A/N I've been working on two stories and am totally stymied by both, so I wrote this piece of fluff, hoping it would help me breath through the writer's block. So far it hasn't worked. And as if you didn't already know, I don't own these characters. Erle Stanley Gardner created them AND their romance, no matter how much he might have tried to deny it later.
Della Street tried not to tap her pencil on the page of her open notebook.
It was hard not to, after sitting in a chair at the edge of her employer's massive desk for almost an hour, watching him pace. She was supposed to be taking notes, but he'd barely put three sentences together in all that time. Normally Perry Mason did some of his best work while pacing the office floor and tossing comments at her. Not so, tonight.
When she first came to work for the attorney, not quite a year ago, she couldn't fathom why he would want notes taken while he paced and thought. He wasn't really dictating anything and he seldom asked to have the notes transcribed. However, it was obvious that Mason's mental agility was his stock in trade. It didn't take her long to realize having someone keep track of his thoughts for him in this way allowed him to think faster, to reason further, without having to try to remember or organize his ideas.
It was a practice that she'd never seen before and once she understood what he was doing, she gained a whole new appreciation for his genius. Unfortunately, the technique didn't always work. No one was infallible and tonight Perry Mason wasn't getting anywhere as he wrestled with a particularly devilish case. Della watched the frustration grow as his steps became heavier, his shoulders hunched and his hands disappeared deep into his pockets.
Della was both bored and anxious. Her own shoulders were beginning to tighten as she watched Mason's progress back and forth in front of her. She wanted to suggest that he call it a day and go home, have a couple of drinks then get a good night's sleep. He'd been going non-stop for almost 48 hours and he desperately needed the rest. She almost chuckled out loud at the futility of that thought. With the client in jail and the prospects of him staying there permanently increasing hourly, Perry Mason would never just give up and go home. Not even when his exhaustion was impacting his ability to deduce the truth. Unfortunately for her, that meant a long evening of sitting and watching. Normally that was something she didn't mind. It usually meant they were close to a breakthrough, but not tonight. The inactivity was beginning to grate on her nerves.
She sighed softly and shifted a little in her chair.
Mason paused his cross-office march briefly and removed his suit jacket, throwing it over the client chair next to him. Then he reached up and loosened his tie and undid the top two buttons of his shirt. As he started pacing again, he flexed his arms back behind him, which pulled the material of his dress shirt tight across his chest.
Della bit the inside of her cheek. 'At least the view is getting more interesting,' she mused, feeling slightly guilty for acknowledging such thoughts, even in the privacy of her own mind.
The pacing continued for a while longer, then Perry gave a huge sigh and came around the desk and dropped into his chair. Concern etched Della's features as she watched him rub his hands over his face and then through his hair. "I can't think," he growled. Anticipating his request, she left her chair in favor of the coffee pot. She filled a cup and brought it to him. He took it from her and murmured his thanks as he rubbed the back of his neck, trying to work out some of the tenseness brought on by stress and fatigue. "If I can't figure this out, my client will end up in the electric chair," he sighed. He twisted his head and grimaced, still trying to ease the tightness.
Della watched him uncertainly for a moment, then moved around behind his chair. She detached his hand from his neck, replacing it with her own long, tapered fingers. Rhythmically, forcefully, her hands worked to pull the tension from his tired muscles. He tensed slightly at the first touch, but almost immediately relaxed back into the chair. After a moment she spoke. "Tell me the story," she said softly, her voice more husky than she'd intended. "Maybe just going over the details again will help."
He remained silent and she faltered, fearing he was upset by her disregard of one of the unspoken boundaries between employer and employee. Over the past few months, an attraction had formed and strengthened between the two of them. Neither had spoken of the connection nor had they ever acted on it, although there were times that each of them secretly watched the other with ardent appreciation. Ever so often, he let his hand linger on her elbow or the small of her back as he escorted her through busy courthouse hallways. She would sometimes brush his hand with her fingertips when she relinquished a file or law book he'd requested. Other than those seemingly innocent accidents, they'd never deliberately touched one another.
