Kissin' Cousins

"Ray, Ray, I've got great news!" It was a happy Mountie that climbed into the shotgun seat of the Riv. He was grinning. Ray noticed it wasn't his usual half-smile but a full blown, bona-fide grin. In anticipation he smiled himself.

"What, Benny? Spill it."

"My cousin is coming to Chicago! To work right here in the Consulate! Right here, Ray!"

"That is great news, Benny. I'm happy for you, man." Ray couldn't think of anything better for a man to have than family, and the only family Fraser had around was Vecchio's own. "So this cousin, he's a Mountie?"

"Hardly. For one thing, he's a she. And for another she's not a Mountie, she's. . . an accountant." Fraser made this last declaration with such pride that Ray felt he had to say something.

"Oh, you must be very proud."

"The whole family's proud. Alexandra graduated from..." and Fraser launched into his cousin's academic credentials with such enjoyment that Ray just let him go on until he ran out of steam.

"Alexandra. Nice name. Classy."

"Well, actually I call her Sandy. It's more suitable for her temperament, really. I'm afraid her demeanor is somewhat cavalier to say the least."

Ray waited for the translation he knew was coming.

"Unconventional. Unprofessional. She's a goof, Ray. Like I am."

Ray let that last bit pass.

"So what's she coming for, anyway?"

"Well, from her e-mails it seems she has two mandates. For one thing, she's going to help Inspector Thatcher with the administration."

Ray knew Fraser had to be very excited to let slip anything so disloyal as this admission that the Inspector needed help.

"And the second thing, and this is really exciting, she's going to co-ordinate the conversion of all the consulates in the States to accrual method accounting. Can you imagine?"

Ray admitted, truthfully, that he couldn't "What's that got to do with Chicago?"

"We're centrally located, in case she has to fly out to the other consulates. Just think about it, Ray, going from city to city, revaluing all the assets. I'm going to pick her up at the airport next Thursday. Do you want to come along with Diefenbaker and me?"

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, Buddy."

Usually, when Fraser was standing still, he stood very still, hands fixed behind his back, perfect posture, perfect composure. But waiting at the airport for his cousin, he bounced excitedly, shifting from one foot to the other. Ray thought he was acting like a six-year-old dressed up in a red serge Mountie costume. They had driven out to the airport in a consular limousine. Ray insisted on driving, as Fraser had been too wound up to concentrate. Benny's driving was haphazard enough. Any vehicle without dogs attached challenged him.

As they waited, Fraser reminisced. "Sandy used to stay with us at Grandma's in the summer. We grew really close."

"Were you kissin' cousins?"

"I imagine we may have kissed on occasion, when the relatives were around. But children don't kiss each other often as a rule, Ray." Fraser stopped to think about it. Realization dawned. "Oh, you mean..." The Mountie was horrified. "Ray, we're COUSINS!"

"Cousins are allowed to marry in every state of the Union."

"In Canada, too, Ray, but just because something isn't illegal doesn't mean it's something you'd necessarily want to do. Sandy and I. That's just silly, Ray." And then he pointed to the monitor over their heads. "Look! Her flight's in!"

"Good. I'll finally get to meet the famous Alexandra Fraser."

"Oh, her name's not Fraser. It's D'Amalfi. Alexandra D'Amalfi."

This was interesting news. "How'd you get an Italian cousin?"

"By marriage. My mother's sister married a man named Vincenzo D'Amalfi. My uncle Vince." Fraser pointed. "Look, Ray, here she comes. In the blue coat."

Ray looked where he was directed and saw a small, plump, woman running towards them. As she came closer, the detective in Ray tried to figure out what he could about her. The obviously out of shape, disheveled woman puffed as she ran, her unfashionable clothes flapping about her in messy disarray. Fraser's description - goof - was probably accurate. Her hair was the same dark brown as her cousin's, but cut just a little bit longer. She had a pleasant face with Benny's delicate features. So, thought Ray, the good looks must come from his mother's side.

The small woman flung herself at Fraser. "Ben! Ben!"

Fraser lifted her under the arms and, with both of them laughing like happy children, he swung her around in increasingly broad circles. Then he put her back on the floor and bent down to give her a kiss - noisy, slurpy and totally devoid of any sex whatsoever. Diefenbaker pranced around them, yelping for attention. Sandy let go of her cousin and dropped to the floor, burying her face in the wolf's neck. "Dief, sweetheart. . . my precious Dief!" More kissing and more laughing.

