So this is it - the final chapter!
A big thank you to everyone who has reviewed. I've picked up readers along the way and I've also lost a few. One or two of you have been there since Chapter One in February last year - you know who you are and I love you for it and by God you've got some stamina! I've enjoyed writing it so much and I'm sorry to see it end. I feel like I've been in my own little world for such a long time and it's quite sad to be leaving it now but I'll be writing other stories and one-shots very soon.
Today is Friday 9th December. Tomorrow, a group of us are going to Tunbridge Wells in Kent to see Glynis Barber in her first ever pantomime, Sleeping Beauty so I think it's quite a germane time to be bringing this story to a close. Almost all of us going have met through and our love of Dempsey & Makepeace. It's quite amazing how this combination has brought us together over the months and new D&M friends are always welcome!
So here we go - for the last time.
Harry smiled warily, trying to decide whether or not Dempsey's apparent alarm was merely play acting.
"What's the matter? It's not a bomb is it?" she asked jokingly.
He nodded distractedly as he reached out to relieve her of her prize.
"Yeah, well, maybe funny you should say that."
Now Dempsey was holding it he seemed unsure of what to do with it.
"There's a possibility it's about to explode in my face, yeah."
"You know what it is!" Light was beginning to dawn and Harry looked up at him in amazement. "You've known all along haven't you?"
Looking down at the ball, Dempsey plucked at the tissue paper half-heartedly with thumb and forefinger. "Uh huh."
Harry didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He looked so incredibly guilty.
"I don't even know how I managed to open it – I just leant on it and…"
He couldn't even look at her.
"… I actually thought I'd broken it at first."
"It's just a combination," he said, eyes still downcast. "Open up the five locks in the right order, press down and the whole shebang just pops open."
"But why pretend you couldn't do it?" she laughed. He was being worryingly cagey she thought.
"Harry…" He looked at her beseechingly.
"I don't understand you. What's the problem?"
Kneeling up on the bed, Harry reached out and took the ball out of his hands again.
He watched it go like a dying man seeing his only lifeline disappear.
She tentatively pulled at the tissue, suddenly feeling Dempsey's agitation with startling clarity.
"It's yours." He sounded almost surly. "I bought it for you twenty-three years ago only I never got the chance to give it to you."
Harry felt a strange, concentric wave start to pass through her whole body like a dark echo.
Wearily, he climbed into bed beside her.
"So open it already! It's yours," he repeated but more softly this time.
Harry found her hands were shaking as she gently eased out the tissue paper.
"What is it?" Her voice sounded small and child-like and she giggled, struggling to find her breath.
She knew. Somewhere deep down a part of her knew exactly what it was but her mind just wouldn't let her get a grasp of it. That was why she was trembling, why she suddenly felt helplessly emotional. Inside the ball was everything she needed and everything she would ever want only she couldn't put a name to it.
"Is it something nice?" she asked, trying with all her might to sound normal.
Dempsey sat with his knees drawn up, ankles crossed and holding his mouth cupped in the palm of his hand. He just shook his head and shoulders rising and falling in quiet, empty mirth.
Wrapped within the crumpled bulk of tissue was a square, burgundy red box and the sight of it as it fell from the ball caused Harry's heart to contract disturbingly hard.
"I'm sorry," said Dempsey, tonelessly, "…if it isn't what you want."
They both stared at it as it lay there on the bed.
Harry knew now what it was but she still wasn't quite registering the implications. He'd bought the ball in New York – she knew this because he'd told her. And the ring within the box – was that also purchased in New York, twenty-three years ago?
Dempsey sighed and smiled sadly as he sat back, wiping with both hands at the tiredness that furrowed his brow.
"Guess I'm too late."
Harry continued to stare for a moment before she slowly lifted her eyes to his.
"Too late?" she asked spacily.
"Too late, too soon, too wrong… I don't know."
Harry picked up the little box and opened it with mechanical courage.
"I see," she said quietly as a delicate while gold diamond cluster was revealed to her.
"Had this stupid dream ya see, Angel, way back when… that you were gonna realise how you couldn't live without me, hop on a plane and I'd be there at the other end to put that ring on your finger."
She nodded, biting down on her lip as her eyes remained fixed on the ring.
"So which is it?" he prompted. "Too late? At least too soon would mean I got hope."
Dempsey laughed nervously but still there was no response from Harry.
"So I take it that means I read the whole situation wrong," he continued grimly.
The pained expression he read in her eyes was tearing him apart.
"Never really had a chance in hell did I?"
There was a tiny and sudden intake of breath when Harry seemed to come-to.
"You bought this when you first went back to New York? You wanted to… to marry me? It was true then – what you said to Jay about wanting to get married and have a family."
"Sure it was true! I wouldn't lie about somethin' like that."
Harry's brow knitted with frustration as she said, "I really, really wish I'd known that at the time. I'd have tried so hard to make a go of it."
She looked up. "It wasn't just about MacKintyre, James, you must know that. I had doubts… not that you loved me but that you'd always love me. and then adding a child into the equation… I thought it was expecting too much of you – of us really I suppose. God knows I had a hard enough time myself getting my head around the idea of having a baby."
"It was my fault too."
For the moment, the ring was forgotten.
"I shoulda told you sooner how I felt but I wanted to do it right, ya know? The original plan was to spill my guts at Thanksgiving. I was gonna tell you I wanted us to make some kind of commitment. Didn't think you'd go for the marriage thing but I was gonna suggest that we move in together and screw the consequences. We could of got a transfer out of London… I was willing to ditch the job even, if it meant us stayin' together."
Harry smiled faintly. "I didn't know. I didn't realise. Maybe I was just too stubborn to see it."
Reaching out, Dempsey gently pushed aside an errant lock of her hair.
