Originally published in Back to Back Supplement 3 in 1986. This is a missing scene from "One of the Girls from Accounting".

Love and Loving

By Lizabeth S. Tucker

The sun sank into the ocean with a bright orange glow, its dying rays outlining the two shadows leaning on the rough wood railing. The orb seemed to melt, dispersing into an elongated puddle as it touched the water, the deep blue of the sky darkening into black with each passing moment. The shadows merged, then pulled apart.

"I'm sorry, Mark, I really am. You know I care for you, but…" The smaller shadow's voice carried over the wood to a third shadow waiting at the end of the boardwalk below Gulls-Way.

"But…you don't love me." The reply was curt, almost bitter, yet resigned. Almost as if the speaker, a young man, was used to this speech.

"No, I don't, not like that. And it's not your fault. You're everything I ever said I wanted in a man, kind and loving and oh so gentle. I just don't feel that way about you. Please, don't be angry."

"I'm not, Kathy, not really. But…" The taller shadow leaned down until he had once again merged with the smaller one. "…I could've loved you so much."

"As a friend? Because I'd like to keep that, if I could." Kathy sighed when there was no reply. "Please, Mark, don't lock me out like this. I don't want to hurt you, but I would've if we'd continued living this lie."

"I'd like to say that I understand, but I don't. It doesn't matter, though. If you don't love me, you're right. It wouldn't do either of us any good to go on trying." His voice lowered, but with the vagrancies of sound and wind, the third shadow heard every pain-filled word as clearly as if standing next to the couple. "I love you. I'll always love you, and if you ever change your mind…well, I'll be here."

"With the Judge?"

"Yeah, with the Judge. Can I kiss you goodbye?"

"Of course, Mark. No matter who I feel about you, you are one hell of a good kisser!"

"Kath, your language!" came the half-amused, half-shocked response.

"You're a bad influence, Mark McCormick, and I've loved every minute of it. Take care of yourself, you hear me?" She turned to look at the distant observer. "You hear me, Judge Hardcastle? Don't let him get himself hurt in one of your crazy cases!"

"I'll try not to, Kathy. I can only do so much, ya know," Hardcastle replied with a faint smile. "I hate to breath this up, but your plane is leaving in less than two hours. We'll never make it if we don't leave now."

"You're right. Are you coming with us, Mark?"

"No. I think we've already said our goodbyes. Take care. Be happy."

"I'll try." With a last lingering look, Kathy gently touched McCormick's arm, then turned to walk away with the Judge.

McCormick moved back to gaze out over the ocean as his beloved left for the airport with his best friend. She was moving from Los Angeles and any hope of reconciliation. He knew that Hardcastle would want to talk when he returned, but McCormick didn't know if he could handle that as yet. From the first moment he had met Kathy, McCormick had been sure that he had found The Woman. And, from her reactions, McCormick thought she had felt the same about him.

It had come as a bad shock when Kathy revealed her plans to move to New York City to take an accounting job with a big firm on Wall Street. And that her future plans didn't include him. She had assured him that it had nothing to do with his prison background or the crime fighting he helped Hardcastle with, but simply a lack of that indefinable something that Kathy placed so much importance on. It wasn't there with McCormick, so she was moving on after trying to let him down as painlessly as possible.

Kathy had tried, but McCormick still hurt deep inside. He tried to think of what he could have done, could have said, to change her mind. He had gone over their short-lived relationship in his mind, trying to discover where he had gone wrong. Like a rebus strip, he kept coming back to the same place on the loop: she didn't really love him. And although there was nothing he could do to change that, he still felt that there must be something lacking on his part, something missing deep inside him, that made people he loved leave.

He was still there when Hardcastle returned from the airport. The sun was completely gone, the night air chilly on his skin. McCormick took a deep breath before turning to face his friend. "She get away okay?"

"Yep, winging to the East Coast. How are you doing?" Hardcastle stood companionably close, giving comfort without touching.