Ray couldn't stand it any more. He was genetically incapable of being around this much emotion and not joining in. "Hey, best friend over here."

The woman let go of the wolf, stood up, and turned suddenly into an accountant. She extended a polite hand in Ray's direction. "You must be Ray," she stated, calmly.

"Oh,sure. These guys get big hugs and kisses and I get 'You must be Ray'," he pouted.

Sandy shot a mischevious glance at Fraser, grabbed Ray and drew him into a bear hug. "Ray! Ray! Oh my darling, Ray! You haven't changed a bit, you sweetheart you!" Then Ray got the same smooching as the human and lupine Canadians.

* Definitely a goof * , thought Ray, kissing her back. * It's gonna be great to have another cousin to play with. *

Ray never had a female buddy before. He knew there was such a thing as a woman friend - other men seemed to have them - but it was not something he'd ever experienced himself. Fraser and Sandy just took it for granted that she would pal around with them and it felt very natural all around. She tagged along like a little sister whenever they went to a restaurant, a movie, out for a walk or, in fact, whenever they did anything that wasn't connected with police work. She seemed to make a special point of not being interested in anything having to do with the catching of bad guys.

Ray was amazed at her effect on Fraser. Gone was the sedate tight-ass when he was around his cousin. He and Sandy would climb boulders in the park and swing on swings. Ray had to get used to the two of them bursting into operatic duets in the street, Fraser singing the soprano part in falsetto, heedless of the stares of passers-by. Around his cousin, the Mountie really was a goof.

At first Ray was concerned that all this cousinly camaraderie would threaten his status as Fraser's best friend. That didn't seem to happen. Quite the opposite, Sandy often said things that seemed to reinforce the idea that the men were a team. Choosing a restaurant, she'd complain, "Oh you guys, you always want Chinese food." Or she would roll her eyes and call them "You two cops" when they annoyed her. It took a whole three months before it occurred to Ray that she might be doing this on purpose. He confronted her with this suspicion one afternoon while they were walking Dief in the park and Fraser was off buying ice-cream.

"You caught me, Deee-tective," she teased. "Look, I love Ben and I want him to be happy. Having you as a best friend is important to him."

This raised another question in Ray's mind. "Sandy, how do you love him?"

The woman laughed and started quoting " ' How do I love him? Let me count the ways.' "

"No, really."

"Look, Ray," said Sandy, "let's have a sense of aesthetic proportion here. Can you imagine somebody who looks like me together with a piece of eye-candy like Ben?"

"You're not that bad, Sandy. You're a little overweight, but if you just dressed up a little, maybe wore some makeup . . . anyway, you admit you find him attractive."

"Sure he's attractive. So are Francesca and Maria. So don't you want to, ahem, date your sisters?"


"Exactly. 'Nuff said." Sandy became thoughtful. "Funny thing about Ben's looks. Until he was what, fifteen, sixteen, he was a scrawny little guy. Used to get teased a lot. When he started to fill out he still always had that 'pretty' look. In the north, when we think of a handsome man, we think of someone more rugged. People form their self images when they are young. Ben doesn't see himself as the god he really is. Probably never will. What a shame. If I looked like him I'd be out every night."

"Sandy," said Ray, "Why don't you go out by yourself more? You're always hanging around with Fraser and I."

"Fraser and me" she corrected him. "Objective case after the preposition. It's a common mistake, Ray. I'm going to go find Ben. He's taking too long with my ice-cream," She took off abruptly with Dief, ending the conversation. Just a little too abruptly, Ray thought. He must have hit a nerve.

Ray kept thinking, though, about Sandy's love life, or rather lack of love life. She went out on dates from time to time but never had a real boy-friend. Her looks were against her for one thing. She had the same pretty face as Fraser, but was always sloppy, as if she spent hardly any time on hair or dress, which in fact she didn't.

Another strike against her was that she was usually seen in the company of Fraser. Ray had personally witnessed men checking her out and deciding to come over and start something. Then they would get one look at the stunning Mountie, figure she was taken, and beat a speedy retreat, knowing they could never compete with THAT.