"I just left it too late, Babe. I wanted you back so bad after I left. I knew I'd made a mistake and so I had it all planned out; how if I could get you to use the plane ticket then everythin' else would fall into place."
Harry was mortified. "You bought this," she raised the open box containing the ring, " and you waited for me to come."
"Yeah, I know – crazy."
She laughed brokenly. "Oh, God… James."
Her mind's eye was suddenly seeing that horrible, horrible night at Camberwell Grove after MacKintyre and his cronies had gone, after she had cleaned away the evidence of their invasion and after she had realised that the suitcase by the front door was destined never to travel to the United States.
"I gave up… I just gave up on us, didn't I?"
That night had been a crossroads. She could have gone to him and to hell with the consequences that she had feared MacKintyre might have set in motion but she chose to hide herself away at her father's country estate and learnt to pretend that she hadn't just lost the only man she had ever truly loved. Ironically, that decision had set her on a pathway that she hadn't expected to be walking again after her abysmal marriage to Robert Makepeace.
Hadn't she seen herself as Police Commissioner by the time she was fifty? Instead though she had somehow got syphoned off down the married with two point four children route again. If it wasn't for the fact that she earned her own living and was what could laughingly be called 'her own boss', she could very possibly have become one of those pointless women she so despised.
She knew now that had she gone to Dempsey – even if she'd married him, had those two point four children with him and maybe never worked another day in her life, it would have been a life very far from pointless.
"And I ran away."
Dempsey's voice pulled her back to the here and now.
"I should of stayed and fought for you."
"It was never that straightforward though was it," she murmured.
She held out the little box for him to take – which he did with stoical good humour. "We can't turn back the clock, James."
"You know, I was on tenterhooks every time you even so much as looked at that God-damned ball," he grinned. "Didn't want you to work it out too soon – didn't want to scare you off. All down to timing again and my timing has always been way off beam where you're concerned."
He snapped the lid shut.
"Maybe one day, huh, Harry?"
"One day very soon," she said in a confusingly serious tone.
"How's that?" her queried, now totally perplexed by her attitude.
Nodding towards the ring box, Harry returned rather disparagingly, "If you're going to do something, Dempsey, I do wish you'd try to do it properly."
"Am I missin' somethin' here?"
"There's a certain etiquette involved in these occasions of which I'm sure even you must be perfectly aware."
He saw her lip hook as she played 'Haughty Harriet' and his heart flipped.
He couldn't be sure she was meaning what he hoped she was meaning.
"It would be customary for you to get out of bed and get down on your knees… well, one knee but the full-blown begging stance would work equally well, if not better."
Dempsey's eyes lit up.
"You're sayin' yes? You wanna get hitched?"
She allowed herself a small smile. "I think we've waited long enough, don't you?"
Dempsey whooped. "Hell, yeah!"
Flipping back the quilt, he leapt from the bed and dropping to one knee, looked up at her expectantly. Harry scooted to the edge of the bed and sat back on her heels, laughing at the sight before her.
"Harry?" he asked in as solemn a voice as he could muster given the grin that had taken control of his face.
"Yes, James?" she played along.
Her heart was pounding so hard she was afraid the sound of it would mask his next words.
He opened the lid and raised the box up in offering. His fingers were trembling.
"Would you please do me the great honour of becoming my wife?"
"I would love to."
Dempsey remained on his knee as he fumbled to get the ring out of the box, both of them laughing at his efforts.
"Okay, here we go, Princess." He reached out and took her proffered hand in his. "Once I got this on your finger there ain't no goin' back – you know that?"
Harry waggled her finger. "Just hurry up would you?"
"Can't exactly take it back to the store if it doesn't fit either," he hesitated.
"I'll get it adjusted if needs be… I know a very good jeweller."
He chuckled and slipped the ring on.
"How's that feel?"
"Perfect!" she beamed.
To her surprise when he stood up, instead of getting back into bed, he strode quickly to the balcony door on the other side of the room to sweep back the curtains.
"What are you doing now?" she asked, rather disappointed that she wasn't at this point wrapped in his arms.
Dempsey flung open the door and stepped out into the chill, dark, November night.
"Hey!" he yelled. "I'm gettin' married…"
"Dempsey… you idiot!"
She bounded from the bed to go after him.
"… to a princess!" he continued at the top of his voice.
"Shhhhh,,, James," Harry hissed, grabbing his arm and giggling. "What are you doing?"
He turned to her. "I'm tellin' the world," he grinned. "Somethin' wrong with that?"
Harry looked up into his warm, excited eyes and saw everything that was right with it.
She recalled so vividly him once telling her that love shouldn't ever have to be kept a secret. They'd been sitting in her car, her screaming and ranting after finding out about some woman he'd kissed the night before. And then he'd let her have it with both barrels.
He had told her how he felt – how he really felt about their relationship; how keeping their feelings for each other a secret was eating him up, how it was hurting him not even to be able to touch her in front of other people and the most painful thing of all – thinking Harry was actually ashamed of him.
She remembered how that little revelation had sliced through her.
Yes, he had sometimes embarrassed her with his loudness, his brashness and his American 'attitude' but never once had she ever, ever felt ashamed of him. She had loved him with an intensity that had completely masked such emotions and to find out he had been harbouring that pain had been a blow to her very soul.
It was starting to drizzle just a little bit and it was colder than it had been in months.
Harry spread her hands flat against Dempsey's bare chest and reached up to kiss him tenderly.
Without a backward glance she left him to go and stand at the balcony rail where she took hold of the cold metal and leaned forward into the darkness.
And then, without restraint, she shouted out as loud as she possibly could manage, "We're getting married!"
So do we need an Epilogue? I'm toying with the idea just to tie it all up and gift wrap it in loveliness but might be a bit of overkill? Let me know.