work," he said gruffly. Chris and Rita knew that he was just being Cap, Tre and Geoff however, being unaccustomed to Harry 'the lip' Lipschitz, quickly hustled off to their desks to have at it. Chris and Rita decided this would be a good time to pop the question to Harry. Rita walked in first.

"Cap, can we both see you for a second?" she asked.

"Yeah, Rita, come on in, is everything ok?" Harry asked, now always a bit worried when they 'needed' to see him about something together.

"Everything's fine," she said, sitting across from him. Chris followed in behind and closed the door and sat down beside Rita.

"Cap, we have a personal favor we'd both like to ask of you," Chris said. Cap reached into his back pocket for his wallet, thinking they needed some money. Chris chuckled, "No Cap, we don't need a loan," he said, glancing over to Rita he said, "why is that everyone thinks we're broke?" Rita just shrugged.

"Ok, so it's not money, what then? Whatta ya need?" Harry wondered.

"Harry, would you give me away at our wedding?" Rita asked.

Harry's face lit up, he was beaming from ear to ear, he barely heard Chris asking him the second part, "And I'm in the market for a Best Man?" Chris said. Harry looked back and forth between the both of them. "I think we finally did it Sam," Chris said, "he's speechless." Rita chuckled.

"I'm not speechless, I'm, I'm deeply touched Lorenzo, I never thought in a million years that I'd ever walk a daughter down the aisle or stand on the altar next to my son on his wedding day," Cap said, pulling the glasses off his face and wiping his eyes.

"Oh, Cap," Rita said, letting her emotion show too.

"Is that a yes Cap?" Chris asked lightening up the mood.

"Yes, that's a yes Lorenzo, it would be my pleasure," Cap said, "but what about your Dad, Chris? Maybe he should be walking Rita down the aisle or standing alongside you?"

"As a matter of fact Cap, that's part two, see Rita and I couldn't decide which one of you should do what, you're both so special to us, so we'd like you both to do both. Benny's already said yes, would you mind?" Chris said.

"Mind, schmind! I gotta call Franny and tell her the news," Harry said, picking up the phone, "don't you two have some work to do? Go, go!" he said.

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Rita took off on Wednesday to enjoy the day of shopping with Benny. As they left the house in the morning, Chris was so happy that the two of them were hitting it off so well. He thought to himself that for each other, they were just what they needed. Rita could use a real father figure again and Bennyís new lease on life really put him in the market for a daughter.

Benny drove the LeBaron. "Where to first Darling?" he started as he backed out of the driveway.

"Letís go to the Mall, I guess, you know over 600 stores to choose from," she said with a smile, "besides, we shopped Worth Avenue over the weekend, remember?"

"Iíll say one thing for Ana, she always had exquisite taste," Benny replied, knowing exactly what Rita was referring to.

They got inside the mall and went from store to store. One thing was for sure in Ritaís mind, Ana may have exquisite taste, but Benny knew how to completely spoil a woman. If Rita showed the slightest interest in anything, Benny was quick to pull out his credit card and ring it up for her. Rita tried to curtail his enthusiasm, but he was on a mission here today, and nothing was going to detour him from treating her like a princess. And it felt so good, something Rita hadnít felt in a long time. Memories of being a young child, with Tom Lance, came flooding back. She knew Chris mentioned the situation it to Benny, but she didnít mind at all. Not when it made her this happy. Sheíd be sure to thank Chris.

"So what do I get the Big Guy, sweetheart," Benny asked as they strolled from store to store, "Iíd really like it to be something special, something memorable," he said sincerely.

"Heís a tough one to get something for, I know that," Rita began, "I found that it doesnít have to be something extravagant or expensive though, itís more like the thought you put in behind it that he really loves."

"I think thatís true of a lot of people," Benny said, looking over some clothes. "What Iíd really like to do, is get him a whole new wardrobe," he chuckled, "he looks like a basket full of jelly beans most of the time, I donít know how you stand it!"

Rita laughed, "Thatís not necessary Benny, you know he loves his clothes, and I do too," she paused, "say, what about a watch?"

"A watch huh?" Benny asked.

"Umhmm, I think he could really use one, you know heís always late for everything, and with the wedding coming up, well, I donít want him late for that," she said, recalling the story of Grandma Rose giving Chris the watch. If Benny gave him one now, Chris would be thrilled with the meaning behind it.

"A watch it is then, letís go check Ďem out," Benny said with a grin.

That left Rita at a slight crossroads, she thought initially sheíd give Chris a watch, but it was much more appropriate that Benny do it. Now it left her without an idea for herself. She wanted to surprise him with something.

"Now youíre going have to help me out Benny, what can I get Chris?" she began, "is there anything from when he was little, that you can recall, something that he always wanted?"

"That kid had everything, I swear," Benny started, "maybe thatís why he doesnít go for all kinds of stuff now."

"There has to be something Benny," Rita said, as they meandered from store to store. They walked past the Sharper Image store. Benny stopped to look in the window. Rita stopped along side of him. "Benny, what is it? You need a massaging chair or what?" she giggled.

"No, I just thought of something for Chris, letís go inside," he said, taking her by the hand and leading her into the store.

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About a week before Christmas, Chris drove out to pick up the antique vase for Rita. Chris' drive back to Palm Beach from Teensa was going to be long. This so-called town was in the middle of nowhere, he was glad the Jeep had four-wheel drive, due to all the back roads he had to travel down to find it. The antique store turned out to be an abandoned barn that was slowly being refurbished. Hopefully this vase that was now in his possession was worth it. It had gotten dark nearly two hours ago, and no one knew where he had gone, including most importantly, Rita. He didn't want to ruin the surprise. Before he left the antique shop, he had the storekeeper give him directions back to the state highway, he wrote them down and put them on the passenger seat, next to his cell phone. He reached into the glove box and pulled out a flashlight and put it on the seat as well. This was crazy, he thought as he started to drive through the desolate countryside. Sometime while he was in the antique store it had started to rain too. He turned up the volume on the radio and hummed along, peering out from side to side, trying to follow the unlit, unmarked, dirt road he was on. He started going down an incline, building up a little speed, he glanced over at the directions and was about to flick on the flashlight when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a fairly large rock in the midst of the road. It was too late to avoid it, he swerved anyway and bumped into another even larger rock on the side of the road. The Jeep skidded a little, due to the rain and the impact and starting heading down off the side of the road into a swampy ravine. Chris clutched the steering wheel and slammed on the brakes for dear life, as it headed down. He must have hit another rock or boulder, near the bottom of the ravine. The Jeep suddenly lunged forward and came to a stop. The air bag inflated as Chris was thrown forward. He still managed to hit his head on something, then his neck jerked back. The flashlight flew out of his hand into the back seat. He must have been unconscious for a few minutes. When he came to, he could feel some cold swamp water, seeping in through the bottom of the Jeep. He reached in his pocket for his knife and deflated the airbag. He looked around to see if he could make anything out. All there was, was darkness all around him. From where he was, he couldn't even see the dirt road he had been on. He felt the lump on his forehead along with a little blood oozing out, and carefully moved his neck a little, it felt ok. He started trying to shift around a little, to see if he was injured in any way. Everything seemed to be working. He tried opening the door, it started to open, but the force from the swamp water outside or something was preventing it from opening enough for him to get out. He started to move to the other side and as he did so, he realized he couldn't move his right leg out from under the steering wheel. It was jammed in tight. He moved his foot around a little, he didnít feel any pain so he assumed that nothing was broken and he leaned down a little and felt to see if there was any blood, so far so good, it seemed dry. His leg just seemed to be wedged in tight from the impact. The steering wheel had been forced downward and the dashboard must have been too. His leg was trapped between that and the center floor column of the Jeep. "Damn," he said out loud, though no one could hear him. He wasn't going anywhere soon. He put his head back and tried to think. His cell phone. He quickly looked over at the seat and saw that all that remained there was the directions. He contorted his body a little and felt under the seats and on the floor for it, but couldn't find it. He shivered a little bit in the cool damp air. The Jeep was dead, he tried the ignition, thinking maybe he could just drive it right on out, but it wouldn't do anything. The crash must have dislodged the battery or the starter or both. He could tell that the Jeep was sinking a little farther too, the water was now a few inches deep on the floor of the vehicle. Think Lorenzo, think, he kept telling himself. How do I get out of this?

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"Lieutenant, can I see you for a few minutes," Tre said, knocking on Rita's door. She glanced up at him and he noticed a peaceful look of contentment on her face.

"Sure Tre, come on in," she said, closing a file she was working on, "and please, call me Rita, it always takes me a minute when I hear the word Lieutenant, I'm not used to that at all yet," she said pleasantly.

Tre smiled back, he wore a look of hesitancy on his face. "I've been meaning to talk to you for awhile now. I," he stopped and forced himself to take a seat.

"Relax Tre," she smiled, "what's on your mind?"