Ray didn't realize that he, himself, was part of the problem. Being together with her so much, and both of them being Italian, he though of Sandy as his own cousin. Therefore, her honour was his responsibility. Whenever she introduced a new love interest to her pal, Ray subjected the man to a very professional interrogation.

It was a shame really, thought Ray, that Sandy couldn't seem to find a good man.

Sandy had rented one floor of what used to be an old brick mansion and was now a triplex. She acquired a television, stereo, CD, DVD and VCR all the better to entertain herself and the boys. Sunday evening at Sandy's became a custom. Usually she cooked, considering it her sacred duty as an Italian woman to feed her menfolk. But when she had a very tiring or stressful week, fast food was allowed. This week had been particularly harrowing for her. She had been working on the liaison office budget with Thatcher, and discovering that the Inspector had no real head for figures. Sandy, as a civilian, didn't report to the Inspector, but she did have to be diplomatic with her even though the Dragon Lady insisted on giving Sandy numbers that made basically no sense at all and blaming Sandy when Ottawa complained that the budget was late.

On this particular evening, Fraser, Ray and Diefenbaker were waiting around Sandy's while she went out to fetch fried chicken. Fraser was engrossed in trying to translate "Hamlet" into the Inuit language. (A translation was in fact available in the Inuvik public library but Fraser thought it could be improved upon).

Ray and Diefenbaker were watching a movie about some young man who got a job as a ski instructor in Aspen. The movie was mediocre, its plot seeming to revolve around how cute the ski instructor was. "Hey, Benny," said Ray. "This guy looks something like you."

Fraser looked up from his translation and regarded the actor on the TV screen critically. "I hardly think so, Ray. I don't see how you can watch that nonsense," he opined. "Somebody should make a movie about curling," he added casually, and went back to his Hamlet.

Sandy arrived outside her own door juggling a bucket of chicken, a bag of fries and gravy, her frayed old purse and a heavy black audit bag full of the papers she'd brought home on Friday but, as usual, forgotten in the trunk of her car. "I need some help here!" she called through the door.

Fraser and Ray were just a little too slow off the mark, Fraser fighting to disengage himself mentally from the swordfight scene and Ray trying to dislodge Dief from his lap. Sandy fumed, cursed, and managed to get herself inside, but only as far as the living room before tumbling in a heap of food, budgets and spare change.

Chivalry, hunger and, in Fraser's case, abhorence of a mess got the men moving faster. While collecting chicken parts and putting them back in the bucket, Ray noticed something.

"Wings," he said. "Sandy, what's the matter?"

"What's the matter? How about I have morons for cousins?"

Ray picked up a chicken wing and displayed it to Fraser. "Wing," he repeated.

Fraser was very concerned. "Sandy, you always eat the wings in the car on the way home. What is wrong?"

"I just don't feel well. I've had a rough week. It's probably nothing. You boys eat, I think I'll just lay down for awhile."

Sandy headed towards the bedroom, then gasped suddenly and clutched at her middle. "Oh Jeez.!" She doubled over and gave a cry of pain. "Oh, Ben. I can't . . . breathe . . . hurts . . . Ray . . . I'm scared . . . call . . ." She lost consciousness.

The 'boys' were instantly policemen. Ray dove for a phone and called 911, while Fraser stretched Sandy out on the floor, checked to see if she was breathing and then felt for a pulse. He looked up at Ray, shook his head gravely, and pointed silently to Sandy's chest. Then Fraser bent over her face and started rescue breathing. As soon as Ray hung up with the emergency operator, he got into position to administer CPR. They worked on her together until the paramedics arrived and took over.

Dr. Cardinal asked the admitting nurse if there was anybody waiting for news about Miss D'Amalfi. The nurse pointed to two men in the waiting room. One of them was sitting absolutely motionless on the edge of the plastic emergency room bench, the other pacing and muttering to himself in Italian. Perhaps he was praying, she couldn't tell. The doctor took a moment to gaze at the quiet one. She sighed. It was silly, she knew, but she almost envied Miss D'Amalfi. It would be almost worth having a heart attack if it also meant having someone so gorgeous worried about you. Not that the other one was bad looking either, she thought as she walked over to the man on the bench. Fraser saw the white coat and nametag and jumped to his feet. Ray halted his pacing and flew over to join them.

