Steele a Little Awkward
Laura glanced down at the speedometer and pressed her foot just a bit more firmly on the accelerator. Driving somewhat … adventurously … was one of the few areas left in her life where she let her natural passion free rein. She didn't fan dance on tabletops any more, but behind the wheel she could push the boundaries of her carefully maintained control.
Tonight, however, her velocity was powered less by a need for speed than a niggling feeling of guilt and a bit of worry: she'd left Mr. Steele alone longer than she had intended. True, she'd made sure he was well equipped with snacks and distractions before dashing off to check out Upbeat magazine's new crop of "most eligible bachelors" on Mariah Taylor's behalf. She couldn't say she liked the woman, but Laura felt a certain empathy with her situation. Laura knew all about pretending. And she had loved and lost, too.
The bachelors, of course, were the same sort of narcissistic jerks as the previous ones. She'd spent the last three hours fending off their ham-fisted advances. Honestly, did they really expect a little mood lighting and Vivaldi would sweep her off her feet and into their bed?
Well … Laura didn't like to admit it, but there was a time when it might have.
She had never been promiscuous, but this was the 80s, not her mother's repressed generation. As long as one was careful, what was the harm in a little fling once in a while? There was a period, after Wilson left her questioning everything about herself – especially her desirability as a woman – that she had allowed herself to be … charmed. These few trysts were meaningless and not very satisfying - kind of like a fast food fix that took the edge off her hunger but made her feel slightly queasy afterwards.
She still had those urges; she was human, after all. But while the foil-wrapped packet she kept tucked away in her purse offered a certain kind of protection, she hadn't discovered a similar shield for her vulnerable heart. She couldn't imagine being with anyone other than Mr. Steele now - and she wasn't ready to be with him. Which left her … itchy.
Laura knew Mr. Steele had similar needs, and a man like him didn't have to look far to find a good, er, scratch. He'd had plenty of such companionship in the early months of their association – Laura had lost count of the number of bimbos (for she always thought of them as such) who had adorned Mr. Steele's arm and warmed his bed in those days. But she chose to believe that since they'd become closer, he'd given up such dalliances.
That's why his nakedly salacious response to that Owlette cheerleader had stung so much. Millicent Fairbush – Good Lord, a name straight out of a James Bond movie. She accepted Steele's protestation that he hadn't invited her to stay the night. But it was only too obvious that he had been tempted to. And that hurt her more than she cared to admit. Mr. Steele was right: They had been acting like children, pretending they were sophisticated and worldly enough that such things didn't matter, that they had no real hold on one another. The truth was, it DID matter, and so she had gone swanning out of his apartment to meet the bachelors, hoping to inflict a little payback for the bruising his actions with Miss Fairbush had given her.
She pulled the Rabbit into the guest parking space at Steele's building and scooped up a small paper bag on the passenger seat before exiting the vehicle. She'd stopped for a pint of Mr. Steele's favorite gourmet ice cream – Raspberry Ripple with macadamia nuts. Kind of a peace offering, or at least a way to assuage a little of her guilt. Entering his apartment, she stopped to place the ice cream in the freezer before continuing to the bedroom.
The bedroom door was closed. She opened it quietly, in case he was sleeping. She hoped he was – in part because he needed the rest to recuperate and in part because she loved the way he looked when asleep. Boyish, slightly tousled, with none of that polished pretense that he wore like one of his Italian-made suits. The light in the bedroom was off, and it took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the gloom. When she did, she gasped.
The bed was empty.
"Mr. Steele!" Laura shouted, racing to the bed to rummage among the bedclothes as if she might find him tucked under a corner of the duvet.
"Laura?" His voice came from the bathroom.
She started for the bathroom door when his voice stopped her in her tracks. "Don't come in here!"
"What? What do you mean, don't come in?" She hesitated a second, then reached for the doorknob.
"I mean it, Laura. Don't you dare come in here. I'll never forgive you if you do."
She stepped back. "What the hell is going on?" She demanded. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. No." A moment of silence, then his voice again, sheepish. "I'm stuck."
"Stuck on what? And what the hell are you doing out of bed in the first place?"
"Laura, there are some calls that even Remington Steele cannot fail to answer."
She digested that a moment. "Oh."
"I managed to get myself in here and … erm … conclude my business. But these damned casts …" He grunted and she heard a shuffling sound. "I can't get up again."
It would be wrong to laugh at someone in such an embarrassing predicament. Wrong! So Laura stuffed her fist in her mouth to try to stifle the giggles that she couldn't suppress.
It was more than simple amusement. The past 24 hours had been a rollercoaster: watching Steele flirting with Millicent ... stumbling across several dead bodies ... the phone call from the hospital telling her Steele had been hurt ... narrowly escaping her own death at Arnold Baskin's hands ... seeing her partner's wheelchair careening down the stadium tiers, tossing him in a crumpled heap between the seats ... more hours in the Emergency Room with him, getting these newest injuries patched up. She was exhausted, and frankly giddy with relief that the current situation was so benign, so preposterous.
"Laura? Are you still there?"
She composed herself. "Yes. I'm coming in to help you.
"For heaven's sakes, Mr. Steele. You're being ridiculous."
"I'm in no state to receive a lady, Laura."
"This isn't a social call, Mr. Steele."
A few seconds of quiet. Then the sound of him clearing his throat. "Truly, Laura, I don't want your first view of me in all my glory to be like this."
She sighed, knowing she'd feel the same in his position. "All right. Your modesty is safe. From me, at least. But we've got to rectify this situation, unless you're prepared to spend the next six weeks in there."
"Perish the thought. But what are we going to do about it?"