He took a deep breath, "I know I don't have too many friends right now, (INCLUDING MOST OF YOU READERS!) but, I want another chance. And most of all, I owe you and Chris a huge apology. Hell, I know I owe you both a lot more than that. I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive me. I've been a complete idiot. I'm very sorry," he said. "The things I've said and done have been completely out of line. But I want you to know that I'm getting help, I've been seeing Dr. Mattson, by myself and with Diana. He's helped a lot. I know that I've hurt people and I want to make it right. Diana's the best thing that ever happened to me, and the fact that she's stuck by me, means so much. I'm not gonna destroy that, ever. And I've got a son who is counting on me now too. I love them both and I don't want to ever hurt them. They're my whole world," he said putting his head down.

Rita cleared her throat, "Apology accepted, Tre and I'm really happy to hear that you are getting some help, Daniel's a good doctor," she said. "And I know Diana loves you very much."

Tre smiled, "Well, I just wanted to thank you for giving me this temporary assignment in homicide too! You could have just passed me by, for all the trouble I am. It means a lot. Thank you!"

"You're giving us a big hand, Tre, you're doing just fine on the job and I'm still hoping to make this a permanent assignment for you. Just hang in there, alright?" Rita explained.

"I will, whatever happens, happens, that's what I gotta keep telling myself. Right now, my wife and child are the most important things in my life, I learned that the hard way. I can't control everything, I just gotta do my best and go from there," Tre said sincerely. "I'm gonna tell Chris too."

"He'll tell you the same thing Tre," she said. Tre nodded. "Listen, why don't you and Geoff knock off early, go and be with those beautiful families you both have, ok?" she added.

Tre stood and smiled and put out his hand to shake hers. "Thanks again, Rita," he said.

She took it firmly, "you're welcome, Tre, you're welcome,"

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Chris had either dozed off or slipped into unconsciousness. He abruptly opened his eyes and remembered the predicament he was in. He needed to get his leg freed somehow. He tried yanking it, pulling up the steering wheel and dash or pushing the center column away, nothing worked. It just got him more aggravated. He let out a loud yell of frustration.

Someone was knocking on the driverís side window. Chris turned to see, but he couldn't make out anything in the darkness. The knock came again. He started rolling down the window a bit. "Is there something wrong, son?" a ladies voice began, "I heard you yell," she said.

"Yeah, um, yes, could you help me? I, uh, I had a little accident here and I'm stuck," he glanced at his leg, "I can't get out," he said, surprised that anyone had heard him, or that anyone was even around this area. He looked back out the window and saw that the woman was gone. He rolled the window down all the way and looked out, sticking his head out into the rain. Blackness surrounded him. Great Lorenzo, now you're seeing things and hearing voices, he thought. The cold water now covered over his trapped foot. It felt frozen. He shuttered a little, looked out the window once again and rolled it back up, to keep the rain out.

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Rita finished up the report she was working on. Chris had disappeared shortly after lunch saying that he had 'some things he had to take care of.' The last time she heard him say those words was the time Michael Price was their partner. She shook her head and smiled, thinking how far the two of them had come, since that occasion. She knew it had something to do with Christmas. Maybe he was home by now. She dialed up their number and got the answering machine. She left a message for Chris, in case he got home before she did. Since he wasn't there, she decided she'd stay and work on a little extra paperwork.

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Chris pressed his head up against the window on the driverís side, hoping that the pressure and the coolness would stop the blood flow of the wound and bring down the swelling, maybe even eliminate the pounding headache. Before long he had drifted off to sleep again. A noise startled him back awake. It was the passenger side door beginning to come open. He reached down and pulled out his gun, just in case, he didn't know who or what exactly was out there. "Young man, are you still in there?" the familiar woman's voice called out, as she attempted to pull the door open. Chris looked at her a little dazed. So he hadn't been hearing or seeing things. Maybe she brought some help. "Can you talk, son?" she asked.

"Uh, yeah, yeah," he stuttered, "I, I guess I wasn't sure if I was imagining you or not before, I got hit in the head," he said, pointing to the dried blood, "and you just kind of disappeared," he added. He holstered his gun.

"I never go too far," she said, only getting the door to open up a crack.

"I'm stuck in here," he said, noticing that neither door was opening up either. "Can you get me some help," he said.

"Help's on the way," she assured him, "It may take awhile though, but I'll stay with you till it arrives, alright," she said. He noticed that she had the sweetest smile he had ever seen.

"You'll be sopping wet," he said, now realizing that she couldn't get in the vehicle.

"Don't worry about me, you need to take care of yourself, son. Are you hurt? What's your name?" she asked.

"No, I don't think I am, just a bump on the head and my leg's jammed in here good and tight, but I can wiggle my toes, so I don't think anything's broken," he began, "and I'm Chris," he laid out his right hand across the passenger seat to greet her, "what about you?"

"Margaret, mine's Margaret," she said, reaching in and tenderly squeezing his outstretched hand in hers. Her hand was warm and soft. As she took his hand in hers, a strange feeling came over him. He quickly put it out of his mind.

"Good to meet you Margaret, you're a lifesaver," he said, leaning his head back against the headrest. "You live around here?" he asked.

"Not exactly, I've moved around a bit, I never stay in one place too long. I've got ties here in Florida though, so I go where I'm needed," she answered. "I'm staying close by now though."

"I live in Palm Beach," he said.

"Palm Beach? My gosh, that's a few hours east of here, are you in some kind of trouble or something," she asked, remembering she had seen the gun.

He chuckled a little, "I'm a cop, Margaret. Off duty right now, but I usually always have my gun with me. I didn't mean to frighten you. I can show you my badge too, if you'd like?" he added.

"That's not necessary, you could have shot me minutes ago, if you were some sort of criminal I imagine" she said. There was that smile again, he thought, as he saw her face light up. "Besides, you have a very trusting face."

"Well, thank you Margaret," he said. He wondered how she could even make out his face. He was having a hard time making her out at all, except when she smiled. She sounded a little older than him, but not elderly. It seemed like she was wearing one of those long rain ponchos, maybe like dark green in color and she wore the hood up over her head.

"What were you doing out here Chris, in the middle of nowhere?" she asked.

"Doing a little Christmas shopping," he laughed. "Somewhere in this wreck is a antique vase. I got it at a shop over in Teensa. My fiancée spotted it at a store in Palm Beach a few weeks back and my Mom talked me into getting it for her. See where it got me?"

"I'm sure she'll just love it," she answered.

"Can you see it back there at all, is it in one piece yet?" he asked.

She tried peering in to see if she could spot it. She noticed it, broken and in pieces, floating with the soggy newspaper it had been wrapped in, on the swampy water that filled the floor of the back seat. "I'm sorry Chris, it looks like it's broken, I see some pieces on the floor behind you," Margaret said sadly.

"Damn!" he mumbled. "My Mom said that Rita, that's my fiancée, just had this look on her face when she saw it. She had to have it." Chris said. "There isn't another one like it anywhere in the area," they said. "I think it made her think of her childhood maybe," he added.

She could see how down he was, "I remember I had a exquisite vase once, oh, it seems so long ago now, my daughter was about seven, she came home from school one day and something must have really upset her, she had a temper back then, sometimes she still does. She flung her book bag across the room and sent my beautiful vase crashing to the floor in millions of pieces. It nearly broke my heart, that was such a sad, sad day," Margaret explained. She looked over at him and saw that he had slipped back to sleep.

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Rita got back to the house at about 9:30pm. Chris still was not at home, nor did it look like he had even stopped at home. She checked the messages on her answering machine, the only one was from her, nearly four hours ago. She called his cell phone.

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The ringing awoke him. He knew the cell phone was still in the Jeep, but it must have flown backwards when he started to crash. It was somewhere in or under the back seat. He glanced over and saw that Margaret was still outside the Jeep, in fact she was still holding his hand, from when they had first greeted each other. Her hand was still incredibly warm, even though his was ice cold. The phone kept ringing.

"It's gotta be Rita," Chris began looking at his watch and seeing how late it was. Margaret squeezed his hand. "If I could just get to the phone," he started, turning his head to the back seat, trying to will himself to get to it.

"She's very important to you, huh?" Margaret asked.

He gave up reaching for it as it stopped ringing. "She's my whole life," he answered, "she's probably going nuts right now, I never told her where I was going, cuz I didn't want to ruin the surprise," he explained.

"What's she like? Rita, is it?" Margaret asked. Chris smiled at her. He felt cold, the seeping swamp water covered the floor of the Jeep now. He trembled a little and started to close his eyes again. "Chris?" she squeezed his hand to wake him back up, "tell me about Rita?"

"She's the best," he started softly, his eyes fluttered back open, "She's beautiful, inside and out," he said, his voice getting stronger. "She's smart, she's a cop too, she's my boss now, and kind of my unofficial partner. We've been partners for nearly six years now. She's the best friend I have, probably the best friend I ever had. I can tell her anything, most of the time I do," he laughed a little. We finally realized we loved each other, more than just friends, I think we always knew it, we just never admitted it."

"What does she look like?" she asked him.

"She's a brunette, with these incredible green eyes," he said longingly, "she's gorgeous, from head to toe," he said, grinning from ear to ear, but feeling a bit tired. He turned the conversation around to her. "Tell me about yourself? You said you had a daughter? So, you're married?" he asked.