"It was very close. We almost lost her." The doctor told them. "But she's stable now. I'm having her sent to intensive care."

"When can we see her?" asked the man who had been pacing.

"She's still unconscious and will be for a good six hours at least. You'd be better off getting some rest and being here when she wakes up."

"Thank you kindly for the advice, Doctor. We'll certainly be here when she wakes up. But we also want to see her now," said the man the man who had been sitting still.

* She's a lucky woman * , thought Dr. Cardinal. * I hope she knows it. * Then she spoke out loud. "I'll tell the intensive care nurses to let you in - just for a little while. Give them abbout half an hour to get her settled in, then go up to the seventh floor." She left them.

Fraser had reverted to his before-Sandy state: not moving or talking while they waited for news. Even now, after hearing she was out of immediate danger, he remained on his feet and started looking at his father's watch with no part of him moving except his blue eyes as they watched the hands mark the agonizingly slow passage of exactly one half hour. Ray resumed pacing. When the thirty minutes had passed Fraser said "Time," tersely, and they headed towards the elevator.

As they got off the elevator Ray found himself wishing he wasn't quite so familiar with the hospital smell. They entered the waiting area of the intensive care unit. Through a glass window through which they could see the ICU itself, and nurses bustling about the beds. Some of the beds were curtained off; they couldn't tell where Sandy was. Fraser rapped on the door connecting the two areas. An intensive care nurse was expecting them.

"You can go in for a few minutes, one at a time."

Ray produced his badge and held it up. "We're going in together. We're cops. We know how to behave." The nurse shrugged, let them in and pointed to one of the curtained spots. Fraser held back for a moment, but Ray took his arm, gently, and eased him past the curtains.

The friends stood side by side, looking down at Sandy. Ray had seen her asleep often, snoozing under a tree in the park, drifted away in front of a late movie, or flaked out against Fraser's shoulder during a long car ride. But now there were tubes attaching her to bottles and wires attaching her to machines. Sandy lay without moving, while the bottles dripped and gurgled and the machines blipped and hummed. It looked to Ray as though the machines were alive and the woman dead. Beside him he heard Fraser speaking low, echoing the doctor's words. "We almost lost her. Oh Ray, we almost lost her."

Neither Ray nor Fraser liked how quickly the doctors wanted Sandy up on her feet and out of the hospital. They were almost relieved when Sandy told them she had been ordered to stay home and off her feet for three weeks upon release. But this led to the question of where Sandy would spend those weeks.

She wanted to simply stay home alone. Fraser would have none of that and suggested that he and Dief take time off work (the Dragon Lady's objections be damned!), move into her apartment and undertake her care. Ray saw no reason why Sandy shouldn't stay in his own big house where his mother and sisters were itching to take care of her.

Ma Vecchio settled the issue by edict. She decreed that all three Canadians would move in with the Vecchios. Alessandra, as she called Sandy, she installed on the couch in the living room so that she need not climb the stairs and all the household could wait upon her easily. Benito was assigned a cot in Raimundo's room. Il lupetto was allowed to sleep wherever he wished. Ma, Francesca and Maria would see to Alessandra during the day while Raimundo and Benito were at work. At night they would all be together.

Ray and Ma Vecchio made it clear to Francesca that she had better treat the Mountie like a brother, or she'd be banished to stay with Aunt Rosa for as long as Fraser was living there. It was an effective threat. Francesca didn't want to be deprived of the opportunity to look, even if she couldn't touch.

With this arrangement, Ray experienced something he'd missed as a child - having his friends sleep over. Young Raimundo never knew which night his father would come home and take a belt to him, so better not to have his friends in the house where they might see that happen. But now Pop was gone, Ray was a grown man, a cop, master of his own house. If he wanted his friends to sleep over, he could have them - so there!

Ray enjoyed having Benny in the house. They talked long into the night like boys camping out. They shaved together in the morning, Ray marvelling at his friend's ability to use an old-fashioned straight blade. Ray talked him into trying his own electric razor, but Fraser cut himself in the attempt. Evenings after work they all ate and talked together, Benito and il lupetto being declared honorary Italians for the duration.