Laura thought a moment. "I'm going to call the number of that home health care service that we got at the hospital. I should have called before I left this afternoon; we could have avoided this. I'm sorry."
"Not to worry, Miss Holt. It's been rather a harried day. But how is this service going to help?
"They'll send over a nurse to-"
"Never! I don't want some strange woman handling my … problem!"
"A trained professional, Mr. Steele! Believe me, whatever you've got, she'll have seen before."
He was beginning to try her patience a bit. "I'll ask for a male nurse, then."
She waited while Steele pondered this suggestion. "I'm not sure I'd feel comfortable being in such a vulnerable state with another man," he muttered.
"Unfortunately, I don't think they train service dogs for this kind of work," she said dryly. "So it's either the male nurse or me."
Ten seconds of silence. Then …
"Call the nurse."
Moments later she was back outside the bathroom door. "Still in there?"
"Ha ha." He sounded irritable.
"The service is sending someone over right away. Hang tight, Mr. Steele. We'll have you, um, on your feet again in no time."
Dramatic sigh. "I'm bored."
"I could slide a crossword puzzle book under the door."
She laughed out loud, then, and he joined her.
"Who knew the life of a detective would be so glamorous?" he chuckled.
She smiled at his game attempt to maintain his glib persona under the circumstances. "Indeed. Not at all like you see on TV. Somehow I can't picture Thomas Magnum in such dire straits."
A snort. "Hm. Barnaby Jones, maybe."
More laughter. She leaned against the door, wanting to be closer to him. "I was really scared when I saw your wheelchair go down those steps," she said quietly.
"I had much the same reaction myself."
"And when the hospital called, after Janoff ran you down. I didn't know how badly you'd been hurt. I don't think I took a breath all the way to the Emergency Room."
"I'm all right, Laura." His tone was gentle.
"I shouldn't have left you alone this afternoon."
"You had to work." His voice took on a deliberately casual air. "So … how were the bachelors?"
"Beautiful. Boorish. Boring."
She smiled. "You're still the most eligible bachelor in town, Mr. Steele."
"Not so eligible."
"Good." She wanted very badly to hug him.
"You believe that nothing happened between me and Millicent Fairbush, right?"
"Yes." A deep breath. "But it could have."
A long, painful silence. Then: "Yes." His voice was almost inaudible. Apologetic.
"It's all right." She tried to sound convincing.
"No, it's not. It was just … having someone who so clearly – dare I say, blatantly – wanted me was … alluring."
"I'm not trying to make you feel guilty, Laura. And I'd never push you into something you're not ready for."
Laura suddenly felt very tired, and deeply sad. She slid down the door into a sitting position, her back against the inlaid wood. "I know. And I know it hasn't been easy."
"Uncomfortable, but endurable. Worth it."
"I'm glad." She turned her face, laid her cheek against the cool smoothness of the door. "I want you to know, I would understand. If something had happened. Or if something should happen, some time in the future." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I just don't want to know about it, okay?"
"Okay." He was quiet for a moment. Then she heard, "You're a remarkable woman, Laura Holt." His voice was tender, almost achingly so. "You deserve someone a hell of a lot better than me."
"You underestimate yourself, Mr. Steele. And overestimate me."
A loud buzzing came from the direction of the living room.
"That will be the nurse," Laura said, getting to her feet. "I'll be right back, with the cavalry in tow."
It was less than 20 minutes before Nurse Bruce, a six-footer with a brisk but compassionate manner, set all to rights. When Laura re-entered the bedroom, an ample bowl of ice cream in hand, Mr. Steele was comfortably ensconced in bed again.
He nodded. "Infinitely. Turns out Bruce here is a bit of a Hitchcock buff. We were just discussing the relative merits of 'Marnie' versus 'Vertigo.'"
"Careful, Bruce. He may just ask you to marry him." She handed Steele the bowl of ice cream, watched his eyes light up.
"Raspberry Ripple?" He glanced at his caregiver. "Sorry, Bruce. Hitchcock is great, but the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, as they say."
The man shook his head regretfully and shrugged. "I can see when I'm outmatched. Too bad. I'll just go get myself settled in the living room, if you don't mind."
After he left, Laura sat down on the bed next to Steele. "Looks like the two of you will get along just fine."
"Well, I'm perfectly capable of getting along on my own …" he trailed off at the sight of her raised eyebrows and grinned. "But I guess I can put up with it for a week or two."
"Feel free to take a few days off. You need the rest," Laura said, placing her palm along his cheek.
"Nonsense. I'll be in bright and early tomorrow."
"That will make a change. You usually don't put in an appearance before ten."
"That isn't bright and early?"
She grabbed a bed pillow, made as if to smother him … but leaned over and kissed him instead. It was a sweet kiss – not overly passionate, in deference to his broken ribs and general state of incapacitation – but gentle and affectionate.
"Seriously, Mr. Steele," she said when they parted. "You don't need to come in. I don't want you pushing yourself."
"Of course not. That's what Bruce is for," Steele replied with a nod toward his wheelchair. "Honestly, I'd rather be in the office, even doing paperwork, than sitting around here."
"Paperwork? Are you sure you didn't have a head injury along with everything else?"
"See? How could I live without that scintillating wit for even a day, Miss Holt?" He gave her a wink. "Besides, I have a lot of rebuilding of trust to do."
Laura frowned slightly. "I told you, I'm okay with the Millicent situation."
"Not you, Laura. Mildred! She gave me quite a talking to the other night."
Laura laughed. "I knew hiring her was a good idea." She leaned in again for another quick peck. "See you tomorrow, then, if you're up to it."
As she reached the door, he spoke. "Laura?
"Thanks for rescuing me."
She gave him her warmest smile.
"Anytime, Mr. Steele."