"I was, my husband died. We loved each other very much. What do you call it now? Soulmates? I think that's what we were," she said, trailing off.

"I'm sorry Margaret, I didn't mean...." he said.

She interrupted him, "It's ok, son, it was a long time ago now, I got over it years ago."

"And you have a daughter?" he asked.

"Yes, she's very special to me," Margaret began. "There's nothing like having a child and watching them as a youngster, growing and developing and changing, then turning into beautiful, vibrant adults. We don't live near each other. But she's engaged too, just like you and I've recently met her fiancé."

"Are they soulmates too?" Chris asked her, with the hint of a smile.

"Iím beginning to think so," she paused, "I certainly hope so," she added.

"It's too bad you can't live near her," Chris said. "I bet she misses you. It sounds like you've been close."

"We definitely share a bond," she said.

He realized that she had been standing all this time out in the rain, reaching into the Jeep just to hold his hand. "Margaret, you've gotta be tired, I know you're soaking wet, standing out there knee deep in water and the rain to boot. I'll be ok till help gets here, why don't you go back to your place," he said.

"Nonsense, I told you that I'd stay with you, I'm fine. And I couldn't just leave you out here alone. You could have some kind of an injury. You never know about head wounds. Don't worry about me, I've been worse off lots of times," she said. Her hand never loosened the grip it had on his.

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Rita called up Daniel and Susan's house. Maybe Chris was over there or out with Daniel somewhere. It seemed like every time she turned around now, the two of them were off together at some sporting event or something. Daniel answered the phone.

"Daniel, hi, it's Rita. Listen, I'm sorry to be calling so late, but is Chris over there by any chance?" she asked.

"Misplaced him again, did you?" Daniel said. "No, he's not over here, I haven't seen him for a few days, well, since I last beat him on the basketball court. He's probably avoiding me," Daniel explained with a laugh.

"Hmm, this is kinda strange. He left work early this afternoon, saying he had some things to do. I guess I thought he'd be home by now!" she said.

"Did you try his cell phone?" Daniel asked.

"Of course," she replied. "There wasn't an answer!"

"Maybe, he just up and left you. You know you can be overbearing at times," Daniel joked. "Take it from someone who's been there!"

"Very funny!" she said. "Maybe he stopped by Cap's. I'll try over there. And I'm sorry for calling so late," she said.

"Not a problem, Rita. "If you need anything, just give me a holler ok?" Daniel said, a little worried now.

"I will, thanks Daniel," she replied. As she hung up the phone, she asked out loud, "Where are you Chris?"

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"Iím here," Chris said, acting a bit dazed and out of things.

"Chris?" Margaret called out. She saw that he was fading again. "Chris, tell me more about Rita and about your wedding?"

He swallowed hard and leaned his head back on the seat. "I don't know why I'm so tired," he said with a little laugh in his voice.

"It's getting late, that might be why," she replied, trying to calm him, though she really thought it might be his head injury.

"I wish you could come out of the rain," Chris said, looking over toward her, "you must be exhausted."

"I told you don't worry about me," she said, "besides, I think the rain is letting up now, it's just kind of a steady drizzle now. But you can help me by talking to me, it'll help pass the time for both of us."

He took his other hand and brushed it across his face, trying to stay awake. "We're getting married on February 13, the day before Valentine's Day. She really wanted it on the 14th, but that was on a Saturday this year. Rita's very traditional in a lot of ways, old fashioned, you know. The wedding has to be on Saturday. She even found this old church where we're gonna have it. It's gonna be perfect. A perfect day for her. She deserves it."

"What do you mean Chris?" Margaret asked.

"She's had some pretty tough times. Both her parents died when she was pretty small. She was raised by foster parents," he explained.

"Did they treat her badly?" she wondered.

"No, not at all. They were wonderful to her, but it's still different not having your natural parents around," he said.

"It sounds like you know what that's like?" Margaret said.

Chris nodded, "I was raised by my Grandmother for the most part."

"You two have a lot in common then?" she replied. "You really understand each other."

"Yeah, but I think it's more than that. I know it's more than that. I can't imagine my life without her. I don't know what I did before she was in my life. It just seems that she's always there for me, always doing just the right thing, listening, telling me when I'm being a fool, and always being there. I don't think I could live without her, I donít want to live without her," he said. "God, I love her so much," he added quietly.

"I'm sure she feels the same way about you Chris," Margaret said.

Chris shook his head in agreement, "Tell me about your daughter, Margaret," he said.

"That girl!" Margaret began, "as a child she was something, I tell you! I guess you would call her a tomboy. She actually beat up a little boy once, at school. He tried to take her lunch and he made the mistake of pushing her down. From what I remember, she popped right up and grabbed a hold of his shirt, spun him around and clocked him. She didn't like getting picked on then, and she certainly doesn't tolerate it now, whether it's herself or anyone else. She's strong willed. And she's not afraid of the consequences either. She got detention for smacking that little boy. When she came out of school on that Saturday afternoon, she had such a look of defiance on her face! She's downright tough at times, but she's got sensitive and soft side too, it makes her vulnerable, and it also makes her human. She really cares about people. I think that's what her fiancé sees in her," she described.

"She lives her in Florida then? You're visiting her?" Chris asked.

"Yes, she lives here, and I'll be visiting her," she said. "But she's always in my heart."

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Rita dialed up Harry and Fran's. Harry answered the phone at such a late hour. "Yeah, Captain Lipschitz," he said, a bit of anger and sleepiness in his voice.

"Cap?" Rita started, "It's me Rita," she said. "I'm sorry I woke you."

Harry sat up in bed, Franny started to wake up too. "Harry, what is it?" she asked him.

"Shhh," he said to Franny, holding his hand over the mouthpiece, "Rita, what is it, is something wrong?"

"Not exactly. I'm looking for Chris. I was wondering if he was by your place or if you might know where he's at. He's been gone since early afternoon and he didn't leave a note or message anywhere. I just thought he'd be home by now," she rambled a bit.

"I haven't seen him since he left work either Rita, and he didn't tell me where he was going either," he paused, "are you ok Rita?"

"Yeah, I'm fine! I guess I'm just being a little over cautious," she said with a laugh, "and we're not even technically married yet! He's probably just out with some friends somewhere. I'm sorry I bothered you and Fran."

"Listen Rita, if you need anything, you just call us ok, anytime?" Harry said, a little worried.

"Yeah, I know," she said with a smile.

"I mean it, day or night, alright? And you're ok now huh?" he asked again.

"Yep, I'm fine," she said, truly believing it, "I'll talk to you tomorrow ok?"

"Alright, goodnight Rita,"

"Goodnight Cap," she answered. Hanging up the phone, she actual began to feel much calmer about the whole situation. She knew Chris could take care of himself, but the feeling she was having was much more than that. She truly believed that he was ok and that there was no reason for her to worry. Then she had an urge to bake Christmas cookies.

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A lightening flash and a roll of thunder jarred Chris back to consciousness yet again. He thought he could smell cookies baking too. He shook his head a little to clear the cobwebs. Turning, he saw Margaret's outline outside the Jeep and felt the warmth of her touch. He could barely keep his eyes open.

Margaret was getting worried now. Chris had been trapped inside the Jeep for nearly six hours. She knew he was ankle deep in swamp water, with a trapped leg and some kind of a head wound. Now he kept slipping in and out of consciousness. He shivered from the cold, wet air. He was probably in shock.

He lazily lifted up his arm to look at his watch. "It's almost five am, nearly sunrise, they gotta come pretty soon," he said quietly. "We must be in the middle of nowhere!"

"They'll be here, I promise, Chris, can you hold on?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said a little groggily. She knew he was fading again.

"Chris, think of Rita, you need to hang on for Rita, can you do that? Keep talking to me and tell me more about her?" Margaret begged.

"Rita is probably worried sick by now," he chuckled, "that cell phone's dead by now, from either laying in the water or from her calling me how many dozen times. Maybe she'll get me a new one for Christmas," he feebly laughed. "You know, I seem to always end up needing her a lot more than she ever needs me. She's very self-reliant. Sometimes it's so hard to get her to open up, it always has been. And she always accused me of telling her too much. 'Chris, you tell me too much about your personal life,'" he said, slightly mocking her tone. He heard Margaret laugh a little. "And it took her so long to admit that she really loved me too. I tell you Margaret, when I first heard those three words come out of her mouth, when I knew how I felt and then to know that she felt the same way, just hearing her say it, I can't even describe it now. Right then, I knew she was the one, it was like I wasn't mortal anymore, I could do anything just knowing that she loved me. I still feel that way now," he stated, "I love her more than own life," he softly said.

"She loves you too, Chris, I know that for a fact," Margaret responded. She waited to hear him respond, he didn't. "I love her too," she added, under her breath.