"How do you expect?" McCormick snapped, then sighed. "I'm sorry."

"I understand, kid. Remember, I've been left by someone I loved, too."

"But you found Nancy later. You loved her, didn't you?"

"Very much."

"Didn't you ever regret it? I mean, first a glamorous actress, then a wealthy heiress. You could really pick 'em, Judge. Two wonderful women who you loved and who loved you. I can't even get one. I thought Kathy was it for me, that I had finally found what I was always looking for." The pain in his voice was heartbreakingly obvious and McCormick coughed nervously, embarrassed.

"Maybe this was a dry run. Or maybe you were looking too hard."

"What does that mean?"

Hardcastle scuffed his shoe against the wood planks as he thought about his answer.

"Judge?"

"You want an Ozzie and Harriet life, hotshot, and sometimes that doesn't happen. At least, not on some inner schedule that you've thought up. You think it's time to settle down, get an adult job, an adult car, and an adult lifestyle, don't you?"

"Well, I'm not getting any younger. I figured it was time to settle…" McCormick's voice trailed off as he heard himself echoing the exact wording that Hardcastle had used. "Is that so wrong?"

"No. But, as my grandmother used to say, it'll come when it's time. You can't force love."

"But I did love Kathy!" McCormick protested, though even he could hear the lack of insistence in his tone. "I wasn't looking to, Judge. There was just something about her…something different."

"Bingo, hotshot. You hit it right on the nose - she was different from the bimbos you usually went out with. She had…has a brain and a style all her own. There was more to your relationship than sex, and that probably threw you."

"You mean, because she was different, I talked to myself into loving her?"

Hardcastle threw his arm over McCormick's shoulder as he guided him back to the main house. "Sorta. Oh, you loved her, I believe that. But you weren't in love with her. There is a difference, McCormick. I think that was the thing with Jane and me. I loved her, but I don't think I was really in love with her. At least, not then."

"And you were with Nancy?"

"Yes, son, I was. Deeply and for always. And, if you're lucky, you'll find someone like that to share your life - the good and the bad. But don't push it. The thing with Nancy and me was that neither one of us was looking for it. In fact, we fought hard against it. I was a sharecropper's son, and she was the 'princess' of a wealthy, old-money family. I wasn't ashamed of where I came from, but I was a bit of a reverse snob and put down her background. From our first date, in fact." Hardcastle chuckled.

McCormick became interested, trying to ignore the ache of loss. "What did she do?"

"Put me in my place, Nancy did. She had a real talent for that."

"With you, she probably needed it. I've gotta admit, Judge, you and this house," McCormick waved his hand at Gulls-Way as they made it up the sandy path from the beach. "They just don't fit. Well, they do now, but I can't imagine you, in your starched blue police uniform, living in this place."

Grinning, Hardcastle slapped him on the back. "Neither could I, kiddo. It took me at least two years before I got comfortable here. But it was worth it. This isn't any of those cold, marble mansions."

"Nope, it's a home. You and your wife must've been very happy here."

Hardcastle's face took on a distant, thoughtful look. "Yes, we were. And some day, you'll find the right woman and create your own home out of a house. You just wait, it'll happen."

"Think so?"

"Know so. I'm never wrong, remember?"

"Okay. I can wait. I just hope I don't forget what I'm waiting for."

They walked into the house together. McCormick still missing his former lady, but understanding the differences in relationships better than he had. Hardcastle's grandmother hadn't been the only one to say that 'when it's right, it'll happen'. His mother had said the same thing when he had wanted something badly and didn't get it. He couldn't change Kathy's mind. He knew that, so he was stuck with her decision. Maybe, McCormick thought, he was becoming an adult emotionally. Because he understood what the Judge was trying to tell him, and he realized that a good case of sturm and drang wouldn't change the situation one bit.

"Judge?"

Hardcastle looked expectantly at his friend. "Yeah?"

"I hope the woman I find is half as nice as your wife was."

Hardcastle smiled softly in memory. "So do I, kid, so do I."