APRIL AND SEPTEMBER

By Aeiu

Pamela Peterson looked in the mirror and touched up her make up for what felt like the fiftieth time since she had arrived at work. She had spent three weeks looking for the perfect outfit, had her hair and nails done, and rehearsed what she wanted to say until she could repeat it in her sleep. Today was the day which would change her life. As she thought back on the man she planned to spend eternity with; it amused her about how frightened she had been at the beginning.

SEVEN MONTHS AGO

Pamela Peterson was so scared she didn't think there was enough saliva in her mouth to swallow. Today was the day which would change her life. The Honorable Milton C. Hardcastle didn't pick just anyone to be a law clerk in his office. It was a real honor which would look impressive on her future resume. But Judge Hardcastle was a hard man to work for; he expected you to start out perfect and improve over time. He had a reputation of running through law clerks faster than the school could graduate them. Being chosen was the first step; staying and succeeding would be the real trick.

SIX MONTHS AGO

Pamela Peterson tried to hold back the tears which threatened to flow from her eyes. She hated to admit it but she was a failure as a law clerk. She had been working as hard as she could to fulfill the duties of her job but she could sense Judge Hardcastle's disappointment in everything she did.

From the time she arrived in the office until she went home at night, he barely spoke to her except to bark out orders and grunt at her attempts to be friendly and engaging. The most words he had ever spoken to her, at one time, was this morning when she couldn't find the Anderson File which she had placed into the wrong drawer. He had lectured her about the importance of maintaining the filing system and being able to retrieve all the material in a timely manner lest justice not be fulfilled. It was time to admit that she was not the right person for the job. Peterson knew that today was the day that would change her life. The day she would give up her dreams of the law and find something more suited to her obviously limited abilities.

She clutched the resignation letter in her hand as she knocked on the door of the judge's office.

"Who is it?" barked Hardcastle from inside the office.

"It's Miss Peterson, your honor," she said hoping he could not hear the fear in her voice. "May I talk with you?" She swore, even from the other side of the door, she could feel his eyes roll as he pulled himself away from his important case work to deal with 'that silly thing' he had taken on as a law clerk.

"Sure, come on in," he answered..

Peterson could see by the many papers strewn across his desk that he was busy. He was always the first one into the office, always the last one out, and ate most of his meals at his desk. She admired how hard he worked; he deserved someone better than her.

"Your honor," she said as she placed the paper on his desk. "I'm sorry that I haven't worked out. Here's my two week's notice."

Hardcastle stared at the letter of resignation as if it was some strange foreign animal. Then he looked up and saw the sad expression on her face. "Your leaving!" he exclaimed in a surprised voice. "Why? I thought things were going real good."

Peterson almost laughed at the absurdity of the judge's lie as she raised her downcast eyes to meet his. "I lost the Anderson File, I've forgotten to remind you of appointments, I've made numerous mistakes in the papers you've given me to write, and I take too long to find the legal references you need for court decisions." Peterson bit her lip to stifle a sob as she admitted to all her inadequacies. "I realize now that it was a mistake to think I could make as a lawyer. I really hope you have better luck with your next clerk."

"What are you talking about? You're doing a great job, a lot better than the last four yahoos I've had in here."

"But this morning and the Anderson File," she said confused.

Hardcastle sat back in his chair with a sigh; he knew he was about to lose another law clerk due to his temper. He had lost so many over the past few years that he had lost count but this one bothered him more than the others. She was smart, efficient, hard working, still learning but willing to admit her mistakes, and there was something in her smile which seemed to bring a light to the office which had been missing for so long.

"I may have been a bit short with you about the files," admitted Hardcastle reluctantly, "but files are the lifeblood of any investigation and court case. It is vitally important that information be on hand when needed. I don't expect you to master the filing system overnight. I know these things take time and your still learning the ropes. If you're having any problems with anything, then come talk to me. I'm not some kind of ogre."

"So you think I'm doing a good job?"

"You'll learn working for me that I'm not one to dole out compliments. But, yeah, you're doing a good job. I think you're going to make an excellent lawyer. So no more talk about quitting."

Peterson preened at the rare compliment as she watched the judge crumble up her resignation and throw it in the trash. She noticed, for the first time, the rugged handsomeness of his face whose eyes held a sadness that was present even when he smiled. A sadness she swore she would she would do her best to remove.

PRESENT DAY

Peterson smiled to herself as the memories replayed in her mind. It had not happened overnight but things had changed between her and Milton. When she had learned the sadness was caused by the tragic death of his wife and son, she had doubled her efforts to help ease his burdens. She worked harder, brought flowers to the office, insisted the judge eat his meals whether it was in a restaurant or sharing a sack lunch with her in the office. She had learned to talk to him and they had spent many hours discussing many things; small talk, the law, her hopes and plans for the future. It distressed her that the judge had no plans for his own future. That this extremely vital man felt his life was over when he deserved so much more. And somewhere between all the words, the looks and the casual touches; she fell in love with him.