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It was just past 6:30am, when the phone began to ring at Rita and Chris' house. Rita slept curled up on the living room sofa, drifting off after making about sixteen dozen cookies, and only burning another two dozen or so. The house was strangely quiet, aside from the loud ringing of the phone. "Hello," she said. There was a long pause, she nodded her head up and down, "Yes, it is, yes, a car accident? How is he? Belle Glade? yeah, I can be there in about an hour, yes, I'll find it, thank you for calling," she hung up the phone, grabbed her purse and headed for her car.

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The hospital in Belle Glade was rather easy to find. Rita pulled up and headed inside. "Yes, I'm looking for a patient, he was just brought in this morning, his name is Christopher Lorenzo. He was in a car accident," she said to the lady at the information booth.

"Yes, he's here, Room 419 West, that's up the elevator to the 4th floor and take a left when you get off, just go down the hall a bit," she replied.

"Thank you," Rita said, quickly heading toward the elevator. She found the room right away and saw that the doorway was partially opened. A nurse was inside, checking Chris' pulse. She noticed Rita peer around the door and motioned for her to come in. Rita quietly moved around the door.

"Come in, he's just sleeping right now, we gave him a little pain killer and some heavy duty antibiotics, but he's not in a coma. You must be his fiancée?" the nurse said pleasantly.

"Rita Lance," she said, holding out her hand. The nurse took it and shook it gently.

"Please sit down," the nurse said, moving swiftly around the room, "the doctor will be in shortly. There's no real reason to keep Mr. Lorenzo here any longer, he has a concussion, but all his vitals are ok. He was in shock when he first came in, but his assessment has continued to return to normal." she explained. "Heís been asking all along when you would arrive, and if we had called you," she laughed a little. "He finally gave up waiting and fell to sleep about an hour and a half ago."

Rita thanked her and slid a chair closer beside the bed and grabbed Chris' hand. A middle aged, short man with a moustache came in and said he was Doctor Martinez. He carried a chart and wrote down a few notes. "Ms. Lance, your fiancé has a concussion, due to impact with a air bag after a serious car accident. He was pinned inside the car for about six hours, from what we could ascertain. His leg was jammed under the driverís side console. The good news is that there is no damage or injury to the leg or anywhere else. We ran a full set of x-rays, did a blood work-up, the works, just to be sure, and everything checks out fine, aside from the concussion."

"The nurse said he was given antibiotics too," she asked.

"Yes, and a pain killer, the antibiotics are precautionary, he had an open wound, and he was sitting in some rather foul smelling swamp water, we're not sure for how long. You never know what's floating around in there. We'll give him a prescription to take home too. Any other questions?" he asked.

"No, I don't think so, do you have any more information about the accident itself?" she questioned.

"I'm sorry, I don't, but there is a police officer somewhere around here, he still needs to ask Mr. Lorenzo a few questions. He may be able to give you some additional information," Dr. Martinez explained.

Chris began to stir a little.

"He's gonna have a doosey of a headache for a few days, I imagine. Try to keep him quiet and make sure he gets plenty of rest. When he was first brought in he was slipping in and out of consciousness, and a little unsure of where he was at or what had happened to him," the doctor said quietly, waiting for him to fully wake up. "Mr. Lorenzo, can you wake up, it's Dr. Martinez. Your fiancée is here too."

Chris slowly opened his eyes and saw Rita sitting beside him, her hand reached out to caress his cheek. "Hey Sam," he said softly with a hint of a smile.

Dr. Martinez looked a bit puzzled, "your name is Rita right?" he asked, looking over his chart again, wondering if he missed something or thinking his patient had some kind of brain injury, or amnesia.

"It's a nickname Doctor, it's ok," Rita explained, glancing at the doctor with a smile.

He smiled in return, "I'll leave you two alone then for awhile, take your time," he said, exiting the room.

She reached in and gave him a kiss and softly said, "I love you."

"I love you too," he said wanting desperately to kiss her again, but feeling too weak to raise his head. "I'm sorry Rita, I bet you have been worried sick, haven't you?" he said, taking a deep breath.

"Worried, yes, but not worried sick," she said smiling back at him. "I knew you'd turn up somewhere, you always do," she joked. He snickered a little. "What were you doing out here in Belle Glade anyway, are you working on a case?" she asked.

"No," he answered. "I can't tell you, it'll ruin the surprise," he said.

She didn't feel the need to push him on this either. She smiled at him and gave him another kiss. "The doctor said you can go home whenever you want too, you don't need to stay," she said, changing the subject.

Chris tried to sit up, but a rush of blood went straight to his head and he leaned back. Rita noticed it right away. "Relax Chris, he didn't mean this instant. Besides, I guess there's a cop around here somewhere that needs to ask you some questions."

He groaned a little. "I think the Jeep is trashed," he said.

"That's why we have insurance," she replied, running her fingers through his hair, just to stay close to him and to let him know that she missed him.

"Benny's gonna kill me," he added.

"No, Benny's gonna be glad that you're alive. Can you tell me what happened? Do you remember?" she asked.

"You know when people say car accidents happen in an instant, they're not kidding. I was driving down this road, going down an incline, and something was in the middle of the lane and I swerved to avoid it, but I caught a part of it anyway, then I guess I just skidded off the road and came to a crashing halt in the middle of a swamp," Chris explained.

The local police officer had entered the room and heard most of Chris' explanation. "Mr. Lorenzo, I'm Dale Fornary with the Belle Glade Police."

"Come on in, I didn't think you guys were ever gonna come along and get me outta there," Chris said, slowing getting his strength back. He sat up a little more.

"It was pretty much by luck, sir. The county units never go out quite that far, especially on a rainy night, like last night. But there was a rookie driving patrol," Fornary explained.

"But you got a call, I mean she said she notified the authorities and that help was on the way, I just thought you had a hard time spotting me," Chris sat up straight now, more than a little confused. Rita started wondering now. Chris kept on talking. "She was there and then she left to call for help and she came back. She waited with me the whole time," he added.

"Mr. Lorenzo, no one was with you when we found you, the rookie spotted a flashlight shinning up onto Finders Road, it was in the backseat of your Jeep. You were pretty lucky that it was on. That's the only way we would have ever noticed you."

Chris shook his head to disagree, "No, the flashlight went flying, I don't know where it went, and I know it wasn't on," he said, his voice rising.

"Chris, just relax, ok," Rita began, "there must be some explanation. Don't forget you have a concussion too," she said, trying to calm him down. "Maybe you did have it and turned it on."

"Sam, it was dark in there, all night long, I know that, the flashlight wasnít on," he explained.

"Mr. Lorenzo, you said a woman came to help you, did she tell you her name?" Fornary asked.

Chris didn't respond right away, he held his head in his hands, trying to remember. He was coming up with a blank and his head was pounding. Rita intervened, "Officer Fornary, do you need to know right now? We're both cops from Palm Beach, we know the drill, is it ok if we go over this tomorrow? Iíd like to get him home. I think he needs some rest," she explained.

"Sure, that'll be fine, here's my card. We should have the Jeep pulled up by then too, and we can have a closer look at it," Officer Fornary replied. He left the room, leaving the two of them alone again together.

Chris still had his head buried in his hands, trying to remember everything that happened. "Chris, come on, lets just get you home so you can rest, you'll remember everything after a good night's sleep," Rita said, standing up and gathering his clothes together.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The ride back to Palm Beach was quiet, Rita thought maybe Chris would doze off in the car, but he remained awake and slightly stubborn. He didn't want to talk to her at all, he just glared out the window, searching for answers to his somewhat blank mind.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

It was mid afternoon as they walked into the house and Chris headed for the refrigerator for something to eat. "I'm starving, it feels like I haven't eaten for days," he sighed.

He looked so tired and worn out to her, she didn't doubt his appetite though. "Chris, you really need some rest, why don't you sit down, I'll fix you something," Rita said as she saw him head for some leftovers. She came and stood right behind him, he easily obeyed her and moved out of her way. He slithered over to the table and slumped in a chair. She turned and saw him rub his head. "Do you need a painkiller?" she asked.

He just gave her a look. She really just had forgotten how he felt about medication. She hated seeing him in pain and tearing himself up over this. "I'm gonna go find some Tylenol," he muttered, getting up and heading toward the bathroom.

She began to pull some food out of the frig and was preparing to nuke it. She got out a plate and started dishing out the leftovers. Popping it into the microwave, she began to wonder what happened to Chris, why hadn't he come back into the kitchen.

Rita walked back to the bathroom and saw that the light was still on but Chris wasn't there. She turned and peeked into the bedroom and saw him sprawled across the bed, out like a light. She went in and quietly pulled the blanket back, took off his shoes and covered him up. He never moved a muscle.

