She looked at him for a long time. The muscle in his jaw, right below his ear, was tense. She smiled to the sky then kept looking at him. His eyes darted to her, then back to the road, then he turned his head.
"May I help you with something, ma'am?" he asked.
"Are we or aren't we?" she said. He smirked.
"I'm sure we'll have to," he said.
"But not now." He reached over to her knee. "By the way, the first time you were explaining how you and Parker were seated in his car I didn't quite understand. Do you think you could show me again?"
She laughed. "You know I was exaggerating."
"I know," he said. "A boy like that wouldn't have had a prayer with you."
She looked back out onto the white ribbon of a road that fluttered in the moonlight, remembering her fear from the night before, when she was alone and didn't know he was right there with her. Last night was like the road, stretching on forever without end, but what gripped her stomach then lightened her heart this evening. A night with no morning in sight. She studied him again.
He felt her eyes and looked off to his left, afraid that she would see him blush. He was nervous, and he knew that she could tell. "Well?"
"Yes?" she said. "How about now?"
"Not now," he said. "You remind me of a child waiting for the circus to begin."
"When?" she said.
"I don't know. I just don't feel like it now."
"You'll tell me tomorrow how you knew?" she asked.
"Maybe," he said.
She scooted over to him and traced her right big toe up his ankle. "Only if I'm good?" she whispered into his neck, right below the muscle that tightened when he was nervous. The car swerved onto the shoulder then back to the road. "Very funny," she laughed. She noticed he didn't relax. They were almost there.
He slowed the car, and turned right onto a side road. She raised her head. He had switched off the headlights, the moon lining the side of the graveled pavement just enough to keep the car from the ditch. The car crept, losing speed, until it stopped completely.
"I don't know how to say this," he said, the way he always did when he was going to talk for a while. She moved away from him, but he didn't look at her. He kept his eyes focused on the moonlight ahead, his profile cut from the black sky like the silhouette portrait her grandmother made of her when she was six.
"I want you," she said, interrupting him before he began.
He jumped, then let himself look at her. "I can't believe you just said that."
"I can't believe you won't," she replied. "This isn't hard, Perry."
"Since that first night, in your apartment, we've stayed together," he explained. "And there was the night at the beach."
"Yes, I do remember that much," she said.
"But we've kept a sense of respectability about the whole thing," he said.
She pursed her lips. "Barely."
"It's just that I don't want anything to change," he said, turning from her and resting his chin in his hand. "But at the same time I don't want to stay the way we have been."
"Exactly." They didn't look at each other for several seconds. He thought that maybe he should turn the car around. It wasn't going as planned. He reached into his front pocket for a cigarette and his fingers felt the note. He pulled it out with the packet and opened it at her. "This was funny. Your best yet. I didn't know you knew Lear, but you always surprise me. It's ironic, too, considering the outcome. Did you know then?"
She shrugged away from him. "Of course I didn't. The line came to mind when I was out in the hall. It just seemed amusing then. I was hungry."
"Follow me," he read to her, even though she was the one who wrote it on the paper. "Thou shalt serve me, if I like thee no worse after dinner. I will not part from thee yet." He chuckled, but she still wouldn't face him, so he reached over and gently made her look at him. She closed her eyes as he let his hand stretched out over the side of her face. His thumb stroked her cheek, then down to her lips, before falling to her collarbone.
He took in a breath. They should talk about it; what would happen if what might happen tonight did happen.
She moved toward him, which surprised him, then she crawled onto his lap, pulling his face up to hers and kissing him. He leaned back against the seat, a few seconds later trying to stop in order to have the serious talk. But she had almost finished unbuttoning his shirt, and so he forgot what it was he wanted to say. She felt the muscle in his jaw finally relent and tasted the ocean on his skin.
"I know how to say it now," he whispered.
She stopped and moved her eyes in front of his. "How to say what?"
"What I was trying to say earlier. When we first stopped."
"You're all I ever wanted, Della. That's it. That's all I needed to tell you." Then he kissed her again.
After a few seconds she pulled away. "And remember you promised that tomorrow you'll explain to me how you knew it was Goodland."
He slid his hand up and down the side of her leg. "Courtroom lesson number two," he said. "Don't distract your lawyer while he's pleading your case." She laughed, climbing off his lap as he started the engine. The car pulled back onto the main road, a ribbon of moonlight leading them toward the beachfront hotel near the sea.
Della Street reached out and held his hand. "The Lear quote was actually the second note I wrote for you."
"What did the first one say?"
She opened her purse, and found a small, folded square. She handed it to him. He opened it, and just visible in the moonlight, were two words. His eyebrows jumped, then he smiled. "Good thing you didn't give me this one then," he said, tucking the note into his jacket pocket. "Or we would have never stuck around long enough to figure out who actually did it."