Ray watched his friends to see how the northerners were adapting to life with the Vecchios. Every night at the dinner table Fraser rhapsodised over how wonderful it was to be part of a big family, but he and Diefenbaker disappeared whenever they could for long walks by themselves. The Mountie apparently needed his space. Sandy, however, fit into the Vecchio lifestyle splendidly, having been apparently raised in a similar household. Ray found it natural to find her waiting for him when he came home from work.

On the second Wednesday of Sandy's convalescence, Sandy, Francesca and Maria were huddled together on the couch, sobbing over some chick flick. Ma Vecchio had given Sandy special dispensation to sit up, so that the Vecchio sisters would have room on the couch with her. Fraser and Diefenbaker were off on one of their 'time out' walks. Tony and the kids had gone to a movie. Ray wandered around the house, bored, with no one to play with. He drifted into the kitchen and found his mother there, busy making cocoa. She gave him a mug and he sat down with it at the kitchen table.

"It's nice having Alessandra here, isn't it" said Ma, casually.

"Um" said Ray absently. His attention was on a plate of raisin cookies in his mother's hand and moving in his direction.

Ma put the cookies in front of her son. "She should be part of the family permanently, don't you think?" she insisted. "She should live with us all the time. You should arrange it so she stays with us."

"Sure, Ma." he answered, around a mouth full of cookie. "But how?"

Ma Vecchio gave him a playful tap to the side of his head. "Raimundo! How do they let you be a detective - you're so stupid! Think!" She went out to serve cocoa to the girls in the living room.

Ray thought. Yes, it would be nice to have Sandy in the family. If only Angie had been like her, happy to live with the Vecchios and be part of the family. But Angie, like Fraser, needed lots of space and had insisted that they live alone in their own apartment and Ray had missed his family. The traditional Italian roles didn't work for Angie, whereas Ray had always dreamed of being the pater familias his father had failed to be - benevolent father and grandfather of a teeming clan. He never seemed to meet a woman who wanted the same thing. Watching Sandy with the rest of his family, they all seemed so natural together. That's the kind of woman, Ray thought, I could share a life with. Too bad Sandy was his cousin.

Then his mind wandered back to places Ray had been trying to avoid. Sandy - doubled over in pain. "Ray... I'm scared." Sandy - lying white and still in a hospital bed. Fraser's tortured words "Ray, we almost lost her." Ray felt again the chilling fear he'd known in the hospital waiting room, while he had waited to see if his beloved cousin would live. His cousin. Then he realized what his mother had meant and agreed with her. He was very stupid.

So accustomed was he to thinking of Cousin Sandy as a relative that it took Ray a few weeks to readjust and to accept that he was in love with Alexandra D'Amalfi as a woman. He was so used to thinking of her as family, he had forgotten that she wasn't his cousin, she was Fraser's. He worried how she might react if he revealed his feelings. She never gave any sign that she thought of Ray in a romantic way. Ray wanted to handle this carefully and slowly he evolved a plan.

He waited until the Canadians were back in their respective homes and Sandy back at work for a few days. Let life return to normal, he figured. Then he arranged for the three of them to go for supper after work one night, a completely normal thing for them to do. Then, that afternoon, he came to Fraser's office at the Consulate. Ray found him working away behind his too-small desk, greeted him and then got to the point. "Benny, I don't want you to come for dinner tonight."

"Okay, Ray, but you didn't have to come all the way over here to tell me that. We'll make it another night. I'll just call Sandy and tell her." Fraser reached for the phone on his desk to call Sandy's desk.

Ray stopped his hand and pushed it away from the phone. "No, you don't understand. I want me and Sandy to go out for dinner, and not you. And I don't want you to tell her now. I want to talk to her myself."

You could have taken the eyes out of a hurt puppy dog and put them in the Mountie's face without noticing any difference. "Why, Ray?" Then he perked up, "You want to plan a surprise for me, right? For my 15th anniversary as an RCMP officer. That's very thoughtful, Ray."

"No, no, I mean, congratulations on your anniversary but that's not what I meant. I want me and Sandy to go out - alone. Just us two. A man and a woman. Going out for dinner. Do you understand?"

Fraser was shocked. "Ray! She's your cousin!"

"No, Benny, she's YOUR cousin."