Rita called up Daniel and Cap and told them a little bit about what had happened to Chris, that he was ok and they were both safe and sound at home. Cap told her to stay home and take care of him, so she did, with little argument.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chris awoke fairly early the next morning. Rita still slept peacefully, along side of him. He took a deep breath and started recalling what had happened to him. He slipped out of bed and out of the bedroom, as memories from the night before came flooding back to him. The woman's name was Margaret. Her name was Margaret. He remembered. Did she ever tell him her last name? He couldn't recollect. He headed down the hallway toward the living room, past it, into the kitchen. That Police Officer had given Rita his card, with a phone number on it. Where had she put that blasted card? He checked her purse, looked on the kitchen counters, the table, grabbed her jacket off the back of one of the chairs and searched the pockets. He noticed that the counters were full of Tupperware containers filled with homemade Christmas cookies. That was odd. He couldnít find the card though. He walked back into the living room and spied around, not noticing anything. Back into the kitchen, through the sliding door, out onto the patio and toward Rita's LeBaron. He opened it up and spied the card in the center console. He grabbed it and headed back inside to call Officer Fornary.

Back inside, he glanced at the clock and saw that it was just about 8:30am. He picked up the phone and started dialing up the number on the card.

Rita leisurely woke up and saw the empty spot on the bed beside her. She got up and headed toward the kitchen, in search of Chris. She could hear him talking to someone as she got nearer to the kitchen.

"Yeah, Officer Fornary, this is Chris Lorenzo, yeah, I know it's pretty early, I'm glad you're already working this morning, yep, feeling much better, thank you. Listen, I've remembered a first name on that lady who was with me and who called for help. It was Margaret. No, I don't recall a last name, but I know the first name was Margaret." Chris took a deep breath. "Ok, I understand that you donít know anyone named Margaret in that area, but itís a big area, you said so yourself. Yeah, I understand that there arenít a lot of people living there and that itís a wetland area. I was hoping you could check the area, see who lives around there, yeah, and let me know if you come up with anyone. I, I know, but she said she was staying near there, maybe she's staying with friends or something." Chris ran his hand along the front of his face in despair. "No, I understand. I realize that it's a fairly unpopulous area. Look, all I know is this woman saved my life, I'd really like to find her and thank her."

Rita stood off in the doorway. As she heard Chris talking, she realized he had called the Belle Glade Police. She smiled a little, still waking up herself, as she realized that Chris was probably excited that he was remembering what had happened. She was going to move toward him and as he spoke to Officer Fornary, she heard him say that the woman's first name was Margaret. Her face lost all expression and she was wide-awake. She barely heard the rest of his explanation, though she remained motionless. Chris had heard her in the background and turned a little as their eyes met for a split second. He saw the blank look on her face, but turned away as Officer Fornary was speaking to him.

"No, no, she's gotta be from around there, she wasn't in a car, she didn't have a car phone. Margaret, yeah, M-A-R-G-A-R-E-T, I think that's how she would have spelled it. No, I couldn't really see her, it was pitch black outside. No, she wasn't in the Jeep, the doors were jammed. Yes, she stood out in the rain practically all night." Chris put his head down in frustration. "Well maybe someone around there knows her," he said insistently. "Maybe mid forties, that's probably a guess, 5'5", 135 - 140 lbs., dark hair, I think, she had one of those rain ponchos on with the hood up. I'd say, maybe almond shaped eyes, fairly thin, small nose, high cheekbones," he laughed a little, "she had a great smile too, perfect teeth. Ok, yeah, I'll be here all day, I got a real headache, yeah, just call, alright, thanks, yeah, bye." Chris hung up the phone and turned around to see that Rita was gone. He remembered the blank look on her face. Was it something he had said or did? He went off to find her.

She was in the smallest of the three bedrooms. Right now, the room was full of boxes and stuff that either they didn't want anymore, but hadn't tossed yet, or stuff they just didn't know where to put yet. Rita was rummaging through a box, that had scrawled on the side of it, simply, 'Rita's.'

Chris saw her digging through it. Now it was his turn to stand in the doorway. "Hey Sam," he said softly, "mornin'."

She didn't respond at first.

"Sammy?" he asked.

She looked up a bit distracted. "You know, maybe we should clean this room up a bit, we've been living here for four months now," she replied.

"Sure, we can," he said, a bit perplexed, "does it need to be done right now? I mean, can we have some coffee first or something?" he said with a small smile.

She met his eyes with her own and smiled in return. "Yeah," she nodded, rising up. "How do you feel this morning?"

"Aside from the 300 game that being bowled in my head over and over and over, pretty good," he grinned. "Hey, whatís with all the cookies?" he asked. She ignored him.

She had glanced back down into the box and picked up a photograph.

"I just talked to Fornary, I remember the woman's name Sam," he was saying. She stared at the photo in her hand. "Well, her first name anyway."

"Sam?" he said again. When she looked at him, she had the blank look on her face again.

"What was her name, Chris?" she asked.

He watched her oddly, she didn't seem to be listening. "Margaret," he said, watching for any reaction, "I can't remember if she told me a last name or not, but her first name was Margaret."

Rita stood there, not moving, slowly nodding her head. "I heard you describe her," she stopped.

"Rita? What is it? Is something wrong?" he asked unsure.

She shook her head no.

"Listen, lets go make some coffee, I think we both need it this morning," Chris said, turning around and walking away.

It was a few minutes before Rita followed him into the kitchen. Chris again, heard her coming in. "I made it strong, I figured we could use it," he said without turning to see her.

"Chris?" she stepped closer to him.

He turned around to face her, "Yeah, what is it Sunshine?" he asked.

"Is this her?" Rita asked, holding out the photo she had dug out.

He took it from her hand and started looking at it. He was immediately drawn to the smile. It was identical. The other features were hard to make out, but that smile was unmistakable. The photo was of a woman. "I think so, I think this is her Sam," he said, staring at the photo. "So, you do know who she is?" he asked.

"Chris, Margaret was my Mother's name, that's a picture of my Mother," she said.

 

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Chris sat down at the table, with the picture in his hands, staring at it and glancing over at Rita again and again. "You never told me her name was Margaret," he said, not knowing really what to say at all.

"Her maiden name was Margaret Lloyd. Did she call herself that?" Rita asked. "Does that sound familiar?"

Chris set the picture on the table and ran his hands through his hair. "I," he stammered, "I donít know, I canít remember. I donít think she gave me a last name at all." He looked up to see Rita confused and terrified all at the same time. "Rita, I donít even know if this is who I saw."

"You just described her to a tee to Officer Fornary," Rita began. "And you were pretty sure just now, before I told you who she was. She went and sat across the table from him and reached for his hands. He took hers into his own. "Chris, tell me everything you remember, please? Everything," her green, emerald eyes pleaded to him.

"This is crazy Rita, you know that donít you? Thereís got to be some explanation or something, or this Margaret is somewhere out there, you know?" he said staring back at her.

"Just tell me Chris, everything that happened, everything she said," Rita begged again.

Chris shook his head and released the grip he had on her hands. He stood up and went to pour himself a cup of coffee. "I think we should wait to hear from the Belle Glade Police," he began to say. "They may find her."

Rita came up behind him and hugged him. "Please Chris, I know it was her, call it a feeling or some kind of a miracle, or whatever," she paused, "I have to know, I have to know what happened, what she said," she added quietly.

 

Arm in arm, they strolled along the ocean. It was a foggy day, cool, almost chilly, but the walk seemed to bond them closer together and in a sense, cleanse them too. In silence, they strolled along, for a long time, both of them deep in thought, yet clinging to each other for support and understanding. The beach was all but deserted, except for a golden retriever, who dashed in and out of the surf, and even farther off in the distance, a man, who was probably the dogís owner. Chris had shared with her everything he could remember back at the house, everything that had happened the day before. She didnít really reply, she just listened, fascinated by the images and the things he told her. The womanís vague responses led Rita to truly believe it was her Mother. Especially the things she said about her daughter. After he told her about the accident, she suggested they take a walk along the beach. The more he had told to her and described to her, the more she believed and the happier she became. The more he listened to himself, the more he began to doubt it. He started thinking that she wanted to believe that her Mother was Ďout thereí as some kind of angel or whatever.

"Chris, it had to be her," she began yet again. "You said yourself that the Belle Glade Police donít know anyone with that name or description living in that area. So where did she come from?"

"Maybe she was just passing through, staying with someone she knew. Iím sure the police donít know all the people who pass through there," he explained. "Besides, I just told them a few hours ago, give them a chance to find her."

"Itís not that populated of an area, you heard them say it yourself. In a town like that, you always know whoís coming or going," she replied.

He stopped walking, dead in his tracks and shook his head, "You really want to believe this, donít you. That your Mother saved my life."

She nodded and kept walking past where he stopped. She turned around and said, "I do believe it Chris. Besides whatís wrong with believing?" He jogged a little to catch up with her and took her hand in his. "You never told me why you were in Belle Glade anyway," she asked.

"Thereís nothing wrong with believing, but this isnít the ĎX-Filesí Sam, thereís gotta be some reasonable explanation," he began, staring into her eyes. She wasnít backing down one bit. "Rita, I just donít want you to get twisted up over this whole thing," he exhaled heavily.

She smiled. "Iím not twisted up over this at all Chris. If anything, I guess Iím happy. My Mother saved your life, for me! Donít you see what that all means?"

This time he physically stopped her from walking, "I know what it would mean to you Rita, but I donít want you to start believing this while there still may be a reasonable explanation, I donít want to see you get hurt."