She loved his firm jaw line, his graying hair and baby blue eyes. She loved his unflappable belief in the justice system and the sanctity of the law. She loved his inner strength and his vulnerabilities. She loved the way he made her want to be the best she could be because he deserved nothing less. And she was sure that he loved her too.

It was the special smile that he flashed her when she came to work in the morning, the way he had finally opened up to her about the losses that he had suffered in his life, the way his gaze would rest on her at work, the way his hand lingered when he touched her, and so many other things. The only thing they lacked was the will to do something about it.

Peterson was glad that she was a woman of the Nineteen-Seventies. Unlike women of the previous generations, she did not have to wait for the man to make the first move. Milton was too much of a gentleman and a professional to start a cheap tawdry affair with a subordinate.

"Though Lord knows I'd settle for that if he asked," she thought. "But today changes everything. I'm going to let him know where I stand and how I feel."

Peterson was pleased with the pretty, talented, and confident woman who stared back at her in the mirror before she left the bathroom and joined her guest for this special lunch.

Judge Milton C. Hardcastle rose in his seat as Peterson approached the table. "Took you long enough," he groused playfully. "I was thinking I'd have to send a search party out for you."

"I just wanted to make sure I looked right."

"Well you look fine. Care to tell me what the big news is?" Hardcastle had to admit that he was apprehensive. Pammy had been secretive for the past few weeks and acting oddly. Something was up but he couldn't guess what it could be.

Peterson could sense that he was nervous She was secretively thrilled with her ability to fluster the great, but oh-so human, Judge Hardcase. Unable to keep the secret any longer, she coyly handed him a folded piece of paper. "You wouldn't take this six months ago but I hope you'll take it now."

Hardcastle felt as if he had been punched in the gut as he read her letter of resignation. "But I don't understand. I thought things have been going good; better than good."

As he looked into the eyes of the bright young thing that had entered into his life a short time ago, he realized when she left something good would be gone from his life; something he would miss very much.

Peterson reached out and clasped Hardcastle's hand. "Milt, I can't tell you how much working for you has meant to me. We've become friends but I'd like to give us the chance to become something more."

"What!"

"Milton, I like you. I more than like you. I've developed strong feelings for you and I think you have also." said Peterson suddenly shy. She realized that it was much too soon to use the word love even if that was what it was.

"I, um, I care about you Pammy but there hasn't been anyone in my life since Nancy."

"I know that Milt and I respect you for respecting her memory. But she would want you to be happy."

Hardcastle pulled his hand away. A small spark of him was angry at her for presuming to know how his Nancy would feel but it was beaten back by the hero worship he saw glowing in her eyes. "We're moving too fast here. This morning you were working for me and now you want to have an affair," he said surprised that a part of him was considering what she was offering to him.

Peterson reached out and clasped his hands, again, and pulled it closer to her. "Not an affair. Just two people who have feelings for each other who want to see where those feelings will lead to. No expectations, Milt."

"No expectations," he thought. The words sounded foreign to him. Ever since the death of his beloved Nancy, he had never contemplated starting with someone new. To be honest, he had never even thought of Patty in that way. But she was so easy to talk to, to laugh with, to be with; maybe he owed it to himself and to her to see where it led. "But you're talking about giving up your job."

"I'm not worried. Who wouldn't hire me after being able to survive working for you for nearly a year." They both smiled at the joke.

"No expectations," he said aloud.

"None. But we have a three day weekend coming up and my calendar is clear and I happen to know that your calendar is clear. I have a reservation for two up in the mountains."

"Wait a minute. This is going too fast."

"It's for separate rooms," Peterson assured him. "I thought we could take the train up and spend a nice weekend talking just like we do here; enjoying each other's company and taking it slow somewhere nice, quiet, and away from the crowds."

"I don't know."

"It will be okay. Remember, no expectations."

"Okay," he said as he felt a sense of triumph for making a decision. "Let's do it."

Neither talked of the decision that had been made as they finished their lunch; both afraid that the more light they shined on it, the more likely it was to dissipate like a will'o'wisp in the sun. Instead they talked about current cases, where she was likely to find work and who would take her place at the office.

"I'll see you tonight," Patty said as she squeezed Hardcastle's hand. She felt light on her feet as she practically danced out into the street. She had so many extra things to pick up before this fateful trip; things she hadn't wanted to buy until she was sure she would need them. Like an expensive silk negligee she had her eyes on. One that would go perfectly with the cold mountain nights, roaring fireplace, and adjoining rooms with king size beds.

After lunch, Hardcastle returned to the courthouse and verified that Patty had been right. She had cleared everything from his calendar from this afternoon until Tuesday morning. Nothing to do but get ready for the weekend and to think. Part of him congratulated himself on making sure that they handled this new aspect of their relationship slowly but the other felt as though he had been thrown into a raging river with no choice but to try to keep his head above the waters and hope for the best.

