A big thank you goes to my beta Gemenied for being quick - and being her.
Please notice that this story is set in an alternative universe and perhaps not what you expect. Any kind of constructive criticism is highly appreciated!
In the Evening of Life
"In the evening of life we'll be judged by love alone" ~ St. John of the Cross
Sacramento ~ 1974
It was almost 5 pm when Della returned home from her appointment with her physician. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon in late August without a single cloud bothering the sky. Dropping her handbag on the circular table in the entrance hall, Della strode into the sun flooded living room and enjoyed the peaceful silence. Her friend Louise had called off their appointment for dinner and so she could look forward to a peaceful evening at home.
She opened the terrace door and stepped out. Pausing at the sight of the endless ocean whose waves crashed at the nearby shore, she inhaled deeply, before she went to the table where a glass jug with lemonade was waiting for her.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Carlisle," the maid greeted her friendly as she entered the terrace from another French door. She carried a tray with two glasses and the mail.
"Hello Sarah," Della greeted her with a bright smile. "Two glasses?" she asked. "I thought I told you Mrs. Thompson wouldn't visit us tonight."
"I know, Ma'am. The glass isn't for Mrs. Thompson..." the young woman hesitated. "It's for your other visitor." Sarah turned around, staring at the French door, she had just passed.
"My other visitor?" Della asked, surprised and turned to where she heard steps from. She froze when she realized who her guest was and felt her mood instantly sinking.
"Yes, Ma'am..." Sarahs' cheeks turned red, as she helplessly looked from one woman to the other, realizing she had probably made a mistake by allowing the stranger to wait for the mistress of the manor. Mrs. Carlisle was hardly a boss who became angry, but this time, Sarah realized she had gone too far. Della's brown, but usually friendly hazelnut eyes had narrowed and a dark shadow was crossing her face.
"I hope you don't mind me intruding like this, but I was in town and thought it would be nice to pay you a visit." The woman's smile was bright, but it didn't reach her eyes. As beautiful and impeccable her looks still were, no one could doubt the visit wasn't meant to be a friendly one.
"It's all right, Sarah," Della said, her eyes fixed on the woman at the door. "You may leave us alone."
Relieved to escape without ending up harmed, Sarah left quickly and closed the doors behind her.
"You have a beautiful house, Della."
"Thank you, Laura."
Feeling interrupted and intimidated by the other woman Della went to the table and started pouring some lemonade. "Can I offer you something? Coffee? Anything else?"
"No, thank you. Richard isn't at home?" Laura asked, looking around and remarked sweetly. "The house seems so empty."
"He's in Washington," Della replied chilly. "He's not coming back till tomorrow. Won't you take a seat?"
"No thanks. I won't stay long... Life isn't easy in Washington these days," Laura confirmed. "You should have gone with him, but I'm sure you know everything that is going on there, since you're pretty much involved in his campaign – at least recently."
With a swift movement Laura produced a newspaper out of her handbag and placed it in the middle of the table. It showed Della, Richard, and Perry at a fundraiser. The trio was caught in a deep conversation, oblivious to the cameras of the press. The headline spoke for itself:
"Reunion of sorts. Mason, his ex secretary and his competition." Ridiculous.
"What about this?" Della asked, sipping her lemonade.
"Perry didn't tell me you had met in San Francisco last weekend."
"So what?" Della shrugged.
"I wonder why."
"You have to ask him," Della replied, noticing that her voice sounded as icy as Laura's.
"My husband never lied to me before," Laura said. "Not even when he paid you a visit the night before your wedding with Richard. He always tells me what moves or bothers him."
"So does mine," Della returned. "But this isn't about my husband, isn't it? I think Perry missed you last weekend. Why weren't you in San Francisco?"
"I was busy."
"Did he complain to you about my lack of presence?"
"Actually we didn't talk about you at all..." Della retorted, noticing with dark satisfaction that Laura frowned at her last sentence "Not that we had much time to catch up. You know that these kind of events are merely a place for the candidates to catch votes, not for pleasure."
"Votes your husband is highly in need of. It doesn't look good for this campaign."
Already tired of the nasty exchange, Della sighed and asked, "What is it you want, Laura? What bothers you so much about this picture that you decided to come out here?"
Laura laughed bitterly, "Are you really asking me why this bothers me?" she asked, pointing with her index finger at the photo. "Either you're even more naive than I thought, or you really think you can play dumb with me! You knew Perry would be at the fundraiser and that's the only reason you turned up there!"
"I went there because Richard asked me to. Neither he or I knew Perry would be there as well."
"Do you think I believe that Richard Carlisle didn't know his biggest rival for the upcoming senate elections would attend the same fundraiser? And you? Aren't you the one who's managing his office?"
Della bit her lips, reluctant to defend herself to a woman who had started to make her life miserable a long time ago and obviously couldn't find a way to stop her behavior.
"Actually, I'm not in charge there anymore. Not that this should be your concern. Just take my word for it that I didn't know Perry would be there."
For a moment Laura just stared at her. Then she slowly approached Della and hissed, "Tell me one thing, Della. Did you really hope that if you were married to someone else, Perry would still be interested in you? That marrying his biggest competitor would guarantee you his attention? You should have known the press would have a field day when Perry Mason's former secretary and now wife of his competitor would meet in official function. Or was it a merely private motive?"
"You don't really expect me to answer this, do you? Because it's insulting and sick."
"Then why did you go to see him after the fundraiser?" Laura asked, her eyes glittering with triumph. "I know you were in his suite. Alone, without your husband!"
Della's jaw dropped, but she recovered quickly from the shock and answered, "It was a short, private conversation. Whoever your spy is, surely reported you this."
"What bothers me is that any keen reporter could have seen the two of you. If you want to destroy your own husband's career by bedding another man, feel free to do so, but keep your claws from my husband!"
"Leave my house. This conversation is over!" Barely keeping her rage in check, Della marched towards the French doors and pushed them open. "Good day, Laura."
Realizing Della was serious about throwing her out, Laura grabbed the article and her handbag and passed her on her way out.
"I mean it, Della. Stay away from Perry. He made up his mind about you a long time ago. The day he asked me to marry him."
"I'm pretty sure, Perry knows what to think of me," Della answered, facing a white faced Laura. Then she turned her back on her visitor, awaiting the moment the front door would close behind her. Then she reached inside her purse, took out a small bottle of her medication and swallowed two pills at once. Not that they would help.
She was used to the physical pain by now, but the pain inside her chest wasn't to be cured. She drew a deep breath, collected herself and looked at the ocean. It was going to be a long, empty evening.