Fraser leaned back in his chair to digest this. "Hmmm. Why the subterfuge? Why not just ask her out, not that I'm advocating this, mind you."

"If I just asked her, she might say no. This way she doesn't have an excuse. Can't say that she's busy or anything because she's already going out with the two of us, see? She can't back out."

Fraser rose from his chair with great dignity and placed himself in front of his friend, hands firmly on his hips and looking very stern.

"Ray, I hope you realize I'll expect you to behave as a perfect gentleman."

"What? Why you . . . " whereupon Ray launched into a very impolite commentary on Fraser's parentage, ending with "You sleep with my sister and you dare tell ME to be a gentleman!"

"Ray, I never meant to discuss this with you again, but to set the record straight, I didn't sleep with Francesca."

"Don't get literal on me, man. Obviously you didn't sleep."

"I did nothing, Ray."

"Oh, yeah, sure, my kid sister shows up at your door in her underwear and you don't do anything about it."

"I give you my word Ray, I didn't touch her." The Mountie started blushing so hard you couldn't tell where the red tunic left off and his skin began. "Francesca came to my room and she made her intentions quite clear. The thing is, I just wasn't able to . . . well . . . to . . . um . . . comply."

"You couldn't?" Ray nodded happily. "Because she's your partner's sister. Sacred, like."

"That too," conceded Fraser.

"What do you mean 'too'?"

"Remember what happened that night? Zuko's men beat me to a pulp, Ray. I wasn't in any physical condition for . . . what Francesca had in mind."

"Oh. You mean that kind of - couldn't." Ray found it hard to think of his perfect, always-good-at-everything friend experiencing this particular kind of difficulty, even when he had been thoroughly thrashed only hours before. "Was she mad?"

"As a hornet. She was as angry with me for not sleeping with her as you were when you thought I had. Ray, I'd be just as angry if I thought your intentions towards my kinswoman weren't honourable."

"I hear you, Fraser."

He got out of there and headed towards Sandy's office. Her door was wide open and he walked right in. She was staring at her computer screen and didn't notice him. Ray knew that when she was concentrating on something an earthquake could barely command her attention. He went and stood behind her chair. On her computer screen were rows of figures. Apparently they had some deep meaning for Sandy. Ray himself couldn't understand how anyone could do a job that didn't involve at least some chasing, jumping and shooting at regular intervals. Finally, she became aware of Ray standing there.

"Hello, Ray. Aren't you early?"

"I just came to tell you Fraser can't make it for supper tonight."

"Oh well, tomorrow night then" she returned to her work.

"Actually, Sandy, I thought we'd go anyway, just the two of us." There, he'd said it. How would she react? Shock? Disgust? Lust? Ray held his breath and waited.

"Just us? Yeah, might be fun." She didn't take her eyes off the computer screen nor her hand from the mouse. "Be a good chance to get ribs. Ben hates ribs. Too messy."

"Sandy, you're not getting it. I don't mean we go get some supper. I mean I take you out for dinner. I shower and shave. You put on a pretty dress and some makeup. We go on a date." He repeated his words slowly and significantly, Canadians could be so dense, sometimes. "On . . . a . . . date."

"Us?" This finally forced her attention from her numbers. "But we're cousins!" It was her turn, like Fraser and Ray had before her, to give this some thought. "We're not cousins. Oh dear. That has implications, doesn't it?"

"Do you want it have those implications? Tell me the truth, Sandy."

The woman seemed very confused. "Ray, to be honest, I don't know. I had no idea you even thought of me that way."

"Actually, I didn't," Ray confessed. "Not at first. But then you almost died and I got so scared. Sandy, I realized I have to have you with me forever. We have to be a family. No, wait that's wrong." He pulled her from her seat and took both her hands in his own. "We have to MAKE a family. Alexandra D'Amalfi, I love you. Are you going to let me kiss you?"

"Now or tonight?"

Ray took the plunge. "Now."

He bent down and began to give her a long, and very un-familial kiss. She melted against him and drew him closer. Ray kissed her mouth, her cheek, her forehead, her neck, and then bent even lower. Sandy pushed him away, gently.

"No, Ray. Somebody might come in. Ben might come in."

"Close the door."

"He'd still come in. No, just pick me up at my place at seven. You better go now."