She listened carefully to what he said. "Iím telling you already, thereís more than enough evidence in my mind to make me believe it. Where did she come from Chris? How many people have to tell you that no one lives around where they found you? And why didnít she go to the hospital with you? If she stayed with you for nearly seven hours, why couldnít she wait and talk to the police? And what about the flashlight? You said it was off! You described her picture to perfection!" She stared at his eyes, "Do you want me to keep going?"

"Ok, it is a little strange, but it just seems so unreal, so far fetched. I did have a concussion, maybe I dreamt the whole thing?" he responded.

"So youíre saying that you dreamt the image of my Mother? It doesnít really matter, if itís what you saw or what you think you saw and all the things youíre telling me. I know that it was her. I still believe that she saved your life. She was with you, she talked to you, she held your hand," Rita paused, taking his hand in hers, "she saved you. Donít you think itís more than just a coincidence that you have an image of my Mother now? Youíve never seen her, yet you know her name and can describe her perfectly?"

Chris gazed into her pleading eyes. They were filled with so much joy and hope. He turned away and took a few steps to face the water.

"Chris, why donít you want to believe?" she asked, coming closer to him, wrapping her arms around his waist. He shook his head. His mouth opened, but he couldnít form the words. "Chris? Tell me?" she asked.

"Itís not that I donít want to believe," he began, "but why me? Why not you? If sheís your Mom, why did she see me at all? Why was she with me and not with you? Youíre her daughter. She should want to be with you, somehow, someway. I feel like I intruded on something. Something that should have been yours," he explained, dropping his head.

She took her hand and raised up his chin, to make it look at her directly. "She knows Chris, she knows that you and I are one, just like your Dad knows, and I think your Mom too. Donít you see what everyone around us sees about us? I think my Mom was there for you because she knows that without you, Iíd die myself. She was with you, so you wouldnít let go. She knows how much I love you. Maybe, she came to you so you would believe."

"But you should have gotten the chance to see her, to know her, to hear it all for yourself," he sadly said.

"I do know her Chris, I know her in my heart, sheís there all the time, sheís with me always. And now you got to know her too. Canít you see how happy this makes me?" she said smiling broadly.

He began to walk down along the shoreline. Reaching down he picked up a handful of pebbles and shells. He began to toss them into the water. She started walking, faster at first to catch up to him, when she reached him, she slowed her pace. "I wanna believe Sam, I do," he said, "mostly for you," he paused and laughed a little, "all for you."

"Then just believe Chris, just believe," she said.

He pulled her into a hug and pressed his cheek along side of hers. They stood there for a long while, holding on to each other.

 

Christmas Eve day came upon them fast. They decided together to re-instate the tradition that Grandma Rose had begun, of delivering a plateful of homemade cookies to all their friends. They started with Cap and Franny, their semi-pseudo parents. Theyíd be spending Christmas Day with Cap and Fran, who had invited them months earlier, but they also wanted to include them on their 1st annual Christmas Eve cookie tradition.

"You two are a day and a half early," Cap said greeting them at the front door, shortly after lunch.

"Hey Cap, weíve got a special treat for you and Fran, may we come in?" Chris said, with Rita standing beside him holding the plateful of cookies.

"Yeah, of course, come on in. Franny, Rita and Chris are here," he called out.

Franny came bustling out of the kitchen. "Hi kids, is everything ok?" she asked.

"Everythingís fine Fran," Rita said. "We are starting a new tradition, and weíd like to share some holiday goodies with you and Harry, you guys mean so much to us, we want to say thank you and wish you a Merry Christmas."

"Oh, doll, you didnít have to do that," Franny said, engulfing her in a hug. Chris and Harry started by shaking hands, and then Chris pulled him into a hug too.

"Thanks Cap,í he said gruffly.

"Yeah, Merry Christmas to you too, kid," he said, hugging him back. They switched partners and hugged again

"Listen, let me go make up some coffee, and weíll try these cookies out alright?" Fran said.

"Ok, but we canít stay too long, weíve got some more stops to make too," Rita said.

 

Stop number two was to the fondly remembered loft, which now was home to Daniel, Susan and Melanie. In addition to the cookies, Chris and Rita had a load full of presents for Melanie, their favorite little squirt. They knocked on the door and they could hear Melanie scampering across the floor and struggling to open the door for them. Daniel came over and gave her a little assistance. When she opened the door and saw who it was, she quickly tethered herself around Chrisí legs.

"Squirt, I hope youíre not planning on doing this to Santa Claus tonight," Chris said, nearly dropping all the packages he had.

Melanie giggled, "Santa Claus doesnít come in the front door, Chrwis," she said smartly, knowing her Kris Kringle folklore.

"Thatís right, Mel," Rita said, giving Chris a smirk.

Melanie ran upstairs into the loft screaming to Susan that Chris and Rita were there, carrying an armful of gifts.

"Well, come on in you two, itís been a few weeks, huh, Chris you ok?" Daniel asked.

Chris nodded, "Just fine Daniel, thanks for asking." They all walked into the living room area and took a seat.

"Howís the Jeep?" Daniel asked.

"Itís supposed to be all set this afternoon, weíre gonna pick it up after we finish our deliveries, at least thatís what the body shop is telling me," Chris explained.

"Thatís great, so the damage wasnít too bad then?" Daniel wondered.

"No, they said theyíd fix everything," Chris said.

Susan came down the stairs carrying Melanie, who quickly squirmed out of her hold and heading for the teensy spot between Chris and Rita. She snuggled between them. "Hi, you guys, what brings you out, the afternoon of the night before Christmas?" Susan asked.

"We have brought you some cookies," Rita said, handing them over to Susan. Melanieís eyeís lit up. "Is it ok if Melanie has one now?" Rita asked.

"I think that would be alright," Susan said, "Melanie, would you like a cookie?"

She jumped off her spot and followed Susan into the kitchen.

"Daniel, we also brought some presents for Melanie, can she open them up now?" Rita asked, lowering her voice.

"I think I could arrange that, you know you guys donít need to be doing this, you spoil her to death as it is," he explained.

"Believe me, we had a blast picking out all this stuff, Daniel, we canít wait to see her open it up," Chris explained.

Melanie came back to sit between them again, followed by Susan. "Melanie, Chris and Rita have some presents for you, do you want to open them up now?" Daniel asked, nodding to Susan that it would be ok.

Melanieís eyes widened and she nearly jumped off the sofa, she was so excited. "Can I? Can I weally open them now?" she squealed.

"Yeah, squirt, have at Ďem," Chris said, motioning toward the pile. The adults carried on a conversation while Melanie tore open box after box. Some were toys or books and some were some darling little clothing outfits that Melanie could wear, including a frilly little dress from Rita and a Michigan T-shirt, with a giant wolverine plastered across the front.

"What is it Chrwis?" she asked, noticing the ferocious looking animal.

"Thatís a wolverine, squirt, the toughest little animal in the land, donít you forget it!" he explained.

"I like it, I like it better than the Boo Devils or the Tah Heels," she said, giving him a hug.

"Oh, I donít think so, sweetie," Daniel chimed in. "Thanks Chris, for corrupting my daughter," he added.

"Iím not corrupting her, Iím teaching her the facts," he said laughing.

"Will you two stop?" Susan said jokingly, "Rita, that dress is so adorable," she added.

"I hope it fits, I kinda had to guess," Rita replied.

"It looks just perfect and Melanie loves to dress up," Susan said.

The last present she opened was a soft and cuddly rag-type doll. She quickly took it out of the box and hugged it tightly. "Iím gonna call her Sam," she announced as she ran over to Chris and Rita and gave them each a monster hug.

They stayed a little while longer and moved on to their next stop.

 

The next stop was to Tre, Diana and Baby Joeyís. Diana greeted them with open arms and invited them in. Tre was sitting on the sofa feeding Joey a bottle of formula, while Diana was folding up a load full of baby sleepers. The three of them looked blissfully happy and content with their new situation. And they seemed to be rather well adjusted, while taking everything in stride. Chris and Rita left the cookies and a few tiny presents for Joey, then they hurried along their way to the rest of the stops.

They stopped by Geoff and Connie and gave them a couple of platefuls of cookies, due to the large family they had.

And they also stopped off and dropped off plates for Cotton and Atticus and Donnie too.

Their last stop was to the body shop. Rita dropped Chris off out front. The little garage was just getting ready to close up for the holiday. The Jeep was parked along the side, looking brand new. It had been there for about three days now, while all the damages were being repaired. Chris went inside and signed off on the work and got the keys from the owner. Rita had already left. Their plan was to meet back at home, for a quiet, cozy Christmas Eve.