Just as courage deserted her and she started to drag her hands away, he began to talk. Starting at the beginning, he told her the story of the case, so far. Rather than his normal recitation of facts, this time he told a story - fitting the facts into the narrative, organizing and reorganizing the information. Della listened in silence, her hands continuing their work of unwinding the muscles in his neck and shoulders.
As he reached then end of his story, Perry's voice slowed and finally stopped. He drew in a long, deep breath, and the knots in his neck at last released. Della gave his shoulders a final squeeze and started to pull away. Perry reached up, grabbed her wrist and held fast. He pulled her hand around in front of him.
"Where did you learn to do that?" he demanded, contemplating the fingers now locked in his grasp. She was forced to step closer to him, steadying herself with a hand on his back.
"Hidden talent," she replied, keeping her voice light.
"Your fingers are...so strong. Deceptively so." he said.
Della laughed self-consciously, hand still resting on his back. She knew she should pull away from him - leave - go to her office, the waiting room, anywhere but here. Here, leaning over his shoulder, close enough to smell the after-shave that barely clung to his skin since he'd last shaved, she could feel the connection spark between them. He was too close. This was dangerous - she needed to get some distance from him.
But she didn't move.
Perry didn't seem to notice. He turned her hand so the palm faced up, as if he were planning to read her future in the lines that criss-crossed it's surface. He reached up with his left hand and let his fingers trace hers. "Beautiful, elegant, strong." His voice was quieter than usual - low, almost intimate.
"Years of typing," she managed to croak.
Mason merely nodded. Slowly he brought her hand up to his lips and kissed her palm.
Della felt him smile against her skin as she gasped aloud in response to his touch. Time froze for a heartbeat, and she had a flash forward - a memory of the future. It was less than an instant, but in that moment, she knew exactly what kind of a lover this man would be. Strong. Aggressive. Yet attentive and thorough. Very, very thorough.
A blush colored her features and her knees threatened to buckle at the thought. She wanted him. And more than that, she knew she could have him. That knowledge scared her. It meant she would have to make a decision, right here, right now that would certainly change her immediate future and possibly effect the rest of her life.
But before she had to decide, she was free.
Her hand fell away from his and Perry was on his feet, headed for the coat closet. "I'm going to go check out the doorman's statement, Della. I think that's the key. If the doorman is mistaken, then my client's story fits the facts and we can throw a significant doubt into the prosecution's theory."
Della regained the power of movement, at last, but she kept her face lowered, away from his gaze, as she gathered notebooks and pencils and began to put them away.
"I'll be late. Go on home, Della. I'll be in bright and early in the morning." He retrieved his hat from Blackstone.
Nodding, she picked up his now empty cup and took it into the washroom. "I'll see you tomorrow," she said as she walked away from him.
She heard nothing more as she rinsed out the cup. Then his voice called to her from the hallway door. "Della?"
She took a deep breath. "Yes?" She stuck her head out the washroom, hands busy drying his cup with a small towel.
"I'm sorry about -- I hope I didn't, uh..." His voice trailed off as he searched for words.
"You don't have to apologize," she said, finally able to look him in the eye. The beginnings of a smile played at the corners of her mouth.
"Good," he replied. "Because I wasn't really sorry."
She laughed. He grinned.
"Thank you," he said, although for what, she wasn't really sure. He clamped his hat on his head and tweaked the brim at a jaunty angle. "Good night, Miss Street."
The office door closed behind him.
Della replaced his cup next to the coffee pot, then straightened the papers on his desk before turning out the lights. She puttered around her own office for a few more minutes before retrieving her coat and hat from the closet. Less than an hour ago she'd been bored and longed to go home. Now the thought of leaving the office, his office, for the confines of her solitary apartment was less than enticing.
Tonight was going to be a long one.
Della smiled to herself as she slipped through the door and into the hallway. Her heels clicked a steady tempo on the terrazzo tile; an accompaniment to her exit.
...tomorrow held possibilities all it's own.