"Sarah, I'm home," said Hardcastle as he entered his mansion on Gull's Way.

"Oh judge, you're home early today," Sarah Wicks said as she entered the den from the kitchen.

"Yeah, there's been some last minute plan changes. You know Patty…" Hardcastle allowed the sentence to peter out; all of a sudden not sure how to explain things to his long-time housekeeper and friend.

"Of course," Sarah said with a slight drop of temperature in her voice. "Miss Peterson is that nice young girl who works as your clerk."

"Ahh, she not my clerk anymore."

"Oh dear, you didn't fire her; did you? Did she do something wrong? You should probably give her a second chance. After all, she's so young; practically in her teens."

"She's not that young,." objected Hardcastle. "She's, at least, twenty-three and it was her choice. Anyway, I'm going up to the mountains this weekend."

"Oh. I see."

Though she hadn't said anything, Hardcastle couldn't shake the notion that she knew what they were planning and she disapproved. "We've been working hard at the office and I think a little break would be a good idea. Give me a chance to relax."

"I'm sure you'll have a lovely time, judge. Perhaps you could call your friend Lieutenant Harper. I think his wife, Claudia, is still away visiting her family. She's such a nice woman. "

"No, I don't think so."

"Oh, are you planning on meeting someone else up there?"

"Look, I didn't expect some sort of third degree," he said as his voice began to rise in indignation. "I'm just going up to the mountains to relax."

"I'm sorry if you took it that way, judge," Sarah said with a tone of hurt in her voice. "It's certainly none f my business what you want to do with your free time."

"I'm sorry I snapped at you, Sara," Hardcastle said, his anger dissipating as quickly as it had risen. "I've had a lot on my mind."

Sarah patted his shoulder. "Well, maybe a change of scenery will do you some good. Give you a chance to clear your mind. But I wouldn't worry about anything, I know you always come up with the right thing to do. Would you like me to pack your bag?"

"No," said Hardcastle guiltily. "I'll take care of it. I'll only need a few things." He felt that having Sarah pack the bag was making her an accessory to something but he didn't know to what.

"Well make sure you pack everything you'll need. Sometimes you have a tendency to forget the important stuff, at least for a while."

Yeah, well I'm going to go get ready. I'll be taking the train up so I'll probably eat when I get there."

"Yes Judge. Oh, next time you see that nice young Miss Paterson tell her that I hope she finds a job soon."

He hesitated before he nodded his head then went upstairs to pack. He wondered at Sarah's choice of words. From the number of times she had used the word young, someone would have though it was Patty's first name.

"And isn't that how you thought of her until today?" he asked himself. "What changed?" Everything that had happened today confused him and it was not something that he was used to.

Hardcastle pulled out his old suitcase and began to throw a few things into it for the trip. The valise had seen better days but it had always been his favorite; one he had gotten even before he had gotten married. Nancy had hinted more than a few times that it was due to have a horrible accident and never to be seen again. But she had never thrown it away because she had known what it meant to him.

"Nancy." The thought overwhelmed him until his knees could no longer hold his weight and he sat heavily on the bed. He looked around the room. It was filled with so many things that were theirs. Hers. "When did I stop thinking about her?"

Hardcastle thought back on the last time he had used the suitcase. It had, also, been an surprise vacation to the mountains; one he had planned for her birthday. She had been so happy; bustling around their bedroom, packing and planning the things they would be doing. The light in her eye had been worth every penny of the trip. Now he was going up to the mountains, their mountains, with someone new; he'd go to the same places and do the same things that he had done before. It would be with a different woman but he knew he would be thinking about her.

"And that's not fair. Not fair to Patty and not fair to Nancy," he reflected. "I'm just not ready. I might never be ready."

He knew whatever he did he was going to hurt Patty; either now or in the near future. He hadn't meant to but it would happen just the same. He knew he would have to be more careful in the future; not let his emotions rule him, not let people get to close. Better that there not be any chance of misunderstandings. It would be better that way. Better for him and everyone. He unpacked his bag and called the station. His emotions were too raw to face his ex-law clerk in person. He hoped she would understand. He knew he was doing the right thing but he was afraid that if he saw her now that he would change his mind.

"This is for the best," he thought as he finally climbed into bed. His conscious ensured that he slept fitfully that night and when he dreamt; he dreamt of her.

Pamela Peterson sat like a statue in her chair at the station. She stared straight ahead as she willed her tears of humiliation not to fall and she clutched the telegram in her hand. The judge was not coming and he had been too cowardly to tell her himself. The note was full of apologies, offers of reimbursement for expenses, and promises to talk on Tuesday. But she knew there would not be any Tuesday mornings in Hardcastle's office, not for her. She wouldn't be going back. As of today her life had changed and it was a life that would not include the Honorable Milton C. Hardcastle.

THE END