 

Ritaís LeBaron sat in the driveway as Chris pulled the new and improved Jeep in behind her. She was already inside. It was dusk outside and as Chris got out of the Jeep, his eyes caught the glimpse of something in the back seat. His head quickly turned and focused on it. There, big as life, plain as day, sat a box, wrapped perfectly for Christmas. He froze for a moment. He opened the backseat door and reached for it. The tag on the box said that it was for Rita, from Chris. And it was in his handwriting. His eyes narrowed as he stared at the words, and swallowed hard. The box was wrapped so that the cover could be easily lifted off, without harming the wrapping. Chrisí trembling hands reached for the top and pulled it off, exposing the contents. Inside was the vase. The vase, that less than a week ago, was floating around in pieces, in swamp water on the floor of this same Jeep. He picked it up and looked it over. He couldnít see any marks on it whatsoever. If someone had painstakingly repaired this vase, he couldnít tell at all. It was in spotless, unblemished condition. His mind raced. How could this have happened? She told him that it was in pieces, scattered on the floor. Margaret had told him. The same Margaret that he didnít want to believe in. Since that day after, he had avoided the conversation with Rita, hoping that some reasonable explanation would come forward. None had. Rita had continued to want to talk about his experiences and had tried to bring up the subject time and time again. He found new ways to avoid it, until now. How was he gonna explain this? He had told her that day, what his trip was for. He was reluctant at first, but with everything that had transpired, he figured why not tell her. She seemed disappointed that the vase had been broken and she never talked about it again. Now he heard her voice, it brought him back to reality.

"Chris?" she stood calling out from the sliding door of the patio. She thought she had heard him pull in. "Chris, you out there?" she called again.

"Yeah," he answered, "Iíll be right there, Iím just checking out the Jeep," he lied. He put the top of the box back on. He first thought was to leave it there. He knew he couldnít. It was time to face the facts. It was time for him to start believing. He picked it up and carried it into the house.

 

Rita was in the kitchen, opening a bottle of wine. He slid the door open and stood there, holding the beautifully wrapped box, with the blankest look of all time on his face.

Rita didnít even look at him. She was busy twisting the corkscrew into the cork. She heard the door close behind him. "Did it pass your inspection, Mr. Lorenzo," she asked playfully, referring to the repairs that had been done to the Jeep. Chris stared at her. She had changed from some casual clothes into a form fitting sleeveless red dress. It was perfect for Christmas. And it was part of her present for him. The combination of the resurrected vase and the seducing dress, sent him into a whirlwind. He was not at all prepared for it.

"Yeah," he said, softly, still not having moved, "yeah, itís fine," he added.

She heard the distance in his voice and turned to see him just standing there. He closed his eyes heavily and opened them to meet her stare.

"Chris?" she asked, "What is it? What have you got there?" she noticed the box in his hands.

He cleared his throat, "Itís, uh, itís for you," he said, softly. He slowly walked toward her, holding out the package.

She looked down at it when he got closer. She saw his handwriting on the card. "You havenít been gone long enough to stop and get me anything? What is it?" she said with a smile, intrigued by the surprise.

"Open it up, go ahead," he prodded her and gave her a bit of a smile and leaned in for a kiss along side her neck. She shuddered a little from his touch, taking the box in her hand.

Again this time, the cover was easily removed and as she pushed aside the tissue paper, she saw the vase. She nearly gasped. "Chris," she stuttered, "I, I, thoughtÖ"

He was quick to interrupt now, "I know," he answered quietly, "I thought the same thing," he paused, "till just now." He shook his head in disbelief and moved away from her, in a somewhat frustrated mood. "I just found it out in the Jeep, on the backseat, sitting there, neat as a pin, wrapped up and ready. And it was broken, in pieces," he still shook his head.

"Itís beautiful Chris," Rita said, taking it out of the box and placing it on the table. "Who did you have fix it?" she asked.

He walked over to her and stood next to her looking at the vase. He slowly ran his two fingers around the rim, "Rita, I didnít, donít you see?" he asked, leaving his thought hang in the air.

"Well, someone had too, you said it was broke," she said.

"Rita, it had to be her," he paused and took her hand into his, "It had to be Margaret," and softer, "your Mother."

"But you saidÖ" she started.

Chris cut her off, "Rita, I donít understand what happened out there and I donít think I ever will, but this, this just doesnít make any sense. I guess the only way it does, is if we both believe it. And Iím telling you I believe it now," he said, the smallest hint of a smile began to form on his lips.

She smiled and wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him toward her for a warm, passionate embrace. "Are you sure?" she wondered, staying close to him.

He shook his head ever so slightly, "Iím sure I love you, I always will!" he replied. "As for the rest, Iím trying, Iím really trying."

She reached out and put her finger over his mouth, to silence him. "Sssshhh," she said, inching forward to brush her lips against his. Sheíd been waiting all day for this moment. He returned the kiss. Instantly, he forgot all about their conversation.

"Sammy, you look fantastic in this dress," he managed to murmur through their entwined lips.

"Somehow, I think youíd rather I was out of it," she slurred back, as their intensity began to get the best of both of them.

"Iíll take you anyway I can get you," he replied back, now hugging her tightly against his own body. The wine and the conversation were just about officially over. They hadnít even touched the wine at all. His hands traveled down from her neck, trailing through her hair, swirling around her back, coming to rest and gripping at her butt. Her hands slid up and down through his hair, then down to caress his neck and clutching at his back. Her breasts pressed tightly against his chest. His groin was now hard and tight and yearning for more. His senses were bombarded with her, how she looked in that slinky red dress, every curve and peak, fine-tuned. The fresh, fragrant scent she wore consumed him. The softness of her skin, the touch of her hands upon his body and the intriguing way she was running her tongue along the inside of his lips, it hypnotized him. And still, he wanted more, he wanted every inch of her.

She knew he was heating up fast. She whispered painful little reminders into his ear and along his throat and neck. He gasped for air. She was sweetly seducing him, loving him and driving him mad all with the same moves. She was incredible.

He hiked up what little skirt there was on the dress she wore and felt the smoothness of the hose she wore underneath. He began to push them off. Around from her butt, to the inner part of her thigh, he ran his hand, feverishly, clutching and caressing it in fluid movements. He smiled against her neck when he heard her release a sigh. Maybe, just maybe, he was having a similar effect on her.

She was suddenly pulling off the sweater he had on as well as the T-shirt he wore below it. She yanked it off over his head, brushing her hands against his chest, then leaning down and placing frantic, wet kisses around and around. The only coherent thought he was having was that he had to have her, and soon. His blood seared through every vein in his body and his chest felt like collapsing from the lack of oxygen he was receiving. He hung onto her tightly.

They managed to make their way, together, of course, into the living room, leaving various clothes and shoes in heaps along the way. The soft glow of candles and the shimmering lights of the Christmas tree lighted the living room. Chris lifted off the dress over her head and let it fall at their feet. "Chris, touch me, please," Rita begged him softly, needing his touch immediately as his hands began to mold to her body.

"Where Rita, where?" he asked huskily as his hands outlined her back. He began to run intense, hungry kisses along her shoulder blades as he waited for her response.

"There, everywhere," she breathed.

Heíd never dream of denying her anything she asked for. Calculated and deliberately slow, his hands snaked around from her back, down lower to her hips then agonizingly leisurely he ascended upward, following the curve of her frame, along her stomach and the sides of her breasts. He stood just inches from her, staring into her eyes as his touch splayed over every sensitive part of her skin. He could hear her breathing intensify, as her eyelids drifted open and close, finally focusing on his clear blue eyes. They both had a look of loving, satisfaction on their faces. They mirrored each other yet again.

His hands had enough. His head dipped forward, lightly kissing her neck, then lower still onto her chest. His hands cupped her breasts lightly as his lips made their way lower toward them. Her hands came up and clung to his back, gripping him tighter with every kiss, the lower he went. As he reached the juncture where his hand and his mouth would meet, he paused momentarily, to stare at her beauty. His hand came up to tenderly caress the area first, coaxing the rosy tip to harden. She sighed and tipped her head back in response. Then his lips moved in, circling around it, delighting in the softness and tenderness. He briefly glanced up at her face and saw a look of complete happiness beaming down at him. This was the best Christmas present he could ever imagine, having her for all time, and giving of himself to her. His gaze turned down and he nuzzled against her breast, from one to the other, brushing kisses and stroking softly, then finally taking one first, then the other into his warm mouth, swirling his tongue around it. Rita sucked in a breath and held the back of his head, tightly against her.

Now her hands slid lower, onto his slim, strong hips. She undid the button on the jeans he wore. Her hand reached out and closed around him lovingly. She stroked him tenderly. He paused and raised his head to meet hers. He was on fire, he gritted his teeth. Hungry desire flared in his eyes. She captured his mouth and began to suck softly on his lower lip. She got closer to him, pushing her breasts into his hot, tight, rapidly beating chest.

Chris managed somehow to slip out of the jeans as his mouth opened to allow his tongue to thrust into hers hot and slow, repeatedly, setting the sensation for what was about to come.

They stumbled their way to the sofa, never breaking contact. Chris lovingly guided her down into its softness. Rita stretched out her arms straight at first, around his neck, then bringing them closer, stroking the back of his head and kneading his neck.

Now with more intensity, he spread his kisses up and down her glorious body. He loved the feel of her touching him. Her hands caressed along his shoulders and arms and threw his hair. He came back up and met her mouth again, as her hands framed his face. She pulled just a hairs breath away and murmured, "Chris, now," she begged, her voice achingly weak.