Ray left her office reluctantly. Sandy stood watching him go down the hall and let himself out the big mahogany door. Then she spoke out loud to the seemingly empty hallway. "Ben, if you follow us on our date tonight, you'll be sorry. Understood?" He didn't answer from wherever it was he was hiding, but she knew he had heard.

As it turned out, the dinner date itself was uneventful. Outwardly, they were thoroughly at ease, like good friends sharing a simple meal. Inwardly, the only thing either of them could think of was their awareness of each other as a man and woman and their eagerness to finish dinner and head back to Sandy's apartment where they could be alone to explore this new aspect of their relationship further.

Ray drove up and parked in front of Sandy's place. Ray turned off the engine and reached for Sandy. She shook him off.

"No, Ray. I'm sure he's out there watching."

"You said you told him not to follow us."

"Not to follow us on the date. You know how literal Ben is. There's no way he's not waiting out there for me to come home."

Right on cue, Fraser strode up and approached the car.

"Hello, Ray. Hello, Sandy," he said blandly, his face framed by the driver's side window of the Riv. "How was the date?"

"What are you doing here, Ben?" asked Sandy, rhetorically, since all three knew what he was doing there.

"Well, if your date's over, I thought we'd all go have some coffee and you could tell me all about it."

Sandy got out of the car, and walked around to face her cousin.

"Ben, go home. The date's not over yet."

"Oh," remarked the Mountie, "Is there something you still want to do?"

"Yes there is. I want to take Ray up to my apartment and . . . " she stood up on tip-toe and whispered something in Fraser's ear. Fraser looked blankly for a moment, then slid to the ground in a dead faint, hitting his head on the door handle of the Riv as he went down.

"Oh dear. I didn't think he even knew what that meant." She bent down to take care of her senseless kinsman. His forehead was bleeding.

Ray leaped out of the car. "My God, Sandy! What did you say to him?"

Sandy told him. Ray's mouth dropped open. "I . . . um . . . I don't think that's even . . . um . . . physically possible."

"That's not important right now, Ray. What is important is that we need to take Ben to the Emergency."

"But . . ." Ray gulped "Aren't we going to . . . what you said?"

"Ray, look at his head. He needs medical attention. Help me put him in the car." They piled Fraser into the back seat of the Riv and Sandy got in with him, taking her cousin's head onto her lap. "Drive, Ray," she ordered.

"But what about . . . "

"Shut up and drive." Ray shut up and drove.

Halfway to Chicago Hope the Mountie started to stir, uttered a small groan and opened his eyes. "What happened?"

"You fainted, Benny. You hurt your head. We're taking you to the hospital."

"Fainted? I don't understand." he started to sit up, went woozy and lay back down in Sandy's lap. "I should be wearing a seatbelt. Sixty dollar fine if you get caught, Ray," he mumbled.

"You just relax Benny, we'll take care of you." Ray assured him.

"How did I . . . what happened?" insisted Fraser, but weakly.

"Well, Benny, it seems Sandy told you something and you were so surprised you just passed out."

"Told me something . . . " Fraser repeated, "Told me something. She said, oh my God, she said . . ."

"She said we're getting married. Sandy and me. You were so happy you fainted."

"Ray, is that what I said?" Sandy asked carefully. "Are you really sure that's what I said?"

"Do you want that to be what you said?" asked Ray, innocently.

"Oh, yes, Ray. Absolutely."

"That's not what I heard," said Fraser, his head still cradled in his cousin's lap. "I heard something a lot more, um , anatomical than that."

"You've got a dirty mind, Benny."

"So you're really getting married? And we'll all be family. That's just wonderful!" He tried to sit up and this time succeeded. "I'm okay now, Ray. We don't have to go to hospital. If you could just take me home, please, I'll be fine. Head wounds always look worse than they really are."

"Well, if you're sure," said Ray and re-directed the Riv towards West Racine. Sandy wiped the blood from her cousin's forehead with whatever kleenex she had in her purse. The cut wasn't serious. By the time they got to his apartment Fraser seemed to have recovered and got out of the back seat unaided. Then he leaned into the car window.

"I don't know this from first hand experience, Ray, but I'm pretty sure it IS physically possible. However, if I even suspect you're trying it before the wedding, I'll kill you both." He turned and went inside.

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