The soft light that filled the room outlined his frame with a golden glow. His eyes, wide with love, stared into hers as he pushed in softly and slowly, lengthening the ecstasy that was to come.

Her hands now began to dig into his back and her legs curled around his hips. Their eyes remained locked on each other. Slowly and methodically he moved into her tight heat. Each stroke was synched perfectly in the rhythm they created. The sound of her breathing mimicked the same beat, steady and sure. He continued to thrust his body into hers, taking her higher, to yet another new place they had yet discovered.

Their movements quickened, both fueled now by desire, need and love. Their fingers entwined, their gaze still fixed upon each other. She climaxed and called out his name hoarsely. He pushed inside of her, lifting her up off the sofa as she arched her body to meet his. She held on to him tightly. He let out a deep, satisfied moan and whispered "I love you," as he collapsed on top of her, softly kissing her neck and chest, his breathing still haggard.

"I love you too," she answered quietly.

Both their bodies were coated with a damp mist of sweat. Slowly Chris moved off to the side, keeping her close against him. He drifted off for a short nap. Rita stayed awake, wrapped in his loving arms.

 

When their lovemaking had ended, they lay in each otherís arms, content and peaceful.

"We still need that fireplace," Rita smiled as she looked around their holiday mooded room. It was the only thing that really was missing. She remembered how nice it was last Christmas, when they were stranded up in Wisconsin. Chris began to wake up slowly.

"Iíll get right on that," he said with a sleepy laugh, acting like he was getting up.

"Donít bother right now," she said tracing his lips with her finger, keeping him close. "Youíre hot enough for me," she added.

"Apparently, youíre the hot headed one," Chris suddenly brought up.

"What are you talking about," she grinned at him in wonder.

Another memory from the car accident was coming back to him. "You broke the vase," he started. She was a bit confused.

"Chris, I was no where near that vase before today. I didnít crash the Jeep, you did," she said.

"No," he shook his head, "not that vase, but one just like it, when you were little," he explained.

"Youíre not making any sense," she said, attempting to blow off the conversation. She cuddled closer to him.

He sat up a little, but kept her close in his arms. "Margaret said that you came home from school one day, that you were upset over something and you threw your book bag and it toppled over the vase. You broke it Sammy!" he said proudly. "Thatís why you wanted that vase. And I finally have something on YOU from your past that you canít deny! Ha! What upset you anyway, you hothead?"

"I almost forgot that," she began, thinking back to that day. "Curtis Mueller was named playground leader for the second grade," she explained softly. "I was upset, I thought it should have been me."

There was something else in her voice. He turned to see her face. "Sammy, what is it?"

"I was just so upset from that, that I took my own sweet time getting home that day. I couldnít face my Father, I kept telling him that I would get it. And I was angry when I walked in. I knew that the vase belonged to my Mother, he had told me many times that it was very precious to her," Rita stopped. "What else did she say about that day Chris?" she suddenly asked.

He thought about it, trying to remember the conversation. "She said that it was a very sadÖ." He paused, "Sammy, you came home that day and found him, didnít you?" he asked.

She nodded against his chest, he felt some tears on his bare skin too. "Here I was so upset over something so trivial and if I had just been there for himÖ." she shook her head sadly. "And then to break that vase besidesÖ.it was like I killed both of them that day," she said.

"Thatís not true, Rita, you know that," he paused and exhaled. "Rita, Iím sorry, I didnít know, I just realized it now," he said, running his fingers through her hair. "Now, Iíve ruined your Christmas."

"Itís ok," she said, her soft voice now getting stronger by the minute. "Now do you believe," she asked.

She saw his head move up and down, "Now I believe you, Grandma," he answered with a chuckle. He couldnít hear the sorrow in her voice any longer.

"What?" she asked, why was he was calling her Grandma.

"Oh, nothing, it just goes back to when I was a kid I guess. My Grandma always wanted me to believe in miracles and lucky charms, horseshoes, Santa Claus, you know, all that stuff. I remember telling her I was too old for it," Chris explained.

"Chris," she began with some hesitance in her voice, "that night, that night of your accident, when I made all the cookies, it was your Grandma, she was with me, now I know that. I couldnít figure out why I was so calm, I mean you were gone all night, but she was there with me, here in our house. She made me believe too," Rita said.

Chris scratched his head, "It sounds like weíve got a flock of angels watching over us," he paused, "either that or we are both completely nuts," he added.

"Weíre not nuts, weíve just learned that some thingís canít be explained. We have to accept them for what they appear to be," she smiled and reached over and kissed him. "You know, thereís a couple of special presents for you, would you like to open them?" she asked.

He noticed her grin. "You know you have your Motherís smile," he said. He grinned like a child, "and are you saying Santa Claus has already been here and we both missed him," he asked.

"Something like that," she said, rising up, smiling back at him. She went over to the tree and grabbed the small box and brought it back over to him. He leaned up on his elbows and began to open it up. He peeled off the paper to reveal a note covering the box. The note read, ĎIíll be there in no time at all, Son, Merry Christmas Big Guy, love always, Pop.í Chris pulled off the note and saw the elegant timepiece glistening back at him. He caught the double meaning of the note right away and knew that Rita was behind this gift, just as she realized he was behind having Benny take her shopping.

"Thanks Sam," he said, taking the watch out of the box and putting it on his wrist.

"Thatís from your Dad," she explained.

"You know what I mean," he said.

She nodded, "Yeah, I do, thanks for the day of shopping too!" she added. He smiled at her. "Ok, now for the other one, follow me," she said, rising up. She grabbed his T-shirt and put it on and went into the kitchen. He grabbed his jeans and slid them on, quickly following her lead.

"Donít tell me, let me guess, you made me dinner?" he called out after her. "Thatís not much of a present Sam!" he added.

"Very funny," she said, sliding the patio door open.

He had no idea what was outside, but he followed her out. "I canít believe you passed right by this on your way in tonight, it was still fairly light out," she began.

His eyes were now fixed on the gift that was before him. It was a large telescope. "Wow, Sam, howíd you know?" he said with wonder. Then he realized, Benny had planted the seed too. "He told you didnít he?"

She smiled at him. "Your Father is very useful in many ways," she began. "Yeah, he told me," she added, seriously.

He glided his fingers over the smooth case it was enclosed in, then coming around to the back he gazed up at the heavens. "Did he tell you the whole story too?" he asked, still peering through the eyepiece.

"No, he just said you always wanted one," she said.

"It was the Christmas right before they split for good. They both told me to write out my letter to Santa and that I had been a real good boy and they were very proud of me. Well, the most important thing on that list was a telescope. Weíd been studying the stars in school and the subject fascinated me. They read the list and saw it highlighted and starred and everything. And when Christmas morning rolled around, there was nothing. Neither one of them did anything. The house was like a morgue. I stopped believing right then and there. They were locked in a major battle and Christmas was the last thing on their minds. The next year, I was with my Grandma, and I told her I never believed in anything anymore," he explained. "I was a stupid kid," he said with a crooked smile.

"You werenít stupid Chris, you just lost your faith for a while. It happens to all of us from time to time. Believing in someone or something isnít always easy to do," she replied.

"It is when youíre beside me," he answered, holding out his hand and pulling her to him. "I love Sam, Merry Christmas," he said.

She kissed him and gently slid the palm of her hand along his cheek, "I love you too, Merry Christmas, Chris."

 

The End

 

And Merry Christmas to all of you too!

Hope you enjoyed the story. Itís been noodling around my head for months. I know itís a bit differentÖlet me know what ya think?

Thanks to Lisa & Linda for posting the story yet again.

The usual disclaimerÖ..Chris, Rita, Benny, Ana, Robert, Harry, Franny, Diana, Donald, Tom, Sue, Grandma Rose and the mere mention of Michael Price donít belong to meÖ.they belong to Stu Seagall and Stephen J. Cannell and USA productions. (By the way I like it on at 10pm much better than 11amÖ.it made for a nice prelude to sleep and dreamtime!)

Iíll put Margaret here between the created by S&S and those created by me. Cuz they gave Rita a Mom, but I gave her a name and a story!

The other familiar and not so familiar cast of characters, Tre, Daniel, Susan, Melanie, Joey, Geoff, Connie, their kids, Dale Fornary, Mike Schmidt, Marie, Megan, Ricky and Daryl Silva, Stinky Karl and the town of Teensa, Florida have all been conceived in my somewhat warped little head.

Lake Okeechobee is real.

Sharper Image is a pretty cool store.

The X-Files is on FoxÖ.I think some guy named Chris Carter is the producer.

Thanks to everyone who reads these and takes the time out to write. I love all the comments good and badÖ.though, now remember, itís ChristmasÖ.so try to be nice. (Ok, just kiddingÖ.lay it on me!) (This means you T!)

Thanks to Joy who helped me to decide who the best man/Father of the bride should be. We really tossed a coin on that oneÖ.didnít we?

Write to me at tuna.dc@excite.com (you donít need the Ďmailí extension any more!)

 

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